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

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

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

So not a lot of photos today. But:

From my front porch this morning.

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

The bridge is the…fifth highest in the US.

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

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

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

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Now things get complicated. And they also get stupid because of my mistake.

First off, let’s review. I had built in a potential almost full day for Hadrian’s Wall sites, with us then getting to the next stop (Seahouses) in the early evening, and doing the activities in that area on Friday. It would be tight getting them both in on one day, but I was pretty sure we could swing it.

But after our afternoon at the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall and Vindolanda, it was decided that this was enough. More would have been great, and perhaps will be another time, but given the complexities of travel, especially on a strike day, we thought it best to just get going Thursday morning in case we’d end up having to take a bus all the way.

But…how?

The original plan had been to ride the train from Hexham to Newcastle, and then Newcastle to Alnmouth, where we’d get a taxi to Seahouses. There are buses from Alnmouth to Seahouses, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother with figuring out and coordinating with one more schedule. It seemed as if it all work out – but then the strike was declared.

So..plan B. We’d have to take a bus from Hexham to Newcastle, since that train would not be running. However, there was limited service along the Edinburgh-London route, with a stop at Alnmouth. That would do fine.

Early Thursday morning I got the bright idea, though, of doing a taxi to Newcastle. It was only 22 miles, for heaven’s sake, and the bus would be almost an hour and a half. (78 – yes 78 – stops). The hotel clerk called a couple of services for me, but the answer was the same: “They’re all out taking kids to school and won’t be available until 10.” Taxis take kids to school in England? Okay, well good for them, bad for us, time to get up and get going to the bus station.

Newcastle train station was almost empty (of course. There’s a strike!) The ticket-taking gates were wide open. A train arrived at the right platform, destination Edinburgh, we got on for the 20+ minute ride to Alnmouth. Our tickets were never checked. We sped along. And kept going. And going.

Past…Alnmouth.

I walked up and down the cars. There was no one working (it’s a strike!). I asked one of the four other passengers on the train if he thought the train would stop. He said maybe at this place…but also maybe not. But why? Was this an effect of the strike?

No, idiot – you got on the wrong train, that’s what. Which happened to be an express train to Edinburgh. Geez. Lesson learned. If a train pulls up and leaves early – that is probably not your train. And if you are not sure…ASK. (if you can find someone)

I had already booked tickets for a boat trip out to the Farne Islands from Seahouses that would be leaving at 1:30 that afternoon. Even getting to Edinburgh and getting on another train immediately to come back down south would not get us there in time. I did some rearranging, the boat company kindly transferred our tickets to Friday – and they didn’t mind because that freed up three more seats on an afternoon boat that was sold out. The taxi driver was kind and sympathetic, and even though I told him to charge me, he refused, and just asked for a good review instead – which he got and deserved. I was pretty upset about my stupidity, but it really did turn out fine. We just were able to flip our plans around, doing what we planned for Thursday on Friday, and Friday on Thursday….

So on we sped to Edinburgh, which would have been fantastic if that had been our train. Luckily, there was a train back leaving in about twenty minutes, so we just were able to get on that. It wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth, however, but at Berwick-on-Tweed, which was north of Seahouses, rather than south. Which was fine – we’d get there sooner, but not soon enough.

Arriving at Berwick-on-Tweed, I was really relieved to see a taxi stand. I went to a random driver, who was sitting in his car with his mate and explained the issue and the plan. Could he A) Take us from Berwick-on-Tweed to Seahouses so we could check into our hotel and drop our luggage then B) from Seahouses up to the Holy Island or Lindesfarne and C) get us a couple of hours later on the Holy Island and then take us back to Seahouses?

(There is a bus from Berwick to Seahouses, but you know – it’s a bus, with a schedule, and then I’d have to find a way up to Lindesfarne and back, which required a car on this particular day, since the tourist bus wasn’t running – so might as well use the same driver.)

They worked it out, consulted on a price, which was very fair, and off we went!

So yes, those were our two destinations on this very short leg of the trip:

Lindefarne, or Holy Island, where St. Aidan came from Iona to found a very early monastery, the Vikings invaded very early on, and the source, of course, of the famed Lindesfarne Gospels.

And

The Farne Islands – off the east coast, islands which David Attenborough said were his favorite place to see nature in the UK. Every spring through early summer, hundreds of thousands of birds nest here, including….

Well, that’s enough of this nonsense. Let’s do Holy Island in another post.

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All right, where were we?

Got a decent nights’ sleep in our marvelous little guest house on the outskirts of Oxford (super expensive to stay in the old city). Traditional breakfast for one of us:

Then off on the bus to town.

(Interesting reflection on perspective. When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we were totally befuddled as to how to get to the guesthouse. Bus? Which one? Where are they? Are there taxis? How do we get one? Where do we get it? But by Saturday afternoon – 24 hours later – we were pros, discussing the relative merits of the 8 or the 9 or the 280….)

First stop: the Bodleian Library. We did a 30-minute tours, which was all I could book at the time I booked it. No photos inside Duke Humpfrey’s Library, but they were allowed downstairs in the Divinity School.

We then wandered a bit, killing some time until our scheduled private tour at 2:30. We went to the Weston Library, which is the modern-looking building more or less across from the Old Bodleian. An excellent gift shop, two exhibit halls and – free public restrooms, which is the most important piece of information our first guide imparted to us.

The exhibits were on Howard Carter and the King Tut excavations and “Sensational Books” – the latter of which was not about scandal, but rather about books that somehow engage other senses beyond sight. (see yesterday’s post). Both were small, but well done, informative and engaging.

I particularly liked the traveling library of the future King Charles I and the way in which Sterne went meta with the design of Tristam Shandy.

Also an original of Audubon’s Birds of America.

The view from the Carfax Tower:

And no, it is not named “Carfax” because it’s sponsored by the auto information outfit:

The name “Carfax” derives from the Latin quadrifurcus via the French carrefour, both of which mean “crossroads”. The Carfax Tower, also known as St. Martin’s Tower (it is the remaining part of what was the City Church of St. Martin of Tours) is a prominent landmark and provides a look-out over the town.

Then it was time for our tour – I booked a private tour with Jane Mead, who was wonderful! I told her ahead of time of our interests in Tolkien, Lewis, Newman, Wesley and simply religion and literature in general, and she delivered! I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, but let’s just say it was very well-designed to take us logically through the town and the history, ending in a very moving way at the gates of Merton College, one of Tolkien’s academic posts, with Jane drawing the connection between the names of the fallen by which Tolkien would have walked every day, his own wartime experiences, and the vision of the Lord of the Rings.

Yes, there are free tours – we walked by one today in which the guide was saying, “There is the pub called The Eagle and Child. The group of writers who met there were called the Inklings.”

So… perhaps you see why I splurged. An why it really wasn’t a splurge.

And in case you didn’t know it, the Eagle and Child has actually been closed for a couple of years now. Plans are underway to reopen it eventually as a pub, but with a boutique hotel on top.

I didn’t take a lot of photos on the tour. I mostly looked and listened.

Below, though, are Newman-related photos. The pulpit from which he preached in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and then the chapel at Oriel College, where he was chaplain, including a small alcove chapel above and behind the main chapel where he liked to pray.

Dinner at a Lebanese place near our guesthouse:

Sunday calls for another post….

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Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.

Mother’s Day is a few days away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women who have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day there now.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Bring it!

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

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If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

I walked to Mass tonight. It’s about 2.5 miles – definitely in walking distance (for me), but not an easy jaunt, since it involves considerable hills coming and going. So this was the first time I’d done it.

It’s not my usual parish, although it might be my actual, geographical parish – I’ve never checked the boundaries. I’ve been to Mass there a bit, though, even though my parish, by membership, is the Cathedral, where I usually attend the Saturday Vigil Mass.

But tonight, I was without a car. In the past when that’s happened, I’d just go to the 7:15 am Mass on Sunday, but the problem with that this weekend is the Mercedes Marathon – a marathon, obviously, the course of which takes over a lot of space and blocks a lot of roads between my house and the Cathedral. In fact, the course runs down a cross street to my own. I’ll start hearing the cheers around 9 am tomorrow, I’d imagine.

All that is to say, I just didn’t want to bother finding a way around all of that at 7 am tomorrow.

(Which I’d have to do because the car will be gone again with the organist soon after that.)

So, walk, it was.

And a perfect day for it. One of my older kids is in Chicago this weekend, seeing a high school friend who’s in the national tour of Hairspray, and the report is…cooooold….Not here. Tomorrow the temperature will dip, but today it was in the 60’s and gorgeous. Perfect for getting back out there and getting in a few miles.

So I walked.

At Mass, the young priest focused on the lines above from the epistle:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

He took one, perfectly legitimate angle, focusing on the truth of the Resurrection, and then what it means to live that here on earth, moving into the Beatitudes.

My mind went in a different direction, but a totally predictable one, for those who read me.

Once again, I thought of the many ways that we understand our faith, even our faith in Christ, Lord of the Universe, in terms of how it helps me in this life.

It’s that prosperity Gospel, but, not just for money: for all the good feelings and achievements that make us feel at home in the world.

A temptation that’s hard to resist because, after all, who doesn’t want to feel comfortable and at ease?

But then there’s that Gospel, isn’t there?

Blessed are you who are poor….hungry….weeping…people hate you….exclude and insult you….

Blessed. Are. You.

Woe to you who are rich….filled…laugh….all speak well of you…

Woe. To. You.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ….

I walked back and forth to church, five miles total, nurturing the low-grade frustration that’s always there these days – frustration that there’s so much to say, but I can’t figure out how or where to say it.

I thought about the many people I know and read whose faith is shattered right now for various reasons.

I got to church a little late, and left a little early as is my probably unfortunate habit these days. I was surprised because the church was more full than I’d seen it ages. The music was as mediocre as always, but the preaching was good and there were no narcissistic liturgical shenanigans. A crowd of teens sat in the front, I’m thinking at the end of a Confirmation retreat. A man in the back pew smiled and graciously made room for my latecoming self. A mentally disabled man limped past me after Communion. The deacon brought the Eucharist to an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and the mother in front of me pointed to the words of the Creed in her little boy’s Magnifikid.

It is not easy to be a person, to be a human, to be a Catholic. I don’t think it ever has been, and the institution and the people help sometimes and hurt quite a bit.

I don’t know what to make of it all, and have not yet figured out how to say what I do make of it, but I think I do know that nothing begins until you open the door, take that uphill walk, find your place with the rest of the broken, no matter when you arrive, and try to listen.

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Let’s bullet point this. It’s faster.

  • Day began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oldest (NYC resident now) is a member, so we got in as guests on his membership. My main focus was the Making Marvels exhibit,which lived up to the promise. Really well done and interesting.
  • After we toured that exhibit together, we split. Kid went to wander on his own, I spent most of my time, as is my wont, in the medieval and Byzantine sections.

  • Above and below are some photos. I don’t take a lot of photos in museums (and didn’t take many today, period), but I loved the statue of St. Anne holding Mary holding Jesus (and a book of course), and the thoroughly charming nativity, with the lovely detail of Joseph warming Jesus swaddling clothes. I think the figures above him are shepherds. I’m guessing.

  • Oh – to backtrack a bit. We ended up on a subway that deposited us at the Natural History Museum stop, on the opposite side of the park from the Met. So we enjoyed a nice walk across (could have taken a bus, but why – it was chilly, but pleasant) and saw a couple of tourist gaggles gathered around squirrels, taking photos. Do they not have squirrels in Europe? (They were all European)
  • Then a very slow (is there any other kind) bus down to Koreatown, where we dashed in for the traditional bucket of fried chicken bits here. 
  • I had heard about this Sony Square space and was under the impression that it was some large play/new product space that would be entertaining for some. We walked down there, saw a line of folks corralled outside, went inside to find that it’s a Sony space, yes, but it’s very small, it changes focus every month and gee, we just missed the month of Playstation focus, and now it’s all about some K-pop band which was appearing there that very night – hence the lineup at 2pm already. Not much to do, so we moved on….
  • …down towards lower Manhattan. We had only the vaguest sense of what we were about, since I am thinking that Thursday is the day to do Chinatown. We ended up, well, in Chinatown/Little Italy. Grabbed a couple of slices of pizza, then decided that we might as well try to find Bret and Jemaine’s apartment (in Chinatown)– found it! Thought about Inner City Pressure. Might or might not have sung about it.

  • Then the other party decided he would like to see a particular John Wick location in the Wall Street area – the first one on this list. Got on a bus, got off, walked along the South Street Seaport, saw some ships, then made our way up Wall Street to find the spot. Took appropriately posed photos.  My phone was just about dead by this time, so I don’t have the photos.
  • Subway back up to the hotel for a break, then, at Ann Engelhart’s invitation,  over to NYU for a Catholic Artists Society talk by James Matthew Wilson.Very interesting and thought provoking.
  • Went with Ann up to Penn Station, where she got on her train to Long Island, and we went up 34th to the DSW to get some shoes for someone whose present shoe situation wasn’t really working for all the walking happening.  It was about 9 by then, someone was hungry, I looked it up and saw that Katz’s was open until 10:45, so one more subway ride downtown (we’ve probably come very close to getting our money’s worth out of the 7-day pass after 3 days…) and there we were. Fifteen minutes –  not much longer than it would take to drive to Chick-Fil-A back home.
  • Figured out the initially confusing ordering system (you’re given a ticket. You go to the right spot at the long counter and order what you want, the guy marks it on the ticket, you go get drinks and sides, that guy marks your ticket, and when you’re done, you either pay with card at the counter or cash at the door. It’s really not that bad – although it wasn’t busy when we were there, so the vibe was relaxed…no inner city pressure.  )
  • I wasn’t hungry, but I did get a taste of this incredibly, ridiculously tender corned beef.
  • Then back up to the room. I have no idea what we’re doing tomorrow. Maybe I’ll figure that out right now.
  • There are all kinds of ways that travel educates you. You learn about history, you learn about art, you learn about the place to which you’ve traveled – who lives there, how the place works, what the patterns and habits of life are, how people cope. It also educates you through the encounters you have with other human beings – if you’re open to those encounters. So, you can answer a question from an elderly woman who approaches you on the subway at 10:30 at night, and having answered her question, hear, in the course of five minutes, her life story, including   how she moved to NYC when both her children were enrolled at Juilliard, how they are both highly accomplished professional musicians and about the program she runs for young musicians, and oh…you’re a musician? Let me give you my assessment of all the major college music programs and my advice on what direction to go in, and this is my stop and here’s my card….good-bye!

 

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New readers: Please consider sticking around around. I blog almost every day. It’s random and scattered (as the sidebar indicates) , but you might find interesting things. Once in a while.

amy_welbornWhat kind of blog is this these days? Well, I just said it – random and scattered. It functions mostly as a way for me to stretch my writing muscles a bit every day before I get into either work-work or my ongoing attempts to Be Creative. 

Back in the early days of blogging up to about ten years ago, I ran a blog that was, perhaps, like one of your more active Facebook pages today. I blogged about current events, usually posting 5-10 times a day, had a super active (and mostly great) comments section and, somehow managed to write about two books a year. While having a couple of babies after forty.

Then you, know, life changed, and my husband died (ten years ago on 2/3 – hard to believe) and it just wasn’t the kind of blogging I wanted to do anymore, really. As I’ve said before in this space, when I was doing a lot of intense current-events blogging, getting into the fray wasn’t a problem, because I had someone who was here to assure me after I shut the computer down, “No, you’re not crazy. Well, you’re sort of crazy. But not that crazy. And you mean well.”

But without that – without someone who has your back in the sanity-department, you (or at least I) are really taking some mental and emotional health risks in engaging too heavily online. IRL is much, much better. Always.

But I do continue to write and even to blog here. Most of my blogging reflects things I read. I’m very interested in history, as I say again and again, because it helps me understand the present moment. I don’t have many missions in life, but one of them is to nag whoever is in earshot about the invaluable perspective knowledge of the past brings.

And I don’t blog every thought that I have on every issue. I tend to be cautious on that score because I want to have the whole picture – or as much of it that’s available to me – before I comment. That’s why I don’t say a lot, for example, about Pope Francis. I have opinions, sure, but the whole thing is so opaque and weird to me that it’s impossible for me to pin down what’s worth me saying for public consumption. At this point.

So I’m into sharing information and occasional insights. I’m a teacher, I’m the child of teachers and the daughter of a librarian. Ask my poor kids about the experience of being homeschooled by me – someday one of them will probably write a memoir called Death by Teachable Moment. 

Oh, and the travel. I write a lot about travel, and there will be much, much more of that, God and the DJIA willing over the next few years, as Son #5 and I embark on a homeschooling/roadschooling journey when Son #4 goes off to college in a few months.

Basically: I read things, I see things, and write about some of those things, trying to figure out Big Things.

So, one of the things I do around here when nothing in particular strikes me is throw together a digest of what I’m currently reading, writing, watching, listening to and cooking. This won’t be that interesting – we are still mostly in recovery mode from the oldest attending the March for Life.  Here’s today’s.

Writing: Finished That Thing. A week early. I could have held onto it and looked at it a couple of more times, but why? It’s fine, and if they want revisions – now they have a week more to wrestle them. The sooner to invoice you, my dear.

And now…what? I have another story I need to get out of my head, and then I need to focus on something bigger. Not sure what. I want to start and finish something by June 1. Something.

Oh, and I added links to our 2016 Italy trip to the “Travel” page. 

Reading:  That’s what this will be, mostly. I’ve not watched or cooked much over the past couple of days. Mostly I’ve driven my car. Two ortho appointments, one other doctor’s appointment, school dropoff and pick up and a Metallica concert.

No, I didn’t go to the Metallica concert. My 14-year old did, accompanied by a friend. He’d been gifted with the tickets by his oldest brother, who lives in NYC and had hoped to come down for the concert, but was unable to because of his work load. So he took a friend, and they had a great time (I’ll get a fuller report this afternoon.)

On Twitter a few weeks ago, I remarked on the contrast:

Of course, to be really fair, as someone responded:

In fairness Metallica is now what Sha Na Na was to you and me

Heh.

So, okay – reading. Not much of that either. Hopefully things will calm down soon and I can focus on words on pages again. I started Sheed’s Transatlantic Blues last night – I’ll give it a bit more attention today to see if it’s a keeper. Oh, the other night I started Chekov’s Ward No. 6, but found it just too depressing.

Since today is the memorial of St. Marianne Cope, I went back and read the poem Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote about her.

Perhaps you know Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote an “open letter” in defense of Fr. Damien, against a gossipy, bigoted accusatory published piece written by a Presbyterian minister in Hawaii. Stevenson had visited Molokai – after Fr. Damien’s death – and was strongly affected by it, and was moved to defend the priest.

You can read that letter here.

During his bit more than a week on Molokai, he spent time with Sr. Marianne Cope, of course, and even purchased a piano for the colony. He also wrote a poem about the experience, the gist of which is that even though the sufferings of those with Hansen’s Disease might cause one to doubt the existence of God, that course is corrected by the loving presence of the Sisters:

To the Reverend Sister Marianne, Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa. 
To see the infinite pity of this place, 
The mangled limb, the devastated face, 
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod, 
A fool were tempted to deny his God. 
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again, 
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain! 
He marks the sisters on the painful shores, 
And even a fool is silent and adores.

I try to read a few academic journal articles a week.  Like much else in my life, my choice of topic is random, but I tend to settle on Catholic-centered medieval through early modern themes.

Last night, I read this one: ” Each Should Tend His Own Garden”: Anna Bijns and the Catholic Polemic against the Reformation

A narrow topic, yes, (as all academic journal articles are by nature), but interesting, since I learned things I didn’t know before. Always good. What I learned:

I learned, of course, about the existence of this woman named Anna Bijns – a well-known poet of her period and  – 

She was in fact the first writer in the vernacular to achieve widespread fame through the printing press. Everything she experienced in her city was material for her sharp pen. Nothing was taboo: badly thwarted love, the vain illusions of Luther and his followers, the threat of freebooters from Gelderland at the city gates, the insufferable policy of tolerance pursued by the city council, deceit and conflict within marriage, the sad but well-deserved lot of hen-pecked husbands and the need to relax with the hilarious nonsense of the repertoire of popular festivals.

She is able to express all that excitement with a verbal dexterity almost unequalled in Dutch literature. Complex rhyme-schemes, alliterations and neologisms gave her texts an irresistible cadence, while the subtly orchestrated passion still came across as natural. She was also the first author in Dutch literature, to present herself emphatically as an individual with personal views and emotions of her own. 

She was also a devout Catholic and determined to do what she could, in her small way to fight heresy. So she wrote poems and disseminated them. The article explores this aspect of the culture – most of the poetry-making and disseminating was oral, but she, as a woman in Antwerp, did not have access to the public fora in which that occurred. (In other cities women did, but not in Antwerp.)

80annabijns

Bijns was one of the very few Catholic lay people in the Low Countries who was prepared to take her fight for the Catholic cause into the public domain, and she was the only one to do this in vernacular print. The work of many rederijkers reflected the growing interest in evangelical ideas, or attempted to find a middle ground between old and new ideas, but there are very few examples of zealous defences of the Catholic faith in rederijker circles. There is only one rederijker play from before the Dutch
Revolt which takes up the gauntlet against the Reformation. In this play
entitled, Tspel van de Cristenkercke (c. 1540), a character called Dr. Genuine Scriptural Proof introduces a plot in which the virgin Honest Simple Faith holds out against the advances of Self Regard, the son of Heresy. Its author, the Flemish bookbinder Reynier Pouwelsz, may have written it to reaffirm his loyalty to the Catholic faith as he had been charged with selling forbidden books a few years earlier. Although we know of many Catholic poems that derided the Reformation, these were rarely published in print, and mostly date from after 1560. Th e first author genuinely to follow in Bijns’s footsteps was another woman, Katarina Boudewyns, whose Prieelken der gheestelyker wellusten [Bower of Spiritual Joy] appeared in Brussels in 1587. Like Bijns, Boudewyns presented both (Marian) devotional poems and spirited attacks on the heretics, especially the Calvinists who had ruled Brussels in the early 1580s. So why was work like that of Bijns such a rarity?

The article explores that last question – and concludes that up to a point, heresy had been presented as a moral problem – one was a heretic because of pride – and therefore a problem for clerics and spiritual directors. A lay person didn’t interfere in another lay person’s spiritual battle. But then, eventually, the issue came to be seen as one of principle and ideas, and could  – and should be – argued in the public square.

Note that at one point, though, Bijns complains about the way in which the clergy are not picking up the slack and doing their job:

  Decades earlier, Bijns had also expressed her frustration
at the perceived lack of leadership in a struggle for which she declared herself willing to die. One of her refreinen in Book II responded to the praise
heaped on her by a Flemish cleric:When I let my eye dwell over the various estates, I am amazed that there
are so many learned men today who do almost nothing to resist Luther’s
arrogant teachings [. . .] and however much I try, one person can’t make
a dance. Heretics may note my work, but they make fun of it, thinking
it’s just woman’s work [. . .]. So put your mind to it, priest, as a brave
champion, take up the pen, and it will easily have an impact. You have
been appointed watchman, let your trumpet sound, seeing the enemies
surrounding the people of God. I have the will, but I can’t do it.

Do you see what I mean about history helping to understand the present? Four hundred years later – has anything changed?

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A very quick, super busy weekend in NYC.

The occasion: For some reason my 17-year old is a Vikings fan. Vikings were playing the Jets. Oldest son, who lives in NYC, said, “Hey, why don’t you bring him up for the game?”

So…sure!

Left Friday, arrived at LGA about 9:30. Took shuttle to hotel #1 in Astoria (picked because of the shuttle). Went out and walked down the nearby Steinway Street, which, for the distance we walked it, is shoulder to shoulder hookah bars that time of night – interesting! We got some fabulous shwarama and falafel at Duzan, then went back and crashed.

Up the next morning, packed up and walked (with our backpacks – we were only staying for two days – it’s all we needed.) down to the Museum of the Moving Image, located in the old Astoria Studios, which for a time (the 1910’s-20’s) was the busiest movie studio in the country. It was good, although I wish they had the history of the place a little more prominently displayed and even used as a framework for exhibits. The special exhibit right now is on Jim Henson, which was very interesting, especially the material about his early career. Jim Henson’s is the only celebrity death I’ve ever reacted strongly too – if you were around and sentient during that time, perhaps you remember? It was because he was relatively young (53) and it seemingly came out of nowhere (it was toxic shock syndrome related to a bacterial infection…although there’s also disagreement about that, too), so it shocked many of us.

Anyway, after that, we caught the train, went across the East River, checked into hotel #2 – the first time I’ve ever gotten a hotel in Manhattan on points, so yay – and it was perfectly located – the Residence Inn that’s very close to Bryant Park. We were headed to the Morgan Library, but on the way we stopped at this chicken place in Korea Town we’d been to a couple of visits ago – and it did not disappoint this time, either. Super quick, too – it’s already

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cooked, and you just grab it from the case. Perfect for what we needed. at the moment.

Then over to the Morgan Library for their excellent exhibit on Frankenstein at 200. I’d figured this would be the main museum experience for J because he’d be game watching the rest of the time – and he read Frankenstein last summer for school, so perhaps he’d relate?

One side was material related to the cultural and personal genesis of the work – explanations of the gothic, of the state of science in the early 19th century, and so on. Included were a few manuscript pages of the novel, written in Mary Shelley’s 18 & 19-year old hand. Amazing.

On the other side were posters and programs and illustrations from adaptations. As with so much else, the popularity of Frankenstein was solidified very early by adaptations.

Ann Engelhart – friend, collaborator and water-colorist – met us at the Morgan. I always enjoy going there – they have good, well-curated smaller exhibits (Frankenstein this time and one on Thoreau last time we were here)  and it’s always wonderful to peruse whatever manuscripts they’ve pulled out of the collection in the library itself – not only the illuminated manuscripts and one of the three Gutenburg Bibles in the collection, but things like a hand-written Liszt transcription of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. 

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At this point, the oldest son met us, and then took J away to watch football (Tennessee-Alabama & Indiana-Penn State about covered it) with him at a bar. The three of us then walked back through Bryant Park and up to Steinway Hall, Steinway’s Manhattan showroom.

A diversion – Steinway, is of course, headquartered in Astoria – the very spot we’d been in the day before. The history of Steinway is a good one to study for a bit of a microcosm of immigrant energy, 19th century social tensions, and the transformation of the urban landscape during this period.

Here’s a short summary of Heinrich Steinweg’s invention and development of the fortepiano and his emigration to America in 1853. 

And here’s a history of the Steinway presence is Astoria/Queens – Steinway (as he changed his name) moved his workshop from Manhattan to Queens in the face social unrest – fears of anarchists and socialists – and the draft riots.

With all of this newfound space, William was able to bring in plenty of infrastructure to support the company and its employees. Victorian row houses were built for Steinway employees so that they could all live close to the new production headquarters. Steinway Village spanned, roughly, from what is now Ditmars Boulevard up to the East River/Bowery Bay; and from 31st Street to Hazen Street. A group of the original two-story brick homes has been preserved on 20th Avenue and 41st Street.

Besides the housing, several amenities were developed to make Steinway Village a place that employees and their families could spend all their time. Steinway Reformed Church, built in 1890 on land donated by William Steinway, still stands at 41st Street and Ditmars. The Steinway Library, started with books from William’s own collection, is now a branch of the Queens Library. A public school (one of the first free kindergartens in the country), a fire house, and a post office were also built.

For entertainment, Steinway employees had North Beach, an amusement park/resort area with a ferris wheel, swimming pool and German beer garden located on the Bowery Bay waterfront. The venue did not survive Prohibition, however, and eventually became the site of North Beach Airport (which was later renamed LaGuardia Airport).

William helped develop a whole network of transportation, including ferries, streetcars, trolleys, and horse-car railroads to make the neighborhood more convenient and bring in additional revenue. His influence in the area was so far-reaching that he was responsible for the development of the tunnel under the East River that is used by the 7 train today. 

Someday, we’ll go on the Steinway factory tour – but not for a couple of years – since you have to be 16 to go on it…..

Oh, but back to Manhattan. Steinway Hall has a dedicated room for those who’d like to play a Steinway. There are perhaps some days when it’s more in demand than others, but on this day, we only had to wait about five minutes to take our turn.

Yes, an $80,000 piano feels different….

img_20181020_180038We then did some wandering, stopping in a store here and there (like this one – my son’s favorite), seeing a group doing Capoeira – this Brazilian martial arts/dance thing that is becoming all the rage up here, I guess, then eventually ended up back at Pete’s Tavern, where my oldest wanted to take us to dinner. It’s one of his favorites, and a fun spot to go, it being the longest continually-operating restaurant in New York City.

Sunday morning:

Mass right around the corner from our hotel at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents. It really is just by coincidence that the Masses I’ve attended while traveling over the last two weeks have been Extraordinary Form Low Mass – they’ve both been closest to our hotels at the moment. This one was considerably less crowded than Mass in Kansas City, but that’s not surprising – it’s not a residential area, to say the least. I do wonder how many tourists stumble in there for Mass and settle in, only to be deeply confused, wondering if they’ve entered a time warp of some kind. I think they could probably do a bit more with information directed at people in that situation.

Then a quick breakfast at a deli – we attempted the Andrews Coffee Shop, but it was packed out (not surprisingly), so we just stopped in at a deli down the block, where the guy behind the counter took about five orders before he started cooking, didn’t write anything down and got it all almost 100% correct. “A legend,” as my son said.

Next: Penn Station where my oldest met us, and my fears of my Vikings-gear clad son getting beat up by Jets fans was somewhat alleviated by the waves of Vikings fans surrounding us, also headed to the game. A good weekend trip to NYC, I guess, right?

Then M and I headed to Brooklyn, bearing all of our backpacks – we’d checked out of the hotel, of course. We took the 2 train down here:

…where Ann met us, and we had a lovely afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum – where I’d wanted to go for a while.  They had a decent little Meso-American collection, which M enjoyed – particularly since he found a pretty definite error on one of the placards (I’m going to have him write a letter this week to the museum about it, suggesting a correction.) He also enjoyed the Egyptian collection, which is good-sized, and we were all moved by these large paintings of prisoners during the Russian-Turkish War.

There is some fine American work, including this striking portrait.

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The “Brooklyn Della Robbia” is lovely, and I was..amused by this placard.

My translation: For a while, this piece was deemed way too Eurocentric and Christianist for our eyes. 

Ann and I both took some time to separately go view Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. 

I’ll admit – I was surprised, both by the piece and by my reaction to it. As a young woman, I followed the very controversial beginnings of this piece, as it toured the world, scandalized some and then finally settled in Brooklyn. I was somewhat intrigued, but saw it mostly as a pretty strange concept, and not expressive of any kind of feminism I was interested in signing up for.

Seeing it in person is an experience that convinced me it’s a worthy piece of art, not just a gimmick. And to be honest –  the conceit of it is going to strike a 58-year old woman differently than it will a younger person. We are, in generally, more comfortable and less shockable (some of us, at least) and the body is just…the body. Weird, amazing, singular, life-giving and at the same time, dying. Given the chapel-like setting, of course a spiritual response is expected – but what that is will depend on whether or not you’re looking for the divine feminine or your looking for hints of the desire for Truth, Beauty and Life in what people make in a broken world, through a glass darkly, despite themselves.

 

(If you go to the museum site and read the questions and answers about the piece, you’ll see how the end game to identity politics is clearly in sight, as the museum earnestly responds to a question about the exclusion of “transgender women” from the piece…..)

We then had a fabulous lunch at Werkstatt – fresh, homemade pretzel, wurst, schnitzel and goulash, with lovely cool little dabs of salads to provide contrast. It’s the kind of place: small, serious yet informal – that is totally the norm in the New York City, that is not a big deal, that just sits on the corner like it’s a Waffle House or something – and would be dominating Instagram as  The Restaurant of the Moment for six solid months in Birmingham. It’s just what happens when you get millions of people living in a few dozen square miles, having to compete, live and express their passions. Everything happens and such a higher level – for good and for ill, I suppose.

A great meal!

Ann then drove us around Prospect Park, showing us some great home architecture as I, as I always do, try to figure out how in the world normal people live there, living in these expensive apartments and houses, eating out all the time, paying enormously high taxes… And they do. I get part of it – salaries are higher, people share dwellings, but still. I really don’t understand!

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Ready for Halloween!

I didn’t get a photo – I don’t know why – but of particular interest was the fabulous Japanese House, constructed in the early 20th century. Go check it out. 

 

Then…..the ordeal of getting back here. Which was only sort of an ordeal. We went back to Penn Station, then the train to the Newark Airport (flying out of Newark because of the kid at the game in NJ). For his part, he was making his way from MetLife Stadium to the airport, accompanied part of the way by my oldest. There was some…confusion, but all’s well that ends well. He made it. Our original flight was supposed to leave at 8:30, but it was massively delayed, assuring that we’d miss our connection from ATL to BHM. When I got to the airport, I immediately went to the gate agent and she put us on standby for another, earlier – also delayed – flight. It was supposed to leave at 7:15, I think, but was now scheduled for 8:05. I really don’t understand how all of this works. There were over a hundred people on standby for this flight, and we were #8-10. How did we get so highly placed? I don’t know. And we got on. I don’t have status of any sort. So no – how we got on is a mystery. But we did, and were able to make the connection (if we hadn’t – we would have taken the later flight, and I would have rented a car in Atlanta and just driven home.)

And now, grumbling, everyone’s back in school, and here I am….phew!

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Random Japan I here.  I’ll have a big wrap up post on Friday, probably, with a post on food coming tomorrow, I hope. 

Where are the modest clothes? Why is everything so trashy? Where can I find a skirt that goes past mid-thigh but also doesn’t trail on the ground? It’s the parent’s cry – heck, it’s the woman’s cry.

Well, here’s your answer:

Go to Japan.

Skirt length is something on my radar not so much for myself , but more for my 20-something law-school daughter. I’m always on the lookout for clothes for her, and a few hours into our Japan trip, I texted her (still amazed that you can do that…) and said, “Longer hems are definitely the norm here. I’ll find you something, easily.”

And it was the norm: out and about in every day life, I saw Japanese women and girls wearing slacks, skirts and dresses with hems knee-length or longer – including school uniforms – and well, kimonos. No shorts except on children and no mini skirts except for that very early morning in Kyoto when we went to a 7 am Mass and passed many clusters of young people who clearly were clearly not getting an early start to their days, but were rather winding up their Saturday nights.  No long skirts there.

Yes, we were in these cities mostly during the work week. We weren’t at the beach or at Tokyo Disney, where the dress code was probably closer to what you’d see here. But yes – if you want longer hems and higher necklines? Japan seems to be your spot.

So I did pick up several skirts for my daughter, judging the size the best I could, and telling her when I handed her the bags upon our return that she was under no obligation to like them or keep them (they weren’t expensive – I paid maybe an average of $15/each at various stores, including Uniqlo), that I wasn’t going to check up on her or ask her. At least one of them fit, though, and looked good when I saw her in it.

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That woman in the center? That was the norm. 

And of course, you do have that cosplay/infantile angle, as well:

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Now, kimonos:

Shrines and temples are an important aspect of the fabric of Japanese life, and what I’m guessing is that wearing a kimono is a way to experience that historical and spiritual connection more deeply. For there are loads of kimono-wearing women and some men at shrines and temples and, because these sites are always surrounded by shops and food stalls, there, too. When were in Kyoto, I did see women in kimonos away from the shrines, shopping, but I don’t know if they were dressed that way just because or if they’d been at a shrine earlier in the day.

And yes, a few of them are probably tourists who’ve rented them – there are loads of kimono rental outfits around the historic sites. No, I wasn’t tempted. That would be stupid – I’m not Japanese – cultural appropriation! –  and they look insanely uncomfortable: cumbersome, hot and with narrow skirts and wooden thong sandals, shuffling and clopping along? Nope.

Which brings us (somehow) to…shopping.

  • I’m hardly ever overwhelmed by anything anymore, but I must say that the level of commerce and devotion to shopping I was constantly encountering was astonishing to me. I wondered if I were being stereotypical in my judgment until I read – somewhere – a blog post from a Japanese fellow joking that for his people, shopping was secondly only to sleeping for a favorite pastime. If we’re not snoring, we’re shopping, he wrote.
  • I mean – I’ve been in big cities. This is America, right? Driving down the road past mall after strip after strip? Sure. But this was at a whole other level. It’s hard to explain. Multi-level department stores or shopping malls everywhere, joined together by either covered shopping arcades above ground or endless underground shopping streets. I kept thinking: Aren’t Japanese apartments and houses pretty small? Where do they put everything that they’re buying?
  • I still haven’t figured that out.
  • I was reading an article the other day about the closing of something in Manhattan – maybe Lord & Taylor – and one of the experts said that there’s no place for department stores in big cities anymore. Well, tell that to the Japanese. They’d laugh at you as they waved from the escalator going up yet one more floor.

I didn’t photograph a lot of stores/shops – it just never occurs to me to do so. But a couple of things:

These are school bags. Remember to convert to USD, drop two zeroes. So yeah. A thousand bucks. They were Kate Spade. And we saw a lot of these. I guess they are the thing this year. 

In the electronics stores, there were loads of these: electronic dictionary/translators. I am assuming they are a necessity for school. So many. 

And then:

  • Gaming: Many, many gaming arcades, everywhere (Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka where our locations – can’t speak outside of those areas). We ventured inside a huge one in Osaka called Round 1. Six floors.  And it was just down the block from another multi-level gaming center. Many arcades are owned by video game companies (like Sega) that use them to test new concepts.
  • A quick glance at these places shows all the usual types of games, with some that seem to have particular Japanese appeal: drum games, some games where you tap lights in front of you in response to prompts on screen – experts can do this amazingly fast and draw crowds, photo booths with all kinds of themes, and, of course, claw or crane games.
  • Should you even call it a “game?” I don’t know. All I know is that every arcade featured dozens of crane/claw machines, ranging from those for small figurines to those where you attempt to grab a mega-container of Pringles – or something bigger. It was insane. While I was waiting for the boys, I stood and watched one little girl feed coin after coin (I’m assuming 100-yen, which is about a dollar)  into a machine, after a pretty good-sized stuffed hedgehog. In the time I watched, she tried fifteen times – and she was still at it as we left.
  • Another popular gaming venue features a pinball-type game called Pachinko. I never saw it in action, but we were constantly passing Pachinko centers as we traveled about on trains or buses.
  • And yes, capsule machines. EVERYWHERE.

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All right. Got to finish this Japan-Blogging – this week. So, every day – every day  –  I’ll be here with a little something. Finish it up, then move on.

I’ll begin with a couple of days of randomness.  Just remember, too: when I utter pronouncements like “In Japan…” or “Japan is…” it reflects about ten whole days of life in Tokyo, Kyoto and oh, that one afternoon in Osaka. So, yes – vast experience.

I wanted to go to Japan because we’d never been to Asia, and it seemed that this would be a tourist-friendly place to begin. And it was. I found it very easy to get around and the places to which we traveled were all very clean and felt safe. I’d have no hesitation about traveling to Japan by myself.

So, first: clean and quiet.

Yes, Japan is (here we go…) very clean. I only experienced a couple of even near-shabby areas: tourist-heavy and insanely busy Shibuya and some back areas of Shinjuku – around the famed robot restaurant and, I think in an area where there were a few love hotels. That felt sketchy and was a little grungy.

But other than that: no trash anywhere, no graffiti.

Also, no public trash cans. (Something that’s happening in increasing numbers of cities because of terrorism fears, I know) None. I don’t think they exist except right near food stalls or convenience stores. So how does that work? Wouldn’t the lack of trash cans make it more likely for there to be trash on this street?

Not in Japan. First, the Japanese have a very deep, strong culture of personal responsibility and respect for public spaces. You may have heard that in many, if not most Japanese schools, students share responsibility for cleaning the school (I have read that many workplaces operate with the same expectation). At the end of the school day, students and teachers work together to clean classrooms, shared spaces and restrooms. When this is how you’re raised from preschool, no, you are not going to see a public street or park as something to use any way you please. It is such a common sense practice, isn’t it? I’m sure there are schools – perhaps Montessori – that practice this in the US, but really…why not everywhere?

Secondly, consider – what does a trash can do? It collects trash. It gives trash a home right there in your public space – like it deserves to be there. If you, as a culture, want a super-clean public space, it makes sense to evict trash – in any form – from that space.

Supporting this practice is the fact that walking down the street eating or drinking (or smoking – but I’ll get to that in a minute)  – is just not done in Japan. It’s a serious breach of etiquette to eat while walking down the street. Drinking is not as rare, but still not common.  I saw a bit of water/coffee consumption on trains, but not much at all, and no eating.

Which makes the prevalence of street food in Japan seem…awkward at first. I get my fish-shaped stuffed pancake or my okonomiyaki or my ice cream, for pete’s sake –  from the vendor – what do I do?

You stand right there and eat it, Missy, is what you do. If the vendor isn’t quite sure that you know this, he or she will point to the stool or shelf with condiments nearby and say “Eat there, please – no takeaway.”

And then you throw away any trash, right there.

In my (brief) experience, Japanese shopkeepers of any type are also always prepared to take your trash. I stood in a souvenir shop in Kyoto with a fistful of crumpled up paper for some reason, and the cashier made eye contact with me, smiled, and held out her hand.

The only exception to public trash receptacles that you see – and you see a lot of them – are recycle bins for plastic bottles that are always right next to drink vending machines – of which there are a lot in Japan. Maybe one or two every block? Yep. Selling water, tea, iced coffee, soft drinks and juices. With the little recycle bins right next to it. I suppose you were expected to just chug whatever right there? I’m not sure about that.

Oh, smoking. People do smoke in Japan – perhaps at higher rates than they do in the United States at this point. You can even still find candy cigarettes in Japan. Exotic! But of course – of course – you don’t see folks walking down the street smoking. Every train station (and, I presume office building) has smoking rooms and there are even smoking “rooms” right on the street – enclosed spaces with benches where people stop and grab a smoke.

So there. You can compare the two cultures – the US and Japan – and wonder how much money we can spend, how many more people we can hire and how much more education we can offer to make our public spaces cleaner. You can do that, sure, but it’s useless. The difference isn’t funding or staffing. It’s cultural: Clean public spaces are going to happen , in a culture in which children grow up cleaning their own schoolrooms – and in a culture with a strong sense of personal responsibility and social cohesion and conformity. As is common to observe, those cultural and social norms have a shadow side, to be sure, but well, at least those shadows know where  to put their food wrappers, right?

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