Sunday, March 8, 2020

City gossip

Cities have their ebbs and flows, expanding and shrinking as circumstances change.  See this fascinating historical perspective: Beyond size, in a few cases, the name of a city becomes linked with a product or event, rendering both eternally famous or infamous beyond its immediate world importance.

For example, in a few cases, due to historical circumstances, new governments were established in a city and provided that regime with its historical name. In the 20th century, we have the Vichy Regime from 1940-1944, the “Free French” zone that gradually became a German puppet under its controversial leader, Pierre Laval, who may or may not have tried to maintain French sovereignty. Previously, after World War I, the Germans established the Weimer Republic in the town of Weimer, which lasted until 1933. That was probably the most exciting event in the history of that city. Unfortunately, the rise of Nazi Germany ended those glory days but it was fun while it lasted. Several centuries earlier, from 1309 to 1376, there was the Avignon Papacy where some seven French controlled popes ruled in opposition to the popes in Italy.  There were another series of Avignon popes but that all ended in 1417.  That claim to fame is certainly much interesting than knowing that there was a bridge in Avignon where people danced.

Many specific long-forgotten but then important historical events occurred in certain cities.  For instance, there are countless treaties named after cities but nobody but history fanatics actually remembers them. However, some are still engrained in consciousness of specific countries. For example, the Evian Accords ended the Algerian War of Independence in 1962. Likewise, both Brits and Indians (not American) remember the Black Hole of Calcutta. In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal had the chutzpah of imprisoning some 125 Europeans in the local dungeon, known as the Black, Hole, in a cell less than 24 square meters for three days, resulting in the death of 100 of them and leading to the establishment of the British government’s control of India. More recent examples of cities with tragic events with varying atrociousness are the rape of Nanjing in China by the Japanese in 1937, which affected some 200,000-300,000 people, and the American My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, which resulted in between 300 and 500 Vietnamese casualties.  It should be mentioned that, the Geneva Convention, ratified in 1949, “regulates” civilized warfare but its record is marked more by its non-compliance than the opposite. 

On a cheerier note, some foods and cities are married, so to speak. For example, I am a great fan of Manhattan clam chowder, which is made with tomatoes instead of milk, as in New England clam chowder. If you are in Menton, near Monaco, in the correct season, you can eat a Menton lemon, which is edible in its right, not being unpleasantly sour. Some people may consider Jerusalem artichoke, also called a sunroot, a delicacy, but I find it a great way to spend a day or two in the bathroom. For those carnivorous among us, two delicious cuts of beef include a New York strip, cut from the beef short loin with or without bone, and Kansas City strip cut, which a portion of the bone, the top corner of the “T”.

I assume that are many other city references in English and other languages and would love to hear about them. On the other hand, if you found this post awful, you can give me a Bronx cheer, a boo or, in virtual language, a thumb down, which I imagine most New York Knick fans have been giving their team for the last ten years or so. Regardless, most cities would agree with Oscar Wild that “only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.

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