Sunday, June 29, 2008

Apiary News

The Upper Deep is Honeybound. All the upper deep frames are full of honey, which means that there is no place for the queen to lay her eggs. The worker bees should have been carrying the nectar up to the supers above the deeps, but for some reason they did not. Thus: Honeybound.

CSB took a few of the honeybound frames out of the center (and swapped them with another hive) and inserted drawn out foundation. We hope the workers and the queens will all get the idea.

Hagiographical News

Since we were talking about all the apparently disconnected and inexplicable things and places that certain saints are patrons of, for, or against, it seems fitting to mention today’s two honored apostles: Peter and Paul.

Saint Paul’s patronage extends from authors to journalists to writers. Or put another way, from hailstorms to hospital public relations to poisonous snakes to rope braiders.

The patronage of Saint Peter ranges from bridge builders to foot problems to longevity to Worms, Germany.

Garden news: The Lettuces have Bolted.

Those of you who grew up wise in the vocabulary of vegetable gardens have always known about lettuces and their tendency to bolt. Pas moi. It seems I only recently learned that a lettuce gone to seed and grown tall and bitter is said to have Bolted. And I love to say it. I take every opportunity to refer to the lettuce having Bolted.

Epiphanical news

It may not rank up there with gravity or Joyce’s The Dead, but reading Bee Culture yesterday I had something of an epiphany, one that made me especially happy since it combined two of my obsessions: hagiography and apiculture, saints and bees. I have always, at least in recent times, known that honey was healthy as well as remarkable in that it never spoils (perfectly edible honey has been found in Egyptian tombs dating 5000 years ago) and is an excellent antibiotic ointment and treatment for burns. But I wasn’t aware that honey, as a food, contained ALL the essential nutrients necessary to sustain life, including Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, beta–carotene, and enzymes.

In other words, if you are a hermit in the desert for forty years and have nothing to eat but honey and the occasional bug, you can survive.

Since the annals of hagiography are full of hermits who did just that (think John the Baptist) it suddenly hit me that no exaggeration or fudging was involved, that in fact they could very well have survived exactly as their histories say they survived.

And this delights me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A burning question laid to rest

No doubt you’ve often asked yourself. Yes, we know that Herod had John the Baptist’s head separated from his body to placate the terpsichorean Salomé. But what happened to that head – so often pictured on a silver platter – after the spoiled Salomé tired of it?

Today you will learn the answer.

It was Saint Joanne the Myrrhbearer, better known as one of the ladies who discovered the empty tomb on Easter morning. She was resident in Herod’s palace, and she took up John the Baptist’s head and gave it a proper burial in the Mount of Olives.

That was about 2000 years ago. Since then, the head has had a busy history. Being found, identified, disproved, found elsewhere, claimed as a relic, encased in gold and silver reliquaries all over Christendom. You get the idea. So it is nice to think that once upon a time it rested peacefully in the ground.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pigeons in the grass, alas

Today is the feast of Saint Anthelm who was bishop of Belley (it’s between Lyons and Aix-les-Bains) in France in the 12th century, and so beloved there that for a brief time the town was called Anthelmopolis.

Belley is the nearest town to Gertrude Stein’s country house (in the tiny village of Bilignan) where she spent long summers from 1929 on, and where Alice B. Toklas cultivated her excellent garden and cooked her excellent meals.

Gertrude Stein wrote the libretto for the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson, which has several more than four saints in it (Pigeons in the grass, alas) and more than three acts in it. Saints Settlement, Plot, Chavez and Plan are in it. Saints Teresa I and II are in it. Saint Ignatius is definitely in it.

Saint Anthelm is not in it. Not in Four Saints in Three Acts, he is not in it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Today's favorite sign

Hot Shave

Skin Fade

Flat Top

(or have I just been channeling Gertrude Stein?)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guest post from the mountains

This just in from our culinary correspondent in Colorado:
We went to this barbecue place for dinner (good coleslaw and onion rings, thank goodness for me). Anyway, their claim to fame is the best baby back ribs in CO, because they come from Denmark. Why, we ask our youthful foreign-born waitress? Because the cows are fed tulips. And they are made to all sleep on one side, so one side is much plumper and juicer. And how, I wonder, do they control the sleeping arrangements. With rods as flippers if they catch a defiant sleeper?

Wonder what kind of tulips they eat. The ribs frankly were mediocre. I can't help wondering why they aren't using all the happy cows in the Aspen valley!

Sent to us by Lis, normally of Santa Cruz, this week at Anderson Ranch
(I'm imagining Ferdinand the Bull, lolling in a field of surrounded by cork trees, nibbling the pink petals of a Queen Isabella tulip as he drifts off into the land of nod.)

Serial (The Quickies), Part 5

5. Dr. Tom practiced his art in a fourth floor office on Tenth Avenue. He looked after lots of dancers because they were always pulling muscles and tying themselves up in knots. But Rubén did not see Tom for his spine-adjusting skills. They both harbored a love for tropical flora so fevered that it felt illicit at times. Tom because he had never seen such plants in their natural habitat, and Rubén because they were the plants he had known growing up. Together they rode the subway up to the Bronx and visited the Botanical Gardens. They never left without seeing the orchids. Once Rubén said to Tom, “Whoever this Enid Haupt is or was, I think I could love her very much.” Tom told him that Enid wasn’t his, Rubén’s, type. Rubén was touched by Tom’s response, because he assumed it indicated a certain growing affection. It never crossed his mind that Tom had personal knowledge of the late benefactress of the eponymous conservatory.

Monday, June 23, 2008


You’re all eager to hear about Saint Ethelreda (Audrey in Latin), who managed to have two husbands and never consummate her union with either one. Twice a virgin, always a virgin. Something of an accomplishment, this. Like some others we have mentioned, Ethelreda had the benefit of a genetic inclination towards sanctity – consider her sisters: Saints Sexburga, Ethelburga and Withberga.

After years in the convent, Ethelreda lay dying of an enormous and hideous pestilential tumor on her neck; she took it as divine retribution for all the gem-laden necklaces she had worn in her frivolous youth.

[There is a word for that kind of narcissistic self-castigation, but I can’t think of it now. Please send any suggestions because it’s driving me crazy, not knowing the word.]
Speaking of words. Throughout the Middle Ages a fair was held on Saint Ethelreda/Audrey’s feast day (today) at which especially tacky necklaces and “other trumpery” were sold, which brings us to a word I do know: the modifier tawdry is a corruption of Saint Audrey.

Given such exciting tales, it seems remiss not to mention Blessed Thomas Corsini, of whom Alban Butler wrote: “his life was as uneventful as it was edifying." But I think for once Butler is overstating the case. For instance, Bd. Thomas once found & plucked fresh figs in January to satisfy a pregnant woman’s craving. Surely a miracle!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Swarm

First, somewhere in the world a butterfly sighs and flaps her wings.

Then, on the other side of the planet, a thunderstorm with high winds roars through our backyard, and a hollow tree comes crashing down.

We save a seven-foot length of the hollow tree, because it is beautiful and because it will make a good beehive. We position the hollow tree trunk in the middle of the field and CSB gets two pieces of glass cut to fit the top and the peephole/node where a branch once extended.

Then one of our hives upriver swarms and he brings the hive home in a nuc. The next day it swarms again onto the grape arbor.

CSB catches the swarm and installs it in the hollow tree. It’s not entirely clear if it will take to its new lodging.

It does not. A week later, this afternoon, the hive swarmed again. Such a peripatetic queen, such nomadic foragers. The bees clustered on a lower branch of the crabapple, conveniently for us, the swarm catchers. CSB carefully snipped off the branch and shook the bees into the nuc box. We noticed that, this third time around, the size of the swarm is yet smaller because they have not had a chance to settle down, lay some eggs and hatch new workers. So we sat on the damp grass and watched with rapt attention as the bees flew and walked into their new home. Some bees stood on the edge of the box and energetically beat their wings to broadcast the pheromones of their queen to all and sundry stray members of the hive, so that they should know where to come home to. It never ceases to amaze how well they know what to do, and how they do it, without a lot of discussion. (Discussion is what predominates chez nous.)
Now CSB has taken the nuc and its inhabitants to our apiary one town away, and then we will bring them back here in a week or so and try to install them – yet again – in the hollow trunk. We are nothing if not determined.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The test of a true cephalophore

The Saint Alban of Mainz we celebrate today may or may not be a true cephalophore.
Sometime in the fifth century, Alban traveled north from Greece or Albania (take your pick) with Ursus. Ursus was killed in the Alps, so Alban traveled alone to Mainz, where he proved to be an excellent battler against heresy. So much so that when the Vandals (capital V) attacked they made a point of decapitating Alban, thereby assuring his claim to the crown of martyrdom.

And why the doubt as to Alban being a cephalophore? Because the inscription describing his head-bearing comes four centuries later, arguably too late for any reliable witnesses. And it is well known that the iconography of many decapitated saints portrays them carrying their heads in their hands, more to underscore their headlessness than to accurately portray what happened to that head after being removed from its body.

I should, but I cannot, forgo mentioning on this day Saint Méen, or Mewan, or Mevannus or even Main (born in Wales, holy in Brittany), a patron saint invoked against skin diseases. Throughout the middle ages he was so popular that not only is a certain cutaneous trouble named St Meén’s Evil for him, but a variety of the curative plant scabious is called l’herbe de St Main, also for him.
There is no evidence that he himself either suffered from skin diseases or cured them, rather that the pilgrims who bathed in any of his many holy wells found comfort there.


Today we went to Lyndhurst to see our bees there. Sharing the property with a Neo-Gothic mansion deemed National Trust-able, these ladies are the most historically minded of all our bees; I’ve seen hints of Gothic arches and buttresses in their honeycomb architecture.
Then CSB showed me a true feral hive of bees. Of course we couldn’t see much: just the bees clustered around the vertical crack high in the tree (a catalpa I think). I could only imagine the thousands of bees,with their comb and brood and honey, deep inside the dark recesses of the hollow.

And it just so happened that today was the happy occasion of the NYS Tree-Climbing Championship, right there at Lyndhurst. Teams of arborists and chain saw advocates from all over the state were competing in events like the THROW LINE (toss a weighted rope over a specific branch high in the tree. Not easy), AERIAL RESCUE (involving a stuffed dummy in a bright red tee shirt, dangling there awaiting rescue), and my personal favorite SPEED CLIMB BODY THRUST (just as it sounds).

And throughout, standing around, in the shade of the massive copper beeches we love so much, were many arboreally-inclined young men with fitted tee shirts, industrial strength boots, tool belts and hard hats.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I finally did it. Yesterday, after yet another wee hour expletive-filled phone call from CSB’s ex-wife - the bilious mendacious JB, she who gives even schizophrenic paranoia a bad name – I went down to our local constabulary and reported her for harassment.

It’s amazing how nasty and irrational one can be in this world and get away with it. (Of course I support the ACLU and fully support your right to believe and say anything, just not to me, please, because it makes me feel so horrid.)

The very kind patrolman called said Bilious Mendacious JB, identified himself as a member of a Law Enforcement Agency and told her that yours truly requested that she NEVER EVER call this house again. Of course she had words to say about this, so said officer reiterated that she can contact her poor beleaguered ex-husband via email and his cellphone any time, and sadly, she does.

Standing there in our village hall (a lovely brick building designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, better known for the ) I felt rather surreal and I thought that this was a far cry from what I imagined for myself back when. Which led me to wonder: what exactly did I imagine?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More saints, alas

I try to heed friendly advice and keep the hagiographic references to a minimum. But today as a feast day is simply too replete with interesting characters to resist.

To start, there is Saint Nectan the Cephalophore. As is obvious from their name, cephalophores are head (cephalo) bearers (phores). Devotées of my fiction (all 7 of you) know all about Saint Dénis of Paris (sometimes called Dionysus), surely the world’s best-known cephalophore, and will soon (new book) become acquainted the Forty Monks of Magun.

The 6th century Welsh saint Nectan was the eldest of his father 24 children. A holy and venerable man, he was passing through a forest when he was attacked by robbers, and beheaded. So with his own hands, he lifted up his head and carried it a ways to a certain stone where he lay it down. Six centuries later the stone still bore the bloody traces of that head.

Saint Hypatius of Phrygia (ca. 446) courted disaster by vehemently protesting and defeating a proposal to revive the Olympic games. He said that he and his monks would rather die than see such pagan practices restored.

In Brittany, the second most popular boys name is Hervé (first is Yves), on account of the much-loved Saint Hervé. Blind from his birth, he was working in the fields one day when a wolf came and ate the ass that was pulling his plow. Rather than get upset, Hervé simply prayed, and the wolf thereupon put his head through the ass’s collar and finished plowing the field.

Just one more, my personal nomination for the patron saint of Desalination Plants: Saint Bessarion of Egypt. Like so many of the desert fathers, he fasted prodigiously and lived to a great age. But Bessarion also turned salt water into fresh and walked across the Nile.

More travel tips, elsewhere

If you read about the Mundaneum in today’s NY Times, you surely noticed that this museum to an early card-catalog-and-telescope-based system for information searching is located in Mons, Belgium.

It just so happens that Mons has another claim to fame: the Brabantine-Gothic Church of Saint Waudru with its elegant Baroque belfry, home to the relics of its patron saint. Saint Waldetrudis (Waudru), ca. 688, seems to have come by her saintliness by having been related to a whole lot of other saints: her father Saint Walbert and mother Saint Bertilia; her sister Saint Aldegundis; her husband Saint Vincent Madelgar and their four saintly children, Landericus, Dentilinus, Aldetrudis, and Madelberta. One can only imagine what constituted sibling rivalry in such a family.

And if such attractions are not enough there is always the annual festival of the Lumeçon, when a dragon called Doudou fights with Saint George, attended by 10 Chinchins as well as 8 devils, 7 wild men and 12 white men. Saint George always wins and the dead dragon is always ignominiously dragged into city hall. That same day Saint Waldetrudis’ relics travel around Mons in a Golden Coach. On my desk there resides a very attractive mug – now filled with colored pencils - featuring the key players in this Lumeçon.

How is it that I am so wise in the ways of a small city in Belgium? Mons is the birthplace of my beloved grandmother Reine Marie Garat Brancart, a mere 106 years ago.

Serial (The Quickies), Part 4

4. In Nicaragua ballet is not considered a career for a man. All Rubén’s classmates from Jesuit school studied engineering or agronomy and then managed their families’ vast farms, growing cotton in the old days (before the world price collapsed), then peanuts, also sugar cane, palma Africana and coffee. Such was not even possible for Rubén. When Rubén saw --stretching end on end before him - the sugar canes waving their razor sharp leaves in the wind, he felt the urge to leap and twirl in tune with that wind. On his father’s coffee finca he performed duets with coffee trees at dawn. He spent exactly one miserable month at Rochester Institute of Technology before heading to New York City. He got a job waiting tables. Then he met Sara Whitby who fell for him so hard she could have cracked concrete. He took classes at Juilliard and danced everywhere he could. For Rubén, the lasting significance of his brief marriage to Sara was that she introduced him to her chiropractor.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Travel tips

Facts you may need to know about Atlanta:
All the taxi drivers are Somali (based on my sampling).

The 20,000 square foot painting (biggest painting in the world) at the Cyclorama, depicting the very bloody Battle of Atlanta (May-September, 1864) weighs 9935 pounds. 12,000 gallons of paint were used to create it.

In the Cyclorama Gift shop you can buy a blue stuffed bear with a union cap and a USA belt buckle OR a gray stuffed bear with a rebel cap and a CSA belt buckle.

All Saints Episcopal Church has an excellent choir and they wear red robes, which match very nicely with the deep scarlet used to paint the interior of the apse. According to MBL, architectural historian par excellence and my mother, this color is correct for a Gothic revival church.

The High Museum is home to Madonna and Child with Six Saints (ca. 1390) by the Master of the Saint Verdiana Panel. For those of you who don’t know, Saint Verdiana was a contemporary of Francis of Assisi, though obviously much less well known. For 34 years she lived in a small (10’ x 4’) stone cell with only a small window opening into the oratory. It was through that small window that 2 snakes entered one day and they stayed with Verdiana for years. They tormented her and ate from her plate, but she never complained. Hence their appearance in all paintings of Saint Verdiana.

The airport is famous for exceedingly long lines at security.

Some school in Georgia (University?) has a team called the Bulldogs, which means that (at the airport, at the last minute, assuming you made it through security) you can buy tasteful tee shirts and other useful items featuring a ferocious bulldog for all your loved ones.

Back home, the bees in the tree trunk swarmed and clustered on the grape vines nearby.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More things hirsute

Saint Onuphrius (also called Onofrio, Onophry and even Humphrey) died in the year 400 after spending seventy years as a hermit in Upper Egypt, living exclusively on dates which grew nearby his cave. During that time he wore only “his own abundant hair” and a few judiciously placed leaves. (For more on hair, see Saint Wistan's ) Among the many books written about him and his miracles, the one which most appeals to me, based solely on its title, is Oriental Affinities of the Legend of the Hairy Anchorite, by C.A. Williams.

Painting by Giovanni-battista Carraciolo

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


So much thunder and lightning. And such wind.

What is the ambient sound of the countryside the morning after a thunderstorm - packed with stiff winds, blazing lightning and crashing thunder - has come through?


It is the roar of chain saws in backyards and along roadways. It is the rough yank on the starter cord and the blasting into action. It is the rasping sound of the serrated blade ripping through all that fallen xylem and phloem. It is the crash of the limbs of flowering catalpas, gnarly locusts and stately white pines as they are severed from the trunk that fell upon the driveway, or the porch, or your car.

We may have chain saws, but the planet still generates startling and powerful winds, and lightning that sunders the sky, again and again.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Serial (The Quickies), Part 3

3. Sara Whitby had been married so briefly that most of the time she forgot it entirely. Usually she responded to a query with, No, never. And not because she was a liar or a deceiver, but because she didn’t – not inside herself – feel that she had ever been married. She had lived with her younger brother all her life – or since his birth when she was four. This seamlessness was only once interrupted, by her marriage to Rubén Olvidades, a dancer so handsome and poised that necks snapped when he walked by. She met Rubén in church, not that either of them were regular churchgoers, but they happened to have stopped in at Saint Winifred’s-on-Seventh for a quiet haven at the very same time. They were each sitting quietly with his and her own thoughts when the organist began to practice - Bach, Purcell and who knows what. The organ’s notes filled the sanctuary like blessed oxygen filling your lungs. Rubén was intrigued by Sara’s stillness, as well as her askew profile. He walked over to her pew, sat down and began to discuss organ music as a way to closeness with the Universal Consciousness. By six that evening she was fornicating with him on his mattress that rested upon a vertiginous platform he’d built in his East Village studio. Rubén had no carpentry skills to speak of, and the platform did not inspire confidence. But Sara was discovering sex. Two weeks later they were married downtown at City Hall. Afterwards they went to an Ethiopian restaurant with two other dancers and Sara’s brother, George. Several times during the meal, George commented on the irony of a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of a country best known for starvation.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Prolific ones

If you thought Joyce Carol Oates and Anthony Trollope were prolific, then consider Saint Columba (521 -597) who (legend says) wrote over 300 books. And all while he was busy being Apostle to the Picts.

And while it has nothing to do with Columba’s sanctity or his literary output, you may be interested to know that – for only $199.99 – you can buy a life size 18,000 (that’s eighteen thousand) piece jigsaw puzzle of Roger van der Weyden’s masterpiece, the Saint Columba Altarpiece. (The original is in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.)

Blessed Joseph Anchieta (1534-1597) was a Jesuit missionary to Brazil, who was often at odds with the Portuguese civil powers over their treatment of the Indians. He too was a prolific scribbler, in Spanish, Portuguese, Latin and Tupi.

On one occasion, he lacked paper and writing implements yet was moved to write his famous poem to the Virgin Mary. So each morning he wrote his verses in the wet sand of a beach until he could commit them to memory. The next morning he repeated the system with new verses, until he had memorized 4,900 verses, which he later transcribed to paper.

I feel confident that my memory would max out after the first few hundred verses. Or is that optimistic?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lightning strikes and a new queen

Last night we stood sweltering on the ninth floor astro turfed rooftop of a friend's new office building near the Yonkers waterfront, with views north south and west. We watched the clouds gather and then watched the light turn pink and golden, at which point we went inside to watch as the lightning sundered and slashed the darkening sky. Lovely lightning.
So here is a question: will the metal in my knee attract lightning? Is titanium any different from any other metal in its electrical conducting properties?
Is there any knowledge on this very important subject, especially important to those of us who are attracted to thunderstorms? (Are they now attracted to my knee?) Those of you meteorologically, or metallurgically, or medically knowledgeable, please advise.

CSB took advantage of this hot and sultry day to inspect several of the hives.
One of the three by the blueberry patch (I used to name the individual queens: Camilla, Beatrice, Lena Mary, Dana, Virginia - mostly for dead relatives and old girlfriends of CSB. But definitely not his ex-wife. But as the apiary has grown, that system has gotten too cumbersome – even CSB has a finite number of old girlfriends – and so I just refer to them by their region in the garden, their proximity to blueberries or grapes or the field.) had a small collection of supercedure cells. One supercedure cell was open from the bottom, and presumably somewhere in the hive a new queen is walking around. Is she mated yet? How many drones died to give her their dynastic seed?
The other cells showed signs of being opened from the side, which means that the first queen to emerge killed those wannabe queens.
Below: Bees clustering around Slovakian bee hive sign from WW.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Saints Claud and others

You probably know Saint Claude as the patron of toymakers, but what you need to know is that the Saint Claud we celebrate today, he of Besançon, didn’t really catch on until about 400 years after his death in 699 CE, when his body was found to be INCORRUPT.

Being much in favor of composting, of things biodegradable, of dust unto dust and ashes unto ashes, the whole concept of INCORRUPT bodies as a direct line to sainthood is one I have trouble with, and hence it will occasionally be referred to in these pages. On the face of it, an INCORRUPT body seems impossible (absent mummification), but the annals of hagiography are so full of them (the bodies) and the instances are so often documented by reliable sources, that one just has to wonder.

The main thing you need to know about Saint Philip the Deacon is that he was personally responsible for the conversion of Queen Candace of Ethiopia’s favorite eunuch.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Personally, it was upsetting to see all our hard work turn into a huge penis." So said a Nyack H.S. senior. See the Journal News.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What is therapeutic?

The physical therapists are lovely.

One is a football (“not your football”) player from outside Dublin who tells me that the recumbent bicycle is Grand and the electrical stimulation is Grand.

The other one is a runner and diver (Am I intimated by athletic females? Yep. Always have been, always will be.) with a tongue stud.

ME: Do you mind me asking if you have a tongue stud?

PT: (Sticks out her tongue). I do.

ME: Do you mind if I say something in the maternal vein? Since my daughter had a tongue stud too?

PT: Not at all. My mother hates it.

ME: My daughter ended up having lots of dental problems. She basically killed these two teeth here (I demonstrate the two lower front teeth).

PT: My roommate did that too. (Smiling). But I don’t knock it about. Some people play with theirs and slide the ball up and down between the teeth (She does not demonstrate.) but mostly I forget it’s there.

ME: The dental work was very expensive, and painful.

PT: (Still smiling. She does have very nice teeth.)

And miles to go before I sleep

From the NYTimes 6/3/08: More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost’s former home for a beer party and severely damaged the house are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment. Using “The Road Not Taken” and another poem as jumping-off points, a Frost biographer, Jay Parini, left, hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways, and the redemptive power of poetry. Said the prosecutor, John Quinn, who asked Mr. Parini to teach the classes, “I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people’s property in the future and would also learn something from the experience.” Twenty-eight people were charged, mostly with trespassing.

What can I say? What can any of us say?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Serial (The Quickies), Part 2

2. Had George Whitby considered in which act he would hurl himself from the heights of the Family Circle down to the pampered depths of the Orchestra? His bereaved sister assumed he had planned to commit suicide before Otello so tragically kills Desdemona, and because he did not, because it came afterwards, she assumed that his courage had faltered and that second thoughts had delayed his jump. Sara Whitby, once she developed this assumption, could not stop thinking about it. She thought about it day and night and what little sleep she got was tormented by it. She had been perfectly aware that her brother was depressed, but given that he had lost his job and that his magnus opus had been rejected by its thirteenth publisher, she considered his depression situational (as opposed to what?) and felt justified in thinking that his spirits would improve with the passage of time and a new job. George had never been what you would describe as a cheery fellow. Neither he nor Sara had much time to spare for the cheery souls of this earth. Life, like good operas, was tragic, and they knew it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Saint Wistan's hair

People get weird about hair.
Victorians collected their lovers’ tresses and used them for art-under-glass. Read any stash of nineteenth century love letters and you will find yourself inhaling very old hair clippings.
Some people gag when confronted with flowing locks.
Others can’t imagine ever cutting their hair.
SAINT WISTAN (namesake of W.H. Auden, btw) has an exceptionally weird hair story.
Even Butler describes it as a “very extravagant miracle.”
Wistan (also Wystan) was murdered for having the temerity to oppose a marriage between his widowed mother and his godfather. Some say this opposition was for dynastic reasons, others that it was for spiritual reasons. Either way, it is redolent of Hamlet.
But that was just the beginning. Every year, on the first of June, a CROP OF HUMAN HAIR sprouts in the spot where Wystan met his end (He was scalped). It is visible for only an hour. What Butler finds exceptional is that there is contemporary verification (9th century) of the miracle, by one Thomas Marledge, an abbot and “reputed man of credit”. He and his fellows saw the hair, “felt it with their hands, and kissed it.”