Good morning: we’ve now reached the end of most people’s work week—Friday, February 17, 2017. It’s both National Indian Pudding Day and National Cafe’ Au Lait Day. Indian pudding, a baked concoction of molasses, cornmeal and other good stuff (recipe here) is best served warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love it, and recommend that you try it if you’re in New England (I doubt you can find it outside the northeast US). Here’s what it looks like:
And in Europe today, it’s World Cat Day.
On this day in 1600, Giordana Bruno was burned alive for heresy, but of course (as the scholars of science tell us) it had nothing to do with religion. On February 17, 1801, there was an electoral tie between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson for President; it was resolved by the House of Representatives, which made Jefferson our third President and Burr the Vice-President. On February 17, 1904, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly opened at La Scala in Milan, and, in 1980, the Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy made the first winter ascent of Mount Everest.
Notables born on this day include evolutionary geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher (1890), creationist Duane Gish (1921), Alan Bates (1934), Gene Pitney (1940), Huey P. Newton (1942), and Paris Hilton (1981). Those who died on this day include, beside Bruno,Molière (1673), Jan Swammerdam (1680; one of Matthew Cobb’s heroes), Geronimo (1909), and Thelonious Monk and Lee Strasberg (both 1982). I asked Matthew to write a brief summary of Swammerdam’s life, and here it is (the Swammerdam website can be found here, though there is no authenticated portrait of the man):
Swammerdam was a pioneer microscopist and entomologist who made a number of discoveries in the 1660s and 1670s. In particular, he showed that the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same organism, and came up with an aphorism that might seem trivial today, but which was truly revolutionary at the time: all animals are born from an egg produced by a female of the same species. He died of malaria at the relatively early age of 43. He contracted the disease in Europe some time in the 1670s – malaria was finally eradicated in Europe only in the 20th century.
Ironically, one of his most striking drawings is of the mosquito, the insect which transmitted the disease that killed him:
His manuscripts, which many of which are held at the University of Leiden (where he studied) or at the University of Göttingen (it’s complicated) show when he was ill – his handwriting becomes weak and scratchy. His friends, in particular his patron, the mysterious Melchisedec Thévenot (one-time ambassador, spy, inventor of the spirit level and bibliophile) tried to obtain ‘Jesuit’s bark’ (the bark of the quinine tree) to help him, but to no avail. There is a plaque marking the site of his grave in Amsterdam, but the grave has long been cleared. His birthplace – not far away – is marked by a fine stone plaque set into the wall.
Swammerdam features largely in Matthew’s well-regarded book, Generation: The Seventeeth-Century Scientists Who Unraveled the Secrets of Sex, Life, and Growth
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata and Hili are having a lie-down:
A: Have you decided to take a nap?Hili: Maybe we need a short rest.
Ja: Położyłyście się na drzemkę?
Hili: Widać potrzebowałyśmy krótkiego odpoczynku.