Thursday, July 19, 2012

American Bullfrog

Several days ago we had thundershowers during the evening and I went to the gym early the next morning when it was very warm and muggy. I got home about 7:00 a.m. and our cat was on our back patio staring down the largest frog I've ever seen. 
I wouldn't have been more surprised to see an African lion. We don't have any natural ponds or streams near our home and I'm not aware of any artificial ponds either. It was just a few years ago that I became aware of small tree frogs in the vicinity as we've  found two of them dead, and shriveled up, in our home. I have also heard the tree frogs croaking at night, but I've not seen a live one. Then this monstrous frog arrives almost literally on our doorstep and I am having to re-think everything I've thought about our local frog population. 
I've never heard of a bullfrog locally and how could this gigantic frog be surviving so far from water? I decided to catch it and keep it in an aquarium for a few days. Then I found that it had giant hops, about a foot at a time, and it got pretty good air. But without water to escape into, it was an easy catch. 
After several days and unsuccessfully trying to feed it two dozen large crickets, I decided I needed to let it go, but I was anxious about releasing it in our yard as I still can't believe it can survive there. Then I remembered that a friend of mine has a large artificial pond, several miles away, that he has introduced bullfrogs into from out of the area. 
I called him and he let me release this frog into the pond. 
While there, I saw several other resident bullfrogs. 
It was quite a thrill seeing others of these monsters. 
I also heard one of them croaking from a sanctuary of tall bullrushes and it was music to my ears. So deep, low, loud and powerful. Here is a link to some bullfrog calls
The bullfrog is native to most of the east, south and midwest U.S. as far as about New Mexico and Colorado. Because their large, meaty legs, are good eating, frog farms all over the U.S. raised them and escapees soon found their ways into areas they were not native to. Now they are found in most of California except for the dry deserts and high elevations. They are generally not picky eaters and will eat other frogs, including bullfrogs, reptiles, fish, birds (I found a picture on the internet of one eating a small bird), mammals and invertebrates. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Herings im Martinswinkel: Cologne

I had a lunch at Herings im Martinswinkel located at Fischmarkt 9 in Cologne, Germany that I will probably always remember. There is a story behind it. I had been completely vegan, with no added oils (to the best I could under the circumstances) for 49 days (seven weeks) for health reasons and we were into our sixth day of Viking Rhine River cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. It had been extremely difficult staying vegan on the cruise as Viking served wonderful looking dinners and I was having a hard time finding enough vegan food to eat. As we got off the boat with a guide and started walking down the side of the Rhine we passed an area that our guide said was the historic fish market, just behind St. Martin's Church and a short distance from Cologne Cathedral. A fishmonger statue was in the square

with various fishmonger women in various poses. 
Our guide pointed to Herings im Martinswinkel, a small fish restaurant and bar nearby 
and said that if we wanted fish for lunch, that restaurant was a good one to try (the name of the restaurant means herring in Martin's corner, a reference to St. Martin's Church). He mentioned that herring was one of the fish that had been popular off the boats back in the day. I thought of our wonderful meal of herring at Timbaali Restaurant in Porvoo, Finland last year and decided that if I was going to do a food splurge on the trip, this might be the place to do it. We went on the visit Cologne Cathedral and the Roman Museum next door to it, then Judy and I went out in search for a place to eat and I steered back to find this place. I'm not sure it would have been extraordinary otherwise, but after seven weeks of eating vegan, the herring was a heavenly delight. The smoked herring was so good, I could have eaten much more of it. 

I can still taste it. I savored each bite. Close behind was the pickled herring in beet.
The smoked trout was good, but not quite as moist or flavorful as the smoked herring. 
From there, the food was in the average to less than average category, but those first items were so good, that it continues to stand out in my mind. The breaded and fried anchovies were kind of charred and not very tasty. The shrimp was mediocre. Fairly tasteless. The breaded and fried fish fingers dipped in tartar sauce were good, but I had a hard time getting beyond the fat I was consuming between the breading, frying and mayonnaise in the tartar sauce. But oh, the herring.  And I did enjoy some of the fish related decor.
Going back to the fishmonger statue, I think those in our group who would have seen me eating this meal would have had this reaction. 
But this was my reaction. 
Judy asked me how I felt about it: eating this meal after seven weeks of eating vegan. My body had no adverse reaction and (unfortunately) the fish still tasted wonderful (some have said that after weeks of being vegan, meat no longer tasted good to them). I did have four more days on the trip where I ate non-vegan, most notably some more herring from a small vendor near the Leiden train station. Again divine. It was hard in a large group to find good vegan alternatives. However, as of this post, I have been vegan again for four weeks and feeling good. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey, or Stift Melk in German, is located on a rocky outcrop
overlooking a tiny arm of the the Danube River in Melk, Austria. 

It is a Benedictine abbey, a Roman Catholic monastic community that observes the rules of St. Benedict. It was founded in 1089 when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria, gave one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey, also located in Austria. Its library became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection and it was a major site for the production of manuscripts. The current abbey was built between 1702 and 1736, after the older one was destroyed by fire.
 Between 1780 and 1790, while other Austrian abbeys were seized and dissolved under Emperor Joseph II, Melk managed to survive due to its fame and academic stature. 
It survived a threat during the Napoleonic Wars when Napoleon made Melk his headquarters in his campaign against Austria and probably used the abbey for a lookout. It survived the period following the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 when the school and a large part of the abbey were confiscated by the state. 
A more recent restoration project, completed in 1996, was financed by the sale of the abbey's Gutenberg Bible to Harvard. The school was returned to the abbey after World War II and it now has about 900 students, both boys and girls. This visit was not part of our original vacation plans. We had rented a car and were driving to Mauthausen Concentration Camp. As Judy looked through Rick Steve's and read about places we were driving past, she read a glowing account about Melk Abbey and we decided to stop and visit on our way back.  I was surprised when we first arrived at the garish orange/yellow color. It seemed to me almost like a Disney set, completely unreal. It took me awhile to get beyond that. What really turned me was the library, one of the most impressive and beautiful collection of volumes I've ever seen (unfortunately we could not take pictures). 

The rules of St. Benedict are for monks living in a monastery under the rule of an abbot. Each monk must give absolute obedience to the abbot. Moderation in speech is recommended, but not strict silence. Humility is divided into 12 degrees, or steps in a ladder that lead to heaven. They really speak to how the monks are to act: (1) fear God; (2) do God's will instead of your own; (3) be obedient to your superior; (4) be patient with hardships; (5) confess your sins; (6) accept yourself as a "worthless workman;" (7) consider yourself "inferior to all"; (8) follow your superior's example; (9) do not speak until spoken to; (10) do not laugh; (11) speak simply and modestly; and (12) be humble in bodily posture. Wow. Then the monks' days are laid out, with eight daily prayers and three or four nightly prayers, doing recitations of psalms and canticles from scripture. The manner of prayer is specified. Each monk is to have a separate bed and to sleep in his habit to be ready to rise without delay. A graduated scale of punishments is set forth for failure to obey authority. Private possessions are forbidden. All must serve in the kitchen. They are to care for the sick, old and young. They are read to aloud during meals and hand signs are used during meals to avoid interrupting the reading. And LOTS, LOTS more. I would not have survived as a monk.

We had very little time before closing, so we hurried through most of the abbey that was open and spent the balance of our time in the beautiful Baroque church, which is under the dome and two towers which you can see from the outside. That sealed the deal for me.

Inside, looking up at the inside of the dome and the gorgeous frescoes on the sealing surrounding it. 
A closer look at the inside of the dome.
The high altar is below. 
Above the altar is a papal crown which refers to the head of the church.  
In the middle, above that crown, Peter and Paul, the patron saints, shake hands in farewell, apparently just before they are to die. 
To their left are Daniel, Jeremiah and David and to their right, pictured below, are Isaiah, Ezekiel and Gideon. 
The theological theme of the church is 2 Timothy 1:5: "Without a just battle there is no victory." Above Peter and Paul, angels hold a crown that martyrs are to receive 
and to the left and right (out of the picture) are the instruments of their death: for Peter, an upside-down cross; and for Paul, a sword. Above the crown, God the Father sits enthroned on the Earth, 
with (out of the picture) Moses to his left and Aaron to his right. The victorious symbol of the cross, above them, shines above everything. Below, from the back of the church, looking toward the high altar. 
In a ceiling fresco, God the Father orders the archangel Michael to carry out Lucifer's fall. 
A glass sarcophagus containing a "catacomb saint" given to the monastery by Cardinel Crivelli in 1722. 
An altar painting by Johann Michael Rottmayr in 1723, "Adoration of the Magi." 
Overhead is a ceiling fresco with jubilant angels. 
Below, an altar dedicated to St. Coloman. 
St. Coloman was a monk of either Irish or Scottish origin, and of royal lineage, who was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. About 15 miles from Vienna, at a place called Stockerau, he was stopped and accused of being a Moravian spy. He could not speak German, and after being tortured, he was hanged alongside several robbers on October 18, 1012. According to tradition, his body was left to rot for 18 months and stayed incorrupt and untouched by animals. The scaffolding where he was hung took root and put out branches. St. Coloman's remains were brought to Melk Abbey in 1014 (I'm not sure how that works when the abbey was not founded until 1089 - but those are just details). However, several decades later, his body was taken to Hungary. Coloman became the object of a popular cult in Austria, Swabia, Hungary and Bavaria. Sometime later, the relics were taken back to Melk Abbey where they are now contained in the sarcophagus on the altar. 
A gold statue of Coloman kneels on the left-hand side with the insignia of a pilgrim, 
which I believe is the rectangular clay or pewter-alloy canteen, called an ampoule, hanging off his buttocks. He also has scallop shells on his cloak that were worn by pilgrims returning from Compostela. To the right (out of the picture) are his hat, a king's crown and scepter, due to a legend that states that Coloman was an Irish prince. On the left side of the altar is a statue of St. Donatus and on the right a statue of St. Florian. 
St. Florian is the patron saint of Linz, Austria and lived at the time of Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. He was commander of the imperial army in the Roman province of Noricum, which covered today's Austria and part of Slovenia. When the Romans determined to eradicate Christianity, Aquilinus was sent to the area and ordered Florian to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. Florian refused and accepted the beatings of the soldiers who used clubs, spikes and fire to torture him. He ultimately had a stone tied around his neck and was drowned in the Enns River, a tributary of the Danube in Austria. 

Below, an altar dedicated to St. Benedict, whose rule the abbey follows.
The group of figures below depicts the death of St. Benedict among his fellow brothers. St. Benedict is the man with a beard in the center. 
The empty sarcophagus beneath them bears the inscription: Ent sepulchrum eius gloriosum ("His grave will be glorious" - Is. 11:10). To the upper left (below) is a statue of St. Berthold of Garsten. 
Berthold was a Benedictine monk who developed Garsten Abby in upper Austria and became its first abbot in 1111. He introduced the Hirsau Reforms into Austria, which focused on discipline, obedience, continuous supervision of the monks, and tough punishments for infringements of the rules. He died in 1142. By his inclusion, I would guess that Melk Abbey also introduced the Hirsau Reforms. In the 15th century, Melk was the center of a reform movement which reinvogorated monastic life in Austria and Southern Germany. Above the obelisk, an angel with outstretched arms receives St. Benedict's soul. 
Above that, God the Father is ready to take St. Benedict into his arms. 
On the ceiling above, a fresco, with St. Benedict at the center, 
shows St. Benedict's triumphal ascent to heaven. 
To the right, a closeup of a group of angels, one holding an outstretched arm with a cross, appear to be attacking a demon (perhaps Lucifer) and sending him tumbling.  I suppose that it may be the influence of St. Benedictine which is helping defeat the demons. 
Below, an altar dedicated to St. Nicolas 
has a painting by Paul Troger, in 1746, showing St. Nicolas being led to heaven by angels. 
A fresco above it, on the ceiling, also shows St. Nicolas being led to heaven by angels. 
On the way out of the church, we found another fresco with St. Benedict, up in the air, surrounded by angels. The theme plays out again and again. Good people overcoming difficulties and being led to heaven by angels. 
After leaving, we had dinner in Melk and on our way out caught the abbey in the light just as the sun was going down. The sun on the orange/yellow exterior was breathtaking. This was our final view of the abbey.