SOUPSONG HAS GONE HARDCOPY!
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(e-SoupSong 34: February 1, 2003)
"Oh, you are SO full of soup!"
"No, not at all. Alas, after what I did last night, with all the best intentions, I'm actually in the soup."
"Ah, and crying in your soup, no doubt. What happened?"
"The usual: too many cooks spoiled the broth."
"Oh right, it's always so easy to blame others for your own mistakes: the chicken always blames the soup pot for its tragic end."
"I protest! You aren't seeing both sides. Remember, the bowl cannot be warmer than the soup."
"Protest away, but I still say that whatever is put in the soup kettle comes out on the spoon."
"You are so hard hearted. And yet, I admit that it's been hard eating all this bad soup with a big spoon."
"Well, you know what they say, 'a spoon does not know the taste of soup, nor a learned fool the taste of wisdom.'"
"Ouch, give me a break, doll. And yet I've learned my lesson: He who once burns his mouth, always blows the soup."
Phew. Ten proverbs from as many different countries, and most of them bucking for entry into the universal lexicon of folk wisdom. It's enough to make paremiologists stand up and shout, "Where's the soup?!"
Proverbs sure are funny things. You wouldn't believe the ink exhausted by scholars of proverbs (yeeees, they're called paremiologists) just trying to define the damn things:
"Old gems of generationally tested wisdom"
Paremiologically speaking, here's my favorite, from Harvard savant Bartlett Jere Whiting:
Okay. Well, maybe not my favorite. But, fact is, there's a lot of soup in them thar proverbs, and I think there's good reason why.
Let me take you back in the history of the world. It wasn't always like it is now, people hunched in front of computers doing take-out pizzas and creating high tech proverbs about "garbage in, garbage out." Stay with me here:
ONCE UPON A TIME people came home to a hearth with soup at a bubble and made conversation in flickering firelight about the events of the day. Young people would speak up naively or impatiently, "I can't BELIEVE the corn hasn't started sprouting!" Older folks--who'd been there, done that--would philosophically gaze into the simmering dinner, thinking about the unsprouting corn and their own hunger, and opine, "A watched pot never boils." Bingo, proverb. So true across so many hearths across the world that it understandably caught on.
It's nice to think about, isn't it--this time of apparently slower natural rhythms? When was the last time you gathered things from the garden, built a fire, brought water to a boil, and, hungry and expectant, thought about how these processes spoke to the larger questions that tug at the heartstrings of mankind? There is something fine about rituals building metaphors for life and finding room for reflection.
As Mr. Whiting said, though, some proverbs are just talking about that liquid stuff in a bowl, pure and simple:
"Eat soup first and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be passed." (French)
Other proverbs are still about that pure-and-simple soup, but they imply other things too:
"A soup that tastes good by licking must taste better by eating." (African Annang tribe)
And then there are those proverbs that, with a leap of imagination, use the image of soup to express a truth that really has nothing to do with soup at all:
"A rat's droppings can spoil a whole cauldron of soup" (China)
So what kind of soup goes well with these pungent platitudes anyway?
Ummm, I guess it should be "full of beans." "A good wife and cabbage soup, what more could you want?" "The best cook drops a whole tomato." "Give graciously--even an onion." "Garlic is as good as ten mothers." Definitely "salt of the earth." "Cheese and bread make the cheeks red." All rounded off with alphabet pasta, how else to puzzle life's meaning than with modern wheaten runes?
Sounds like minestrone to me; does it sound like minestrone to you? Here's a simple recipe for this cold winter day of reflection: