Word of the day for Tuesday, January 9th

I don’t know where you are, but where I am we had a lovely

sunshower today, after quite a bit of normal dark and stormy-type rain. It was quite nice. “But I know the word ‘sunshower’,” you might be saying. “Everyone knows that a sunshower is a rain shower that occurs while the sun is shining.” Well, smarty, you might know, but apparently not everyone does.

In some parts of the United States, a sunshower is known as a pineapple shower… and even more frequently, it is known as “the devil is beating his wife” or “the wolf is giving birth.”  Apparently the devil is beating is his wife because he’s mad that God made such a beautiful day and he has to take it out on someone. I don’t know why the wolf is giving birth.

Turns out, most of the world has pretty interesting names and meanings for the phenomenon of rain falling while the sun is shining. To wit:

  • it’s the wolf’s wedding in Algeria, France and Morocco
  • it’s the fox’s wedding in Bangladesh, Galicia, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and parts of India
  • it’s the jackal’s wedding in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • it’s the monkey’s wedding in parts of South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe, parts of India and the Sudan
  • species are intermarrying in other parts of South Africa (jackal and wolf), Korea (tiger and fox), Sudan (monkey and donkey), parts of India (crow and fox)
  • gypsies are getting married in Croatia, Macedonia and Albania
  • witches are either getting married (Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), combing their hair (Catalonia) or making butter (Poland)
  • ghosts are either getting married (parts of India) or just making the rain (Hawaii)
  • a zombie is trying to get his wife to give him some salty food in Haiti
  • Hell is having a carnival according to the people in Netherlands and Belgium
  • It’s a glitter waterfall in Canada
  • It’s a vitterväder in Sweden (if anyone who knows Swedish can explain what “vitterväder” means, I will update this post. I have to say I am intrigued, as Wikipedia sends me to a post about Vittra/Vittror, which are apparently trolls with cows? Please tell me more)

Wow. I grew up in a boring place. We just knew it as a sunshower. I guess that’s what I get for growing up in Sunnyvale.

Etiquette & superstition: hoarding fire

I’ve written about the etiquette & superstition surrounding a couple of fire topics before, but it’s a big topic. Today let’s talk about the good kind of fire. It’s kind of difficult to remember when many of my fellow Angelenos are facing work commutes that look straight from Dante’s Inferno, but sometimes we want fire. Sometimes we want fire so much we don’t want to share it.

ETIQUETTE: If you find yourself in a group of people warming themselves around a campfire or near a lit fireplace, do not get in between another person and the fire. If you came to the fire late and are cold, and there is absolutely no way to get a little of that hot hot fire on you without blocking someone else, ask your companions to widen the circle.

SUPERSTITION: If you have a fire burning in your hearth, don’t let anyone take any of it (not even a bit of coal or a candle lit from it) out of the house, particularly on Christmas, New Year’s Day or May Day. If you do, your children will get sick, your livestock will die, and whoever took that bit of fire will come back in the summer and take all your butter.

Fire Good poster by Amy Martin; available here from the Echo Park Time Travel Mart

Etiquette & superstition: stealing from dead people

Scrooge does it. Dentists do it. Sun-Tzu advocates doing it. Even Wall-E does it. What’s so wrong about stealing from the dead? It depends.

ETIQUETTE: From a letter to a local newspaper from a resident of Shaniko, Oregon, a ghost town that received a bit of attention for a short time in the ’60s: “… the public is carrying Shaniko away, piece by piece… Among us are several who have had belongings of varied value, both sentimental and intrinsic, taken from their property, and the schoolhouse and surroundings have been devastated by souvenir-seekers. In short, our privacy has been invaded and we are irked to say the least…”.

The book Oregon Ghost Towns by Lambert Florin puts it simply: “Such souvenirs as are found in the brush by the side of the road are legitimately carried home. Parts of buildings still standing, or furniture in them, we don’t include in the souvenir category, however. The old towns are melting away too fast as it is.” Have some respect for the dead. They might not be as dead as you think they are.

SUPERSTITION: If you really need some butter, go get yourself a corpse’s hand. Hold the hand while you churn some cream, and you will have butter within nine churns. If you don’t have any cream, possession of that corpse’s hand will give you the ability to take anybody else’s butter without consequence. That hand will also cure warts, hunchback and scrofula. Tip for the squeamish: you can cure your affliction by just going up to a corpse and rubbing its hand on your troublesome area. Only the butter fiends need to take the hand with them.

“Sardgrin2” by John Cain – screenshot from film Mr. Sardonicus. Via Wikipedia

Etiquette & superstition: May Day

Did you know that the distress call “mayday” comes from the French phrase “venez m’aider,” or “come to my aid”? I didn’t know that until today. My high school French teacher Madame Goff always told us we were supposed to say, “Au secours!” if we needed help in an emergency. That’s about all I remember her teaching us besides, “Taissez-vous!” I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Madame Goff.

ETIQUETTE: The first of May is known in Gaelic and Pagan cultures as the Cross-Quarter Day of Beltane; it’s a celebration of the greening of the earth. In honor of the greening of the earth, you should light a big bonfire. If you’re in an area where a big bonfire will only create a blackening of the earth rather than a greening of the earth, maybe you should forget about Beltane and think about the first of May as May Day instead.

One of the most enduring traditions of May Day is the practice of dancing around the maypole. Folklorists argue about whether the maypole is a phallic potency symbol or merely a symbol of more general life and growth, but we’re not going to discuss that now. Let’s just get into the proper behavior around that symbol.

The dancers should arrange themselves boy-girl-boy-girl in a circle around the maypole, with each dancer holding a ribbon that is attached on the other end to the top of the maypole. One gender positions itself to revolve around the maypole clockwise, and the other gender faces counter-clockwise. For my purposes here, I’m going to say the boys are clockwise and the girls are counter-clockwise, but I cannot find any information indicating that it matters either way. The boys and girls then circle around, weaving in and out of each other in a regular pattern. In-out-in-out-in-out. There is going to have to be a bit of cooperation to get this rhythm, as you don’t want the dancers both going out at the same time and bonking each other in the head or getting all tangled up. Maybe it’s a good idea to agree that the boys start on the outside and the girls start on the inside. Again, if you want to start the girls on the outside and the boys on the inside, I can find no evidence that this is improper. You just have to choose one way or another to get this damned thing done in a halfway decent manner.

If all this weaving business is just too complicated for the dancers at hand, just announce that it is time for traditional Swedish maypole dancing; at that point, all the dancers need to do is pretend they’re frogs or that they’re doing the laundry.

SUPERSTITION: It’s May Day at the dairy farm, people. What are you doing dancing around that maypole like a bunch of damned fools? We have work to do.

Harris, did you singe the cattle with the straw last night to keep away the evil spirits? Good job, Harris.

Eburscon, go out to the singed cattle and kill any rabbits that you might see. As we all know, those rabbits are really witches trying to get at the milk. Put some pieces of rowan on the door of the barn as well. Those darn witches.

Lavinia, let’s hurry it up with getting those cow’s tail hairs into the boiling herbs you gathered this morning. All this rabbit-killing is for naught if we don’t have good butter at the end. Remember Betty Botter and all her problems, Lavinia. And you know what? Get some of that rowan and put it around the handle of the butter churn to keep the witches from stealing all our good butter once you’re done.

What’s that, Myfanwy? You have some hawthorn blossoms for us? Well, aren’t you a dear? I know I’m not supposed to give away milk on May Day, but you deserve a bit of cream for that hawthorn there.

Okay, everybody’s done? Well then, I guess you can go dance around that old maypole then. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Original photographer unknown; image uploaded to Flickr by Paul Townsend

Etiquette & superstition: things in your tea (particularly butter)

A puzzle: I have found 43 packages of teabags in my mother’s home so far. The 43 packages are split roughly 50/50 between boxes containing 20 teabags apiece and canisters containing 50 bags apiece; however, there are one or two cellophane-wrapped packets that only contain 10 bags apiece. What is the minimum and maximum amount of teabags in my mother’s home?

ETIQUETTE: It’s an affectation to hold one’s pinky out when drinking tea from a teacup.No, it isn’t an affectation; it’s done for balance, and it comes from the ancient Chinese. Yes, it is an affection. Are you in ancient China? No, you’re not. What the hell is your problem anyway, that you can’t balance a teacup with the rest of your fingers?

Aw; let’s not fight. Let’s find something we can agree upon. If you are served tea with lemon, do not put milk into the tea as well, as the lemon juice will spoil it. If your lemon is a thin slice rather than a wedge, you should leave it floating in your tea and not squeeze it against the side of the teacup. The lemon will dissipate into the tea; trust me.

If you are with nomadic Tibetans, it is extremely proper to put butter and salt in your tea, and some milk as well.

SUPERSTITION: If you see a tea stem floating in your teapot, a stranger will soon visit. If you aren’t in the mood for company, butter the tea stem and throw it under the table.

Photo by H is for Home on Flickr
UPDATE – Bonus tea image from Retronaut here (thanks, Mauricio)

Etiquette & superstition: snail juice

Snail juice. This is going to be a good one, isn’t it? The superstition tip comes from the excellent blog Time Travel Kitchen, where a nice lady named Jana finds recipes from very old cookery books and tries them out. It should be noted that she did not try this particular recipe.

ETIQUETTE: You may find yourself in front of a plate of snails at a bar or restaurant one fine day. You may also find yourself provided with some unusual utensils in order to navigate this plate of snails. If you find yourself wondering what you should do with all of these things, read on.

Take the things that look like tongs in one hand; these are indeed tongs, but they are called snail grippers. Pick up a snail shell with the snail gripper just like you think you would do, and then take the funny little fork they gave you and fish the snail out of the shell and eat it up. The snail, not the shell. If nobody gives you a snail gripper, don’t fret. Just pick up the shell with your napkin. You’ll want to use a napkin because the shell is filled with hot garlicky melted butter, and that hot garlicky melted butter doesn’t always stay in the shell.

Speaking of which, what do you do with all that leftover garlicky melted butter? The answer is: there is no such thing as leftover garlicky melted butter. Don’t be a fool. When it has cooled down a bit, take that shell and drink the stuff up. Don’t slurp. If you’re feeling fancy, you can pour the juice out onto your plate and dip bits of bread into it.

SUPERSTITION: You say you have tuberculosis? Oh dear. You should make yourself up a batch of snail water right quick. Here’s the recipe:

“Take a Peck of Snails with the Shells on their Backs, have in a readiness a good fire of Charcoal well kindled, make a hole in the midst of the fire, and cast your Snails into the fire, renew your fire till the Snails are well rosted, then rub them with a clean Cloth, till you have rubbed off all the green which will come off.

“Then bruise them in a Mortar, shells and all, then take Clary, Celandine, Burrage,  Scabious, Bugloss, five leav’d Grass, and if you find your self hot, put in some Wood-Sorrel, of every one of these one handful, with five tops of Angelica.

“These Herbs being all bruised in a Mortar, put them in a sweet earthen Pot with five quarts of white Wine, and two quarts of Ale, steep them all night; then put them into an Alembeck, let the herbs be in the bottom of the Pot, and the Snails upon the Herbs, and upon the Snails put a Pint of Earth-worms slit and clean washed in white Wine, and put
upon them four ounces of Anniseeds or Fennel-seeds well bruised, and five great handfuls of Rosemary Flowers well picked, two or three Races of Turmerick thin sliced, Harts-horn and Ivory, of each four ounces, well steeped in a quart of white Wine till it be like a Jelly, then draw it forth with care.”

Photo by Mark Bridge on Flickr
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