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Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Time Event
1:05p
Just like you were a miser

Reuters brings curious news of a woman being held in Cyprus on charges of sorcery. Apparently she was turned in to the police by a man who'd sought her help in lifting a curse. I don't see any reason why the remedy shouldn't have worked, since it involved an egg, a spoon, a nail, and some of his underpants; what more do you need? If I read the article right he didn't turn her in because he was unhappy with the results. It was when she wanted 5,000 Cyprus pounds -- roughly US$12,000 -- that he went to the police.

In district court, the man said she ``cracked the egg into my underpants''. What did he expect she would do? If you had a pile of ingredients including an egg, a spoon, a nail, and some underpants, the only temptation that's plausible is to crack the egg into the underpants. You certainly won't be cracking the spoon or the nail in there, not with the way metals prices are today, whatever way that is.

It's hard to not find follow-up questions inexplicably unanswered. The obvious question is, did it work? Sorcery may be illegal in Cyprus (wouldn't that be quite the joke on the police and the court if they learned after all this gets over that it wasn't?), but if he did get exactly what he wanted then it really marks him as a cad that he skipped out on paying. Maybe his curse originated from this sort of behavior in the past. It's easy to imagine he's the kind of person who has an eighteen-point checklist of excuses used to reduce the waiter's tip.

But that characterization assumes he knew the price was 5,000 pounds. Obviously he should have asked, but he may have got the idea his curse-remedy bill would be more modest. Most people probably don't have good ideas of what curse-remedying costs. You almost never see service price comparisons making the front page of Consumer Reports.

Why did it cost 5,000 pounds, though? It can't all be there to cover the cost of the ingredients. And the remedy has to be more than just crushing an egg in underpants, since even an amateur could probably do that in no more than three tries. An expert charges for her expertise, certainly, but unless the curse was really hard to bear or preparing the egg for cracking was extremely labor-intensive it's natural to balk at the price. Probably she doesn't get many curse remedy cases in, what with the high prices they command and the tendency of people to get regular check-ups and use fluoridated water, keeping many small curses from forming in the first place.

So maybe it's not so much that the egg and the underpants costing so much, but rather it's waiting around for weeks on end to get a curse victim that does. Yet if her prices were lower perhaps people would come in more frequently, and for smaller curses. They might not even need the spoon and the nail. Still, just three or four egg-and-underpants treatments a year seems to be a good income, if you don't live extravagantly. Apparently reading of runes in coffee cups is also popular in Cyprus, so if you have a talent at that you can probably use that to cover any local cash-flow problems between the big jobs.

And there's the problem of training. There can't be many people who choose to get curses lifted, not at five thousand pounds a curse, but that means it's harder to train the next generation of sorcerers. And you can't do this unsolicited. The laws against battery may not have been written with the case of cracking an egg in strangers' pants in mind, but they surely cover it. This means the interns don't get hands-on experience. Probably the sorcery interns are left on call, waiting by the phone for months on end until they hear an eager, ``get the egg!''

I just don't know how the spoon and the nail figure into it. Maybe they just happened to be around.

Trivia: Harrods department store began as a grocery shop in the East End of London. Source: London: A History, A N Wilson.

Currently Reading: Designing the Molecular World: Chemistry at the Frontier, Philip Ball.

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