Article: Cocaine in London river is making eels ‘hyperactive,’ researchers say Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life

It must not be thought, however, that Francescos diet, even on fast-days, was monotonous.  In addition to pike and eels, he did not despise frogs, and we find him asking Margherita for a basket of them “caught fresh this eve, but I big the woman cook them, to save you toil.”

Small pike, we are told, were best eaten fried, but big ones were boiled and served with white sauce, or roasted and stuffed with raisins.  Eels were eaten pickled in their own fat, with strong spices and wine, or in a pie, with spices, olive oil, and orange and lemon juice; and fish in a broth made with a paste of flour, bread, parsley, nutmegs, and “strong and sweet spices,” or in jelly, with spices and saffron and powdered laurel leaves-the best fish for this purpose being tench pike.  And there was also a very elaborate fish-pic made with 3 large tench or a big eel, dates, raisins, pine-seeds, and spices, pounded with parsley and marjoram and friend in oil.[2]

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While the first recorded use of the name are the Latin “Cucaniensis”, and the Middle English “Cokaygne”, or modern-day “Cuckoo-land“, one line of reasoning has the name tracing to Middle French (pays de) cocaigne “(land of) plenty,” ultimately adapted or derived from a word for a small sweet cake sold to children at a fair (OED). In Ireland it was mentioned in the “Kildare Poems” composed c.1350. In Italian, the same place is called “Paese della Cuccagna”; the Flemish-Belgian equivalent is “Luilekkerland” (“relaxed luscious, delicious land”), translated from the Middle-Belgian word “Cockaengen”, and the German equivalent is Schlaraffenland. In Spain an equivalent place is named Jauja, after a rich mining region of the Andes, and País de Cucaña (“fools’ paradise”) may also signify such a place. From Swedish dialect lubber (fat lazy fellow) comes Lubberland,[3] popularized in the ballad An Invitation to Lubberland.

According to Herman Pleij, Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life (2001):

“roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one’s mouth, where cooked fish jump out of the water and land at one’s feet. The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, and all people enjoy eternal youth.”

Cockaigne was a “medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food.”  The Brothers Grimm collected and retold the fairy tale in Das Märchen vom Schlaraffenland (The Tale About the Land of Cockaigne). A Neapolitan tradition, extended to other Latin-culture countries, is the Cockaigne pole (Italia: cuccagna; Spanish: cucaña), a horizontal or vertical pole with a prize (like a ham) at one end. The pole is covered with grease or soap and planted during a festival. Then, daring people try to climb the slippery pole to get the prize. The crowd laughs at the often failed attempts to hold on to the pole.[122]

One might ask whether it is valid to distinguish between popular and learned beliefs, or whether it might not be reasonable to assume that the learned and unlearned classes in early European society held witch beliefs that were substantially identical. Indeed, it is likely that popular culture had many features in common with learned tradition, and was subject to constant influence from it. There were numerous possibilities for contact and exchange between the literate and illiterate classes. Parish priests, and perhaps merchants and other groups, might stand midway between the two extremes; they were frequently from the lower or middle classes, and remained constantly in touch with these classes, yet at the same time they were exposed to the beliefs of cultured individuals. Sermons and plays could readily serve as media for popular dissemination of originally learned notions. Hansen suggested that he theatrical devils of the medieval stage influenced popular notions of how devils act. Even woodcuts could fulfill a similar function so long as there was someone on hand to interpret their representations in the intended sense. The scandal aroused by trials for witchcraft might in itself spread learned notions about witches among the populace, whose presence at the executions would be a matter of common occurrence. In one instance the number of spectators at an execution was estimated between six and eight thousand; even allowing for exaggeration, there must have been many people present, and many of them must have known the specific crimes to which the subject had confessed. During the sixteenth century, when extended series of witch trials occurred in many communities, it would be odd indeed if these notions failed to permeate the people at large.[123]

Cocaine in London river is making eels ‘hyperactive,’ researchers say

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