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Monday, December 19, 2005

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish -- which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By 'eightieth' meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.

T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Time for more Ruskin -- earthy stuff

A lovely passage for any geology fans out there. . .

But there are three kinds of earth which, in mixed mass and prevalent quantity, form the world. Those are, in common language, the earths of clay, of lime, and of flint. Many other elements are mingled with these in sparing quantities, but the great frame and substance of the earth is made of these three, so that wherever you stand on solid ground, in any country of the globe, the thing that is mainly under your feet will be either clay, limestone, or some condition of the earth of flint, mingled with both.

Nature seems to have set herself to make these three substances as interesting to us, and as beautiful for us, as she can. The clay, being a soft and changeable substance, she doesn't take much pains about, as we have seen, until it is baked; she brings colour into it only when it receives permanent form. But the limestone and flint she paints, in her own way, in their native state: and her object in painting them seems to be much the same as in her painting of flowers; to draw us, careless and idle human creatures, to watch her a little, and see what she is about -- that being on the whole good for us, -- her children. For Nature is always carrying on very strange work with this limestone and flint of hers: laying down beds of them on the bottom of the sea; building islands out of the sea; filling chinks and veins in mountains with curious treasures; petrifying mosses, and trees, and shells; in fact, carrying on all sorts of business, subterranean or submarine, which it would be highly desirable for us, who profit and live by it, to notice as it goes on. And apparently to lead us to do this, she makes picture-books for us of limestone and flint; and tempts us, like foolish children as we are, to read her books by the pretty colours in them. The pretty colours in her limestone books form those variegated marbles which all mankind have taken delight to polish and build with from the beginning of time; and the pretty colours in her flint-books form those agates, jaspers, cornelians, bloodstones, onyxes, cairngorms, chrysophrases, which men have in like manner taken delight to cut, and polish, and make ornaments of, from the beginning of time; and yet so much babies are they, and so fond of looking at pictures instead of reading the book, that I question whether, after six thousand years of cutting and polishing, there are above two or three people out of any given hundred who know, or care to know, how a bit of agate or a bit of marble, was made, or painted.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Perusing a little book we have called Honey for something to post, I guess because honey is on my mind and currently in my tea. It's a sweet, meditative little book (by Isha Mellor). It's all lovely, but for some reason I will excerpt the section entitled Mead:

There's the clip clop of horses on the sunhoneyed
cobbles of the humming streets.
Under Milk Wood
Dylan Thomas

Mead has been brewed worldwide since very early ages, and was probably the tipple of Dionysius or Bacchus before the cultivation of the vine. The various mythological connections of bees with the immortals would have caused beverages made from honey to be important, even sacred, to be used in offerings and libations to the gods.

In Ancient Greece the mead drink was known as Hydromel , and it had the happy property of being able to disperse anger, sadness, and afflictions of the mind. Other honey beverages were known as Ompacomel, which was made with fermented grape juice and honey; Oenomel, from pure grape juice and honey, Conditum, which was honey mixed with wine and pepper, and the famous Oxymel, made from honey, vinegar, sea salt and rainwater. The main ailments these were used to alleviate were those of a rheumatic nature. The well-known honey vine of Ancient Rome was Muslum, and Russia was famous for its Lipez. [I have absolutely no idea what that last sentence means -ed.]

Chaucer's mead was called Piment or Clarre, a mixture of honey, wine and spices. Piment was popular with kings and nobles. Morat was another liquor of this type, and it contained mulberry juice. Mead in the 16th and 17th centuries in England was a beautiful pale gold colour and it sparkled like champagne.

The name for mead seems to vary little throughout the world. In Germany it is called meth, in Greece methu, in India madhu, and in Lithuania medus. In Old Irish it used to be called mid.

[Actually this means the word and the substance it represents are old indeed; the reason they are so similar is that the word goes all the way back to Indo-European, a hypothetical language that existed before it split into the most ancient forms of Sanskrit, Greek, Celtic, Germanic, etc, producing cognates like mead,meth, methu, madhu, medus, mid, etc. Wow! --ed]

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Here come the men in black!

Ooh! Who are those cool guys? Posted by Picasa