Archive for May, 2012

More Charles Dance goodness. In the “Witch Hunt” episode of the TV series Merlin, Dance plays the sinister witchfinder, Aredian, who is brought in by the king to root out any sorcerers in Camelot. In the below video, Katie McGrath (Morgana) talks about how Dance freaked her out in the interrogation scene just by fiddling with the props on the set. You know you’re a great actor when you can intimidate your young co-stars just by turning up.

In this next video, Dance talks more about his character in the show. If you watch all the way through the credits, you can get a glimpse of him playing his ukulele. Seriously, how cool is this guy?


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More Game of Thrones fun for a Thursday. Sure, Evil King Joffrey (played brilliantly by the young Jackie Gleeson) is a total rotter, but who can blame him given his family background? Let’s face it, if Westeros had family therapists, the Lannisters alone would be able to provide them with full-time employment.

I’ve been waiting for someone to make a connection between the politicians of “Game of Thrones” and the 2012 presidential candidates since the series came out.

Not entirely GoT-related, but appropo I thought. The soup of the day at the King’s Landing cafe.

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“I like to be busy. I once shared an agent with the late Sir John Gielgud, who, at 96, was apparently still ringing up, saying, ‘Hello, Gielgud here, any work?’ Good on him. We’ve got to keep working. If we retire, there’ll be nobody to play the old wrinklies, and that would be a dreadful shame.”–British character actor Charles Dance, age 65, talking about his philosophy of work

Despite my best efforts, I have become hooked on Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy saga. Great characters like Tyrion and Daenarys sucked me in, but I have also become very fond of Tywin Lannister played by Charles Dance. I have a weakness for men in chainmail and British character actors so Tywin works for me on both levels.

If you think that Dance looks familiar, you’re probably right. He’s knocked around for 40 years playing characters on the stage and the screen, most often suave villains. In Game of Thrones, he plays Lord Tywin, the ruthless head of the dysfunctional Lannister clan. Here’s a clip where he harangues his son, Jaime:

Skinning an elk is a very Arnorian thing to do which is perhaps why I like this scene. Dance himself hadn’t skinned any animal before and a butcher was brought in to show him how to do it. Here’s the interview where he talks about the scene above and about his character:

I also think that Dance makes a great Havelock Vetinari. Vetinari is the Patrician of Ankh-Morkpork in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Here’s a clip of Dance talking about his role in the new adaptation of Going Postal:

Finally, here’s a link to a fun article in the London Evening Standard, “Charles Dance’s Diary”, which talks about his life as an actor. Among the tidbits revealed, he enjoys going for an early morning swim at the Hampton Lido which is an outdoor swimming pool in London and he likes to play the ukulele.

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Reading old recipes is a bit like reading a mystery novel. Part of the mystery, of course, is trying to figure out what the cook meant by directions like “a piece of butter the size of a walnut”, part of it is trying to deduce how a dish is supposed to come out given the ingredients and equipment available at the time, and part of it is gathering insights into how people lived based on what we can infer from their cooking. When you think about it, food is the ultimate investigatory tool for a sociologist or a historian. After all, everyone has to eat so food and its preparation is the common thread that runs through every level of society.
Last year, I was asked by the group of Middle Eastern dancers I belong to to make a presentation, complete with eats, on the food of Ancient Rome. Thanks to the plethora of sword-and-sandals epics available on TV at that time, a number of books, some scholarly, some popular, had come out on Roman cookery. After reviewing them, I returned to my old favorite, Roman Cookery: Elegant and Easy Recipes From History’s First Gourment, by John Edwards (circa 1986). Sadly, it is out of print, but it is well worth looking for a second hand copy or borrowing from your local library.

After extensive taste testing (mostly on myself, the dog, and unsuspecting family members), I can report the following about the cuisines of Ancient Rome:

  • Don’t try to make your own fish sauce unless you want a visit from your neighbors, the cops, and possibly the EPA. Those fermented fish pickle factories were required by law to be outside of the town limits in Ancient Rome, mainly because they were so darn whiffy. Use Thai Fish sauce, easily available in the Asian section of your supermarket, instead.
  • Unlike present day Italy, the Rome of the ancient world was oriented towards the Mediterranean, not Western Europe. The cuisine was very sophisticated, very modern, and very much Middle Eastern.  Most of the foods we now associate with Italy such as tomato sauce didn’t exist then because tomatoes are a New World crop.
  • Believe it or not, the omelette is at least one thousand years old. Yeah, the Romans were making omelettes back then, too, although they preferred their omelettes drizzled with honey and almonds. (It’s good, by the way).
  • Dates dipped in honey and salt and then fried in olive oil are incredibly good and highly addictive. If you think you don’t like dates, try them the Roman way and I’ll guarantee that you’ll become a fan.
  • Cooking like the ancient Romans is suprisingly tasty and healthy. Be prepared to go through lots of honey, fish sauce, olive oil, and vinegar, however.

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