Sunday, September 30, 2001

Folklore: Work


Genre: Proverb, Portuguese, Azores 
Alberto Santo Amaro, male, 50s
taxi driver, entrepreneur
Azores-born, Portuguese/English speaking
Velas, Sao George, Azores, Portugal
Sept. 30, 2001 


"Trabalou todos os dias sem parar"
(traba’low ‘todos osh ‘di:ash sem para:r)
Work all the days without stopping.


“This is something my grandfather said to me many times,” said Alberto, a taxi driver, well into his 50s, with a daughter, age 27. We were on the island of São George in the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and he was giving us a special tour of his native isle after we were stranded by the ferry boat company. 

The owner had decided to cancel the outgoing boat service and there weren’t too many ways off the island until the following week. Alberto tracked down the owner and tried to bargain with him to honor his schedule, but the owner couldn’t be bothered with providing island transport to four Americans. So he moved up the winter schedule by a day, canceled the boat until the next season, and that was that. We were pretty well frazzled after frantically making special arrangements to fly off the island to catch our connecting flight home.

São George is very sleepy, it’s like stepping back in time, like going to Molokai, Hawaii, before W.W.II. The Azores, in the mid-Atlantic Ocean are very isolated, the islands are spread over a 400-mile radius. They are warmed by the African gulf current, and are actively volcanic. There is an isolation that modern technology has done little to erase as there are only two satellite channels. As a result of isolated island living, the people are gregarious and helpful, if conservative. And many old customs are well preserved, some dating back as much as 500 years.

Alberto said he was a kid when he heard that proverb from his grandfather. He seems to have taken that advice to heart. Alberto drove us by his house and farm near Velas, which he inherited from his grandfather. He seems to have taken his grandfather’s advice to work all the days without stopping—something he does very well, as he has several profitable businesses and tourist income rentals, and he runs the family farm and a taxi service/guide. He spent a few years here in the Bay Area and made his money as a garbage man, and returned to the Azores. He said it was lonely living in America. Alberto has worked all his days without stopping.

I wonder if there was another part to this proverb that is lost, or if it had another resonance in the original language that seems to be missing from the English translation. 



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Folklore: Talking too much

Genre: Proverb, Portuguese, Azores 
Alberto Santo Amaro, male, 50s
taxi driver, entrepreneur
Azores-born, Portuguese/English speaking
Velas, São George, Azores, Portugal
Sept. 30, 2001


"Boca calada diz tudo."
(boka kaw’lada, di:z tudo)
[A] mouth shut says everything.


“This is something people say when some people talk too much, and say nothing,” said Alberto, a taxi driver, who coyly declined to give his age, but he was well into his 50s, as he had a 27-year-old daughter. 

We were on the island of São George, in the Azores, and he was giving us a special tour of his native isle after my family was stranded by a ferry boat company. The ferryboat owner had decided to cancel the outgoing boat service and there weren’t too many ways off the island until the following week. 

Alberto tracked down the ferryboat owner and tried to bargain with him to honor his schedule, but the owner couldn’t be bothered with providing transport to four Americans. So he moved up the winter schedule by a day, and that was that. We were pretty well frazzled after frantically making special arrangements to fly off the island.

The Azores, in the mid-Atlantic Ocean is very isolated, the islands are spread over a 400-mile radius. They are warmed by the African gulf current, and are actively volcanic. There is an isolation there that modern technology has done little to erase as there are only two satellite TV channels. 

However most people are connected by a cell phone program subsidized by the government. As a result of isolated island living, the people are gregarious and helpful, if conservative. And many old customs are well preserved, some dating back as much as 500 years.

Alberto said he was a kid when he heard this proverb from his grandfather, who was always telling him, “Tu fales muito.” You talk a lot. Or, You talk too much.

This reminds me of an Irish proverb I learned, “A mouth is sweet in its silence” (p 35, #615). 

“Is binn béal ina thost” From “Seanfhocail,” M.F. Ó Conchuír,
(iss binn beyal eena host) (Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 1997, Ireland)
it’s (a) melodious mouth in its silence/lull 

It also echoes a variant of a Spanish idiom I learned the hard way: "Las moscas no entraron una boca cerrada."
Or the more common (correct) version: "En boca cerrada no entran moscas."

We were very glad that Alberto didn’t take his grantfather’s advice, he still talked too much—and the day was enriched by his stories. Alberto drove us by his house and farm near Velas, which he inherited from his grandfather.

He also left us with another of his grandfather’s proverbs, “Trabalou todos os dias sem parar” Work all the days without stopping—something he does well, as he has several businesses, as well as running the farm and a taxi service. 

Alberto was a gem. He took care of us like family. It was post-9/11 and we were shellshocked. I met him standing alone above the main road of the ferry, having a cigarette; all the other taxi drivers were like pool sharks. I went up to him and said: Disculpame. Ayudame.... And so he did.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes



Saturday, September 22, 2001

Azores Journal: Terceira, São Jorge

9/27/2001 Rue de Jesús, Praia da Vitória, Terceira, Azores

The streets of commerce, where anything is possible, are always open for business—except in Praia da Vitória,Terceira, which is a US military base. The only thing open 24/7 is the US military base. We meet many interesting people over coffee, in the cafes, the only other establishment open during the day. Shops keep very selective hours, depending upon the whims and vagaries of the proprietor—something we will find out more about later.

Canice Santos photo

The huge black cargo planes en route  to Langley from Kuwait, are the newest model, said retired Air Force pilot and CIA agent, Jim Swain. They were called C Fives, or something like that. He said they come in empty and stop to refuel at the most strategic Air Force Base in the Atlantic, which is also the largest gas station in the Atlantic, he said. He was on a roll and told us many air force stories we could barely follow. He also said, Don't believe in half of what you hear.

Sinead Dinsmore photo

Jim's wife, Nancy Swain, from New Hampshire, who was once a Vanity Fair Cover GIrl, said the coffee was too strong. "You know why the espresso spoons are so small? Because they dissolve after the third cup. Bigger spoons are too expensive." I nearly snort my galoni (galão), a thick sludge of espresso and condensed milk. No fresh milk to be had on the islands. Or fish either. Dried bacalao, or bacalhau, takes some getting used to.

9/28 São Jorge Island. We blew into a rough port after an equally rough crossing from Terceira. Sinead is belowdecks feeding the fish vomit. Not a happy camper.

Around Sañ Jorge, stands of Japanese Cryptomeria, a kind of red cedar, reminds me of our redwoods. There is also a native juniper, Juniperus brevifolia. It's like being in Point Reyes, West Marin, so many familiar faces. Most of the ranchers are from the Azores. Many young men look like twins of John Santos with their distinctive eyebrows. The Irish-Portuguese look is in.

On a small plane headed for Terceira, late afternoon rain building, heavy rain this morning, and every day. Our hosts at the Hotel Australia were suddenly very friendly as we were leaving. It would've been better if it had happened sooner.

Sean and the little girl playing hide and seek, have no need for language in common. I tried to collect some folklore for my class with Alan Dundes, from José Sourez, but his English wasn't up to it. Um boca calada diz tudo, he said. Urbano da Silva was more adventurous. I got one bit of folklore from the taxi driver, Alberto Santo Amaro, who has an apartment to rent. Next time we come to visit, he says.

After ignoring us for almost the entire time we were here, everyone expects us to come back next year. That's the way things are done here. The Portuguese are so reserved at first, they seem hostile, but then we make such silly attempts to speak, they take pity on us and dust off their English or Spanish. I am speaking a weird form of  Portuguese-Spanglish which seems to work but it is harder to understand the Azoreans' replys. I suspect their dialect is different from that of the mainland.

9/30 So how we got to ride a twin prop plane back to Terceira instead of the ferryboat for $40 versus $25, was because the boat owner change the schedule two days early, leaving us stranded in Velas for a week. But our plane to Lisbon is on Monday so this is not an option.

Luckily we were able to get a flight out as this was off-season. Yesterday, we went to check on our return tickets, only to discover that the boat had already left an hour earlier that morning. Our Sunday crossing was canceled.

We spent much time trying to find another boat off the island with no luck I called the airport and they said the flight was full but there was space on Sunday for something like $400. We about fainted. I told the taxi driver our problems he said not to worry and he took us to the airport. And got us a ride out of Dodge. Aberto Santo Amaro, was our official living santo. He got us off island when no one else could.





Folklore collected from Urbano da Silva, Praia da Vitória, in Terceira, the Azores:
Folklore: Shopping & weekends
Folklore: Talking & Keeping silence
Folklore: Water, strength

Aberto Santo Amaro's folklore, Velas, Sañ Jorge, the Azores:

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

CAVE OF THE CATS, COUNTY ROSCOMMON

                                      —for Seamus Brennan

In County Roscommon
in a vaulted cavern.
is the Cave of the Cats,
where the three-headed cat lived.
A racial memory 3,00 years old
begins at the end of the Bronze Age
where base dirt was transformed 

into alchemical iron
and weapons took in a new edge
shifting the balance of power.
The monster roused from sleep
by the cry of the red yew psalter
began to stalk warriors returning 
home on the long boreens.
For was that not the tree of death?
What monster stirs in these deserts
where base oil is transformed into greed?


9/19/2002-06




UAIGH na g CAT—CAVE OF THE CATS

                There are chests of gold within the burial mounds
               but mind the cats that guard them.
 
—Old Irish Proverb
                           For ethno-musician, Simon O'Dwyer



In County Roscommom, in a vaulted cavern,
is Owenygat, the lair of the Cave of the Cats,
where they say the three-headed saber cat 
guarded the gates of hell.

Was it a fragment of a racial memory, 
born at the eve of the Bronze Age
at a time when the Goibniu 
transformed base dirt into alchemical iron
and weapons took on a new edge 
thus shifting the balance of power?

At Rath Croghan, the epicenter 
where Ireland’s Inanna, the Iron Age warrior,
Queen Medbh of Connaght, 
the white mare whose honeyed thighs drowned 
and crowned sovereignty onto Kings
by a ritual of intoxication,
the meade-mad Queen Medbh
whose lust launched the famed cattle raid, 
“Táin Bó Cuailnge”, a war 
that brought an empire to its knees,
is an old myth.

But at the fissure of Owenygat, 
the locals still recount how the goddess Medbh 
opened wider still to let the demons into her
and she kept the gateway to the Otherworld 
clenched tight, in order to save humanity 
from the tyrranny of ravenous beasts.

Inscribed in Ogham above the lintel 
"Hellmouth Door of Ireland,"
it says Medbh’s son and daughter,
Fróech and Finnabhair, sacred twins
were born at the limnal entrance to the Cave 
where she herself was born and buried.

Some say Medbh shape-shifted 
into the The Mórrígan, the goddess of war.
Others say that the Mórrígan was 
the blood-red Crogderg, her mother-sister.
They say, whenever a crow lands, 
the threefold Mórrígu, are stirring.
They say they take the spirits home
"in the belly of a black-winged bird"
because who reopened the gates of hell?
The Mórrígan’s errant red calf 
is bellowing in the plain of Cruachan.
You know what that leads to. 
 
The Daghda’s cauldron is churning
and rebirthing military fodder.
There have been sightings of crows 
and talk of the flaming red birds 
that wither everything their beaks touch.

The monster roused from sleep 
by the hue and cry of the red yew psalters
began to stalk lone warriors 
returning home on the boreens
for was that not the yew, 
the arrow and the tree of death?

What monster hunts by darkness 
on the plains of the Fertile Crescent
What gates to the Otherworld opened,
the crows circling the battlefield
where base oil is sucked up 
and transformed into greed?


9/19/2002; rev: 3/17 2006 (the Iraqi war); 2/2/2008 (Imbolc) 



YouTube journey into Owenynagat—The Cave of Cats (a journey into Mother Earth; still images of the entrance to the Otherworld, by Mike Croghan, with music by Afto Celt Sound System.

Monday, September 17, 2001

Folklore: Step on a grave = death


Genre: superstition, American

Peggy Green, female, 31
nurse practitioner
American, born in Chico, Ca.
Sept 17, 2001
Collected in a car on the Bay Bridge, San Francisco (we were going to the Azores)


“Don’t step on graves”

Peggy, who now lives in Nicasio, West Marin, Ca., said: “When I lived in Chico, Ca., during the 1970s (until she was 17), my granny, Jane Mayfield, who was from Missouri, we’d go for walks in the cemetery. It was pleasant and calm. She would always say, ‘you’re not supposed to walk at the front of the graves, it’s disrespectful.” She made it sound so sacred, so holy. It was holy ground. She enjoyed it. It was very serious for her. I still won’t do it. We would pull weeds and discover new markers, she’d say, ‘It was somebody’s child,’ or ‘Never step on a grave.’ There were rules with perimeters.”

Peggy interrupts her story with a joke her granny told her: “You know why the have fences around the graveyards? ‘Cause they’re all dyin’ to get in!” Peggy said her granny would laugh and laugh. She’d sit in the mausoleum. She wasn’t afraid to examine that aspect of death, it was tradition. Dying seemed desirable. Rest and calm. Weightless, nothing. She was a hypersensitive woman and didn’t handle things well emotionally. She died in ‘82 and she was buried in that same graveyard. She had a plot all picked out, but she died in ‘82. The Chico cemetery in the middle of town. The Bidwells are buried there. The Kennedy plot had a mausoleum.”

I asked Peggy if her grandmother was religious, and if so, what religion she was raised in. “Religious? You bet. The Church of Christ, it was Pentecostal. I’m sure she believed in ghosts. She never discounted how someone would feel if you stepped on her grave. She knew she was gonna go soon 
too. She wrote a note with the date. It was a nice day to go, fair weather too. She was right too.”


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

A Mantra for the Mujahedeen

Say it over and over again until it makes sense.


Gospodi, gospodi pomilui / mujahedeen relentlessly echoes in my head. I’m caught in a convocation of languages in the cracks between tongues as I watch the World Trade Center towers fall again and again in slo-mo, and I can’t seem to make sense of it in my native tongue. It becomes a mantra: gospodi/ mujahedeen /gospodi. Why is it that Old Church Slavonic is colliding with Arabic mid-thought? God have mercy on us/ a holy war. Say jihad. Say it over and over again until it makes sense. Gospodi/mujahedeen. But it will never make sense.

I have no skills to comprehend the images of those who held hands as they plunged to their death. I cannot grapple with the word jihad or the rhetoric of Psalm 23 in any language. Say it. Say it again. Does it ease the burden of grief? In Arabic numerals the victims dial 9-11 –- all circuits are jammed. Those still trapped beneath 100 floors of rubble are calling their loved ones one last time for a final goodbye — to say: "I’m fine," before the batteries fail and the building shifts. Yea, though those who leapt unto the shadow of the Valley of Death — to say, "I love you." Je t’aime, or Te amo to perfect strangers during freefall, and really mean it. What went through their minds?

Arabic: the names of stars. Aldebaran, zenith, zero, zealot. The sky, so silent, no birds flying. Mea maxima culpa. Gospodi. There are no words in any language that will do justice.

I’m studying ancient manuscripts and I am reminded that it was medieval Arabs, in love with knowledge who saved the writings of the classical world after the Vikings destroyed the Irish copies. In media res. In the middle of things. An Irish monk scribed in the margin: We walk in one another’s shadows.

Across the centuries, Shadowlands and Second Comings cannot ease the burden. We grow old with grief. We attempt normalcy, resurrect schedules. We dust off the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, unspoken since childhood — in my case, nearly 40 years ago. Dressed in red white and blue, thousands of Americans line up to donate blood. Even those in other countries are giving blood: Yasser Arafat among them.

In front of Sproul Hall at Berkeley, I pass a girl who nervously fingers her dove-grey hijab. Her pale eyes reflect a palpable fear. Already there have been acts of violence against Middle Easterners bearing American flags. It’s like a bad dèja vú of the ’60s at Berkeley. In San Francisco, an Armenian-American greengrocer is mistaken for the enemy. Animal blood is spilled on his doorstep. But he was born here. A Middle Eastern woman holding an American flag shops for dinner, in the pram, her baby wears a flag. A beefy man with a flag the size of a bedsheet strapped to his Harley with a broomstick vigilantly patrols the parking lot. An elderly Mexican man gives away red, white & blue roses to women. What else is there to do?

In class, we trade war stories: Five years ago, I witnessed an Israeli cargo plane fall out of the sky, a harbinger of things to come. The engine exploded, and I heard it fall into the sea. A mushroom cloud of fuel consumed a refugee complex. I thought Armageddon had begun. I still can’t shake images of debris draped from a tree — was it the pilot’s seatbelt? A mangled Barbie doll amid fuselage and ashes. The Israeli linguist remembers last year’s sniper who missed her twice, as she stood on the terrace overlooking the Arab Ouarter. A half-hearted attempt at a simple target. We deconstruct words as our world, buried beyond recognition, offers little solace.

On TV, we watch rescue workers gather round a fire truck, burned beyond recognition — an altar for the more than 300 dead firemen. One man recalls driving over too many body parts to count. Numanistics: I want to slide into the perfection of absolute zero. At Ground Zero, cabbies rip the seats from their cabs to carry the dead. New lines form at blood banks — solace from the living. Barges carry the dead across the River Styx because the island can’t contain all her dead. The living flee across Brooklyn Bridge. or escape TO New Jersey, of all places! Anything to get off the island.

How many degrees of separation are any of us from the dead? We are all at Ground Zero, because on that Tuesday, each of us died a little. I am one degree of separation from Alan Beavans, who was on Flight 93. I cannot think in abstractions, I can only understand this atrocity in terms of individuals. At midnight I find myself chanting a kaddish of the names of my Middle Eastern friends. Among them, Oleg. Where is Oleg, my Armenian friend who took me into the churches of Kiev where we listened to the choir singing gospodi?

Today, I learn a new word: Taliban. And another: jihad. This jihad is like Ireland in that the memory of hatred is older than the civilization that raised it. I can’t help but think of the gyre of the last plague-ridden millennium where, thinking that the end of the world was buried in the calendral equation of zeroes, Anglo-Saxon crusaders stormed Jerusalem — annihilating both Arabs and Christians alike on the temple steps, making all religion null and void. Armageddon resurfaces amid the pond scum of right-wing fundamentalists and racists exorcising rites of free speech, and latent seeds sprout in a new field, fertilized by the blood of civilians. The president’s myopic message is about an eye for an eye, but nothing is black and white — especially not blood.

The sky, so quiet, even the birds are not flying. A raven lands in front of us, sharpens his beak. Another joins him. War birds of the Irish, come to remind us they are hungry for eyes. My grandmother said that when the wild birds enter the house, it is a sure sign of death. A hummingbird stops to eye me. He sways and dips as if in benediction — making a sign of the cross — and takes off. Without a metaphor in common with the terrorists, I imagine I am blessed by birds, but tell me why is it that the wrens are huddling around the bird feeder, and fluttering at the windows as if to get in? Too late I remember that in Aztec mythology the hummingbird, Huitzilipochtli, is the god of war.

At candlelight vigils, we learn a new term: asymmetrical warfare, as if geometry were a country of refuge. In this way, we also learned terms from the Gulf War: collateral damage, and friendly fire. I’m afraid that in the weeks and months ahead will be full of such euphemisms. The city is on "yellow alert." On the steps of City Hall, we gather for an interfaith memorial service. A Baptist preacher prays, "Oh Lord please help the President to make the right decision — not the one he wants to make." It is also Jumnah Sabat: What are they praying for at the mosques? A Muslim-American says, "This has nothing to do with our religion that teaches tolerance, peace and harmony." I want to believe him but what about the fundamentalists on both sides? I am lost in the biblical equations that come tumbling down. I find a pair of gilt harem slippers dumped on the street and worry about the woman who last wore them: her foot, the same size as mine. I am that woman behind the veil as well.

Gospodi God have mercy on the unholy warriors, the mujahedeen, for we know not what they do, for the word of Allah is not their witness. Written on the wind, the names of the innocent dead, Muslims among them. Say their names 5000 times, say them again until it becomes a mantra. Gospodi pomilui, mujahedeen, Islam, shalom, salaam. As God is their witness, may the gates of heaven always be beyond the reach of terrorists.

How silent is the sky. Huddled around the bird feeder, even the doves are refusing to fly.


© 2001Maureen Hurley Reprinted from Killing the Buddha A Mantra for the Mujahedeen

Monday, September 10, 2001

Folklore: Stumbling = Death

I collected some folklore for Alan Dundes' class at UC Berkeley. Note the date collected. A day before 9/11. Mary Kate stumbled and death did follow within 24 hours.

Genre: superstition
Irish Mary Kate O’Sullivan, female, late 60s retired farmer’s wife,
Irish-born, Irish-English speaking
Sept 10, 2001
Collected in Daly City, CA (a distant cousin Gerald Sullivan's residence)

 “The one who stumbles (in the grave) is the next to go”

 and a variant,

“they’re grabbing after you.”


My third cousin Mary Kate and her sister came to visit us in America, from Bantry Bay, Co, Cork, Ireland, and we had a big party. As everyone was catching up on who was still alive and who was dead, she stumbled on the doorjamb and the talk gravitated toward stories of death and the supernatural.

What was interesting was that my Irish-born cousins Mary Kate and (Sister? Geraldine? can't remember her name) carefully avoided the words “death” and “grave,” it was suggested with pauses in speech. Mary Kate didn’t elaborate on the saying, it was “understood,” rather than spelled out. Taboo.

When we asked her about it, she meant, stumbling anywhere as opposed to only on graves. This sign superstition seems to be a fairly common one as several of my sources used variants of it. The idea being that you invited death in by stumbling on the graves of the dead.

What intrigued me, this particular saying didn’t even mention the word “grave” at all, so theoretically, the act of stumbling anywhere could be a portent of a death to come. Which made one think about being doubly careful about walking around.

Suddenly the taboo zone of danger exponentially broadened to include everywhere, not just graveyards. So many times when an elderly person falls and breaks a hip, it is the beginning of the end, and many do die within the year. It as if the act of stumbling is akin to dying, and that you’re always a step away from the grave.



And of course, the next day was 9/11


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Saturday, September 8, 2001

Folklore: Sign Superstition/Folk Belief , “Dropped, crossed knife, fork, spoon.” folklore



Genre: Sign Superstition/Folk Belief                           1. Sineád Dinsmore, 
“Dropped, crossed knife, fork, spoon.”                          
                                                                        September, 8, 2001
                                                                    

                                                                        2. “Toddy” (Kathleen) Ritter, female, 

                                                                        3. Adrian McGarrity
Irish-born, Irish-English speaking
Oct 6, 2001
in an airplane enroute, Lisbon to London
somewhere over Galicia

4. Neil O’Neill
Dec 7, 2001

We were at my aunt Toddy’s house in Santa Cruz in September. My cousins Sineád, Ceit and I were talking about a family superstitions when we’d drop a knife or a fork. A fork meant a woman, a knife a man and a spoon, a child was to come visiting. 

We decided it was a used as a way of foretelling visitors. And the shapes of the utensils had something to do with their assigned designation. A knife was phallic. A fork had an upper torso, and women traditionally take care of the food preparation. A fork is the principle eating instrument, but babies depend exclusively upon spoons until they train up to forks. The knife is the last to be added to the repertoire.

My Irish informant, Adrian McGarrity, from Belfast, said that he learned from his mother that a fork meant that they would have a woman visitor, a knife meant a man, but they had no connection with the spoon. However he added that “if you cross a knife and fork accidentally, it meant there was going to be an argument or a fight.” 

He also said fighting was also related to an itchy right hand, or nose. I wondered if growing up in a city torn by civil was since 1970 had something to do with the prevalence of fighting images. But he learned these superstitions from his mother, Eleanor Scullion (in her 70s), who grew up in Legoneill, a village outside of Belfast before the Troubles escalated. So they seem to be traditional images.

Scotsman Neil O’Neill said, “if people put two different spoons on top of each other on the same saucer by mistake, it means a christening was coming up. It came from my mother. It’s probably Irish.” His mother lives in Scotland, but is of Irish descent. He thought the superstition had to do with the synchronicity of the event of two people putting the spoons down together like a couple.


Folk sayings, Irish, “Shift your feet, lose your seat,” folklore



Genre: Folk sayings, Irish                                             Sineád Dinsmore,

                                                                        September, 8, 2001
                                                                       
“Shift your feet, lose your seat,”
“Speak up now, or forever hold your peace.”


Sineád said that the saying, “shift your feet, lose your seat,” was used as method of managing the family pecking order, especially when they were all watching TV and if someone got up to use the bathroom, they’d lose their seat. Apparently there was no way of putting “dibs” back on the seat once you left it. 

Usually, the rule of thumb in our extended family was that someone with full bladder would lay future claim to a soon-to-be vacated seat, which was honored. But in Sineád’s family, that law changed. I think it’s because her mother, my aunt Canice remarried, and the old pecking order rules were suspended when the new family came along.

Sineád, who lives in Nicasio, Ca., said she learned this saying from her mother, Canice, probably when they were living in Petaluma in the 1980s. The family had expanded from herself and one older brother, to a total of four, with the addition of her two half-brothers to the family. As the younger boys grew older, sibling rivalry intensified and crowd control had become a central issue as they all jockeyed for positions of power.

I was more familiar with a somewhat related saying, “Speak up now, or forever hold your peace.” Our Irish-born grandmother, Jennie Walsh Reilly (b. 1893 in Bantry Bay), taught it to me when I was about seven or eight, circa 1960, in Forest Knolls, Ca. She usually said that whenever I waffled on something. Since we had two couches and there was only myself, my little brother and my grandmother in the house, pecking order issues were less severely delineated.







Folk sayings, Irish, “Tea makes pee,” folklore


Genre: Folk sayings, Irish                                             Sineád Dinsmore
                                                                        September, 8, 2001                                                                     
“Drink tea and pee,”
“Tea makes pee,”
“Better a weak bladder than a weak mind.”
“Speak up now, or forever hold your pee [peace],”

Our Irish-born grandmother, Jennie Walsh Reilly (b. 1893 in Bantry Bay), loved her evening sup of tea. Whenever guests came, tea was the necessary prerequisite for a good gab and a visit. Tea after dinner still signals a time for storytelling. 

But strong Irish tea is a powerful diuretic and we’re all a weak-bladderd lot (“better a weak bladder than a weak mind,” my grandmother would sometimes say.) 

The funniest instance Sineád remembers of our grandmother using “Tea makes pee,” was on an unsuspecting young second cousin of ours, Barney O’Reilly—a stranger to the immediate family—visiting from Los Angeles. We were at my grandmother’s house (where I, the interviewer) was raised.

Sineád said, “I remember Grandma telling Barney ‘Tea makes pee,’ as she giggled—she had this funny ‘tee-hee’— and ran to the bathroom. It was in 1975. Barney was surprised, then he laughed.” We knew he was OK then. (It was an impromptu test to see how someone would fit in).

I think “Tea makes pee,” is a variant of the saying I learned from my grandmother at an early age: “Drink tea and pee.” Sometimes she’d get creative with it and invent a new portmanteau saying: “Speak up now, or forever hold your pee [peace].”







Sign Superstition/Folk Belief “Spilled salt” folklore



Genre: Sign Superstition/Folk Belief                           1. Sineád Dinsmore
“Spilled salt”                                                     
                                                                        September, 8, 2001
                                                                        
                                                                        2. “Toddy” (Kathleen) Ritte

                                                                        3. Adrian McGarrity, male, 40s
Irish-born, Irish-English speaking
Oct 6, 2001
in an airplane enroute, Lisbon to London somewhere over Galicia

We were all sitting around the table at my aunt Toddy’s house in Santa Cruz. Someone spilled some salt, so I asked several family members about the superstition of throwing spilled salt over one’s shoulder. Both my cousin Sineád and my aunt Toddy learned about it from their parents at around the same age of six or seven years of age, as did I.  

When it came to tossing salt over a shoulder to ward off bad luck, Sineád was the only contrariwise one who threw it with left hand over right shoulder. The rest of us tossed it right over left. I asked them why they did it. “To ward off bad luck.” I asked what kind of bad luck? “Unspecific.” Or “A spell.”

I decided to collect data further afield. A month later, I met Adrian McGarrity, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on a plane enroute from Lisbon to London. An excellent informant, if not captive audience, Adrian confirmed the majority rule: “Salt over the left shoulder with the right hand.” He said “It was another thing for not bringing bad luck upon yourself. ‘Make sure you throw a little salt over your shoulder,’ my mother would always say.”

When I asked each of them how they thought this superstition evolved, they said salt was once a valuable commodity and to toss spilled salt was to make an offering, to ward off bad luck or “to stop an argument,” an explanation which I’d never heard before.





Folklore: Sign Superstition/Folk Belief itching folklore

Genre: Sign Superstition/Folk Belief                           1. Sineád Dinsmore,

“Itchy palms” “Itchy feet”                                             
“itchy nose” “burning/itchy ears”                                    September, 8, 2001
                                                                       

                                                                        2. “Toddy” (Kathleen) Ritter

                                                                        3. Adrian McGarrity, male, 40s
Irish-born, Irish-English speaking
Oct 6, 2001
in an airplane enroute, Lisbon to London somewhere over Galicia

“When you get itchy palms, said my cousin Sineád, holding out her palms, “it means you’re either going to get something or give something away. Left means you’re going to get something, right means you’re going to give something away.” 

Sineád, who lives in Nicasio, Ca., said she learned this saying from her mother, my aunt Canice. Sineád insists that it’s accurate. Canice’s sister, our aunt Toddy, who lives in Santa Cruz, also knew of this superstition ever since she was a young girl in San Francisco in the ‘40s, but she says Sineád has the hands reversed.

Toddy said, “itchy feet means travel, or “you’re antsy.” She thinks she learned these superstitions in the ‘40s from her father, who was from Longford, Ireland. 

She said, “itchy nose: kiss a fool. Itchy ears: someone’s talking about you.” Her daughter Ceit and I have the same versions, but I learned them from my grandmother who is Toddy’s mother. Sineád is the only one who has reversed the order of the hands. But Sineád is left-handed.

I decided to collect data further afield. I met Adrian McGarrity, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on a turbulent plane ride enroute from Lisbon to London. An excellent informant, if not a captive audience, Adrian gave me the variations which I was hoping to find. 

He said, “itchy palms or hands mean money if it’s the left, and a fight if it’s the right palm. Or get in an argument with someone. Itchy feet means you’re going to walk on strange ground, somewhere you haven’t been. My mother, she would tell me these things.” He’d never heard of “itchy nose, kiss a fool.”

Because Sineád is left-handed, I assumed she switched directions to suit herself. I made a guess based upon the Latin definition: dexter = right; sinister =left. Toddy, Canice, Ceit and I equate good with right, and bad with left. But note how Adrian who is right-handed, has a similar scheme to Sineád’s, left= $ ; right = trouble/loss. Truly a variation. When it came to tossing salt over a shoulder to ward off bad luck, Sineád was the only one with left hand over right shoulder. Adrian’s itchy ear story formula: “left for right; right for spite,” would be interesting to apply.




Folk Saying “That’s for George” folklore



Genre: Folk Speech                                                      Sineád Dinsmore
September, 8, 2001

“That’s for George”

When my 31-year-old cousin Sineád’s mother, my aunt Canice, mentioned the saying, “That’s for George” Sineád added, “My mom always taught me to cook with George in mind.” This meant for example, that whenever Sineád peeled potatoes, she always peeled an extra portion for “George.” 

Sineád, who lives in Nicasio, Ca., is the second-born child, and only girl in a family of four: she has one older brother and two younger half-brothers—all are good trenchermen. 

My aunt Canice said the contexts for using the saying, “That’s for George” were varied, though they seemed to revolve around food, and were possibly related to Depression lore. Sineád  agreed that this was a way of ensuring that there’d be enough food to be had for dinner. The idea of plenty and enough: go leor (galore) was important. 

(Collector’s note: my grandparents’ families survived the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1848, and we have many odd quirks associated with food, including sharing and saving food. We seem to have a great residual fear of running out of food. Unfortunately, it’s a trait that has been passed on, we’re all overweight, and we all overbuy and hoard rations “for a rainy day.” The end result is that the stored food eventually goes to waste. 

My grandmother seemed to carry some residual guilt in that her family survived the Famine when so many had died... she often used to talk about how they were starving, reduced to eating grass, their mouths stained green...) then she’d give a small sob of grief, and she, a stoic who showed little emotion.)

The saying, “That’s for George” was traced back to Sineád’s and my grandfather (Canice’s father), Bernard Reilly, born in 1890, Granard, Co. Longford, Ireland, who often referred to “George.” Where he got the character from, we don’t know. But he did work for the San Francisco County jail and I speculate that he probably picked up many sayings from cops and inmates. 

According to J.H. Brunvand in “The Study of American Folklore,” (Norton, 1966), that this modern proverb, is possibly a variation of using a saint’s name, “Let George do it,” may have referred to “the tradition of calling railroad porters by this name.” (p. 101).  

The man who previously owned our summer home in Forest Knolls, Marin Co., Ca., was a railroad man for the Northwestern Pacific line and he was an acquaintance of my grandfather’s. They allegedly met during the 1906 earthquake where my grandfather was in charge of setting up tent cities. The house was entirely supported with purloined railroad ties, which were later recycled into raised retainer walls (nearly 100 years later, they’re still there), and for decades, we dug up railroad spikes in the yard. 

The railroad line that terminated in Cazadero, in Sonoma Co., was a mile away from the house, on what is now Sir Francis Drake Road.




Folklore: Neck Riddle (blame)


Genre: Neck Riddle                                                      Sineád Dinsmore
           September, 8, 2001

Genre: Neck Riddle
“Who did it?” “I dunno did it.”

At six or seven years of age, my cousin Sineád, who lives in Nicasio, CA., learned to redirect parental blame away from herself and onto a hypothetical character named “I dunno,” rather than onto herself or to her brothers. She is the second-born child, and only girl in a family of four: she has one older brother and two younger half-brothers who were always getting into mischief. More often than not, neither parent was home, in San Rafael, CA, during the day. Her stepfather Jimmy drove a tow truck, and her mother worked on an assembly line. Sineád and her older brother were expected to take care of the younger boys after school. And of course, since no one was really in charge, things happened, there was ample opportunity for mischief. And a need for a scapegoat.

Sineád explained how the custom began, “Whenever the last cookie was taken, or if somebody forgot to clean up after themselves, or something got broken, we’d all disclaim any knowledge of it. My mom would come home from work and ask, ‘Who did it?’ And we’d all reply, ‘I dunno.’“ Because she laughed, and we didn’t get into trouble, it became a trope. Sineád explained that “I dunno” was a convenient hypothetical scapegoat invented by them to pass blame onto, or to “pass the buck” to use another aphorism. She later added that it was probably related to another saying her mother used to repeat whenever they’d abdicate from their chores, “Let George do it.”

She recalled that laying blame on “I dunno” all began when a neighbor kid came over one day, and stole a doughnut and then left a note saying that ‘Not Me’ took it. So, “Not me” was the genesis of the make-believe character “I dunno.” Because Sineád was the only girl in a family of unruly boys, I think she felt a special need to redirect blame. She said she was later able to manipulate the gender bias in her favor, but not when she was six.





Friday, September 7, 2001

Folk Speech: “That’s for George” folklore


Genre: Folk Speech                                                      Canice Santos
September, 7, 2001
San Francisco, CA (restaurant)

“George,” “That’s for George”and “George’s” portion, (superstition magic)
(related to“Let George do it” often used as a neck riddle )

My aunt Canice, who lives in Forest Knolls, Ca., said she first learned about “George” from her immigrant Irish parents when she was eight or nine years old when they were living on 131 Third Ave. in San Francisco, ca. 1946. 

Canice is the youngest child of a large family of four girls and four boys. But there was no “George”in the family; he was a fictional character that her father, (Bernard Reilly, born in 1890, Granard, Co. Longford, Ireland) often referred to as “George.” Where he got the character from, we don’t know. He worked for the San Francisco County jail and I speculate that he probably picked up many sayings from cops and inmates. 

According to J.H. Brunvand in “The Study of American Folklore,” (p. 101), this modern proverb, possibly a variation of using a saint’s name,“Let George do it,” may have referred to “the tradition of calling railroad porters by this name.” The man who owned our summer home was a railroad man.

My aunt Canice said the contexts for using the saying, “That’s for George”were varied, though they seemed to revolve around food. With ten people and the possibility of friends unexpectedly joining them at the dinner table, there was often an extra dinner plate set for the unknown guest. If there was an extra portion left over (a rarity), it was promptly claimed as George’s portion (probably invented by the parents to prevent an outbreak of internicene sibling squabbling.).

Canice explained that George’s portion probably was related to Depression lore when food was scarce. The family was able to provide for family and friends. Her daughter Sineád added, “My mom taught me to cook with George in mind,” she always peeled an extra potato for “George.” This reminded them and my other aunts of other food-related sayings: “Leave it for the clean-up man.” 

We have a Thanksgiving custom, we set an extra plate at the table for the unexpected guest—a guest during the holiday was good luck. My aunts explained that the custom of “George” as the mythical extra guest. But I never understood that the extra place was for him, as my grandmother didn’t use the saying. 

Elijah was mentioned or more often, a mythical McGregor.. (Collector’s note: my grandparents’ families survived the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1848, and we have odd quirks associated with food, including sharing and saving food as if there was a great residual fear of running out of food. The end result is that the stored food eventually goes to waste. I think my grandmother (whose grandparents would’ve been survivors), felt residual guilt because her family survived the Famine when so many had died...)



Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Intro to Folklore, Dundes, Medieval Welsh Language & Lit., Kla


Medieval Welsh Language & Literature; 
Prof. Kathryn Klar     
(audited)
FALL 2001: Celtic Studies146A (4 units), 

A selection of medieval Welsh prose and poetry from medieval Welsh manuscripts: Culhwch and Olwen, the earliest Arthurian tale in any vernacular language, and Aneirin?s Gododdin, which has the earliest reference in the vernacular to King Arthur.  ther texts will include the Mabinogi and poems, The Gododdin (Canu Aneirin).Texts will be read, all or in part, in Middle Welsh; for those works read in extracts, translations of the entire work will be available. In-class translations will normally form part of each class and a reader will be made available. Grading based upon class participation, and final paper.


TEXTS:
Dafydd ap Gwilym
Owein, Chwedyl Iarlles Y Ffynnawn
Bran
Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet
Manawydan uab Llyr,(White Book, Rhydderch) Patrick Ford
Lear and His daughters (Red Book of Hergest), Strachan
Cyfranc Lludd a Llevelys, Ifor Williams
Intro to Early Welsh, Strachan


 For some reason, I didn't do so well in the class. The events of 9/11 made me ADD; I don't even remember doing a paper.

            ...............................................

Intro to Folklore
Prof Alan Dundes  
FALL 2001: ANTHRO 160A  (4 units),
(Cross-registered, SFSU, grade A)

TEXTS:
The Study of American Folklore, Harold Brunvand
International Folkloristics, ed. Alan Dundes
Folklore Matters, Alan Dundes
Holy Writ as Oral Lit, Alan Dundes
The Study of Folklore, Alan Dundes
Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder, Alan Dundes,

Plus reader, reserved readings.


I collected and annotated over 60 pieces of folklore from informants in Portugal, Ireland, and California. They are in this blog and also in the Folklore Archives, Kroeber Hall, where Ishi once lived. I loved this class, I never wanted it to end. I am grateful for the time I got to spend with Alan; Neil was a special pet of Alan's, so we spent many an hour jawing  in Alan's office. Neil called him Papa Dundes. Alan's heart was big as the world.  WWDS has become my motto.

If I hadn't gone to Portugal right after 9/11, chances would be pretty good I would've dropped out of school. I was a bad state, no focus, no stamina, etc. So maybe this class saved me.

I eventually plan to transcribe my class notes, so this is a placeholder. A reminder. —MH 11/2015