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Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter
delving deep into the past

World News

Dateline October 1, AD 1513

reprinted October 1, 2014     - - -     Volume 1 Number 1

On the Steps of
the Church of San Sisto

The Earliest Sidewalk Chalk Artists

EUROPE: Piacenza, Italy
A new altarpiece was unveiled yesterday morning at Piacenza's Benedictine monastery, the Chiesa di San Sisto. The nearly nine-foot-tall oil painting was greeted by sighs and murmurs of wonder by all in attendance. This Madonna is already garnering acclaim as the finest of all the works of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known to many simply as Raphael. The "Prince of Painters" has worked for months on this masterpiece, commissioned a year ago by Pope Julius II himself.

Since Piacenza lies upon the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route running from France to Rome, La Madonna di San Sisto (or "the Sistine Madonna") is sure to be viewed by many travelers and its fame carried far and wide.

The larger-than-life Madonna and Child are flanked by Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara, and a misty cloud of angels fills the background. Even young children take delight at sight of the majestic oil painting, for at the bottom loll two whimsical cupids, as bored as any child during a long service.

Like many others, this Madonna is sure to give inspiration to the i Madonnari, itinerant artists who color the streets with imitations of the art within cathedrals. One of these artists has already reproduced the Sistine Madonna on the pavement beside San Sisto's steps.

picture: the Sistine Madonna by Rafael
Unlike Raphael, who works in oil paints of many rich hues, the i Madonnari have a palette of only three colors: chalk white, pottery-shard red, and charcoal black. Using pavement for a canvas, they do their best to reproduce the master's artistry out under the open sky.

Come along and see for yourself, and if you like the madonnari's work, toss him a penny or two for his labors. But hurry, before the autumn rains wash the artwork away!

Cultures and Languages Insert

i Madonnari is pronounced "ee mah-doe-NARR-ee"

In later decades and a cooler climate, sidewalk chalk artists of England will go by the name of "screevers."

Disaster Averted
at Royal Incan

Spanish Incursions
        Probably to Blame

Machu Picchu, Peru
picture: dwellings at Machu Picchu
photo source:
Another large earthquake struck last evening, rattling the inhabitants of Machu Picchu for the third time this week. Experts have determined the tremblor's strength to be in the category of trees-thrashing-but-not-crashing.

The nobility sent surveyors out at break of dawn to look for damages to walls and buildings. As usual, the dry-stone construction proved sturdy enough to withstand the quaking at almost every site.

In a new building at the lowest level, one window collapsed in the quake. Surveyors determined that the builder had shaped it as a simple rectangle, deviating for some reason from the standard trapezoid. The builder will be fined for such poor workmanship.

The surveyors found no significant damage to the cobblestone highways, except where a landslide obstructed half the roadway at one switchback. The paving itself proved sound.

Meanwhile, farmers are busily inspecting the bulwarks of their mountainside terraces. With potato planting time at hand, any repairs must be done quickly.

Crowds gathered midmorning at the foot of the Temple of the Sun, comparing counts of the latest quakes and speculating at the cause of these ominous happenings. There are rumors circulating that the gods must be displeased with the presence of those greedy, disrespectful, gold-digging Spaniards in the north. The nobility indicate a tax might soon be levied to pay for atoning sacrifices, and also to pay for sentries to guard against the foreignors in the approach to our mountains.

(Transcribed at Cusco from a dispatch coded in knots on traditional kipu cords.)

Prowling the West Indies
Trading Ships on the Eastern Route

Former governor Juan Ponce de León recently returned from an exploratory voyage to the north, in pursuit of a rumored fountain of youth. The 53-year-old greybeard came back empty-handed and disappointed, with no cure for his bad knee or his receding hairline.
picture: pumpkin leaves and bright golden blossoms

Neither did he find the other treasure he was seeking. The only gold to be seen was in the blossoms of sprawling, large-leafed vines, which produce an odd kind of tan-colored melon.

(Native plants: Seminole pumpkins.)

Ponce de León found the coast abounding with so many other varieties of blossoming plants, he gave the lush land the apt name of La Florida, or Place of Flowers, and claimed the territory for Spain.

Certain unsavory characters appeared along the way, protesting that they had prior claim on the land. They appear willing to defend their stakes. Ponce de León left this controversy to be resolved in future negotiations. He is talking about making another expedition within a year or two.

Meanwhile, other explorations are underway in the area. Across the Caribbean Sea to the southwest, another Spaniard is exploring the mainland…

Panama— Vasco Nunez de Balboa, governor of the Spanish colony of Veragua, is currently on expedition heading south into the mountains. A few months ago he struck inland from the indigenous coastal town called Panama, investigating rumors of a great sea to the south.

Breaking news:

Governor Balboa has reached the crest of the mountain range where he did indeed sight a vast expanse of ocean beyond. He has named it Mar del Sur, though a Portuguese member of his party suggested the name Pacifico.

Balboa appears to have crossed a great isthmus. This sighting leads many to speculate on the configuration of these New World land masses which have proven such a barrier to circumnavigating the globe. More exploratory missions will be needed to chart the coastlines, as merchant ships financed by the Spanish crown seek to be first to reach the spice islands of the East Indies by an eastern route.

Prowling the East Indies, part 1
Trading Ships on the Western Route

ASIA: Makassar, Indonesia
For the third year in a row, Portuguese traders have sailed into port at the bustling city of Makassar. Trading goods in this venture of 1513 include copperware, tools, wine and textiles. Samples of their wares can be viewed on the docks beginning on Monday.

The Portuguese are seeking to trade primarily for "noz-moscada" and "cravo-da-india" from the Spice Islands of the East Indies. Our Malay interpreter believes the Europeans are referring to nutmeg and cloves, and to our neighboring Maluku Islands. As everyone knows, nutmeg grows only on the Banda Islands, and cloves can be found nowhere else in the world but on the isles of Ternate and Tidore.

Port authorities informed the Portuguese that those territories converted not long ago to Islam, so the traders must deal with the sultans of each island. It is to be hoped that the ongoing rivalry between those sultans will not spread to cause conflict between the Arab factions here in Makassar.

The Portuguese sailors mentioned a colony their company recently established on the west coast of India, meant to become the center of their trading activity in this part of the world.

The Europeans also seek pearls, gold, copper, and camphor -- goods often seen traded in Makassar's marketplace, coming from as far away as China and Siam.

Culinary Insert
When the Portuguese traders arrived in port at Makassar, our food section editor talked the ship's cook into sharing the following recipe with our readers.

"To make Moorish Chicken, cut up a fat hen and cook on a mild flame, with 2 spoons of fat, some bacon slices, lots of coriander, a pinch of parsley, some mint leaves, salt and a large onion. Cover and let it get golden brown, stirring once in a while. Then cover hen with water and let boil, and season with salt, vinegar, cloves, saffron, black pepper and ginger. When chicken is cooked, pour in four beaten yolks. Then take a deep dish, lined with slices of bread, and pour chicken on top."

Note for our Muslim subscribers:
This recipe contains pork, so it is several permutations away from its "Moorish" origins. Make the necessary substitution for bacon.

Note for readers in the distant future:
Redacted recipe for Moorish Chicken may be found at this page.

* * *

Another 15th century Portuguese recipe using cloves:

Meat Filled Pastries

Take mutton, beef rump roast, or fresh pork loin, and a slice of bacon. Mince well. Saute cloves, saffron, black pepper, ginger, dried cilantro, juice of lemon or unripe grapes, and a spoon of butter, into which you add the minced meat and pork fat. Cook over low heat.

After it's cooked, let cool and make the pastries, well filled: brush with egg yolk and bake in a hot oven.

The same method can be used for chicken pastries. The pastries will be tastier if filled with raw meat.

Prowling the East Indies, part 2
From Broadcloth to Fishing Rights

AUSTRALIA: Milingimbi Island, Australia
This morning a flotilla of Makassan fishermen arrived on the northern shore of Milingimbi, a regular yearly appearance. But the gifts they brought today were nothing like the same old goods such as the ever-useful metal knives and fishhooks. At noon the fishermen unfolded lengths of broadcloth, a woolen fabric dyed the bright hues of green, red, and gold.

The novel textile made quite a stir among the locals. The Yolngu have never before seen fabric so finely woven, let alone capturing the vivid colors of leaves and sunset.

The head of the Yolngu clan made formal acceptance of the gifts, and once again granted the Makassans the right to fish these waters. The two groups celebrated another friendly reunion with a feast on the beach. Aboriginal musicians played clicker sticks and the droning mandapul (doomed in a later age to be given the ridiculous name of didgeridoo).

The fabric, the Makassans said as the evening wore on, came from a trading ship newly come from a far-off land and currently docked at their home city of Makassar. The fishermen had traded some of last year's pearls for the broadcloth.

Tomorrow the fishermen will begin scouring local waters for pearls and trepang (sea cucumbers) as they do every year, their seafood catch intended for markets in China where it is considered a delicacy.

Cultural Arts Insert
illustration: a mandapul, native name for a didgeridoo According to Australian Aboriginal custom, only males may play the mandapul in public.
To play a mandapul, one blows through flapping lips into the long wooden tube, producing an eerie droning note. Rather than variations in pitch, it produces variations in voice depending on the lip technique.

A master mandapul player can continue forcing air into the tube from his cheeks while taking a quick breath in through the nostrils, without interrupting the tone. This is called circular breathing, and has proven to be good therapy for snorers.

Astronomical Growth
The Center of the Known World

AFRICA: Timbuktu, West Africa
This year's census shows the city's population has reached the milestone marker of 50,000. Recent growth comes in part from the numerous students flocking to the University of Sankoré where they pursue studies not only of the Qu'ran but also in mathematics and geometry, geography, history, chemistry, physics, and astronomy.

Timbuktu's wealth of scholars and learning has surpassed its fabled reputation as a center of trade. Never since the Library of Alexandria has Africa seen such a large collection of books, numbering well over 400,000 manuscripts. Many scholars also maintain their own private libraries, and students are encouraged to copy as many books as possible during their term of education.

Scholars and poets are also welcome at the court of Askia the Great in nearby Gao, capital of the Songhai Empire. Askia promotes Islam, being a devout Muslim himself, but is tolerant of other religions and forces Islam on no one. The marketplaces of Timbuktu teem with Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants.

illustration: an ancient manuscript salvaged from Timbuktu
one of the medieval manuscripts
from a Timbuktu library

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