17 July 2024

Annie Dillard redux

After reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I decided to give Annie Dillard's other writing a try.  When Holy the Firm was published in 1977, some readers wondered if she had been taking hallucinogenic drugs while writing the book (she indicated that she had not).  I can see why those questions arose, and I''m not going to award this book inclusion in the recommended books subcategory of this blog, but I will share several favorite passages and a few words:
"It is the best joke there is, that we are here, and fools - that we are sown into time like so much corn, that we are souls sprinkled at random like salt into time and dissolved here, spread into matter, connected by cells right own to your feet, and those feet likely to fell us over a tree root or jam us on a stone.  The joke part is that we forget it.  Give the mind two seconds alone and it thinks it's Pythagoras.  We wake up a hundred times a day and laugh.

The joke of the world is less like a banana peel than a rake, the old rake in the grass, the one you step on, foot to forehead.  It all comes together.  In a twinkling.  You have to admire the gag for its symmetry, accomplishing all with one right angle, the same right angle which accomplishes all philosophy.  One step on the rake and it's mind under matter once again.  You wake up with a piece of tree in your skull.  You wake up with fruit on your hands.  You wake up in a clearing and see yourself, ashamed.  You see your own face and it's seven years old and there's no knowing why, or where you've been since.  We're tossed broadcast into time like so much grass, some ravening god's sweet hay.  You wake up and a plane falls out of the sky."     [the last sentence being a real-life event that triggered the writing of this book]

"When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick?  When the candle is out, who needs it?"

"Did Christ descend once and for all to no purpose, in a kind of divine and kenotic suicide, or ascend once and for all, pulling his cross up after him like a rope ladder home?"   When I saw "kenotic" I presumed it was related to "keynote/importance".  But the word is the adjectival form of kenosis, the Greek term referring to "the relinquishment of divine attributes by Jesus Christ in becoming human."  Totally new word for me (Dillard was raised Catholic and later became "spiritually promiscuous.")

"By what freak chance does the skin of illusion ever split, and reveal to us the real, which seems to know us by name, and by what freak chance and why did the capacity to prehend it evolve?"  To lay hold of, to seize.  Related to prehensile and presumably to comprehend.

"It is morning: morning! and the water clobbered with light."  Pounded mercilessly.

"The more accessible and universal view, held by Eckhart and by many peoples in various forms, is scarcely different from pantheism: that the world is immanation, that God is in the thing, and eternally present here, if nowhere else."  Apparently "a flowing or entering in."  But I think she is using (or creating) the noun form of the adjective immanent ("naturally existing as part of something").

"You might as well be a nun.  You might as well be God's chaste bride... Look how he loves you!  Are you bandaged now, or loose in a sterilized room?...  Learn Latin, an it please my Lord, learn the foolish downward look called Custody of the Eyes."

15 July 2024

Excerpts from "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"

I recently enjoyed rereading Edwin Way Teale's A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, about 40 years after having first encountered it.  Reviews of that book compared it to this one, so now I've had my first encounter with Annie Dillard.  Herewith some excerpts from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book:
"James Houston describes two young Eskimo girls sitting cross-legged on the ground, mouth on mouth, blowing by turns each other's throat cords, making a low, unearthly music." (p. 26)

"Ladybugs hibernate under shelter in huge orange clusters sometimes the size of basketballs.  Out west, people hunt for these... they take them down to warehouses in the valleys, which pay handsomely.... They're mailed in the cool of night in a boxes of old pine cones.  It's a clever device: How do you pack a hundred living ladybugs?  The insects naturally crawl deep into the depths of the pine cones; the sturdy "branches" of the opened cones protect them through all the bumpings of transit." (p. 79-80)

"“There are seven or eight categories of phenomena in the world that are worth talking about, and one of them is the weather. Any time you care to get in your car and drive across the country and over the mountains, come into our valley, cross Tinker Creek, drive up the road to the house, walk across the yard, knock on the door and ask to come in and talk about the weather, you’d be welcome.” (p. 83)

"I allow the spiders the run of the house.  I figure that any predator that hopes to make a living on whatever smaller creatures might blunder into a four-inch square bit of space in the corner of the bathroom where the tub meets the floor, needs every bit of my support."  (p. 84)

Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.”(p. 106)

"This is salamander metropolis.  If you want to find a species wholly new to science and have your name inscribed Latinly in some secular version of an eternal rollbook, then your best bet is to come to the southern Appalachians, climb some obscure and snakey mountain where, as the saying goes, "the hand of man has never set foot," and start turning over rocks." (p. 174)

"Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in sull summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day." (p. 179)

"If you analyze a molecule of chlorophyll itself, what you get is one hundred thirty-six atoms of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen arranged in an exact and complex relationship around a central ring.  At the ring's center is a single atom of magnesium.  Now: If you remove the atom of magnesium and in its exact place put an atom of iron, you get a molecule of hemoglobin."  (p. 200) Despite my science background, I had to look it up.  The similarity is truly remarkable - and understandable in functional terms:

"The average temperature of our planet is 57 degrees Fahrenheit.  (p. 203)

"There are, for instance, two hundred twenty-eight separate and distinct muscles in the head of an ordinary caterpillar."  (p. 209) ["I seem to possess an organ that others lack, a sort of trivia machine"]

"Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe…” (p. 229)

"The experimenters studied a single grass plant, winter rye. They let it grow in a greenhouse for four months; then they gingerly spirited away the soil—under microscopes, I imagine—and counted and measured all the roots and root hairs. In four months the plant had set forth 378 miles of roots—that's about three miles a day—in 14 million distinct roots. This is mighty impressive, but when they get down to the root hairs, I boggle completely. In those same four months the rye plant created 14 billion root hairs, and those little things placed end to end just about wouldn't quit. In a single cubic inch of soil, the length of the root hairs totaled 6000 miles." (p. 258)

"The egg of a parasite chalcid fly, a common small fly, multiplies unassisted, making ever more identical eggs. The female lays a single fertilized egg in the flaccid tissues of its live prey, and that egg divides and divides. As many as 2000 new parasitic flies will hatch to feed on the host's body with identical hunger. Similarly—only more so—Edwin Way Teale reports that a lone aphid, without a partner, breeding "unmolested" for one year, would produce so many living aphids that, although they are only a tenth of an inch long, together they would extend into space 2500 light-years." (p. 263)

"They [Eskimos] eat fish, goose or duck eggs, fresh meat, and anything else they an get, including fresh "salad" of greens still raw in a killed caribou's stomach and dressed with the delicate acids of digestion." (p. 287)

"The sentence in Teale is simple:  "On cool autumn nights, eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water."  These are adult eels, silver eels, and this descent that slid down my mind is the fall from a long spring ascent the eels made years ago.  As one-inch elvers they wriggled and heaved their way from the salt sea up the coastal rivers of America and Europe, upstream always unto "the quiet upper reaches of rivers and brooks, in lakes and ponds--sometimes as high as 8,000 feet above sea level."  There they had lived without breeding "for at least eight years."  In the late summer of the year they reached maturity, they stopped eating, and their dark color vanished.  They turned silver; now they are heading to the sea..." (p. 345)
I always enjoy when authors use words that are unfamiliar to me:
"...a low hill trembling in yellow brome..."  A type of grass; directly from the Greek word bromos = oat.
"... clearly I had better be scrying the signs."  From Middle English to look into the future as with a crystal ball. 
"... a sycamore's primitive bark is not elastic but frangible..."  Able to be broken, fragile.  Often used for things that are intentionally breakable, as light poles on highways.
"... the waves are translucent, laving, roiling with beauty like sharks."  Washing; related to laundry and lavatory.
"A bobwhite who is still calling in summer is lorn..."  Doomed, lost, lonely.  More often seen as forlorn.
",,, salvifically, I hope, it seems bold."  Related to salvation.  Related to salvage.
"... it was a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair."  From context a fruit with a wing - but why?
"... convection currents hauling round the world's rondure where they must..."  Roundness (French)
"The snakeskin had unkeeled scales..." Obviously without a keel, generating a smooth surface, cf garter snakes which have keeled (rough) skin.
This was an interesting book, and an enjoyable read.  Like Teale, whom she quotes frequently, she excels at observation.  But her writing style incorporates more metaphysical aspects of the why behind events.
Phrase: "Spend the afternoon, you can't take it with you."  Or: "You see the creatures die, and you know you will die.  And one day it occurs to you that you must not need life.  Obviously.  And then you're gone... I think that the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door."

For the TLDR crowd who just want a taste of the book, I would recommend Chapter 10 ("Fecundity") and Chapter 13 ("The Horns of the Altar"), but I think not the more famous Chapter 15 ("The Waters of Separation"), which was a bit too metaphysical for my taste.  If your copy has an "Afterword to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition," that's worth reading.  Also any "about the author" section.

I'm sure many readers of this blog are quite familiar with Annie Dillard.  Please chime in with your comments and recommendations re her other books.

She was the King of Poland

Not queen.  King.  As explained in a QI post:
Jadwiga, canonised saint and the first female monarch of Poland, held the title of King as Queens couldn’t rule, but the law didn’t state that a King had to be male.

Ascending Mount Everest with a drone

YouTube videos have "fullscreen" icons for a reason; click it.  I also switched to a slower playback speed (0.5) for the final summit push.

13 July 2024

Shakespeare sits in the Mastermind black chair

A parody of the classic BBC program.


I would bet that most readers of TYWKIWDBI would enjoy viewing episodes of the BBC program Mastermind.  I've embedded a random example of a program above.  Contestants are quizzed with in-depth questions on a single subject, then have to answer "general knowledge" questions.  For ultimate success, it is not sufficient to have expertise on just one subject, because winners have to come back for additional (3? 4?) rounds to reach the finals. 

For this particular episode, the specialty subjects were the geography of Switzerland, the family of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Sir Roger Moore and Bruce Springsteen.

Lots of episodes are available on YouTube.  I don't know if they are available streaming somewhere or not.


When I was on sabbatical in London many, many years ago, Mastermind was my favorite program to watch on the telly in my rented room in Turnham Green.

The original quizmaster was Magnus Magnusson (quizzing a contestant on Sherlock Holmes here)

Originally posted by some guy over at NeatoramaReposted from 2017.

University Challenge


I had no clue on some of these questions.

Reposted from 2017.

GE College Bowl epic battle (Princeton vs. Agnes Scott)


I've just spent an enjoyable half hour walking down memory lane, watching an episode of General Electric's College Bowl. This quiz bowl series ran on U.S. television from 1959 to 1970.
The most dominant team was the University of Minnesota, which had teams appear in 23 of the 68 broadcast matches. The 1953-55 series had a powerful appeal because it used remote broadcasts; each team was located at their own college where they were cheered on by their wildly enthusiastic classmates. The effect was akin to listening to a football game, but this type of excitement evaporated in later versions, in which both teams competed in the same room.
One of the most memorable upsets in the history of the show occurred in 1966, when an all-woman team from tiny Agnes Scott College [Atlanta], took on the defending champions from Princeton University.

Agnes Scott fell behind 185-130 with less than two minutes remaining. You can see the final segment of the show in the embedded video above. (Although if this subject matter interests you, it's more fun to watch the first ten minutes here, and the second ten minutes here. The videos also incorporate the original advertising that ran in 1966.)

One particularly poignant aspect of the contest was pointed out recently by Robert Earle, who was moderator of the program. The last bonus question was answered by Karen Gearreald with about one second left in the game. "That young lady, by the way, was the only person in the theater who could not see the clock," Mr. Earle wrote. "She is blind."

And here's the final question: "For twenty points, what were Balmung and Durandal?"

For the answer, watch the video. It's more fun than Googling the answer.

(via Metafilter)

Reposted from 2017 to accompany other posts.

Ummm.... not this time

I'm always amused when my computer offers to auto-fill a security code.

Pimple patches as fashion statements

For a few years now, pimple patches — opaque, whimsically shaped, in conspicuously nonhuman hues such as bright yellow, jet black, magenta and even rainbow — have been showing up on more and more faces in workout classes, in classrooms, at workplaces and online. Many are medicated with hydrocolloid or salicylic acid; they treat pimples while also covering them up, protecting them from both idle fingers and strangers’ stares. As a skin-care tool, pimple patches, which gained traction in the late 2010s, were a game-changing development in skin-care technology. But they’ve also become a fashion trend. And although their proliferation heralds a shift in attitudes toward acne — one of the most universal discomforts of being a human — they’ve also begun to act as a social signifier.

The first generation of pimple patches arrived in the late 2010s. Hero’s Mighty Patch hydrocolloid dots, for example, debuted in 2017, and Peace Out began offering flesh-toned and translucent versions of the same concept around the same time.

Then, in 2019, came Starface, whose pentagram-shaped Hydro-Star patches would eventually be available in a full spectrum of opaque, vibrant colors. Decorative and spunky, they were a sensation almost immediately. Hailey and Justin Bieber were photographed sporting them around in their daily lives and, crucially, showed up wearing them in photos on social media. So did Florence Pugh, Willow Smith and Nicola Peltz Beckham, and the brand even debuted its first black version of the product on models in a 2022 Puppets and Puppets fashion show...

Cadence Lawson, 12, just finished sixth grade in Bowling Green, Ky., and can confirm: She and her classmates trade their Starface pimple patches not just for other Starface colors, but also for higher-value goods. “It’s mainly at lunch,” she says. “For ice cream, or something like that.”

“They’re the new Pokémon cards,” cracks Cadence’s dad, Daniel, 34...

When Starface patches are on a jawline or chin, Annie says, she assumes they’re being used to treat actual zits. On a cheek, though, or in that alluring Marilyn Monroe mole position, above the lip? That’s just fashion, baby...

Tiny silk patches in the shapes of “stars, crescent moons, diamonds, all those sorts of things” were often affixed to the faces of well-to-do young people in 17th-century Western Europe. The trend originated in the French royal court, where the patches were initially used to cover up the scars and skin damage from diseases such as smallpox and syphilis, “but they eventually became quite popular. Where they were worn on the face could signify ‘I’m married’ or ‘I’m not married,’ or ‘I’m available’ or ‘not available.’ Or, alternatively, ‘I support this political party or that political party,’” Stewart says. The type or placement may have also indicated astrological signs, she adds, or even religious beliefs. (So Edouard’s workout classmate may not have been totally clueless — just off by a few hundred years.)
I should have bought some of these after my recent visit to a dermatologist who zapped a bunch of my facial SKs.  Then I wouldn't have looked like a plague victim while shopping at Target.

More information at the Washington Post (when the embed, cropped for size)

12 July 2024

Mudlarking - updated

This past week [In 2009] the BBC featured an article on "mudlarking," (treasure hunting along riverbanks at low tide).
"... there is no place better to mudlark than on the 95-mile foreshore of the Thames, considered by some the largest open-air archaeological site in London...
While a general permit to look for artefacts allows the aspiring treasure hunter to dig only 7.5cm into the ground, a special mudlark's licence allows the enthusiasts to venture much further underneath the surface.
"The best thing I've ever found," says Tony, "is a silver wine taster, dated 1634, that is now in the Museum of London's collection."
Over the last 30 years, Tony and his friends from The Society of Thames Mudlarks have amassed a collection of more than 2,500 buttons ranging in date from the late 14th to the late 19th Century. They are now being donated to the Museum of London and include examples of buttons made of silver, pewter and semi-precious stones...
I think it sounds like fun, although I think I remember references in some Dickens' novels that it was not viewed that way in earlier times:
During the Industrial Revolution, mudlarks were usually young children or widowed women. Becoming a mudlark was a cry of desperation as it is considered one of the worst "jobs" in history. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, excrement and waste would wash onto the shores from the raw sewage which wasn't treated. The corpses of humans, cats and dogs would also wash up. Mudlarks would be lucky if they made a penny a day selling what they had found during low tide, which was the only time people could scavenge along the shores of the rivers.
I'm sure lots of murder weapons and wedding rings have been tossed into the Thames.

Reposted from 2009 to add a report of the recovery of a neolithic skull fragment by a mudlarker:
The fragment of a neolithic skull was mudlarked from the south bank of the river’s foreshore by Martin Bushell last September... The discovery, which Bushell initially believed was just a shard of pottery, was handed in to the Metropolitan police. The force commissioned radiocarbon dating of the bone, which revealed that the man had died about 5,600 years ago...

Last month, a rare Roman oil lamp found on the river’s foreshore by Alan Suttie, an amateur treasure hunter, also went on display at the Museum of London. Other ancient objects found in the Thames in previous years include a neolithic polished macehead, a sword dated to the late bronze age and a bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian, dated to his visit to Britain in AD122 – all of which are on display at the British Museum.
See alsoLove tokens retrieved from the mud of the Thames (2011).

Reposted from 2019 to add a link to a Bloomberg article on the subject:
The number of mudlark permits, which are valid for three years, surged from a few hundred around 2016 to more than 5,000 during the pandemic, fueled largely by social media. Worried about a plundered foreshore, the Port of London Authority that oversees the riverbank halted issuing new permits in November 2022...

The publicity has been a headache for riverbank conservationists, and the multitude of mudlarks is part of the problem. Maiklem argues that using metal detectors, shovels and hand tools hastens erosion and are unnecessary given the river’s powerful 20-foot tidal swing that unearths buried treasures...

Miller says that because the number of mudlarks has “gone through the roof,” it’s harder to find buried artifacts. “It’s basically the same size cake, but now thousands of people are trying to get a slice of that cake.”..

Lots of rivers in old cities hold troves of sunken antiquities but nowhere else are they as readily accessible as the Thames. “London is really quite unique, in that we have that combination of having a tidal river and a foreshore that’s stable enough to be walked on,” Sumnall says. “And we are a global city with a very long history of human occupation that stretches back 400,000 years.”

Ah... politics

"Conservative candidate Jacob Rees-Mogg stands next to Barmy Brunch from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party during the declaration for the North East Somerset constituency at the University of Bath campus, on July 5, 2024, in Bath, England. Rees-Mogg lost his seat in the election."
One of the Photos of the Week at The Atlantic.  credit: Finnbarr Webster / Getty

11 July 2024

"Malice prepense" and other postpositive adjectives

This week I gave a "goodbye read" to a book I've had for some 50 years.  While doing so I paused at this curious passage:
"At this distance no one can say how much of what Lady Caroline accomplished represented malice prepense and how much was a quick response to opportunity."
The definition of "premeditated" was implicit in the context of the passage, but while looking up confirmation in online sources,  I encountered these passages:
"Malice aforethought is a direct translation of the Law French term malice prépensée, so the adjective follows the noun as in French."  "prepense is usually used postpositively."
As an English major now in my elder years, it's a bit embarrassing to see the word "postpositive" for the first time (even though in my career I responded to innumerable "code blue" alerts).  As it turns out there are an abundance of "postpositive" adjectives - I just didn't know the classification term.
A postpositive adjective or postnominal adjective is an adjective that is placed after the noun or pronoun that it modifies, as in noun phrases such as attorney general, queen regnant, or all matters financial. This contrasts with prepositive adjectives, which come before the noun or pronoun...

In some languages (Spanish, Welsh, Indonesian, etc.), the postpositive placement of adjectives is the normal syntax, but in English it is largely confined to archaic and poetic uses (e.g. "Once upon a midnight dreary", as opposed to "Once upon a dreary midnight") as well as phrases borrowed from Romance languages or Latin (e.g. heir apparent, aqua regia) and certain fixed grammatical constructions (e.g. "Those anxious to leave soon exited")

Recognizing postpositive adjectives in English is important for determining the correct plural for a compound expression. For example, because martial is a postpositive adjective in the phrase court-martial, the plural is courts-martial...
Herewith some examples - tons more at Wikipedia and other online sources.  In food: spaghetti bolognese; chicken korma, whiskey sour. In titles:  professor emeritus, attorney general, consul general, postmaster general, surgeon general, astronomer royal, notary public, poet laureate, president-elect, prime minister-designate... In organizations: Alcoholics Anonymous, Amnesty International, Weather Underground.  Titles of works: Apocalypse Now, "Bad Moon Rising", Body Electric, Brideshead Revisited, Chicken Little, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Hannibal Rising, Hercules Unchained, House Beautiful, Jupiter Ascending, The Life Aquatic, A Love Supreme, The Matrix Reloaded, Monsters Unleashed, Orpheus Descending, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Prometheus Unbound, "The Road Not Taken", Time Remembered, Enemy Mine.

The book itself I am now done with, and I've listed my copy on eBay.  It was special to me for many years because the author, John Chapman, was a personal friend and my attending physician during my medical training in Texas.  He was a classic academic physician who had also developed a personal interest in the poet Lord Byron, and had extensively researched Byron's life and times, specifically to address the question of whether Byron committed incest with his half-sister Augusta Leigh [TLDR answer: no.  The accusations were most likely malicious rumors started by a jilted other woman].  The book also has a detailed analysis of Byron's death at an early age, concluding that the original reports of cerebral malaria etc were nonsense, but that Byron may have had an intracranial arteriovenous malformation that occasionally leaked, causing his lifetime of intermittent headaches, before finally rupturing fatally on his last visit to Greece.  

This is a scholarly book, not a general interest book for the casual reader.  I didn't donate it to our library because its narrow focus and esoteric subject matter puts it at risk for being pulped, and IMHO it deserves a better fate.  I'm hoping that via eBay it will find its way into the hands of an interested scholar.

09 July 2024

How bog bodies were secured underwater

Wet sites have yielded some of the most spectacular archaeological finds in the world. Prior to Windover’s discovery, ancient human remains had been uncovered at four others in Florida:  Little Salt Springs (Sarasota County), Warm Mineral Springs (Sarasota County), Republic Groves (Hardee County), and Bay West (Collier County). Known as mortuary ponds, these sites served as cemeteries during the Early and Middle Archaic periods, roughly 10,000 to 5,000 years ago...

Toward the end of the first field season, Doran and Dickel made an astonishing discovery: a mushy, greasy, tan substance inside one of the skulls... confirmed that a sample was actually human brain tissue. By the end of that year, several intact brains had been recovered. Though shrunken to a quarter of their original size, they still retained the shape and surface features of a typical human brain...

The bodies were tucked into a “flexed” position, bundled in fabric along with a variety of grave goods, and submerged beneath the water, typically on their left sides, facing west. Wooden stakes driven through the cloth kept them anchored to the bottom of the pond. Generation after generation returned to the pond to bury their dead in this manner for the next 1,000 years.
More information at the Orange County Regional History website.

Simone Biles

The one below is a trailer for a Netflix program scheduled to air July 17.  Looks awesome, because she is a very well-spoken young woman.


08 July 2024

Medieval gardens and turfed benches

I recently enjoyed browsing this book.   It has chapters on monastery gardens, abbess gardens (medicinal plants), pilgrimage-related gardens, cook's gardens (edibles), orchard gardens, and alchemist's gardens, and one on "Mary gardens."  Since I was raised Protestant, I have never been taught the extreme degrees of reverence for the Virgin Mary, or known that Mary gardens were a thing.  The book chapter details the history beginning in an ecumenical council in 431 at Ephesus and the subsequent rise of a "cult of Mary."  By the late medieval period there was an outpouring of relevant music, literature, and art, including garden design.  I was amazed by how many common garden plants were not only dedicated to Mary, but named after her.  The "lady" in the many plants named "lady-x" refers to the Virgin Mary. Here is a partial list of plants incorporated in a Mary garden:

"Eyes of Mary" is one common name for forget-me-nots.
Soapwort (Bouncing Bett) is also known as Lady-by-the-gate
The wooly mullein is also "Lady's candle."
English Primrose = Lady's Frills
Sweet Violet = Lady's Modesty
Ground Ivy = Madonna's Herb
Maidenhair Fern = Maria's Hair
Bachelor's Button = Mary's Crown
Meadowsweet = Mary's Girdle
Marigold = Mary's Gold
Bleeding Heart - Mary's Heart
Lungwort = Virgin Mary's Tears
Spearmint = Menthe de Notre Dame
Iris = Mary's Sword
Cowslip = Mary's Tears
Bedstraw = Lady's Tresses
Solomon's Seal = Lady's Seal
Pansy = Our Lady's Delight
honeysuckle = Lady's Fingers
Hweet Woodruff = Lady's Lace
Columbine = Our Lady's Shoes
Lily-of-the-Vally = Our Lady's Tears

And many more.  However "Rosemary" is not a corruption of "Rose of Mary", but of the Latin ros marinus ("dew of the sea").

One more interesting item from the book.  Herb gardens typically incorporate benches, some of which in medieval times were "turfed":
"The turfed seat drained quickly after rain and provided the sensation of sitting on a dry and fragrant meadow.  It consisted of a raised bench seat with the sides constructed of stoneor brick or, less permanently, wattle, almost filled with compacted stone and rubble to provide good drainage and topped with a layer of soil.  The seat was then turfed with soft fine grass or fragrant creeping herbs, such as apple-scented chamomole and thymes, to form a dense mat."
What a great idea.  I've been unable to find a suitable photo of a turfed bench other a few partially depicted in stained glass windows.

Here's the Wikipedia page on medieval gardens.

06 July 2024

"Laying a hedge"

 For my gardening Zoom group I recently browsed In a Unicorn's Garden: recreating the mystery and magic of medieval gardens.  There I encountered the phrase "laying a hedge" and had to look it up...

What life is like for a normal person

"Kevin Bacon has daydreamed about walking through life as a regular, nonfamous person... A person who could stroll the Earth for a day without being asked for a selfie by a stranger.... Then Bacon realized he could test out his fantasy by donning a disguise... Bacon put on his normal-person camouflage and tested it at one of the most densely populated locations in Los Angeles: an outdoor shopping mall called The Grove..."

At the Grove, Bacon recalls, “People were kind of pushing past me, not being nice. Nobody said, ‘I love you.’ I had to wait in line to, I don’t know, buy a fucking coffee or whatever. I was like, This sucks. I want to go back to being famous.”

03 July 2024

"The Sixteen Pleasures"

"I Modi (The Ways) is best known as The Sixteen Pleasures, an illustrated sex guide published by Marcantonio Raimondi in 1524. Based on paintings by Giulio Romano, The Sixteen Pleasures carries the proud boast of being the first work of pornography banned by the Catholic church. For his gross indecency, Raimondi was imprisoned by Pope Clement VII. All copies of the book were destroyed. Romano got away with it. And so began a long debate whether art and porn can ever be the same thing?..

Pietro Aretino was aroused by this curious case of private and public mores. “After I arranged for Pope Clement to release Raimondi,” he wrote, “I desired to see those pictures which has caused the [Vatican] to cry out that their creators should be crucified.” Aretino thought the illustrations needed a few words, so he composed a sonnet for each woodcut. He also successfully fought to have Raimondi released from prison. In 1527, I Modi and Aretino’s sonnets appeared in a new collaborative work. “Come view this you who like to fuck,” wrote Aretino, “without being disturbed in that sweet enterprise.” Predictably, the Pope banned this second book and destroyed every copy...

In 1798, The Sixteen Pleasures reappeared as the French title L’Arétin d’Augustin Carrache ou Recueil de Postures Érotiques, d’Après les Gravures à l’Eau-Forte par cet Artiste Célèbre, Avec le Texte Explicatif des Sujets. With most of the original mucky pictures lost (or maybe just locked away in the Vatican?), this book featured illustrations based on engravings by painter Agostini Carracci.
I have embedded one of the Carracci images above; the others are viewable at a 2017 article in Flashbak.

Two doggy day care bus videos

"Dressing pretty" is over

"...I'm a messy eater,” admits Isaiah Lat, a 20-year-old student, DJ and stylist from Chicago, “I used to wipe away stains but now I don’t mind a little oil or a little spaghetti on my shorts. I think it’s chic.”

He does not believe that a term has yet been coined for the way he likes to dress. “It’s probably this dystopian, Mad Max, pirate, Steam Punk, mythological vibe,” he says, big on thrift and DIY; he likes skinny jeans, Capri pants and visor-like sunglasses. He doesn’t pile on the pasta sauce before he leaves the house but says he does like his clothes to be “somewhat stained”.

There’s a new mood in fashion: aesthetically varied, but its disparate elements – camouflage, combat shorts and grungey plaid; goth-inspired make-up and stomper boots; silhouettes and garments inspired by 2010s indie sleaze; T-shirts emblazoned with slogans inspired by nihilistic internet humour – project a common mood. Daniel Rodgers, digital fashion writer at British Vogue, says that much of it stems from the rebellious energy of kids “born in 2000 trying to reclaim the things millennials wrote off as loserish”. It is often a bit grotty, a bit greasy and crumpled and raw.

It’s a big leap away from the homogeneous looks that have dominated visual culture for a decade, including sleek, mass-produced athleisure and the ubiquitous “clean girl” trend, which problematically centres influencers who either are – or look like – Hailey Bieber, with white, gently blushing skin and huge fluffy eyebrows...

It is an intentional rejection of the mainstream. “We are sick of late-stage capitalist fashion,” he says. “In the aftermath of Trump’s presidency, with the conservative supreme court and our rights being stripped away, we want to dance and look hot – and this is our way of showing the government and corporations that we don’t need them.” [you might consider voting...]

Still, there is something particularly nihilistic about what is happening now, says Rodgers. The way people are “dipping into looks from the past 15 years of mainstream culture and putting them all together in a wild bonfire heap” and sampling from subcultures without the “lifestyle obligations” that used to be part of wearing those clothes. He says that when micro-trends come into style at the moment, they stay in: “So everything is trending at once. Everything is porous and blurred; it’s kind of a free for all.”..

Even Hailey Bieber, the ultimate icon for the “clean girl” look, is dressing a bit more chaotically, points out Rodgers, and is “in some way mirroring what’s happening on the street. She’ll wear a football shirt with some tailored trousers and cowboy boots or a poet sleeved shirt with Fila shorts and a Mary Jane, like someone’s kind of sifted through a lost property box on sports day.
More (with photos) at The Guardian.

The most common jobs in the United States

From the Department of Data column at The Washington Post, where there is some discussion.  I'll also embed the bottom of the list (which goes on for 58 pages).

The rarest book in American literature

If ever a book ought not to be judged by its cover, Edgar Allan Poe’s debut collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems, is that book. Known as the Black Tulip, only twelve copies appear to have survived since its publication in July 1827...

Both Poe and the novice printer Calvin F.W. Thomas were just eighteen when the poet handed over his manuscript, presumably at Thomas’s shop at 70 Washington Street in Boston, and paid him to make it into a book. The result was forty pages of unevenly printed verse bound in drab tan wrappers the shade of a faded tea stain. Tamerlane’s front cover features a potpourri of discordant typefaces within an ornamental frame that resembles a geometric queue of conifers—a heavy-handed period design I have grown to adore. It’s clear that Thomas, as a workaday job printer whose usual commissions were show bills, apothecary labels, calling cards, and the like, had his shop stocked with a mishmash of typefaces to fit any taste. On this occasion, he seems to have drawn liberally from his inventory... 

The Holy Grail of book collecting, Tamerlane is one of those books that—like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the original boards, which sold at Christie’s in 2021 for $1.17 million, or Shakespeare’s first folio, priced at $7.5 million and sold last year by the London-based rare book firm Peter Harrington on its 400th anniversary—causes a stir among rare book enthusiasts whether or not they have any hope, or desire, of acquiring it. (Not to mention the Bay Psalm Book or even the Eliot Algonquin Bible, other ultra-rare early American printed books, though religious texts, not literary.) Whenever a first edition of Tamerlane comes under the hammer—a rare event in itself—its past legacy and future home become the topic of discussion among booksellers, archivists, collectors, and Poe scholars around the world.

Originally produced in an edition estimated at forty or fifty copies, Tamerlane was from its inception a rarity. The Morgan Library doesn’t own a copy. Nor does the Library of Congress. The copy once held by the University of Virginia, Poe’s not-quite alma mater, was stolen in 1973 from the McGregor Room vault in Alderman Library. If it is never recovered, an unfortunate possibility, the number of known copies drops to eleven. At least one prominent Poe expert I know speculates it may have been destroyed to hide the evidence. 
More details about Tamerlane at Literary Hub.  

Your biodegradable, renewable, sustainable T-shirt may start in an old-growth forest

"You might think that wearing a top made from wood pulp would give instant eco-credentials – it is renewable, biodegradable, and, having once been a tree, it has soaked up some carbon along the way. What’s more, it’s not plastic. This is why many brands are opting for viscose, Lycocell, acetate and modal – soft, silky, semi-synthetic fabrics made from tree-pulp – as an apparently more sustainable option... Except that the chances are that your wood-pulp top may not be so green...

In total, about 300m trees are logged globally each year to make viscose, sustainably or otherwise. These fabrics go by the rather geeky term, “man-made cellulosic fibres”, or MMCFs. Demand for viscose, the third most used fabric in fashion (after polyester and cotton), is expected to double over the next eight years, says Rycroft: “Many brands are looking for a substitute for polyester or virgin cotton, but it’s trading one environmental disaster for another.”

Significant amounts” of viscose come from endangered forests in Brazil, Canada and Indonesia, says Rycroft. “We’ve also noted old-growth forests in Australia – koala habitats – disappearing into the viscose supply-chain. 
More information at The Guardian.

I forgot to post this on Tau Day (June 28)

More about Tau Day.

Stars in tree twigs

"...this five-pointed (also called five-angled) star shape is common in Populus (aspen, poplar, cottonwood) and Salix species (members of the willow family) but is also found in oaks (Quercus), and chestnut (Castanea). The pith inside a stem is made of parenchyma (large, thin-walled cells), which are often a different color than surrounding wood (xylem). The pith’s function is to transport and store nutrients. Pith is usually lighter when new, but darkens with time (as seen in images like these of cottonwood “stars”).

Mowry’s story notes the importance of cottonwood to the belief systems of Native American tribes: the Lakota, the Cheyenne, the Arapaho, and the Oglala Sioux. Pacific Northwest naturalist and poet Robert Michael Pyle’s essay, “The Plains Cottonwood” (American Horticulturist, August 1993, pp.39-42),  describes an Arapaho version of the story of the stars that you told above: “They moved up through the roots and trunks of the cottonwoods to wait near the sky at the ends of the high branches. When the night spirit desired more stars, he asked the wind spirit to provide them. She then grew from a whisper to a gale. Many cottonwood twigs would break off, and each time they broke, they released stars from their nodes.” Cottonwood twigs sometimes snap off without the assistance of wind, a self-pruning phenomenon called cladoptosis. Pyle suggests looking for twigs that are neither too young nor too weathered if you want to observe the clearest stars: “The star is the darker heartwood contrasting with the paler sapwood and new growth.”
Embedded image from Mountain Cathedrals.
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