Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Year and the Lord of History

Some reflections by George Weigel.
I’d like to think, though, that my longstanding aversion to making a Big Deal out of New Year’s Eve has something to do with my conviction, which is the Church’s conviction, that the real “new year” begins with First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent. And if that’s true, then going bonkers over the turn of the civil calendar is giving a bit more to Caesar than Caesar has a right to receive.

"The World Turned Upside Down"

An English ballad.
"The World Turned Upside Down" is an English ballad. It was first published on a broadside in 1643 as a protest against the policies of Parliament relating to the celebration of Christmas.[1] Parliament believed the holiday should be a solemn occasion, and outlawed traditional English Christmas celebrations. There are several versions of the lyrics. It is sung to the tune of another ballad, "When the King Enjoys His Own Again".

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Song of the Angels

From the Christmas Eve homily of Our Holy Father Pope Benedict:
Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: "Glory to God in the highest" (Lk 2:13f.). But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.

1914 and Christmas

What might have been.
London-based military chronicler Lyn MacDonald, in her study 1915: The Death of Innocence, singles out as characteristic the fate of Britain’s aristocratic stud-book, Debrett’s Peerage. This directory needed to have its 1915 edition delayed because “so many heirs to great lands and titles had been killed, that it took the editors many months to revise the entries of almost every blue-blooded family in the United Kingdom.” British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith lost a son. Hilaire Belloc, the great poet and journalist, lost a son. Another great poet, Rudyard Kipling, lost a son. Future German President Friedrich Ebert lost three sons.

Equally notable is the body-count among artists and intellectuals of the time. France’s Alain Fournier, creator of the exquisite novel Le Grand Meaulnes, was killed in 1914. So was the eminent French poet and philosopher, Charles Péguy. America’s own Alan Seeger, whose verses had been admired by T. S. Eliot, joined the French Foreign Legion and was killed in 1916. Also killed in 1916: Britain’s H. H. Munro, who wrote superb short stories under the pen-name “Saki,” and who, refusing an officer’s rank, enrolled as a private. Killed in 1918: English poet Isaac Rosenberg. Killed in 1918: another American poet, Joyce Kilmer.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tessa Dahl at Regina Laudis

She is the daughter of Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl. (Via Fr. Ray Blake)
It has been a colourful life packed with drama, emotion and surprising twists, but few would imagine Tessa Dahl as a Bride of Christ.

But she has been living at Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, for more than a month now. Despite an exotic past, Tessa is already following the Benedictine strictures, or some of them at least.

She is learning to make butter, spin yarn and is generally preparing herself for what she describes as a complete commitment to God.

There are sceptics, naturally – they recall the years Tessa spent at the feet of an Indian guru, accompanied by her young daughter.

But today, as Tessa explains why she wishes to enter a closed community of nuns, there is a different, more compelling logic than mere attention-seeking.
There is, for example, her estrangement from Sophie, apparently caused when Tessa made some unguarded comments to the Press.

More pertinently, Tessa’s mother, the actress Patricia Neal, to whom she was so close, has recently died, leaving her bereft.

A woman who has spent her adult life struggling with herself and those around her seems finally to have found the one place ready to embrace her confusing world – Regina Laudis, the very institution that cared for her late mother as she entered her declining years.

A Mystery Solved

The hand of the master is recognized at last. A Velázquez is rediscovered. (Via Supremacy and Survival) Share

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Miss Potter (2006)

 While their mother was searching the house, Moppet and Mittens had got into mischief. ~from The Roly-Poly Pudding by Beatrix Potter
 Beatrix Potter's tales figured prominently in my childhood so I feel rather protective towards them and her. Miss Potter is an enjoyable enough film, oozing self-conscious charm while continually emphasizing how oppressive Victorian society was towards unmarried women, and women in general. The social studies lesson weighs upon the film's potential for enchantment. Not that the role of women in society should have been overlooked or glossed over but the point would have better made had it been made with subtlety. I think that the story would have fared better in the hands of Merchant and Ivory.

As the Austin Chronicle put it:
Miss Potter aims to be "enchanting" and "delightful" and "charming" and all those other adjectives that flow so easily from critics' pens when they're discussing independent movies of a particularly sweet British bent, but it never quite hits the mark. Which is not to say it's a bad movie, but you can see it sweating to be the kind of critical and public darling that movies like Finding Neverland, Sense and Sensibility, and Four Weddings and a Funeral managed to be with half the effort. The film has just the right amount of English wit in its script and pizzicato violins in its score to make its viewers feel both intelligent and cozy, but the story lacks the dramatic tension and sense of purpose to elicit any more of a response than that; plus, it leaves the meaty issue of Potter's questionable sanity maddeningly unexplored. Miss Potter is, in the end, a confection, a trip through the imagination on gossamer wings. Enchanting, perhaps, but a long, long way from meaningful.
 In spite of the emphasis on how well women can get on without men, the fact that Beatrix was a highly respected mycologist and made discoveries in that field is not mentioned in the film. She drew lovely pictures of mushrooms (we had a print of one at home) and I was surprised that one of her main achievements would be omitted.

Beatrix's problems came not so much from her womanhood or spinsterhood but from the fact that her parents were social climbers. Mr. and Mrs. Potter were so eager to fit in with the right people that they tried to achieve total control over their daughter's psyche so that she could be a pawn facilitating their rise. They objected to her betrothal to the publisher Mr. Warne because he was engaged in trade, as if they the Potters were some sort of hereditary nobility rather than one generation removed from trade themselves.

The spectacular cinematography more than made up for the film's shortcomings. The main fault was the casting. An English actress should have played Beatrix, or at least an American who knows how to adapt British mannerisms. Renée Zellweger, whose performances I usually find entertaining, tries too hard to be prim with an odd pursed-lip smirk which only makes her look bilious. An hour or so of that fake smirk was too much for me. Renée would have been better in the supporting role of Millie Warne, and Emily Watson, who played Millie, should have played Beatrix. I am not the only one to think so. According to Style Weekly:
What most brings out the sense of partly missed opportunities is the presence of the accomplished Emily Watson, who plays Norman's unwed sister. Dressed in the most masculine female attire of the period, complete with starched collar, striped tie and a puffy blouse that endows her shoulders with the bulk of a linebacker, she attaches herself to Beatrix with a will and soon is lecturing her on the blessedness of life without men.... [The] fire and coherence of Watson's performance, although a pleasure, tantalizes us with the thought of what she could have made of the title role.
 I do appreciate that fact that an effort was made to celebrate the work of Beatrix Potter, whose books are still enjoyed by children worldwide. I just wish it had been able to capture a little of the genuine magic of the stories, a magic which came from Beatrix herself. The real Beatrix seems rather lost in the film purported to be about her life. Share

Desperate Romantics, Then and Now

"Pentimento" reflects on selfishness, past and present.
The ethos of personal happiness as the highest good, a goal for which one must go through fire (though that fire destroy everything it touches), and summon all of one's misplaced courage to achieve, is one with which I'm all too familiar from an earlier chapter of my life.  Though my actions, by the grace of God, did not mirror those of the players in what is essentially a story of personal tragedy (one that someone at the Times inexplicably deemed "news that's fit to print"), I can fully understand the compulsions and the lack of compunction and other social barriers that encouraged Ms. Riddell and Mr. Partilla to blow up their own lives and the lives of all those dear to them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mildred Fay Jefferson

A heroine of human dignity. To quote:
Being a trailblazer takes a great deal of courage. Someone has remarked, perhaps rather cynically, “You can always tell who the pioneers are because they have arrows in their back and are lying face down in the dirt.” But sometimes the pioneers and trailblazers do triumph through their struggles, and achieve their goals and dreams to the admiration of the world. At that point, how many would have the courage to re-enter the fray -- to achieve success, and then risk marginalization and mockery all over again to stand up for a controversial cause?

Dr Mildred Fay Jefferson, who died on October 15, chalked up a lot of firsts. She was the first black woman to graduate from the Harvard medical school, the first woman to be a surgical intern at Boston City Hospital, and the first female doctor at the Boston University Medical Centre.

She was also -- and here comes the potential arrow-in-the-back move -- a key figure in the American pro-life movement, playing foundational roles in the Value of Life Committee of Massachusetts, the National Right to Life Committee and Black Americans for Life, and actively involving herself with other right to life groups.
What propelled her along this path was the great betrayal of unborn life by her own profession: in 1970 the American Medical Association decreed that it was ethical for doctors to perform abortion where the procedure was legal. For her this was an elementary violation of the most fundamental principles of her profession. The Hippocratic Oath, and a Judeo-Christian ethic demanded better of a physician, as a person and as a professional.

When in 1973 the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade imposed legalised abortion on all states, Dr Jefferson fought against the “almost unlimited licence to kill” it gave to doctors -- a licence that she believed could impair the right of doctors to refrain from killing. “The doctor who willingly accepts destroying life will have no grounds on which to object if the state should compel that doctor to destroy life,” she contended.

The Ideal of the Princess

Why are people still so fascinated by princesses? To quote:
The United States has been a republic for more than two centuries. We aren't supposed to have princesses. Yet the archetype remains both persistent and profitable.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bright Star (2009)

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
~John Keats
As anyone who has visited this blog for any length of time knows, John Keats is a favored poet here. Seeing the film Bright Star, which offers a glimpse into Keats' last years, has added a dimension to my appreciation of his poetry. According to
A portrait of love and loss, Jane Campion's film Bright Star chronicles the tragic love affair between John Keats and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne, throughout the years in which Keats wrote several of the most celebrated poems of the Romantic period. Told from Brawne's perspective on the romance, the film not only reveals the evolution of their young love, but traces Brawne's introduction and immersion into Keats's world of poetry, beginning with apathy and ending with passionate involvement.

Though at the time the lovers meet in 1818 Keats has already established himself in the literary world, his career does not afford him the financial means to marry. Knowing this, Brawne's interaction with Keats is limited, so she injects herself into his life by feigning an interest in poetry.

One of the most intimate early scenes of the relationship takes place over an impromptu poetry lesson, though Keats is suspicious of Brawne. When she asks for an introduction concerning "the craft of poetry," Keats dismisses the notion: "Poetic craft is a carcass, a sham. If poetry doesn't come as naturally as leaves to a tree, then it better not come at all."

As the conversation continues, however, Brawne earns Keats's trust, and he offers a more useful explanation: "A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it's to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery."

From that point on, Brawne develops an obsession with poetry—mostly Keats's own poems—and occasionally recites favorite verses from memory. It is through Brawne that much of the poetry of the film reveals itself, either from her memory, or read to her by Keats.

Poems excerpted in the film include the book-length sequence Endymion, "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be," "The Eve of St. Agnes, section XXIII, [Out went the taper as she hurried in]," "Ode to a Nightingale," "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and the title poem, "Bright Star," which Campion depicts as having been written with Brawne as Keats's muse, though the historical evidence is inconclusive.
 I enjoyed Bright Star much more than Jane Campion's other films, finding in it a simplicity that only a master filmmaker can achieve. To quote from a review on the blog Ripple Effects:
Campion has created on screen the dazzling visuals of the master painters.  There are numerous Vermeer moments in the interior shots, all done by the window with natural light seeping in as Fanny sews, makes her laces, reads love letters.  Outdoor scenes are a natural cinemascape reminiscence of impressionist vision.  Like the paintings of Monet and Seurat, hazy and dreamlike, they effectively convey the illusive union the young lovers achingly long for but is teasingly placed out of their reach.

Although never consummated, their passion for each other is no less ablaze.  The film is a clear statement that love is not synonymous with nudity and sex on screen.  Campion has depicted their passionate ardor with sensitivity and restraints.  There are moments of utter quietness, for love needs no language.  There are scenes adorned with melodious vocals and instrumentals, augmenting the yearning within.  Campion is a master of cinematic effects.
For anyone who enjoys love stories, Bright Star is one of the most romantic films that I have ever seen. Keats and Fanny appear to have little in common on the surface. However, Fanny pours as much attention and artistry into her sewing projects as Keats does into his poems. Both are craftsmen, she of silks and patterns and he of words. Their brief relationship, which they craft with humor, kindness, and devotion, is the most beautiful work of all. The impossibility of their love gives it a poignancy that is genuinely heartbreaking. In the face of death the young lovers' attachment is all the more desperate. Nevertheless, Keats refuses to bed his bride-to-be, saying "I have a conscience," knowing that the price to pay for a momentary pleasure could be high indeed, especially for Fanny. It is that self-denial that lends a power to the story, making the final scenes almost too agonizing for words. The last moments, when Fanny walks through the snowy woods dressed in black and reciting the poem "Bright Star," has a loveliness as rare and exquisite as Keats' poetry itself.
  Save it for me, sweet love! though music breathe
   Voluptuous visions into the warm air,
Though swimming through the dance’s dangerous wreath,
         Be like an April day,
         Smiling and cold and gay,
   A temperate lily, temperate as fair;
         Then, heaven! there will be
         A warmer June for me.
~ from  "To Fanny" by John Keats
Linda at Under the Gables has blogged on this wonderful film, HERE and HERE.

More reviews, HERE and HERE.

The Wexford Carol

The oldest carol in Europe. Share

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Diane Kruger as Marie-Antoinette?

They have chosen German actress Diane Kruger to play Marie-Antoinette in the film version of Farewell, My Queen. Diane will replace Eva Green. It is a much better choice in my opinion. Share

Friday, December 24, 2010

St. Nicholas in Modern Turkey

They call him "Noel Baba."
The hometown of the man who inspired the legend of Santa Claus is a long way from the snow and arctic lights of the North Pole.

The land Saint Nicholas is originally from rarely sees snowflakes - it is a village of palm trees and orange groves on the Mediterranean Sea in what is modern-day Turkey. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and children, lived and died there nearly 18 centuries ago.

The legend of the 4th century bishop who gave gifts to the poor has spread since the earliest days of Christianity.
Eventually, Saint Nicholas evolved from the bald and bearded man depicted in Orthodox icons - dressed in long robes and clutching a bible - to the more rotund and secular character of jolly old Saint Nick.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

St. Joseph, the Legal Father of Jesus

In the recent words of Our Holy Father the Pope:
The Son of God, realizing an ancient prophecy (cf. Isaiah 7:14), became man in the womb of a virgin, and such a mystery simultaneously manifests the love, wisdom and power of God on behalf of humanity wounded by sin. St. Joseph is presented as a "just man" (Matthew 1:19), faithful to God’s law, ready to do his will. On account of this he enters into the mystery of the Incarnation after an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and tells him: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife with you. In fact the child that has been conceived in her comes from the Holy Spirit; she will give birth to a son and you will call him Jesus: he in fact will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21). Forgetting the thought of repudiating Mary in secret, he takes her in because his eyes now see the work of God in her.

St. Ambrose comments that "in Joseph there was amiability and the figure of a just man to make the quality of his witness more worthy" (Exp. Ev. sec. Lucam II, 5: CCL 14,32-33). "He," Ambrose continues, "could not have contaminated the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Lord, the fruitful womb of the mystery" (ibid. II, 6: CCL 14, 33). Although he had been concerned, Joseph "did as the angel of the Lord ordered him," certain of doing the right thing. Also giving the name "Jesus" to that child who rules the entire universe, he enters into the ranks of the faithful and humble servants, like the angels and prophets, like the martyrs and the apostles -- in the words of ancient eastern hymns. St. Joseph proclaims the wonders of the Lord, witnessing Mary’s virginity, the gratuitous deed of God, and caring for the earthly life of the Messiah. So, we venerate the legal father of Jesus (Code of Canon Law, 532), because the new man takes form in him, who looks to the future with confidence and courage, does not follow his own project, but entrusts himself totally to the infinite mercy of him who fulfills the prophecies and inaugurates the season of salvation.

The Films of Frank Borzage

Transformed by love. Share

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The War of Spanish Succession

Philip V and the coming of the Bourbons to Spain. According to Stephanie Mann:
Philip, Duke of Anjou and Petit Fils de France, was born at Versailles on December 19, 1683, the second son of Le Grand Dauphin of the Sun King, Louis XIV, also called Louis. Philips' older brother was Louis Le Petit Dauphin, who would be the father of Louis XV! When poor Charles II of Spain died in 1700, Philip was named as his heir. (I say "poor Charles II" because reports of his disabilities and deformities are rather horrifying.) The prospect of the Bourbon family controlling both the Kingdoms of France and of Spain was too much for the other European powers, including England/Great Britain, and thus began the War of Spanish Succession, which was fought in the North American British colonies as "Queen Anne's War."

Christmas Etiquette

The Twelve Rules of Christmas Etiquette. An excellent post. (Via @) Share

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Resurrecting the Tsar

An article from Smithsonian Magazine about the monarchist movement in Russia.


Ad Orientem

After five years there is no turning back. According to Fr. Mark Kirby:
That being said, after five years of offering Holy Mass ad orientem, I can say that I never want to have to return to the versus populum position. While traveling, I am, however, sometimes obliged to celebrate versus populum, notably in Ireland, in France and Italy; it leaves me with a feeling of extreme inappropriateness. I suffer from what I can only describe as a lack of sacred pudeur, or modesty in the face of the Holy Mysteries. When obliged to celebrate versus populum, I feel viscerally, as it were, that there is something very wrong -- theologically, spiritually, and anthropologically -- with offering the Holy Sacrifice turned toward the congregation.
Ten Advantages
What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:
1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.
6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.
9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Katherine of Aragon in Art

Apparently she was used as a model in religious paintings. According to "Madame Guillotine": "Let’s look at some pictures of her in her golden haired youth and think about what a shame it is that no pictures of her in her middle years, when she was an adored young Queen seem to have survived."

Gareth has compiled some posts about the 525th anniversary of her birth, HERE. Share

Solzhenitsyn on the Vendée

From an address given in 1993.
Twenty decades have now passed, and throughout that period the Vendée uprising and its bloody suppression have been viewed in ever new ways, in France and elsewhere. Indeed, historical events are never fully understood in the heat of their own time, but only at a great distance, after a cooling of passions. For all too long, we did not want to hear or admit what cried out with the voices of those who perished, or were burned alive: that the peasants of a hard-working region, driven to the extremes of oppression and humiliation by a revolution supposedly carried out for their sake-- that these peasants had risen up against the revolution!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Séraphine (2008)

I had never heard of this wonderful film until recently, one of the most enchanting I have ever seen, about the mystical artist Séraphine Louis. She was outwardly a dumpy chambermaid, living a life of drudgery, performing the most menial tasks in the town of Senlis. However, untrained and untaught, she produced works of fire and light while singing hymns to God and the Virgin. According to The Guardian:
Séraphine de Senlis was a lowly French domestic who painted on the sly. She spent her coppers on brushes and oils and daubed primitive still lifes that caught the eye of a visiting art critic. And yet, if Martin Provost's engrossing biopic is to be believed, the artist was never cut out for a life of stardom. As played by Yolande Moreau, Séraphine looks positively monolithic – a round-shouldered, splay-footed creature of toil. But her mental state is ­precarious, propped up by familiar routines. ­Success unbalances her and she takes to wandering the streets, resplendent in a new, shop-bought wedding dress. ­Provost unearths this marginal figure to offer a poignant salute to a life on the fringes. This is a measured, soulful and tactile work; a film with gouache beneath its fingernails. Like Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh drama, it suggests that outsider art may be as much a symptom of disorder as a release from it. In Séraphine's case, it is a private, personal enterprise, fitted in around the day-to-day drudgery and largely played out behind closed doors. Drag the art into the spotlight and the artist combusts.
 One of the "Sacred Heart" painters, Séraphine did not get to enjoy her success because of her mental illness. One has a sense from the film that she was a sort of victim soul. Nevertheless, throughout the film it is shown how in her poverty she experiences a joy in living that all the normal people cannot comprehend. It is Séraphine's ecstasy that mesmerizes the art dealer, Wilhelm Uhde. Film Journal International describes the artistry of the film thus:
Séraphine is the story of a little-known Primitivist painter, Séraphine de Senlis, who died in 1942 in her native France. French filmmaker Martin Provost began researching her life after a friend told him about the artist, and it wasn’t long before Séraphine’s indomitable personality captivated the writer-director. In his narrative film, driven not by his character’s motivations or actions but by her spiritual life, Provost seems to draw on the Transcendentalist cinematic tradition, especially the films of fellow Frenchman Robert Bresson.

Séraphine spoke to her guardian angel, and was guided in all things by her abiding faith in God. She may have been haunted by delusions—she died in an asylum—but Provost sees her as someone with a boundless inner life. To picture it, he left his mise-en-scène uncluttered, as though he were making space for that other world which is Séraphine’s alone. He also keeps the camera static, so that people, objects and sounds can permeate the frame and hint at realities outside our field of view and, by extension, outside our usual psychological understanding of the world....

Séraphine begins in the small village of Senlis, just before the arrival of the German author and art critic Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), an early collector of Braque and Picasso. (The latter painted a cubist portrait of him in 1910.) It was during Uhde’s pre-World War I stay in Senlis that he discovered Séraphine (Yolande Moreau). She was his cleaning lady. By most standards, Séraphine, with little formal education, lived a marginal existence, but the richness of her spiritual life, her real life, is discovered by Uhde at a dinner party when he spies a small painting of hers discarded by his hostess. Uhde, who had already identified Primitivist painters as a distinct group, perceived in Séraphine’s modest painting on wood the same qualities he saw in Rousseau, another artist whose work he wrote about and later exhibited.

Séraphine is propelled by the singular spirit of artistic creation, which its eponymous character inhabited as naturally as she did her cleaning lady’s apron. Every frame of the film, and every frame within a frame—a doorway, a window, the ornate splat of a bistro chair—portends containment. Then, through the splat of the chair or through the window of Uhde’s apartment, we spy grass, and beyond that a pastoral landscape. A long shot of a splendid hilltop tree is accompanied by the sound of wind suddenly sweeping through it from somewhere beyond the frame; we hear the wind just before we see its effect on the tree, as Séraphine does when she trods into the frame and looks up to hear the rustling leaves. In that contrast between constraint and openness, Provost represents the mix of discipline and freedom that is the essence of a creative life.
The relationship between Uhde and Séraphine is portrayed as a rare spiritual friendship, a genuine meeting of minds and souls. What is so amazing about the film is that the heroine is anything but a beauty and yet the magnificence of her soul illumines her face so that she becomes one of the most captivating protagonists in the history of cinema. The film celebrates the same power of the spiritual realm over the material, and the triumph of faith amid darkness and the devastation of a broken mind.

Séraphine de Senlis

Reading Charles Dickens

 Linda of Under the Gables has some helpful insights for reading Dickens to children.
Reading Dickens takes us into a different world, and there is nothing wrong with that. Although the torments of poverty, especially for children, are depicted starkly and that may not be our experience, children in such straits are not far away, even in America. Although the Victorian morality may differ from today's standards, it is a morality that is recognizable to almost anyone. In short, there is nothing so vastly different in Dickens' world from ours that makes any of Dickens' world irrelevant.

Within this world, we get a glimpse of just about everything--we see extraordinary goodness and kindness, we see eccentricity, we see hilarity, we see evil, and all shades in between. We see this in great detail. It is not just that Dickens paints an unforgettable character. Like a great painter or a great actor, he reports the character's gestures--the tip of the head, the pause before entering the door, the scratching of the nose, the deep bow--all at the service to the moment at hand. Sometimes the narration is so nuanced, we feel that if we stretched our hand from the pages of the book, we might bump right into a character!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jacobite Spy Wars

I loved reading Jacobite Spy Wars by Hugh Douglas, a copy of which I came upon while vacationing in  the enchanted village of Lewes, DE last autumn. It made me enthusiastic to continue my research on Bonnie Prince Charlie, an enthusiasm which wanes and waxes according to the vicissitudes of life rather than lack of interest in the subject. Bonnie Prince Charlie, or Prince Charles Edward Stuart, is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and frustrating royal personages in British history. He had the finest traits of the Stuart clan as well as all the lamentable ones. Charles possessed courage, wit, charm, an ability to inspire unwavering devotion, all of which had been passed through his family from Mary Stuart. He was likewise impulsive, imprudent, prone to tantrums, a womanizer and a severe alcoholic, which reminds us that the Stuarts were also descended from Henry Lord Darnley.

Jacobite Spy Wars is an utterly fascinating read especially if you like spy stories. According to the author:
Spying in the 18th century was motivated by money rather than political conviction. Under Sir Robert Walpole during the 1720s the post was able to intercept practically every letter arriving from Europe. His "secret man" who ran this operation was so skilled that his staff could open a letter, read it, reseal it, and pass it on without the recipient realising it had been tampered with.

Over the Jacobite century the Hanoverian government gathered together a colourful portfolio of spies and double agents. They may not have had an 007, but Agent 101, a Frenchman named Francois de Bussy, blew apart France's planned invasion in 1744 when he handed over every detail of the operation, and it was called off. Its failure led to the angry young Bonnie Prince Charlie's sailing for Scotland - and the disaster of the '45 rising - the following year.

Dudley Bradstreet was many things before he turned to intelligence work - adventurer, pimp and card-sharper. His big chance came when Prince Charlie marched into England. Bradstreet was sent north, dressed as a gentleman, to insinuate himself into the Jacobites' war council at Derby, and there he sowed the seeds of a non-existent army marching towards them, which proved a key factor in persuading the rebels to return to Scotland.

Money drove young Alasdair Macdonnell of Glengarry to act as a double agent and betray the last serious attempt to overthrow King George II. Glengarry, who signed himself "Pickle the Spy", caused much more harm to Prince Charlie's cause than wrecking the Elibank Plot to capture the Hanoverian royal family: he lost the Prince much of his following by casting the blame on someone else.

Charles had just brought Clementine Walkinshaw to live with him as his mistress, and, by sheer bad luck, she had a sister who was on the staff of the dowager Princess of Wales in London. As a result every Jacobite was convinced that Clementine was the "mole" who leaked the Elibank secrets to London. They demanded that Charles should get rid of her, but he refused, and followers began to desert the cause in droves.
Douglas' book focuses on the intrigues of the various spies throughout the on-going debacle of Charles' attempt to reclaim the throne of his fathers. Charles himself was a master of disguise and participated in the game of espionage with alacrity, sometimes to his peril. He had, at least, the gift of disappearing so that at times his enemies had no idea where in Europe he was.The tragedy was that the spy game backfired when false information was passed on by Charles' enemies and believed. It led to some devastating setbacks, but only Charles and his behavior can be blamed for the total failure of his cause.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

1943: Progressive Evil

Fr. Rutler explores how the horrors of World War II were a product of the Enlightenment, saying:
February saw the English publication of the full text of the December 12, 1942, pastoral letter of the bishop of Berlin, Johann Konrad Maria Augustin Felix Graf von Preysing Lichtenegg-Moos. When the Nazis had first come into power, he said, "We have fallen into the hands of criminals and fools." Bishop von Preysing's Advent message was not an uncertain trumpet: "Every departure from right and justice will sooner or later be broken against these foundations of God's Dominion." The world's present miseries were the result of human contempt for natural and divine law: "Resistance to God's sovereign rule was a product largely of the eighteenth century -- the century which proclaimed the primacy of human intelligence, the individual as an autonomous being and as his own sole judge, and which declared that all right was to be derived from this intelligence independently of God's law." The state had imposed itself as the very incarnation of God, replacing justice and right with power and profit. There followed an obvious citation of Nietzsche:
A certain German philosopher who has been guiding the minds of a great many people, has exerted a harmful influence over the German nation by proclaiming that as far as specially endowed individual and highly gifted nations are concerned, there can be no good or evil, no right or wrong; and that these are dispensed from respecting any questions of right or morality; that it is their privilege to deprive weaker nations or peoples of lower cultural level than themselves, or races which really or seemingly do not enjoy as any advantages, of every right.
The bishop's appeal was stark: "My dear Brethren: 'Repent,' and change your mode of thinking. This is my appeal to you." The bishop's assistant, Rev. Bernard Lichtenberg, died en route to Dachau. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1996.
(Via The Western Confucian) Share

Birth of Mary Queen of Scots

She was born on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Gareth Russell, our Protestant friend who is a very bad Protestant indeed, gives a detailed account of the birth of the most controversial of Scottish queens. Share

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

Lucy Pevensie: Aslan, will we ever meet with you in our world?
Aslan: You shall.
Lucy Pevensie: How?
Aslan: Because there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.
~from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
When I heard the above quotation today while watching The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I felt it was spoken not just to Lucy. I felt it was meant for all who have journeyed to Narnia through either the books or films, especially the books, and by doing so have inadvertently encountered Christ through the person of Aslan. There were many basic lessons I learned about faith and prayer by reading the books of C.S. Lewis that have stayed with me my entire life, particularly in Dawn Treader. The "conversion" of Eustace Scrubb always impacted me, as did the island where dreams come true, and the deadly island with the pool which turns everything to gold. Like any story of a voyage the voyage comes to represent the pilgrimage which is this present life. Sailing to the edge of the world beyond which lies Aslan's country is a goal we seem to share with the crew of the Dawn Treader.

Although I enjoyed the new film, I found myself wishing that they had been a little more faithful to the novel. I did not see the need for introducing new characters and new subplots to the story, such as the little stow-a-way girl and her father, when the original characters are strong enough to carry the plot. Particularly in a film where the central characters are incredibly well-portrayed by able young actors, any extraneous personages diminished the simple power of the odyssey.

I also did not see the need for the subplot of the seven swords. The goal of the quest had been to find what became of the seven lords and adding the lost swords was just a distraction. Lucy's obsession with not being as beautiful as Susan seemed a little odd, especially when the actress who plays Susan is charming but not outstandingly beautiful, and Georgie Henley's Lucy is as cute as can be. However, because I enjoy seeing those particular actors in those particular roles it did not bother me overmuch; the performances were good even if some of the ideas were slightly off. Ben Barnes has really grown into the part of Caspian, chivalrous and kingly; I like Caspian much better in the movies than I do in the books.

The most entertaining part of the film is Will Poulter as Eustace Scrubb, the ultimate nuisance whom everyone hopes is going to fall off the side of the ship. Eustace's acute observations as recorded in his diary are as hilarious as in the book. I did not think I could EVER like him but by the end of the film I did. I can see young Mr. Poulter easily being the hero of the next installment.

The film was highly watchable for the sheer spectacle of it all, like the other Narnia films, and yet perhaps not as scary as Prince Caspian, and in that respect better for young children. The musical score and costumes were delightful as well. It is always a joy to visit Narnia, as long as I remember to bring what I learned there back with me into our own world. Share

The Battle for Narnia

What would C.S. Lewis say? According to the WSJ:
Walden Media, the film-production company responsible for the movie versions of Lewis's children books, "The Chronicles of Narnia," is therefore in the unenviable position of triangulating three distinct and not always compatible factors: what Lewis actually wrote; what American Christians would like to believe he wrote and what large numbers of filmgoers want to see onscreen.

The third and latest film, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," is said by producer Mark Johnson to reflect the company's renewed resolve to "reach out to the faith-based community." The first film, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," marketed with the assistance of the firm that promoted Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ," was a big hit in 2005.

The second, "Prince Caspian," underperformed at the box office. This may have been because the second book in the series (to go by order of publication), isn't nearly as well-known as the first, or perhaps it was because the film was released in May instead of at Christmastime. Or (you can almost hear the Monday-morning studio executives calculate) "Prince Caspian" might have fizzled because it consisted of not much more than one CGI battle scene after another, with little of the religious symbolism that infuses the death and resurrection of the lion god Aslan in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

"Dawn Treader" (the film) does point more emphatically to its religious subtext than "Prince Caspian" did. So, too, does the book. When Edmund Pevensie asks if Aslan exists in our world as well as in Narnia, the lion replies that he does, but "there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."
More HERE and HERE. Share

Templar Revivals

From Curated Secrets:
Your curators have noticed that habits, uniforms and ceremonial dress never go out of fashion. Have you come across the Militia Templi, a Templar revival that actually has ecclesiastical approval? Or perhaps the recently-founded Evangelii Praecones (Heralds of the Gospel), created in Brazil and also enjoying an official status with the Church? Above is a shot of lay members of the latter, in their cowls and cavalry boots.
In a different, yet similar vein are the much more ancient surviving European marksmen’s guilds, brotherhoods and militias — some dating back to the middle ages in Austria, Bavaria and the Low Countries. They are grouped together in a federation called EGS (European Community of Historic Guilds), with members of the Habsburg family as patrons.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Child's Winter in Vermont

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Ray Hendershot

An enchanting piece about long ago from Cooks Illustrated. Here is an excerpt:
Then December came, and it was a season of woolly mittens and Bean boots, of gut-strung snowshoes, of Flexible Flyers and Flying Saucers, of green-checked wool pants bedecked with baubles of ice that were plucked off like burrs in fall, hitching a ride as we strode past unawares. Out the back door, our father would place a jug of hard cider, the water freezing beneath a skim of high alcohol, just the thing before dinner, feet stretched toward the reddening black stove, his cheeks and spirits aglow.

And then Christmas descended, the giant tree dragged stump first through the porch door on Christmas Eve. The lights were untangled in quiet succession and tested, ornaments checked and rewired with new hangers, and then the last touch, the draping of icicles, at which point my sister and I broke free, turning Christmas Eve into a chaos of slapdash silvery confetti, the tree appearing to have caught a frontal wind of flotsam and jetsam, all sense of Christian order abandoned to pagan enthusiasms. And then day arrived, and the stockings were opened before breakfast: a bazaar of tiny balsa planes, red plastic ball-in-a-cup magic tricks, hand buzzers, red hots, finger puppets, tiny picture books, metal puzzle rings, flowers that blossomed in water and then, digging deeply into the heel and toe, a plastic compass, a small Davy Crockett pocketknife, and a black tin police car with a red rooftop light.

St. Swithun Wells

Author Stephanie Mann reports on the martyrdom if a Catholic layman under Queen Elizabeth I.
At his trial, he said he wished he could have attended that Mass and that was enough for the Elizabethan authorities! He was hung near his home, and he spoke to Richard Topcliffe before he died, hoping that this persecutor and torturer of Catholics would convert! He said, "I pray God make you a Paul of a Saul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church's children." St. Swithun as a school master had for a time conformed to the official church but then had returned to the Catholic faith.

BlogHer and Me

Here is a post about how I discovered the BlogHer Network and how it has positively impacted my online life. Share

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

John Ford's America

Here is an article about my all-time favorite director. To quote:
Ford's cinematic universe is built around a repertory of themes, notably family, community, justice, duty, tradition, self-sacrifice, and redemption. The director favors three archetypical narratives, with strong symbolic components: journeys of ascension toward home, or a promised land; journeys of descent from lost paradises, which can be regained through redemption; and isolated communities or individuals facing dangers of a physical or spiritual nature.

The filmmaker sets his characters in a moral universe where right and wrong, good and evil, have an objective existence. The tragic moment in a Ford film is the crisis of an individual conscience, the moment when a character takes stock of who he or she is, a moment that "allows them to define themselves," as Ford remarked. "It enables me to make individuals aware of each other by bringing them face-to-face with something bigger than themselves. The situation, the tragic moment, forces men to reveal themselves and to become aware of what they truly are. The device allows me to find the exceptional in the commonplace."
These moral epiphanies are always subtly staged, blended into the action. In The Prisoner of Shark Island, Dr. Mudd, unjustly condemned as a part of the Lincoln assassination plot, honors his medical vows and saves his jailers from the plague. Mary Stuart will face death rather than give up her Catholic faith in Mary of Scotland. In Stagecoach and Sergeant Rutledge, the outlaw Ringo Kid and the brave black soldier, charged with crimes they did not commit, choose to stay and help the Stagecoach passengers and fellow soldiers fend off Apache attacks. Ethan Edwards breaks away from a cycle of rage and revenge by not killing his "contaminated" young niece, brought up as a Comanche in The Searchers. A compassionate doctor forgoes a lucrative practice to help the poor in Arrowsmith. In The Fugitive, a fugitive priest returns to a dangerous country, and martyrdom, for the salvation of a soul.

Ford shows undisguised -- for some, overly sentimental -- affection for the poor, the dispossessed, and the humble, in other words, for those blessed by Christ in the "Sermon on the Mount": the Joad family of The Grapes of Wrath, thrown off their land during the great Depression; the Mexican peasants who keep the faith in spite of persecution in The Fugitive, a nod to the suffering of Catholics in communist countries; the Mormon pioneers in search of their promised land in Wagon Master; and the blacks and the prostitutes in the beautiful Christian allegory of The Sun Shines Bright.

Ford's particular fondness for sinners translates into the recurring characters of drunkards, fools, and Mary Magdalens endowed with Madonna-like purity: Doc Boone and Dallas, the drunken doctor and saloon girl of Stagecoach, expelled from town by the sanctimonious ladies of the law-and-order league; Maria Dolores, the fallen woman who helps the priest in The Fugitive; and the drunken but wise physicians of The Hurricane and My Darling Clementine.

The Pill and its Discontents

How the birth control pill has turned out to be more about social control than about genuine freedom, causing more women to deal with lifelong infertility. (Via Pentimento, who offers some commentary.) To quote New York Magazine:
The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late. It changed the narrative of women’s lives, so that it was much easier to put off having children until all the fun had been had (or financial pressures lessened). Until the past couple of decades, even most die-hard feminists were still married at 25 and pregnant by 28, so they never had to deal with fertility problems, since a tiny percentage of women experience problems conceiving before the age of 28. Now many New York women have shifted their attempts at conception back about ten years. And the experience of trying to get pregnant at that age amounts to a new stage in women’s lives, a kind of second adolescence. For many, this passage into childbearing—a Gail Sheehy–esque one, with its own secrets and rituals—is as fraught a time as the one before was carefree.

Suddenly, one anxiety—Am I pregnant?—is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant? The days of gobbling down the Pill and running out to CVS at 3 a.m. for a pregnancy test recede in the distance, replaced by a new set of obsessions. The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ban on Christmas

 Above is a missive in the hand of Oliver Cromwell complaining how his ban on Christmas was being defied by the citizens of London.  But what really disturbed him were the pictures of Charles I. To quote:
The Councell haveing received severall Informations that there was avery wilfull & strict observation of the day com[m]only called Christmasse day throughout the Cittyes of London & Westm[inster] by agenerall keeping of their shops shut up and that there were Contemptuous speeches used by some in favour thereof, which the Councell conceiveing to be upon the old grounds of superstition and malignancy and tending to the avowing of the same and Contempt of the present Lawes and governm[en]t have thought fit that the Parlam[en]t be moved to take the same into Consideration for such further provisions and penaltyes for the abolishing & punishing of those old superstitions observations and meeting w[i]th such malicious contradiction of offenders in that behalfe as their wisedomes shall iudge fit, They have likewise received informations of frequent resort unto and exerciseing of the idolatrous masse in severall places to the great dishono[u]r of Almightie God, notorious breach of the lawes and scandal of the governm[en]t wherein according to notice given they have already taken some Course and desire the parlam[en]t will be pleased to take that matter alsoe into their Consideration for further remedies & suppression of that Idolatrie in such way as to them shall seeme meet.That it be likewise reported to the Parl[amen]t that the Councell is informed that there are still remaining the Armes and pictures of the late King in severall Churches Halls, upon the Gates and in other publique places of the Citty of London.

That the parl[amen]t bee moved to appoint whom they shall thinke fitt to see the same armes & pictures taken downe and defaced and to give an Account of their executing the same w[i]thin such tyme as they shall thinke fit to allow for that purpose.

Making It through the Recession

Be resourceful. Look for bargains. Find out what your grandparents did during the Great Depression. Share

Monday, December 13, 2010

Death of Madame de Polignac

The lost grave of Marie-Antoinette's dearest friend. Share

The On-going Revolution

I keep finding out more about the bizarre attack on Prince Charles and Camilla. Who was responsible for such a major lapse in security? The Duchess of Cornwall was poked with a stick. More HERE. The British royals are not my favorite among royals (I prefer the Habsburgs) but I hate to see things like this happen.

And the chopping down of the Glastonbury tree really makes me sick. What is wrong with people? Oliver Cromwell tried to destroy the tree, too, but it grew back. Hopefully, the tree will grow again. (More HERE.)

(Via The Western Confucian) Share

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Turkish Style

 Artist Andrew Hopkins explores the style inspired by the Ottoman Empire.To quote:
The French Turkish style is not a accurate copy of Real Turkish Style but a Romanticized, whimsical version of Turkish objects often inspired by story's like A Thousand and One Nights. Most of the Turkish styled objects often featured whimsical turbaned figures of sultans or Nubian slaves or , camels, palm trees, cornucopias, arabesques, crossed crescents, pearls and jewel-like ornaments, Moorish arches , elaborate fringed draperies , and heavy garlands of rich fruits and flowers, their form and function remained essentially French and often mixed with French styles like the Louis XVI style. Having been made for the royal family or wealthy aristocrats, the objects were usually of the highest quality, and can be attributed to the best interior decorators artists and craftsmen of the 18th century. Other areas of the decorative arts reflected this vogue for 'turqueries'. Turkish figures were painted onto Sèvres porcelain and the Manufacture des Gobelins produced a tapestry known as "The Turkish Costume"based on a cartoon by Amédée Van Loo.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ribbon Rule

Lauren tells us how Marie-Antoinette kept people from cheating at her card table.
In an attempt to thwart cheating at her tables, Marie Antoinette placed a ribbon rule on her table.  Cheating players would often claim money they had in front of them had been placed for bet, if the cards happened in their favor.  To stop these cheating players from making such claims during the game, she had a ribbon tied around the table.  The only money that would count as a bet was that which was placed far inside this ribbon.  If the money sat outside the ribbon in front of a player it was not considered in game!
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Paris in Winter

My first trip to Paris was in the middle of winter, and so I was glad to see the post by Madame Delors, as well as an article in the Mail Online. To quote the Mail:
We peddle down the Champs Elysees and around the Place de la Concorde, where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed during the French Revolution, and, with a swing left, are on the Pont des Invaldides - and rewarded with a superb view of the Eiffel Tower bathed in wintry sunshine.

You never really need an excuse to be in Paris but we are here ostensibly because Paris is celebrating the life of one of its most famous sons, Claude Monet, father of the Impressionist movement. The exhibition at the Grand Palais is the most important Monet show for more than 30 years. The organisers have collected some 200 of his paintings from galleries around the world. They are hung along thematic and chronological lines, following a career spanning 60 years.
Thanks to Eurostar, getting to Paris could not be easier. But hurry. You’ve got until January 24th next year to catch Monet at his comprehensive best.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette Gallery

 I have created a new page as a gallery of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette with the help of Some pictures I have recently discovered, such as the one of Marie-Antoinette (below), looking through a crack in the wall of her prison so she can catch a glimpse of her son Charles with his tormentors. There will be a permanent link to the gallery on the left sidebar, and a link to the French museums and Versailles collections. It is a playground for any art historian!
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Marie Antoinette in the P...
Alfred W. Elmore
18x24 Gicl...

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The Last Morning of Marie-Antoinette
Louis Baader
18x24 Giclee Print

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The Beautiful Gate

From whom Life came forth. A meditation on the role of Our Lady. Share

Thursday, December 9, 2010

European Dress in Detail (1700-1915)

An exhibition in Los Angeles.
Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915 celebrates the museum's groundbreaking acquisition of a major collection of European men's, women's, and children's garments and accessories. The exhibition tells the story of fashion's aesthetic and technical development from the Age of Enlightenment to World War I. It examines sweeping changes in fashionable dress spanning a period of over two hundred years, and evolutions in luxurious textiles, exacting tailoring techniques, and lush trimmings. 
Highlights include an eighteenth-century man's vest intricately embroidered with powerful symbolic messages relevant to the French Revolution; an evening mantle with silk embroidery, glass beads, and ostrich feathers designed by French couturier Émile Pingat (active 1860-96); and spectacular three-piece suits and gowns worn at the royal courts of Europe.
 Also, at the same gallery are selections from the Resnick Collection:
While particularly famous for its important eighteenth-century French paintings—including works by François Boucher, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Jean-Honoré Fragonard—the Resnick collection also includes a variety of other European works by artists including Peter Paul Rubens, Francesco Guardi and Henri Lehman, as well as a rare religious composition by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

The exhibition also reflects the Resnicks' passion for sculpture, for example in works by Clodion, Jean-Antoine Houdon, and Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, among others.