Thursday, March 20, 2008

Luck, Money and Our Mutual Friend

Eight women from one county tax office sharing a $276 million powerball ticket is making big news around here (as is the fact that none of them immediately quit, at least one citing, "well, somebody has to be here to process the tax payments"). Newspapers in West Virginia are quick to equate winning powerball with the height of luckiness, although they usually can't do so without mentioning past WV powerball megawinner Jack Whitaker who has little to show from his $315 million winnings except divorce, drunk driving arrests and court cases revolving around the death of his druggie granddaughter.

Can someone become instantly rich and maintain their good nature? The Mister and I, of course, think that we could. Having never been blessed or cursed with the desire to buy lottery tickets, large sums to gamble or filthy-rich relatives about to die, we are unlikely to ever find out.

The question of the compatibility of wealth and merit underlies Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. The book is a good read. At 910 pages in the Penguin Classics version, it is a bit long to pick up for some quick escapism, but I highly recommend it for those of you who find entertainment in well-described the absurdities of life.* Throughout the book, money, viewed by almost all characters as lucky, corrupts and destroys those who attain it too easily. The nouveau riche and old money are all soundly mocked.

While the misdeeds of the wealthy make for fun reading, I was pleased that Dickens did not place any intrinsic nobility in poverty. In OMF, scoundrels are found at all levels of the social spectrum and for those who are of true merit, money and happiness can co-exist. While riches may be unlucky, as we should learn from Midas, most lotto winners, and Jesus, I feel that people of any means suggesting that poverty is good for others are foolish idiots, and I'm glad Dickens avoids that path.

Our Mutual Friend ends happily (one of the reason I really enjoy Dickens novels. One may not be sure who all of the good guys are but I can be fairly well assured that things will turn out okay for them) with a few unbelievable plot turns. Discerning which plot twist is the unbelievable one: that the good-guy could be quickly corrupted by wealth or that the good guy really wasn't corrupted by wealth, leads straight back to the questions "how unlucky is money?" and "how much money can co-exist with goodness?"

I don't know. Do you?

*I've only read three Dickens novels. A Tale of Two Cities is masterfully plotted and really an amazing book. Great Expectations had neither the humor nor the plotting and I found it tedious. Our Mutual Friend was recommended and lent to me by two of my true intellectual siblings in law, who reminded me to read it slowly, the way that 19th century readers would have, in the Dickens discussions on Wuthering Expectations. 140some years after orginal publication, Our Mutual Friend is still witty, thought provoking and fun, if the ending does leave something to be desired in the way of verisimilitude. Thanks to the sibs for the book.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Confused Irish Luck

Today is St. Patrick's Day. I am wearing green, but it's olive. The Mister and I cooked corn beef and cabbage over the weekend. Traditional or not, I deem it lucky because we like it (and the cabbage, at least, is good for us).

I set out this morning to write about clover vs. shamrocks. As I knew it this morning, clover is a big genus (Trifolium sp.) of legumes whose leaves are only lucky when found with four leaves. Shamrocks, on the other hand, were a three-leaf symbol of Irish Catholicism to be found in genus Oxalis in the Oxalidaceae (sometimes known as wood sorrel). I knew this is part because I sold shamrocks at garden centers for years.

Alas, I may have sold incorrectly.

Several Irish blogger make fun of Americans with their "shamrock" houseplants, and the hot debate among Irish botanist bloggers is which species of Trifolium is the "true shamrock". "Shamrock" appears to be a derivative of the Irish for "little clover." So shamrocks probably aren't oxalis. As a symbol of Ireland, shamrock's must have three leaves to represent the trinity that dear Patrick introduced to the pagans of that isle. If shamrocks are just clovers, there may be more to the idea that a four leaf clover is related (luck tradition-wise) to Irish culture and shamrocks. I had always been indignant that the Lucky Charms leprechaun was clearly Irish but was advertising four-leaf clovers instead of three-leaf** shamrocks

If clovers weren't confusing enough, then there's the luck o' the Irish. The Mister thinks that having the luck o' the Irish is to be lucky. I had always learned that having the luck o' the Irish was to have misfortune, perhaps always to come out okay (or at least drunk). If things were looking truly up, the luck o' the Irish would ensure something bad would happen to keep the good from getting out of hand. A quick internet search reveals that as to descriptive meaning, we are clearly both correct as there are Irish-Americans who use it to mean good luck, bad luck, mixed luck, and the good fortune to get drunk whatever one's luck. As to what luck of the Irish "should" mean, I didn't read anything authoritative enough to find out.

Oh, by the way, I'm part Irish. I think that's lucky. That my Irish great-grandmother was an Ulster Protestant I think may diffuse the luck a bit, but I ignore it on St. Patrick's Day.

All images on the left are labeled as trifolium and those on the right as oxalis.

**Would a gentle reader instruct me on a point of grammar and let me know if I should be writing about "lucky four-leaf clovers", "four-leafed clovers", "four leafed clovers" or "four leaf clovers"?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Deconstruction of a Dinner

How many lucky elements can you pick out from the image of the ginger celebration dinner?

1. Sparkling Wine The vintage Canard Duchene was on sale for $15. While neither of us was overwhelmed with the 1999 vintage, perhaps because the ginger salad dressing and ginger-soy tuna overwhelmed the champagne, we were still lucky to be able to try it for the price.

2. Scrabble Hard to tell from the photo, but I drew no vowels to start (two games in a row!) which was lucky for The Mister as my wasting a blank on the first move, (along with his superior playing), led him to victory.

3. Triple Ginger Cake, Roses, and Nice Candles The Mister did his part and bought roses from a student organization I'm associated with. I baked a dense cake with dried, fresh, and candied ginger and the beeswax candles from my Seattle Sibs seem to be lasting forever.

4. Celestial Quilt Top Just a hint of the lucky stars I'll be sharing with a baby who is due in April but who's mother is certain will emerge any day now.

5. Having a Mister with whom to cook silly theme meals, drink champagne and play Scrabble. Sometimes I'm just really lucky.