Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mnemonic, in Ballad Form

Yesterday I had the treat of a customer who preferred to speak Spanish. This only happens just often enough so that my own small share of Spanish is thoroughly rusted over again since its last use--but oh! it makes my day every time I'm allowed to try it! In this case, I was trying to explain how to put a string on a guitar which, fortunately for the customer, was a mostly visual explanation. But there were bits where I needed to scrape up a word, as, I thought, when explaining the necessity of leaving some slack in the string to be wound up around the capstan. I was lost entirely trying to come up with a Spanish equivalent of "slack," but at the notion of winding round, something began to crawl up from the depths of my memory.

And there it was--a mental picture of a steer fleeing into the distance. Around its horns was a rope, and from the rope, tied fast, a saddle was dragging across the teeth of the rocky ground. And as if captioning the picture the timeless advice: "Always take dally weltas, boys, that's California law. . ."

"Vuelta," came with great confidence.

Yes, if my conversation was any clearer, it was thanks to a snippet of a song I first read when I was probably about 12. I don't know that I ever thought it a particularly notable song but for the detail that Texas cowboys tended to tie their ropes fast to the saddle horn when roping, whereas the vaquero-influenced Californians would dar la vuelta, wind the loose end around the horn only after having settled the working end on a steer. In English, the phrase eventually wore down into dally welta, or more simply, dally. At least that is what I recall from whichever book printed this cautionary tale in verse. Younger me was, I am sure, much more interested in the pros and cons of whether one is wise to tie fast to a saddle or not.

I don't think I ever heard the song sung until the Internet Radio age. Looking for an example to show here, I found a lot of singers just gave the moral: "Always take your dallies." Excellent advice, of course, but it adds an extra step in the standing-staring-off-into-space-stage if you insist on using a song to remember the word vuelta. So here, for the sake of linguistic integrity, (and because he is Don Edwards) is Don Edwards:

But I can't help including this one. It's spiked with steel guitar.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Nice Set

This just popped up on the internet radio I was listening to, so I thought I'd pass it along. I'm not entirely sure I'll ever get enough of "The Little Cascade," which is odd, since it was purposely written to be quite repetitive (it was inspired by a dripping tap, they say). But there 'tis.

Friday, June 9, 2017

St. Colmcille

Today (or what's left of it) is the feast of St. Colmcille, a saint who, despite his quite interesting life story, and quite considerable accomplishments in evangelizing and monastery-building is largely represented in my imagination by the following wistful poem. One story goes that, having found himself the cause of an inter-clan battle in his homeland, now Northern Ireland, he condemned himself to exile in Scotland.

Though this poem, sometimes attributed to Colmcille, is thought to have been of a later composition than his death (yes, he died in Scotland), if he felt even a fraction of what the poet here expressed about Derry--or about any place he had left behind, he had indeed taken a most onerous penance on himself.

A similar composition starts here on Google Books: