Still on the subject of traditions connected with Saint John and the midsummer festivities, here's a little something. A friend of mine wrote yesterday on Facebook, "La nuit de la Saint-Jean, il est costume de cueillir des plantes du jardin et de les laisser toute la nuit dans de l'eau au frais." Which means that it is customary on the eve of St John to pick certain plants from the garden and leave them overnight in water in a cool place. My friend also explained the next step which is to get up at dawn and wash your face in the water the plants have stood in overnight. It's supposed to be really good for your complexion.
I was staying with a friend In A Coruña one year at this time and she offered to wake me early so that I could wash my face in the flower water she had collected. I declined. Somehow I think my complexion benefitted more from a good night's sleep than from being washed in water from a flower vase! I wasn't quite so rude as that when I turned down her offer, I hasten to say.
Getting back to my friend who posted on Facebook, the automatic translator wrote this, "The night of the Saint-Jean, it is customary to gather plants of the garden and let them all night in water at the expense." Oh, the joy of automatic translators! The sentence begins reasonably well, perhaps a little stilted but at least comprehensible. It starts to go wrong when it selects "let" instead of "leave" as a translation for "laisser". Both English words are correct but you have to use them according to the context. Then it goes rapidly downhill into translationese gobbledegook. In French, "au frais" means "in the cool" or "in a cool place". "Les frais" means the costs or the expense. "Les frais du voyage", for example, would be "the cost of the journey" or "travel expenses".
Hence the weird, nonsense end of sentence: "let them all night in water at the expense".
The moral of the story is never to trust automatic translators. These computer programmes are fine for individual words. In fact the best of them will even give you examples which put those individual words into context. What they can't deal with are whole sentences. Even less, whole paragraphs. So far, human beats computer hands down in the area. It will undoubtedly change!
Here is a list of the plants/herbs/flowers you should stand overnight in water on the eve of St John:
Melisa. Lemon balm.
Rosas . Roses.
Notice that there are two Spanish words for lavender. Now, I always thought that lavender was just lavender but it would seem that I was wrong. I have no idea what the difference is between "espliego" and "lavanda" but I expect horticultural experts would know. Oh, yes, and witches. Because there is a little bit of witchcraft in here as well. You have to wash your face in the smelly water at dawn. Goodness knows what happens if you do it at the wrong time. Maybe you turn into a toad or something.
Other people, frequently famous people, also do odd things with their faces. Rachel Cook, a food writer, was writing about honey, in particular about specialist honey recommended by food-faddy "celebrities". There is a honey called Manuka, apparently. Rachel Cook expresses her loathing for any kind of foodstuff that comes trailing celebrity fans. In this case, Gwyneth Paltrow is a great believer in manuka and maintains it has a large number of good qualities. And Scarlett Johansson, someone I thought of until now as quite a sensible actress, rubs it into her face – here’s the science bit – to “pull out the impurities”. Really! I know honey is good for a body but I understood that to be from eating it, not rubbing it into your skin!
"Mānuka honey is a monofloral honey produced in New Zealand and Australia from the nectar of the mānuka tree. The honey is commonly sold as an alternative medicine. While a component found in Manuka honey has demonstrated antibacterial properties in vitro, there is no conclusive evidence of benefit in medical use and no evidence that the whole honey has any benefit."
According to Rachel Cook a jar of Manuka honey could cost you £33.95. Maybe that's why celebrities favour it: the exclusive nature! What's more, Ms. Cook is not impressed by the taste: "its bitter taste has always seemed to me to be the very opposite of what honey should be, which is to say sweet and comforting."
I suppose someone has to make money out of alternative remedies to stuff. Florists here in Galicia were selling bunches of "hierbas de San Juan" but I don't think they see charging silly prices for them.