WeWriWa—The party nears its end

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents.

This comes a bit after last week’s excerpt, when the main course of dinner (the Medieval name for lunch, the biggest meal of the day) was served. After a long, decadent meal punctuated by conversations and songs, the final foods are now brought around.

The descriptions of the Maggerini (May Day singers) and the people watching from the house are based on Marie Spartali Spillman’s 1887 painting, seen below.

Another round of basins and towels were brought around at the conclusion of the meal, and then we had dragées to close our stomachs until we ate again. On offer were aged cheese, lumps of spiced sugar, honey-covered almonds, and hippocras, a hot wine mixed with cinnamon, spices, and sugar. After a final hand-washing, the tables were cleared, and everyone gradually dispersed to different corners of the house and yard.

The sweet sounds of Maggerini brought me to one of the side doors. Out in the courtyard were seven children playing cymbals, horns, and lutes to accompany their heavenly verses. They were all bedecked with fragrant flowers and held more flowers or alder and laburnum branches. Behind them, a maidservant was drawing water from a well, and an older girl sat on the uppermost of the stone steps around the well, holding a long violet chain in one hand and a large cloth sack in the other, presumably to collect their courtesy tokens.

When they finished their performance, Beatrice’s mother, Monna Cilia, came forward to distribute gold florins, hard-boiled eggs, figs, and pears. As she went around rewarding each child, I noticed Beatrice was standing to my right, leaning against a yellow, blue, and lavender cloth draped over the half-wall above a small tree in an earthenware jug. Her face was very intent as she observed her mother’s charity and the happy faces of our guests.

WeWriWa—The main course is served

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weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents. They’re now walking in the garden.

This comes right after last week’s excerpt, when the partygoers were summoned to dinner (the Medieval name for lunch, the biggest meal of the day). Per that era’s scientific views, a meal had to begin with apéritifs to open the stomach, followed by light foods which were easy to digest, and then somewhat heartier foods. Only after all these preliminary foods had been eaten did the main course come out.

The Taste of Medieval Food - Medievalists.net

Our next course consisted of cabbage, more fruit, broth, duck meat, lettuce, and herbs. Finally, the servants brought the towels and water basins around again so we could wash our hands in preparation for the main course which sat temptingly in the middle of every table. And what a marvellous meal it was.

Though everything I ever could’ve dreamt of at a dinner was on offer, I regardless waited to see what Beatrice and Ricovero would put on their plates first. This wasn’t my home, and I was a first-time guest. If they thought I were a glutton or more interested in the food than their company, my chances of being invited back would diminish.

“You must eat your fill,” Ricovero said. “Don’t wait for us to start eating. This isn’t Great Lent.”

“Yes, please serve yourself whatever you’d like,” Beatrice said.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“All this food is here for us to enjoy in abundance. Calendimaggio only comes once a year.”

I smiled at her and began filling my silver plate with an abundance of hard-boiled eggs, bread, cheese, sausages, beef, olives, roasted vegetables, and porpoise meat. Then I requested a servant fill my tankard with mulberry juice. If my stomach still permitted the intake of food afterwards, I planned to eat a slice of vegetable and eel pie, ravioli, and mussels. It was imperative to preserve enough space in one’s stomach for the dragées which closed every meal, but I wasn’t sure when I’d again get the chance to eat so much decadent, delicious food in one sitting. At least I wasn’t tempted by everything on the table. To this day, I’ve never had the desire to eat swan, lark and other songbirds, porcupine, whale, or hedgehog, despite their popularity among the wealthy. People often develop many strange habits when they acquire or are born into too much money.

WeWriWa—Called to dinner

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents. They’re now walking in the garden.

This comes a few pages after last week’s excerpt. Before being called to dinner (the Medieval name for lunch, the biggest meal of the day), Beatrice suggested Dante might become friends with her brother Ricovero. If he’s friends with both of them, her parents will be more inclined to approve future visits.

The next-best-friend Dante mentions in La Vita Nuova is believed to be one of Beatrice’s brothers, and we know from Folco Portinari’s will (which names all his children) that his oldest sons were Manetto and Ricovero. His other three sons were under eighteen as of 1288, which would’ve made them too young to be friends from childhood.

The Taste of Medieval Food - Medievalists.net

Just then a maidservant came into the garden and announced it was time for dinner. Without having to be asked twice, I went towards the door and followed the other guests towards the great hall, where an immense feast awaited.

Beatrice led me to a long walnut table where all the other children were taking seats. The scents of the food laid out before us were so tempting, nothing like the meals I usually ate at home. Babbo and I didn’t eat like peasants, but we were nowhere close to the level of a wealthy family like the Portinaris, who regarded things like wheat and beef as everyday staples instead of luxuries to be indulged in when finances could justify it.

“Ricovero, this is my new friend Dante,” she told a boy dressed in a burgundy tunic and cornflower blue hose. “Mamma and Babbo will be more likely to invite him to visit again if he’s friends with you too. He’s serious and thoughtful like you, so I think you’ll like him.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Ricovero said.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“If Bice likes you and thinks you’re a good person, I must too. She’s a better discerner of worth than many adults.”

We chose chairs near the back left-hand side of the table after almost everyone else had claimed a seat. Presently, maidservants and manservants came around with linen hand towels and shallow silver basins for washing our hands before eating. After that, we said Grace in one voice, and then finally we were at liberty to partake of the apéritifs eaten at the start of every meal to open the stomach.

There were so many to choose from, but I didn’t want to reverse the positive impression I’d made so far, and so settled for just a few pieces of sugar-coated ginger and honey-covered anise. For an apéritif beverage, I directed a manservant to pour me a tankard of sweetened milk. I could drink wine any time I wanted, but milk was a special treat I didn’t often have the opportunity to enjoy.

WeWriWa—Sitting down to dine

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing excerpts from a middle grade historical fantasy short story called “The Search for Shoki,” which I wrote for a contest last year. It’s set in 737 Japan, during the last year of a smallpox epidemic which started in 735 and killed one-third of the population.

Umiko Hamasaki and Mizuki, daughter of her household’s senior lady-in-waiting, are on a mission to find friendly yokai who’ll lead them to Shoki, a great slayer of disease demons. They’re now in a temple occupied only by one elderly woman, who invited them to dine along with their horse Ayumu.

“What is your name, esteemed lady?” Mizuki asked as she sank onto a blue cushion.

“You’ll soon figure out my name.” Their hostess lifted the teakettle and filled three cups. “This is persimmon tea.”

Umiko and Mizuki drank while their hostess stirred the pots again and presently filled six bowls with the culinary delights. As a final touch, she grated fresh ginger on top of each and stirred it in. No sooner had the food been set before them than Umiko remembered something.

“May we retrieve more of our luggage, honored elder? We forgot the bag with our chopsticks.”

The first nine lines end here. A few more to finish this scene follow.

“Chopsticks?  You girls use chopsticks?  You must be wealthy!”

“I’m from an aristocratic family, though not the richest family in Japan.  My companion is of lower rank, but not so low she has to eat with her hands.”

“We don’t always use chopsticks,” Mizuki said. “I’m more used to using them than my hands, but I don’t feel insulted at having to eat the old-fashioned way.”

Zabar’s

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Copyright Fuzheado

Zabar’s is a specialty food store which opened in 1934 and moved to Broadway between 80th and 81st Streets in 1941. The building started life as the Calvin Apartments, four three-story structures erected in 1882, and stood out like a sore thumb among the elegant, freestanding mansions which characterized upper Broadway at the time.

In 1890, developer Christian Blinn sold it to real estate investor Julia Schwarz, and in 1892, he entered a loonybin. He filed suit against her in 1901, claiming he’d been insane and had no knowledge about the sale.

The jury couldn’t decide, so the judge ruled in favor of Ms. Schwarz.

Copyright Fuzheado

In 1919, Ms. Schwarz leased the building for $30,000 a year to the C&L Lunch Company, and commissioned architects Whinston & Whinston to remodel and combine the four buildings into one complex. A small apartment on the next lot north, built 1890, was also included.

The Tudor-style Calvin Apartments opened in 1920. In addition to being beautifully decorated both inside and out, they promised on-premise dining. They were very expensive, with two-room apartments going for $165 a month ($2,134.09 today).

In the 1920s, the average NYC rent was only $40 a month, and houses sold for $15 a square foot. Not exactly apartments intended for normal people!

Enter Louis and Lillian Zabar.

Louis Zabar was born in Ukraine in 1901 and came to the U.S. via Canada in the early 1920s, after his dad was murdered in a pogrom. Lillian Teit was probably born in 1902 or 1903, though she pretended to be younger when she immigrated from Ukraine in the mid-Twenties, fearful she’d be deported for being too old.

Lillian lived with relatives in Philadelphia, and Louis lived in Brooklyn, where he rented a stall in a farmers’ market. Later, Louis became head of a grocery’s smoked fish section. When Lillian moved to NYC, she and Louis renewed their old acquaintance from their hometown and married 2 May 1927.

They started a deli in Brooklyn, selling Lillian’s wonderful homemade foods, among them stuffed cabbage, blintzes, coleslaw, and potato salad. When the couple moved to Manhattan, they set up shop in the third building north from 80th St. in the old Calvin Apartments. By that time, the complex had become a hotel.

By the time of his death in 1950, Louis owned ten Manhattan markets.

Oldest son Saul (born 1929), a med student at the University of Kansas, came home to help the family business. He thought he’d only be there for a few years, but it turned into the rest of his life. Saul became the store’s president, and middle brother Stanley became vice-president after graduating the University of Pennsylvania.

Youngest brother Eli operates his own food businesses.

In 1953, entrepreneur Murray Klein (1923–2007) joined Zabar’s and began transforming it from a small deli to one of the city’s most renowned specialty markets. He started as a floor sweeper and stock clerk, and quit several times, but eventually became a full partner in 1960.

In the 1970s, there were plans to buy a building on the west side of Broadway between 82nd and 83rd Streets, but hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) enabled them to buy the entire former Calvin Apartments instead and expand that way. They also gained the rooms upstairs, which were once the Cedar Hotel.

Copyright Nate Steiner

Mr. Klein knew the store’s core clientele and most loyal customers were Ashkenazic Jews who went there for things like lox, pastrami, bagels, and babka, but he also knew good businesses need to draw more than one demographic.

To gain the patronage of a wider patronage seeking sophisticated food, he offered things like brie, caviar, white truffles, and gourmet chocolate. He also began selling household wares. Even more unusually, he sold at below-market prices and at a loss, even for luxury foods.

Copyright Rob Young

Zabar’s hasn’t yet featured in my books, but I look forward to including it.

More information:

http://www.zabars.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Zabars-Site/default/Link-Page?cid=ZABARS_STORY

http://www.westsiderag.com/2012/08/27/upper-west-side-essential-eats-zabars

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/realestate/streetscapes-zabar-s-broadway-between-80th-81st-street-its-horizons-widened-it.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/12/23/nyregion/lillian-zabar-co-founder-of-quintessential-deli.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/07/nyregion/07klein.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/31/nyregion/31zabars.html

http://historicalny.com/Historical_NY/Zabars_and_The_Hadrian.html

http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2020/02/tudor-charm-on-upper-west-side-2241.html