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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 04/29/16

Friday, April 29, 2016

CHEESE ROLLING FROM STILTON, ENGLAND!



    Cheese Rolling has become an annual event in Stilton and every May Day hundreds of villagers and visitors make their way to the main street to watch the teams battling for the honour of being called the "Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions".

Stilton History and The Cheese



The Bell Inn, where the rolling starts!



Ancient Stilton

    No one knows who lived here first - the earliest finds date from the time of the Roman occupation and are probably associated with the road that runs from London to the army fortress at Lincoln, which the Saxons later called Ermine Street.
    For centuries this road seems to have been little used, the important route was the east-west road, Fen Street and Church Street, which is why our oldest building, the Church of St Mary Magdalene, is found away from the main road that now exists.






    Stilton gets three mentions in the Doomesday Book of 1086 as three landowners, the King, the Bishop of Lincoln and Eustace held land here. The Great North Road had become a busy thoroughfare by the fifteenth century and Stilton was a well-known staging post; at one time there were 14 inns or ale houses for a permanent population of around 500 to 600 people. While most earned their living from farming, an analysis of the 1841 census, taken just before the long distance coach trade all but disappeared to be superseded by the railway, showed that occupations directly connected to the coaches were important too.







Village Pubs &  The Cheese

    All four of the present inns have very ancient origins, even though their buildings have been changed and modernised several times. We owe our famous cheese to the coach trade. Any Stiltonian can relate tales of visitors asking "where is the cheese made?...", only to be told "‘in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire".
    The most widely accepted explanation is that the cheese came down to be sold at one of the coach stops in Stilton, perhaps The Bell or The Angel. As early as 1722 Daniel Defoe (the author of "Robinson Crusoe") ate some here and mentioned that the village was already famous for its cheese. The recipe was passed down through the Beaumont family of Quenby in Leicestershire. By 1830 a former housekeeper at Quenby, Elizabeth Orton, made cheese in her farmhouse. Her daughter married Cooper Thornhill who kept The Bell Inn and he sold the cheese. He was famous (or infamous) as a larger-than-life character who long held the record for riding to London and back.








Modern Stilton

    Today, all Stilton cheese is factory made, but still only in the three counties with milk produced locally. It takes a gallon of milk to make one pound of cheese and a lot of skilled hard work is still needed. Each cheese matures for 3 months after which the blue veins appear naturally as oxygen is allowed to enter through holes pierced by stainless steel needles. A whole cheese weighs 15lb.



One of the officials watching a race



    Stilton’s dependence on the main road has been its undoing twice; in the middle of the nineteenth century when the railway line passed to the east through Holme and Yaxley, and in 1959 when the present A1 Stilton by-pass was opened. The village became a ghost village; The Bell actually closed and fell into disrepair and other businesses also disappeared. In 1962 Tom McDonald of The Talbot and Malcolm Moyer of The Bell, aided and abetted by telephone engineer Fred Linstead who provided a telegraph pole, cheered up their drinkers by organising the first ever Cheese Rolling along a course outside the present Post Office on Easter Monday.





A Little History On The Cheese Roll

How did it start?

    It would be nice to be able to say that the event is "as old as the village" or that it's origins have been lost in "the mists of time" but really no one knows how far back the tradition of rolling the cheeses goes. Midway through the Twentieth Century, when the village had turned into rather a quiet place having been by-passed by the A1 and the inns and businesses had seen a big drop in their trade, a landlord of one of the pubs decided to revive an ancient tradition. Or so he told everyone! He could be seen rolling a Stilton Cheese along the road outside his pub. People came to stand and watch and eventually joined in. And so the sport began - again.








The Rules

    It was originally run on Easter Monday and there was not a lot of uniformity to it to begin with. It seems a piece of wood in the shape of a Stilton Cheese was produced, a starting line drawn up somewhere between the The Stilton Cheese Inn and The Talbot and the finish line was outside The Bell Inn. Brave teams of Stilton men would then vie to roll the cheese to it's finish and, after the ensuing scramble, and many tussles and spills, the team that ended up steering the cheese to the finishing line would win! Nowadays, the starting point is always outside The Bell Inn and The Angel and the finish is a line drawn at the cross roads between the bottom of Fen Street and Church Street. The contestants are teams of 4, either all men or all women and each team member has to roll the cheese at least once during it's flight. It's a knockout competition with quarter's, semi's and a grand final.





WHAT MAKES THE GRAVEYARD A SPOOKY AND SCARY PLACE?




    Under the watchful gaze of crumbling saints and baby-faced cherubs, you hurry down a path lined with mausoleums. Eventually, you pass crops of headstones casting long, narrow shadows in the moonlight. Each engraved with the epitaph of the dead person's life. You run past sunken graves and dying flowers, hoping that the sound you hear is just the wind and you're trying to shake the feeling that something is following close behind you.
    Maybe you've never taken a midnight stroll through your local cemetery. But if you have ever set foot in one, you've likely felt a hint of fear and uneasiness that is their legacy. Maybe you were attending a funeral of someone dear and close to you, touring graveyards or simply fleeing things that go bump in the night.
    Whatever your reason for strolling among the tombstones, you probably felt something noteworthy about the experience-something different from all the other spaces and places that fill our lives. After all, graveyards are the final resting place for many of our dead. People say their last goodbyes there, sometimes returning year after year to leave flowers or say a few words.
    No matter where we travel in the world, cemeteries are silent and solemn settings. Whether the grounds are finely manicured or left to the weeds, graveyard exist as the place where the living contemplate many mysteries, traumas and heartbreaks associated with death.
    Why are many people afraid of graveyards? Is it the thought of all those decaying bodies (zombies) under the dirt or the idea of an old crusty are coming out of the grass to grab your foot and pull you into their final resting spot with them? Or is it something deeper?









    Cats often receive a bum rap for hanging out in cemeteries, but can anyone blame them? Graveyards offer a cat everything they could ask for: all the best spots to nap, trees to use as scratching posts and a selection of small animals to prey on. What more could your averages sized cat want with your dead relatives soul when there are many squirrels and birds around to occupy their time?
    To cats, graveyards may be another place to sleep away the afternoon, but to we humans, they represent the mystery and the outrage of mortality. Whether we like it or not we're all going to die. You may think you've accepted that fact, but it's an issue humanity has struggled with for ages. Unable to avoid it, we've tried to figure out what lies beyond its doors. Will we live forever in a golden paradise, be reincarnated as a cow (or a cat that spends all afternoon in a cemetery) or simply cease to exist? We've pined for understanding since the times of the great pyramids and stared into the eyes of guillotined heads, hoping to catch a glimpse of something other than the emptiness of nonexistence.
    Fear exists as a response to stimuli that threatens our survival as a species. We're programmed to fight or run from anything that might cause death, and we approach death with this same attitude. We flee from it every day by distancing it from our thoughts and lives. In most parts of the world, we've handed the duties of interring the dead over to morticians, which limits our intimacy with death.
    Fighting death is trickier. To avoid staring down mortality, we've redefined what death is. We choose to see dying not as something our bodies eventually do, but something that eventually happens to our bodies. We cast ourselves as the victim of death, which is the reason grim reapers and other death-stalking beings permeate our beliefs. If death is a natural counterpart to life, there's nothing we can do about it in the end. But if it's something inflicted on us by an outside force, then perhaps we have a fighting chance.
Society often sets aside the angel of death and instead chooses to practice what some people call "the deconstruction of mortality." That is, we break down the insurmountable mystery of death into smaller pieces we can digest easily: biological functions, diseases and mental dysfunctions. If prayer or bribing the reaper doesn't work, maybe multiple organ transplants will.
    Pray and think about death all you want, but it's still going to happen at some time.










    Disposing of a body isn't difficult. Bury it in the forest, cremate it or just leave it out for the vultures--a rite Zoroastrains in India still practice. Not only are these methods cheaper than buying a fancy casket and a cemetery plot, but they also allow "Mother Earth" to reclaim the decaying material faster. The use of stone mausoleums, coffins and embalming only slows down the decomposition process.
    But then again, burials aren't really about the dead--they're about the living. We do our best to stave off some of the bad properties of death. And while immortality isn't an option, tombstones and stone monuments serve as long-lasting markers of the life that was. Aunt Betty may be out of your life for good, but a slab of engraved granite will serve as a reminder that she existed. Cemetery stonework also serves to encourage a sacred atmosphere, enforcing notions of afterlife and further establishing the site as a kind of sacred place between life and death.
    We humans fear death, yet we work hard to maintain hallowed spaces where the dead are memorialized and at least partially preserved. On top of that, we heap religions full of resurrection prophecies and thousands of years' worth of superstitions, folktales and ghost stories. We're constantly repressing our feelings about death or magnifying them to tremendous proportions. Maybe you avoid cemeteries and nursing homes, or actively try to speak to the dead through TV psychic mediums-either way, you're striving to avoid the real relationship that exists between life and death.
    We've poured a lot of sacrament, superstition and fear into our graveyards, which makes for quite a powerful atmosphere. Not only do graveyards play on past memories of loss, they also invoke potentially potent themes of supernatural terror. It's not just horror movies that contribute to this frightening reputation. Cemetery preservation groups and historical societies sometime get in on the action with haunted tours.
In more extreme cases, people actually suffer from colmetrophobia, the fear of graveyards. The condition involves a heightened, unrealistic fear of graveyards that actively interferes with a person's life. But unless walking past a cemetery makes your heart race, your fear probably doesn't qualify as a phobia.
    For the most part, the only things you really have to fear in graveyards are collapsing tombstones and monuments. Besides that, living, breathing humans are responsible for more graveyard assaults than all the vampires, zombies and ghouls combined.

COCULLO SNAKE FESTIVAL FROM ITALY!



    The attraction of snakes seems to be a huge pull factor, and seemingly the whole world's major ophidiophillaccs (snake lovers) often accompanied by their snakes, alongside keen photographers, descend on the small medieval town of Cocullo, in the Abruzzo Majella Mountains, ready to take part in this festival which has been re-enacted in its current Christian format each year, apart from 2009.






    There are three supposed origins to the Cocullo Snake Festival....In the 11th century, apparently Saint Dominic cleared the local fields which were being overrun by snakes, and as a sign of thanks, since 1392, the locals parade his statue and snakes around the streets. The second version dates to 700 B.C., locals experienced the same problems in tending to their field and Apollo ordered the village to entwine the snakes around his statue so that they would become tame and be able to farm once more. The first origin dates back some 2000 years to the Marsi who were the original inhabitants of the area who worshipped the Goddess Angizia. The goddess's official symbol was a snake and thus offering of snakes were presented to her to fend off attacks from local wolves, bears and malaria.








    The festival officially begins on March 19th, when local snake catchers/charmers around Cocullo begin to catch 4 types of local harmless snakes: (Elaphe quatuorlineata) and the Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissma) and grass snakes (Natrix natrix) and its dark green sister snake (Coluber vindfiavus). Once caught they remove the snakes fangs. (not a good idea when it comes to return them back to the wild).








    Following an early morning Mass in the town's small church, local inhabitants ring a small bell using their own teeth to protect them against toothache for the following year. Local soil is blessed which afterwards is spread over the local fields to act as a form of natural pesticide. The wooden statue of Saint Domenico is then taken out of the small church and the snakes are draped around and over the statue and the statue is then paraded around the narrow lanes of ancient Cocullo.








    Leading from the front are the brass bands, that ironically seem to be mostly composed of those most snake charmer-esque of instruments, the oboe and clarinets. Another mass is broadcast over loudspeakers, which, women traditionally dressed, recite and sing, followed by priests. They are followed by girls in traditional laced costumes carrying ciambelli, which are local cakes that have a texture like doughnuts and are decorated with pastel colored, by the hundreds and thousands. Saint Domenic is carried up from behind, with the snakes and their charmers following closely behind. The procession winds back down to the church where it all started, and on their arrival home, a huge fireworks display, which sounds more like cannon shots, begins its 10 minute overture.








    If you like something out of the ordinary , visit Cocullo's snake festival; your next door neighbor may be stroking their snake next to you, but it gives you something to talk about as you gasp and think of a reason to decline their generous offer of holding one of their snakes, while jostling to get that ultimate photo.







Tips

    Get there early, the procession begins at 12 noon and the parade lasts for an hour and a half (the problem is parking...you can end up, if you arrive late, parking your car up to a couple miles away and have to hike uphill from the depths of the Sagitarrio Valley to get back to the small town of Cocullo, severely out of breath, if you are unfit.
You may hate the huge numbers of porchetta vans and mini market stalls up to the town itself and wonder why the police don't allow people to par there, but due to the huge number of people that attend the Cocullo Snake Festival, food must be had by attendees. Local restaurants get booked out with celebrating locals, used the porchetta Panini rout.