Lesson #17: A History of New Year’s

I’m cheating really, because a. at the time this was posted, I was at London’s Gatwick airport, not at my computer and b. I learned it yesterday. But it’s interesting, so here you go. I’m not going to do any research into this or re-write any of this information because I don’t have the time. I have to thank a college friend who is now living in Israel for posting this on Facebook yesterday.

For a very interesting history of New Year’s Eve, check out this article that first appeared in U.S. News and World Report in 1996.

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Lesson #16: Hockey Canada

Since technically speaking this blog doesn’t take effect until Friday, I don’t really feel too badly* about having missed the last two days. In my defence, I was driving all day on Monday and flying all day yesterday. And since I’m off to Budapest tomorrow morning for a week with some friends, there will likely be a very long post when I get back on the 7th with seven things I learned. They’ll probably be bullet pointed. And related to Hungary and Budapest. Just so you know.

Anyway, in honour of Hockey Canada releasing the Olympic roster for Vancouver today, which includes my favourite player, Jarome Iginla**, here’s a bit of Canada’s hockey history.

International record: 839-410-123

First international competition: 10 January 1910 against Switzerland at Les Avants, CH, an 8-1 victory.

Biggest win: A 47-0 drubbing of Denmark on 12 February, 1949 in Stockholm.

Biggest defeat: An 11-1 loss to the Soviet Union on 24 April, 1977 in Vienna.

Team Canada has made 20 Olympic appearances, the first in 1920, and won 7 golds, most recently in 2002, 4 silvers and 2 bronze medals. They have shown 67 times in the IIHF since 1920 and won 18 gold medals, most recently in 2007, 13 silver, their two most recent in overtime losses to Russia in the gold medal game of the World Championships in 2008 and 2009, and 9 bronze, the most recent of which was in 1995. They are also the current holders of the World Cup of Hockey (formerly the Canada Cup) title, which was last played in 2004 and will be played again in 2011, so don’t ask me about the regularity of it.***

*Completely unrelated, every time I write the word badly with the verb to feel I think of the movie Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (which is absolutely hilarious and hugely underrated).

**He’s not got the speed and finesse of a lot of the players in the NHL, but he always plays hard, he’s never dirty, he’s always among the league leaders in points and he isn’t afraid to drop his gloves. You can’t hate a guy who’s down for a few Gordie Howe Hat Tricks. Plus he donates money to charity for every goal he scores. You can’t hate that either.

***All of this can be found here.

Lesson #15: Screech

Newfoundland screech, not the Saved by the Bell character. Just so we’re clear. And lest you think from my previous post about the towns of Fogo, Twillingate, Moreton’s Harbour and Bonavista and my undying love for Great Big Sea that I’m secretly a Newfie, you are mistaken.

Also, no apologies for the lack of post yesterday. It was a family affair…cousins in from Vancouver and Montreal, aunt and uncle in from Kingston, grandparents in from Toronto, my brother and sister-in-law in from Boston…there was a lot going on. Whatever I learned has since slipped my mind.

Back to the screech…you know, because family gatherings almost certainly require booze.

Newfoundland screech was — before it fell subject to the liquor control board regulations — a version of overproofed rum that was made from reusing the rum/molasses casks brought back from the West Indies back in the days when the triangle trade was in full swing and salt cod was a major export for the province*. The casks built up a sweet residue which was dissolved into with water and then either fermented or mixed with grain alcohol. “Screech” as it exists under the control of the liquor control people can be bought throughout Canada (and according to Wikipedia in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont), but it is likely that most anyone who has ever had real screech (of not-so-legal variety) would find calling that which can be bought in liquor stores by the same name preposterous.**

The story behind why this not-so-much-legal rum was called screech is urban myth at its finest involving Americans (which figures) trying to knock back some booze like their Newfie hosts and failing (unsurprisingly) at sucking back overproofed, less-than-legal rum like they’d been drinking it all their lives, but the why falls outside of my interest, to be honest, so you can read about the tender guts of American sailors — if you want to believe that — here if you’d like.

*At the time, Newfoundland was a colony, not a province.

**More information here and here.

Lesson #14: Cadaver Effigies and Jane Austen Are Not as Unrelated as You Think

While trying to find information on something wholly unrelated (and failing at everything but learning the name of a long-dead bishop/scholar*), I discovered by accident that Jane Austen is interred in Winchester Cathedral in Winchester, England. People more well-read than I probably knew that; I suppose it’s not a secret. Then again, I’ve never been much of a Jane Austen fan. Mr. Darcy does nothing for me. I’m a philistine, I know — though I prefer to think of it as being a non-romantic.

An interesting post by the Jane Austen Society of Australia on why a (then) relative unknown is buried in the cathedral with Anglo-Saxon kings and medieval bishops can be found here.

*Dear internet, you are not the magical tool I thought you were. If you can teach me about astrophysics, why can’t I learn what is in the hand of the cadaver effigy of Richard Fox?

Lesson #13: Greyhounds and the Bible

There are 40 references to dogs in the Bible. So say people who have counted. Another, less reliable source I found, which I won’t cite because it’s not credible says there are 44 including 35 references in the Old Testament and 9 (fairly obviously, one would think) in the New Testament. I leave it to you to verify this information. Beware: not all of these references are nice. In fact, most of them refer to dogs in negative ways. 

There is some debate as to whether or not the greyhound is mentioned specifically, although in the King James version of the Bible, the translation from the Hebrew is to greyhound. However, most scholars agree that the Hebrew translation of zarzir is, in fact, “girt in the loins” and it should thusly be noted that greyhounds were popular in the court of King James (16th century).* In more recent versions, the word that appears is rooster or cock, but many cite the meaning of the Hebrew as uncertain.

The King James version of Proverbs 30:29-31 reads, “There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.”

The New Revised Standard edition of Proverbs 30:29-31 reads, “Three things are stately in their stride; four are stately in their gait: the lion, which is mightiest among wild animals and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the he-goat, and a king striding before his people.”

*More information on this can be found here and here.

Lesson #12: Calling Cards

The next two weeks worth of posts will be fairly brief. In some cases, there may not even be research attached because at the moment I am in New York spending Christmas with my family and that will be followed by a week of gallavanting about Budapest with some friends for New Year’s. Some days, there won’t even be posts. I’ll have to catch it up with posts on multiple subjects…likely wholly unrelated.

You know, because that’s how I roll.

Anyway, my parents have this stand that has, for all my life, held plants. At the moment, it’s holding up a very flowery Christmas cactus. It’s strange looking (in a stand like way) and I never really knew what it was for until my grandparents showed up this afternoon and my grandfather commented on it. It had been his great aunt’s and when she died her possessions had been split up. How my parents came to have it is still a mystery. But that’s not the point. The point is, this plant stand is actually…a calling card stand from way back when people had calling cards instead of cell phones. Or telephones at all, really.

So my research is really less research and more listening to my grandfather explain that in Victorian times upper and middle class homes would have a servant to answer the door and when the occupants were not at home, or not taking visitors, the person at the door would leave a calling card to let the person(s) know that he had been there and/or allow for the resident to screen guests. I had always just assumed that calling card trays were just trays that sat on a side table (and they often are, to be fair) but apparently there were also stands for such things. I’ll get around to taking a picture at some point…

Lesson #11: Wild Blue Yonder

By Wild Blue Yonder, I mean the crayon colour, not the US Air Force. Let’s be honest, the crayon colour is blue-grey, but they have retired the name in favour of, well, Wild Blue Yonder.

I am not fooled, Crayola!

Two quick tidbits about crayons: 1. By the age of 10, the average child will have worn down 730 crayons.* 2. According to a study done by Yale University sometime before November of 1999**, crayons are the 18th most recognizable scent to American adults.

About crayons: As we know them, crayons were invented by Crayola and are made of paraffin wax, but the first modern crayons, however, were made of charcoal and oil and have their roots in Europe. Crayola emerged as a result of teachers whinging about the quality of slate chalk in the US and the coinciding rise of wax crate and barrel markers being used in warehouses. Chemists decided that adapting the pigmentation of the (then only black) wax crayons used in warehouses would probably result in fun coloured things to draw with and…ta-da! Wax crayons!  There was the minor detail of making the pigment non-toxic before they could be marketed to children, but science prevailed and in 1903 Crayola’s 8 pack was introduced at 5 cents/pack. Today, Crayola markets 120 colours, including “23 reds, 20 greens, 19 blues, 16 purples, 14 oranges, 11 browns, 8 yellows, 2 grays, 2 blacks, 2 coppers, 1 silver, 1 white and 1 gold.”*** Nearly 3 billion Crayola crayons are produced every year.

*If by “worn down” they also mean eaten, stepped on, let melt and/or used as a projectile, I believe that.

**I can’t find the study, but there’s a fantastic article about crayons (including how they’re made) in the November 1999 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, which can be accessed here.

***As always, quoted text and more information can be found here. In this case you’re going to have to do a little digging because the file opens in Word. On the right sidebar, under the “About Crayola” section there’s the link to the History of Crayons. If you want to do more reading, go there. Honestly, though, the Smithsonian article is better reading.