Thursday, April 01, 2004

Suspicious minds

My friends and readers have let me down. One after another, they question the authenticity of blog posts today JUST BECAUSE IT’S APRIL 1st! The last message on this was the final straw. My reader writes:

“Now I'm just trying to figure out if the Smigus Dyngus post is for real, or an April Fools post in itself. The photo, with realistic looking costume, has me being less suspicious, but one never knows... Very mysterious you can be!!”

Now really, would I make up something like that? Check out the site here (scroll down to the bottom for an analysis of Smigus Dyngus). Or, if you aren’t the checker type, let me quote the relevant passage for you:

Smigus-dyngus, czyli pomyślność na mokro: Oblewanie się nawzajem wodą w poniedziałek wielkanocny (nazywany z tej okazji Świętym Lejkiem) to również zwyczaj stary i wywodzący się najprawdopodobniej z obrzędów związanych z wiarą w dobroczynne właściwości wody. Był przy tym i jest doskonalą zabawą dla całej rodziny, a także okazją dla psotników, by płatać figle... w zgodzie z ludową tradycją. Polewano się różnie, na dworach paroma kropelkami wody perfumowanej, na wsiach wiadrami i konewkami. Niejedna panna została nawet wepchnięta do rzeki czy koryta z wodą.
Is says it right there, doesn’t it?

The essence of fox

A reader asks where I am able to procure 100% fox urine (see Spring Update posts below). Well, naturally, I don’t chase down the animals myself with jar in hand. But someone does, and what a job that must be! I suppose I could also find it on the Net, but for me, it’s just as easy to locate it in select stores that sell farming or gardening essentials. And btw, it seems not to “spoil:” if you buy too much to use in one season, let me assure you, the stuff is even more foul smelling the next year.

The fools of April

A reader and a friend sent me the following email message late last night:

“It is now April Fool's day. meaning I refuse to talk to you for the next 22 hours (until the day is over, your time). what will happen this year? I don't know, but I know it will be something, and I know I'll fall for it, whatever it is, so see you April 2.”

That’s harsh! I’ll have you know that this year, I am much more into Smigus Dyngus – a traditional Polish celebration that falls on Easter Monday. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT SMIGUS DYNGUS IS???? Wait ‘til Monday, will you ever be surprised!!

[For those far away, and therefore not within a bucket’s reach that day, let me explain: traditionally, on Smigus Dyngus, boys drenched girls with squirt guns, buckets of water, anything that caused great wetness. The thought was that the more a girl was sprayed with water, the higher were her chances of getting married—though I see some pagan ritual elements here, as in cleansing the body and soul, etc... The holiday is observed especially by young people: boys will literally wait out on the road, near markets, in village squares and as soon as a girl would pass – she’d get the bucket. Older men, on the other hand, sprayed their wives with cologne water, though I’m not sure what the purpose of that was – unless he secretly wanted her to leave and marry someone else, a.s.a.p.!? The revenge comes the next day: the girls dump water on guys on Tuesday. In my time, we were way too impatient and so everyone, male and female, dumped water on each other, all Monday long.]

A lesson from the past: my lack of talent may be a virtue

A guest lecturer from Taiwan came to my class yesterday to address issues of Family Law in the context of changing norms and values. His own view was that Taiwan had rushed to embrace Western standards too fast and without enough discussion of what was sacrificed along the way. Individual rights are all fine and well, but the relinquishment of family-centered values comes at a very personal cost to the many people who once had a rich network of family and now feel themselves to be isolated.

The Taiwanese professor gave two examples of old Chinese proverbs that no longer have the force they once did, and I must say, even though I do not live in Taiwan, I am intrigued by them and think they could have interesting applications even on this side of the ocean. Consider each one:

1. “For a woman to be without talent is a virtue.” Sure, I know that sounds harsh, but think how much pressure would be off our shoulders if this was honored today. Awards would be meted out for mediocrity and lack of accomplishment. Working long hours to perfect something would be pointless and indeed, may cause you to appear virtue-less.

2. “Marry a chicken, follow a chicken, marry a dog, follow a dog.” This one, too, is superb! You want marriage? Great – here it is: you got yourself a dog. Now are you happy?? Much could be learned from these words.

One of the most telling moments, however, came at the beginning of class. As students were trickling into the room, I handed them outlines of the paper to be presented by the visiting scholar. He watched in fascination, then asked: “Do you always hand out papers like that to students?” I hesitated, wondering if I had committed some International Gaffe of Great Magnitude and Consequence. He explained: “You are the respected one here, no? Why don’t you have THEM come and pick up the paper themselves?” It had never even occurred to me that I had just put myself down, meeting the students at their own low-status level rather than asking them for proper respect. No wonder they throw spitballs in class and play spider solitaire on their computers. Resolved: today, they come to ME to pick up the statute that I am now copying for them (wait: why am I even making copies for them??).