How European Royals Once Shared Their Most Important Secrets

 

Recent research highlights the use of letterlocking techniques by Queen Elizabeth, Catherine de’ Medici and Mary Queen of Scots.


Credit...National Library of Scotland



To safeguard the most important royal correspondence against snoops and spies in the 16th century, writers employed a complicated means of security. They’d fold the letter, then cut a dangling strip, using that as an improvised thread to sew stitches that locked the letter and turned the flat writing paper into its own envelope. To get inside, a spy would have to snip the lock open, an act impossible to go undetected.

Catherine de’ Medici used the method in 1570 — a time she governed France while her ill son, King Charles IX, sat on its throne. Queen Elizabeth did so in 1573 as the sovereign ruler of England and Ireland. And Mary Queen of Scots used it in 1587 just hours before her long effort to unite Britain ended in her beheading.

“These people knew more than one way to send a letter and they chose this one,” said Jana Dambrogio, lead author of a study that details Renaissance-era politicians’ use of the technique, and a conservator at the M.I.T. Libraries. “You had to be highly confident to make a spiral lock. If you made a mistake, you’d have to start all over, which could take hours of rewriting and restitching. It’s fascinating. They took great pains to build up their security.”

Disclosure of the method’s wide use among European royalty is the latest venture of a group of scholars, centered at M.I.T., into a vanished art they call letterlocking — an early form of communications security that they’re busy resurrecting. Early last year, they reported their development of a virtual-reality technique that let them peer into locked letters without tearing them apart and damaging the historical record. 


Now, in a detailed article that appeared last month in the Electronic British Library Journal, the scholars lay out their expanding universe of discoveries and questions. They showcase instances of spiral letterlocking among the queens and posit that the method “spread across European courts through royal correspondence.”


A French letter from an unidentified author to city consuls dated Dec. 16, 1638.

Credit...Musée de La Poste
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Credit...M.I.T. Libraries


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Cop saves donkey from busy highway, drives it safety in patrol car

Robin Strader, from Norman, Oklahoma was on her way to work, when spotted something really unusual in the middle of the busy highway she was driving on. A scared donkey was meandering along the road way. The woman immediately pulled over her car and jumped to help the scared creature, but not before to call the authorities.

Shortly after, officer Kyle Canaan at Norman Police Department, arrived at the scene. Meantime, Robin somehow managed to get the donkey off the road. Initially officer Canaan was not sure how to deal with this completely unusual challenge, but he soon figured out. The woman offered to foster the donkey they named Squishy at her home, a few miles away from there. But since it would have taken too long for a proper transportation vehicle to arrive, officer Canaan decide to give Squishy a drive-along. An invitation that Squishy gladly accepted.

“Our officers encounter unexpected things every day while on-duty,” the City of Norman, OK Police Department wrote on Facebook. “This morning, Officer Kyle Canaan responded to a call regarding a donkey on the loose in the 8100 block of 120th Avenue NE. To ensure the safety of the animal, he helped transport the donkey to a nearby home for safe-keeping until its owner could be located. It’s not everyday that you see a donkey in the backseat of a police car!”

The rescue donkey wasn’t bothered at all to ride in the back of the patrol car, a space usually reserved for outlaws. More than that the two got along very well and they even had a lot of fun on their way. Well, except for one thing. “It used the bathroom in the back of my police car,” Canaan told KFOR. “I mean, I must have got it right after breakfast, because there was a lot.”

However, the most important is that officer Canaan has safely drove his four-legged passenger to Robin’s place. And he even showed his interest in adopting it, if there won’t be anyone willing to do it.

Hallmark “Honoring Betty White”

Hallmark Channel USA will host “Honoring Betty White with a marathon of her work airing on 1/17, which would have been her centennial birthday.⁠

Beginning at midnight on the 17th, the Hallmark Channel will air a 40-episode marathon of “The Golden Girls."

Hallmark movie “The Lost Valentine” airs @ 8pm/5pm ET/PT. ⁠

Developed for Hallmark, The Lost Valentine originally aired in 2011. Based on a novel by James Michael Pratt, the film is directed by Darnell Martin and stars Betty White alongside Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sean Faris. The film earned White a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor.

The "GG" marathon will resume following the movie and conclude on January 18 at 5:00 am ET/PT.




Sometimes, it’s the simple stories that stay with us the longest. Like that of Itsuo Kobayashi, a former Japanese soba chef born in 1962 who has recorded his meals in painstakingly detailed, hand-drawn food diaries of sorts for the past 32 years. In addition to recollections about taste, Kobayashi’s pen has accounted for every last spring onion and grain of rice, for the sheer pleasure of tasting life twice…
 



Itsuo Kobayashi, Untitled (Pop-up Paintings) (2018-19), ink on paper, each piece 9 x 13 x 5 inches. ©Kushino Terrace

©Kushino Terrace

His representation is a gallery called “Kushino Terrace” in Fukuyama, Japan, and they kindly explained a bit more about his life…

It turns out, Kobayashi has been writing about his meals since he was a teen in his bedroom, and it wasn’t until his twenties that he started the first of his now thousand-something drawings. “[He] worked as a chef and at a supply center for school meals in Saitama, northwest Tokyo until he was 46 years old,” they explained, until “[he] began having difficulty walking due to alcoholic neuritis.” Due to the difficulties of his condition, he usually orders take-out or receives meals from his mother – but rather than hinder his imagination, Kobayashi decided to use his time indoors as a means to further stretch his imagination, and cultivate his creative style. “In the blank spaces,” says the gallery, “he adds positive descriptive words about his subjects.”



Itsuo Kobayashi’s artwork at the New York’s 2020 Outsider Art Fair


“In his bedroom at home, in addition to his drawing materials, his bed is surrounded by seashells and crab legs from the seafood he has eaten, as well as by disposable chopsticks, unused condiments that come with packaged meals, and other items.” What we wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall there.

 








In Memory of Betty White

  


At her eightieth birthday celebration, in 2001, at KC’s Leawood-South Country Club, the entire family gathered to celebrate my mother’s endless good spirits and hospitality. Dancing and telling jokes and winking, she reigned over the event like the dowager empress she’d become, wearing her signature red dress. and looking for all the world like Betty White on a good day.

My mother was a force larger than life.  

Oddly enough, I met Betty White because of Mom.

An aspiring novelist and former Mormon bishop named James Michael Pratt sent me a copy of his self-published book, The Last Valentine. I read the description on the back cover and thought it was maybe too romantic even for “Mr. Romance,” as I’d been dubbed during my years in Montreal producing Shades of Love.

But the concept nagged at me, so I sent the book to Mom and asked her to read it.

She called me two days later.

“You must get involved in this book,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

I asked her for details. Her response was sketchy—she was already becoming forgetful, especially of things she’d read, which is why I’d learned to return her call the minute she reached out to me after a read. But it was clear emotionally: Mom didn’t use must loosely. This was beyond should!

Long story short, I did get involved. My Writers Lifeline company helped Jim perfect the story and my management company sold it, at auction, for a bunch of money to St. Martin’s Press. It became a New York Times bestseller, and led to four or five further bestselling books for Jim.

At one point in his book tour, we converged in KC where Jim was being hosted by Barnes and Noble—and he insisted on meeting Mom. “She’s the one who got this book published,” he said. I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that.

You’d think a New York Times bestseller would have an easy route to the screen. But I knew one lesson by heart: nothing is easy in Hollywood. It took over ten years before Valentine was picked up by Hallmark Hall of Fame. Their president, meeting me over breakfast at the Alameda Plaza overlooking KC’s Country Club Plaza, brought up a ticklish subject. “You know this company will never call a movie ‘The Last Valentine,’” he told me—then tipped his orange juice in a toast.

I laughed, at what I thought was a joke. But it wasn’t. The movie was retitled, “The Lost Valentine,” and starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Betty.

It was one thing to meet the voluptuous Jennifer Love Hewitt—“Don’t avoid  these,” she scolded our Director of Photography, having checked the replay of a  wedding moment where the camera discreetly hovered above her cleavage line, “I  built my career on these beauties.”  Unleashing the camera, they did a more  revealing take.

But it was meeting Betty White on the set in Atlanta that truly thrilled me, for two reasons. In her red dress, white hair, and feisty countenance, she looked exactly like Mom. And I was given the chance to tell Betty the story of how my mother had gotten this book published and this movie made.

Alas, Mom was no longer around to glory in the moment, or in the Screen Actor's Guild's "Outstanding Performance by an Actor" Award Betty received for our film. 



Excerpt from My Obit: Vol 2: My Multi-Storied Mother, forthcoming 2022.

Meet the one of the Oldest Pasta-Making Grannies in the World! | Pasta Grannies

 


95 year old Giuseppa shows us how to make a Sardinian pasta speciality called macarrones de ungia - which are mini, knobbly versions of mallorreddus. They come from the town of Ozieri where Giuseppa has lived all her life. She continues to make pasta every day as well as cooking for her younger brother. Giuseppa, we salute you! 

If you would like to try making this shape at home, try using the smooth side of a nutmeg grater. 

For the dough, it's difficult to give exact quantities as the amount of water will depend on the flour, the temperature and humidity of the day. But start with the following, for 4 people: 400g semola flour 150 ml warm water, with a teaspoon of salt dissolved into it. 

Add half of water to your flour to begin with and keep kneading it until you form a dough. Add water if a) it doesn't come together and b) feels too dry. You are aiming for a stiff dough which you then have to knead for a good 20 minutes, probably longer. It should start to feel smooth. Let it rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes, and keep it covered while you roll pieces out.