The month of fasting, Ramadan, is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Its precise dates vary from year to year as it follows the lunar calendar, but its duration is always 29-30 days. During this period Muslims must not eat, drink or have sexual relations between dawn and sunset; they must also refrain from bad character traits such as lying, gossip or slander. It is supposed to be a time for reflection and concentrated prayer.
Vermont is a state in New England, in the northeast of America. It borders Canada to the north and contains the Green Mountain Range. The climate is continental, with warm, humid summers but cold, snowy winters, and the mountains make good skiing. It is also America’s leading producer of maple syrup.
Valparaiso, midway down the western coast of Chile, is the third largest city in the country. One of Chile’s most important seaports, it has long served as a stopover for ships passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Straits of Magellan, and it is today an important cultural and tourist centre.
The National Congress of Chile was established here in 1990, and the city can also boast Latin America’s oldest stock exchange and the oldest Spanish language newspaper still in publication. The historic quarter of the seaport is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and politician, famous across the world during his lifetime and even more so after his death. Born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral in 1904, he died of cancer in 1973.
Neruda’s first volume of verse was published when he was only 18. By the age of 20 he had developed an international reputation with the publication of one of his most famous volumes, Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair. He held a number of diplomatic posts around the world, and spent a considerable amount of time in exile in Argentina due to his high standing in the Communist Party of Chile. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
Sea bass cooked in salt is a traditional recipe of Spanish origin. It involves baking the fish in a thick covering of salt, which then hardens and can be broken off, leaving tender fish infused with a mild salty flavour.
The Janissaries were infantry units of the Ottoman Empire, which formed the household troops and bodyguards of the Sultan from the 14th century until 1826. The units were formed of children taken from non-Muslim households of conquered countries – chosen for their physical strength, they were taken at an early age so that they would forget their homes and grow up loyal to the Sultan. Intelligent children were chosen for the Enderun School, where they would be trained to become chemists, physicians or academics.
In speaking of the Janissaries, Bautista gives Changez something to identify with – in being ‘taken’ by Underwood Samson at an impressionable age, he feels he is being trained to be loyal to the American culture and so, ultimately, to betray his own.