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— 1 —

This is a very link-ish quick takes. I’m writing other things, thinking about other things, so I’m just going to toss out links to recent reads and listens.

But first, let me bring a bit of sunshine to your day, via a wallpaper mural in the basement of a home in which an estate sale was held last week:

 

 

What would you say? Late 70’s?

— 2 —

Planned Parenthood’s Brutal Century – a good synopsis of the deeply embedded anti-human eugenics presumptions of not only Planned Parenthood but so much of “enlightened” American intellectual culture of the late 19th through mid-20th century.

 

 

— 3 —

You have perhaps heard the story of little Charlie Gard, born with a rare and fatal genetic disease. 

Charlie Gard suffers from a very rare genetic condition, and is now living in Great Ormond Street Hospital with the help of a ventilator. When doctors there determined that they could not save his life, the hospital made a decision to remove the ventilator. His parents objected, and raised enough funds to transport the child to the US for experimental treatment. But their right to find treatment for their child was rejected in a series of court decisions. This week the European Court of Human Rights, the parents’ last hope for relief, ruled that the experimental treatment offered “no prospects of success” and the baby was “being exposed to continued pain, suffering, and distress.”

The court affirmed the hospital’s right to remove life support. “Our parental rights have been stripped away,” protested Chris Gard, the child’s father. The parents reported that Great Ormond Street Hospital had refused their request to have Charlie brought home for his last night, or to allow him to die peacefully in a hospice.

The English bishops and the Pontifical Academy for Life have issued statements on the case. Neither statements addresses the issue of state power over medical decisions. 

The injustice is that Charlie will die when the hospital administration wants, and where the hospital administration wants. His parents have been deprived of their right to supervise his case. They could not take him the US for experimental treatment. They could not take him home, to die in peace. As one of our readers observed, Charlie was essentially kidnapped, so that the authorities would be sure that he died on schedule.

Two tepid statements, from the local bishops’ conference and from the Vatican, might have been appropriate if the discussion had centered on the decision to turn off the ventilator. But they missed the essential point of the controversy entirely. The state—the hospital, the courts—had seized the power to preside over a child’s death, regardless of the parents’ wishes. Sadly, the Catholic hierarchy did not protest.

Catholic Hierarchs yesterday: An individual’s and family’s right to make decisions regarding freedom, justice and a living supersedes a State’s civil arrangements and legal borders.

Catholic Hierarchs today: A State’s civil arrangements supersedes a family’s authority to make decisions regarding the life of its members. 

I mean, I thought bridges were better than walls, and we’re not supposed to erect walls to keep people from exercising their freedom.

Pick one, guys. Pick one.

Another commentary:

John Paul II was well aware of the ways in which governments can steal the legitimate authority of parents and families: in “Familiaris Consortio” he affirmed that “the church openly and strongly defends the rights of the family against the intolerable usurpations of society and the state.” One would imagine that one such “intolerable usurpation” would be a government denying two parents the right to try to save their baby boy’s life. And one would imagine that an institution entitled “the Pontifical Academy for Life” would recognize that.

 

 

— 4 —

On a more cheerful note, our local new source, the Birmingham News, has given good coverage this week to Catholic matters: the ordination of two priests last Saturday, and the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form last night in honor of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Here’s the story of one of the new priests.

And the other.

And the Mass. 

You can view the list of music from the Mass here (it’s a pdf – scroll down for 6/29) at the part of the parish website where orders of worship eventually get posted. 

 

— 5 —

I found this interesting – Does God want you to spend $300,000 for College? …in which a NYTimes reporter asks Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins about the moral implications of high tuition. In my opinion, he’s not tough enough on Jenkins. The question has implications, not just for Catholic higher education, but Catholic education at all levels.

 

— 6 —

Related, by the same author in the same article series on faith and money: The Monk Who Left the Monastery to Fix Retirement Plans. 

So has Mr. Lynam concluded that his former colleagues need him more than his former students? Not exactly. “I’m not irreplaceable in the classroom,” he said. “But I did not see another company serving teachers in the way that I can serve them. It’s not that one form of service is higher or lower.”

It is a very different role, though — one he describes as being a “suffering prevention specialist.” His professional conversations now feel a lot like confession, he said, with people sharing stories of unpaid debts, betrayals and sure things that were far from it. He listens, and then he must hold the mirror up to those who may not want to see the truth.

“Perhaps one of the cardinal sins that I see the most, though it’s not a popular one to talk about, is sloth,” he said. “Some people are afraid but also a little lazy, and they don’t really want to do the hard work of facing their mistakes or lack of organization and knowledge on these subjects and take responsibility.”

— 7 —

This week’s In Our Time listen – in between all the rain – was on Pushkin’s poem, Eugene Onegin.  

Well, that’s it. That’s all I have left, folks!

IMG_20170625_134749

 

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

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— 1 —

Well, hello there. It’s been a busy week – the revisions for the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories came in and needed to be gone through before our trip. It was an interesting experience, as it always is, and is not yet over, so we’ll see!

It was illuminating because at some distance from the actual writing, I can re-see what I was originally trying to accomplish, discover that I actually did it, and it’s not too bad, after all.

 

— 2 —

Other than that, it’s been driving around Birmingham, as per usual, and trip prep. No, not trip prep in the sense of “packing suitcases” – I don’t do that until right before we leave! Ridiculous! No, it’s “trip prep” in the sense of….pouring over discussion boards, renting a camera, and watching Simon Schama videos. But after I get this post done, I’m going to do a trip prep post, so look for that in a few minutes.

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Of course, a trip to London that takes place just a few days after a terrible, tragic terrorist attack will give one pause. But not for too long. Here is my philosophy: I am not going to put us in danger, but what can one do but always be ready? Look, a few months ago, there was an armed robbery in the parking lot of the Whole Foods in the wealthiest part of Birmingham.  Some of you might have caught the news about the young woman who was kidnapped/carjacked and forced into the trunk of her own car, and escaped? It made the national news (and by the way, they arrested a suspect in the case Wednesday night) 

Do you know where that incident happened?

Three blocks from my house.  Last night, my son and I walked to an open house at a maker space, and our path took us right there.

It’s a horrible thing, and heartbreaking. So, no foolish risks, but honestly  – should we just sit in our houses behind locked doors?

— 4 —

Daniel Mitsui is back!

Well, of course, he never went away, continuing to produce fine art – one of the most interesting and important Catholic artists working today.

But he has revived his blog – the link is here – and it’s worth following. Mitsui has a very interesting long-term project he is about to begin, and you can read about it here. 

An example of the kind of material he posts: “Sacred Art and Cryptozoology

The bias against belief in stories of legendary creatures legends is so strong, that they probably would be dismissed even if evidence of their plausibility were made plain. My older son was for a time deeply interested in the deep ocean. In at least two of his books, I read some commentary that basically said: The giant oarfish may have inspired legends about sea serpents. Now look at a picture of an oarfish:  [go to the blog to see]

This creature grows to lengths of at least 36 feet (in the deep ocean, perhaps longer). Its head is covered with red spikes. It takes a practiced sort of scientistic myopia to look at it and say: This may have inspired legends about sea serpents instead of: Hey, look – a sea serpent. I mean, look at it; it’s a sea serpent. I expect that if small mammal resembling a white bearded horse were to prance up to a group of biologists and poke them with the long spiraling horn protruding from its forehead, the biologists would say: This heretofore uknown creature may possibly have inspired legends about unicorns.

 

In honor of tomorrow’s feast. More about this piece here.

 

— 5 —.

Deacon Greg Kandra served his first Mass celebrated ad orientem. He writes about it here. 

And, I have to say: any controversy about this form of worship strikes me as wildly overstated. Most of the Mass proceeds exactly as it is normally done today; the total amount of time the clergy spends with backs toward the congregation is less than 20 minutes—maybe a third of the Mass. (It actually reminded me a bit of the Divine Liturgy I experienced when I was in San Diego a few months back; there was a similar sense of mystery and intimacy and transcendence at the altar.)

I know this form of worship isn’t ideal in every setting—some modern churches just aren’t designed for it—but I found it uplifting and surprisingly moving.

I hope I get the opportunity to serve this way again—and to pray this way in the pews, as well.

I’ve written about this quite a bit in the past. I’d love to see Mass celebrated like this all the time,everywhere. It would go a long way to minimizing cults of personality and clericalism. It clarifies the role of the priest in a bracing way. No, being in the person of Christ  is not  defined by how winningly Father makes eye contact with you when he prays. 

 

— 6 –

Tomorrow – is a feast! 

The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.

— 7 —

Starting to think about Easter gifts? First Communion? Confirmation Mother’s Day?

Check out my bookstore. It will be closed from 3/25-4/2, so you might want to get on those Easter orders….If you order today, I can ship this evening, no problem.

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

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  • I did post a bit on Saturday, in case you don’t do Internet on the weekends, which a lot of people don’t. And good for you! Both were on fasting and the anxiety Catholics feel about our purportedly lame Latin Rite fasting regime. 
  • It was a weekend of camping, piano and basketball. Older kid went camping, younger one had two piano performances, plus a basketball game. Lost the game, ending the season, but I don’t think anyone’s crushed. Time to move on.
  • Piano. First performance was part of his obligation as a scholarship awardee from his music academy – they must do some extra performances during the course of the year, mostly in retirement facilities: two at Christmas, two in the spring.

 

(In which I finally learn how to embed Instagram here..because it’s code, I had assumed that you did it in the HTML editor, but no…you do it in the visual editor and it magically works…)

For more on Nathaniel Dett, go here. 

When I was trying to post the whole performance on Facebook, it wouldn’t let me, saying I was trying to post music or a performance under copyright to someone else. So I took “Beethoven” out of the description, and no problem.

  • We went to Mass at a parish I’ve only been to once before. It’s in a part of town far from my regular routes (but close to where one of the performances was, and the timing worked out perfectly). I was struck once again by now-familiar course of liturgical life:

 

  • When we strip down ritual to mostly words, we still carry the intuition that these words must mean a great deal, but since the ritual has been denuded of its dramatic elements and only has the most minimal level of symbolic material and gesture, the burden of conveying that meaning is all in the words now, and how the words are uttered. So the celebrant, in his person and in his manner, must convey all that was previously conveyed in what surrounded him. And what we are left with is a celebrant who might try to do this in  the most urgently deeply meaningful manner that, indeed, might move some in the congregation, but might tempt others to laugh, and give one more reminder to humbly stifle that inner liturgy critic, please. It’s Lent, after all. 

 

 

  • Martineau’s writing style is straightfoward and honest. Very accessible, even almost two centuries later. I will definitely be writing about this book when I’m finished, but some observations for now:
  • It was a six week-voyage across the sea. I am preparing for a trip to London in a few weeks.It will take us 9 hours or so to get across. That still astonishes and humbles me. People of Martineau’s era had much more challenging material and physical lives, but seemed to accomplish so much more. What’s my problem?
  • Martineau cannot get enough of the sea. She speaks of every night before retiring to her cabin, of having to go say goodnight to the sea. I think the following passage is a good example of her writing, and her ability to capture scenes, both natural and human.

Our afternoons were delightful; for the greater number of the forty-two days that we were at sea, the sun set visibly, with more or less lustre, and all eyes were watching his decline. There was an unusual quietness on board just about sunset. All the cabin passengers were collected on one side, except any two or three who, might be in the rigging. The steerage passengers were to be seen looking out at the same sight, and probably engaged as we were in pointing out some particular bar of reddened cloud, or snowy mountain of vapours, or the crimsom or golden light spattered on the swelling sides of the billows as they heaved sunward.Then came the last moment of expectation, even to the rising on tiptoe, as if that would enable us to see a spark more of the sun; and then the revival of talk, and the bustle of pairing off to walk. This was the hour for walking the deck; and, till near teatime, almost the whole company might be seen parading like a school. I never grew very fond of walking on a heaving floor, on which you have to turn at the end of every thirty paces or so; but it is a duty to walk on board ship, and it is best to do it at this hour, and in full and cheerful company.

After tea the cabin was busy with whist and chess parties, readers, and laughers and talkers. On damp and moonless evenings I joined a whist party; but my delight was the deck at this time, when I had it all to myself, or when I could at least sit alone in the stern. I know no greater luxury than sitting alone in the stern on fine nights, when there is no one within hearing but the helmsman, and sights of beauty meet the eye wherever it turns. Behind, the light from the binnacle alone gleams upon the deck; dim, shifting lights and shadows mark out the full sails against the sky, and stars look down between. The young moon drops silently into the sea afar. In our wake is a long train of pale fire, perpetually renewed as we hiss through the dark waves.

Once she landed in America, she spends the first part of her travels in New York – city and state. Her observations are fascinating. Just a couple of random citations to give you taste.

She rides a canal boat and is extremely irritated at the gaggle of Presbyterian ministers who take over the boat:

We suffered under an additional annoyance in the presence of sixteen Presbyterian clergymen, some of the most unprepossessing of their class. If there be duty more obvious than another on board a canal boat, it is to walk on the bank occasionally in fair weather, or, at least, to remain outside, in order to air the cabin (close enough at best) and get rid of the scents of the table before the unhappy passengers are shut up to sleep there. These sixteen gentlemen, on their way to a Convention at Utica, could not wait till they got there to begin their devotional observances, but obtruded them upon the passengers in a most unjustifiable manner. They were not satisfied with saying an almost interminable grace before and after each meal, but shut up the cabin for prayers before dinner; for missionary conversation in the afternoon, and for scripture reading and prayers quite late into the night, keeping tired travellers from their rest, and every one from his fair allowance of fresh air.

This is very funny. I’ve never thought of rocking chairs as a Newfangled Contrivance, but I guess they were:

In these small inns the disagreeable practice of rocking in the chair is seen in its excess. In the inn parlour are three or four rocking-chairs, in which sit ladies who are vibrating in different directions, and at various velocities, so as to try the head of a stranger almost as severely as the tobacco-chewer his stomach. How this lazy and ungraceful indulgence ever became general, I cannot imagine; but the nation seems so wedded to it, that I see little chance of its being forsaken. When American ladies come to live in Europe, they sometimes send home for a rocking-chair. A common wedding-present is a rocking-chair. A beloved pastor has every room in his house furnished with a rocking- chair by his grateful and devoted people. It is well that the gentlemen can be satisfied to sit still, or the world might be treated with the spectacle of the sublime American Senate in a new position; its fifty-two senators see-sawing in full deliberation, like the wise birds of a rookery in a breeze. If such a thing should ever happen, it will be time for them to leave off laughing at the Shaker worship.

I hasten to add that Martineau, in general, is a very generous-hearted and open-minded traveler. She has her critiques (and more in Society in America, which I will be picking up next), but they are rare. It’s just that they are amusing, which is they way life usually goes, isn’t it?

Just a few other random observations: She is generally appalled by the behavior of fellow Englishmen as she encounters them in the United States. She feels sorry for Canada, which suffers greatly, in her estimation, in comparison to the United States, and she blames her own country for this. She spends a lot of time at Niagara Falls, even venturing behind the falls – which you can do today, of course (I’ve done it), but I had not idea that kind of tourism at Niagara was established so early. And at one point in her journey – traveling across New York state – she connects with others from her sea voyage, and she is the only woman among a group of men and – those who would caricature the past – this is no big deal. 

As we surmounted the hill leading to our hotel, we saw our two shipmates dancing down the steps to welcome us. There certainly is a feeling among shipmates which does not grow out of any other relation. They are thrown first into such absolute dependance on one another, for better for worse, and are afterward so suddenly and widely separated, that if they do chance to meet again, they renew their intimacy with a fervour which does not belong to a friendship otherwise originated. The glee of our whole party this evening is almost ridiculous to look back upon. Everything served to make a laugh, and we were almost intoxicated with the prospect of what we were going to see and do together. We had separated only a fortnight ago, but we had as much to talk over as if we had been travelling apart for six months.

The Prussian had to tell his adventures, we our impressions, and the Southerner his comparisons of his own country with Europe. Then we had to arrange the division of labour by which the gentlemen were to lighten the cares or travelling. Dr. J., the Prussian, was on all occasions to select apartments for us;. Mr. S., the Dutchman, to undertake the eating department; Mr. H., the American, was paymaster; and Mr. O., the German, took charge of the luggage. It was proposed that badges should be worn to designate their offices. Mr. S. was to be adorned with a corncob. Mr. H. stuck a bankbill in front of his hat; and, next morning, when Mr. O. was looking another way, the young men locked a small padlock upon his button-hole, which he was compelled to carry there for a day or two, till his comrades vouchsafed to release him from his badge.

Here she describes the view from the (now gone) Catskill Mountain House. I’m breaking it up into paragraphs not in the original for ease of reading. Martineau was a devout, deeply spiritual (obviously) Unitarian.

The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very, early, and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings too small to be otherwise distinguished; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky-mountains, and left the cool Sabbath tobrood brightly over the land.  

What human interest sanctifies a bird’s-eye view! I suppose this is its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a champaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gay carpet. To the rustic it is less bewitching than a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not? As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires, and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life; an epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries.

On the left horizon are the Green Mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there, where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts sending up their Sabbath psalms; praise which he is too high to hear, while God is not.

The fields and waters seem to him to-day no more truly property than the skies which shine down upon them; and to think how some below are busying their thoughts this Sabbath-day about how they shall hedge in another field, or multiply their flocks on yonder meadows, gives him a taste of the same pity which Jesus felt in his solitude when his followers were contending about which should be greatest. It seems strange to him now that man should call anything his but the power which is in him, and which can create somewhat more vast and beautiful than all that this horizon encloses. Here he gains the conviction, to be never again shaken, that all that its real is ideal; that the joys and sorrows of men do not spring up out of the ground, or fly abroad on the wings of the wind, or come showered down from the sky; that good cannot be hedged in, nor evil barred out; even that light does not reach the spirit through the eye alone, nor wisdom through the medium of sound or silence only.  He becomes of one mind with the spiritual Berkeley, that the face of nature itself, the very picture of woods, and streams, and meadows, is a hieroglyphic writing in the spirit itself, of which the retina is no interpreter. The proof is just below him (at least it came under my eye), in the lady (not American) who, after glancing over the landscape, brings her chair into the piazza, and, turning her back to the champaign, and her face to the wooden walls of the hotel, begins the study, this Sunday morning, of her lapful of newspapers. What a sermon is thus preached to him at this moment from a very hackneyed text! To him that hath much; that hath the eye, and ear, and wealth of the spirit, shall more be given even a replenishing of this spiritual life from that which to others is formless and dumb; while from him that hath little, who trusts in that which lies about him rather than in that which lives within him, shall be taken away, by natural decline, the power of perceiving and enjoying what is within his own domain. To him who is already enriched with large divine and human revelations this scene is, for all its stillness, musical with divine and human speech; while one who has been deafened by the din of worldly affairs can hear nothing in this mountain solitude.

Substitute: phone for lapful of newspapers and once again…plus ca change. 

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At some point in the flood of Hourly Outrage that is apparently the course of our lives now, it was found necessary for a few hours last week to strongly defend the press.

Ernie Pyle!

Well, yes, thank you Ernie Pyle.

But as most intelligent people know, there is no institution on earth that is 100% noble or immune from human weakness and flaws of all kind. We all do our best, yes, and yes, great good is accomplished by almost every human institution, but at the same time, every human institution operates with the limitations of human weakness and sin.

Of course, we are also in an era in which extreme language is the norm. So that when Trump attacks, which he does using exaggerated and simplistic language, those attacked will inevitably respond in kind.

But guys, about the press…

Think of it this way: consider any area of life in which you modestly consider yourself an expert: medicine, the law, small business, religion, the issues that impact your community, the environment, your favorite justice cause, whether that be pro-life issues or health care or prison reform, or even just What Life is Like in Your Community…

….does the press ever get it right?

Here and there, yes. But as a whole, I don’t know of a person who’s an expert in any field or area of life who feels as if the press “gets” the truth about their area of expertise, and some people even write blogs about it.  (And some people even write chapters in books about it.)

The problem really is just hubris and, in this country, the silly ruse of objectivity. We are so much better off, I do believe, when ideological cards are on the table, and we can sift through reportage and narratives with that in mind.

This is not earth-shaking to anyone, and is offered by way of introduction to a critique of the press that’s over a century old.

I’m reading a bunch of Trollope, and last night finished The Warden. I have several passages I’ll be highlighting in a future post, but given the heated discussions and defenses, I thought it might be worth a reminder that DJT didn’t invent harsh and cutting press criticism. Trollope devotes an entire chapter to dissecting and drilling The Jupiter, a fictional newspaper,and its editor, one Tom Towers.  His focus is on pride and hubris. It’s chapter 14 and you can read it all here:

It is true he wore no ermine, bore no outward marks of a world’s respect; but with what a load of inward importance was he charged! It is true his name appeared in no large capitals; on no wall was chalked up ‘Tom Towers for ever’–‘Freedom of the Press and Tom Towers’; but what member of Parliament had half his power? It is true that in far-off provinces men did not talk daily of Tom Towers but they read The Jupiter, and acknowledged that without The Jupiter life was not worth having. This kind of hidden but still conscious glory suited the nature of the man. He loved to sit silent in a corner of his club and listen to the loud chattering of politicians, and to think how they all were in his power–how he could smite the loudest of them, were it worth his while to raise his pen for such a purpose. He loved to watch the great men of whom he daily wrote, and flatter himself that he was greater than any of them. Each of them was responsible to his country, each of them must answer if inquired into, each of them must endure abuse with good humour, and insolence without anger. But to whom was he, Tom Towers, responsible? No one could insult him; no one could inquire into him. He could speak out withering words, and no one could answer him: ministers courted him, though perhaps they knew not his name; bishops feared him; judges doubted their own verdicts unless he confirmed them; and generals, in their councils of war, did not consider more deeply what the enemy would do, than what The Jupiter would say. Tom Towers never boasted of The Jupiter; he scarcely ever named the paper even to the most intimate of his friends; he did not even wish to be spoken of as connected with it; but he did not the less value his privileges, or think the less of his own importance. It is probable that Tom Towers considered himself the most powerful man in Europe; and so he walked on from day to day, studiously striving to look a man, but knowing within his breast that he was a god.

 

 

 

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— 1 —

Well, that’s done. Another book in the bag, manuscript sent in on deadline.

What’s next? With this book, the editors are looking at it and within the next couple of months will return the manuscript to me with suggested edits. Then I’ll return it to them, the publisher will produce galleys for me to take one more pass at, and then it will go to press. The goal was a pub date in the fall. It is an illustrated book, and I have no idea how that’s coming along. Once I get a cover and definite pub date, I will let you all know.

I have taken it easy the past couple days except for a flurry of cooking last night, which I recorded on Instagram Stories.  I haven’t cooked much since Christmas, but am back in the groove. Made minestrone, bread and my roasted tomatoes last night.

Work-wise, I have a little pamphlet due in a couple of weeks, and then an essay due on March 1.

— 2 —

amy-welborn66Lent is coming! Here’s a post from yesterday with links to all my Lent-related material.

I noted a spike this morning for clicks on this post – and I’m glad to see it, although I would have expected the spike next week and not this.

It’s a 2015 post on one of the most inexplicable post-Vatican II liturgical changes (and..there’s a lot of competition on that score) – the total obliteration of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays – the three Sundays preceding the First Sunday of Lent. So for those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form and some Anglicans, I understand, February 12 is Septuagesima Sunday. From a Dappled Things article I cite in the post:

In the chapter titled “The History of Septuagesima,” Dom Guéranger added, “The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”

— 3—

Despite the work load, I did do some reading over the past month. I can’t focus on work in the evening anymore, so I might as well read.

— 4 —

First up was Christmas Holiday by Maugham. I read it via one of the Gutenburg sites, violating my determination to Set A Good Example by sitting in the living room in the evening, Bartok softly playing, Reading Real Books  Oh, well.

Anyway, this was a very, very interesting book. A little too long, I think, and a bit clunky in tone and format, but cutting. It is a bit of a satire on between-the-wars Britons of a certain class, but more discursive and not as sharp as, say, Waugh. It reminded me a bit of Percy’s Lancelot, simply because a big chunk of it involves someone telling their life story to someone else, and also that the last sentence of the book defines the book and perhaps even redefines your experience of reading it.

It’s not a book I finish and say, “I wish I’d written this book,” but it is a book I finished and thought, “Hmmm…I wish I could write something with that effect.”

.

— 5 —.

Then was Submission by Houellebecq.  A friend had been after me for a while to read it – it was sitting on a display at the library, so there was my sign.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it made quite a stir when it was published in France in 2015 (the day, by the way, of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine) , it’s about, essentially, how Islam could take over France. The central character is a scholar, drifting, unconnected to family, non-religious, mostly unprincipled, still sexually active, but mostly in contexts where he has to pay for it. He is a scholar of the writer J.K. Huysmans, who is very important to Houellebecq – here’s a good article outlining the relationship. 

François’s fictional life trajectory mirrors Huysmans’s actual life: dismal living conditions, a tedious job situation, a serviceable imagination, a modicum of success, a proclivity for prostitutes, and, finally, a resigned acceptance of faith. And just as Huysmans put himself into des Esseintes, François is a self-caricature by Houellebecq—with a twist, or, rather, two: François is Houellebecq’s version of himself if he lived Huysmans’s life, in the year 2022.

Houellebecq and Huysmans have much in common, beginning with their ability to infuriate readers. “There’s a general furore!” Huysmans wrote when “À Rebours” was released. “I’ve trodden on everyone’s corns.” Houellebecq, for his part, has enraged, among others, feminists, Muslims, and the Prime Minister of France. There is more to these two writers than mere provocations, however. Huysmans wrote during the rise of laïcité (French secularism), in the Third Republic, when religion was excised from public life. Houellebecq says he is chronicling religion’s return to European politics today. They each have a twisted outlook on the sacred.

I found Submission an interesting and accurate read on social psychology and the current landscape. Yes, this is what so many of us are like now, this is the vacuum that’s been created, and yes, this is how, in some parts of Europe at least, Islam could fill that vacuum, and how post-post-Christians could give into it.

— 6 —

Now, I’m back to the Kindle (in my defense, I looked for this book yesterday at the library, but they didn’t have a copy) reading some Trollope: Miss McKenzieI’m liking it very much. It’s the usually thinking 19th century treatment of the bind that women found themselves in in relationship to property and independence during the period. This time, we have a woman in her mid-30’s who has spent her adult life so far caring, first for an invalid father, then an invalid brother. After their deaths, she’s inherited a comfortable income. So what should she do? And who will now be interested in this previously invisible woman?

It’s got some great social satire and spot-on skewering of the dynamic in religious groups, especially between charismatic leaders and their followers. I’ll write more when I’m finished with it.

— 7 —

As someone once famously said, and is oft repeated by me, “What a stupid time to be alive.”  It’s pretty crazy, and social media doesn’t do anything but make it stupider. If you follow news, you know the daily pattern:  8AM-2PM FREAKOUT OVER THE LATEST   followed by 2PM-Midnight – (much quieter) walkback/fact-checking/ – but with the walkbacks getting a fraction of the retweets and reposts than the Freakouts get.

There is not enough time in the day. Really, there isn’t. Add HumblePope to the mix, and Good Lord, what’s a wannabe political and religious commenter to do but make soup and read Trollope?

Well, here’s one contribution to non-stupidity – I first read this as a FB post put up by Professor George, and now it’s been turned into a First Things article on the immigration EO. Helpful. Take a look.  

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

I usually try to get this 7 QT blog post done on Thursday night, but that didn’t happen. I couldn’t sleep at all Wednesday night, for some reason – too much Diet Coke too late in the day, a bunch of stuff happening over the next few days – all that combined to render the OFF button on my brain unusable. So for the first time in a very long time, I just got about an hour of sleep. Wow. I POWERED THROUGH, however, and actually didn’t feel bad at all during the day, but Thursday night..was useless.  All recalibrated now.

 

— 2 —

Yesterday morning, I received a shipment in the mail:

"pivotal players"

Yes, my new book – Praying with the Pivotal Players. It’s my contribution to Bishop Barron’s Pivotal Players series. If you go here, I have a short video on Instagram looking inside the book. It’s listed on Amazon, but is not available yet – I don’t know when it will be. If you have received a shipment of the entire program,entire program, it’s included in that, however.

— 3 —

 

Saints! Here are last year’s entries on today and tomorrow’s saints:

September 16 – St. Cyprian

September 17 – St. Robert Bellarmine

 — 4 —

Good listens this week while walking, both from the BBC In Our Time podcasts.

Sovereignty –  Which was excellent, but missing any serious consideration of how the loss of a sense of divine sovereignty over all impacted the development of the concept.

The Collapse of the Bronze Age – the beginning of which at least I am going to have my younger son listen to, as it deals quite efficiently with the tenuous nature of our understanding of the deep past and the almost arbitrary nature of periodization.

— 5 

Really great news for artist Ben Hatke – those of you with kids have perhaps (I hope) encountered his Zita the Space Girl series (You might have learned about him first years ago as the illustrator of Regina Doman’s lovely Angel in the Waters book.)  Well...Zita’s been optioned for the movies!!

6–

If you want to hear some of the kind of sacred music we have here at the Cathedral of St. Paul…here’s a tiny bit. 

— 7 —

For some reason, Dan Brown has released a “young adult” version of the Da Vinci Code.  I wrote about it earlier this week.  My De-Coding Da Vinci is now out of print, so I’ve put it online in a free pdf version. You can access it either at the previous link or more directly, here. It’s basically a short course in early Church history and formation of the Canon of the Bible…so have at it!

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Looks like Fall Project is definitely a go. I’ll start work in earnest next week, with a deadline of mid-November.

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

It’s September! That means if you are in parish, school  or diocesan ministry you are definitely thinking about Advent now. Well, think about this – the daily devotional I wrote for Liguori Press. It will be available in a month, and in Spanish, too. So check it out and spread the word. 

— 3 —

 

School’s going fine. Cuneiform tablets are being made by some, element symbols being memorized by others, and I think life is starting to flow a little more smoothly now. We do need this weekend, though.

snapchat-4399530719929583489.jpg

(Via snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

 — 4 —

Recent reads:

Tonight I dashed through Maugham’s novella Up at the Villa. It’s slight, melodramatic, with rather unbelievable stock characters doing foolish (and worse) things. Obviously not Maugham’s best, but not a waste of an hour of my life, Vols and Hoosiers winning in the background.

They made a movie of it back in 2000 starring Kristin Scott Thomas (I saw that and I thought..of course) and Sean Pean (What?).  From the trailer, it looks dreadful and A.O. Scott says as much in his review. The trailer also tells me that the film goes in a slightly different direction that Maugham’s story, but life is too short for me to bother to find out why or how.

— 5 

Earlier in the week, I read another Mauriac I checked out of the library – The Frontenacs which seems to be called The Frontenac Mystery in most English language editions.  The Frontenacs are a family, and while they are, as is usually the case in Mauriac, flawed and limited  by money and propriety concerns, the takeaway here is a bit less mournful than usual. Unfortunately, that means that the book itself feels lighter, the characters more sketchily drawn and the ultimate sentiment more…sentimental. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are determined to Read All the Mauriac.

Weekend reading will be The Razor’s Edge. 

(Go to a post earlier this week on The Good Companions, if you are interested.)

6–

If you want a long, jaw-dropping read, take a look at this LA Times series (running through Saturday) about the Stanford Law-graduate married couple who planted drugs in the PTA president’s car because they decided she’d dissed their son in aftercare.

 

— 7 —

 

I was poking around looking for some historical material on ad orientem and related matters and ran across this archive of the Catholic Northwest Progress newspaper (Archdiocese of Seattle). There are any number of reasons you might find it interesting, but I was looking for what people were told about the Mass changes and how they were reported. For that, look in the issues of late 1964-1965.

Interested in Mother Teresa material? Here’s my blog post on her – and what I wrote about her in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes – from earlier this week. 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Okay…Instagram Stories??

I had started using Snapchat before our Italy trip earlier this summer, and have continued since. Some people use it to document EVERY minute of their day, but, er..no. Why would you want to involve strangers in your life at that level? So, no.

My reasons for using it are related to the reasons I have for watching other people’s Snaps – to share a glimpse of interesting sights and sounds and experiences. So the Snapchat and Instagram accounts I follow are overwhelmingly in three categories: cooking, travel and Catholicing.

Further, if Snapchat went down today, the only account I would miss at all is David Lebovitz’s. Lebovitz is a Paris-based American cookbook author whose website is wonderful and who has made a fantastic use of Snapchat. I love following him around Paris as he shops the markets and then returns to his apartment to cook up his purchases. He’s absolutely mastered the Snapchat game.

From the Catholic perspective, two great accounts are Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, who puts most of his stories up on YouTube anyway, so you don’t even have to Snapchat to find him – his recent vlog and series of Snaps from Krakow made me definitely want to go there.

And then there’s the Catholic Traveler, Mountain Butorac, who makes great use of Snapchat – he’s currently doing a Novena tour of Rome, and he just does a wonderful job – succinct (as you have to be) but substantive, with a real eye for what will interest the viewer.

As for my own use, at this point, I mainly document interesting sights and sounds – if we travel, for example, or if the hummingbirds are active at the feeder. SUPER EXCITING.

But what I find useful about it is the video aspect. I have never done much with video and Snapchat is just a very easy way for me to do it – video Snaps strung together as a story can be downloaded and then uploaded to the blog very easily.

 

— 2 —

Oh, but now we have Instagram Stories, which is much the same thing as Snapchat, but with a couple of differences at this point – although I’m sure that will change. The one thing I don’t like about Instagram Stories is that you can’t download your whole “Story” at once, as you can with Snapchat – you can only do it one photo or video at at time.

But I am doing it. If you’re on Instagram, the stories are arranged at the top of your feed, and if you want to go directly to any one person’s, go to their profile, and if they have a story, there will be a little colored circle around their profile photo. I think it only appears on the phone app, not on the regular computer site.

(Here’s a tip – if you are using both, it is very possible to download, say, a Snapchat photo or video and then just post it to Instagram stories. And vice versa.)

That said, I don’t expend a lot of energy thinking or using social media, to tell the truth. It’s a tool for seeing and sharing, not, for me, for engaging. I try to save most of that for real life.

amy_welborn8

 FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM AND BE THRILLED BY PHOTOGRAPHS OF AWESOME RETRO PINK STOVES I SEE AT ESTATE SALES. 

— 3 —

Recent reads:

I finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and was so very glad I read it. I don’t know if you can really understand this period – or even American history – without having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s a polemic, to be sure, but a powerful one. Stowe does a masterful job of laying out the various, complex views of slavery via her character’s choices and opinions. Most important of all are the characters who are either torn or fancy themselves exonerated from culpability because they are not directly involved in slavery – Stowe does not spare them, of course, and even today, the dissection remains pertinent because moral issues are still hard-fought and we are still tempted to complacency and hand-washing if we fancy it not our problem or beyond our powers to have an impact.

I do wonder how much this novel is taught in the present day, not just because of the uncomfortable racial assumptions and portrayals that lent themselves, subsequent to publication, to terrible stereotypical representations, but because the book is such a deeply religious one.

For Stowe’s fundamental point, even more foundational than the immorality of slavery, is about Christian freedom. Tom may be enslaved in earthly terms, but he  is a free man because he belongs to Christ, even if the unjust laws of the United States do not recognize that freedom. Tom is a martyr, not for the cause of earthly freedom, but for the sake of the souls whom he dies to protect and who find real freedom – salvation – because of that death.

I can’t even imagine a modern public school classroom being able to deal with this intense religiosity.

 

 — 4 —

I read The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. Fascinating, subversively Catholic.  You can read my discussion of it here. Now I’m reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I have only read one Collins before – No Name, which I absolutely loved and was so surprised by – you can read that here – and am looking forward to getting into a book he’s actually known in the present day for.

 

— 5 

Some great feasts coming up next week! Dominic, Edith Stein, Lawrence….

6–

I am going to have a lot of education-related posts next week (see the next take to see why….), but I thought I’d share this with you today.

So you know how schools – Catholic and public both – are all on the technology train? That they want you to know that they are really up-to-date and Preparing Students for the 21st Century by having Ipads and Laptops for everyone and going textbook-free and having all the assignments done on Ipads or Chromebooks or whatever else they’ve been snookered into buying by modern snake oil salesmen?

Long-time readers know my skepticism on this score and how firmly I believe that the tactile experience of holding a book, turning pages on a book, locating information on a page in a book located in space and time and writing things down actually helps you learn better because more of your senses, more of your whole self is engaged in the process.

More and more studies are indicating that this is so, and here’s my interesting addition to the argument. My daughter just started law school and one of her professors has banned computers and other electronic devices from the classroom. You have to take notes by hand – which my daughter had been planning to do anyway.

And this is happening more and more on the college level.

So parents, don’t buy what the salesmen are telling you. If your kids’ schools are telling you that taking away their notebooks, pens and textbooks and replacing them with screens is preparing them for college….don’t accept it without question.

 

 

— 7 —

Oh, and yes. That news.

Well, I will talk a lot more about this next week, but…as of next week, the homeschooling journey has come to an end, at least for the moment. It’s nothing sudden – it’s been sort of the plan since mid-year last year – and it’s definitely nothing negative.

It’s just that the high schooler is content to stay the course in school (he’s in 10th grade) for another year, and M is going into 6th grade. I’ll go into more detail on the decision next week, but it wasn’t a terribly hard one. He’ll be going to the local school run by the Nashville Dominicans, their middle school is excellent (other son went there in 8th grade), they have a new building with a fantastic science lab, a Ph.D. who teaches in it (whom my daughter coincidentally had as a teacher in the public high school International Baccalaureate program here, and loved), and he just really wants a more consistent posse to hang with. He has neighborhood friends (who go to different schools) and the homeschool activities, but in terms of the latter, the populations that participated in the various activities wasn’t consistent – different groups doing different things – the boxing, the science, the zoo classes – and as I said, he just wants more than that & Mom during the day. Hard to believe, I know.

And…Nashville Dominicans.

I’ve told them both:  if either of you get dissatisfied and want to do homeschool again..it’s no problem at all. And I will say, even with three years to go to that point, I can’t see my rising 6th grader doing traditional high school at all. He has little interest in it and I think will definitely be doing homeschool for that, especially considering his entrance into high school will coincide with brother going to college, so we will be free to take off and really Roamschool at that point, which both of us would really like.

So next week, what I’m going to do is a whole series of posts – for the record, in one place – on why we started homeschooling in the first place, what it was like, what I learned from it, and my sense of a whole raft of education-related issues and the future. And much railing on the Catholic education establishment for being so….establishment. You definitely have that to look forward to.

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Over the past couple of days I re-read Francois Mauriac’s Woman of the Pharisees.

It was on the shelf downstairs in the basement, it had been a decade or more since I had read it, and I admit that I was looking for a smaller book I could keep in my purse to pull out in those moments in which I might otherwise Take Out the Phone.

(Studying the Phone is not a huge problem for me. I don’t have a deep urge to check feeds and such at all times. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, the sight of everyone in a waiting room or even a restaurant, eyes glued to a phone, fingers scrolling, has really started to get to me. I don’t want to be a part of that, partly because I don’t want to model that for my kids, but also because I want to be attentive to my surroundings, and, if the surroundings are boring, engaged with something other than a screen. Even if the screen has a book or an academic article in its glow. Short version: I don’t grow any wiser from spending that ten minutes scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. But I do grow wiser, even just a little bit, from spending ten minutes with Francois Mauriac.)

Okay. So Woman of the Pharisees is an intense exploration of religious hypocrisy. Brigitte Pian is the woman in question, the narrator’s stepmother. She is an externally devout woman who sees her duty in life to guide others to and on the correct spiritual path – in other words, to dominate and exert control through prideful spiritual manipulation.

What interested me about Mauriac’s treatment of this whole situation is its subtelty and  allowance for nuance. That is, there are no caricatures and no cartoon villains or heroes. Brigitte is monstrous and hurts many people – but she actually does engage in generous works of charity, daily. When she finally is humbled and turns from her arrogance, her "amy welborn"subsequent life moves in a rather pathetic, even slightly ridiculous direction. Those she has harmed have their own deep flaws and there is a sense that perhaps Brigitte Pian was not completely off-base in her assessments of their situations.

The question being, then,  in a world of screw-ups, of which we are one, how can  we balance the trick of letting God work through us and staying out of His way?

What Mauriac excels at is exploring the motivation for religious faith and action, as well as how human beings react to authentic spirituality when they encounter it: mostly, they are repelled and fight hard against it.

Just a couple of quotes, not necessarily related to what I’ve discussed above, but just passages I liked:

Here Brigitte reassures herself about her spiritual progress:

There had been a time when she was worried by the spiritual aridity that marked her relations with her God; but since then she had read somewhere that it is as a rule the beginners on whom the tangible marks of Grace are showered, since it is only in that way that they can be extricated from the slough of this world and set upon the right path. The kind of insensitiveness that afflicted her was, she gathered, a sign that she had long ago emerged from those lower regions of the spiritual life where fervor is usually suspect. In this way her frigid soul was led on to glory in its own lack of warmth.

A priest – Calou –  is a major character in the novel, having been given charge of a difficult boy, a classmate of the narrator’s. The boy tries to shock the priest by saying he doesn’t believe in any of those “old wives’ tales,” and asks the priest if he is surprised by his lack of faith. The priest responds:

Why should it?….The really surprising this is that a man should believe….The really surprising thing is that what we believe should be true. The really surprising thing is that the truth should really exist, that it should have taken on flesh, that I can keep it a prisoner here beneath these old vaults that don’t interest you, thanks to the strength in these great hands of mine which your uncle Adhemar admires so much. Yes, you little oddity, I can never get over feeling how absurd, how utterly mad, it is that what we believe should be precisely and literally true!”

The conversation continues as the boy reveals that despite his unbelief, back at school, he goes to Confession, as required, just making things up, and, again, as required, receives Communion.

But what did it matter whether one believed or not? It didn’t make the slightest difference.

He had expected an outburst, but it did not come.

You really think so?” asked Monsieur Calou.

Jean presented an insolent face to his gaze. But he felt shamed by its gentle sadness.

Every Saturday and every Sunday, for Heaven knows how long….two years at least, O Lord!”

Monsieur Calou looked at the handsome face, at the unsullied brow beneath the mop of dakr hair in which one lighter lock shone like a flame. He could say no more than: “Lie down a little before dinner my boy.” Then he hurried off towards the church without looking back. His gent shoulders made him seem less than his real height.

Finally, very briefly…the narrator sees Brigitte Pian years after the main events of the novel when she is old, frail and not the woman she once was:

When I alluded to past events, she talked of them quite openly. But I could feel that she had become detached from even the consciousness of her faults, and that she had decided to lay everything at the throne of the Great Compassion…..

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A bit of a post on mental trip prep, but first…drat. 

I had said I would be planning out loud, so here we go with the first instance of plans called into question by new information.

I have been all about Ferrara’s palio for the last weekend of May. Hooray for hundreds-year old tradition, color, medieval pageantry and horse and donkey races. Fun!

But then last night I realized….Corpus Domini is the last Sunday of May this year. In our language that’s Corpus Christi, and a major way it’s celebrated in many parts of Italy is "amy welborn"with an infiorata– a carpet of flowers arranged in intricate designs and pictures. There are a few large celebrations, beginning with Bolseno, the actual site of the Orvieto Eucharistic Miracle which  is, you know THE ORIGINS OF THE FEAST.

Oh, and the Corpus Domini celebration in Orvieto. Just a small thing.

(The corporal is preserved in the duomo in Orvieto, which is why it is the main pilgrimage site for the miracle)

What. To. Do.

The Ferrara accommodations are totally  refundable. Bolsena is an area I had been looking to visit right after Rome – Bolsena, Orvieto, Pitigliano, the Saturnia baths, various Etruscan things…but that would be the week after Corpus Domini. It would be quite possible to just stay an extra two days in Bologna, absorb some Ferrara vibes, see Ravenna, and then go down to this area for the feast….but is it such a big deal that it would be difficult to find accomodations, to get to the place..navigate? Looks pretty crowded. Probably. I don’t know. Darn it! I was liking this early Lent/ Easter thing until now.

What I will probably do – unless one of you has an inside track and some insight – is just hope that Ferrara won’t forget Corpus Domini among all the palio celebrations, and we’ll see some flower tapestries and a serious procession anyway – I have checked if any towns in Emilio-Romagna have well-known infiorata, but the only ones I can find are monasteries that are really not close to where we will be.

Anyway….

So…my prep work? Which is obviously inadequate and a sham?

Well, in terms of general travel research for the areas we’re visiting, an embarrasing number of hours spent on travel discussion boards – mostly TripAdvisor, Slow Travel and Fodor’s. General websites are okay, but I find discussion boards to be by far the most valuable, as you can follow the questions that real people are asking, get current information and search according to your own particular interest. Like last year when we were going to be spending a day in Vegas and I panicked over the “porn slappers” I had read stood on the streets handing out cards with explicit photos advertising escort services.

I mean, it’s really useful to be able to narrow the discussion down and see what Real People are Really Saying about Porn Slappers Today.

(Answer: Yes, they are there. Yes, it’s very sad because they looked to be mostly middle-aged Latino immigrants, male and female, illegal, I’d imagine. No, they didn’t hand any cards to us, the boys didn’t even notice them, and there were too damn many people on the sidewalk for them to even notice the cards under their feet. And I still hated Vegas.)

Books:

I’m of the view that guidebook companies should just abandon their sections on accommodations and restaurants – who even bothers with getting that information from even a year-old book anymore rather than online? But they’re still valuable, of course, in just showing you the sites. Right now, what I’m perusing are the Blue Guide: Northern Italy which I bought a few years ago for our Milan trip (it includes Emilia-Romagna) and DK guides. I checked out Secret Tuscany from the library – it was interesting, and I might check it out again before we leave and take some notes. I have the Oxford Archaelogical Guide to Rome which I’ve used in the past.

I’m more interested in educating myself on history and culture. I’m rereading Morton’s A Traveler in Italy, which is so wonderful. I’m reading A Traveler’s History of Italy. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading up on my Medicis and other Renaissance points, as well as art history – mostly to help me help the boys.

Tonight I read Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa which could have done as a long magazine article, but then it wouldn’t have been encased in a quirky package like this:

"amy welborn"

It’s a good, easy read that explains the historical and cultural context of the campanile, not as much on the technical side of the construction, dispenses with the Galileo myth and gives good detail on the attempts to stabilize the structure – the most recent being, it seems, successful, and which involved not propping the tower up as others had attempted, but rather removing soil from under the higher end. No bibliography, though, which is irritating.

(Interesting note about the 1902 collapse of the campanile next to St. Mark’s in Venice, a structure which looked from the outside to be much more sound. Photos of the collapse actually exist because the cracks in the tower were noted, then observed to grow until finally no one could deny what was about to happen, the square was cleared, and cameras brought for the moment. You can the before, during and after photos here.)

As for their prep:

They, of course, know the itinerary. I’ve showed them the accomodations we have so far, gone over maps. I’ve scattered books around and on slow evenings we’ll leaf through some of them. We watched Gladiator and will do some other movies. Spartacus, maybe? Just to get us in the spirit of things. The other night, we watched the Rick Steves’ shows on Italian hill towns and Florence. Yes, Rick Steves is mocked and even reviled in some quarters. I mock him. But his programs are a decent intro to the areas, even though his voice really gets on their nerves and frankly puzzles them. Hah.

So yes, I am tempted to be an anti-Rick Steves snob myself, but when that creeps up on me, I must always remember this story.

Flashback to that first trip, back in 2006. We’d landed in Rome, it was the afternoon, and we gave up trying to keep everyone awake until evening. It was just too much. They were all napping, but I had a phone call to make to an acquaintance, and this was pre-internationally-capable cell phones, at least for us. (I actually did some work on that trip – I spoke a couple of times, had an interview, and we had a wonderful long lunch with a bunch of interesting Rome-based Catholic journalists). I left them all in the apartment on the Borgo Vittorio, and went to find a pay phone. Well, first I bought a phone card, as you did then. And perhaps still do. Then I found the phone and for the LIFE OF ME could not figure out how to use the card/phone combo. I mean…I just couldn’t. Nothing happened. So I got back to the apartment and told Mike, no I hadn’t made the call because I couldn’t figure out the damn phone. He flipped open Rick Steves’ book and pointed (in triumph, because I had been dissing RS, while he’d been studying his books) to one of those little drawings he has – that shows exactly how to use the cards (you had to tear off the corner). And that’s what Rick Steves is great for – he and his crew understand what is going to trip you up and confuse you and  just tell you how to manage in a very practical way.

Oh, back to prep. I have a couple of Great Courses – I bought them two years ago on sale – they are very good. We’ve watched some in the past, but over the next couple of weeks we will pick them up again and watch the lectures on some of the iconic Roman buildings.

We’ll watch this National Geographic special on the Brunelleschi’s dome.

And that will probably be it.

That’s the basics of mental prep. I’ll talk more about concrete prep – luggage, clothing, finding accomodations, etc – in a future post.

Oh, and I have a few links I have saved for myself on Pinterest here.

For all #Italy2016 posts, go here.

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