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Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move.”

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I spent a few hours reading Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence.

There’s a “copy” on Gutenburg here which reproduces the illustrations from the original edition, and they are marvelous. I’d pay good money for those, I’ll tell you what.

Summary:

Sea and Sardinia is a travel book by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It describes a brief excursion undertaken in January 1921 by Lawrence and his wife Frieda, a. k. a. Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. His visit to Nuoro was a kind of homage to Grazia Deledda but involved no personal encounter. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distils an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today. Extracts were originally printed in The Dial during October and November 1921 and the book was first published in New York, USA in 1921 by Thomas Seltzer, with illustrations by Jan Juta.

“Brief” is right – I could go back and count, but it seems to me they spent about four days – most of them in transit, either by boat, train or bus.

If you want a wonderfully-written take on the book, go to this NYTimes piece by Richard Cohen, in which he describes his and his wife’s attempt to retrace the Lawrence’s steps.

After a few days, there being “little to see” in Cagliari, the Lawrences moved north to Mandas on the interior railway, the Trenino Verde, a toylike affair that “pelts up hill and down dale … like a panting, small dog.” Alas, that train no longer operates in the off-season, so we rented a car, a betrayal of Lawrentian values — namely hunger, bad light, and sharing space with people who annoy you.

As I said, most of the Lawrence’s time on this trip is spent traveling. And yes, annoyed. They spend all day on a train or a bus, arrive at nightfall to a new place that seems, from afar, to be enticing and picturesque, but which they (at least DHL) find to be dreary with only horrendous food on the offer. (I was entertained by the fact that Lawrence describes each dreadful meal in detail, but the one good meal he has, he doesn’t tell us about, except to say it was excellent. It seems to me there’s a personality trait embedded there.)

Get up the next morning, find the next train.

So in that sense, it’s an odd travel book.  But because it’s Lawrence, it’s also quite fine. No, he won’t be telling me about the history and specifics of various sites, but he will have keenly observed every person on the train or in the dim dining room, and he scorns seeing the sites anyway. He is riding about, experiencing things, watching people, absorbing the landscape, and in the context of the crowded bus or raucous Epiphany celebration, working out other ideas, mostly here, about England, masculinity and modernity.

A hundred years ago, Lawrence was ill at ease with the homogenization of modernity. What he would say about the contemporary homogeneity-masquerading-as-diversity of the present day, I couldn’t imagine. And yes, it’s romanticized, even as he comes up against the harshness of life in Sardinia and Sicily. But I’ll end this post with a few relevant quotes and follow it up with a post bouncing something Lawrence says up against (surprise) liturgy.

The khaki to which he refers is the military issue from World War I that, of course, still formed a foundation of the now-civilian wardrobe.

Sometimes, in the distance one sees a black-and-white peasant riding lonely across a more open place, a tiny vivid figure. I like so much the proud instinct which makes a living creature distinguish itself from its background. I hate the rabbity khaki protection-colouration. A black-and-white peasant on his pony, only a dot in the distance beyond the foliage, still flashes and dominates the landscape. Ha-ha! proud mankind! There you ride! But alas, most of the men are still khaki-muffled, rabbit-indistinguishable, ignominious. The Italians look curiously rabbity in the grey-green uniform: just as our sand-colored khaki men look doggy. They seem to scuffle rather abased, ignominious on the earth. Give us back the scarlet and gold, and devil take the hindmost.


They talk and are very lively. And they have mediaeval faces, rusé, never really abandoning their defences for a moment, as a badger or a pole-cat never abandons its defences. There is none of the brotherliness and civilised simplicity. Each man knows he must guard himself and his own: each man knows the devil is behind the next bush. They have never known the post-Renaissance Jesus. Which is rather an eye-opener.

Not that they are suspicious or uneasy. On the contrary, noisy, assertive, vigorous presences. But with none of that implicit belief that everybody will be and ought to be good to them, which is the mark of our era. They don’t expect people to be good to them: they don’t want it. They remind me of half-wild dogs that will love and obey, but which won’t be handled. They won’t have their heads touched. And they won’t be fondled. One can almost hear the half-savage growl.


For myself, I am glad. I am glad that the era of love and oneness is over: hateful homogeneous world-oneness. I am glad that Russia flies back into savage Russianism, Scythism, savagely self-pivoting. I am glad that America is doing the same. I shall be glad when men hate their common, world-alike clothes, when they tear them up and clothe themselves fiercely for distinction, savage distinction, savage distinction against the rest of the creeping world: when America kicks the billy-cock and the collar-and-tie into limbo, and takes to her own national costume: when men fiercely react against looking all alike and being all alike, and betake themselves into vivid clan or nation-distinctions.

The era of love and oneness is over. The era of world-alike should be at an end. The other tide has set in. Men will set their bonnets at one another now, and fight themselves into separation and sharp distinction. The day of peace and oneness is over, the day of the great fight into multifariousness is at hand. Hasten the day, and save us from proletarian homogeneity and khaki all-alikeness.


I love my indomitable coarse men from mountain Sardinia, for their stocking-caps and their splendid, animal-bright stupidity. If only the last wave of all-alikeness won’t wash those superb crests, those caps, away.

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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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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.

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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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Every year I take a few minutes and collect links to some of the parishes around the world who are celebrating Bambinelli Sunday. This is just a quick survey, and it’s so very gratifying to see this traditional continue to grow in popularity. All kudos to Ann Engelhart for seeing the possibilities!

More on the book.

The group in Rome that sponsors the St. Peter’s event…has gone Lego this year. Ah, well:

bambinelli_1_1fbc4b037976174e859830b503b662db

From B16 in 2008:

God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.

Good Father,
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.

Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

 

 

St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, NY

St. Benedict, Covington, LA

Divine Mercy, Hamden, CT

St. Aidan Cathedral, Ireland

Holy Family, Belfast

Incarnation, Bethlehem, PA

Elizabeth Ann Seton, Shrub Oak, NY

St. Leo’s, Elmwood Park, NJ

St. Mary Newhouse

Holy Redeemer Ellwood City, PA

Sacred Heart, Eldon, MO

St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mahanoy City, PA

Suggested by the Archdiocese of New Orleans (headline has an error – refers Lent, not Advent)

Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, Ankeny, IA

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

St. Pius X, Loudonville, NY

St. Sebastian, Greenbrae, CA

Assumption, St. Louis

St. Thomas Aquinas, Zanesville, OH

St. John Bosco, Hatboro, PA

St. Bridget, Framingham, MA

Transfiguration, Marietta, GA

All Saints, Milville, NJ

St. Jude, Atlanta

Mentioned in “Equipping Catholic Families.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catharines, ON, CA

Holy Ghost, Bethlehem, PA

Church of the Holy Family, Dunblane

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

Basilica of St. Mary, Alexandria, VA

St. Michael and All Angels, Diocese of Portsmouth, England

St. Michael’s Blackrock, Cork

St. Ignatius Loyola, NY, NY

St. Mark, Shoreham, NY

St. Thomas More, Somerset, MA

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Well, let’s get back to SpainBlogging. Even though that’s in Italian up there. You’ll get it in a minute.

(Other posts have finally been collated here)

This, to many, will probably be to oddest aspect of this trip report. The oddest and the most indulgent. I won’t say “self-indulgent” because it wasn’t me who was being indulged. But indulgent, nonetheless.

Of course, everything else about this trip was indulgent, anyway. Freely admitted. A few months back, someone posted a link to one of my travel posts on Facebook, and discussion ensued along the lines of  “Gee, must be nice” and so on. I didn’t get defensive, because I am past that. I’m more at the stage of “You guys post gushing posts about your best-friend- hubbies and great marriages and your wonderful parents  every single freaking day and all of my people in those particular categories are completely dead, so maybe you can handle posts about Spain and trying, in some feeble, undoubtedly misguided way, to fill in…gaps.”

So yeah. When you’re raising boys with a dead father, and all the family news around you is about people dying or being plunged into dementia, you’re like, “What the hell. You like all this Spaghetti Western Stuff? Screw it. Let’s do this.”

For some reason, a couple of years ago, Son #5 became entranced with the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone opus. I really and truly do not know how it happened – if it was the movies or the music that grabbed him first. All I know is that he watched them, and then the soundtracks became a fixture in our home. They came on every time I got in the car. They were on the top of the queue of Spotify when I was cooking dinner. They were learned and played on the piano – constantly.

I’d never watched any of them. Never. But I just endured it and supported it and what have you. And then last summer, the local vintage artsy heritage downtown movie palace offered The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as part of their summer series, and so I took Son #5 –

– and was enraptured.

Okay, not with the lengthy, discursive Civil War section that culminates in the bridge explosion – that could be cut – but with almost everything else, especially the music.

I got it. 

People sometimes wonder – why should I have kids? 

Well, here’s Reason #428. Because whenever you invite other people into your life – and that’s what having kids is all about – your own world expands. It could be something essential, or it could be something trivial. You learn something, you see more, you step out, you move down the road – and it’s all just very, very interesting.

So, let’s go back to this trip. I didn’t design it around spaghetti westerns – if I had, the trip would have looked much different (for all of those movies were filmed in Spain, and there’s even an attraction in southern Spain centered on it).  I settled on Seville as a base and then, for that last week, a possible jaunt up north, ending in Bilbao.

Which is when it dawned on me – Sad Hill Cemetery. 

And I figured – well, yes, this could happen. We’d watched the rather moving (although overlong) documentary about the site’s restoration, and once I studied the map, it was clear , yes, this was possible. We could work in a stop at that iconic site.

So there was that.

And then a few weeks before we left, I was doing some research – unrelated to this trip. I was thinking about M’s and mine future roadschooling future, and poking around, trying to see if there were any interesting concerts coming up to which we could travel. I was thinking, first, of the Michael Giacchino “We Have to Go Back”  Lost concerts, and then I idly thought (maybe because of similar-sounding Italian names)…hmmmm…what about Morricone? 

Oh.

What I stumbled upon was the fact that the 90-year old maestro was embarking upon his “last tour,” conducting concerts in Spain and Italy during the spring and summer. Unfortunately, the Spain concerts would be in May, but – well, look at this – one of them – in fact – THE LAST  – (as advertised) concert would be in Lucca, Italy – on a date during which we’d be in Europe.

*Checks RyanAir fares from Madrid to Pisa. Cheap. Struggles with guilt. Thinks – well, we’d be paying for housing *somewhere* – why not in Italy, instead of Spain for a couple of nights?*

Thinks – as per usual – about death and mortality – and pushes – BUY.

So there’s your backstory, people. Your backstory as to how we went to Ennio Morricone’s supposed last concert on Saturday, June 29 in Lucca, Italy – and then a couple of days later, were wandering around the Sad Hill Cemetery – the famed round cemetery from the final scene The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. 

A word about the journey to the cemetery – if you go (and you might well have arrived at this post because that’s where you’re headed) – do not go through Santo Domingo de Silos.  It’s what we did, and it was a mistake – I mean, the car survived, but it was dicey – a super steep hilly, incredibly rocky path. The other way – that comes from the north ( the way we exited) – is much safer for your vehicle.

 

The concert was great. Thousands of people, enraptured with the music, the fantastic, theatrical sopranos giving their super-dramatic all on pieces like The Ecstasy of Gold  – just Italians loving other Italians doing music. The best.

I will say that the bright spot about the rather frightening drive up a very steep hill on rocky paths in a rental car was…this view. Which we would have missed coming the other way. So – there’s that. And no damage to the car anyway, so it’s all good!

 

 

Yes, there was much re-creation of the scene. Running, seeking, fake digging, falling into graves and such. I might post some of that on Instagram in a bit. We weren’t alone. When we arrived there were three middle-aged British guys who’d arrived on motorcycles. They left, and we were alone for a good bit, and as we were living, two other small groups came. Plus, you know….

…cows.

Which is not something I expected! The ground was covered with cow patties, and as we ventured further in, we saw the reason, just up the hill, behind the trees, we heard them – the cowbells, gently sounding. As the minutes wore on, the cows moved closer, past the trees, until they had started, apparently, their late-day claim among the “graves.”

IMG_20190630_161842660_HDR

 

I have one more strange aspect to this whole tale. I purchased the concert tickets via a resale outfit. The way it works is that you still see the original purchaser’s names on the receipt.

I did a double take at the name. The address was given as well. It sort of checked out. This person is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, although his present professional position is elsewhere in Canada.

So. Do you think it’s possible that my weird tickets to go, on a whim, see an elderly, legendary composer in Lucca, Italy, were purchased from the  Jordan Peterson?

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Cod in Bilbao, Octopus in an Aldi in Madrid, a popcorn machine in Seville that fascinated.

(And a little bit in Italy)

We ate well in Spain, although it wasn’t a continual feast and it was never high-end. For the Seville part, there were six of us ranging in age from five to fifty-eight, of various dispositions, tastes and toleration levels. No, we had no pressing need to set out as a group to eat together for every meal (and in fact various divisions of the party would be off doing their own thing at times), but still, there were many factors to take into consideration which could be challenging at times. But knowing this, the smart person has already lowered expectations, and is happy to take whatever comes.

That’s not a bad suggestion for life in general, I think. Lower your expectations and be grateful for the gift of every moment. Yup.

Two other points:

First, my previous experience in Spain – Madrid and Barcelona on two different trips – had led me to expect more of the same regarding dinner times on this trip. It had been particularly acute in Barcelona, and perhaps I felt it particularly acutely at the time because I was traveling with a teen-age girl, an eight- year old and a four year old by myself. That is: they (Barcelona people – not my people)  don’t even start thinking about dinner until 9pm, and then, they really are just thinking about it. We’d set out at nine, confident that we’d  find a restaurant where we wouldn’t look like fools, as the sole customers – and were confounded every time.

So that’s what I was expecting in Seville. I was ready!

No need. Yes, “dinner” might not get rolling until that late hour, but the impact of the tapas culture is such that you can find people eating much of the afternoon and into the early evening.

Now, many restaurants are closed for a chunk of that – they might have been open for lunch from, say, noon to three or four – then they close and re-open at 8. But usually there are enough tapas bars that are open during that late afternoon-early evening hour that you can find something – and Spanish tapas is more than crackers and cheese. For light eaters, it qualifies as a meal.

So the point is that we never had trouble finding food being served somewhere. 

Secondly, while I enjoyed the food and by no means exhausted the local cuisine, I’ll say this about traveling to an area with a deeply-rooted traditional cuisine.

We look forward to it, right? We can’t wait to hit the pizza and pasta in Italy, the German sausages, the French sauces, the Spanish ham and potatos bravas. 

Well…

When I was in Italy (for two! days!), I was in the laundromat around the corner from our apartment. An American couple of about my age were also sorting and folding, so we got to talking. They were from Virginia and, like us, were on the tail end of a few weeks in Europe. I gathered that they’d been abroad a bit longer – more like four weeks. We had the usual conversation about how it had been great but we were ready to get home, and the woman said, I am so tired of pasta! 

And there you go. When an American travels to a part of the world with deep cultural traditions, we encounter a different world that is very attractive in some ways – in its richness and stability, its self-confidence. But, again, an American just might find some challenges in that landscape as well – I’ll talk more about this in a general way later, but since this is a food post, I’ll limit it to food.

What that stable, deep and rich culture means for food, in my limited experience, is that you encounter wonderful food that’s been centuries in the making, beloved, well-honed – and…not much else. So in Seville and around, the menus of most restaurants tend to share about 75% of the dishes in common: pork-related products (ham, of course, and also pork loin and chops), patatas bravasrevueltos (egg and vegetable scramble), snails (in season right now), and maybe ten other common dishes.

Restaurants doing anything different are scattered. We found one chicken-centered place not far from our apartment (there’s hardly any chicken on restaurant menus), and it was good, but most times we passed by, it was almost empty, as well.

Burger places are popular, though, and not just McDonald’s. There are several chains that do well – one we encountered often and ate at twice, I think, is called The Good Burger.

It’s not just so tired of pasta! It’s the beauty and the gift of the authentic diversity we have in this country  – with Mexican, Thai, Ethiopian, Nashville hot chicken, pizza and biscuits-and-gravy all within a couple miles of my house. A balanced world requires both – it requires the rich, solid, very-reluctantly changing and protected traditions – and the wildness of change and diversity. The trick is figuring out how to balance them, right?

Oh, and cost. You can eat very, very cheaply in Spain – in our experience. As I said, we didn’t go high end. So, for example, a tapas-centered dinner that filled all six of us up (including one five-year old, yes), including drinks – which included a couple/three beers – came, on one memorable occasion, to 43 Euros. Most tapas plates are between 2-3.5 Euros. Of course you can get larger plates, but we tended to stick with tapas-sized.

Anyway. Highlights of food, in no particular order:

 Spinach and chickpeas in Seville (very common); tuna & peppers (again, tipico) and some sort of potato-shrimp-chorizo thing in Seville (it was excellent); Asparagus and Migas in Trujillo – Migas – breadcrumbs, sausage, peppers and egg- a typical dish of the region. Then, snails in Seville. They were in season, and everywhere – and very good. The sauce was a rich tomato – more flavorful than most sauces I encountered in Spain.

Oh, that’s my advice for you if you travel to Spain to eat and have a typical American palate like mine: bring salt. Just a bit, to bring out those flavors a little more.

Asparagus is one of the more common green vegetables in the region. It’s so arid, they just don’t grow much, and they don’t really feature on the menus. Breakfast juice with strawberries. That weird, but tasty “zucchini tart” from Seville, and one of the typical pastries of Trujillo – basically, a custard.

Clockwise from top left: First two photos are from an excellent lunch in Merida. Tuna and peppers for me, delicious pork loin and chicken for the guys. . A typical breakfast in Caceras – toast (thick-cut bread) with ham and some olive oil. A typical pastry from Guadalupe – basically day-old cake bits bound with honey Then a break in Toledo with Middle Eastern food.

Same. Pizza in Lucca – the best, served as they do in Rome, with big sheets of it available for your choosing, sold by weight. Then a very good chain burger place in Seville called Goiko Grill – probably the most expensive meal we had, but they said the burgers were great, so it was worth it. Lamb brains from on of the Seville markets. Tapas that came with drinks in Toledo. Typical bakery in Chinchon. The beginning of pintxos in Bilbao.

In the south you have tapas – served generally from a menu. In the north, you have pinxtos – piled up high at the bar. If forced to choose, I would probably go with the pintxos – the olive/pickles orientation is more my style. The other feature of pintxos is slices of bread with…stuff piled on top. I thought I had photos, but I don’t. It’s easy to find them, though. 

We ate more than this, but a lot of my photos of those meals tend to have family members’ faces in them, and while many social media types have no problem using their families in that way, well, you won’t find that here.

One more: a tale of two montadillos.

There are different kinds of sandwiches in Spain, of course. The smaller is called the montadito. There’s a very popular chain called 100 Montaditos – and that’s exactly what it is. A menu featuring 100 kinds of montaditos priced at 1 Euro each.

I see that they have a few American stores – in Florida. Sandwiches are not a buck each – they start at 2 and go up. 

It’s truly fast food – I would say hangover food, really.  One of our party was fascinated with the concept and wanted to hit it every time we saw one (we didn’t.). I mean – for a euro? It was fine. Hit the spot.

But. 

These on the right  were better. Recommended in many guides, this bar – Bodequita Antonio Romero –  specializes in montaditos, and they were wonderful. I think not too much more than a Euro, but easily five times as flavorful. It’s the kind of thing you really wonder about – why can’t we have this here? Just go up to a bar, order a couple of little sandwiches, have a beer, and move on. Everyone’s professional and courteous, but there’s no need to treat the experience as if you are binding yourself to the establishment for life or need to be assured that you’re loved and appreciated.

(Two reasons, probably – it goes back to the deeply rooted cultural aspect of this food and these places – they’re just part of the fabric – and the no-tipping culture, as well. I found the waitstaffs in Spain to be sometimes on the brink of brusque, but always just…professional. As a person who will go an extra mile for self-checkout and who wants to Death Stare the next server who cheerily asks, How’s it goin’ guys? Having a good day? …this is definitely more my style.)

 

One more random note: While in Seville, most mornings, I went out and got pastries for breakfast from this bakery, called Colette – they were really some of the best I’ve ever had. On the quick jump over to Italy, I was reminded why I am not fond of the Italian take on these pastries – like croissants – they put a glaze on them. 

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— 1 —

In case you only visit here on Fridays, or this is your first time, do click back through the past few days. I’ve been posting almost every day (well…except yesterday…)

IMG_20190105_111123We are at the tail end of a marathon of piano lessons. Over the past eight days, he’ll have had his two regularly scheduled jazz lessons and four regular piano lessons. The reason is that his regular teacher is in grad school now, out of state, and has been back home for the break – so we’re trying to get as much in-person lesson time in as we can before we have to return to the adequate, but not optimal video lessons.

Phew. And at some point we need to get back to the pipe organ – hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

Other than that we are all about basketball, bagging groceries, one of us prepping to go to DC for the March for Life and two last semesters commencing: one last semester of high school, and one last semester of eighth grade – possibly, probably and hopefully the last semester of traditional school in these parts, period.

Please, God.

— 2 —

Last week, I noted the flood of new works entering the public domain in 2019. Well, here’s a list of a few medieval-related books in the group. Maybe you’ll find something interesting? 

—3–

Also medieval-related, and from the same site: A Medieval Man’s New Year’s Resolutions:

In the diary of Gregorio Dati, an Italian merchant born in the fourteenth century, we can see resolutions tied to this urge to face a new year as a better man in an entry dated January 1, 1404.

While modern people’s resolutions – at least those we voice aloud – tend to target our shortcomings around food and exercise, Dati’s resolutions aim at how he wishes to be a better Christian. He writes, “since my birth forty years ago, I have given little heed to God’s commandments,” and his three resolutions are aimed at rectifying this. First, Dati says,

I resolve from this day forward to refrain from going to the shop or conducting business on solemn Church holidays, or from permitting others to work for me or seek temporal gain on such days.

Next,

I resolve from this very day and in perpetuity to keep Friday as a day of total chastity – with Friday I include the following night – when I must abstain from the enjoyment of all carnal pleasures.

And finally,

I resolve this day to do a third thing while I am in health and able to, remembering that each day we need Almighty God to provide for us. Each day I wish to honour God by some giving of alms or by the recitation of prayers or some other pious act.

These are all things that Dati knows should already be a regular part of his life, but that he hasn’t had much success with. His everyday struggle to do what he should is a familiar one in a world in which we continue to make and break our own New Year’s resolutions.

 

–4–

Peter Hitchens has an excellent, balanced look at Francisco Franco in the pages of First Things. 

This was a promise he fulfilled: Death alone could remove him. A man who had been the contemporary of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt held doggedly on to power into the age of Gerald R. Ford and Leonid Brezhnev. When he went, everything he stood for turned to dust, like a mummy exposed to fresh air after thousands of years sealed beneath a pyramid. The Spanish Christian civilization that Solzhenitsyn admired had been preserved but not saved. It crumbled into a heap of dust and spiders’ webs immediately after the caudillo made his final journey from his stuffy palace to his gigantic, hubristic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. If Franco had been the preserver of Christian Spain, it is interesting to go there now and see how completely it has disappeared. Every element of the 1960s, from sexual liberation to ­marijuana, swept across Spain and, above all, Madrid, not long after ­Franco’s last breath. If he had truly been the preserver of faith and restraint, would they not have survived him in better condition?

What should Christians do about politics? How do we defend what we love without making false alliances with cynical powers? Civil wars are generally disastrous for law, legitimacy, and religion. Elaborate formulas must be devised to forget or bury the recent past. In England, the restored King Charles II passed the marvelously named Act of Indemnity and Oblivion in 1660, in which the whole lawless period of Oliver Cromwell’s republic was legally forgotten. The U.S. must often wish it could come up with a similar formula to spread soft oblivion over the unending resentments of the defeated Confederacy. In Spain, they turned to the monarchy.

But that restoration, Christian in form if not in outcome, only underlined the origins of Franco’s “monarchy without royalty.” The caudillo had been careful to keep Spanish monarchists at a distance, or under his thumb. His rule was not Christian or lawful and could not possibly draw its authority from God, however much Franco might have liked it to. Its origins lay in violent rebellion against the legitimate government, always hard to square with scriptural views of authority. Franco’s state rested on a foundation of bayonets. The caudillo himself may have been inseparable from the relic of the incorruptible hand of Santa Teresa de Jesús, which accompanied him everywhere. But his government, in his own words to his tame parliament in 1961, was built on what he called “an armed plebiscite.” He explained that “a nation on a war footing is a final referendum, a vote that cannot be bought, a membership that is sealed with the offering of one’s life. So I believe that never in the history of Spain was a state more legitimate, more popular and most representative than that we began to forge almost a quarter of a century ago.” Surely, this strange formula, in which the shedding of blood is deemed superior to the casting of a peaceful ballot, shows how much Franco the Catholic was troubled by his lack of real legitimacy, and the impossibility of his obtaining it as long as he ruled.

–5 —

Yes, I am going to write about St. Denis. I just need a bit of mental space. It’s a topic that will quickly spin in all kinds of directions, and I want to keep it simple.

Well, here’s a link to some scholarly writing on a different topic: “What the People Want: Popular Support for Catholic Reform in the Veneto”

The abstract:

Through examination of the unusually rich sources produced by a late seventeenth-century bishop of Padua, the author argues that investigating voluntary devotional practices can demonstrate the spiritual priorities of early-modern laypeople. Seventeenth-century rural Paduan parishes experienced both an increase in interest in various devotions and a shift in their focus that reflect the priorities of Catholic
Reform. Parishioners eagerly participated in the catechism schools promoted by the Council of Trent (1545–63) and enthusiastically adopted
saints promoted by the post-Tridentine Church, demonstrated by their
pious bequests, dedication of altars, and membership in confraternities.
At the same time, traditional devotions also flourished. Although gauging lay interest in reforms in general is difficult and contentious, the author demonstrates that at least when it came to their voluntary practices, rural Paduans were engaged in Catholic Reform and supported a vibrant Catholic culture.

Obscure? Perhaps. Irrelevant? Not at all.

If you are even a bit of a regular reader, you know that I frequently nag you to read some history when you can. It’s an invaluable tonic for despair in the present situation, and it helps inoculate us against unrealistic senses of the past.

So you know how we’re always hearing about “reform” and how important it is, as a church to be open to reform and change? Well, duh. The church’s history is one of reform and response to changing conditions, so in order to understanding how to properly engage in a reform in the present day in a way that’s faithful and effective – it helps to look at the past. This look at a rather narrow slice of history – how reports of episcopal visitations reflect Paduan’s acceptance of post-Tridentine reforms – tells us a great deal about that. I admit that I skimmed through most of the quantitative data, but it’s aptly summarized in the text.

This activity and enthusiasm for participating in parish life is seen
across rural Padua, and both the prevalence and specifics of lay participation demonstrate the areas within the parochial sphere that captured the
hearts of rural laypeople. Rural laity evinced enthusiasm for devotions to
the Holy Sacrament, the rosary, and a variety of other devotions connected
to reform—particularly those of a Marian or Christocentric nature. They
were also eager to support the spread of catechism and the Catholic education of village children. At the same time, they maintained their interest
in time-honored traditions, continuing to support local devotions and their
parish church itself. Lay spirituality in rural parishes, the same kind of
places often bemoaned by reformers as “our Indies,” was vibrant, active,
and orthodox rather than repressed, lackluster, or tinged with heterodoxy.
Some of this was simply continuity from the pre-Reformation era, but as
the comparison between Ormaneto’s and Barbarigo’s records demonstrates, the seventeenth century saw not only a shift in devotions but also a
general flourishing of both reformed and traditional spiritual practices.

So maybe reform can happen?

Oh, and maybe it was possible for the laity to have an informed, vibrant faith before the Second Vatican Council? Perhaps?

–6–

I was very gratified to read Emily Nussbaum’s dissenting view on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel I’m right there with her. 

So I tried to open my heart to Season 2. People grow, people change—even critics, even shows. But the season begins with a tooth-rottingly twee trip to Paris, followed by a cloying trip to the Catskills, a setting far better served by “Dirty Dancing.” It veers from one inconsistent family plot to another, with a baffling focus on Joel, who screws around but finds no one who lives up to his ex. (Despite its feminist theme, “Mrs. Maisel” has more one-line bimbos than “Entourage.”) There’s loads of ethnic shtick, from chain-smoking Frenchies to an Italian family singing “Funiculì, Funiculà.” Things perk up whenever the focus shifts to the salty, bruised Susie, a scrapper from the Rockaways—but even her plots are marred by dese-and-dose mobsters.

 

–7–

All right. 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!

Oh, and look for me in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to find it here. 

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

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Yes, it’s a thing. I’m amazed and gratified to report this: it’s a thing.

No, we didn’t start the blessing of the Bambinelli – I still am not sure who did, but it’s currently sponsored in Rome by a group called the Centro Oratori Romani. Here’s their poster for this year’s event:

Bambinelli Sunday

And somewhere along the line, Ann Engelhart heard about it, connected the practice with her own childhood appreciation of the Neapolitan presipi, particularly as experienced through the Christmas displays at the Met -and suggested a book.

More about how the book came to be. 

So here we are!

Every year, I try to note some of the places doing Bambinelli Sunday – here’s this year’s partial list – which starts, right here, with the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. The only order in this list is the order of search results. So here we go:

The Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis 

Divine Mercy, Hamden CT

St. Joseph, Mechanicsburg, PA

Liverpool Cathedral

Holy Spirit, Lubbock TX

St. Jude, Sandy Springs, GA

St. Gabriel School, Ontario, CA

Quinn Clooney Maghera Parish, Ireland

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

Sacred Heart, Coronado, CO

Middleton Parish, Ireland

St. Catherine of Siena, Clearwater, FL

All Saints, Diocese of Plymouth, England

St. Senan’s, Diocese of Killaloe, Ireland

St. Augustine, Spokane

St. Bernadette, Westlake, OH

Ennis Cathedral Parish, Ireland

Nativity, Cincinnati

Killbritain Parish, Ireland

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

St. Brendan, Avalon, NJ

St. Brigid, Westbury, NY

St. Ferdinand, PA

St. Ignatius Loyola, NYC

St. Anne’s, Peterborough ON

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, somewhere in Scotland

…And that’s all I have time to link.

Do a search for “Benedizione dei bambinelli” as well – you’ll come up with a slew. 

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

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— 1 —

It’s the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Here’s my now-17 year old on the steps back in 2006.

I have a few memories of this Basilica:

  • Our first visit, back in 2006, the stop at St. John Lateran was part of a day led for us by then-seminarian and anonymous blogger Zadok. Remember at the time, my now-almost-13-year old was a bit over a year and was being transported everywhere one someone’s back. We traded him off.  It was a great day, but exhausting as we walked and walked – and if you have been to Rome, you know that the walk between St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major is uphill…way…uphill.
  • I have often referred to the enormous statuary inside St. John Lateran, in which each of the apostles are represented, as is traditional, with the instruments of their martyrdom, St. Bartholomew depicted holding his own skin, as he is traditionaly remembered as having been flayed.
  • As interesting as the church itself is the baptistry, which is enormous.
  • We were in Rome right around Ash Wednesday, and the day we were at St. John Lateran was a Sunday, so the plaza around the church – the area around the obelisk (the oldest  Egyptian obelisk in Rome) – was filled with children dressed in costumes playing games at booths and so on – the Bishop of Rome’s church just like any other parish church during this carnevale
  • We ended up at St. Mary Major during Vespers, and there in a side chapel was Cardinal Law.
  • Back in 2012, the boys and I returned to Rome – in late November as a matter of fact.  My main memory from that trip’s visit to St. John Lateran was a rather aggressive beggar inside the church who was approaching visitors and berating them when they didn’t give – he ended up being driven out rather forcefully by security.

— 2 —

From 2008, Pope Benedict XVI:

The beauty and the harmony of churches, destined to render praise to God, invites us human beings too, though limited and sinful, to convert ourselves to form a “cosmos”, a well-ordered construction, in close communion with Jesus, who is the true Holy of Holies. This reaches its culmination in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia” that is, the community of baptized finds itself again united to listen to the Word of God and nourish itself on the Body and Blood of Christ. Gathered around this twofold table, the Church of living stones builds herself up in truth and in love and is moulded interiorly by the Holy Spirit, transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself ever more to her Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, thus becomes a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates an ever current mystery: that God desires to build himself a spiritual temple in the world, a community that adores him in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4: 23-24). But this occasion reminds us also of the importance of the concrete buildings in which the community gathers together to celebrate God’s praises. Every community therefore has the duty to carefully guard their holy structures, which constitute a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, so that she might help us to become, like her, a “house of God”, living temple of his love.

— 3 —

Tomorrow is feastday of St. Leo the Great.  Here’s a good introduction to this pope from Mike Aquilina.

The Tome of Leo on the nature of Christ.

He’s in The Loyola Catholic Book of Saintsunder “Saints are People who are Strong Leaders.”

amy-welborn2

— 4 —

From the Catholic Herald – “A visit that confirmed all my prejudices about England’s protestant revolution:”

Norfolk, I discovered, is full of suppressed Catholicism; every field seems to contain a ruined abbey, every house a priest hole. The most impressive hideout is in Oxburgh Hall, home to the recusant Bedingfields. It’s an assault course: you have to lower yourself down a trapdoor right onto your bottom, slide along the floor beneath a sunken wall and then pull yourself up the other side into a tiny cell with a wooden bench.

Coming out again, backwards, is even harder. How many arthritic clerics went down that hole and never returned? As I squeezed myself into the cell, I imagined finding there a couple of priests from the 1500s, covered in cobwebs, drinking tea. “Is the Reformation over yet?” they ask.

Sometimes it amazes me that English Catholics don’t get angrier about all of this: the desecration of the faith was appalling. What remains of Castle Acre Priory gives visitors an impression of what was lost. A giant Norman religious establishment that housed perhaps 30 Cluniac monks, its enormous west front still stands in tall weeds, almost intact, and the foundational outline of the rest is clear enough that you can trace the nighttime run from dormitory to latrine.

— 5 —

From Crisis: “Recognition for a Much-Neglected English Catholic Artist:”

Dilworth maintains David Jones was a British original: sui generis. Perhaps that is why Jones is also neglected today. Even those interested in English poetry of the twentieth century will have rarely read his work—at best a cult figure for a few. And yet Dilworth argues that Jones’s place is with the greatest literary exponents of the modern era—Joyce, Eliot and Pound. Dilworth concludes his biography claiming that Jones “may be the foremost British [literary] modernist” and that his “creative life is probably the greatest existential achievement of international modernism.” These claims are especially interesting given Jones’s heartfelt and overt Catholicism, a trait clearly evident throughout his work, and, thanks to this biography, no doubt one that will be investigated further in the years to come.

— 6 —

If you do Twitter, check out the account and the hashtag: Before Sharia Spoiled Everything. 

— 7 —

And well…this is actually happening:

 It appears that there will be a Breaking Bad movie, but it is unclear what role that the one who knocks will have in it, according to the man himself.

Bryan Cranston, who claimed four Emmys for his performance as chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-lord Walter White in AMC’s critically worshipped drama, has confirmed that a Breaking Bad movie is happening, though he revealed that even he was in the dark about the details.

“Yes, there appears to be a movie version of Breaking Bad, but honestly I have not even read the script,” Cranston told Dan Patrick on The Dan Patrick Show. “I have not gotten the script, I have not read the script. And so, there’s the question of whether or not we’ll even see Walter White in this movie. Ohhhhh! Think about that one.”

I trust Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to do right by this. There is no way they’d tackle it if they didn’t have a clear vision.  People had doubts about a BB spin-off, but Better Call Saul is quite a different show from Breaking Bad and just as good, in its own way (and some say – even better.)

I say….

Gus-Fring-Wants-You-To-Do-It-On-Breaking-Bad

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

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Sorry for the initial mis-dating. I started this yesterday…

Good morning. Of course lots has happened since we last met, all of which I spent much time following and thinking about, but for today I’ll stick mostly to my formula in this digest. Maybe another post in a bit on something else.

Watching: As I do every two years, I watched some cable news on election night. You Thursdayknow, when you only see a group of people once every 700 days or so, you can really track the aging process and note how everyone just gets….older and fatter. Except Wolf Blitzer, who hasn’t changed in decades. And Laura Ingraham? What is the deal there? If I had the sound turned off, I would have thought, Huh, another cable news blonde. I didn’t  recognized her at all until she started speaking. What has she had done with her face? I spent the whole time she was on camera, every time, trying to figure it out  – lips? Eyes? General facelift? We’re almost the same age…uh…amazing.

Listening: The Edith Wharton episode of In Our Time. An interesting discussion in which the fraught and shifting views on Wharton as a female writer – feminist or no? – were fairly covered.

The thread that was introduced but not really tied up, though, involved an aspect of her background I’d not known about. She was tutor and self-educated (coming from a wealthy family) and when asked about her reading, one of the panelists emphasized the importance of the works of evolutionists from Spencer to Darwin and others. A few minutes later, as they discussed her predominant themes, they sketched a picture of a changing world, yes, but also a deeply hierarchical world in which the “lower” classes and non-Europeans were given scant attention and that, mostly dismissive. That is to say – a world very reflective of social Darwinism, although no one ever explicitly made that link.

Someone dropped a comment during the discussion about Catholicism, though, that sent me on a rabbit trail, which transitions us to….

Reading:  Aside from the very hot stream of  Super Hot Takes on the election, a close read of the great J. F. Powers story, “The Lord’s Day” – this was about all I managed:

So, as I mentioned, one of the In Our Time scholars mentioned that the Church had condemned or at least criticized Wharton’s work. The impression I got from the discussion was that any Church criticism must have had to do with sexually-scandalous material.

Well, the rabbit trails indicated that was only partly so.

The main critique is related to a poem Wharton wrote on Margaret of Cortona. You can read it here, along with an accompanying Howard Pyle illustration.

Reminder: Margaret of Cortona lived with a man outside of wedlock for nine years and bore him a child. The man was murdered, and upon discovering his body, she converted to a life of penance and charity, eventually becoming a Franciscan tertiary.

In Wharton’s poem, published in Harper’s Monthly in 1901, we meet Margaret on her deathbed, confessing to a friar – is it her son? I don’t know.

The gist of the poem, and what got Catholic readers up in arms,  is that Margaret is torn between her love of Christ and her love of her dead lover – and perhaps even not so torn, since she makes it clear that what she had found with the earthly lover seemed pretty close to heaven. Here on her deathbed, she has prayed and prayed, but has been met with silence, while she knows that if her lover were alive, at least he would respond to her.

I have lain here, these many empty days
I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys
So close that not a fear should force the door –
But still, between the blessed syllables
That taper up like blazing angel heads,
Praise over praise, to the Unutterable,
Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms,
As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies,
My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes
Alive in their obliterated faces!…
I have tried the saints’ names and our blessed Mother’s
Fra Paolo, I have tried them o’er and o’er,
And like a blade bent backward at first thrust
They yield and fail me—and the questions stay.
And so I thought, into some human heart,
Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin,
If only I might creep for sanctuary,
It might be that those eyes would let me rest…

You can see how this would make people unhappy. From an article on “The Catholic in Fiction” from a secular journal called The Reader:

It is incredible that a writer of Mrs. Wharton’s refinement and ability should have taken a canonized saint as the subject on which to exercise such an unseemly flight of fancy….Mrs. Wharton makes this holy woman, after years of repentance, avow on her death-bed a preference for her lover’s caresses and the comfort his impassioned ardor, to the divine love of the crucified Lord whom she had so diligently served for years. Mrs. Wharton is entitled to no consideration for this affront, unless on the ignoble ground of ignorance.

Of course, I understand this objection, but I did read the poem from a slightly different angle as well.  The contrast between Christ and the earthly lover is certainly the major theme – in which Christ comes out less favorably – but there’s also, it seems, some grappling with an irony of the spiritual life which must strike any thinking person: you might even call it the irony of conversion. She’s asking: if I hadn’t been living a sinful life, would I have met Christ?

As well as, in a general way, the questions all of us have about the direction our life has taken as we look back on it:

 

Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn 
I found him lying in the woods, alive 
To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it, 
As though the murderer’s knife had probed for me 
In his hacked breast and found me in each wound… 
Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know, 
And led me home—just as that other led me. 
(Just as that other? Father, bear with me!) 
My lover’s death, they tell me, saved my soul, 
And I have lived to be a light to men. 
And gather sinners to the knees of grace. 
All this, you say, the Bishop’s signet covers. 
But stay! Suppose my lover had not died? 
(At last my question! Father, help me face it.) 
I say: Suppose my lover had not died – 
Think you I ever would have left him living, 
Even to be Christ’s blessed Margaret? 
– We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to 
That other was as Paradise, when God 
Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold, 
And angels treading all the grass to flowers! 
He was my Christ—he led me out of hell – 
He died to save me (so your casuists say!) – 
Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine? 

No, the poem is not anything great, and I certainly understand the reaction against it, but still. There’s a glimmer of truth in there.

I just spent a lot of time on that, but, of course, it wasn’t my intention when I began writing this to go as much into the poem as into the reaction to her novel The Valley of Decision. This was Wharton’s first published novel: a historical novel of 18th century Italy that, it seems from plot summaries, positions free-thinkers against Church and tradition, etc. I have zero interest in reading it, but when I searched for “Edith Wharton” and Catholic Church condemned – this was, besides from the poem, what popped up.

So initially I thought, “Oh the early 20th century American church criticized this content for sexual-related content it deemed immoral, obviously.” But..maybe not?

What I found was, of course, no “official” condemnation, but a strong critique published in Catholic World, which, in turn, reprints a critique from the Chicago Chronicle.

And what’s the basis of the critique?

The answer will surprise you!

The focus is the treatment of the primary female character, Fulvia, and specifically the role of education in her life. The critique takes on Wharton for, the author claims, indicating that higher education corrupts a woman’s character.  I’m going to reproduce this section at length, because I want you to participate in one of my favorite activities: Dispel myths about the past.

In this case, the myths are: No one believed that women should be educated before 1970 or so. In particular, the Catholic Church was opposed to women’s intellectual development.

Not to mention that this contemporary critique adds to the discussion about Wharton. It may or may not be an accurate read of her character, but the fact is that in this case, her narrative was received as anti-woman’s education and moralistic. Interesting.

The severest blow dealt against the higher education of women has been delivered by one of themselves, the author of The Valley of Decision, a somewhat tedious two-volume novel of the spurious “historical” variety.

It has been claimed by the opponents of equal education for men and women that whatever the intellectual results of the attempt, the moral result would be injurious to the family and society. It has been specifically urged that the tendency of the higher education would be to draw women more and more toward the laxer social standards of men, and to make women impatient of those restraints which until now have constituted the bulwarks of the home.

The Valley of Decision supports this theory. The heroine around whom the sympathy of the story is concentrated enjoys from early youth the advantages which other women, at least in the United States, must acquire, if at all, by long years of labor through primary and secondary schools into colleges and universities. A name of evil omen, whether in Roman history or in Ben Jonson’s “Catiline,” Fulvia starts the heroine out on a path of aspiration, independence, erudition, and ruin.

Her learning fails to develop moral or spiritual growth. In full womanhood, having had abundant experience enabling her to see the evils of society in the fullest glare of their malignity, Fulvia voluntarily accepts an unlawful and immoral social status from which all right-minded women instinctively recoil. She becomes the willing victim of a profligate weakling on a petty ducal throne, and feels neither shame nor remorse in her degradation.

The malign influence of such a novel upon the aspirations of American women for university privileges is made by the author the more certain and the more emphatic because the scene of the sinister fiction is laid in the country which was the first to open university doors to women. The poet Alfieri is dragged into the story to heighten the proportions of its all-pervading moral squalor. Sneering at the idea of a woman taking the degree of doctor of philosophy, the poet is made to say: “Oh, she’s one of your prodigies of female learning, such as our topsy-turvy land produces; an incipient Laura Bassi or Gaetana Agnesi, to name the most distinguished of their tribe; though I believe that hitherto her father’s good sense or her own has kept her from aspiring to academic honors. The beautiful Fulvia is a good daughter and devotes herself, I am told, to helping Vivaldi in his work, a far more becoming employment for one of her age and sex than defending Latin theses before a crew of ribald students.”

But Fulvia’s father was a sympathizer with his daughter’s tastes, which he habitually promoted. To make the lesson of the moral failure of the higher education of women still more convincing, the author of The Valley of Decision reserves the bestowal of her final degree upon Fulvia until after the university and the whole town are familiar with her adoption of a shameless life and her open rejection of religious or conventional standards.

In Italy the universities were open to women soon after their foundation in the Middle Ages. At Bologna, which for centuries was one of the greatest universities in Europe, a number of women justly attained distinction as professors of the sciences, languages, and law. Laura Bassi was of a comparatively late time. So great was her reputation for learning, but also for virtue, that her doctorate was conferred under circumstances of civic and academic pomp. She married happily and became the mother of fourteen children.

Two sisters Agnesi were distinguished in Italian higher education. One, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, was an eminent professor and author in the exact sciences during the eighteenth century, and lived to be upward of eighty years of age. A younger sister was distinguished as a pianist and composer. Upon the entire array of the learned women of Italy whose careers have been historically noted there was never a breath of moral reproach.

The injury which The Valley of Decision inflicts upon the contemporary higher education of women is shrewdly designed in the contrast which this repulsive novel makes in its alienation of the higher education from religious and moral control.

The atmosphere which is created for the reader of The Valley of Decision is the most repulsive ever introduced into an American literary production. In the large company constituting the chief participants in a story projected along hackneyed guide-book information there is not from the first cover of the first volume to the last of the second one honest man or virtuous woman.

The moral squalor of J he Valley of Decision is the more surprising because the scene is laid in the land which has given to literature and life the paramount group of ideal womanhood, Dante’s Beatrice, Petrarch’s Laura, Michael Angelo’s Vittoria Colonna; and to Shakspere his two most engaging characters, blending in their mutual devotion of a noble womanhood erudition and chastity, Portia and Nerissa.

The womanhood of the United States may justly deplore that such a volume as The Valley of Decision should have its origin in the United States, in which the experiment of the higher education of women has thus far been courageously carried to an advancement which few of the universities have been able to withstand.

 

And if you’re interested, go to p. 596 in the same volume of the 1902 Catholic World and read an article about Bologna called “A City of Learned Women.”

The universal spread of knowledge and literary culture among women is no doubt one of the boasts of modern civilization. We point to it with pride as emphasizing the superiority of this age over its predecessors; exemplified by the thorough training of mind and body considered equally necessary nowadays for girls as well as boys. Nevertheless, if we go a little more deeply into the matter, we shall find once more at the bottom of all our researches the most discouraging but true old adage embodying the world-weariness of the wisest king of old: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

It is a shock at first to realize that our progress is not so wonderful as we imagined; and that, instead of inventors, we are only “revivalists”; perfecting perhaps what has gone before, with the help of added centuries of experience and science; but still only reviving things dormant, or at best forgotten. In an atmosphere of self-congratulation upon Women’s Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education of Women, can it come as anything but a revelation to find one’s self face to face with a city of learned women of long centuries past, who spread the light of their knowledge through a land which bowed before their intellect while reverencing their true womanhood?

Such was the revelation which disturbed my new-world complacency one bright morning in the ancient city of Bologna, in this year of the twentieth century; wandering through stately halls of learning where for centuries women had held intellectual sway. No fair girl-graduates were these, drinking their first draught at the fountain of mighty knowledge; but women whose powers of intellect had placed them in the professorial chair, instructing on equal terms with the men-professors the students who flocked around them.

I keep saying it, in one way or another: My Hot Take on 20th century feminism is that it happened because the Protestant Reformation, secular intellectual currents and the industrial revolution pushed Western women into the confined, defining space of a domestic sphere that didn’t exist in a holistic Catholic context.

There. 

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