Burnt Rum Punch and Dracula
Three months late, our little book club finally met tonight. The book for October had been Dracula. To celebrate the book, MaikoPunk, MaikoPunk’s Husband, Matt and I held six commemorative activities:
1. We made a batch of mÄƒmÄƒligÄƒ, which Jonathan Harker ate in Klausenburgh (or Cluj in northwestern Romania) a day before he met the count. MÄƒmÄƒligÄƒ is cornmeal (grits to southerners and polenta to Italians), which I served with sour cream and goaty feta cheese. If any had been left over, I could have eaten the rest with cold milk in the morning.
2. We made Bat Bites, a rum-and-cranberry concoction.
3. We made burnt rum punch. When Renfield meets Arthur Holmwood in chapter XVIII, he blurts out, of Arthur’s father, “He was a man loved and honoured by all who knew him; and in his youth was, I have heard, the inventor of a burnt rum punch, much patronised on Derby night.”
The Annotated Dracula provided a burnt rum punch recipe from The Art of British Cooking by Theodora FitzGibbon:
1/2 pound lump sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
2 cups water
1 bottle rum
Rub lemons with the lumps of sugar until you have removed all the yellow zest. Put the lemony sugar into a saucepan with the lemon juice and the cinnamon stick; pour over the water and bring just to a boil. See that the lumps of sugar dissolve. Then add the rum, heat up, but do not boil, for fear of destroying the strength of the rum. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve hot.
I thought that, unlike paprika hendl (or paprika chicken) or impletata (“eggplant stuffed with forcemeat,” or patlagele impulute, according to the Annotated Dracula), mentioned, with mÄƒmÄƒligÄƒ, early in the novel, burnt rum punch sounded like something worth attempting.
No, it isn’t. Burnt rum punch tastes like Vicks Cough Syrup.
4. We watched Nosferatu, the third-known film treatment of the novel. A 1920 Russian version and a 1921 Hungarian version by Karoly Lafthay called Drakula preceded the 1922 F. W. Murnau film. Most of us had seen this best of Dracula adapations numerous times; however, how can one not watch the classic again?
5. We watched Bela Lugosi‘s film White Zombie, which he filmed two years after he made Dracula. Tonight’s crowd had all watched the 1931 film last October, so it was too soon for a re-viewing. White Zombie, however, was new to almost everybody except myself.
With Bela starring as zombie overlord ‘Murder’ Legendre, the Bela Lugosi school of acting is very much in evidence in this 1932 film. Lost until the 1960s, it is also currently the first known zombie film, albeit the zombies are of the voodoo variety and not the revenant ghouls.
6. We watched Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, the man who also did Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Of the treachery of trapeze artist Cleopatra, Matt said, “Seems like there’s a special level of hell reserved for stealing a midget woman’s man.”
As for the real sideshow cast, in Cleopatra’s words, “Great jumping Christmas!” Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton learned self-hypnosis from Harry Houdini so they could spend time alone; Mexican pinhead Schlitze (or Simon Metz) dressed as a girl for most of his career; despite having no arms or legs, Prince Randian could really roll and light his cigarettes as seen in the film (he could also shave and paint). We all marvelled at the Half-Boy’s grace (played by Johnny Eck). Browning himself was once a circus contortionist. He made only four more movies after Freaks.
I was not able to find any of Bela Lugosi’s other landmark films, Murders in the Rue Morgue or The Raven. I even went through Matt’s WC Fields DVDs to try and find the 1933 International House in which, as General Nicholas Petronovich, Bela finally had the chance to break out of stereotype and act in a comedic role. No luck.
I do regret not borrowing the Spanish DrÃ¡cula from the library. In 1930, while Bela and Browning were shooting the familiar Dracula during the day, a Spanish-language version with Spanish actors used the same set by night. Starring Carlos VillarÃas (who looks like Bela himself or Nicholas Cage, depending on the source) in the title role, the film’s director George Melford knew no Spanish whatsoever.
Oddly enough, tonight we never got to doing the usual book club thing. We ran out of time to discuss What elements of the gothic genre are found in Dracula?, What is the significance of blood in Dracula? and What are the ways Dracula remains an icon in today’s popular culture?
Our next book is Peter HÃ¸eg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. On with the crotch-grabbing!
Our previous bookclub meetings and books:
June: Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman (and here)
July: Evelyne Lever’s Marie Antoinette (not documented) with an initial foray into the attractiveness of Madame du Barry, some Zamor bashing, the deaths of Princesse de Lamballe and the Duc de Brissac, and the current vogue for Marie Antoinette.
August: Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down
September: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (not documented)
October: Bram Stoker’s Dracula with literary surprises and a Halloween diatribe.
As a Transylvanian, it’s about time I read Dracula, watch the movie(s), and understand this business. You all know Transylvania is a real place; it’s time I learned what the fantasy Transylvania is all about.
I am 100 pages from finishing the novel, first published in 1897, watched both the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula, as well as Werner Herzog’s 1979 Nosferatu remake (the 1922 Nosferatu has long been one of my favourite movies). I also took out four books of Dracula literary criticism out from the library, to nail this bugger in the heart, for once and for all. And here I thought that I was forever converted to zombies.
So while the extraordinary shock that armadillos live in Transylvania subsides, I picked up the Annotated Dracula (edited by Leonard Wold and dedicated to Bela Lugosi) to backtrack through the footnotes. The discoveries, hitherto obscured by a century’s linguistic and societal changes, stretch beyond the minor surprises at Dracula’s mustachioed face and Lucy’s brunette-ness.
Those of you who’ve yet to read the novel know the drill: spoilers ahead.
- My first surprise was to finally be interested in Jonathan Harker’s journal. Not in the narrative, but in the mechanics. The last time I picked up Dracula, in high school, I only liked the journal; when the action switched from Transylvania to Lucy and her beaus, I trudged on hoping that the story would return to Harker. After Lucy’s Bloofer Lady suffered execution, I gave up waiting for the return to the fast-paced terror at the beginning and gave up on the novel. This time around, I’ve been intrigued that Jonathan Harker writes in shorthand, thus foiling Dracula, who most certainly rifled through the Englishman’s papers. Leonard Wolf, in the Annotated Dracula, guesses that Harker uses the Pitman method. Of course, I’ve looked up this method and, should I ever have time to spare for shorthand, this will be the method I’ll learn.
- I also am curious as to the gaps in the diary: Jonathan Harker was in Dracula’s castle for two months. There is a two-week gap when the imprisoned Harker writes nothing. Is this because there was truly nothing to tell? Or is it because the vampire hunters, later in the novel, omitted the irrelevant when typing up the various accounts about Dracula? What did Jonathan do during those lost two weeks?
- Klausenburgh, which Jonathan Harker visited on May 2, is my very favourite Cluj! Cluj, overlooked by too many tourists, is a perfect gem of elegant architecture, in full colour as opposed to BucureÅŸti’s blanched houses. Harker eats in Cluj some paprika hendl, which sounds like it might be our own tocÄƒniÅ£Äƒ.
- Quoting Emily Gerard and the 1900 Baedeker for Austria, the population of Transylvania contemporary with Dracula is 1,200,000 Romanians according to the former and 1,395,000 for the latter, to the 652,221 and 765,000 Hungarians respectively. At two Romanians for every Hungarian and the numbers provided by foreigners, I wonder who took the census. Nevermind why I wonder – hey, look, both sources say there were 8,400 Armenians in Transylvania at the time! How’d they get to Romania?
- The impletata, the “eggplant stuffed with forcemeat,” may be patlagele impulute. Whatever that is. I’ll have to ask my mother if I’ve ever eaten any.
- Leonard Wolf points out that midnight marks the witching hour. But, again I’ll have to consult with my parents, because I recall that either 2 am or 3 am was the really devilish time of the day in Transylvania.
- The Stoker Dracula really said, “Listen to them – the children of the night. What music they make!” I had always thought it was a movie cliche, non-existent in the book. Indeed, its companion phrase, “I never drink wine,” does not exist except on film.
That’s enough for tonight. Halloween is almost over. My bat wings are off and soon my bat ears will come off. Good night!
Marie Antoinette Rises from the Dead
This book club thing has turned me into the bookworm I’ve always wanted to be: I’ve read four books already – only two as part of the collective reading choices – and I’ve got more waiting in line.
The book club has had other consequences.
As a result of Evelyne Lever’s Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France, I became curious about the Madame du Barry and, after reading her biography, Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty by Joan Haslip, I was won over to her camp, becoming someone that in her day would have been called a barryste.
Then, sad and confused over Marie Antoinette’s death in the Lever biography, I picked up Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey. What a difference! Whereas Lever’s Antoinette was repeatedly a “charming featherbrain,” Fraser’s Antoinette was a poor little rich girl. I should have known from the covers: Lever’s book features a close-up of Antoinette’s face at the height of her glamour before her children domesticated her, Fraser’s the group portrait of the mature Antoinette with her children. I suspect the difference is that Lever, a Frenchwoman, is a child of the French Revolution, who grew up with textbooks condemning the ancien regime and Fraser is a British aristocrat who learned to appreciate the benefits of a monarchy.
Alas, this second Marie Antoinette biography ends the same way. No matter how much Antonia Fraser explained away the queen’s deficiencies, she still died at the end of the book.
So next I picked up Olivier Blanc’s Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution. Afterwards I have Madame du Pompadour’s biography – also by Evelyne Lever- and the sole Louis XVI biography, which promises to show that the poor Louis was actually the most conscientious, most sensitive and most christian of the French kings. Once I get through those, I hope I have enough energy to throw in biographies of five other Louis (XIV, XV, XVII, XVIII and Philippe), as well as Charles X and, if I am really ambitious, Napoleon. Plus I have the VigÃ©e-Lebrun and Madame Tussaud biographies and a book on the festivals of the French Revolution.
The final consequence of this Marie Antoinette craze is that I’ve remembered how much I love Paris. This is the tenth year anniversary since my last trip there. To celebrate, I dug out the memorabilia from my first trip to Paris. Perusing the maps and ticket stubs, I began making lists of places I would visit on my next trip, with itineraries for a revolutionary prison tour, a EugÃ¨ne Delacroix tour and a tour of the palaces of Marie Antoinette. In a sudden fit, my Marie Antoinette inebriation made me subscribe to a bunch of Parisian blogs, as if that would cure me.
Luckily, it’s a good time for this particular obsession:
The Louvre Museum is promoting the sale of dozens of Marie-Antoinette- related items at its museum store, including a $160 children’s costume modeled on a portrait of Marie-Antoinette at the age of seven.
The Paris confectioner LadurÃ©e, whose towers of colorful macaroons grace the film, is paying “homage” to the queen with a Marie-Antoinette “collection,” including a white- and milk- chocolate cake imprinted with her carriage.
The perfumer Francis Kurkdjian consulted 18th-century accounts of Marie-Antoinette’s taste in concentrated scents in creating a perfume in her honor. Baccarat has produced it as a limited edition of 10 ($10,000 each) as well as a $450 version in a less expensive crystal.
The fashion designer John Galliano made Marie-Antoinette his muse in his haute couture show in Paris early this year. Lalique has made crystal earrings and a pendant inspired by one of her portraits.
The Raynaud porcelain house is selling copies of her royal dishes, the knife maker Couteaux de Sauveterre a $280 limited edition jackknife engraved with the initials “MA.”
Marie-Antoinette was said to be a picky eater, but at the one-star Les Trois Marches restaurant in Versailles, chef GÃ©rard ViÃ© has created a $127, five- course “Marie-Antoinette menu” featuring adaptations of favorite 18th-century royal dishes: stuffed sweetbreads with mushrooms, slowly boiled beef and Saint-Pierre fish with spinach and herb sauce.
(From the International Herald Tribune, via Shortcut)
Way more universal than my zombie obsession.