DAILY BRIEFINGThe Witches Laugh Last
Jun. 24 - As I mentioned yesterday, last night was Midsummer's Eve and the DMB and I, like many other Frederiksbergers (doesn't that sound like it should come with fries?), were looking forward to the festivities at Frederiksberg Garden. There would be music, singing, drinking, and general merriment, culminating with the ritual burning of a witch.
Naturally, the DMB and I had no sooner mounted our bikes and begun making our way toward the Garden than it began raining. By the time we got there it was pouring. But what's a little rain? We were already wet. We'd been clever enough to pack umbrellas with our wine and beer. No biggie. Undaunted by the sight of several clusters of disappointed Danes making their wet and bedraggled way out of the Garden, we entered it and began walking toward the site of the bonfire.
The rain accellerated again, now enhanced with sporadic lightning. Thunder echoed around us like celestial timpanis. "It's just Danish lightning," the DMB reassured me. "It just flashes around up in the sky. It doesn't smash down into the earth like in the states." I had been unaware of Denmark's meterological exception but was thrilled to learn of it. I was struck by lightning as a child—which, coupled with my having been hit in the head by a shotput in 9th grade, probably explains an awful lot about me—so I have a kind of "phobia" about lightning. (The DMB calls it a phobia: I call it wariness informed by experience and empirical observation—or just plain terror.)
The number of men and women and children making their way out of the Garden increased as we made our way further in, and the "Danish lightning" was looking and sounding more and more like the American variety. At length we came to a broad, flat expanse of grass, at the far end of which rose Frederiksberg Slot (castle), at the base of which rose the giant and as yet unlit bonfire, topped with a witch like the cherry on a sundae. Beside and behind the bonfire was the big brass band whose music we'd heard from our own apartment, and surrounding the band and the fire was a rapidly-diminishing throng.
"C'mon," urged the DMB, quickening her steps, "we're almost there!"
I remind you that "there" was at the end of a broad, flat expanse of grass. I remind you that the lightning appeared downright midwestern by this point. And I remind you that this American reacts to lightning like—well, frankly, like a terrified child.
It was my first Midsummer's Eve, though, and my first witch-burning, and some of the DMB's confidence rubbed off on me. I followed her about two-thirds of the way across the green, when suddenly a bolt of down-home, Yankee-style lightning struck no more than a few hundred meters away from us. The DMB stopped in her tracks. "This is idiotic," she (finally) acknowledged. "Let's get the hell out of here."
It was a sentiment with broad appeal. There was a sudden mad rush out of the Garden. It's all kind of a blur to me now, but I know we got out of the Garden without incident because I remember the relief I felt when we finally entered the shelter of a nearby café.
I ordered a couple of pilsners while the DMB called her mother on her cell phone. Her mother was still in the park, and said the witch was burning—they'd had to douse the poor hag in gasoline to ignite her in all that rain. I enjoyed my beer and felt my pulse subside back toward normal as the DMB nursed her own beer and chatted away with her mom—when our quiet, pilsner-facilitated recovery was suddenly interrupted by a nearby blast of lightning and cotemporaneous thunder.
The DMB lost her connection. She redialled her mother and couldn't get through. For a moment or two she was willing to ascribe it to interference from the storm, but with each passing minute she became increasingly frantic. That lightning had been awfully close. Her mother was still out there in the park. Why had the phone been disconnected at that precise moment? I tried to reassure her, but didn't think she'd be cheered by my observation that, if her mother had actually been struck by lightning, surely we'd have heard ambulance sirens by now. I withheld that bit of optimism for myself, but have to admit I breathed a little easier myself when I saw the DMB's mom enter the bar.
Her phone's battery had died, she explained sheepishly. With a shrug, she added, "Dorligt řjeblik"—"bad timing."
* * *
The DMB had watered our plants earlier in the evening, and when it had started raining I joked that it was all her fault. "The only worse thing you could have done would have been to wash your car," I said. "You've guaranteed the rain."
"Mm," she said.
As we made our way home, after the thunderstorm had passed and the rain had finally subsided, the DMB recalled my having endorsed the burning of witches as sound public policy yesterday.
"I may have watered the roses," she observed, "but you're the one that pissed off the witches."
She may have had a point. Witches please note: I'm having second thoughts.
A reader from Hotmail asks, "If one train leaves at 8 am traveling at 40 miles per hour, and the other train leaves at 10 am traveling at 20 miles per hour, how many postage stamps can one cram inside a CF Marton & Co. 14-fret acoustic guitar with a mahogany mortoise/tenon neck joint construction? Also, what a piece of work is man?"
As for the first question, please specify the dimension of the postage stamps and the points of departure and destination for the trains in question. As for the second—which man?
The Eggplant State
New Jersey was founded on this date in 1664. It derives its name from the isle of Jersey, just off England's shore (and also near Britain).
It was the third state admitted to the Union, admitted on December 18, 1787.
The official state bird of New Jersey is the Eastern Goldfinch. The state bug is the honey bee (apis mellifera). The state tree is the red oak (Quercus borealis maxima). The state flower is the common meadow violet (Viola sororia). The state shell is the knobbed whelk, also known as the conch shell (Busycon carica gmelin). The state fish is the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), the state animal is the horse (Equus caballus), and the state dinosaur is the Hadrosaurus (Hadrosaurus foulkii).
The eggplant is not the official vegetable of New Jersey because it's not a vegetable. It's a fruit—a berry, actually—and New Jersey claims to produce two-thirds of all the eggplant in the world. (It's a bogus claim, and one that leaves me wondering not so much about the world eggplant situation, but the mindset of whoever thought it would enhance New Jersey's reputation if people thought it was the world's leading producer of eggplant. I mean, eggplant?)
There is no official berry of New Jersey, but if there were it would almost certainly be the eggplant, which would cause great confusion among persons accustomed to putting berries in their cereal.
New Jersey has a population of 8.48 million on 7,417 square miles of land. It's the fifth smallest state in the country. With 1,134 people per square mile, it's the densest state in the nation. The relative density of New Jersey should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever driven behind a car with Jersey plates.
Jeff Beck is 59 today and Mick Fleetwood is 61. Jack Dempsey (1895) and Ambrose Bierce (1842) were also born on this day.
It's Countryman's Day in Peru and Zaire Day in Zaire.
© 2003, The Moron's Almanac