Thursday, October 31, 2013

NaNoWriMo or Poem a Day?

(Nothing like not showing up late for the party, Blogger. You really must do something about your ghost windows. Or quit improving Blogger—if it ain't broke… I waited so long for the compose window to show up I forgot what I was going to post.) Sheesh! Where was I?

What is NaNoWriMo? Why, it's a novel idea: National Novel Writing Month Oakland's own world writing commumity (but I think NanoHQ moved to Berkeley.)

199,847 writers have signed up, so far. Lots of links.

Even a blog:  The NaNoWriMo Blog

NaNoWriMo on Twitter

Some background from Wiki National Novel Writing Month

A great NPR blog on NaNoWriMo:
That'll Always Be The Dream: National Novel Writing Month
Meanwhile, if you're a NaNoWri/PoMoist, then check out this blog for the plotty bits.

5 Last Minute Prep Tips for NaNoWriMo from Kate Arms-Roberts
An “I Could Write About” List
A Plot Sketch
Cast Your Novel
Draw a Map
Write a One-Sentence Summary

24 Quotes That Will Inspire You To Write More In case you need inspiration.

The Author’s Marathon: 10 Things To Remember Nuts & boltsian.
Know your goal.
Focus on the story not the book.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: To Outline or Not To Outline
Realize that NaNoWriMo is, above all, about finishing.
Identify the story arc.
Once you have the arc, break the story into chapter “sketches”.
Act. Start writing and don’t look back.

Proust's Character Questionnaire

If you're on Twitter, check out  #NaNoWriMo.

Story starter lines at Script Lab #writenow

And for the minimalists, then there's nano flash fiction In the month of November, in solidarity with our Nanowrimo friends, we’ll attempt to write 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days.  Join them of Facebook: FLASH-NANO: 30 Stories = 30 Days
Let go of exposition.
Let go of description.
Let your silences become informative.
Let go of extra words.

Check out last year's FLASHNANO prompts.

Me, I'm far too disorganized to do most of this. I have trouble focusi… Squirrel!

Last time I tried to write a memoir-based post, it turned into a monster treatise about redheads. (Don't ask.) Think I'll stick to NaNoPoMo or PAD.

2013 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Guidelines November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge.

Sorry , NaNoPoMo is in April. But wait! I have them all stashed in this blog—every one. And more

APRIL POEM A DAY links During April I reposted PAD, Molly Fisk, NaNoPoMo prompts—3 to 4 prompts each day for the entire month. More than enough to inspire the inner poet.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013



 An ancient submerged forest
3-thousand-year-old hidden trees still standing
where a strange thing, like a balloon of green jelly



… finding a good patch of morel mushrooms…a trace of the glad hearts of hungry earlier gatherers… — Jim Harrison
After an unseasonable rain,
at the end of the road, I found 
a stand of blue chanterelles
in the detritus of a pine stump.
I mourned the loss of a childhood tree,
but admired the gift it gave back.
They were more amethyst than black,
like fluted horns, or flamenco dancers.
Careful not to bruise them, I cut them 
with a silver knife, jealously guarding
their dark secrets, reveling in their muskiness–
like their dark truffled cousins, but with less bite.
A friend was up from LA visiting for her birthday 
so I opened the last hoarded jar of mushrooms
preserved in sweet clarified butter. Flecked 
in butterfly pasta, they were divine sparks
inspired by the salt tang of the sea
with glistening mauve shallots sautéed
& deglazed with a splash of old Madeira.
As she droned on about her poetry career, 
she picked out the offending fungus,
lined them up on the lip of the plate
in battalions, my rare woodland crop.
Perhaps they weren't true chanterelles,
but perse-hued pig's ears.


Take two:


… finding a good patch of morel mushrooms…
a trace of the glad hearts of hungry earlier gatherers…

                — Jim Harrison

After an unseasonable rain,
at the end of the road, I found
a stand of blue chanterelles
that most singular of species,
the Polyozellus multiplex,
in the detritus of a pine stump.
I mourned the loss of my childhood tree,
but admired the gift it gave back.
They were more amethyst than black,
like frosted horns, or flamenco dancers
than leathern earthfans. The hymenium,
a delicate lace edging the violet skirts.
Careful not to bruise their glaucous bloom,
I sliced them with a silver knife, jealously guarded
their dark secrets, reveled in their muskiness–
so like their dark-truffled cousins, but with less bite.
A friend from LA was visiting. For her birthday
I opened the last hoarded jar of mushrooms
preserved in sweet clarified butter. Flecked
in butterfly pasta, they were divine sparks
inspired by the salt tang of the sea,
punctuated with glistening mauve shallots, 

sautéed and deglazed with a splash of old Madeira
As she droned on about her poetry career,
she picked out the offending fungus,
lined them up on the lip of the plate
in battalions, my rare woodland crop
then scraped them into the compost heap.
The chardonnay glass beaded and wept.
Perhaps she thought they weren't true 

chanterelles, but Gomphus clavatus, 
perse-hued pig's ears, imposters 
posing in the pasta.

rev. 8/1/18
forthcoming in a mycology journal

Sunday, October 27, 2013

About Those First Drafts

I have an aversion to anything I've written until it's fermented to the point of being nearly forgotten (or fetid). When I write, I can't see the loveliness of trees, it's a dense forest of things to prune or uproot.

Because I layer and revise my work so much, it loses structure and perspective. It's not a case of split infinitives, it's a cargo container of split sentences, split paragraphs, lost wrenches and 2x4s. Then, the original sequencing of an idea goes all to hell in surprising ways. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's not.

There's something to be said about keeping first drafts, but because my sole writing outlet these days is this blog, first drafts have become a thing of the past. No more archaeology. Even as I write this, I've already revised it several times. Changed tenses, tossed particles and phrases, replaced verbs.

I like to think that with all this revision process, my writing's improved. It's a continual learning curve, but sometimes I wonder if I should also adhere to the original integrity of the first draft. FIrst impulse. Best impulse. After all, when I take photos, it's usually the first image that's the best one. The rest are merely insurance. Revision is like opening a vein, new ideas emerge.

Poetry tends to come in, line by line. It's a fleeting, yet insistent voice. It comes in simile by metaphor. No wonder the ancients thought the gods were speaking through them. It's a translation process. It also generally arrives at inopportune times. Like when I'm shampooing my hair or am in a traffic jam—clutch, shift, brake, scribble. (Scribbling casualties include spilled tea, flying roast chickens, and upside down bags.)

Poetry's odd arrival also makes me realize that the voices in my head are constantly making comparisons. Like not so lucid dreaming. Whether a scientific, or poetic bent, my mind needs to constantly catalogue things. Even if it doesn't make sense. If this is to this, then, that is to that. I imagine poetry's arrival to be something like autism or Asperger's syndrome. Am I an OCD writer? Aren't we all?

I used to worry about those odd comparisons (which I sometimes unwittingly utter to Neil, who writes them down and sometimes gives them back later), and the voices. Having a mom who was nuts doesn't help, but that's merely my inner child anxiety speaking. Dyslexia doesn't help. Or, it does, but the payback's brutal.

My prose writing comes in all warty and flawed. A veritable jungle. First impulse is generally in need of some heavy bushwhacking. Or the woodman's axe. Make that a chainsaw. Hold the blood. I already gave.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Sounds like a frigging airfield show
barnstorming outside my window.
Is it Snoopy and the Red Baron
or perhaos the Great Santini?
A reshoot of Second-hand Lions?
They may have been long in tooth
but I can still hear them roar.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

With Pointy Shoes & Bells on

                                      —For Adair

Writer Adair Lara asked on Facebook: "How come people declare they will be coming to a party "with bells on"? Derivation?"

Someone lifted an old Yahoo Answers post to answer the origin of "with bells on" was when peddlers roamed the Appalachians selling wares, they traveled silently to avoid Indians, until they reached a settled area. Then they unmuffled the bells around their horses' necks to announce their arrival "with bells on."

And why were the horses wearing bells around their necks?

Well, I just couldn't pass that one up as it was wrong on so many levels. I'd just finished reading a paper on medieval shoes posted by, so I was all fired up with useless pointy medieval shoe trivia, and nowhere to go dance it off.

The saying that Adair was referring to: "With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes" is from a 1700s nursery rhyme, Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross. How much older the rhyme is, we don't know but nursery rhymes were passed on orally. I discovered that there are several motifs to follow: the role of hobbyhorse, white horse, rings and bells, and music (wherever the rider goes). 

William Wallace Denslow's illustration from1901—Wiki

The 1901 variant is based on this much older version:
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, 
To see an old woman get up on her horse,
Rings on her fingers, and bells at her toes,
And so she makes music wherever she goes."
           —Warwickshire variant, from Gammer Gurtotis Garland (1783)
 Here's another variant (no date, sorry):
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes. 
It's a safe bet to assume the ditty predates the nursery rhyme published in 1744-84. But how far back it goes, nobody knows. (See Roud Folk Song Index # 21143). Some scholars think the words are associated with 11th c. noblewoman Lady Godiva (the horse tax-relief story appears two centuries after her death), or with Queen Elizabeth I, but it could be much older (or not). 

BTW, I know what you're thinking, a cock-horse is a hobbyhorse, a rocking horse, or a dandle horse. (It also could refer to helper horses who pulled  carriages up steep hills. First use, ca. 1541.)

I found this on Yahoo (it sounds spurious):
Queen Elizabeth I of England travelled to Banbury to see the new stone cross. 'With rings on her fingers' relates to the jewellery which would adorn a Queen. 'And bells on her toes' refers to the fashion of attaching bells to the end of the pointed toes of each shoe! Banbury was at the top of a steep hill and a white cock horse (a large stallion) was made available to help pull the carriages up the incline. When the Queen's carriage wheel broke, the Queen mounted a cockhorse to reach the Banbury cross. Her visit was so important that the people decorated the cockhorse with ribbons and bells and provided minstrels to accompany her "she shall have music wherever she goes". The big cross at Banbury was later destroyed by anti-Catholics. (NB: I shortened this piece, so it's not quite a quote).
Another train of thought is that it's an Anglo-Celtic nursery rhyme, merging Anglo-Saxon noblewoman Lady Godiva (gift of God), and Welsh goddess of the crossroads, Rhiannon (divine/great queen). A white horse, white mare, or a milk white steed is also a reference to the Celtic Otherworld (Open House is Oct 31, May 1), as is the symbol of Rhiannon who rode a white mare. A Gaulish Epona (Irish cognate: Macha) reference is embedded. 

A white mare, a symbol of sovereignty, is a kingmaker because through her, the sacral king marries the sovereignty goddess, or the land itself. Giraldus Cambrensis described a "Celtic ritual, the king mates with a white mare thought to embody the goddess of sovereignty."—Wiki The millennia older Bronze Age white chalk horse of Uffington was also embedded in the folk memory of southern England.

The Bronze Age white horse of Uffington, on the Berkshire Downs in southern England, ca. 1400 BC.

It's been suggested that Rhiannon is the archetype for Lady Godiva, and the nursery rhyme is about Lady Godiva. If Lady Godiva rode through Coventry town on a cock-horse buck-ass naked, where would she have hung her bells? Detail. Not buying it.

Lady Godiva by John Collierc.1897, note the white horse.—Wiki

To finish Rhiannon's story, though betrothed to Gwawl of Annwyn, Rhiannon married Pwyll, Lord of Dyved; at their wedding feast, she turned the jilted conniving Gwawl into a badger, and Pwyll bagged it—and thus, badger in the bag was born. There will be blood! Rhiannon was framed for her babe's murder, and forced to stand at the city gates wearing an asses' collar, proclaim to all that she killed her son, and carry visitors on her back like a horse into the keep. Throughout all the Welsh tales halo of birds is Rhiannin's enduring motif.
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross (or Coventry)
To see a fine Lady ride on a white horse
With birds as her halo and bells on her toes,
She will/shall have music wherever she goes.  
Note a distinction is made between She shall, or will have music versus She shall make music. Sorry, no date on this one either.

Banbury, Banna's 5th c. Saxon stockade in Oxfordshire, was built atop a 200 BC Iron Age fort at an ancient crossroads; it was the site of a battlefield between Anglo-Saxons and Britons in 556 AD.
The name Banbury derives from "Banna", a Saxon chieftain built a stockade in the 6th century (or Ban(n)a possibly a byname meaning ‘felon’, ‘murderer’, and "burgh" or settlement. The Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig. The name appears as "Banesberie" in Domesday Book. Another known spelling was 'Banesebury' in Medieval times.
Fittingly, Banbury has a Hobby Horse Festival. Hobby horses have a deep Epona connection, and in Wales, Cornwall and Somerset, they are associated with May Day, and Bealtaine celebrations (later moved to Christmas / New Year); Mummers PlaysMari Lwyd, and the Morris dance. Aka morisk, moreys, morisse daunce, it may mean a Moorish dance. But that may be a convenient assumption. First documentation in 1448 was a bill for seven schillings. There were definitely lots of bells on the Morris dancers' shanks' mares (shins). )

Welsh Mari Lwyd with Christmas ornaments for eyes.

Maybe the origin of the phrase With birds as her halo came from the Mabinogion recorded in the White Book of Rhydderch (scribed ca.1350, but from the 11th century), but I cannot find a reference to rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes in English translations. I did find this lovely line: "The birds of Rhiannon, they that wake the dead, and lull the living to sleep…"

Did the idea cross the Welsh border and enter into English? Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the Mabinogion was published in 1877. Or is the line solely an English provenance? The English phrase is attested in English in 1745. Rhiannon's halo of magical birds of music didn't make an appearance in that edition, but the line with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes has managed to remain intact in English for at least 275 years. Maybe longer—though the wording is modern. It may be two different traditions merging.

How would an Elizabethan have said the phrase, or someone from the Middle Ages? (Surely they wouldn't refer to Elizabeth I, or Lady Godiva as old ladies!)  When does the phrase With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes enter into our language banks? The terminus ante quem question still begs and I'm far too lazy to drag my old bones to the musty basement of UC Berkeley's Doe Library, or Kroeber Folklore archives, to look up the rhyme like my folklore professor, Alan Dundes would expect of me. Maybe someday.

     *     *     *

Leaping forward to time present, in the 19th century, there was a merging of folk traditions, other versions of the line in question were published in Alice B. Gomme's Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894), and the line appears again in a nursery song,"The Wind," aka  "I'll Tell Me Ma" in Scotland and England, or "The Belle of Belfast City" in Ireland. It was sung as a matrimonial ring game, a skipping song, and a dandle.

English localized versions include "Golden City" or "London City." (Roud Folk Song Index # 2649—I wish it was online). I learned it as "Dublin City" as my family is from the south of Ireland. Most people are familiar with the Belfast version with Van Morrison, and The Chieftains, on Irish Heartbeat (1988). The folksong has been recorded by most Irish singers. The Clancy Family kids rrecorded it in the 1960s.
Here she comes as white as snow
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
d Jenny Murray says she'll die
If she doesn't get the boy with the roving eye.       
Here she comes, with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, means the party's arrived. The white horse is long gone, as have Rhiannon's birds, but the belle is white as snow. The multiple name changes: Old Jane/Jenny Murray, Johnny Mary, Johnny Morrisey—are all indicators of lively folkstream variants, as are the varied city names and titles of the song. This song put on its travelin' shoes, it got around.

Despite vaudeville varations, ("I've Got Rings On My Fingers" 1909) and sendups ("Ahab the Arab" 1962), The Clancy family was probably the first group to record an the song in the 1960s. Why is that important? Because, once passing from a regional oicotype of oral tradition, traveling from child to child, to the printed page (or vinyl), songs and nursery rhymes become codified. It's a folklore death, a terminus post quem.

Interestingly, the 1909 British music hall hit, "I've Got Rings On My Fingers" a popular culture adaptation, retains a court jesterly motif: Jim O'Shea, was a castaway on an island in the East Indies, the natives named him Jijjiboo Jay and made him Chief Panjandrum because they liked his red hair and smile. He sent a letter to his sweetheart to join him.
Sure, I've got rings on my fingers,
Bells on my toes,
Elephants to ride upon,
My little Irish Rose
So, come to your Nabob
And next Patrick's Day
Be Mistress Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J. O'Shea.

RP Weston also wrote I'm Henery the VII, I Am.
     *     *     *

A little historical background:

Medieval court fools of the 12th c. (jester is an Elizabethan term) wore asses' ears and bells at the end of their very long pointed elf-shoes. And I do mean long—more than two shoe-lengths long. They were mimicking the nobility who had special little ropes to hitch up their pointy "crakows" or "poulaines" to their knees so they wouldn't trip over them. (We know this as there were laws prohibiting the length of pointy shoes.)
The toe gradually became longer and longer to the point of absurdity for some were so long it was difficult to walk. Some even attached small bells to the end to indicate they were interested in a little flirtation. Bells. Flirtation. Of course the church tried to ban poulaine shoes spouting their “apparent indecent phallic symbolism” but the fad continued well into the next century. —The History of Shoes
Edward IV ordained that "beaks of shoon and boots should not pass the length of two inches."The nobility wore poulaines that were two-foot-lengths long, merchants one-foot-length, and peasants one-half, or none at all. At the 1396 Battle of Nicopolis French Crusaders were forced to cut off the tips of their poulaines in order to run away. I know, we were talking of bells here, but I wanted to show off…I mean, give you some background.

So, one school of thought has it that medieval court jesters took the extreme poulaine thing to a whole new level—with bells everywhere. They kicked it up another notch with jingle bells on the belt, three pointed hat, donkey-eared hat, or coxcomb hat, etc. Whether true or not during the middle ages, it certainly is true now to envision medieval court jester costumes with curly-toed elf shoes and adorned with bells everywhere. This 19thc. painting of a jester has bells everywhere.

Jester replete with bells, by American impressionist painter, William Merritt Chase ca 1900—Wiki 

And what's a Shakespeare play without a fool? In Twelfth Night, Feste, the jester" who merrily sang "With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain," was Olivia's father's favorite fool. Like madmen, jesters, fools and clowns were considered divine, touched by God.

Elizabethan clown and Shakesperian actor Will Kempe morris danced from London to Norwich—over 100 miles in nine days—in 1600. Note the bells are below his knees.

Why bells? Lepers were forced to wear bells so people could clear out and not see them (or catch leprosy). People wore bells to keep away evil spirits. Church bells symbolized paradise, or the voice of God. Livestock wore bells so herders could find them. MIne bells warned of disaster.

Medieval and Tudor jesters were the Lords of Misrule. Medieval mock-monarchs were given free reign, and they misruled (and presumably wore bells on their toes) from Halloween to February. Think of it as an extended Saturnalian April Fool's season. 
…there was in the King's House, wheresoever he lodged, a Lord of Misrule or Master of merry disports, and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honour or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal.…These Lordes beginning their rule on Alhollon Eue [Halloween], continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonlie called Candlemas day. —John Stow, Christmas Book, 1859

Laughing jester in motley clothing and asses' ears, ca 1500 —Wiki

I used to wear bell on my shoes (but no ass ears) when I went backpacking to forewarn the bears and big cats to clear out. It generally worked, until we nearly stumbled across a cranky grizzly in Montana. Luckily a ranger headed us off on time.

Extreme pointy toe shoes are still with us. No bells though. But maybe it'd be a good idea to add them—because the people in Matehuala, Mexico are in danger of being ass-goosed by the yard-long extreme curly cowboy dancing shoes of the vaquero walking too close behind them. Maybe the cowboy boots should be called Pinnochio shoes. You gotta go see the photos to appreciate it. Suffice to say, they make the Burgundian shoes below look tame.

Burgundian poulainesFoliant de Ionnal presents his text to Rudolph of Norway, L'Instruction d'un jeune prince, a book on good manners by Guillebert de Lannoy, c. 1468-70Wiki


In the grocery store, an African woman
on her cellphone, spoke in a language 
I'd never heard before, telling her husband 
what he needed was purple. She kept saying Purple! 
Purple! in English, waving her arms in supplication.
There was no word for purple in his language or hers.
We searched for similes between tongues, 
the names of flowers, grapes, eggplant, sunset. 
Nothing conveyed. I showed her my amethyst ring. 
She grabbed my hand, said she loved purple, 
her daughter's birthday was in February, was mine? 
The only stone in my country are diamonds.
Blood diamonds, she said. Like the movie. You know?
That was about my tribe, my people, I had to leave
my poor country—Sierra Leone. You know the war?
The war it changed everything. It brought me here.
Purple, I don't know how to tell him, she said. 
Her eyes held an adamantine spark of hope.


Published in Bay Area Generations 15, Nov. 24, 2014

No Word for Purple

We all seem to love purple in our family. Someone always quips, "the color of royalty." A saying that spans generations. I remember my grandmother, who was from Bantry, telling me how purple was made in Rome with Mediterranean murex sea snail shells, but in Ireland—there were no murex shells, so the color purple wasn't the same. Closer to a drab brownish maroon.

She said that the sea snails had a little purple sack that was used, she also said that the tiny purple tips of certain seashells were ground up. I can't remember if she was talking about the Romans or the Irish. When I was in Baja, I found zebra murex, and they do have a tiny purple spot embedded at the tip of the shell. Whatever the method, it took a lot of seashells to make a small amount of purple dye.

Roman imperial purple (purpura) was called corcur in Irish. Plosive P was avoided, it shifted to hard C (k) in ancient Irish. My grandmother also mentioned that lichens were used to make a purple. In the Highlands, a claret color, or "corcur"–was traditionally made from a rock lichen that was steeped three months in urine, and fixed with alum.

Spiny dye murex, Bolinis brandarus —Wiki

Imperial purple was also known as Tyrian red, or Phoenician purple. Not much is known about the method for making murex dye. A "blackish clotted blood" color was most prized—perhaps by overdying the cloth—double-dipping it in two different species of murex dye vats. As early as 1570 BC, the ancient Phoenicians had the murex trade under wraps. Phoenician purple was a more vibrant color that intensified with age. And:
4th-century-BC historian Theopompus reported, "Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon" in Asia Minor.[1] Wiki
My grandmother was born before aniline tar-coal dyes were invented, before there was nylon! The aniline age of coal changed the way we think of color.

What we think of as purple today was not the warm-hued purple of the ancients‚ which was closer to dried blood. Most reds and rose madder magentas were fugitive colors—they quickly faded with age. So a color that was stable, was highly sought after.

Saffron was also used to overdye cloth red, but it was an unstable color that faded to yellow. "In medieval Ireland and Scotland, well-to-do monks wore a long linen undershirt known as a léine, which was traditionally dyed with saffron." —Wiki

How on earth did the ancients discover how to make purple? The story goes that when Heracles was walking his dog along the coast of the Levant, the dog was snacking on sea snails and Heracles noticed that the dog's mouth was stained purple from chewing on sea snails. Luckily for Heracles, the pooch wasn't snacking on poop.

It seems the Minoans also knew a thing or two about purple dye as well. During the 20th–18th cs. BC, murex dye was found in Minoan clay pots in Crete, Asia Minor, and at Coppa Nevigata in southern Italy.

Byzantine Justinian I, in Tyrian purple 6th c.—Wiki

There's been much made of the eww factor associated with the ancient method of making purple. Thousands of shellfish were thrown in vats and either left to ferment or were boiled for days (skimming the critters out) to reduce, and extract the color. Much ado has been made of the seafood stinkum stew with urine added as a fixative. I think one would hardly notice the crisp ammonia smell of urine with all that rotted shellfish.

Though the making of purple was a closely guarded secret, Pliny the Elder described the production of Tyrian purple in Natural History: (NB I've shortened the rather wordy Wiki translation considerably).
The most favourable season for taking these fish [shellfish] is after the rising of the Dog-star, before spring….  the vein is extracted, to which salt (is added)… to every hundred pounds of juice.… leave them to steep for three days, and no more, for the fresher they are, the greater virtue there is in the liquor. It is then set to boil in vessels of tin [or lead], and every hundred amphoræ boiled down to five hundred pounds of dye, with moderate heat; …the liquor is skimmed. About the tenth day,… a fleece…is plunged into it … until the colour is found to satisfy… the liquor is kept on the boil. The tint that inclines to red is inferior to that which is of a blackish hue. The wool is left to soak for five hours, and then, after carding it, it is thrown in again, until it has fully imbibed the colour. —Wiki
Note that the only added color mordant (fixative) seems to be salt. During the long boiling process, mineral salts from the tin cauldrons would've leached out—tin is also a mordant. TIn, alum, copper, chromium, iron are all used as mordants on protein-based fabrics (wool, silk, parchment, leather). Other fixatives include urine (inorganic salts), tannic acid, iodine, potassium, and metallic salts. TIn is harsh as a mordant, it makes cloth brittle, so it's often used in conjunction with other mordants.

Fixatives set dyes on cellulose-based materials (cotton, flax, hemp) include: alkaline (base) fixatives; sodium, baking soda, cream of tartar, lye, and washing soda; and acidic fixatives: urine, tannin, vinegar, and lemon juice. Most modern accounts describe the use of urine to fix, or set the color but it was probably a mordant. A mordant chemically binds color to fabric (or pickles).

I know that plant woad dye is made with urine. My neighbor George, a rare rug restorer, received a present from a friend. Richard Beebee gave him some indigo flowers steeping in a jar of urine, we didn't ask whose (it's supposed to be camel piss). So George put his special rug-mending yarn in the jar and left it in the sun to ripen months to make indigo blue yarn. Ripen it did. Only thing is, when he took the yarn out, it didn't turn blue upon exposure to air and sunlight—as there were no indigo flowers in it. Alas, poor George was the victim of a perverse practical joke.)

Wool and silk can absorb both acid and base fixatives. Here's the thing, I doubt urine, or uric acid, was used as a fixative on silk as uric acid rots the silk quickly. Silk was far too precious to dye purple, then have it shred by next season. The ancients would've had to use another fixative. Flax, cotton, wool can handle uric acid, or potash as a fixative. But not silk. Wool, silk and parchment are protein-based—like our skin and hair, and so, require different fixatives. Alas, the recipe is lost.

Purple Byzantine silk from Charlemagne's tomb.

     *      *      *

Last week, I was shopping I overheard an African woman speaking in a language I'd never heard before, on her cellphone, trying to explain to her husband the thing he needed was purple. He didn't speak English. She kept saying purple! purple! in English. There was no word for the color purple in his language.

We brainstormed, trying to find a simile. We tried different languages, we tried the names of flowers, eggplant, sunset, amethyst. Nothing conveyed. I showed her my amethyst ring. She grabbed my hand and said she loved purple, her daughter's birthday was in February, was mine? But the only stone in her country was diamonds. Blood diamonds, she said. Like the movie. That's about my tribe, my people. That was my country: Sierra Leone. The war, she said. The war it changes everything. It brought me here.

Purple of royalty was a bit like that—only those in power wore purple.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Portmanteau words & oddities

Deep sarchasm: 
a comment that sends you 
over the edge.

Sometimes it's good 
to be downwind of yourself.

Bluebellied lizards 
doing push-ups on fenceposts
in summer sunshine.

handleless dustpan
tossed into the garbage can
Ironic ending.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Milestone Blogger stats

Wow, sometime during the rewriting and revision of eleven elderly bloggy-bits—mostly orphan draftsgleaned from Facebook from July to September, my blogspot counter rolled over from 999,945 hits to 100,000 hits.

Caveat: about 2000 of those Traffic Sources this last month are from spam trawlers (Vampirestats 1050 and adsensewatchdog 154 hits) that play havoc on the counter. On Oct 21, I had 1046 hits from spambots. That's a lot of spamminess considering my all time hits from Vampirestats are 1573. But it's undergone mitosis and there are now TWO. I foolishly clicked on the links. There'll be hell to pay.

Sort of like watching the odometer roll over. How many of us waited with baited breath for the magical number to roll over—all those paisleyed or maybe palsied nines becoming zero goose eggs all over again? The anticipation. I'm flummoxed.

Of course, I probably hit 100k ages ago, as the Blogger counter app info suggests that it was added ca. July 2007, according to Blogger stats. But I know it was MUCH later than that as I wasn't even retroactively adding old blog posts until the end of August 2007. Retroactive stats? But it's still nice to measure progress.

Not bad for 647 random posts with no apparent theme or structure. And countless more unpublished drafts in the wings. Once I aimed for 365 posts a year, and immediately fell off the wagon; now I aim for 100 posts a year, 104 would be two posts a week but I can't seem to manage that, so I've taken to lifting chunks of Facebook posts and resurrecting them into blog pieces. Sometimes it works….

I admire people who can manage to crank out a post a day. Some of my longer posts take weeks to finish. They're more like treatises—I know, that completely goes against the tenant of a blog post (500 words or less). I spend a lot of time revising—especially if there's research involved.

I still have many unfinished posts in the wings from 2011 and 2012, to resurrect. And 2010 could use some fluffing too. Stale work to do. TIme to comb old journals. I was surprised to find several poems I had missed from 2009, so my year's output is 116, and climbing. All poems are now labeled as poem, and have CAP TITLES. Huge undertaking. My head hurts. My head hurts.

I always try & post recent pieces as close as I can to original date. So many older blog posts get missed by the pesky web crawlers and spiders. That's OK by me. Vampirestats more than makes up for a lack of readership.

The purpose of this blog is to keep me interested in writing, and to stretch my boundaries. It's not neat, nor thematically organized. I began blogging in earnest in August of 2009 (and back-posted old material in 2007-08—I created it in January of 2007.

Though I began to blog a bit in August of 2007, the blog pretty much lay fallow for two years. That meant I had two years-worth of storage space for my old work. But there's also current work mixed in there too—especially the prose pieces). From 2008: November is Novel Writing Month My goal is to write a blog a day instead of a novel. (Plotless memoir). I only had 3-4 blogs written for all of 2008.

As for organization, at first, I was filing thematically by month, but not by year. That worked when I had 300 pieces. Now it's more than doubled. So I try and capitalize titles of all poems, and use the label feature—which I avoided for years. I add the word poem in the label so I/you/they can click on the word poem on the word list index to the right and see them as a collection—a mini blog. But nobody reads poems.

Now, I'm waiting for my Viking Redhead blog to hit 30,000. Soon, but not tonight. Why these posts are so popular is a mystery. At first I thought it was the Hot Posts app, but I changed it, and even took it offline, and it didn't affect the rating of all-time top posts. It's a blogger counter mystery.


World's first live 'wireless opera' baffles commuters at L.A.'s Union Station 

Italo Calvino's novel, Invisible Cities, 
a tale of Marco Polo in 13th century Mongolia, 
is now an interactive opera score, 
staged like a flashmob, delivered wifi style— 
only there is no stage, there are no seats, 
no separation between performer & audience—
only surreal groups of singers, dancers & art 
patrons dressed to the nines, with wireless head
phones, wandering the station to and fro
listening to a grand central motherboard.
In the Art Deco halls of Union Station, 
every seat is the best seat in the house—
only there are no seats. None.
It's a standing room only affair.
Opera buffs, smiling beatifically, touch
their ears, wade through a nervous crowd
to find the deep end of the score,
or the soprano's disembodied aria.
At the old ticket booth, an orchestra tunes inward,
plays invisible music for itself, not the audience.
And the fourth wall is never broken. Each holds.
There is, however, a fifth wall of baffled LA commuters
who thinking they're trapped in a medieval realm movie,
or held prisoner by a possessed karaoke video game—
probably feel they're in need of some air,
or perhaps the hair of the dog—
or maybe a bloody fifth of that damned dog
to recover from the bizarre experience
of seeing Kublai Khan singing opera
and dancing solo in a station of the metro.
No pleasure domes. No cities of desire.
But it adds a whole new level to

All aboard?


Friday, October 18, 2013

A Fowl Run-in with Mercury Retrograde

My Mercury Retrograde began a little early. Because of the BART strike, the roads were jammed—I was in Silicon Valley for a tech conference. Because traffic on Highway 280 to 92 was snarly as a hungry lion, I stopped off at the least exit in Foster City and bought a lovely Costco roast chicken, and waited out the worst of the traffic jam. 

Crossing the San Mateo Bridge under full moonlight was worth the wait—pure magic—platinum trail of moonlight on the indigo velvet of the bay. I thought I could see the after effects of the lunar eclipse, the moon looked a little lopsided on top. But I was imagining things. 

All was serene, it was as if I was inside a Maxfield Parrish painting. Hunter's Moon and eclipse. In the rearview mirror, the sunset was a dragon's blood glow, and Venus to the west, a beautymark. I was basking in all this glorious gloaming. Until an idiot in a SUV cut in front of me.

I stopped short, the chicken decided to fly the coop as if to get to the other side of the road. At least it didn't hit the window. The roasting pan lid popped off on the descent, and the damned chicken landed upside down inside my backpack and drooled on my brand-new skinny cuff jeans. 

They were the last pair in my size, and on sale for only $10. Costco pants rarely fit—I usually buy three pairs, keep one, return the others. In fact, that's why I was in Costco, to begin with—to return a pair of jeans. I really couldn't think of how I could possibly return these jeans smelling like a chicken roast-off. They'd better fit is all I can say.

Luckily I had a premonition beforehand and moved my gorgeous new purple and magenta silky down vest to the back seat. Apparently the premonition wasn't strong enough for me to consider putting the chicken on the floor of the car, shackled with snow chains, instead of in a shopping bag on the passenger's seat. Wish I had thought to move my cameras from the bottom of the bag as well. Nothing like chicken schmutz to lube the LCD screen. Of course, it completely missed the baby bagels.

So while driving with a greased gearshift, I grabbed the slippery sucker by a leg and shoved it back into the roasting pan and set it on the dashboard. Mopping up what mess I could reach with toilet paper, I felt like the lubricated inside of a BBQ basting pan.  

When I got home, I went to transfer that errant chicken back into bag. It leapt out of the roasting pan to take a roll all over my faux suede car seats, splashing chicken juice and fat into my eye and hair. And judging the look on Neil's face when I walked in the door—apparently I was modeling a Something About Mary coiffure. And how was your conference, dear?

Can I please have a pass? I already did my Mercury Retrograde time. Or was it full moon time? Oh, the car smells foul, the jeans do fit but they keep clucking and cats follow me wherever I go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


it was a standing-room-only concert.
I buffaloed my way in on shaky press credentials
so I felt obliged to write something, anything—
though I had no place in mind to publish.
As I was free-writing, following flights of fancy, 
hoping to glean some interesting lines,
an old man sitting in the last row complained—
He could hear my pen whispering to the page. 
I was amazed by his acute hearing.
We were both rather irritated. I felt thwarted.
But I liked the unexpected metaphor.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Squirrel & Nut

A decent photo through a dirty window covered with a mesh screen is not optimal, but you get the picture. Will keep trying.
My resident red squirrel has taken to leaving me acorn prezzies in the bottom of his water dish (really a tall faceted glass wedged in the fencepost for the thirsty bees and the tiny nectar wasps that pollinate my flowers).

I'd put a cork in the glass to rescue the nectar wasps that tend to drown if they take on too much water. Perhaps the squirrel was leaving me acorn gifts in exchange for water? Making similes? The acorns and cork do look similar. Both come from oak trees.

Last spring, the neighbor replaced our decrepit ivy-covered fence with a wide wooden one, replete with a cap-rail. It's now a kitty and squirrel highway. 

At first I thought it was the cats knocking off my old blue pots artfully aligned along the top of the fence. So I spaced the surviving pots farther apart to accommodate little cat feet. Still more pots came crashing down on both sides of the fence. Then I thought it was the hoodlum rats or hood 'possoms running the rails during the night, but this was clearly a daytime crockery crashing affair. I needed to adjust my sights.

Then I caught the red squirrel in action lapping water from the tall glass like a cat. Too cute. As he skittered back to safety, I noticed that he had a completely different leaping criteria with all that tail fluff and drag. When he leapt up, his tail went down, and vice versa. A counterweight, not a balancing pole. Not at all like a cat.

With all that crashing crockery, and bouncing blue tin cups, it's a wonder the squirrel braved the trek to the watering hole. So I put all the pots (what was left of them) closer together, so it's now one giant leap for squirrelkind. No more pots knocked off the ledge. They're close enough for the cat to leap over too. 

Thirsty hoolighan squirrels smashing all my blue pots never crossed my mind. The critters come up from the trees on the other side of the street by the freeway. Then I realized there's no fresh water for them anywhere in the urban jungle. So now I water the plants, the bees and the squirrels. The little coast live oak acorns were a surprise.

I now know that acorns sink to the bottom of a cup. Squirrel nuts anyone? Fresh delivered daily. No zippers. Yet.

NutDate 10.4 Think I'll blow the squirrel's mind by leaving some super jumbo-sized valley oak acorns in the glass.

NutDate 10.15—Nuts planted along the top of the fence and inside pots. Very large acorn fills one little pot. Wonder what will happen when Squirrel sees that one?

NutDate 10.16—Some small acorns are gone. Big ones untouched.

NutDate 10.17—Think I'll leave some small avocado pits mixed in with the big acorns.

NutDate 10.18—Squirrel left me one measly acorn in the bottom of the glass but took all the avocado pits. You'd think he'd at least leave the big acorns considering I've upped the ante. The thought of Squirrel trying to force an avocado pit into his cheek pouches is too funny for words. But both? He probably looked like a pair of furry dice or dogs bollocks with teeth.

NutDate—Like whatever. After weeks of ignoring the rest of the avocado pits (but they steal the tiny unripe avocados from our neighbor's tree, and eat them when they're hard as rocks), our squirrel finally got it. But I had to remove said acorn from said pot on fence and move it half-way down the fence where he could find it. He ran right past it again as he was headed up toward the water glass. But on the return trip back down to the road, he finally spotted the nut, grabbed it, and then promptly fell off the fence. I guess it weighed too much. I could hear his feet sliding down the fence. He landed with a squawk and proceeded to scold me, the nut, the fence, the ground. The ingrate. I learned that squirrels are always in a hurry, they don't see the forest for the trees, or, rather, the nut on the fence, they don't have the agility of a cat, and they certainly don't have very good eyesight. Or hindsight. But they have excellent swearing skills. No translation needed.

Next year sometime: Squirrel has taken to marking the entire length of the fence as his turf, like a cat scentmarking. He lays his front end down on the fence and, using his hind legs, he scoots and propels himself along in a ridiculous manner, like a otter sliding down a mudbank, wiping his jowls along the entire length of the railing. Not one more acorn has appeared but he is ever hopeful. I also found out that he is an Eastern red squirrel. Not European at all.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

English evolved from Scandinavian?

"The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man's fate and man's follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth." T E Kalem —from Brendan Behan's play, Borstal Boy

A Science Daily post from Nov, 2012 suggests that English evolved from Scandinavian. Two professors in Norway make an interesting hypothesis that English evolved from Old Norse, making English North Germanic rather than West Germanic.
Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo said: "What is particularly interesting is that Old English adopted words for day-to-day things that were already in the language. Usually one borrows words and concepts for new things. In English almost the reverse is true—the day-to-day words are Scandinavian, and there are many of them," says Faarlund.
Here are some examples: anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday, tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong. Linguist Makes Sensational Claim: English Is a Scandinavian Language

I nearly snorted and circular breathed in my cuppa tea when I read that headline. I can hear the linguistic shit hitting the fan now.

Awww, there goes Beowulf!

So, let me get this straight, Everyone in the British Isles loved the Norse so much,   (they refused to have much to do with the invaders), that they couldn't even say Gimme an egg, Sister! in their own language(s) before the arrival of the Vikings? (It was mainly the Anglo—Saxons vs the short-lived Viking Danelaw (50 to 100 years of rule); most of the Britons were holed up in Wales or Brittany.

Sister and egg aren't even loan words ferhevinsakes! I'm no linguist but even I can poke holes in this argument. People usually borrow words and concepts for new things like computer, floppy disk, USB. Not for things they already know, or already have.

What would Bede say? All this splitting infinitives and hairs sounds like the Scandinavians are once again being culture pirates. A vikingr the academics will go.

Their hypothesis: English evolved out of Old Norse several centuries later? Not congruently? What about language drift, or convergent evolution—or even being closely related via the Indo-European continuum? It's like saying English (or Irish) evolved from Sanskrit because there are parallel words in both languages.

Sister is a prime example from the Proto-Indo-European continuum: *swésōr is recognizable and sounds familiar enough to be merely a dialect, rather than another language. No matter how many dialect armies and navys are conjured up, I'm fairly certain that Old Norse did not exist during the era that PIE was evolving. And then there's egg—clearly a very close word in Proto-Germanic:
From Middle English egge, from Old Norse egg (“egg”), from Proto-Germanic *ajją (“egg”).
Well, maybe egg isn't such a good example as Chaucer uses both ey, and egg. That could be a case of Norse and Anglo-Saxon eggs side by side. One could argue that that hard gg vs soft jj sound was borrowed from the Norse. I won't mention bull eggs here. (But you can look that world up if you like).

I wonder why outlaw wasn't on that list? That and law, and penny, schilling, etc.

The article was daft. (Not as daft as the eejit who recently posted that English has always existed in Great Britain. (MJ Harper, ‘The History of Britain Revealed’) The Belgae in Gaul and Britain were Celts, not Germans, ya twit. (It reads something like How the Martians Saved Civilization.) English ain't the mother tongue. Really.) Whose tongue was in what neither cheek?

Then there's the syntax argument:

•(subject/verb/object), SVO vs. Old English verb endings. Just to liven things up, Irish is VSOP. Good initials for brandy too. The Vikings, though they settled in Ireland too, had almost no impact on Irish other than town words, nautical terms, jarl, and window.

•Prepositions at the end of a sentence (a very good thing they didn't look at Irish!)

•My personal favorite: genitive (plural)s (The Queen of England's hat).

•Split infinitives (I promise to never laugh again). Well, there are no infinitive verbs in Irish, but we're not talking Irish here.

I admit I'm shaky on syntax. I know by doing. (By writing, that is). But since I had to go and make that strange segue, apparently the Norse absorbed more Irish words than the Irish themselves did of Old Norse words: "bachall (staff, crozier) >bagall; capall (horse) > kapall; lám (hand) > lámr; tarb (bull) > tarfr; and teine (fire) > dini.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, one Norse word for a ship lung is taken from the Irish long." —Medieval Review Ó Muirithe, Diarmaid. From the Viking Word-Hoard: A Dictionary of Scandinavian Words in the Languages of Britain and Ireland. Dublin.

I'm sure I could argue some silly string theory that Gaelic impacted Old Norse, as spoken by Vikings, who, were, after a generation or two, no longer even Norse, but Norse-Irish, and Norse-Scottish. Irish and Scottish were pretty much the same people in those days as there was no Kingdom of Scotland yet. I can't use the term "one people" because nobody was unified.

Viking men did not bring any Norse women with them when they settled new turf. They just kidnapped Irish and Scottish women—and women are the bearers of language and culture—they taught their kids to speak Irish. And to a lesser degree, Norse British/Anglo-Saxon, mix, etc. (Iceland and the Faroes have a higher Irish/Scottish mDNA, than Norse yDNA but I already wrote about that).

So why would Old English suddenly die out, leave a linguistic void, and Old Norse suddenly take its place, and then evolve into modern English? Old habits die hard. We won't mention the other four English dialects that concurrently existed in the British Isles. Who has read Beowulf, or Sir Gawain in the original dialect? Or Blind Harry's Wallace?

OK, so the "Pearl Poet" author of Sir Gawain was from ca. the 14th c., as were Blind Harry, and Chaucer a little before that, and Beowulf was written in the late 10th or early 11th c., but the texts do serve to demonstrate that several different Middle English dialects survived, Not Old Norse. BTW, Beowulf was translated into late West Saxon from an older English dialect.

Clearly this is a case of lunatic fringe instead of Celtic Fringe. Like I said, those Norse academicians are cultural pirates! I don't think anyone was hypothetically sober at the time. Bring on Monty Python's version of Njall's Saga! Skol pafiskin!