Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tree Planter's Waltz

A little snippet of BC mountain culture for you. This was apparently filmed May 2009, however, if I didn't know better, I'd guess the filming in the Merritt night club took place sometime in the eighties. But then again, I have passed through Merritt, the culture is its own. Warning, the song will grow own you despite all protestations.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In the Spotlight

I've boarded the train, scrutinized the numbers on my ticket amongst the the Chinese characters and meandered my way to what I hope is my hard sleeper. Next stop: Xian, the Terracotta Warriors with over 2000 years of history and an adventure in the making.

Shortly thereafter a couple arrives with a new born. The woman smiles and nods and then busies herself with the child. The man quickly engages in conversation as the train slowly begins to rattle its way along the tracks. I find the Chinese very curious and friendly. Canadians are well thought of in China due to Norman Bethune's participation in the Long March. "Canada and China...very good friends," the man tells me.

It hasn't taken me very many days to realize that our western sense of "taboo" is completely non-existent in this country. Just a day before, after a bout of food poisoning and looking incredibly jaundiced, a Chinese person came up to me and inquired, "so, is your skin white or is it yellow?" How does one explain that? Normally, if I feel good, not quite so yellow. One would never get away with pointing out skin colour in just simply isn't politically correct. Here, however, absolutely nothing is off limits, except perhaps criticism of the government.

As the train creeps through the country side, We pass a series of your standard Chinese shanty shacks. Farmers toil the fields accompanied by mangy looking dogs. Eventually, up a dusty hill, I see an unusually luxurious looking residence. Officially the Chinese can't own land, or so I've been told, but the man is most obviously nervous about this topic and the sharp contrast of this house compared to those we saw previously.

The conversation turns back on the baby. With the one child rule, children are spoiled and doted on. These parents, like so many others, are beamingly proud. My mind keeps flitting to a particular fair haired, blue eyed "waspy" looking friend back home who had allegedly been born with a mysterious "Mongol spot", a dark spot at the base of the tailbone which I've been told is common place amongst almost all Asian children. The spot usually disappears when the child is anywhere between two and four years of age. For years, this girl's doctor teased her of being descended from Genghis Khan, for the spot is sure "proof" of Mongol blood. I wonder. It is not something that I had ever witnessed. Was it true?

Eventually curiosity overcomes my reserved, stoic upbringing. I have to I ask, "is it true?" The father immediately flips the child over and whips off her bottoms and there it is. I'm stunned. I no longer remember what I had imagined, but it certainly wasn't this...a big dark blue, round spot that looks like a huge bruise. The father explains that there is a myth about a benevolent goddess...although looking at the size of the spot, I'm not quite sure how benevolent she could be. When the child is coming into the world, if the goddess decides to spare the child's life, she gives it a hard smack on the bottom right as it makes its way into the world leaving this big round blue spot. This young girl has been spared and apparently blessed.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Elderberry Magic

Here I've done it again. Life has gotten in the way, and I hardly have time to breathe, let alone blog. But for the past couple of weeks, I've been ruminating about everything I want to tell you about Elderberries and quite frankly October couldn't be more perfect month to broach the topic, for no tree is so magical, nor none surrounded by as much folklore and mystery than that of the Elder. Alas, it is the tree upon which it is purported that Judas hanged himself, as Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman stated:

'Judas he japed with Jewen silver, And sithen an eller hanged hymselve.'

Although the branches of the Elder are so willowy that I find it hard to believe that anyone could hang himself upon such a tree. But perhaps, as another tradition states, the tree only became that way after the cross of Calvary was made with it:

'Bour tree - Bour tree: crooked rong
Never straight and never strong;
Ever bush and never tree
Since our Lord was nailed on thee.'

But the Elder's mystery and folklore predate Christianity. Heathen myths of northern Europe talk about Hylde Moer, the Elder-tree mother who lived in the tree and watched over it. Should the tree be cut down and furniture be made of it, Hylde Moer would follow her property and haunt the owners. In fact, if one wanted to cut from an Elder tree, he had to first ask permission and not cut until consent was given through silence to prevent ill luck from befalling him.

Numerous other bizarre superstitions regarding the Elder extend well beyond the small borders of northern Europe. Russians believe the Elder tree to drive away evil spirits, Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fevers and Sicilians believe that sticks from the Elder tree will kill serpents and drive away robbers. In England it was once thought that the Elder tree was never struck by lightening and that a twig of Elder tied into three or four knots and carried in one's pocket would prevent rheumatism. Some in Britain also collected Elder leaves the last day of April and affixed them to their doors and windows to prevent witches from entering their homes. In Denmark, one might see the fairy king and all his attendants go by, simply by sitting under an Elder tree on Mid-summer's Eve.

But more exciting than all this folklore, is what I shall get to in my next post: the medicinal benefits and folk remedies that come from Elderberries.