Category Archives: Language

Like tumbleweed in the dust bowl

Once, many, many years ago (or that how it feels), I was a busy, productive soul.  I rose at 5:30 and walked a few kilometers, and/or wrote for an hour and a half before showering and going to work on a cup of coffee and a piece of toast.  I worked at a fairly intense rate all day, stopping only to share a sandwich with Graham late morning, before working like a demon for several more hours and returning home to make supper and finish my day’s work.  Now, the space between my ears resembles the great dust bowls of the American mid-west in the 1930s, and the odd functioing brain cell rolls around the (admittedly small) void like tumbleweed.  Pointlessly.  It snags on small outcrops of concerns and odd ideas.  Mostly when I’m walking the dogs in the mornings.  Or cleaning loos.

Take, for example, mistletoe  – or gui, as it’s called here in France.  It’s all over the place here, and recent high winds brought loads of it to the ground, along with its host branches.  I knew that it’s a parasite.  I was surprised to have a Canadian friend who visited a while ago ask me, “what are those Dr. Seuss trees called?”, only to realise that she was referring to trees inundated by mistletoe (she’s right, a tree infested with mistletoe does indeed look like a tree from The Cat in the Hat).  I had to Google whether it hadn’t managed to invade Canada.  It has.  But I also wondered how it became associated with Christmas, and kissing in particular.  I Googled that, too.    And you know what…..?  I was vexed to find that there’s a huge, yawning gap of knowledge that isn’t even filled with conjecture as to why.  There’s an abundance of information regarding Nordic mythology, and druids regarding the parasitic plant as being good as it fed primarily from oak trees, thus a source of wisdom.  Then, there’s a vast gap of centuries until some Victorian author mentions boys with pieces of mistletoe persuing girls and demanding kisses in a novel   The four-year old in me is still stamping her foot and asking “why????   This means that this was a well-established tradition at the time of writing!”  The best answer I can find is to blame Queen Victoria for it all.

More recent walks have found the ground spangled with Mother Nature’s confetti of prunus and cherry petals.  This also set me to wondering.  This time about the origins of confetti.  Yes, clearly it’s Italian.  In late medieval Milan, the wealthy used to throw sugar-coated seeds during parades and festivals.  Apparently, the lower classes retaliated with flour, dung, or clay balls and the like and things got a bit out of hand, leading to a total ban on the stuff for a century or so.  Later, an enterprising Milanese businessman saw a use for the by-product of bedding produced for silk worms (sort of like hole-punchings) and used it for a festival and it was a roaring success.  Not long after that, the owner of a bar in Paris decided to cut up his New Year’s decorations and throw them during a parade.  The rest, as they say, is history.  But it, too, probably has a longer history that dates back to pagan or Greco-Roman eras whereby rice or other grains were thrown at celebrations as displays of hope for wealth/prosperity/fertility.  Again, there’s no link between ancient and modern history.

So there you go.  That’s what’s left of my brain has been reduced to.  I’ve done some mental hand-wringing about productivity and so on, which led me to research hand-wringing.  Don’t worry, I’ll get my coat!

But I do worry that I no longer accomplish what I once did in  day.  Yes, life has changed.  Of course it has.  I’m happier and healthier than I used to be, by far, and that’s a good thing.  Am I wrong to fret about the fact that I’m a waste of space these days?