Jack be Nimble
Jack be Quick
Jack’s been carving candlesticks
and putting them in hollowed out vegetables for about 300 years
Origins of Jack o’ the Lantern
Of course, there aren’t any pumpkins in Scotland and Ireland which started the tradition of putting candlesticks in food. This lighting practice originated in turnips which are plentiful and easier to grow in the resistant soil. The jack o’ the lantern carving was reminiscent of the lights that appeared in peat bogs which represented spirits of the dead (like Gollum says, don’t look at the lights). Jack of the Lantern was also the name of a story about an Anglo-Saxon trickster, a character who might fool the devil or fairies through cleverness rather than through strength or hard work. The same character ends up climbing beanstalks, killing giants, spreading frost, and sticking his thumb into pies.
Pumpkins are native to America, so the early colonists shifted the idea of carving to the vegetable at hand. Soon enough, we not only had jack o’ lanterns in these United States, but we had stories about pumpkin-heads from Washington Irving (1820) and L. Frank Baum (1929). Halloween as a holiday expanded and changed – with a little help from capitalism – to the major event it is today, an event which now other countries are adopting.
Halloween Then and Now
The Halloween as we know it emerged from four elements:
- A celebration of spirits of the dead or spirits in general
- Donning costumes to act out plays, sometimes called “mumming” and sometimes carried on by troupes traveling house to house
- A celebration of the trickster, especially one who tricks the spirits or the devil
- Horror and Halloween in stories, arising out of a Gothic tradition but proliferating in the United States, especially through film
Continue reading “It’s the Great Pumpkin, People!”
I have heard the Canadian national anthem live three times this week. First, before the Toronto Blue Jays championship baseball against the Cleveland Indians, a loss which prompted derision from local young men here in British Columbia about the sorry state of their clutch hitting. Then, before Hockey Night (Saturday night as Canadians know), at a noisy brewhouse serving sweet chlii wings and poutine. The crowd grumbled as Toronto blew a four goal lead against Winnipeg, then cheered as they won in overtime. This led to derisive and drunken expletives about the sorry state of Toronto’s goaltending. Lastly, a curly-haired cowgirl rode with the flag around a Calgary Stampede ring before a horse show. The sparse crowd cheered; the only derision was next door in the Saddledome as the last place Calgary Flames lost 5-4 to St. Louis. It was a great week to tour the Western Canadian Rockies.
Shoulder of the Season
Coming in October during the shoulder of the seasons – between summer and winter tourim – had both pluses and minuses. Many museums and tours close October 15, so I made a mental note in future to come three weeks earlier. Storms at the beginning of the month have closed some passes. But our weather was good for October – only rain and fog, with a little snow, and a little sun as bookends. Most of all, off season meant not fighting with bloated RVs on scenic byways and no photo bombers at the biggest vista spots. There were busloads of Japanese tourists, but that happens all year long. Blissfully uncrowded trumped warmer weather.
Empty roads were expected. Off season timing was why we went. There were a few reminders of what Canada is like and a few surprises. The food was unexpectedly good at several of the brewhouses and diners. Not all – there was an ill-chosen coffee shop on Canadian highway 1 that served tartar sauce and salad dressing in Kraft teaspoon packets. But the salt and pepper ribs at Earl’s in Chilliwack, and the pulled pork mac ‘n’ cheese at the Noble Pig in Kamloops were both flipping delicious. Even the burgers and steaks were extra tasty; much better than we get in Cailfornia. Fewer hormones in the beef? More hormones in the beef? Hard to say which.
Continue reading “O Canada!”
A documentary is making the rounds, in the theaters last spring and now on PBS and On Demand, that is a reminder of how politics used to be different. This is not by way of a discussion of the current political season or any commentary on the campaigns or their positions. I will not drag us there; I have promised. But this historical view, “The Best of Enemies,” which chronicles a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, hearkens back to the days when the tone of debate could be intelligent and civil. What a concept!
The popular notion is that America does not like intellectuals. Our tall tales and folk heroes are often about simple men who get the better of the fellow with book-learnin’ through common sense and American knowhow. Conventional wisdom is to disdain “eggheads” and to embrace the Common Man.
But Americans do enjoy – or used to enjoy – the intelligent presentation of political opinions that they themselves hold dear. In 1968, when ABC decided to host a series of conversations between two intellectual giants who held very different views, America watched and embraced – individually – their beloved smarty-pants of the Left and the Right. Continue reading “The Death of Civilized Debate”
They have promised to bring a new dishwasher and microwave today. This is beyond exciting news.
The old ones were older than my college-aged children, and the dishwasher wasn’t a particularly good one. Always noisy with a groaning noise that went on for a long time – we had to learn to set it when we were planning to go to bed, or we wouldn’t be able to hear each other talk. The dishes also never really came clean, and we had to scrub them in advance. Years of arguing at length, what was the point of a dishwasher, why don’t we just hand-wash everything?
The microwave has been more reliable, except in that last eighteen months. Sometimes when the fan starts up, the whir would make a strange scientific sound as though it were thinking about whether it wanted to start or not. For about a month, we wondered whether it would start at all. Joe, the installer who came to measure, told me that microwaves actually can last for decades. He had one that he gave to his mother, and when she died, his brother got it, then ended up given it to a cousin, until it eventually came back to Joe, who still uses it in his garage to heat up coffee. Continue reading “The Promise of a Newfangled…”
One thing we can argue about nearly as much as politics is the arts. You enjoy a nice country ballad; I love a nice bit of Bach on the harpsichord. You like that singer with the nasal whiny voice; I like the painter that throws splotches all over the canvas. I look forward to curling up with a nice meaty Henry James novel; you would like to get through more than two paragraphs on your lunch hour. We don’t always feel the same way about the same artists. But we can probably agree on one thing.
Life would be pretty bleak without the arts.
North Carolina artist Kathryn Abernathy
This theme kept popping up in North Carolina last week as we drove through the windy Appalachian hills. Our friends live near Blowing Rock which was the definition of Quaint. Small towns in America work hard at developing that proper Quaintness – enough shops to wander in and out of, a nice park or two, a restaurant with good fried pickles, and the best place to get ice cream. Along with the good ice cream and the old-fashioned barrels of candy, the coolers with Cheerwine and SunDrop, there was a lot of local art that was pretty darn good. Continue reading “Carolina II: Support your Local Artists & Bookstores”