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Who are you?

How did you become that person?

Did you have a choice?

Better Call Saul JMM Review – /Film

 

****

Well, now, Better Call Saul. That was a neat hat trick.

We were all fixated on the the moment and…that’s when Jimmy became Saul… 

…when all along we should have been looking for…that’s when Kim became…

well, not Saul, because she’s her own person. But…someone. 

SPOILERS. Don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled. Although it was almost two weeks ago, and if you wanted to watch it, you’d have done so by now.

It wasn’t a shock though. Whether or not the creators had an end game in mind since the beginning, to their credit,  the seeds have been there: Kim might have been an ethical rock in Jimmy’s life, but face it – she was also Giselle, and she was very, very turned on by that particular game.

There’s no reason for me to do a complete run-down and analysis here. You can get that elsewhere –like here. I also won’t spend much time weighing in on the is it better than Breaking Bad question. At this point, I’d say no. They are very different shows, and BCS is fantastic, but I still think there is a thrill-ride edginess to Breaking Bad that makes it all the more delectable. BCS is more of a slow burn and careful character study, and it’s great, but I think, at this point, BB still wins in my book. We’ll see, though. One more season to go. Sadly.

This has been an interesting season because, at least on the surface, Jimmy’s major foil is no longer a part of the picture – Chuck, his brother. Even last season, when Chuck was dead, his presence loomed large. I think for that reason, the dynamic is a little looser, less tightly focused this season, and therefore, Kim’s change edges onto center stage.

I love this show for what it is, but I’m also fascinated by it from a creative perspective. The creators of this had a “problem” – not in a bad sense, just in terms of a situation. We know Saul Goodman (we think) from Breaking Bad. We know what he’s like in that world, we know what happens to him by the end of that timeline. The question BCS explored was – how did he get that way? Where did Saul Goodman come from? They could have approached it from a million different directions, but they went with this particular storyline of character origin and transformation, and it’s just been fascinating to watch. And no, we’re not there yet. The Jimmy/Saul we now know at the end of season 5 of BCS is still not the Saul Goodman who casually suggests to Walt and Jesse…why not just kill Badger? And, furthermore, hits on…Francesca. I confess, of all the distinctions in the character between shows…that is the one that strikes me as the knottiest. Will they just ignore it? Or will they come up with some ingenious explanation? I’m betting on the latter.

Which brings me back to Kim. All along – really, from the beginning, up until the second-to-the last episode of this season, I’ve been one with most of the rest of you viewers, dreading Kim’s fate. Something terrible must happen to her we said – it’s the only explanation for how Jimmy became Saul. 

Er…well…maybe not?

A completely different scenario flashed through my head during that confrontation with Lalo in the penultimate episode. What if…I wondered…during the Breaking Bad timeline…Kim’s not dead or in witness protection…or left Jimmy in disgust…what if she’s actually become some super-successful attorney working for some part of the cartel? And what Jimmy/Saul is doing is…related to her work, a cover for it or even in reaction to it? 

The possibilities are endless, and intriguing, and, from the perspective of creativity and art, quite suggestive.

And note a theme – the theme that dominates both shows. Both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul focus us on broken, hurting human beings who might, indeed, have reason to blame their troubles on external factors – sickness, other people, family dynamics, threats – and who make a choice, ultimately, to go with that blame and let it control their decisions. Pride drives Walter White, and to some extent, Jimmy McGill. Jimmy’s trajectory is all the more painful because he really does mean well, and he really does try – while Walter White is pretty terrible from the beginning (something viewers tend to forget). But Jimmy is ultimately driven just as much by pride as Walt is.

Further, both shows are also about how that original sin, as it were, spreads. It’s like Genesis 1-11 brought to life in New Mexico, but with lawyers, drugs and money instead of forbidden fruit, grain sacrifices and ziggurats.

It was the great, overarching theme of Breaking Bad and while less dominant here in Better Call Saul, it still plays a part, especially, we now see, in the dynamic between Kim (magnificently played by Rhea Seehorn, perhaps one of the best female characters on any television show, ever) and Jimmy/Saul.

Who is Kim? We don’t know all about her, but we do know that she has worked very, very hard – to a fault. She is driven and meticulous with a ethical core – that is, however, sorely tempted and tried by the satisfaction of being Giselle, and all that means.  She can also justify the scams and deceit up to a point, since sometimes what she gets into is for the sake of a greater good. Ends justifies the means, and all that.

It’s about the difficulty of doing the right thing and the pull of doing the wrong thing.

So how do we become who we are? And who are we, anyway? Internal, external forces, innate factors, genetics, circumstances, emotions, reactions. Whoever we are at any given moment emerges from all of that muck – just as these characters and who they are emerge from the the muck of their fictional lives and the muck of the creative process.

It’s messy. But here’s the thing:  in the end, someone has to make a choice.

(From season 3)

Kim: I could have killed someone, Jimmy.

Jimmy: Yeah, yourself.

Kim: I worked most of last week on maybe six hours of sleep and then I crossed three lanes of traffic and I don’t remember any of it.

Jimmy: Look, you were just doing what you thought you had to do because of me.

Kim: You didn’t make me get in that car. It was all me. I’m an adult. I made a choice.

 

Yes, Jimmy McGill had an overbearing jerk of a brother.  Yes, he’s got a skill for manipulation and an attraction to showmanship. Yes, Kim Wexler (apparently) had an insecure childhood and is attracted to the power of dramatic exaggeration herself. Yes, Mike and his son, Nacho and his dad.  Yes, Walter White got lung cancer and was ripped off by his former friends and partners.

But I think what’s clear from both Better Call Saul is the persistent power of the reality and value of free will. We really do believe in it. And we believe that there are right and wrong uses of that free will. It’s why we watch shows and read books like this with such engagement and, at times, anxiety. That engagement shows that no, we really don’t believe everything is relative or all choices are equally valid and your truth is as good as my truth. We can be amused at the highjinks and gasp in dread and admiration and at the audacious moves, but most of us, despite the entertainment value of all that, stick with it because we really do want these pretend people to figure out how to use their pretend powers for good and stop, you know, helping the other pretend people get away with murder.

And we’re into it because we’re in it. Rising from muck ourselves every day, we’re pushed and pulled too. We’ve got our skills and our gifts and tragedies, our opportunities, our curses and we’ve got something else that the pretend people have, but ours are too real because this is real life:

Choices. 

 

Better Call Saul Season 5 Finale: Peter Gould Interview

Am I bad for you?

 

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—1 —

This might be the most random 7QT ever. Sorry about that.

So – be sure to check out my posts over the past week on medium, message and evangelization. Here’s one.

UPDATE:

I wrote this post last night, so here are some morning links that caught my eye:

I go back and forth on Ann Althouse, She is one of the few bloggers I try to look at every day, but sometimes her fixations on whatever minutiae catches her eye gets boring and I definitely think she’s become less interesting since retiring from teaching law. But this is a good, very classic Althousian post – on last night’s Dem debate:

4. Elizabeth Warren was there on the other side of Biden. She and Bernie were double-teaming Joe, and that worked… for Joe. He linked Warren to Bernie: She’s for Bernie/I’m for Barack. I remember Warren reacting to every question with “Listen…” Like we’re the slow students in her class and we haven’t been paying attention and she’s getting tired of us. We should already know what she’s been saying on whatever the question happens to be. She was sunny and bright with enthusiasm when she talked about her early career as a school teacher and how when she was a child she lined up her “dollies” for a lesson. She was, she said, “tough but fair.” I love whatever love there is for tough but fair teachers. Maybe more of that, but we’re not in her class, and our responsibilities are to people and things in our own lives, not in keeping track of whatever her various policies and positions are. 

7. Andrew Yang. I kept wanting him to talk more. His father was a peanut farmer. We made some Jimmy Carter jokes. He wasn’t wearing a tie, but he had on a shirt that — buttoned on the second button — seemed to be strangling him more than a tie. That’s got to be a metaphor for change. It seems like a good idea, making life freer and more pleasurable, but in practice it’s constricting and distracting. Yang said something about picking out 10 families to give $1000 a month. Was that an offer to hand out his own money? I don’t know. He ought to try to seem less weird, not more weird. Unless that’s his goal: to become the most famous weird guy. Sorry, you can’t win that prize. The most famous weird guy is Donald Trump.

Carl Olson on the passive-aggressive papacy:

First, yes, let’s readily admit that Francis has critics who are outrageous, emotional, strident, and even slanderous. So did his predecessors, even if the current criticism has been amplified because of the internet and social media. Criticism comes with the territory, and being thin-skinned, snarky, and even petty about it is not a good look, especially for a pope.

But, secondly, there have been respectful and reasonable concerns—some expressed in critical but not outrageous ways—that Francis has pointedly ignored. The famous dubia submitted by four cardinals (two of whom now deceased) is an obvious example. The dubia were submitted in writing, the cardinals asked respectfully for a response, and they wanted an answer. None came, and none will, I’m convinced. As I noted in June 2017: “I’ll be shocked—and I don’t use that term lightly—if Francis agrees to meet with the four cardinals, or if he formally responds to the dubia. I believe Francis is content to create the mess that is currently spreading throughout the Church, and even, at times, to encourage it even more by way of dubious assertions.” (For more thoughts on the dubia and Francis’ silence, see my November 2016 essay “The Four Cardinals and the Encyclical in the Room”.)

Thirdly, while Francis makes distinctions between good and bad critics, he and his closest collaborators (not to mention his defenders on Twitter, who are equal parts passive and aggressive) rarely, if ever, really address or consider good criticism in a mature, pastoral manner. In many cases they misrepresent it or attack those who put it forward in good faith. Put another way, Francis and company make it quite clear, in the end, that any and all criticism is motivated by some irrational, ideological, political, and unCatholic hatred of Francis. They would rather stonewall, deflect, and even insult rather than actually dialogue. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it several dozen times.

 

— 2 —

We are currently talking about a trip to Honduras. One of the rabbit holes I fell into the other night in doing so was this day-by-day account of a retired engineer’s bike journey from Mexico City to Costa Rica. No, it didn’t make me want to take up that means of transportation, but it did ease whatever concerns I might have had about going to Honduras (not much, but still a nudge here and there) and it was just so interesting – and lovely to read about his encounters with folks along the way.

— 3 —

Ah – I just discovered a couple of links I’d saved for this space, but forgotten about.

This one touches on some aspects of my rants from the past week or so:

Bonhoeffer Convinced me to Abandon My Dream:

The pastor’s first call is not to envision a church but to receive one. We lead by discerning how Christ is forming a community and by being one of the first to accept that fellowship with gratitude.

The pastor is not an entrepreneur. We are called to a project already underway. So, I would like to offer a dramatically reinterpreted concept of pastoral vision: True visionary leadership is being first to recognize what God has already formed. The starkness of Bonhoeffer’s warning opened my eyes to this new kind of pastoral vision. It forced me to finally see the congregation already in front of me. How had I missed it? While I was dreaming of some other place, God was planting a church in that basement, and he was calling me to pastor it. To my shame, most of our participants recognized it long before me.

Bonhoeffer convinced me to abandon dreaming. A church is never abstract. A congregation is never a demographic goal or an imaginary gathering. We are not called to a possibility, but to God’s work at a specific moment, in this place, with these people.

God is building his church; our gratitude comes from the joy of being in on it. The weight of forming and building a church is more than we can bear—the stories of pastors crushed beneath the work they’ve constructed are endless—but being called to a work God has initiated is a wonderful grace. Pastoral ministry is a gift, not an achievement. The moment we shift our eyes from God’s particular work to future abstractions, we are no longer pastors.

— 4 —

Here’s Daniel Mitsui’s September newsletter. Always worth your time to see samples of his latest work and read his thoughts – and perhaps start thinking about Christmas gifts.

Our Lady of Seattle

 

This drawing (Our Lady of Seattle)  was commissioned by a church near Seattle. In it, I combined iconographic elements from the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady, Undoer of Knots with decorative elements from the art of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest.

Its shape suggests a copper shield. In the border, pairs of animals approach Noah’s Ark. This is a reference to Chief Seattle, who took the baptismal name Noah. The Ark I based on a Tlingit bone carving of a spirit canoe.

The figure of Mary is dressed similar to a statue in the church, but carrying the Christ Child in a sling. She stands on a crescent moon, a snake underfoot, with twelve stars about her head. The Greek nomina sacra inscriptions are abbreviations for Jesus Christ and Mother of God.

— 5 –

Via Daniel – the Catholic Artists Directory. 

 

— 6 —

Thomas McDonald of Weird Catholic takes a look at a new biography of St. Nobbit  Norbert:

There’s a strange comfort to be found in the dysfunctional corners of Church history. It’s not that the clerical corruption, lax discipline, bad theology and miserable leadership of the past allows us to shrug our shoulders, mutter a world-weary, “’Twas ever thus,” and wonder what’s a body to do when we encounter the same problems today. Rather, it’s the realization that challenges of the past produced saints to meet them — those men and women who looked at Christ and at his Church and said, “We must do better.”

And, fired by the Holy Spirit, they did.

Among the founders of enduring religious orders, St. Norbert of Xanten is the forgotten man. Part of this is due to the currents of history, which battered his reputation and the order he left behind — the Premonstratensians, colloquially known as the Norbertines. At his death in 1134, more than 100 abbeys and other foundations existed throughout Europe, with the strongest presence in France, Germany and Belgium, where Norbert himself lived, worked and preached. Within 200 years of his death, there may have been 1,000 Premonstratensian institutions, yet he wouldn’t be canonized until the Counter-Reformation needed a strong witness to the Real Presence.

As the Norbertines grew, their founder’s reputation was eclipsed by the very men he inspired. First St. Francis and then St. Dominic met the challenges of their days with his sense of boldness, fiery faith and Christlike simplicity. Indeed, it’s impossible to read Thomas Kunkel’s new book on the life of Norbert, Man on Fire, without seeing it as a kind of template for the life of Francis.

A noted biographer (Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker and Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker), as well as the president emeritus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, Kunkel is well-equipped for the task of writing a fresh and engaging life of the great saint for a general readership.

(For an explanation of the strikethrough – go here)

 

— 7 —

Reminders:

I have books for sale here.

Planning Advent? Check out the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications.

And the booklet on St. Nicholas I wrote for them. 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

Wonders Of His Love

No: no royalties are made from sales of these booklets or the 2020 devotional. They were written as works-for-hire. 

Check out my son’s writing here – all about the Marvel movies recently. And one of his novels here. 

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

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— 1 —

You know, sometimes Ash Wednesday is super early. Like last year, remember? It was February 10. (The earliest it can be is February 4)

When it does fall that early, some of us complain and moan that we haven’t even had time to recover from Christmas or enjoy us some Ordinary Time when here comes Lent. 

Well, here’s what I say. I say that if this year were last year, Lent would already be almost half over and wouldn’t that be great!  The sooner it begins, the sooner it ends.

— 2 —

Several Lent-themed posts this past week:

(Not a post, but look for me in Living Faith tomorrow – 2/25)

daybreaks-lent

ched-day-04-01-1946-053-m5-copy

— 3—

The role of the press in helping – or not- us understand what is going on in the world continues to be debated. I thought this Tweet from attorney and Federalist contributor Gabriel Malor summed up the problem nicely: 

— 4 —

Another excellent contribution to commentary on the present ecclesial moment: “The New Jansenism” from First Things. 

We are, indeed, plagued by a new sort of Jansenism, one rooted in presumption rather than despair. The “old” Jansenism arose from both anthropological and theological despair—the Catholic absorption of total depravity, and the loss of hope in the possibility of salvation. Ironically, those who criticize the four cardinals—and anyone who believes that Amoris Laetitia is in need of clarification—often fall into a new form of Jansenism. This “new” Jansenism is marked by a similar pessimism with respect to human nature—total depravity under a new name, whether “weakness” or “woundedness” or “greyness.” And like what preceded it, the new Jansenism articulates a loss of hope in the power of grace to regenerate the soul. The difference is that the new Jansenism tends towards presumption.

— 5 —.

BBC 3 has a video series called “Things not to say to..fill in the blank.”   Some of them concern people with conditions like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and facial disfigurements. Very worthwhile.

— 6 —

“Boy with ‘no brain’ stuns doctors.” 

noah-wall

Over the past year, Noah’s brain has continued to develop beyond all expectation.

A brain scan taken when he was three years old showed that his brain had expanded to 80% of a normal brain – an incredible result that no doctor expected.

Now, after a series of painful and difficult operations on his hips, he’s even contemplating the possibility one day of walking.

— 7 —

And on the Catholic blogger front:

Mark Zuckerberg (not a Catholic blogger) was in Birmingham earlier this week – he’s doing this wandering-around-America tour thing, which surely seems like groundwork for running for political office to me, but anyway. He started his tour of Alabama down in Mobile, then worked his way up here. After meeting with Anthony Ray Hinton, wrongly convicted of murder and confined on death row for three decades, the Zuckerbergs dined at a place called Oven Bird  obviously because, I am assuming, Lisa Hendey told them about it, since that’s where I took her when she visited Birmingham in December. And there’s your Catholic blogger connection on that one.

Thomas Peters, whom some of you remember as the “American Papist” blogger and who still writes in other capacities, was paralyzed in a swimming accident several years ago. OSV catches up with Tom and Natalie Peters here. 

Jeff Miller started blogging not too long after I did – way back in 2002, according to his archives. He’s been around for a long time as the Curt Jester, writing witty Catholic blog posts, reviewing books and talking tech. Jeff’s wife Socorro passed away last month, and he writes a moving blog post about her here. 

I can hardly write how devastated I am from losing her. After over 36 years of marriage I am certainly struggling day-to-day. I thank God for my faith and that she was the instrumental cause God used in my conversion. She was a women of prayer day in and day out despite all those years when I held her faith in little regard. In my then atheistic pride her faith was something I had to put up with. To the end she never wavered in her faith or her prayers. In those final days when she could hardly communicate – she was still making the sign of the cross.

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

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"amy welborn"

— 1 —

Well, hello there.

We have stuck around home for Christmas. Rather than traveling, we have been doing grandson/nephew duty for the past few days, and are happy to do it and give his parents a break. Plus, I was still fantasizing that I could “get” “work” “done” during the time here. But, par for the course: hah. Very funny.

Which means you will not be seeing much of me over the next month, and if you do, scold me and send me packing back to the Word document where I belong. I’ll toss up entries about saints and such, but we’re in crunch time now, that time in which I must think ahead to the time in which I will *not* be in crunch time, and how wonderful that will be.

I checked this out from the library today, and I told them….mid February, when the book’s done and basketball is winding down…here we go….

 

— 2 —

Spend less time analyzing celebrity deaths online, thinking of how to sadly yet wittily condemn 2016 to oblivion or bitingly condemn those condemning 2016 to oblivion… and instead spend more time chatting with your actual neighbors, seeing how they’re doing, and swapping stories about life, face-to-face. Try it. It makes for far more sanity and a deeper perspective on what’s real. Probably better for your eyes and joints, too.

— 3—

Are you a Catholic? Then you, like most Catholics, probably had one question on your mind as December 26 dawned. And that question is:

So, when’s Ash Wednesday this year?

Well,since you asked.

"amy welborn"

(Feel free to swipe and share)

A little later, so a bit of reprieve, unlike this past year when it was February 10, when Super Serious Catholics – who observe Christmas til Candlemas – have barely brushed away the last of the pine needles.

So, yes. March 1. If you’re prepping for a parish or school, check out my Lenten devotional from Liguori, also available in Spanish.

(pdf sample here)

daybreaks-lent

Speaking of self-promotion, if you are a woman looking for a daily devotional for 2017, dayscheck out mine. It’s a perennial, which means that it’s not explicitly tied to 2017 moveable feast dates. But I did try to make the February-March entries Lent-ish, the April-May entries Easterish, and so on. Moreover, since most Catholic female-centric devotionals are directly pitched at women who are mothers, this might be a good choice for a woman who is not a mother, or to whom motherhood is not a defining anchor of her spirituality.  Check it out.

 

— 4 —

 

A couple of election-related pieces that echo points I’ve tried to make here.

One of my favorite bloggers, just-retired U of Wisconsin law prof Ann Althouse, writes in relation to an essay in Elle by a woman super-concerned about how to raise a son in “Trump’s America.”

Since President Trump will be out of office by the time your child is 8, I’d suggest not talking about any of that. Piazza frets about “explaining sensitivity and nonviolence” to the boy. I’d suggest demonstrating it, beginning by not going out of your way to express contempt for the President.

A child — boy or girl — lives with real people, and these people set the example that the child will copy. It’s not really very much about explanations and characters on television. How about not putting on the television and not talking about politics and sex in front of young children? Give them a real, comprehensible, simple, gentle environment that is on their level.

Piazza worries about explaining “the president’s picks for attorney general and CIA director voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.” Frankly, she shouldn’t try to explain that to anyone, since she doesn’t even understand it herself. Votes against the Violence Against Women Act were not votes for violence against women. If you don’t know why, at least have some modesty and restraint about your potential to confuse and unnecessarily rile other people.

Let children be children. And let adults who don’t want to understand law — including things like federalism — have some peace. Your hysteria is not helping….

Explanations are overrated. The power of the presidency is overblown. Find love and meaning where it really is.

It’s much simpler than you’re willing to say, perhaps because you have a career writing columns about feminism and politics. That’s nice for you, but be careful. It’s a brutal template, and you are having a baby.

And Kevin Williamson on the absurdity and fundamental wrongness of our imperial presidency and why for God’s sake do we have to have Obama’s America or Trump’s America or anyone in particular’s America , when, you know…it’s not supposed to be that way. 

The idea that a large, complex society enjoying English liberty could long endure without the guiding hand of a priest-king was, in 1776, radical. A few decades later, it became ordinary — Americans could not imagine living any other way. The republican manner of American presidents was pronounced: There is a famous story about President Lincoln’s supposedly receiving a European ambassador who was shocked to see him shining his own shoes. The diplomat said that in Europe, a man of Lincoln’s stature would never shine his own shoes. “Whose shoes would he shine?” Lincoln asked.

As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens. We are in the process — late in the process, I’m afraid — of reverting from citizens to subjects. Subjects are led by their emotions, mainly terror and greed. They need not be intellectually or morally engaged — their attitude toward government is a lot like that of Trump’s old pal Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.”

For more than two centuries, we Americans have been working to make government subject to us rather than the other way around, to make it our instrument rather than our master. But that requires a republican culture, which is necessarily a culture of responsibility. Citizenship, which means a great deal more than showing up at the polls every two years to pull a lever for Team R or Team D, is exhausting. On the other hand, monarchy is amusing, a splendid spectacle and a wonderful form of public theater.

But the price of admission is submission.

 

— 5 —.

I have a contribution to a “Best Books I read in 2016” article, but it hasn’t been posted yet. This is a place holder for that.  But I can tell you right now, without knowing who else contributed and what books they’ll discuss, mine will be the lowest brow. Guaranteed.

 

— 6—

Oh, can I come back to this point? A year does not “suck” or need to be prayed to  end or told to go home because celebrities died.

children-in-aleppo

Source

— 7 —

 

Have you seen this? Do you need a time-suck? Try this site, Radio Garden, in which you can just move your cursor and explore radio stations streaming from around the world. There have always been websites with lists of such stations (which I like because you can find stations by genre), but this is the first one that I’ve seen with this kind of framework. My quick conclusion: Everyone around the world is listening to really bad music at the same time! We are Family!

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

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I need to remember to turn the phone sideways for these videos….

Location.

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— 1 —

First, an article about two religious women who served Hansen’s Disease patients in South Korea for decades:

After graduating from nursing school, the two nuns arrived in South Korea in the 1960s to work on Sorok Island, where a medical facility, more concentration camp than hospital, had been set up.

Whilst others who worked there armed themselves against possible infection with masks, gloves, and quarantine gear, the two women, then in their mid-20s, wore only white gowns as they tended to the patients. Even when their faces were spattered with blood and pus from wounds, they paid no attention.

Recalling her time on the island, Sister Marianne said, “It was through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that I was able to serve”. Above all, “The greatest joy came from seeing patients being discharged from the island and meeting their family members after their wounds healed.”

 

 

— 2 —

From another part of the East:

Some of you might already be aware of the conversion of Chinese artist Yan Zu to Catholicism, as recounted on National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency. A Dominican friar from the Western Province who is from Taiwan originally recently brought this story to my attention.

It was the study of European art history, and specifically of medieval illuminated manuscripts, that brought Yan to the Faith. She has a Chinese language blog from which these images of her own work are taken.

 

– 3—

One of the reasons I like having my sons serve at the Casa Maria retreat house is the opportunity to hear generally excellent homilies from the priests leading the retreat on a particular weekend. This past weekend, the retreat master was Fr. James Kubicki, national director of the Apostleship of Prayer.  I spoke with Fr. Kubicki after Mass, and he immediately made the connection with the chapter on the Morning Offering from The Words We Pray, which was nice!

"amy welborn"

 — 4 —

Italy trip prep continues. Well, not really. I haven’t done much, since there really isn’t much left to do.  I have almost been convinced to just leave Tuscany to chance, the winds and the Spirit. We’ll see.

 

— 5 

I’m serious about upping my social media game for the trip. I certainly don’t want it to dominate the experience as I juggle phones and cameras and spend the evening on the computer.. Absolutely not. But I do want to share various aspects of the trip – new sight  and sounds, a story or two per day. So if you are interested be sure to follow me here, and then on Instagram. I will probably try to Periscope, but I have to practice here on this side of the world, so look for that via Twitter at some point over the next couple of weeks.

 

— 6-

I’m excited about the new Richard Russo book, Everybody’s Fool.  I’ve always thought Nobody’s Fool to be one of the great American 20th century novels, and this one is sounding good.  If you want to laugh until you weep, read Straight Man. 

 And then there was that time I had contacted Richard Russo, my writing hero,  through either his agent or his publisher with the faint, crazy hope that he would write an introduction for a volume in the Loyola Classics series.  I am not one hundred percent sure, but I think it was Jon Hassler’s North of Hope.  As I said, it was pretty insane, and I thought nothing would come  of it.

One Friday morning, I went to the grocery store. I returned. There was a message on the voicemail.

Hi, this is Richard Russo. 

WHAT.

Yes, Richard Russo HAD CALLED MY HOUSE.

FIVE MINUTES before I walked back in the door.

And of course, he was calling (very politely and kindly) to tell me that he was swamped with work and couldn’t do the introduction.

So what was I going to do, fangirlishly call him back just to tell him…what? That I was sorry, but I certainly understood, and by the way, hey I’m talking to you right now, Richard Russo, writing hero?

No. I couldn’t do that. So I just stood there in my kitchen holding milk or green beans or whatever other meaningless object had made me miss talking to Richard Russo.

Writing Hero.

— 7 —

Well, speaking of writing, but on a less-exalted scale – you still have time….if your local Catholic bookstore has it in stock, you can grab it before Sunday. Or maybe even get super-quick delivery!

"amy welborn"

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

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As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.

****

I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.

This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.

I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.

But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?

People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna   and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”

Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off.  You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.

They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.

Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.

***

When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.

Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.

This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.

But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.

So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?

Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?

As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.

I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.

For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?

It was so dirty.

Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.

Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.

Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station  smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But  there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.

bolognaSo yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!

And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.

First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.

We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?

Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.

And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:

Next up:  We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.

And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them.  Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!

And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!

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