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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tarantella

When I was in my late teens I had long, flowing hair - almost long enough to sit on. It was easy to care for and do various things with, and I really enjoyed it. It was long enough that I'd sometimes be sitting in an armchair and it would lay across my arm and tickle me. Using the hand on my opposite arm to toss my hair back was a normal and automatic behavior, something that happened almost unconsciously.

One lovely summer day, I was sitting in an armchair by the front door while Gram and I were visiting with my cousin Vicky who had dropped in that afternoon. Various subjects were covered and we relaxed and enjoyed our shared time with laughter and smiles. My hair was tickling my arm, so I reached up with my right hand to toss the hair over my left shoulder. This happened once or twice, but the darn hair was still tickling me. This wasn't unusual; everyone sheds some hairs now and again. It wasn't uncommon for one of them to end up draped over my arm, making me feel a tickle. So I glanced down at my arm to see where the offending long golden hair was. Instead of a long strand of hair, I saw something that looked like this on my arm.




Now, I have to admit that spiders are not my favorite creatures on the planet, even though Charlotte's Web was one of my favorite books as a child. Being raised by a woman who claimed that she could hear a spider walk across the ceiling or wall probably didn't help. Although I was also afraid of them, I was the official spider-eradicator in our household. I know on an intellectual level that spiders are beneficial - without them, other insects would be out of control and take over the planet. But they give me the creepy-crawlies if they touch me. And the thought of them crawling over my face in the night just makes me twitchy all over. 

This critter on my arm was a Bold Jumping Spider. Yes, they have great jumping abilities. And they don't just have the eight legs to make you feel twitchy - they are also hairy. In my past experiences with them, I had found them to be the toughest spiders I had ever seen. You'd step on one, lift your foot, and find the spider scurrying away, all the while laughing at you. "Ha, ha, ha, try again, human!" If you accomplished your goal of instant spider-death when you stepped on one, there was an audible crunching sound that was every bit as disconcerting as the combination of multiple legs and freakish hairiness. 

So when I saw my greatest arachnid nemesis sitting on my arm, I reacted by completely losing my decorum. I batted at the spider while jumping up from my chair and shouting heaven knows what. I believe I was even jumping up and down, still brushing at my arm, and saying things like, "Get off of me, get off me!" Gram and Vicky turned and looked at me, shocked, and probably frightened. I told them that I had a spider on my arm, but of course, the spider was nowhere to be seen. The combination of my flinging it off my arm and its resilience and jumping abilities had enabled it to flee the scene of the crime, and leave me looking like someone who had completely taken leave of her senses. I am sure that neither Gram nor Vicky ever believed my there's-a-spider-on-my-arm story. But I saw it, and felt it, and I know it was there.

I think the two of them not-so-secretly thought that I was experiencing a moment of utter madness. But I know the truth. Maybe that's the real reason for the birth of the Italian folk dances known as the Tarantella. They were inspired by something called tarantism, a disease thought to be caused by the bite of the dreaded tarantula. The weeping victim's condition could only be improved by engaging in wild dancing. Maybe the victims weren't actually suffering from spider bites. They might have just taken temporary leave of their senses because they found a spider crawling on their arm or leg or whatever. The frenetic dancing may have just been an attempt to get rid of the spider. And as for that dancing being a cure? Well, since the scary, hairy spider was gone, it sure worked for me!