6 Thermidor: Prêle (horsetail, scouring-rush, Equisetum spp.)

Okay, sweet, now we’re talking old.  Not “domesticated for thousands of years” old, this is “hung out with dinosaurs” old.  Equisetum is the only living genus of the family Equisetaceae…which is the only living family in the order Equisetales, which is the only living order in the class Equisetopsida.  Its relative Calamites is off being coal now.

What is Equisetum up to these days?  Oh, you know, the same old same-old.  Reproducing by spores, coating their stems with silicates and being used as fine sandpaper or metal polish, invading New Zealand.  Plant things.  Horsetail things.

Ten reasons to switch to the French Republican Calendar immediately:
1) It’s cool
2) Today is Sextidi which sounds like sex today
3) Communism
4) Apparently some straight ppl are doing “”“heterosexual awareness month”“” in July, but there will be no July. What is July? It is Messidor.
5) No 4th of July. 16th of Messidor.
6) Sexy French words
7) Extra metric system
8) About 80% of days are dedicated to funky plants
9) Mathematicians and poets worked really hard on it
10) A 10th reason to make the post more metric

enivrer; une ivraie

Sooooooo gauzythreads made the most wonderful post a few days ago, about Amis and the French Republican Calendar.  And–and–they let me play around with this notion, because I am a huge dork who gets excited about the French Republican Calendar.

So with many apologies and thanks and atrocious french-english puns and heavy-handed symbolism:



[Ivraie: ryegrass, darnel, Lolium tementulum.  From French “ivre,” drunk.  See the Parable of the Tares.]

“But it’s more complicated than that,” said Combeferre.  “You can’t simply look at today’s calendar and a 1794 calendar side by side.  The leap years throw it off, opinions differ as to the suitable method of conversion.  If you maintain the southward equinox as the first day of the year–[voice: A fig for your southward equinox!]–Grapes, actually.  1 Vendémiaire, Raisin, if I recall correctly.  –[one or two murmurs: you are right]– If you maintain the southward equinox as the first day of the year, in preference to Romme’s proposal, then the dates vary, you would have to consider the year of your birth.  Bahorel, when were you–”

Combeferre was shouted down again and made a show of huffing to himself and resuming his work of transcription: only a very close friend would detect suppressed amusement, hard to define, glinting almost more from the corners of his spectacles than from his eyes.  Courfeyrac noticed it–noticed Enjolras noticing–concluded that they were well and he could tumble back into the general conversation.

Keep reading
5 Cultures Whose Calendars Would Break Your Concept of Time

But merely replacing the very concept of days and hours with new, arbitrary units of time wasn’t enough for this revolutionary system: They also took away all the common names of the days and months, assigning them Roman numerals instead. When this move was met with nearly universal hate, a poet named Fabre d'Eglantine was hired to give the revolutionary months brand new, inspiring names. Unfortunately, d'Eglantine’s poetic skills were on par with the organizational talent of the people who came up with the idea of the new calendar in the first place. The months soon sported wonderful, imaginative names such as “Snowy,” “Rainy,” “Windy,” “Hot,” and “Fruit.”

no leave the calendar alone 


3 Prairial: Trèfle (clover, Trifolium spp.)

I rhapsodized over the legume family just two days ago, so it’s a little embarrassing to bring them up again.  But look, here comes the calendar with more Fabaceae!   It’s likely not a coincidence: clovers are another meadow flower for Prairial.  Like alfalfa, clover hosts nitrogen-fixing bacteria, making it another popular plant to improve soil in field rotations.

A close inspection of a clover bloom shows that it is in fact a cluster of tiny flowers, each with the family’s characteristic pea shape.  These flowers, with their store of nectar, attract insect pollinators.  Honeybees are the best known, through their relationship to humans–clover species are one of the top nectar sources for honey.  (A side note: in many cases bumblebees are the most efficient pollinator for native flowers.  Like honeybees, their populations are in decline, and this decline may be felt more strongly by wildflowers and some crops than that of the honeybee.)

According to this calendar converter, today would be La Fête de l'Opinion in the French Republican Calendar. (In the year 221, if we’re counting.)

From what I can tell, La Fête de l'Opinion (The Celebration of Convictions) was to be celebrated by mocking the hell out of the current regime, preferably in a clever or sarcastic way, without fear of reprisal.

Grantaire would have a field day with this.


4 Pluviôse: Perce-neige (snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis and other Galanthus spp.)

Well, well, look what’s come poking up through the snow!  The French Republican calendar, here with the month of Pluviôse.  It’s warmed up to a balmy 15˚F (-9˚C) where I live: a fine time to tell yourself that spring will come.

The snowdrop propagates asexually from bulbs–familiar to even very casual gardeners like me–but it also produces small seeds with elaiosomes, fat- and protein-rich structures that attract ants.  The ants feed the elaiosomes to their larvae, then carry the seed to the nest’s disposal area, where the colony’s waste provides plenty of nutrients for germinating seeds.  Many plants mix sexual and asexual reproductive strategies like this; it seems to suit snowdrops well, as a thriving snowdrop population can spread out happily into thick carpets.


18 Prairial: Pavot (poppy, Papaver spp.)

There was already a lot to say about poppies in 1793, and they hadn’t even yet accumulated all their current historical connotations.  In 1793 Britain had already begun to import Indian opium to China, but the issue had not yet reached the point of friction that led eventually to two wars; the poetry (and propaganda) of World War I had not yet cemented the poppy’s role as a remembrance token of modern war dead.

In 1793 what did one say about poppies?  Well, Millin jumps right to opium production.  He declines to visit the ancient world, though he takes time to claim disparagingly that Turkish soldiers are given opium “to stir them to combat” with “foolish devotion."  Hmm.  No mention, either, of opium or laudanum in medicine, though the Diderot Encyclopédie show considerable familiarity with poppy products’ medical usage. 

When humans aren’t dragging them into drugs, cooking, symbolism, and war, what do poppies do?  Papaver demonstrates some of the qualities of most successful "weedy” species: its numerous tiny seeds spread easily, light enough to blow in the wind or be knocked free of the fruit by a passing animal, and then remain viable in the seed bank for years, waiting for a soil disturbance to bring them to the surface to sprout.  By completing their flowering and seeding cycle before grain crops are harvested, poppies are able to grow quite happily among rows of cereal crops.  Happy plant!

La Fête de l'Opinion

I’m game to do another book club post.  The first two were a bit on the long side, which was exciting! but I hope not daunting.  Here’s a slightly briefer piece.  It’s part of the proposal for the French Republican Calendar, presented by Fabre d'Églantine.  The subject is the sansculottides: five days following the summer months (six in a leap year) to make up the full annual 365. 

The proposed sansculottides celebrations were altered somewhat before taking their official calendar form, but here are Fabre’s suggestions.  I’ll summarize the first four and give the fifth in full. 

Fête du Génie - Festival of Genius, recognizing achievements of the human mind;  Fête du Travail - Festival of Labor, recognizing industry and physical labor benefiting the nation; Fête des Actions - Festival of Actions, recognizing “great, beautiful, and good individual actions;” Fête des Récompenses - Festival of Honors, marked by ceremonial prizes given to the people recognized for their works on the three previous days.

And lastly, the Fête de l'Opinion - Festival of Opinion:

Here we raise a tribunal of an entirely new kind, at once gay and terrible.

Throughout the year, public officials, agents of the law and national trust, have required the people’s respect and their submission to the orders given in the name of the law; they ought to have made themselves worthy not only of this respect, but even of the esteem and the love of all citizens: if they have failed, woe to them! Let them beware the Fête de l'Opinion!  They will be struck down, not in their fortune, not in their persons, not even in the least of their rights as citizens, but in opinion.  On the unique and solemn day of the Fête de l'Opinion, the law gives a voice to all citizens on the morals, personal qualities, and actions of its deputies; the law gives free rein to the pleasant and gay imagination of the French people.  Opinion is allowed to express itself on this day in all ways: songs, allusions, caricatures, satires, stinging irony, wild sarcasms (le sel de l'ironie, sarcasmes de la folie), will on this day be the wages of those elected by the people who have deceived them or who have made themselves despised or hated.  Particular animosities, private vengeances need not be feared; opinion will serve out its own justice on the rash critic of a well-regarded magistrate.

And so by their very character, their natural gaiety, the French people will preserve their rights and their sovereignty; tribunes can be corrupted, but not opinion.  We dare to say that this single festival day will do more to keep the magistrates to their duties throughout the year than even Draco’s laws and all the tribunals in France.  The most terrible and most profound weapon of the French against the French is ridicule; the most political of tribunes is that of opinion; and if you go extend this idea and combine its wit with the national character you find that this festival of opinion alone is the most effective shield against every kind of abuse and usurpation of power. 

Some of my thoughts about this:

1. There’s also a long tradition of holidays in this spirit, like the temporary role-reversal of the Saturnalia.  Temporary loosening of restrictions is a Thing.

2. I’ve only just stumbled on Sanja Perovic’s book The Calendar in Revolutionary France and I don’t know anything about her, so I don’t have a lot of context for this point.  But she connects the Fête de l'Opinion with the high emotions of 10 août’s taking of the Tuileries palace; she sees it as a valve for releasing public emotion in a measured way and “avoiding the experience that politics could be everyday like a festival, grotesque and redemptive at once.”

3. It’s also related much more directly to what you see in, for instance, revolutionary journalism.  “We’ll give them a really harsh mocking” is practically Desmoulins’ battlecry–but it’s not just a matter of smug witticism, it’s an idea of public participation, public voice.  You also see Marat taking deadly seriously his perceived role as a conveyor of public accusation.  To me this connection seems more immediate than Perovic’s idea of a channel for public emotion–but that doesn’t mean they can’t both be involved. 

(4. I’m just going to point out that Fabre, later found up to his elbows in the French East India Company liquidation scandal, may not be my go-to guy when it comes to evaluating methods for the prevention of governmental corruption. )

So what do other people think?  Giving the public a voice with this?  Giving the public a narrow channel of expression?


14 Messidor: Lavande (lavender, Lavandula spp.)

I am on a quasi-vacation and didn’t get a chance to put together a queue, so the next few entries are likely to be short.  Maybe that’s a good thing.

Lavender: it’s another member of the mint family, Lamiaceae.  That spike of small purple flowers, square stem, fuzziness, crowd of aromatic phytochemicals?  Not every mint has all those properties, but they are a very mintish suite of features.