Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Stormy Petrel

The following is from WordaDay, to which I subscribe, and which often delights me with words and meanings I have never known. Today’s is so particularly good, I will share this website again. You can see it on my blogroll to the right, and you can subscribe also by copying and pasting the address from the e-mail below.

Starts here:

Birds get little respect. We tend to look down at non-human animals in
general, but we are particularly unfair when it comes to birds (although
we have to look up at them).

We call a stupid fellow a “bird brain”. Australians call him a galah
(a type of cockatoo). Something useless is said to be “for the birds”. We
name someone vain and self-conscious a peacock. One who is talkative or a
hoarder is labeled a magpie. A cowardly or fearful fellow is a chicken…
the list is endless.

We even kill two birds with one stone. I’d rather the idiom be to feed two
birds with one grain.

This week we feature five terms coined after birds. Catch as many of these
bird words as you can. After all, a word in the head is worth two in the book.

stormy petrel (STOR-mee PE-truhl) noun

1. Any of various small sea birds of the family Hydrobatidae
having dark feathers and lighter underparts, also known as
Mother Carey’s Chicken.

2. One who brings trouble or whose appearance is a sign of coming trouble.

[The birds got the name storm petrel or stormy petrel because old-time
sailors believed their appearance foreshadowed a storm.

It’s not certain why the bird is named petrel. One unsubstantiated theory
is that it is named after St Peter who walked on water in the Gospel of
Matthew. The petrel’s habit of flying low over water with legs extended
gives the appearance that it’s walking on the water.]

Today’s word in Visual Thesaurus:

-Anu Garg (words at

“A colourful stormy petrel of the Conservative Party, Anthony
Beaumont-Dark frequently found himself at odds with the party
line in the Commons, and was well known for expressing his dissent
in memorably quotable form.”
Obituary: Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark; The Times (London, UK); Apr 4, 2006.

In some circumstances, the refusal to be defeated is a refusal to be
educated. -Margaret Halsey, novelist (1910-1997)

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May 7, 2007 Posted by | Communication, Cross Cultural, Language, Words | Leave a comment

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

When I saw this book at the Barnes and Noble, I thought “isn’t Kate Moss a fashion model?” but that is a different Kate Moss, a Moss without the ‘e’ at the end.

This book was a New York Times bestseller, but then so was the Da Vinci Code, which I thought badly written and sometimes incoherent. The premise was interesting, but it was done years ago by French authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood, Holy Grail hypothesizes (and pulls together a load of hypothetical evidence to support) that the mystical grail is really a symbolic representation of the blood of Christ, that Jesus was not crucified but instead left Jerusalem with his wife Mary Magdeleine and went to France, and started a family there which eventually became the early French royal line.

I remember telling my son this story, as we travelled through the southern areas of France, and him saying in his smart-mouth-teenager way “only the French would be so arrogant as to believe the blood of God was flowing in their veins!”

We spent a lot of time travelling in France. We love France. So when I discovered that Labyrinth was about the beginning of the French crusade against the Cathars, I was delighted. We know this history. We know this area – it is one of the most beautiful areas of France. We know Carcassone, which in its renovation by Viollet-le-Duc is like Disney-does-fortified-city. It’s formidable, but it’s not entirely authentic.

Who are the Cathars? The Cathars were a break-away sect who were called by others ‘bons hommes’ or ‘bons Chretiens’ (good-Christians), but, pre-Luther, they saw many flaws in the way the Catholic church has become more political than spiritual.

They valued inner faith above outward display. They needed no consecrated buildings, no superstitious rituals, no humiliating obeisance designed to keep ordinary men apart from God. They did not worship images, nor prostrate themselves before idols or instruments of torture. For the ‘Bons Chretiens’ the power of God lay in the word. They needed only books and prayers, words spoken and read aloud. Salvations was nothing to do with alms or relics or Sabbath prayers spoken in a language only the priests understood. . . In their eyes, all were equal in the Grace of the Holy Father – Jew or Saracen, man and woman, the beasts of the fields and the birds of the air. There would be no hell, no final day of judgement, because through God’s grace all would be saved, although many would be destined to live life many times over before they regained God’s kingdom.

They believed the earth was created as a trap, by Satan, and that our lives here keep us apart from the glory of God. They believed we keep coming back, until we purify ourselves spiritually, and that in the end, if we get it right, we end up back where we came from, with God. And they believed we all have the right to read the bible, and to talk directly with God, without the necessity of a priest to interpret or to direct.

But this Crusade, the Fourth Crusade, is little known. This Crusade, declared by the Pope to wipe out the Cathar heresy (sometimes known as Bogomilism or Albigencian heresy) was really the tool of the nobility that was then France, less than half of the France of today, to grab the rich, lush southern lands of the Pays d’Oc. The Fourth Crusade was an opportunity for knights to increase their holdings. And it doubled the size of France.

The Labyrinth takes you inside the walls. The main character is not Cathar, but it didn’t matter – this war wasn’t really about wiping out the Cathars as much as subjugating an independant land and making it part of France. You may have heard one famous quote from this Crusade – as the Crusaders were attacking Besiers, the Abbot of Citeaux was asked how the soldiers could tell the good Catholics from the heritics. “Tuez-les tous. Dieu reconnaitra les sien,” he replied – Kill them all. God will know his own.

The book is lightweight, an easy read. The heroine, Alice, seems to have lived before, as Alais, and has memories she has never lived. You jump back and forth between today, and the time of the Crusade, in the early 1200s. Some of the plot mechanisms don’t make a lot of sense, but you do get a real sense of life in a fortified town during the 1200’s, and of the injustice done to this beautiful area in France. For a book I am lukewarm about in retrospect, I read it avidly, and enjoyed the read.

What I like about this book is that it brings to life a time in history that few pay any attention to. Somewhere in the book, it says that “history is written by the victors.” We see France today, and we know little about the struggle that united these diverse areas into one nation. This book illuminates a slice of time, a grave injustice, and a sense that religion is too often a tool for political ends.

Like the heroine, the big church in Carcassone, where the trials and tortures of the ‘heretics’ took place sends a cold chill up my spine, I can hear the screams of the tortured. I love churches, and I can’t go into this one. It feels unholy. Did you know that the origination of the Inquisition was not in Spain, as most people believe, but in this area of France? And it was aimed, first, at the Cathars.

All in all, not a bad book. Though light in plot, it is heavy in content, a book you will remember and think about in terms of issues, if not the main characters.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Communication, Community, Crime, Family Issues, France, Living Conditions, Marriage, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual | 4 Comments

“Who Am I?”

As DNA testing becomes more and more common, surprises are popping up everywhere. This article from BBC is about two Englishwomen who discover they have Native American blood when they send their DNA in for testing.

It’s fascinating to think that migration and trade has left it’s traces generations later. I love the work that is being done with bloodlines these days.

Native American DNA found in UK

DNA testing has uncovered British descendents of Native Americans brought to the UK centuries ago as slaves, translators or tribal representatives.

Genetic analysis turned up two white British women with a DNA signature characteristic of American Indians.

An Oxford scientist said it was extremely unusual to find these DNA lineages in Britons with no previous knowledge of Native American ancestry.

Indigenous Americans were brought over to the UK as early as the 1500s.

It rocked me completely. It made think: who am I?
Doreen Isherwood

Many were brought over as curiosities; but others travelled here in delegations during the 18th Century to petition the British imperial government over trade or protection from other tribes.

Experts say it is probable that some stayed in Britain and married into local communities.

Doreen Isherwood, 64, from Putney, and Anne Hall, 53, of Huddersfield, only found out about their New World heritage after paying for commercial DNA ancestry tests.

Mrs Isherwood told BBC News: “I was expecting the results to say I belonged to one of the common European tribes, but when I got them back, my first thought was that they were a mistake.

“It rocked me completely. It made think: who am I?”

You can read the rest of the article at BBC Science/Nature News, here.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Experiment, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Social Issues, Statistics, Technical Issue | 5 Comments