Poti Poti Friday

Lest my readers wonder why I am writing about bathroom fittings, I should explain that the term “poti poti” is a Catalan expression for a mixture of seemingly random things. In English, we might use the word “jumble”, or “mishmash”, while in French one might say “mélange” or “macédoine”. It is also the name of a dish, and a recipe for this is provided at the end of the entry.

Today there are a number of things which I would like to highlight for my readers:

– A hearty congratulations in advance to JB and his bride-to-be AD, whose wedding I will be attending this weekend, provided there are no further mishaps with the police. As I am with some regularity of late – bizarrely – mistaken for a police officer, perhaps I will prove of assistance in this regard. We shall see.

I am very much looking forward to the nuptial mass, and then moving on to the subsequent festivities at the beautiful Washington Club, a glorious Gilded Age mansion originally known as The Patterson House. It was designed by the legendary, albeit infamous Stanford White of New York’s beaux-arts masters McKim, Mead & White; it is the only example of White’s work here in the Capital. The home served as a temporary White House for President and Mrs. Coolidge in 1927, as the actual White House was being renovated.

– My congratulations also to Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Warner and family on the arrival of their new daughter Katherine Grace. Matt is a powerhouse of the Catholic blogosphere and runs the Fallible Blogma blog, among other ventures; his tweets in particular always alert me to interesting Catholic material on a daily basis. My best wishes to them and welcome to their new little one.

– Mr. Matthew Alderman over at Matthew Alderman Studios – and also of New Liturgical Movement and Shrine of the Holy Whapping fame – has released his Christmas Card design for this year. It is done in a charming Quattrocento woodcut style, and available to purchase online. While at the site you can also see Mr. Alderman’s proposed elevation for the new St. Paul University Catholic Center in Madison, Wisconsin, a very interesting blend of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Art Deco that reminds me (in overall impression, rather than stylistic elements) of a number of 1920’s and 1930’s campus buildings such as the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.

As to the recipe for poti poti, it is a favorite of mine which I hope my readers will enjoy. Technically it is considered a summer salad, but it is certainly tasty any time of the year. It is particularly useful if one wants to make use of bacallà, i.e., salted, dried cod (or even canned tuna, in a pinch) which is not often available in the States but seems to pop up more regularly in the winter. You can find it in many Italian or Latin American markets. In Italian it is known as “baccalà” and in Spanish as “bacalao”.

INGREDIENTS (for 4 persons)
1/2 pound of new or red potatoes, boiled and cooled
1/2 pound of dried cod, desalted (or canned tuna, drained)
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1/2 medium-sized yellow onion
2 dozen pitted or pimiento stuffed olives
olive oil
vinegar (I prefer balsamic)
salt and pepper

NOTE: Optional extras for this jumble can include sliced sausage (preferably the white Catalan sausage known as botifarra, or a similar, mild but garlicky sausage) or diced/shredded cured ham such as serrano or prosciutto.

Slice the boiled potatoes into 1/4 inch discs, rinse them to remove any excess starch, pat them dry, and put aside into a separate bowl lined with paper towels. Cut the tomato into thin wedges and the bell peppers and onion into strips, and combine all of them in a large bowl. At this point, you can either add the olives directly to the pepper-tomato-onion mixture, or you can chop them into halves or quarters first before combining. Cut the hard-boiled eggs into 1/4 inch slices, and add these and the flaked cod (or tuna) to the bowl, stirring everything gently together to combine with a rubber spatula, being careful not to break up the tomatoes and eggs too much, and put this bowl aside as well.

Make a simple vinaigrette using the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper. Now add the dried-off potatoes into the large bowl with the other ingredients, and pour the vinaigrette over the top. Use a rubber spatula to combine everything.

At this point I would normally pack everything tightly into a bowl and put it in the fridge for at least an hour, and then unmould the salad by inverting it onto a plate. You can also cover the salad with plastic wrap and allow it to marinate at room temperature. Bon profit!

Stand selling bacallà in La Boqueria Market, Barcelona

Skyscrapers and the City

Due to the height restrictions imposed on the District of Columbia over the past century since the Heights of Buildings Act was passed, in response to the construction of the Cairo Apartments, D.C. is mercifully devoid of skyscrapers and massive office towers. This ban keeps our streets from turning into the dark, chasm-like gulches that suck out the air and light of much of Manhattan. Although I enjoy visiting New York, I try to stay out of areas with very tall buildings as much as possible, as they always seem to depress the spirit.

This is not to say, however, that the Washington metropolitan area is entirely devoid of lofty structures. In fact, we are about to get quite a large one by D.C. standards. Construction is about to begin on Central Place, a 30-story glass tower which will become the tallest building in the metropolitan area when it is completed in 2013.

The site is located in the Arlington, Virginia neighborhood of Rosslyn, which is immediately on the other side of the bridge over the Potomac River from Georgetown, where this writer lives. Rosslyn is already the home of a number of tall buildings within easy sight of Georgetown, the Kennedy Center, and the Lincoln Memorial. When walking along the Georgetown waterfront park, the view of these buildings is very appealing (particularly in the evening), and the effect of their illuminated if undistinguished skyline on the high, cliff-like shore on the opposite side of the river, with Theodore Roosevelt Island inbetween, makes them seem even taller than they are. Central Place will dwarf them all, and has the added benefit of featuring an interesting pyramid roof to add to what is otherwise a series of uninteresting – and in some cases, unattractive – rectangles stood on end.

The effort to try to keep these towers out of an historic core and concentrated in one area is a laudable one, and I would hope that Washington continues to be free of these structures, much as one can admire the view from a distance. There is nothing worse than looking at an historic city center, and seeing the view marred by the presence of an ugly high-rise built without much thought or care for the neighborhood that surrounds it. For example, views of the Ramblas and old port area of Barcelona are ruined by the awful 1970’s Edificio Colón, a 28-story office tower which stands close to the Drassanes, the oldest standing medieval shipyards in Europe, with their grand vaulted bays and undulating tiled rooflines. I can remember a time when the building was prominently featured on posters and postcards of this neighborhood of the city, but more frequently these days it is cropped out of such images.

Aside from certain iconic towers, like the Empire State or Chrysler Building, most skyscrapers are, frankly, not very interesting aesthetically; some are simply awful. Attempts to add interest by putting something quirky on top are often nothing more than kitsch, and not very good kitsch either. A very well-known example is Philip Johnson’s appalling 1980’s Sony Building (formerly the AT&T Building) in Midtown Manhattan, with its giant broken pediment top.

An additional issue is that, despite their great size and bulk, many of these giant structures are, in fact, ephemeral buildings. They are made of glass and metal, even if sometimes partially clad in a stone veneer for effect. This does not bode well for their survival. Leave a 13th century stone bell tower and a 20th century steel office tower alone for 100 years without maintenance, and see which one is still standing and doing fairly well.

In any case, while Washingtonians – or at least we Georgetowners – will soon be able to enjoy an attractive, interesting, and modern glass tower on the other side of the Potomac, I am very glad it is on that other shore.

Barcelona’s historic port district, with the
hideous Edificio Colón office tower in the center-left background

>What St. Louis Saw

Gentle Reader: Today is your last opportunity to submit your entry for The Blog of the Courtier’s Birthday Contest! I have already received quite a few interesting entries, and thank those who have already provided their submissions. Details on how to enter, and a link where you can email your entry may be found here.

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Today is the Feast of St. Louis IX, King of France, who lived from 1214 to 1270. The world has changed a great deal since St. Louis’ day, but the span of his lifetime provides us with an interesting opportunity to put into context – albeit in a somewhat general way, given the constraints of a blog post – how Western art and architecture developed from the time of his birth to his death. Very often the lifespan of an historical figure merely serves to provide us with a sense of what historical (often military) events would have been witnessed or known to that person, but we do not have a sense of what cultural events took place during the same time period. For example, we all know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, landing on October 12th, but we may not know that the great Italian Cinquecento painter Piero della Francesca died on the same day.

In the case of St. Louis, at the time of his birth the position of a painter both in France and throughout Europe can be generalized as that of an anonymous artisan: we simply do not know the names of many of the painters creating altarpieces and wall paintings around the year 1214. For the sake of art history, oftentimes these anonymous individuals may be referred to as the “Master of” some existing altarpiece or wall cycle, but aside from being able to spot stylistic conventions and possible relationships, more often than not we are simply lacking biographical detail about their lives. By the year 1270 in Italy however, the great Cimabue had just begun to build his reputation in Florence, and his more famous pupil Giotto was about three years old. The seeds for the Italian Renaissance in painting had, at the time of St. Louis’ death, begun to germinate, and the painter was to, as a result, in the following centuries become what he is today, an independent figure.

With respect to architecture, two seminal works of French Architecture were going up during St. Louis’ lifetime. The present Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims, site for the coronations of many of the Kings of France, was begun in 1211 after a fire destroyed the old Romanesque-style structure which had stood on the spot the year before. St. Louis was crowned King of France in this cathedral on November 29, 1226, while the building was still under construction. Sometime between then and 1245, the famous sculpture of the “Smiling Angel of Reims”, reproduced below, was placed on the West Front of the Cathedral.

Meanwhile work on the West Front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, so familiar to us today, began shortly before the birth of St. Louis. The twin bell towers that cap the facade were completed by 1245. It is not hard for us to imagine St. Louis visiting the construction site, and being shown the progress made on the building during his lifetime. It is no exaggeration to say that the Cathedrals at Reims, Paris, and elsewhere in France that were designed and (largely) built during the reign of St. Louis are justly considered to be among the great architectural and artistic treasures of the world.

Putting saints into the context of their times is always important if we are to gain a deeper understanding into how the historic events that marked their lives might have affected their actions and their thinking with respect to spiritual matters. At the same time however, we should not ignore the products of artistic expression, such as in painting, sculpture, and architecture, that would have been familiar to them in their lifetimes. Much of this has to do with establishing, in our minds, a sense of place. Just as we get a better understanding from a secular perspective of the work of Thomas Hardy by exploring the countryside of the County of Dorset, or that of William Wordsworth by visiting the Lake District, if we are fortunate enough to see the buildings and art that the saints themselves may have admired in their own day, we may gain greater insight into how they saw their relationship to God, to the Church, and to their fellow man.

The “Smiling Angel” from the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims