November 27th, 2005



Cold like a door slammed on an empty room. Cold like a torn page blowing along a deserted road. Cold like the thought of abandoned houses. Effing cold! This is going to take some getting used to, if it lasts. Already there are more clouds forming. The thin moon wears a dark halo. I can easily imagine snow. Too soon, too soon!

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Imagining the Sound of Castanets

A front yard fir tree at the house on the corner has been festooned with blood-red lights. It's splendidly lurid, and I've chosen to read it as a suggestion that the season may take a delightfully whorish turn. It's like indulgent Saturnalia poking through the prim overlay of Christmas. (I wonder if traditionalist Romans of the early Imperial period, observing the growing materialism of their society, ever exhorted their less religiously rigorous cohorts to "put the Saturn back in Saturnalia"?) Perhaps the exclusively red lights are intended to evoke thoughts of the blood of Christ, but to me they seem more suggestive of the flames of Hell, or at least of the cheery avatars of those flames in the fireplaces of cozy rooms where chestnuts are roasted on the hearth.

Speaking of chestnuts, insomnia has posted a seasonally correct entry all about the much-admired fruit of the castenea. I, alas, have never tasted them. Before an exotic blight destroyed most of the indigenous American variety of chestnut trees early in the 20th century, they were a common part of the diet in the east, though I don't believe they ever grew in California. The chestnuts consumed in the U.S. today are mostly imported, but I don't recall ever seeing even these imported nuts here in the west. Roasting chestnuts by an open fire is one of those traditions which made it over the Sierras only in song lyrics and scenes from sentimental Christmas movies. As the movies were made in Hollywood, the studios must have had a source of chestnuts-- unless they used something mocked up in the prop department-- but it wasn't Safeway or Ralph's.

The name of the genus, castenea, reminded me of something, so I went Googling. It turns out that the name castanets is derived from the Spanish word for chestnut. Presumably this is both because the instrument resembles the nut, and because it can be made from the hard wood of the chestnut tree. My sister had a pair of castanets once, but she never learned to play them. I did have an aunt who could play them, which I always found remarkable, as I couldn't get them to click properly even once, let alone repeatedly, and in those complex rhythmic patterns characteristic of the instrument. They are devilishly difficult. I could probably learn to operate those castanets which are fastened to the ends of sticks, but they remind me of bikes with training wheels. It just isn't the same. So, I can't play the castanets, and I've never had chestnuts. I could probably get hold of some chestnuts easily enough, but I suspect that the castanets are forever beyond my clumsy fingers. Too bad. I think I'd like to go out on summer nights and accompany the crickets.