Friday 21 April 2023

ubi et orbi (10. 688)

Mirroring efforts of the United States to disassociate Labor Day celebrations with socialism, on this day in 1923, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini directed the celebration of the founding of Rome, not observed since the times of the Empire, on the traditional anniversary of the city’s establishment in 753 BC—possibly in parallel attempts to suppress a far older fasti that also fell on this day, the Palilia dedicated to the cleansing of sheep and shepherds, to distance its newly attained cosmopolitan character from these rural and pastoral roots. With a military parade of fifty-thousand Black Shirts through the streets on a a route from the Forum to the Baths of Caracalla under the Triumphal Arch of Titus, Mussolini decreed that this holiday would replace International Workers’ Day.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

maschere a gattu (10, 580)

Via the always excellent Everlasting Blรถrt, we are directed towards a photographic tour from Alys Tomlinson of the islands of Sardinia, Sicily and the Veneto discovering and documenting the traditional costumes and masks of local festivals, particularly but not exclusively Carnival processions. Many of the most elaborate outfits are part of the parade of Aidomaggiore, in the centre of Sardinia, garb alternating from white on the Monday before Ash Wednesday to black on the last day before Lent with the Sonaggiaos bedecked with cowbells, followed by the Mumutzones dressed as traditional shepherds with a headdress of cork and animal horns in rites celebrating transhumance syncreted with religious pilgrimage.

Friday 21 October 2022

7x7 (10. 242)

lettuce rejoice: a bit of highly monitored produce outlasts the prime minister 

cincinattus: the real and fraught possibility that Boris Johnson could be brought back as the Tory leader

jazz swing and joy wheel: revisiting the playground and its antique architecture—via tmn  

hive mind: how studying the decision making approach of bumble bees can lend insights into the mechanics of human memory  

on pointe: ballet dancers caring for the tools of the trade  

not another experiment: UK opposition political parties call for a General Election 

every inch of you: a punny produce display

Thursday 14 April 2022


Known by several names throughout South and South East Asia influenced by the traditional Hindu solar calendar, this marks new year’s day. As opposed to the tropical year of the Gregorian reckoning that is based on the cycle of the seasons, the sidereal year is determined by the motion of the Sun relative to the celestial sphere, with the beginning of the new year synchronized to the Sun’s transit into the constellation of Aries (meแนฃa saแน…krฤnti—named for twin gods, the Ashvins, “Aja” and “Mesha” and the Sanskrit term signifying the act of transhumance—that is, when the livestock is brought to pasture).

Tuesday 28 December 2021

east of eden

Venerated in the Coptic Church on this day—likely as a pious correspondence between the first murder-victim and the massacre of ChildermassAbel of Genesis, the second son of Adam and Eve, was murdered by his older brother Cain after God engendered jealously in the latter by preferring Abel’s sacrifice. Respectively a farmer and a shepherd, etymologically Cain means smith as in someone who would craft a ploughshare to work the land and Abel is the English rendering of ibil, herdsman, their story is thought to be an allegory recalling the ancient clashes between traditional hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural civilisations and concepts of the commons versus private property. God punished Cain by condemning him, ironically, to wander the Earth—with no fixed abode (this Land of Nod is an abstraction, like utopia) and no possibility of release through provoking another to kill him—ostensibly encouraging him to trespass with impunity. According to some traditions, Abel was appointed the judge of the dead.

Monday 6 December 2021

schleicher's fable

Dying this day of tuberculosis in Jena in 1868, (*1821, Meiningen), linguist August Schleicher informs our contemporary views on the Indo-European (previously) family of languages and attempts to reconstruct a common ancestor.  Previsioning or at least parallel with the development and advancement of Charles Darwin’s evolution of species, Schleicher's comparative study was grounded in the natural descent and competition and pass through life-cycles as any living being among world language and established a system of classification based on the taxonomy of botanical varieties, modelling a Stammbaumtheorie, a family tree showing trunk, branch and twig.  Working backwards to a common ancestor, the hypothetical and at times conjectural—though malleable and subject to revision, Proto-Indo European (PIE), Schleichter illustrated his concept, vocabulary and its antecedents and what inference can be made about cultural norms and outlook through reconstruction with a brief fable

Using modern spelling conventions, his [The] Sheep and [the] Horses (das Schaf und die Rosse) is rendered: 

H₂รณu̯is h₁รฉแธฑu̯ลs-kสทe h₂รกu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osmรฉi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁nรกh₂ nรฉ h₁รฉst, sรณ h₁รฉแธฑu̯oms derแธฑt. sรณ gสทr̥hโ‚“รบm u̯รณวตสฐom u̯eวตสฐed; sรณ mรฉวตh₂m̥ bสฐรณrom; sรณ dสฐวตสฐรฉmonm̥ h₂แน“แธฑu bสฐered. h₂รณu̯is h₁รฉkสทoi̯bสฐi̯os u̯eu̯ked: “dสฐวตสฐรฉmonm̥ spรฉแธฑi̯oh₂ h₁รฉแธฑu̯oms-kสทe h₂รกวตeti, แธฑแธ—r moi̯ agสฐnutor”. h₁รฉแธฑu̯ลs tu u̯eu̯kond: “แธฑludสฐรญ, h₂ou̯ei̯! tรณd spรฉแธฑi̯omes, n̥smรฉi̯ agสฐnutรณr แธฑแธ—r: dสฐวตสฐรฉmล, pรณtis, sฤ“ h₂รกu̯i̯es h₂u̯l̥h₁nรกh₂ gสทสฐรฉrmom u̯รฉstrom u̯ept, h₂รกu̯ibสฐi̯os tu h₂u̯l̥h₁nรกh₂ nรฉ h₁esti”. tรณd แธฑeแธฑluu̯แน“s h₂รณu̯is h₂aวตrรณm bสฐuged. 

A sheep without wool saw two horses, one slowly draughting a heavily-laden wagon and the other quickly carrying a man rider.  Addressing the horses, the sheep said, “My heart pains me, seeing man driving horses.  In reply, the horses said, “Listen sheep, our hearts pain us when we witness man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself, leaving the sheep with no wool!”  Having attended to the lesson, the sheep fled into the plains. A version of this allegory appears in the Alien prequel Prometheus in a short exchange between an android and the ship’s computer to prepare for first contact with the “engineers.”

Tuesday 21 April 2020


Though there are competing and incompatible origin myths—neither of which square with the archaeological evidence that suggest human settlement in the area is far older, the traditional date for the founding of Rome was on this day in 753 BC (Ab urbe condita 1), eschewing the other candidates for founding father, Aeneas who fled from Troy or Greek Evander from Arcadia or Romos, the son of Circe and Odysseus, by Romulus.
Born along with his twin brother Remus in Alba Longa not far from where the future city would be, the pair were the offspring of Rhea Silva, a vestal virgin and holy priestess, and a visitation by the god Mars (Ares), the king and maternal uncle Amulius who had displaced his own brother Numitor ordered them abandoned to the elements, fearing that they could challenge his claim on the throne and set them adrift on the Tiber. The twins were adopted and suckled by a she-wolf and sheltered in a cave dubbed the Lupercal. Eventually fostered by the shepherd Faustulus and civilised, both became partisans, not knowing anything of their parentage or history, becoming involved in a dispute between supporters of Numitor and his usurper Amulius. With both king and dethroned grandfather suspecting his true identity, Remus was captured and imprisoned. Learning of their past and succession disputes, Romulus launched a campaign to free his twin brother and reinstate Numitor as ruler of Alba Longa. The twins were dispatched afterwards to found a new settlement disagreed over its location, with Remus favouring the Aventine Hill and Romulus preferring Palatine (Mons Palatinus). Omens and augury failed to settle matters definitively and the conflict escalated, resulting in the death of Remus, either by his brother’s own hand or one of his supporters.

Thursday 16 April 2020

saint drogo

Coming from noble stock in Flanders but orphaned as an adolescent then dispossessing himself of his inheritance and devoting his life to penance and pilgrimage—making the sojourn to Rome no less than ten times—and settling down to become a shepherd after a disfiguring disease confined him from the public, Saint Drogo of Sebourg (*1105 – †1186), who is venerated on this day, was reportedly given the power of bilocation and was seen—shrouded due to his hideous countenance—in attendance at Mass while, as witnesses attest, still tending his flock in the fields.  Drogo’s patronage includes those whom others find repulsive, coffee house proprietors (that is someone to turn to at these times), midwives (presumably due to his great empathy and for the mother he never knew) and sheep. While it is unclear why coffee might be one of his attributes, it is not just a modern gimmick with documents from Mons showing that in the 1860s, the city’s guild of cafetiers were already claiming Drogo as their patron—and possibly is connected with his miraculous power of bilocation (a virtue of coffee) or his ascetic diet and insistence on only drinking hot water.

Sunday 20 October 2019


H and I had the chance to observe an interesting agricultural event when the shepherds bring the sheep and goats down from hilltop pastures to the valley in a village not far away. It was quite well attended with human spectators perhaps outnumbering the livestock being herded and driven to their winter quarters. 

Though cattle were also present, the stars of the day were the distinctive Rhรถn sheep (Rhรถnschaf) whose single flock numbered over one thousand, the breed nearly having gone extinct in the 1960s and now their numbers, with the help of a nature conservancy and the green belt across Europe that marks the former border between NATO and the Warsaw Pact have safely returned, led through a rather narrow channel thronged by a human audience—not unlike the scene in Pamplona with the Running of the Bulls.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

einn af hjรถrรฐinni

The BBC Monitoring desk reports that one of the most anticipated annual registries among Icelandic shepherds (and we suppose among eligible sheep as well) has just been published with profiles of the country’s most sought-after ram bachelors, continuing a tradition of two decades of showcasing sires and obituaries for those who passed away since the last issue.
Seeing these impressive sets of horns reminded me that the release of the catalogue is coinciding with a plebiscite—direct democracy in action—taking place in Switzerland over the weekend on animal welfare, with voting finally taking place after an eight-year struggle to hold the referendum. At stake is the right for cow and goat farmers to receive special dispensation and compensation (due to the accommodations and bigger stalls required to safely rear the animals) who choose not to dehorn their herds. About a quarter of Swiss livestock are of the horned variety. The referendum’s human champion wants to take the question of economics out of the decision—which sounds rather ghastly and traumatising—and calls for subsidies instead of indignities.

Saturday 3 November 2018


We took a drive through the countryside and stopped at the foothills of the Rhön and hiked up the stony and wooded slope of the Schafstein, the Sheep Rock. A lot of forests are maintained in a sustainable manner (or at least so we’d like to hope, not really appreciating the impact of our harvesting has on the ecosystem) in Germany but there are few untrammelled places but since the 1990s, the inner core of the trees growing here, within a much larger reserve, have been left to their own devices in hopes of re-establishing an old-growth forest.
Please click on the pictures for larger images.  Basalt boulders and fallen trunks covered with different mosses punctuated the terrain and were stepping stones for the ascent, not treacherous but certainly a demanding climb. Let’s hope more places are allowed to revert to their pristine state. Afterwards we continued on to Guckaisee, a series of lakes at the base of the mountain whose water levels had been essentially negated due to the hot, arid summer—though visiting ducks were content to plop into the lake bed and do a little bit of mud surfing.

Wednesday 28 March 2018


The Local’s Italian edition reports that the country is seeking to add the traditional nomadic herding practise of transhumance to the UNESCO register of intangible cultural heritage—following the successful bid to have Neapolitan pizza included last December. Ultimately derived from the Latin for crossing ground, the term includes herding-customs and the season driving of flocks of livestock to greener pastures. Of course, the profession of shepherds is not exclusive to Italy but central and southern regions of the country have preserved much of the ancient networks of herding routes—referred to as tratturi, some of which are still in use.

Monday 5 March 2018

your prize—a nubian goat

As a reminder to engage with story-telling more often—especially in its unmediated venues and within the limits the author limned for his voice—we really enjoyed this romp, via Coudal Partners, through the paperback canon of Philip K Dick with thirty-three picks of bizarre covers from domestic and international markets.
This curated selection represents only a small portion of his forty-four novels and scores of other pieces of essay and short-fiction and one has to wonder about what tales and commentary yet remain undiscovered because it won’t translate well to other narrative formats, with a handful (this or that and the other)—having undergone major rewrites and leaving much out—emerging on the other side. Sheep and goats were not considered a booby-prize either since after the nuclear apocalypse when the book is set that has destroyed most of life on earth, empathy towards and caring for animals was seen as a mark of the highest esteem and humanity.  Though knowing the story, I thought the title referred to something aspirational but rather to a Replicant’s need to count (electric) sheep to fall asleep.  Perchance to dream.  Do you have a favourite, perhaps of another author or franchise-universe, in this genre? Maybe these wild paperback illustrations mark the closest sometimes the unfilmable, impossible to produce adaptations get to a poster in the coming attractions section.

Sunday 4 June 2017

fromageries occitanes

On this day, as our faithful chronicler Doctor Caligali informs, among other things in the year 1070 according to turophile lore (a highly specific date), Roquefort cheese was accidentally invented when a shepherd stashed his noontime repast in one of the Combalou caves in order to pursue a fair maiden—or what have you. Returning to retrieve his lunch after the appellation d'origine contrรดlรฉe standard number of months for maturation, the ewe’s cheese had transformed into Roquefort, which perhaps came in handy after such a dalliance as clinical trials have shown that the mould in the cheese can combat gangrene and venereal diseases.

Thursday 23 February 2017

bale and bellwether

Confirming that the world is an inexhaustible fount of delights to behold, Messy Nessy Chic invites us to explore the abandoned “Colin’s Barn” outside in Crudwell parish, near Malmesbury. In the 1980s, a shepherd named Colin Stokes built this sprawling fortress for his flock but choose to move to greener pastures in Scotland once a quarry was slated to open in the area and left his elaborate castle to the elements. The ensemble of buildings, designed for a sheep-sized court, have weathered the years quite well, having become a sanctuary for birds and bats and definitely a place to seek out next time we’re in England.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

pig in a blanket

When I first saw this post on the rare but returning chimera of a woolly pig, I thought it was some lure for the gullible—like the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary or the Jackalope, but the Manglitza breed does in fact exist. Originating as an experimental pedigree in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, husbanders crossed domesticated stock with wild boars—trying to produce an animal that would yield more lard. As food preparation and storage became more sophisticated, the demand for lard plummeted and so did interest in the pig-sheep. I would think people would be interested in their fleece too.  In German, they are called Wollschweine and are apparently raised here as well.

Sunday 4 August 2013

abc's and 123's

Slate has an excerpt from Daniel Tammet's new book on thinking in numbers, in which the author experiences the cultural nuance, chiefly while visiting Iceland, where amounts are treated as something qualitative as well as quantitative and not something separate and abstract.
For the numbers one through five, there are different forms for years, sheep (it reminds me of the shepherd’s rhyme and special number system for counting sheep and stitches for knitting—Yan Tan Tethera, and probably also useful for sending someone off to slumber-land), people, naming trains and highways and houses—reflecting declination and something categorical that has no equivalent English despite the occasional encounter with twain, deuce, score and murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, etc. The fourth sheep is called something like “Sheep Number Four,” as if it were a city-bus—preserving a sense of cardinal bias, something not strictly ordinal, since four follows three only by the reckoning of the counter, unlike the passage of time. Bigger numbers are not elaborated in the same kind of way. I would like to read this book and find out how ways of counting influence the cognitive process and possible assumptions made about the significance upon encountering the unusual.