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Sometimes a word said and a glass of wine drunk will start you thinking.

So it was with me and the word “wassail,” a Danish term which means “be of good health”.  The word entered the English lexicon in the 5th century with the Saxons, Hengist and Horsa, who came to help the British Celts fight the Picts. Horsa died fighting and Hengist stayed. The story goes that Rowen, daughter of Hengist, offered a golden cup filled with wine to the Brititsh King Vortigern, saying,

“Lord King, Wassail!”

The word was new to Vortigern, the wine was pleasing, and so to was Rowen. They marry and the next thing you know, Hengist is the very first king of England, or at least of Kent, where the Saxons and their cousins the Angles settled.

In time the wassail was remembered as the wine and not the toast, and now it is drunk and not often said.

I dwell too long on wassail. What do other countries use for toasts?

In France they say, Bonne sante. The French being the French and idiosyncratic don’t pronounce the first e and accent the second “e” to make the long eeee sound.

In Spain and the Spanish speaking countries of the western hemisphere, they say “Brindar.” Literally, meaning “offer” but that doesn’t express the thought, which is a hope that the recipient of the toast may receive all that is good and necessary. Brevity, the mark of a good toast and good sense.

“Expresar un bien deseado a alguien o algo a la vez que se levanta la copa con vino o licor antes de beber.”

In Russian, they say “Prosit!” but they say it Cyrillean, просит, which is hard to say, meaning I beg or pray.

In German, they also say, “Prosit” or “Ein Prosit” which translates as “Cheers!”

Cheers, my friends, it all means the same.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.




Let us bring back that ancient English salutation – Wassail!

To thee, Wassail!

Wassail, like so many English words, came from another land.

The word is not Celtic or Roman, but Anglo-Saxon, a greeting Wæs þu hæl, meaning “be thou hale” – “be in good health;” Wæs hæl, shorter still, “be healthy.”

The phrase entered 5th century Britain with the Angles and Saxons. Legend has it they were led by brothers Hengist and Horsa. Horsa died in fighting, and Hengist lived on to become the first English king of Kent.

Sixth century British monk Gildas the Wise first gives us the tale.

King Vortigern made the foolish mistake of inviting the Saxons to Britain to help him fight the fierce Picts in Scotland. The Saxons came and stayed. Hengist offered his daughter Rowen as bride to the British king.


Chronicler Holinshed, who Shakespeare would source for many of his plays, gave us this story:

A great supper therefore was prepared by Hengist, at the which it pleased the king to be present, and appointed his daughter, when euerie man began to be somewhat merrie with drinke, to bring in a cup of gold full of good and pleasant wine, and to present it to the king, saieng;

Lord King, Wassail.

Which she did in such comelie and decent maner, as she that knew how to doo it well inough, so as the king maruelled greatlie thereat, and not understanding what she ment by that salutation, demanded what it signified. To whom it was answered by Wassail, what it signifieth. Hengist, that she wished him well, and the meaning of it was, that he should drinke after hir, joining thereto this answer,

Drinke haile.

Wherevpon the king (as he was informed) tooke the cup at the damsels hand, and dranke.

Holinshed Chronicles, The Third Chapter.

… Waes hael continued on into Chaucer’s time as Middle English, but as a greeting.

Even Shakespeare alluded to the word in Macbeth and Hamlet, but as play on words, on both occasions speaking of the king’s good health and his subsequent demise.

Lady Macbeth:
Will I with wine and wassail so convince
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only: when in swinish sleep
Their drenchèd natures lie as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan?

Having killed two kings with a drink it was perhaps fitting that the salutation should fall into disfavor. But, it is time to bring it back. It sounds so alliterative and fairly rolls off the tongue. It rhymes with “lass” and “hale”.

And when said with a cup of wassail or two, it becomes a merry word.


Good company

Il n’y a pas tant d’hommes de bonne fortune comme il y a des jolies femmes pour les méritons. Jane Austin

Processed with VSCO with e1 preset

My idea of good company is the company of well-informed people who have lots of clever conversation. That is what I call good company.

Lacking that, I find that a good chair will suffice. Alone, to sit in the shade and gaze upon God’s green earth is the most perfect refreshment. There, I can escape the unpleasant thought that there are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.

Mainly Jane Austin

There are too many quotes on good company to quote them all. I’ll just leave you with this:

En général, l’espoir n’est pas un bon guide, mais il est la bonne compagnie et souvent tout ce que vous avez.

Hope is generally not a good guide but it is good company and too often all you’ve got.

Facing Snow

Du Fu’s poem Facing Snow was written in the winter of 755 after the rebel capture of Chang’an, eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty. Du Fu took his family to safety and then was captured by the rebels and taken to Chang’an. He witnessed first-hand the horror of the An Lushan Rebellion before escaping south the following summer.


Original Chinese



English Translation

Facing Snow

War cries and legions of ghosts.
An old man fretfully chants
A misty chaos and half twilight
Snow dances in a swirling wind
A languishing ladle with no wine or green tea
A cold furnace, once fiery red
Men whisper, what news.
While I brood on my empty book

French Translation

Face à la neige

Cris de guerre et plus fantômes.
Un vieillard chante avec inquiétude
Dans le chaos de la brume et le demi-crépuscule
Danse de neige dans le vent tourbillonnant
Une louche négligé sans vin ni thé
Un four vide, pas rouge vif
Les hommes chuchotent, quelles nouvelles.
Alors que je rêve sur mon livre vide

German Translation

Blick auf den Wind
Krieg schreit und Legionen von Geistern.
Ein alter Mann fragt sich gern
Ein Demi-Chaos und Halbdämmerung
Schnee tanzt in wirbelnden Wind
Eine unsichtbare Pfanne ohne Wein oder grüner Tee
Ein leerer Ofen, nicht feurigrot
Männer flüstern, was Neues
Während auf meinem leeren Buch ich starre und brühe

Notes on the Translations

Language is nuanced by time and culture. Its meaning subtle and mysterious. Thus translating can be a winding path through a dark forest. Even the title of Du Fu’s poem, Facing the Wind gives me pause. Why not a the stronger image of Facing the Snow?

Wind is the better choice. Du Fu conveys his thoughts on two levels. One is visual imagery, the other is metaphor. Captured by the enemy and held in Chang’an, Du Fu must answer for his actions once he escapes. While snow symbolizes the hardships of the winter, wind becomes a metaphor for the swirling accusations that inevitably would be made at court once Du Fu arrived to make his report.

Du Fu was forgiven for his temporary sojourn with the enemy. Others, like his friend Li Bai were not so fortunate.

Christmas Eve


Bien sûr, regarde avec des yeux brillants le monde entier autour de vous parce que les plus grands secrets sont toujours cachés dans les endroits les plus improbables.
Ceux qui ne croient pas à la magie ne le trouveront jamais.
-Roald Dahl

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.


Christmas Eve is a quiet time at our house. A day for reflection. A day with a good book or a walk in the woods with the dogs, enjoying nature. Random thoughts come and go. One thought that is deep within the brain, one planted there years ago by Roald Dahl is whether the Terrible Bloodsucking Toothplucking Stonechuckling Spittler lies hidden behind a tree.

Will you go? Will you look?


Merriam-Webster defines “eve” as the evening or the day before a special day. It is a sign of wonderful things to come. Pick up a book, you are on the verge of something good. Open your eyes, look, read and behold. Enjoy the mysteries of life, but beware life is not for the faint-hearted.

Gentle Reader, you will often hear, beware what is out there. Beware the Whangdoodle, Hornswogglers, Snozzwanglers and Vermicious knids that live in the dark green forest, but the worst of all these, is the Terrible Bloodsucking Toothplucking Stonechuckling Spittler. But if you fear to take a chance in life you will never meet Don Mini and the Minpins and wouldn’t that be terribly tragic.

Never a good war

Once again it is Veterans Day.

My thoughts turn to my father and grandfather who served in the past two world wars. War is not an easy thing to discuss. It is paid for with human lives and often achieves very little. It is always tragic for those for pay the supreme sacrifice and for their families and love ones.

Sometimes, however, war becomes a necessary thing.

War is not something to be taken lightly or to be engaged in without deep thought and consideration. The price is never paid by those who make the decision to enter war. The price is paid by the patriotic men and women who selflessly serve their country. We may put up monuments to their lives, but that should never be enough.

We should act to make their sacrifice worthwhile.

Remember what Benjamin Franklin said in a letter written in 1783:

“Never was there a good war or bad peace.”
“Jamais une bonne guerre ou une mauvaise paix.”

Franklins’s full statement from War and Peace, is as follows:

I JOIN with you most cordially in rejoicing at the return of peace. I hope it will be lasting, and that mankind will at length, as they call themselves reasonable creatures, have reason enough to settle their differences without cutting throats; for, in my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace. What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of life might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of utility! What an extension of agriculture, even to the tops of the mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices and improvements, rendering England a complete paradise, might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief—in bringing misery into thousands of families, and destroying the lives of so many working people, who might have performed the useful labors.


Je m’associe avec vous la plus cordiale allégresse en réjouissant du retour de la paix. J’espère qu’elle durera, et que l’humanité finira par se raisonner, comme ils se disent des créatures raisonnables, pour régler leurs querelles sans couper la gorge; Car, à mon avis, il n’y a jamais eu une bonne guerre ni une mauvaise paix. Quels agrandissements aux convenances et aux conforts de la vie pouvaient avoir les hommes, si l’argent dépensé dans les guerres avait été employé dans des travaux d’utilité! Quelle extension de l’agriculture, même au sommet des montagnes; Quels fleuves rendus navigables, ou joints par des canaux; Les ponts, les aqueducs, les nouvelles routes, les autres ouvrages publics, les édifices et les améliorations, qui font de l’Angleterre un paradis complet, n’auraient pas été obtenus en dépensant ces millions à faire le bien, qui, dans la dernière guerre, La misère en milliers de familles et la destruction de la vie de tant de travailleurs qui auraient pu accomplir les travaux utiles.

The other side

Quand les mensonges deviennent la vérité, et la perception devient la réalité, tout est perdu.

We are on the other side of the election. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Much will be said about this election, about perception and reality, the role of the media, the place of the common man, populism, etc., etc..

Pas de platitudes ici.

No platitudes here. Okay, I lied about that. Having already said that lies become the truth and perception reality. Leave at this. No congratulations, no lamentations, he may be great, we hope, no, I prefer to escape (c’est le mot?) in time and place to the other side of the world, Bruges, to the 9th Century, and to Baldwin Bras de Fer.

Burg Square, City Hall, Bruges

Europe in the 9th Century was at war. The Vikings were on a rampage across Europe and throughout Britain and Ireland. Hordes of Saxons and Angles poured across the English Channel and were sweeping across England. Alfred, king of Wessex, was not yet great, but on his way.

Charles (in red), instituting Baldwin (in armor) (Wikipedia, image circa 1450)

Baldwin I (circa 830s – 879), Baldwin Iron Arm to historians, was first Margrave of Flanders, founder of Bruges. Count Baldwin grabbed the spotlight when he ran off with princess Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, king of West Francia. Judith was living at home with dad, having previously been married to two kings of Wessex and therefore, twice a queen, until 860, when the second king died. With her brother’s help, Judith escaped dad’s protective custody in France, and fled to Flanders with her dashing Count Baldwin.

Charles, not one to take such an effrontery, demanded their return. Not happening.

So Charles had his bishops excommunicate the couple. They, not wishing to live in sin, went to Rome to see the Pope. He recognizing true love, took their side, put Charles in his proper place, and all was forgiven. Baldwin became a loyal supporter of Charles and helped him in holding off the Vikings.

In his struggles with the Vikings et al., Baldwin used the location of Bruges as his base of operations. On Burg Square in central Bruges, he built a fortress, since long gone and now the site of the City Hall.

If there a thought behind all this, I am not sure. Historical figures come and go. And Baldwin did not leave us with his fortress, but with the beginnings of a city.

Une fois une figure effrénée mais a oublié

The image above of the Bruges City Hall that one sees is itself a distortion. The angle of the camera contributes to that. So too is the fact that I removed an offending individual from the center of the image. Then I brightened up a dull and grey image. We see what we want to.

I will leave you gentle reader with this thought. When lies become the truth, and perception reality, all is lost. Dear reader, it is not an original thought. I am not even sure it is accurate.

For just when it seems all is lost, we wake up, reality is restored and it back to life. Elections, and the things that are said during them, are such ephemeral things.

We hope, we pray.

By the side of the road

Une ferme reste debout la route.
Qui ont vécu ici
disparu depuis et laissé derrière,
Rien mais moi

November 2016, driving along the Smoky Valley road, K-4, west of Marquette, Kansas. The farmhouse rests on a limestone foundation. It is not much bigger than a one-car garage, and not a big car at that. It has a cellar. The house is two story, two rooms on each floor, sleeping rooms upstairs. The wallpaper is faded. The stairs are a wreck. Much of the second floor has fallen in. Otherwise, one is impressed by the fact that the house stands tall and erect.

Those who lived here
Are long gone
They left not a thing behind
But a couple of words on a tire
To inquiring people,
An unfriendly thought,
That says no hunting
You ought to keep moving along

Still the door flaps in the wind
It speaks and says, come in
And there is no one about
To say keep out, so
Let me ask,
‘Tis no difficult task to walk in

And, if the house is open
To the wind and the rain,
Why not me?



Dieu aime chacun de nous comme s’il n’y avait qu’un seul d’entre nous. Saint Augustin

yellow tulip

Astonishing is the literary output of St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine preached some 8000 sermons, of which less than 500 are printed.  In addition, there are dialogues, thoughts, and writings whose equivalent is that of “writing a 300-page book every year for 40 years.”

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Saint Augustine

red tulip




“Mon amour, je fis un rêve, ce fou ou ce n’est pas?”

Votre robe était blanche, le soleil brilliant, le ciel était bleu, l’herbe était verte, et là, nous deux, tu et moi, fou amoureux dans un champ cueillir des pissenlits. Au milieu de tous les, jaune brillant brillant, se tenait une fleur solitaire. Sa couleur blanche blanchie avec l’âge.

Vous avez dit «Faites un vœu et coup.” Je lui ai dit, “Je voudrais avoir un seul vrai désir.” Je pinçai mes lèvres, je fermais les yeux, je voulais notre amour serait toujours durer.

Mais avant que je puisse, un coup de vent a soufflé loin la fleur.


“My love, I had a crazy dream or was it?”

Your dress was white, the sun was bright, the sky was blue, the grass was green, and there, the two of us, you and I, in a field picking dandelions. In the midst of all the bright, bright yellow, stood a solitary flower. Its color hoary white with age.

You said, “Make a wish and blow.” I said, “I would have only one true wish.” I pursed my lips, I closed my eyes, I wished our love would forever last.

But before I could, a puff of wind blew away the flower.