USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Sea’
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Protection

You Should Never Go Into the Sea in a Month with an ‘R’

Informant: “I don’t remember how to say it in Italian now, but I remember the saying translates to ‘You should never go into the sea in a month with an “R”‘. I remember learning this when I was studying in Florence my Junior year of college, I was in Florence from January to June, but right in the middle, right around March, so spring break time, I went down to Sicily with a bunch of my friends. And it was a lot warmer than in Florence, but it wasn’t super warm, and so all of my friends wanted to go in the ocean, and my relative really had a hard time with that [laughs] because they were like ‘oh no, you can’t go into the ocean, it’s march’, and I said ‘So what if it’s march?’ and they said ‘you can’t, it’s a month with an r.’ And it was sort of a big deal. And I think the origin of this comes from, you know Sicily is an island, and in the past when a lot of people were poor, they didn’t go to school, and they didn’t know how to swim, and maybe it’s different now, but in the past most Sicilians didn’t know how to swim. And so if you go into the ocean when it’s cold, you might get a cramp or something, and you’re more likely to drown, plus in those months it’s colder, so if you think about it, January is cold, March, April… And May is warm, so that’s ok, and June, July, August. And September is starts getting cooler, and October, November, December. My friends ended up swimming anyways, but my relatives thought they were crazy…”

Collector [a few weeks after initial interview]: I was reading the transcript of my interview with you, when I realized that the Italian word for January, ‘Gennaio’, does not have an ‘R’ in it, despite this being one of the months you mentioned. How does this impact your opinion of this saying?

Informant: [short silence, then laughs] “Wow, you’re right! I can’t believe I never thought of that! Wow… that’s weird, I guess I had just always thought about it in English. Is that the only one? Wait… [Informant lists off all the months in Italian]. Yeah, so I guess that’s the only one that doesn’t work. All the other months that have ‘R’s in English also have ‘R’s in Italian except that one… Its so strange because I know when I was first told this, the person who told it to me said it in Italian. I guess maybe they just thought that they didn’t need to worry about January because it’s always so cold in January that no one would want to swim.”

Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.

Collector Analysis: Sicilians, living in a geographical area completely surrounded by water, would of course have a body of folklore concerned with when it is safe to go into the ocean, and when it is not. This saying serves as a mnemonic device to help remember when it is ok to swim in the ocean, and when it is unsafe to do so. For this reason, I would imagine that this originated more as a way to keep children safe from drowning in the ocean during the colder months in the winter as well as the late fall and early spring. Of course, this does not apply to anyone going out on the ocean, as most Sicilians would need to go out on the ocean year-round to support their livelihoods.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Semester at Sea- Neptune Day

“There alot of weird traditons on ships. The one I will tell you about is called Neptune Day. Back in the day sailing was really hard, people died all the time, it was real smelly, your chances of making it off the ship were slim. Ships are hard. Seaman….hahaha, had this tradition that when you cross the equator, ‘Woo hoo! You’ve survived!’ It’s a big feat because most people don’t. Clearly this is the future, we wouldn’t die, things didn’t really smell for us, but we still kept tradition. I was there as a student, but for the people who actually run the ship this tradition is really important and we do it to honor them. And it’s just fun. There’s 600 people on a ship and sometimes you just need things to do so you plan an activity for a bunch of college kids. On my ship we did this, they do it every voyage, but we crossed the Equator and the Prime Meridian at the same time, so 0’0″. Normally when you cross the Equator you go from a ‘slimy scally wag’ to a ‘shellback’. But because we also crossed at the Prime Meridian we became ‘emerald shellbacks.’ So we were at the heart of the world. And everyone is really excited and it’s this whole big thing. We have a pool on the ship; you jump into a pool of fish guts. And then you get doused with salt and then you kiss a fish. Our dean, this prestigious guy, paints himself green and is King Trident. He shakes your hand after you get out of the pool, get doused in salt and kiss the fish. And all the teachers dress up, they come out as a parade, and are kind of creepy. There were some kids on the ship too, the teachers kids and they get to dress up too. The students dress up too though, like war paint. Also some people shave their heads. A lot of guys do it. Some girls did it too and gave their hair to Locks of Love. Everyone  watches and cheers you on as you do it. I think it’s from back in the day that people would get lice and needed to shave their heads on ships. And ya that’s pretty much it. It’s a fun day. It’s supposed to be like you’ve earned your ‘sea legs’ after being on the course. I did not shave my head; I’m an actor so I can’t do that. I did shave my friends head though. But I did do the fish guts, salt thing. You didn’t HAVE to do that, but you like kinda did.”

This festival is particularly interesting because it draws on ancient traditions of the sea but also incorporates modern additions, like giving the shaved hair to charities. Upon doing a little more research I discovered that ‘shellbacks’ is meant to mean ‘Sons of Neptune’ and another variant on ‘slimy scally wag’ is (slimy) polywogs. There are historical records going back as far as the early 1800’s describing this ritual of crossing the equator as performed on Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian ships. My participant experienced this tradition while on an academic experience but it is also performed by many naval groups in the United States and Russia. As Captain Robert Fitzroy noted it “was beneficial for moral.” This ritual seemed to have been a really positive and fun experience for my friend. She remembered it fondly and it seemed like one of the most memorable experience she had while on her trip.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Well of Lost Souls

“My second ghost story umm happened just only a few years back, maybe about three years ago. When my children and my sister decided to take a visit to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Umm it was around Halloween time and they do a umm haunted ship or a haunted Queen Mary tour. Umm I’m kind of a scaredy cat and a chicken, so I went ahead and I sent my sister, who loves to be frightened and scared, with a portion of my family and I went ahead and decided to take a tour of the ship by myself with my two younger children.
So as we went ahead, and we started walking up and down the different floors, we decided to catch the end of a tour on one of the upper decks. So, as we were walking through, I guess it was the main deck to the back side of the ship, or which I believe is called the stern. We saw the tour enter this back umm entrance of the ship, so I -we- happened to be held back, because I think one of my children, her shoe was untied, so I went ahead and tied that. In that lapse of time, we kind of lost the group that we were following, but we know what area that they were going to go ahead and tour.
So we started walking down these red steel steps and my daughters were first and I was following behind them and as I made it to the bottom of that landing, I look up to my left and I see a sailor dressed in, I guess, its nautical clothing or a sailor’s outfit, but very dated. And he looked like he was behind a boiler, so I kind of shook my head and continued to walk through this what looked like an empty office with a lot of windows, a panoramic view basically of the bay. As I was walking through this area, I had a very uneasy feeling and at the same time, my middle daughter, she turned to me and she said “we need to get out of here and we need to get out of here now.” So I asked her “what happened, what happened?” And she says” we just need to get out of this place right now.” So we left that area of the ship and we went back to the main deck to catch some air. And when we arrived up at that upper deck, I asked her what happened and she said while she was there and even though we were the only ones now that were touring that area, because we had lost the other group. She said that there was a hand that or this pressure that came across her neck and was squeezing her neck very tightly and making sure that she understood that there was a presence there with her, but not a good presence, a bad presence. So between my daughter’s incident and what I saw and the sickening in my stomach, I was convinced that I needed to go and either find a historian or talk to somebody who knew of the sightings of the Queen Mary.
In my head, I kept on hearing this… this… I don’t want to say a voice, but I kept on hearing “the well of lost souls.” It was repetitious in my head. And the more this was happening the more I was desperate to find somebody who had answers for the way I was feeling and the incident that happened to my daughter. So when I finally got to the entrance, mind you, of the Queen Mary, which is also on the main deck, but kind of I guess it’s the lobby, they directed me to a historian who was in the bookstore. And I had told him of my account and what I had seen and what my daughter had seen. They had confirmed that yes the sailor that I saw is a frequent spirit that is always there and is always seen. That the ill feeling I had in my stomach and this word of “the well of lost souls” umm because what happened in that area that we were touring happened to be behind the – in front- of the infirmary umm and below that was the morgue. They had told me also that their main offices was in that portioner that area of the ship, but because there was so many sightings and incidents they had to relocate all the Queen Mary corporation offices off of that area and actually on to the main land. So, that was a little strange.
They also told me that the ship in itself had actually 49 deaths that happened on the ship and it was also called the Grey Ghost. Because Not only was it a luxury liner, but in World War II, it was a transport ship, so that’s why it was called the Grey Ghost, because they had painted it grey. During that time that it was a transport ship, there was an incident in the atlantic as it was crossing the atlantic with a sister ship, where the sister ship was sinking and the Queen Mary was zigzagging through the debris of this fallen ship and they had left behind 300 survivors in the water, of shark infested waters. So here you have also a guilt I guess, of these 300 people -I’m sorry- ya 300 people that were suffering in freezing cold water with sharks that were left at sea and either got eaten by the sharks or drowned. So since then, I do not go back to the Queen Mary and will not go back to the Queen Mary even though it is a tourist attraction, because I will never want that experience or wish that experience on anybody. I hope you enjoyed my second story and thank you for listening.”

Analysis:

Firstly, this story shows a harmful and unfamiliar ghost. In the sighting and incident, the ghost appeals to the senses. In the case of the storyteller, she sees him. In the case of her daughter, she feels a pounding on her neck. It is important to notice that ghosts can be perceived in different ways and not solely through sight. Secondly, this story draws a line between official and unofficial history. Most people are not aware of thew massive and horrible 300 person death in the seas. The Queen Mary tries to bury this secret and the ship is haunted by its guilt in a sense, because the ship has frequent sightings. Lastly, it is important to notice the way in which the Queen Mary staff talk about these stories, because it shows that ghost storytelling is a business in which money can be made.

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