Village vacancies



They don’t make idiots like they used to. Once upon a long, long ago, in the late 1400s, an idiot was an ordinary person who lacked an education, someone without professional training, a layman in the church, or simply a private person. Clearly, idiocy was nothing to be ashamed of, and during the day the word hobnobbed with people like the author of the alliterative, allegorical poem Piers Plowman (who may or may not have been William Langland) and John Wycliffe who along with others translated the Bible into Middle English.


After a hard day of being charitable, however, the word would head to the nearest pub, have a few pints, and start calling everyone in sight a fool. That’s how Chaucer uses the word in the Wife of Bath’s prologue in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer and others used the word idiot both in this sense and in the sense of being mentally challenged. These three meanings were used concurrently until the end of the 17th century when the kinder meaning moved out of town. From that time on, the number of self-proclaimed idiots decreased dramatically, until the advent of the Internet and YouTube.


From the beginning, the word worked as both noun and adjective. The highly quotable Victorian poet, Lord Tennyson, verbified it in the phrase “Much befool’d and idioted.” I rather like it as a verb because it expresses the feeling I get from my fellow-drivers who have an inordinate interest in my bumper and try to inspect it while traveling 60 mph or who pull in front of me, curious to know whether or not my brakes still work. After any time on the road, I come home feeling idioted out.


I don’t consider myself an idiot driver; my skills in idiocy lie more in the why-did-I-wait-until-now-to-do-what-is-due-today type of situation, or the you-already-know-what-your-foot-tastes-like-so-why-do-you-keep-putting-it-in-your-mouth situation. Plenty of people have these problems, but the wise ones keep quiet about them. The others, like me, create blogs and wander around the Internet village broadcasting their idiocy. I am a private person by nature and back in the Middle Ages would probably have been called an idiot by my friends. At this point in my life I am advancing beyond my own middle age, wandering around the Internet village, unashamed, speaking to strangers and telling my secrets. Every village needs an idiot or two, and I’m here to fill the vacancy.



Addendum: No Comment


As a blogger, I’ve never wanted to be one of those drive-by likers, the ones who visit hundreds of blogs per day, indiscriminately liking posts in the hopes of getting liked back. I don’t always comment on posts that I like, but I occasionally try to write something that is spelled correctly, even if it doesn’t make sense.


These days, however, WordPress (which is easily flummoxed by what I write and thinks you will be too) will not let me comment when I want to. Over half of the comments I try to post are denied. I get the message that you see below.

 Sorry, this comment could not be posted.

If you are a blogger, you probably consider this good news. But I warn you, no system is idiot-proof. I will find a way to comment and flummox you again. Only because I think it’s good for you and helps build character.



Love in the time of garlic


The picture of Saint Valentine, patron of lovers, depicts him with birds at his feet and roses at his side. Geoffrey Chaucer is responsible for the birds. People in the Middle Ages believed that birds chose their mates in the middle of February. In his Parliament of Foules, Chaucer wrote: “For this was on seynt Valentynes day/ Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make” (309/310). The spelling looks remarkably like that found in modern text messages and e-mails. To comfort myself at night, I tell myself that young people are not bad spellers, they are merely returning to Middle English, the language of Chaucer.


We can hold the Greeks and Romans responsible for the roses at Saint Valentine’s side because like Chaucer they are not here to defend themselves. Many of their stories about the god of love, Eros to the Greeks, Cupid to the Romans, included roses.


If I could embellish the saint’s picture, I would have him hold a box of dark chocolates in his right hand and next to the roses plant some stinking roses, an affectionate name for garlic. For me, love isn’t love if it doesn’t smell of garlic.


Part of the attraction between my husband and me is the love of garlic. For our anniversary a few years ago, we bought one another garlic presses. He was traveling and had to spend several months living on his own. How could I send him out into the world without a garlic press? The one we had at the time was old, so we went to a kitchen specialty store and shopped together. He looked over the presses and chose a conventional one that crushes the garlic, while I dithered over the deluxe model that could crush or slice, even at the same time! In spite of the high cost, he bought it for me. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

No matter how you slice it, this garlic press proves my husband has a crush on me.

Over the years we have met people who do not or cannot eat garlic. We understand those who cannot eat garlic, but not those who choose not to. We will still love you if you don’t eat garlic, but we will probably talk about you behind your back.


“Gert is coming over for dinner, honey, so we can’t use any garlic.”


Look of consternation. “Does she have a doctor’s note?”


Look of surprise. “You know I forgot to ask. She looks so honest, and she said it upsets her stomach.”


Later that day on the phone. “Hi, Gert. About your allergy to garlic. My husband and I were wondering, do you have any kind of documentation? It’s not necessary, of course, but if you have some, we would really like you to bring it with you tonight when you come over for dinner.”


Tonight, in honor of St. Valentine and his name, which comes from the Latin valens meaning strong, powerful, and healthy, I plan to make something strong, powerful, and healthy: Death by Garlic pasta. You can find a number of recipes online, but go here to find a simple one that uses 10 cloves of garlic. If that sounds too wimpy, or you have a fear of vampires, or you are feeling particularly romantic, you can double the amount of garlic and fall in love twice as hard. Otherwise, just cut a clove of garlic and rub it behind your ears and on your pulse points. If your husband is anything like mine, he will do anything you say.


If you are still wondering what to buy your loved one for this special day, remember that while flowers and chocolates are always welcome, nothing says Valentine’s Day like the fine bouquet of the stinking rose.