To experiment with the idea of making poetry more fun, I created an anthology entitled ‘Poetry, Comedy & The Modern World’ for a recent project on my English Literature degree. I thought I would share the twelve poems that made their way into the final anthology here on my blog! I hope you enjoy exploring and, hopefully, having a bit of a laugh along the way…
Healing plants can have wondrous names proving their millennial use in medicine, household or purely recreational as well as a fertile popular imagination when it comes to the Romanian folktales.
Herbs have been used in medicine since before Ancient Egyptian. Sumerian clay tablets, for example, list numerous plants, some highly used today such as myrrh and opium.
When it comes to the common names given to the healing plants, there is a fragile boundary between the sacred and the profane as some plants are named due to their association with legends (chicory, mil-foil), mythology (Sita-Ielelor ‘silver thistle’, snowdrop), celebrations (daffodil, garlic, lily of the valley, Năvalnicul ‘hart’s-tongue’, Sânzienele ‘lady’s bedstraw’), Christian worship while others are simply given human traits thus desecrating or sanctifying them (anthropomorphism).
The fine line between the beneficial and the malefic use of plants is seen in their dual use, as medicine or as poison; in their various uses, for the soul of for the body.
It is worth mentioning that the beneficial and malefic use of plants is derived also from the way God and Satan are portrayed in the popular belief: associating flowers and green grass with the positive forces of nature and attributing thistles, thorns, prickly nettles to the underworld.
The Romanian Folklore of Plants and Celebrations
Celebrate originates in Latin celebratus “much-frequented; kept solemn; famous,” past participle of celebrare “assemble to honor,” from celeber “frequented, populous, crowded;” with transferred senses of “well-attended; famous; often-repeated.” – a collective experience meant to last.
Celebrations are perhaps meant to freeze into memory various events so that time, as a whole, will make sense.
Plants and Romanian folk celebrations
Dragobete, Head of Spring and Sister Flowers – 24 February
The celebration of Dragobete(first flowers of spring as Dragobete is celebrated on 24 February / 24 Făurar, Februarie in Romania). During the celebration of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, nicknamed in rural areas the celebration of Head of Spring, we can pick the very first flowers that lift their heads from underneath a blanket of snow: snowdrops, crocuses.
A celebration dedicated to pure love takes place now and we can throw these spring symbols down a moving water. The concept of sister flowers appears now, flowers that grow during the same time of the year but never near each other. Pick them and throw them on a moving water so that they can finally meet and your sins will be forgiven.
Dragobete, dragobeti have a few connotations: lads which experience the first thrills of love, the green tiger beetles used in love spells.
Clean or unclean, how do we pick a Dragobete plant – the fern? Once we spot it, before picking it one must make the sign of the cross upon it, to bless it. Then one must bring it an offering, such as is the custom, of bread, salt and sugar. Quietly, place the offering at the plant’s root. The Dragobete plant must be picked whole, with its root, then placed where it is needed the most, to perform its magic: a baby’s crib, a maiden’s bosom, the home’s eave… or behind the icon on the wall. Then, only, the Dragobete plant may be tucked in the maiden’s belt when she goes to the Sunday dance, in the hope that village lads will ask her to be their partner and they will dance and be joyful the way she, too, dance with the Dragobete fern tucked in her belt.
Because Dragobete, as a celebration, supports pure love, harmony, steadfastness and stability.
Navalnic, Impetuous, and the Fern
Navalnic, Impetuous, as a plant connected with this time of year, has also a legend. Navalnic was a fine young man who enjoyed flirting a little too much. He often hid along the forest paths awaiting lonely maidens to walk by, hoping for a kiss. But Navalnic pushed his luck a little too far when he caused Saint Mary with baby Jesus in her arms to catch a fright. Saint Mary turned him into a plant on the spot: “Impetuous you’ve been And so you shall remain! A weed of love, unclean, A love weed to blame.”
The legend of Flyboy and its Speedwell plant
Flyboy, Zburatorul, is associated with the evil eye and is antagonistic to Dragobete’s symbology. Its plant is the speedwell or longleaf speedwel supposed to counteract the effects of the evil eye.
The Flyboy’s legend takes off like this. Once upon a time there was a lovely maiden who fell in love with a Flyboy. A charmer. Now her mother thought it will be better not to intervene between the two so she cooked up a plan. ‘Our cow is sick,’ she complained to the girl. Do you think Flyboy will help? We only need a string of longleaf. The village charmstress will concoct us a cure, a good charm. It is our only cow. Will he help?’ And he did, and they got the longleaf and the charmstress boiled it and she extracted its essence. And she gave it to the mother, which sprinkled it over the maiden as she slept. And so the girl was saved.
Mucenici and Crocuses, Brândușele – celebrated on 9 March
For 9 March, 9 Martie, to celebrate the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste or the Holy Forty Romanians make Mucenici or Măcinici. This celebration also coincides with the start of the agricultural year.
Basically shapes of eight are made of sweet dough and there are two ways to prepare them, following recipes from Muntenia and Ardeal or from Dobrogea and Moldavia. I was lucky to enjoy both and, believe me, they are delicious.
What does the eight shape of Mucenici means?
The eight shape is named brânduși or brândușei – from brândușă, crocus.
From the eight shape the upper circle represents the crown (similar to a saint’s halo) and the bottom circle symbolizes the mace that as used to smash the martyrs’ ankles.
The Legend of How the Crocuses, Brândușele, came to be
It is said that long ago, before stories came to be written, earth had a step-mother… But she was kind-hearted and always kept busy. Each season something else to do, each month with its own routine.
Every March, after the long winter, when nature was still half frozen, she would pull the crocuses out of the ground so that humans could enjoy them and smile again after the long dreary months they just sailed through.
But also to remember that, the way they enjoyed the crocuses now, their dead relatives and friends enjoyed the same flowers during winter when they would show their flowers on the other side of the ground where living people could not see them.
All is relative in life.
These would be the Spring Crocuses, of curse.
The Legend of Young Basil and Lady Crocus (Busuioc si Brândușa)
Basil was a king’s son, a prince by birth and ways, by bravery, knowledge and nature. And when his time came he fell in love with a beautiful, gentle, clever girl named Crocus. But Crocus also caught the eye of a dragon, a fiery horse (a zmeu). Who did what any self-respectable, all-powerful creature would do: kidnap the maiden he wanted, taking her for himself. Yet Basil saved Crocus – and I think he killed the dragon as well. And today the world enjoys basil plants and crocus flowers, the offsprings of the first Basil prince and Crocus maiden.
The Sângiorz or Saint George (Sfantul Gheorghe) celebration, the Narcisus and the Lilly of the Valley – 23 April
Sângiorz or Saint George is a Transylvanian celebration of Spring held on the 23rd of April, honoring flowers such as Lilly of the Valley, Narcissus.
On this special day maidens pick flowers, narcissus and Lilly of the valley too, and make crowns they place on milking jugs. After three days the flowery crowns are fed to the cows, for abundant and sweet milk all year round.
The Feast of Drăgaica / Sânzienele celebrates Midsummer Day – 24 June
The day when the skies open and all the living creatures can speak.
Dragaica or Sânzienele are celebated in Romania on the 24 June (24 Cireșar, Iunie). During this feast we celebrate the Lady’s Bedstraw plant and other summer flowers: golden-rods, wild roses.
During this night we celebrate an agricultural deity, protector of wheat fields and of married women, a Romanian fairy similar in strength and symbology with Hera, Diana, Juno or Artemis.
Legend says that fairies who bath in spring on the night of Sânziene wear clothes made of white flowers. In the North of Romania, in the corner of Maramures county, there is a minuscule geographical and historical area called Forest Country, ȚaraCodrului. Here, between the fields of hemp, folk tradition calls to sprinkle the yellow flowers of Sânziene so that their yellow tint will rub onto the shade of hemp flowers.
On the night of Sânziene the maidens ready to get married can place under their pillows white and yellow flowers, to dream of their love to be. They also plate small crowns of flowers they later throw on the roof of their homes. Of course, the white of the Sânziene flowers is symbolic for purity of heart and body.
The yellow flowers of Sânziene are also known as the flowers of Saint John the Baptist. Popular beliefs says that Lady’s bedstraw can cure epilepsy, ‘le mal caduc‘.
More plants and a few spells
If you wish to convince a man to get marries, legend days, put a few petals of borage or Starflower, limba mielului, in a glass of wine and he will be willing soon. But remember, true love doesn’t need spells.
If you take a bath in lovage (privet), leustean, leaves and rose petals the boy you fancy is sure to fall in love with you. Privet is also good to warn off the evil action of the full moon.
Have a strong wish? Write it on a piece of paper and wrap in in leaves of mint, menta. Then tie it in a piece of red cloth. By the time the scent of mint will warn off your wish will come true.
The Legend of the Olive Tree
It is said that Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods, decided to gift the new city of Athens to the God that will gift its inhabitants the most useful gift.
Poseidon came with his almighty trident derived from Zeus’ lotus scepter and hit the rock at his feet. At once salty water sprouted, running down the mountain.
Next came Athena with her battle spear and she plunged it in the earth. An olive tree sprouted at once.
Then the inhabitants of Athens had to show their preference and they chose the olive fruits over the salty water. So Athena became the goddess patron of the new city. Legend says that all the olive trees around Greece originate from this first tree gifted by Athena.
These were known as moria, olive trees considered to be the property of the state because of their religious significance.
Olive oil against the evil eye
Romanians believe in the evil eye. It is enough for someone to pay you a compliment or glance in your direction, especially if they have green eyes, and if you complain of nausea or headache (among other symptoms such as dizziness, fever, stomach pain, bad luck, financial ruin, serious illness and so on) – then something has to be done to counteract the effect.
First, how do you know if you’ve encountered the bad eye? Pour water in a white bowl and drip some olive oil in it. If the oil gathered into globs, you’re safe from curse. But if the oil scatters around the bowl, that’s the evil eye. There are light spells against the evil eye performed with holy water and matches and rhymes that have to whispered.
That’s why babies are bathed in water with a branch of Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife, rachitanul, to protect them from the evil eye.
I discovered these facts and legends about plants, as well as their various names and Romanian folktales during my latest research. I probably ran away with it, but I found everything so interesting that I wanted to keep it for further reference – so I wrote this blog post. It is sad that, with each generation, fewer Romanians remember our rich heritage and try to keep it alive, for I am sure that we wouldn’t have had such a wealth of myths and legends if it wouldn’t have been for our ancestors, who passed it on through stories and songs when no other means of safekeeping were available.
What better way to celebrate two amazing cities, Bucharest and Paris, linked by history, culture and architecture (Bucharest was nicknamed Little Paris of the East between 1848 to 1930s) but with travel photography and a guessing game?
Opposite landmarks of Europe, these emblematic capital cities, Bucharest and Paris, have evolved from settlements dating as far back as antiquity into modern metropolis. Both built near large bodies of water, Dâmbovița and respectively Seine, Bucharest and Paris have survived through revolutions, world wars and have seen their cobblestone streets spilled with blood, but also with champagne.
Bucharest and Paris are cities that represent an entire world, where everyone can discover something to connect with, something of interest… be it listening to the romantic tunes of the accordions and living la vie en rose at the vaudeville or at the opera… strolling along their streets (Paris, City of Light, or Bucharest, the first city in the world that introduced gas lighting in 1857)… Paris, the gateway to France, or Bucharest, the gateway between the Tsars and the Ottoman Empire of the east and the Christian kingdoms of the west – ever since Vlad Țepeș, “Lord and ruler over all of Wallachia, and the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș” (Vlad III, Vlad Dracula) first mentioned his new fortress of Bucharest as his “princely residence” on 20 September 1459 (Curtea Veche, the Old Princely Court today).
Bucharest or Paris? Travel Photography and a Guessing Game – are you ready?
First look at the photos below and take your guess, Bucharest or Paris, then scroll with your mouse over the image to discover if you were right.
Wishing my French readers Joyeux 14 juillet! Happy Bastille Day!
If you enjoy books set in exotic locations have a look at my two novels below, one set in Simon’s Town, at a Naval Base during WW2, and one in Afghanistan, during the ongoing war:
Celebrate with me Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for and its 1 year anniversary from its publishing debut on Amazon. Looking at war from the perspective of all those sucked into it, civilians, soldiers, military working dogs, MWD, and eve belligerents, Silent Heroes is a narrative about the value of life and the necessity of combat; the terror of dying; the ordeal of seeing your loved ones and your platoon-mates killed in front of your eyes; the trauma of taking a human life.
“What I tried to convey through Silent Heroes is that all those impacted by war are, at the end of a fighting day, human being with dreams and families. A war’s consequences, like the shadow of a nightmare, reach far beyond the battlefield. Perhaps being a woman that writes about war I couldn’t ignore my inner voice speaking for the daughter, the wife, and the mother in me.”
On the book itself and on how it came to be, read below.
Green are the leaves that grow between birds Outside my window, playing hide and seek with the sky. And green are the last of my vineyard’s hopes too, Among rusty leaves, the last of a summer of grapes.
Green are my thoughts, the ones you see through my eyes – Is my soul green? I surely hope it still is. And green are the thoughts I keep in my heart, For they are not ripe-green yet.
For green is good, I think, As long as aplenty green things there are. The singular green frightens me, envious and cold, Therefore green is good in a bunch.
For green were the seas of my childhood tales Of maidens who could and princes who dared, a tad. And green were my teen years, When I thought I could do it all, like them.
Green are the spines on my bookshelves now, And a magic green pencil lays on my desk For the times inspiration fails me, I pick it and its energy handwrites me new tales.
Green are my hopes that end one more decade, And I think that’s pretty cool too. For green speaks of more springs to come, Of harvests of hopes, and a future in green.
If you enjoyed ‘Green Are… Poem and Photography from my Garden’ you might also like to read:
Garlic is deeply rooted in Romanian cuisine but also in Romanian folklore where it is include in numerous rituals mostly due to its heath benefits; it is almost considered magical.
Give me Garlic on Sântandrei, Saint Andrei – 30 November
Sântandrei is a major celebration that involves lots of garlic. Saint Andrei is also the Patron Saint of Romania, observed on the 30th of November.
In case you didn’t know already… garlic is believed to have healing and protective powers. For this reason alone Romanian folktales call it ai (usturoi is named so when used in culinary situations), or the wild garlic, samuraslă.
So on Saint Andrei it is advised to hang garlic, ai, at window, doors, on the eaves of the house, and don’t forget the stables to protect the horses and the cattle against any evil spirits, strigoi and moroi. But do hang the garlic strings so that they form a cross.
In Romanian folklore it is said that God Himself named the garlic ai, because it is a sacred plant.
MUILLA, ALLIUM and an anagram
The flowers from the Muilla genus, although lilies, have flowers quite similar to those of Allium, the onion genus. Just judge by yourselves:
But garlic, aiul, although considered sacred, due to its religious connotations, as well as having magical powers cannot be eaten all year round. For example it is advised not to eat garlic ahead of 29 August (29 Gustar) when Christianity observes the Beheading of John the Baptist, and before 14 September (14 Rapciune), The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
In Romanian folklore garlic has a head and a cross
In Romanian folklore the garlic, usturoi, is seen as a human been, with a head (capde usturoi, as we call the garlic bulb), a cross, it is dressed in clothes (the many layers of skin one must peel), and the garlic cloves are called catei (puppies).
If you clean the garlic and throw its skin in the fire, make sure they don’t fall on the ground. It would be a shame, the garlic is from God.
Interesting is that Hindu and Islamic traditions also mention garlic in a reverence way.
The Romanian Legend of How Garlic Got its Name
Legend says that Saint Peter wished to rise to the sky, to Heavens. But a magpie was watching him and whenever he tried, the magpie would announce rascal Satan.
Now, before this string of events humans had perfectly flat feet. Yet whenever the magpie would chirps to announce Satan that Saint Peter wishes to rise to Heavens, the horned scoundrel would jump right away and catch Saint Peter by his feet, digging into them with his bony, sharp fingers and pulling out bits of meat.
Saint Peter, in agony, would have called ‘ai‘ towards Heavens, instead of ‘ouch’. And God would answer: ‘quiet, Peter, for ai would also be good for something’.
And since then humans have a curvature in the soles of their feet.
In parts of rural Romania snowdrops are nicknamed little garlic and seen as sacred and mysterious, much like the garlic itself.
Călușarii and the Garlic on the Flag
Călușarii are the members of a Romanian secret society who practice a ritual acrobatic dances with mystical connotations known as the căluș (little horse, pony). Romanian historian and writer Mircea Eliade, described the Călușari for “their ability to create the impression of flying in the air” believed to represented the galloping of a horse and the dancing of the fairies – their patron saint being “Queen of the Fairies” Doamna Zînelor.
Fascinating is the Călușarii‘s flag: the pole is three meters tall and at one end there is tied a white cloth, preferably hand stitched, garlic and mug-wort (for their healing powers). The pole is held by only one of the dancers and can never touch the ground during the dance. The dancers also tie garlic and mug-wort at their waist.
Romanian Folktales often mention local fairies, good or bad. To increase their power they performed various practices at certain times of the year, such as dancing naked on the field on the night of Saint George, 23 April, to absorb earth’ energy and later pour it into their own fields.
Only that no mortal can see them.
Unless they perform this spell.
You must catch a snake, cut his head with a silver coin and stick a garlic in his mouth. The the snake’s head thus prepared you must bury it under your door’s frame.
If you eat that garlic or take it with you , then only will you be able to see the fairies dancing naked on the night of Saint George.
No wonder that vampires are afraid of garlic.
Garlic’s strange powers
It is said that if you wish to attract a snake… you should rub a clove of garlic on your shoes or legs. Snakes love its pungent scent.
Please, do wear a head of garlic tied to your belt or as a decoration on your hat 😉 on Pentecost Day, Rusalii or Cincizecime, celebrated by Christianity on 31st May, for protection against the mean Ielele (charmstresses, women of forests and waters with magic powers living in Romanian woods).
Westerners, mostly, do believe that garlic warns off vampires – that’s why you see them wearing fashionable garlic necklaces or discover that they asked house decorators for advice on modern garlic decor items to hang above the entrance door or around the chimney.
Something I wouldn’t advice anyone to follow – is the recipe requiring garlic and a strong liquor for the woman who wants to have a baby… Place nine cloves of garlic in half a liter of liquor. Let it sit for nine days in a warm place, preferably near a source of heat. And then, start drinking it…
Did you know that, when garlic is crushed, it releases allicin (an organosulfur compound), similar to penicillin? If only Outlander’s Claire Fraser would have known this…
If basil inspires love and frankincense scares the devil, then the garlic is the best shield against vampires and diseases. These three powerful weapons united under the power of God almighty form a defense shield that no enemy can penetrate. Armed with these three shields no soul must be ever scared, but know that at midnight he can walk alone anywhere, over the fields or through the forests, and no matter what enemy he will encounter, it will not have the power to harm him.
Patricia Furstenberg, High Country (Work in progress)
And if you do love garlic in your food, know that it will protect you against blood-sucking… mosquitoes.
‘Frasier” has to be one of my all time favorite TV comedy shows, with Marty Crane and his best friend Eddie the dog (a Jack Russell Terrier) my favorite characters.
In the episode 14 of season 11, aptly titled Freudian Sleep, Marty gives us a jazzy rendition of The Sunny Side of the Street. I love this part, and Marty Crane confines in us with his life motto:
“I focus on what’s good about my life.”
Martin Crane, Frasier
On the Sunny Side of the Street with Marty Crane in Frasier
Here are the lyrics:
“Walked with no one and talked with no one And I had nothing but shadows Then one morning you passed And I brightened at last Now I greet the day and complete the day With the sun in my heart All my worry blew away When you taught me how to say
Grab your coat and get your hat Leave your worry on the doorstep Just direct your feet To the sunny side of the street Can’t you hear a pitter-pat? And that happy tune is your step Life can be so sweet On the sunny side of the streetI used to walk in the shade With those blues on parade But I’m not afraid This Rover crossed overIf I never have a cent I’d be rich as Rockefeller Gold dust at my feet On the sunny side of the street Grab your street
I hope you enjoyed On the Sunny Side of the Street with talented John Mahoney as Marty Crane in Frasier. and if you found yourself humming the tune and trying a few steps of dance, even better! and, yes, Martin Crane loved the music of Frank Sinatra!
The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .