Tag Archives: relatives

Lupercalia, Tranquility, and another Mouse

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day of kissy-faced fealty, bitter compatriotism of the solitary, and rampant emotional eating.

I took a lovely morning stroll along the Huntington River with Bubo and marveled at Mount Mansfield. I do believe Great Great Uncle O. Underhill knew a thing or two about serenity; this land does quiet the storms of the mind.

It also makes Bubo a good deal less cantankerous, which is miraculous and delightful. She’s still a curmudgeonly thing, but with a twinkle in her eyes.

Scholars have long bandied about the origins of the modern Valentine’s Day; clearly man has not been handing out chocolates and greeting cards since the beginnings of time. There is a good deal of debate about whether or not Valentine’s Day has anything to do with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia; some scholars assert it is a natural explanation, and some argue that the only thing these two celebrations have in common is the date. Never-the-less, I find Lupercalia fascinating.

Celebrated during the Ides of February (the 13th through the 15th), Lupercalia was a pastoral festival to avert evil spirits, purify the city (Rome), and celebrate fertility and health. The Luperci (an order of Roman priests) would start the festival off by gathering at the Lupercal  cave, where Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) were suckled by the She-Wolf. (Some claim the She-Wolf’s name was Lupa.) The Luperci would sacrifice goats and dogs, for fertility. Then, after rituals and a meal, the priests would make crude whips (thongs) out of the sacrificial animals’ hides and then run through the streets, striking anyone they met, especially women. And the women would line up to be touched or hit with these thongs, believing this act would increase their fertility and would make childbirth easier.

The goat-skin was called februum and the month during which this Lupercalia festival took place? Februarius. Have you connected the dots, m’dears?

This purification and fertility festival was important to a land full of shepherds, dependent on their flocks and their own fertility, as they were.

I’m sure things got rather raucous. I can’t imagine a gaggle of mostly naked men running pell-mell through the streets whipping people (mostly women) with februum being anything but raucous.

I am content to spend today quietly. I have just uncovered Uncle Underhill’s stash of field journals and I intend to spend the evening reading in front of the fire with a glass of port and my best owl.

Below is a photo of another field mouse. This one Bubo claims was too sweet and so she did not snatch it. There was some discussion of my wrapping the little thing in bacon. Bubo, wouldn’t you know, is on the hunt for umami.

Quite the model

Quite the model

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Last night’s mild earthquake caused a corner of the cellar to crumble. When we were able to clear the dust and debris away, Mordecai and I discovered a cache of old journals and musical instruments from generations passed. This cache included a bronze ukelele, a harp made of yeti ribs, and a number of ocarinas.

An ocarina is a simple wind instrument, often made of terra-cotta with a mouthpiece and finger holes. Ocarinas are often egg-shaped and is casually referred to as a “sweet potato” in the United States.

Ocarina stems from the Italian dialectal ucarenna, which is the diminutive form of Italian oca,  meaning goose. In other words, ocarina means little goose. The instrument is thought to look like a goose’s beak, hence the name.

You might be familiar with the ocarina from the video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Or perhaps you had a small plastic ocarina when you were a child. There are a number of different types of ocarinas, the most commonly known being the transverse ocarina. It is shaped a bit like a laser-blaster. There are also smaller, more portable versions of the instrument that look distinctly egg-like. These are called Pendant Ocarinas.

Peruvian Pendant Ocarinas were used by the Incans for rituals, festivals, and ceremonies. Often animals were painted on these ocarinas. It is supposed that the European explorers (like Cortez) brought versions of these ocarinas back to Europe from Mesoamerican explorations. It was then that the music and dance of the ocarina was introduced to Europe.

Mordecai is playing a strangely haunting tune on one of the ocarinas that fell out of the cellar wall. This one is made of quartz and is engraved with what look like dragons. Bubo is enjoying a cool night in the October skies over Brooklyn and I am considering these old journals. With a glass of port, naturally.


*Photo courtesy of Frogmen.info.

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With two days of rain, drizzle, and fog under our belts, Half-Cousin Lida decided this would be the perfect time to have an impromptu dance party with her Siren girlfriends. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that sirens only drink white sangria. And that their dance parties require an exercise level and a love for Barry Manilow dance mixes that I do not possess.

Which brings me to today’s word.

Terpsichorean is an adjective meaning of or relating to dance. The word comes from Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance and song, and is derived from a combination of the Greek terpeinto delight – and khorosdance.

So what we have in the garden today is a Terpsichorean performance. I had no idea that mermaids and sirens could be land-bound for so long.

Or that they could convince Mordecai to dance. He will deny it, but I saw him. Thus, I suppose you could say I have a terpsichorean brother.


Special thanks to Anu Garg and her newsletter A.Word.A.Day for inspiring today’s entry.

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Yesterday was a stormy day in Brooklyn; the sky was dark and foreboding for much of the day, and the air was heavy with the coming rain. The dragons, suffering from some sort of seasonal molting process, were flitting about the garden as though in a frenzy. And after a full day of recovering from Cousin Cate’s mushroom “vodka”, I was ready to post here in my journal.

Until the power went out.

We initially assumed it was from the storm. But we were the only ones without power. And then I heard the tell-tale sounds of flivvervaats in the walls. It appears juvenile flivvervaats are like squirrels – they adore crawling through walls and ceilings and chewing through electricity wires. Fabulous. These creatures gestate in the womb for approximately 4 months and then require an additional 2 years to be able to live without their mothers. That means 2 years of suffering through chewed bookshelves, destroyed power cords, and an odd and pervasive odor that mimics nutmeg on a good day and Valerian root on a bad day.

It also means that we are all acclimating to the sounds of flivvervaats in the house. This includes an increasingly robust encyclopedia of sounds. Which brings me to today’s word.

Whish is a noun meaning to move with a soft, rushing sound; whiz; swish; the whirring or whizzing sound of rapid motion.

First used in the 1500s, whish is an echoic and imitative word. This sound became the word used to describe it. Like woosh, bloop, or peep.

Though the power is back on in this old house, and the garden has been cleaned of detritus from the family equinox festivities, there are still whishes from within the walls, keeping the human inhabitants a bit on edge. Perhaps once this storm system passes the flivvervaats will calm down.

Or perhaps I’ll have another belt of this mushroom vodka and be unaware of things for another 20 hours.

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