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Archive for the ‘monasticism’ Category

Over the weekend I headed up to Louisville to celebrate another family birthday. There was no sightseeing along the way, as there had been last time, but I did get to Mass at another Louisville parish – the beautiful St. Martin de Tours.

(For a little bit of music, go here.)

(More on the parish here – the history indicates it faced “certain closure” back in 1979, when the decision was made to emphasize sacred music.)

It was the 10am Ordinary Form (the parish also offers EF and Ordinariate). The church was pretty full, with tons of families and children. Music was beautiful and reverently simple.

And yes, in this land of chant and motets, families with children were explicitly welcomed in the music supplement, saying: To parents with young children: may we suggest….relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house….If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but PLEASE COME BACK. Let them know that they have a place in God’s house! To other members of the parish: the presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our parish and faith is alive! Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents!

It can be done.

Anyway – that’s not my point. Here’s the point:

I’ve been to Mass in quite a few Catholic churches across the country, from New York City to New Mexico, over the past couple of months, and it’s interesting to note:

This is the third parish I’ve been in where the altar rail was used for Communion: also in Louisville, at St. Louis Bertrand and at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

It’s the second parish in a week in which I’ve been to the OF Mass celebrated ad orientem – last week was at Stella Maris in Sullivan’s Island, SC.

All were Ordinary Form.

(Two points: I think Sunday Mass at Old St. Patrick’s is generally celebrated ad orientem – and I’m just saying that based on photos from their Instagram. But this was a daily Mass, and was celebrated facing the people. Secondly, also judging from photos of other liturgies, St. Martin’s does seem to have another altar they bring out – I don’t know what merits its use. But it was nowhere in evidence yesterday, a Sunday Mass.)

Of the two practices, seeing the altar rail in use for Communion three times surprises me the most. I can’t even remember the last time I’d seen it, but it seems completely normal in these settings – with a mix of modes of reception, most on the tongue, but some on the hand.

I’m actually a fan of the communion rail, not for any high flown theological reasons, but simply because I prefer the mode of congregation approach that seems to accompany it – basically no ushers directing traffic. I suppose you could have them doing the solemn-row-by-row thing in this context, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

As I have mentioned before, when you go to Mass outside of the United States, you generally (in my limited experience) don’t see the Usher Brigade. People just…drift up to receive. There might be an organic front-to-back progression, but there is definitely not the standing-up by row and trudging-up-when-the-usher-allows. My home parish ditched that habit during Covid, which was nice, but sadly reinstituted it at some point last year.

The drift-up-when-the-Spirit-moves-you paradigm is more amenable to a sense of spiritual freedom, I think, does not put pressure on anyone internally or externally.

A contrast: at Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Fe, the distribution of Communion began with the cantor immediately ordering, “Please stand and sing….”

My observation: Some obeyed, more than a few remained kneeling in prayer until they went up (when directed by the usher, of course.)

I’ve often noted that the pre-conciliar liturgy was all about precise rubrics for the celebrant. The focus of the post-conciliar liturgy in practice was more – especially from the 70’s on – about micro-managing precise rubrics for the congregation, which previously had been allowed to engage with the liturgy at their own pace, as it were.

(For a sense of the difference, go to an Eastern Catholic or Orthodox liturgy, where the same traditional energy prevails still)

As I get older and reflect more and more on what I’ve seen and experienced, I can’t help but keep reflecting on the quite unsurprising replacement of the purported V2 goal of “worship as an organic expression of the community’s sensibilities” with the reality of “a few employees and volunteers telling everyone else what to do based on their own preferences.”

Anyway, in a time in which some bishops are ridiculously, weirdly and even cruelly fixating on the Grave Threat of the Traditional Latin Mass – you’d think they’d have more important matters to tend to – and even attempting to suppress practices like ad orientem and the altar rail – I thought you might appreciate these snapshots in which these apparently super dangerous practices are in use and it is…not a big deal.

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Coming to you from Whole Foods….

Well, for the first time on this trip, I’m staying at a place with less-than optimal internet, which is ironic since this is the most expensive place in which I’ve stayed (which is not saying a whole lot, but still. It’s in a somewhat chi-chi part of town and the owner has the rental casita on a booster from the main house. Even if I plant myself right next to the contraption, photos still don’t load. Let’s see if Whole Foods comes through.)

Update: It did.

(And you wonder – why not just wait until tomorrow? Because I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow – I may not have internet all day, at all – and I don’t want a huge backload of this type of writing. I have other things I need/want to do when I get home.)

Saturday morning was my last morning in the lovely, perfect Tiny House outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Here’s the listing – it’s not on the normal rental sites, but on a site geared more towards campers. Hipcamp features campsites, yes, but also lists lodgings that are perhaps on campsites (yurts, cabins, treehouses) and spots like this. It’s also on VRBO. I do believe that the gentleman who owns the property built the house and probably designed it as well. It’s cunning, smart, and cozy – and as you can see, the location can’t be beat.

Good-bye Tiny House!

I cleaned up, packed up and headed out to Mass.

Where?

Here.

As I mentioned somewhere – perhaps it was on Instagram – I’d discovered a couple of days before that since this parish, now St. Thomas the Apostle, was originally founded as St. Rose of Lima in the colonial period, her feastday (which was Monday) is celebrated with a fiesta, that begins with Mass in the ruins of the original mission.

Not something I’m going to miss, amiright?

There were probably 75 people there, mostly Hispanic. The Mass was in English, with all music in Spanish and the Agnus Dei in Latin. The priest was Vietnamese. It was a lovely Mass, in a beautiful, moving setting.

I was standing in the back, and there were probably twenty people behind and around me.

Followed by a procession – not Eucharistic, but with images of St. Rose and the Blessed Virgin – into town. It was escorted by folks on horseback and the fire department. It’s about a two mile journey, and I wasn’t going to walk it, so while I waited, I headed down to the Chamo River for a bit of a break.

The procession arrived – my position was from the parking lot of the famed Bode’s General Store – which is the main shopping stop in Abiquiu.

Up to the fiesta. The church, St. Thomas was open, so of course I took a look. As you can see, it’s peppered with images of both St. Thomas and St. Rose.

I understand the mayordomo is a common role in churches down here. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have an official parish mayordomo instead of the unofficial jockeying for the spot that’s inevitable anyway?

To cap off an already very interesting morning, I discovered that the O’Keefe house and studio was doing special tours from 1-3. Abiquiu residents were free, and non-residents were asked to give a suggested $20 donation, which would then go to benefit the church. I’m in!

It was not the full tour, of course – more of a walk through with a docent, who gave the basics, but didn’t go in depth. I didn’t get any photo of her studio because there were a few people in there already. But I did get photos of her perfect mid-century mod sitting room – the rocks on her window sill are just part of O’Keefe’s rock collection, which she enjoyed rearranging and studying. The black door is a subject she painted quite a bit.

The setting is….unbelievable. And yes, inspiring.

And remember, it’s just around the corner from the Penitente Morada.

Time to hit the road south to Santa Fe. I stopped in Romero’s fruit stand to pick up some chile powder and some chili-sprinkled dried fruit, then kept going. My rental wouldn’t be ready until 4, so I continued to the Plaza, walked around a bit, got my bearings, saw the Cathedral exterior, where folks were arriving for Mass. Then back up to the rental, through clothes in the washing machine, and then….to the opera!

This was the last night of the season for the Santa Fe Opera, which is performed, of course, in this quite stunning setting, open to the west, so the setting sun provides a backdrop for at least part of the evening, and then twinkling lights for the rest. It’s a gorgeous place.

As I considered attending this performance, I noted that tickets were somewhat scarce, and of course, not cheap. I was willing to pay a couple hundred bucks for the tickets, but then read somewhere about standing room tickets – for $15. How to get them? It’s not on the website. Are they available just on the day? Is it a lottery? What’s up? So, I did the radical thing – called the box office.

“Oh, you can buy them now, over the phone,” she said.

Well, that’s a done deal, then.

There are maybe two dozen standing room spaces, and understand this is not a Globe Groundlings situation where you’re just standing in a crowd. There’s a designated area all along the back of the Orchestra seats – the mixing board is in the middle – with stands on which you can lean, and which also have the little translation screens. Really – I would definitely do it again.

I’m especially glad that I only paid $15 because…wow, this production was not good. This review expresses my reaction in a much more knowledgeable way than I could manage. It just did not work, although the second act was better than the first.

But you know what? It was 12 minutes from my rental, and hearing the singing and the music in that setting for that price is not something I’m going to complain about.

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My favorite thing about Wide Open Spaces is the sight of rain in the distance. Lots of that today.

Not because of it, but just because I needed to, I took most of the day for writing and catching up, not venturing out until 3-ish. At which point I got back on the high road to Taos, intending to make a couple of stops at places I’d missed the first time, and then going to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge – then circling back down this way.

Well, I didn’t make all the stops because I was trying to outmaneuver those thunder clouds much of the time. I enjoy watching them, but I didn’t particularly want to be in them. I don’t begrudge them their rain at all – they need it badly, and it’s great to see the “Forest Fire Risk” gauges at “low,” which they are right now.

So not a lot of photos today. But:

From my front porch this morning.

Then at the bridge, there was a huge storm that I’d skirted while driving, but reached Taos while I was there. My poor photography can’t capture it, but it was massive, with lots of lightening – quite fascinating to watch – from a distance.

The bridge is the…fifth highest in the US.

On the way up, a stop this establishment in Dixon – it seems like a good place to shop and get quality food. The folks I saw in and around reinforced my sense of the artsy/boho/alternative quality of the demographic around here. I just grabbed a pastry from, I think, a Santa Fe bakery. Ah yes – this one. If I had a freezer, I would have definitely gotten a loaf of the green chile bread.

Then closer to home (for one more night) in El Rito, a church and…something else.

That’s it, that’s all, watch out for that rain!

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Let’s backtrack and finish off Wednesday.

Sidebar: It’s crazy to me to think that I’ve only been gone since Sunday. Einstein was right.

We left off in Taos, but let me backtrack a bit from that.

As I mentioned in that post, there’s a “low road” and a “high road” between Santa Fe and Taos. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for more spectacular views and then the high road back for the small town stops on the way. I’m not in Santa Fe right now, but the advice still applies, so I took it.

I reached the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor’s Center, took in the situation and decided that there was another road that looked really interesting and would probably bring me to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, at which point I could head over to Taos and then back on the high road. Oh, yes, I’m so smart.

So I did this. I turned off the main road at Pilar and meandered up along the river, past campgrounds, until I reached the historic bridge. How interesting. I read about the origins of the bridge, how a camp had been established nearby in the hopes of finding gold, and so on. Some folks were kayaking on the river. I crossed the bridge and started up the winding road, confident that I’d be meeting up with the other road that would take me up to the Gorge bridge.

ROAD CLOSED.

No wonder no one else was on the road. Huh.

All right, so I “wasted” about 30 minutes, but you know how that goes – nothing is wasted. We can learn things along the way. In this case: Don’t be stupid, and maybe once in a while, just do what everyone else is doing.

It was pretty, though. It was.

So up towards Taos, the first stop being the historic in Rancho de Taos. You know this. You recognize this – photographed by Ansel Adams, painted by Georgia O’Keefe, and for clearly good reason. The interior is beautifully preserved, and it’s not a museum. It’s a living parish, clearly.

Into Taos, which is Tourist Central, completely unappealing to me. It must be a nightmare during ski season. I walked around for about ten minutes, stopped in the gift shop run by some Benedictines – a nice shop – and then decided I’d had enough.

Time to hit the high road.

The drive takes you through the Carson National Forest, and the difference in topography and flora from just a couple dozen miles to the west is astonishing. I stopped at a few churches along the way – as I explained yesterday, all were locked, and this time, I’m not mad about it. Given the historic and precarious nature of these structures and – I’ll add – given the number of interesting characters who are commonly seen on all roadsides in this state – it’s not a hard decision to keep these places locked up when they’re not in use.

I am storing up my thoughts on all of this, be assured.

It is amazing to be in a place where you can take in thunderstorms on your left and sunshine on your right.

This cemetery was an absorbing sight to me – full of sunflowers, several freshly-dug graves and unique memorials.

Keep going…to the shrine at Chimayo. We were there on our trip 10 years ago, but why not revisit? It was strangely empty, but perhaps not so strange for a Wednesday in late August. I did not get any dirt, as I still have a little pillbox-type thing full from last time. I was moved, as I always am at such places, by the images of loved ones to pray for or to give thanks for. I was interested in not one, but two areas devoted to Our Lady of Lavang, a devotion with Vietnamese roots.

Food here – it was very good.

Upon returning, there was enough daylight for a short hike – this one, not far from my rental. A half mile takes you up to a mesa where a puebla once stood hundreds of years ago. The views, of course, are marvelous, and it’s a gift to be able to take it all in.

And yes, I did get up this morning to see the interior of one of the churches at Mass….

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Well, I am pretty tired tonight, and I hardly ever get tired. Which perhaps means that hard work is not a part of my life, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

No, I’m tired because I had my usual pre-travel insomnia last night, then I got up, packed, went to 7:15 Mass, and started driving. It’s been a good day, but I’m still tired. Nonetheless, I will forge on with this blog post since it’s not going to write itself, these photos won’t post themselves, and there are only going to be more, not fewer, tomorrow if I put it off.

I am on a trip by myself, and if you ask my why I am going where I’m going, my response would be vague because I am vague about the matter myself. Perhaps I will sort it out later, but let’s just say that I’m not driven by any particular motive for this trip, other than to just go. I didn’t want to fly, because flying is a mess right now and rental cars are insanely expensive. I wanted to go in a direction where I really didn’t know anyone – no need to stop by or check in. So – shrug – here I go.

Heading west, here’s what I saw today.

First, I saw Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford was one of those places I’ve been intending to go for years, intended to do as a day trip in the Homeschooling Era, but never managed to do. (Tuskegee is another one, in the other direction.)

So I stopped by today. It’s a lovely little town – definitely the prettiest of all the SEC-related towns that I’ve been in – and I’m sure the residents know it, if you know what I mean. And I’ll be you do. They named it Oxford, for heavens’ sake.

I wasn’t there long. I stopped by Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s grave, the famed Square Bookstore and the James Meredith statue on campus.

No whiskey bottles on Faulkner’s grave today.

Here’s my thought as I stood and beheld Rowan Oak (it didn’t open until 1 and I had to keep moving, but you could get on the grounds) – I thought: Well, if I lived in a place like this and had people to take care of my needs, I could probably write some great books, too.

Here’s a story about Shelby Foote convincing Walker Percy that they should go to Rowan Oak and drop in on Faulkner who was not on Percy’s Uncle Will’s Good List because of the time he’d showed up at a party drunk and barefoot.

The Meredith statue was very powerful and just right, I thought. Have you watched Eyes on the Prize? You should.

Clarksdale was the next destination. I could have headed to where I was going in a more direct fashion, but I wanted to see Clarksdale, another meant to do this earlier situation. Specifically, I’d meant to take my musician son there for a weekend of blues, but then he got the weekend organist job, so that was that.

So an early Sunday afternoon isn’t going to get you any blues, but it will get you some interesting nuggets nonetheless.

It will get you lunch, first of all. You might not be aware of it but one of the food items that folks in the Delta are proud of are their tamales. They are supposed to be different from Mexican tamales, but I’m not sure how. The main Clarksdale spot for tamales was closed on Sunday, so I settled for Abe’s Bar-b-q, which was of course busy, but the tamales were quick and cheap ($5 for the plate, including good, vinegar-based cole slaw and crackers, which I guess are a side in the Delta.). They were doused in a spicy sauce and they were good, but didn’t rock my world.

But I ate them at the Crossroads – the site of Robert Johnson’s mythic sale of his soul. My favorite, though, was the way that the history of Abe’s Bar-b-q builds on the myth. We don’t know if and where Johnson sold his soul, but we do know that It is a fact that Abe Davis surrendered his soul to God, and his family business still prospers even today.

Tennessee Williams had deep connections to Clarksdale, so I took some of that in, as well. His grandfather was the rector of the Episcopal church in town, and as a child, Williams lived in Clarksdale for a couple of stints, and spent vacations there. The area and it people pervade his writing. There’s a festival (one of several Williams festivals around the country, it seems.)

There’s a little museum in the church rectory (open by appointment)

This mansion, the Cutrer House, as well as one of its inhabitants, inspired elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. You can read about the connection here.

But here you go – you can’t escape the Catholic connection. In 1946, the mansion was purchased by St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and used as a school for several decades. By the 1990’s it required too many repairs to continue to be useful, and after some controversy, it was sold – this is an article from the time about the issues, including an interview with the very practical Irish pastor. It’s now being used by local government as an educational center. But the grounds are open – you can walk around – and the Lourdes grotto is still standing.

Moon Lake is also important in Williams’ work, so I took a quick detour – no one else was around on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, which made me wonder.

Then across the river to Helena, Arkansas, which has a very weird forest situation jutting up around it, and, in a neighborhood on the way out of town, a statue of Marquette.

And then, tonight, a safe landing, with Vespers.

(For video see Instagram).

I thought I had no idea that Subiaco existed here in the middle of Arkansas, but my son reminded me that one of his friends had gone there, and while I vaguely recalled that, I also thought he’d been talking about somewhere in Louisiana when he told me that. But now I know. I will have more photos tomorrow, with better light. I am heading out early, but will try to get some pictures nonetheless.

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Well, here we are at last. Seahouses, UK. That’s our hotel in the center of the photo up there, the only “regular” hotel of the trip – all the rest have been small guesthouses, B & B’s and one apartment. The taxi driver got us to the hotel, kindly helped with our bags, we got checked in even though it was early, got ourselves ready, and set out for the Holy Island.

Here’s the brief history of Lindesfarne:

Possibly the holiest site of Anglo-Saxon England, Lindisfarne was founded by St. Aidan, an Irish monk, who came from Iona, the centre of Christianity in Scotland. St Aidan converted Northumbria to Christianity at the invitation of its king, Oswald. St. Aidan founded Lindisfarne Monastery on Holy Island in 635, becoming its first Abbot and Bishop. The Lindisfarne Gospels, a 7th century illuminated Latin manuscript written here, is now in the British Museum.

The island of Lindisfarne with its wealthy monastery was a favourite stop-over for Viking raiders from the end of the 8th century. These Vikings raiders obviously concerned the monks somewhat as they vacated the monastery and did not return for 400 years. Lindisfarne continued as an active religious site from the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. It seems to have become disused by the early 18th century.

Like Mont-St. Michel, Lindesfarne is a tidal island. It’s only accessible by road or walking at certain times of the day. The tidal charts for the current timeframe are here.

Not a great photo, and taken from the taxi. But you get the idea.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and so this popular spot was very busy on a Friday afternoon. Our driver dropped us off a little after three and we agreed to meet there again at 5:30.

There was a very good little exhibit before you went out to the priory. The setting of the priory was not what I expected – I thought it would be high up on the coastline, looking out onto the sea, but it was actually set back a bit and down low, protected by a natural barrier.

There is a castle, though – and that sits up very high. It’s closed for the moment, but you can walk out there and around it, where you will have close encounters with sheep.

We started out with food – of which we’d not had any that day – crab salad sandwiches for two of us and a ham and cheese toastie (grilled cheese) for another. Then we wandered, together at times, splitting up at times. We hit the priory, of course, one of us got down to the tidal pools, others of us made our way to the sheep, and we all tasted some mead at  Lindesfarne Mead

Returning, we rested a bit, then had some fish and chips here, wandered a bit more, and one of us decided he wanted to take a dip in the North Sea. So he did.

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Last full day, that is. I began writing this in the airport hotel before waking the boys to head over to the airport for our 11 AM Monday flight and I’m finishing it up in Dallas at 9:45 AM Monday. Amazing – it makes up for the whole two days we lost at the beginning, I guess….

Those of you who have followed this trip know that the plans changed over the month before we left. My original original thought was to split the time between Tokyo and Kyoto, and therefore fly into Tokyo and out of either Kyoto or Osaka. I then decided it would be better to stay in one place, so booked the AirBnB for Tokyo for the entire duration. Then AirBnB and Japan had their problems, so the trip was split again. For which I am now, at the end of it, very grateful. I’m so glad we spent time in Kyoto – more thoughts on that score later. When all of that came down, I looked into changing flights to leave out of Osaka or Kyoto, but the cost for changing was ridiculous (which I will never, ever understand – except I do understand – profit – but really.) so I stuck with a departure from Tokyo, knowing that we’d have to spend at least half a day getting back up here. I had hope that it wouldn’t be wasted because the town of Narita – near the airport – apparently had Things to See. Hopefully, we’d see them.

And we did – not as much as I would have liked, but we did see a few things, and, as I always say – it’s all new to me, and whatever we saw – were things that we saw, worth seeing and thinking about and learning from.

In order to see anything at the end of the day, we’d have to start early. Mass was the big challenge of the day. I’d been researching it for two days. First idea was a church less than a mile from the apartment that we could walk/train to – but as I discovered when I walked there on Saturday morning for research, Mass was at 10:30, which was too late. Next idea was a church about halfway up the train route from our place to Kyoto Station. Mass there was at 9. I thought we could just take our stuff, go to Mass, then get back on the train to the station. I got a bit of pushback on the whole “march into Mass with backpacks and suitcases” idea. Then I looked one more time and found a church with Mass at 7 am. Okay, I said, if you don’t want to do the 9 am, we’ll do 7 – but that means, well, getting up at 6 (20 minute train ride, 6 minute walk). They agreed, and my compromise was that when we got back and finished packing and cleaning, we’d grab a taxi to the station – although I felt fully confident by this point in getting us there with luggage on the train, especially since it was Sunday morning – but they, again, were not enthused.

And it worked. We got up, walked to our train station, rode the train with a few other people, found the right neighborhood, which, it seems, must have it share of bars and clubs, considering the number of tired looking groups of young women in micro-minis (never seen in Japan during the day, in my experience) and trendy-looking guys either walking towards the train station or hanging out on the sidewalks. They’d obviously been up all night and were just wrapping it up.

I discovered later that we’d actually attended Mass at the Cathedral. It was a nice modern structure, with a roof sweeping upward and stained glass on one side. The church was maybe a third full – pretty good for 7am! – and was a little more demographically diverse than we’d seen in the Tokyo church – a lot of older women, yes (many wearing veils, as is normal here for older women), but a few families, more westerners and a greater sprinkling of young adults.

Music was minimal – opening and closing song and the Responsorial Psalm sung. Communion in the hand is the norm here, in case you are interested (which it isn’t, for example, in some areas of Europe, particularly Italy, where I’ve attended Mass), and the Sign of Peace is awesome: quick bows all around and we’re done.

Then across the lovely river,  back on the train (which was a bit more crowded by this point) pack up, clean up the apartment, take photos of the apartment (which I always mean to do right when we arrive, but never do, and then we immediately trash the place, so it’s not presentable), then walk up the street to the train station, get a taxi, then a 15-minute ride to the Kyoto Station to catch the bullet train. That journey was uneventful (I think it always is – there’s never been an accident with these trains) and quick and moderately scenic – more rice paddies and batting cages, everywhere.

I’d done some research and discovered what I thought was the best solution to get from the Tokyo station to our hotel near the airport: a shuttle bus that runs directly from the station to the airport hotels. We’d catch it – because I thought it ran more or less constantly – check in, or at least store our luggage – and then head into the town of Narita to get one last taste of Japan.

Well, as per usual, things didn’t turn out as hoped or planned. Everything ran later than I thought. We got to Narita airport and two out of the three of us were hungry enough to merit a meal (and granted – it was two o’clock by this time and no one had eaten anything all day except for some sweet rolls after Mass), and since we’d be at the airport anyway I decided we a) turn in our Pasmo transportation cards to get the refunds due on those and b) complete the check-in process for our flight. I couldn’t finish (b) online because I suppose passport confirmation was needed. So we did all those things, and by the time we got down to the place where the shuttle stopped, we discovered that it did not, indeed, run around the clock, but only once an hour – so we’d have thirty minutes to wait until the next journey.

Fine. Pay a cab to take us five minutes to the hotel. No problem. Because we’d get to the hotel and soon enough be able to hop on the shuttle to town, which, I thought I’d understood, ran around the clock. Well, no. It doesn’t run around the clock or even around the hour. We got into our room a little after 2:30 and discovered that the next shuttle to town wouldn’t be until 4:15. Drat. Especially since what I read online indicated that the big Zen temple I wanted to visit in Narita closed at 4 on Sundays, plus most of the restaurants seemed to close at five.

This was not going as I’d hoped. Because particularly after the debacle that marked the beginning of our trip, I didn’t particularly want to lose one more day of this rather expensive jaunt on a travel day. I admit that I let my irritation spill over – something I usually try very hard not to let happen, especially since I grew up in a household marked by very high flood markings on the wall made by years of irritation spilling over.

So we waited and hung out in the hotel room for an hour or so. We headed down to the lobby for the shuttle where a fluent English-speaking employee (finally!) told me that while the doors of the temple might close at 4, the grounds were certainly open – which made me feel better.

Fast forward: shuttle to town – Narita which is a very busy, suburb-like city, just like your American suburb except for the sign lettering. We were dropped at the train station in the middle of town, and made our way down the tourist-oriented street, lined with shops and restaurants, most of which were, indeed, either closed or in the process of closing.

But all was not lost!

Narita is known for unagi– eel. It’s the local delicacy, and many restaurants feature the …er…processing…of the eel right in the front of the house. As in: one guy grabs a live eel from a buck of water, chops its neck, takes its still wriggling body, skins and de-spines it, and hands it to the next guy, who cuts it up into pieces which are then put on skewers. The spines are fried and sold as bar food, essentially.

Before we went, I was all up for trying it, but once we got there, the only place still open and selling was rather expensive – about twenty-five bucks for four pieces with rice, and I just wasn’t willing to invest the time and money on something I wasn’t even sure I’d like. If it had been one skewer of part of an eel for like five bucks, sure – but this was just too much for the moment and my mood. At least I got to see the process, which is what I was really after.

Then we proceeded down the hill to the Shingon Buddhist temple, which is part of a large park. It was gorgeous. These temples and shrines are naturally not as interesting to me as churches are, but I find them fascinating, nonetheless.

We walked around a bit, saw temples, pagodas, statues and turtles. The time down by the water was deeply peaceful and something I needed at that moment, the last night of a long trip, the night before leaving to return home.

As we rounded our way back out of the park, a small group of girls – most probably between 8-12 appeared, each carrying a pole with rings on the end. They were led by adult women, and it became pretty clear to me that they were rehearsing for something – perhaps a  procession of some sort. They’d walk around, rhythmically banging the poles on the ground, stopping at various points, including right in front of the main temple, at which point, two young men with them would go part way up the steps, stop, and them lead them all in a bow.

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A small group of women was gathered nearby watching, and I’m assuming they were the girls’ mothers. It was like Dance Moms: Buddhist Edition.

A short walk back up the hill, where the few shops that had been open when arrived had closed. There was an activity happening in front of the tourist office, thought: a group with fans, doing some sort of chanting and waving. It seemed to me it was a cultural activity directed at tourists – sort of like if you were in Spain and there was an invitation to try to do flamenco.

Dinner was very good – a fitting last meal for Japan. Granted, the place was not people by locals – it seemed to be mostly tourists or airline employees (the decorations were all airline-related), but it was tasty nonetheless: fried rice for one, a ginger pork dish for another, a great chili-based soup with pork for me, and dumplings for all.

Everything, it seemed, turned out all right in the end.

 

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Christmas in New York City….what to say?

How about…been there, done that. 

Or…There. That’s done. 

I’d always thought Christmastime in the City would be fun to experience, and now that my oldest lives there, we had a good excuse. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve got the gist of the trip: we left Christmas night from Atlanta, spent Tuesday-Thursday there, left at the crack of dawn on Friday for other parts of the country. I was glad to do it, glad to spend time with my son and see friends, but heavens, it was cold and wow, it was crowded. As I said: been there, done that was what I thought as we flew away for points south!  Highlights:

  • First highlight was in getting there in the first place. The boys were scheduled to serve Christmas Day Mass at the convent, and when I made the reservations, did so assuming that Mass was at the usual Sunday morning time – 11am. Only to find out a few weeks later that no, Mass was at 12:30. Flights were at 6:19. From Atlanta. 2 hours from Birmingham.  A time zone ahead. So essentially, we would be leaving for a 6:19 flight a little more than four hours before it took off from two hours away, with perfect traffic.
  • Well, we obviously made it. The most tension-inducing aspect of the situation was that I had purchased United’s most recent low-level fare – the Basic Economy, which comes with a lot of restrictions, most of which – only being able to take a personal carry-on like a backpack, no guaranteed seating together – didn’t bother me (we each took a backpack, which was fine for three days, even in winter weather – we are not fashionistas), but there’s one more restriction: you can’t check in ahead of time online unless you are checking a bag (which costs extra, natch). This is to enable them to enforce the no-carry-on rule on site, so it’s understandable, but still. You know how it is when you’re racing to the airport. You can think: Well, at least I’m already checked in. Nope.
  • But, we made it, with time to spare. Go me. I mean…go. 
  • We flew into Newark, which was a first. Arrived, then took the very crowded train into Manhattan. Why was it so packed on Christmas night? It seemed to me, since it was crowded when we boarded at the airport, that the riders were folks who’d done their Christmas elsewhere and were returning home. We had to stand for most of the trip, but that’s fine.
  • Got to Penn Station, then walked the seven blocks in the cold to our hotel – the Leo House.
  • Now, this was a new discovery for me. I am not sure how it had never crossed my radar before. The Leo House is a Catholic guesthouse that’s been around for decades, named after Leo XIII and originally founded to be a safe haven for German immigrants. You can read its history here. It certainly showed its age – particularly in the bathrooms – but it was very clean and the breakfast was substantial and varied every day. I prepaid, and so we had a double room – two rooms connected by a bathroom, with three beds – for under $200/night. With breakfast. In Manhattan. In a good location, a block down from a subway, with the Empire State Building in view. It worked. It would be just about perfect if the bathrooms were updated, but that would be a multi-million dollar, probably unaffordable project. I’d stay there again – and probably will!

  • Day one (summarized on Instagram here). Yes, we went to the Central Park Zoo. We’d never been, and online commentary indicated that it wasn’t a bad winter activity – there were animals that flourish outside in the cold, and there was enough indoors to make it bearable. Walked through the park by the skating rink (we heard them introduce a skating session with about 5 minutes of announced warnings and disclaimers – #ModernTimes) – then to the subway to take it up to the Natural History Museum, which was…packed. As was everything over those three days. It made sense: Christmastime in the City has its appeal, plus it was so bloody cold, any attraction that was indoors was…attractive.
  • I stood line to get tickets – me and many Russians. We paid extra to see the Mummy exhibit, and probably shouldn’t have. It is part of this museum trend to just bring in extra $$$ with special exhibits that have a particular appeal – you think, “Oh, we want to see mummies!” and so you can…but for a price! Anyway, we’d seen many mummy displays all over the world, so I’m not sure why I gave into the pressure on this one (from the sales clerk, not my kids), but I did and was irritated. There wasn’t a lot to it that we had not seen elsewhere.
  • But I did see Mammoths and mastadons, which interested me because I’d just read this book. I find these early mammals much more interesting than dinosaurs, perhaps because they are closer to us in time, and in fact inhabited the planet with us.
  • We’d been here before, but it was several years and a couple of trips ago, but it was worth a revisit. I like the Field Museum in Chicago better, though….
  • Then dinner with my son and my friends Ann and Paul Engelhart at this very good French restaurant..and then Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • I need to think a bit more about this production, but I’d say that it was interesting, worth the time and money, and captured an aspect of the thematic essence of the piece while missing another part of it. Let’s put it this way: it’s not a light holiday confection, but honestly, who thinks of Hansel and Gretel this way? It’s a dark tale of suffering, temptation, exploitation and revenge or justice – or both. The German Expressionistic tone of much of the production brings out this darkness effectively, but what was muted was the spirituality of the piece, which is pretty strong: Hansel and Gretel are protected by angels, and in a sense, their journey to the witches’ house is a journey they’re led on for the salvation of others – the children the witch has turned into gingerbread who are freed by Hansel and Gretel, brought to that place by their own suffering.
  • The weird thing about the evening was this: a friend of mine from Alabama was in NYC at the same time. We’d said we’d meet on Wednesday or Thursday, but we came very close, without knowing it, on Tuesday night: she and her group ate at a restaurant on the same block as ours at the same time…and then they went to The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center…as we were at Hansel and Gretel. 
  • Small world, again.

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Remember when I used to do those? Well, maybe I’ll sort of start again. Sometimes.

This week is going to be pretty busy, and Monday and Friday would be the only two days in which there would be much uninterrupted actually-at-home time. Because:

  • Tuesday is a two-hour science center class (squid dissection! Mom gets two hours to work on her next book at the trendy food court across the street!) and boxing class in the afternoon.
  • Wednesday morning, a repair guy is coming to start the process of fixing the various broken things and places that have started piling up around here. Then Wednesday afternoon is Zookeeper-for –  (half) – a – day.
  • Thursday morning is the two-hour photography class (2 more hours for mom to work!) and then piano.

So we tried to pack it in today – and we did – and still had time for an outing.

  • Prayer: Saint of the day (John Cupertino), Mass readings, prayer, practice Pater Noster.  First reading was from 1 Timothy, so I spent a couple of minutes reviewing the Pauline epistles with him and the difference between the Pastoral Epistles and the others.
  • Religion-related. Someone he knows a bit from the Catholic group Fraternus entered the Benedictine monastery up the road as a postulant this past weekend. We read about that on the monastery’s Facebook page and then watched the excellent video that was produced last year about St. Bernard’s with the added bonus that the (familial) brother of one of his friends who is a (religious) brother in formation there is in the video here and there.
  • That was followed by a discussion of the stages in the monastic vocation, using the page from St. Bernard’s website. 
  • Animal Farm. He has his leisure reading always going on, but he also will have “school” reading, assigned by me. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been this. I selected it because it’s short, interesting, accessible and a good way into discussions of history (which he wanted to emphasize this year)  and literature (allegory). He finished it over the weekend, so we went over the Sparknotes analyses of those chapters and reviewed some of the charts I’d printed out about the allegorical associations. Talked a bit about post World War-II Soviet expansion and watched a short video about the Berlin Wall.
  • One of his own goals that he has set for himself this month is memorizing all the US presidents in order as a beginning framework for studying for the History Bee (exam coming in January – so this is just beginning). He recited what he knew and we had some random discussions about some of the presidents.
  • Spanish: this was his desire – to start more serious work on Spanish. I’d purchased a curriculum (which I will be writing about soon – it has given me Food For Thought in a couple of areas). We’d been dipping in and out of the introductory chapter over the past couple of weeks and got serious today with the first actual chapter  – going over the vocabulary, watching the videos and doing the activities.
  • Math: He’s on Chapter 3 of the Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra book. Today he watched the video associated with the first section and then went over the material and did the set of problems – the topic is number theory and, more specifically, multiples.
  • I showed him a form I’d printed out for him to log all the books he reads this year. I just think it will be good for him to have, and he’ll enjoy looking at it at the end of the year. And yes, we’ve been very good about my plan of recording learning instead of planning it. It works very well for us. We note every topic discussed/dealt with over the course of the week in a planner, and then at the end of very week, he fills out a log summarizing the week’s learning and activities.
  • He got up around 9:30 and when we finished all this it was about 11:45. Yah. So there was time for a requested jaunt for him to finish his photography homework – made all the better now because his brother drives himself to school so we don’t have that upper boundary of a necessary return time. We do have the limitation of a car I’m still afraid to drive too far away, but maybe sometime soon I’ll actually take in the used car I bought for $2k to get checked out and get an assessment of whether it’s safe to drive. (It feels fine – I’m just a little skittish about taking it too far….)
  • So the jaunt was to a “nature park” that’s about ten minutes from my house, but I had no idea existed until about two weeks ago when I was driving on the road and saw the sign for it. It’s on the side of a substantial hill in between a residential area and a commercial area of Irondale (where EWTN is located), and it doesn’t have amazing rock or water features, but it was a decent walk, with good trails, bright orange lichen and many spiders. Good subjects. (Photos below were taken by me with the phone – he had control of the camera, and I don’t know what he ended up taking photos of and keeping.)

 

And back home, we discovered that the moon had apparently fallen to earth:

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— 1 —

This week’s takes are mostly about listening and watching. Things will get interesting over the next few days, but probably mostly on Instagram – so head over there to keep up.

— 2 —

In Our Time has sadly gone into its summer break, but it ended on a very high note with an excellent program on bird migration. What I particularly enjoyed about it was Melvyn Bragg’s infectious awestruck attitude about the whole business, which mirrors mine – How do they know?  – and the fact that he just couldn’t get over it, which is the proper attitude in the face of mystery. Secondly, the scientists on the program were all refreshingly honest about the answers to Melvyn’s questions, which most of the time involved a lot of we’re not sure and maybe and…we just don’t know. 

So much of the media’s reporting on science is couched in almost religious and certainly ideological certainty – a certainty which many, if not most scientists themselves would reject. I always enjoy the scholars on In Our Time, who are willing to admit what they don’t know and engage in respectful disagreement about what they think they might have a handle on.

— 3 —

Also this week, I listened to In Our Time broadcasts on the poet John Clare, of whom I am ashamed to say I had never heard, and Hannah Arendt. 

The program on Clare was interesting because, well, it was all new to me, but also because of the material presented about Clare’s relationship with publishing. He was a farmer, and while we might think, “poor lower class poet rejected by the smart set,” in fact the truth was the opposite – ever since Burns, the search had been on for the next Big Country Poet, and it was thought for while that Clare might be the one. And then he ended up in insane asylums for two decades, sadly, probably because of manic depression.

The program on Hannah Arendt set her work in helpful context, with a great deal of discussion about how she was misunderstood by critics. In brief, the “banality of evil” is not an invitation to diminish evil, but an explanation of how evil can become just another job to do.

— 4 —

And then I discovered a new BBC podcast program!

It’s called Science Stories and while the format is different than In Our Time, the general attitude and approach are the same, emphasizing the importance of  context as we seek to understand past scientific endeavors, which is something I appreciate so much, and is so refreshing, surrounded as we are in our media sea of context-free accusations, assertions, presumptions and fabrications.

And guess what? Religion is quite often part of the context – and might even be a paradigmatic framework for the context – and that is okay. 

On a science program!

So, for example, a program on Robert Grosseteste, 13th century Bishop of Lincoln and teacher, famously, of Roger Bacon. Grosseteste was, as many learned men of the time were, a polymath, but this particular episode of Science Stories focused on what the presenter termed his proto-“Big Bang” theory rooted in his observations of light and informed by his Genesis-shaped faith. It’s only 28 minutes and well worth your time. A taste:

Scientist: The story I was told when I was growing up was before 1600, all was darkness and…theology and dogmatism…and then suddenly Newton, Galileo, Kepler, who-hoa – all is light and Enlightenment and we get back on track with science. And you know, that’s never rung true because science doesn’t work like that – we all make little steps and we all, as Newton said, stand on the shoulders of giants. I think in Grosseteste, we’ve come across one of the giants on which the early modern scientists stood…..

….Presenter: And the motivation, certainly, for people like Grosseteste was ultimately a religious one, a theological one.

Scientist: Yes, it’s very clear that he would have been mystified by the question, “Can you reconcile your science with your religion?”  – he would have looked at you very askance and said, “What do you mean? That’s why I’m doing this science!”

.

— 5 —

The episode on “The Anglo Saxon Remedy that kills MRSA”  was also fascinating, involving researchers who are exploring these 1100-year old books of remedies with the aim of not only figuring out the origins of these remedies but also their effectiveness.

As in the previous program, spirituality is given due credit and respect as are techniques and approaches we might want to initially wave off as nothing more than superstition – for example, chanting a rhyme or prayer in association with the application of the remedy. As the researchers pointed out, it was not mere superstition at work here – in a world without clocks, this would be a way of keeping time as you applied the compress or shook the mixture.

— 6 —

My older son has been working a lot at night, so we haven’t been doing a lot of movies – two we have watched over the past week have been The Seven Samurai and Twelve Angry Men.  We spread out The Seven Samurai over two nights, although I think we could have done it all in one, in retrospect. It’s quite absorbing and didn’t feel at all like an almost 4-hour movie (as opposed to the Heston Ben-Hur which felt every minute of it to me during last year’s rewatch after 40 years, probably –  #confessyourunpopularopinion)

They really liked The Seven Samurai, and so I see more Kurosawa in our future, whenever we can manage another evening, which won’t be for a while, it looks like, what with travel and work. Probably The Hidden Forest, which inspired Star Wars, would make the most sense, although I’m more interested in Stray Dog. We won’t do Rashomon. 

Twelve Angry Men is, of course, much shorter – having begun as a television drama – and quite an efficient and compelling way to introduce a good discussion of appearance, reality, truth and integrity. There’s one simplistic psychological-torment-motivation subplot that was annoying and overwrought, but then that is par for the late-50’s course.

Oh, and one night after work, the 16-year old pulled Doctor Strangelove off the shelf and "amy welborn"took it in his room to watch it. Speaking of context, what I offered him afterwards was that early 60’s context of nuclear terror which led the young parents of a two-year old, living in Texas in the fall of 1962, to formulate a plan about what they’d do if the bombs dropped – a plan that involved an overdose of sleeping pills, as they calmly reminisced a few decades later. The grown daughter was startled, to say the least, but the fact that her quite traditional parents had felt driven to concoct such a plan showed how frightened people really were at the time. They weren’t building bomb shelters just for the fun of it.

Speaking of mid-century psychological-torment-subplots..

Kidding!

— 7 —

Okay! Let’s have a saint!

Today is the feast of Kateri Tekakwitha. She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints – a couple of pages of which are available online. 

 

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

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