Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wikiwiki Ham Bake

In the year 77, Pliny the Elder produced the western world’s first extant encyclopedia, the Naturalis Historia, a summary of everything the Romans knew. Sadly, the Romans didn’t know that Vesuvius was going to erupt and wipe out the charming seaside town of Pompeii, ending Gaius Plinius Secundus’s career as a know-it-all in a fatal downpour of scalding ash.

It could be that Nature was displeased with his dedication which seems to praise its author rather than its subject: “Hail to thee, Nature, thou parent of all things! and do thou deign to show thy favour unto me, who, alone of all the citizens of Rome, have, in thy every department, thus made known thy praise,” and smited him accordingly.

Perhaps Nature was disappointed in his grasp of anthropology, which declared that naked menstruating women had the power to scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning and that anything they touched turned sour, sterile, and withered away. They could even calm a storm at sea by stripping. One can imagine Mother Nature lighting the fuse under Vesuvius to show Pliny what a real female can do when she has lava at her disposal.

I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia. Twenty years ago, I would have looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but the internet has killed off the need to crack open giant tomes in search of knowledge. The word “Wikipedia” has an interesting genesis — it’s clearly based on “encyclopedia” but with a very modern twist. The Greek word enkyklios means “circular, recurrent, required, regularly, general,” which makes sense because this is what “cycle” means. To “encycle” and “encircle” therefore, is to repetitively cover everything. Paideia refers to the education and rearing of a child. Combine the two, as early scribes did, and you have an instrument which seeks to educate on all matters constantly.

Do not feed this to diabetics
The trouble with books is that updating them in a world that is constantly changing is a bitch. Books, especially a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, are expensive. Wikipedia, however, is free (much to the chagrin of its founders whose appeal for funding periodically graces the banner). A wiki is an interlinked  website page that can easily be updated with html markup language, allowing for constant editing by multiple users. This is very useful for an online compendium of knowledge which actually keeps pace with current knowledge, fulfilling the original purpose of an encyclopedia. The word wiki is Hawaiian and means hurry up, as this recipe tells us. The guy who invented the wiki, Ward Cunningham, was inspired by the name of the Honolulu airport bus — the Wiki Wiki Shuttle. Honolulu is another charming seaside town. Well, it was.

The Hawaiian Islands are a chain of volcanoes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They might be a world away from the Bay of Naples, but they are not a world apart; Mother Nature apparently decided to use the lure of the volcano — which once knocked knowledge on its head — to restore knowledge to the world.

Pliny the Elder, when setting sail directly into the eruption to see it up close, claimed that “fortune favors the brave.” Would fortune favor anyone brave enough to eat this Wikiwiki Ham Bake?

Family Circle Casserole Cookbook, Rockville House Publishers, 1972

Also from this book: Bullshit, or Baked Bologna Jubilee

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