Tag Archives: photos

sunset

Every sunset is a sunrise somewhere else.

As the sun sets on Toronto one day in early August, it’s rising on what remains of the Aral Sea and, in another minute or three, on the whole west coast of India. As it sets on Calgary, it has just lately risen on the African coast of the Red Sea. For every sunset and sunrise, there is a whole set of places in the world that are crossing the terminator line of the sun’s shadow at that moment, turning away from or towards the sun. They are bound and set so to do, as long as the earth is moving as it is.

Poets write about sunsets, from time to time. But that’s like singing a song about a painting. There is no conversion rate between images and words; the words carry sounds and ideas the images never could, but the images bring things words have no hope of tattooing in black on white with their abstract little lines.

We like the sunset because we are there for it (how much less often are most of us awake to see the sunrise!), and because it is there for us, at eye level, the sun’s rays passing at a flat angle through the atmosphere, skimming across clouds. At the last, as it is cut by the horizon, you can look at it for more than a moment. And you want to look at it, because it has contrast and colour: all the things that your eye seeks as a treat but that are too harsh during the day are there on a dessert tray at sunset, completed by the contrast between the daylight before and the nightdark after. During the day we take the sun for granted, we seek the shade, we don’t look straight at it, but when we have turned far enough away from it we pause and appreciate it just before we can’t see it, and then it is gone.

But of course it’s still there. It’s all just our perspective, on our spinning ride. Every second of every day, from the beginning of the earth through now to the very end of our planet, there is a shadow line, a set of sunrise and sunset. When it is our time at the line, we can enjoy it if we want. When I visit my parents in Alberta I like to go for walks and see the sun go down. Back in Toronto, though that’s where my favourite song about watching the sunset was written, I much less often see it – there are buildings in the way. So be it.

You know the word sunset, of course, and you can see its parts. Sun is a grand old Germanic word, not related to son though it sounds the same in English now. Set is not so much one word as a set of words, or rather two sets. One of those sets is related to sect and refers to groups and such things. The other is related to sit and refers to going down, putting down, being in place. You can easily enough tell in which set to set sunset. (There is a third Set, the Egyptian god of war, chaos, and storms. Sometimes that Set unsettles the sunset. But we can set him aside.)

It is tempting to use sunset as a metaphor. But if you must, remember this, set this down: on the earth it is always sunset and always sunrise and always neither, and what we experience at any time just depends on where we are… and we will come around to each again and again.

al fresco

Yesterday, for the first time in 16 months, we saw a play. But this one had a fresh perspective: it was done al fresco.

Ontario is still easing out of its Covid lockdown, so indoor theatre is out – and so (for a few days yet) is indoor dining. But it’s warm enough that we can do these usually indoor activities outdoors, in the warm summer air. Al fresco. So to speak.

Al fresco: in the fresh air, right? Fresh and clean and clear, constantly refreshed by currents and so relatively free of the accumulated exhalations of indoor atmosphere? Well, yes, but there’s fresh and then there’s fresh. And that’s the ironic part. Well, it’s one of two ironic parts.

Fresco, you see (also fresca in the feminine), is Italian for ‘fresh’ (as in ‘fresh plaster’ in the kind of mural called a fresco), but it generally carries a sense of ‘cool’. If you dine al fresco, it’s in the fresh air, yes, but in particular in the cool (or cooler) air. That doesn’t mean that al fresco dining in Italy (or elsewhere) is only said to be such when the outdoors is cooler than the indoors, but there is that tone to it.

And, indeed, if we had made the phrase in English, in the fresh (as in “We’re dining in the fresh today” – sounds entirely plausibly English, doesn’t it?), there would also be something of that sense, because even though we use fresh more to mean ‘not cooked’ and ‘not stale or rotten’, we are still aware of the ‘cool’ sense – “A bit fresh out today, isn’t it?” But we don’t put it that way because, for one thing, we got the phrase from Italian, and for another, we like the Italian sound of it. “Would you like to dine in the fresh?” sounds like PG Wodehouse or EM Forster; “Would you like to dine al fresco?” sounds… inviting, really.

That, however, is the second ironic part. Perhaps you have noticed that fresh and fresco seem like they could be related. They are, but not because fresh comes from fresco. No, both words trace back to Proto-Germanic *friskaz; Medieval Latin acquired it as friscus through contact in Lombardy. And *friskaz meant… ‘fresh’ and ‘unsalted’. In other words, fresh as in fresh water, and fresh as in unpreserved food. The ‘cool’ sense followed on thereafter.

All of that, following through to the present (including the borrowing of al fresco into English in the early 1700s), means that we can have go from an air conditioned house onto a patio to eat bacon and other cured and salted meats, as well as cheese and cooked foods, in warm (even very warm) air, and it will be dining al fresco.

We can also go see a performance of an old farce in warm air, likewise al fresco. But you know what? It was refreshing.

PAINT

I’ve made a book. It’s a book of photos, but it has words in it, because they’re photos of graffiti. Not clever or funny graffiti, just graffiti that I find very visually attractive: the colours and textures and patterns. The book is available at Lulu.com in softcover (a hardcover will be coming, but due to factors beyond my control, the list price will be excessive). But I’m also going to send a copy of it to everyone who is supporting me on Patreon for $5 or more per month as of December 31, 2020. Also, I’ve made a PDF of the book that’s available for free to all Patreon supporters regardless of level. (I have almost 20,000 subscribers to Sesquiotica, but right now I have only 16 – sixteen – patrons on Patreon, and most of them are at $1 or $2 a month. It barely covers the cost of running the website.)

And I’ve made a video of the book. Take a look! (Advance warning: there are some vulgar words in it, because of course there are, it’s graffiti.)

ladycow

I was sitting outside working the other day when a ladycow came for a visit. It alit on the table next to my computer, then crawled up the side of the case and paused for a respite at the top; at last, and suddenly, it flew away.

“Wait,” I hear you saying. “That’s not a ladycow, that’s a…”

…a what? What you call it depends on where you’re from. If you’re from Canada or the US, you probably call it a ladybug. If you’re from England or most of the rest of the English-speaking world, you probably call it a ladybird. A few people call it a ladycow, or even a cow-lady, and some at least used to call it a ladyfly.

All of these names have something in common with pineapple: they are compounds of two roots, neither of which correctly names the object.

A ladycow is, of course, neither a cow nor a lady. When you call it a ladybird, it is still not a bird. And, strictly speaking, it is also neither a fly nor – at least in the entomologists’ sense – a bug. It’s a beetle! A pretty little red beetle. A member of the Coccinellidae family, which is so named because of their scarlet colour; if you go down the rabbit hole of the etymology of Coccinellidae you arrive eventually at Greek κόκκος, which refers to a grain, seed, or berry, but especially a scarlet berry, or the colour scarlet, or a dye made from crushing scarlet beetles.

I said that the names were compounds of two roots, but really lady is itself originally two roots: it comes from Old English hlæfdige, ‘loaf-kneader’. This little beetle that visited me did make some gestures a bit like kneading a loaf while it was resting, but many insects do that, and it’s not exactly what this one is known for. So why all this lady? It’s referring to Our Lady, the Blessèd Virgin Mary, who was sometimes depicted wearing scarlet and who, though immaculate, had seven sorrows, which are reflected by the seven spots (maculae, you could say) on the best-known kinds of ladybug. Some other languages have similar associations for it: German Marienkäfer and Spanish mariquita name it for Mary; Russian божья коровка names it for God; Dutch lieveheersbeestje names it for the “dear lord” (lord, by the way, comes from hlæfweard, ‘loaf-guardian’ – you see, nobles really are well bread!).

OK, but why bird? Well, it does fly… and some regional German and Swedish names for it call it a ‘hen’. And it’s so much prettier than the average insect, no? As lovely to see as a bird?

OK, but why cow?

I mean, uh… why not… ? Cows eat grass and, uh…

Well, ladycows mostly don’t eat grass. Most kinds of them eat smaller insects, such as aphids. (Some years ago, a surplus of aphids in Ontario’s wine region led to a surplus of ladybugs, which in turn lent a marked flavour to the wine, because you can’t easily remove them all from the grapes before crushing. No word on whether they made the wine redder at the same time.) So they’re pretty, and they eat insects… how about ladyfrog? No? Some frogs look awfully similar. Well, then, why not ladycat?

But neither of those has been used. Ladycow, on the other hand, showed up in the 1500s and is apparently still used on occasion.

I’ll say this: I’m sure glad it wasn’t any other kind of cow stepping all over my computer.