One-Year Blog Anniversary

Image result for ides of march

“Why, this is violence!”
~Some of Caesar’s last words, said when one conspirator grabbed Caesar’s clothing to signal the others to attack

March 15th, 44 BCE: Roman politician Gaius Julius Caesar is fatally stabbed 23 times by a conspiracy within the Roman Senate who fear his increasing power.

March 15th, 2017 CE (2062 years later): A descendant of ancient and modern Romans* starts a blog about the food of his ancestors, beginning with a substitute waterfowl.

Yes, I started this blog on the Ides of March, anniversary of Caesar’s assassination. I was born on the anniversary of Cicero’s assassination (December 7th, which is also Pearl Harbor Day), so it all works out. In honor of this momentous occasion, here’s my first post, in which I passed myself the titular flamingo, which was actually a duck, because, well, life isn’t perfect.

Thanks so much to everyone who has visited and followed Pass the Flamingo over this past year! Whether you’ve read one of my posts or all of them, I appreciate your support so much. Here’s to another year of ancient food history! Expect more recipes, more experiments, and more flash fiction. In fact, here’s some of that last one.


The queen took a bite of roast flamingo and winced. Sweet dates, bitter rue, pungent silphion against the strong flavor of the meat itself. Overpowering, an assault on the nostrils. She had never been fond of Roman-style cooking. Not on her first trip here, when she was a child following her exiled father, and not now. Yet they insisted on serving it to her. Nobody in Italy could recreate the flavors of Egypt, even if it was one of Egypt’s great rosy birds that now lay before her, flayed and sauced and spiced. She should have brought her own chefs from Alexandria, but Gaius had wanted to take care of everything. He loved to do things for her. Maybe he saw in her his long-lost daughter, even though she was a queen and a living god. Even though her son by Gaius was already learning to crawl. 

She was well-cared for, in truth. She and her servants had the run of the whole villa. She was invited to every banquet and function, she had gotten to meet all the most important people of Rome, senators, consuls and generals and their wives, even if most of them couldn’t stand her. Gaius had placed a statue of her in his family temple, beside the shrine to Venus. His wife had not been in attendance that day to see it, and the queen was glad of it. 

She knew what was whispered about her in the streets of this foreign city. She saw the way the Romans looked at her and her son, how vicious Fulvia and that ponce Cicero tittered to each other behind their fans, switching suddenly from Greek to Latin so that she couldn’t understand. Sometimes she felt like a flamingo herself: a proud and beautiful plumed thing, served up for the people of Rome to feast on.

From the corridor outside came the sound of running feet. She looked towards her doorway, puzzled.

“Where is the queen?” someone was shouting. “Where is Queen Cleopatra?! There has been news, from the Forum–” 

* My father was born in Rome, and my known family history is 100% Italian (with some of the Balkans mixed in way back, according to my DNA results from 23andme). I like to think I’m descended from Cicero and Apicius and Elagabalus, although more likely my ancestors were illiterate Alpine villagers. And before that, illiterate Alpine villagers.

In Memoriam

[We interrupt this catalogue of ancient recipes to meditate for a moment on the passing of a person who was very important to me, and who, in a way, inspired me to create this blog by drawing me irretrievably into the ancient world. Back to our regularly-scheduled programming next week.]

Pindar’s Olympian Ode 1, translated and read by William Mullen

Bill Mullen, the guy rattling off lines of Pindar in the original Ancient Greek in the above link, was one of my college professors at Bard. But he was much more than that as well.

Bill was hilarious, unpredictable, completely brilliant, and possibly the most well-read person I’ve ever met. Casually and very seriously, he would say things like, “There was a point in my life when I said to myself, Bill, you’ve got to stop picking up new languages and just improve the ones you already know!” His non sequiturs were legendary, and you never knew which direction a conversation with him (or a class taught by him) was going to go. Once I went to meet with him about an event we were planning together and he took up the entire time digressing about the use of “like” as a filler in colloquial speech. He liked to tell the same stories over and over, and I can’t count how many times I heard about his fantasy of the perfect afternoon: climbing the fence of an apple orchard on a warm spring day and lying under a tree to drink German white wine and read Rilke with white petals drifting over him. He had a keen sense of the dramatic, like any good Classicist.

He was my advisor for my college senior project, which was a highly unconventional one for a Classics major. Long story short: despite there being no class or specialist in Mesopotamian literature at my school, I insisted that for my senior thesis I would analyze a Mesopotamian poem, adapt it for the stage and perform it. In drag. Bill was delighted by the concept, and even more delighted when he came to see my play (I remember he laughed particularly hard when, as the goddess Inanna, I snapped at the audience “Aphrodite? Forget about that bitch!”) More recently, he expressed similar excitement over this blog and my classes on ancient food, and even brought me back to Bard to help the Classics Department with a Roman dinner party.

I aspire as an educator to show the level of support and respect to my students that he showed to me. And not just me, of course; he was proud of all his students and always encouraging of our creativity. He engaged with us intellectually and socially as though we were his peers (how many bottles of wine did we go through at Bill’s house?) I don’t think he saw us as being much different from him, because he was a perpetual student too, always learning, always teaching. He taught me to listen to ancient people and follow their wisdom: don’t fear growing older, like Anacreon, but consider each day a new learning opportunity, like Solon. As a young gay man concerned about my future, he taught me that it could be marvelous.

Ancient people wrote about death quite a lot, often with great eloquence and feeling; they saw it more often than most of us do today. So I had trouble choosing the right quote to end with because there are so many great ones. But then I remembered the day in Greek class when Bill had us translate and discuss two lines from Plato’s Apologia. He was a passionate atheist (as he was passionate about everything in his life) but he loved this quote anyway:

“But now the time has come to go away. I go to die, and you to live; but which of us goes to the better lot, is known to none but God.”