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Posts Tagged ‘Music’

— 1 —

I usually have on ongoing, running file of “7 QT” items that I can pull from quickly when the time comes. But not this week. I’m in recovery/anticipation mode, from one Big Event to Another. Therefore, distracted.

2

I did cook last night, though! For the first time in a while. We are going to be on the road for a bit taking a kid to college soon, with much eating out, and I started to feel guilty about that. So I cooked – Chicken Tetrazzini from the Fanny Farmer cookbook. My mother used to make Turkey Tetrazzini all the time after Thanksgiving, and it’s one of the few cooking “traditions” I seem to have followed. This is the recipe, basically – I layer it a bit more.

 

— 3 —

When in doubt, talk about homeschooling. Honestly, there is so much on other topics I’d like to write about, furious as I am about so many things in the world pretty much constantly – but here I am, with Stuff To Do today…and so no brain space in which to tackle it. Sorry for the lameness. I’ll be blogging over the next couple of weeks – some scenic blogging of a place I’ve never been the last week of August – but I fear the Seriousness, such as it is, won’t return until around August 30 or thereabouts.

-4–

So – homeschooling. Going okay. We’ve been in about halfway mode because of the wedding as well as the fact that his neighborhood friend goes to a school that doesn’t begin until next week.

But he’s been chugging away at his Latin. He’s gone through chapter 7 of Latin for the New Millenium (goal: finish book I by early November, start prepping for the National Latin Exam, but also start book 2), and taken the tests the tutor has sent. I’m passing on tests 4-7 today to the tutor, he’ll look at them, and that will be the basis for the meeting this weekend.

Math – after leaving Saxon, things are going great. He’s finished chapter 1 of the AOPS Counting and Probability book and we are reviewing Algebra, just spot checking through the AOPS Introduction to Algebra book. (The first part of that book is Algebra I – the second Algebra II.)

Spanish he is tackling on his own. He is doing Spanish II, using various resources. I am going to trust him on this one.

–5 —

Forthcoming:

– The Iliad.  We listened to the In Our Time episode on the epic. I’m going to be downloading two books to listen to on our many, many upcoming hours in the car: Derek Jacobi’s recording of Fagles’ translation (we have the hard copy to, to follow along) and, per the advice of a commenter, this class on the archaeological dimensions 

As I said to someone – be carefully what you casually mention to me. As in – if you casually mention “Maybe I’ll read the Iliad and the Odyssey” – I Am On It. 

 

— 6 —

Shakespeare for the fall has been engaged: Alabama Shakespeare in Montgomery is doing Hamlet in September and Atlanta Shakespeare is doing King Lear a couple of months later. So there you go – besides our Iliad/Odyssey – our literature for the fall.

Atlanta is also doing Julius Caesar – which he studied and saw a couple of years ago. But we will probably revisit for a bit and head over there to see it. Can’t have too much Shakespeare! And I do love Julius Caesar. Their favorite memory from that production, which is a very intimate space, was related to Caesar’s body being on a bier right next to our table – and try as he might, the actor playing the supposed-to-be-dead Caesar – sneezed.

He’s also reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and plans to dive into the Simarillion. 

— 7 —

Yeah, okay. That’s it. Very sorry for the lameness.

Remember:

2020 Devotional available. 

Son’s new novel available.

Son posts film thoughts every day during the week – here’s his top Bergman films. 

Here’s his post on the future of home video.

Streaming is the desolate wasteland of our future, and we are seeing its effects now.
“How can that be?” some of you may be asking. “I can watch whatever I want by just selecting it from a menu!”
I’ve always been wary of streaming, but the original reasons for that originated from an element of the luddite in my soul that I can’t quite get rid of. I wanted physical media, and I couldn’t imagine other people wanting something else. Well, I get the appeal of streaming now, but I’ve seen the limitations and they worry me.
They aren’t technical limitations. The technology will only continue to improve. We’re even at the point where we can stream 4K UHD image with HDR over the Internet. Streaming and physical media are largely at a par in terms of technical delivery.
No, the problem goes back to that which Stephen Prince told my class about how studios want to make their money. Studios have seen physical media profits plateau and begin to fall. They see the future as streaming, and they love the idea because suddenly they have more control over media. No longer will they have to manufacture and then say goodbye to the film once a consumer purchases it. No. Instead, a consumer will purchase, at best, a license for the film that gives them access to the film within the terms of the contract. If the studio wants, it could pull the movie completely. Or change it. Something similar happened when Microsoft recently closed down its eBook store. All licenses expired automatically and everyone lost access to their books. Consumers won’t have to rely on themselves to keep their media in good shape anymore. They’ll have to rely on movie studios staying in business and continuing to provide access.

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

 

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Well, let’s get back to SpainBlogging. Even though that’s in Italian up there. You’ll get it in a minute.

(Other posts have finally been collated here)

This, to many, will probably be to oddest aspect of this trip report. The oddest and the most indulgent. I won’t say “self-indulgent” because it wasn’t me who was being indulged. But indulgent, nonetheless.

Of course, everything else about this trip was indulgent, anyway. Freely admitted. A few months back, someone posted a link to one of my travel posts on Facebook, and discussion ensued along the lines of  “Gee, must be nice” and so on. I didn’t get defensive, because I am past that. I’m more at the stage of “You guys post gushing posts about your best-friend- hubbies and great marriages and your wonderful parents  every single freaking day and all of my people in those particular categories are completely dead, so maybe you can handle posts about Spain and trying, in some feeble, undoubtedly misguided way, to fill in…gaps.”

So yeah. When you’re raising boys with a dead father, and all the family news around you is about people dying or being plunged into dementia, you’re like, “What the hell. You like all this Spaghetti Western Stuff? Screw it. Let’s do this.”

For some reason, a couple of years ago, Son #5 became entranced with the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone opus. I really and truly do not know how it happened – if it was the movies or the music that grabbed him first. All I know is that he watched them, and then the soundtracks became a fixture in our home. They came on every time I got in the car. They were on the top of the queue of Spotify when I was cooking dinner. They were learned and played on the piano – constantly.

I’d never watched any of them. Never. But I just endured it and supported it and what have you. And then last summer, the local vintage artsy heritage downtown movie palace offered The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as part of their summer series, and so I took Son #5 –

– and was enraptured.

Okay, not with the lengthy, discursive Civil War section that culminates in the bridge explosion – that could be cut – but with almost everything else, especially the music.

I got it. 

People sometimes wonder – why should I have kids? 

Well, here’s Reason #428. Because whenever you invite other people into your life – and that’s what having kids is all about – your own world expands. It could be something essential, or it could be something trivial. You learn something, you see more, you step out, you move down the road – and it’s all just very, very interesting.

So, let’s go back to this trip. I didn’t design it around spaghetti westerns – if I had, the trip would have looked much different (for all of those movies were filmed in Spain, and there’s even an attraction in southern Spain centered on it).  I settled on Seville as a base and then, for that last week, a possible jaunt up north, ending in Bilbao.

Which is when it dawned on me – Sad Hill Cemetery. 

And I figured – well, yes, this could happen. We’d watched the rather moving (although overlong) documentary about the site’s restoration, and once I studied the map, it was clear , yes, this was possible. We could work in a stop at that iconic site.

So there was that.

And then a few weeks before we left, I was doing some research – unrelated to this trip. I was thinking about M’s and mine future roadschooling future, and poking around, trying to see if there were any interesting concerts coming up to which we could travel. I was thinking, first, of the Michael Giacchino “We Have to Go Back”  Lost concerts, and then I idly thought (maybe because of similar-sounding Italian names)…hmmmm…what about Morricone? 

Oh.

What I stumbled upon was the fact that the 90-year old maestro was embarking upon his “last tour,” conducting concerts in Spain and Italy during the spring and summer. Unfortunately, the Spain concerts would be in May, but – well, look at this – one of them – in fact – THE LAST  – (as advertised) concert would be in Lucca, Italy – on a date during which we’d be in Europe.

*Checks RyanAir fares from Madrid to Pisa. Cheap. Struggles with guilt. Thinks – well, we’d be paying for housing *somewhere* – why not in Italy, instead of Spain for a couple of nights?*

Thinks – as per usual – about death and mortality – and pushes – BUY.

So there’s your backstory, people. Your backstory as to how we went to Ennio Morricone’s supposed last concert on Saturday, June 29 in Lucca, Italy – and then a couple of days later, were wandering around the Sad Hill Cemetery – the famed round cemetery from the final scene The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. 

A word about the journey to the cemetery – if you go (and you might well have arrived at this post because that’s where you’re headed) – do not go through Santo Domingo de Silos.  It’s what we did, and it was a mistake – I mean, the car survived, but it was dicey – a super steep hilly, incredibly rocky path. The other way – that comes from the north ( the way we exited) – is much safer for your vehicle.

 

The concert was great. Thousands of people, enraptured with the music, the fantastic, theatrical sopranos giving their super-dramatic all on pieces like The Ecstasy of Gold  – just Italians loving other Italians doing music. The best.

I will say that the bright spot about the rather frightening drive up a very steep hill on rocky paths in a rental car was…this view. Which we would have missed coming the other way. So – there’s that. And no damage to the car anyway, so it’s all good!

 

 

Yes, there was much re-creation of the scene. Running, seeking, fake digging, falling into graves and such. I might post some of that on Instagram in a bit. We weren’t alone. When we arrived there were three middle-aged British guys who’d arrived on motorcycles. They left, and we were alone for a good bit, and as we were living, two other small groups came. Plus, you know….

…cows.

Which is not something I expected! The ground was covered with cow patties, and as we ventured further in, we saw the reason, just up the hill, behind the trees, we heard them – the cowbells, gently sounding. As the minutes wore on, the cows moved closer, past the trees, until they had started, apparently, their late-day claim among the “graves.”

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I have one more strange aspect to this whole tale. I purchased the concert tickets via a resale outfit. The way it works is that you still see the original purchaser’s names on the receipt.

I did a double take at the name. The address was given as well. It sort of checked out. This person is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, although his present professional position is elsewhere in Canada.

So. Do you think it’s possible that my weird tickets to go, on a whim, see an elderly, legendary composer in Lucca, Italy, were purchased from the  Jordan Peterson?

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amy-welborn

 

 

Saints are People Who are Brave…

From the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

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Benedict4

Today, we celebrate a great, fascinating saint. First, what I’ve written about him for children.

 

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

 

 

Over the past few years, there is much talk about St. Benedict and monasticism, as people wrestle with the question of  how to live in a culture increasingly hostile to the Gospel. You might come away from these conversations thinking that Benedict and is way is essentially about “withdrawal.”  I don’t think that is correct.  Looking at the origins of Benedictine monasticism might help understand why. Again – history is going to help. I keep telling you!

Christian monasticism did, indeed, begin with withdrawal from the world. In the 3rd century men and, to a lesser extent, women, began heading to the desert to live in solitude. But even these anchorites did not shut themselves off from interaction with others, as they accepted visitors seeking to benefit from their wisdom and assist them.

Benedictine monasticism was different, of course. Cenobitic, as opposed to anchorite, monasticism, it was a call to live in community, together, with brothers.

But is this “withdrawal?”

In fifth century Europe, most people lived their lives in small communities of extended family and small settlements. Most people did not travel far from where they had been born, unless driven to do so by war or natural catastrophe. As towns developed, they built walls, and in general, one could not just pop into any walled settlement you happened to be passing by. The walls were there for a reason, and access to all communities  was guarded and controlled.  These kinds of restrictions on travel and entrance into unfamiliar towns is not just a feature of medieval life, either. I recently read a history of hotels and tourism in the United States, and was quite interested to see how serious travel restrictions were even in the US, up to the mid-19th century and the development of the railroad. The traveler, in short, was usually viewed with suspicion before welcome.

My point is this, moving back to 4th and 5th century Europe: Benedictine monasticism developed on a  continent in serious, violent transition, parts under constant siege, and it was radical and transforming, but the basic instinct – to form a community with a strong sense of self-identification vis-a-vis the outside world was a fundamental paradigm of social organization of the period. 

One could even say that during this period, all communities that valued their survival and identity were, in a sense, semi-cloistered, guarded against the influence of the outside world. 

The difference is that Benedictine monastic communities were intentional, with ties rooted, not in family or geography, but in brotherhood in Christ. A new family, a new community in a continent of other communities formed out of different paradigms.

I also think the argument could be made that Benedictine communities, while they were certainly withdrawing from worldly influence in terms of turning from marriage, familial ties and the political arrangements of the world, they were probably more open to the world than your average family-based walled settlement down the valley from the monastery. They were more open to learning, more open to visitors from other areas, more cosmopolitan and just as economically engaged – at least before the growth of commerce.  

So to position Benedictine monasticism as an option that, at heart, is a means of protection from the world, period, is a simplistic misunderstanding of the origins of this movement that misses the opportunity to explore what St. Benedict and his monks really have to say to us today.

It is about community, yes. It is about cutting ties with some aspects of the world and intentionality, yes. It is about expressing the instinct that human beings are made, fundamentally, for communion with God and that aspects of the world actively work against spiritual growth and fully human life as God desires. That is fundamental to Christian spirituality, as we can see from St. Paul on.

But withdrawal from everything, pushing away and closing-off? No. 

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008:

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict’s life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In hisRule he describes monastic life as “a school for the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45) and advises his monks, “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” [that is, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours] (43, 3). However, Benedict states that in the first place prayer is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action. “The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions by our deeds” (Prol. 35). Thus, the monk’s life becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation, “so that God may be glorified in all things” (57, 9). In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God (58, 7) on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ (5, 13), whose love he must put before all else (4, 21; 72, 11), and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience practised by faith inspired by love (5, 2), the monk achieves humility (5, 1), to which the Rule dedicates an entire chapter (7). In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-fulfilment as a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with hisRule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

One of my favorite things to post when thinking about St. Benedict and monasticism – the wonderful video from our Benedictine monastery up the road here in Alabama, St. Bernard’s.

 

 

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I’m going to wait until I get home to do a lot of detailed posting. I just can’t think much here and the internet is weird and I’m on this Chromebook (one that Son #4 had to have for school, and so why not bring it and LORD IN HEAVEN I HATE IT) so nothing is easy and everything is dependent on internet and, as I said, I hate it.

So we’ll just do photos mostly.

Oh, and if you have a moment, please note the temperatures in Spain and other parts of Europe for now and the rest of the week. I’ll wait. Got it? Yup….100’s. 100’s. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m a hot-weather gal, for sure. But it’s a different thing when The Obligation of Touristing must happen in 100-degree weather, indeed.

(And here in this part of Spain, the peak temps happen between about 3-6, fyi)

Today we rose, had a lovely breakfast at our hotel, which is not in the old city, but across the river. I have a car, I needed parking, and so I opted for something where that would happen. It means either a long walk or an easy bus ride to the center, but that’s fine. We’re content here. (Again – two rooms).

We caught the bus down and up into the marvelous city of Toledo – and it is marvelous, although I will say (and will say at more length later) that even with its richness, I prefer Seville to Toledo.  And I prefer smaller places like Caceres to either of them. The old city of Toledo may indeed have permanent residents – I’m sure it does – but as a whole, it has a far more touristy feel than any place else we’ve visited in Spain so far on this trip – almost Venice-like, as in: “Would this exist if it weren’t for tourists?” I prefer a place in which real people are  obviously living their real lives amidst the richness of deep history and I’m simply privileged to peak in for a bit and hoping I’m not getting in their way too much.

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I’m going to go into more detail later about the beautiful churches of Toledo, but just know that today’s highlights were the Cathedral, which is, of course, fascinating and gorgeous. I’ve been in many major Cathedrals, and I might just put Toledo at or very near the top. The orientation for visitors is extremely well done and the audio guide is tops. You are getting tired of me saying more later, but believe me – when I return home next week, it will be a month solid of posts on this trip.

Ah – that first sentence in the paragraph again said “were” – which indicates plural, which indicates more than one. There were other lovely churches, but the other highlight was probably the Jesuit church, San Idelfanso. Wonderful side altars with vivid statuary and a great view from the bell towers.

By the time we finished with all of that and more and an excellent non-Spanish lunch img_20190626_134620(here – a welcome change), it was past four and time for a break. We caught a cab back to the hotel (it’s uphill and did I mention it’s 100 degrees here?), rested for a bit, during which I did some research and discovered a possibly interesting site about ten miles south of here…

and it was…

Holding my breath, driving up dirt road switchbacks to a  ruined, abandoned castle was the perfect way to say “thank you” to my traveling companions for trudging through countless churches over the past few weeks. It actually wasn’t as bad as some of the discussion board comments had led me to believe – just take it slow and you’ll be fine.

What a sight. Real people lived and worked here, scanning the landscape for danger, prepared to protect and defend, waiting and watching in the silence of a vast, windswept landscape.

All right then. What next? It’s seven o’clock and this being broad daylight because it’s Spain…we’ll bow to the memory of all the tough hombres who manned the castle…and head to the mall.

I do enjoy grocery shopping and mall cruising in foreign countries. It points to the differences and similarities and the ubiquity, quite frankly, of American popular culture. We spent time in the food court and there is no question, without a doubt that the most popular place by a factor of at least five, was McDonald’s. But you could have guessed that, right?

Left: sight not normally seen at Publix. Right: the love for chocolate here runs deep.

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I’ve been highlighting elements of my books related to Mary – here are a few images from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

 

More:

Mary and the Christian Life

Salve Regina

Ave Maria and Memorare

Mary in Catholic Signs and Symbols

 

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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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