Sunday, April 19, 2009

Calliopia who?

Almost three years after I started blogging, I still get the occasional query about the name I use here. Some assume it's just a fancy name I cooked up out of thin air but surprise, surprise, Calliopia isn't something I made up. Instead it's a very real name from the fascinating realm of Greek mythology which, incidentally, is something you can't escape from if you're a student of English lit. When I first decided to start up a blog, I thought it would make a great online scrapbook where I'd copy and paste all my treasured and favourite pieces of poetry and song lyrics. I figured I needed a name with poetic/songlike associations and that's where all the myth info overload came in.

Calliopia, also known as Calliope, was one of the nine Muses, and the Muse of epic and lyric poetry. And despite the fact that this is the internet and you can quickly google down every detail you never needed to know about Greek mythology, here's a quick summation.

The ancient Greeks, in the blissfully pagan times before the pre-Christian era, had a whole string of deities with a very clear cut hierachy. At the top of the table were the Olympian gods who were called so because they were believed to live at the top of Mount Olympus. There was Zeus, the El Supremo, god of the gods and ruler of mankind, the beloved Apollo, god of the sun and music, Hades the dark god of the underworld, Poseidon the stormy god of the seas, Aphrodite the original perfect 10, goddess of beauty, love and eternal youth, Hera the goddess of marriage and the family who also happened to be married to Zeus who regularly cheated on her and once famously seduced a mortal beauty in the guise of a swan, a union which led to the birth of the fabled Helen of Troy, etc etc. One great thing you can't help noticing about the pagan gods is that they didn't seem to have this much maligned distinction between male and female that plagues us today.

Next on the hierachy were the demi-gods and spirits. These included the Furies, who specialised in wreaking vengeance and retribution for crimes committed and relentlessly chased down the guilty, the Fates - the three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who decided on the life span or destiny of every human being, the Graces or the Charities, the Nymphs, the Sirens, and the Muses. The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of a clandestine but passionate nine nighter between Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. They lived on Mount Helicon and rode on the back of the winged Pegasus, gifted to them by Minerva. These beautiful and highly intelligent immortals were given the privilege of being the representatives of poetry, the arts and science, and divine sources of inspiration and guidance for poets, artists, thinkers etc, in other words, the intelligentsia.

Calliopia was the eldest and wisest of the Muses, and was reputed to have mothered Orpheus, the greatest musician and poet of Greek myth, whose songs were said to charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. As a child, I remember being entranced by the story of the death of his wife, Eurydice, and his attempt to bring her back from the kingdom of the underworld. When he failed, he became so inconsolable that he forever rejected female company, a situation which led to his killing by a group of furious, scorned women. They tore him to pieces and threw his severed head, still singing beautifully, into the river Hebrus, and it finally came to rest at the isle of Lesbos, home of the original Lesbian, Sappho.

Now you know why I call Greek mythology fascinating, and why I choose to use this pseudonym.

The original Calliopia, painted by Simon Vouet, 1634.

Monday, April 13, 2009

High tech learning, anyone?

What puts me off most about blogging is the regular updating thing. It's great when you have tons of things on your mind or just need to vent. I've done a lot of blowing my top online, not necessarily on my blog but on online forums I've patronised over the years. Anything that I felt was inaccurate, mispresented or didn't agree with, I had absolutely no qualms in making my difference of opinion quite clear but I guess I now have to accept defeat. There are just so many morons who cannot be talked sense into, I'd rather save my breath and leave them to drown in their ignorance. I've had it with trying to be a catcher in the rye.

Of the last 8 or so years that I've been online, it was only last year that I finally got a fast connnection. Earlier I'd been enthusiastically but laboriously exploring the much hyped world wide web at a top speed of 52 kbps. Laughable as it sounds now, it didn't stop me getting what I wanted. I frequented chatrooms, talked to all kinds of people all over the globe. Satiated my curiousity about people in far away, distant, seemingly glamourous places. Found out that they're just regular folks and some are even unbelievably dumb. Fell madly in love a few times with people I always knew I was never going to ever meet anytime but still stayed up long hours at night connecting with. I made a lot of friends, others, while I wouldn't call them enemies exactly, definitely not people I'd so much as say hello to were I to bump into them tomorrow.

What the little old dial-up connectivity couldn't deliver though was meaningful video streaming. I rarely, if ever, attempted to watch youtube. It just wasn't worth the hassle. And even after I got my broadband connection early last year, I'd got so much into the habit of avoiding watching videos online I often forgot about them. Now though I'm pleasantly surprised with the variety of visual information that's available. Last summer, I'd hunted down a few pieces of Hamlet that I wanted to show my students - from Laurence Olivier to Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson to this ingenious little rap piece made by a couple of American high schoolers.

Now there's a youtube/edu category which has so many amazing educational vids you could just sit and watch all day. Like how to roast the perfect chicken, poetry readings (mmm perhaps someday we can get our very own Mona reading her Ernestina), plenty of scholarly lectures from universities all the US (not exactly visual treats but there's only so much entertainment you can provide while giving a lecture). I think I can quite safely recommend this youtube/edu thing to my students. Perhaps one day I can just flick on a video of a Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads class in session and let the kids draw their conclusions from it while I recline in the back bench with an Archie comics :o)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Anatomy of a Rainstorm on the Mountains

Ruahthimpui is what we call them up here. Ruah for rain, thim for dark, pui for big, so literally a big, black rainstorm. As opposed to those summery showers which thoroughly wet your umbrella but don't last very long. An RTP usually visits these mountains at least a couple of times a year, sometimes unexpectedly at the beginning of the year around February or March, much before the onset of the monsoon rains, and more usually during mid-monsoon from July to October.

There's never any indication earlier on in the day that an RTP is brewing. No bleary sunrise, no overcast skies, no agitated bird alarms. Just business as usual everywhere, people going about their work, children playing outside. Then suddenly, thick dark clouds start sweeping ominously down the mountains, a strong wind whips out of nowhere and noisily flaps clothes hanging out on lines, bangs shut unbolted windows and doors, stirs dust from the ground and sends debris swirling in the air. There are short, sharp sounds everywhere. Glass shattering, neighbours calling out to one another in high, hurried tones as they rush around collecting their wash, voices screaming for the children to get indoors immediately. Windows and doors are noisily shut and firmly bolted, the steel doors of shops dragged way down low, people on the streets, with or without umbrellas, rush for the nearest shelter. Lightning streaks viciously across blackened skies and thunder rumbles.

Within minutes, heavy raindrops smack fatly down, relentlessly rattling tin rooftops and glass windows. A smothering curtain of grey, impenetrable mist and fog settles over everything, drawing visibility to claustrophobic limits. Sometimes, little iceballs of petrified rain pelt down, hammering roofs of cars and houses. Hail always causes excitement. Children are especially fascinated and a few daring ones dart out to pick up the glistening, white stones.

Within four walls, the electricity is invariably cut off. Darkness reigns supreme. People light candles or old-fashioned lanterns at noon, a few awestruck faces peer through glass panes at nature's unleashed fury raging outside. Some huddle down on long chairs, others bunk down under warm blankets in bed to comfortably wait out the storm.

Sometimes it continues for as long as an hour. Sometimes it's done in a few minutes. The rain stops, the fog clears, the clouds roll back to their places somewhere beyond the mountains. The sun reappears. People open windows and doors and come outside. Everything is bedraggled and dripping. And life picks up again.