Author Archives: Matthew Manasse

Legend – Estonian

Estonian Legend- The Spirit of the Lake Elder

In Tallinn, there is a legend saying the reason for why we are always building.  A long time ago, there was never a lake in the center of Tallinn.  Before the lake, there was just a big field with a, uh, a big rock or boulder type stone in the center of it.  This man always used to farm there and was fine with the rock being there, in the center of the field area.  And, uh, one day, this cloud came to the man and told him to stop farming and remove the rock and start building instead.  The man did not listen and the cloud rained and rained until it flooded the field and created a lake.  The man drowned and became known as the Evil Elder of Lake Tallinn.  The Elder then vowed that once Tallinn is done being built, he would flood the city himself. Now on the lightest day of the year, which is think is July 23rd, it is believed that the Elder will walk around the city asking people if Tallinn is done being built.  If anyone says yes, the city will be flooded, so this is why Tallinn is always building because of this Evil Elder.  – Jaak Poldma

When I first asked Jaak to tell me a piece of Folklore, he seemed extremely excited to tell me this legend.  He told me he does not remember exactly where he learned it.  His explanation was that, “It is just something that everyone knows”.  When he told me this, I expected he would not have an answer to my next question of where this story is generally performed, but this is not the case.  He thinks it is normally told when people drive by the lake.  Parents normally teach their children this story when they are young, but he still could not remember the first time he learned it.  He seemed to like the idea of the story, but did not believe it.  He thinks people created it a little over a hundred years ago to create a sense of identity for the people of Estonia.  He said that Estonia was never truly independent, so stories like this brought people together in their way of thinking and belief.

My analysis of the legend is very similar to Jaak’s.  I do not believe people perceive this story to be true, but like the idea of it instead.  As Jaak said, it is a story that everyone knows, which separates Estonians from the rest of Eastern Europe.  Therefore, it creates a sense of identity within the Estonian community.  It gives them a story to add to their own Estonian culture, which makes them a proud group.  To add to his analysis, I also think the story has a separate meaning.  I think it is supposed to motivate Estonians (specifically those from Tallinn) to always build new things.  If they are scared to stop building, the town of Tallinn will continue to be updated and will not fall behind compared to the rest of the European cities.

Recipe – Sicily

Family Recipe/Meal Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Jessica Nicholas is from America, but much of her family is directly from Sicily.  During the Christmas Holiday they have a Sicilian, Catholic tradition of eating special meals both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  The meals are as follows:

Christmas Eve- Sicilian Ciappino Fish stew over Couscous

Christmas Day- Raviolis with red sauce, beef chunks, homemade meatballs

Jessica said this meal and its recipe were learned many generations ago back in Sicily.  She said the reason for the fish on Christmas Eve was because of their family’s history.  Her family back in Sicily were fisherman and ate a lot of fish, and saved the expensive meat for special holidays.  The combination of eating fish and meat on these two days brings together the sense of identity and the sense of a special occasion.  I asked her who prepares the meals and she immediately told me her mother and her grandmother (Nanie).  This seemed to be something that the women in the family do each Christmas, so I asked her if she is learning the recipes and plans to prepare it for her family in the future.  She told me, “possibly, I definitely try to help and learn their secrets, but it’s a lot of work it really depends on where I live because there’s no point in making the Ciappino if I don’t live by a fresh fish source. We literally go to the pier where the fisherman are coming in from their boats and buy straight from them”. This brought up the fact that people go through a lot of effort to maintain tradition and a sense of identity.  Jessica told me this meal has been made only one time on a separate occasion. “We’ve only made Ciappino once on a non-holiday in all of my years and that was because it was in the summer and we went fishing and my older sister was in town and wanted some of mama’s cooking”.  She said her mother made it so her sister could feel the sensation of being home for Christmas again.  Jessica also noted that the meal is not just important because of the taste.  She said it is the feeling of connecting with family that really makes it important. Also, seeing her Grandma and her older relatives makes her recognize the need to continue this tradition so her children and grandchildren will know their roots.

My analysis of the meal is very similar to that of Jessica’s.  I realize where she is coming from when she talks about how this connects her with family and her Sicilian heritage.  I also agree that preparing the meal is hard work, which is why she is hesitant about passing it on to her family.  I have a feeling she will feel differently as she grows older and has a family, because the hard work only comes once a year.  That hard work then connects your family with itself and it’s past forever.  The only difference in opinion is why they might have meat on Christmas.  This meat symbolizes the specialty of the occasion but also expresses the want for a better life.  Her family were fisherman and the prospect of having meat at the end of the year on Christmas could symbolize the expectations for a rich Christmas and New Year.

Ghost Story – Ojai, California

Ghost Stories- The Bridge Girl in Ojai, California

A while back, there was this girl in Ojai.  I forgot her name, but uh, she was a very young girl with a big future.  One night, she was walking alone along the road back home.  Everything was fine until she started going over this bridge.  So, as she starts walking across this bridge, a car came zooming out of nowhere and hit her dead on.  The car was speeding and she was pronounced dead shortly after the police arrived on the scene.  As the story goes, her ghost lives on and never hurts people unless they come speeding across that very bridge.  So, uh, rumor has it that if you speed along this bridge anytime of the day, especially the night, her ghost will get in your car and kill you.

My roommate Daniel told this story to me shortly after his return from Ojai, California.  Supposedly, Ojai is filled with ghost stories and this one is not only interesting, but has a lesson behind it as well.  He said this story was told to him a couple minutes before he crossed the bridge.  He also explained that the person that performed it told him in a very serious manner and seemed to believe the story.  “The way Kaes told me the story, I almost believed it right away myself.  It was kind of scary and interesting at the same time.  I was not sure whether to believe it or just slow down.  Either way, I did not want to get killed!” When I asked him what he thought of the actual story and its relevance, he said that he thought it was probably true, but he wanted to look it up in newspaper archives to make sure.

Daniel did not really give a detailed analysis of the story, but his reaction to it gave way to my theory of why the story is told.  I searched online and could not find anything about a girl dying in Ojai on any bridge.  This leads me to believe that this story was made and told to do three things.  First, I believe it was told to make sure drivers are safe crossing the bridge.  Many stories are told to teach a lesson and to make sure safety is always on everyone’s mind.  If people have to scare you to make a point, they are definitely willing to do that.  The second reason is pure entertainment.  I cannot imagine that driving through Ojai is much fun, especially when you are driving slow and cautious.  This ghost story could be used to pass time and invoke the imagination.  Lastly, this story, like many others, is told to create a sense of belonging and identity within the Ojai community.  Anybody that knows this story has either been to Ojai or lived there.

One other interesting fact to point out is the time period of the story.  It is easily relatable with events that happen today.  Most people in America of driving age drive a car and many even speed.  This story, minus the ghost emerging and killing you, can be identified with most people easily.  Frequently, you hear of car accidents caused by speeding so this is definitely not out of realm of possibility.

Ghost Story – Altadena, California

Ghost Stories- Gravity Hill in Altadena, California

So, like, I have this crazy ghost story from my hometown.  Back in Altadena, like right by Pasadena area kinda, there was this school bus going home from school late one afternoon.  I am not totally sure how old these kids were that were on the bus, but I know they weren’t passed elementary school age.  The bus driver was a bit tired and wanted to drop the kids off quickly so he could head home. He was driving fast down this mini hill that had trees at the bottom of it.  As the bus got close to the bottom of this hill, he kinda swerved because he was so tired.  The bus, like, tipped over and slammed against the trees.  The bus was unrecognizable and all the kids died.  Now, when you are on that hill and put your car into neutral, it is said the kids’ ghosts will push you back up the hill.  This is why it is known as Gravity Hill.

Miles was very eager to tell me this story as you could tell he connected it with his hometown.   He said he first learned it when he started driving a couple years ago.  He was driving down the hill one night when his friend urged him to put his car in neutral to see what happens.  From what he continued to say, it actually works.   It seemed to bring back memories with friends and family also.  When I asked Miles what he thought of the story, he had this to say: “I’m not really sure what to think of it all.  The story itself seems so cool that the ghosts would push you up the hill because the kids don’t want something terrible to happen again.  But at the same time, the fact that it’s true creeps me out.  It kind of defies the laws of gravity and I don’t like that.”  He did have one other thing to say about the story and that is the lesson he thinks it should teach everyone.  He said it teaches everyone to not take other peoples lives for granted, because even children can make a huge difference in the world.

Miles analysis of the story was very creative in my opinion.  The lesson he thought the story taught was one that I wouldn’t have imagined.  However, I do not think he realizes why the story “creeps him out”.  He says Gravity Hill defies the very law it is named after and that scares him.  My perception is that he is spooked by what the story challenges.  The story challenges his belief in the supernatural and he is not sure what to think.  If something in his small hometown can challenge a major belief like that, there might be something outside California or North America that challenges other strong beliefs.

When listening to this story, one other theory came to mind as to why this story is told.  It is normally learned when people start driving.  Other than the fact that it could be used as a warning not to speed down hills without caution, I think it is told to remind these mid teenagers of the innocence they still have inside them.  Although there are certain freedoms associated with having a car, it should be noted that there are also many responsibilities. This story connects the innocence of children with the prospect of adulthood.

The last thing about this ghost story is the giant sense of identity that comes from knowing it.  Being able to recite the story alone brings the people of Altadena together.  However, there is one thing about this story that makes it even more special to actually live or visit in the community.  I know Miles was supposed to be honest with me in his telling of this lore, but I will never know whether his car actually was pushed up the hill when he put it into neutral.  The only way to find out would be to drive down Gravity Hill myself.  This fact gives Miles and the people of Altadena a huge sense of identity.

This can also be found in the following:

Jones, Diana. Gravity Hill Takes Drivers for A Ride. Pittsburgh Post Gazette. November, 2002.

Folk Recipe/Legend – Vietnam

Folk Recipe/Legend- Poisonous Snake Drink, Vietnam

Joayn, who was born in Vietnam but grew up in San Francisco, had something very interesting to tell me about a delicacy in Vietnam.  Supposedly, it’s an honor for people to take you out to a restaurant that serves snake meat. It’s like taking someone out for lobster or filet mignon here. There’s something about the snake that fascinates them. They believe that putting dead poisonous snakes in some kind of alcohol — rice wine, whiskey, etc has tremendous medicinal benefits, especially regarding sexual health. So it is said that drinking it supposedly works like Viagra for men and even helps as an aphrodisiac. She said that most Vietnamese people probably don’t believe it, but enough do for it to be sold in a lot of markets and served in restaurants. I guess the proteins that make up the venom are destroyed when exposed to alcohol so people don’t die when they drink it. They use pythons, cobras, or any small snakes that fit in bottles. Sometimes multiple snakes or other creatures like insects, spiders, or turtles go in there too.  I asked her if this was served only during specific times of the year, but she said it could be found all the time.  Even though her father told this story to her, she isn’t so sure its true.  When I asked her more about it, she said, “I think this is pretty much a myth, and thought to be true because of some ancient belief in snakes as creatures with special powers or meaning. And recently its medicinal purposes are just exaggerated as a way to market the stuff to superstitious people and brave tourists”.

Joayn’s analysis of the delicacy and it’s effect on sexual health was quite extensive.  I think she hit the nail directly on the head when she talked about why its medicinal purposes are exaggerated.  It seems this is a way for tourists to connect with what is “truly” Vietnamese.  If they think that Vietnamese people actually eat this snake meat regularly, they are more inclined to try it.  It is something that helps business for the locals, and also helps tourists belong.

There is one more theory I have as to why Vietnamese people might market this as a sex aid.  I believe that they want to be known as having a lot of culture and not succumbing to the advances of the western world.  This kind of delicacy helps them in tourism and keeps their sense of identity as a very cultured and smart people that can find natural cures to real life problems.

Also, whether the locals actually partake in the eating of this “delicacy” or not, it makes it seem as if they are different from the rest of the world.  It connects Vietnamese people with tourists while allowing them to never forget their ancestry.