Even Gondolas Need Some Love

First published Italy Magazine, reproduced with permission


Gondolas in Venice
© A Harrison

Well, my window

meets San Trovaso

things have ends and beginnings

                        Ezra Pound Cantos



When Ezra Pound arrived in Venice, he took rooms near a walled garden on the Rio San Trovaso, opposite a squero (or gondola building yard). Only a few squeri now remain in Venice, although at the height of her powers some ten thousand gondolas served the city. The gondoliers’ knowledge of the canals is legendary, and legend holds they are born with webbed feet, to help them walk on water. Continue Reading →

Medical English II


I speak French to my ambassadors, English to my accountants, Italian to my mistress, Latin to my God and German to my horse.

                        Frederick the Great of Prussia                  SCAN0008 8.52.01 PM


Knee appears by 900AD, coming from the Old English cneo, or cneow. These words derive from the Proto-Germanic knewan, from the Proto-Indo-European geneu (an ancestral language of the Indo-European family, dated to roughly 5,500 years ago). From geneu arises the Latin genu, giving words such as genuflect (1630) and geniculate.

Curiously, knee-cap (the noun, not the verb associated with gangsters) doesn’t appear until around 1870, yet knee-high to a grasshopper was first recorded in 1851. The term the bee’s knees became popular in the early 1920’s, as did the bee’s nuts and the flea’s eyebrows.

On the 28th March, 1814, Lord Byron penned in his diary:

Yesterday, dined tête-à-tête at the Cocoa with Scrope Davies… drank between us one bottle of champagne and six of claret, neither of which wines ever affect me. Scrope…was tipsy and pious and I was obliged to leave him on his knees praying to I know not what purpose or good.

Praying, of course, can lead to Parson’s knees. The term Wii knee was first used in 2007 for injuries caused by exuberant playing of Wii games. Wii wrist, Wii elbow and Wii hip soon followed.



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Sint-Janshospitaal: A Medieval Hospital in Bruges

The canals of Bruges (c) A. Harrison
The canals of Bruges (c) A. Harrison

“We were highly delighted by our visit to the Hospital of St. John’s. It is a Gothic edifice of ancient structure. The sick lie in a large apartment, which is supported by Norman arches and pillars. The Sisters of Charity attend upon the invalids; and everything appears in that state of order and excessive neatness, so admirably conspicuous in this town.”

Charles A. Stothar, English antiquarian, in a letter to his mother 20th Sept 1890

I first saw Sint-Janshospitaal while cruising along the canals of Bruges. The wall running along the The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is in classic Flemish style: ivy-covered stones, a roof stepping against the skyline. Tall gothic windows looked over the water. In medieval times this wing doubled as both a chapel and a ward (for since spiritual healing was considered more important than healing of the flesh, a chapel stood inside the open ward). The wash from our barge lapped against the weathered stones and landing stage, where a door opened onto the water.

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Medical English I: Origins & Idiosyncrasies

I speak French to my ambassadors, English to my accountants, Italian to my mistress, Latin to my God and German to my horse.

                        Frederick the Great of Prussia              SCAN0008 8.52.01 PM                       


Since the evolution of language some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, the history of language remains largely oral; only in the relatively recent past has a written record existed, allowing for a conditional dating of words. Hence, when a word first appears in those documents which have survived can be pinpointed, the word itself – and consequentg derivations – may have been used for centuries.


Appearing by 700AD, salve is one of the earliest medical terms recorded in English. Homer described their use for treating wounds in The Iliad, and Galen listed their ingredients. The legendary wealth of the Greek city of Laodicea was in part derived from Phrygian Powder, an eye salve combining olive oil and phrygian stone.

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The Poisons of Agatha Christie

Medieval medicine - treatment and death

Foul Toxins From The Queen of Crime

“Poison has a certain appeal,” wrote Agatha Christie in They Do It With Mirrors, “…it has not the crudeness of the revolver bullet or the blunt instrument.” Death by poison is more frequent in Christie’s world than in the works of any other mystery writer. More than thirty victims fall foul to a variety of toxins (while others survive attempted poisonings.) Christie’s knowledge was extensive, a result of her work as both a nurse and a pharmacy dispenser during both World Wars. (Perhaps this is why physicians often make an appearance as murders in her novels.)

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Ariadnes’ Thread

Ariadne’s Thread

Rolling over, I bumped into the wall and woke with a start – our bed isn’t against a wall. For a few moments, with the vulture of sleep hovering nearby in the darkness, I had no idea where I was. Vulture of sleep. Must add it to my list. I liked it, with its images of that guy who was forever having his liver pecked out, only for it to re-grow every night. Now that would be fun to sleep through. Not like he got an anæsthetic.
Still a bit dazed, I peered around in the darkness. Neither the light of the stars, nor a streetlight, filled the blank void. I actually hadn’t rolled into the wall; I wasn’t even in bed. I’d hit the back of the couch – the short one. My foot tingled from dangling over the armrest. The other, slightly more comfortable sofa had already been commandeered by the time I made it back to the common room.
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