Monday, 21 October 2019

Je ne comprends pas!

The other day I attended a business conference in another town. The meeting was open to people from various organisations from many different countries, so there were plenty of people I had never met before.

I was standing in this large area with my briefcase at my feet enjoying a cup of coffee when this very attractive brunette lady wearing a very low cut black décolleté dress a few sizes too short approached me and started talking in Greek.

I couldn't understand a word she said. It was all Greek to me, as they say. I knew she spoke in Greek because a distant aunt of mine (she lives 300 miles away) is Greek and I could make out the language even though I could not understand what this young lady was saying.

I regretted not having my dictionary with me at the time. Not that it would have helped. It's an Italian dictionary. I like to carry it with me to impress the waiters in restaurants when I order a meal. I once ordered a whole meal in Italian and the waiter did not understand a word. It was a Chinese restaurant. But I digress.

Anyway, this young lady was enthusiastic about something or other and she talked fast in her native Greek and smiled a lot.

My mind went back to the many times I visited my aunt and I tried to remember some of the Greek words I had heard in her household. Words like youvarlakia, avgolemono, dolmades and baklava.

But I could hardly spout them out incoherently just because they were in Greek. Besides, they mean meat balls, chicken and lemon soup, stuffed vine leaves and a pastry sweet with syrup. Can you imagine a woman speaking to me in Greek and I reply "meatballs!" She'd think I was insulting her and not believing a word she is saying.

Try as I might to look blankly at her and saying politely, "Yo no hablo español !!!" she still continued smiling and speaking in Greek without as much as taking a breath.

I then remembered the famous Voltaire quote and said, "I may not understand a word you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to confuse me!"

She stopped for a while, perhaps wondering why I replied in English, then continued speaking to me in Greek as if nothing had happened.

It was then I remembered another phrase which my dear aunt used to say, time and again, to her daughter. I repeated it silently in my head once or twice to get the intonation and the pronunciation right and then, taking a deep breath, I said, "I foústa sas eínai polý mikrí ..."

The woman stopped abruptly and then slapped me in the face. She then turned round and walked away and vanished in the crowd of people in the conference room.

I just about managed to hold on to my cup of coffee and save it from crashing to the floor. I tried to compose myself and look as if nothing had happened, hoping that no one noticed me.

It was then that a man approached me and asked me, "Why did you tell her 'Your skirt is too short?' "  


Sunday, 20 October 2019

Closed For Candles

It was just before 10 o’clock in the morning, early Mass had long been over and everyone had left. The church was empty, or so Father Ignatius thought. He came out of the Sacristy to spend a few minutes with the Virgin Mary, sitting on the front pew reciting his Rosary as usual, when he noticed a young man sitting in his place. He was wearing a very smart dark suit and had a small business case with him lying beside him on the pew.

Father Ignatius nodded a greeting and sat on the other side of the church, by St Joseph’s statue, for a change. He thought it prudent to give the young man some privacy to pray or meditate. He’d never seen him before, “not one of our regulars,” thought the priest as he started his prayers.

A few minutes later the young man got up and made his way towards the priest.

“Do you work here?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yes … I am the priest here, they call me Ignatius. At least to my face, that is,” joked the priest standing up.

“I saw a book at the back about Catholic Saints. May I purchase it please?”

“Oh, you’re welcome to it … it’s free. Please help yourself to any leaflets or pamphlets on the table at the back,” replied Father Ignatius.

“I am not from this side of town,” continued the young man, “I’m here for a job interview at the factory down the road. I was surprised to find the church open at this hour. Where I live they are always closed.”

“It’s the devil’s finest hour when we lock our churches,” replied Father Ignatius, “we try to leave the door open as much as we can around here .”

“It’s a shame that so many churches are closed during the middle of the day … I like to go from time to time and just sit there … it helps me to think … and pray perhaps … you know, before my interview. I really need this job.”

“I wish you well … and I shall pray for you too.”

  “All these statues of Jesus and the Saints have candles lit besides them. I’m not Catholic and I never understood the purpose of candles … do you believe they help get your intentions attended to … you know, if I lit a candle for this job I need?” asked the young man hesitantly.

The priest sat down and so did the young man. “Ah … I’ve been asked this so many times … the statues are of course inanimate objects just to help us envisage what Jesus or the Saints looked like. Just like having a photo of a loved one in your wallet. A helpful reminder every time you look at it …

“Some people consider it wrong to pray or light candles to statues. I understand that sentiment. But it’s important to understand also that we’re of course praying to Jesus or a Saint and certainly not to the statue we see there.

“It’s also important to understand that Jesus or the Saints do not require anything material from us … they don’t need candles lit … flowers put in vases or any such things …

“Lighting a candle is for many people a sign of love and respect. Their way of veneration … an expression of their Faith.

“So the answer is no … a candle will not help get you a job at the factory or anything else for that matter.

“I’ve lit many a candle in my time. I don’t see any harm in it, as long as it is understood that it will not buy you any favours in any way.

“God does answer prayers, I’ve seen it often, but He does so according to His will and not based on candles, flowers or such like.”

“Thank you …” said the young man, “I’ll light one all the same … but no promise or guarantee intended.” he smiled.

“Should you get the job around here … I hope to see you visit us from time to time,” said Father Ignatius as he shook the young man’s hand.

It seems that this time God was willing, and the young man did get his job, because Father Ignatius saw him sitting at the back of the church at midday Mass on several occasions since.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Sapristi Alors!

Our church has one of those huge baptismal fonts made of stone or concrete or such like material. Why it’s so big beats me. It’s an old church and I reckon babies in olden times must have been born really big which must have been an ordeal for their poor mothers. Either that or perhaps in olden times they put the whole baby in the font rather than just wet his head.

Anyway, that aside, it has become a habit in our church to baptize babies during Sunday Mass rather than at a private service at some other time. Just after reading the Gospel, the priest moves to one side near the font and baptises the child whilst the whole congregation witnesses and joins in the event. It’s rather nice I think.

This week Father Gaston celebrated Mass. He is a temporary priest whilst our priest is away. He is French, severe looking with a gaze that would turn you into stone before you even thought of sinning, and a monosyllabic conversation only used on rare occasions when he has something to say.

He also uses reading spectacles which he balances precariously on the end of his long aquiline nose; and looks at you from above them whilst speaking to you. I believe he looks at people from above the glasses so as not to wear out the lenses.

He stood by the font reading from his book whilst the proud parents and god-parents waited patiently as they handed the baby to each other. He was a lively little mite; the baby that is … about eight or nine months old. You could hear him gurgling and laughing throughout the church.

At the appropriate moment the mother held him on top of the font and as Father Gaston poured water on the child’s head he raised his hand out and hit the priest in the face knocking the spectacles in the font.

The priest stopped and said something in French which is not in my Missal. He then reached into the font for his glasses forgetting that his vestments had long and wide sleeves.

He withdrew his hand and put the wet glasses on. As water dripped on his face he realized his sleeve was soaking wet. He tried as best as he could, with as little dignity as remained in the situation, to squeeze the water from his sleeve back into the font. He then dried his face and glasses; and continued with the Baptism.

I felt sorry for the poor parents.

But not so much for Father Gaston.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Not swimming with dolphins

Many people like swimming with dolphins. I don't. I like to go cycling with dolphins. If we humans can learn to swim, I don't see why they can't learn to ride a bicycle.

Years ago I wanted to go on holiday and swim with dolphins; but I could not afford it. So instead I went to a foreign seaside resort and swam with sardines. As soon as they saw me they swam away thinking I was too weird to swim with them. The only thing I attracted was a jellyfish which attached itself amorously to the outside of my leg; just below the knee.

I got out of the water screaming in agony. A fat woman sitting on the sand sunbathing said, "You have to pee on it. It takes the sting away! It's the same if you are ever bitten by a shark."

How could I possibly pee on it attached to the outside of my leg? It's not as if I had an extension hose with me. Anyway, I couldn't just do it in public.

Since there was no queue volunteering to pee on me I kept on screaming instead.

A man came to my aid and suggested he buys a bottle of vinegar from the nearby fish and chips shop. He asked me for some money.

As I was only wearing my sports swimming trunks at the time, I of course had no money on me. He asked me for a credit card. I shouted in pain, "and where do you expect me to swipe it?"

He ran to the shop and brought a bottle of vinegar. As soon as he poured some on the creature it let go off my leg and shrivelled to the ground. But the leg was still stinging.

There was another man nearby selling ice cream from the back of a van. Every so often the van would play nursery rhyme tunes on the loudspeaker to attract young customers. The ice cream salesman volunteered to drive me to the hospital about a mile away. He rushed as slowly as he could playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" along the way.

At the Emergency Room the Head Nurse, who served years ago with Florence Nightmare during the Crimean War, would not let me in. "You can't come in dressed like that!" she said, pointing at my minute swimming trunks.

It's amazing isn't it, that you can be on the beach with tiniest bikini or swimming trunks and it's OK; but in a different environment it is not acceptable.

"Would you like me to take them off?" I asked, still in severe pain.

She looked me up and down once or twice and said, "No, that would be worse!"

At the reception desk the receptionist asked me for some identification to prove who I was. I told her I did not have any on me. I was on holiday and all my papers and passport were at the hotel. She insisted on some identification she could put on her computer; and she asked me how I would pay if all I had on me was my swimming trunks. I assured her I did not have my name and address tattooed on some private place to prove my identity. She still insisted.

I asked her what would happen if a patient is unconscious. She said that would be different.

So I lay on the floor, closed my eyes, and pretended to be unconscious.

Another young nurse came out of her office, took me to the treatment room and treated my leg.

I then had to take a taxi back to the beach to go to the changing room and get dressed and pay the taxi driver. It cost me a fortune.

I don't like dolphins, or sardines. The only fish I like is the one served with potato chips and tomato ketchup.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

A Load Of Old Bones


I had reason to visit our local suburban museum the other day. As I have been accused by some to being somewhat uncultured I decided to spend an hour or so looking around and educating myself in matters which will stand me in good stead in future cultured surroundings.

Here’s what I learnt:

In a large room at the museum there was a collection of various dinosaurs’ skeletons big and small with unpronounceable names such as leptospirosis and tri-cycle-steps; and they all had small labels with the dates of their various ages. One skeleton had no label so I asked the attendant in that room how old it was.

He replied with confidence, “It is 230 million years and 9 months and 3 weeks old, Sir.”

“That’s very precise,” I said in amazement.

“Yes Sir,” he said, “I have been working here for 9 months and 3 weeks and it was 230 million years old when I started.”

Now that’s something I didn’t know.

I then moved on to another room which had a lot of human skeletons and different bone parts collected from various places in the world. On a table there were two skulls – a small one and a larger one. The labels both read “Skull of Ivan Eyefull - Marco Polo’s bodyguard”.

I asked the attendant to explain and he told me that one skull belonged to the bodyguard when he was a child and the other when he was a grown man.

It was fortunate that both were found by the same archaeologist in the same excavations in the desert where Marco Polo had a picnic and his bodyguard choked on a fishbone stuck in his throat.

I was amazed at what archaeologists can learn from just a pile of bones. They must be really clever with all their knowledge and research.

The museum attendant, who had knowledge written all over him, (some jokers had done it with permanent ink), told me a story I'll never forget ... You'll probably never forget it too.

He said that an archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After opening it carefully he recognised it straight away and he phoned the curator of a prestigious natural history museum. "We've just discovered a 3,000 year old mummy of a man who died of heart failure!" 
The curator of the museum quickly sent a team to collect the mummy for thorough examination.

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. "You were right about the mummy's age and cause of death. How in the world did you know it was heart failure?"

"Simple ... there was a piece of paper in his hand that said - 'put me down for 10,000 Shekels on Goliath'."

I also discovered something else when visiting our local museum:

Statistics of marriages and divorces over the years show that archaeologists make the best spouses. The older you get the more interested they are in you.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Mah Na Mah Na

Do you remember the Muppets' song Mah Na Mah Na? Great song which you can hear here.

Well, today's post has nothing to do with the Muppets or Mah Na Mah Na; but more to do with Manet Manet. Or, to be precise Édouard Manet.

Let us study Manet's painting "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe", also known as "The Luncheon on the Grass".

The first thing I noticed when I studied this wonderful oil on canvas, (this is arty talk), is that it can't have been much of a luncheon, (or déjeuner), since there's no sight of any French Fries or chocolate milkshake anywhere. What kind of picnic is this without French Fries? You would have thought that  Manet, being French, would have had some French fries, or escargots, or frogs legs in his luncheon. But no ... all I can see is a loaf of bread on the ground and I don't know what else in the basket. I think Manet missed a trick there, but never mind.

The second thing I noticed in this painting is the subtle use of colours and the masterful brush strokes. (That's more arty talk to show you that I am learned in these things).

And finally ... I noticed that we have here a naked lady having a picnic with two fully dressed men, whilst another half naked woman is having a wash in the river in the background.

That's an odd mise en scène I said to myself. (This means scenery in French). 

I asked myself. Why do we have a naked woman sitting nonchalantly totally naked next to two men  not so nonchalantly beside her?

At first I thought that it must have been very hot that day and she needed to cool down, but then, on reflection, I started to worry about any ants or insects that may be in the "herbe" in the vicinity. What if she got bitten in all the familiar places? By the look on her face she doesn't seem to mind.

I also noticed that the two men are happily talking to each other and totally ignoring the naked lady beside them; very uncharacteristic of most men I know. I doubt I would have behaved like that if I was posing for this painting for hours on end. Unless of course I was discussing last night's game of football on TV; then I would perhaps have ignored the naked lady ... NOT!

Intrigued by all this I researched the painting a little more.

I was surprised to discover that Manet' wife Suzanne Leenhoff posed as the naked woman, although the face on the painting is that of another model. Strange this. She did not mind sitting naked next to the two men for hours on end, as long as her husband does not paint her face in the painting.

Stranger still, the men sitting beside her are Manet's brother Gustave, and his brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhoff - that is Suzanne's brother.

Talk about dysfunctional families. Would you pose naked with your close relatives sitting there fully clothed?

You can imagine the conversation as they prepared to sit for the painting.

"Hello sister, you've put on some weight lately. Never mind, Édouard will make you look good in the painting, I'm sure!"

"Why don't you two take off your clothes as well? Why just me?"

"It's a precaution, my dear ... a precaution just in case ..."

"Where are the French fries?" 

"Édouard ate them. The milkshake too!"

And there you have it friends. An expose of Manet's "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe".

Perhaps you'd like to add below snippets of conversation as you would imagine them whilst these people are posing to have their picture painted.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

I said Rubens, not Robins

You need to pay attention if you are to learn anything from my writings. This is about Rubens, and not Robins as my gardener friend thought, when he read it and was disappointed it did not mention birds.

Peter Paul Rubens lived between 1577 and 1640 and was a very famous Flemish painter of the period.

He was a prolific artist and his works were mostly religious subjects, as well as a lot of mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He also painted portraits of friends, as well as several landscapes.

Basically, you name it, and he painted it. Except of course the garden gate and fence which remained unpainted despite being told and nagged many times by his wife. Believe me, I know the feeling; I have still to paint the garage door although in my opinion it looks fine. You know how some women are? Always going on and on about the same thing. I mean, I painted the wretched garage door three years ago. Why does it need re-painting? The other day we were lying in bed, (X rated content). I leant upon her for an amourous hug. She looked up at me and said, "the ceiling needs painting again!" 

Anyway, back to Rubens. He painted on canvas, slate as well as wood it seems. In fact he painted on anything except of course the wooden gate and fence which I've already mentioned. (I can hear voices in my head saying, "Paint the garage door ... and the ceiling." - how can you switch your conscience off?)

Now one thing you'll notice about most of Rubens' paintings, (except landscapes), is that he had a special penchant, (fondness), for painting fully-rounded and plump women; hence the term "Rubensian" or "Rubenesque" to describe women of a certain size. His penchant was mainly due to the fact that he had one leg shorter than the other. Either that or he had lost one shoe.

Anyway, as I was saying until you focussed on his penchant ... none of these skinny models you see in modern magazines, for Rubens. They had to be fairly big and rotund to feature in his paintings. This is because he had a lot of flesh coloured paint to get rid off, and since no one paints gates and fences this colour he painted nudes instead.

In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife, at the age of 53, Rubens married his 16 years old niece, Hélène Fourment.

You can see her in the painting above, known as "Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap", getting out of the bath. Most people would use a towel I suppose, but there were none available that day - so a fur wrap it was. As you can see, she is no skinny lady is she?

I will refrain from mentioning her two good points; but you'll have to admit she did have dainty feet.

Can you imagine, at 16 being married to her uncle aged 53? What did she call him? Darling? Husband? Uncle? Or lunatic?

The young niece and wife inspired the voluptuous figures in Rubens paintings from 1630 onwards. The most famous of which is "The Three Graces",

I'm not sure which one is Ruben's niece, but judging from the colour of her hair I'd guess it's the woman on the left.

I can't help marvelling at how that piece of delicate cloth is wrapped round the two women and held in place by their voluptuousness.

Now I can understand a painter wishing to paint nudes, nothing wrong with that I suppose, especially if you have bought a lot of paint which you want to use up before its "sell-by" date. So, asking a few people to model for you is in this case acceptable, I guess. But to actually paint your own wife naked, and then display the painting for all to see ... Well, that's another matter.

Can you imagine him saying, as she steps out of the bath, "Hold it there, darling! Just wrap this piece of fur delicately around you, showing off your interesting bits ... Don't worry about the fur moulting. It was a mangy old dog anyway; and you can have another bath later to get rid of any fur still stuck on you. Now let me get my paint brush!"

And then displaying the finished painting is like a modern day man taking a photo of his wife naked and posting it on social media for all to see. How would you react to that if it happened to you, I wonder?

Can you imagine the conversation in the supermarket when Rubens' young wife met her friends?

"Oh ... you have put on some weight dear, judging from the painting I saw? Especially on the derrière!"

Or ...

"I liked the painting with your two good friends. At first I thought it was called "The Three Greases". It's a good painting really. You should be proud of your healthy features. Do you think your husband would paint me naked too? I have a lovely tattoo on my bottom that needs airing!"

You can add your own imagined discussions below.

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