Author: theluckguide

Let The Games Begin!

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games had a fortuitous beginning at precisely 8:08pm Beijing time.

(Top photo by Tim Wimborne, Reuters. Bottom photo by Doug Mills, New York Times.)

Knock On This

For as long as she can remember, Loren Waldron has used the phrase “knock on wood” whenever she’s wished for an extra bit of luck. Then, one fateful day, as she was about to leave on a road trip and uttered those words in the hopes of good traffic, there was no wood to be found anywhere in sight. “I was surrounded by a sea of plastic, so I just knocked on my head,” she recalls.

Well, here’s what happens when you call on the luck gods but don’t follow through: Loren found herself sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for six hours, in what should have been an easy three hour drive. From that day on, Loren talked about creating a piece of “knock on wood” wood for herself—something that she would always have in a pinch. At first, she would mention it almost as a joke, but as more and more friends told her what a great idea it was, she finally decided last May to make it a reality by creating the perfect little wooden accessory and launching www.knockonwoodwood.com.

Knock on Wood wood is comprised of a circular piece of wood that’s two inches in diameter and attached to a metal key ring. It’s small enough to carry in your pocket, clip to a belt, or carry on your keychain. But what makes it special is the fact that each one is individually crafted by Loren. “No two are alike, because I brand the wood myself, so every piece always comes out a bit differently,” Loren says, hoping that this personal touch will bring that extra bit of good luck to the new owner.

So has Loren’s luck changed since she began creating these lucky charms? “We’re moving and I can’t tell you how many times I knocked on my own Knock on Wood wood when we got the offer for our place, until now, two weeks before closing that everything would work out and the sale would go through. Now I’m knocking on it with hopes to find the house of our dreams shortly! I find an occasion to knock on wood almost daily and while I’m not sure that it has changed my luck, I haven’t run into any bad luck since I began creating it, so I guess it’s doing its job!”

To buy a piece of Knock on Wood wood, click HERE.

–Kevin

Exam Day Luck

It’s July, and while most students in the U.S. have been working on their summer tan, hundreds of thousands of students in Vietnam are sweating through their university entrance exams. But before this happens, Hanoi’s 938-year-old Temple of Literature (above) is jammed with thousands of stressed out students hoping to pass their exams. The Temple is Vietnam’s oldest university, and students come here to burn incense, pray for luck, and touch the heads of the eighty-two sacred stone turtles that represent past university laureates, hoping that some of their good luck will rub off.

Many students also participate in the exam day ritual of eating a “lucky breakfast” consisting of green beans, since the Vietnamese word for bean is also the same word for pass. With 1.8 million candidates taking the test every year and only three hundred thousand places available in Vietnam’s universities, hopefuls need every bit of luck they can get. In a country where two thirds of the people are under the age of 30, Vietnam is struggling to cope with the growing pains of a population that demands to be educated. To read more about this issue, click HERE.

–Kevin

(Top photo by Sean Madden, bottom photo by AFP.)

Happy Birthday to a Lucky Bridge

On this day in 1357, the construction of the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, was kicked off. What makes this a significant date in the world of luck is the fact that this bridge was designed, from the beginning, to be lucky. The original Charles Bridge had been destroyed in the devastating flood of 1342, so much care was taken by King Charles IV to ensure that the new, replacement bridge could withstand future floodwaters. He consulted his astrologers, who deemed that it would be most auspicious for the foundation stone of the new bridge to be laid in 1357 on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31 a.m., a date that forms a palindrome (135797531).

A number of lucky legends concerning the bridge have emerged over the centuries. It is said that special lucky ingredients of eggs, milk, and flour were added to the mortar to give it extra strength, and that every statue added to the bridge subsequently was also fortified with these ingredients. Another legend relates to the statue of St John of Nepomunk, the oldest statue on the bridge. Supposedly, St John was murdered on the orders of King Wenceslaus after he refused to tell the king about the content of the queen’s weekly confession. His body was thrown into the Vltava River, and at the precise moment his body hit the water, five stars appeared in the night sky and could be seen for miles around. (This is why the statue of St John is depicted with a halo of five stars around his head.) There is a brass plaque that depicts this moment underneath the statue, and since the ancient bridge has become Prague’s most popular tourist destination, it has become customary for the thousands of tourists visit the bridge every day to rub the plaque for good luck.

There seems, however, to be a little disagreement as to where precisely one should rub. Some advise rubbing St John’s carved body on the plaque, while others say that one should rub the carving of a dog next to it. Later this month, I will be traveling to Prague and will visit the bridge to conduct a few rubbing experiments and separate fact from fiction. Stay tuned for the full report.

–Kevin

(Photo by Bruno Girin)

Ganeshagate

If you were paying close attention to Kevin’s blog entry of June 23rd (and I know you were), you would have noticed among Barack Obama’s lucky charms a “tiny monkey,” which, it turns out, is a miniature representation of the Hindu god Hanuman. It ended up in Obama’s pocket the same way many other items have landed there: “I have all these things that people give me—all these different little good luck charms.” The other day the Washington Post blog reported that Bhavna Pandit, a political fundraising consultant, believes that the quickly spreading news that Obama is toting around this little Hindu monkey will go a long way with the Indian American community. The blog entry says that “women and men of [Pandit’s] parents’ generation” are “suddenly taking note of Obama in a way they had not done before.” The article suggests that if Pandit is right, Hanuman may help Obama carry the Indian American vote, which had previously been largely aligned with the Clinton campaign. See the story HERE and HERE.

What’s interesting about this is not just that I’m a big Obama supporter, but the shared understanding on the part of both Obama, the consultant interviewed, and, presumably, the person who gave Obama the monkey in the first place, that Hanuman inhabits a space that is at the intersection of faith and superstition, religion and luck. And I had an experience recently about just this topic that ended on a somewhat less positive note.

I was at CW 11 (a local network) to be interviewed for a short piece they were doing about lucky charms for Friday the 13th. They had asked me to bring some charms to discuss so I had a bag full of things I have collected or been given since I started working on the luck book. They include pennies, a four-leaf clover, a wishbone, a daruma, a maneki neko, a pair of red underwear, an evil eye amulet, and a Ganesha. One of the production guys had taken away the charms to create the table display for the spot and I was sitting in the “green room” waiting to go on. A woman came into the room to inform me, angrily, that she had taken the Ganesha off of the table. She began to explain that Ganesha was a god, not a good luck charm, and that people worship him. I began to say that I know that he is a Hindu god and she cut me off, stating that she was Hindu and that he is “the mover of obstacles.” I tried to say that, as I understood it, he is thought to bring good luck to difficult endeavors but again she interrupted, snapping that I wouldn’t have put a baby Jesus on a crucifix on the table along with red underwear, would I have? I considered this for a moment, thinking to myself “Well, actually I would have but the baby Jesus on a crucifix isn’t considered lucky,” but I (wisely, I think) kept my mouth shut and she stormed off.

The thing that is complicated about writing about luck, or talking about luck, is that it really comes down to belief, and that’s a pretty serious subject, whether it’s shared by an organized religion or an individual. We here at the Luck Guide try to be sensitive when we’re talking about these things, but we don’t always get it right.

I’m not sure if it was a mistake or not to include the Ganesha on that table along with the red underwear. I just know that when I had hit a really rough patch writing the book, I happened to walk by a store where there was a display of Ganeshas in the window. I went in, bought one, and when I got home I put him on the mantelpiece in the room where I was doing my writing. The next morning I woke up and started writing again. I’m not sure what the turnaround was about—religion, faith, luck, the power of positive thinking, or a good night’s sleep—but I suppose I reserve the right to believe he brought me luck, regardless of what anyone else says.

–Deb

Lucky Q&A: The Elephant in the Room

Every so often, we receive questions from readers regarding different aspects of luck.  We welcome these questions and make every effort to answer all the queries that come our way.

Q: I read through your very enjoyable LUCK guide last Thursday and was inspired to purchase an elephant statuette for the home. Question: Where to place the elephant for optimal luck? Okay to put it on the porch facing away from the front door? If you could supply any guidance I’d appreciate it. –D. Simon

 A: There are several different schools of thought regarding lucky elephant placement:

 –It can be placed outside the entrance of a home (facing the doorway) to protect the home.

 –Some believe that the elephant should be placed inside the house, preferably in the front hall with the trunk facing inward to direct good luck into the home.

 –Others believe that the elephant should be placed in the front hall with its trunk toward the front door to “welcome in” good luck.

 Our advice is to try out all the options over several weeks and pay attention to which orientation works best for you.

–Kevin

(Photo by Echoforsberg)

Gnome, Gnome on the Range

It appears someone in France has taken that movie Amélie a little bit too seriously Remember how, in that movie, the impish Audrey Tautou kidnaps her father’s garden gnome and has an airline hostess friend bring it along on her trips and photograph it at tourist sights around the world in order to inspire her father to get off his butt and travel? Cute, right?

Well, it’s not so cute when the garden gnome is instead kidnapped, forcibly repainted, and made to live in a garden measuring a modest 215 square feet along with 169 other gnomes (think 6 train heading to Grand Central at 5:30 on a Thursday night). And that’s exactly what happened in France this spring.

When the gnomes first started disappearing, accusing eyes turned to the Garden Gnome Liberation Front (FLNJ), an organization devoted to the emancipation of “nains de jardin.” But is appears they weren’t responsible. Rather, 53-year-old man has now been arrested in the town of Mauron in connection to the crime after 170 gnomes were discovered on his lawn. Although police believe they have the right perpetrator in custody and are prepared to repatriate the stolen gnomes, returning them to their rightful owners (given the repainting) has proven tricky.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, why on earth would anyone kidnap 170 gnomes? Our hypothesis: luck.

The name “gnome” is derived from the Ancient Germanic word Kuba-Walda, which means “home administrator” or “home spirit.” So not only are gnomes kitschy and fun, they’ll bring good luck to any outdoor endeavors. So, this guy must have been thinking, “If one gnome will bring good luck, 170 will bring REALLY good luck” (but in French).

If you have other theories, we’d be glad to entertain them.

Read the full story HERE.

–Deb

(Photo by DPA)

Lucky Road to the White House

Barack Obama displays his lucky charms

John McCain shows off his lucky penny

We here at the Luck Guide have known for quite some time that John McCain and Barack Obama are big believers in luck, but it’s good to see that the news is getting around. Back in May, we highlighted the good luck superstitions of Barack Obama and John McCain in a piece entitled “Hoop Dreams” (read it HERE). This week, citing a number of other media sources, New York Magazine ran a story on their 2008 Electopedia blog that delves even deeper into each of the candidate’s lucky practices. Here are some of the juicier details we’ve learned:

—Obama carries “a bracelet belonging to a soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler’s lucky chit, a tiny monkey god and a tiny Madonna and child.”

—Obama tucked into a big plate of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day 2008 when communications director Robert Gibbs explained that it would bring good luck.

—There was widespread panic in McCain’s camp when his lucky feather and lucky compass disappeared (at different times). Things calmed down only when they were recovered.

—One of McCain’s primary-day rituals includes making sure that “lucky friend” Steve Dart is always close by.

It’s hard to assess at this point which of the presidential candidates has a better handle on their mojo bag. I suppose we’ll all find out on Election Day. To read the full New York Magazine article, click HERE.

–Kevin

(Photos by Brooks Croft for Time magazine. To see the full photos, click HERE.)

Stay Lucky this Friday the 13th

Stay Lucky this Friday the 13th

Stay Lucky this Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th is here, and it’s (luckily) the only one we’ll have this year.

How did this day become known as a perfect storm of bad luck? Fridays have been considered unlucky ever since Jesus Christ (made famous by The Bible) was supposedly crucified on that day and the Knights Templar (made famous by The Da Vinci Code) were said to have been arrested on Friday, October 13, 1307.

The number thirteen itself has been unlucky since the time of the ancient Hindis, and in Norse mythology, the god Loki was the thirteenth guest who crashed a dinner party uninvited and had another guest killed. Perhaps a more famous unlucky dinner guest was Judas Iscariot, the thirteenth invitee to the Last Supper.

All of these events, coupled with Hollywood doing such a bloody good job of marketing their Friday the 13th movie franchise, has made for a day that’s dreaded by most of us. If you feel a touch of paraskavedekatriaphobia (the fear of Friday the 13th) setting on, fear not, because we’ve got a whole host of things you can do to ensure that this day goes smoothly:

–Start the day off on the right foot, literally, by getting out of the bed on the right side and making sure that the first step you take outside is with your right foot. (If your bed is against a wall and you can’t get out on the right side, you’ve got other problems best solved by consulting the Lucky Bedroom section of Luck: The Essential Guide.)

–Wear red underwear. It’s the color that’s most fortuitous on days like today. And don’t put on anything that’s green, the unluckiest color. (The only exceptions to this rule are if green has always brought you luck, or you’re Irish.)

–Carry your favorite lucky charm in your pocket. If you don’t have one, try an acorn, a four leaf clover, or grab the first heads up penny you come across.

–Avoid the temptation to tidy up today: brooms should not be handled under any circumstances; don’t do the laundry; and you shouldn’t flip the mattress or change the sheets.

–It’s best not to begin anything new today—a new job, a new project, a new haircut, or even a new box of cereal. Likewise, we wouldn’t recommend job interviews, getting on a plane, or going for surgery today.

–Eat a big meal with lots of garlic. It’s been known as the luckiest herb since ancient Egyptian times, and of course, it’ll also keep away those pale men with slicked-back hair, satin capes, and preposterous accents.

–If you live in anywhere near New York City, you might want to pay a visit to one of the lucky spots outlined in the latest Time Out New York. Click HERE to read the article.

–Kevin

Photography by Denny Yuniarta (left) and Claudecf (right).

Lucky Living: At Home with Alexis and Tico

Tico Torres (left) and Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte at home in New York.

Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose work has appeared in magazines such as The New YorkerTown and Country, and L’Uomo Vogue. Tico Torres is a fashion stylist who, in addition to collaborating with Rodriguez-Duarte since the beginning of his career, has worked with such legendary photographers as Richard Avedon, Norman Parkinson, and Bruce Weber. (Torres styled Weber’s portrait of ballet star Damien Woetzel in this month’s Vanity Fair.) Together, Alexis and Tico have produced iconic portraits of such personalities as Gianni Versace, Gloria Vanderbilt, Andy Garcia, and most notably, Celia Cruz—their fifteen year friendship with her is documented in the photo book Presenting Celia Cruz. When they aren’t jetting off to Paris, Ibiza, or some other exotic destination for a photo shoot, Alexis and Tico divide their time between homes in Miami and New York. The Luck Guide paid a visit to their New York apartment, tucked away on one of the West Village’s leafiest streets. Here, lucky objects share the whimsically appointed space with a formidable collection of Cuban art.

Kevin: What fascinates me about your apartment is how you really incorporate all these good luck talismans into the décor of the place. The first thing I noticed is the horseshoe above your front door. It looks ancient. Can you tell me more about it?

Alexis: We found it in Colorado. We were out at a ranch in the middle of nowhere.

Tico: Actually, it was Daryl Hannah’s ranch. Our friend Jeffrey Cayle was working on the design of her ranch out in Colorado and he asked us to visit him and bring him some stuff that he needed for Daryl’s place.

A: So we drove—and it was an amazing road trip since it was the first time we had driven across the country. The house used to be a stagecoach stop and on one of the days we were out exploring the enormous property we found this horseshoe in one of the fields, which we decided to bring back with us.

K: You know it’s very lucky to find horseshoes by accident.

A: Oh really?

K: Yes, and every nail left in the horseshoe is supposed to count for extra good luck. Above the horseshoe on your doorway, it seems like you’ve got a whole treasure trove of little angels and sculptures…

A: These were picked up on a trip to Mexico. We went for the Day of the Dead and we got these in Patzcuaro.

T: The two on the sides are both statuettes depicting La Virgencita de Guadalupe, who is the patron saint of Mexico, and then there are three crosses with Christ on them, which are all handmade and painted right there in the plaza where we bought them. We picked them up right from the artist, so we thought they were really special because we actually saw them painting it right there. The three little cherubs and angel are from a dear friend of ours, Albin Kohanski, who was Joan Crawford’s hairdresser and colorist. He and his boyfriend were together for 51 years, and traveled all over the world. These three angels came from Italy, and I believe they purchased them in the 1950s.

K: Are the virgins supposed to bless you or bring you luck?

T: Both. Mexicans really believe that she will answer their prayers and help them. She’s very, very important in Mexico.

A: It’s very interesting because for us, we grew up catholic, but we’re not really practicing Catholics. These symbols, because of our family traditions, always had a meaning that went beyond religious faith, and we continue the tradition without being totally religious about it.

K: Well, is there any special reason you hang these saints above the doorway with the horseshoe?

A: Well, as always in our houses and in our parent’s houses, we like to hang lucky charms over the ledge of the front door. When you go out, the angels, the virgin, and the crosses will go out with you and protect you.

T: We also put them there so that as you’re walking out, it’s one of the last things you’ll see.

A: Before we go away on any trip, we always stand in front of the door and say a little prayer to let us have a safe trip, and to keep the house safe.

T: And we do this at our house in Miami, too, in front of the little saints that I’ve collected from my family.

A: I don’t know if you noticed, but on this other doorway leading to the living room, we’ve hung this pineapple drawing. The pineapple is always supposed to be welcoming and bring good luck into the home. It was given to us by Gilberto Ruiz, the Cuban artist.

K: I’ve never noticed that until today! Now, what are all these little saints lining the windowsill?

T: These are actually the ones they sell in Miami for you to put on your dashboard. They have little magnets at the bottom, and they bring luck to your car. When I was growing up, my Dad always had these little saints in the front of the car to protect you while you were driving. These four are the most important saints to Cubans: you have Santa Barbara, La Virgen de Regla, which I think is probably unique to Cuba, La Virgencita de la Caridad del Cobre, and San Lazaro.

A: When I was a little boy growing up in Havana, I was run over by a car. My entire leg was crushed, my femur was severed, and the doctors said that I would be handicapped for the rest of my life. San Lazaro was the one who helped those with physical ailments.

K: He was the patron saint of lepers, I believe.

A: Yes, exactly. So on the seventeenth of December every year, there’s a shrine in El Rincón, and people would go on their knees to this shrine. As a little kid, my parents would make a pilgrimage to El Rincón de San Lazaro to make an offering so that I would be cured. And here I am today—totally healed—I don’t even have a limp.

K: As we enter the living room, I’m noticing all sorts of lucky charms. Where should we start first?

T: Well, we have our little elephant here on the mantelpiece, and following the Cuban tradition, we always have his butt pointing toward the front door.

K: That’s interesting, because in some other traditions, like the Chinese, the trumpet is supposed to be facing the front door, as if “heralding in” the good luck.

T: Really? That’s interesting. If you go to many Cuban households, you’ll always find a little elephant, and the butt is always pointing towards the front door. As a matter of fact, I remember that white ceramic elephants in different sizes were always popular in houses when I was growing up in Hialeah [a Miami suburb heavily populated with Cuban immigrants].

A: (Laughs) Yes, I remember that my parents had a set of those white elephants too. Three of them!

K: Looking up at that ledge by the window, I notice a beautiful recreation of San Lazaro.

A: Yes, that was my grandmother’s San Lazaro statue, and she had it for many, many years. And you’ll notice the cigar next to San Lazaro, because he liked cigars. You were also supposed to wash him every so often with warm water.

K: And put a cigar next to him?

A: No, actually you’re supposed to blow cigar smoke onto his face for good luck, because that’s what he likes. Now in this case, this is an actual cigar that Celia Cruz smoked. We were with her at a launch party for Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s book Holy Smoke, and these cigars were sitting on table. Celia turned to Tico and asked, “Do you have any matches?” She wanted to smoke the cigar, because it turned out that in all her years she had never smoked a cigar before.

K: So this is the first cigar that she ever smoked?

A: Yes! She was smoking it and she told us, “This is the first time I’ve ever smoked a cigar!” So we kept it and leave it up there. I don’t know if you see it, but in front of San Lazaro is a tiny little saint there—it’s called El Niño de Atocha. It’s a tiny little saint that was given to me by my grandmother when I first arrived from Cuba. And next to them are rosary beads given to us by a dear friend who had brought them back from Bethlehem. So we keep all these special good luck things up there on that ledge.

K: I’ve noticed this handkerchief tied to the leg of a chair. What is its significance?

A: This is another Cuban lucky tradition: whenever you lose anything—from your car keys to your passport, whatever—you’re supposed to “tie San Dimas’ balls” until they reappear. Basically, what you do is tie a handkerchief around the leg of a table or chair. Actually, you can use a handkerchief or grass, because in the countryside, that’s what they used. And as you tie the handkerchief or the grass, you’re supposed to say, “San Dimas, help us find the thing we are looking for.”

T: The basic premise is that you’re tying San Dimas’ balls and you’re not going to release them until he helps you find whatever you’re looking for.

A: Again, I should say that we don’t believe in this a hundred percent, but it’s one of those traditions that our parents have passed down through the years, and so we just repeat the ritual. Recently, I lost my passport and citizenship papers here in the apartment, and I just couldn’t find it anywhere. Tico was also helping me search for it, and he tied San Dimas’ balls. We were searching and searching . . .

T: . . . and we turned the apartment upside down, going file by file . . .

A: . . . and we just couldn’t find it. One day, I noticed that the handkerchief was a little loose. So I decided to make it tighter, and I said, “San Dimas, please bring me luck in finding my passport.” About half an hour later, I found my passport and citizenship papers—tucked away in of all places a file folder that contained articles and tearsheets—you know, the ones that give me ideas and inspiration for my photo shoots.

K: Someplace it would never be?

A: Yes, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t even going to look there. But as I came across this file, I decided to just throw some stuff out for recycling. So as I’m going through these old clippings, suddenly my passport appears.

T: So then we untied San Dimas’ balls, because he came through.

A: It was a little freaky, really, because I was never going to look there. Because I knew there was absolutely no way my passport or important papers could possibly be in that file. I was actually going to take that whole file and toss away everything, but something made me look in there, and voila!

K: Do you think that Cubans by nature are big believers in luck?

T: I don’t know if we’re bigger believers than other nationalities, since there are superstitions in every culture, but yes, luck does play a big factor for Cubans.

A: Well, take the lottery for example. Cubans are really into playing the lottery, and for them every number has a special significance. If you see a bird in the middle of a street, for instance, that symbolizes a number.

T: Every sign you see has significance that relates to a number. Number 15, for example, relates to a dog. A dove is 24, or a monkey’s 34.

K: What do you think is the most prevalent or popular Cuban lucky superstition? For example, the most widely held superstition in Japan is that if you cut your fingernails at night, your parents will die before you next see them.

A: Wow, I don’t think we have anything as dramatic as that. Some popular good luck superstitions are: leaving a place the same way you came in—from the same door, because you don’t want to take the luck of the place out, whether it’s good or bad.

T: Another one is to always walk out the door with your right foot first. There are a lot of little things, but I don’t know if there’s one ultimate belief.

K: I realize that with the saints, there’s a lot of superstition intermingling with Catholicism.

T: Catholic imagery and iconography has always been very prominent, because the Spaniards brought these religious figures with them, and then we get the slaves from Africa. The Spaniards did not like the slaves practicing their religion, which is Yoruba, and they would force them not to practice it. So the Afro-Cuban slaves started using the saints as substitutes but really still prayed to their gods. The Spaniards would see the statue of Santa Barbara in their houses, but really they were praying to Changó. So the fusion of superstition and religion has always been very strong. I remember that whenever my mom or dad played the lottery, they would put the ticket underneath the saint for the evening. My family was catholic, they weren’t into Santería, but they certainly mixed a lot of these superstitions. You would put an apple next to Changó, or Santa Barbara, because Changó liked apples. You go into many Cuban households, and even though they are not practicing santeros, they’ll have little offerings next to their saints, like food or little glasses of water. Saints were the ones that brought you luck.

A: In our house, we always did a lucky cleansing ritual by cleaning the house with water and ice. Once a week, you were supposed to open the front door and throw out a bucket filled with ice and water to “cleanse” the whole house out.

T: Especially on New Year’s Eve.

A: Yes, every New Year’s Eve, it was very important, and my grandmother always did that.

K: That’s such a cool tradition, no pun intended. Well, I think we’ve just about covered it all. Thanks so much for inviting us into your home!

–Kevin