The lovesick ghost

A ghost, that eyed a lady fair
By her bed he stood quite bare
In moonlight waiting wan and thin,
Pale and wretched in the night
          Loathéd to cause her spectral fright        
 Intent upon her charms to win.
Soft and sweet was this comely maid,
So warm and yielding there she laid,
            Her open lips were made to kiss,          
Her curvéd thighs evoked pure bliss.

'Oh spirits let me live again
And feel love's pleasures and love's pain,
  Let warm blood rouse me from Death's State
                                   So I can then pervade her soul                                   
 And thereupon once more feel whole,

Let me enter Heaven's Gate'!

The maiden suddenly awoke,
    Then sought a meerschaum pipe to smoke,
  The flash of light made such a glow,
   It caused the forlorn ghost to go.


With apologies to Thomas Lovell Beddoes 1803-1849
The Phantom Wooer
 Parody and image © Mirino. September, 2013

The house

A house in a mountain village. For peace, one could find no better place.
The house is full of memories and mementoes. There's a small room for a little girl who has since grown up. There are pictures of happy people who have since passed on. But there are water-colours that are timeless. One remembers doing each one.

Late in September, when the sun casts longer shadows, what seems too sudden a seasonal change in less than one month, often reminds us of the fleeting years.

The light now changes rapidly, à vue d'œil. The days become much shorter. Once more we think of the autumn of life.

Peering carefully towards the descending sun, one remembers the past. Perhaps it makes us smile, to gaze at the changing light, and think back on how sure we were of the future.

If life were an eternal summer, it would be less beautiful. If we knew exactly where we were going, there would be less point in going there.

A house in a mountain village facing south, perched on its range of rock. The house is full of treasures. Some are very old. Heirlooms of another age, from another country; part of the lives of others who were far more homely and settled.

When no one is in the house, early sunlight might peep through the closed shutters and send a small, gold dust beam to caress an old wooden chair that has its own, long history.

Or shafts of moonlight might glimmer through the slats, to bless and bid the deserted house goodnight.

Text and photographs © Mirino. September, 2013

Scottish myths 30

 Grave Matters

Caitríona, a stout cattle owner in Strathavon, was desperate to find means to save her cattle from a fatal disease that was ravaging all the herds in the region.
As all Christian rites and prayers proved fruitless, the poor woman finally sought the advise of an old hag with a permanent, toothless smile who lived in the nearby glen.

The old woman had seen it all before and knew the best remedies. The most effective, according to her, was to go to the local churchyard at midnight when there was a full moon (the timing was essential) and obtain a head from the dead body of a man. The old hag insisted that only a dead man's head would be able to destroy the devil's power responsible for killing bovine. This, provided that it be obtained at midnight and held aloft to face the full moon. Caitríona must also carry out the same ritual at midnight before the moon for the following three days.

The cattle owner was a hardy, practical women. As she had tried everything, she reasoned that there would be no great harm in finally taking a witch's advice. She was a bit adverse to the idea of going to the churchyard in the middle of the night alone however, so she managed to persuade a woman neighbour friend to accompany her.

On arrival Caitríona's friend couldn't hide her fear, and refused to enter the churchyard. She reluctantly promised to wait at the church gates for Caitríona who staunchly went ahead on her ghoulish errand.

She chose an old grave, managed to move the broken pieces of tomb stone and began digging with the spade she had thoughtfully brought along for that very purpose.

She soon came to a body and detached the skull. It still had a few hoary hairs that shone silvery in the bright moonlight and floated gracefully in the breeze. She was about to set down the head and tidy things up, when suddenly an eery voice broke the silence of the night. "Whit the caber dost thou think ye be doing wi' ma heid the noo?"
On hearing this Caitríona hastily replaced the head, but undaunted, she soon dug up another skull deeper down in the same grave. The second skull was quite bare but full of earth. Once more the uncanny voice lamented. "That heid noo belongs to me faither!"  Again Caitríona replaced the skull, wiped her muddy hands on her apron, and then dug down further to find a third, darker stained skull. "And that one noo belongs to me grandda!" came the withering voice.

At this Caitríona replied that the head would only be on loan, and she would make up for it afterwards by making sure that the neglected tomb would be well tended in the future. She would even embellish it with seasonal flowers, she added. This seemed to reassure the ghost who nevertheless replied, "That ye do ye fat besom, or I shalt haunt ye and your kin for ere mere".

Unimpressed, Caitríona showed the skull to the full moon then wrapped it in a cloth, replaced the earth, dragged the broken tomb stones together to fit in their proper places. She then left the cemetery expecting to find her friend, only to discover that she'd gone.
On hearing the churchyard conversations, nothing prevented Caitríona's friend from waiting any longer. The shock had caused her hair to become white and stand on end. Terrified she had run off in the night like a mad, bleached golliwog.

Although the old hag's remedy made absolutely no difference to the fate of Caitríona's doomed cattle, she fully respected the agreement she had made with the ghost. She replaced the borrowed scull and faithfully tended the grave regularly, which indeed was to her credit.

As her entire herd of cattle was wiped out by bovine bacteria, brachyspira pilosicoli or buffalopox, Caitríona took to sheep farming and made a fortune by selling Scottish lamb as well as fine wool that was woven to make the best Scottish tartans in the Highlands.

It was said that such success following tragedy had something to do with her tending a certain grave in the local cemetery. If there's any truth in this, then it would go to show that one should best heed one's own heart and mind, rather than old hag's tales. But perhaps the old woman was much wiser than one might think..

 Scottish myths 31
Scottish myths 29

Retelling © Mirino from 'The Death Bree', Scottish Folktales changed to accord more with Highland common sense, with thanks. Photos (Duddingston kirk, also radically changed) from Scotfot, with many thanks.               September, 2013

Being Ernest

Ernest is as honest
As an earnest fool can be,
Although he never earns much,
Earning even less than me

Ernest lives in earnest
                        Which indeed he might resent,                     
         For he can become tenser        
                                     To a disordered extent.                                     

If Ernest was less honest,
(Which enters the very core)
He would be far less earnest
And certainly less poor.

An irresistible challenge for bored millionaires and Greek Byron fans. Find the three anagrams in the above doggerel.
The first hundred correct answers will be accorded the unique privilege and moral obligation of making a generous donation to the arts, sponsored by Ernest of Viewfinder.

Doggerel and image © Mirino. September, 2013

Fonceurs de la liberté

Naturellement on est horrifié par l'utilisation des armes chimiques en Syrie, même si on semblait être nettement moins horrifié par l'utilisation des armes chimiques par le régime de Saddam Hussein contre les forces iraniennes, avant de les utiliser même chez lui contre les kurdes iraqiens.

Notre horreur doit dépendre donc sur nos intérêts. F. Hollande est tellement pressé de jouer le rôle du justicier numéro deux du monde pour 'punir' la Syrie, que l'on pourrait suspecter que certains accords ont été faits auparavant pour faire plaisir à ceux au Moyen Orient qui de loin préfèrent payer au lieu de participer plus activement, même si le problème les regarde nettement plus qu'il ne regarde l'Occident.

Notre première réaction de cette attaque des armes chimiques est donc celle de vouloir en finir avec Assad pour de bon. Ceci d'autant plus après presque trois ans de guerre civile qui aurait pu être évitée si Assad tenait à le faire et avait davantage de bonne volonté. Mais il a préféré suivre les pas de son père. Peut-être pour Bachar el-Assad c'est donc normal de tuer quasi aveuglément et opprimer son peuple afin de garder son pouvoir. Si cela avait bien marché pour son père, peut-être selon Assad, il n'y aurait aucune raison pourquoi il ne pouvait pas obtenir les mêmes résultats.

Mais le monde évolue de plus en plus rapidement. La mondialisation fait que rien n'est aussi simple qu'il en avait peut-être d'abord l'air. Avec les jours, les heures, nos opinions se modifient selon l'évolution des événements, l'accès de plus en plus rapide à diverses informations, et notre propre sens de jugement.

L'ONU ne fournira aucune preuve à propos de qui est responsable de cette attaque chimique. D'ailleurs c'est même plausible que cet aspect quand même essentiel, le concerne moins que celui d'établir simplement qu'une attaque chimique ait eu lieu.

Pour le Congrès américain les frappes punitives contre le régime de Assad doivent être aussi justifiées comme essentielles aux intérêts généraux des Etats Unis, et à priori leur sécurité. Ce n'est aucunement évident que ce soit le cas. D'ailleurs on est incapable de prévoir les conséquences et les réactions d'un tel engagement punitif, malgré les efforts d'Obama de rassurer qu'il n'aboutirait pas à un autre Iraq ou à un autre Afghanistan. On n'en sait rien.

Mais on sait déjà bien assez pour reconnaître que l'on ne peut pas s'ingérer en Syrie sans au moins se brûler les doigts. On sait que l'opposition, qui aurait pu être aidée sérieusement il y a 18 mois, aussi pour qu'elle soit mieux organisée et unifiée, n'a plus de contrôle réel sur les influxes de factions diverses d'extrèmistes dont les forces se multiplient de manière de plus en plus imposante et déconcertante.

Il semble aussi apparent que les autorités des Etats Unis n'ont rien appris de leurs erreurs commises en Afghanistan suivant la fin de la guerre afghano-soviétique, erreurs qui ont déterminé tant de conséquences tragiques. Car accélérer la fin d'Assad pourrait être considéré bien louable, si on savait avec certitude que ceci déterminera une Syrie stable et 'démocratique'. Malheureusement c'est plutôt le contraire. D'abord un flou infect, puis les plus forts et barbares contre une opposition légitime sérieusement affaiblie par quasi trois ans de guerre. En somme le même scénario que celui de l'Afghanistan en 1997, mais cette fois avec la possibilité d'un arsenal d'armes chimiques entres autres pour le gagnant.

Obama et Hollande ont choisi de retirer leur forces d'Afghanistan tout en sachant que la guerre est loin d'y être terminée. Mais ils sont prêts à 'punir' Bachar el-Assad en croyant et en espérant qu'une telle intervention accéléra son départ, sans accorder trop d'importance au scénario qui suivrait.

Les talibans (alors de toutes nationalités) ont pris Kabul en 1996, 'Nadjibollah est assassiné. Le président Rabbani se réfugie au Badakhcan et Massoud résiste dans la vallée du Panjshir. 2001, les talibans contrôlent 90% du pays. Les sbires du ministre de la Répression du vice et de la Promotion de la vertue font régner la terreur. Destruction des bouddhas de Bamiyan. 9 septembre 2001: assassinat du commandant Massoud. 11 septembre 2001: attentats à New York et Washington..'

Ce qui suivra la fin d'Assad est donc bien plus important que trois jours de frappes américaines et françaises. Frappes qui si exécutées seront faites plutôt pour la forme, les sondages et la crédibilité des deux personnages qui se sont engagés trop tôt (officiellement pour une cause morale); et bien moins pour la crédibilité de leurs pays dont la majorité du peuple est contre un tel engagement.

Si on n'apprend rien de l'histoire, elle a une fâcheuse tendance à se répéter. Admettant qu'un engagement en Syrie de la part d'Obama et de Hollande ait lieu, les conséquences seront aussi leur responsabilité. Et ainsi va l'histoire.
    Eventus stultorum magister

Text and image © Mirino. Chronologie from Pour l'amour de Massoud by Sediqa Massoud. September, 2013


A long time ago, when the Great Golden Eagles were the noble sentinels of the Highland skies, there lived a poor farmer with his only daughter.

One day he asked his daughter to go up into the craggy hills and gather as much heather as she could carry, for the farmer needed to repair the roof of his crofthouse before the winter. And this his daughter did.

High up in the craggy hills she gathered the heather near a small burn fall. Suddenly, startled by a strange noise, she looked up, lost her balance, then fell a small distance below. A rock stopped her fall but caused her to become unconscious.


When she finally awoke, she found herself lying on a soft warm bed of lush green grass in a small glen. She had know idea where she was or how she came to be there. In fact she no longer even knew who she was, because she had lost her memory.

After walking aimlessly, trying hard to remember something, she came to a small, slate-roofed cottage. In front of the cottage sat an old women. Instead of continuing to pluck the chicken that was on her lap, the old woman thoughtfully observed the girl. 
It was true that she looked very dishevelled and still quite dazed, but it wasn't her state that seemed to interest the old women.

"You are Aileana", was finally all that the old women said.
The girl didn't answer. She didn't know what to say.
"That is who you are", nodded the old women with a tight smile, then she continued to pluck her chicken as though the girl no longer concerned her.

The girl approached the old women. She was very troubled.
"How do you know who I am, if even I don't know? I don't know where I am, where I have come from or how I have come to be here."

The old women stopped her work once more and looked up at the distressed girl.
"Go to yonder lochan and wash yourself, arrange yourself to appear more comely".
This the girl did, and then she returned, for it then seemed to the girl that the old woman represented her only hope.

The old women then offered the girl some oat-cakes and broth. She watched her eat before she spoke again.
"To remember the past you must return there and beyond. Do you see yonder craggy ben? You must go there, climb the craigs, the braes of heather and reach the cairn.
Your name is Aileana".

The girl thanked the old women then did what she had bidden.
When, exhausted, she had almost reached the summit of the ben, she discovered amongst some rocks a great golden eagle fledgling. It must have fallen from its eyrie. It was still weakly struggling, and in a desperate state.

The girl gently picked up the fledgling, then as discreetly as possible she climbed up to where she guessed the eyrie must be. Sure enough she found it, and carefully put the fledgling snugly between the two others still there. They allowed her to do this whilst they softly pecked at her fingers.


Aileana found the braes of heather, gathered up as much as she could carry as her father had asked, then she returned home. Her father had been expecting her. Although he noticed that she had hurt herself, he made no comment.

Aileana remembered absolutely everything, everything except the hidden glen of soft green grass, and the mystery of how she came to be there. Everything except the wise old woman in front of the slate-roofed cottage.

Text and illustration (1976) © Mirino (PW). September, 2013

Restrizioni di volo (2)

Ogni tanto al modo mio, e non solo per praticare quel poco di italiano che sono riuscito ad imparare, vorrei provare ad esprimermi in italiano. Credo anche che in questa Europa che stiamo sviluppando, si abbia quasi la stessa responsabilità nei confronti della comunità europea che in quelli del proprio paese. Se così ancora non fosse, lo dovrebbe essere.

Che pensano gli italiani del Presidente francese F. Hollande? Forse non ci pensano in molti.  È vero che ci sono cose più interessanti da fare che pensare a questo personaggio, ma viste le circostanze e il comportamento attuali del Presidente francese, senza dubbio gli italiani avranno le loro opinioni.

Qui in Francia molti sono persuasi che Monsieur Hollande voglia fare qualcosa d'importante e perfino di pericoloso, e questo più per crescere nei sondaggi nazionali che per migliorare il mondo. Ciò a patto che gli americani facciano la prima mossa. Già i sondaggi gli danno due punti in più (ora quindi ha 26
%) da quando vuole 'punire' Bashar al-Assad per ciò che ha fatto d'inaccettabile, ammesso che sia vero.

Ma une nazione che fa parte dell'Europa dovrebbe badare non solamente al consenso nazionale, (che non è neanche necessario in Francia dove un Presidente ha sempre il diritto ed il potere costituzionali per decidere di far un atto di guerra senza ottenere un'autorizzazione della camera, come del resto negli Stati Uniti) ma anche un consenso europeo. Dopo tutto i paesi membri dell'Europa sono collegati. Ciò che di importante una nazione decide da sola riguarda tutti i paesi membri necessariamente.

Una cosa è comunque certa - malgrado la manifestazione di sedicente determinazione del Presidente francese - che non sarà possibile che la Francia si impegni da sola. Ecco il problema di François Hollande. Poiché se Obama non potrà ottenere l'autorizzazione del Congresso, e se di conseguenza non se la sentisse più di impegnare gli USA, Monsieur Hollande avrà l'aria più ridicola che mai, e rischierà di perdere molti punti in più nei sondaggi nazionali...
Il Presidente francese ha preso così un gran rischio. Se dopo aver troppo parlato, si sgonfia a causa di una tale decisione americana, sarà non solo lo zimbello della Francia, ma anche del mondo intero.

C'è una piccola evoluzione da quando ho cominciato questa "lezione". Anche Obama conta sul potere delle parole. Ha detto che il Congresso "autorizzerà" un'azione punitiva degli Stati Uniti contro la Siria, come se l'anticipazione e la volontà verbale del Presidente americano determineranno un tal risultato positivo. Ma nulla è sicuro, compresa la decisione di Obama se mai il Congresso votasse contro un'azione da parte degli Stati Uniti.

Obama aveva parlato troppo e troppo presto. Dopo che Cameron si è eclissato, Hollande, pensando che potrebbe diventare il campione giustiziere numero due nel mondo, quindi meglio ancora di Sarkozy, ha anche lui parlato troppo, e troppo presto. La loro reputazioni e credibilità dipendono così dal voto del Congresso americano, poiché senza un voto favorevole, è plausibile che Obama sarà persuaso finalmente a non impegnarsi, e Hollande sarà quindi totalmente perduto e completamente nudo.

Non so. Forse è meglio un Obama indeciso e un Hollande nudo e sgonfiato, che correre il rischio di aprire il vaso di Pandora al punto di non essere in grado di richiuderlo.
In ogni caso interferire in una guerra civile senza prova irrefutabile che il regime siriano ha utilizzato armi chimiche contro i civili siriani, sarebbe comunque sbagliato.


Text and image © Mirino. Italian edited by Rob, with many thanks. September, 2013

Puritan perversity

Phoney historians
 Have far too much to hide,
  Like laced up Victorians 
   Concealing fervent pride.


Useless song

              This song is quite tuneless               
Without reason at all,
 The rhyme is just as useless
 As cats wailing on the wall

              As caterwauling Catherine               
Cooking Brussel sprouts,
 Now banging on a tambourine
 To drown her husband's shouts

 Drowning with the vegetables
They have no taste at all.
Bellows are expendables
Like cats wailing on the wall

Yet bellows can be handy
                        To keep the fire alight.                         
The ardent are always randy
          In the darkness of the night          

If pure reason is crude madness
 Then this rhyme makes perfect sense,
 For laughter must mean sadness 
And calm then must mean tense

This song is then melodious
And truly sensible.
 The rhyme is simply glorious
Thus quite infallible

Hell then must be Heaven,
                                  Then best we should all fall,                                  
                                    For this verse is number seven                                  
                                         Green bottles on the wall                                       
                               Or perhaps there were eight                                
                                        And maybe even more,                                          
If true love is false hate,
The rich then must be poor.

A caterwauling feline
Sings a subtle melody,
To celebrate its nine 

  Lives, stuck up in a gum-tree.

Doggerel and image (double exposure- watercolour and Victorian photograph, c. 1980) © Mirino. September, 2013