I realize it’s been two weeks since I put anything up – a good long time but not a record absence during the eleven years that I’ve been posting on Willy Or Won’t He. Over that time I’ve made some 2,264 entries covering a wide range of topics on everything from soup to nuts (and I mean that literally). At times the posts have almost written themselves – the ideas, words, and photos have come easily. Other times it’s been more a chore than anything with things entering into the world, like Richard the Third, “half-made up”, thrown into the trash, or left to one side for the Never Never Land of later. My draft folder contains 91 “what seemed like good ideas at the time” items. Looking back at more than a few of them I have that “what the hell was I thinking?” reaction.
The last few weeks I’ve been of a mind with my dear friend the good doctor over at Spo Reflections: I find that the inspiration hasn’t been coming and that life had reached the point where the time – and the will – just wasn’t there. We have had visitors on a fairly regular basis – strangely more in September than during the entire summer; there was a four day conference on musical theatre in Canada that took up almost a week; and the benefit fundraiser for the PEI Symphony Orchestra has been prime in our thoughts and efforts.
The visitors have all been more than welcome ones – friends that I haven’t seen in a long while and in two cases bringing with them new friends that it has been a pleasure to meet. The conference was a good one with a fascinating regional musical, workshops of three new musicals, a world premiere, discussions and the opportunity to see some of Canadian’s finest musical theatre performers at work. And I’m glad to say that the benefit appears to have been a success if not exactly the big fundraiser we were looking for. Again it was an opportunity to see some established and emerging performers proving the wealth of talent here on the Island.
However now things are a little quieter and as has the good doctor Spo after contemplating calling it a day for this blog thingy I pick up pen – figuratively – hone my Photoshopping skills and plunge in. Perhaps not as frequently and with such fervour that I will be posting every day but enough that a few of you will continue to click to see what’s happening in my fevered brain and in our little corner of the universe.
During the four years we spent in Rome (August 2007 – July 2011) I ended each post with the name of the Saint who was being commemorated by Big Ben and the boys across the Tiber. On Tuesday past my friend Richard mentioned that it was the day of a Saint who’s name I found lacking on any of my postings for August 22: Saint Guinefort. It appears the only Saint I ever honour on that day was Santa Maria Regina. And a check for a Saint Guinefort turned up nothing – but foolish me I was using a list of “recognized Saints” and for some reason Guinefort had never received the official approval of Holy Mother Church.
Why you might ask? While I found his actions saintly in the extreme – particularly when compared with a few of the more recent hastily canonized lot – the gang across the Tiber did not agree. It appears they had a problem with Guinefort. The only problem I can see is that he was … well… a dog. No I don’t mean his character was cadish or bad, I mean he was a dog – Canis lupus familiaris – your average household hound!
According to the Golden Legend during a time when the Black Death was stalking the cities and towns in the North of the Italian peninsula St Roch tended to the sick and the dying. While in the town of Piacenza he fell ill of the pestilence and was driven into the wilderness by the local authorities. When all others had forsaken him his faithful dog Guinefort brought him food every day until he recovered. The dog, a splendid greyhound, followed Roch when he returned to his hometown of Montpellier. Upon the death of the Saint the hound found his way into the household of a noble family near Neuville in the Dombes region.
Shortly thereafter the Dame of the house was delivered of a beautiful baby boy who was much treasured by his dotting parents. Guinefort proved as devoted to the newborn as he had been to his beloved Saint and guarded the boy faithfully.
One day the Lord was called to the village on business and his lady went with him to distribute alms amongst the poor. The baby was left under the care of the wet nurse and the watchful eye of Guinefort. The nurse fell asleep but was awakened by a dreadful noise – to her horror the cradle was overturned, the infant missing, and Guinefort and the room were smeared with blood. The horrified woman began screaming that the dog had devoured the child. The returning Lord and Lady were greeted first by the wailing Nurse then by an unimaginable scene: an upended empty cradle, walls and floor spattered with gore, and a howling hound blood dripping from his jaws. Believing that indeed Guinefort had eaten his only child the good man drew his sword and slew the hound. As the dog gave his dying yelp it was answered by an infant yowl. There under the cradle was the crying baby and beside it the mangled and bloody body of a viper. The slain dog’s body showed signs of many bites from the struggle proving that he had been protective of his small charge to the very end.
The remorseful Lord took the body of his faithful hound and placed it in a well, filled the well with stones and planted a grove of trees around it as a shrine to Guinefort.
The local peasants, upon hearing of Guinefort’s bravery from others in the manor, began to visit the site and lay small tokens of their admiration. Eventually they began to pray to Guinefort to intercede for their own children when they were sick or in danger. Many rituals – some held over from earlier pagan times – would take place at Guinefort’s impromptu shrine.
Stephen of Bourbon, a Dominican preacher, passed through the area in the mid-13th century and observed the rituals around the veneration of Saint Guinefort. The holy brothers of the Order of Preachers were never known to honour or tolerate anything that strayed from the orthodoxy of Rome and Stephen was no exception. He saw the work of the Devil in the local tradition and is said to have had Guinefort’s body disinterred and burned, the well destroyed and the trees chopped down. Edicts declared that anyone invoking the aid of the “dog” would have all their worldly goods sold.
Other attempts were made to wipe out devotion to Guinefort when Protestant reformers held the veneration of a “dog” up as an example of the corruption and errors of the Church of Rome. The Vatican was quick to agree and again attempted to quash any practices that would give the other side ammunition.
But folk traditions are not so easily wiped out and traces of the cult could be found right up until the late 1930s. The faithful of the region had fashioned a Saint and created rituals which served their immediate needs and fears. Infant death was a very real threat well into the mid-twentieth century and if praying for the intercession of a faithful hound would restore a child to health then neither the censure of Rome nor the ridicule of heretics could destroy faith in that Saint.
Myself I think I would trust more in a faithful dog having the ear of God than many of the humans who have been canonized over the last two thousand years.
On this day in 1537: The Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest surviving regiment in the British Army, and the second most senior, is formed.
Central to the iconography of Haida culture is the figure of the Raven or Yháal. A complex creature – part trickster, part benefactor he is held as the bringer of much that made up the world of Haida Gwaii including the Islands themselves. Robert Bringhurst, the writer and translator of Haida stories, acknowledges that Raven has never created anything but created the world by stealing, exchanging, redistributing, and generally moving things around. He is greedy, lecherous, and conniving; but he is also helpful and as well as releasing the first humans from their imprisonment in a cockle shell, he brought them to fresh water, salmon, lodging, and light.
Two things reminded me of the Raven today and led me to revisit the story of how the Raven stole the Sun and brought light into the world. The first was the impending solar eclipse here in North America; the second was a photograph my friend Kate posted on her Facebook page.
This stunning photo was originally posted by Aaren Purcell on her Facebook page. I am not sure if this is one she took herself but it is a stunning evocation of the Raven’s thievery.
There are many versions of the legend but the one I enjoy the most is Robert Bringhurst and Bill Reid‘s retelling in their The Raven Steals the Light, published by Douglas & McIntyre in 1984. Though there has been some controversy around Bringhurst’s work but I will leave that discussion to better minds than mine – I find this a fine telling of the story of how we were given the gift of light!
Before there was anything, before the great flood had covered the earth and receded, before the animals walked the earth or the trees covered the land or the birds flew between the trees, even before the fish and the whales and seals swam in the sea, an old man lived in a house on the bank of a river with his only child, a daughter. Whether she was as beautiful as hemlock fronds against the spring sky at sunrise or as ugly as a sea slug doesn’t really matter very much to this story, which takes place mainly in the dark.
Because at that time the whole world was dark. Inky, pitchy, all-consuming dark, blacker than a thousand stormy winter midnights, blacker than anything anywhere has been since.
A right click on Bill Reid’s beautiful illustration will reveal how that dark was dispelled when the Raven stole the Sun.
In some versions of the story the Raven had white feathers but when he flew through the smoke hole of the old man’s dwelling the soot turned his feathers black and as a reminder of his trickery they have remained so to this day.
On this day in 1911: The Mona Lisa is stolen by, Vincenzo Perugia, a Louvre employee.
Since we’re on a bit of a Canadian kick this week – it is after all the 150th birthday of our country – I thought I’d delve into the linguistics of our home and native land. No I don’t mean the French-English thing I mean an idiom that every comedian – particularly non-Canadians – seems to think is hysterically funny. Those two little letters that has come to define a Canadian accent for the world though I myself have seldom heard it used and never use it myself.
Again we have to thank the CBC for enlightenment (even though I am pedantic enough to note that though Oliver Goldsmith was Anglo-Irish She Stoops to Conquer hardly qualifies as an “Irish” play) and entertainment, and my friend Cathy for bringing this little video to my attention. She a fine lady, eh?
On this day in 1534: Jacques Cartier is the first European to reach Prince Edward Island.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown