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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!

Happy Birthday, Rome

A few pics from over the years:

(2006, 2008, 2012)

 

 

St. Anselm

Today is the feast of St. Anselm, medieval philosopher and theologian.

I will always, always remember St. Anselm because he was the first Christian philosopher/theologian I encountered in a serious way.

As a Catholic high school student in the 70’s, of course we met no such personages – only the likes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Man of La Mancha.

(That was a project senior year – do a visual project matching up the lyrics of “Impossible Dream” with the Beatitudes. JLS had been Sophomore year. It was a text in the class. It was  also the year my religion teacher remarked on my report card, “Amy is a good student, but she spends class time sitting in the back of the room reading novels.” )

Anyway, upon entering the University of Tennessee, I claimed a major of Honors History and a minor of religious studies. (Instapundit’s dad, Dr. Charles Reynolds, was one of my professors). One of the classes was in medieval church history, and yup, we plunged into Anselm, and I was introduced to thinking about the one of whom no greater can be thought, although more of the focus was on his atonement theory.

So Anselm and his tight logic always makes me sit up and take notice. From B16’s General Audience talk on him:

A monk with an intense spiritual life, an excellent teacher of the young, a theologian with an extraordinary capacity for speculation, a wise man of governance and an intransigent defender of libertas Ecclesiae, of the Church’s freedom, Anselm is one of the eminent figures of the Middle Ages who was able to harmonize all these qualities, thanks to the profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and his action.

St. Anselm Of Canterbury Painting; St. Anselm Of Canterbury Art Print for sale

St Anselm was born in 1033 (or at the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the first child of a noble family. His father was a coarse man dedicated to the pleasures of life who squandered his possessions. On the other hand, Anselm’s mother was a profoundly religious woman of high moral standing (cf. Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, PL 159, col. 49). It was she, his mother, who saw to the first human and religious formation of her son whom she subsequently entrusted to the Benedictines at a priory in Aosta. Anselm, who since childhood as his biographer recounts imagined that the good Lord dwelled among the towering, snow-capped peaks of the Alps, dreamed one night that he had been invited to this splendid kingdom by God himself, who had a long and affable conversation with him and then gave him to eat “a very white bread roll” (ibid., col. 51). This dream left him with the conviction that he was called to carry out a lofty mission. At the age of 15, he asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order but his father brought the full force of his authority to bear against him and did not even give way when his son, seriously ill and feeling close to death, begged for the religious habit as a supreme comfort. After his recovery and the premature death of his mother, Anselm went through a period of moral dissipation. He neglected his studies and, consumed by earthly passions, grew deaf to God’s call. He left home and began to wander through France in search of new experiences. Three years later, having arrived in Normandy, he went to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec, attracted by the fame of Lanfranc of Pavia, the Prior. For him this was a providential meeting, crucial to the rest of his life. Under Lanfranc’s guidance Anselm energetically resumed his studies and it was not long before he became not only the favourite pupil but also the teacher’s confidante. His monastic vocation was rekindled and, after an attentive evaluation, at the age of 27 he entered the monastic order and was ordained a priest. Ascesis and study unfolded new horizons before him, enabling him to rediscover at a far higher level the same familiarity with God which he had had as a child.

When Lanfranc became Abbot of Caen in 1063, Anselm, after barely three years of monastic life, was named Prior of the Monastery of Bec and teacher of the cloister school, showing his gifts as a refined educator. He was not keen on authoritarian methods; he compared young people to small plants that develop better if they are not enclosed in greenhouses and granted them a “healthy” freedom. He was very demanding with himself and with others in monastic observance, but rather than imposing his discipline he strove to have it followed by persuasion. Upon the death of Abbot Herluin, the founder of the Abbey of Bec, Anselm was unanimously elected to succeed him; it was February 1079. In the meantime numerous monks had been summoned to Canterbury to bring to their brethren on the other side of the Channel the renewal that was being brought about on the continent. Their work was so well received that Lanfranc of Pavia, Abbot of Caen, became the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He asked Anselm to spend a certain period with him in order to instruct the monks and to help him in the difficult plight in which his ecclesiastical community had been left after the Norman conquest. Anselm’s stay turned out to be very fruitful; he won such popularity and esteem that when Lanfranc died he was chosen to succeed him in the archiepiscopal See of Canterbury. He received his solemn episcopal consecration in December 1093.

Anselm immediately became involved in a strenuous struggle for the Church’s freedom, valiantly supporting the independence of the spiritual power from the temporal. Anselm defended the Church from undue interference by political authorities, especially King William Rufus and Henry I, finding encouragement and support in the Roman Pontiff to whom he always showed courageous and cordial adherence. In 1103, this fidelity even cost him the bitterness of exile from his See of Canterbury. Moreover, it was only in 1106, when King Henry I renounced his right to the conferral of ecclesiastical offices, as well as to the collection of taxes and the confiscation of Church properties, that Anselm could return to England, where he was festively welcomed by the clergy and the people. Thus the long battle he had fought with the weapons of perseverance, pride and goodness ended happily. This holy Archbishop, who roused such deep admiration around him wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life to the moral formation of the clergy and to intellectual research into theological topics. He died on 21 April 1109, accompanied by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in Holy Mass on that day: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (Lk 22: 28-30). So it was that the dream of the mysterious banquet he had had as a small boy, at the very beginning of his spiritual journey, found fulfilment. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, welcomed Anselm upon his death into the eternal Kingdom of the Father.

“I pray, O God, to know you, to love you, that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot attain to full joy in this life may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full” (Proslogion, chapter 14). This prayer enables us to understand the mystical soul of this great Saint of the Middle Ages, the founder of scholastic theology, to whom Christian tradition has given the title: “Magnificent Doctor”, because he fostered an intense desire to deepen his knowledge of the divine Mysteries but in the full awareness that the quest for God is never ending, at least on this earth. The clarity and logical rigour of his thought always aimed at “raising the mind to contemplation of God” (ibid., Proemium). He states clearly that whoever intends to study theology cannot rely on his intelligence alone but must cultivate at the same time a profound experience of faith. The theologian’s activity, according to St Anselm, thus develops in three stages: faith, a gift God freely offers, to be received with humility; experience,which consists in incarnating God’s word in one’s own daily life; and therefore true knowledge, which is never the fruit of ascetic reasoning but rather of contemplative intuition. In this regard his famous words remain more useful than ever, even today, for healthy theological research and for anyone who wishes to deepen his knowledge of the truths of faith: “I do not endeavour, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believed, I should not understand” (ibid., 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the love of the truth and the constant thirst for God that marked St Anselm’s entire existence be an incentive to every Christian to seek tirelessly an ever more intimate union with Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In addition, may the zeal full of courage that distinguished his pastoral action and occasionally brought him misunderstanding, sorrow and even exile be an encouragement for Pastors, for consecrated people and for all the faithful to love Christ’s Church, to pray, to work and to suffer for her, without ever abandoning or betraying her. May the Virgin Mother of God, for whom St Anselm had a tender, filial devotion, obtain this grace for us. “Mary, it is you whom my heart yearns to love”, St Anselm wrote, “it is you whom my tongue ardently desires to praise”.

And from a letter to the Church in Aosta, on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of his birth there:

To Anselm “a boy who grew up in the mountains” as his biographer Eadmer describes him (Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, I, 2) it seemed impossible to imagine anything greater than God: gazing since childhood at those inaccessible peaks may have had something to do with this intuition. Indeed, already as a child he considered that to meet God it was necessary “to climb to the top of the mountain” (ibid.). Indeed, he was to understand better and better that God is found at an inaccessible height, situated beyond the goals that man can reach since God is beyond the thinkable. For this reason the journey in quest of God, at least on this earth, will be never-ending but will always consist of thought and yearning, a rigorous process of the mind and the imploring plea of the heart.

MORE

Varia

Well, hello.

I have so many ideas and blog posts and such crawling around in my head, but no real quality time to think them over and then actually write them.

Time exists, but for this introvert, it’s not the right kind of time.

I think what has really screwed me up over the past couple of months is that I lost my high school carpool because of the other kid’s participation in both (very early) morning and afternoon athletic practices, and we’ve  not reconnected since it’s gone to afternoons only, so I don’t even know what’s happening there. Eh, only a few more weeks and new arrangements are already in the works for next year, so I can deal. But that eats up a couple of hours a day. The afternoons are okay because M and I are often out and about in the afternoons anyway, but the mornings..oy. I take the high schooler, and by the time I get back, I need to be thinking about the other one’s school –  which is not too taxing, since I know 97% of what I think will be happening and am always ready for him to just take the lead on what he wants to do for the day – but still. It’s brainspace.

So shall I put what’s on my mind  here and hold myself accountable? What needs to be written in the next few days?

(I also have two manuscripts to read – one another soon-to-be published book, and the other a YA historical novel by one of my older sons..plus two articles to write…)

  • Amoris Laetitia. It’s a challenge to write about, not only for the usual Pope Francis-related reasons (his thinking, writing and rationale are unclear, highly idiosyncratic and float free from most of 2000 years of Catholic tradition. That doesn’t say it’s opposed to that tradition, necessarily. It says he doesn’t bother with tying his arguments to it except in terms of the most general values. ) – but also because every day, one or two really interesting articles on the matter are published and I think…well I needn’t bother. But then I keep thinking and….

I also don’t want to produce another thousands-of-words declamation on the subject. For your sake. So I’m trying to hone in and really get to the point, and my point(s) pops up at a different place on the coordinate than what I have read elsewhere, so it might be worth saying.

  • School. We are chugging along. I haven’t had the opportunity to do the daily homeschool reports, but hope to offer you a few more before the school year ends. I think they might be helpful, not as guides – not at all – but as examples of what one family does. Maybe you’re not as crazy as you think.

 

  • Oh, here’s one anyway. This will be easy -except for the rabbit holes, which are the best part, and which I usually take notes about as we go along, but didn’t today, because we were on the road.

We began with the readings of the day, a short prayer, then cursive practice. No copywork or dictation, just a page of cursive practice. His handwriting is getting pretty good, and he just needs to work on speed. Then just a few pages of math review from Evan-Moor books – these 6th grade problems. (He’s in 5th grade, but he can handle most of it.)

Then we hit the road!

Not far. Just a bit south. First stop was the Hoover Library – the best branch library around here, always busy, good collection. We checked out some CD’s – the soundtrack to Gladiator, some Beethoven, and then a bunch of books about Italy, and some random new books – this one about Back to the Future, and then this, which looks interesting. For his casual reading, he’s flying through Stuart Gibbs, whom he finds amusing.

(He just came in and asked how long War and Peace is.  We looked it up. He says he might read it after he finishes his current books.  I’m thinking if he’s serious I’ll tell him that he can be done with school for the rest of the year. I mean…I don’t think he’s interested in the plot..I think it just exists in his consciousness as This Big Iconic Thing.)

Check out, hop back in the car, and keep going south, to a swamp. It’s this preserve, part of the University of Montevallo. A friend of mine had been there a few weeks ago with her kids and seen lots of animals. It’s a nice walk, and we enjoyed our conversation and our observations, but the only animals we saw were a skink, an anole, lots of bees and a few nice fat tadpoles. M was of course hoping for snakes and I beavers, but nope. Just tadpoles.

 

amy_welborn44

Isn’t this odd? I’d never seen so many woodpecker holes in such a pattern.

Lunch, drive back, listening to the Gladiator soundtrack, talking Roman history and music.

  • Better Call Saul. Coming right up.
  • Books.
  • Trip planning….let’s move that to another post, shall we?

Monday Miscellaney

First off, we’re in the thick of First Communion season….get your signed books here.

Friendship  with  Jesus – B16’s dialogue ith First Communion children

Be Saints!  – B16’s dialogue with British children

I don’t have copies of the next two in the bookstore, but you can find them in most Catholic bookstores and online.

Loyola Kids Book of Saints

Loyola Kids Book of Heroes

Also – Mother’s Day isn’t too far away…..how about The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days?

 

  • Over the weekend, I blogged on pseudo-culture – the BBC show Happy Valley and the post-war noir In a Lonely Place. 
  • Not much going on this past weekend. 11-year old had a piano competition/judging thing on Saturday and they served at Casa Maria on Sunday, so we were tied to home. That’s okay, we’ll be flitting about soon enough.
  • We watched Ben-Hur. Over three days. I hadn’t seen it in years. Probably close to forty of them. You know it’s about four hours long, right? You can see how that happened – given the filmmaking conventions of the day and the fact that if you are going to spend a heap of money on a production, you might as well go all-out and give the audience its money’s worth.

    There is a remake of Ben-Hur coming out and I’ve read a bit of well I never online and can’t remake a classic!

    Well, yes you can. The 1959 version was a remake of the classic silent version, and really, don’t make pronouncements about it being impossible to improve on the ’59 film until you actually rewatch it.

    The length is unnecessary. Those long, lingering dialogue scenes are melodramatic and often risible. Charlton Heston is a terrible actor in this thing. I mean…terrible. The best scenes are the famed set-pieces: The galley scenes, the chariot race and the leper-colony material. The chariot race remains spectacular. Everything else is overlong, stiff and too reverent. The score, as per usual with films like this is overwhelming. Shut up.

    The new version doesn’t look particularly good, though – just judging from the trailers and given that the production team is that Roma Downey crew,  we can be sure that the Christian content will remain intact. But it’s also a good guess that an in-your face CGI-enhanced chariot race will have nothing on the Boyd/Heston matchup of ’59.

    And remember that when the snarky protests come about Ben-Hur being “too Christian” the book was subtitled A Tale of the Christ. It’s about forgiveness, a forgiving heart and mercy that was only found through an encounter with Christ. It comes through in the ’59 version of course, since the movie was part and parcel of that late-50’s Biblical epic boom, but it is pretty stilted and dramatically reverent.

    We had watched Gladiator the week before and had good conversations comparing the two (as in – the plot was just lifted and transposed)  and then digging a bit into history, checking the accuracy (not much on Gladiator, of course)  and looking into the history of the filming of both, as well.

  • Random bloggy link of the day: Taking class notes by hand is far better than doing so on a computer.   Tech-crazy schools always bragging about being all-digital, take, er, note.  You’re helping no one except tech companies.

In a Lonely Place

A few months ago I read The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes – a midcentury, mostly noir author, and I enjoyed it very much. Tautly written, with quite interesting insight into racial issues and abortion from the period, it definitely deserves the status of a reprint edition in the New York Review of Books series.

I had been wanting to read her most well-known novel In a Lonely Place for a time, but couldn’t find it any local libraries and dithered on just ordering a used copy from in-a-lonely-placesomewhere. Finally did it, though, started it last week, with some fits and starts, and ended up reading most of it this evening.

It’s her most well-known book because a film starring Humphrey Bogart was made from it, a film which I have not seen, but, from the plot summary seems to take the barest bones of Hughes’ novel and..recreate it. The movie does sound good, though, but not also doesn’t seem to have the same general focus of the novel, which is to get inside the mind of a serial murderer.

The book is written in the third-person, but with a limited point of view – that of Dix Steele, the character we slowly begin to realize is not quite right. It’s not stated right away, but I don’t think I’m spoiling much from stating it here – after all, you know there’s no reason for the book to exist if he’s actually just an innocent, happy-go-lucky World War II vet out in California trying to write a novel.

There were some surprises, though, and it was interesting to watch how Hughes handles the violence completely off-stage, as it were. This choice invites the reader to be more attentive to the text, to listen to Dix’s thoughts and study his actions more carefully. There was one plot point I should have picked up right away but didn’t until about twenty pages from the end, causing a Well, duh! to resound through the house.

It’s a cool, controlled, entertaining cat-and-mouse game, a snapshot of postwar LA, and an interesting literary exercise – to put us inside the mind of a character, but never specifically depicting his most important acts. I enjoyed The Expendable Man more – I found it more surprising and revelatory – but this was not a bad way at all to spend a couple of hours.

Yeah, not exactly the same vibe as the novel….

She said she didn’t have the language.

Happy Valley is a British program, the second season of which has recently dropped on Netflix. Is it a detective drama? A crime show? Sort of. But mostly it’s a character study, not just of an individual, but also of a community, and really of the “happy valley” – which is perhaps not so happy – in which we all dwell.

Even as a non-fan of crime dramas, I find Happy Valley quite compelling, mostly because of the fine acting and interesting characters. Sarah Lancashire has justly received great download (1)praise for her habitation of the role of Catherine Cawood, the physically and emotionally worn police officer in this Yorkshire town. We make so much of “beautiful” people today, people whom, we are told, you can’t take your eyes off of. Well, guess what – Lancshire playing Catherine Cawood, a solidly built, frazzled middle-aged woman, is one of those people. You can’t take your eyes off her as, in each situation, she reaches deep within and searches for the correct, most humane response, always aware of her own anger, always puzzling out the past and possible future for whatever decisions she might make.

You could start with season 2, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s a huge amount of backstory that’s all told in season 1 and impacts the second season. Short version: Catherine’s daughter had been raped by one Tommy Lee Royce, given birth to a son as a result, then committed suicide. Years later, Catherine, along with her recovering addict sister (beautifully played by Siobhan Finneran of Downton Abbey) is raising Ryan, the child, the past is settled, reconciled if not forgotten, when Royce re-enters the scene. That sets into motion the events of season 2.

Spoiler alert.

Season 2 begins a few years later. Royce is in prison and entertaining the typical raft of criminal-fixated visitors including a woman played, incidentally, by the former Moaningimages (1) Myrtle of Harry Potter. The sisters are still raising Ryan, who is a normal, healthy ten-year old. It seems there is a serial murderer on the loose in the area, Ryan is starting to ask about his father, and a detective involved in the investigation of the murders gets mixed up in one himself. There’s also a subplot about trafficking of eastern European women for what is, practically, slavery in various industries in England.

I experienced season 1 as a bit more compelling, but that might have just because it was so completely new. But I will also say that this season had a couple more elements of traditional mystery – which I solved immediately – as well as a couple of coincidences that brought information to light in far easier, and time-saving ways than would otherwise be the case, and I was put off by that. There’s also some gratuitous associating of religion – just through the presence of symbols – with Frances, the prisoner groupie – it would make sense that she might have what she saw as a religious motivation for supposedly doing good, but the fact that she was also moving towards killing takes the association from maybe to Sigh. Of course they’re going there.   How radical would it be, instead,  to have the Croatian woman depicted as depending on her faith to survive her ordeal and make sense of it? Which is closer to reality?

Anyway. With those quibbles aside, what shines through, and along with the performances,  keeps me coming back, is via Catherine,  the continual theme of the importance of hanging on to one’s own humanity and the ever-faintly glimmering humanity of others, as complicated and difficult as it may be, the primary obstacle in this case being, as Catherine puts it, “People are weird. People are mad, and they don’t always have it tattooed on their foreheads.”

Whether she is dealing with her sister who’s fallen off the wagon, the young prostitutes who are potential victims of the serial killer, the young Croatian woman who has escaped images (2)from near-slavery in a biscuit factory, or even the woman who, groomed and manipulated by Tommy Lee Royce, has infiltrated their lives and attempted to influence her grandson in Royce’s favor – Catherine is always reaching, reaching deep down past her own exhaustion and cynicism, past what she as seen of human nature and behavior to find a way to remain humane and bring those teetering on the edge back with her.

The end of the series was very striking. I can’t say much about it, but just know that along with the normal doubts about humanity that pervade the series, Catherine has learned of another horrible, tragic incident and relationship impacting another mother and adult child. She is asked if the mother had ever told the son of their odd history and Catherine responds, that no, she couldn’t because the woman “…didn’t have the language to explain it.”

And what follows is a scene of the entire family – Catherine, her sister, her adult son and her grandson Ryan, walking up a hill in the happy valley from a visit to her daughter’s grave. The events of the past days weigh on her and us as she watches her grandson raceup the hill. He knows hardly anything of his origins, of how he arrived on this planet and how it impacted others, including his mother – he does not know the specifics
of the history of his conception and her death – just that she died having him because that happens sometimes.

We can see that as Catherine watches him run up from the valley, up the hill, she is thinking about who her grandson is, how he came to be, and how to one day explain it to him, how to ensure that his tangled background does not end up hurting others – she cannot avoid it forever.

Where is the language to do so to be found?

These are peculiar circumstances, but when we expand the circle and consider life, well, is it so peculiar? If you could go back and figure out the whys and hows of your presence here on earth from a purely materialist – social, historical, biological – perspective what would you find? So much contingency, so many accidents, evil perpetuated, virtue maintained, missed connections, disappointments, joy. The movements of individuals, their vices and virtues have brought us here, as have the movements of cultures and peoples. Your grandparents would imagesnot have met except for a war that happened in which millions died, your parents conceived you because even though they were in the midst of a huge fight, they got drunk that one night, and now here you are.

Where is the language to talk about that to be found?

Where is the language to be found that reassures us that no matter how we got here in worldly terms, there is a transcendent reason for our existence, mysterious as that is, and it is good we are here. No matter what mysteries in our past we have to fight through to reach it, the  point we must reach is the grateful understanding that the material details can never be explained, nor can we depend on them to find our own value – in fact, we must not depend on them to find our value, because if we do, all we end up with is the suspicion that we are accidental or even culpable for the pain that lies along the confusing path to our existence.

Where is such a language to be found?

 

 

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