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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

And now, sheep.

Because we’d never been to Scotland, and we really didn’t have the time to explore much, it seemed as if sticking to Edinburgh would be the extent of it. But once I started hunting for reasonably priced accommodations, I was flummoxed. There was hardly anything available – reasonably priced, as I said, suitable for our needs (three beds). I figured it must be because it was a weekend – the first weekend of the summer holidays. Finally I settled on a guesthouse with two rooms next to each other on the top floor, sharing a bathroom, and when I mentioned to the owner my difficulty in finding a place, he said, “Oh, that might be because it’s the weekend of the Royal Highland Show.”

Oh, and what’s that?

Well, it’s this – a big national agricultural show. With sheep, cattle, competitions, a “Scottish Larder” featuring food and food samples..

Well….we’re definitely going to Edinburgh that weekend. No doubt about that now!

(It was also Pride, as we discovered upon arrival. So, yay and that probably had an impact, as well.)

We were staying on the east side of Edinburgh, very close to Leith, and the RHS was on the west side, near the airport. No problem – there was dedicated public transportation, both buses and trams going back and forth constantly, so we hopped on the bus on Sunday morning and off we went.

It was a delightful day. As I said about the museum and Castle experience, what I learned from that was a sense of the Scottish national identity and pride. The Royal Highland Show made that even more clear. 

We walked amid loads of sheep, cattle and goats – mostly sheep, encountered breeds we had not idea existed, not that we knew much about sheep to begin with. There were sheep that reminded us of cattle, those that had heads like pigs and others that seemed to be little stunted llamas.

The cattle were impressive, too – some huge ones, and the favorite, native Highlands.

We sampled cheese and various types of whiskey and meats and jellies and jams. We had burgers from Angus beef. We watched sheep-shearing and show jumping and pole-climbing competitions, and while we didn’t stay until the very end and therefore didn’t see the grand finale (we were ready to leave and were not interested in dealing with crowds exiting all at once and competing for a spot on the buses), we did catch a bit of the final parade of cattle breeds which wound its way around and around the arena, the announcer explaining the history and value of each breed as they came out.

A lovely day, and not what I expected to experience when I booked an Edinburgh weekend, but really, what better way to spend it?

We returned to the city early enough to wander around town a bit more, and then have dinner at a tiny little Italian place not far from our apartment that was quite good – the first antipasto/charcuturie plate I’ve had in a while that didn’t seem as if the kitchen had simply phoned in a Publix order and called it a day.

My view a week ago today…

You can see video of all of this at Instagram in the Story “Highlights.” Or this post.

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Now things get complicated. And they also get stupid because of my mistake.

First off, let’s review. I had built in a potential almost full day for Hadrian’s Wall sites, with us then getting to the next stop (Seahouses) in the early evening, and doing the activities in that area on Friday. It would be tight getting them both in on one day, but I was pretty sure we could swing it.

But after our afternoon at the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall and Vindolanda, it was decided that this was enough. More would have been great, and perhaps will be another time, but given the complexities of travel, especially on a strike day, we thought it best to just get going Thursday morning in case we’d end up having to take a bus all the way.

But…how?

The original plan had been to ride the train from Hexham to Newcastle, and then Newcastle to Alnmouth, where we’d get a taxi to Seahouses. There are buses from Alnmouth to Seahouses, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother with figuring out and coordinating with one more schedule. It seemed as if it all work out – but then the strike was declared.

So..plan B. We’d have to take a bus from Hexham to Newcastle, since that train would not be running. However, there was limited service along the Edinburgh-London route, with a stop at Alnmouth. That would do fine.

Early Thursday morning I got the bright idea, though, of doing a taxi to Newcastle. It was only 22 miles, for heaven’s sake, and the bus would be almost an hour and a half. (78 – yes 78 – stops). The hotel clerk called a couple of services for me, but the answer was the same: “They’re all out taking kids to school and won’t be available until 10.” Taxis take kids to school in England? Okay, well good for them, bad for us, time to get up and get going to the bus station.

Newcastle train station was almost empty (of course. There’s a strike!) The ticket-taking gates were wide open. A train arrived at the right platform, destination Edinburgh, we got on for the 20+ minute ride to Alnmouth. Our tickets were never checked. We sped along. And kept going. And going.

Past…Alnmouth.

I walked up and down the cars. There was no one working (it’s a strike!). I asked one of the four other passengers on the train if he thought the train would stop. He said maybe at this place…but also maybe not. But why? Was this an effect of the strike?

No, idiot – you got on the wrong train, that’s what. Which happened to be an express train to Edinburgh. Geez. Lesson learned. If a train pulls up and leaves early – that is probably not your train. And if you are not sure…ASK. (if you can find someone)

I had already booked tickets for a boat trip out to the Farne Islands from Seahouses that would be leaving at 1:30 that afternoon. Even getting to Edinburgh and getting on another train immediately to come back down south would not get us there in time. I did some rearranging, the boat company kindly transferred our tickets to Friday – and they didn’t mind because that freed up three more seats on an afternoon boat that was sold out. The taxi driver was kind and sympathetic, and even though I told him to charge me, he refused, and just asked for a good review instead – which he got and deserved. I was pretty upset about my stupidity, but it really did turn out fine. We just were able to flip our plans around, doing what we planned for Thursday on Friday, and Friday on Thursday….

So on we sped to Edinburgh, which would have been fantastic if that had been our train. Luckily, there was a train back leaving in about twenty minutes, so we just were able to get on that. It wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth, however, but at Berwick-on-Tweed, which was north of Seahouses, rather than south. Which was fine – we’d get there sooner, but not soon enough.

Arriving at Berwick-on-Tweed, I was really relieved to see a taxi stand. I went to a random driver, who was sitting in his car with his mate and explained the issue and the plan. Could he A) Take us from Berwick-on-Tweed to Seahouses so we could check into our hotel and drop our luggage then B) from Seahouses up to the Holy Island or Lindesfarne and C) get us a couple of hours later on the Holy Island and then take us back to Seahouses?

(There is a bus from Berwick to Seahouses, but you know – it’s a bus, with a schedule, and then I’d have to find a way up to Lindesfarne and back, which required a car on this particular day, since the tourist bus wasn’t running – so might as well use the same driver.)

They worked it out, consulted on a price, which was very fair, and off we went!

So yes, those were our two destinations on this very short leg of the trip:

Lindefarne, or Holy Island, where St. Aidan came from Iona to found a very early monastery, the Vikings invaded very early on, and the source, of course, of the famed Lindesfarne Gospels.

And

The Farne Islands – off the east coast, islands which David Attenborough said were his favorite place to see nature in the UK. Every spring through early summer, hundreds of thousands of birds nest here, including….

Well, that’s enough of this nonsense. Let’s do Holy Island in another post.

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….when THE SUN DOESN’T SET UNTIL PAST 10 AND RISES AROUND 6.

I mean—for some reason, I just did not expect that here in the UK and it is sort of messing with me.

Anyway, we are still here, with tomorrow beginning what was always the most complicated part of this journey, made even more so by the rail strike. We shall see…

Anyway, let’s try to catch up.

When we last spoke, it was a weekend in Oxford. Let’s take care of Sunday.

The goal Sunday was: Mass, museums and punting. Everything happened – except the punting. By the time we got to that part of the day, it was raining off and on, so no, we weren’t going to push a boat around in the river with a pole in the rain, as fun as that sounds.

Mass:

The Oxford Oratory. I had thought we might try to 11am Latin Sung Mass, but everyone agreed that would be too late, simply because all of the museums (and everything else) closes at 5. We weren’t sure if we’d have enough time, with the later Mass.

It was a lovely Mass – in English, with Mass parts in Latin in familiar settings. We all marveled at the experience of going to Mass in a foreign country, and for the first time, being able to understand everything.

Including the homily, which was so very good, and one of those good homilies that had depth but clarity and simplicity in a way that makes you wonder, “Is this really so hard? Why can’t more homilists do this?”

You can hear it here.

Right after Mass, we hopped on the bus that would take us a just a few miles north to visit a grave. Whoe grave?

We weren’t the only visitors. On the bus with us were two young men speaking, I think, a Scandinavian language – and they got off on the the same stop. They walked more purposefully (we didn’t know they were headed to Tolkien or else we would have just followed them), and a woman with a dog asked us, “Looking for Tolkien?” and as we answered affirmatively, she led us part way there, advising us that his house was about halfway between the cemetery and town, but really wasn’t worth going to.

As we left, we saw here putting on gardening gloves, tending to a grave. She wasn’t the only one – there on Father’s Day, there were quite a few doing the same.

I had made, changed and finally cancelled reservations at a pub for a traditional Sunday roast lunch – I thought that traditional experience would be fun, but ultimately decided that time was of the essence, and that might take too much of it, especially since I figured out that a visit to Tolkien’s grave was possible. So we settled for meat pies at the Oxford Covered Market instead:

Museums:

There are several in Oxford, all free. We hit four of them

1 – Museum of the History of Science

2 – The Natural History Museum

3 – The Pitt River Museum

4 – The Ashmoleon Museum.

1 – The smallest of the four, with three floors jammed with scientific instruments. Interesting – more so if you are knowledgeable about, well, science. What struck me most of all – as it always does with exhibits of this sort – is the evidence of a time long ago, when beauty was valued:

Also, Einstein’s blackboard:

2 – I’ve been to plenty, and this was a good one! I wander through, on the lookout for things to learn. Here I learned about a few types of non-flying birds of which I’d previously been unaware, and got a good look at some interesting fossils found in England.

The museum’s most well-known holding is the only remaining organic tissue sample of a dodo bird – part of its head. It used to be on display, but is only available to be seen by appointment now.

As interesting to me as the exhibits was the building itself. You can read about it here – but it expresses, quite powerfully, the ideals of the 19th century, a time of confidence in the interrelation of the natural world, art and human experience. It’s filled with statues of famous scientists, of course, and the design is Art Noveau/Pre-Raphaelite, using nature as the inspiration. Column capitals are each a different type of plant life and the exhibit hall itself is ringed by columns made of stone – each identified – from the British Isles.

3- The Pitt River is the back part of the natural history museum, and you can read about the origins of the collection here – as with so many museums, in the gathering of curiosities. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, even though I usually enjoy that type of museum very much. It was…big, the collection was a bit overwhelming, and it was hot. Sorry.

4 – The Ashmoleon was excellent – a real mix of archaeology and art. One of its more well-known pieces is Powhatan’s mantle:

That was…a lot of museum!

Oh, we also got a visit to Blackwell’s bookstore in there – which was marvelous and inspiring. Let’s get writing and reading again!

I’m always particularly interested in new angles on presenting old information – for example this series of books from Princeton which essentially repackages new translations of classical authors with titles that frame the contents in terms of questions and issues that people are still wondering about today – How to Keep an Open Mind, How to Tell a Story, How to be Content, How to Run a Country…as these Brits like to say…Brilliant!

Oh, and here’s a copy of James Joyce’s death mask for sale for a few thousand, if you like:

Meals? Late afternoon snack at a fast food sushi/bowl place/chain called Itsu, and then a kebab from a truck later, when we’d returned to the guest house.

But let’s not forget the Corpus Christi procession!

More on that in the next post…and then we’ll head to York.

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All right, where were we?

Got a decent nights’ sleep in our marvelous little guest house on the outskirts of Oxford (super expensive to stay in the old city). Traditional breakfast for one of us:

Then off on the bus to town.

(Interesting reflection on perspective. When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we were totally befuddled as to how to get to the guesthouse. Bus? Which one? Where are they? Are there taxis? How do we get one? Where do we get it? But by Saturday afternoon – 24 hours later – we were pros, discussing the relative merits of the 8 or the 9 or the 280….)

First stop: the Bodleian Library. We did a 30-minute tours, which was all I could book at the time I booked it. No photos inside Duke Humpfrey’s Library, but they were allowed downstairs in the Divinity School.

We then wandered a bit, killing some time until our scheduled private tour at 2:30. We went to the Weston Library, which is the modern-looking building more or less across from the Old Bodleian. An excellent gift shop, two exhibit halls and – free public restrooms, which is the most important piece of information our first guide imparted to us.

The exhibits were on Howard Carter and the King Tut excavations and “Sensational Books” – the latter of which was not about scandal, but rather about books that somehow engage other senses beyond sight. (see yesterday’s post). Both were small, but well done, informative and engaging.

I particularly liked the traveling library of the future King Charles I and the way in which Sterne went meta with the design of Tristam Shandy.

Also an original of Audubon’s Birds of America.

The view from the Carfax Tower:

And no, it is not named “Carfax” because it’s sponsored by the auto information outfit:

The name “Carfax” derives from the Latin quadrifurcus via the French carrefour, both of which mean “crossroads”. The Carfax Tower, also known as St. Martin’s Tower (it is the remaining part of what was the City Church of St. Martin of Tours) is a prominent landmark and provides a look-out over the town.

Then it was time for our tour – I booked a private tour with Jane Mead, who was wonderful! I told her ahead of time of our interests in Tolkien, Lewis, Newman, Wesley and simply religion and literature in general, and she delivered! I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, but let’s just say it was very well-designed to take us logically through the town and the history, ending in a very moving way at the gates of Merton College, one of Tolkien’s academic posts, with Jane drawing the connection between the names of the fallen by which Tolkien would have walked every day, his own wartime experiences, and the vision of the Lord of the Rings.

Yes, there are free tours – we walked by one today in which the guide was saying, “There is the pub called The Eagle and Child. The group of writers who met there were called the Inklings.”

So… perhaps you see why I splurged. An why it really wasn’t a splurge.

And in case you didn’t know it, the Eagle and Child has actually been closed for a couple of years now. Plans are underway to reopen it eventually as a pub, but with a boutique hotel on top.

I didn’t take a lot of photos on the tour. I mostly looked and listened.

Below, though, are Newman-related photos. The pulpit from which he preached in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and then the chapel at Oriel College, where he was chaplain, including a small alcove chapel above and behind the main chapel where he liked to pray.

Dinner at a Lebanese place near our guesthouse:

Sunday calls for another post….

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Almost done….

As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

Reborn…together. Or what Nicole Kidman’s AMC ad can teach the Church (12/1)

And now, in slow, gradual recovery, here we are again. The understanding of how deeply we are made for community bursts forth in the elation about being able to gather again, to be free to celebrate, to see each other face-to-face.

The AMC spot is cynically understanding of all of this, given that the ad exists solely to get us back spending money again.

But look at that text. It addresses the desire to begin again, to start over – even completely. To be reborn! Together! It admits the reality of pain and tells us that in the theater, enveloped by the experience of film, that pain can be transformed and even “feel good.” We are a part of “perfect and powerful” stories.

New life – reborn in community – O happy fault – He spoke to them in parables

Yes, this is what marketing does. But that doesn’t mean that the need the marketing discerns and exploits isn’t real.

Sand and rock (12/2)

The difference between solid and fragile can be difficult to discern, not just in geology, but in the spiritual life. Of course. That’s why discernment is an essential and challenging aspect of spiritual growth. Because it’s not obvious.

I’m seeing a lot of that these days, it seems, as expressed in life online.

Three posts on the (then) proposed renovation plan for Notre-Dame-de-Paris:

Un

Deux

Trois

Things that might not make sense (12/18)

  • The Church must be a listening Church

but…

  • No, no, no. Not to you.

Beyond Historical Concerns (12/26)

I thought clericalism was bad (12/28)



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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Back ….waaaay back in 2011, we went to Milan for spring break. There was a crazy Alitalia sale that popped up after Christmas, and I paid $250/apiece for our tickets from NYC. Insane.

Sigh. This is, without doubt, the easiest age to travel with kids – they were 6 and just about to turn 10. Intrigued by everything, open to almost anything, they can read and go to the bathroom by themselves, don’t need a lot of gear, are not yet cynics…and easiest of all to please in Italy, where a 1 Euro cup of gelato awaits around every corner….

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centuries, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –

Where you can frolic on the roof:

Amy Welborn


In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio – one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

Sigh.

But I repeat myself. Sorry.

Posts linked on Travel page. But here’s a glimpse.

Milan

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—1 —

Apologies for the earlier, incomplete version of this post that a few of you were confused by. I had scheduled it, then gotten too tired to finish writing it…then forgot I’d scheduled it. It’s gone. You’ll never see that again.

— 2 —

Secondly,  welcome Catholic Herald readers and thanks to the Herald for the link to my Young Pope ramblings! Come back on Monday (probably – in the evening) for thoughts on the first three episodes of The New Pope. 

Check out my St. Francis de Sales post from today. 

— 3 —

We’re here in the Ham, as we call it, while Son #4 is up on his March for Life #3 – the first as a college student. What? No dire-threats-not-to-break them curfews? I can head into DC on Saturday…without a chaperone? What is this new life I’m leading?!

Very pleased and proud that he’s there, along with a huge group from his (Catholic) college.

— 4 —

From First Things: The Myth of Medieval Paganism:

When we encounter “pagan-­seeming” images or practices in ­medieval Christianity, we should consider the probability that they were simply expressions of popular Christianity before positing the existence of secret pagan cults in ­medieval Western Europe. Once we accept that most culturally alien practices in popular Christianity were products of imperfectly catechized Christian cultures rather than pockets of pagan resistance, we can begin to ask the interesting questions about why popular Christianity developed in the ways it did. Rejecting the myth of the pagan Middle Ages opens up the vista of medieval popular Christianity in all its inventiveness and eccentricity. After the first couple of centuries of evangelization, there were no superficially Christianized pagans—but there remained some very strange expressions of Christianity.

— 5 –

In my earlier post this week, I focused on things I’ve been wasting my life watching lately.

I forgot one, though:

My 15-year old is a music guy and a fan of odd humor, so I figured it was time to introduce him to these geniuses. Yes, there will be a few moments that we’ll skip over, but for the most part it’s just fine, content-wise. And has prompted one of those much-beloved teachable moments , this one about the difference between New Zealand and Australian accents.

And yes, this particular video has been on replay constantly for the past few days and prompted other teachable moments about French – which was the main language I studied in school (besides Latin) but which he (Spanish and Latin guy) has little understanding of. So those have been decent conversations, too, that end up comparing these two romance languages, with the original, and then with the Craziness that is English…

Another watch, for trip prep, has been the PBS American Experience  – The Swamp– about the Everglades. Running at almost two hours, it’s about thirty minutes too long, but other than that, it’s worth your time if you’re interested in the subject – it’s a history of the conflicts and problems surrounding the Everglades since the late 19th century when people actually started living down in South Florida – both the Seminoles, driven there as they attempted to escape US government forces -and white settlers, followed in the 20’s and 30’s by substantial migrant populations, mostly black from the deep south or the Caribbean.

So yes, that’s where we’re heading soon – a part of the state I’ve never been to. Looking forward to a quick adventure in warmer climes – son is disappointed we’ll probably miss the falling iguanas though – although he’d rather have warmer weather, as well.

— 6 —

Coming tomorrow  – the Conversion of St. Paul.
The event is included in The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories and The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes. 

 

— 7 —

It’s coming…

Ashwednesday

 

(Feel free to take the graphic and use where ever.)

Next week – some suggestions on resources from my end.

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

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—1 —

Happy Christmastide and feast of St. John –if you’re around the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama at noon, you can come have some wine blessed:

Image may contain: drink

— 2 —

And then….there’s this:

Image may contain: 3 people

— 3 —

As a young person, and then youngish church geek, both employed and volunteer, I was formed in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – an era in which people were forever making stuff up in the name of helping people bring faith into daily life, making it more relatable in modern times and such. When all along, what they should have been doing was rejecting the adolescent urge to reject what their parents (aka the Church) was giving them, listen, dig deeper, and see how almost two thousand years of Tradition and traditions means something. Maybe it just means that there are practices that, by their antiquity, have been experienced as powerful and, yes, pertinent to the daily joys and struggles of human beings, no matter where or when they lived.

— 4 —

Did you know that Hallmark worked with Salvador Dali to create Christmas cards? Not many were sold in the US, but here are a few articles and images.

From the Hallmark site.

From Artsy:

“It was the founder of Hallmark’s idea. Santas were always a hit,” explains historian for the Hallmark Archives Samantha Bradbeer of the anomalous, albeit wonderful Dalí painting. “Dalí’s first series of cards had just been pulled from the shelves, so he really wanted to design a popular card. He thought this might be it.” Hallmark, the biggest greeting card company in the world, had commissioned Dalí, and other up-and-coming artists of the decade, to design holiday cards earlier that year. But Dalí’s initial attempts—which depicted a headless angel, a glowing but featureless baby Jesus, and three wise men atop snarling camels—proved too avant-garde for the everyday buyer.

“Unfortunately, they just didn’t sell,” continues Bradbeer. “So that’s when Dalí asked for our founder J.C.’s advice.” Dalí’s second go, however, didn’t work out either. When the artist presented his unique Santa to Hallmark founder Joyce Clyde Hall, affectionately known as J.C., he wasn’t a fan. While Hall graciously purchased the painting for Hallmark’s permanent art collection, it was promptly stashed in a closet where it hid for many years. Only recently has it seen the light of day, on the walls of the company’s sprawling Kansas City headquarters.

From an expert on Spanish culture, more on these and the cards Dali created for Spanish markets:

This early 1948 rendition of a “Christmas” landscape, however, is but one of Dalí’s efforts to illustrate the holiday season. In 1958 he created the first of his eventual 19 greeting cards for Hoeschts, and the publishing company would annually send these artsy holiday cards to doctors and pharmacists throughout Spain. Importantly, Dalí’s renditions did not incorporate traditional Mediterranean, Catholic Christmas imagery such as the Nativity scene or the Reyes magos (Wise men), but rather they appropriated more American and Central European elements, such as the Christmas Tree. The “árbol santo” is in fact a constant element in these 19 illustrations, and Dalí occasionally converted the Christmas Tree into an allegorical depiction of the years events or infused it with distinctive elements of Spanish culture.

 

 

— 5 –

And here you go:

More images at all the links up there.

— 6 —

We have been awash in music, of course. Son #5, employed as the organist at a local parish. There’s a snippet of a postlude up on Instagram here.

— 7 —

Be sure to check out:

Christmas-related material for kids in some of my books!


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

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Took a quick trip over to Cordoba on Monday.

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A note about the train in Spain: it’s not cheap. I mean – it can be if you book ahead and/or choose their least busy times. And I suppose the actual Spaniards who use the system have their discount and reward cards and do just fine. But for me, deciding to do this at almost the last minute, with a crew that I don’t want to force an early rising on – no, it wasn’t cheap.

The grandson’s parents are in Grenada for an overnight (3 hours by bus..so not a daytrip we’re going to take), so the four of us headed to the train station, then to Cordoba.

The main site in Cordoba is the Mosque-Cathedral. They have an excellent webiste here.

Short version: The site was first a Visigoth Chapel (I am not sure if the chapel dates from the Arian days or a point after the Visigoths generally embraced orthodoxy), then taken over by Muslims, who built the impressive mosque. The Christians got it back after the 12th century Reconquista, and in the 16th century, they plunked a church in the middle of the former mosque.

And do remember that much of what you read about the supposed golden age of tolerance in Cordoba (at one time western capital of the Islamic empire and the largest city in Europe) is myth-making. Yes, it was “peaceful” co-existence, but there were reasons for that, reasons related to law, taxation and punishment. A prison that happens to be functional can be described as a “peaceful” place, after all. Before we came over I read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, and one of the points the author makes is specifically related to this structure – that’s it’s not just the new Muslim leaders struck a deal with the conquered for the site. They, you know, took it. For a summary of his broader argument, read this article. 

For more, here’s Matthew Bunson in the NCRegister, with the added angle of the recent push by Muslims and Spanish leftists to return the mosque to Muslims.

Such was the beauty of the Great Mosque, the Mezquita in Spanish, that when Córdoba was captured by King Ferdinand, one of the first decisions he had to face was what to do with it.

The new ruler decided to transform the mosque into the city’s new cathedral. Respectful of the architecture, he maintained the columns and even preserved the ornate horseshoe-arched mihrab, or prayer niche, and its stunning dome above.

The minaret, meanwhile, was converted to a bell tower, with bells brought from Santiago de Compostela. In effect, Ferdinand preserved the mosque’s beauty for posterity.

With the exception of the chapels found throughout, the one major structural change was made in the 16th century, when Emperor Charles V permitted Bishop Alonso Manrique to construct a Renaissance cathedral in the middle of the building.

Fortunately, the current governing laws in Spain prevent such outright seizure, and Bishop Fernández has also been assured that, should this actually happen, Pope Francis and the Holy See would enter the fray. That will, of course, not stop opposition officials from trying.

And while the current law blocks such expropriation, other goals might be more attainable. The bishop warned of “the more immediate objectives, such as asking for them [Muslims] to be able to share the cathedral … but that’s not possible, neither for the Catholics nor for the Muslims.”

Equally, there is no desperate need for prayer space on the part of Muslims, as there are barely 1,500 in the city, which is served by two mosques. The Islamic population in Spain, while growing through immigration, makes up barely 4% of the total population.

Local Muslims are also not behind the controversy. The push is coming from outside of Spain, and it is believed that much of the funding is being provided by Arab countries, with some Church officials and even Ambassador Ruperez warning that funding may even be coming from Qatar, which is facing many accusations of being a state sponsor of international terrorism.

It’s quite interesting – you can see plenty of photos at the official site and I have a bit of video on Instagram. I will say that many of the guides I read indicated you should give the site two hours, but we found one hour plenty – but perhaps a factor in that is a five-year old.

 

Anyway, some impressions:

The structure is quite beautiful, unique and stunning. The repetition of the identical striped double arches, juxtaposed with the wild Baroque of the Cathedral is an expression, in a way, of  differences between Islam and Catholicism – something even my teens picked up on without my prompting.

It was not very busy on this Monday in June. If there had been no school groups, it would have been even less so.

Here’s the most interesting thing I saw.

We were in a small exhibit on some particular silvermaker who made chalices. At one point, a Muslim family (who’d been on the train with us from Seville and, it would turn out, would also be on the same return train) came over, led by a security guard, who pointed up to a particular pillar. They told him thank you, then asked him a few questions, studied the pillar, and took photos of it. They left. Not a couple of minutes later another small Muslim group came over, found the pillar, discussed it, pointed, and took photos.

It was this:

img_20190617_154638

I asked the guard the significance. He barely spoke English, but he was able to indicate that it said something about Allah being the only God (probably a portion of the Shahada) and very important to Muslims. Well, yes. So what I concluded (and I can’t find anything about this online in the time I have at the moment) is that it must be the only remaining original Arabic/Koranic script left in the structure. You could see  similar spaces on the other column capitals that had obviously been scraped clean.

And then a third Muslim group came by, stopped, searched, pointed and photographed – three in the space of five minutes.

All right then, after that, it was about four (we’d come on an early afternoon train). We went to the Moorish/Roman bridge. Found a bathroom. Made our way to the ancient Synagogue, which was closed (it’s a museum, so of course, yeah – on a Monday – closed), then decided, eh, find ice cream and just go to the station.

Which we did. We didn’t do a lot of wandering. I was glad to have gone and seen the Cathedral, but the area around it is super, super touristy. I’ve been on plenty of ancient winding European streets, so spending a hot afternoon with a five-year old on narrow streets crammed with souvenir shops and other tourists doesn’t have much appeal to me. So a slow meander back to the station, back to Seville on a slower train, went to the grocery store, provide food for the youngest one, put him to sleep, and then M and I went out for some late-night tapas. Set out at ten, it was still light outside and the streets were busy and restaurants were crowded with all sorts of groups, including families.

We found a good tapas bar – we weren’t super hungry, but I just wanted to try some new things. So I found a new thing on the menu and ordered it. As I was sitting there waiting and watching the action behind the bar, I pointed and laughed and this weird thing being plated – “Look,” I said, “It’s a piece of cake with…lettuce on the side! What in the world?”

And then the waiter grabbed it and put it in front of me.

Oh!

Not exactly what I expected when ordering a “zucchini tart.” But it was good!

Also below: innovations from Spanish cuisine, including free 2L coke bottles with your Seagram’s and one I can truly get behind – pre-skewered relishes in a jar.

 

 

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— 1 —

Hey, guys, I think you’re going to spare obscure academic articles this week.

But you will not be spared…..

— 2 —

Brochure 2019

PUY DU FOU!

Long, long time readers will know that in the fall of 2012, I took my two youngest to Europe. It was, as I have written here, a way of forcing myself to homeschool them. I reasoned – if I actually left the country – I couldn’t go racing back to the school principal a week in,  begging her to take us back.

Anyway, one of the highlights and grand surprises of the trip was Puy du Fou. I will bet money you’ve never heard of it.   When I first started researching the trip, I happened upon information about Puy du Fou, and was immediately intrigued. What is this??  It’s the most popular attraction of its type in France – more so than EuroDisney – and I’d never even heard of it.  Then I went to the website, watched the over-the-top amazing videos about knights and vikings and such, and I was determined.

 

We had to go. 

So we did – as far as I could tell, one of the few non-French speakers in the park that day, which also happened to be the last day of the season they perform the massive, (literally) cast of thousands evening show.

It’s an “amusement park” but there are no rides.  The main attractions are recreations of medieval and renaissance villages with artisans and shops, a small collection of animals, a few animantronic features – de la Fontaine’s fairy tales, for example, and then these spectacular – I mean spectacular shows featuring French history, starting with the Romans – in a full-blown Roman coliseum with chariots and so on.

So, quickly – when we went, the shows were:

  1. The Romans
  2. A recreation of a Viking raid story with a variation of a saint/miracle story
  3. A Joan of Arc type story (although not quite)
  4. Richilieu’s Musketeer, which I didn’t understand at all – involving musketeers, Spanish type dancers and horses prancing on a water-flooded stage.
  5. Birds of Prey show
  6. The evening show, Cinescine 

You have to watch the videos to understand why, once I saw them, there was no way I was going to France and not going to Puy du Fou.

I see that for 2019, they’re promoting a new show – it looks to be about Clovis and….hmmm…

That said, I didn’t know anything about the place beyond the fact that it was popular and looked kind of trippy and totally French.

As we moved through the day, I started to notice a couple of things:

  1. The explicit religious content of every show (except the musketeer one, but it may have been there, and I just didn’t grasp it.)   The Roman show began with two Christian men running onto the sandy floor of the coliseum and drawing an ichthys, and being arrested for that.  The Viking show featured a miracle (based, I think on a particular miracle story but I don’t remember which at the time) about a saint raising a child from the dead.
  2. At some point it dawned on me…there’s nothing about the French Revolution here.  Nothing. Not a word, not an image. Wait. Aren’t all the French all about the French Revolution?

I knew that the evening show was about the Vendee resistance to the Revolution, but before I went, I didn’t know anything about the founder of the park, his politics and how the park expresses that vision.

As I keep saying, it was simply fascinating and really helped broaden my understanding of French history and the French people and the complexity of contemporary France.

Cinescine is really unlike anything you have ever seen. You’re seated on this huge grandstand, and the show happens around this lake – lights, hundreds and hundreds of people in costume tracing the history of the area, including the resistance to the Revolution, animals, music….wow.

Loved it, and would absolutely go back if I had the chance.

(If you read TripAdvisor reviews, you will see almost 100% agreement with that sentiment. “Wow” “Amazing” “Hidden Gem” – etc. )

ANYWAY.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that the news came that the empire is expanding – Puy du Fou Espana will begin a soft open late this summer, to be completed in 2021.

I’m absolutely intrigued by this, considering how the French Puy du Fou is expressive of, if not anti-Revolutionary ideals, a more traditional nationalistic view of France that includes, you know, faith. I am wondering what the thinking behind this is – I did see mentioned that one of the historical areas in the park will be a “Muslim camp” and there’s a couple of Arab-looking/dressed fellows in the imagery. Fascinating.

This is the video advertising the “Grand Spectacle” -“El Sueño de Toledo”  – “The Dream of Toledo.”

—3–

Speaking of travel, one of the things I noticed in Japan last summer was the mannered, constant patter from the convenience store clerks. It was weird and awkward – was I supposed to respond in some way or just let it flow over me as I bought my Coca-Cola Light? I thought at the time that it struck me as mannered simply because I don’t speak Japanese. No – it is mannered and practiced and rote – although there are moves afoot to de-emphasize its importance in customer service, mostly because of the greater numbers of non-native Japanese speakers working in that sector. 

Within the framework of Japanese speech exists the somewhat controversial practice of employing formulaic honorific speech by those in the service industry. Manual keigo—so named for the training manuals of phrases that clerks and employees are expected to memorize and use in interactions with the public—creates artificial, repetitious, or otherwise grammatically questionable honorific expressions as companies strive to outdo themselves in terms of reverentially addressing their customers.

Customers can expect to hear generous use of the honorific prefixes “o-” and “go-”, which are appended to words as a sign of respect. “Tsugi no o-kyaku-sama,” or “the next honorable customer,” for instance, becomes “O-tsugi no o-kyaku-sama”—“the honorable next honorable customer.” Similarly redundant compound greetings—irasshaimase konnichiwa, or “Welcome hello”—are also common.

 

–4–

Good stuff from Tom Hoopes on how his family is dealing with tech issues. 

–5 —

Some years ago, I edited an edition of Myles Connelly’s novel Mr. Blue for Loyola Classics. That edition is out of print, but Cluny Media picked it up – and you should to. It’s a powerful parable, much better than the execrable Joshua (which seems to have diminished in popularity, thank goodness) and in a way, an interesting response – not retort, but response – to The Great Gatsby. 

If I were teaching high school religion or literature in a Catholic high school – it just might be my summer reading pick.

Well, here’s an interesting review article about new editions of two other Connelly novels, these new editions edited (as was their Mr. Blue)  by Steve Mirarchi of Benedictine College – who happens to married to one of my former students!

Dan England and the Noonday Devil is somewhat darker. Similar to Blue, Dan England employs a narrator who, conventional in the ways of the world, is initially skeptical of the eccentric ways of the protagonist and yet comes to admire him. Having tried a newspaper career, and having been in his own telling converted in an improbable manner from a conformist lifestyle, Dan England now ekes out a living as a hack writer of detective stories. His real talent and great joy, however, is gathering his motley group of friends and acquaintances nightly at his ample dinner table where he holds court. His home “was a veritable hotel” for his friends, and those friends “were parasites of the most genuine and enduring sort,” including artists, ex-fighters, derelicts, “refugees from Communism and White Supremacy,”—“all having in common a love of Dan’s hospitality and generosity and a few having a love of Dan himself.”

A romantic, an eclectic reader, a storyteller, and an ardent Catholic, Dan indulges in wide-ranging talk that includes paeans to the beauty of the Church and the heroics of the saints and the martyrs. He maintains the “belief that Scripture and the saints should be a natural part of the common small talk and banter of each and every day.” The narrator, a newspaper man, is drawn into Dan’s circle after witnessing Dan’s humanizing effect on a colleague. Betrayed by one of his hangers-on, Dan exhibits a Christ-like forgiveness despite the personal cost: “What mattered to him was not serenity or success but what he so often called ‘the plain but nonetheless terrible necessity’ of saving his soul,” the narrator muses.

True to his cinematic training, Connolly’s novels often consist of a series of brief set pieces or vignettes. His characteristic theme is that of the man who eschews a conventional, conformist way of life in pursuit of human freedom. One is reminded of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” which similarly tells a parable-like tale of the ultimate “drop-out” from mercenary society and that also employs an initially skeptical narrator. The great difference is, of course, that Connolly’s fools are holy fools. While O’Connor’s original Catholic readers would no doubt enthuse over these novels as decidedly positive expositions of the Catholic faith, Connolly acknowledges the suffering and sacrifice that comes with such belief.

–6–

You probably know about Doctors Without Borders. Well, how about The Mission Doctors Association? This month marks an important anniversary for them:

2019 marks a special anniversary for Mission Doctors Association; our 60th Anniversary.  We have many things planned to celebrate this year as we also look to the future.  Yet, we also know that without the vision of our founder, Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, none of the lifesaving work of the past 60 years would have been possible.

January 14th marks the anniversary of our founder’s passing at only 51 years old, in 1964. This story is a familiar one for anyone who is close to MDA, or who has ever heard me speak!  As the Director of the Propagation of the Faith in Los Angeles, Msgr. Brouwers traveled to Legos Nigeria to attend the Marian Congress. Once it was over he traveled all over Africa – he said later that he wanted to find ways to help the people of Los Angeles know more about the needs so they could be help.  While he expected to hear requests for money, overwhelming he heard “We need help” He met with priests doing construction, sisters (with no training) pulling teeth and bishops who were so involved in the administration and secular tasks that they had little time to be shepherds.

So, Msgr. returned with a very focused vision.  He wanted to make it possible for Catholic professionals, (not the priests, sisters or brothers, just lay people – single, married, families) to find a way to share their gifts as they lived their faith.   In the 10 years that followed, Msgr. founded the Lay Mission-Helpers Association to send teachers, nurses, accountants and others, and then working with the Catholic Physicians Guild, Mission Doctors Association to send physicians and dentists and their families.

 

–7–

 As I noted the other day, I’ve put up Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the amy-welbornEucharist on Kindle. 

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

And don’t forget my story!

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

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