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Wicca’s Diary 2

My Human has been changing things around in our house. She’s taken down an awful picture of a very depressed-looking woman that looks like a younger version of herself and put up a rather beautiful Buddha picture, he’s lying down in bliss . It’s bad for humans to be depressed; they have no real understanding of themselves because they have something they call “Past” and something they call “Future”. I hear her talking about it almost every day when she’s teaching her students. Now, if they would all just live in the “now”, the now in which they are smiling at each other , and laughing, surely that would be better? It is Anne’s fault too because she tells them ” Next week, we’ll do blah blah blah…”

I’ve done a little changing things myself! She has this poinsetta, a white one which she shouldn’t, they’re poisonous for us cats, so to prove my point and remind her of her duty towards me, I knocked it off the shelf. But then I felt sorry because she was so upset “Naughty Cat” she said, “my students sent it to me, it’s so beautiful” and she put it back again; I suppose she knows I’m not dopey enough to eat it; I’ve got street cred! I’ll probably let her keep it as she likes it so much, she’s even draped it in tiny Christmas lights and often admires it.

The latest absurdity of hers is a big notice she’s posted. She grins when she reads it thinking its funny. Ah, Anne’ s got a long way to go if she thinks she’ll train me with humour! Anyway, I’ve been exploring and have discovered where she keeps her saucepans, if you saw them you’d realise she’s obviously not a cook poor thing!

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Dismantling Christmas

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Well Dickens and the Victorians* invented it (as we know it) so I guess we can just as soon dismantle it. With a little help from our politicians who want to keep us in a small safety bubble. But I wasn’t actually talking about that. I took the decorations down yesterday, the 3 Wise men arrived bringing their gifts, although they always seem to leave me out .I’ve been waiting for wisdom for such a long time now! What I got in exchange though was an almost insatiable curiosity about the world around me which, from reaching afar has been made tiny in these covid times. But wait! In spite of the restrictions I still have all I need, and more . A lot of love without hugs yes, but that’s ok. A lot more travel-less time to do my job well and go down all the new avenues I now have the leisure to discover, some opening up into splendid future vistas, others leading to dead ends. I’m learning hope from my garden, as ever. Don’t need any Wise men to tell me that do I?

*Although they already had Christmas cards and Christmas trees it was only when Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” that Christmas went crazy! If you have Amazon Prime there’s a feel-good film about it. Christians had been celebrating Christ’s birth of course, and Germanic tribes had been using evergreen decorations to keep away witches, ghosts and evil spirits long before that. But it was with Ebeneezer Scrooge & co. that family gatherings and sentimental Christmasses really took off. With Dylan Thomas’s wonderful “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” a layer of bitter-sweet nostalgia was added. However much as we mock ourselves for getting into these consumeristic, spendthrift, overblown Christmasses, maybe we should think again. Through no fault of anyone’s I ate a pretty miserable Christmas dinner alone but then I had a wonderful heart-warming surprise when the whole masked family turned up for panettone and Italian spumante (or English tea) quaffed under the sun blind to shelter from the rain the outliers who couldn’t be socially distanced in the patio! It only lasted long enough enough to eat the last sultanas but Dickens was right, it is about family after all. So don’t be Christmas snobs, and join in the Merriment!

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Wicca’s diary

Apparently my name is Wicca, although I don’t really know what I have to do with Celtic medicine women as I come from Basilicata after all. But there you have it, humans are difficult to understand for us cats and even worse, my human actually speaks another language, I was used to u putenzese. The very first day I was confused by it all but she sounds soothing when she says “Wicca’s a lovely little kitten” (she actually sounds as if she’s purring) so I purr back at her and she seems pleased, so I guess it’s ok. The journey was terrible, in a van with other containers full of dogs, puppies, cats and kittens. The noise was horrendous and don’t get me started on the smell! I can joke about it now but I was terrified. There were some older animals who said that sometimes humans took animals to be killed and eaten although they weren’t sure that that happens in Italy, another one said they even put other humans in big containers and keep them there to die so you can imagine the terror we breathed in that van!

Anyway we arrived eventually and a lady and young man came to fetch me to take me to a new home and a new human.When we got there I found it easy to hide though because I’m black I think and hid away under the bed. The humans came to look for me with lights but I wasn’t coming out before I was quite sure about these people. My new human seems to have several names, Anne, and the young woman calls her mamma the young man calls her granma andthe people she talks to on her desk call her prof! What’s a kitten to think? Anne speaks to me in an unknown language, it sounds soft and nice like a lullaby but I haven’t a clue to what she means. She doesn’t seem to understand me either so I shout at her and she scurries round and tries everything! Food, water, games, grooming, litter. I think she’ll understand me in the end if I try and do the same things over and over again.

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Poppies (Part 3)

9 November 1918 ” In New York City, a middle-aged spinster hurried to her gloomy basement office at Columbia university. Grey clouds scudded overhead and rain threatened. A spectacular future beckoned to the forty-nine- year- old schoolteacher. She would dedicate the rest of her life to healing the wounds…..within the hour she would invent one of history’s most startling and evocative symbols”(1) Inspired by the McCrae poem and wondering how best to remember, she decided to wear poppies every year in remembrance. Other people, impressed by the gesture asked her for poppies to wear and she found some silk ones in a novelty store which she then distributed to those who asked. So the first (unofficial) poppy day was the beginning of a tradition. The rest of the story concerns business men, philanthropists, ordinary people, and the first international spread of the poppy back to France where a new idea was added. The poppies to be sold to various veterans’ associations round the world were to be made by French war widows.

The first British Poppy Day (1921) added layers of British mythology to the fragile flower. No longer the flower of Persephone it had become a symbol of faith “watered with the blood of soldiers….. an ever-recurring and never-dying memorial.” So although the poppy still held its connotations of oblivion (opium) it was adopted with enthusiasm and 30 million poppies were sold in 1922, made in a poppy factory by disabled soldiers. ANZAC day, in memory of Australian and New Zealand troops, added the poppy to their commemorations as an image for the Allied nations and respect for the French battleground, and although the second heroine of our story, French widow Anna Guerin had done so much and continued to do so, many countries started making their own rather than buying them from France. Let US make the poppies was the cry!

It was the energy of these two ,sometimes warring, women that propelled the poppy forward to what I thought was global domination as a symbol until I came to live in Italy and my lapel had to remain bare in November.( I later found out that in Catholic European countries the crysanthemum ,the “golden flower” adorned and shaped their memories. A tradition which had started in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century after the church had divided.) The poppy was used to remember the fallen in WW2 (so just how little had the remembering of the First War served?) but in America it was beginning to lose its appeal. The American counterculture captures the ambiguity of the poppy

“I cry but I can’t buy

Your Veteran’s Day poppy

It don’t get me high

It can only make me cry” (2)

I am not going into the stories , interesting though they are, of the white poppy of the pacifists and the purple poppy of the animalists. Or indeed the problems relating to poppy wearing in Ireland. And where shall we leave Helmland and the Afghan war with the poppy (opium this time) as an emblem of survival, resistance, crime, poverty? So ends our journey from Flanders to Helmland via America of the Civil War. And if you want to know more, as indeed I hope you do, please read Nicholas Saunders’ great book into which I have dipped unashamedly to retell the story in these few words.

(1)and (2) The Poppy.A history of conflict, loss ,remembrance & redemption,Nicholas J. Saunders, 2014pub’d One World

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Poppies (part 2)

War and pain, grief and remembrance had always been with us but the field and opium poppies had not yet been turned into the potent symbol of the Remembrance poppy. But it would, in the obscene horror of the first World War. The trenches which we are so familiar with from documentaries and films were not the only scenario; flying above the Somme a young fighter pilot wrote “among the devastated cottages…….the desecrated cemetaries……the poppies were growing” and even the men in the trenches were attracted to that fragile fleeting beauty. Sapper Jack Martin put his little posy of small marguerites and flaming poppies on a makeshift table, a momentary distraction from the filth, flies and lice.(1) Probably flowers still have a deep meaning inscribed in them: the budding,the opening sepals giving a glimpe of the colour beneath, the bursting into bloom, the uncrumpling of the petals to live a day or two of total glory but then, to droop, fade, drop petals and die.

What was behind this popular symbolism of poppies being the resurrected dead arising?There is a terrible botanical truth behind the symbol: before the war the soil of Belgian Flanders was deficient in lime but the shattered villages, shattered bones fertilised the landscape and gave rise to the abundant flowering of the poppy. So at the beginning of the war we have rather romantic, jingoistic poems citing the poppies, but it didn’t take much time in the trenches to change all that ! Just 3 years later Isaac Rosenberg writes one of the greatest of the war poems:

The darkness crumbles away –

It is the same old druid Time as ever.

Only a live thing leaps my hand-

A queer sardonic rat-

As I pull the parapet’s poppy

To stick behind my ear…

What do you see in our eyes

At the shrieking iron and flame

Hurled through still heavens?

Poppies whose roots are in a man’s veins

Drop,and are ever dropping;

But mine in my ear is safe,

Just a little white with the dust”………………………………..the poppy has taken on vampirish qualities. Meanwhile….. back to opium

As late as 1916 Harrods were selling morphine gift boxes. Not only the wounded benefited from its calming properties though, for in 1917 cigarettes were dropped to Turkish troops fighting in Gaza and the next day the troops were virtually unable to fight!

Note1: Sapper Jack Martin’s diary is one of several recently published first World War accounts that had lain undiscovered for decades.