April 16th, 2015


terminological wonderland (trees, social sciences, plants, tea)

"Why do you know the names of things"? I was asked, again, this time in relation to Plane Trees, because I knew the name of the big trees that had shielded our offices, that were cut down last week. Or possibly pollarded (there's a tall stump left, about ten feet high - but that's not how you pollard a London Plane, they're cut back to a framework of branches, although it is how you pollard a willow, which are the only currently maintained pollards in Oxford). I like trees, I said, and she replied, I like trees, but that doesn't mean I know the names of all of them. I think it's safe to say that we all liked those trees, not least because they were part of the temperature management for our building; but looking out onto green leaves, or a lattice of twigs, or hearing the clatter of the pigeons in the branches, or the squirrel... "What about the squirrel? Where will that go now?" It's homeless. And that's frowned on in Oxford.

I'm rattling through my coursework at the moment. Resilient daughters of battered women, twelve-year olds caring for depressed parents, reintegration of orphans after the Rwandan genocide. It's a world of misery, albeit very well described misery. Also, at some point in almost every paper, there's a paragraph of pure poetry as the statistical methods used in the paper are described, and you get to discover whether this particular suffering population passes Bartlett's test of sphericity, etc. Definitions, drifting terminologies. Each time I look up from a day of study I can feel my functional vocabulary expanding, like a blast wave.

Speaking of which, I followed a reference from a puzzling sentence and discovered Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, which is facilitated (but never guided) by a Difficultator and has no actors or audience, only Spect-actors. It sounded simultaneously horrible and fabulous, like the bleeding of bureaucratic architecture through from another (maybe better) world. In the usual way of the internet (written on wind and water*) that Wikipedia page seems to have been edited since yesterday, and now no longer includes Boal's quote "only the oppressed are able to free the oppressed" which must in any case have been translated from the original Portuguese - ah, no it's on this page. My mistake.

Speaking of mistakes, my urge to name everything does drive me to put marker names on things when I don't remember the name. Pepper Jasmine, for example. I'd scored - implausibly - two bare-root Daphne Mezereum rammed into a pot and sold as a decorative pot plant from a local greengrocer (the one in Cowley Centre). I couldn't remember its name for a week, so I called it Pepper Jasmine, because flowers and fruit grow straight from the stem, like pepper, and it's a Jasmine. That's a terrible name for it - it's poisonous. But when I did look up a common name for it, it was called Spurge Laurel (also a terrible name).

Speaking of extraordinary things, I found a reference to a ballerina drinking tea "Russian Style" - black and sweetened with spoonfuls of blueberry jam. Tea with jam? Yep, and also a fifteen minute brewtime! I think this has to be tried. But what flavour jam? So far I see the ballerina voting for blueberry and the Russian tea shop saying strawberry. Any more suggestions?

* in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua - Catullus