February 25, 2008

Knobs up there

Driving out of Needles in California some weeks ago, we spied an old trailer parked by the side of the road. One of those things that you tow along to RV sites, but not a vehicle by itself. If you know what I mean. Door open. We would have sped past, except that on a couple of signs there, there was a magic word that nearly always makes me stop in my tracks.


"Mystic Maze Honey, Self Serve" and "Pure Local Honey" were the signs. So we screeched to a stop right in front of the trailer. Walked in the door and found honey in bushels, or really in bottles of all sizes possible. Nobody present. This was selling on the honour system: pick up the amount you want, note the price, put the money into an envelope (provided) and seal it, then stick the envelope into a slot (provided).

I got myself some, plus two postcards with a pretty hand-drawn picture of the scene and a short writeup. Put one postcard in the mail later that day, brought the other home. Thick, flavourful honey, if a little sweeter than I like.

Anyway, last night my mother came over, and I showed her the card and we were talking about the honey. She read out the writeup on the card, which starts with these two sentences:
    The Mystic Maze is a Native American intaglio east of Needles at the foot of Needles Peaks. It is a series of rocks lined in a maze, and both the Mystic Maze and the Needles Peaks are sacred to the local Mojaves.
That word "intaglio" intriged us. I didn't know what it meant. We looked it up in several dictionaries. One told us that it is a "design incised or engraved into a material"; another had similar definitions.

Digging through dictionaries, I even learned that the word "cameo" is a near-antonym. Which naturally made me wonder about the use of "cameo" in cricket. What would an "intaglio" innings in cricket mean?

Anyway again. Dictionary search done, my mother sat down to read while the rest of us chatted a while. Suddenly, ma called my name excitedly. When I went over, she was pointing to a line on page 2 of the book she was reading, Alexander Frater's Chasing the Monsoon, and this was that line:
    This masterpiece, identified in a flowing intaglio caption as 'Cherrapunji, Assam: The Wettest Place on Earth', had been a wedding present to my parents.
We were struck, all over again, by the way an odd word or experience repeats itself. Chuckling over that, we all said our goodnights and tucked in for the night.

This morning, I mentioned the Frater coincidence to the wife. Or tried to. "You know that word we were discussing last night, 'intaglio' ... ?" I began.

And she interrupted. "Yeah, and you know what happened last night? I was reading to the kids in bed from King Ottokar's Sceptre, and what do you know?" She ran off and brought us the Tintin classic. At the bottom of page 2, she pointed to what the sigillography expert Professor Alembick says to Tintin:
    And here's another fine specimen: an intaglio ring from the Saxon period.
Needles, honey, intaglio, Cherrapunji, intaglio, Tintin, sigillography, intaglio. I swear, I might even be getting receptive to the idea, as someone suggested last night in an entirely different context, that someone up there is tweaking some knobs.


Sidhusaaheb said...

Thanks for helping improve my vocabulary!

Meanwhile, I have written about my experience with some knobs being tweaked at http://sidhusaaheb.blogspot.com/2008/01/wish-fulfilment-and-strange-co.html

Anonymous said...

hey dilipo

great post!!!
do yourself a favor and stick to this stuff rather than political commentary.

Anonymous said...

>stick to this stuff rather than political commentary.

hey dd, there couldnt be a more emphatic signal than this that you should in fact continue with political commtry.

so keep at it.

Anonymous said...

Ah! that was so lapidary.