The informant recalled a common folk belief that she had heard originated in Great Britain, though likely the belief occured all over Europe through polygenesis.
“So some people believed that the uterus could dislodge inside your body . . . and float around your body . . . it would leave its regular spot and work its way up your body to your brain. Supposedly, that’s how women develop hysteria.”
There seems to be a deeply-rooted, global fear of the vagina, as many accuse this poor organ of all of women’s faults. Given just how anatomically incorrect this belief is, it was likely developed before the female reproduction system was widely understood. Such a belief also indicated a reductively sexist view of psychosis, whereby all emotional instabilities that a woman could experience were rooted in this oddly nebulous floating vagina that somehow inhibited her from reasoning.
“I went to a funeral recently for my Czech nanny who passed away recently. Hana practically raised me, so her death was very, very difficult for me. I thought that I wouldn’t even be able to handle going to the funeral, my emotions were so high. But it was unlike any funeral I have ever been to. Most funerals are miserable, everybody crying, everybody in black. They’re awful experiences, and I hope you never have to go to one. But this one was different. This one was exactly what I needed to help grieve. So it was actually a celebration of her life. Whenever anyone spoke, they were just to recall fun times they had had together. Her favorite music was playing. Everyone was wearing bright colors. The old and the young were all mingling and engaging with one another. It was beautiful. I think that’s how a lot of the world celebrates death, or at least they should. I think I heard someone say that it’s the Czech . . . or I guess Slavic people in general have a healthier outlook on death than most.”
The informant has never lived outside of her hometown in Orange County. The experience was so novel to her that it began to represent much of her understanding of modern European culture, as she now believes that such funeral practices are more common in Europe. The informant really stressed the communion of the old and young at this funeral, as no one was segregated into groups based on age or gender. Given the deep Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of the Baltic regions of Europe, such an funeral seems very uncharacteristic, given traditional Christian death rituals. Perhaps this informant’s experience is indicative of changing times in which, as she said, a healthier outlook on death has become the norm.
Pust is a pagan holiday that is celebrated in Slovenia in the beginning of every February. Designed to scare away the winter cold, this festival is mounted to celebrate the coming of Spring. Young men are the main arbiters of some of the festival’s central traditions, as they don terrifying masks and large suits made of animal furs. Most of the masks represent different characters that recur in Slovenian folklore which are generally localized to particular regions, the principle character being called the “kurent.” [the informant could not offer any more examples of such characters and what they represent.] These costumes are paired with belts from which hang many cowbells, and the young men enter the center of the village in a procession of aggressive dancing and grunting. The idea behind this is to scare away the dark, evil spirits of Winter, in the hopes that Spring will bring good tidings and a prosperous year of harvest. Pust usually takes place in the rural villages of northern Slovenia, the Gorenjska region especially.
More modern exhibitions of this festival in different parts of Slovenia allow all children to participate and go door to door begging for candy and money, much like at Halloween in other parts of the world.
Born and raised in former Yugoslavia, what is now known as Slovenia, the informant was continuously exposed to folk traditions that originated and permeated this region. The festival is a kind of protective ritual to ensure a short winter. It is riddle with celebratory symbols of dominance and fertility. For example, the suits are made from the pelts of animals these young men had killed, demonstrating their capability of providing for the well-being of the village.
“So many people do the Tarantella WRONG at their weddings. The way Italians do it, and everyone knows the Italians do it best because Italians know how to throw a good party, is by putting the bride and groom in the center of the dance floor while everyone holds hands and makes circles around them that get larger and larger. Usually it’s the couple’s parents that make up the first circle. The wedding party makes up the second. Then the rest of the guests make up the rest. The first circle spins clockwise, the second counterclockwise, the third clockwise, and so on. Eventually, the dj or mc will tell everyone to switch directions, and the circles will start spinning in the opposite directions they were originally. They’re so much fun. And if you somehow don’t get in on it when the Tarantella starts, you’re hosed, there’s not getting in because it all just becomes this amazing mess of people that you just can’t get through.”
The informant has never attended a non-Italian wedding, as her entire extended family is Italian. Because her family is so large, she is constantly attending weddings, so she has become quite familiar with many typical Italian wedding traditions. For her, the Tarantella is celebratory and “builds community,” as everyone is holding hands, joining to rejoice in the couple’s newfound happiness. The informant has many happy memories dancing the Tarantella from the time she was an infant. She claims they are just as fun now as they have ever been.
“Baghdad. And get the mother and the children too.”
The informant heard this joke from her older brother, who was a teenager during the height of the Iraq War. This particular joke is interesting because it is very dated. Much of its humor has been lost given that the conflict in Iraq has dissipated in the last 5 years. The joke is less relevant now that Baghdad is referenced less frequently and is less entrenched in the public discourse. However, the informant can remember finding it quite funny, as did her brother, when she first heard it.