Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Joseph in the Ground

Arturo Vasquez discusses the custom of burying St. Joseph in the ground in order to sell a house, and other sundry practices. I have known nuns who placed St. Joseph on his face in times of urgent need; I have to admit that I have done the same thing. Although in my case, I could not stand to see St. Joseph prone for long, and let him back up long before the prayer was granted. I have also put a statue of Our Lady in the window when I needed good weather for something. I guess I basically have a peasant's faith. I do not see such folk customs as being superstitious as long as they are accompanied by genuine trust in Divine Providence and resignation to the holy will of God. Someone once told me that to Protestants, God is the wealthy neighbor down the street but to Catholics, God is a member of the family. This includes everyone among Jesus' immediate family and close friends. Not that the awe and reverence are lacking, as anyone knows who has ever knelt before a home altar, sharing the troubles of the moment with Our Lady or with a sympathetic-looking Infant of Prague. Our Infant of Prague has wiped away many tears and brought a surge of hope in moments of gloom. The Catholic religion is incarnational; when God became one of us He never left, as our belief in the Eucharist teaches us; when He entered the material realm He transformed it forever. Share

Abbé de Salamon

Being the papal nuncio to France during the French Revolution was no picnic. Share

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mayerling (1968)

Crown Prince Rudolph: "On the red carpet, blood does not show...."
~ Mayerling (1968)
The few times I have watched Mayerling  it has always been in  the middle of the night. For some reason, in my part of the world anyway, Mayerling only seems to run at midnight or sometime after, which is appropriate for the dark content of the film. The plot surrounds the tormented life and mysterious death of Crown Prince Rudolf, only son of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary and Empress Elisabeth. According to Turner Classic Movies:
Mayerling (1968) is a lavishly designed and photographed costume drama, a genre that enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1960s, in the wake of David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965). Omar Sharif - who also played the title character in Lean's picture - stars in Mayerling as Rudolph, the Crown Prince of Hapsburg. The film was inspired by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of the real Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and a beautiful young woman in 1889.

Director Terence Young spins a romantic tale based on Rudolph's doomed relationship with Baroness Maria Vetsera (Catherine Deneuve). Rudolph yearns for Maria, but he's been forced by his overpowering father, Emperor Franz Josef (James Mason), into a loveless marriage with Crown Princess Stephanie (Andrea Parisy). Stephanie's sour personality drives Rudolph to an affair with a young actress (Fabienne Dali), as well as to a dalliance with morphine.

When Maria is sent to Venice to discourage the possibility of an illicit romance, Rudolph is encouraged by his sympathetic mother, Empress Elizabeth (Ava Gardner), to bring her back. Unfortunately, Rudolph's involvement in a failed Hungarian political uprising is suddenly revealed, much to the dissatisfaction of his father. With their future together looking bleak, Rudolph and Maria decide to seal their fate with a final, irrevocable act.
I think Mayerling would have fared better with a director other than Terence Young. As Cinema of the World expresses it:
The film was directed by Terence Young, perhaps best known for his James Bond films (which are considered amongst the best in that series). Young is a competent director but few of his films show much in the way of artistic merit or imagination. Mayerling is probably the clearest indication of this. Visually, the film is quite stunning, offering a convincing recreation of the period in which it is set. Most of the cast put in some solid performances (James Robertson Justice’s Prince of Wales being particularly memorable), and composer Francis Lai delivers one of his most beautiful scores. But the film is, overall, strangely empty, lacking passion, humanity and charm.
The costumes, sets and score are quite opulent and authentic, except for the heavy 1960's eye make-up on the women, more fitting for a James Bond movie than an historical drama. Watching the pageantry of a lost era makes the film worthwhile and enjoyable, however, at least to me. Critics have complained of the lack of passion between the romantic leads, as well of the remoteness and detachment of Deneuve's performance as Maria Vetsera. However, the story is not so much about love and passion as it is about despair. And Deneuve's remote and ethereal portrayal makes Maria elusive to Rudolf even when she is in his arms, symbolizing all the things in his life that are unattainable. Of course, the real Maria was a rather buxom wench, plump and pretty; not much like the exquisite Catherine Deneuve. I also think that James Mason's Franz Josef is too harsh and rigid, but perhaps that is how his son perceived him. (Read more »)


The Crusades

Step by step through a spectacular mess. Share

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A New Ballet

The ballet "Marie-Antoinette" delights Vienna.
Baroque mixed with contemporary in German choreographer Patrick de Bana’s new ballet “Marie Antoinette,” which premiered Saturday at Vienna’s Volksoper theatre… and the result was electrifying. Specially created for the Vienna Ballet, this was a tortured “Marie Antoinette,” retelling the tragic story of the Austrian-born queen who perished under the French Revolution’s guillotine.

And the ballet began ominously, with a twitching black-clad character called “Fate” and a ghost-like “Shadow of Marie Antoinette” setting the tone for the dreary events to follow.

Set predominantly to music from the period — from George Philipp Telemann and Vivaldi to Mozart and Jean-Philippe Rameau — this was a resolutely modern choreography, with no pointe-work but with a fair share of classical thrown in.

And it worked.

Wonderful lifts and graceful contortions made for some beautiful dancing, performed exquisitely by the fantastic Olga Esina, first solo dancer of the Vienna Ballet and the story’s Marie Antoinette. Playful at first, then tragic and fragile, Esina was undoubtedly the star of the evening.

Kirill Kourlaev and Elisabeth Golibina however threatened to upstage the rest of the ensemble from the very beginning with their riveting performances as Fate and Marie Antoinette’s blank-faced shadow: the only scenes set to contemporary music — a sinister, atmospheric piece commissioned from Spanish composer Luis Miguel Cobo.

In secondary roles, Kamil Pavelka, whose pas-de-deux with Esina were among the highlights of the evening, and Ketevan Papava as Marie Antoinette’s confidante, also deserved honourable mentions.

First solo dancer Roman Lazik disappointed on the other hand, never seeming quite at ease with the movements and presenting a rather clumsy Louis XVI.

Contributing to a futuristic feel on stage, Marcelo Pacheco and Alberto Esteban built sleek sets with mirrored walls, cascades of crystal and suspended steel bars representing Marie Antoinette’s prison.

The costumes — opulent yet light — were designed by Paris Opera etoile dancer Agnes Letestu, again weaving baroque and modern to stunning effect.

De Bana initially created “Marie Antoinette” as a pas-de-deux for Letestu and himself in 2009, but was then asked to develop the idea further for the Vienna Ballet by its new director Manuel Legris.

Saturday evening, a few uncoordinated moments, especially in set pieces, revealed the ensemble’s struggle to perfect a choreography still tweaked days before the premiere. But half a dozen curtain calls and loud applause from the Volksoper audience proved this new “Marie Antoinette” was a hit, for de Bana and for the Vienna Ballet.

 More HERE. Share

Balancing Life and Work

While American women try to do it all, Dutch women are choosing to spend more time at home. Share

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The lost palace of Henry VIII. (Via Writing the Renaissance)
The construction of Nonsuch began on 23 April 1538, the thirtieth anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne, on the site of the village of Cuddington, near Ewell, Surrey. The palace’s primary function was to serve as a hunting lodge; more importantly it was conceived as a visual expression of Tudor supremacy both temporal and spiritual, a celebration of the birth of Henry’s first legitimate son (the future Edward VI) on 12 October 1537 and, in flattening the parish church of Cuddington, it literally demonstrated Henry’s new dominance as head of the Church in England. Most importantly, it was proof that Henry was equal to the architectural achievements of François I of France. It was named ‘Nonsuch’ as no other palace could equal its magnificence.

Still incomplete when Henry VIII died in 1547, Nonsuch was sold to Henry FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, by Mary I in 1557. It returned to royal hands in 1592, when Arundel’s heir Lord Lumley gave it to Elizabeth I in settlement of a debt. It was eventually granted by Charles II to Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, in 1670, when she was created Baroness of Nonsuch, Countess of Southampton and Duchess of Cleveland. In late 1682 she took the step of beginning to dismantle the Inner Court, as merely the first stage of an ordered demolition which enabled her to sell the raw materials for money with which to pay off her gambling debts. By 1690 the palace was all but gone, and for almost four hundred years its fabulous appearance was only known through written records and the few known visual representations.

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

I found this great recipe on my cousin Kateri's Facebook page.
Pasta e Fagioli Soup
Yield: 2 – 4 servings

1/3 cup diced prosciutto
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small rib of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1½ cups chicken broth
16 oz (1 can) white beans, rinsed well and drained
16 oz (1 can) tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/3 cup tubetti or other small tubular pasta
2 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, minced
freshly grated Parmesan as an accompaniment

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Spode Christmas Tree Tea Set
Royal Albert 3-piece Tea Set
 Christmas is coming. Please browse my Amazon store for gift ideas as well as a just about everything you might need for a Christmas tea party, including food and teas. I have selected some of my favorite books, CDs, films...and much more. There are many items on sale. Have fun shopping. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Here are a few samples:

Flowering Tea Gift Set
A conversation starter for any tea party. Children love to watch the tea as it blossoms.

Genuine English Clotted Cream
It is delicious with crumpets, scones and biscuits.


The holidays are a great time for practicing manners. We have a whole category of books on that topic.

Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers

 Looking for a new hat to wear on Christmas Day?

Winter Wool Felt Church Hat
And my own books...great reading for any time of the year.

 Reviews and interviews, HERE.

And last but not least, there are some excellent books for spiritual reading, an important part of any season of grace, here and here.
Providence by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange
Wishing everyone a Blessed Advent! Share

The Bugs Who Flew Too Much

An invasion of ladybugs. Share

Thursday, November 25, 2010


How a simple Facebook exchange landed my husband in The Washington Post. Share

Creating a Police State

How public, physical humiliation is a powerful form of psychological warfare. (Via The Western Confucian) To quote:
The truth is that the government is not fighting wars against terrorists any more.  It is creating, provoking, escalating wars and then using the resistance as the pretext to create a police state capable of conducting a war against its own people.

Of course, it will be so much easier if it can convince the people to surrender their rights willingly, voluntarily, to submit as the cattle that must be their ultimate, inescapable fate.  Public, inescapable, physical humiliation is just one of the ways to condition people to that subservience.

It’s working.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home Theater

In the days before television.
Long before film and television, not to mention video games, legions of children stirred their imaginations and broadened their knowledge with toy theaters made of paper. Through Jan. 30, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., is presenting an exhibition of these delightful amusements. "A Child's View: 19th-Century Paper Theaters" features 32 examples from England, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Austria and the U.S. The miniature playhouses—some antiques, others modern reproductions—are on loan from the private collection of New Yorker Eric G. Bernard.

Children and Stress

How it affects them. To quote:
“Parents are grossly underestimating the impact that their stress is having on their children,” says Katherine Nordal, a psychologist and executive director of professional practice for the association, in a news release. The findings ring true with me. I was often surprised to learn that my children knew I was stressed-out during times I thought I was doing a good job of protecting them from it.

One in five children say they worry a lot about problems in their lives, but only 8% of parents report that their kids are experiencing a lot of stress.  And parents’ teachings about healthy habits aren’t always sinking in. The attitude gap is biggest on the topic of computer activities: only 31% of youth think it’s important to get away from the computer now and then, vs. 75% of parents. Large numbers of children, in fact, turn to computer video games or other sedentary activities, such as watching TV or listening to music, to calm themselves when stressed, the association says.

Underestimating kids’ stress when they are young, and failing to teach them how to manage it, risks setting long-term behavioral patterns that could harm their health, putting children at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression, the APA says.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blessed Karl and the First World War

How the holy emperor tried to bring peace. To quote the Mad Monarchist:
Emperor Charles had always been rather wary of the Germans and though he realized Austria-Hungary would be crushed without them he also saw them as dragging his empire down to ruin in a war that no one, winners or losers, would emerge from intact. Pope Benedict XV had called for a peaceful end to the war with no winners or losers but a return to the status quo, for which he was either ignored or ridiculed. The deeply Catholic Charles, now Emperor, was willing to give the papal idea a chance. However, he had to proceed very carefully as any talk of peace on his part would immediately arouse the suspicion and possible retaliation of the Germans. Emperor Charles used the family connections of his wife, Empress Zita, who had been a Bourbon princess and whose brothers, Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier, were serving in the Belgian army on the western front. This seemed a possible way forward as the Belgian King Albert I was also favorable toward a peaceful end to the war. Using Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier as their go-between Emperor Charles sent a proposal of peace to the Allies.

Unfortunately, things did not go well. The Allies demanded concessions from Germany and Turkey that the Emperor of Austria-Hungary certainly had no power to deliver. Furthermore, the French and British had made any peace with the Hapsburgs rather impossible through the secret treaties they had already made with the Italians, Serbs and others wherein they had promised vast tracts of Hapsburg territory to these various peoples in return for supporting the Allied side. The effort at peace came to nothing and to make matters worse news of the peace proposal leaked out. Naturally the Germans were furious and when Emperor Charles denied the Allied claims French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau made the Sixtus letters public. This doomed any effort by the Austro-Hungarians to achieve a separate peace and effectively made them hostages of Germany for the duration of the conflict, the Germans even drawing up a contingency plan for the invasion of Austria. As the war drew to a close the ethnic nationalists, who had long been supported by the Allies, took a greater hold, encouraged by the call for ethnic self-determination on the part of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Russian Grandeur Restored

Two post-Soviet hotels.
At the Ukraina, in part since the interior was less opulent than its competitor's, Moscow authorities granted its owners more leeway in dropping $300 million on their rehab. This included gutting the lobby to install a dozen boutiques offering diamonds and furs. Alexander Solovyev, a preservation architect who worked on both hotels, says regulators fought a constant battle against glitz.

"If the restoration experts hadn't been there, the whole inside would have been covered in gold," he says.
The Ukraina's penthouse, used for decades by police to monitor the city, was converted into a nest of restaurants commanding postcard views. Under the spire sits a special nook just for two—for wedding proposals and other romantic occasions.

Architects scrapped the basement room full of KGB eavesdropping gear. Nearby loading docks became a huge health club with an Olympic-size pool and cushioned-bamboo aerobic floors.

Conservators delicately restored a fresco above the lobby entrance depicting happy Ukrainian farm workers and cleaned the hotel's collection of 1,200 socialist-realist paintings, now on display.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Legends of the Fall (1994)

Susannah: Forever turned out to be too long.
~from Legends of the Fall (1994)
I ignored Legends of the Fall when it first came out, not only because of the bad reviews it received, but because it seemed like a crock of political correctness. I refused to watch it. Fifteen years later, I stumbled onto the film one evening on cable television and decided to see if it was as bad as I had always thought. To my surprise, I was swept away by the landscape, the score and the story, reminiscent of a Greek tragedy. According to critic James Berardinelli:
Legends of the Fall is the sort of epic melodrama that only Hollywood can do this well. It's a spectacle more than a show, with soaring moments of triumph and tragedy. Words like "restraint" and "subtle" are meaningless in this context. The latest offering from Edward Zwick, the director of Glory, is the kind of movie that doesn't require much effort to surrender to and enjoy.

At the center of Susan Shilliday and Bill Wittliff's script are the three Ludlow brothers: Alfred (Aidan Quinn), the oldest and most straightlaced; Tristan (Brad Pitt), the middle child with a special affinity for nature; and Samuel (Henry Thomas), the youngest and most idealistic. The family's patriarch is Col. Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), an officer who left the U.S. army when he disagreed with the treatment of the Indians. The four men, along with an assortment of friends, live in the Montana Rockies, away from the trappings -- if not the presence -- of civilization.

It would be difficult to find any more affectionate and caring brothers than Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel -- until one woman turns all three lives upside down. Hailing from Boston, Susannah (Julia Ormond) is engaged to Samuel. However, the impending marriage can't prevent both of his brothers from falling for her, and she for at least one of them.

America's entrance into World War One -- and the consequential bloody price -- concludes the introductory portion of the film and unwraps the real meat of the drama. Beyond this point, tangled passions rise in a tide of betrayal and jealousy. Few crimes, whether of the heart or the body, are left unavenged. There are deaths -- some expected and some sudden -- and births. Lost opportunities give rise to mournful reflections on what might have been. And, at the end of it all, exists one final catharsis.
Few critics appreciated the craftsmanship of the film when it first debuted, but as a reviewer for Variety expressed it:
Zwick imbues an easy, poetic quality to the story that mostly sidesteps the precious. While emotionally intense, it's neither hurried nor charged with false drama. It's also one of the most handsome of...films, with sterling work by cameraman John Toll and production designer Lilly Kilvert....
An ensemble piece, the actors are near perfect in the service of the material. Pitt is effortlessly charismatic, but Quinn has the film's biggest challenge -- delineating the slow dissolution and corruption of decency. He is the reflection and reverse of his father, who after all sinks into madness. 
The only aspect of Legends that I find unrealistic is how Tristan and Susannah appear to be openly living together at the Ludlow ranch during the course of their passionate affair. The liaison is not limited to secret encounters for everyone appears to know what is going on and accepts it, except for Alfred, of course, who departs in disgust. Although Colonel Ludlow is a bit of a free spirit and a renegade, he seems to be straitlaced in his morals, possessing a strict code of honor. How could he allow Tristan to carry on with Susannah in a way which would make her, according to the mores of the era, a "fallen woman"? Unless the Colonel's fondness for his favorite son causes him to look the other way, which is a strong possibility.

In spite of being used and abandoned by Tristan, Susannah is able to become a respected congressman's wife, without a breath of scandal, which is a little improbable given the way things were, even in Montana. As it is Susannah is never able to forget her intense relationship with Tristan, and therefore is kept from entering into nuptial joy and harmony with her husband, Alfred. Guilt and despair overwhelm her after the horrific but accidental killing of Tristan's young wife; she shears her head before she dies as a sort of final and unholy penance.

One Stab, the old Cree chief who lives on the Ludlow ranch, says of Tristan: "He was a rock they broke themselves against however much he tried to protect them." The same can be said of Susannah. The fact that the Ludlow brothers are deserted by their mother makes Susannah's coming an emotionally devastating lightening bolt. Each falls in love with her but none can be the man she needs. Samuel, her first fiancé, is so eager to run off to war; he finds taking on the Germans less daunting than the prospect of trying to please his passionate bride. Tristan reciprocates Susannah's amour fou but deserts her out of misplaced guilt over Samuel's death. Alfred is unable to win Susannah's love although he gives her the place in society for which she is best suited. In her heart, however, she wants to be with Tristan on the ranch, roping cattle and having his babies. It is a dream she is unable to relinquish.

One Stab: Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legends.


Here is a biography of the great Polish composer who just died this month. In his own words:
I think that music is one of the domains that people really need, and its importance only depends on whether one knows how to receive it. Every person needs to be prepared to know how to "use" music. Not only music -- also literature, painting, sculpture, and film [. . .] Tarkowski said that art is prayer. It is something that I also emphasize. But it is difficult to understand: one has to mature to this thought. It seems to many people that prayer means to "recite the Hail Mary"-- but someone may recite "Hail Mary" as many times as one wants and it will not be prayer. Olivier Messiaen said during a meeting in Katowice that he is a man of prayer. But what does he do? He writes his notes down, he listens to his birds. And this is supposed to be prayer?[Górecki, interview with Maja Trochimczyk, 1997]
 More HERE. Share

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little Star

I recently received the new children's Christmas story Little Star by Anthony DeStefano. A certain small girl in our family loves it and it has become daily reading fare. I hope her enthusiasm for the tale continues through Advent, as it distills not only the joyful message of the birth of Christ but the mystery of the soul in love with God. It is not only an excellent preparation for the Nativity of the Lord but implants in a child's heart what it means to belong to the Savior.

According to the press release:
Best-selling author Anthony DeStefano wrote his best book at age 15, as a student in a creative writing class taught by Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt.

“I peaked at 15,” said DeStefano, whose new children’s book, Little Star, has finally been published almost 30 years later, and just in time for Christmas. “I honestly think this is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Not everyone would agree with the self-effacing writer. DeStefano is the author of the adult best-sellers A Travel Guide to Heaven, and Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To. This Little Prayer of Mine, a children’s book, was published earlier this year.

But Little Star was his first book, written as an assignment for Angela’s Ashes author McCourt when DeStefano was a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

“Frank McCourt was a very unorthodox teacher,” said DeStefano. “He knew that the best way to get young writers to write simply was to make them write children’s books. And we had to send them out to publishers.”

Little Star is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Nativity story and a star, until then all but unnoticed in the night sky, who burns himself out to keep the newborn baby Jesus warm in a Bethlehem stable.

DeStefano’s book was initially turned down by publishers, but many of them tempered their rejections with letters of encouragement. In 1981, famed actress Helen Hayes did a public reading of the book during an Easter Seals event in Manhattan.

DeStefano still has the original manuscript in his office in New York City. The new version, illustrated by Mark Elliott, the artist who worked with DeStefano on This Little Prayer of Mine, was just published by WaterBrook Press in anticipation of the Christmas season. The author hopes audiences of all ages will respond to the story of sacrificial love and its message that everyone—even the tiniest and poorest and least significant among us—matters.

“My goal was to try to encapsulate the whole gospel message in a simple Christmas story,” said DeStefano.

And his grade in that long-ago creative writing class?

Frank McCourt gave him an A.
(*Little Star was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Communism and Feminism

There is a strong connection. To quote:
Concluding that "feminism is a direct outgrowth of American Communism," the reviewer states, "There is nothing that feminists said or did in the 1960's-1980's that wasn't prefigured in the CPUSA of the 1940's and 1950's." The reviewer continues, "Communists pioneered the political and cultural analysis of woman's oppression" [sic] and "originated 'women's studies,' and advocated public daycare, birth control, abortion and even children's rights. They forged key feminist concepts such as 'the personal is the political' and techniques such as 'consciousness raising.'"

Savoring the Fruits of Fall

Fourteen recipes for Thanksgiving Day. Share

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Praise of the Linen Closet

When I was a child I thought that our linen closet was a wonderful place, always fragrant and orderly. Under the Gables has a delightful post. Share

Salon of the Grand Couvert

Where the Royal Family dined in public. To quote Madame Delors:
The Salon of the Grand Couvert is part of the Queen’s Grand Apartment. Couvert means place setting in French, and this is the room where the royal couple took its formal dinners. The King and Queen sat on armchairs, facing the audience. Duchesses had the privilege of sitting on a row of stools arranged in a semi-circle a few feet in front of the table. Further away stood the rest of the courtiers and the public, for anyone decently dressed was admitted to the palace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Polignacs

A family tree. Share

Von Sternburg

A tormented genius.
"Shadow is mystery and light is clarity," he once said, describing the job of the director. "Shadow conceals—light reveals. To know what to reveal and what to conceal, and in what degrees to do this, is all there is to art." For a particularly pithy artist's manifesto, you could do a lot worse.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stephen and Matilda

Gareth Russell discusses a forgotten Queen of England.
In every way apart from their rather unsavoury seizure of the throne, Stephen and Matilda were the ideal medieval royal couple. Stephen was a brave warrior, handsome, physically fit and devoted to the rules of chivalry; Matilda, whilst not beautiful, was dignified, tactful, gracious and intelligent. Both of them were also faithful to their marriage vows – expected in a queen, but truly remarkable in a king. Prior to his marriage, Stephen had enjoyed a long-term relationship with an unmarried commoner in Normandy, which had resulted in the birth of an illegitimate son called Gervaise. After marrying Matilda, Stephen had immediately broken-off this affair, but he had honourably continued to maintain his former lover, meet her bills and help their son where and when appropriate. After marriage, there were no more mistresses. Stephen took the fidelity clause in his marriage vows very seriously, in stark contrast to his late uncle, who had fathered over two dozen illegitimate children with a string of mistresses during the course of his two marriages. 

Aside from being devoted to each other, Stephen and Matilda were also devoted to God. Both were the products of deeply pious upbringings – Stephen’s father had died on Crusade, his mother was active in founding religious houses and preparing reliquaries to house the relics of the saints; Matilda’s father had spent the last years of his life as a Cluniac monk and her mother had insisted that Matilda receive a convent education in England. A loving veneration for Christianity was thus something which Stephen and Matilda wove very much into their lives as a couple and as parents.

The Way of Ugliness

Misrepresenting the Church of the past. To quote:
Art has the power of reinforcing ideas.  It is a particularly powerful tool for creating and perpetuating myth.  The meta-narrative of the American TOB movement is that chastity education in the United States prior to TOB was the product of “prudish Victorian morality,” and that this single corpus of Wednesday general audiences rescued the Church from the “Manichaean Demon.”  The treatment of TOB as a kind of self-contained panacea for the sexual revolution is justified on the basis of this mythology.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Winter Queen

I will never forget my first trip to Heidelberg and learning about Elizabeth Stuart, The Winter Queen. Stephanie Mann has more:
Elizabeth, eldest daughter of King James VI and I and Anne of Denmark, became Queen of Bohemia on November 7, 1619. She had married Frederick V, Elector of the Palatine on February 14, 1613. The purpose of the marriage was to strengthen James's ties to Protestant rulers on the Continent, easing Parliamentary fears that he was too conciliatory to Catholic rulers. But as might be indicated by their wedding date, it was a romantic and true marriage.

She is called the Winter Queen because her reign as Queen of Bohemia was brief. Frederick was defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain on November 8, 1620. The royal family fled and lived in exile for their rest of their lives. Frederick and Elizabeth had 13 children: seven boys and six girls. Frederick died in 1632, so Elizabeth lived many years as a widow. Two of their sons, Maurice and Rupert, served the Royalist cause during the Civil War. Elizabeth returned to England during the reigns of both her brother (Charles I) and her nephew (Charles II), dying in 1662 on February 12 in London.

Women's Work

Yes, housekeeping is real work. Even the ancient Greeks appreciated it. To quote:
In her domestic sphere woman reigned supreme, respected by her children and by her husband, who in other respects possessed what would come to be known as sovereignty, at least in theory.  The reality of human existence is that power relationships within the household, however strictly they might be defined by law, depend on the men and women who are called upon to exercise them.  Anthony Trollope’s Bishop Proudie is far from being the only man of authority who turned over the exercise of real power to his wife.
As an economic institution, the household combined both production and consumption functions.  Food was grown, stored, and prepared on the home place and items for exchange or sale were produced by family members working at home.  Some of the household’s economic tasks, obviously, had to be performed outside the home: Men and boys worked the fields or tended the cattle, and in their free time hunted and fished, while women took care of kitchen gardens or even grew grain.  Women might have to go abroad into the strange world of the marketplace to sell their surplus food or their handiwork, and in less than ideal circumstances different members of the family might be forced to work for another household as laborers or house-servants, but until recent times the ideal remained the self-sufficient household.

By the time Xenophon the Athenian wrote his dialogue on household management, the Oeconomicus, (in the early 4th century B.C.), Greek city-states were complex social and economic systems that anticipated some of the secular individualism of modern life.  Nonetheless, Xenophon, a mercenary soldier and former student of Socrates, viewed the success of individuals as inextricably linked with the efforts of the entire family.
As a student of Socrates, Xenophon had learned to look at first principles, and the purpose of the marriage bond “is first and foremost to perpetuate through procreation the races of living creatures and next, as the outcome of this bond, for human beings at any rate, a provision is made by which they may have sons and daughters to support them in old age.”[ii] Since human beings are not designed to live in the open, they require a house with a roof.  Males and females, though they have an equal stake in the success of the household, are designed for different functions: the male, to work outside, and the female, to work indoors where her greater affection for children also calls her.

Far from being a misogynist, Xenophon’s Socrates tells men to treat their wives with respect, talk with them, encourage their intellectual and moral development.  Wives should be treated as partners and not as children or slaves. “A wife who is a good partner in the home contributes just as much as her husband to its wellbeing; because the revenues for the most part are produced by the husband’s efforts, but the expenditures are controlled mostly by the wife’s management. If both perform their duties well, the estate is increased; if they perform badly, it is diminished.[iii]

Xenophon, like the later Aristotle, understood human social life in terms of autonomy.  Individuals cannot be autonomous because no individual can gratify all his needs—for food, shelter, procreation, social life– by himself.  So marriage, which results in a family, is the first level of social organization that satisfies basic human needs.  This is not to say that the mythical Cyclopes led an idyllic existence, each man tending his own flocks and giving the law to his wife and children.  Higher levels of social organization are more satisfying than the autonomous household, but the semi-autonomous household, in which men and women fulfill different functions, remains the basis of human society.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lovely Bones (2009)

 If I had but an hour of love
If that be all that is given me
An hour of love upon this earth,
I would give my love to thee. 
~ from The Lovely Bones (2009)
I have rarely seen a  film which captures the mystery of the shortness of  life as does Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. I came away with a strong sense of the preciousness of each moment on earth as well as awe for the vastness of eternity. In telling the story of a young girl whose existence in this world is brought to a brutal end by a psychopath, Jackson, with superb artistry, explores not only the indestructibility of the human soul, but the powerful bond between a parent and a child. The grisly fate of murder victims tends to overshadow everything so that the memory of the person is overwhelmed by the gore and horror. While horror indeed pervades the film, the personality of fourteen year old Susie Salmon, with all her adolescent dreams and quirky innocence, shines like a beacon. Tragically, it is the very innocence, the source of her charm, which also leads to her doom.

The incandescent Saoirse Ronan carries the film with remarkable aplomb in one so young, playing the part of Susie as well as providing the narrative. (Saoirse portrayed the morbid little Briony in Atonement and I hardly recognized her as the same actress.) Susie's freckled face with luminous blue eyes continually fluctuates from that of a goofy teenager to a hauntingly angelic beauty. Her innocence is carried over into the unabashed oranges of  the interiors of the Salmon house, vintage 1970's, with the young, attractive parents who love each other and find the world a hopeful place. The happiness of the family, with Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie's parents, heightens the calamity when it comes, completely unexpected, in spite of the many warnings.

Stanley Tucci makes for the most sinister fiend, all the more horrible for his outward neatness and trappings of respectability. One of the most powerful scenes in the film are when Susie's father comes face-to-face with her murderer. Because each man is obsessed with Susie, the father in finding his daughter's killer and the killer in reliving his unspeakable crime, they are able to see what the other knows, to their mutual horror. While the law fails, with the murderer never caught and the body never found, it belongs solely to God to punish the wicked and reward the victims in ways that Susie's family will never know in their lifetimes. Thus we all must at some time or another confront the seeming triumph of the most hideous evils over all that is good and pure; only faith tells us that in the end all will be made right, although it is an end beyond our sight.

 Susie Salmon: [voiceover] Nobody notices when we leave. I mean, the moment when we really choose to go. At best you might feel, a whisper or the wave of a whisper, undulating down. My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name: Susie. I was 14 years old, when I was murdered on December 6th 1973. I was here for a moment, and then I was gone. I wish you all a long and happy life. ~from The Lovely Bones (2009)
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A history. Share

Monday, November 15, 2010

The South of France

From heresy to beauty products.
France contains at least two nations. While the north was populated by Franks from Germany, the south was a separate entity ruled by Visigoths in the Middle Ages. They were more closely connected laterally with the Catalans than vertically with the Franks. During its independent history, the South, known as Occitania, was a site of resistance to imperial rule.

Their first form of Christianity was Arianism, which taught that God came before Jesus. Around the tenth century, an interest in ‘courtly love’ emerged under the influence of poetry from Andalusia. The word “troubadour” was derived from an Arabic root ta-ra-ba meaning “to be transported with joy and delight”. The literary genre of ‘chanson de geste’ emerged celebrating refinement of taste in contract to the tales of war and heroic deeds prevalent in the north.

At the same time, the religion of the Cathars developed, which denigrated earthly life and adopted values of simplicity and abstinence. In 1208, a Papal legate was assassinated in Saint-Gilles which prompted the Franks in support of Rome to cleanse the South of heresy....

Of Gods and Men

Elizabeth Lev reviews a new film about martyrdom, saying:
For several weeks, billboards have been promoting a new French film, "Des Hommes et des Dieux" (Of Gods and Men) directed by Xavier Beauvois. It had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 and won the Grand Prize, the second most prestigious prize at the film festival. Given that other awardees from Cannes have included "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," a Romanian film about abortion, and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," this didn't bode well for me.

Furthermore, the top billed actors, Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale seemed like peculiar picks for a film about religion. Lambert Wilson, ex-Calvin Klein model, is best known to Americans as "the Merovingian" in the last two Matrix debacles. Michael Lonsdale played the evil Abbott in "The Name of the Rose" as well as villain Hugo Drax in James Bond's "Moonraker," and was last seen in the anti-Christian film "Agora." The pair appeared to be a recipe for disaster and I thought I would save my time, money and blood pressure by skipping it.

A dear priest friend told me I was mistaken, however, so on All Saints' Day I became one of the ever-growing number of people to see the film. Never was I happier to be proved utterly wrong.

"Of Gods and Men" recounts the true story of seven Trappist monks who were killed in Algeria in 1996, kidnapped and beheaded by unknown assassins. Director Beauvois recounts the story so beautifully that despite the fact that everyone knows the ending, one still remains caught up the events as they unfold. Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale make the film, bringing to life two unforgettable characters.

The film came out during the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, and I saw it the day after the massacre of 46 Christians in Iraq, which brought home the timeliness of the movie. In the West, Christians may be ridiculed or ostracized, but we do not have to face the same witness for our faith that our brethren in other parts of the world do.

View trailer, HERE. Share

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lola Montes (1955)

Catherine Delors reviews the entrancing French classic film about the Irish courtesan who ignited a revolution. As Madame Delors describes:
Eliza Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, better known under her stage name of Lola Montes, or Montez, was a 19th century Irish dancer and courtesan whose adventures spanned Asia, Europe, America and Australia. She had little talent for dance, but a great deal for scandal and self-publicity. She may be most famous for becoming the mistress of King Louis I of Bavaria. Their liaison was one of the causes of the 1848 Bavarian revolution and led to the King’s abdication. After that episode, her career as a high-flying courtesan came to an end, though she launched many other ventures. She did not, as in the film, end in a circus show, though the truth is hardly more glamorous: she suffered a crippling stroke and died of pneumonia in a New York boarding-house at the age of 40.

The film opens with Lola as the “star” of the circus act that presents her life as a series of live tableaux. Her beauty, intact under her tawdry make-up, has become the stuff of freak shows. The dramatic tension rests on how she gets there. We never see her physically growing up or aging. Lola, whether a teenager or reaching the end of her short life, retains throughout the film the 35-year old face of the sex symbol of 1950s French cinema, Martine Carol.

More about the infamous Lola, HERE.


The Prison of Motherhood?

Erica Jong's recent diatribe in the Wall Street Journal about how women are ruining their lives through devoted motherhood elicited numerous responses. Here is one from my friend Mattie, poet and mother of ten:
Erica Jong's essay "Mother Madness" and her daughter's article "Growing Up with Ma Jong" reveal modern and postmodern feminism for what they are: materialistic.  Count the material references in each article, if you don't believe it.
    Any average baby like baby Jong-Fast who hated breast-feeding millennia ago would have died.  There weren't too many options to breast-feeding when everyone had to struggle to survive.  American mothers raising children today would be well-advised to ignore the cries from the she-cult of victimization; instead, they should be thankful.  Having the economic latitude to pursue "choices" is new in the history of mankind, and it's deeply rooted in material prosperity--for everyone.
    I, for one, never received feminism well, even though professors pushed it 24-7 at the women's college I attended.  Feminism merely addresses material pursuits--power, money, respect, and parity with men--to name a few.  If we have any victims today, it's the children who have suffered silently through the materialistic struggles of their mothers, children who cannot even recognize these struggles for what they are: materialistic pabulum too dilute to nourish an eternal soul.
Mattie Quesenberry Smith

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Science at Versailles

A new exhibit.
The Château de Versailles offered many research resources. Anatomists and zoologists could study the menagerie's ostriches, pelicans, rhinoceroses and other rare animals, botanists and agronomists the plants on the grounds of the Trianon and "hippiatrists", the forerunners to veterinarians, the horses in the Grand Stables.

Educators developed new teaching methods using cutting-edge tools for the royal children and the kings' personal practice. While Louis XIV considered himself a protector of the arts and sciences without practicing them, his successors, Louis XV and Louis XVI, became true connoisseurs. A presentation to the king or demonstration before the Court was the highest honour, equivalent to winning a Nobel Prize. Many people know about the first hot-air balloon flight, but numerous other events have fallen into oblivion, such as the burning mirror demonstration in front of Louis XIV or the electricity experiment in the Hall of Mirrors under his successor's reign.

The mosaic of places, people and events that Science and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles presents must be perceived not as a conclusion but as a stepping-stone to further research.

Nature and Fantasy

The proto-surrealist.
Little is known about how Arcimboldo attracted the attention of the Hapsburg court. He was, like his artist father, associated with the workshop of Milan's vast cathedral, designing frescoes, banners, stained glass and the like. Of this early work, only a few unexceptional windows have survived, nothing that suggests extraordinary talent. He may have been known for illustrations of the natural world—a few have emerged—or else, then as now, connections helped in obtaining prestigious appointments.

Certainly the paintings Arcimboldo made for his Hapsburg patrons announce his mastery of the high realism for which Lombardy became known, a tradition based on close observation of nature, thought to be influenced by Leonardo da Vinci during his 17 years in the service of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The flora and fauna that make up Arcimboldo's weird profiles are exquisitely and accurately rendered, their details and textures meticulously accounted for. It is believed, too, that Arcimboldo had first-hand acquaintance with Leonardo's drawings of grotesque heads, many of which belonged to a family friend; the irregular profiles of the composite heads often have remarkable cognates in Leonardo's distorted profiles.

Scholars find allegorical allusions to Hapsburg power in Arcimboldo's "portraits" of the elements and the seasons, deciphering coded references to dominion over the world. Most of us concentrate on the obsessive virtuosity of the depictions of individual elements—a diagram identifies more than 60 sea creatures and a seal in the personification of water—on the shifting scale among these elements, and on the sheer strangeness of the images. (Not surprisingly, it was the Surrealists, with their taste for dislocation, who rescued Arcimboldo from centuries of obscurity.)

The Three-Piece Suit

A dashing comeback.
The three-piece suit has been asserting itself with increasing frequency on designer runways, as well in the collections of traditionalists such as Hickey Freeman. They're now a fixture of men's fashion magazine spreads. And they're popping up more in pop culture, on celebs including Bradley Cooper and Usher, and on TV characters such as Roger Sterling of "Mad Men" and Patrick Jane (played by Simon Baker) on "The Mentalist." They're even showing up on gangsters in HBO's period show "Boardwalk Empire."
The three-piece, a suit with a matching waistcoat (aka vest), is the most formal type of suit, long the provenance of dandies, 1930s film stars like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Clark Gable, and later, bankers in London and on Wall Street. It's a fussy suit, one with an extra unit, which is why it disappeared for nearly 20 years after World War II as the result of fabric rationing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cardinal Wolsey

Stephanie Mann discusses the fallen cardinal.
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my King, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies. ( from Shakespeare's Henry VIII)

Does Her Face Foretell Her Fate?

Portraits from the Great Depression. Share

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Act of Supremacy

When the State became a god in Tudor England.
...Be it enacted, by authority of this present Parliament, that the king, our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicans Ecclesia; and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and style thereof, as all honors, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity of the supreme head of the same Church belonging and appertaining; and that our said sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offenses, contempts and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may lawfully be reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed, corrected, restrained, or amended....

Vintage Jewelry

Wearing old pieces in new ways. Share

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Charlotte and Leopold

A brief but romantic idyll. Share

Who is More Tragic?

Marie-Antoinette or Alexandra Feodorovna?
They are two of the most tragic consorts in history, both having the blood of Mary Stuart. Women of great beauty, passion and taste, both martyrs.

Pope Pius VII said that Louis VXI fulfilled all the qualifications of Christian martyrdom. He and Marie-Antoinette were both often referred to as the "Martyr-King and the Martyr-Queen" by faithful Catholics in the years immediately following the Revolution. Like Nicholas and Alexandra, they were killed because of what they represented, not necessarily because of what they had done. The people who killed them would have found any excuse. Most of the ordinary French people were horrified that Louis and Antoinette were killed; even many Revolutionaries thought they should have been exiled rather than executed.

Marie-Antoinette was hemorrhaging during her trial because she may have had ovarian or uterine cancer. That is just a theory. She may also have been anemic. She had suffered great emotional trauma. She was only 38 years old.

I think that the Queen of France had the more tragic life. Alexandra got to marry her great love and that makes all the difference in the world. Louis and Antoinette loved each other, but few loves can compare with the grand passion of Nicky and Alix.

Both women were devoted to their children and tried to have a real family life with them. Both loved the "simple life" and tried to create quiet refuges amid the splendor of the court.

Both women were vilified in ways that transcended all reality by their political enemies. In order to pull apart a family, destroy the image of the mother; in order to bring a nation into revolution, then destroy the reputation/ image of the queen/ empress, who was the mother figure of the people. If they could convince the people that the queen/empress was evil and that the king/tsar was an idiot, then it meant the children were no good and the entire family should be gotten rid of. It was a deliberate ploy. Antoinette and Alexandra are tragic because no matter what they did it played into the hands of their enemies.  The Great Catherine outwardly had lovers and no one held it against her and she was loved by the people. Napoleon's Josephine spent more money on clothes in one year than Marie-Antoinette did in her entire life and yet Josephine was popular with the French people. It is sad that two women of virtue like Antoinette and Alexandra should be so terribly misunderstood.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Out of the kitchen and onto the runway.
Though many people still think of an archetypal housewife when they think of aprons, the garments go back much further. In the Middle Ages, monks and nuns frequently wore sleeveless garments called scapulars over sleeved garments, says Daniel James Cole, a professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Soldiers also wore apron-style garments over their armor to help reduce glare from the sun, he says. Such coverings gradually migrated into court dress.

In the 19th century, apron-like garments were worn as part of uniforms by servants, and their association with housework and working-class labor endured throughout the 20th century.

Aprons do have historical ties to fashion. Akris, the family owned, Swiss fashion label, was launched as an apron company in 1922. The fashion house continues to draw on that history. Akris designer Albert Kriemler cited the legacy of his grandmother, Alice, in "the minimalist shape of our white double-face sheath," for example.

By the 1970s, women were entering the workplace in larger numbers and cooking less, and the women's-liberation movement saw the apron as a symbol of female oppression. Aprons enjoyed a renaissance about six years ago, with rising interest in home entertainment and gourmet cooking. But these aprons were strictly for the home.