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Earlier this evening, Bishop David Foley, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Birmingham (Third bishop of the diocese, as well as former auxiliary of Richmond), passed away after final bout of cancer. He was 88, tiny (under five feet tall) but astonishingly energetic up until the end. Last weekend, parishes in the diocese published this handwritten letter from him in their bulletins.

Bishop Foley

Bishop Foley remained very active in the diocese after his retirement. He said Mass everywhere, whenever needed, including in the Extraordinary Form. I last heard him preach perhaps a year ago or so, and his preaching was focused, on point and deeply well-prepared. One of the most striking elements of the way he celebrated Mass was perhaps related to his celebration of the Extraordinary Form – he prayed the Consecration almost sotto voce.  This might surprise some of you whose knowledge of Bishop Foley derives primarily from his interactions with EWTN leadership – including Mother Angelica – back in the day. But there it was.

One more note: My 17-year old works at a local grocery store, and just last fall, Bishop Foley came in. He recognized my son – we are assuming because my son has served at Casa Maria Convent and Retreat Center, where the Bishop would sometimes celebrate Mass – but their paths did not cross that often – perhaps two or three times over the course of three years – but Bishop Foley recognized him – if not by name, but definitely by sight – and chatted with him.

Requiescat in Pace. 

Bishop Foley’s obituary.

 

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Today (April 16)  is her memorial, although Eastertide matters take precedence. You can read about her anyway!   Loyola has the entry I wrote on St. Bernadette for The Loyola Kids Book of Saints up on their website – you can read the whole thing here. 

Bernadette’s life wasn’t easy to begin with. She and her family lived in terrible poverty in a village in France called Lourdes. By the time she was 14, Bernadette had been sick so often that she hadn’t grown properly. She was the size of a much younger girl. She, her parents, and her younger brothers and sisters all lived in a tiny room at the back of someone else’s house, a building that had actually been a prison many years before.

They slept on three beds: one for the parents, one for the boys, and one for the girls. 12912673_1739425146300211_1906595173_nEvery night they battled mice and rats. Every morning, they woke up, put their feet on cold stone floors, and dressed in clothes that had been mended more times than anyone could count. Each day they hoped the work they could find would bring them enough bread to live on that day.

Bernadette’s life was terribly difficult, but she wasn’t a miserable girl. She had a deep, simple faith in God. She didn’t mind any of the work she had to do, whether it was helping her mother cook or taking care of her younger brothers and sisters. There was, though, one thing that bothered her. She hadn’t been able to attend school very often, and she didn’t know how to read. Because of that, she had never learned enough about her faith to be able to receive her first Communion. Bernadette wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but her days, which were full of hard work, left little time for learning

Like other girls, Bernadette had many friends. She spent time with them in the countryside, playing and gathering wood for their families’ fireplaces and stoves. One cold February day, Bernadette was out with her sister and a friend, doing just that. They wandered along the river until they came to a spot where a large, shallow cave called a grotto had formed in the hilly bank. Bernadette’s sister and friend decided to take off their shoes and cross the stream.

Because she was so sickly, Bernadette knew her mother would be angry if she plunged her thin legs into the icy water, so she stayed behind. But after a few minutes, she grew tired of waiting for her companions to return. She took off her stockings and crossed the stream herself.

What happened then was very strange. The bushes that grew out of the grotto walls started blowing around as if they were being blown by a strong wind. Bernadette looked up. High above her in the grotto stood a girl.

Some photos from our 2012 trip to Lourdes. The photo of the little image above is also from that trip. I bought it from an artist whose workshop was way off the main drag of religious souvenir shops in Lourdes. As I bought it and one of her hand-made rosaries, she quipped, “Now you can say that you have something that is really from Lourdes – not China.”

"amy welborn"

The family home

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

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— 1 —

Went to the movies, saw A Quiet Place. If you can handle a bit of a scare and some earned sadness based on themes of love and sacrifice – go see it, too. I wrote about it here. 

— 2 —

Various activities this week:

  • A Piano Honors Ensemble Recital on Sunday
  • Went and watched our young mayor whom I don’t think anyone hates yet jump out of a plane on Monday afternoon – story here. It was a fun community moment out there in our lovely Railroad Park.
  • Monday evening, we attended a recital of organ students, including the daughter of a friend of ours. Here’s hoping that our keyboardist will be performing in it next year…
  • Homeschool trip/activity at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I always like going to our fine, free museum, but I think we might have aged out of activities like this…even if it was geared towards teens.
  • Two music lessons this week – one classical, one jazz.
  • Friday promises good weather, so M and will probably go check out what’s blooming in the Botanical Gardens and try out our finally reopened Vulcan Trail. Fascinating updates will probably be posted on Instagram. I thought I had recorded the plane-jumping, but got home and discovered that my phone video wasn’t recording for some reason. A restart fixed it.

 

—3–

And here you go, Friday: A morning with math (getting through that Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra – we’ll finish by mid-May!), some Spanish, some history reading. IMG_20180413_131338.jpgThen we set out to visit our just re-opened Vulcan Trail. It’s been closed for probably close to a year as they did something that’s been needed for a while – joining the Vulcan park to the trail below.

If you want to read about who this Vulcan fellow is, go here. He made his first formal appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, representing the city.

Then to the (also free) wonderful Birmingham Botanical Gardens to see what’s in bloom. Not anything at the Zen spot, obviously – except enlightenment. 

 

–4–

 

This weekend:

  • Mass serving
  • District piano competition (to qualify to play at state in May)
  • 17-year old taking the ACT
  • 17-year old working
  • 17-year old prepping for a college visit to Auburn Sunday night and Monday.
  • Oh, and someone looking at a car he’s hankering to buy with his hard-earned grocery bagging cash. My philosophy is: you have use of a car you don’t have to pay for. Why buy one? His philosophy is different. The whole things make me nervous, but the car he wants has excellent reviews and is by a carmaker I trust, so….
  • You’d think I’d be used to this by now. But I’m not. Parents of potty-training kids who think it can’t get worse? Oh, yes, it can. Everything about parenting older kids is great and fantastic except the driving part. That’s awful. And it’s awful because it’s not a joke. You don’t want your child to be hurt or killed. You don’t want them hurting or, God forbid being responsible for the death of another person. Over-dramatic? Nope. My prayer life gets a daily revival twice a day – once from 7:15-7:30 and then again from 3:15-3:45. Double revival when I hear sirens during that half-hour.

 

–5 —

I somehow missed this earlier in the year, but…you know those podcast series centered on a mysterious crime? Like Serial and S-Town (which was centered not too far from here – closer to Tuscaloosa)? I listened to part of Serial, then got impatient with it and fed up with the centrality of the podcaster to the story.

Very dependably, The Onion has come through with its own version: A Very Fatal Murder. It’s in six parts, which total about an hour. It’s pretty funny and absolutely -spot on in the satire of the self-important podcaster, the subtext of contempt for “ordinary” people and the ultimate sense you get of human lives being valuable only insofar as they serve a narrative.

It’s the kind of school where the football field is bigger than the chemistry lab, and kids learn to throw a baseball before they take the SAT’s.

After all, most of the people who lived here had never met a podcast host. Let alone a podcast host from New York City. They weren’t used to stuff like this.

 

–6–

Speaking of contempt for The Rest of Us, let’s turn to the pages of The New Yorker and “Chick-Fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City.” 

 

Defenders of Chick-fil-A point out that the company donates thousands of pounds of food to New York Common Pantry, and that its expansion creates jobs. The more fatalistic will add that hypocrisy is baked, or fried, into every consumer experience—that unbridled corporate power makes it impossible to bring your wallet in line with your morals. Still, there’s something especially distasteful about Chick-fil-A, which has sought to portray itself as better than other fast food: cleaner, gentler, and more ethical, with its poultry slightly healthier than the mystery meat of burgers. Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with this suburban piety. A representative of the Richards Group once told Adweek, “People root for the low-status character, and the Cows are low status. They’re the underdog.” That may have been true in 1995, when Chick-fil-A was a lowly mall brand struggling to find its footing against the burger juggernauts. Today, the Cows’ “guerrilla insurgency” is more of a carpet bombing. New Yorkers are under no obligation to repeat what they say. Enough, we can tell them. NO MOR.

My pleasure. 

As someone on Twitter said, I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be tough. So why are they so scared of a chicken sandwich?

And let’s imagine the outcry if the Nashville Tenessean or Knoxville News-Sentinel had run a piece fretting about the infiltration of halal or kosher food on the local menu.

Save yourself time – don’t read the article. Just scroll through “chick-fil-a New Yorker” on Twitter and enjoy yourself on this Friday afternoon, maybe with a side order of waffle fries.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

–7–

 

Next Monday, April 16, is the memorial of St. Bernadette.

Today  (April 16)  is her memorial.  Loyola has the entry I wrote on St. Bernadette for The Loyola Kids Book of Saints up on their website – you can read the whole thing here. 

Bernadette’s life wasn’t easy to begin with. She and her family lived in terrible poverty in a village in France called Lourdes. By the time she was 14, Bernadette had been sick so often that she hadn’t grown properly. She was the size of a much younger girl. She, her parents, and her younger brothers and sisters all lived in a tiny room at the back of someone else’s house, a building that had actually been a prison many years before.

They slept on three beds: one for the parents, one for the boys, and one for the girls. Every night they battled mice and rats. Every morning, they woke up, put their feet on cold stone floors, and dressed in clothes that had been mended more times than anyone could count. 12912673_1739425146300211_1906595173_nEach day they hoped the work they could find would bring them enough bread to live on that day.

Bernadette’s life was terribly difficult, but she wasn’t a miserable girl. She had a deep, simple faith in God. She didn’t mind any of the work she had to do, whether it was helping her mother cook or taking care of her younger brothers and sisters. There was, though, one thing that bothered her. She hadn’t been able to attend school very often, and she didn’t know how to read. Because of that, she had never learned enough about her faith to be able to receive her first Communion. Bernadette wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but her days, which were full of hard work, left little time for learning

Like other girls, Bernadette had many friends. She spent time with them in the countryside, playing and gathering wood for their families’ fireplaces and stoves. One cold February day, Bernadette was out with her sister and a friend, doing just that. They wandered along the river until they came to a spot where a large, shallow cave called a grotto had formed in the hilly bank. Bernadette’s sister and friend decided to take off their shoes and cross the stream.

Because she was so sickly, Bernadette knew her mother would be angry if she plunged her thin legs into the icy water, so she stayed behind. But after a few minutes, she grew tired of waiting for her companions to return. She took off her stockings and crossed the stream herself.

What happened then was very strange. The bushes that grew out of the grotto walls started blowing around as if they were being blown by a strong wind. Bernadette looked up. High above her in the grotto stood a gi

 

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

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We are home now – first stop Chick-fil-A, second stop washing machine, third stop Zaxby’s.

Home.

It’s still a miracle, really. Will I ever stop feeling the wonder at being in Mexico City at breakfast time, then home in time for lunch? I doubt it, and I don’t want to. It is a wonder, I’m grateful for it even as I feel a sense of unease at the sense of obligation it brings. Previous generations had it so hard and produced such beautiful, truthful things. I have it so easy, I have so much more time…what am I doing with it?

A question that weighs especially heavily after experiencing the highs – and in a more limited way – the lows – of a country like Mexico.

So, back to Saturday morning.

It did not begin well. Montezuma got me, and I can’t figure out where we met. Nothing but bottled water touched my lips. I didn’t have any fruits or vegetables that might have been washed in the preceding days. The only thing I can figure out is that Friday morning, we had breakfast and I had juevos awash in mole – I didn’t eat it all (they just drown things in mole sauce (why???), and to my palate it’s definitely overkill) – but I think that the little bit I did consume might have been it. Perhaps the mole had been reconstituted with local water and not heated at a high enough temperature to Kill Things. I don’t know. I do know it was miserable for a few hours there.

It took the morning for me to (mostly) recover. I sent the boys out a couple of times to wander, buy churros – whatever – just go. And they kept coming back like fifteen minutes later. Why are you here?

I took solace in the fact that if I, indeed, couldn’t get going at all that the Puebla centro is safe and interesting enough that they could, if seriously threatened, spend the whole day out there themselves, without me. (they’re almost 17 and 13, remember). There was a movie theater, too, if things got desperate.

But by about 11:30, I was confident enough of my system that I decided that our original Saturday plan could happen, albeit later than planned: Cholula.

Cholula is a neighboring town, but really, driving there, it seems more like a suburb. It’s six or seven miles away, but there’s no empty space between the two. The reason for going is this: what they think is probably the biggest pyramid, by volume, in the world.

Except you can’t see it!

For it’s under a hill and on top of the hill sits a church.

You can read about the pyramid here – in case you don’t know the reasons the MesoAmericans, particularly in central Mexico, could build their pyramids to such a great size is that they periodically enlarged them by building over them every few decades.

So, we Ubered it over there, startled by the immensity of the church-topped hill right there, with the town spread out around it. The driver let us out at a plaza lined with food and gift stalls, filled with visitors (it was Saturday, remember!) and in the middle of which were voladores, ready to take flight.

IMG_20180331_121004.jpg

What are voladores?

 The ritual ceremony of the Voladores (‘flying men’) is a fertility dance performed by several ethnic groups in Mexico and Central America, especially the Totonac people in the eastern state of Veracruz, to express respect for and harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds. During the ceremony, four young men climb a wooden pole eighteen to forty metres high, freshly cut from the forest with the forgiveness of the mountain god. A fifth man, the Caporal, stands on a platform atop the pole, takes up his flute and small drum and plays songs dedicated to the sun, the four winds and each of the cardinal directions. After this invocation, the others fling themselves off the platform ‘into the void’. Tied to the platform with long ropes, they hang from it as it spins, twirling to mimic the motions of flight and gradually lowering themselves to the ground.

It was interesting to see, although I don’t think “fling” describes the actions I saw. More like, “sit suspended and slowly start spinning while your hat-holding companions work the crowd below.”

I’m not going to recreate the next hour or so of activity step by step. Just know it involved: Seeing a huge line to enter the tunnel that’s been excavated through the pyramid. Getting the very clever idea that since we knew there was a museum associated with the pyramid, we’d avoid the line, get tickets for the experience at the museum and do that first. Getting ice cream. Going to the wrong museum. Going to the right museum, but being told we had to buy tickets at the tunnel entrance. Senora. Gracias. Waiting in line for thirty minutes (me sitting on a bench next to a rotating series of old Mexican men and women) to buy said tickets. Going through the tunnel.  Coming out the other side. Climbing up the hill to Our Lady of Remedies. Praying for just that. Very convenient. Climbing down and, knowing that we were on the complete opposite of the museum, saying, “forget it,” and heading into town instead.

With Mom fighting cramps every time her body changed position, it seemed. Which, you know, when you’re walking around, happens a lot.  Which explains why “forget it” is not exactly what she said in her head when understanding where the museum was in relation to where she ended up.

In all seriousness, it is an amazing sight, even though it’s a hill – for you know that under the hill lies an enormous pyramid and there you are on top of it with Our Lady of Remedies. The church is a lovely bright yellow, and it really does dominate the landscape of the town. In fact, as we left Puebla on Sunday, our bus drove on the highway several kilometers north – and I could see it from there.

Incidentally, Our Lady of Remedies, along with many other churches in the Puebla state, especially in and around Cholula, were heavily damaged in last fall’s earthquake. We saw a great deal of evidence of that – turrets and other features piled beside walls and so on.

 

What absorbed me most, though, was  the families. It’s not as if it were the first time  – in Mexico, that’s what you see most of – families, and most of the time, it’s multi-generational. Grandparents, parents, and children climbing the hill up to the church, waiting in line to enter the church, sharing a picnic, gathered at the top of the pyramid, under the shadow of Our Lady of Remedies. Little ones slung their buzzing, clacking toys around and wept at their dropped paletas, parents bounced babies in slings and grandparents, their stature usually about halfway between their children’s and grandchildren’s,  pointed out the features in the town spread out below and the volcanoes in the distance.

Deciding that our time in the two Archeology museums in Mexico City had probably been enough, we wandered into Cholula – as is the case with all Mexican towns, blocks of brightly painted buildings lined the streets and this being Holy Saturday, it was hopping. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, then found the Zocalo where we settled in for some lunch at a stand, then shopped a bit more – there was an extensive book section under the tent, and I bought several easy versions of classics in Spanish – probably 3rd-5th grade – the Iliad, The Invisible Man and a collection of Poe stories. We’ll see how serious our burgeoning MesoAmerican naturalist/scholar really is about learning Spanish, won’t we?

I then followed the lead of this blogger, found a taxi, and asked him if he would take us to two churches on the outskirts off Cholula and then back to Puebla – he agreed ($300 pesos was his price – about $15).

The churches?

First, St. María Tonantzintla. I got up at 4:30 am, and I’m tired, so I’ll let the other blogger fill you in:

Santa María Tonantzintla was constructed in the 17th century as a church for the local indigenous people. As was typical in Mexico, the local people incorporated many of their own beliefs into their religious symbols. This fusion produces a style which some refer to as “indigenous baroque”.

The church has a yellow body, but is nicely set off with red tile. The front ornamentation is rather simple, with figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary enclosed in niches along the front. The overall look is very pleasant.

It’s the inside where things get more interesting. A riot of figures cover every surface. The impact is stunning, your eyes are drawn over and over the surfaces, examining the many details. You can see children, birds, angels, flowers, and many other symbols. All are painstakingly crafted from plaster, then carefully painted or gilded.

I’ll go further than he does about the exterior – it’s not just “pleasant” – it’s distinctive and singular. The interior is as he describes it, and, as he continues – you aren’t allowed to take photographs inside. The people sell photographs and postcards and even a small book, and really, why not support them in their dedication to their own parish?

 

Our Cathedral rector traveled to this church a few years ago and snapped some interior photos after celebrating Mass – enjoy! 

Just a mile away is San Francisco Apatapec, fascinating and even startling because it’s so different than the first church – yes, the commonalities in structure indicate a proximity in construction, but instead of red tile, the second church is adorned with Talavera tile. I was a little restricted in photography because they had set up a tent that reached from the front door to the courtyard opening – I couldn’t get a good long view but I think you get the sense of it. Click on photos to get a larger version.

 

 

Aren’t they amazing?

And note – these are not located in the midst of grand cities or wealthy neighborhoods. What surrounds them may not be squalor, but it’s not a gated community either. It’s hardscrabble small town Mexico.

And of course, we were popping in on Holy Saturday afternoon, remember. Both churches were busy with preparation – people were dusting, scouring, trimming and arranging flowers. So here you have it: Beautiful – no, stunning – churches that are not imposed on or extracted from the sufferings of the poor by authoritarian hierarchs, but stand tall, rather, as expressions of the people’s love and worship of God, exploding with hope and trust in the Beauty that waits for them.

As I said…flight was at 7 am, which meant a 4:30 am wake-up. Thank goodness we were in an airport hotel. I might still be in Mexico City if it were otherwise. I’ll post on the rest of Saturday tomorrow. On Tuesday. Got it?

I’ll violate my general aversion to putting video on the blog (because you can’t resize them)  by sticking this one of the voladeros here:

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For those of you who haven’t been reading this week – we’re currently in Mexico. The first part of the week was spent in Mexico City, and now we’re in Puebla. Read previous entries, including a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe here. 

— 1 —

This format fits very nicely into the Holy Thursday tradition of Visitation to the Seven Churches – but the account won’t be broken up that neatly, for more than the visitation happened yesterday…and I want to write about that, too.

Thursday would be our last day in Mexico City, a fact that brought both relief and the slightest little touch of sadness. It’s always that way when we travel – just when you’re settling in and feeling comfortable with the neighborhood – it’s time to go. But relief as well, because Mexico City is huge and busy, and even though our quick Thursday morning walk showed us that Holy Thursday would be far less chaotic than other days (given most people wouldn’t be working and the streets were far emptier),  it would still be a relief to get somewhere where our sightseeing wouldn’t require either a long drive or fighting crowds to see what we wanted every time. (I’d be wrong on that last point, thought!)

So, Thursday morning, we awoke, cleaned ourselves and the apartment, packed, but then set out on to see last one sight before we checked out: the parish of the Holy Family, the location of Blessed Miguel Pro’s remains.

It was about a 3/4 mile walk in a direction we hadn’t explored before. Most shops and restaurants were closed, but the street vendors were out. We made it to the church, and prayed in front of Miguel Pro’s relics, which are contained in a small casket on the right side of the church. What was really unfortunate, but not surprising, was that the museum was closed – the museum that holds, for example, the vest he was wearing when he was killed and of course other interesting items and information. I didn’t think that through when “planning” this – that of course it would be closed on Holy Thursday. I am very glad we got to the church, but really regret not being able to see the museum with the boys. I find Miguel Pro’s story so inspiring and humbling (I wrote about him in the Book of Saints under “Saints are People who are Creative)  that even without the museum, visiting him gave me a boost, and I hope did so for my sons as well, not to mention those for whom I prayed there.

 

M had spied a vendor featuring chorizo on the way, so on the return, we stopped for a taco or two, then made our way back, gave the apartment key to the doorman, called an Uber, and were driven to the east bus station, from which we’d go to Puebla.

— 2 —

Bus travel in Mexico is not like it is in the United States – it’s more like it probably was in the US before the advent of personal cars and interstates, but with better buses. These major bus stations are like very busy airports – probably more so on Thursday because of the holidays. It was very efficient, although these situations are those in which one’s lack of a language becomes a real handicap. In international airports, signage is in English and most employees speak English. There’s no reason for that to be the case here – so it isn’t. Add to that the fact that it’s loud and of course native speakers in a chaotic, busy environment where things need to get done and get done now – are going to speak very quickly.

The buses run so often that there’s no need to buy a ticket ahead of time. I just wanted to get to Puebla mid- to late afternoon, so I knew if I showed up around noon, we’d be able to get on a bus within an hour – sooner that that, it turns out. I got to the ticket counter at 12:15, requested first class tickets on a bus to Puebla, and was put on a 12:35. Total cost, a bit over 600 pesos, which is $33.

We made our way to the proper gate, checked our suitcases, got luggage tags, went through security (didn’t have to remove shoes or laptops, though!), then attempted to board the bus. This is where the language thing was a problem – well, not a problem, just annoying. If I could have understood what the woman was saying to me, I wouldn’t have kept getting in line over and over, only to be told each time, una momenta senora! 

We arrived at the gate at about 12:20, so I didn’t think twice about attempting to board, but when she looked at my ticket, she told me to step aside – una momenta!. Then one group finished, she got on the PA and said something very fast into the din, people lined up, and so up we went…una momenta, senora! Finally, a manager who spoke a bit of English looked at my ticket and was able to tell me that we wouldn’t be boarding until right before the scheduled departure time – which is indeed the way it is. If your bus is at 12:35, you’ll probably board at about 12:33, sit down, and be driven away.

A word about “first class” – the boards I read indicated that it was worth the miniscule extra fee, partly because you get a bit of food. Well, we didn’t get any food. I don’t know if the seats were any better – they were indeed comfortable – and I did get WiFi – I don’t know that’s a feature of all the buses, or just restricted to first class. I’ll probably swing for first class on the way back, too – perhaps it will be less chaotic on Sunday and I’ll have a better sense of the difference.

After a not-very exciting two hour ride  – the first part crawling through Mexico City traffic, and the last on highway, with The Mighty Macs playing on the television hanging in the front of the bus (maybe that was one of my first class benefits? The Mighty Macs? Well, then, of course it was worth it…) we arrived in Puebla, and attained a taxi through the same pre-paid system they had in the Mexico City airport – really quite effective in heading off scams.

—3–

Our hotel is an old one in the centro, just a block from the Cathedral. I let the boys chill, then set out on my usual recon mission – checking out the neighborhood, finding quick food, convenience stores, and just getting the lay of the land.

WUT.

I knew a lot of things. I knew that Puebla is not a small town (it’s the fourth-largest in Mexico, but with an historic center that was part of its appeal to me). I knew that it’s school vacation time in Mexico. But I also knew that it was, er, Holy Thursday – you know the first day of the Triduum, and part of the reason we’re here is to experience the big, serious Good Friday procession?

So I suppose what I expected as I set out was some sort of subdued preparation vibe. No. I put it this way in my head as I walked around.

Well I guess Lent is definitely over! 

Big crowds, family groups everywhere, characters posing for photos with kids, toy vendors clacking their annoying toys, huge clouds of balloons for sale, food vendors, every shop open and just…people enjoying each other and enjoying life.

Not what I expected, but, as the day wore on and I absorbed more of the experience, probably exactly what I needed to break some frankly puritanical (French-Canadian Jansenist mother combined with low-church Methodist dad) currents still running in my blood – although a lot of that was shaken loose by my late husband’s deep, but relaxed and humane piety, it’s still there, and this was an education.

I stopped in the Cathedral – which was coursing with visitors (if you’ve ever been to St. Patrick’s in NYC – it’s the same kind of vibe – just a constant flow around and around) and was treated to a performance – from the dress and relaxed attitude, I’m going to guess it was a rehearsal, but perhaps not? Anyway, it was some kind of oratorio – perhaps the Messiah, although it was a section with which I’m not familiar. Or it occurred to me, it could have been a Mass or even Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It was lovely. I hope it was a rehearsal and I can figure out when the actual performance is – I didn’t see it posted.

 

–4–

I returned and got the boys. This was about 4:30, and they’d hardly eaten anything all day, so time for refueling before the Mass fast sets in (we’d be at the Cathedral for the 7pm). There’s a tiny shop right next to our hotel that serves tortas – one got chicken, one IMG_20180329_165031.jpggot full on Cubana and I got milanese – which I finally learned is what they call veal. Slathered with bean spread and avocado, they were delicious, heated in a press. There was an option for some heat, but the shop owner warned by over-enthusiastic son against it, dropping a tiny drop on the back of his hand and inviting him to try it – Brave one took a taste, his eyes widened, and he shook his head: no gracias! 

We then wandered until Mass time – I’ll talk more about Puebla in tomorrow’s post, because I’m sure we’ll be covering much of the same territory in a different way today.

We decided to settle into seats for Mass early – about 6:30. The Cathedral is very lovely, but kind of weirdly set up. There is just not a lot of seating. You walk in, there’s this huge, gorgeous octagonal altar, about twenty rows of seating, and then a huge closed off area for the organ and choir. There’s seating on the side, yes, but in all I can’t see that there are actual seats for more than a few hundred people. What I finally theorized was: first, when it was originally constructed, they probably didn’t have pews, so there was more room, and secondly, when it was originally constructed,  perhaps the organ space – if there was one – wasn’t as large as it is now.

So we thought it was a good idea to claim a seat early – which it was. It got very crowded, naturally. And it wasn’t bad getting there early – we could watch the preparations, mostly one fellow who climbed high above the altar to light the (oil) candles and working to replace a couple of them.

Liturgical notes:

  • Mass was celebrated by the archbishop (or a bishop – there are auxiliaries – but given his age I’m presuming it was the archbishop. Only one priest concelebrant, a deacon, an MC, and an interesting collection of serving ministers. Candlebearers and the VIMP (who holds the archbishop’s accoutrements during Mass) were older women dressed in identical grey suits. There was one teenage girl who was the actual altar server. Other robed adults floated around doing things. (Unlike the Shrine of Guadalupe, where everyone on the altar  – including the troop of servers) were male.
  • The music was provided by the organist and a small choir of adults, with a strong tenor cantoring the responsorial psalm. I have no idea what they were singing (there was no “worship aid” as we like to call it…), but every piece was known by the congregation by heart. The music sat between emotional Latin pop church music and more traditional sacred music, leaning more towards the latter in tone.
  • During the Gloria, two other women in grey suits were in charge of ringing the bells which were very cool – I didn’t get a good photo (partly because there were signs everywhere forbidding photography – I’m thinking just during Mass – I hope) – but will try to go back today or tomorrow.  There were two large rings of small bells – maybe two dozen – mounted on pillars for the choir area behind us. They are rung by pulling ropes – and one worked great, but the woman ringing the bells behind us couldn’t get them to work, as valiantly as she tried during the entire Gloria!
  • The archbishop preached, in a sincere but subdued tone, so that even if I understood Spanish, I don’t think I would have been able to understand him. I saw several people look at each other and shrug during the homily.
  • No foot washing, which was great in my book, but unfortunately no ritual stripping of the altar either – which is always such a solemn and sobering moment. The archbishop did of course process then to the altar of reservation back behind the sanctuary followed by a couple of hundred of us.

 

 

–5 —

What to do now? Well….I ventured…there’s this tradition of visiting seven churches where the Eucharist is reserved on Holy Thursday night. I’ve always wanted to do it, but doing so in Birmingham would require driving all around town – there are so many churches here – we could probably knock of seven in about thirty minutes.

They were not super enthusiastic, as well as doubtful about my claim, but you know what? I wasn’t too far off. If we had been totally business-like about the whole thing, and not stopped to watch and observe and figure out some new sights we were seeing it wouldn’t have taken longer than thirty minutes.

So we set out. And discovered something new and quite wonderful. Those of you with roots in this culture won’t be surprised. But I don’t and I was. This visitation of the seven churches is A Thing.  It’s what everyone is doing on Holy Thursday night – wandering around the center of the city with their families and friends, stopping in churches, praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament and enjoying the end of Lent -for at the door of every church were vendors set up selling the typical snacks of this area – the corn, the little tortillas, frying, topped with salsas and cheese, and turnovers.

IMG_20180329_203349.jpg

I was stunned. I don’t know if this is the “correct” way of seeing it, but this is what came to me as we walked amidst the other families, joined them in prayer and smelled the scents of bounty:

After the Last Supper, Jesus took his friends to the Garden of Gethsemane and asked them to stay awake with him. They didn’t. They slept. As we pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday night, we are trying to stay awake, to keep watch with him. We know this. But in this culture, it takes on a different flavor. The entire community – not just me as an isolated individual – is remaining with Jesus, not in strained imitation, but in joy and trust that as he remains faithful to us, we are going to try to be faithful to him, as we are, in community and in joy for the life we trust he has given us – a life that is real and full because of him. We flow into his Presence in the church, we pray, we keep watch, and we flow back out into the world as it is, knowing that in the midst of it, he lives, and we are doing our best to stay with him – not just by ourselves, but as a people.

Plus, you know, Lent is over!

One really intriguing note – that perhaps someone familiar with this can explain. At every church door, in addition to the regular food being sold, there was a table, usually manned by  a religious sister, of big bags of white sheets and scraps of..something. I could not figure out what it was – I originally thought it was wax left over from candle making. I finally asked one woman in some broken Spanish, and a sister who spoke English approached and explained: No not wax but leftover sheets from host-baking. “We eat them as a snack,” she said, “We think they are delicious.” And indeed, as the night went on, that’s what we saw – people walking about munching the scraps. I don’t know if it’s something that is only done this time of year, or all the time.

–6–

So finally, the churches. I don’t have time to figure out what churches we went to. We just started at the Cathedral, and moved towards lighted bell towers. Every church was full of people praying, and many had lines to go in – the doors were marked entrada and salida for crowd control. There were different things going on in each church – silence in one, the rosary being prayed in another, sisters singing in another.

Photos below, with video at Instagram. I also don’t have time to artistically arrange these photos – gotta get going, and this Wi-Fi is unreliable. So I’m going to toss them here and hope for the best. You can click on photos and enlarge them.

 

–7–

Well, I probably have more to say, but this has taken long enough – time to rouse the troops and get ready for the Good Friday procession…..

Oh, and check out my entry in Living Faith tomorrow. 

 

 

 

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“Lachrimae Amantis“
Lope de Vega Carpio (1562-1613), translated by Geoffrey Hill

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.

So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered ‘your lord is coming, he is close’

that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
‘tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.’

Agony in the Garden

Source

Also, from my favorite vintage textbook. We’ll just keep it simple today. That’s the best way.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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Teotihuacan is a solid hour away from Mexico City. There are a few options for getting out there, if you’re not driving yourself: Take a tour; take public transportation (bus) or do a taxi or Uber (or some other similar service).

I decided that it made the most sense to let this be our first ever Uber experience – and it was the right decision.  Uber has its problems, true, but it really is a tremendous innovation to a) be able to let the driver know your destination ahead of time, so he can decide whether or not to take the job  b)pay via the app  c) see ratings. It takes so much stress out of the experience. In this case, I know that the weird path I’m being driven through the back streets of a town was on purpose and not an attempt to run up the fare….

Agustin was our driver. An older man, he has almost 4,000 rides to his credit, was polite, but since he really didn’t speak any English, there was no conversation, which didn’t bother the Introvert at all. We just rode out of town, seeing the sights and listening the American oldies on the radio.

We left later than it’s recommended for Teotihuacan. The site is large and mostly unshaded, and does get crowded, so the optimal experience would be a very early arrival. But…I had tired boys who I really didn’t feel like awakening at the crack of dawn again, so we ended up getting there around 11:15.

Most people, to the extent that they know about Teotihuacan at all, assume it’s an Aztec site. Mexico City=Aztecs, so that’s right, isn’t it? No – by the Aztecs rose to power, this site was largely uninhabited. No one knows much about who they were, what they were about, or why the community collapsed.

It was hot, but not unbearably so – but then I have a high tolerance for heat. It’s cold that I run from. The site was pretty crowded, with visitors from all over. Mexicans, of course, but also Germans (of course – they and the Brits  are the most enthusiastic European travelers), Japanese swathed in scarves, and a lot of Americans (Look. I know that in this hemisphere, we are all Americans and I am always aware of that and try to write accordingly. But there is just not succinct shorthand for speaking of inhabitants of the United States other than “American” – so it will have to do.) – family groups, but mostly groups of young people. Students, I’m assuming.

(Admission: 70 pesos apiece – about 3.85 USD.)

It’s an impressive site for its size and the act of imagination it takes to visualize a thriving community and the work it took to construct it.  I assume that a society that constructs such huge temples matches the effort with elaborate ritual and a complex way of life, and since we don’t know much about it – is an intriguing mystery to contemplate.

 

 

But… Michael and I both agreed that we prefer the Mayan sites in Guatemala that we visited: Tikal, Yaxha, Aguateca and the other one I can never remember the name of. There’s more known about them, the landscape is more to our liking – having howler monkeys leap and, well, howl right above your head is hard to beat –  and there’s just more there. As I said, Teotihuacan has the sight of the site itself, which is worth experiencing, the massive pyramids, and some very interesting murals that have survived – but that’s it, really, that’s on site and not in the museum.

It’s definitely worth seeing, but Michael and I are sticking with the Maya for now.

 

 

A couple more notes from that part of the day:

  • The major goal people have in Teotihuacan is climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. I was game, but I was dreading it, mostly because a)it’s a lot of steps up, and that is, you know, tiring and b) coming down these things is far more nerve-racking to me than going up. I think I’m going to die from exhaustion climbing up, but I know I’m going to die from crashing down those steps on the descent. But hey! I didn’t die! First, there were so many people there, there was a line to ascend, and it was a slow moving line, which meant that in the steepest part, you’d take three steps, wait a minute and then take three more, so I didn’t even feel close to dying. Secondly they had rope handrails, so I could join the other old ladies and hang on to that for dear life on the descent.
  • (I think this was another reason that my younger son, although he liked the day, was not as keen on it as he has been on the Maya sites – there were just so many people, it wasn’t as meditative as experience as he’s had in the other sites, most of which, with the exception of Tikal, we’ve had mostly to ourselves (and Marlon, our guide on this most recent trip). But even Tikal, while certainly more touristed, has many more different areas, and is shrouded in jungle, so you don’t feel part of a crowd.
  • There are many vendors, even on the site. They each sell exactly the same items (annoying jaguar whistles and obsidian knives), and they say the exact same thing the many vendors at Chichen Itza said: Almost free! Almost free!

 

So…how do we get back??

I had read that getting an Uber car was iffy on the way back. First, there aren’t that many Uber drivers hanging around the site, waiting, and secondly, cell service can be a problem. Both seemed to be an issue for me when I started trying..the app wasn’t cooperating, and there didn’t seem to be any cars nearby. So I walked up to the ticket guy and asked where the bus stop was and he said, “Across the road – it comes every fifteen minutes.”

And so it did. Cost: 52 pesos apiece (about 2.85). It wasn’t one of those luxury Mexican buses, but it was fine and very comfortable, although the ride did take a while. We stopped in the town before hitting the highway, but not just to take on new riders. Two law enforcement agents boarded at the stop, one with a video camera in hand. They walked through the bus (smiling, I might add – the one fellow fist-bumped both my sons), one observing and counting empty seats, and the other videoing the face of each person on the bus. Someone I know had had this experience, so I wasn’t taken completely by surprise – but it was still…interesting.

The bus goes to the big Norte station, which was still a ways from our apartment, so since we now do Uber…we did that.

Now I should note that at this point, no one had had anything to eat since a couple of sweet rolls around 9:30 am. Yes, we’d been hydrated (there’s no water available in the site, which we knew about,  so we had a backpack with water bottles that we carried), but still…it was 4, and time to eat. I thought we needed more than street tacos, but we were too messy and worn out for anything even vaguely formal, so as we neared the apartment, I peaked into a homey-looking place and made an executive decision – and so in we went.

It might not have been the best decision, but you know what? People were nourished and had a new experience. And that’s the most important thing of all! New! Experiences!

It was small, but busy – I was kind of surprised that at 4, every table was taken with people eating full meals. Were people still eating lunch? I’m thinking they were. Anyway, our waitress didn’t speak any English and the menu was all in Spanish, and things were moving pretty quickly, so I did my best. I mean, I do know “pollo” and “sopa” and a lot of other food-related words, but some mysteries remained.

It was a menu de dia – so three courses, plus flan at the end. First course: soup, fruit or salad. The boys got fruit (lesson one: “fruit” in Mexico is always going to be spiced. I should have anticipated that.) I got the soup which was just okay, tasting mostly of raw onion more than anything else.  Second course: rice, spaghetti or salad. We all got rice, which was…a small plate of rice. Third: about twelve choices of all types. We ended up with two chicken dishes – one grilled and one breaded and fried – and flautas. The chicken came with refried beans and something I could not figure out…but I think it was a sort of tortilla salad? Is that a thing? The flautas were good, my son said, although he really could not figure out how to eat them until he observed a woman doing so – she just stabbed her knife through the end of it and ate it from the other end on down.

The only drink we could discern was what was in pitchers already on the table: coconut water.

So, as I said, it wasn’t Instagrammable food, it wasn’t the best – certainly not up to the standards of the simple, fresh but really good food I had in Guatemala – but it got the job done and..oh…here’s how much I paid. 170 pesos.

Do you know how much that is?

$9.70.

For three complete dinners.

So…now it’s about 5:30. What to do with the evening, especially for tired people who really don’t feel like wandering about the city – we walked enough today, thanks.

There’s a movie theater just a couple of blocks away, so I looked up what was showing, not really thinking it would be worth it to go, considering we don’t speak Spanish. But then I noticed that in the listings, films were labeled with either ESP or SUB – and all the US films had SUB. I did a bit of research, and then, while the boys were chilling out, walked over to the theater to make sure, asking the girl in the ticket office if a film is labeled “SUB” that means the dialogue is in the film’s original language – in this case, English. Si, that’s what it means. Which surprises me – I thought they’d be dubbed. But apparently not (I think animated films are). So….

TITANES DEL PACIFICO

Was the evening’s entertainment.

(I never saw the first one. I survived this one. It was silly and loud but not offensive and IMG_20180326_191844.jpghad just enough emotionally-rooted character motivation and just enough interesting character actors to not bore me.)

Observations from the Mexico City movie-going experience at this theater, part of the Cinepolis chain:

  • Tickets are purchased for reserved seats.
  • They provide nifty, very substantial plastic trays for concessions.
  • Attendants were at the door of the theater after the showing, taking trays, dumping trash and emptying unconsumed drink into buckets.
  • Cost of tickets: about $3/USD apiece.

This is going to be one of the cheapest vacations I’ve ever had….

Videos can be found on Instagram. I don’t put videos here because I don’t know how to resize them and they always post in titanic form. 

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