Monday, February 23, 2015


Our last meeting's theme was My Dodgy Valentine, and Raphael opened with an amazing version of The Master-Thief, a traditional folktale that you can find in Grimm – but not the way he told it. Raphael's master-thief had a sister who had been in a coma ever since he went away, and whom he said he wanted to marry, and the three thefts from the Count [his guarded horse from its guarded stable, the sheet from his bed and the wedding-ring from his wife's finger, and finally the vicar and verger from the church] were all to acquire the Count's permission for the match. When he accomplished them, he bent over his unconscious sister, whispered in her ear and then departed, never to be seen again. But she, as she woke, said only, “He has stolen my heart.” And after Raphael said that, you could have heard a pin drop.

Maddy's tale dealt with the importance of following instructions precisely when taking medicines, and the dangerous side-effects of fertility treatments – well, you don't want to have a huge woman-eating serpent as a son, do you? However, thanks to consulting a properly qualified health professional [aka the Wise Woman] and doing exactly what she said, the brave lower-class girl was able to draw the snake into a mutual strip-tease and turn him back into a human being and a proper husband. [Don't know if this treatment works with husbands who aren't literally snakes.]

Laura covered the difficulty of finding an appropriate mate – but selection criteria seem a bit clearer in the animal kingdom, and especially among Vogelkop bower-birds, where the selfish gene is the one for interior design, and the audience was delighted to hear Barry triumph over Derek [aka Vlad Raven McBlackbird – he was after freaky Goth chicks] and win the rump of Veronica, before she fluttered off to raise the brood on her own. The audience definitely appreciated the way in which the aesthetic dimension of the bower-bird cast light on contemporary artistic practice and the way in which it is discussed.

Mike, as host, closed the first half with an account of the Eh'häusl in Amberg in the Oberfalz – a tiny house that was passed on from one poor loving couple to another, so that they could meet the property-owning requirement needed to get permission to marry from the town council.

Jill's headline story was The Enchanted Palace from Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales, with bookish Fiordinando being introduced to the delights of hunting [not!] and choosing instead to follow a mysterious white hare to an enchanted palace, where he eats a delicious meal with a veiled lady and then finds her getting into bed with him, naked. As a gentleman, he does nothing, not even the second night, but the third time he finds his way there he has been home in the meantime, and the mother has advised him to get a look at the woman's face, which he does at the dinner table, and of course this is disastrous! So now he has to follow her to Paris, but there his wine and food are drugged three times in a row by the jealous innkeeper's daughter, and the Queen of Portugal [for so she is – staying at the Premier Inn down the road, of course] can only leave tokens of her affection for the slumbering Fiordinando, which the interfering hermit takes into safe keeping, so as to hand them over when the lad wakes up after the third occasion. Inspired by these signs that affection is mutual, Fiordinando sets off for the tournament at Peterborough, where the Queen of Portugal is to be the prize, and, despite his bookish beginnings, jousts well enough to win her hand – he had her heart already! All these involved improbabilities delivered with gusto and delight!
Finally, Mike told The Scales of Happiness, in which two unattractive people entrust the handing-over of their valentines to two attractive ones – who, each perhaps influenced by the sight of the card in the other's hand, promptly fall in love. In dreams they see the Scales of Happiness, where one person's joy is always counterweighted by another's sorrow, but nonetheless they stay as happy ever after as people can be who aren't in a story – only of course they are in a story! Lucky them!

Next month: all at sea

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