Saturday, March 26, 2005

More about Good Friday, this time about everybody's favorite Biblical hand-wringer, Pontius Pilate. In fact I think this would make a pretty good feature: "Where Are They Now?" on characters in the Bible. According to specious sources, after the Jesus episode Pilate
was exiled to Gaul and eventually committed suicide there, in Vienne.... His body, says the Mors Pilati ('Death of Pilate') was thrown first into the Tiber, but the waters were so disturbed by evil spirits that the body was taken to Vienne and sunk in the Rhone: a monument at Vienne, called Pilate's tomb, is still to be seen. As the waters of the Rhone likewise rejected Pilate's corpse, it was again removed and sunk in the lake at Lausanne. Its final disposition was in a deep and lonely mountain tarn, which, according to later tradition, was on a mountain, still called Pilatus (actually pileatus or 'cloud-capped'), close to Lucerne. Every Good Friday the body re-emerges from the waters and washes its hands. There are many other legends about Pilate in the folklore of Germany, and his death was (unusually) dramatized in a medieval mystery play cycle from Cornwall, the Cornish Ordinalia.
It's hard to say which is my favorite fictionalized Pontius Pilate: The one in The Master and Margarita who suffers from awful migraines, or the one played by David Bowie in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Happy Feria VI in Parasceve, or Good Friday. I know this question has been bothering you for a while, and I'm afraid the Catholic Encyclopedia isn't much help:

The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from 'God's Friday' (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English. Sometimes, too, the day was called Long Friday by the Anglo-Saxons; so today in Denmark.
According to my simple understanding of Christian dogma, the original Good Friday was not in fact humanity's finest hour. If torturing and killing God Himself is your idea of "good," I'd hate to be around on one of your bad days.

Moving on, later in the Encyclopedia's description of the offices and sacraments of Good Friday, we come across the following:

When this [the Passion according to St. John] is finished, the celebrant sings a long series of prayers for different intentions, viz. for the Church, pope, bishop of the diocese, for the different orders in the Church, for the Roman Emperor (now omitted outside the dominions of Austria)...
Whoa there! You're saying that in Austria, they still pray for the Roman Emperor on Good Friday? That's what I thought it said, but alas, it's too good to be true: The Catholic Encyclopedia was published in 1907, when an Austrian Imperator indeed still ruled these Czech lands and many others.

Still, there's something strange here. The term "Romanorum Imperator" or "King of the Romans" was retired, once and for all, with the official dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, following the Battle of Austerlitz at what is now Slavkov near Brno in December 1805. As late as 1806, the Austrian 20 Kreuzer coin still read "FRANC.II. D.G. ROM. ET. HAER. AUST. IMP. GER. HUN. BOH. REX. A.A. D. LOTH. VEN. SAL., or something along the lines of, "Francis II, By the grace of God Emperor of the Romans And Hereditary Emperor of Austria, King of Germany, Hungary and Bohemia, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Lorraine, Venice and Salzburg."

According to my understanding, the Austrians abolished the title in part so that Napoleon could never lay his grubby little French hands on it.

So... Were Czech Catholics really still saying Easter prayers for the so-called Roman Emperor one hundred years later, when the Catholic Encyclopedia was published?

FRANK-ly, it appears so!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The other night the question arose whether Prince is indeed the author of Martika's "Toy Soldiers," the 1991 tune recently re-made by Eminem. I remember the song well, because in the summer of 1991, I was working for my dad manufacturing octagon windows in Mineola, New York. In the shop, they played one of the main New York pop stations which played that song at least twice a day. I believe it was WPLJ "Power 95"; click here to download a sound file of Power 95 from that era (requires Real Player). I was one of the only non-Portuguese people in the whole shop, and I still have a bulging vein between my thumb and index finger where I over-developed the muscle used to pill the trigger on the pressurized air guns that nailed the octagon window frames together.

Anyway, about Martika. I still don't know if Prince composed "Toy Soldiers," but in the course of my investigation I discovered the following fun factoids:

1. Debbie Gibson appears in the March 2005 issue of Playboy. (Here are the pics, if you're into that whole naked chicks thing.)

2. Martika was an extra in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Czechs in Croatia: "The town of Daruvar is the centre of the Czech minority in Croatia. The surrounding Czech villages cherish the Czech language, customs, folklore, tunes, etc. The most famous event is the Czech harvesting ceremony Obzinkove Slavnosti, held every year with the closing of harvest activities in another village."

Apparently they talk reeeaaal funny. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The free comments service I've been using, Enetation, has unexpectedly disappeared from my blog. A pity, because recently there have been a few funny comments. While waiting for them to re-appear (as I trust they will) I figured I'd give Blogger's free comments service a whirl. So if you posted something in the comments box and now you don't see any comments anywhere, that's why. Have a nice day -- it's quite lovely out.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Most people with a decent grasp of European languages know about the existence of Romansch, the unofficial "fourth language" of Switzerland. Only 70,000 people people Romansch. Odd, then, that so very few people know about Fruilian, a related language of which there are some half million native speakers in northern Italy.

Many linguists, in fact, now classify Romansch, Ladin and Friulian as dialects of a single Rhaeto-Romanic language; I don't think you'd find many who'd say, "I speak Rhaeto-Romanic," though.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

My sister bought a house in Calabria last year -- that's the toe, Calabria. I visited in late August, the time of year when people all around the Mediterranean celebrate arcane traditions connected with cults of local patron saints.

In the little town of Gioiosa Ionica, the event of the year is the Feast of San Rocco, and the tradition involves banging on snare drums and dancing around a statue for hours and hours. It's sounds prosaic, but it's actually one of the more remarkable things I've ever seen.

Calabria is tucked away at the far end of Italy, relatively untouched by tourism. Most guidebooks only devote a few pages to the region, which is perhaps best known as home of the bergamot, the citrus fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its flavor. (Fun fact: The bergamot is a finicky fruit, and thrives only within a narrow band of optimal fructification conditions. Apart from the southern end of Calabria, only the Ivory Coast can boast of any bergamot cultivation to speak of.)

My sister's house in Gioiosa is across the street from the house her husband was born in. Everybody in town knows each other and people really do yell at each other from balconies on a regular basis. It's that sort of place. The budget airline Volareweb operated a morning flight from Rome to Lamezia Terme, about an hour's drive from Gioiosa. With SmartWings's new early morning flight from Prague to Rome, this means I could have left my apartment early in the day been in Gioiosa for lunch, which is really just crazy. So crazy, in fact, that it's not true anymore, because Volareweb just went belly up. The best way to get to Gioiosa is probably an overnight train ride from Rome.

During the Feast of San Rocco, Gioiosa goes batshit crazy in an extremely audible way. San Rocco is St. Roch, the patron saint of bachelors, cholera, diseased cattle, dogs, epidemics, falsely accused people, invalids, knee problems, Orsogna Italy, Patricia Italy, plague, relief from pestilence, skin diseases, skin rashes, surgeons, tile makers... and natives of Gioiosa Ionica going batshit crazy banging on snare drums. The townspeople spend much of the entire month of August practicing for the big day. At all hours of day and night, all through August, you're likely to come across young kids practicing their rolls on the snare drum.

"Come across" -- that's not quite right. The unholy clamor fills the town and can likely be heard from space, except I doubt many satellites bother going over Calabria. It's loud as hell.

Here is a ethno-musicological explanation of what happens on Feast Day. This is one of the web's only references to the Gioiosa tradition:

[T]he prerogative of the tamburrinari consists above all in accompanying processions during summertime religious festivities, which are very common especially in the most southerly part of the region. For example, at Gioiosa Ionica (province of Reggio Calabria) on the feast of San Rocco the faithful perform votive tarantellas before the statue of the saint carried in procession accompanied by a very numerous group of tamburrinari (as many as 50-60 players).... The tarantella performed by the tamburrinari is characterised by a little-varied compound-time rhythm pattern, strongly influenced by military playing practice (see Ex. 2).

Here's Ex. 2:

In more colloquial terms: Feast Day starts when the locals carry the statue of San Rocco out of the church on the hill and down to the piazza in the center of town. The entire town turns into an open-air market with the statue at the center of the revelry. Everybody's out, everybody from all over. All day long, the men of the town bang out this rhythm on snare drums and bass drums. Did I mention it's loud?

At sundown, they pack themselves onto the road back up to the church, and carry the saint back up to the church. People are struggling to reach the statue to touch it. Many people leave baby clothes as an offering to the saint. Yes, baby clothes. When the statue finally reaches the church -- given the crowds, this is an impressive feat by itself -- they turn the statue around so it faces the square in front of the church. Some dude that gets up on the statue's pedastal, and people start passing babies to him. Yes, babies. The guy takes the kids' clothes off and gives them to the saint. He holds the screaming child up to the saint so that Saint Roch (patron saint of bachelors, cholera, diseased cattle, dogs, epidemics, falsely accused people...) can give it a good luck smooch. I have not made any of this up.

The festical ends with fireworks.

UPDATE: Of course I meant to write, "The festival ends with fireworks," but that word "festical" is funny enough to leave as is.
In the extremeties of Italy -- in the heel and at the tip of the toe -- there are people speaking a Greek-like language called Griko.