We are three Muselings in now and this is probably the silliest episode of the first series. It is about a piece of music and some wasps. Very obliquely, it is also about heartbreak.
A transcript of this episode is below.
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OK. Picture this: central Italy in mid-July. It’s very hot in the middle of the day and well into the afternoon. I’m staying in some kind of converted monastery. Or maybe it’s a villa that was used as a monastery once, I can’t remember. In any case, it’s a kind of arts centre now and there’s a festival going on and, because the festival is very much a late night thing, because of the heat, I’ve got into the habit of sleeping in the afternoon. I close the shutters but I leave the windows open. And one afternoon, over and over again, and then for the next few afternoons at about 6 o’clock, from the other side of the shutters, from the dusty courtyard downstairs [Un Año De Amor by Luz Casal starts playing] comes this song…
It was being used in a show that was in the festival and I’d never heard it before. It’s called Un Año De Amor and it’s by a Spanish singer called Luz Casal. If you recognise it, it might be because it was used in Pedro Almodovar’s film Tacones Lejanos, or High Heels, which I haven’t seen.
And, in English, the lyrics – as submitted by yony18 to lyricstranslate.com on the 17th of March 2010 – are:
What we had is over
And you’ll regret having put an end
To a year of love.
If you leave now
Soon you’ll discover
That days are endless and empty without me.
And, at night, And at night,
So as not to feel alone,
You will remember our happy days together.
You will remember the taste of my kisses.
And in an instant you will understand
What a year of love means.
[Song ends suddenly]
I think it’s a great break-up song. I mean, all that injured love and anger and that desire for the kind of revenge that’s only really an attempt to flatter one’s own ego, isn’t it? It came into my head the other day so I was playing it and, well, it turns out that whenever I listen it now, I can’t help thinking of the room where I was when I first heard it and the sun trying to get in through the shutters even at 6 o’clock in the afternoon.
And then I remembered these huge black wasps that had started trying to move into the villa a week or so earlier. Now, Wasps have always held a special place in my league table of horrors. I still remember, as a child, being told to ‘Stay still or you’ll just make them more angry’ and thinking ‘How am I supposed to stay still when there are angry wasps flying at my face!’
So this is not so much about the song as it is about my campaign to oust the wasps from the villa.
OK, now, I’ve done a little bit of research – online, of course – to help you picture these monsters and I’ve found this, which makes me think that they might have been of the wasps called Sceliphron curvatum. Not all of this is relevant but it’s difficult to read out the bit I want without reading out the rest, so… Here goes:
‘Some of the observed particular behavioral traits could be putative characters in phylogenetic reconstruction of the genus Sceliphron. In fact, despite behavior remaining underrepresented in phylogenetic reconstructions, possibly because the term behavior incorporates a wide range of phenomena not all of which are equally applicable to understanding evolutionary history (discussed in Stuart et al. 2002), it is also true that comparative studies have shown that behavior can be remarkably informative regarding the relationships of taxa (Hinde and Tinbergen 1958), in particular, if we focus on stereotyped and ritualized behaviors, such as nest building…’ OK? nest building is important so pay attention to that… ‘(Wenzel 1992 1993). Although we do not have robust data on Sceliphron phylogeny, the taxonomy of the genus is quite stable. From this point of view, S. curvatum, which belongs to the subgenus Hensenia, also had more distinct behavior compared to the other species studied here (all of which belong to the subgenus Sceliphron). Interestingly, such differences also remained after mud-ball construction, since the nest itself…’ OK, this is the bit you need to listen to… ‘is peculiar in S. curvatum, with the brood cells being built and arranged on the substrate in linear rows, while in the other species, they are added one after another in layers, and then the overall structure is covered by a final thick mud layer (lacking in S. curvatum) (Polidori et al. 2005).”
OK, so that’s from a study called Mud-Ball Construction by Sceliphron Mud-Dauber Wasps (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae): A Comparitive Ethological Study by Liliane Chatenoud, Carlo Polidori, Matteo Federici, Veronica Licciardi and Francesco Andrietti. And I guess I could have just summarised it, actually.
But the reason I read it out is that it tallies with what I remember about the nests these wasps were constructing. Which were very much built and arranged on the substrate in linear rows, as the article describes. I mean, I would suggest that you look up pictures of S. curvatum wasps online yourself but… well, I’ve done it and… you get pictures of lots of different kinds of wasps and lots of different kinds of nests. So it’s very confusing. And I should just say that the Wikipedia article on S. curvatum says that they are at most 1 inch long and not at all aggressive. Which is not at all how I remember them. So I’d prefer it if you didn’t look them up but just imagined them as giant, human-hating superstingers who had to be moved out.
But here’s the thing: I couldn’t just spray them. Not because I was reluctant to kill them – I mean, for all that I’m a little bit Buddhist nowadays, the thing I had stuck in my head was a memory of spraying a wasp in the kitchen of the house I grew up in when I was a child and the speed at which it then started flying, I mean, all over the place but seemingly mostly at me. I remember cowering under the kitchen table until it finally… thwacked onto the floor. So that was the last thing I wanted to provoke with these… I mean they were huge… several inches long. At least. And they buzzed, right? Several of the sites that talk about mud dauber wasps mention the buzzing. Apparently they tend to buzz while they’re making their nests. It’s a special kind of sound. You could compare it to a kind of contented humming, I suppose, except that this is a wasp we’re talking about. So it’s really something very menacing.
Now, I have to say, they did seem pretty happy building their nests on the ceiling and… and there was a feeling in the villa that maybe we should just let them be. So… I suppose I might have, I don’t know, just learned to put up with them. But then I found a wasp setting up house in the room where I was sleeping. And I wanted to have a siesta and there was no way I was going to be able to sleep while it was there. I mean, there was the buzzing and the fact that it was going to keep coming back and I didn’t know what its plans for the night were – you know, whether it was going to sleep up there.
So I must have been lying, terrified, on the floor of the room, as far away from the wasp as I could get, hoping that it wouldn’t spot me, and then, as soon as the wasp went out for more building materials, I had one of those moments of genius that strike maybe once or twice in a lifetime: I sprayed the nest. I’m still quite proud of that. I think that’s evidence of some strong lateral thinking. I gave that nest a really good spray. I soaked it. And then, very bravely, as it seems to me now, I lay down again and waited.
And, after a while, the wasp came back, squeezing its way through the gap in the shutters that the sunlight also used and… and it was a triumphant moment for me but, as I remember it, it was also rather sad. I remember watching the wasp fly over to the nest it had started building and, without landing, it just sniffed disconsolately around it, almost disbelievingly, as if, while it had been away, the nest had done something deeply disappointing that the wasp was having trouble processing. Some betrayal that the nest would end up regretting far more than the wasp would when it came to think about it. And then, completely ignoring me, as it had from the beginning, the wasp turned around and, dignity fully intact, it made its way back outside.
And then [Un Año De Amor by Luz Casal starts], a little while later, this came in through the shutters.
So this is Un Año De Amor by Luz Casal from her album A Contraluz. It’s a great song. I recommend you buying it. And this was the third of my Muselings. You can find out more about the podcast at muselings.uk. I’m Charles Adrian; you can find me on Twitter as @chardrian…
And, OK, so I should probably say here, in the interests of greater honesty – I don’t believe in the possibility of perfect honesty, by the way – but in the interests of greater honesty, at least, I should say that things didn’t happen exactly as I describe at the end there. I mean, there were wasps and they were huge and they were building nests all over the villa, and one of them did start to build a nest in the room that I was sleeping in and I did come up with the idea of spraying the nests and it did sort out the problem without provoking any violence on the part of the wasps but… at that point the festival hadn’t actually started yet. So it’s not like I heard this song straight after the wasp flew out through the shutters. It was week or two later that I heard this song for the first time. But the song does make me think of the wasps and I suppose I just… I quite like the idea of maybe a wasp singing an angry, passive-aggressive break-up song to this nest that she’s been working on and that’s now suddenly become super poisonous. I realise that it’s a silly idea and you probably didn’t get that image anyway. But there it is.
Thanks for listening, anyway. Don’t be shy about sharing this, or telling people about it, liking it on Soundcloud, reviewing it on iTunes. Etc.
[Charles Adrian sings along a little]
[Song gets louder, plays out]
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020