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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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Let’s bullet point this. It’s faster.

  • Day began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oldest (NYC resident now) is a member, so we got in as guests on his membership. My main focus was the Making Marvels exhibit,which lived up to the promise. Really well done and interesting.
  • After we toured that exhibit together, we split. Kid went to wander on his own, I spent most of my time, as is my wont, in the medieval and Byzantine sections.
  • Above and below are some photos. I don’t take a lot of photos in museums (and didn’t take many today, period), but I loved the statue of St. Anne holding Mary holding Jesus (and a book of course), and the thoroughly charming nativity, with the lovely detail of Joseph warming Jesus swaddling clothes. I think the figures above him are shepherds. I’m guessing.
  • Oh – to backtrack a bit. We ended up on a subway that deposited us at the Natural History Museum stop, on the opposite side of the park from the Met. So we enjoyed a nice walk across (could have taken a bus, but why – it was chilly, but pleasant) and saw a couple of tourist gaggles gathered around squirrels, taking photos. Do they not have squirrels in Europe? (They were all European)
  • Then a very slow (is there any other kind) bus down to Koreatown, where we dashed in for the traditional bucket of fried chicken bits here. 
  • I had heard about this Sony Square space and was under the impression that it was some large play/new product space that would be entertaining for some. We walked down there, saw a line of folks corralled outside, went inside to find that it’s a Sony space, yes, but it’s very small, it changes focus every month and gee, we just missed the month of Playstation focus, and now it’s all about some K-pop band which was appearing there that very night – hence the lineup at 2pm already. Not much to do, so we moved on….
  • …down towards lower Manhattan. We had only the vaguest sense of what we were about, since I am thinking that Thursday is the day to do Chinatown. We ended up, well, in Chinatown/Little Italy. Grabbed a couple of slices of pizza, then decided that we might as well try to find Bret and Jemaine’s apartment (in Chinatown)– found it! Thought about Inner City Pressure. Might or might not have sung about it.
  • Then the other party decided he would like to see a particular John Wick location in the Wall Street area – the first one on this list. Got on a bus, got off, walked along the South Street Seaport, saw some ships, then made our way up Wall Street to find the spot. Took appropriately posed photos.  My phone was just about dead by this time, so I don’t have the photos.
  • Subway back up to the hotel for a break, then, at Ann Engelhart’s invitation,  over to NYU for a Catholic Artists Society talk by James Matthew Wilson.Very interesting and thought provoking.
  • Went with Ann up to Penn Station, where she got on her train to Long Island, and we went up 34th to the DSW to get some shoes for someone whose present shoe situation wasn’t really working for all the walking happening.  It was about 9 by then, someone was hungry, I looked it up and saw that Katz’s was open until 10:45, so one more subway ride downtown (we’ve probably come very close to getting our money’s worth out of the 7-day pass after 3 days…) and there we were. Fifteen minutes –  not much longer than it would take to drive to Chick-Fil-A back home.
  • Figured out the initially confusing ordering system (you’re given a ticket. You go to the right spot at the long counter and order what you want, the guy marks it on the ticket, you go get drinks and sides, that guy marks your ticket, and when you’re done, you either pay with card at the counter or cash at the door. It’s really not that bad – although it wasn’t busy when we were there, so the vibe was relaxed…no inner city pressure.  )
  • I wasn’t hungry, but I did get a taste of this incredibly, ridiculously tender corned beef.
  • Then back up to the room. I have no idea what we’re doing tomorrow. Maybe I’ll figure that out right now.
  • There are all kinds of ways that travel educates you. You learn about history, you learn about art, you learn about the place to which you’ve traveled – who lives there, how the place works, what the patterns and habits of life are, how people cope. It also educates you through the encounters you have with other human beings – if you’re open to those encounters. So, you can answer a question from an elderly woman who approaches you on the subway at 10:30 at night, and having answered her question, hear, in the course of five minutes, her life story, including   how she moved to NYC when both her children were enrolled at Juilliard, how they are both highly accomplished professional musicians and about the program she runs for young musicians, and oh…you’re a musician? Let me give you my assessment of all the major college music programs and my advice on what direction to go in, and this is my stop and here’s my card….good-bye!

 

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

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First, from my 2020: A Book of Grace-filled Days from Loyola Press.

Tried to embed, but WordPress won’t let me. So just go here to access he link to the entry from today. (Just click on the middle entry that pops up)

Of course you can still buy the book – and the devotionals go all the way to 12/31/20 – you could still get plenty of use from it! (And note – I don’t make royalties from sales of this book. It was a for-hire project, meaning I’m paid for doing the work, and then that’s it – which makes sense for a book that’s only going to sell for a few months.)

Next:

A piece I wrote for the National Review years ago on these feasts that fall after Christmas, including St. Stephen.

We might forget, we might wrap up Christmas in good cheer, but Christian tradition doesn’t. It’s striking that the next day–the very next day–after Christmas, the Church remembers not glad tidings, angels, and shepherd boys, but a bloody death by stoning. St. Stephen it is, the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen is followed by St. John on December 27th, who may not have met a violent death, but who, the tradition tells us, died in a prison of sorts, in exile for his faith, far away from the “civilized” powers that had sent him there. December 28th brings us back to babies, but with no relief–it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the children Herod ordered slaughtered, according to Matthew’s gospel, in his rabid fear of the rival king.

The message is clear and hard: Following this baby, as he reaches to us from the resin manger, looking out at us with the soft-eyed cattle and docile sheep, comes at a price.

From past Angelus addresses by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2005:

Yesterday, after solemnly celebrating Christ’s Birth, today we are commemorating the birth in Heaven of St Stephen, the first martyr. A special bond links these two feasts and it is summed up well in the Ambrosian liturgy by this affirmation: “Yesterday, the Lord was born on earth, that Stephen might be born in Heaven” (At the breaking of the bread).

Just as Jesus on the Cross entrusted himself to the Father without reserve and pardoned those who killed him, at the moment of his death St Stephen prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and further: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (cf. Acts 7: 59-60). Stephen was a genuine disciple of Jesus and imitated him perfectly. With Stephen began that long series of martyrs who sealed their faith by offering their lives, proclaiming with their heroic witness that God became man to open the Kingdom of Heaven to humankind.

In the atmosphere of Christmas joy, the reference to the Martyr St Stephen does not seem out of place. Indeed, the shadow of the Cross was already extending over the manger in Bethlehem.
It was foretold by the poverty of the stable in which the infant wailed, the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sign that would be opposed and the sword destined to pierce the heart of the Virgin, and Herod’s persecution that would make necessary the flight to Egypt.

It should not come as a surprise that this Child, having grown to adulthood, would one day ask his disciples to follow him with total trust and faithfulness on the Way of the Cross.

2006

It is not by chance that Christmas iconography sometimes depicts the Divine Newborn carefully lain in a little sarcophagus in order to indicate that the Redeemer is born to die, is born to give his life in ransom for all.

St Stephen was the first to follow in the footsteps of Christ with his martyrdom. He died, like the divine Master, pardoning and praying for his killers (cf. Acts 7: 60).

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Carlo Crivelli, 1476

In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs. They were a countless body that the liturgy calls “the white-robed army of martyrs”,martyrum candidatus exercitus. Their death did not rouse fear and sadness, but spiritual enthusiasm that gave rise to ever new Christians.

For believers the day of death, and even more the day of martyrdom, is not the end of all; rather, it is the “transit” towards immortal life. It is the day of definitive birth, in Latin, dies natalis. The link that exists then between the “dies natalis” of Christ and the dies natalis of St Stephen is understood.

2008

Dear brothers and sisters, in St Stephen we see materializing the first fruits of salvation that the Nativity of Christ brought to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of falsehood. Let us praise God, for this victory still enables many Christians today to respond to evil not with evil but with the power of truth and love.

2009

Stephen is also the Church’s first deacon. In becoming a servant of the poor for love of Christ, he gradually enters into full harmony with him and follows Christ to the point of making the supreme gift of himself. The witness borne by Stephen, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our contemporaries, who are often distracted and uncertain, in whom they should place their trust in order to give meaning to their lives. The martyr, in fact, is one who dies knowing with certainty that he is loved by God, who puts nothing before love of Christ, knowing that he has chosen the better part. The martyr is configured fully to the death of Christ, aware of being a fertile seed of life and of opening up paths of peace and hope in the world. Today, in presenting the Deacon St Stephen to us as our model the Church likewise points out to us that welcoming and loving the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to witness credibly to human beings to the Kingdom of God that comes.

2011

This is why the Eastern Church sings in her hymns: “The stones became steps for you and ladders for the ascent to heaven… and you joyfully drew close to the festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Rome 1889, 694, 695).

After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community. At the height of their persecution, their hymns of praise fortified the faithful on their difficult journey and encouraged those in search of the truth to convert to the Lord. Therefore, by divine disposition, the Church venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them with epithets such as: “teachers of life”, “living witnesses”, “breathing trophies” and “silent exhortations” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 43, 5: PG 36, 500 C).

Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what he wishes, and consistently naming the Lord’s name; (Stromatum IV, 7,43,4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

2012

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelization. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

The newness of the proclamation lies in the depth of the believer’s immersion in the mystery of Christ and in assimilation of his word and of his presence in the Eucharist so that he himself, the living Jesus, may speak and act in his messengers. Essentially, evangelizers can bring Christ to others effectively when they themselves live in Christ, when the newness of the Gospel is reflected in their own life.

And then, two more, from other occasions.  The first from the General Audience of 1/10/2007, in which Benedict discusses Stephen as a part of the series he did on great figures in Christianity (collected in several books):

Stephen’s story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church’s life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian’s famous words, becomes “the seed of Christians”, the source of mission for Christians to come.

I cite his words: “We multiply wherever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed…” (Apology 50, 13): Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum. But in our life too, the Cross that will never be absent, becomes a blessing.

And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew.

And then from 2012, as he was discussing prayer in the General Audiences, and in particular the relationship between Scripture and prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.

A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely.

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Well, we’re back!

As per usual, I’m going to collect my thoughts in this space and do a bit more systematic collection of what and where and a bit of why. Go to the end of the post and to this tag for the posts and this page for posts on many (not all) of our bigger trips over the past few years.

Just a reminder, first, of the why:

My youngest son has had a deep interest in Mayan archaeology for years, inspiring three and a half trips so far.

The first, to the Yucatan in 2014, the second to Guatemala in 2017, the third, this one to Honduras, and the half? Our Holy Week trip to Mexico City and Puebla in 2018. I say “half” because only half – maybe even less – of that trip was attributable to his interest (which would take us here – not Mayan, of course, but general ancient Mesoamerican will do) – the rest of it was about my wanting to spend Holy Week (their spring break that year – they were both in school) somewhere where they did Semana Santa right. And so Honduras.

He’d been talking up Copan for a while, as a major site still on his list (and one that I would be wiling to take him to, unlike, say El Mirador – for that four day trek into the jungle or whatever it is, you’re on your own, sir). The other purpose of this trip was to experience some intensive Spanish instruction.

My first thought was Antigua, Guatemala, with Copan tacked on at the end. Antigua has been on my radar for a while – I wanted to go there during Holy Week in 2017, but for some reason I changed my mind and off we went to Mexico City and Puebla (which was great).

The more I thought about Antiuga as a focus for this trip, though, the less sense that made. Spanish lessons would take up at least a half of each day, and Antigua, while it is an interesting place, didn’t, I think had enough half-day activities that would really interest him to fill the rest of those “school” days – the major activities that would interest him (volcanoes, the lake) would take at least a day.

After doing some research, I saw several people in online discussions mention Copan Ruinas itself as a good place to learn Spanish. The more I looked into it, the more attractive it was – it seemed as if there was a lot to do during those half days, and he was interested in the archaeological features anyway (which ended up taking up one full day and two half days). And then my son pointed out the Celaque National Park in Gracias would be an interesting place to see. So there you go – the major focus of week one, with the added few days at the end.

Where to stay?

I often do apartments and rental homes when traveling, but honestly, now with only the two of us most of the time, the need for space isn’t so pressing. In addition, in this situation, since I wouldn’t be renting a car and wasn’t really sure how I’d be getting around or even the details of what we’d be doing outside of the Copan ruins and Spanish school – I thought a small hotel or B & B would be a better idea than an independent apartment. I could, I thought, use the help in planning and coordinating that a B & B owner could provide.

November 9-17

In Copan, I settled on the Casa de Cafe – a fantastic choice, if I do say so myself. I’m very glad that we spent a week in this almost idyllic spot. I would say it’s on the “Outskirts” of Copan, but when a town is about ten by twenty blocks…are you really on the “outskirts” if you are four blocks from the center? Nah.

Owners Howard (American) and his Honduran wife Angela, also own some rental properties and a boutique hotel in Copan. They’ve created beautiful, peaceful spaces in this busy little town.

This was our room, inside and out.

Breakfast was served every morning – your choice of drink, of course, fruit, freshly squeezed juice, and then either the offering of the day (omelet, traditional Honduran breakfast, pancakes and so on) or simply scrambled eggs and toast – or nothing! Along with housemade hot sauces and marmelade (pineapple). The cafe also functions as a stand-alone restaurant. There were other guests – but only a couple of days in which the place felt full. Most of the guests, it seemed, were French – someone I met staying in another hotel confirmed that yes, her hotel was bursting with French tour groups as well. These tours usually begin flying into Belize City or Guatemala City, take in Tikal, various natural sites in eastern Guatemala, perhaps include Antigua, then swing down to Copan Ruinas and then back up to Quirigua …or perhaps it’s the reverse order. Let’s just say that the French are keen on seeing these Mayan sites – are you?

The level of service here (as well as at the place we stayed at in Gracias) was superb. Frequent offers of coffee or tea, prompt and thorough room cleaning, and great assistance in planning activities and transportation. If you’re even faintly considering a trip to Copan Ruinas – the Casa de Cafe is really a great place to stay (they do have family rooms as well.) Then it was off to Gracias.

 

November 17-21

The place we stayed in Gracias had a similar vibe to the Casa de Cafe – clean, simple rooms in a lush garden setting. Owned by a Dutch woman assisted by an excellent mostly local staff, the Hotel Guancascos sits on the hill upon which the Fuerte de San Cristobal stands sort -of-tall. Gracias itself is bigger than Copan and as a busier, lest tourist-centered vibe, as well as being a little more prosperous, it seems. The Guancascos seems to be a slightly bigger place that the Casa de Cafe, but that might be because it’s laid out differently. The restaurant, though, is definitely bigger and more clearly established as a stand-alone – and in a lovely setting, on a large porch/patio overlooking the city. A great place to eat breakfast (provided with the room) as well as just park yourself in the afternoon when you have to really want to do your Spanish or in the evening when you need some Me Time.

The rooms were, as they’d been in Copan, immaculate, and kept so every day. Guancascos is working very hard and consciously at being eco-friendly, so water is solar heated, and there are other environmentally friendly features. Both hotels feature purified water whenever you need it – at the Cafe de Copan, when you walk by the kitchen and there’s someone in there, I’d just ask them to fill the carafe – and at Guancascos , purified water jugs are provided through the hotel. My impression is that drinking bottled water is pretty standard for everyone, not just foreigners, in Honduras.

As was the case the Casa de Cafe, Fromie, the owner and her managing partner were unfailingly helpful in helping me get things set up – in correspondence they gave me feedback on actually getting to Gracias from Copan (more on that tomorrow), on getting from Gracias to the airport on the 21st, and then in setting up ways for us to get to activities – Fromie’s son drove us to the zipline and thermal baths, they set up a guide for us for the Death March up the mountain in Celaque National Park, and they arranged that driver for the airport journey.

Not a lot of folks were staying there when we were, although they were expecting a big tour group of hikers this weekend. I spoke to a couple of American medical missionaries staying there one night, and it seems that this is a important clientele – as it is, I assume in much of Honduras. So there you have it!

Sometimes apartments make sense – when you need the space, when hotels are stupidly expensive for what you get, when people are going to need to eat food that needs to be prepared by you at times frowned upon by the local restaurant culture, and when you just want to live in a neighborhood, with the locals (although AirBnB has kind of, in intending to meet that desire, ruined the possibility in many instances), and are just fine with minimal interaction with other human beings like desk clerks and housekeepers – but then there are other times when you do want that interaction – and even need it. I personally have soured on AirBnB in the last year, not only because of their Woke Politics, but also because of the many questions and concerns raised about their business practices, lack of renter support and impact on neighborhoods. We have no huge travel plans for the near future aside from a couple of trips to Charleston over the various upcoming holidays and one to NYC in February, but if I do go the apartment route again, I’ll be trying to do so outside AirBnB – I did it before their rise, and I’ll do it again! But really, as I mentioned before, with just the two of us doing the bulk of the traveling now, a place like this is just fine

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All the Honduras posts so far:

Sunday 11/10: Mass and a wedding. Touring the Copan ruins with archaeologist David Sedat

Monday 11/11: Spanish school and Macaw Mountain

Tuesday 11/12: Return visit to the ruins

Wednesday 11/13: Las Sepulturas and El Rastrojon ruins near Copan

Thursday 11/14: Hacienda San Lucas and Los Sapos

Friday 11/15-Saturday 11/16: Last day of Spanish school, a day-long coffee-farm tour on horseback; Luna Jaguar hot springs.

Sunday 11/17: Traveling from Copan to Gracias, Honduras. Mass. Settling in. 

Monday 11/18: Ziplining the canopy and more hot springs

Tuesday 11/19: Hiking the El Gallo trail in Celaque National Park

Wednesday 11/20: Fuerte el Cristobal; relaxing, preparing to return

 

 

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…and then in the air. Four hour drive to the airport from here (they say) and then a couple flights and then boom! Home!

Which will be great, although this was nice, too:

 

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Gracias, Honduras, 6:30 am, 11/21. Hotel Guancascos.

I’ll be back tomorrow – maybe even late tonight – with Friday takes, and then spend the weekend pulling together my traditional post-trip set of posts summarizing things.

In the meantime, don’t forget Advent is coming – and in particular today, I’ll call your attention to this daily devotional, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent this year, and continues to December 31, 2020:

 

 

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