Sunday, October 31, 2010

A New Egyptian Tomb

There is always something more to discover.
Archaeologists have unearthed a more than 4,000-year-old tomb of a pharaonic priest near the Giza pyramids, Egypt’s authorities announced on Monday.

Beautifully decorated, the burial site is located near the tombs of the pyramid-builders.
It belonged to Rudj-Ka, a priest who lived during the Fifth Dynasty (2465 - 2323 B.C.) and was responsible for the mortuary cult of the pharaoh Khafre, also known as Chephren.

The son of Khufu, or Cheops, the Fourth Dynasty king Khafre is best known as the owner of the second largest of the Giza Pyramids.

According to Zahi Hawass, general secretary of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Khafre’s pyramid complex and mortuary cult remained functioning well after the king’s death, thanks to a group of priests who conducted rituals and prayers in honor of the dead pharaoh.

Rudj-Ka was one of those priests. An important member of the ancient Egyptian court, he was provisioned through a royal endowment to serve as a purification priest.

Built from limestone blocks, which create a maze-like pathway to the main entrance, Rudj-Ka's tomb is cut directly into a cliff face and boasts walls painted with beautiful scenes of daily life in ancient Egypt.

Happy Halloween!

A great article. I love Halloween. I wish people would get over their puritanical fears. To quote:
Some years ago Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. laid out a pretty convincing case that in spite of what we may have been told, Halloween never was a pagan holiday. It’s true the ancient Celts had a minor holiday on October 31st, but they had a minor holiday on the last day of every month.

There was nothing special about the last evening of October –certainly no widespread pagan or cultic observance- until Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day to November 1st – which made the previous evening a vigil feast: All Hallow’s Eve.

The macabre costumes we associate with Halloween don’t come from the ancient Celts at all, but from France, where the observance of All Souls day began as a practice of the monastery at Cluny and eventually spread to the rest of the Church.  The French observed the day with special masses and costumes.

Sometime during the late Medieval period, when survivors of the numerous outbreaks of the plague became fascinated by their own mortality and often portrayed ghostly skeletons in the “danse macabre,” the costumes began to reflect that interest.

Fr. Thompson takes the charming view that “Halloween” as we know it is uniquely American. He thinks it came about as a result of the mingling of the French Catholic observance of All Souls Day (from which we get the costumes and the ghosts and skeletons) and the English Protestant observance of Guy Fawkes’ day (from which trick-or- treating comes).

So one line of reasoning goes: Halloween is not pagan or satanic in origin, it’s just good fun, and an opportunity to bond with friends and neighbors.
 Here is some humor from John Zmirak:
Of course, there are practical issues in marking this most solemn and Catholic holiday. Some pious folk insist on dressing their children only as saints or angels. This works very well for girls up to the age of ten and boys too young to pronounce the word "lame." It's cute for parents to doll their children up as friars like St. Francis or nuns like St. Therese, but the kids know perfectly well they're being cheated: This holiday, the night before the Feast of All Saints, has always been our way of confronting the eerie, appalling fact of death -- the uncertainty of our individual fates, our powerlessness before the scythe that cuts down the just and unjust alike. We want -- we need -- to face these fears, to play on the brink of the abyss, to shudder in "haunted" houses and whistle by the graveyard. The next day, the actual feast day, we should go to Mass and honor the saints -- and maybe go to a graveyard, as they do in Catholic Louisiana, to clean up and decorate the place. But skipping the horror and jumping straight to the glory creates the same kind of empty feeling Shakespeare had, and tried to fill with Hamlet.

Now, I'm very much in agreement that two-year-old children should not be dressed as Satan. For one thing, it's a little bit too realistic. Indeed, the fallenness of children, which Augustine bemoaned in his Confessions, is so evident to everyone that garbing the little tykes in the robes of absolute evil seems to overstress the point. Nor do we wish to trivialize the serious, deadly purpose of our infernal enemy -- dragging each of us screaming to Hell. If you're feeling puckish, it's in much better taste to dress up your kids as Osama bin Laden, Annibale Bugnini, or some other of the Evil One's lesser minions. If you must dress your boys as saints, choose military martyrs, canonized crusaders, or patriarchs from the Old Testament. One suggestion I made as editor of the Feasts and Seasons section of Faith & Family magazine was this: Dress up your daughters as early Roman martyrs, like Agnes and Agatha, and your sons as the Roman soldiers, gladiators, and lions that sent them to heaven. Stock up on lots of fake blood for the girls' machine-washable tunics, and let the games begin! (Alas, this idea never saw print.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010


The flowers with an illustrious past are making a comeback. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Carnations can actually lay claim to a rather illustrious past. They were first mentioned in Greek literature some 2,000 years ago and the reviews were good. In fact, the name dianthus, coined by Greek botanist Theophrastus, is derived from the Greek words dios (divine) and anthos (flower).

Carnations showed up regularly in works of art and literature in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries; the frilly boutonniere-favorite was considered important enough to warrant a mention by Shakespeare ("Love's Labour's Lost") and a depiction by da Vinci ("Madonna With the Carnation," 1475, currently hanging in a German museum). And according to John Hand, curator of northern Renaissance painting at the National Gallery, carnations were often used in the 15th and 16th centuries. "The woman holds a carnation—most often red—as a symbol of engagement," he said, citing the painting of Margaretha Boghe, painted by Joos van Cleve in the 16th century.

Carnations also featured largely in prized textiles loomed by 17th-century Ottoman Turks (they favored tulips as well) and in Turkish Iznik pottery, which flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. Then the flowers seemed to have largely disappeared from view, not just artistically but socially, too.

But lately there is a renewed flowering in the flower: the carnation has found fans among the famous and fashionable, including Oscar de la Renta, Martha Stewart and Sarah Jessica Parker (who was photographed wearing a red carnation last year) and Carolina Irving, the former Vogue style editor turned textile designer who loves "everything to do with carnations." Ms. Irving confesses to wearing carnation-scented perfume from Frederic Malle and even uses carnation-scented soap (Santa Maria Novella), too.

Thomas Jefferson and Food

How his chef James Hemings made the most wonderful macaroni and cheese. To quote:
Though disgusted by the excess of Parisian society, Jefferson couldn't help but be drawn to its art, architecture, music, food and wine. A man of contradictions (he was adamantly against slavery yet never freed his 200 slaves), Jefferson socialized with the bourgeoisie and aristocracy, and was known to host lavish dinner parties in his Parisian apartment on the Champs Elysees (Bordeaux was his wine of choice). He employed four French chefs and had his slave, James Hemings, learn the art of French cooking. His favorite recipes were recorded in his own hand -- one of these recipes is of macaroni, then a term for pasta.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New Biography on Cleopatra

The queen who brought down two worlds. In the words of author Stacy Schiff:
How is it possible that Cleopatra continues to enchant, 2,000 years after her sensational death? It helps that, with her suicide in 30 B.C., she brought down two worlds; with her went both the 400-year-old Roman Republic and the Hellenistic age. Egypt would not recover its autonomy until the 20th century.
Shakespeare and G.B. Shaw lent a hand in her immortality, of course, as did Cleopatra's eloquent Roman critics. She endures for reasons beyond the fame and talent of her chroniclers, however; the issues that she raised continue to fluster and fascinate. Nothing enthralls us so much as excessive good fortune and devastating catastrophe.


Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes was the lawyer who defended Louis XVI.
Chrétien-Guillaume was the 18th century French lawyer who accepted the noble if risky and unrewarding job of defending Louis XVI, the French king to end all French kings. He did his defending, with a lot of courage and some class, before a revolutionary tribunal that believed in giving the guilty a fair trial before sending them to the guillotine.

His client, the ex-king, and the client's missus, Marie-Antoinette, predictably lost their case, and subsequently lost their heads. Unlike today's lawyers, who pocket their remittance whatever the outcome, Malesherbes shortly afterwards followed his illustrious if unlucky clients up the steps of the killing machine, where he lost his own head.

Malesherbes stumbled on climbing into the wagon that was to transport him to the place of execution. He wryly observed that, under similar circumstances, a Roman senator would decide that the day was ill-omened and would return home. Malesherbes wasn't given the choice. He was guillotined on April 22, 1794.

He has since had a boulevard named after him here in Paris. Now, some people feel his name on the street plaques should be followed by the qualification "Defender of Louis XVI".

More HERE. Share

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taxing Visions

American portraits of hard times in the Palmer Museum of the Pennsylvania State University.
As America's economic might surged in the last half of the 19th century, culminating in the Gilded Age, a growing class of wealthy industrialists wanted fine art to furnish their grand homes. Elegant portraits, verdant landscapes, and lush still-lifes were popular, and such artists as John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Thomas Eakins obliged.

But Americans also suffered hardship during those years, weathering at least four financial panics—in 1857, 1869, 1873 and 1893. Some artists weighed in with works commenting on the recessions and the financial inequities they produced. "Taxing Visions: Financial Episodes in Late Nineteenth-Century American Art," which is on view through Dec. 19 at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University and then travels to the Huntington Library near Pasadena, Calif, showcases that strain of American art.
Fortunately, the exhibition itself is not depressing, for as the catalog notes, artists knew that their paintings could not be too "squalid," or they would not sell. Some, then, put a hopeful gloss on their works, while others injected humor and still others settled for straight reportage.

Congressman McFadden's 1933 Speech

On the Federal Reserve Corporation.
Quotations from several speeches made on the Floor of the House of Representatives by the Honorable Louis T. McFadden of Pennsylvania. Mr. McFadden, due to his having served as Chairman of the Banking and Currency Committee for more than 10 years, was the best posted man on these matters in America and was in a position to speak with authority of the vast ramifications of this gigantic private credit monopoly. As Representative of a State which was among the first to declare its freedom from foreign money tyrants it is fitting that Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty, be again given the credit for producing a son that was not afraid to hurl defiance in the face of the money-bund. Whereas Mr. McFadden was elected to the high office on both the Democratic and Republican tickets, there can be no accusation of partisanship lodged against him. Because these speeches are set out in full in the Congressional Record, they carry weight that no amount of condemnation on the part of private individuals could hope to carry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Decline of Creativity

In America. (Via Joshua Snyder)
These are new findings, and I am not aware of a research study specifically addressing this topic, so research is needed in the area. Kindergartners and first graders tend to be influenced more by home than school environments, so logically, home environments could be a strong factor. Possible explanations abound, and one may point a finger at the excessive time our children tend to spend in front of televisions and computers, watching programs, and playing videogames, rather than engaging in creative activities such as playing outside or exploring the outside world. Another ready explanation for decreasing creativity among upper-grade elementary school children is the lack of creativity development and the stifling of children’s creative opportunities in classrooms.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jane Austen was Human

Catherine Delors reports, saying:
So yes, Professor Kathryn Sutherland, of Oxford University, reveals that Jane revised her manuscripts, as evident on this image. Imagine that! Professor Sutherland further discloses that Jane’s publishers also edited her books for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Well, this is the case for most novelists, this one included. Some scenes in my own novels have been rewritten dozens of times, though only my laptop can bear witness to my travails. My publisher provided me with editors and copy editors, all of whom, as their titles indicate, edited my novels. I never believed I was alone in this situation, nor did it make me think that the style of my works was not mine.

Truth be told, I had always surmised that Jane Austen was human. I know some in Janeite circles consider her an intellectual Superwoman, gifted with a steel-trap memory, an encyclopedic knowledge of the science and literature of her time, a thorough understanding of the subtleties of Hebrew and other languages, to mention a few of her accomplishments. Far, far beyond what Darcy and Miss Bingley ever imagined….
Others, like James Collins in this Wall Street Journal piece, consider Austen a moral guide for the 21st century. Certainly Jane Austen makes us reflect about issues of morality, money and social conventions, but why should we assume that she, any more than any other novelist, strictly espoused the views, likes and dislikes of her protagonists? Jane wrote fiction, not sermons. Unlike Fanny Price, she enjoyed family theatricals, and, to my knowledge, no Austen family members eloped as a result thereof. What would Jane do? Probably get a good laugh at much of what is written about her nowadays. (Read More)

Eva Green as Marie-Antoinette?

Gareth Russell discusses the new film, saying:
I'm quite sceptical about the claim that Eva Green has been cast as Marie-Antoinette. Although, maybe they're dyeing her hair?

I could be completely wrong, but given her hair colour and physical appearance, it would make a lot more sense for her to have been cast as Gabrielle de Polignac, the queen's confidante, who, unlike Marie-Antoinette, does not exactly come out of Les Adieux à la reine smelling of roses. Beautiful but chilly in the novel, the dark-haired and exquisite Gabrielle would make far more sense as  a casting choice for Green. Plus, Gabrielle is one of the novel's major characters and its characterisation of her, whilst not necessarily as sympathetic as the one you would find in Elena Maria Vidal's Trianon or as fanciful as the one offered by Sofia Coppola's Marie-Antoinette, is certainly fascinating.
More HERE. (Enjoy Gareth's new blog!) Share

Monday, October 25, 2010

Restoration Style

Readers of Madame Royale may be interested to see some examples of bridal fashion from the Restoration.
In Journal des Dames (Costume Parisien) of 1820 we find the first reference to the use of orange blossoms as the flower of choice for the bride. The dress is white lace over satin, tied back with a wide sash that ends in a bow, and trimmed at the bottom with a satin rolleau. The gown has short puff sleeves and is worn with long white gloves. It's noteworthy that the veil is referred to as d'Angleterre -in the English style. We are tempted to draw the conclusion that the veil was popular in England before the fashion spread to France!

Le Salon de Musiques

In Los Angeles, there is an attempt to recreate the 18th century salon.
The main thrust of Le Salon de Musiques, though, is an attempt to create a throwback to the 18th century salons of Marie Antoinette, whom founder/co-artistic director François Chouchan cites as his muse. The performance is relatively brief, about an hour of music, followed by another hour or so of “La Conversation,” at which the musicians and audience members are encouraged to mingle, talk about what they just heard, and sample French champagne and various delicacies inevitably provided by the folks at Patina. There is no stage, per se, yet the room sounds pretty good -– just dry and intimate enough for chamber music, with an appealing warmth in the mid-bass range.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Margaret Tudor

Gareth Russell explores the tumultuous life of Henry VIII's elder sister Margaret, the princess and queen from whom all British royals after 1603 are descended. To quote:
The second child and eldest daughter of King Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York, Margaret was born at the Palace of Westminster in London during the final weekend of November 1489 and christened in honour of her paternal grandmother, the Countess of Derby. At the age of thirteen, she was placed into an arranged marriage with James IV, the thirty year-old King of Scots. Although she lacked the beauty of either her mother or her younger sister, the Queen of France, Margaret was still considered attractive and vivacious. As later events would show, she certainly had a taste for chosing her own mates - apparently something of a family trait in Henry VII's children.

Was Louis XVI Autistic?

The claim that Louis XVI may have had Asperger's Syndrome is based solely upon how he was portrayed in the Coppola film. I do not know enough about Asperger's to say. I think that Louis' shyness was due mostly to his upbringing and the events of his childhood rather than to a neurological problem. However, it is interesting to reflect upon. Share

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Girl in Pearls

Audrey...still magical after all these years.... To quote from The Lady:
Anyone who has watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s has seen the first line of his new tale emerge from Paul Varjak’s typewriter: ‘There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl…’ But the words meant for Holly Golightly could equally have done for the actress who was to play her. The 31-year-old star had spent her formative years during the war in the occupied Netherlands. In her later career there would be talk about how illogical it was to cast the elegant Hepburn as disadvantaged characters – Eliza Doolittle, Holly – but in fact she must have been one of the few Hollywood actresses of her generation who knew what it was like to go hungry.

‘I decided early on, just to accept life unconditionally,’ Audrey said. ‘I never expected it to do anything special for me, yet I seemed to accomplish far more than I had ever hoped. Most of the time it just happened to me without ever seeking it.’

Sorry, I'm late!

Is a certain text message becoming all too familiar? To quote:
Remember when we would make plans to meet someone and then actually show up on time? If you were more than a few minutes late, the other person would have visions of you lying on a gurney with a toe tag.

Now, thanks to cellphones, BlackBerrys and other gadgets, too many of us have become blasé about being late. We have so many ways to relay a message that we're going to be tardy that we no longer feel guilty about it.

And lateness is contagious. Once one person is tardy, others feel they can be late as well. It becomes beneficial to be the last one in a group to show up, because your wait will be the shortest.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A New Novel about Louis XVII

There is a new novel which deals with the dauphin Louis-Charles and his sufferings in the Temple. According to author Jennifer Donnelly:
I knew, as most people do, that during the French Revolution Louis and Marie Antoinette were imprisoned and eventually guillotined by the revolutionaries. What I didn’t know, was that after the king and queen were executed, their children were kept in prison. Marie-Therese would survive her imprisonment and would be released in 1795. Eight-year-old Louis-Charles was not so lucky.

As heir to the throne, he was seen as a threat by the revolutionaries. It was rumored that powerful people were plotting to free the child and rule in his name. To prevent this, Robespierre and his crew essentially had Louis Charles walled up alive. He was kept in a small dark cold cell. Alone. Without enough food or a fire. He became sick. And he went mad. And eventually he died. At the age of ten.

Needless to say, this article really upset me. I couldn’t stop wondering how the idealism of the revolution devolved into such cruelty. I went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it. I recognized the feeling – it’s how I feel when a book is starting inside me. But I couldn’t act on that feeling because I had other books due at the time. Nonetheless, the story stayed with me. Time moved on. I finished the other books. And I had a child. Which changed my life in many wonderful ways.

In one not so wonderful way, I somehow lost my protective shell. The one that enables us to hear a horrible story on the news and still go on with our lives. When my daughter came along, suddenly every news story about an abused child destroyed me. As a new mother, I knew what a child was in a way that I had not before. I knew how fragile and innocent children are. And that someone could hurt them, that they could starve in a famine, or be injured by a bomb….well, I could not understand that and I couldn’t bear it and I wondered, as I never had before, what kind of world is this that allows it? And how do we live in it?

These questions were haunting me and I had to find answers. So I set about trying to do that the only way I know how, by writing a story. I remembered that article I’d cut out of the Times. That small heart in its glass urn took on a new and symbolic meaning for me. What happened to Louis Charles was unspeakable, and yet, I felt that if I could face it and grapple with it, it might help me find my answers.
More about Louis-Charles and his ordeal, HERE.


Are we truly sincere?
Odds are your mother taught you that it's important to apologize if you've done something wrong—and to graciously accept an apology when one is offered. The act of making amends is crucial to maintaining harmony in both our personal relationships and the world at large.

Apologies are so important that many hospitals train their staffs to say they are sorry to patients and their families following a medical mistake because they've found it deters malpractice lawsuits. Economists have shown that companies offering a mea culpa to disgruntled customers fare better than ones offering financial compensation.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cardinal Allen

Author Stephanie Mann discusses the exiled English prelate who was responsible for the solid formation of Catholic priests abroad as well as one of the first English translations of the Bible. Share


Artist Ingrid Mida talks about the days when the sight of a woman's ankle was considered alluring. Share

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Film about Marie-Antoinette

A new film is in the works, based upon the novel Farewell My Queen by Chantal Thomas. Eva Green will star as Marie-Antoinette. Share

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Birth of James II

Author Stephanie Mann reflects.
The line, "But in general political morality he was not below his age, and in his advocacy of toleration decidedly above it" does give James the credit he deserves although it does not go far enough. James did not just advocate toleration or tolerance; his Declaration of Indulgence addresses freedom of conscience for his subjects.
Also, as I have alluded to Edward Corps' The Court in Exile before, he seems to have repented both for the moral harm he did in being unfaithful to both his wives and for the political errors he made in ruling while he lived in France at St. Germain-en-Laye. James became prayerful and devout, and more sincerely lived up to his religious beliefs.

Merchants of Death

A 1934 study of the armaments industry. Share

Monday, October 18, 2010


The following is a glowing review of Trianon from the Martina of She Read A Book:
For me, reading Trianon was like the Heavens opening up and hearing the angels sing.  It’s the ‘be all and end all’ of all things Antoinette.  It was so refreshing to finally read a book that pushed away all the garbage (The Fersen affair, cake, etc…) and just focused on the woman.  The book highlights the important events in the lives of the King and Queen, the circumstances that made them who they were and leaves out the myths and gossip.

I have adored MA for as long as I can remember and E.M. Vidal really brings out all that was good about her, all the things I love about her and have always loved since before I even knew how her story ended.  I’ve also always been a fan of Louis XVI.  I’ve hated the way he’s been portrayed in some books and movies, but not so with Trianon.  He was noble and kind and exactly how I imagine the French king would have been.
Anyone who adores Marie Antoinette as I do, needs to read this book.  Elena Maria Vidal transports you to Versailles and into the inner circle of the people there.  She writes beautifully of love, family, friendship and heart wrenching tragedy.  I can’t think of anyone who writes about France/the Revolution/Reign of Terror/Marie and Louis better than her.  The research must have been exhausting, but it shows in the smartness of the book.

While the book pulls you in and leaves you unable to put it down, it wasn’t always easy to read.  At times it left me in tears, my heart broken.  Historical fiction just doesn’t quite fit.  It’s like a perfectly written history book.

The Trauma of Long-Term Unemployment

Many Americans are living a most difficult journey. To quote Andy Kroll:
So who are these unfortunate or unlucky people? Long-term unemployment, research shows, doesn't discriminate: no age, race, ethnicity, or educational level is immune. According to federal data, however, the hardest hit when it comes to long-term unemployment are older workers -- middle aged and beyond, folks like Rick Rembold who can see retirement on the horizon but planned on another decade or more of work. Given the increasing claims of age discrimination in this recession, older Americans suffering longer bouts of joblessness may not in itself be so surprising. That education seemingly works against anyone in this older cohort is. Nearly half of the long-term unemployed who are 45 or older have "some college," a bachelor's degree, or more. By contrast, those with no education at all make up just 15% of this older category. In other words, if you're older and well educated, the outlook is truly grim.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lady Esclarmonde

Here is a character sketch from Shredded Cheddar about the villainess in The Night's Dark Shade. To quote:
Lady Esclarmonde is not a villain merely because she is religious or even fanatical. She is a villain because her Cathar teachings are a menace, and because her position as chatelaine means that the menace is spread as far and wide as the political influence associated with her castle. After she declares marriage an abomination, because it regularises the abhorred sexual act, her husband turns to a mistress and the villagers feel free to take advantage of those they would never get to marry, like their own nieces or young cousins. After she says it is evil to beget children, because it means the trapping of souls in mortal flesh, the villagers feel justified in procuring abortions. And after she goes about administering the consolamentum to the sick, whose bodies she has no interest in healing, they end up starving to an agonizing death.

Under her leadership, the Chateau de Mirambel turns from a source of protection and patronage to a font of confusion and suffering. She is a worthy villain for this rich Historical novel set in thirteenth-century France.
(Image) Share

The Metric System

America is the last holdout. Here is an article which claims that King Louis XVI was behind the metric system.
It was the last French monarch, Louis XVI, who led a convention of experts to develop what would become an international system of measurement based on the number 10.

And who ended with an 11th digit – his head – resting upon a revolutionary guillotine.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Hanging Girl

This is one of the most evil things I have ever seen. Share

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Blood of Louis XVI

Preserved in a gourd.
The gourd, presently valued at about 500,000 euro ($700,000), is emblazoned with key figures of the French Revolution and bears an inscription that reads, as translated from French into English by the researchers, “Maximilien Bourdaloue on January 21st, dipped his handkerchief in the blood of the king after his beheading.”

There was no handkerchief in the gourd when the scientific team received it, but there was plenty of dried blood inside to scrape out five small samples. Two laboratories performed three kinds of DNA analysis: One probed the Y chromosome (inherited from the father), another scrutinized the HERC2 gene (associated with blue eyes) and the last examined the DNA in mitochondria (the powerhouses of cells, which are inherited from the mother).

The tests showed the blood belonged to a blue-eyed man with a rare genetic makeup and not to an animal, nor to anyone in the laboratories, nor the gourd-owning family nor or any one of tens of thousands of people in genetic databases. Pettener added that the blood is also “quite old,” making a forgery more unlikely.
More HERE.

Here is a quote from the novel Trianon:
Then cries of “Long live the Republic!” were heard. People rushed forward, dipping handkerchiefs into the blood of Louis XVI. The Abbé, dazed, did not know how he climbed off the scaffold. He could only notice that some of the blood from the severed head had splashed upon his clothes. Meanwhile, Sanson was selling locks of the King’s hair, pieces of his jacket, his buttons, his hat. Someone began to play the Marseillaise, and people joined hands, dancing and cavorting around the guillotine, “like the prophets of Baal,” thought the Abbé. A cold mist had descended upon Paris at the moment of the King’s death, but above, and beyond it, was the sun. ~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal

Women Soldiers

 American women are dying in Afghanistan. According to author Genevieve Kineke:
Men in their units have died along side of them on patrol, proving that they've crossed the line on a regular basis. It's a clever strategy that is meant to prove that women can handle combat stress, respond accordingly and push policy makers back home to lift the restrictions. The larger fallout, many worry, is that if the draft is ever imposed in the future, it will include both men and women.

I've written about this numerous time, each time dealing with data that trickles in beneath the radar, painting a conflicting picture about current policies. Kingsley Browne and Stephanie Gutmann have written compellingly about the problem, including the fraternisation and pregnancy rates that are causing grave problems in the field.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Requiem à la mémoire de Louis XVI

By Luigi Cherubini. Share

How Handwriting Trains the Brain

What a shame many children are no longer taught cursive.
Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a "spaceship," actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called "functional" MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters.

"It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time," says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

Adults may benefit similarly when learning a new graphically different language, such as Mandarin, or symbol systems for mathematics, music and chemistry, Dr. James says. For instance, in a 2008 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, adults were asked to distinguish between new characters and a mirror image of them after producing the characters using pen-and-paper writing and a computer keyboard. The result: For those writing by hand, there was stronger and longer-lasting recognition of the characters' proper orientation, suggesting that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of graphic shapes.

Other research highlights the hand's unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.

And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Louis XIV's Words to Louis XV

From Madame Delors:
Sweetheart, you are going to be a great King, but all of your happiness will depend on your submission to God and the care you will have of your people. For that, you must to the best of your abilities avoid waging war: it is the ruin of the people. Do not follow the poor example I set for you in this regard; I often commenced war too lightly and continued it out of vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful ruler, and let your main concern be the relief of your subjects’ sufferings.

Making Decisions

Why some people can't seem to make them.
Researchers can't say for sure why some people tend towards greater ambivalence. Certain personality traits play a role—people with a strong need to reach a conclusion in a given situation tend to black-and-white thinking, while ambivalent people tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty. Individuals who are raised in environments where their parents are ambivalent or unstable may grow to experience anxiety and ambivalence in future relationships, according to some developmental psychologists.

Culture may also play a role. In western cultures, simultaneously seeing both good and bad "violates our world view, our need to put things in boxes," says Dr. Larsen. But in eastern philosophies, it may be less problematic because there is a recognition of dualism, that something can be one thing as well as another.
One of the most widely studied aspects of ambivalence is how it affects thinking. Because of their strongly positive or strongly negative views, black-and-white thinkers tend to be quicker at making decisions than highly ambivalent people. But if they get mired in one point of view and can't see others, black-and-white thinking may prompt conflict with others or unhealthy thoughts or behaviors.

People with clinical depression, for instance, often get mired in a negative view of the world. They may interpret a neutral action like a friend not waving to them as meaning that their friend is mad at them, and have trouble thinking about alternative explanations.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Marie-Antoinette's Journey of Faith

I have always felt that Maxime de la Rocheterie's description of Marie-Antoinette is one of the best:
She was not a guilty woman, neither was she a saint; she was an upright, charming woman, a little frivolous, somewhat impulsive, but always pure; she was a queen, at times ardent in her fancies for her favourites and thoughtless in her policy, but proud and full of energy; a thorough woman in her winsome ways and tenderness of heart, until she became a martyr. (The Life of Marie-Antoinette by M. de la Rocheterie, 1893)
Marie-Antoinette spent the first fourteen years of her life in Austria, worshiping in Rococo churches and listening to the music of Haydn and the Italian composers. Architecture and music in that time and place celebrated the glory of God in the beauty of His creation. As Queen, her desire to promote beauty around her, especially in the lives of those whom she loved, was an outgrowth of the culture in which she was raised. She loved theater, acting, opera, ballet, painting, gardens and everything that enhanced the loveliness of the natural order. Hers was a piety that was loving, gentle and courteous, but real and unflinching nevertheless. Antoinette's approach to faith was joyful and non-judgmental, free from the rigorist approach of Jansenism that so tainted a great deal of French piety in the years preceding the Revolution. Nevertheless, even as a young bride, she had the moral courage to defy the king in regard to Madame du Barry.

Antoinette was the fifteenth child in a family of sixteen. It is known that the young Archduchess Antonia was not an outstandingly pious child, but she was carefully taught her faith. Her mother, Empress Maria Teresa of Austria was a deeply observant Roman Catholic, who prayed novenas with her children and took them on pilgrimages. She instilled in her daughters the importance of being faithful wives and staying at their husbands' sides, no matter what.

The Empress also taught young Antoinette how to play cards before sending her to France, knowing that at the French court just like the Austrian court, gambling was rife and if a princess did not know the ropes she would lose all her money. Antoinette's mother's devotion to God did not blind her to the realities of life as a royal for which she tried to prepare her daughter, although many say that Antoinette's youth and naïveté made the task difficult. Unfortunately, the teenage Antoinette became addicted to gambling, a passion that she later overcame with her husband's help.

When I look back at my own youth I cannot be too hard on the imprudences of Antoinette as a girl. Whatever mistakes she made, she later paid for, bitterly. Her faith was practical and manifested itself in her extensive charities, including a home for unwed mothers. While her generosity to the poor is famous, it is not as widely known that she was a patroness of the Carmelite order, and visited the monastery where her husband's aunt was a nun, once a year. She made many personal sacrifices on behalf of the poor and encouraged her children to do so. She assisted at daily Mass, confessing and receiving Holy Communion on a regular basis,and lived, to all appearances, as a Roman Catholic in good standing.

After the death of her mother and loss of two of her children in the 1780's, Antoinette became more noticeably devout, growing closer to her pious sister-in-law, Madame Elisabeth of France. While under house arrest at the Tuileries palace, the two connived at getting non-juring priests, (i.e., those who were faithful to the Pope), into the chateau for secret Masses and confessions. It is supposedly the time when a few historians claim she had a romantic rendez-vous with Count Axel von Fersen. I think not. The atmosphere at the Tuileries was more like the catacombs than Dangerous Liaisons.

Before her death, when her children had been taken from her, her little son abused and her husband slain, the queen again sought prayer, the sacraments of the Church, and affirmed in writing her loyalty to the "Catholic, Roman and Apostolic religion." The priest who received her last confession in the Conciergerie later publicly affirmed these facts.

The more I continue to discover about Antoinette, for history is a gradual voyage of discovery, I do not regret having painted her as I did in Trianon. If I could write it again, there is more that I would wish to add about her goodness, courage, nobility, love for God and the people of France. My fear is that perhaps I did not do justice to a very great but much maligned Queen. As historian John Wilson Croker expressed it:
We have followed the history of Marie Antoinette with the greatest diligence and scrupulosity. We have lived in those times. We have talked with some of her friends and some of her enemies; we have read, certainly not all, but hundreds of the libels written against her; and we have, in short, examined her life with-- if we may be allowed to say so of ourselves-- something of the accuracy of contemporaries, the diligence of inquirers, and the impartiality of historians, all combined; and we feel it our duty to declare, in as a solemn a manner as literature admits of, our well-matured opinion that every reproach against the morals of the queen was a gross calumny-- that she was, as we have said, one of the purest of human beings. (History of the Guillotine by John Wilson Croker, 1844)


Princess Mary Tudor and the King of France

Author Gareth Russell describes the short but eventful marriage.
Commenting on the young princess's arrival, His Grace the Bishop of Asti, then the Ambassador of the Republic of Venice to France, commented: -
"I promise you that she is very handsome, and of sufficiently tall stature (de statura honestamente granda). She appears to me rather pale, though this [I] believe proceeds from the tossing of the sea and from her fright. She does not seem a whit more than 16 years old, and looks very well in the French costume. She is extremely courteous and well mannered, and has come in very sumptuous array…"
More HERE. Share

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Last Station (2009)

 Leo Tolstoy: Despite good cause for it, I have never stopped loving you.
Sofya Tolstaya
: Of course.
Leo Tolstoy
: But God knows you don't make it easy!
Sofya Tolstaya
: Why should it be easy? I am the work of your life, you are the work of mine. That's what love is!
~The Last Station (2009)
The Last Station is a film of power and beauty, with a score which captures the approach of death as well as the vibrancy of the passion and springtime. It is a film about a great love, a love which, as in The Lion in Winter, is torn apart by the pride of the lovers. It is the story of Eden retold, of Paradise lost, in which Adam takes the fruit from Eve and then blames her for his weakness.

Anyone who enjoys films about Russia (especially Russia before the Communists wrecked it) should add The Last Station to their movie queue. Not only is it about the end of a life and the end of a marriage; it is about the end of an era. Leo Tolstoy, one the the greatest novelists not only of his day but of all time, finds himself in a situation where he is caught between two loves: his wife and his cult of adoring followers. His followers, the "Tolstoyans," not only cater to his vanity, which his wife refuses to do, but he almost seems to use them as a means by which to annoy Sofya and keep her in her place. Sofya, on the other hand, is determined outwit the chief Tolstyan, Chertkov. Chertkov schemes to inherit the royalties of Tolstoy's work. He also wants to keep Tolstoy from being received back into the Church on his death bed. Sofya sees Chertov as pure evil and will stop at nothing to break his hold on her husband.

As described in Moving Pictures:
Everything I know I know only because I love.

"The Last Station" opens with this line from "War and Peace," and indeed this dramatization of Leo Tolstoy's last few years is a love story. Two love stories, actually - one at the end of a turbulent 48-year marriage, the other at the virginal beginning. These relationships, and the characters in them, are passionate and joyful, respectively, demonstrating the very best - and worst - love offers.

At the center of both romances is Tolstoy himself (Christopher Plummer, in his second, along with "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," eccentric role of the season). In the twilight of his life, the great author has eschewed the novel writing that made him famous for political tracts and correspondence extolling the virtues of poverty and chastity - despite his continued residence at a grand country estate and tumultuous relations with the mother of his 13 children. Less a hypocrite than a man struggling to resolve his ideology with his reality, Tolstoy is more interested in the lives and work of those who surround him than his tedious self.

Very interested in him, though, are Chertkov (Paul Giamatti, appropriately, mockingly skeevy), his trusted acolyte, and Sofya (Helen Mirren), his wife, who are engaged in a battle for the man's legacy and his very soul. Founder of the Tolstoyan movement, Chertkov is intent on convincing the great man to live out his ideals by leaving his life's work to the people of Russia. That would entail, though, a change in his will that would deprive Sofya and their children of what she considers their rightful inheritance.

Although blonde and diminutive where Sofya was dark-haired and rather large, Mirren ravishes the role. Throwing tantrums when she doesn't get her way, feigning illness to summon Leo home from a trip, sneaking onto his balcony to eavesdrop on his conversations, she's so passionate that she comes off as pathetic. Her desperation is embarrassing, and you just want to grab her by the shoulders and tell her to get it together. Chertkov's pot-stirring warnings about her selfish and manipulative behavior aren't without merit.

Yet, and this is where the mastery of Mirren's performance reveals itself, you can't help but feel for her. Just because she's paranoid doesn't mean her worst fears aren't true. All she wants is to love her husband, to be loved, and to "count" like she did when she and Leo worked together on "War and Peace" and she copied the whole of the work six times. Now her daughter Sasha (Anne-Marie Duff, McAvoy's real-life wife) has taken over her transcription duties and her role as confidant, and Sofya has become an irritation and a distraction. The celebrity couple of the time, Leofya live their private turmoil in the public eye, sniping at each other in front of dinner guests and the paparazzi who camp outside.
The Tolstoyan cult, which reminds me of the Cathars, are the heralds of the coming Revolution and the new order it will create. Religion is scorned, as is marriage. Although "celibacy" is preferred it seems that it is really an excuse for free love, and fleeing genuine commitment, even as Tolstoy uses his philosophy as a way to get out of being the husband of a mercurial woman. Sofya sees it all for what it is, "fake celibacy and made-up religion" and she heroically, if imperfectly, seeks to restore her husband to the Faith and to his place at her side. She grasps, and has long grasped, the mystery and meaning of holy matrimony, in which the union between a man and a woman is not a throw-away pleasure, but the forging of a lifelong bond. It is a bond she will keep until death and beyond.

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Ten Myths That We Learn in School

While the myth of "Let them eat cake" is not included, several others are. Share

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bishop Bossuet

The great Bishop Bossuet was one of the most brilliant orators of all time. (Via The Wilson Revolution Unplugged) More HERE. Share

Catholic School Textbook Project

A marvelous work in progress. I have had the privilege of previewing a chapter from the new history text book on the French Revolution and I must say that it is excellent. Here is an article by the late Rollin Lasseter, who was dedicated to restore the Catholic historical imagination. To quote:
“Restoring the Catholic Historical Imagination” -- my title for this paper -- is itself problematic. Why should anyone want to restore an imagination of history, that record of what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the long defeat”? At first glance, ancient history seems a recycled tale of building up and tearing down -- conquest, persecution, intrigue, and betrayal. Then, modern history -- often marked as beginning with the guillotine -- is defined by the death camps at Auschwitz, the darkness of Hiroshima, and the mass murder that is abortion and genocide. What is there in history, if anything, that we would want to pass along to our poor children? How do we, leading our children, get out of this cycle of death and domination? Is there a way out? Can we imagine any history with a happy ending? Or do we follow the pagan imagination, expecting loss, defeat, and death, and declare: “Call no man happy until he is dead.”

The problem for parents and teachers today is the current malformation of our own and our children’s imaginations. The imagination of our time is on a wide scale formed, or malformed, by some one else’s nightmare: movies, pornography, popular fiction, music, and ideology-driven TV. We see what we have been trained to see. We image what we have been taught to image. The modern imagination is an imagining of despair and increasingly, as a people, we cannot imagine a happy ending.

We have to be able to imagine Heaven, if we are to believe what Our Lord promised: “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.” From the Old Testament we hear the promise of the Deuteronomist’s words, “And underneath are the everlasting arms.” From the Gospels come assurances spoken by Our Lord himself, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”; and “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

The Catholic imagination has a great tradition of images to defeat the nightmares of despair. And the telling of history from a Catholic point of view is to see that human beings are, first and foremost, religious creatures who are given, what we call in our Catholic Schools Textbook Project textbooks, opportunities in time for choosing “grace-filled” change, providential evolution, if you will. One perception builds on another. One discovery makes way for another. Each inspiration leads to a purer understanding of mankind’s destiny: begun, continued and ended in God. Catholics are preeminently the people for whom history matters.

The Catholic imagination is not a closed, political view of a social utopia with a “preferential option for the poor,” -- though a free and just society is what we imagine as a Christian society. Nor is it defined by bitter polemics of Catholic isolation in America -- although a bit of Catholic triumphalism is not unbecoming. Nor is it that meager view represented by collections of overly pious saints-lives and sweet devotions -- though they may have grown out of the Catholic imagination.

The Catholic imagination is the good, the true and the beautiful -- vast and deep -- a world view that rests on two certainties: Man, as the Crown of Creation, and God, as the ever-present source of our life and hope -- the natural and the supernatural. A Catholic imagination sees all events of human life as participating in the Divine plan for Creation, the providential story being told by God. (Read more.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sleep Tight

A history of ordinary life.
When parents kiss their children good night and say, "Sleep tight," it's a fair bet that neither party realizes that the phrase originated in the era of straw-stuffed mattresses. Before the invention of spring mattresses in 1865, bedding would have been suspended by rope lattices that, when they sagged, could be tightened with a key. This is the sort of historical oddity in which Bill Bryson delights, and "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" is stuffed with them.

Did you know, for instance, that the 19th-century vogue for brass beds grew not from anyone's fondness for the metal but from the way a smooth, hard surface discourages climbing vermin?
....Mr. Bryson discovered—and, in these pages, he clearly enjoys relating—that many commonplace objects have fascinating pedigrees. "The history of household life isn't just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be," he explains, "but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything else that has ever happened. Houses aren't refuges from history. They are where history ends up."
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The Age of E-Books

Are authors feeling the pinch? (Not this author~ as far as I am concerned e-books are the best thing since sliced bread.)
It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers.

Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

"Advances are down, and there aren't as many debuts as before," says Ira Silverberg, a well-known literary agent. "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption." (Read more.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Louis XIV and His Heirs

All the heirs represented here died before Louis did. According to author Catherine Delors:
At the center of painting, we have the third generation of the Bourbons, represented by the seated Sun King himself, clearly the focal point of the scene. He is 72 years old, obviously still hale and hearty.

The portly man in a blue suit standing behind him and leaning on the chair, is his only legitimate son, the Grand Dauphin, the 4th generation. Louis XIV had many illegitimate sons, but those were not eligible to succeed to the throne.

To the right, the young man in red is the Duc de Bourgogne, elder son of the Grand Dauphin, and grandson of Louis XIV (5th generation.)

And the handsome toddler guided en lisière by his governess, the Duchess de Ventadour, is his son, the little Duc de Bretagne, great-grandson of the Sun King (6th generation.) Don’t be fooled by the dress: little boys wore them in the 18th century. See how proudly Louis XIV points at this child, the future of the Bourbon dynasty.

I often hear docents at the Wallace Collection tell visitors that this boy is the future Louis XV, successor to Louis XIV. Not so. Louis XV was a newborn in 1710. He was the mere younger brother of the toddler in the white dress, and had no place on this dynastic picture. The truth is more tragic: all the heirs pictured on this painting, all of them, would die before Louis XIV.

First the King’s son, the Grand Dauphin, died the year after this was painted, in 1711, from smallpox. Then in February 1712, it was the time of the young man in red here, the Duc de Bourgogne, right after his wife, whom he loved passionately and whose bedside he had refused to leave. Even the child in this picture, their son, died the following month, in March 1712. All three from a fever, aggravated by the Court physicians’ merciless bloodletting.

Three generations of heirs to the throne of France lost in less than a year! And the baby who would survive against all odds, and succeed Louis XIV five years later is not even represented here…

In my eyes, it makes this painting unwittingly tragic....

Feeling Awkward?

In a social situation? Here are some tips on how to mingle. Share

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mathilde Kschessinska

The Sword and the Sea has a review about a new biography about the fascinating Russian prima ballerina assoluta, Mathilde Kschessinska. Share

The Jesuits in England

Author Stephanie Mann reports. Share

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 6, 1789

On October 5, 1789, in the wake of the banquet at the Versailles opera, a mob from Paris marched upon the palace. On October 6, in the dead of night, some rioters entered the palace and tried to break into Marie-Antoinette's bedroom. She fled down the private passage behind the paneling which led to Louis XVI's rooms. (Later, the Queen curtsied to the crowd from the balcony and somewhat placated their wrath.)

Madame Campan described the Queen's escape thus:
The Queen went to bed at two in the morning, and even slept, tired out with the events of so distressing a day. She had ordered her two women to bed, imagining there was nothing to dread, at least for that night; but the unfortunate Princess was indebted for her life to that feeling of attachment which prevented their obeying her. My sister, who was one of the ladies in question, informed me next day of all that I am about to relate.
On leaving the Queen’s bedchamber, these ladies called their femmes de chambre, and all four remained sitting together against her Majesty’s bedroom door. About half-past four in the morning they heard horrible yells and discharges of firearms; one ran to the Queen to awaken her and get her out of bed; my sister flew to the place from which the tumult seemed to proceed; she opened the door of the antechamber which leads to the great guard-room, and beheld one of the Body Guard holding his musket across the door, and attacked by a mob, who were striking at him; his face was covered with blood; he turned round and exclaimed: “Save the Queen, madame; they are come to assassinate her!” She hastily shut the door upon the unfortunate victim of duty, fastened it with the great bolt, and took the same precaution on leaving the next room.
On reaching the Queen’s chamber she cried out to her, “Get up, Madame! Don’t stay to dress yourself; fly to the King’s apartment!” The terrified Queen threw herself out of bed; they put a petticoat upon her without tying it, and the two ladies conducted her towards the oile-de-boeuf. A door, which led from the Queen’s dressing-room to that apartment, had never before been fastened but on her side. What a dreadful moment! It was found to be secured on the other side. They knocked repeatedly with all their strength; a servant of one of the King’s valets de chambre came and opened it; the Queen entered the King’s chamber, but he was not there. Alarmed for the Queen’s life, he had gone down the staircases and through the corridors under the oeil-de-boeuf, by means of which he was accustomed to go to the Queen’s apartments without being under the necessity of crossing that room. He entered her Majesty’s room and found no one there but some Body Guards, who had taken refuge in it.
The King, unwilling to expose their lives, told them to wait a few minutes, and afterwards sent to desire them to go to the oeil-de-boeuf. Madame de Tourzel, at that time governess of the children of France, had just taken Madame and the Dauphin to the King’s apartments. The Queen saw her children again. The reader must imagine this scene of tenderness and despair.

Here is the passage through which Marie-Antoinette fled for her life:

Artwork: The Royal Family on the night of October 6, 1789 Share