Tag Archives: european

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.

The Tale of Lady Godiva

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: My parents used to tell me the story of Lady Godiva. She rode a horse naked through Coventry in I believe some time around 1066. They told me she did it because her husband was over taxing the peasants of Coventry and she begged her husband to lower the rents and the taxes. He said he would grant her request if she was willing to strip naked and ride through the town on a horse. Which of course, she did. I always thought he must have felt right silly about agreeing to that. When he realized she was going to do it, he ordered all the towns people to go inside and to not look. That’s where a Peeping Tom comes from. This chap Tom peeked out his window and saw her and was struck blind and later died.

Background: My informant heard this story from her mother when she was a child growing up in Birmingham, 20 Miles from Coventry.

Context: My informant started sharing the information while I was finishing up collecting another piece of information regarding The Beast of Bodmin Moor.

Thoughts: An interesting short story to be sure, and I suppose it can be considered female empowerment through using one’s body to send a message. However, I don’t know if a child would get that idea unless explained thoroughly to them.

The Legend of The Beast of Bodmin Moor

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: In the 1970s there was a rumor, legend, whatever, that there was a beast on Bodmin Moor in Devon. The moor was isolated and creepy and people became afraid to go there because of this beast. You need to know there were a lot of sheep on the moor that had been found mutilated and chewed by something. And there were reported sightings of a huge panther like thing with yellow eyes and a big black cloak. Then in the late 1970s people said somebody found a huge cat like a lion or a tiger or something. The rumor said it had been released from a nearby zoo or private owner, someone like Jo Exotic.
Other people said it was some sort of paranormal beast. Nobody ever got a picture of it. But THEN, and I think it was the late 1970s, somebody found a tiger or a panther skull on the moor.

Interviewer: So wait there actually way a panther on the moors?

Informant: Ah but! They sent it to the museum in London and it was indeed the skull of a panther, but the way it was detached from the rest of the body it looked like a rug. It turned out somebody had chucked out an old ratty rug and it rotted away leaving only the skull. So the mystery has never been solved.

Interviewer: Do you think it could have been someone just wearing the rug as a costume and messing with people?

Informant: Might have been, yeah. Could have been.

Interviewer: But I don’t know how they would have disemboweled the sheep like what you described.

Informant: Yeah. There weren’t wolves around there in 1978, I don’t think, so it couldn’t have been them. But it might have been foxes or natural wildlife, or a big dog.

Context: I asked my informant about what stories she knew about as a kid growing up in England. This was the first thing that came to mind.

Thoughts: There are pictures of a black cat when one searches for the beast which definitely coincides with my informants description of the creatures. I wonder if once upon a time there was a large cat in the area or if it really was just a large dog.

La Casa Matusita A

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Peruvian
Age: 62
Occupation:
Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: December 17,2012
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

German Fermented Vegetables

--Informant Info--
Nationality: German-American
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: February 2007
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

An interesting tradition my mother recalls from growing up is that when she and her family visited the (paternal) grandparents, the Rahenkamps, her grandmother would always serve some kind of relish or pickled item along with the evening meal.  Since the Rahenkamp family is of German descent, this is not surprising – one can hardly imagine German food without thinking of sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers.  However, Germany is only one of many countries where these types of foods exist.  In fact, most if not all cultures prepared and ate at least one of these items at one time or another.  Unlike the prosperous free world today where we think of these items as condiments that we add to our food because they are tasty, past cultures kept these foods, which were originally fermented, out of necessity.  Fermentation was a way to preserve foods for months without refrigeration, and to make foods that are hard on the bowels (like raw cabbage) more digestible.  Adding salt to vegetables to prevent mold growth, and allowing the bacteria and yeast in the local environment to take over, our ancestors could preserve items for long trips and cold winters.  The friendly microbes in the vegetables (or fruits or milk or other foods) break down the sugars and convert them to acids as a defense mechanism, producing a complex, sour flavor.  Eating such foods fortifies the immune system and gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria, and the acid and enzymes released during fermentation aid in the digestion of the rest of the meal.  My informant, my mother, believes that her grandmother served these relishes as part of the tradition of using them for good digestion.  Unfortunately, most pickled items seen today are not fermented, but merely canned in vinegar (including those my great grandmother used).  They carry none of the health benefits and are sterile instead of crawling with friendly microbes.  The real fermentation process actually increases nutrients – sauerkraut, in fact, was used to prevent scurvy on long voyages across the Atlantic, due to its high vitamin C content and its ability to keep for months without spoiling.

Annotation
  The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness, by Jordan S. Rubin, page 10, concurs that “Every sauce and condiment has its beginnings as a fermented food and throughout history has always been healthy.”  Several fermented foods are mentioned, including ketchup, which is credited to the Chinese, who began it as a fermented fish brine.

Catholic/Italian Headache Remedy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Italian American
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2007
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

My paternal grandmother, who is of Italian heritage and a second-generation American, described a folk remedy against headaches that was practiced before her day.  She said “When a person had a headache, a friend would obtain a basin of water and sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on it, make the sign of the cross and recite a prayer.  That was to chase the evil spirits away.”  This was also used to make a person stop gossiping.  Obviously, this would have been practiced before her family emigrated and assimilated into American culture.  It is closely tied to the Catholic church and Catholicism’s deep roots in the nation of Italy.  My informant, while still a devout Catholic (as is most of her extended family), did refer to this practice as a superstition, and is far more likely to resort to Tylenol or Advil to relieve a headache than to attempt to cure it through any spiritual means.
The tradition itself seems to reflect elements of both Catholicism (sign of the cross, prayer) and more obscure or pagan religions (chasing away evil spirits), though perhaps my informant uses “evil spirits” synonymously with “demons.”  My informant’s description also seems somewhat vague and incomplete, as though it has been transformed through much telling and retelling over time.  My conjecture is that the tradition originated many centuries ago, well before the advent of modern medicine, out of the idea that demons or evil spirits are responsible for physical distress.  Certainly “magic superstitions,” under which classification this ritual falls, for curing ailments have existed well before even the Roman Catholic Church, and this one was likely Catholicized like many other pagan beliefs, superstitions, and even holidays.  As today’s society (at least in America) tends to favor scientific progress as the solution to medical problems (and a host of other problems), beliefs imported from worldwide have tended to fade out in this forward-looking culture.