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— 1 —

Yes, we have returned. The trip back was completely uneventful, thank goodness. So much easier than the trip over, even discounting the problems, mostly because of the difference in time: the trip west is about 14 hours and the return back east was around 11 (that’s from Dallas to Tokyo and back). Thanks jet stream!

— 2 —

I didn’t watch any movies on the flight over, being determined to get my money’s worth out of that full-reclining business class seat. On the way back, however, I watched two:

Borg/McEnroe

This was not a great movie by any means, but I enjoyed it nonetheless (it’s not long, which makes even an okay movie more endurable.)

Starring Shia LaBoeuf as John McEnroe and Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason as Bjorn Borg, the film recreates the circumstances leading up the 1980 Wimbeldon singles final, in which the 24-year old Borg would play for a fifth title against the brash American McEnroe.

My late father was a huge tennis fan, played quite a bit, and taught me to play. We watched a lot of tennis in our house. One summer in Maine, my dad took me to a

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1975, defined.

tournament in North Conway,  New Hampshire where I saw Connor and Ilie Nastase play, and yes, Nastase did play up his nickname of “Nasty Nastase” for the crowd.  Those of you who are younger might not realize how big tennis was back in the 70’s and 80’s – the era of superstars like Borg, McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Martina Navarilova and so many others. It was a time (she said, rocking in her chair on the front porch, eying those kids on her lawn) when huge audiences watched the Wimbledon and US Open finals and there were some very dramatic matches played out.

So, I was drawn to this movie, partly from nostalgia, and yes, those first images of late 70’s/early 80’s tennis gear and garb did make me a little verklempt. And I found the movie pretty absorbing, even though I also don’t hesitate to say it doesn’t work.

The point is that Borg was, of course, a superb player and maintained that level through extreme personal control, while McEnroe, in contrast, was out of control on the court and off. The “twist,” as it were, is that we see that Borg had his own struggles with temper as a young man (played by Borg’s real life son Leo at one point) and had to channel that in order to succeed. So, there’s your situational irony, I guess.

— 3 —

The movie goes back and forth in time for both players, highlighting Borg’s growth and giving a glancing view to McEnroe’s domineering father, which is not enough to even come close to fleshing out McEnroe’s story.

In fact, there’s not a lot of depth on either side: it’s an atmospheric collection flashbacks that superficially dramatize one corner of a couple of tennis players’ motivations and psychological makeup.

The most amusing thing to me was the script’s offhanded self-critique. At one point, McEnroe leaves a talk show interview (I think it’s supposed to be the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder) in a rage saying something like, Why is it always about how I act? Why isn’t it about the tennis? Which, as it happens, one could ask about the movie, too. Yes, the personalities were dominant at the time, but there were also changes occurring within the game of tennis at the time, changes that found expression in what was happening between Borg and McEnroe – not just different personalities, but different games. None of which comes through in the movie, of course.

So, yeah. Not a great movie, but I don’t regret the 90 or so minutes I spent watching it, either.

— 4 —

And then, finally, Lady Bird, which definitely did not live up to the hype.

At all!

Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical movie is about a high school senior in Sacramento who wants, more than anything else, to not be in or perhaps even from Sacramento. Her family is struggling middle class – her mother (the always fabulous Laurie Metcalf) is a psychiatric nurse, her father unemployed, but they manage nonetheless to send Lady Bird to a Catholic high school (because her brother – it’s mentioned twice – had someone be knifed right in front of him in public school) where, it seems, she’s surrounded by mostly wealthy girls.

The movie’s been highly praised both as a coming-of-age movie and as a “love letter” to Catholic schools – since most of what Lady Bird experiences at school is presented in a positive – albeit realistic – light. It is, I will say, one of the few movies that gets all the Catholic Stuff right, in terms of gesture, lingo and what little ritual we see. The one false note – and not just from a Catholic perspective but filmmaking – is the priest character who’s brought in to replace another priest who was the theater sponsor. This new fellow has been a sports coach and treats the play production that way and it’s just too sit-comish and doesn’t match the more naturalistic tone of the rest of the film.

The basic idea is that Lady Bird is struggling – as we all do – to figure out who she is, which she is pretty sure has little to do with where she happens to be from. She’s rejected her given name – Christine – and she just wants to get the heck out Sacramento. Her parents are loving and supportive, but her mother is somewhat brittle and a pragmatist, and for some reason, she and her daughter area just not clicking right now.

There are loads of quality secondary characters – so much quality, in fact, that you really would like to spend more with them than with the fairly insufferable Lady Bird. I’d rather know more about  Janelle, the friend Lady Bird rejects for a time and also more about the priest who, the kids say, used to be married and had a child who died – and we get a tiny glimpse of this reality in another 30-second scene, but it calls out for more.

Lady Bird follows a familiar arc. As I watched it, I thought…here’s the part where she rejects her old friends….here’s the part where she pretends to be someone she’s not….here’s the part where she gives herself too hastily to a guy and here’s the part where she realizes what she did and regrets it…here’s the part where she realizes who her true friends are…here’s the part where she thinks she has gotten what she wants and then stumbles into a situation in which she realizes the value of what she had…here’s the part where she casts aside her youthful pretension, answers the question of what her name is with her actual name…and GROWS as a result. Or, well…comes of age.

I suppose my problem was that it was slight. A coming-of-age film is admittedly going to be a slice of life, but this slice was way too thin. I would have liked to have a little bit more family dynamic stuff so I could understand more of why the mom was the way she was and why Lady Bird was, and was the dad really such a saint?

— 5 —

I’m almost done blogging about the Japan trip. I think I’ve posted on each day – I just have  couple more thematic posts I want to get up. Here’s a list of posts

. You can take the easy way, and just go through all posts with a “Japan 2018” tag. Click here for that. 

Or:

Also check out Instagram for photos. 

Some previous trip entries:

Mexico – spring 2018

London – spring 2017

Belize and Guatemala  – summer 2017

— 6 —

Depressing? Symbolic? Obviously, the answer is: both. 

For more than a century, St. Catherine of Siena Church was a cornerstone of the Image result for dollar tree catholic churchCharlestown neighborhood, a close-knit parish that seemed impervious to the change that swirled around it.

When the Catholic church closed a decade ago, it took a piece of the old Charlestown with it, residents said.

 It had stood vacant ever since. But now, the church has taken on new life — if a decidedly secular one — as a haven for bargain shoppers known as Dollar Tree.

— 7 —

Coming in July:

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies is .99 this month in honor of her feast (7/22). 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his third set of stories, called Mutiny!

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

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— 1 —

Coming to you from Alabama, yes, but not Birmingham. It’s Auburn for us tonight, with an early morning obligation/opportunity tomorrow and then on to somewhere else for the afternoon and perhaps the next day as well. No more details until we see how it all works out – I’m sadly superstitious in that way – but if you want some sense of what’s happening, check out Instagram, particularly Instagram Stories. I tend to post things there.

— 2 —

The big news of late has been the tragic Ireland abortion referendum – which, in the end, is a referendum on the state of Catholicism as well. As disturbing as the referendum itself was, just as disturbing to me was the reaction of the supporters. Cheering and celebrating? Not unexpected, but certainly disgusting. There is a lot of insightful reading out there about the referendum, but two I’ll point out here are:

Breda O’Brien in the Irish Times:

Ireland has become a different place, not a more tolerant, open and respectful place, but a place with a heart closed to the ones who will die because they are not deemed human enough to be protected.

And a heart closed to the thousands of women who wish they lived in a society that cared enough to tackle the profound injustices such as poverty that force women to choose abortion, rather than proposing the ending of a life instead.

I knew we were in trouble months ago when a prominent journalist said she absolutely accepted the unborn was a baby, but that she felt a woman’s right to choose trumped that fact.

I waited for the outcry. Someone had just said that a baby must die to facilitate an adult’s choice. There was none. I felt an indescribable chill.

The next generation is our hope, not some kind of choice.  

Any movement that urges breaking the bond of intergenerational solidarity for ideological reasons, all while abandoning women to the coldness of individual choice, undermines all that is central to our humanity.

Nor did two-thirds of voters seem to understand the concept of equality, instead making ableist arguments. “How could a foetus be the equal of a fully grown woman?” ran the banal, unimaginative and clichéd argument.

They are not equal in cognitive ability, in power or in strength. Neither is a newborn baby or a three-year-old. The helplessness and defencelessness of new humans are designed to instil in us a passion to protect them from harm because they are equal to adults only in their common possession of humanity and their right to life.

— 3 —

And Darwin Catholic reminds us:

In the wake of the Irish referendum abolishing their constitutional protection of unborn children, some of have attempted to roll out the old: “Oh, don’t worry. Banning abortion doesn’t reduce abortions, it just makes people go elsewhere to get them.”

This “banning something doesn’t reduce it” argument is deployed by various people for various causes: Banning abortion doesn’t reduce abortion. Banning drugs doesn’t reduce drug use. Banning guns doesn’t reduce the number of guns available. Banning gambling doesn’t reduce gambling.

All of these are false. Making something illegal of course makes that thing less common. Honestly, if we believed that making something illegal had no effect on whether or not people did it, why would we make anything illegal? Why would we ban things like homicide and burglary if we thought that illegality had no effect on whether people do something.

— 4 —

I have such a long list of articles and links about matters digital and technological. Such a long list. Some related to the impact of all of this on our brains, many taking on assumptions about tech and education, and a growing number about Big Tech and information control. I keep going back to mid-century dystopian fiction, from Farenheit 451 to 1984 and then I ponder McCluhan, and I try to sort it out.

One of the minor points I ponder is the relationship of information tech to churches and evangelization. I have never been one to suggest that a Really True Evangelizing Disciple-Making Parish/Diocese must be All In with the Tech – is your parish on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/MySpace ? 

The far more important question, to me is – have you reached out to every single parish in your parish boundaries? Does everyone know about everything you offer? Is your parish aware of every homebound person living in its boundaries, is every household aware that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and worship of God are happening in your parish? 

Sure, I guess you can let them know about it through Facebook, right? But why not, you know, go knock on their doors instead? Be an actual living – IRL – presence in the life of the neighborhood?

Yeah, do both. Great! For sure have a decent parish webpage with MASS TIMES FRONT AND CENTER WITHOUT HAVING TO DOWNLOAD A PDF TO FIND THEM FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE. But person-to-person comes first.

And do you know what? these tech entities are not your friend. 

The owner of the Babylon Bee sold it and has Words about Facebook and Google:

I fully realize that a major reason the Bee (and my webcomic, for that matter) was able to blow up like it did was because of social media — Facebook in particular. This is just how it goes when you make things for the internet: you create, you post to social media, you hope people like it and it spreads. But the power that Facebook held over me as a content creator began to make me very uneasy.

True crime fascinates me, and this is a comparison that often comes to mind: to become a successful content creator you have to use Facebook, and using Facebook, especially if you’re a Christian and/or a conservative, is sort of like going to a mafia loan shark for $10,000. They’re happy to give it to you, just like Facebook will gladly give you the opportunity for your content to go viral on their massive platform. But then, if it does, they own you. You have to conform to their rules and their worldview, and jump through every hoop they put in front of you, if you want to remain a successful content creator. It’s just like a loan from a local mob guy: sure, now you’ve got $10,000 in your hand, but you’re going to pay a high price in return. You’re going to have to alter whatever needs to be altered — even your worldview — to accommodate Facebook. If you miss a payment or step out of line, you’re going to get a beating. And if they ever decide you’re too much trouble, they’ll just shoot you. Facebook has the power to kill publishers, and they do, not only based on publishing techniques, but based on worldview. Just think about that.

This takes us into the bigger and scarier picture, which is that Facebook and Google have a practical duopoly on information. The web is where everyone gets information about everything, and they literally control what information the world sees. I could write a million words on this topic, but I won’t. I cover it regularly on CDR, and the CDR Manifesto speaks on it. Suffice it to say, my worldview combined with my job description gives me a unique vantage point from which to view the current state of things. As a follower of Christ, I am primarily concerned with glorifying God, loving my neighbor, and spreading the gospel. I’ve thought about this deeply and carefully, and I think the centralization of the internet is one of the greatest threats to the spread of the gospel, and the well-being of mankind, that we face today. Maybe the single biggest threat. It is tyranny over information. It’s a handful of people who are hostile to the Christian message and the plight of the individual deciding what’s good and bad, true and false. It’s never been seen before on this scale. I am no conspiracy theorist; never have been. From where I sit, this danger is as clear as day.

All of this is to say nothing about the long-term ramifications of the massive collection of personal data, or the incalculable intrapersonal effects social media is having on us.

— 5 —

If you only come here on Fridays, please check out my post from earlier in the week on the letters of St. Marie de l’Incarnation to her son, whom she left with relatives at the age of eleven, so she could join the Ursulines. The Cruelest of all Mothers. 

— 6 —

Several years ago (six), when we were still in the bungalow, some robins built a nest on the ledge right outside my window. It was glorious to be able to watch the babies hatch and then grow – and then hop and fly away. The blog posts about that – Robin Watch – are all under this category. 

Something similar has happened this year. It’s a different house, but robins have managed to find a space to build a nest – squeezed in between a rain spout and roof eaves. Fortunately (for us) it’s on a side of the house close enough to the ground that I can set up a step ladder and we can peak. My older son is tall enough to be able to see without assistance, but I can only spy with my phone camera – I can just hold it up there while the parents are away hunting worms, and take a quick snap. I think the photo on the left must have been just a day or so after they hatched and the second just three days later. We’ll see if they’re even still around when we get back.

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s releasing his second collection of stories Friday- June 1.

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

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A very, very smooth trip. I am not in anyone’s fan club, least of all an airline, but I have to say that this Southwest flight from Birmingham to Houston to Mexico was one of the better flights I’ve had lately. First, there were no lame Southwest flight attendant hijinks, which I was dreading. Secondly – when the plane pulled away from the gate…it kept going. And going. Faster and faster until it was in the air! Fancy that…no ten minute waits on the runway followed by another ten minute wait, then followed by a thirty minute wait in which we are told, “Looks like we’re almost maybe perhaps next in line for takeoff.”

Airport moment:

Older (I can still say that! Sometimes!) woman sits down next to me at the gate. Gets out her phone. Starts talking. Loudly. This is what she says, no lie: Oh, she has no class. She speak so loudly all the time. Just no class. Well, yes, I hope they’re happy, but I doubt it will last. You know how it started right? They had an affair? He was married and left his wife for her?

Too bad she’s not as classy as the dame loudly gossiping about her in the airport!

****

One of the very tense moments in any transition from airplane to vacation stay in any city is the issue of actually getting there. Airport taxi rip-offs are everywhere, from Paris to Rome to most other places I’ve never been. Mexico City actually has an excellent system for minimizing the chances of being overcharged or taken to parts unknown.

The taxi companies all have booths in the actual airport. You go up to a booth, and tell them the address of your destination. If you don’t have a lot of people with you, be sure to specify sedan or they will stick you in a van and it will be a hundred pesos more. (Not a lot but still). You pay the booth attendant, he or she prints out a ticket, and then you take it outside to the outside attendant and he or she hooks you up with a taxi. You’ve already paid, they know where you’re going – almost like Uber!

So that’s what we did – taking then about a thirty minute ride through a very busy city to our apartment. There was one stretch of road which was lined with market stalls, thronged with people, and with even more people darting towards cars stopped at intersections with toys, ice cream, and water for sale, and bottles of sudsy water ready to wash windshields.

***

The apartment’s good. The only negative (which I’ll mention to the owner and in the review) is that there’s no “guide to the area” – I’ve rented a lot of vacation apartments before and leaving a guide with directions for transportation (here’s the nearest subway stop, this bus line runs near the apartment, and so on) and favorite local restaurants and grocery stores is absolutely standard. It certainly makes life easier. But other than that, it’s good – two bedrooms, a large living room/dining room.

After a bit of a rest, we set out walking. I hadn’t intended walking all the way to the Zocalo, but that’s what we did, taking a break along the way for Mass. It was a long way (almost 3 miles) and (spoiler alert) we cabbed it back (I couldn’t get Uber to load properly at the moment).

We walked along the Reforma, the main central drag through Mexico City – lots of higher end hotels are located here, there’s a central walking and biking path lined with trees and benches almost the whole way, and I understand on Sunday mornings, they make the road pedestrian-only, which must be lovely.

It was busy, and the closer we got to the center, the busier it got  – it wasn’t unruly or crazy – mostly families of one size or another – but it was certainly a surging river of folks. In a way it was just like any other similar scene in any other city: lots of characters, from Iron Man to Mickey Mouse and street performers – the street performers were, however, in three categories and three categories alone: Hurdy-Gurdy organs, then a man playing an accordion while a woman holding a baby stands with a cup, and little children – no older than seven or eight years old – playing beaten guitars.  Those in the second category reminded me of the beggars in Rome, and I wondered if, as it the case with the Roma and their babies, the children are sedated. As for the little boys banging on their guitars? You might think it’s cute, but it’s really not. You can’t help but wonder what’s going on, and the little boys are clearly tired and even a little angry.

Our primary goal was Mass, which we hit about halfway through at a church I thought had something to do with St. Francis, but which I cannot for the life of me locate on the map right now. We’ll pass it again at some point – I want to go in and look at the décor more carefully, and take phots with my real camera. Some interesting points:

Those of you familiar with Catholicism in Latin countries probably already know this, but it was new to me. And I don’t know if this is standard practice everywhere, but at this parish in Mexico City, it was. In the US, we have our palms  given to us at the beginning of Mass. Regular old strips of palm leaves. We process, have Mass, and that’s it.

It’s different here. Outside of the church are crafters and vendors of artifacts made of palms – the intricately woven standards you might have seen, but even very elaborate figures, such as the crucifixes you see in the photo. People buy those before (and after) Mass, and bring them into church.

Now, we were not there at the beginning, so I don’t know if there was a procession, but it was the end of Mass that intrigued me.

After Mass, everyone who has something – either purchased that day or from home – brings it up to the front for a blessing (It’s like what I’ve seen at the Hispanic community’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Masses in Birmingham – everyone brings up their religious objects, no matter how big, at the end for blessing.)

What was thought-provoking to me was that while, as is normally the case, perhaps ten percent of the congregation received Communion, almost everyone had a sacramental to be blessed and take home. I need to think about it more and work it out, but the dynamic seems to be that Mass is the locus of blessing, the presence of Jesus. From the Mass, we can take the sacred back into the world, into our homes.

Those of us who are frequent Communion-receivers frame that dynamic in terms of the presence of Christ within us in Eucharist – but those who don’t receive the Eucharist frequently still find a way. A powerful way, it seems to me.

 

 

One of the reasons I want to go back to this church is to take a closer look and better photos of the medallions of the evangelists in the sanctuary – you can barely see them running across the center above. What was great about them (again, maybe this is a common motif – I’ve just never run across it before) is that each of the evangelists is, as usual, paired with his symbol – ox, eagle, man, lion – but here they are riding them. It’s fantastic.

After Mass, we just made our way over to the Zocola, which is massive. The added treat was that there was obviously something going on – we could see a crowd gathered, attention directed towards a covered concert area. It was to be a symphony performance – Beethoven’s Ninth.

If it hadn’t been the end of a long travel day with two boys who’s only consumed donuts in the morning for their daily sustenance, I would have stayed for the whole thing. But as it was, I could sense the mood in my crew, which was a hungry one, and there were no food vendors of any sort around, so we took a turn around the square and peaked into the Cathedral (Mass going on in two places within – we’ll go back later in the week for a closer look during the day), all with the first movement resounding in the air. It was a lovely, stirring welcome to Mexico City, and a reminder of the contrasts so much a part of this culture: Beethoven in the square, with impoverished little boys banging on beaten-up guitars four blocks away.

 

We took a cab back to the area of our apartment, and started looking for food. The restaurant at the end of the block I’d been thinking of was closed. We walked around a bit, almost decided to do just sandwiches from the 7-11, but then I said, no, we’ll go back to the Argentinian restaurant not far from the apartment, and that was a good decision. The food was great – excellent fresh empanadas, two huge hamburgers and a fabulous skirt steak for me. It was a fairly casual restaurant, but the service was so old-school and so many levels above the Hey guys, how’s everyone doing style of American eating, the boys were intrigued.

So there you go. I’m writing this Monday morning, and we have a long day of Teotihuacan – the main attraction – ahead. We are knocking it off today because museums are closed on Mondays, so we might as well….

Video at Instagram. 

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Hey – this will be short and photo heavy because it’s the end of a long day and my computer is very weird tonight. I don’t know how long I’ll have…

Sleep was a challenge for me last night, so I had little of it, it came to me late, and I didn’t awake until 9:30, after having Stern Conversations the evening before about Waking Up Early and Hitting the Ground Running.

The plan was to do the Tower of London, and everything I’d read indicated it was really best to get there early to beat the crowds. They opened at 10 am today, and I almost changed plans, considering we wouldn’t be able to get there until around 10:30…it’s good I didn’t. After all…it’s the end of March, not summertime. Lesson learned. Relax. 

Our first stop was the Tube station where a very helpful attendant helped us with the Oyster Cards – as I said yesterday, getting one for me would be no problem, but loading youth fares on them involves official effort. We then hopped on the train and took off for Tower Hill – a very easy ride.

I had purchased the membership in the Historic Palaces, which meant our entry was already paid for and we could skip the ticket lines. When we arrived, the lines were sort of long – maybe each ten deep – so we could just move past that and walk right in – there was no line at the entry gate.

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We walked up right as a Yeoman Warder tour was beginning. These are offered all day, constantly, and judging from our experience, are excellent. There is no reason, it seems to me, to ever pay for a separate tour to the Tower of London – what is offered as part of the ticket price would be difficult to improve on.

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(For short video go to Instagram.)

The tour began in the courtyard, and made three stops, ending in the chapel. The focus was on history, of course presented in the basics, but with good detail, balance and some humor that never descended into the Awkward Lameness that marks so many tour guide efforts.  The chapel portion is centered on those who were executed on the Tower grounds, on Tower Hill and are buried in the chapel. At the very last, the guide explains his own background and role, and what the requirements are to even be considered to be a  Yeoman Warder – 22 years in active military service, achieving a high rank and with (it goes without saying) a clean record.

(The portion of the chapel where St. Thomas More’s and others are interred is not open until 4:30 daily  – up until then, tour groups rotate through the chapel continually. We were there earlier, so didn’t get in there, but hope to return at some point this week. You can gain access to St. Thomas More’s cell, but special permission is required, and I am not able to plan ahead enough to do such a thing, unfortunately.)

Once the tour is over, you are free to explore on your own. The Crown Jewels are the main attraction, of course, and the warnings are out there about Long Lines, but for us at this time of the year, it was a walk-through. No waiting at all.  It is interesting to see, but the American Boys were more puzzled by the grandeur than anything else.

The White Tower (the main, central, iconic building, built by the orders of William the Conquerer) contains various rooms with armor – if you have ever seen any substantial armor collection, it will be of the mildest interest. We stopped for another free tour talk in St. John’s Chapel in the White Tower – the oldest Norman chapel still in use, they say – this talk given by another employee, not a ….. It was fine, although a lot of basic history was repeated – I had thought it would be more about the chapel itself.

The other main attraction, beside the ravens (which are enormous) is the Beauchamp Tower, a sad place that looks down on the execution grounds, the walls of which have the etched graffiti of many who were imprisoned there.

We had a meal at the museum café, which was quite good – the boys had fish and chips, I had potato and leek soup.

Crowd takeaway: it was busy, and was much more so by the time we left than when we had arrived. There were several school groups, ranging from high schoolers who seemed to be French and German, and several groups of little English schoolchildren. I mean – like six years old.

By then, it was about 2:30, which gave us time for an initial look at the British Museum.  We rode the subway back over in that direction, and had two hours there before it closed, which was fine. (They ask for a donation, but there is no admission). Today, we hit the Ancient Near East and European rooms – the Sutton Hoo was a main destination – then down to see the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles before we were driven out. We’ll return in a couple of days to explore some more.

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I figured out how to do panorama!

We then walked down to the theater showing Matilda to see about tickets for tonight – turns out, they are dark on Mondays, and I don’t know why I didn’t know that. My other want-to-see was An American in Paris, so we walked up, got tickets – the cheapest were under 30 pounds…can you get tickets to a Broadway show for that? – and then found some food. We settled on a little French hamburger place called Big Fernand that was staffed by the most enthusiastic, lovely group of French young adults. They were charming and very much aiming to please. The hamburgers were okay – Five Guys is better….was the report (and there are many Five Guys in London….) We made our way back to the theater, with stops for Kinder Eggs, and then at the drug store for things like shampoo and toothpaste, and finally a Muji stop – I love their notebooks – very plain and very cheap – and to the theater.

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Okay. I was pretty excited to see this show.  An American I Paris is one of my favorite films and I adore Gershwin. I had actually followed this production since its debut on Broadway, read a lot of reviews and I knew that there some varied opinions out there. I knew it wasn’t a slavish recreation of the movie. But that was okay! I was open to new things. And the beginning, which seemed to me to be a stylized evocation of postwar Paris, was different, but well-done. I didn’t mind it..

But.

I’m going to tell you…I didn’t like it. I’m not crushed, just a little annoyed.  I actually want to think about this and write something substantive because I think the differences are culturally revealing. It was also bizarre in some ways, and many times, I wondered, Who thought this was a good idea? Not that there was anything strange that violated the non-existent American in Paris canon, but the reimagining of the story was forced, belabored and almost infantile, compared to the maturity of the original.

I’ll just note this here, more for my own sake, so I don’t forget: When you look at pop culture over the past forty years, the dominant theme of everything seems to be Breaking free of parental expectations to carve my own unique path.  Unbelievably, this even invades An American in Paris.

Grow. Up.

But beyond what I think are interesting and telling thematic differences I suppose what I saw tonight was the homogenization of talent. There were no distinct voices or faces – everyone looked, acted and sang in the same way. Everyone would get an “A” but you wouldn’t remember a single distinctive thing about them. Well, as I always say after an experience like this – at least I got that out of my system. I’d been wanting to see it since it opened, and now I have. And maybe I’ve saved you some money.

So! That was fun!

(How did the boys react? I think they were mildly entertained, a little bored, but not resentful of the experience, thank goodness. It wasn’t the most fun they have ever had, but they didn’t fall asleep and were in good spirits after….)

Then about a fifteen-minute walk home, and my race against the computer to get this to you.

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— 1 —

Well, that’s done. Another book in the bag, manuscript sent in on deadline.

What’s next? With this book, the editors are looking at it and within the next couple of months will return the manuscript to me with suggested edits. Then I’ll return it to them, the publisher will produce galleys for me to take one more pass at, and then it will go to press. The goal was a pub date in the fall. It is an illustrated book, and I have no idea how that’s coming along. Once I get a cover and definite pub date, I will let you all know.

I have taken it easy the past couple days except for a flurry of cooking last night, which I recorded on Instagram Stories.  I haven’t cooked much since Christmas, but am back in the groove. Made minestrone, bread and my roasted tomatoes last night.

Work-wise, I have a little pamphlet due in a couple of weeks, and then an essay due on March 1.

— 2 —

amy-welborn66Lent is coming! Here’s a post from yesterday with links to all my Lent-related material.

I noted a spike this morning for clicks on this post – and I’m glad to see it, although I would have expected the spike next week and not this.

It’s a 2015 post on one of the most inexplicable post-Vatican II liturgical changes (and..there’s a lot of competition on that score) – the total obliteration of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays – the three Sundays preceding the First Sunday of Lent. So for those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form and some Anglicans, I understand, February 12 is Septuagesima Sunday. From a Dappled Things article I cite in the post:

In the chapter titled “The History of Septuagesima,” Dom Guéranger added, “The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”

— 3—

Despite the work load, I did do some reading over the past month. I can’t focus on work in the evening anymore, so I might as well read.

— 4 —

First up was Christmas Holiday by Maugham. I read it via one of the Gutenburg sites, violating my determination to Set A Good Example by sitting in the living room in the evening, Bartok softly playing, Reading Real Books  Oh, well.

Anyway, this was a very, very interesting book. A little too long, I think, and a bit clunky in tone and format, but cutting. It is a bit of a satire on between-the-wars Britons of a certain class, but more discursive and not as sharp as, say, Waugh. It reminded me a bit of Percy’s Lancelot, simply because a big chunk of it involves someone telling their life story to someone else, and also that the last sentence of the book defines the book and perhaps even redefines your experience of reading it.

It’s not a book I finish and say, “I wish I’d written this book,” but it is a book I finished and thought, “Hmmm…I wish I could write something with that effect.”

.

— 5 —.

Then was Submission by Houellebecq.  A friend had been after me for a while to read it – it was sitting on a display at the library, so there was my sign.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it made quite a stir when it was published in France in 2015 (the day, by the way, of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine) , it’s about, essentially, how Islam could take over France. The central character is a scholar, drifting, unconnected to family, non-religious, mostly unprincipled, still sexually active, but mostly in contexts where he has to pay for it. He is a scholar of the writer J.K. Huysmans, who is very important to Houellebecq – here’s a good article outlining the relationship. 

François’s fictional life trajectory mirrors Huysmans’s actual life: dismal living conditions, a tedious job situation, a serviceable imagination, a modicum of success, a proclivity for prostitutes, and, finally, a resigned acceptance of faith. And just as Huysmans put himself into des Esseintes, François is a self-caricature by Houellebecq—with a twist, or, rather, two: François is Houellebecq’s version of himself if he lived Huysmans’s life, in the year 2022.

Houellebecq and Huysmans have much in common, beginning with their ability to infuriate readers. “There’s a general furore!” Huysmans wrote when “À Rebours” was released. “I’ve trodden on everyone’s corns.” Houellebecq, for his part, has enraged, among others, feminists, Muslims, and the Prime Minister of France. There is more to these two writers than mere provocations, however. Huysmans wrote during the rise of laïcité (French secularism), in the Third Republic, when religion was excised from public life. Houellebecq says he is chronicling religion’s return to European politics today. They each have a twisted outlook on the sacred.

I found Submission an interesting and accurate read on social psychology and the current landscape. Yes, this is what so many of us are like now, this is the vacuum that’s been created, and yes, this is how, in some parts of Europe at least, Islam could fill that vacuum, and how post-post-Christians could give into it.

— 6 —

Now, I’m back to the Kindle (in my defense, I looked for this book yesterday at the library, but they didn’t have a copy) reading some Trollope: Miss McKenzieI’m liking it very much. It’s the usually thinking 19th century treatment of the bind that women found themselves in in relationship to property and independence during the period. This time, we have a woman in her mid-30’s who has spent her adult life so far caring, first for an invalid father, then an invalid brother. After their deaths, she’s inherited a comfortable income. So what should she do? And who will now be interested in this previously invisible woman?

It’s got some great social satire and spot-on skewering of the dynamic in religious groups, especially between charismatic leaders and their followers. I’ll write more when I’m finished with it.

— 7 —

As someone once famously said, and is oft repeated by me, “What a stupid time to be alive.”  It’s pretty crazy, and social media doesn’t do anything but make it stupider. If you follow news, you know the daily pattern:  8AM-2PM FREAKOUT OVER THE LATEST   followed by 2PM-Midnight – (much quieter) walkback/fact-checking/ – but with the walkbacks getting a fraction of the retweets and reposts than the Freakouts get.

There is not enough time in the day. Really, there isn’t. Add HumblePope to the mix, and Good Lord, what’s a wannabe political and religious commenter to do but make soup and read Trollope?

Well, here’s one contribution to non-stupidity – I first read this as a FB post put up by Professor George, and now it’s been turned into a First Things article on the immigration EO. Helpful. Take a look.  

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

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— 1 —

Ah, finally In Our Time is back – my favorite BBC Radio 4 podcast.  They take a summer break, but have been back for three weeks now. The first topic –  perpetual motion – was not my favorite, and I’m not sure it was a great choice. The discussion seemed as if it would be about historical efforts to construct perpetual motion machines, but that petered out fairly quickly, and as I recall, attention turned to more general questions of physics. Meh.

But the following week – Alexander the Great – was better, and I’m looking forward to next week’s episode on Holbein and the Tudor Court.  It is invariably such a balanced, informative, non-PC, mostly unconcerned with modern pieties presentation. It’s refreshing and unlike anything you’d hear on American radio.

— 2 —

As an addendum to yesterday’s education post:

Made it to the Botanical Gardens (one of our great treasures here – free, as in no admission, just like our excellent art museum)  on Wednesday afternoon, then collected leaves in our own yard this morning.  We looked at diagrams of cross-sections of leaf structure, compared, contrasted, drew, and finally looked at our own samples under the microscope, as well as our prepared plant-related slides.

Our long-term experiments were not super-successful, though. A couple of weeks ago, we had performed two operations on a house plant. In the first, you were supposed to slather the tops of some leaves with Vaseline, and then do the same to the underside of some leaves on the same plant.  The second set was supposed to die, since the stomata would be blocked.  I guess we didn’t put enough Vaseline on, since all the leaves are still alive, although some in the second group do have brown patches, so maybe it did work, in a way.

In the other demonstration, we tightly covered a leaf with black construction paper. After a couple of weeks, it was supposed to have lost its color as photosynthesis was blocked. Well, it was still green, but definitely a little lighter shade than all the others.

So they kind of worked?

"amy welborn"

— 3—

Not to live in the past, but as I went through a mega-Instagram fit on Sunday, posting photos of our 2012 trip to Assisi, it occurred to me that it would be fun to finish up the trip. So from now until the end of November, I’ll be posting daily on Instagram with photos I took on that day three years ago, wherever we were in Europe at the time.

"amy welborn"

10/8/2012

Follow me on Instagram.

(In case you are wondering, there are no big trips planned for the near future. My daughter is back from her year + in Europe, so that excuse is no more, and everyone has announced they are converging in this direction for Thanksgiving.  I hate travelling on planes at Christmas time, especially with a crew and with time constraints.  So probably no big travel until the spring. But that’s fine – there’s plenty to see around here!)

— 4 —

Finished a project! It’s not due until January 1! That truly is a record for me. Now on to the next one..which is due..er…December 15.

— 5 —

Reminder: I’ve mentioned this site before, but it bears a repeat.  If you are ever in need of seasonal or month-related quotes or poetry, this is a great site. I use it for copywork and just general reading breaks all the time.

— 6 —

I have been off on my days all week for some reason.  So last night, I thought today was the 9th, so I went all St. Denis on this blog…but..I was off a day.  Well, so you got a sneak peak? 

Today (really – the 9th. I’m sure of it)  is also the (optional) memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman.  Here’s a link to B16’s homily at his beatification:

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day”. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).

More of B16 on Newman from that visit.

— 7 —

The book Be Saints! was inspired by that 2010  visit – here’s the page which references Newman:

"amy welborn"

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

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…just returned from a few days in Charleston. I’m going to throw this post up as a warm-up for finishing  the Living Faith devotions I have due…soon.  Ahem.

Beach days every day.  Just as in Florida, it’s wise to go in the morning, because you can predict that rain is probably going to fall in the afternoon, and indeed, on two of our three days it did. Babysitting for my grandson every afternoon and evening.  A good visit!

But first, on the way down…I had thought we would stop at Mepkin Abbey, but once Friday morning came around (we stayed Thursday night in Santee…cheap Best Western hotel, thanks to our many nights in Best Westerns…out West), I decided that a visit to a swamp would get people up and going with more enthusiasm than a visit to a Trappist monastery.

Next time….

It was the Four Holes Swamp in the Beidler Forest.  It’s just a quick jot off of I-26.  Very easy to get to, and a good walk to see many cypress, birds, lizards (my son caught one and was…er..privileged to have it reach around and bite its own tail off as an escape route while in his hand) and this fellow, whom we watched swim and hunt for quite a while…from a safe distance on a wooden walkway.

Didn’t see any gators this time, although they told me inside there were a couple in the lake.

Two mornings at Isle of Palms.  It’s a pretty crowded beach, but clean, with good showers, changing rooms and so on. Good surf. (That’s it, above)

The third morning, we went to Sullivan’s Island, which is a much nicer beach – a bit more isolated and not as crowded.  It doesn’t have facilities, though, but since the surf was calm that day, no one got super sandy, and the ride back in the car to the hotel was quick enough so no one got uncomfortable and the car didn’t get filthy (-er).

Sullivan’s Island is right across the bay from Charleston.  You can see Fort Sumter and Charleston when you walk to the end of this stretch of beach.  And of course, this is also a regular sight…..

Many deceased jellyfish on this stretch.

Metal-hunter wading in the water behind my son. 

A live sand dollar, burrowing into the sand.

Our other good wildlife sighting was a glass, or legless lizard.  It was in the middle of the road as we walked to Sullivan’s Island, and at first glance, we thought it was a snake, but my Herpetologist took a closer look and pronounced in a legless lizard, and when we returned and compared a photo to our memory of what we’d seen…yup, that’s what it was.

(Edgar Allen Poe spent a little more than a year of his life on Sullivan’s Island.  Read why here.)

Last night, I went out and walked part of the way over the Ravenal Bridge.  I intended to go out this morning and walk the whole thing, but didn’t get up early enough.  Next time, along with the Abbey.

Mass at the Cathedral Sunday morning.  I had wanted to go by the Emanuel AME Church and pay our respects, but of course it would have been impossible to go down there on Friday, and there were funerals through the weekend, so that’s another next time, for certain.

On the way back, we made a quick stop and visited the ever-gracious Rachel Balducci – the boys took a basketball break with her boys and since part of our conversation involved the number that social media has done on our writing brains, it’s appropriate that there’s no Bloggish, Instagrammic, Twitterish or Facebook evidence of the meeting, but trust me…it happened.  Even if the Internet Forest isn’t listening, a tree does fall….

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