Saturday, August 23, 2014

Blue with Green Should Never Be Seen

Sometimes--actually quite frequently--I wonder where I've been all these years. One way this came up was last weekend when, gathering with my family, we were talking about what each person's favorite color was. I don't know exactly how this led to my sister telling us about a conversation she had had with my father that I don't remember ever having heard before.

Back in the distant days of high school, she and I belonged to a club called the Juniorettes, which was a teen club sponsored by the Junior Women's club. In it's slightly eccentric blend of informality and convention, we each had a little badge made out of felt, which was a smaller piece of blue on larger piece of green. Maybe it had a little pin in the middle--I don't have one handy to look at.

I don't actually remember when we ever wore these badges. Maybe at every meeting? Maybe only on special occasions. In any case, they must have come out of the box at some point, because my sister tells me that my father was noticing her pin one day and said, "Blue with green should never be seen."

This did not seem to strike anyone else in the family with surprise. Someone knew that the whole saying was "Blue with green should never be seen, except with something in between." My niece, who takes art classes, went on to explain that the colors are too close together on the color wheel.

There are several funny things about this. First of all, although my father was interested in many things, I find it a little hard to imagine him weighing in on this convention. So I must conclude that this is one of those adages that he picked up at an impressionable age, like the one about not wearing white after Labor Day, which even I remember my Illinois relatives quoting with some authority (it's not really observed in my strata of California society, unless it's just me not observing it--not entirely beyond the realm of possibility.)

The second thing is, how does everyone else know this adage, and after all these years, this is the first I've heard of it? It's one thing when you come across some piece of advice that comes from somewhere else, but apparently everyone in my family had heard this news but me. 

Sometimes we can be skeptical of some piece of collective wisdom. It's very rare in my experience, though, to have been sheltered somehow from such knowledge and find out that you have been going along thinking exactly the opposite. Because I think green and blue together are BEAUTIFUL.

And so, apparently, does God. Or whoever does the interior design for this simulation we're currently caught up in.

(The painting at the top is by Nelson Ferreira, from his Penumbra series. And speaking of penumbras, if you would like to see some spectacular blue tulips--in a backdrop of green--just go to Kathleen Kirk's blog post HERE and scroll on down...)

Friday, August 8, 2014

glean II

I just put a book review up over at Escape Into Life, and about halfway through, I realized that the book under discussion is a book about gleaning. The French illustrator Barroux came across a box amid a pile of things that some movers were hauling out to throw away. In the box was a journal and a French war medal. The result of that chance find was the graphic novel (On Les Aura!), which became Line of Fire in English.

I just thought this was all a great bit of propaganda for gleaning. Read all about it HERE. It's kind of funny that all the gleaning I've been coming across lately has been happening in France.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


I was watching a documentary by Agnès Varda last night called 'The Gleaners and I'. (In French, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse). I don't know how I got on to it exactly, since I hadn't previously known Varda's work--it was probably through some algorithm at Netflix that it was recommended to me. Varda was already a famous filmmaker at the time she filmed it--it came out in 2000--but I hadn't heard of her. For this project, she decided to use a digital handheld video camera and just wander around France with it. After an encounter with Jean-François Millet's Des glaneuses (above), Varda became intrigued to follow around some modern day gleaners, and in the process recognized the gleaner in herself.

And I in turn became interested in the word 'glean'. Although glean in the sense shown in Millet's painting means to gather what is left after the more official harvesters have been through a crop (and actually, as one older gleaner tells Vargas in the movie, gleaning is only the activity of gathering from the ground--things hanging above the ground are picked. So you glean grain or potatoes, but you pick grapes. I'm not totally sure about fruit that has already fallen to the ground, like apples,though), we also use the word to speak about comprehension--to talk about how we have understood or come to grasp something. Varga in describing herself as a glaneuse is actually talking about both senses. She is gathering actual film images and she is trying to understand more about various things--why people glean, but other things as well.

Now I am not sure how the French etymology works, but in English, the course is a bit surprising. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the English word glean comes from the Old French glener (which modern French makes glaner) and this in turn comes from the Late Latin glennare, which meant 'to make a collection'. It goes on to speculate that the word may have come from the Gaulish (I think of Latin flowing out from Rome and being dispensed to the hinterlands, but of course it must sometimes have gone the other way, as that is how language is.) As evidence, the Dictionary cites the Old Irish do-glenn "he collects, he gathers" and the Celtic glan, which means clean or pure. I'm not quite sure how that connects, but maybe you are.

As for me, I hadn't even known that Gaulish was an ancient Celtic language till just now. I would have just thought it had something to do with France. But Wikipedia tells us that "Gaulish is found in about 800 inscriptions consisting of dedications, funeral monuments, graffiti, magical-religious texts, coin inscriptions and other similar, often fragmentary records."

In other words it would take a lot of gleaning in our modern sense of "extracting information from various sources," or "collecting bit by bit" to learn much Gaulish. It seems rather made to illustrate the concept of gleaning, in fact.

(According the ASNC Spoken Word website, this translates as  ‘To the mother-goddesses of Glanum, [X gave] a tithe in gratitude’)

This is a little bit weird. I was just looking for some examples of Gaulish inscriptions to liven things up here a little, and found the above example from Glanum quite randomly. Glanum is an archeological site of some major Celtic/ Roman ruins in the area we now call Provence. It was a Celtic city originally built by a spring dedicated to the Celtic god Glanis. (Remember glan?)

Now yesterday at around this time, I didn't know Glanis, or Glanum from Adam. But as it happens, there is a short interview in Varga's film with a French woman and her grown son, who drops into the conversation about gleaners that his mother is having with Varga. "Glaneurs?" he says--"I thought you were talking about Glanum." And Varga obliginglyshows us a picture of the archeological site.

 (Not this picture. This photo is taken by Axel Brocke and is of The Temple of Valetudo, about 39 BC, in Glanum, Valetudo being the name the Romans gave Glanis when they incorporated him into the Roman pantheon, as was their custom with the local deities of the conquered.)

Another other odd thing, is that in English, anyway, the figurative sense came first. It appears in the early 14th century, while the more literal description of scavenging after the harvest doesn't appear until the late 14th. I'm guess this happens, but I am pretty sure I haven't run into the figurative proceeding the literal since taking up this blog. I am not sure we can say the literal came from the figurative, though, because it may just have hopped the channel in some other way.

Anyway, take some time to watch "The Gleaners and I". It's one of those films that makes you think about a lot of things without being particularly heavy handed about it. I'm looking forward to watching the follow-up on the same disc, which is called "The Gleaners and I, Two Years Later."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

fingers crossed

 I'm sure most people have thought about this before, but it was only when I heard Rachel Maddow say "So, fingers crossed?" at the end of some slightly hopeful segment that it occurred to me to wonder about this phrase's origin. Of course, once you start wondering about it, it becomes obvious that it has to have something to do with the Cross, even though I think most or many people who use it are not invoking God and some might be appalled at the idea that they were.


Well, it turns out that it's not quite as simple as all that.There seem to be two different ideas about how the custom started, one being pre-Christian and the other dating from early Christian days. The older idea centers on the crossroads and not the cross. Apparently, in many cultures and not just ancient ones, the crossroad is seen as a place of spiritual power. Wikipedia tells us that it is the place of "betwixt and between" and therefore a place where access to other realms is possible. 

So this theory, explained on the Mental Floss website as well as The Straight Dope among others, is that people would meet at the crossroads, which Dex at The Straight Dope also tells us was a symbol of unity and a place where benign spirits mingled. One person would lay his finger across that of his friend and make a wish. It was a way of anchoring the wish until the wish was fulfilled. Gradually, though, I guess people didn't want to be bothered with finding a friend and going to the crossroads and decided that as they had a surplus of fingers of their own, they could just do the two fingers cross themselves. Dex made reference to a very interesting quote from Charles Panati, who wrote in The Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things:

"Customs once formal, religious, and ritualistic have a way of evolving with time to become informal, secular, and commonplace."  

So Dex goes on to talk about how fingers crossed involving a certain amount of ritual with two people and a crossroad becomes one person with two fingers, and eventually the simple expression "fingers crossed", which doesn't necessarily involve any fingers at all.

We do have another way we use fingers crossed, though, and that's the kind where you cross your fingers behind your back and tell a bold-faced lie. It's a pretty interesting mental maneuver when you think about it, and I think it ties in to the second explanation of where the gesture comes from. In the early days of Christianity, it wasn't always cool to be a Christian, and maybe you didn't want to be thrown to the lions or torn apart on a St. Catherine's wheel or whatever the torture of the day might be. So maybe you kept your newfound faith a bit low profile. Still, you would want to identify yourself to other Christians, so a handsign was developed. Some think that it used the Christian symbol of the fish and two people would each put their thumb and forefinger in the shape of an "L" and then touch thumbs and cross fingers, which may have looked something like this:

The fingers crossed behind the back may have come from this idea of signing that you are one of the faithful while saying something else to the powers that be. I actually found a quite convincing example of this at Snopes, which involves not the Romans and the Christians but the military and Hilary Clinton.

 Intrigued? Check it out right HERE.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jambole by Eddy Kenzo

I'm traveling for a few days, and though you probably won't even notice, I won't be posting a new post for a few days. Meanwhile, my friend Cassandra sent me a link to this vibrant bit of dance and I thought it would make a great placeholder. No, I don't know what Jambole means, and I don't even know if that's the right title for what you're watching anyway. Enjoy.

Here's the link as I'm not sure he wants to share on other sites.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I learned a new word today. Actually an old word, but I don't recall ever seeing it before. I happened to discover that I could download a free copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel on Kindle, and as I was passing the time at the Laundromat, I did just that. (Funny, Google just capitalized Laundromat, and that was something I didn't know to do either. Further research may be required.) Anyway, waiting for the clothes to dry, and already done with the book I'd brought, I decided to try out the opening pages. And it starts out pretty well. All the aristocrats, or "aristos" in Baroness Orczy's terms, are trying to flee the city limits of Paris and make it to England in order to escape the guillotine, and the guards at the gate are having a cat and mouse sort of game with them.

"Men in women's clothes, women in male attire, children disguised in beggars' rags: there were some of all sorts: ci-devant counts, marquises, even dukes, who wanted to fly from France, reach England or some other equally accursed country, and there try to rouse foreign feelings against the glorious Revolution, or to raise an army in order to liberate the wretched prisoners in the Temple, who had once called themselves sovereigns of France."

Sometimes when you encounter a strange word on Kindle, the little look-up function is not so good--try reading a Northern Irish crime novel sometime--but ci-devant seems to be well within its capacity. In French:

ci: here; devant: before, in other words heretofore. And in other, other words the ci-devant aristos are those who were previously aristos, but no longer.

The Baroness herself.

It's funny, perhaps, that the word has fallen out of use when so much French came over the Channel and stuck. But maybe it's because there is a plethora of such words in English. Plethora in its sense of overabundance, of too muchness. Because we not only have "heretofore", but I also thought of "erstwhile", and just now, the word "hitherto". Apparently, ci--devant is really only best when you are trying to capture  the turmoil of the French Revolution.

Monday, July 14, 2014


So I was under the impression that I vaguely knew what mufti was. But after watching Endeavor last night on PBS I fear I may have it at least slightly wrong.I had thought mufti was the more casual uniforms worn in the military, and not the full regalia. But on Endeavor, at a certain point, the police dress up in mufti, which in this case means they disguise their true role by wearing civilian clothing.

As you can see, this will bear some looking into...


Source: The weekly press, 29 April 1926, page 28

(The caption reads "Returned soldiers in mufti and wearing medals marching past the Cathedral, Christchurch")

Well, I was wrong. To be in mufti does just mean to be in clothing other than one's uniform, whatever that may be. I think it is probably not very commonly used in the  U.S., as I realized that our own equivalent is perhaps "civvies", as in civilian clothing. Apparently in England and elsewhere in the British sway, they even now have something called Mufti Day, which is something like our casual wear day or some equivalent--it's not that unified here. In my former place of work, which didn't go in for formal work clothes in the first place, we were not as likely to have a dress down kind of day as we were some sort of dress up day.

"Mufti" actually comes from the Islamic world. In English, it stems back to the British Raj, and its intermingling with Muslim culture during colonization. A mufti was and presumably still is a judge. Rather chillingly for Westerners, one dictionary defines a mufti as 'one who gives a fatwa'. The most famous fatwa for most Westerners is the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for having the temerity to write The Satanic Verses. (It's a brilliant book, by the way, and I am perhaps in a minority position by liking it better than Midnight's Children.)

But a fatwa, in less inflammatory moments, is simply a judicial decision, rendered by a scholar of Islamic law. So don't get down on all muftis just yet.

So now we get to the second part of the question--how does "mufti" come to be a term for civilian clothing? Well, it's unclear. Although this strategy would be anathema to Anatoly Liberman, I will pass along the speculation that it comes from the 19th century theater and a rather stereotypical portrayal of Arabs there. Whether it was because they were portrayed exotically and colorfully, or because they were wearing robes and slippers is not clear. But I will say that this was not the kind of garb being worn by the British coppers on last night's Inspector Morse prequel.

The new guy is good, but we still miss you, Mr. Thaw.