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I’ll be posting snippets and observations from our NYC trip last week over the next few days.

(No, I don’t take a blog/social media break for Lent. This is my work, so…no.)

One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity, on Thursday afternoon, for my organist son to meet and play the historic (built in 1868)  Erben Organ in the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Here’s the website for the organization supporting maintenance and restoration of the organ.

And the Cathedral website.

Lana, of the Friends of the Erben Organ, was very generous with her time. She met us in the afternoon after we’d stuffed ourselves in not one, but two different Chinatown spots, talked to us about the history of the instrument, showed us the distinct factors of this type of tracker organ, led us around the back to see the innards, both in rest and in motion as she played, and then let my son play – no organ shoes were packed, so it was socks on the pedals.

For those of you not familiar with organs – and I don’t claim to be familiar, just vaguely aware – most organs, even pipe organs, that you see and hear today are electric and/or digital – since the two major actions of the organ – the movement of the air through the pipes and the connecting between the keys and the valves – are powered by electricity.

Of course, before the advent of electricity, this wasn’t possible. So organs were entirely mechanical. The key/valve action was by tracker action, and the air moved through the pipes by human-powered bellows.

(You may have seen old, smaller “pump” organs – in which the organist has to manually, with his or her foot, pump a large pedal to keep air flowing through the instrument. In larger organs, it would take another person to do so – in the case of the Erben Organ, there was a large wheel at the back to turn that would activate the bellows. Now, that element is electrically powered.)

There are pros and cons to electrical v. tracker action organs. My limited understanding is that an ideal instrument is a combination of both.

Playing an historic tracker action organ certainly is a different experience than playing a modern digital pipe organ, though. As my son said, he had to work a lot harder to produce sound (because of the force required to push the keys, in contrast to the light touch required for an electrical instrument), and because of that, the experience was more like playing a piano – which he, honestly, prefers to organ – than his usual instrument at church/work.

The pipe organ really is an amazing instrument – when you think about the large pipe organs that were being built even in the 14th and 15th centuries, the level of technological skill and knowledge required is astonishing.

Here’s the Facebook post on the afternoon, and here’s the Instagram post from the Friends, and from me, which includes a bit of video.

Please support them if you can – and support all your local church musicians and sacred music endeavors!

 

 

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Well, we are back!

Unbelievably – FORTY MINUTES EARLY last night, on a direct flight from LGA to BHM. To be hitting your own bed right at the time you were supposed to be landing? Priceless.

A flight, which, incidentally, demonstrated why BHM doesn’t get many direct flights out of here – maybe 12 passengers on a not-tiny plane?

I have one major Tedious Think Post that comes from experiences of seeing Hadestown, Billy Joel at MSG, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Old Saint Patrick’s and the “new” Saint Patrick’s. But before that, I have an article due on Monday.

As per usual with trips of over a day or so, I like to recap – more for my aging, addled, sieve-like brain than anything else. But also to help you, if you’re planning a trip!

NYC 2/16-21

Why? 

Oldest “kid” lives there now (has for three years). Billy Joel was playing one of his mostly-monthly gigs at Madison Square Garden, something we’d been talking about doing for the past year. This date was perfect for us – not on a weekend and during a sort-of off season – mid February is probably about as off-season in NYC as you’re going to get – so prices and crowds were a little lower. (Although it was a vacation week for NYC school kids – why?  – so places like the Natural History Museum were mob scenes – we’ve been there a couple of times, and it was not on this week’s possibilities, but we did get off at that subway stop Tuesday morning, and geez louise, as we say down here – I was very glad we didn’t want to go there. )

Where?

I am all about price on these visits, and with that priority in mind, we’ve stayed in various spots. On brief stopovers, we’ve stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Astoria. I liked that location, actually – an interesting area, and not a bad ride in. We stayed in Long Island City once, which was okay – but I wouldn’t do it again. There was the time we stayed at a Hampton Inn in Brooklyn.

This time we stayed, as we have once before, at the Leo House on 23rd, in Chelsea. 

It has a very interesting history that you can read about here– its origins were as a guest house for recent German immigrants. It’s old – with some renovations, but still signs of age in rooms, especially the bathrooms – and it’s old-fashioned in that you turn your (real) key in at the front desk when you leave the hotel, and only registered guests are allowed in the rooms.

 

 

Because it was February, I could have gotten a decent deal on a room in “regular” hotels – chain or independent – in the city, but for five nights, I really wanted space, and sure didn’t want to spend a ton on it. Poking around the Leo House website in early January, I happened upon one of their deals. They always have discounts of one sort or another available, but this was particularly deep – for a two-bedroom room. In fact, it was the same room, the three of us (w/now-college kid) stayed in a couple of years ago. But for…cheaper. A lot. It was so low, I wasn’t completely sure it wasn’t a mistake, and went armed and ready of my printout of the receipt. No problem, as it turned out. So that was a good start.

It’s a convenient location, near subway stops that will get you anywhere in a decent amount of time. Included is  a pretty nice breakfast in a very pleasant space. And you walk to the end of the block, and this is your view:

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What?

As I said, this is more for me than you folks, but if it gives you insight into sights you’d want to see, all the better.

(Getting around – bought 7-day unlimited passes, which I think we paid for by Day 3. Mostly subway, with a couple of rather excruciating bus rides in there.)

Sunday:

Flight into LGA a little early. Arrived around 6:30 pm. Got a shared Lyft – very easy right outside the terminal (crazy construction around LGA for a while now that has made getting transportation complicated. Ride-sharing services are the easiest to access, which I’m sure delights the taxi drivers no end). Shared with a woman from Canada who was staying around Central Park, but luckily, our driver decided it was be best to drop us off first. In hotel, checked in by 7:30.

Met son, went to L’Express for dinner.

Then to Greenwich Village, hoping to get into a jazz club.Mezzrow proved to be just the ticket.

Monday:

An hour of piano practice at a room in the National Opera Center, near our hotel.

Whitney Museum w/Ann Engelhart.

wp-1582035054836.jpgPoked around Chelsea and Gansenvoort Markets. Latter didn’t have anything that grabbed us, former was too crazy busy. Ended up at Balaboosta for lunch.

Took a bus up to Hudson Yards, saw the Vessel – no one had a driving desire to walk up, so we didn’t. Checked out the Spanish version of Eataly that’s there.

Back to hotel for a bit, then met oldest, first for a drink at Dante, then dinner at Bar Pitti with our good friend Gabriel Byrne.

Went our separate ways, the two of us then made our way up to Times Square for a bit, then back down.

Tuesday

Metropolitan Museum of Art via subway up to the west side of the park – that NHM stop I mentioned above – and a sort of chilly but still pleasant walk across the park to the Met.

On the bus down to Koreatown. A quick bite of fried chicken here. Then the underwhelming Sony Square space. Then subway down to Flight of the Conchords and (by bus – this one wasn’t bad)  John Wick locations (in Chinatown and the Financial District, respectively.)

Back up to hotel, then over to Washington Square/NYU area for Catholic Artists’ talk.

Subway up to Penn Station, found a DSW for some better walking shoes for kid, then subway down to Katz’s Deli (by this time it’s 10 or so) for a very late dinner, then back.

Wednesday:

Morning: UN Tour

Bus over to Bryant Park area. Ice skating was considered, then declined. Stop at the Steinway Showroom for a few minutes in their “Experience Room.”

Subway down to Greenwich Village, for a huge hero from Faicco’s Italian Specialities. 

Decided to head back up to the Met – kid had wanted to see the Egyptian exhibits.

Back down, met oldest for pre-show food at an Italian place near our hotel.

Hadestown.

Thursday

Subway down to the Lower East Side.

Walk through Essex Market, stop to taste at the Pickle Guys.

The Museum at Eldridge Street – guided tour, learning about the history of Jewish immigration to the area.

Two food stops: Nom Wah Tea Parlor (dumplings) and 88 Lan Zhou Homemade Noodles– more dumplings and, of course, noodles.

Then to Old Saint Patrick’s, where we had the opportunity to learn about their historic organ – I had contacted the Friends of the Erben Organ group, and arranged the tour.  I’ll write more about this later, but it was a great experience to be able to see the workings of this instrument and for my son to be given a chance to play it.

Consider given support to the group that’s dedicated to restoring and preserving this important instrument!

Time for a little rest, then to meet oldest at Casa Mono, then to MSG for Billy Joel.

Friday

Time to pack up and move out – although our flight wasn’t until very late, so we still had the full day (not accidental, of course.)

Pack, check out.

Subway up to a luggage storage facility on 46th – the closest I could figure out to where we’d be going and leaving from. It was fine. It would have been more fine if it hadn’t been 20 degrees, but we lived.

Then to MOMA for their opening at 10:30. 90 minutes there, which was just about enough – we could indeed have spent longer, but we saw the core of the collection, and not in a rushed way. It’s so well-organized, that you can move very smoothly and get an excellent overview of the period (1880’s-1950’s were our main interest) in a straightforward way. We knew if we needed more later in the afternoon, we could get it in, and probably would have except for the cold. Four blocks in frigid air is a lot different than four blocks in the balmy spring.

The reason for the restriction was that I’d booked the NBC Studio Tour for 12:20. By the time I got around to it, it was the earliest available time (meaning, if I’d been able to, I would have booked it as the first activity of the day, giving more leisure for the museum…).

It was fine. Well-run, no dawdling, which I appreciate. Stupid fake talk-show making video at the end which I certainly could have done without.  Saw Tyler Perry. Well, let’s just say, that he walked by us. There was a group of men who were walking down a hall, all with an air of importance, and my focus was on the short elderly white guy in the middle of the line. As quickly as he passed, I was sort of halfway convinced it was Bloomberg, but it also didn’t make sense that it would be, for a number of different reasons (Media competitor; he should be in Nevada or SC…etc), but there was a buzz nonetheless that *someone* had been in that group of guys, and turns out it was Tyler Perry (confirmed by the tour guide and then by Someone I Know who knows someone who works in Perry’s company and he confirmed that yes, Perry was at NBC that day.)

Son was fighting a cold, and really didn’t want to walk back to MOMA (which would take us further from our bags), so we grabbed a quick lunch in Rockefeller Center, then popped into St. Patrick’s, got the bags, then pushed through to the subway station at Bryant Park, got on the 7 out to Queens.

Ann Engelhart met us at the Mets/Willets Point station with her car, then we drove to the Queens Museum, which had a lovely, informative temporary exhibit on Tiffany (the studio was in Queens) and then the crown jewel of the collection – the Panorama of New York City built for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Totally, absolutely worth it, especially if you can visit with a life-long New Yorker, as we did, who can point out her family’s various homes and give all sorts of great historic detail!

A really great and fitting end to the trip.

She then drove us to a great Greek restaurant – Agnanti– and then it was time to head to the airport!

 

 

 

 

 

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—1 —

I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Go here to read it. Next time won’t be until March, I believe. 

— 2 —

This coming Sunday: Sexagesima Sunday. What’s that?

amy-welborn

MORE on Lent, etc. 

Ashwednesday

— 3 —

Saints! Today! February 14!

First, Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

B16, from 2009:

Wishing now to sum up concisely the profile of the two Brothers, we should first recall the enthusiasm with which Cyril approached the writings of St Gregory of Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the transmission of the Revelation. St Gregory had expressed the wish that Christ would speak through him: “I am a servant of the Word, so I put myself at the service of the Word”. Desirous of imitating Gregory in this service, Cyril asked Christ to deign to speak in Slavonic through him. He introduced his work of translation with the solemn invocation: “Listen, O all of you Slav Peoples, listen to the word that comes from God, the word that nourishes souls, the word that leads to the knowledge of God”. In fact, a few years before the Prince of Moravia had asked the Emperor Michael III to send missionaries to his country, it seems that Cyril and his brother Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were already working on the project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in Slavonic. The need for new graphic characters closer to the language spoken was therefore clearly apparent: so it was that the Glagolitic alphabet came into being. Subsequently modified, it was later designated by the name “Cyrillic”, in honour of the man who inspired it. It was a crucial event for the development of the Slav civilization in general. Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the individual peoples could not claim to have received the Revelation fully unless they had heard it in their own language and read it in the characters proper to their own alphabet.

….Cyril and Methodius are in fact a classic example of what today is meant by the term “inculturation”: every people must integrate the message revealed into its own culture and express its saving truth in its own language. This implies a very demanding effort of “translation” because it requires the identification of the appropriate words to present anew, without distortion, the riches of the revealed word. The two holy Brothers have left us a most important testimony of this, to which the Church also looks today in order to draw from it inspiration and guidelines.

They are  in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints: 

 

— 4 —

Now, to St. Valentine.

Chad C. Pecknold is a theology professor at the Catholic University of America – some of you might have heard about the Twitter seminar he ran on St. Augustine’s City of God a couple of years ago and right now, he’s leading a Twitter Seminar on the Confessions. 

A couple of years ago, he wrote a very good (public) Facebook post on St. Valentine, in which he takes on the modern assumptions that, oh of course the guy didn’t exist….mythology, legends….let’s take him off the calendar and make funny memes! Worth a read:

 Recently I read a skeptic claiming that medieval monks invented St. Valentine’s Day, which is a pretty common alternative to the fact that Pope Gelasius set his feast day on February 14th in Anno Domini 496. So little is known about him that even the Church, following the dubious claim of a book published in 1966 that the saint never existed, removed him from the liturgical calendar in 1969. It is an odd fact that his feast is celebrated (in a deracinated way) by the world but not the Church. Since a basilica was built over his tomb just 75 years after his death by Pope Julius, and relics from his body spread throughout the Roman empire, the evidence of his existence seems manifest to me.

MORE

— 5 –

Last week I read the novel The Gifted School– about the opening of a public magnet “gifted” school (duh) has on the Colorado community in which it’s to be located, and specifically on a few families determined to get their kids in.

It’s long, but I knocked it off in about 24 hours. It wasn’t that good. I was expecting more Big Little Lies and a lot more satire and humor. The book played it straight and melodramatic, for the most part, with not nearly the bite the whole situation deserves.

— 6 —

I’ve mentioned a few newsletters to which I subscribe:

Prufrock News – always at least one worthy link to follow up on. 

These Seven Days

and The Convivial Society – which focuses on matters of the Internet and Social Media. From a recent edition, on the Iowa caucus:

So while my first instinct was to label the whole mess a pseudo-event, the less flip, more disconcerting reality is that labeling something a pseudo-event was reassuring because it assumed our ability to identify “real”-events. The role of the obviously fantastical is to reassure us of the reality of our ordinary experience. Presently, that distinction is tenuous at best. Who can draw the line? What part of the proceedings last night can one deem real as opposed to fake or artificial? What aspect wasn’t already shot through with qualities of a pseudo-event or overlaid with the textures of hyperreality?

As the author Tim Maughan recently tweeted, “everybody got excited about postmodernism, nobody was ready for postmodernity.” That seems about right.

One could say that about so many matters, including Church affairs.

— 7 —

Thursday evening, #5 and I attended a local production of Porgy and Bess. It was really excellent – local theater is generally so impressive these days. Music was provided by a pair of very impressive pianists on uprights on either side of the stage.

I did a bit of follow-up – officially, this version is The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – a 2012 reworking of the opera book by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Much of the recitative is replaced by dialogue and there are a few plot points that shift about. Here’s a good discussion here of the differences in all the versions, from the novel to the play to Gershwin’s original vision to the present. 

I tend to be sanguine about matters of life and death – of adults, at least – and don’t do a lot of “What could he/she have accomplished?”  – But George Gershwin is an exception. I actually get a little sad when I think about it:only 38 when he died, it does seem a tremendous loss – you really wonder what musical brilliance we might have seen if he’d lived longer. Even just a little bit…

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All right, guys – NYC excitement coming up soon. Catch it in this space, and also, throughout the day, on Instagram. 

 

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

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—1 —

Yeah, I start out each week thinking…this will be the week I blog every day and it will be substantive and awesome…and then I don’t.

The culprits this week? College Kid heading back to school for the spring semester, then getting back into Homeschool High School in a We’re Really Serious About This, Guys kind of way, music matters (practicing for church job/intensifying Brahms practice because Guess What, that’s going to be performed on the 26th – better get on that; and then heading back to jazz lessons after a two-month break…); conversations about a project or two, and of course the ever-present Trip Planning: South Florida and NYC at the moment.

And then there are the zillion interesting events that occur every day, which I try to shut out, but which find their way back to my attention – got to read the analyses and laugh at the memes….arrgh.

Thinking all the while, I have Things to Say…maybe I should write the words down.  But then events speed by so quickly, the moment passes, and, with some issues, I think, Does the world really need one more opinion drifting through the air? Nah. Probably not. 

But I promise   – that Young Pope/New Pope piece will be coming. As I said on Twitter, I may be hesitant to invite the boring yet totally predictable disapproval of my failure to disapprove of these programs, but really, after watching them, I can’t say that much of anything dramatized there is any less crazy or outrageous than the current Vatican shenanigans we’re blessed to enjoy here in the 21st century.

— 2 —

What’s going on the homeschool? Let’s make a list, quickly.

  • Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – he’s read it before, but we think it was probably at least 2 or 3 years ago, and, as Twain himself said, it’s not a children’s book. Tom Sawyer is – but this isn’t.  Hope to get that done by the end of next week, then back to the ancients with The Odyssey.
  • Also read “The Destructors” by Graham Greene this week. If you’ve never read it – do.It’s here.And here’s a good pdf study guide. 
  • Religion: Read big chunks of the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges, read Ruth today. Will read the appropriate material in this book for greater depth,and then start 1 Samuel next week. My favorite!
  • History: He does his own thing, which jumps between various ancient cultures and the World Wars. Next week, we’ll do a bit of Florida history in prep for a trip.
  • Biology: Still in the class taught by a college prof in the local Catholic homeschool co-op.
  • Math: Geometry via AOPS. We’ve settled down – after jumping between Counting, then a bit of Algebra II (quadratic equations) – and committed to Geometry for the rest of the school year. Right Triangles were the subject this week.
  • Music: That competition I wrote about before, which will happen over the next few months, with performance, technique and music literature analysis components. At least one Brahms performance coming up, and I’m starting to hear that there will be a jazz recital.
  • Latin: Chapters 17/18 of Latin for the New Millenium, then, per the tutor’s advice, he will hit “pause” on the text, and do focused vocab and grammar review in prep for the National Latin Exam, which he’ll take with a local group in the beginning of March.
  • Spanish: He works on his own, mostly with  Great Courses. We’re starting to think about another week in a Spanish-speaking country, maybe in the spring. Probably Costa Rica or Antigua, Guatemala.
  • Other: Fraternus, Nazareth House (catechist for developmentally disabled youth), serving dinner at a local woman’s shelter ever few weeks; probably getting back into boxing soon. Plus, of course, the church organ job.

 

— 3 —

This is a really good article from a secular publication (Cincinnati Magazine) on how the family of one of the Covington Catholic kids– one who wasn’t even in Washington, but was accused and doxxed – responded. It’s very inspiring.

When asked if he’s fully moved on from the doxxing, threats, and attacks, Michael says, “It sticks with me a little bit, but not really too much at all.” That said, it “has made me a lot more skeptical of social media. That, and the media, too. [It] just makes me look into facts behind different stories rather than just taking their word for it.”

Did the whole experience ruin his senior year of high school? “Even though all this happened, I would say this was probably my favorite year at CovCath,” he says, citing how the sense of brotherhood he’d always felt there somehow strengthened, in spite of everything.

Given all the Catholic undertones, there are lots of biblical stories that could speak to the lessons this whole event imparts. But maybe the moral of this particular story is better interpreted through the work of an extraordinary writer who lived and died long before the internet and social media were even invented. Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, built a successful secular career writing fictional stories in the 1950s and ’60s about self-righteous people who ultimately became the very things they despised. O’Connor’s fiction was often misinterpreted as dark, for the tragic ends her characters almost always met, but in truth her overwhelming message was that healing and grace could, and often did, come from suffering and evil.

On Wednesday, January 23—the same day the Hodges hit rock bottom and Pamela came up with the idea to do a fund-raiser—the college lecturer who’d initially helped spread Michael’s name online posted a 252-word apology on her Facebook page that garnered little attention. Turns out, Andrew had reached out to her directly, explaining how the misinformation she’d helped spread had devastated the family. In the post, the lecturer took full responsibility for what she’d done, writing, “I am horrified at my own behavior as there is a child out there trying to live his life and was wrongly identified. I am now a party of the cause of his fear and misery…I am now guilty of behaviors I normally disdain. It is wrong. I did wrong to this young man.”

She is only one person of the thousands who rushed to condemn Hodge, Sandmann, and their peers. And yet, through O’Connor’s lens, maybe her bold example, paired with the GoFundMe and the way the CovCath boys grew so strong together, is nothing short of a beacon of hope.

— 4 —

“American Pilgrimage” by Stefan McDaniel, in First Things:

 

Back on the road, in between sung Latin rosaries and hymns, I got to know my brigade. They were disturbingly wholesome. Almost everyone was from an intensely Catholic family, yet no one, it seemed, was here out of inertia. Some had come on pilgrimage to mark a new, deliberate seriousness in their life of faith. One woman told me that her traditionalist community had shunned and slandered her after a broken engagement and she was here in part to ­reevaluate her beliefs.

Vehicular traffic was scarce, but wherever we encountered it we stopped it or slowed it down. Many motorists honked and waved encouragement; many scowled, some defying our Romanism with choice Anglo-Saxon words; and many (perhaps the greatest number) fixed us with confused stares.

We carried on till lunch, which we took at a pleasant park. A moment to rest was welcome, but it allowed our legs to freeze up. As we limped back to the road, I didn’t see how I could do this for two more miles, let alone two more days.

Near 3 p.m., we began the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. I had always disliked this devotion, but to my surprise I joined in the recitation now with tremendous feeling. Physical pain, that concrete ­experience of my own limitations, softened my heart and brought home my need for mercy.

We arrived at our first bivouac as night fell. After setting up our tents, we were served a restorative dinner. Inhaling a good but peppery soup, I forgot my pain and delighted in the motley humanity at table with me: the Melkite priest, the man with the honest-to-God Mayan wife, the former Pentecostal sporting Carlist symbols and dressed like an alpinist. Chaucer could not have assembled a better cast.

The next morning, a Saturday, we heard Mass and began walking in the light drizzle under a gray sky—melancholy weather, but perfect for hard walking. Having used up our store of Catholic songs, my brigade turned, at my instigation, to the great common national treasury, freely mixing sacred and profane. After we had sung “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” back-to-back (thus healing sectional divisions once and for all), we calmed down with the Joyful Mysteries.

Though we had returned to devotional themes, I remained in a reverie of patriotism. I realized that I had shaken off an anxiety that had clung to me for years. Like many Catholics of my generation, I had long wondered how I might rightly love America, having renounced the commercial, individualistic social philosophy called “Americanism.” Now, meditating on our North American Martyrs, I embraced their dream of a new Catholic civilization to be planted right here, in this land we were traversing, using their methods of husbandry: to respect, study, and refine existing virtues and institutions and order them to the Prince of Peace. What vision could be grander, or better inspire private and public virtue? Where should we find nobler Founding Fathers to revere and to imitate?

 

— 5 –

I was very glad to see that one of my favorite blogs, Deep Fried Kudzu, seems to be back after a hiatus. Ginger, a local, travels about the South and beyond – her interests are in food, literature, art and roadside oddities. Her notes and photos have guided my own explorations ever since we moved here. I’m glad she’s back.

 

— 6 —

After seeing 1917 (which we’re seeing this weekend),Bishop Barron writes a piece that I endorse 100%. He articulates what I’ve long thought – in all of our hand-wringing about the West’s loss of faith, we can blame scientism and positivism and rationalism and Communism all we want – and sure, why not? – but what about the impact of this:

For the past many years, I have been studying the phenomenon of disaffiliation and loss of faith in the cultures of the West. And following the prompts of many great scholars, I have identified a number of developments at the intellectual level—from the late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment to postmodernism—that have contributed to this decline. But I have long maintained—and the film 1917 brought it vividly back to mind—that one of the causes of the collapse of religion in Europe, and increasingly in the West generally, was the moral disaster of the First World War, which was essentially a crisis of Christian identity. Something broke in the Christian culture, and we’ve never recovered from it. If their Baptism meant so little to scores of millions of combatants in that terrible war, then what, finally, was the point of Christianity? And if it makes no concrete difference, then why not just leave it behind and move on?

 

— 7 —

Went to the movies tonight at our newish local art-house place, which is in the basement floor of our local food hall, which is in turn on the ground floor of a condo development which is all in a building that used to be a department store, back in the day.

The movie? Rififi – a 1955 French heist movie – very good, with a spectacular 30-minute dialogue-less set piece of, well, a jewelry store heist. That, plus the final outcome (spoiler alert) which highlights, as the best heist movie outcomes always do, the emptiness of all that hard work for ill-gotten gain, made it a satisfying couple of hours.

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Cullman, Alabama, about fifty miles north of here, was founded by Germans. A brief history: 

Cullman was founded by Col. Johann Gottfried Cullmann, a German refugee from Frankweiler (which was then Bavaria) who came to America in 1866. While working at a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio, he began formulating ideas of a special colony of working people – specifically a place for immigrants from countries such as his native Germany. He read about the vast unsettled lands in the South, and bought passage on a boat to Florence, Alabama. There he met with Governor Patton and presented his idea. The Governor furnished men and horses for him to explore available lands in North Alabama.

He finally met with Lewis Fink, the land agent for the great South-North Railroad (later the L&N), which had just built a line through the wilderness from Decatur to Montgomery, After a careful survey, he contracted with the railroad for 349,000 acres with the stipulation that Col. Cullmann would pay for all advertising of the land and other expenses incurred in bringing the desired immigrants to the area. Col. Cullmann found the area to be perfect for his dream colony.

Cullmann then went back north and began to advertise for colonists. In April of 1873, the first five families came by train to the spot where Cullman now stands. Each was allotted a plot of ground. The colony quickly grew, with American citizens and German immigrants moving to the area.

Not long after, German Benedictines came and founded an abbey – St. Bernard’s. I’ve mentioned the famed “Ave Maria Grotto”several times – if you’ve traveled on I-65, you’ve seen the billboards. Trust me – it’s not a cheesy roadside attraction – it’s well worth your time!

The history of Saint Bernard Abbey is a rich one. In the 1840s monks from Metten Abbey in Germany, a monastery founded c. 700 A.D., came to America to plant the Benedictine monastic life in the United States and to minister to the growing German-speaking immigrant population. St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, became the first foundation, and in the 1870s monks from St. Vincent were sent to Alabama to serve the needs of German Catholics here. In 1891 those monks gathered to establish St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. One year later, 1892, a school was opened at the new abbey.

The town continues to celebrate its German heritage, although for most of its history, the county was bone-dry. I think the county still is, but a few years ago, the city of Cullman voted to allow alcohol sales, which meant for the first time in its history, the town’s Oktoberfest could serve…beer. 

There are other dry counties in Alabama (some with “wet” towns in them, making them “moist”), but I always wondered if the persistence of Cullman county’s anti-alcohol laws was rooted in anti-German/immigrant/Catholic/Lutheran sentiments….

Anyway.

As part of the town’s Christmas celebration this year, they brought in some Germans from Germany to construct an enormous Christmas pyramid! We dashed up there to see it on Saturday, and here are some images – note, if you can, the different themes for each level. It’s lovely! More (in German) on the construction here. 

Here’s the website of the company that constructed it – and makes them on a smaller scale!

And if you head to my Instagram page, you can see video. 

(Our humble not-really-a-pyramid from Germany presented for contrast)

 

 

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

Here’s a helpful video that someone put up with subtitles. 

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

Here’s my book on Mary, available in a Kindle version for .99:

 And for even more substance from a homily hB16 gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

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…we climbed a smaller hill, did Spanish homework, and rested.

Perhaps we should have gone back today, but I had no idea how much time we’d actually want here, not knowing much about the area. We were essentially “done” last night, and not just because the 10k hike did us in…there wasn’t much left to see that was within walking distance. But that’s okay…it would have been insane and painful to go from yesterday to a 4-hour drive to the airport and the flights back home.

So it was good to have a day to not do much.

That smaller hill is right behind our hotel, atop of which stands the Fuerte San Cristobal. Nothing much happened there, and there’s not much to see but the views, but it ate up about twenty minutes, so there’s that:

Below is a good view of the Celaque National Park mountain range. The highest peak is, well, the highest peak in Honduras. I believe our Death March took us to the high peak on the left.

IMG_20191120_110957

We wandered into the town for some food. Lunch happened at this small cafeteria right across from the square and the church. It was homey, excellent and cheap (of course) – about $4/plate.

(Exterior, chicken, cerdo (pork), interior garden)

Here’s the San Marco church in the daytime. If you look at photos of it from the past, the trim is painted gold.

Then it was back to the hotel for much of the afternoon, where he worked on Spanish homework, I wrote a bit, and we watched the utility workers doing repairs and replacements on a series of poles down the street in front of us – the reason, we can safely assume, the power was out most of the afternoon.

Eventually, we made it back downtown, where we got our final Honduran meal from here, in the square. Roger helped us order – he’s a native Honduran who moved to the US, lived there for over two decades, became a citizen, and has recently returned here to help his mother.

dinner (1)

Then dessert in a cafe kiosk in the square which features and upstairs looking down on the park. I couldn’t get any panoramic shots, but I did get this weird looking tree:

tree (1)

And that’s it from Honduras – probably – unless we get stuck here tomorrow, then who knows what I”d have to say?

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