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Well, it’s been a few days since we digested, so let’s go for it:

amy_welbornWriting:  I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Next appearance won’t be until the beginning of May.

Several blog posts – just scroll back for those. Lots of travel blathering to assuage my guilt about privilege and such. Dug up an old piece I wrote on St. Benedict the Black (Moor), posted that and discovered that I’ve been annoyed by the same things for a long time.

Lots of sitting around, staring and jotting notes.

Oh! The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols is a finalist for an “Excellence in Publishing Award” from the Association of Catholic Publishers. 

Listening:   Much Liszt and Ginastera still, but not as much Beethoven – we may be almost done with this particular piece for the year after last Saturday. Hopefully not img_20190409_200229completely done – that would mean he didn’t do well enough to advance to the state level – but we’ll see. Waiting for those results.

As that area of piano winds down, the jazz and organ levels up. Lots of listening to this this week – and for the next few weeks. 

Reading: All right, here we go. First, let’s do what’s in progress.

Rare for me, I purchased a brand new book, simply on the basis on a recommendation. I don’t remember where I saw this mentioned, but since it involved the Gospel of Mark – along with John, one of my two favorites – and seemed to take on some of my concerns, I was in: The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel of Mark. 

Simply reading the introduction was a revelation and prompted me to regret, once again, the thrust of Biblical studies in the era in which I came of age – the 80’s and 90’s – rooted in the historical-critical method, aka – as it panned out for most of us –  skepticism. I suppose what we are seeing now needed that stage to exist. Perhaps this moment couldn’t have come to life without both the shaking of old pietistic assumptions as well as the hard contextual work of the historical-critical scholars, but still. What time wasted, what distance created between the reader and Christ by fixating us – even the lay reader via Bible studies and homiletics – on what Matthew is saying to his Jewish readers here and how it differs from what Luke is saying to his Gentile readers there. 

More as I go along.

I’ve read two novels since last we spoke on these matters:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Why this and how? The typical rabbit-trail route. Browsing the “new releases” I came upon her TranscriptionIt looked mildly interesting, which led me to go to the “A’s” in the fiction section and see what else she’d written – a lot, as it turned out – so I plucked out a couple to try. I ended up starting with this one rather than the newest. It was..okay.

She writes well, and that’s why it wasn’t time wasted for me. I learned some things from reading her. But the novel wasn’t ultimately satisfying for me and led me to decide to just return the others I’d checked out and move on.

There are three mysteries introduced in the story, which end up being…sort of connected. I think what put me off was, first, I figured things out pretty early, and I never figure mysteries out. Maybe I’m just getting smarter, but I doubt that.

Secondly, there is a theme of abuse within a family which is treated rather lightly by surviving family members when it comes to light. The abuse was terrible, and I found the reaction of characters both unbelievable and – hate to use the word, but this is it – offensive.

My only other comment on the book is that once again  – Catholic themes and imagery pop up, and I wasn’t even looking for them – again. A family member ends up in a convent and while the treatment of this tumbles a little bit into caricature, and I honestly don’t think this person would have actually been accepted into religious life considering her issues and weirdness, still – there was a theme of contrition and doing penance for one’s sins that required a working out, and where do you go when you need to make that happen? Catholic Land, of course!

Now, for a much better, more serious book – The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries. 

(The link goes to an archive.org version that you can “borrow.” The book is still in print, though and easy to find. )

As I mentioned the other day, de Vries was a favorite of my father’s and was quite popular in the 60’s. I’d never read anything by him, and this novel is a departure from his usual humorous work – although it has its moments as well.

I rarely, if ever suggest to you “You should read this book” –  simply because life is short, people’s tastes vary, and who am I?

But I’m going to make an exception here. I think you should read this book – if you’re interested in faith, period, but particularly faith and art.

Here’s an excellent essay from Image introducing de Vries, and particularly this book:

IT WAS AN ORDINARY autumn night in suburban Chicago when I received the most disturbing book I have ever read. I was seventeen, slouching in my bedroom making a half-hearted attempt at homework, my sweaty cross-country clothes festering on the floor. My father appeared at the doorway and handed me a yellowed paperback that looked at least a few decades old.

“You might like this,” he said.

It was The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries. I had heard De Vries’s name for the first time only a few days earlier. It came up at the family dinner table, and as I learned about him, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. He was once a well-known satirist who published twenty-six novels, most of them commercially successful. He spent forty-three years as an editor at TheNew Yorker, his short stories appearing regularly in its pages. He enjoyed a privileged perch in the cultural landscape, friends with J.D. Salinger and James Thurber.

And he came from our people—the Dutch Calvinists of Chicago. He attended my religious high school and college. He grew up in the same South Side neighborhood as my grandmother, worshipping at the same church, Second Christian Reformed on Seventy-Second Street. According to a family story, he had dated her, or tried to date her. Or they shared a hymnal at a Sunday evening church service. By Dutch Calvinist standards, that’s practically second base.

A short synopsis:

Don Wanderhope is , as the essay above says, from Dutch Calvinist stock, living in Chicago, when we first meet him, in the late 1920’s. His father runs a refuse company (common among Dutch Calvinists, according to this essay), and he grows to adulthood listening in on theological arguments, helping his father, going to school, discovering girls, and yearning for a different, more refined life.

Image result for blood of the lam de vriesHe gets into a bit of trouble with one girl (a hilarious scene – I mean, who can blame them for not anticipating the model home being shown on a Sunday evening?) but is spared from marrying her by a TB diagnosis. He goes to Colorado sanatorium (I always enjoy fictional sanatorium scenes because my mother had TB and spent time in one in New Hampshire in her youth – and remembered the time, in a way, as the best time of her life.) where he meets another girl, falls in love, but that ends and he heads back to Chicago, mostly healed (if he was ever really that ill at all) discovers his father in the beginning stages of dementia, goes to college, marries, moves to New York, works in advertising, has a daughter who eventually dies of leukemia.

I won’t say spoiler alert because everyone knows that the illness, suffering and death of the character’s daughter is the center of the novel – because it’s autobiographical. The novel was published a year after de Vries’ own 10-year old daughter died of leukemia, and oh, it is raw and painful and sorrowful.

So, no – if subject matter like that would be difficult for you to handle, you shouldn’t read it.

But if you can handle it, and you want to be immersed in a very honest, challenging exploration of faith and theodicy – pick it up.

Before I read it, I was under the impression that the book was the cry of an atheist soul, but it’s really not. It’s the cry of a suffering, loving soul who just doesn’t understand. It’s a dramatization of the question: You, a human parent, would do everything you could to alleviate your child’s suffering – why doesn’t God do the same for his own suffering children? This. Makes. No. Sense.

Jeffrey Frank, writing in The New Yorker in 2004 about De Vries’s legacy, calls the following hospital scenes “as unbearable as anything in modern literature.” I can’t say that he’s exaggerating. Don and Carol make a series of visits to a New York hospital, each time receiving assurances from her oncologist, Dr. Scoville, about his progress researching cures. De Vries charts the development of her leukemia in excruciating detail, tracking the cycles of remission and broken hopes, with each medication more desperate than the last.

Don joins the other parents in trying to preserve a sense of normalcy. They throw birthday parties and speak of returning to school in the fall. He watches a dying infant crawl the hallway “wearing a turban of surgical gauze, whom a passing nurse snatched up and returned to its crib.”

He describes these incidents as if laying out evidence against a heartless God. Here the book’s title becomes clear. It refers not to the blood of Jesus, the lamb of scripture, but to the young girl. Don’s innocent lamb is poisoned by her own blood.

When I read the book at seventeen, it was De Vries’s intensity that rattled me so deeply. The Blood of the Lamb attacked my community’s faith, furiously, from within. That’s something that Hitchens and the so-called New Atheists couldn’t do. We were taught to expect “the world” to mock our faith. But here was one of our own doing the same, and he struck me as funny, sophisticated, and intelligent in doing so. I felt an uncomfortable shiver of recognition, because I knew, even if it went unspoken, that our faith clashed with modern science, that our scriptures carried contradictions, and that religion often fueled as much bigotry as good in the world. I couldn’t defend the reasons for my faith against De Vries.

Returning to the book as an adult, I realize I misremembered two things. First, De Vries reserves as much rage for medical authorities as religious ones. When Dr. Scoville glibly tells him about the “exciting chase” of developing chemotherapy drugs, Wanderhope responds, “Do you believe in God as well as play at him?”

Second, I remembered Wanderhope as a settled unbeliever from his university days onward. Yet it’s clear that he keeps searching for divine guidance until the very end of his daughter’s life, even carrying a crucifix and medal of Saint Christopher. His retort to Dr. Scoville is a bitter joke, yet it’s also the question he can’t stop asking.

I’m going to close with a few quotes from the novel, but I want to point out something alluded to in what the essayist says here, something that is so interesting to me. De Vries’ background was solid Dutch Calvinist, and the theological discussions at the beginning take on faith in that context – predestination, and so on. But as the novel moves to New York, the religious context and imagery become very, very Catholic. The practical reason is that there’s a Catholic church on the way to the hospital. Wanderhope is always passing it and even stopping in. The crucifix outside the church becomes the focus of a final, enraged gesture.

Partly, I suppose because this reflects de Vries’ own actual experience, partly because well, Calvinists don’t have a lot of imagery that lends itself to dramatization of inner faith turmoil.

Once again. 

He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom.

 

I made a tentative conclusion. It seemed from all of this that uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration: not going to the stars, but learning that one may stay where one is.

 

The greatest experience open to man then is the recovery of the commonplace. Coffee in the morning and whiskeys in the evening again without fear. Books to read without that shadow falling across the page.

Dead drunk and cold-sober, he wandered out into the garden in the cool of the evening, awaiting the coming of the Lord.

There is a point when life, having showered us with jewels for nothing, begins to exact our life’s blood for paste.

And then, on a light note, this – reflecting the mid-1930’s. The content is more explicit now, but really, has anything changed? The pride in putting something stupid out there and selling it as a manifestation of some sort of artistic progress?

One summer when Carol was attending day camp, Greta had an affair with a man named Mel Carter. He was an Eastern publicity representative for a film studio, and often instructed dinner parties to which we went in those days with accounts of the movies’ coming of age. ‘We have a picture coming up,’ he said once, ‘in which a character says “son of a bitch.” Lots of exciting things are happening. Still, it’s only a beginning. Much remains to be done.’

 

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The introvert is recovering from over a week of not-solitude. I’ll get there.

MondayLast week was spring break in these parts, and we stuck around. Our one adventure was a day trip to Cheaha State Park, chronicled here. It was fine. Older son worked, younger son got a lot of music in, we had some family visitors. Nothing wrong with staying home and not spending a lot of money.

We have a great deal of travel coming up – still trying to figure out the parameters of Spain in June – and of course, there’s next year Roadschooling, so yeah.

Anyway, to a digest.

Watching: Lots of basketball, of course. People around here are ecstatic about Auburn, but the Vol and Gator in this house keep their distance.

We did watch the film Inception – which I’d never seen. I hadn’t intended to watch it, either, partly because I don’t like Leo, but also because I was convinced that I would end up simply letting confusing images wash over me for two hours. But I ended up sitting there, anyway, and mostly understood it, but it also left me mostly indifferent to the characters’ fates – I mean…they were in mental spaces, right?  

It was mildly thought-provoking on the subject of the power of ideas, which was, I suppose, the intention. The youngest came into my room some time after the movie was over, puzzling over one aspect of it, and said, I just can’t stop thinking about it…

To which, of course, I had to respond…So..it’s like someone implanted it in your brain???

In this category, I suppose I’ll put the two minutes it took to watch the trailer to the new Mary Magdalene movie. Here it is.

Just FYI, this movie has been out for a year in other countries, so reviews are easy to find. Here’s one from the Australian Catholic Conference and here’s one from an independent Catholic website.

My take, just from the trailer? I’m up for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, but I’d also probably watch Joaquin Phoenix as  Queen Elizabeth, so take that into consideration. But of course, from the trailer and the reviews, the movie seems to get a zillion things wrong or weirdly interpreted. The effect of this seems to be, as it so often is, the ironic outcome of trying to be more contemporary, less traditional and straying from the narrative as we have it is a flattening of the story that buries the truly radical nature of both Jesus’ treatment of women and his message in general.

It’s an interesting take – Luke tells us that MM was possessed by seven demons (the number seven being, in part, symbolic of completeness). Jesus freed her from those demons and in response, she followed him – but not alone. In Luke 8, she’s described as being a part of a group of women who became disciples. The movie renders this “possession” as a social construct: MM doesn’t want to follow traditional female norms, so, of course, everyone thinks she’s crazy.

As I said – sticking with the Scriptures would seem to me to be far more compelling.

Hey! Here’s a book on Mary Magdalene!

Cooking: Since we didn’t travel for spring break, we traveled through area restaurants. I didn’t cook much, but the kitchen is seeing life again today.  For some reason, I keep thinking I’m out of celery when I go to the grocery store, but I never am, so one of the goals for today is Use All the Celery.

A thrilling prospect for my customers, I’m sure.

Reading: 

My son on some weird movie. 

It’s almost like there is a lesson, and that there is evil in the world that can’t be accommodated. Invite the evil in, treat it kindly, and it will still have no objective other than to destroy you. The only thing to do is to prevent evil from coming into your house.

Over the weekend, I read the novel Talk to Me by John Kenney. Why this? The usual – I was in the “new books” section of the library, read the description and the blurbs, and felt it might be worth a look. It was – a very quick read that I finished in the space of twenty-four hours and enjoyed quite a bit.

The plot: A nationally-known and beloved television news anchorman is recorded doing something bad just before a broadcast. Nothing sexual, just – very abusive and hurtful. Of course, it goes viral, and the book is about contemporary internet culture and society through the prism of that fallout. It’s complicated and enriched by family matters – the anchor’s adult daughter works for a Buzzfeed – type outfit and has her own deep issues with her father. If the plot only existed on the level of viral video, memes and comments sections, we wouldn’t have much here. But the family and relational elements give it a necessary and even moving depth and raise questions quite fundamental to this whole wretched scene – as in: why can’t we just live in privacy and peace….well…why don’t we live like this? Why do we choose to subject ourselves to the online life and how does it change us?

The book is easy and amusing and, as I said, even moving at points. What interested me, as it would, is that ONCE AGAIN, a fictional protagonist accesses hints of a way forward in this terrible situation via the sounds, symbols and just simple existence of Catholic things. It’s not ham-handed or painfully direct, but it’s definitely there. His thoughts about seeking forgiveness coalesce as he stumbles into a church, and then a sense of his unity with struggling, weak humanity comes to him as he’s walking around the city, observing people…with Gregorian chant playing in his earbuds.

Trust it. Trust that faith we’ve been given, try to live it and let it live in the world. People are looking for it.

Writing: 

Back to work. I have Living Faith stuff due this week. 

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In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

Some images for you, first a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

The sign says “Reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees.”

 

SECOND DREAM of ST. JOSEPH

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has  a blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, visit every day and support his work.  Easter’s coming. Surely there’s someone out there who’d appreciate the gift of one his prints?

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I’m in Living Faith today, and if you are interested in the church I described in the devotional, go to this blog post for more information and photos – but only of the exterior, since they don’t allow photographs inside.

For that, go to this link – just a link to an image search for the church – Santa Maria Tonantzintila.

Here’s a sample:

Tonantzintla

 

Quick reminder – short on a family Advent devotional? Download one for .99 here!

 

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As I mentioned, we’ve taken a quick trip to Colorado (first time)  for the weekend, thanks to Frontier Airlines beginning cheap flights out of Birmingham. Of course a part of the “cheap” means you can maybe take a Ziploc on board and you have to pay for the air you breathe, but hey. It works.

(Seriously – you can take a small “personal item” on board as part of the fare. Our backpacks with clothes, etc., fit that fine, and I also took my purse separately without them saying anything about it. Because it’s winter and winter clothes are fatter – and we didn’t want to wear hiking boots all weekend – I splurged on a carry on bag. Just one. It was fine, and we might have been able to do without the carry on. The plane was good, although J found the seat uncomfortable. I don’t know what the plane was, but it was for sure the quietest plane I’ve been on in a long time, maybe ever. They did say in the announcements that it was new.)

Friday night we stayed at a Residence Inn halfway between the airport and downtown. I’d thought about staying downtown that first night, but I’m glad I didn’t – it wouldn’t have been worth the double cost & need to pay for parking, and we got in late enough so that we wouldn’t be venturing out for any night life.

Saturday was rainy and, eventually snowy. The plan had been to spend time seeing things in Denver and perhaps Boulder and then make our way up to Estes Park, where we’d stay Saturday and Sunday night. Part of the plan worked, but I was concerned about the “snow” part of the forecast, considering my rental car was just a regular car – not an SUV or anything like that – and I had no idea what to expect in terms of roads and driving. As the day progressed, I decided it would be wiser to start the journey to Estes Park sooner rather than later, and it was a very good decision – I am not sure if I could have made it up if I’d waited until 5 or so – and the stress factor of driving that in the snow and in the dark would have been high.

So anyway, back to Saturday morning in Denver: very simple – Union Station, the glorious Tattered Cover Bookshop, the State Capitol building – exterior and the mile-high marker only, since the interior is only open during the week, the History Colorado Museum, lunch at Torchy’s Tacos (a good chain) and a drive-by of the Broncos stadium.

Observations: the History Colorado Museum was okay, but was missing a comprehensive, chronological history of either Denver or the state. Interesting stuff about a variety of subjects: Skiing, the RMNP, the presence of the Klan, the Japanese internment camp, the Chicano movement, the Dust bowl – but an organized, comprehensive, you know – history  – exhibit would strengthen the museum.

Secondly, many, many homeless folks around the capitol, with many of their effects scattered on the grounds. I was glad to see what looked like groups offering them help of one sort or another, including a mobile laundry. But still – seeing soaked clothing, blankets, chicken bones, etc. littering the state capitol grounds is expressive of what is left to do.

 

The drive to Estes was not the easiest drive I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t terrible at 3pm. We arrived at our hotel in one piece, checked in, chilled out, walked around a bit, then the younger one and I embarked on a longer walk. Our hotel is about a mile from the small downtown, and even in the sub twenty-degree weather, it was pleasant. Crisp, with the everyone in a cheery mood because, well, it’s vacation time and they were celebrating their Christmas tree lighting ceremony. After a bit, I called the older son and told him to walk down and meet us and we’d find dinner. We did – at a place where one of us could have an elk burger and another could have a game meatloaf.

 

Sunday morning – Mass at the lovely Our Lady of the Mountains. Packed 10 am Mass, intelligent homily.

Then it was time to …do something. I had not done a ton of research into this day, and what I had done confused me, and there was the snow issue – although by Sunday morning the roads in town were clear. Doing a bit more research Saturday night and chatting with a fellow at the visitors’ center five minutes before they closed indicated some direction – basically attempt a hike in the Rocky Mountains National Park, perhaps with snowshoes, and probably around one of a few easier lakes to get to .

So after getting ourselves ready back at the hotel, we headed to a very busy mountain gear supply store, where a conversation with one of the sales people gave me even more direction. We rented snowshoes and poles and set out.

We didn’t end up at any of the spots I’d thought, and the hike was probably harder than I’d anticipated, considering it was 1.2 miles mostly uphill. But it was the first trail we hit after a steady drive that nonetheless unnerved me since the park roads were still snow-covered, and so I really didn’t want to keep doing that not-fun activity. Plus, I saw the name of the trail destination to be a sign: Bierstadt Lake, named after the German landscape artist who painted so much of the American West  – including this lake and this area – and one of whose paintings of Yosemite is a star holding of our own Birmingham Museum of Art. Of course we have to hit the Bierstadt trail and see Bierstadt Lake.

Well, we first discovered that the snowshoes were unnecessary, at least for the hike up the mountain. The trail is a series of switchbacks up the mountain, down a much shorter distance through woods, and then to the lake. It wasn’t easy – but I did it! The youngest ditched the snowshoes first, followed by me about halfway up. The trail was packed, and moreover, it was narrow, making the snowshoes mostly an obstacle. They’re light, though, and it was less hassle to carry them than wear them. However, when we did the trail around the lake, the snow was deep, and the snowshoes fulfilled their promise – although they still weren’t necessary, honestly.

But getting to the lake? Worth it. Gorgeous, humbling and stunning. (Don’t worry – it looks like they are standing on the lake in the photo, but they are well on the shore.)

MVIMG_20181118_141935.jpg

 

The idea of cold weather activity has never appealed to me – I frankly never understand why people want to do it. Perhaps I’m still suffering from the ill-effects of my Maine-raised mother tossing me out to play in the snow in northern Illinois winters, assuring me that it would be enormously fun. I hated it.

But this? It was good. I finally understood that with the proper equipment (snowshoes excepted)..no, freezing and misery is not the only possible outcome of going outside in the cold. Took a while, didn’t it?

Oh – one more thing. On the trail, I spied a group of two men and one woman heading towards us. One of the man was wearing a UAB sweatshirt. Turns out he and the other fellow were Australians studying at UAB – So there we were, two groups from Birmingham meeting there in the Rocky Mountains. It’s pretty crazy, but to tell the truth, every time I travel, I run into someone with some connection to either me personally or wherever I’m living at the time. I imagine all those degrees of connections are far closer than we think – we just don’t know it because we’re not stopping to talk to every single person – and we’re not all walking billboards advertising our home.

img_20181118_160610Back into town, return equipment, stop at the grocery store, as well as at the Stanley Hotel, which is the inspiration for The Shining – King was staying there when he got the idea for the novel. Photo is of the son who’s read the book and seen the movie a couple of times (much preferring the latter, btw) doing his best Jack Nicholson-in-The-Shining performance.

mvimg_20181118_174454

Now? Football one one TV, The Dark Knight on the other, and me here. Home tomorrow, but hopefully one more small adventure before we have to be at the airport.

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— 1 —

Well, this has been a week. For those of you just now popping in since last Friday – we spent last weekend in NYC – report here.

Since, we’ve had school, orthodontist, a daughter needing to be taken to the airport at 4:30AM to travel to job interviews, the beginning of basketball practice, which has necessitated some juggling of music lessons, music lessons, and now a day off of school for teacher conferences.

Plus, it actually feels like fall, which means I actually feel like cooking again.

As for me: I didn’t get a ton of reading done this week – only the autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret – which I wrote about in several posts on Wednesday (just click backwards for those) and the beginnings of a couple of books – one novel and one historical study. More on those next week, once I finish.

Writing? I finished – I think – the “short” story I’ve been working on for a very long time. It’s over 7K words, which is not unheard of for a so-called “short” story, although the fact that most of my books run around 25k books – just a little more than triple that – does give me pause.

What will become of that story? I have a competition in mind to which I am probably going to submit it, but if I don’t – I will publish it on Amazon Kindle.

— 2 —

I had really not been aware of how much space that story had been taking up in my head until I finally settled on a last sentence and pressed the period key, and then “save.” My brain immediately felt 80% emptier (that might be a bad thing…)

BTW – I’ll be Living Faith on Sunday. Go here for that. 

— 3 —

Halloween’s coming, and wow does it feel great to be past all of that. Sort of like the feeling a post-menopausal woman gets in walking past the feminine hygiene aisle or the parent with no babies in the present or future gets while walking past the diapers.

Been there, done that. 

I mean – one of them will go out trick-or-treating with some friends, I think, but dressed as what? Don’t care, and it’s his job to figure it out. We have had very few trick-or-treaters over the past couple of years, so I’ll just get one bag this year  – and this time, I’ll get a bag of something everyone here actually likes, so the leftovers don’t sit in a bin in the kitchen for…a year.

There will be no lack of commentary on Catholics n’ Halloween – because there never is – but perhaps your most efficient course of action on this score will be to head over to CWR and read Tom McDonald:

— 4 —

Allhallowtide is actually a kind of triduum: three days of commemoration that includes All Hallows Eve (October 31, shortened Hallowe’en), All Saints Day (All Hallows Day, November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). As with other major feasts, celebration of All Saints Day begins on the vigil, which is why secular culture celebrates Halloween on the night of October 31st, but then does nothing on the actual feast days that follow.

Halloween is a Christian holiday. Some Celtic neo-pagans and fundamentalist Christians claim the Church simply took over the date for a pagan festival of the dead and all its trappings. False. The current dates fall on a harvest festival called Samhain by the Celts, but there is no indication that Samhain was a festival of the dead. It simply marked the end of the harvest season. Festival days were often regarded as liminal time in which the veil between the material and spiritual worlds are considered thinner, but elaborating this into a festival of the dead on par with those found in other ancient pagan belief systems is more than than the textual evidence can support. Since we have no pre-Christian records of its observation, claims about about its observation are speculative.

Bede calls November Blod-monath (Blood Month), which sounds promising. However, the real meaning is mundane: it was the time surplus livestock were slaughtered to save fodder for the long winter. Otherwise, Bede attaches no significance to the season.

— 5 —

I’ll be posting more on this and All Saints/Souls days next week, of course, but in looking to see if the Clerk of Oxford had posted anything on Halloween, I ran across this interesting post on English churches and saints’ shrines:

This is the season of All Saints, Hallowtide, and it seems a fitting time to post a collection of pictures on a theme I’ve been interested in for a while: how English cathedrals and major churches today choose to represent their pre-Reformation history, and especially the history of the medieval saints whose shrines they once housed. In the Middle Ages, these shrines were integral to the life, history, and physical shape of these cathedrals, a tangible embodiment (in every sense) of their shared spiritual life and their collective identity as a community. As at Winchester, these shrines were usually in a prominent and central position in the church, close to the high altar, and the history of most cathedrals was inextricably bound up with the saints whose relics they preserved, who might be their founders, early leaders, or the nucleus around which the community originally grew. The saint was both literally and metaphorically at the heart of the cathedral, and to remove them created a huge gap. When these shrines were destroyed, it left an absence in more ways than the loss of the saint’s holy ‘rotten bones’.

A number of churches today choose to acknowledge and commemorate that absence, and as a medievalist I’m interested in the different ways they find to do that. This post is a brief journey through the shrines of some of England’s medieval saints – or rather, the empty spaces which those shrines once occupied.

Some of these churches are among the oldest surviving institutions in England, with more than a thousand years of tumultuous, yet essentially unbroken continuity, and their saints and their medieval history of pilgrimage are an unavoidable part of their story – unless they are prepared to ignore the first six or seven centuries of their history, and often their own foundation-story, these churches have to find some way of telling that story to visitors. 

Get ready:

— 6 —

This is amazing and beautiful (as seen on Facebook)

Staged paintings / paintings:
1. The burial of Christ / the entombment of Christ
2. O êxtase de María Magdalena / Mary Magdalen in ecstasy
3. the crucifixion of Saint Peter / crucifixion of Saint Peter
4. A decapitação de João Batista / Beheading of John the Baptist
5. Judite decapitando Holofernes / Judith beheading Holofernes
6. The flagellation of Christ / Mikko of Christ
7. the martyrdom of saint Matthew / the martyrdom of saint Matthew
8. The Annunciation
9. Rest on the flight to Egypt / rest on the flight into Egypt
10. Narcissus / Narcissus
11.: the resurrection of Lazarus
Saint Francis of Saint Francis of Assisi in ecstasy
13. Baco / Bacchus

— 7 —

All right, as Queen of the Local Educational Field Trip, I cannot believe that after doing this for years now, researching my eyes out, scouring the southeast for day trips hither and yon – I missed the paper museum!

The museum was founded in 1939 at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology by paper expert and collector Dard Hunter, who came from a family of printers and was a follower of the American Arts and Crafts Movement in the early 20th century. Considered one of the preeminent papermakers and printers of his age, his work has been featured at the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library.

The museum was revived in 1989 and moved to Atlanta, where today it is located at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute at Georgia Institute of Technology. 

(Not kidding – it looks very good – on the Georgia Tech campus, for heaven’s sake.)

Speaking of Atlanta – I am hoping we can see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the High Museum. It’s going to be there for three months, and all the regular tickets have already sold out. They are going to make a hundred tickets available every day, first come first serve in the mornings. I’ll wait until Christmas break and see if we can do it.

Photo taken inside a Yayoi Kusama Infinity room filled with black and yellow spotted pumpkins reflected in mirrors.Image result for infinity mirrors high museum

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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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