It’s nineteenth century. India is under British colonial rule. The high Brahmin priest Nilakantha, secretly leading Hindus to perform sacred rites forbidden by the British, rages against the foreign opression. His daughter Lakmé (French version of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity), accompanied by her servant Mallika, goes to the river to gather flowers for the forbidden ceremony. A priestess herself, Lakmé is splendidly decked out in gorgeous Indian jewellery. As a sensible girl, she doesn’t want to lose it in water, so she removes all this stuff – lots of it! – and neatly places it on a bench. Off they go into water, apparently in order to sing the famous Flower Duet (watch the two foremost Russian divas Anna Netrebko and Alina Garanca in Gala-concert):
Meanwhile, two British officers show up with two young British misses and their governesses to enjoy a picnic. One of the girls spots an array of magnificent jewellery on the bench. On an aside, years ago one of my son’s college classmates, a girl from India, shared photos of her sister’s wedding. Stunning is an understatement, Beautiful People! Not only the wedding party and guests, but what looked like an entire herd of elephants were literally encrusted with precious stones in intricate settings. Understandably, a girl from England wanted it, badly. As a proper young lady, she wouldn’t steal anything, of course, but asked if one of the officers, by any chance, might sketch the precious trinkets so she could have them replicated. Gerald, having had some artistic skills, volunteers and stays behind while the party leaves.
Wouldn’t you know, that’s the moment Lakmé chooses to emerge from the river, like Aphrodite from sea foam. She is frightened, he is enthranced, they fall in love. Papa Nilakantha swears vengeance on the foreigner who violated – not his daughter! – the sacred grounds of the Brahmin temple. To root out the tresspasser, he brings his daughter to a bazaar and forces her to sing the famous Bell Song, here brilliantly delivered by the inimitable Dame Joan Sutherland:
Sure enough, Gerald, mesmerized by the song – wouldn’t you, listening to this kind of brilliant coloratura? – foregoes all caution and is promptly stabbed by Nilakantha. Fortunately, it’s only a slight wound, and in the ensuing melee both Gerald and Lakmé manage to escape to a secret hiding place in the forest where she nurses him to health. Meanwhile they hear singing in the background; those are couples drinking water of a magic spring that grants eternal love. Lovestruck Lakmé offers to bring water from the spring, but her lover is torn between his passion and duty to his country. While the girl rushes to the spring, who shows up but Gerald’s friend Frederic who reminds him that duty supercedes love and walks away. Frederic is not there when Lakmé returns, to give the doomed lovers some privacy for Grand Finale. Gerald has been convinced by his friend’s argument. He refuses to take a sip of the magic water, so the poor girl grabs a poisonous datura leaf from a tree and starts munching on it. Realizing what she has done, Gerald changes his mind in a hurry, drinks the water and forces her to take a drink too, but alas! – it’s too late. She sings a final gorgeous aria and dies in his arms.
I hope you enjoyed these excerpts from Leo Delibes’ famous opera without taking a somewhat more silly than tragic plot too seriously. Yet here is a true heartrending story, shared by a wonderful blogofriend, the lovely Anna Waldherr of http://www.avoicereclaimed.com:
A Holocaust survivor once shared with me the story of a very special Valentine. Before Jews were forced into concentration camps, they were deliberately starved. It was difficult to find nourishing food — or any food at all — in the ghetto. But somehow my friend’s husband managed to locate enough vegetables for a small bouquet. Tragically, he later perished in the camps. But her son continues the tradition of a vegetable bouquet for Valentine’s Day.
To honor this very special couple and the six million other victims of Holocaust, I offer an appetizer made of a vegetable flower – cauliflower. Surprisingly, this unassuming vegetable which has been gaining popularity recently is actually a flower (www.ukfoodguide.net). As hard and crunchy as it seems to be, 92% of it is water, so it keeps you hydrated while also fill you up and protect your body from certain bacteria. It may even help prevent cancer, claims https://www.webmd.com.
To make this delicious appetizer, you need cauliflower rice. It is found in frozen food section of any supermarket, but you can just as easily make it yourself by using your trusty food processor. You also need lots of fresh cilantro, as much garlic as you like, and some Vegenaise or any other mayo of your choice. My secret ingredient is Wasabi powder, also found in any supermarket nowadays, but I am sure than hot pepper flakes will do just as well. Pulse your cauliflower florets, together with the stem, add cilantro and minced garlic, and blitz it together. Mix it with Vegenaise, season with salt, pepper, and Wasabi or hot pepper flakes, and serve, garnished with pepper confetti or a sprig of cilantro.
- 1/4 cauliflower head, including stem
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves
- Handful of fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons of Vegenaise or mayo of your choice
- Wasabi powder or hot pepper flakes to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Separate cauliflower into small florets, cut stem into small cubes, pulse in food processor until resembles rice.
- Add cilantro and minced garlic, pulse until well blended.
- Remove to a bowl, add Vegenaise, Wasabi powder, salt and pepper, mix thoroughly.
- Garnish and serve.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.