Old time relijun

We’ve made our way to New Orleans. Primary stops today were the St. Roch Cemetery and the Voodoo Museum.

St. Roch has an area where people pray for healing of hearts and feet and eyes

and such,

show proof of past healings by offering braces and casts that are no longer needed,

and give thanks for the healing.



Pretty straightforward. I didn’t believe it, but it seemed innocuous enough. Throw a battery in the vestibule and maybe you won’t have to recharge your phone as much. Maybe, maybe not. Whatever.

A strange thing happened when I got to the Voodoo Museum, however.

I had a couple of dimes in my hand, ready to toss them someplace as an offering, when I got nervous.

Despite the helpful placards, I realized that I had no idea what any of this stuff really meant.

I knew there were some pretty bad spirits, and I had no idea who was who around here. Furthermore, I heard that the spirits weren’t too keen on penny offerings, so who was to say if a dime was going to be a good thing or a bad thing?

Ultimately, it didn’t seem like a thing I should be messing with if I had so little understanding.

I guess, for all my detached observances on this blog, I really am a superstitious person.

laveauobamaOr maybe I’ve just convinced myself of that because I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t want to throw away twenty cents.


Etiquette & superstition: picking up and dropping forks

I had been quite sure that forks in general had already been a topic of discussion here, but I guess I thought that because twelve or so posts discuss forks in relation to some other topic. All roads lead to forks, it seems.

ETIQUETTE: For Americans brought up on the “American style” of fork and knife usage, where one is expected to cut meat with the knife in the right hand and fork in the left, and then put the fork in the right hand and lay down the knife before eating the cut bit of meat, I have some good news: Amy Vanderbilt says that this bit of utensil juggling is absolutely not necessary. Actually, she said that it was not necessary at least as early as 1967. If you are like me, this means that you were taught an outdated and overly fussy way of handling your fork because your mother was probably trying to get you to slow down when you were eating. Good luck trying to break your dinosaur fork moves now, slob.

SUPERSTITION: A dropped fork means a woman is coming to visit. Or perhaps it’s a man that’s coming to visit. Depends who you ask. Some people just take the easy route and say “someone is coming to visit.” If two forks of the same type have been deposited at your table setting by accident, you will be invited to a wedding soon.

Photo by mr. rollers via flickr

Etiquette & superstition: opals

This post is not about the makers of the Doktorwagen, the Puppchen and the Bedford Blitz. That’s Opel.

ETIQUETTE: Perhaps surprising to any girl who lived through the ’70s-’80s opalescent nail polish and lipstick craze, noted etiquette authority George Routledge states, “Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and least commonplace. No vulgar woman purchases an opal.” A fair man, if perhaps a lazy one, Routledge states elsewhere, “Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and least commonplace. No vulgar man purchases an opal.” So whatever sex you are, if you don’t want people calling you vulgar, go buy yourself an opal.

SUPERSTITION: Volondr/Wieland, smithy to the Norse/Teutonic Gods, made opals out of children’s eyes. Opals either cause one to go blind, improve one’s eyesight or make one invisible to others. Seems a little chancy. I might stick with being called vulgar.

Photo by Mauro Luna via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: not really dead soldiers

I was going to go on this whole thing about how it’s a terrible idea to have Memorial Day at the end of May because everybody defaults to “Summer! Yeah!” rather than “Dead soldiers. Sad,” but the day was in fact established for decorating the graves of dead soldiers with flowers, and once upon a time we couldn’t get flowers year-round from Safeway or Trader Joe’s or wherever, so it actually makes sense to have the day during the part of the year when traditionally there have been flowers available. I’ll just shut up and not go on that whole thing.

ETIQUETTE: During a mock battle, war re-enactors have to balance their desire for authenticity with their desire to not get heatstroke. Reenactment styles vary by region and personal focus, but it is generally agreed that if you are wearing a wool uniform in the middle of summer on a sunny battlefield, it is acceptable to die under a shade-bearing tree, provided it seems natural for you to be fighting under that tree in the first place. A hat cocked over one’s eyes after a fatal hit is an alternative, as is screaming, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” and running off the battlefield. Seriously. It’s authentic.

Re-enactors seem to have strong and varied opinions about soldiers who die too quickly on the field vs. soldiers who are miraculous anonymous action heroes who survive with nary a scratch. To avoid issues of this sort, some societies have taken to assigning death times to participants via a card or token system. Don’t cheat if you have been assigned to die. It doesn’t work in real life, either.

SUPERSTITION: A Russian soldier’s name coming up on a list of war casualties by accident portends a long and happy life for that soldier, provided his family doesn’t kill him for upsetting them so much when they were told he’d fallen.

Photo by Woody Hibbard via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: pots to piss in

I spent some time last weekend visiting the porta-potties pictured above. The one labeled “WHORES” was markedly cleaner than the one designated for “LADIES.”

ETIQUETTE: After using a porta-potty, put the lid down. Have you ever noticed that PVC pipe that goes up to the roof of the potty? That’s a gas chimney that transfers heat and odors from the waste area to outside. If you don’t put the seat down, the gas travels up through the bigger hole in the seat rather than up the pipe, and that stinks up the area you’re sitting in.

SUPERSTITION: If you want to give a wedding gift that will provide good luck to newlyweds in the Philippines, you can’t beat a chamber pot. I’m not sure where the luck comes from, other than the luck that the newlyweds aren’t in France. If they were in France, they would be expected to consume all of the wedding party leftovers that their friends have scooped into a chamber pot.

Scrubbing the kitchen floor each morning with the contents of your chamber pot will keep that kitchen floor clean and sparkling. If you want to cure corns, apply some of the dried-up urine crystals from the inside of a chamber pot to your afflictions.

Etiquette & superstition: grass

I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it; oh, let’s dig it. Can you dig it, baby?

ETIQUETTE: Once upon a time, marijuana was popularly known as grass. And once upon a time, PJ O’Rourke was actually kind of an amusing writer, rather than that token libertarian crank on NPR that we know today, the one that can’t figure out how websites work. During that time, PJ O’Rourke wrote an etiquette book that included proper behavior in regards to drug taking. According to PJ, the proper venues for smoking grass are rock concerts, horror movie screenings and one’s bedroom, alone, whilst being a teenager. Mallomars are the recommended pairing choice. There isn’t a whole lot more on grass in PJ O’Rourke’s etiquette book; he clearly felt more comfortable discussing cocaine. Oh well. Perhaps we’ll revisit this topic again using a more reliable reference source. Stoners love to talk and talk and talk about that sort of thing.

SUPERSTITION: If you take a piece of turf and lay it across your forehead on St. John’s Eve (June 23 – plan ahead!), you will be able to see witches and they will not be able to see you. Lemongrass is a good dragon and serpent repellant, and will also help you to have honesty in your relationships.

Photo by Brian Clark via Flickr

Bring on the heckles

I watched this cartoon this morning, was put off by the gold tooth “hey boss” racial caricature voice as per usual, wrestled with the issue because Buzzy outwits the cat and isn’t portrayed as lazy or stupid, briefly considered giving the whole thing up and just posting a Heckle & Jeckle cartoon, and then decided once again that ignoring the past is a bad idea. For all its faults, I enjoyed this cartoon. I’d be more comfortable if Buzzy had a different voice, but that comfort seems a lot closer allied with a vice than a virtue. Life is complicated, friends.

Etiquette & superstition: port wine

wineratThe wine rat pictured above is not made of port wine. I believe he was a Cab rat. If this wine had come from a particular winery in Temecula, I could make some dumb joke about it being a Cab Callaway rat, but I’m not going to do that.

ETIQUETTE: A decanter of port wine served in Britain is to be passed to the left. Just think about what side port is, if you know about boats. If you don’t know about boats, this isn’t going to help you any and then you’re probably going to sit there fretting and wondering what to do about this horrible sweet wine in front of you, and then eventually some jackass at the table is going to ask, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” and you’re not going to know what that’s about either, and then he’s going to say, “He’s a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port,” and by this point you’re wanting to throw a roll at that jackass, but apparently it’s his polite way of asking you to pass the port. Maybe you should learn something about boats.

SUPERSTITION: If a pregnant woman:

her child is going to be born with a port-wine stain birthmark. Pregnant women really need to be careful.

Etiquette & superstition: itchiness

I either have a cold, allergies, or I should soon expect insults, illness, and a disappointing meeting.

ETIQUETTE: Scratching an itch in public is socially unacceptable in most countries, but in India it also communicates very specific information, mostly connoting negative feelings. Scratching your arms or head indicates nervousness and lack of confidence, scratching your neck conveys a lack of agreement, and you rub your eyes when you want to avoid looking at an untruthful person.

SUPERSTITION: An itchy right shoulder predicts an upcoming inheritance. Gossip is portended by an itchy left knee. Itchy loins? A reconciliation, of course. If you want to be kissed by a fool, pay attention to where your nose itches. If it’s on the outside, you’re in luck. Hooray!

Etiquette & superstition: toasting

Benny’s kids seem to be using a certain kitchen appliance a lot today; I keep hearing a “ding” every fifteen minutes or so. Perhaps they are merely preparing toasts for tomorrow night.

ETIQUETTE: A point of etiquette that some may find troublesome or awkward is the one that indicates it is bad form to drink when one is being toasted by guests at a party. There is rarely any indication of how one is supposed to behave when a toast is being offered in one’s honor other than looking humble and gratified, and I strongly suspect this is one of those points that will soon be dropped (much like the dictum against applause at the end of a wedding) in the code of polite behavior.

The proper thing to do is to merely remain seated and say, “Thank you,” but this predicates that the rest of the party understands you are not to toast yourself and they will toast you and be done with it. If this is not the case, and everyone is just standing there with their glasses aloft waiting for you to take a sip, just raise your glass with a “you are too kind; cheers” sort of comment. You really can’t offer a counter-toast to your guests previous to them completing your toast, as that is rather rude to the first toaster, and if you toast them after you’ve been toasted, you’re stuck in the position of just drinking in front of everybody (if you’re going to be correct about things), and oh brother. Maybe everyone should start toasting the lovely day instead. The lovely day doesn’t have to worry about taking a drink or not.

SUPERSTITION: In France, Germany, Italy, and Serbia, a toast at a private party is usually a simple affair. One word to everyone’s health, or life, or to empty glasses. You must, however, clink glasses with everyone at the table, and you must look them in the eye while you are doing so, or you will have seven years’ worth of bad sex.

Drinking a toast with water will cause the honoree to be drowned.

Illustration by the Strobridge Lithograph Co., Cincinnati, New York, ca. 1899, uploaded to Flickr by trialsanderrors

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