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Archive for the ‘Charleston’ Category

— 1 —

Since last we met (if you only come here on Fridays, and if so – why?), I drove to Charleston, spent a couple of days there, then drove down to Florida, got the boys and returned here to the Ham.

The reason? The boys spent a few days at Disney with their cousins, aunt and uncle, and had a great time. Thanks to them – I didn’t have to go. Not that I don’t love them all, but Disney, I don’t love. So, I was grateful. Grateful for them, grateful for the time to spend in Charleston with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson – just grateful.

Since we returned, the youngest attended piano camp at a local college and his older brother worked a bit, relaxed a lot, and readied himself for a bunch of work over the next few days.

I worked, too, trying to churn out a bunch of words before we leave for Japan – so I don’t I have to think about those particular words for that particular project while we are in Japan, and can just enjoy.

— 2 —

Speaking of Japan….it’s coming together.

Go here for a synopsis of how the issues impacting AirBnB in Japan affected our trip. Here’s where we are right now – and this will probably be it. 

My original original plan had been to split the time between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto. Then I decided no  – stay in one place. So I reserved an AirBnB apartment in Tokyo for the whole trip. As I wrote – by the time that apartment was delisted, it had become very difficult to find something with the space we wanted for that entire time – a difficulty which I took as a sign – get out of town! 

When I wrote that blog post, I was leaning towards Osaka, but I ultimately settled on Kyoto. So we’ll be in a hotel in Tokyo for 4 days/5 nights, then take the bullet train down to Kyoto for the rest of the trip – up until the last day before our flight, at which point we’ll take the bullet train back, explore the town of Narita, settle into the hotel for the night, and leave from Narita airport back here in the morning.

I looked into changing flights to fly back here from Osaka instead of making the hike back up to Tokyo, but it was stupid expensive – of course.

At this point, given AirBnB’s refund and coupon deal, I’m breaking even on the accommodations, but I am going to see if AirBnB will reimburse for the bullet train fares from the special fund they’ve set up – my reasoning being that if I had stayed in Tokyo for the entire week, my accommodation expenses would probably have been double what they were originally – and I’ve had asked reimbursement for that – and the bullet train fare is about half what that would have been. We’ll see.

We are very excited about this trip. I’m not excited about the flight over (13 hours from Dallas), but everything else has me intrigued and just….happy. 

As I blog about the trip, you can look for a post on what resources I used for preparation and what apps we’re stocking on our devices.

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Get down on your knees right now and thank the good Lord that you are not a young person being “prepared” for “vacation” by me. 

Keep an eye on Instagram for updates once we actually get going….

— 3 —

Some of you are just now finishing school – I’m already thinking about the beginning of the next school year. Why? Because down in these parts, it starts on August 8. Which honestly – once we hit July – is just a blink away.

So, of course, I’m thinking education again. As always. (Both will be in brick and mortar schools next year – one as an 8th grader, the other as a HS senior. Followed by college and then a roadschooling high school kind of life – I hope.)

Anyway – this is a good article: “Children, Learning and the Evaluative Gaze of School.”

The evaluative gaze of school is so constant a presence, so all-pervasive an eye, that many people have come to believe that children would actually not grow and develop without it. They believe that without their “feedback,” without their constant “assessment,” a child’s development would literally slow or even stop. They believe that children would not learn from the things they experience and do and see and hear and make and read and imagine unless they have an adult to “assess” them (or unless the adult teaches them to “self-assess,” which generally means teaching them to internalize the adult gaze.) For people whose experience is with children inside the school system, it may seem self-evident that this is true. For people whose experience is with children outside the school system, it may seem like believing that an acorn would not grow into an oak tree unless you measure it and give it your opinion. Because an oak tree does not actually require your opinion, and believe it or not, 90% of the time, neither does a child. 

A pot boils whether you watch it or not. It just needs water and fire.

There are ever-increasing numbers of people raising their kids outside this Panopticon of constant evaluation and measurement and feedback, and what they find is simply this: they grow and develop very much like other kids. Like other kids, they don’t all conform to the same “standards;” like other kids, they are individual and diverse. Like other kids, they have triumphs, and struggles, and doldrums, and passions, and frustrations, and joys. “Assessment,” or the lack of it, seems to have remarkably little to do with it. Because what an oak tree actually needs is not your opinion but soil and water and light and air, and what a child needs is love and stories and tools and conversation and support and guidance and access to nature and culture and the world. If a kid asks for your feedback, by all means you can give it; it would be impolite not to. But what we should be measuring and comparing is not our children but the quality of the learning environments we provide for them. 

Girls and women are now fighting back against the appraising gaze that objectifies and quantifies them, that teaches them to live their lives from the outside in, for the approval of others. But our entire education system, the whole hegemonic edifice of curricula and standards and data and rubrics and behavior charts and point systems and grades and tests, is steeped in a stance of objectifying and quantifying children. It teaches them to live from the outside in, to view themselves through the gaze of others, to allow themselves to be quantified and diminished by those who have the power. The fact that the results of this system are consistently racist should not go unnoticed or unchallenged. It is not an accident.

— 4 —

I am not sure how much of this I’ve mentioned – probably none of it – but a couple of months ago, my older son spent a chunk of his hard-earned Publix bagging money and purchased a 2008 Mazda Miata, after much research and several months of shopping. He was originally all in for a Mustang, but settled on the Miata – partly, I think, because we have a Mazda 3 and it’s such a good car.

Anyway, it’s all fine – except it’s a manual transmission. Which I knew going into it, but agreed to. I can drive a stick just fine and assured him I’d teach him. It would be a challenge, but it would be fine. Fine.

Well – it is. Now.  But oh my – teaching him and letting him loose with it was, if you can imagine, even worse than the initial driving education. It was, however, thought-provoking. I know what to do and I can do it – how can I communicate this to you? That’s harder than it sounds, and is probably a boring Life Lesson of some sort.

After a year of him driving, I’d just about gotten over the profound anxiety I felt every time he drove off, and now, dang it – here we go again. The tough issues are related to moving forward from being stopped – if you’ve ever learned to drive a manual transmission, you know that moment can be very tricky, depending on the car – and being on hills. Which we have in Birmingham.

So what do you do when you think you’ll lose your mind over your young driver?

Two things:

You pray. My routine? He drives off – I pray an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.  Later, I look at the clock and see he’ll be leaving work or school right now? Same. 

Secondly, you keep an eye on his route on Google Maps. If it stays green, he’s good. If a red spot pops up – start praying. Again.

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— 5 —

I noted last week that a) our baby robins had been wiped out, probably by hawks and b) the parents were still around and seemed to be reworking the nest.

Well, yes – they’re trying again:

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— 6 —

I’m back outside, back walking, which means I’m back to listening to In Our Time. 

Most recently, the episodes on Montesquieu, Ibsen, the Emancipation of the Serfs, Margaret of Anjou, Roman Slavery, Middlemarch and George and Robert Stephenson. I’d say the episodes on Ibsen and Middlemarch were the best, with the latter inspiring me to go back for a re-read after something like a quarter-century. It had a profound impact on me the first time around, and I am not sure why, although I have my suspicions. I’m almost afraid to revisit it, but I must….

 

 

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

amy-welborn3

Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

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

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And here, we are on Day Three of Christmastime in the City…

(Instagram summaries here…)

It was going to be cold. We all knew that. Everyone knew that. I’ve been cold before. I was born in Indiana. The formative part of my childhood was spent in Kansas. I lived in northern Indiana for seven years as an adult. I’ve been cold.

Still…this was cold.

The high in Manhattan on Thursday was to be around 20 degrees, so of course we weren’t going to be traipsing about the city (although my Birmingham friend did just that, and covered an impressive amount of ground, on foot, outdoors. But as I said, she’s a New Englander…), so that would be our Metropolitan Museum of Art day.

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(Other options: We’d been to the Guggenheim last summer, as well as the Morgan Library. The Frick might have been another option, but I did want to see the Michelangelo exhibit, so the Met it was.)

We – including they have been to the Metropolitan Museum a few times, including some time this past summer, most of that spent in the ancient Americas and Byzantine holdings. The focus this time would be Michelangelo, as well as  the Medieval and Renaissance holdings, including the lovely Neapolitan Christmas tree and presipio that was part of Ann Engelhart’s inspiration for Bambinelli Sunday.

But how to get there? That was the knotty issue. For you see, the Met is not on a subway line, and “our” subway options didn’t take us easily to the east side. If the weather had been good, it would not have been anything to wonder about – take the subway to the Natural History Museum and walk across the park to the Met. It was about ten degrees. I wasn’t walking across Central Park in that. Sorry. So after checking out of the Leo House, taking our backpacks with us, then taking the subway up, we took a cab from the Natural History Museum stop  – five bucks, quick trip, no problem.

But in my efficiency, I landed us there early – as in twenty minutes early, and apparently not even near-zero degree weather moves the rulers of the Met to let the freezing, IMG_20171228_095633.jpghuddling masses in out of the cold even a nanosecond early. We crowded in an alcove entrance to the educational wing with a few dozen others until my oldest arrived – he was working that day, but he’s a Met member, so he stopped by on his way to work to get us in – once they opened – and Ann soon followed.

 

Highlights:

I do love all the Madonna and Child statuary at the Met. They are mostly all smiles, mother and Child – and there is just a sense of warmth in those rooms – warmth mixed with regret, since all of that loveliness should still be in churches and chapels, still being used as objects of devotion.

These galleries also were relevant to a project I recently completed. As I wandered, I found myself wishing I’d had a chance to visit in the midst of my writing, but I was also reassured that I probably got the gist of the subject correct…

I love this Visitation group – both Mary and Elizabeth have clear oval bubbles on their abdomens – the cards indicated that there were once images of the babies visible through each.

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An interesting martyrdom. St. Godelieve – part of this larger piece. 

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This was, according to the placard, a devotional crib for the Christ Child, probably given as a gift to a woman entering a convent or upon taking final vows:

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The tree – not great photos, but I’m sure you can go to the website and see more:

The Michelangelo exhibit was very instructive and quite well done, helping us understand his development as an artist and his process.

After FOURTEEN DOLLAR HALF-BAGUETTES WITH A COUPLE OF PIECES OF HAM AND CHEESE on them  – Ann left, and we continued on up to the World War I exhibit – very, very good and sobering, of course. A presentation of visual art inspired by the experience of the Great War, the theme was, over and over, initial jingoistic enthusiasm brought up short by reality and suffering.

Museum Fatigue is a thing, of course. Think about it. Look at the maps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How can anyone “do” this museum, even in a day? Even if you could whizz through every room, what would you really see? What would you absorb? That’s why I don’t push it, that’s why we take our time. Even if this were our first, only or last time at this massive museum, I wouldn’t insist on pushing through and seeing “everything,” or even a lot.

It’s like all of travel, it’s like learning, and it’s like life. There’s this much  (spreads arms wide) that’s out there. One person can only fruitfully and memorably encounter and absorb this much (holds fingers close together). It’s much more fruitful to go slowly, contemplate and see a few things in a thoughtful way rather than racing through a checklist, glancing at images and taking a few selfies in front of the more well-known pieces as you go.

In the context of art, consider that every piece you see is the fruit of weeks if not months of work and a lifetime of creative thought and energy, as well as the product of a complex culture and social setting that’s different than the one you live in. A glance and a checklist is not the point. Contemplation and conversation that might lead to a broader, deeper understanding is.

So slow down. Look carefully. Listen. Talk about it. Think some more. And then go see something else – or go home and think about that one thing. I’m not telling you. As I have to do all the time, I’m telling me.

Coda:

We left the Met about 4:30, took a super slow M4 bus down to Penn Station – seeing more IMG_20171228_181353.jpglights and windows as we went (speaking of checklists), found the Shake Shack, shared a table with a very nice pre-school teacher from Long Island, got on the train to the airport, arrived there, found the shuttle to the Doubletree, hopped on that, checked in, and leaving Boys with Screens, Mama went to the bar, took notes on the day and had a drink (or two) to help her sleep since a 3:30 AM alarm was in her future.

Coda II:

We did it! Woke up with our alarm, didn’t suffer too much, got the shuttle back to the airport, checked in for our 6:11 AM flight back to Atlanta. Which didn’t leave until 7. Arrived in Atlanta, got in the car, drove to Florida, dropped off boys with grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins, then I drove to  Charleston where I’ve been all weekend with IMG_20171230_144002.jpgmy son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I’ve been babysitting, going to the Children’s Museum, stopped by the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore, and to Mass at the Cathedral, where former Mayor Riley was the lector. I found him after Mass and introduced myself – he’s good friends with Bishop Baker, and had been in Birmingham a year and a half ago to present at a conference on racial issues. I spent some time this fall editing those talks into a form that we hope will be publishable as a book, so I wanted to meet Mayor Riley and thank him for his leadership of Charleston and wise words, particularly after the Emanuel AME church shooting – and I did – he was, of course, very gracious, pointing out to us Bishop Baker’s steeple atop the Cathedral – because of seismic and weather issues, there had been no steeple until Bishop Baker revisited the issue during his tenure there.

And now, back to Life in 2018!

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Weekend:

The older one worked a lot – Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon into the evening. After working almost every afternoon last week as well, it’s good that he has somewhat of a break this week – not working again until Friday. He seems to be managing it well, though. He’s certainly learning to value free time and not take it for granted.

On Saturday morning, I had a very enjoyable time speaking to women of the diocese of Birmingham at Our Lady of the Valley parish.  I used some stories from the Guatemala trip in the talk, and as I did so, some points really clicked in my brain, so hopefully as the busy-ness of the early part of the week abates, I can move forward on that project with clarity.

"amy welborn"

After a summer break, they were back serving at the Casa Maria retreat house yesterday:

(Again – sorry it’s huge. I wish you could resize videos on WordPress…but you can’t. I don’t think.)

Afternoon: reptiles.

 

This week:  Eclipse Day today – we are staying right here and will just see what we can see (with our glasses!). I was pretty convinced that if I attempted to travel to full totality – even though we had added incentive because Charleston, where my son, daughter-in-law and grandson live is in the path of full totality – what would happen was this: The spot to which I traveled would experience heavy cloud cover and it would end up being clear back in Birmingham.

So we’re here today. Eclipse Education, Eclipse, then a piano lesson. Tomorrow, M is back at the convent, serving for a Final Profession Mass, then to the orthodontist and then on Wednesday I’m thinking “school” will be a little more focused.

All right, let me try to do this: offer some thoughts on some of the books I’ve read over the past ten days.

First was – as I mentioned and posted about – Ride the Pink Horse.  Such an interesting, surprising read.

Then I turned a bit and traveled to somewhere in Illinois in 1918 for They Came Like Swallows.

 William Maxwell is well-known as an editor, but he was a fine writer himself. They Came Like Swallows was the first novel of his that I’d read.

It’s a short, intense book about childhood, the passing of time and grief. In some respects, it reminded me of Paul Horgan’s Things as They Are

I hate to say too much about  the important plot points because while it is clear something is going to happen, the precise nature of the incident is somewhat of a surprise and perhaps shouldn’t be spoiled for future readers.

So what shall I say?

It’s a short novel told, in three sections, from the perspective of three characters (all in the third person) – a young boy, his older, young teen-aged brother, and their father.

The time, as I mentioned, is 1918. The Great War ends during the novel, but something else is brewing, something called influenza. The family at the center is a comfortable, middle class family living in Illinois. The younger boy has an intense relationship with his mother and lives, it seems to him, primarily in reference to her.  Through his eyes, as well, his older brother is a rough figure who cares little for anyone, but when his turn comes around, we see that things are not always as they appear.

They Came Like Swallows is a lovely book with as authentic a representation of the feeling of grief as I have ever read in literature.

A note on the edition I read. Most of you know about the Internet Archive – you may not know that one of the features of the site is a book borrowing service – that is, of books that are still in print. That’s how I read They Came Like Swallows  What I didn’t like was that copyright limitations prevented it being downloaded as an actual Kindle book, ,so it had to be read online, which meant that I couldn’t highlight or make notes. But at least I was able to read it, and for that I’m grateful. It’s very good, beautifully written, sad and true.

Coming attractions:

Frost in May

The Tortoise and the Hare

 So Long, See You Tomorrow

 Time Will Darken It

 The Lost Traveler

 

 

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Well, after several months of dipping, a day or two of  immersion here and there and finally a stint of sustained reading, I have finished Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel.  What a delight.

I had heard of the 19th century writer and early sociologist, but didn’t know much. Then I listened to the episode of In Our Time dedicated to her and I was intrigued, mostly by the fact that she had taken an extended journey to the United States and written about it.

The fruit of that travel is in two works: Retrospect of Western Travel and the more topical Society in America. 

It’s too bad de Toqueville gets all the love, because Martineau offers just as much. Retrospect is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, an astonishing first-hand view of the United States in its early history which includes encounters with most the most eminent personages of the age, from Andrew Jackson to Emerson, from the Beechers to Garrison.

And she goes everywhere.  New England and the Middle Atlantic, all through the South "amy welborn"from Charleston to New Orleans and up to Kentucky, and throughout the Midwest. She covers everything, from a close reading of the political system, to social morays to intellectual and religious life. Her impressions of slavery are particularly acute and impassioned.

Back in March, I wrote a bit about volume 1 – go back and take a look, especially if you want to read about her irritation at this newfangled obsession called a rocking-chair. 

I highlighted so much in reading that I can just skim the surface of sharing what interested me, so skim I shall. Different points will strike different readers. What interests me in writing of this kind are the moments in which I see the present in the past – in which Martineau notices aspects of American society that are still a part of our makeup, in which she happens upon quirks or incidents that might still be familiar to us today. I’m also interested in observations she make that confound our impressions of the past. Don’t look for rhyme or reason in these quotes. I’m just going through what I highlighted in volume 2 – most recently read – as the moments struck me:

At a school program in Cincinnati (a city, by the way, she believed should be nation’s capitol.)

Many prizes of books were given by the gentlemen on the platform; and the ceremony closed with an address from the pulpit which was true, and in some respects beautiful; but which did not appear altogether judicious to those who are familiar with children’s minds. The children were exhorted to trust their teachers entirely; to be assured that their friends would do by them what was kindest. Now, neither children nor grown people trust, any more than they believe, because they are bid. Telling them to have confidence is so much breath wasted. If they are properly trained, they will unavoidably have this trust and confidence, and the less that is said about it the better. If not, the less said the better, too; for  confidence is then out of the question, and there is danger in making it an empty phrase. It would he well if those whose office it is to address children wore fully aware that exhortation, persuasion, and dissuasion are of no use in their case; and that there is immeasurable value in the opposite method of appeal. Make truth credible, and they will believe it: make goodness lovely, and they will love it: make holiness cheerful, and they will be glad in it: but remind them of themselves by threat, inducement, or exhortation, and you impair (if you do any thing) the force of their unconscious affections: try to put them upon a task of arbitrary self-management, and your words pass over their ears only to be forgotten.

(Her comments remind me of the present day in which we think if we just tell children and young people to have self-esteem and believe in themselves!  ….it will happen…)

She often comments on the generosity of Americans:

This account of our three first clays at Cincinnati will convey a sufficient idea of a stranger’s impressions of the place. There is no need to give a report of its charitable institutions and its commerce:  the details of the latter are well known to those whom they may concern; and in America, wherever men are gathered together, the helpless are aided, and the suffering relieved. 

However, she notes as well the “illiberality” of many Americans – by which she means prejudices, and right after this passage, she comments on anti-Catholicism. (Martineau was a Unitarian, and no fan of Catholic practices, but she was also committed to freedom of religion and expression. Although she does infer that one of the reasons that prejudice is bad is that it might just prompt the growth and strength of the object of prejudice….)

The Catholic religion spreads rapidly in many most of the recently-settled parts of the United States, and its increase produces an almost insane dread among some Protestants, who fail to see that no evils that the Catholic religion can produce in the present state of society can be so afflictive and dangerous as the bigotry by which it is proposed to put it down. The removal to Cincinnati of Dr. Beecher, the ostentation and virulent foe of the Catholics, has much quickened the spirit of alarm in that region. It is to be hoped  that Dr. Beecher and the people of Cincinnati will remember what has been the invariable consequence in America of public denunciations of assumed offences which the law does not reach; namely, mobbing.

To more prosaic topic – corn on the cob.

This day, I remember, we first tasted
green corn, one of the most delicious of vegetables, and by some
preferred to green peas. The greatest drawback is the way in which it is
necessary to eat it. The cob, eight or ten inches long, is held at both
ends, and, having been previously sprinkled with salt, is nibbled and
sucked from end to end till all the grains are got out. It looks awkward
enough: but what is to be done? Surrendering such a vegetable from
considerations of grace is not to be thought of.

On New England education, class, and a contrast with Old England:

Their common and high schools, their lyceums and cheap colleges, are exciting
and feeding thousands of minds, which in England would never get beyond
the loom or the ploughtail. If few are very learned in the villages of
Massachusetts, still fewer are very ignorant; and all have the power and
the will to invite the learning of the towns among them, and to
remunerate its administration of knowledge. The consequence of this is a
state of village society in which only vice and total ignorance need
hang the head, while (out of the desolate range of religious bigotry)
all honourable tastes are as sure of being countenanced and respected as
all kindly feelings are of being reciprocated. I believe most
enlightened and virtuous residents in the villages of New-England are
eager to acknowledge that the lines have fallen to them in pleasant
places.

But she has harsh words for Harvard College:

The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those
of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic
college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of
pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her
principles and management so as to suit the wants of the period; and she
will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a
considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. [Almost 200 years later…has anything changed??!] She has a
great name, and the education she affords is very expensive in
comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will
therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls
are inferior to those achieved elsewhere, her professors (poorly
salaried, when the expenses of living are considered) being accustomed
to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent
and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and
more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise,
whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the
time. In them living is cheaper, and the professors are therefore richer
with the same or smaller salaries; the sons of the yeomanry and mechanic
classes resort to them; and, where it is the practice of the tutors to
work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is
made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle
and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but
“orthodox,” as their distinctive term is; and these, the strength and
hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest
orthodox colleges; and, when these will hold no more, establish new
ones.

When I was at Boston the state of the University was a subject of great
mourning among its friends.

Martineau was hard of hearing, and used an ear horn. She visited schools for the visually and hearing impaired in a few cities and observed:

The benevolence which undertook the care of this class of unfortunates,
when their condition was esteemed hopeless, has, in many cases, through
a very natural delight at its own success, passed over into a new and
opposite error, particularly in America, where the popular philosophy of
mind comes in aid of the delusion. From fearing that the deaf and dumb
had hardly any capacities, too many of their friends have come to
believe them a sort of sacred, favoured class, gifted with a keener
apprehension, a more subtile reason, and a purer spirituality than
others, and shut out from little but what would defile and harden their
minds.

Martineau wrote extensively on what she saw in the slave-holding South, but also gives an interesting view of the impact of abolitionist activism in New England, and includes this very wise and still very true observation:

The same delusion (if it be mere delusion) is
visible here that is shared by all persons in power, who cannot deny
that an evil exists, but have not courage to remove it; a vague hope
that “fate, or Providence, or something,” will do the work which men are
created to perform; men of principle and men of peace, like the
abolitionists; victims, not perpetrators of violence.

And what strikes her as one of America’s most telling features?

The only times when I felt disposed to quarrel with the inexhaustible
American mirth was on the hottest days of summer. I liked it as well as
ever; but European strength will not stand more than an hour or two of
laughter in such seasons. I remember one day when the American part of
the company was as much exhausted as the English. We had gone, a party
martineau retrosepct western travelof six, to spend a long day with a merry household in a country village;
and, to avoid the heat, had performed the journey of sixteen miles
before ten o’clock. For three hours after our arrival the wit was in
full flow; by which time we were all begging for mercy, for we could
laugh no longer with any safety. Still, a little more fun was dropped
all round, till we found that the only way was to separate, and we all
turned out of doors. I cannot conceive how it is that so little has been
heard in England of the mirth of the Americans; for certainly nothing in
their manners struck and pleased me more. One of the rarest characters
among them, and a great treasure to all his sportive neighbours, is a
man who cannot take a joke.

Americans love their enthusiasms as well, and for Martineau, these enthusiasms, however nutty they might be,  point to something deeper: an imaginative spirit.

When Spurzheim was in America, the great mass of society became
phrenologists in a day, wherever he appeared; and ever since itinerant
lecturers have been reproducing the same sensation in a milder way, by
retailing Spurzheimism, much deteriorated, in places where the
philosopher had not been. Meantime the light is always going out behind
as fast as it blazes up round the steps of the lecturer. While the world
of Richmond and Charleston is working at a multiplication of the fifteen
casts (the same fifteen or so) which every lecturer carries about, and
all caps and wigs are pulled off, and all fair tresses dishevelled in
the search after organization, Boston has gone completely round to the
opposite philosophy, and is raving about spiritualism to an excess which
can scarcely be credited by any who have not heard the Unknown Tongues.
If a phrenological lecturer from Paris, London, or Edinburgh should go
to Boston, the superficial, visible portion of the public would wheel
round once more, so rapidly and with so clamorous a welcome on their
tongues, that the transported lecturer would bless his stars which had
guided him over to a country whose inhabitants are so candid, so
enlightened, so ravenous for truth. Before five years are out, however,
the lecturer will find himself superseded by some professor of animal
magnetism, some preacher of homœopathy, some teacher who will
undertake to analyze children, prove to them that their spirits made
their bodies, and elicit from them truths fresh from heaven. All this is
very childish, very village-like; and it proves anything rather than
originality in the persons concerned. But it does not prove that there
is not originality in the bosom of a society whose superficial movement
is of this kind; and it does not prove that national originality may not
arise out of the very tendencies which indicate that it does not at
present exist.

The Americans appear to me an eminently imaginative people. The
unprejudiced traveller can hardly spend a week among them without being
struck with this every day. At a distance it is seen clearly enough that
they do not put their imaginative power to use in literature and the
arts; and it does certainly appear perverse enough to observers from the
Old World that they should be imitative in fictions (whether of the pen,
the pencil, stone, or marble), and imaginative in their science and
philosophy, applying their sober good sense to details, but being
sparing of it in regard to principles. This arbitrary direction of their
imaginative powers, or, rather, its restriction to particular
departments, is, I believe and trust, only temporary. As their numbers
increase and their society becomes more delicately organized; when,
consequently, the pursuit of literature, philosophy, and art shall
become as definitely the business of some men as politics and commerce
now are of others, I cannot doubt that the restraints of imitation will
be burst through, and that a plenitude of power will be shed into these
departments as striking as that which has made the organization of
American commerce (notwithstanding some defects) the admiration of the
world, and vindicated the originality of American politics in theory and
practice.

Finally, she has an interesting section on “originals” in America:

There must be many local and professional oddities in a country like
America, where individuals fill a larger space in society, and are less
pressed upon by influences, other than local and professional, than in
Old World communities. A judge in the West is often a remarkable
personage to European eyes…..

….Originals who are so in common circumstances, through their own force of
soul, ruling events as well as being guided by them, yield something far
better than amusement to the observer. Some of these, out of almost
every class, I saw in America, from the divine and statesman down to the
slave.

Martineau ends her book with a remarkable reflection on travel itself, which I’ll share in the next post. 

 

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We are home today, back in Birmingham, the boys asleep this morning – the younger one able to sleep past 7 for the first time in a couple of weeks. Nothing much on tap this week, finally.

Yesterday at this time, we were in Charleston. We went to Mass at the Cathedral, where the music was beautiful – done, as Cathedral music should be (and as we experience here) as a model for the rest of the diocese, embodying the mind of the Church on matters liturgical.

There’s a short post up on Instagram with a bit I recorded. I don’t like how huge videos post on WordPress, and I can’t figure out how to resize them, so you’ll just have to go there.

What I particularly appreciated was the lack of accompaniment. Yes, there was organ for hymns, but the chanting was a capella, as this non-musician thinks it should be. I appreciate the organ, but especially with the propers and parts of the Mass, and especially when the congregation sings as well, there is something quite moving about the sound of nothing but human voices filling a church with chanted prayer. I like hearing the other human voices. When the organ’s going at anything less than a minimal level during chant, it’s all I hear – my own voice and the organ – and that’s not an experience of community. It’s almost more of a battle, in the end.

Anyway, go here for a snippet of Ave Verum Corpus. 

The homilist had good things to say, but….(you knew this was coming)

..he didn’t preach from the ambo. He strode down to floor level, right in front of the first pews, and paced back and forth there. I get it. I suppose. The desire to be closer? To us? I guess? But guess what…

No one could see you.

We were pretty close to the front – five or six pews back. He wasn’t that far away from us. The sound system is good, so he could be heard very well, but all we could see was a glimpse of him once in a while as he paced over to our side.

Now, you’re saying..hey…you’re an advocate of ad orientem and less clerical personality on offer during liturgical prayer. What’s this annoyance at not being able to see the homilist’s head during his homily?

Well, here’s how it functioned: very weirdly, the homilist’s posture, which was intended to make him more accessible, but actually made him more invisible, worked to elevate his person because yes, we normally do look at a homilist while he is preaching – that is our normal stance, so we’re having to strain and move around and make an effort to do something that is usually, in the course of liturgy, something we don’t even think about – which then allows us to focus on what’s being said, instead of the peculiarities and particularities of the one saying it.

This is convoluted, and really, all I’m saying is – there’s a reason the ambo (or pulpit) is elevated. It’s not a bad reason, either. And changing that up takes attention away from content. It’s distracting.

And it’s just something to think about that may or may not be related, but is also a Life Lesson: When we do something with the mindset, I want to make sure people know that I’m ______________ or I want people to know that I feel _______________ about them or I don’t want people to think that I think _____________…the consequent choices we make often unwittingly end up  reflecting that overriding concern, blinding us to what others really need from us, and shining the spotlight even more brightly on ourselves….

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

It is the best time of the year in this part of the world. Daytime highs in the 80’s and low 90’s , evening temperatures in the 60’s. No mosquitoes – perhaps because it hasn’t rained in a month, it seems. I don’t mourn their absence. It makes sitting outside under that crescent moon, finding Venus and Saturn, the only way you want to spend your evening.

— 2 —

Our Charleston people have evacuated. They were going to come here, but they both work for companies with offices in another, inland city, so they’re going to be put up in that spot for the duration by the company, waiting with millions of others to return, dreading what they’ll find.

Returning from travel, that last mile or so before getting home always has my insides in knots. I dread pulling up to the house. What will greet me? Will we have been broken into? Will a tree be on my roof? A flood in the kitchen?

(Nothing like that has ever happened, by the way. And having good neighbors who would communicate with you if, well, a tree fell on your house, takes away the worry, if you’re rational about it. Which is not always easy to be.)

Anyway, imagine how that dread is multiplied by coming home after a hurricane has moved through.

 

— 3 —

 

We got a new piano. Finally. I had the slightest twinge of sentiment as the old one was loaded up and carted away..but really only a twinge of a twinge, if there is such a thing. It was not that I didn’t want to replace it. Of course I did. It was terrible, and my son, who is quite talented and promised that indeed, he is all in with the piano stuff – deserved something better to play. It was just that feeling of letting go of something that had been in my life for decades. My grandmother had given it to me probably around 1970, I imagine because my parents convinced her to fund it. It was a Storey and Clark spinet, which is not even made any more and which, experts agree, was not a good piano.

Honestly, why I had hauled that thing around the country for thirty years, I don’t even know. For what it cost to move it, I probably could have just bought a new/used piano at every stop, and sold it again when it was time to move on.

But now…we have a decent one. We also have it upstairs, and not in the basement. When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was just the path of least resistance to put the piano in the basement, which, because the house is built on a slope, is actually ground level. It just slipped right in.

In piano shopping, I had been apologizing for this, not that any of the salesmen were demanding explanations, much less apologies, but one did tell me that if there is no moisture problem, a basement is not the worst place for a piano. After moisture, temperature variation is the enemy of good piano health, and since the temperature in basements tends to be more consistent than other areas of a home..it can work.

But we just wanted the piano up out of the Lego Emporium and up where we spend most of our time. (Yes, I think Lego Days might be approaching twilight…can it be true?) I had explained the front door situation to the guy at the piano store and he assured me it would be fine. In retrospect, I see that I probably should have taken a photograph and shown him. For when the delivery men arrived, they took one look at the slope of those measly five steps and the angles up past them and said…Nope.

O…kay.

What aboimg_20161006_231003.jpgut the back patio? I had mentioned this to the piano salesmen and he said that no, since there was a large patch of yard that would have to be navigated, that wouldn’t work. The piano would have to be brought over a paved surface – it would sink in the ground.

The delivery guys said he was wrong. They had an all-terrain dolly that would do the job, no problem. But they didn’t have it with them, and would have to go get it. Which they did, and an hour later, there it was.

It’s so much better. My son is really enjoying it, and guess who else is playing again? Yeah, me. It’s such a better instrument, plus it’s upstairs…I’m back in business, and even re-ordered that book of Gershwin piano music that was waylaid either in Williamsburg or Germany – where ever my daughter took it that time she took it.

 — 4 —

Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer, so we have embarked on Orthodontic Adventure #4 for my family. It’s been a while – ten years, I guess. I was going to let #4 Kid take care of it on his own when he became an adult, since the issues seemed cosmetic to me, and not that serious. But then this summer, a couple of teeth started trying to come in…unsuccessfully…and it became clear that this wasn’t just cosmetic. And that I am not qualified to diagnose teeth.

But man, I hate orthodontic practices. I hate the buzz of profiteering cheerfulness, I hate the matching polo shirts, I hate the little fountains and beige tones.

So when I heard that an acquaintance of mine was a huge fan of the local university’s dental school clinic, which includes an orthodontic section, I was intrigued.

And, after two appointments, I’m a fan, too.

First, it’s about half the cost of private treatment. That cost must be paid up front, but I’m telling you – when I walked away from that desk, knowing that the next couple of years or so were paid for, from records to retainers..it was a great feeling.

Secondly, the whole process is very interesting. You have a resident assigned to you, and he or she works under a supervising orthodontist. In the initial assessment, the resident worked alone at first, and sketched out a treatment plan. Then the supervisor came in. He asked, “So what’s your treatment plan?” But then he stopped and continued, “No, don’t tell me. Let me look, then I’ll sketch out a plan, and we’ll compare.” Which is what they did, and it was fascinating to observe the teaching that was going on – and good for my son to see it to, to see that this is not magic, nor is it cut-and dried and always obvious. Medical treatment of any kind is not just a matter of matching items from different columns, and it’s good for him to observe that process.

— 5 

I read two novels over the past week. I enjoyed both as light reading that’s a little though-provoking.

I’ll begin with the one I enjoyed less – The Leftovers by Tom Perotta. Perotta is the author of Election and Little Children, both of which are very good and have been made into great movies. The Leftovers has been adapted by HBO as a series – two seasons have aired (I haven’t watched it.).

The novel is about the aftermath of a Rapture-like event,in which about 2% of the world’s population just…disappeared. There’s never any explanation given of the event, and since we enter the story three years after it occurred, we don’t see the characters wondering about it themselves – when we meet them, they are simply trying to cope, to deal, to move on.

So what the book is about is grief and loss. Really, that’s it. It’s about how human beings live with the reality of loss. What the characters of this novel live with in a very focused way is what all of us live with: this or that person was here one day, and then gone the next. What does that mean for my life? Do I dishoner that person by “moving on?” What about if I discover that person wasn’t who I thought he or she was? Where can I find meaning? How is respectful or even possible to live a “normal” life, knowing that people – including yourself – will someday be gone?

It was okay. The choice to not make the “why” or “where did they go” an issue is intended, I suppose, to put the emphasis on the responses of the leftovers. This makes a sort of sense, but the ultimate effect, I felt, was a flattening of the events of the book. It really was just about a bunch of people responding to the losses of loved ones in various ways, but because the peculiar circumstances are not an issue, there seems to be no reason why the loss couldn’t have been via a flu epidemic or chemical leak.

It was an interesting device to explore grief, but done in, I fear, by a kind of spiritual and intellectual reserve.

6–

Much- much –  better was the quirky novel Amp’d. I won’t say, “I recommend it,” because I don’t say that – people have different tastes, and recommending books usually gets the recommender in trouble from someone who imagines they will be getting one thing because they have an image in their mind of what kind of person they believe the recommender to be, but of course they actually have no idea, and the book is in fact quite different from what they expected, and possibly has swears and drugs in it, and maybe sex. Surprised and disappointed email to follow.

So. Don’t read this book.

It’s the story of a guy – Aaron – who has lost his arm in an car accident and returned to his father’s house to recuperate and figure out what to do with his life. It was funny – often hilarious, and just page after page of succinct, on-point observations. Making frequent appearances are a pet alligator, Cancer Boy and various lost and seeking friends and family members, as well as the fish Aaron is hired to count as part of a ..fish counting project. Also a presenter of short radio bits on scientific trivia, and the content of these bits is simply perfect. You can hear the voice as you read.

I think the best way to communicate what the book is about is to tell you that it begins and ends with lists. It begins with a list called “Things you can’t do with one arm” and ends with “Things I never did with two arms.” The second list is far more intriguing , and there’s the point, right there.

You know what? Everything is better with humor in it. Even life-affirming lessons. Especially life-affirming lessons.

— 7 —

Melanie Bettinelli recommends a children’s books…and it looks great!

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Just a bit more travel before the gates clang shut. M and I went down to south Alabama last DSCN0786Saturday (blogged about here) and today we’re in Charleston. I had thoughts of seeing Some Things, but dear heavens, it’s hot. I have an enormous tolerance for and affection for hot weather, but 96 degrees in the city while leading a posse of an 11-year old, 15-year old, 24-year old and 2.5 year old…..is too much.  No complaining, but the red faces and general discomfort made anything beyond an hour downtown not enticing. Tomorrow we might try the beach or an indoor museum…

snapchat-5802264106365602175.jpg

(Snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

— 2 —

Recent reads:

Still working on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which my high schooler is doing for school summer reading. I had never read it, so this was a good opportunity.

My advice? You should read it. I’ll blog more about it when I’m finished, but the bottom line is that it’s such an important part of American history (sold 300,000 copies the first year – galvanized the nation), is a fascinating exercise in social activism – in a time in which social issues of different sorts still divide our country – and is very easy to read. I had envisioned a lot of dense Victorian text, but Stowe had written for newspapers and magazines before she started this novel, and wrote in a very accessible, popular style – too popular  – as in sentimental – at times. The treatment of the races is challenging to get through. I am not sure I would require young people who are black to read it. It’s hard.I’m an advocate of Huckleberry Finn, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin is different. Twain’s writing was more layered and his authorial point of view does not strike me as racist at all, but with Stowe, even though she was an abolitionist and wrote to convince the reader of the humanity of slaves, much of the narrative perspective is tinged in our contemporary eyes, with racism – all slaves are human, we are told, but the norm of what it means to be human is presented primarily in a European paradigm – how can you not accept Eliza’s humanity? She has such lovely light skin!

But…more later.

 

— 3 —

Rachel Ray, which is not a biography of a Food Network star, but rather an 19th century novel by Anthony Trollope. It was talked up on some blogs I ran across as an undiscovered gem, and it was, of course, free, and I do like Trollope, so I dug in.

 

 — 4 —

 

It’s a very simple story – of a young woman’s rocky engagement to a young man.  So what else is new in 19th century literature? It wasn’t the most fascinating book I’ve ever read – and it’s not among even the better half of Trollope, but it was fairly entertaining in parts.  What made it a challenge was that its original serial nature was quite evident in protracted passages in which characters contemplate – in detail – the events that were related – in detail – in the previous chapter. I did a bit of skimming.

— 5 

But making it worthwhile were Trollope’s insight into human nature and motivation – even if we do get a character’s motivations described several more times than necessary.  In this story, the community – family, church and town – play an enormous role in managing expectations and behavior between a man and a woman.  The balance Trollope creates is pretty interesting – yes, the young man and woman, it is implied, need and deserve more freedom than the community wants to give them – but also, yes, perhaps the restraint and boundaries have some value.

I was most interested in two specific areas that Trollope brings into the novel – beer and religion. For one of the families involved in the story runs the local brewery, which, it is universally agreed, produces just terrible beer.  But that is just the way it is – and Luke Rowan the young man who wins Rachel’s heart – has, by inheritance, obtained a share of this brewery run by Mr. Tappitt, and wants more for the purpose of actually making decent beer. The tussle over this issue was very amusing, and, of course, a metaphor for the young people at the heart of the story, straining for freedom from the community’s restraints, for reasons that no one can really fathom, because isn’t everything working so smoothly now?

The tantrums spoken of were Rowan’s insane desire to brew good beer, but they were of so fatal nature that Tappitt was determined not to submit himself to them. 


…That anything was due in the matter to the consumer of beer, never occurred to him. And it may also be said in Tappitt’s favour that his opinion — as a general opinion — was backed by those around him. His neighbours could not be made to hate Rowan as he hated him. They would not declare the young man to be the very Mischief, as he did. But that idea of a rival brewery was distasteful to them all. Most of them knew that the beer was almost too bad to be swallowed; but they thought that Tappitt had a vested interest in the manufacture of bad beer — that as a manufacturer of bad beer he was a fairly honest and useful man — and they looked upon any change as the work, or rather the suggestion of a charlatan.


Mr Tappitt was not a great man, either as a citizen or as a brewer: he was not one to whom Baslehurst would even rejoice to raise a monument; but such as he was he had been known for many years. No one in that room loved or felt for him anything like real friendship; but the old familiarity of the place was in his favour, and his form was known of old upon the High Street. He was not a drunkard, he lived becomingly with his wife, he had paid his way, and was a fellow-townsman. What was it to Dr Harford, or even to Mr Comfort, that he brewed bad beer? No man was compelled to drink it. Why should not a man employ himself, openly and legitimately, in the brewing of bad beer, if the demand for bad beer were so great as to enable him to live by the occupation? On the other hand, Luke Rowan was personally known to none of them; and they were jealous that a change should come among them with any view of teaching them a lesson or improving their condition.

6–

As for religion. It plays a great role in the book, as Rachel’s mother turns to her pastor, Rev. Comfort, for advice on her daughter’s situation, and her other daughter – a widow – spends much of the novel contemplating a more permanent alliance with another clergyman – a Dissenter – whom she respects but does not quite trust. She has her own money and a marriage would require her to give control of this money over to her new husband…which she is not quite comfortable with.

Trollope has much to say about religion, but I particularly liked this passage, in which he digs into the tormented soul of Mrs. Ray, Rachel’s mother. Has this type of spiritual response disappeared with the genteel 19th century novel? I don’t think so..

And it may be said of Mrs Ray that her religion, though it sufficed her, tormented her grievously. It sufficed her; and if on such a subject I may venture to give an opinion, I think it was of a nature to suffice her in that great strait for which it had been prepared. But in this world it tormented her, carrying her hither and thither, and leaving her in grievous doubt, not as to its own truth in any of its details, but as to her own conduct under its injunctions, and also as to her own mode of believing it. In truth she believed too much. She could never divide the minister from the Bible — nay, the very clerk in the church was sacred to her while exercising his functions therein. It never occurred to her to question any word that was said to her. If a linen-draper were to tell her that one coloured calico was better for her than another, she would take that point as settled by the man’s word, and for the time would be free from all doubt on that heading. So also when the clergyman in his sermon told her that she should live simply and altogether for heaven, that all thoughts as to this world were wicked thoughts, and that nothing belonging to this world could be other than painful, full of sorrow and vexations, she would go home believing him absolutely, and with tear-laden eyes would bethink herself how utterly she was a castaway, because of that tea, and cake, and innocent tittle-tattle with which the hours of her Saturday evening had been beguiled. She would weakly resolve that she would laugh no more, and that she would live in truth in a valley of tears. But then as the bright sun came upon her, and the birds sang around her, and someone that she loved would cling to her and kiss her, she would be happy in her own despite, and would laugh with a low musical sweet tone, forgetting that such laughter was a sin.

And then that very clergyman himself would torment her — he that told her from the pulpit on Sundays how frightfully vain were all attempts at worldly happiness. He would come to her on the Monday with a good-natured, rather rubicund face, and would ask after all her little worldly belongings — for he knew of her history and her means — and he would joke with her, and tell her comfortably of his grown sons and daughters, who were prospering in worldly matters, and express the fondest solicitude as to their worldly advancement. Twice or thrice a year Mrs Ray would go to the parsonage, and such evenings would be by no means hours of wailing. Tea and buttered toast on such occasions would be very manifestly in the ascendant. Mrs Ray never questioned the propriety of her clergyman’s life, nor taught herself to see a discrepancy between his doctrine and his conduct. But she believed in both, and was unconsciously troubled at having her belief so varied. She never thought about it, or discovered that her friend allowed himself to be carried away in his sermons by his zeal, and that he condemned this world in all things, hoping that he might thereby teach his hearers to condemn it in some things. Mrs Ray would allow herself the privilege of no such argument as that. It was all gospel to her. The parson in the church, and the parson out of the church, were alike gospels to her sweet, white, credulous mind; but these differing gospels troubled her and tormented her.

 

 

— 7 —

And now, for the first time in many years, I’m returning to Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means. Tight, dense and acerbic. I’ll report when I’m done. If I don’t melt in Charleston on Friday.

Follow on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) to see how that turns out…

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