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Re-entry

So yes, last Friday, I did this:

9:00 am – Invoke Uber, ride to airport

10:40 am – Fly to Atlanta, then Kansas City

3:30 pm – Arrive in Kansas City, get picked up at the airport by College Kid

3 am (Saturday) – arrive back in BHM

So….why? Because College Kid was basically done, is not really up for driving 11-12 hours by himself, and so I just shot up there to help him get back. He drove to St. Louis, I did the rest of the way. The last three hours or so were not loads of fun, but I did it. Getting to sleep once we got home was not easy because, of course, because of the quantities of caffeine consumed to keep me alert on the drive, but I made it through Saturday, and and all is back to normal now.

(The trip did evolve, though. Because he is supposed to be doing study abroad in the spring (fingers crossed), he had to pack up his dorm room and move completely out. I was originally going to help him with that task and we’d make our way back on Saturday. But as time went on after I booked the flight up, he decided to just go ahead and get it packed up Thursday night and Friday morning, and head out to get me at the airport right after his lasts class on Friday….and at first we were going to stop halfway, but as the time got closer, I decided I’d rather just press on and go the whole way rather than get up Saturday morning with the prospect of four more hours of driving ahead of us.)

Covid-era flight observations: Same as before (I’ve flown twice over the past few months – once round trip to Yellowstone in August and then flying back from Kansas City, earlier that same week in August, for the reverse of this trip) – every one masked, assumption that if you’re not going to follow the rules, you won’t fly. Planes and airports busier and more crowded (although as I observed in August, the flights to and from Jackson Hole were packed).

Our BHM airport seems to have some newfangled identifying gizmo at security – the TSA worker took my license, scanned it, and didn’t even look at the boarding pass I was holding. Is all of that built into the system now?

(Update: Yup, it’s this one. Interesting.)

Oh, and she didn’t ask me to lower my mask again this time, either.

But I still had to take off my shoes, so be assured of the safety of the skies!

Blessed Miguel Pro is in the  Loyola Kids Book of Saints under, “Saints are people who create.”

(Click on images for readable versions)

From our 2018 visit to Mexico City and Puebla – the church where Miguel Pro’s relics can be found – except it was Holy Thursday morning that we stopped by, so while the church was open, the museum was not:

Advent on the way

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year . Advent begins next Sunday, November 29. Below are some of the Advent resources I’ve written over the years. Nothing new this year, but hey, Lent is inexorably on its way, and I have something new for that season coming from Creative Communications. I assume it will be available after the first of the year. I have to do a video promo for it, so really looking forward to that….Anyway…Advent!

(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. No subsequent royalties. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, is the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish last year. Lots of supplementary materials are available – please take a look!

The entries are not dated – they are “First Sunday of Advent” – “Monday, first week of Advent” – and so on, so it is still useable.

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love
amy-welborn

More samples – pdf 

Just about to run its course was the year-long devotional I wrote beginning for Advent 2019. It runs through 12/31/2020. I doubt you’d want to pay full price for a month’s worth, but just in case you’re interested – here it is.

2020 – Grace Filled Days – begins on December 1, 2019

Purchase through Loyola here.

Online here. 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

Single used copies also available through Amazon. No Kindle version. 

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Nicholas-Of-Myra

Nicholas of Myra

Samples of the St. Nicholas booklet here.

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them these two:

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

Looking ahead to Christmas….http://www.amywelborn.com/bookstore.html

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

Hey there. By the time you read this I just be in the air. Or, by the time you read this, I might be in a car, driving halfway across the country. Or, by the time you read this, I might be safely back home.

Who knows?

(All in the space of less than 24 hours, if all goes according to plan.)

— 2 —

A few posts this past week, in case you missed them:

On The Queen’s Gambit

On A Rogue’s Life

On Black Wings Has My Angel

And while we’re being all self-referential, don’t forget

My daughter’s Etsy shop – time to get some retro Christmas decor and gifts and maybe a cross-stitch kit!

My son’s writing/film review site – he’s currently working his way through the movies of Robert Zemeckis.

— 3 —

A year ago today – exactly today – we were here:

I wrote about that day here – it was probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done…but it was for the kid, on his birthday, so…

But as I wrote earlier this week, Honduras – and Guatemala and Nicaragua – are on my mind not just because a year ago right now we were in the area, but also because, while you were scrolling Instagram and Twitter over the past two weeks, not one, but two Category 4 hurricanes blasted through this part of Central America. If you have any sense how precariously so many of the people in that area live, you can start to understand the devastation. A couple of news stories – here and here. But you can find more if you look, and probably places to help, as well – like Caritas Honduras.

— 4 —

A year later, it’s his birthday again, and it’s a little less intense than climbing a mountain in Honduras.

We go all out

In fact, is less intense to the point of…well..you fill in the blank with whatever you think fits the occasion of a kid working, playing organ for a funeral on his 16th birthday…

But it does give me a chance to share photos with you of one of, if not the loveliest church in our diocese – Blessed Sacrament. Built in the last 1920’s-early 1930’s in a Romanesque Other Modern style (I may be wrong on the latter, but I’m trying) – which produces just about my favorite aesthetic, particularly with church design.

I think this is my favorite single element.

Read the history of the parish – a history which is not unusual in the least. The parish began because of the efforts and determination, not of clergy or bishops, but of lay people, mostly women….

— 5 –

Earlier in the week – last Sunday – our local opera company did one of their series of “Opera Shots” – short programs of arias and some musical theater pieces. It’s usually held in bars and such, but of course all of this year’s offerings are outdoors – and this one in the park conveniently just over the hill from my house, so all we had to do was climb a hill – far less daunting than Cerro Las Minos, I’ll say that.

Nice to hear some live music again.

— 6 —

Today – November 20 – is the feast of St. Edmund, one of the two patron saints of England (along with George) and also a patron saint of…pandemics.

So, let’s talk about him. First, from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

King of East Anglia, born about 840; died at Hoxne, Suffolk, 20 November, 870.

The earliest and most reliable accounts represent St. Edmund as descended from the preceding kings of East Anglia, though, according to later legends, he was born at Nuremberg (Germany), son to an otherwise unknown King Alcmund of Saxony. Though only about fifteen years old when crowned in 855, Edmund showed himself a model ruler from the first, anxious to treat all with equal justice, and closing his ears to flatterers and untrustworthy informers. In his eagerness for prayer he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter by heart, in order that he might afterwards recite it regularly.

In 870 he bravely repulsed the two Danish chiefs Hinguar and Hubba who had invaded his dominions. They soon returned with overwhelming numbers, and pressed terms upon him which as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. In his desire to avert a fruitless massacre, he disbanded his troops and himself retired towards Framlingham; on the way he fell into the hands of the invaders. Having loaded him with chains, his captors conducted him to Hinguar, whose impious demands he again rejected, declaring his religion dearer to him than his life. His martyrdom took place in 870 at Hoxne in Suffolk. After beating him with cudgels, the Danes tied him to a tree, and cruelly tore his flesh with whips. Throughout these tortures Edmund continued to call upon the name of Jesus, until at last, exasperated by his constancy, his enemies began to discharge arrows at him. This cruel sport was continued until his body had the appearance of a porcupine, when Hinguar commanded his head to be struck off.

Dr. Francis Young is a British scholar who’s written quite a bit on St. Edmund. Here’s his Twitter feed and here’s his website. From one blog post:

The idea of invoking St Edmund’s protection against infectious disease springs, essentially, from his instrument of martyrdom – arrows. In the Bible and in Christian tradition, the metaphor of arrows is used for infectious disease. St Sebastian, the Roman martyr who was tied to a tree and pierced with arrows, was invoked against the plague from an early date, and St Edmund occasionally appears alongside St Sebastian in medieval depictions, suggesting that a popular tradition of St Edmund as a plague saint existed in medieval England.

And from his own description of his book Edmund: In Search of England’s Lost King

The book seeks to separate what we know about the historical Edmund from the myths and legends that later built up around the king, and traces the events that made Edmund the patron saint of England – a status he held for centuries that has now been largely forgotten. It is my argument in the book that the martyr-cult that grew up around Edmund after his death in the ninth and tenth centuries played a crucial role in the formation of an English national identity in the aftermath of the Viking invasions. The book makes the case that no single figure (with the exception of Alfred the Great) is more important to understanding the origins of England and Englishness than Edmund of East Anglia.

The book is being published at an especially exciting time in the centuries-long search for the body of St Edmund, since St Edmundsbury Borough Council (which owns the site of the Abbey) has just been granted permission by Historic England to relocate tennis courts on the site of the monastic cemetery at the east end of the Abbey Church. This monastic cemetery, as I argue in the book, is one of the most promising sites for an archaeological search for the iron box in which the saint’s relics were hidden in 1539.

— 7 —

And finally, from a volume in the Morgan Library, The Life and Miracles of St. Edmund:

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

The Queen’s Gambit

In a way, I would like to apologize for this post – with so much of great importance going on in the world, why take time for this? No defense except, well, people are watching it, I was interested, and it’s a much more manageable topic than actually important things. So there.

And I’m interested in the creative process and specifically, creative choices. So there, again.

It’s one of Netflix’s most successful original series…so let’s take a look.

Of course, I can’t be rapturous..of course.  Don’t want to harsh your mellow if you loved it – I get it! I didn’t hate it at all, but neither can I gush.

I watched The Queen’s Gambit last week, and then a couple of nights ago, read the book. Don’t be impressed. It’s not super, super long and I skimmed/skirted the very many deep descriptions of chess games. I tried to pick out the elements that were important to plot and character development – I probably missed a few, but I think I got the gist.

Why don’t we start by comparing book and movie. “Of course the book is better” is what you might expect, but I’m not sure I can assert that in this case. But neither is the series just “better” than the book. They’re rather different, with different strengths and weaknesses. I’d give each a 6/10 – for different reasons. Let’s use “different” in one more sentence shall we?

I’m going to say that if you’re at all interested in this story and how it came to be, take a look at this excellent, thorough article on the book’s author, Walter Tevis – who was also the author of the books that inspired The Hustler, its sequel, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

What’s clear from the article is that the real subject of The Queen’s Gambit isn’t chess – but trauma and addiction. Tevis was a serious alcoholic, as well as being a decent amateur chess player – and both inform the novel. It’s not only the chess matches that merit pages of close narrative – it’s the binges, as well.

So to the series. I wasn’t enraptured by it, although there were elements of it I enjoyed quite a bit.

First problem: I thought it was too long. The first two episodes could probably have been condensed into one (in fact the events of the first episode probably comprise five pages of the book). Five episodes would have been plenty. Even four, probably.

Second problem: the lead actress, Anya Taylor-Joy. I felt that ever other actor in the series was very good, and some – particularly the male supporting characters – were superb. But Taylor-Joy just couldn’t convey depth under her steely focus. It’s a challenge – what we have here is a young woman who experienced terrible trauma and loss and threw what purpose, energy, will and intellect she had remaining into this battle on a board. Her main character trait is interior – she thinks and figures things out.  How do you express that apart from the perpetually furrowed brow, intense gaze and pursed lips? I don’t know, but I do know that I got tired of Anya Taylor-Joy’s furrowed brow, intense gaze and pursed lips.

Third problem is related to the second, on a broader scale. It’s similar to the problem of dramatizing any intellectual or creative process. How do you do it? Movies about composers are notorious for this problem. How do you put on screen the serendipity, genius and inspiration for coming up with a tune or a theme – the composer sitting at his piano, hearing a bird call through an open window? Walking along a street and being stopped short by the bricklayer’s folk tune he’s brought from the old country? Followed by rushing back to his piano in his garret?

As you can imagine, taking that to…chess is even more challenging. And I get that – and I do think (as I’ll say in a minute) that one of the series’ great strengths is the creativity brought to the depiction of the matches themselves. But where it falls short is in helping us understand that central issue – why does Beth Harmon love chess, what happens to her brain and spirit when she plays, and how does it relate to the rest of her life?

It’s hard, first, to dramatize her giftedness. What we have, essentially, is a series of moments in which other people are exclaiming how wonderful, brilliant and ingenious she is at chess. But – perhaps because it’s technical – we don’t really understand what it is that makes her good.

The book does a far better job of getting this across – not surprisingly.

She felt better.  She had learned something more from him.  She decided not to take the offered pawn, to leave the tension on the board.  She liked it like that.  She liked the power of the pieces, exerted along files and diagonals.  In the middle of the game, when the pieces were everywhere, the forces crisscrossing the board thrilled her.  She brought out her king’s knight, feeling its power spread.


Beth looked at the cover of the book. It was smaller than Modem Chess Openings and there was a sticker on it that said $2.95. She began going through it systematically. The clock on the bookstore wall read ten-thirty. She would have to leave in an hour to get to school for the History exam. Up front the clerk was paying no attention to her, absorbed in his own reading. She began concentrating, and by eleven-thirty she had twelve of the games memorized.

On the bus back to school she began playing them over in her head. Behind some of the moves—not the glamorous ones like the queen sacrifices but sometimes only in the one-square advance of a pawn—she could see subtleties that made the small hairs on the back of her neck tingle.

She was five minutes late for the test, but no one seemed to care and she finished before everyone else anyway. In the twenty minutes until the end of the period she played “P. Keres—A. Tarnowski: Helsinki 1952.” It was the Ruy Lopez Opening where White brought the bishop out in a way that Beth could see meant an indirect attack on Black’s king pawn. On the thirty-fifth move White brought his rook down to the knight seven square in a shocking way that made Beth almost cry out in her seat.


She sat staring at the board with everything in her present life obliterated from her attention while the combinations played themselves out in her head. Every now and then a sound from Mrs. Wheatley or a tension in the air of the room brought her out of it for a moment, and she looked around dazedly, feeling the pained tightness of her muscles and the thin, intrusive edge of fear in her stomach.

There had been a few times over the past year when she felt like this, with her mind not only dizzied but nearly terrified by the endlessness of chess. By midnight Mrs. Wheatley had put her book aside and gone quietly to sleep. Beth sat in the green armchair for hours, not hearing Mrs. Wheatley’s gentle snores, not sensing the strange smell of a Mexican hotel in her nostrils, feeling somehow that she might fall from a precipice, that sitting over the chessboard she had bought at Purcell’s in Kentucky, she was actually poised over an abyss, sustained there only by the bizarre mental equipment that had fitted her for this elegant and deadly game. On the board there was danger everywhere. A person could not rest.

She did not go to bed until after four and, asleep, she dreamed of drowning.

So I suppose that gets me to the point of the ways in which the book is better than the series – by its nature, it’s able to get us into Beth’s head and help us understand her gift – and her weakness. We see a bit of this in the series – her friend/mentor/lover Benny makes it clear that he understands this weakness – she’s intuitive and doesn’t (at that point) see the value of deep study and learning from others and from the past. But the book is able to take us deeper into that point. Not surprisingly.

Basically, the series sketches a line from Beth’s (it is hinted) inherited genius (her mother was a Ph.D in mathematics) and mental intensity, her trauma and loss (her mother tried to kill both of them in a car crash, but only succeeded in killing herself, leading to Beth being sent to an orphanage), the impact of the tranquilizers the children were given in the orphanage and…chess. I just felt the line wasn’t drawn strongly enough. I’m not looking for an anvil-dropping moment, at all. But the connections between all of these elements of Beth’s life could have been pulled out a little more strongly, helping us see what chess – as well as booze and pills –  gives that perhaps life had taken away.

This mostly negative review puts it more succinctly than I just did:

I want to see this character shot through the narrative like an arrow; I want to see her change from A to Z, especially since we know this is the only season we have with her; I want to see things happen and see those things mean something. By the end of the miniseries, and especially its out-of-nowhere saccharine final episode, I was literally talking out loud to my television, “What does this mean? Why is this happening? What is the point of this show?”

But what did I like?

Of course, no surprise, the early sixties milieu had me from the get-go. (I’ll mention that the series was mostly filmed in Berlin, with the Lexington scenes in Ontario). It’s a beautiful production.

Apart from the lead (IMHO), the supporting work was great – especially notable, to me was Harry Melling – you know him as Dudley Dursley from

This Was Like Designing for Six Different Leads and Six Different  Backgrounds”: Costume Designer Mary Zophres on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs  | Filmmaker Magazine

Harry Potter films, but perhaps also from a heartbreaking turn as the limbless Artist from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. He’s marvelous in this – and I see he’s in a forthcoming production of Macbeth as Malcolm. Perfect.  

Also wonderful is Moses Ingram as Beth’s one friend from the orphanage, Jolene, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the hippie-ish chess master Benny Watts

Finally, the great strength of this series, as I mentioned early, is the dramatization of the chess matches. Despite what I said about what I feel is a gap in our understanding of what Beth is doing and thinking and grappling with during those matches, the way they are filmed doesn’t disappoint. Every match is approached differently, with varied cinematography, lighting and effects to bring the match alive and make it (somewhat) comprehensible. Very enjoyable to watch, every time.

Couple more notes:

Most of the best dialogue is taken directly from the book, and is very smart. There’s a lot of intelligent dialogue in this series, sometimes with an amusing arch formality that’s very true to the period. I laughed out loud when Beth accuses her adoptive mother, “You’ve been reading Alan Watts again.” 

But….

For a show set mostly in Kentucky, it’s noteworthy because……

(you guessed it)

…hardly anyone has a southern accent!

No one, in fact, except for the two Black characters – because Black characters are allowed two things – to have religious faith and to have southern (or “urban”) accents.

One more note: If you decide to read the novel – and especially, if you think this would be a good novel to hand over to a teen, be mindful that there is a rather lurid, unpleasant and out-of-place teen-on-child attempted sexual assault in the orphanage section.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Today’s feast   is Elizabeth of Hungary. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI again gifts us with some rich, yet clear catechesis on the saint. From 2010:

They reached Eisenach after a long journey and made the ascent to the Fortress of Wartburg, the strong castle towering over the city. It was here amy-welbornthat the betrothal of Ludwig and Elizabeth was celebrated. In the ensuing years, while Ludwig learned the knightly profession, Elizabeth and her companions studied German, French, Latin, music, literature and embroidery. Despite the fact that political reasons had determined their betrothal, a sincere love developed between the two young people, enlivened by faith and by the desire to do God’s will. On his father’s death when Ludwig was 18 years old, he began to reign over Thuringia.

Elizabeth, however, became the object of critical whispers because her behaviour was incongruous with court life. Hence their marriage celebrations were far from sumptuous and a part of the funds destined for the banquet was donated to the poor.

With her profound sensitivity, Elizabeth saw the contradictions between the faith professed and Christian practice. She could not bear compromise. Once, on entering a church on the Feast of the Assumption, she took off her crown, laid it before the Crucifix and, covering her face, lay prostrate on the ground. When her mother-in-law reprimanded her for this gesture, Elizabeth answered: “How can I, a wretched creature, continue to wear a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King Jesus Christ crowned with thorns?”.

She behaved to her subjects in the same way that she behaved to God. Among the Sayings of the four maids we find this testimony: “She did not eat any food before ascertaining that it came from her husband’s property or legitimate possessions. While she abstained from goods procured illegally, she also did her utmost to provide compensation to those who had suffered violence” (nn. 25 and 37).

She is a true example for all who have roles of leadership: the exercise of authority, at every level, must be lived as a service to justice and charity, in the constant search for the common good.

Elizabeth diligently practiced works of mercy: she would give food and drink to those who knocked at her door, she procured clothing, paid debts, cared for the sick and buried the dead. Coming down from her castle, she often visited the homes of the poor with her ladies-in-waiting, bringing them bread, meat, flour and other food. She distributed the food personally and attentively checked the clothing and mattresses of the poor.

This behaviour was reported to her husband, who not only was not displeased but answered her accusers, “So long as she does not sell the castle, I am happy with her!”.

The miracle of the loaves that were changed into roses fits into this context: while Elizabeth was on her way with her apron filled with bread for the poor, she met her husband who asked her what she was carrying. She opened her apron to show him and, instead of bread, it was full of magnificent roses. This symbol of charity often features in depictions of St Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s marriage was profoundly happy: she helped her husband to raise his human qualities to a supernatural level and he, in exchange, stood up for his wife’s generosity to the poor and for her religious practices. Increasingly admired for his wife’s great faith, Ludwig said to her, referring to her attention to the poor: “Dear Elizabeth, it is Christ whom you have cleansed, nourished and cared for”. A clear witness to how faith and love of God and neighbour strengthen family life and deepen ever more the matrimonial union.

The young couple found spiritual support in the Friars Minor who began to spread through Thuringia in 1222. Elizabeth chose from among them Friar Rodeger (Rüdiger) as her spiritual director. When he told her about the event of the conversion of Francis of Assisi, a rich young merchant, Elizabeth was even more enthusiastic in the journey of her Christian life.

From that time she became even more determined to follow the poor and Crucified Christ, present in poor people. Even when her first son was born, followed by two other children, our Saint never neglected her charitable works. She also helped the Friars Minor to build a convent at Halberstadt, of which Friar Rodeger became superior. For this reason Elizabeth’s spiritual direction was taken on by Conrad of Marburg.

The farewell to her husband was a hard trial, when, at the end of June in 1227 when Ludwig iv joined the Crusade of the Emperor Frederick ii. He reminded his wife that this was traditional for the sovereigns of Thuringia. Elizabeth answered him: “Far be it from me to detain you. I have given my whole self to God and now I must also give you”.

However, fever decimated the troops and Ludwig himself fell ill and died in Otranto, before embarking, in September 1227. He was 27 years old. When Elizabeth learned the news, she was so sorrowful that she withdrew in solitude; but then, strengthened by prayer and comforted by the hope of seeing him again in Heaven, she began to attend to the affairs of the Kingdom.

However, another trial was lying in wait for Elizabeth. Her brother-in-law usurped the government of Thuringia, declaring himself to be the true heir of Ludwig and accusing Elizabeth of being a pious woman incapable of ruling. The young widow, with three children, was banished from the Castle of Wartburg and went in search of a place of refuge. Only two of her ladiesamy-welborn5 remained close to her. They accompanied her and entrusted the three children to the care of Ludwig’s friends. Wandering through the villages, Elizabeth worked wherever she was welcomed, looked after the sick, spun thread and cooked.

During this calvary which she bore with great faith, with patience and with dedication to God, a few relatives who had stayed faithful to her and viewed her brother-in-law’s rule as illegal, restored her reputation. So it was that at the beginning of 1228, Elizabeth received sufficient income to withdraw to the family’s castle in Marburg, where her spiritual director, Fra Conrad, also lived.

It was he who reported the following event to Pope Gregory ix: “On Good Friday in 1228, having placed her hands on the altar in the chapel of her city, Eisenach, to which she had welcomed the Friars Minor, in the presence of several friars and relatives Elizabeth renounced her own will and all the vanities of the world. She also wanted to resign all her possessions, but I dissuaded her out of love for the poor. Shortly afterwards she built a hospital, gathered the sick and invalids and served at her own table the most wretched and deprived. When I reprimanded her for these things, Elizabeth answered that she received from the poor special grace and humility” (Epistula magistri Conradi, 14-17).

We can discern in this affirmation a certain mystical experience similar to that of St Francis: the Poverello of Assisi declared in his testament, in fact, that serving lepers, which he at first found repugnant, was transformed into sweetness of the soul and of the body (Testamentum, 1-3).

Elizabeth spent her last three years in the hospital she founded, serving the sick and keeping wake over the dying. She always tried to carry out the most humble services and repugnant tasks. She became what we might call a consecrated woman in the world (soror in saeculo) and, with other friends clothed in grey habits, formed a religious community. It is not by chance that she is the Patroness of the Third Order Regular of St Francis and of the Franciscan Secular Order.

In November 1231 she was stricken with a high fever. When the news of her illness spread, may people flocked to see her. After about 10 days, she asked for the doors to be closed so that she might be alone with God. In the night of 17 November, she fell asleep gently in the Lord. The testimonies of her holiness were so many and such that after only four years Pope Gregory ixcanonized her and, that same year, the beautiful church built in her honour at Marburg was consecrated.

Dear brothers and sisters, in St Elizabeth we see how faith and friendship with Christ create a sense of justice, of the equality of all, of the rights of others and how they create love, charity. And from this charity is born hope too, the certainty that we are loved by Christ and that the love of Christ awaits us thereby rendering us capable of imitating Christ and of seeing Christ in others.

St Elizabeth invites us to rediscover Christ, to love him and to have faith; and thereby to find true justice and love, as well as the joy that one day we shall be immersed in divine love, in the joy of eternity with God. Thank you.

I included the saint in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. An excerpt:

(It skips a page)

Honduras on my mind

And not just because it was about a year ago that we were there for two weeks.

No – in case the recent political news have absorbed all of your news-gathering energies, just know that a couple of weeks ago, Eta (sometimes a storm, sometimes a hurricane) ripped through Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala – “ripped” isn’t exactly the right word though – lumbered would be more accurate, dumping stormwaters everywhere on its slow and steady path.

Noon, November 15.

From the Guardian:

Economists believe the loss could be greater even than that inflicted in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, the most destructive storm to ever hit Central America and the second most deadly Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.

The brunt of the damage caused by Mitch was borne by the capital city of Tegucigalpa and the south of the country.

This time, however, the epicentre of the destruction is near the north coast, around San Pedro Sula, the country’s second-largest city and economic motor, home to more than 2 million people.

(We flew in and out of San Pedro Sula)

When were down there, people were still talking about Mitch – it was the hinge, the event that interrupted what many told me was definite strong steps in the country’s growth and development. There was such progress, so many told me…and then Mitch came.

And then Eta…and now Iota, on its way, again through the same three countries, on, at this point a more southerly path.

Terrible.

“More immigration!” Perhaps. In certain times and situations, certainly. Maybe this is one of them. But I do know that in my two weeks there (not a long time – don’t think I’m imagining that) – I made a point to ask that question to everyone I spoke to. What did they think of the current immigration situation? To a person, they each said they understood the motivation, but what they were working towards, in running their businesses and building their communities, was a stronger Honduran economy and safer living conditions. They loved Honduras and believed in their country’s possibilities and future – and were working hard for a brighter one.

But what can you do when the storms come?

A Rogue’s Life

Let’s get one more book blogging post out the way, get them out of my brain, and make way for more current affairs.

Sometimes I want to be immersed in a world for a while…and sometimes I just want a quick dip, not too demanding. I got the latter last week with A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins.

You know Collins as the author of one of the first “mysteries” – The Moonstone as well as The Woman in White. I still haven’t read the former, and wasn’t a huge fan of the latter. I did however, enjoy his sprawling novel No Name quite a bit – a few notes on that here. I’ve currently picked up Armadale, and am enjoying it. Don’t look for a review for a while though. It’s a brick.

Back to A Rogue’s Life. As was the case with Black Wings Has My Angel, I checked out a digital version from the library via Hoopla. Since it’s in the public domain, you don’t have to do that – you can read it via any of the public domain book sites. It’s really more of a novella – very short, and depending on your reading speed, you could knock it out in an hour or two, max. So – instead of doomscrolling or flipping through channels or even bingewatching a show that you don’t even really like that much, but here we are, so might as well finish it – pick this up, if you think you might be game for a bit of 19th century comic satire.

A Rogue’s Life is narrated in the first person by, of course, the Rogue. From the Wilkie Collins page:

Frank Softly is a poor young gentleman whose snobbish father sends him to boarding school to make useful connections, but without success.  He tries a variety of professions to earn his living but by the time he is twenty-five has failed at medicine, caricaturing, portrait painting, forging Old Masters and administering a scientific institution.

I’m hesitant to give any more plot details, since twists and surprises (even those you see coming) are such an important part of this type of book. Let’s just say that after this point, Frank falls in love, and about the same time, stumbles upon and is trapped in some highly illegal activities.

A Rogue’s Life gives Collins a chance to describe various aspects of life that he evidently knows something about or just finds interesting, from the lives of hack artists to the uselessness of a certain type of education:

If my father had consulted his means, I should have been sent to a cheap commercial academy; but he had to consult his relationship to Lady Malkinshaw; so I was sent to one of the most fashionable and famous of the great public schools. I will not mention it by name, because I don’t think the masters would be proud of my connection with it. I ran away three times, and was flogged three times. I made four aristocratic connections, and had four pitched battles with them: three thrashed me, and one I thrashed. I learnt to play at cricket, to hate rich people, to cure warts, to write Latin verses, to swim, to recite speeches, to cook kidneys on toast, to draw caricatures of the masters, to construe Greek plays, to black boots, and to receive kicks and serious advice resignedly. Who will say that the fashionable public school was of no use to me after that?

Hinted at in that passage is a point Collins makes frequently, especially in these early chapters – part of Frank’s problem is that he was born into a station in life in which working hard at a profession that was not the law, medicine or church – was just not done – but nor was the family wealthy enough for Frank to simply relax and enjoy the louche life.

It is a degrading confession to make; but I remember wishing I was not so highly connected, and absolutely thinking that the life of a commercial traveller would have suited me exactly, if I had not been a poor gentleman. Driving about from place to place, living jovially at inns, seeing fresh faces constantly, and getting money by all this enjoyment, instead of spending it — what a life for me, if I had been the son of a haberdasher and the grandson of a groom’s widow!

As is my wont, some passages that struck me as memorable for one reason or another:

Upon meeting his new brother-in-law:

His name was Batterbury; he had been dried up under a tropical sun so as to look as if he would keep for ages; he had two subjects of conversation, the yellow-fever and the advantage of walking exercise…

Softly’s voice is both optimistic and self-aware  (of his Rogueishness) as well as constantly surprised that his efforts to make his way in life on his particular terms are met with, at the very least, resistance.

For a year I lived a gay and glorious life in some of the freest society in London; at the end of that time, my tradesmen, without any provocation on my part, sent in their bills. I found myself in the very absurd position of having no money to pay them, and told them all so with the frankness which is one of the best sides of my character. They received my advances toward a better understanding with brutal incivility, and treated me soon afterward with a want of confidence which I may forgive, but can never forget. One day, a dirty stranger touched me on the shoulder, and showed me a dirty slip of paper which I at first presumed to be his card. Before I could tell him what a vulgar document it looked like, two more dirty strangers put me into a hackney coach. Before I could prove to them that this proceeding was a gross infringement on the liberties of the British subject, I found myself lodged within the walls of a prison.

Well! and what of that? Who am I that I should object to being in prison, when so many of the royal personages and illustrious characters of history have been there before me? Can I not carry on my vocation in greater comfort here than I could in my father’s house? Have I any anxieties outside these walls? No….

Yes, along the way, Softly makes enemies, but also a few friends, and, as with rogues everywhere and at all times, admirers. As he observes:

It is a bold thing to say, but nothing will ever persuade me that Society has not a sneaking kindness for a Rogue.

 For example, my father never had half the attention shown to him in his own house, which was shown to me in my prison. I have seen High Sheriffs in the great world, whom my father went to see, give him two fingers–the High Sheriff of Barkinghamshire came to see me, and shook hands cordially. Nobody ever wanted my father’s autograph–dozens of people asked for mine. Nobody ever put my father’s portrait in the frontispiece of a magazine, or described his personal appearance and manners with anxious elaboration, in the large type of a great newspaper–I enjoyed both those honors. Three official individuals politely begged me to be sure and make complaints if my position was not perfectly comfortable. No official individual ever troubled his head whether my father was comfortable or not. When the day of my trial came, the court was thronged by my lovely countrywomen, who stood up panting in the crowd and crushing their beautiful dresses, rather than miss the pleasure of seeing the dear Rogue in the dock. When my father once stood on the lecturer’s rostrum, and delivered his excellent discourse, called “Medical Hints to Maids and Mothers on Tight Lacing and Teething,” the benches were left empty by the ungrateful women of England, who were not in the slightest degree anxious to feast their eyes on the sight of a learned adviser and respectable man. If these facts led to one inevitable conclusion, it is not my fault. We Rogues are the spoiled children of Society. We may not be openly acknowledged as Pets, but we all know, by pleasant experience, that we are treated like them.

True then, and indeed, true now, don’t you agree?

Black Wings Has My Angel

If I had a favorite category of genre fiction it would be mysteries, and more specifically over the past few years, mid-century noir. I’ve written before about Dorothy B. Hughes – have you read The Expendable Man yet? You should. And also about David Goodis, here and here.

Last week I found a new favorite – Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliot Chaze, originally published in 1953. It came on my radar because I saw the NYRB reissue – but then found a Dover edition available for checkout via the online library app, Hoopla.

Mysteries and noir appeal to me for many reasons. When you can find one with good writing – it’s good. The language is precise, the observations are sharp and the reflections insightful. They’re quick and easy to read. But they also turn on aspects of human life that interest me, that strike me as essential to understand: namely the role of the accident, the random event, the serendipitous meeting and the deep, life-long impact of all of them, putting us on twisting roads to which we were certain we had the map.

And they also tend to put something else very important in our sights: the choice.

Sometimes the drama of these stories hinges on the simple propulsion of events that we follow, ripping through pages simply driven to see how it will all turn out.

But in the tales with lasting impact, we meet characters who are confronted with choices, and usually it is, in the midst of complicated situations, a fairly simple choice when you get down to it: Should I do the wrong thing again? Or do I have it in me to do the right thing this time?

Skipping decades and genres, this was a great deal of the appeal of both The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul to me. Much is made, in all of those shows, of the centrality of the anti-hero and a few gallons of ink was spilled writing hand-wringing essays wondering What Have We Come To when the mafia boss, the meth-maker and the shyster lawyer are heroes with fan pages and amusing memes dedicated to them?

(You can add other characters from other shows I’ve never watched, I’m sure.)

But while yes, there are idiots who cheer on their misdeeds, for me and I suspect many others, the persistent appeal was the questions: Will they do the right thing, this time? Ever? Will they recognize the possibility of redemption and change?

And so it is with much of the noir I seem to fall into. That same question, that same tension, that same hope.

So let’s get to Black Wings Has My Angel.

First, briefly: it’s really good. I mean – excellent. Propulsive, perceptive and intriguing. I’m not going to go through the whole plot because, well…spoilers!

I’ll be lazy and simply quote from a review of the reissue from the NPR website:

The novel opens with Tim relaxing in a hotel room, having just completed a stint as a roughneck on a drilling rig on the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana. He’s asked the bellhop to locate him some female companionship for the night, and he’s pleasantly surprised when the porter shows up with beautiful Virginia, a blonde with lavender eyes and a sassy attitude.

Tim and Virginia decide to ditch the small town and go west. It turns out the two have a lot of common, include a love of money. “There’s no bad money,” Virginia tells Tim. “But, darling, you’ve got to have drifts of it, lumps of it, and little piles of it only make you sick and petty.” Tim has money on his mind, too — he’s planning to execute a daring heist, and he doesn’t want Virginia in his way. “But I still planned to leave her in the ladies john of some filling station,” he explains. “Because you can’t kiss your way out of prison and I knew that for sure. For dead sure.”

But he just can’t quit Virginia, and he needs a partner for his heist. So the two make their way to Colorado, first camping by an abandoned mineshaft, then pretending to be a married couple in suburban Denver while Tim plans his ambitious theft. And that’s when the fun — so to speak — begins. It doesn’t take too long for things to go south and the blood to start spilling.

There’s a lot of social observation and commentary sprinkled throughout the book – on the nature of work, on the toll that thankless work takes on human beings, on love and lust.

Before I get my primary takeaway from the novel, some good passages:

A fly strutted around the rim of my empty glass, a purplish fly with a back that changed color like the plumes in a rooster’s tail. Those things come back especially sharp, clearer than the way she looked or the way I felt.

“Out West all the smells are sucked up out of the baked land by the sun. And it’s as if all the colors in the ground are gobbled up by their sunsets, and so is the blue of the sky. The sky is high and pale and impersonal and you get the feeling it doesn’t belong to you at all, but that it is the property of the chamber of commerce. In the South the sky is humid and low and rich and it’s yours to smell and feel. In the West you’re only an observer. In the West someone sees a flower growing on a mountain and he writes a whole damned pamphlet about it. In the South the roses explode out of the weeds in the yards of the poorest shanties. Blood red ones.

“But about the gentleman thing.” She waved her glass. “I want to make it plain as the nose on your face. I can stand anything in the book but gentlemen. Because I’ve spent a lot of time, too much time with them, and I know why gentlemen are what they are. They decide to be that way after they’ve tried all the real things and flopped at them. They’ve flopped at women. They’ve flopped at standing up on their hind legs and acting like men. So they become gentlemen. They’ve flopped at being individuals. So they say to themselves one fine morning: ‘What can I be that’s no trouble at all and that doesn’t amount to a damned thing, but yet will make everyone look up to me?’ The answer’s simple. Be a gentleman. Take life flat on your back, cry in private, and then in a well-modulated voice.”

On journalists (the character is in a bar, watching a group of them):

They talk in headlines and they drink gravely and their faces are clean and their fingernails full of carbon. They have many private jokes. They are bout the only people I know who are the same out of college as in college, in small towns and big ones.

I really enjoyed that observation.

These were things I thought of as I sat on the mezzanine of the St. Charles and looked down at the lobby through the ironwork, waiting for night. It seems that when you’re rich you do a lot of waiting for night, since daylight is neither sophisticated nor secretive and is more or less devoted to perspiring and recovering.

On my favorite theme:

If your life can hang from a chewing gum wrapper it can hang from anything in the book. It can hang from a bullet no bigger than a bean, or from a cigarette smoked in bed, or a bad breakfast that causes the doctor to sew the absorbent cotton inside you. From a slick tire tread or the hiccups or from kissing the wrong woman. Life is a rental proposition with no lease. For everybody, tall and short, muscles and fat, white and yellow, rich and poor. I know that now. And it is good to know at a time like this.

There are others, but they hinge on the plot and….no spoilers.

The whole book is a heady, spiraling concoction of best-laid plans, built on great and startling scenes – ranging from unrelenting police brutality to the lives of useless young wealthy folk in New Orleans:

They worked so hard art being individuals. Eddie wore a green canvas rain hat everywhere he went, even with formal clothes, and he looked like an exhausted cat peering out from under a collard leaf….

I mean…can you beat that last image?

…to one of my absolutely favorite elements: Tim and Virginia find themselves held in a Mississippi jail, separated by a few cells so they can’t communicate without the other prisoner and guard overhearing. On occasion, a preacher comes in to minister to them, and part of that ministry involves getting them to sing hymns. He’s loud and clueless and absorbed in his own voice, so Virginia uses the moments to communicate a plan to Tim via singing it along with the hymn tune.

But in the end, what was most thought provoking to me about this novel is the deep-running, usually subtle theme of the deep damage of war and its attendant trauma. For Tim is a veteran of the War in the Pacific and was in fact held in a Japanese prison camp for almost three years.

That just might take its toll. It just might do some damage – all of it. From what you were commanded to do to other human beings on the battlefield, for the sake of God and country, from what you suffered and saw in that camp from the hands of other human beings, from the shock to the system of going from that to the predictable, routine even dull life back home?

That would mess with your head, and even with your soul. It can render you both overly sensitive and calloused at the same time. It can explode your moral sense and make you even more aware of the cost of evil all at once. It deepens your ties to others and also leaves you feeling deeply, and ultimately alone.

As I read Black Wings Has My Angel, that’s what I kept running up against, time and time again, and I had to wonder what Elliot Chaze, a veteran himself, was giving me a glimpse of through this knotty, dark, tragic journey.

(Note: You may be wondering….has this ever been filmed? By the French, yes, and it’s apparently terrible, but not by an American filmmaker yet – but not for want of trying – here’s an outline of the attempt of one filmmaker to put it on screen.)

Still Can Barely Even

For various reasons.

But, as per usual when I’m stuck, I’ll just get things going here (again) by blogging about something easy.

How about school?

communion | gathering at golgotha | Catholic grade school, Catholic school,  School memories

So yes, we are still schooling here. College Guy will be returning in a week or so – for another long haul, not, this time because of the Spring Break That Somehow Lasted Until August but because (fingers crossed) he’ll be doing study abroad in the spring (knock on wood), and he won’t go until mid-February.

(For the curious – at this point – although who knows what might change – students can go from the US to Europe for study programs. They must quarantine for 14 days upon arriving, and then just obey the laws/rules of where ever they are. Again – this might change for the better (Covid season might, like the flu season, finally reach its end) or the worse (even students won’t be able to go) – but everyone is determined to make it happen. They had to register for spring semester classes on campus thought, just in case.)

So what are we doing?

Well, first, I’m telling you that homeschooling high school without having to worry about “teaching” math or science is…a beautiful thing. And since he’s on his own for history, Spanish and music, all I do with him is plan out the literature and talk about it with him and give guidance and evaluation on Latin.

I’m still a little discombobulated by this. I can’t quite sort out my days yet.

Anyway:

  • Science: Chemistry, taught through a co-op by a Ph.D. from a local university. The first semester just ended and the second begins in mid-January.
  • Math: Algebra II. He meets once a week with a tutor, a math teacher at a local Catholic school (his 8th grade math teacher). She gives him work to do over the week. He does it. She grades it. They move on. I’m not following the progress, but she assures me that they’re on track for completing the course in good time.
  • Spanish: He’s doing it on his own. He has a couple of books, he watches lots of videos, listens to Spanish-language radio, does a bit with Great Courses and talks to his native speaker (mostly Mexican) friends.
  • A year ago this time we were going to Honduras. (Sigh)
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  • Our plan was to do something like that twice a year, but obviously this didn’t happen. I was, this evening, however, looking at Costa Rica, and noted that they are basically pretty open to travelers (although with global spiking of cases, who knows how long that will last) – just requiring a test and covid-covering insurance. If language schools are actually operating in-person, that actually might be a possibility for us in the spring. He really wants to go to Costa Rica.
  • History: His own thing, following his own interests. He’s been doing mostly ancient history so far this year, having worked on the Greeks for a while and now doing a fairly systematic walk through the Romans.
  • Latin: Latin 2, using this text. It’s just about time to start prepping for the National Latin Exam, using this site, tests from previous years and this book from Memoria Press. Last year he only missed one 1question on the NLE, level 1 test.
  • Religion: Daily saint/Scripture readings. He goes to Mass at least twice a week and does the Fraternus program. I’m having him do some basic theology from a vintage high school textbook, junior level, enhanced with some videos from the Aquinas 101 project. I’m probably going to have him read the Gospel of John during Advent, and we’ll discuss.
  • Literature: As I mentioned before, we’re doing American Lit this year, and I’ve been super intentional, making a syllabus and everything – and sticking to it. We’re up to the Romantics/Transcendentalists. The major works he’s read have been The Scarlet Letter, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and (right now) The Lasts of the Mohicans. After that will be Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which will take us to January.
  • In terms of shorter works, it’s the usual survey, pulled from three college-level textbooks I have here. I won’t bore you with all of it, but most recently – let’s see – selections from the Federalist, Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, Notes on the State of Virginia, then Rip van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow (which he’d read before, but which we tried to deal with at a deeper level), several works by the “Fireside Poets” – Longfellow (Ride of Paul Revere, last part of The Song of Hiawatha, The Cross of Snow, The Children’s Hour, Whittier (part of Snow-Bound, Barbara Frietchie, and Ichabod and some others. ) This coming week will be Emerson (selections from Nature, Self-Reliance and some poetry), Thoreau (selections from Walden and Civil Disobedience) and then a bunch of Poe.
  • He writes a little for that but I don’t stress it. Why? Because he’s a good writer, not only stylistically, but also in terms of structuring and organization. I had him write a paragraph on something…I don’t remember what. He did a good job, and I asked him, “Okay, if you had to extend this into a 3 or 5 paragraph essay, what point would you expand?” And he picked out exactly the “right” one – based on the general point he was trying to make. We’ll continue to write small things here and there, but I want the emphasis to be on just reading lots of good stuff and talking about it.
  • He took the PSAT – scores come back in the beginning of December. He takes the ACT in December. Just to see where he’s at and what his weaknesses are (it’s one of the administrations in which you can get specific information on what questions you missed.)
  • Music: as per usual. Lessons once a week, mostly in person, working on Beethoven, Gershwin and Debussy. Playing organ at Mass at least once a week, more when there’s a funeral, which is about once a month on average. His organ rep is slowly expanding.

He volunteers once a week at sessions for mentally challenged youth. Rides his bike, hangs out with his friends, both neighborhood and outside. At this point, for example, I’m barely going to see him from Friday evening through Saturday, as I understand it. Takes his driving test in a couple of weeks. Etc. It’s probably the most anxiety-free year of homeschooling I’ve ever had..mostly because…math ain’t my problem anymore…..

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