Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Secret Diary of a Princess

Here is a review of Melanie Clegg's wonderful novel about Marie-Antoinette's childhood, now available on Kindle. Lucy says:
Melanie Clegg’s novel is written (as the title suggests) in diary format and is a delight to read. From the very first page you get the sense of how genuine Maria Antonia (as she was then called) comes forth. There is such a tenderness, refreshing naiveté and true wanting to please in this young archduchess. (Read entire review.)

The Kaiser on Hitler

What did Kaiser Wilhelm think of Hitler? To quote the Emperor:
There is a man alone, without family, without children, without God....He builds legions but he doesn’t build a nation. A nation is created by families, a religion, tradition: it is made up out of the hearts of mothers, the wisdom of fathers, the joy and the exuberance of children. [Of Germany under Hitler he says] all-swallowing State, disdainful of human dignities and the ancient structure of our race, sets itself up in place of everything else. And the man who, alone, incorporates in himself this whole State, has neither a God to honour nor a dynasty to conserve, nor a past to consult....

For a few months I was inclined to believe in National Socialism. I thought of it as a necessary fever. And I was gratified to see that there were, associated with it for a time, some of the wisest and most outstanding Germans. But these, one by one, he has got rid of or even killed....He has left nothing but a bunch of shirted gangsters....

This man could bring home victories to our people each year without bringing them...glory....But of our Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians and artists and soldiers, he has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics....”
(Read More.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Conspirator (2010)

Mary Surratt: Have you ever believed in something far greater than yourself? 
 —The Conspirator (2010)
Occasionally there are films made which are so contrary to cultural trends that they almost qualify as miraculous. One such film is Robert Redford's masterpiece The Conspirator, starring James McAvoy and Robin Wright in brilliant performances as the lawyer Frederick Aiken and his client Mary Surratt. Mary Jenkins Surratt was the first woman in American history ever to be executed by the federal government. She was accused of participating in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln because her son and one of her tenants were marginally involved. Mary was condemned by a military tribunal on flimsy evidence, but then the tribunal did not require as much evidence as a civilian court.

As Steven Greydanus says at Decent Films:
Mary Surratt was a Southern Catholic widow who ran a boarding house where Booth and his fellow conspirators often met — and whose son John was the only one of Booth’s fellow conspirators to evade capture in the months after the assassination. Was Mrs. Surratt prosecuted by way of trying her fugitive son by proxy? Or, if she was a conspirator, to which conspiracy was she a party? For that matter, to which was John?

To these historically minded questions The Conspirator adds a pointedly topical theme. Mrs. Surratt and her fellow defendants were prosecuted, not in a civil trial before a jury of their peers, but by a military tribunal. Were the verdict and the sentence essentially determined beforehand? Guilty or not, was the Constitution and the rule of law upheld or flouted? If the government was free to treat Mrs. Surratt as it did, how safe are any of us?...

Yet the widespread critical take on The Conspirator as a lefty tract is unconvincing to me — and not just because I find it too dramatically and historically compelling to label a tract. A few years ago it might have played as a partisan indictment of the Bush administration’s expansions of executive power. Today, though, with many of Bush’s critics chagrined by the Obama administration’s perpetuation and even advancement of similar policies, concern for rule of law and limited government powers can’t be claimed as a partisan issue in the same way.....
Politics aside, Mary's Catholic faith is highlighted throughout the film as the source if her strength and serenity. The way the director plays light against darkness in any number of scenes illustrates the luminosity of belief amid injustice and corrupt politics. Along with her trust in God, Mary is consumed with protecting her children in any way she can, even at cost to herself. She will not help Aiken shift the guilt upon her son John and prefers to accept the full weight of punishment, all the while maintaining her innocence. As it stands, Secretary of War William Stanton (portrayed in all his deviousness by Kevin Kline) is determined that Mary shall die, innocent or not, in order to sate the public's desire for revenge. A poor widow from Southern Maryland, who had sympathized with the losing side, is the perfect scapegoat for the wrath of the people.

Aiken's battle for justice, in spite of the fact that Mary's guilt is predetermined, makes him an unwilling hero; his instinctive chivalry and respect for the Constitution compel him to become Mary's champion. Wounded during the War between the States, Aiken finds himself in the middle of an altogether different struggle which has, nevertheless, long-term consequences for the American people and whether or not they are going to be governed by the Constitution and the rule of law or by sentiment and hysteria. As for Mary, having already endured an abusive marriage to an alcoholic, she well knows that there is no true justice on earth. Rosary in hand, she walks to the scaffold as brave as any soldier on the field. Even as there are different ways of doing battle, so there are different paths to victory, and Mary finds her in the end.

 (Image Source)

More on Mary Surratt, HERE and HERE. Share

The Importance of Catholic Historical Fiction

Here is a recent post of mine for the Catholic Writers Guild blog.
Why do we need Catholic historical fiction? As Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2009 "Address to Artists": “Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality….”  (Read entire post.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Marie-Antoinette and Freud

"Her virtue is intact, she is even austere by nature rather than by reason." —Joseph II to Archduke Leopold from Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution by Nesta Webster, p.158
The first decades of the twentieth century saw the rising popularity of the theories of Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that sexual drives are the basis of all human behavior. While many of Freud's original disciples diverged from him in various ways, there is no underestimating the widespread influence Freud has had upon modern life and the current attitudes towards the human person. Among Freud's close friends was the popular Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig, who is spite of his enormous literary success ended his life in suicide. 
Among Stefan Zweig's most famous works is his biography Marie-Antoinette: the Portrait of an Average Woman which views the Queen's life in Freudian terms, especially when it comes to the first seven years of the her marriage. Louis XVI is portrayed as a repressed, impotent, dull-witted, indifferent husband, who drove his wife to gambling, dancing and spending exorbitant amounts of money as an outlet for her thwarted impulses. Zweig was the first to impart to the public the image of the sexually frustrated teenage princess, which successive authors and filmmakers continue to promote to this day. The drawback of the Freudian theory is that it does not explain why others at the French court, who were enjoying unmitigated pleasures of the flesh, were spending much more money than the eighteen year old virgin Marie-Antoinette. 
In 1937, Nesta Webster debunked the Freudian analysis in her two volume study of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. In discussing the yet unconsummated marriage of the King and Queen, Webster says the following of Marie-Antoinette's sorrow:
It is...unnecessary in her case to resort to Freudian methods of psycho-analysis in order to understand her state of mind. Her feelings were really quite simple. For however much the unnatural conditions of her marriage may, and indeed must, have reacted on her nervous system, the dominating thought that emerges from her letters from those of Mercy to Maria Theresa is her great longing for children....On Sundays, when the garden of Petit Trianon was thrown open to the public, the Queen would go among the family parties collected there and call for the children to be brought up and presented to her, then she would ask their names, and shower on them bonbons and kisses....But beyond this natural trouble of a woman was the sorrow of a Queen who had given no heir to the throne. The letters of Maria Theresa, urging on her the necessity for fulfilling her destiny as mother of a Dauphin, must have felt like turning a knife in the wound, for the Empress showed little human sympathy or understanding for her daughter's unhappy position....(Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution by Nesta Webster, pp.116-117)
The despair of not giving birth to an heir, as well as the unfulfilled natural longing for a child, combined with the exuberant high spirits of a girl who loved parties and dancing, created for Marie-Antoinette an image of frantic giddiness, soiling her reputation for all time, and leading to rumors of wanton behavior. It is ironic because her brother Joseph described the Queen as not having aucun tempérament, that is, she had little or no temperament or inclination for sensuality. (Marie-Antoinette: L'Insoumise by Simone Bertière, p.357)

Of Louis XVI, Webster writes:
To trace the King's inferiority complex solely to this cause [the unconsummated marriage] after the Freudian manner is...contrary to all evidence, since this complex existed long before his marriage and continued after [the union was consummated]. Never did Louis XVI display more self-confidence than during the Guerre des Farines while his marriage still remained unconsummated, never less than during the Revolution when he had become the father of a family. (Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution by Nesta Webster, p.113)
Perhaps we should attribute Louis' alleged shortcomings to his struggles with tuberculosis as a child as well as to the early loss of his parents and the way he was treated by his tutors. As far as consummating the marriage goes, since his bride was fourteen years old but looked as if she were twelve, I think it speaks well for Louis that he did not wish to deflower a child. Louis also approached his bride in a restrained manner because his aunts had inculcated in him the dangers for France when a king became enthralled by a woman, as had happened to his grandfather Louis XV.

Furthermore, Louis belonged to the political clique at Versailles that had been against the Austrian alliance. Austria was the traditional enemy of France, and had leveled a humiliating defeat upon the Bourbons in the Seven Years War. The defeat was blamed upon the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour, who had also been behind arranging the marriage with the Habsburg Archduchess Antonia. Louis' aunt and godmother, the feisty old maid Madame Adélaïde, daughter of Louis XV, never let him forget that his bride was not only an enemy of France, but that she had been brought over by a courtesan, Madame de Pompadour, who also had reddish hair and was named "Antoinette." Louis could probably see himself becoming quite easily enthralled with Marie-Antoinette, so he remained aloof at first. According to the letters written by the Queen to her mother the Empress Maria Theresa, the young couple began to attempt to consummate the marriage as early as 1773, when Marie-Antoinette was seventeen and Louis eighteen. 

Author Simone Bertière, in her superb biography L'Insoumise, maintains that Marie-Antoinette had a "narrowness of passage" which made consummating the marriage difficult and painful. To quote from The Guardian:
Marie-Antoinette suffered from a condition known in the court as 'l'étroitesse du chemin', [a narrowness of passage], that made her frigid. The research by Simone Bertière, a specialist in the lives of France's seventeenth and eighteenth-century queens, shatters the myth of a semi-impotent, foppish king, and a sluttish queen, favourite targets of scurrilous pamphlets that inflamed the mobs of 1789. It also undermines the most influential biography of Marie-Antoinette, written by Stefan Zweig in Vienna in 1932 after he discovered uncensored correspondence between the queen and her domineering mother, the Empress Marie-Theresa.

'Since then, the presumed impotence of Louis and his cowardice in refusing an operation to correct a small physical malformation have been accepted as a matter of fact, sufficient to explain the queen's neurotic instability,' Bertière said, commenting on her 700-page biography, Marie-Antoinette, l'insoumise (the rebel). 'But Zweig did not compare these letters with those sent by the Hapsburg ambassador to the empress which leave no doubt at all that Louis XVI did not suffer from malformation.'

It was not until seven years after marrying Louis XV's orphaned grandson, then the Dauphin, at Versailles in 1770 that Marie-Antoinette, 'a little girl paralysed by terror', lost her virginity. From the first fruitless night the physiological realities which, according to Bertière, nineteenth and twentieth-century historians glossed over, were the object of intense court records, letters and diplomatic exchanges that described their sexual characteristics in detail.
 Zweig is responsible for spreading the phimosis theory, a theory that keeps appearing in contemporary books and on the internet, although authors such as Webster, Bertière, Cronin, and Fraser have done their best to show it to be erroneous. Wikipedia condenses it thus:
The reasons behind the couple's initial failure to have children were debated at that time, and they have continued to be so since. One suggestion is that Louis-Auguste suffered from a physiological dysfunction,[8] most often thought to be phimosis, a suggestion first made in late 1772 by the royal doctors.[9] Historians adhering to this view suggest that he was circumcised[10] (a common treatment for phimosis) to relieve the condition seven years after their marriage. Louis's doctors were not in favour of the surgery – the operation was delicate and traumatic, and capable of doing "as much harm as good" to an adult male. The argument for phimosis and a resulting operation is mostly seen to originate from Stefan Zweig.[11]

However, it is agreed amongst most modern historians that Louis had no surgery[12][13][14] – for instance, as late as 1777, the Prussian envoy, Baron Goltz, reported that the King of France had definitely declined the operation.[15] The fact was that Louis was frequently declared to be perfectly fit for sexual intercourse, confirmed by Joseph II, and during the time he was purported to have had the operation, he went out hunting almost every day, according to his journal. This would not have been possible if he had undergone a circumcision; at the very least, he would have been unable to go out hunting for a few weeks after. Their consummation problems have now been attributed to other factors, around which controversy and argument still enshroud today.
 Bertière's biography is not available in English; it is worth learning French just to read L'Insoumise because otherwise one's understanding of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's marriage is sadly limited. Bertière says:
L'image donnée de [Louis] par Stefan Zweig devenue par la suite une manière de vulgate, ne résiste pas à l'examen. Pas davantage ne tient l'idée d'une jeune femme s'offrant en pure perte à ses assauts quotidiens: car ils ne partageaient pas le même lit. (The portrayal of [Louis] by Stefan Zweig has been followed as if it were the Vulgate, but it does not withstand examination. Nor does the idea of a young woman offering herself in vain to his daily attacks, for they did not share the same bed.) ( Marie-Antoinette: L'Insoumise by Simone Bertière, p.347)
Bertière repeatedly quotes the various doctors' reports of examinations of Louis which say there was no physical reason why he could not consummate the marriage, i.e., no phimosis. Both Nesta Webster and Antonia Fraser deny the mythical surgery as well. According to Webster: "...Joseph II was able to give the right advice which eventually led to the consummation so devoutly hoped for without recourse being made to the much talked of operation." (Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution by Nesta Webster, p.157) As for Fraser, she writes:
In the end it was not a case of phimosis, the overtight foreskin mocked by Les Nouvelles de la Cour....In January 1776, Moreau, a surgeon of the Hôtel-Dieu hospital, was pronouncing the operation [on Louis XVI] unnecessary and a few months later Marie-Antoinette was increasingly sure the surgeon was right....So there was never an operation. (Marie-Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, p.156)
 In the summer of 1777, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette fully consummated their marriage at last. They were aged twenty-two and twenty-one years respectively. The bride had physically matured and was emotionally ready for the duties of being a wife and mother. To celebrate their matrimonial success, in 1778 Marie-Antoinette commissioned the architect Mique to design and build the neo-classical structure called the Temple of Love. It became a marriage which all the forces of hell could not sunder.


Mozart's Sister (2011)

From The New York Times:
Drawing on Leopold’s letters, among other sources, Mr. Féret paints a speculative, intimate portrait of a family bound by love, genius and ambition and almost undone by the same. When the film opens, Leopold, a musician in his mid-40s when the tour started, is a pushy if loving stage father so dazzled by his son that he hardly has eyes or ears for Nannerl. His favoritism is clouded by the parochialism of the day, as when he scolds her for playing the violin, which he deems an unsuitable instrument for a girl. Her role in life has been decided. An accomplished harpsichordist (and pianist) and singer, she serves as her brother’s accompanist: when he saws on his violin, sometimes while blindfolded, she sits, smiles and plays.

She remains the dutiful daughter, despite moments of self-consciousness about her subordinate station. In one scene she shows Wolfgang her music book, in which Leopold has written praise for his son. (This much-studied trove also contains a number of Mozart’s childhood compositions.) Even in her own music book, Nannerl sighs, she plays second fiddle. It’s a role that she fleetingly abandons during her friendships with Louise de France (Lisa Féret, another of Mr. Féret’s children), a young daughter of Louis XV, and then with the king’s newly widowed son, the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin). (The Dauphin will later die, leaving his son Louis XVI to his fate.)

Mr. Féret, an actor turned filmmaker (he shows up here as a music professor), keeps the scale of his film intimate, its mood quiet, the performances restrained. The costumes and sets are attractive without being fussily art-directed, and the dialogue flows out of the everyday business of life on the road, with the itinerant brood forced to bed down wherever they can. The contrast between the family’s personal and public lives can make for lightly charming scenes, as when Nannerl and Wolfgang whoop it up during a pillow fight and are ordered to bed by their mother. Their rowdy cries, the joyous yelling of two briefly liberated children, are a tiny shock in a story lifted by ethereal music and often brought down to earth by monotone filmmaking.
(Read entire article.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Port Tobacco

The first Carmelite Monastery in America was founded in Port Tobacco, Maryland in 1790.
Prior to the Declaration of Independence, religious freedom had been denied to Catholics. Women and men wishing to enter into a religious vocation had to do so by leaving America and heading for Europe. Convents in Belgium and France were for devoted Americans likely destinations as even England had anti-Catholic laws at the time.

Three of the founding nuns of Mt. Carmel, Mother Bernardina, Sister Mary Aloysia and Sister Mary Eleanora along with Father Neale, were all natives of Southern Maryland. Mother Bernardina was a descendant of one of the first families in Maryland and Sisters Mary Aloysia and Mary Eleanor were her nieces.

The founders had made the arduous trip to Europe and after the Revolution ended, returned to Southern Maryland to enjoy religious freedom and to bring Carmel to America and to their original home.

When Father Neale and the Sisters returned to Charles County, they stayed originally at what was then Father Neale's family estate, Chandler's Hope in Port Tobacco (Chandler's Hope is where both Father Neale and Archbishop Neale were born). But the estate lacked the seclusion needed for the Sisters and so Father Neale exchanged Chandler's Hope for 860 acres about three miles north of Port Tobacco. This is where the original monastery buildings were constructed.

After a very long history, and through many struggles for survival and revival, today's monastery is on nearly 80 acres, bordering the Mt. Carmel Estates neighborhood, less than a half-mile from the College of Southern Maryland's La Plata campus. (Read more.)

The Spanish in the Philippines

Some reflections on what was and what might have been.
Spanish and hispanidad in the Philippines is one of those ‘What if?’ histories that fascinates me, probably because it’s Catholic. The historian Arnold Toynbee, quoted by General MacArthur, called the islands a Latin-American country in Asia. For centuries the Spanish didn’t teach the Malays Spanish, only the Spanish and mestizo (Spanish-Malay or Spanish-Chinese) aristocracy. The Malays speak very different languages so divide and conquer, ¿no? So unlike Latin America few Filipinos spoke or speak it well. But by the 1800s that was starting to change: schools taught the masses Spanish. Because the upper class spoke it, all the early nationalist/independence leaders – like Rizal and Aguinaldo – did. (The first Filipino national anthem and constitution were in it.) They were sort of like the American colonists and their mother country: they wanted political independence from Spain but to still be a part of hispanidad. Among the masses you had a Spanish creole (using the Spanish they’d picked up in order to talk to the Spanish), Chabacano, still spoken by a couple million: Spanish vocabulary, mostly, overlaid onto a Malay structure. Like all creoles it’s a fun challenge for those of us with a high-school knowledge of the base language to understand.

Then the Americans came. They fought that stupid war with Spain, ‘liberated’ the Philippines, fought Aguinaldo and other independence freedom fighters and conquered. They wanted to get rid of hispanidad including the church. (Protestant missionaries; encouraging schism from Rome – but interestingly the Hodur-like founder spoke Spanish, refusing to learn English, resenting American rule; English in the schools.) They pretty much succeeded with the language. Still, before WWII the ethnic Spanish minority and mestizos ruled locally and Spanish remained the language of government, business and the university. If the US had left the Philippines alone, Spanish would have remained so as well as the lingua franca of the different-speaking Malay groups.

WWII (the Japanese occupation and American reconquest) destroyed old Manila, Intramuros, the heart of Filipino hispanidad, so after the war many of the old aristocrats left for Spain. Spanish faded fast after that, into the country’s independent years. With the latest constitution (1987? ... and I think before that, under Marcos, you no longer had to learn it in school) Spanish lost its official-language status.

So... very few there know Spanish. But... there are thousands of Spanish words still in the local languages. Church terms, days of the week, months, telling time, counting in higher numbers etc.

Rather like English has thousands of French words, since the Norman conquest changed the language for ever, but English is not a Romance tongue but still Germanic, the Spanish doesn’t usually help one understand Tagalog for example. It’s Malay. (Read entire post.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Old Country House in France

Lovely house, lovely blog. (Via Catherine Delors) Share

Jessamyn West on Housework

Making something beautiful.
West replied, "I don't tie them to either one. I had a sister, and I think a writer would be lucky if she could be born this way, who didn't give a damn if things are in a wild clutter. She wouldn't have been bothered if there were a pair of shoes on the mantle, but as it happens, I am not that way. I wouldn't feel happy writing until I took the shoes off the mantle and put them down where I thought they belonged. That is just a piece of my temperament. I don't understand the house not being orderly, because that's like painting a picture. It's making something beautiful. That is what I feel about straightening a house." (Read entire post.)

Catholic Writers Guild News

From the CWG blog:
The Historical Novel Society has made CWG member Elena Maria Vidal a book reviewer for their journal, The Historical Novels Review. The Historical Novel Society promotes all aspects of historical fiction and provides services for writers, readers, librarians, booksellers, and others involved in the publishing industry. The Historical Novels Review is a quarterly publication devoted to reviewing every new work of adult historical fiction in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Selected works from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as children and young adult titles, are also reviewed. (Read entire article.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Dinosaur Fish

How the sturgeon saved America.
Sturgeon are sometimes described as the “foundation fish.”  This is because they allowed the English to keep their toehold in the New World, said Albert Spells, Virginia fisheries coordinator for the U.S. and Wildlife Service.

“Sturgeon is the animal that saved America,” Spells said. “But for Atlantic sturgeon, we might be having this conversation in French or Spanish right now. So we stand on the backs of sturgeon.”

Despite their historic significance, however, today sturgeon are at risk of extinction. The National Marine Fisheries Service in October proposed protecting Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species in the Chesapeake Bay region and elsewhere along the East Coast.

Fishermen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries massacred the passive, slow-reproducing giants for their eggs, better known as caviar, Spells said. Dams blocked their passage upriver, and silt smothered their breeding grounds. (Read entire article.)

Mary Wollstonecraft on Primogeniture

There is much speculation on the origins of revolt. Yes, it is true that the French Revolution was not a spontaneous event but rather a carefully planned and well-orchestrated movement by those who had long wanted to overturn the social order. However, we cannot blame everything on a handful of evil conspirators plotting in dark corners. The Revolution was fed by those in positions of authority who abused their power and failed to care for those whom they were duty bound to protect. Nancy Means Wright explores the injustices endured by Mary Wollstonecraft which contributed to her devotion to revolutionary politics.
No doubt Mary was, in part, vindicating the abuses of her own life in her rebuttal to conservative Edmund Burke who considered primogeniture an anchor of social order, but she had known the “demon of property…to encroach on the sacred rights” of legions of unhappy men and women.

“I glow,” she cried, “with indignation!” (Read entire post.)

More on Mary Wollstonecraft, HERE. Share

Thursday, August 25, 2011


One of the finalists in the 2011 Catholic Arts and Letters Awards is Theophilus by Michael O'Brien. It was also one of my personal favorites. The Ignatius Press website has the following synopsis:
St. Luke addressed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles to a man named Theophilos.

Who was Theophilos? Scripture scholars do not know, making him a fit subject for Michael O’Brien’s vivid imagination. In this fictional narrative, Theophilos is the skeptical but beloved adoptive father of St. Luke. Challenged by the startling account of the “Christos” received in the chronicle from his beloved son Luke and concerned for the newly zealous young man’s fate, Theophilos, a Greek physician and an agnostic, embarks on a search for Luke to bring him home. He is gravely concerned about the deadly illusions Luke has succumbed to regarding the incredible stories surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, a man of contradictions who has caused so much controversy throughout the Roman Empire.

Thus begins a long journey that will take Theophilos deep into the war between nations and empires, truth and myth, good and evil, and into unexpected dimensions of his very self. His quest takes the reader into four ancient civilizations - the Greek, Roman, Jewish, and that of Christianity at its birth, where he meets those who knew this man that some believe is the Messiah.

Though Theophilos is a man of the past ages, he is as familiar to us as the men of our own times. Schooled in the empiricism of both medicine and philosophy, Theophilos is well suited to speak to our age in which seeing cannot be the basis for faith, but rather hearing the witness of those who have been touched by God and opening ourselves to the possibility of an encounter with the living Christ. This is a story about the mysterious interaction of faith and reason, the psychology of perception, and the power of love over death.
The book is written in an almost melodious prose, reminiscent of the classical Greek poetry which Theophilus loves. All that was great and all that was horrible about the ancient world are present in this novel. What was great is about to be transformed and sanctified by the light of Christ, the Christ whom Theophilus undertakes to study in a logical manner. Logic by itself, however, cannot prevail and must ultimately be purified by love, as Theophilus discovers as the person of Jesus of Nazareth is gradually revealed to him. Indeed, the descriptions of the hidden life of Christ make Nazareth come alive for me for, in spite of its dirt and gossip, the Son of God walked there. O'Brien's knowledge of both Scripture and ancient history are effortlessly woven into the storyline, enriching as well as adding credibility to the plot. It is the perfect book to read during a retreat, as I did, or during Advent or Lent, for it brings one back to basics and helps one realize once more what a glorious and dangerous thing it is to be a Christian.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the Catholic Writers Guild in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

Napa Wineries by Bike

I enjoyed this article from Food and Wine. Wouldn't it be fun to bike from winery to winery? To quote:
My wife loves a great glass of wine, but she had never wanted anything to do with an actual winery until that moment when we walked our bikes into the cool, quiet shade of Ladera's old stone building, built in 1886. If hunger makes everything taste good, then sweating gallons on a country road has the same effect on wine; and if that wine happens to be excellent, then a little thirst can make it taste downright life-changing. Ladera's 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet, with its velvety, fine-grained tannins, bright acidity and succulent fruit, made us decide right then that either winemaker Karen Culler was a genius or that we were very thirsty people indeed. Or both. (Read entire article.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

John Ford "Forever" Stamp

I am glad that my favorite director is being honored in the "Legends of Hollywood" collection. Share

Medieval Sources of Leftism

I'm not saying I agree with every single thing in the article but some interesting connections are made.
Virtually all secular liberalism originates in heretic offshoots of medieval Christianity. But why should that interest us? After all, don’t all ideas have to come from somewhere? Of course, but who would guess that definitive modern atheist beliefs came directly out of the Dark Ages Church? More than anything, this fact helps us understand the strange attraction secular atheistic humanism holds, despite invariably failing when applied. It should, therefore have been abandoned long ago. You see, it is really a type of bastardized and dispirited Christianity.

In other words, a huge part of the appeal of modern liberalism, aka socialism, is it has stolen unacknowledged parts of biblical religion which then helps satisfy its adherents natural human instinct to serve a higher power. Even if such supporters have no idea of the true source of their beliefs....

Norman Cohn wrote a groundbreaking study of heretic Christian groups, The Pursuit of the Millennium, the first history of medieval heresy and its political aftermath. Cohn was trying to trace from where the great murderous political regimes—Nazi’s, Italian Fascism and Communism—which almost destroyed civilization in World War II—got their ideas. This book is listed by the London Times as among the 100 most influential books published since WWII.

Most people do not know that during the medieval period, aka Dark Ages, there was not one simple monolithic Church. Instead, separate Christian sects were continually springing up across Europe, often being knocked down as heretical movements. Some are seen today as genuinely biblical in theology, and precursors to the Reformation, such as the Hussites, Waldensians, and John Wycliffe’s followers the Lollards.
Yet, many other medieval sects were clearly theologically deviant, including the notorious Free Spirit sects, Adamites, Cathars, Taborites, Beghards, Beguines, Albigensians, Neo-Manicheans, Ranters, Diggers, Anabaptists, and Joachites.(Read entire article.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rachel's Contrition

There is a novel I read last spring that I have not yet reviewed simply because it was part of a contest of which I was one of the judges. The contest being over, I am now allowed to publicly speak about how much I enjoyed the book, which incidentally won the Catholic Arts and Letters Award (CALA), or Lily Award, for adult fiction at the 2011 Catholic Writers Guild Live Conference. It is Rachel's Contrition by Michelle Buckman, an author who has already made her mark in the world of young adult and teen fiction. In Rachel's Contrition she moves boldly into darker themes, exploring the pain of a woman trying to recover from one of the greatest horrors in life. Miss Buckman adroitly delves into Rachel's psyche so that the reader feels quite well-acquainted with the heroine after the first few pages although, as we later discover, there is much that is hidden. Rachel is a rough girl from the other side of the tracks who manages to marry well and find happiness as a wife and mother before her life begins to hideously unravel. Her initial inferiority complex lays the groundwork for the breakdown she is enduring when we first meet her. It is easy to identify with her pain; a box of hankies is recommended throughout the book. By helping a troubled teenager, Rachel begins to find her way back to health as well as acquiring the strength to face the unthinkable.

Set in North Carolina, Rachel's Contrition has a distinct southern flavor which reminds me of Harper Lee or Carson McCullers. Injected into the drama, however, is the radiance of the Catholic faith, which keeps the story from being morbid or depressing. In fact, the novel offers a clear vision of hope. Amid battered dreams and memories, Rachel finds peace in the present moment with the aid of a certain French Carmelite nun. The Little Flower intervention is not as fanciful as it might seem; all my life I have heard of similar manifestations making the difference in the path certain individuals choose to follow. In Rachel's case, it is a matter of life and death.

*(NOTE: Rachel's Contrition was sent to me by the Catholic Writers Guild in exchange for my honest opinion.)

New Tudor Books

The Tudor dynasty continues to fascinate. According to the blog Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen:
...There are several upcoming books of interest. John Edward’s biography of Mary is due out the end of this month (more info here). Several studies of Mary’s kin are in the works. They include:

Patrick Williams, Catherine of Aragon: A Life (Amberley Publishing). Confusingly two dates have been supplied for this – one being the 15th of this month, the other June 2012. This ‘monumental new biography’ claims to be ‘the first to make full use of the Spanish Royal Archives’. Hopefully it will be akin to Eric Ives’s masterly study of Anne Boleyn.

At last we have a full scale study of Mary’s husband’s time as, well, her husband. Harry Kelsey’s Philip of Spain, King of England: The Forgotten Sovereign (I.B. Tauris), is out on 30/11/2011. The synopsis:
‘The Spanish Armada conjures up images of age-old rivalries, bravery and treachery. However the same Spanish monarch who sent the Armada to invade England in 1588 was, just a few years previously, the King of England and husband of Mary Tudor. This important new book sheds new light on Philip II of Spain, England's forgotten sovereign. Previous accounts of Mary's brief reign have focused on the martyrdom of Protestant dissenters, the loss of English territory, as well as Mary's infamous personality, meaning that her husband Philip has remained in the shadows. In this book, Harry Kelsey uncovers Philip's life - from his childhood and education in Spain, to his marriage to Mary and the political manoeuvrings involved in the marriage contract, to the tumultuous aftermath of Mary's death which ultimately led to hostile relations between Queen Elizabeth and Philip, culminating in the Armada. Focusing especially on the period of Philip's marriage to Mary, Kelsey shows that Philip was, in fact, an active King of England and took a keen interest in the rule of his wife's kingdom. Casting fresh light on both Mary and Philip, as well as European history more generally, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in the Tudor era.’ (Read entire post.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to School Etiquette

Miss Janice says:
Remember that today's children are tomorrow's leaders. Here's some tips that might help you get started teaching your child how to behave:
~Teach your child to share with others.
~Teach your child to wait their turn.
~Teach your child not to interrupt when others are speaking.
~Teach your child the importance of being honest.
~Teach your child the importance of good sportsmanship--not everyone will be a winner and children need to learn that when they do not win, it's not the end of their world! Children should be taught how to lose gracefully.
~Teach your child the proper forms of address for their teachers. Children should show respect to their teachers and use titles when speaking to adults; i.e. Miss, Mr., Mrs., and Ms. In the South, some teachers are addressed as "Miss Janice", instead of Mrs.'s a Southern thing y'all and a sign of respect! I would like to add that parents should also address the teachers with a title and refrain from addressing them only using their first name.
~Teach your child how to accept others with disabilities.
~If you show respect to others, your child will learn a valuable lesson from you. If you practice kindness by using words like "please, thank you, you're welcome, and excuse me," your child will learn another valuable lesson from you.
~Don't forget to praise your child when they show good manners! (Read entire post.)
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Templar Myths

Are they hazardous?
Our Dan Brown-tinged era has put a kind of “full-employment act” in place for spinners of Templar myths. Some of these entrepreneurs cater to the desire for escapism and fantasy (which, given the state of the world at the moment, is perhaps understandable). Much of it is less benign, from the dozens of murders and suicides connected with the so-called Order of the Solar Temple in the 1990s, to the ruthless Caballeros Templarios drug gang in Mexico that split off from the equally fearsome La Familia cartel. The latter has produced a 22-page “Templar code” for its criminal members, including a pledge not to use or sell narcotics on Mexican territory. How chivalrous.

What is it about the Templar myth that seems to beguile both the general public as well as those who are unhinged or engaged in nefarious activities? With the horrific bombing and shootings in Norway on July 22nd, that question has taken on greater urgency — though the world’s media are having difficulty making sense of it. (Read entire post.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus

The Wall Street Journal reports on an extraordinary exhibit in Philadelphia. (Thanks, Stephanie!)
Two masterpieces—one at the beginning of the exhibition, the other near the center—establish the principal theme. In "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery" (1644), the 38-year-old Rembrandt followed longstanding conventions by depicting Jesus with pale skin, a high forehead and flowing chestnut-colored hair. The painting's subject, one frequently depicted in art, comes from the Gospel of John, in which the temple scribes and Pharisees come before Jesus with an adulteress and demand that she be stoned in accordance with the law. To their surprise, Jesus responds, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Yet Rembrandt shows us a moment not of action but of contemplation, as Jesus calmly considers the charge against the woman who kneels at his feet. An atmosphere of silence pervades the towering space of the temple, and all of the drama depends on a subtle interplay of gestures and glances.

A similar sense of anticipatory quiet pervades "The Supper at Emmaus" (1648), in which the risen Christ pauses before revealing his identity to two disciples over a meal at a humble inn. This was the first major work in which Rembrandt portrayed Christ with olive skin, dark hair and facial features like those of Jewish men he knew from Amsterdam, and it is a true landmark in the artist's career. As Seymour Slive, the renowned Harvard scholar of Dutch art, has written, "To Rembrandt the Jews were the people of the Bible, and with his deepening realism he wanted to become more authentic in his biblical representations." So seriously did Rembrandt take the question of authenticity that "The Supper at Emmaus" depicts Christ about to break a loaf of traditional Jewish challah bread, clearly identifiable by its braided twists.

Three rooms of fairly small works flesh out the show's intellectual background. The first presents images of Christ in prior European art, demonstrating canonical approaches to portraying this all-important figure, whose physical appearance receives scant mention in the Bible. The second shows Rembrandt's engagement with these traditions through his youthful graphic work, including a famous red-chalk drawing after Leonardo's "Last Supper." And the third offers a sampling of Rembrandt's earliest images of 17th-century Dutch Jews.

Here, we learn that Rembrandt lived on the edge of Amsterdam's largest Jewish community, which was populated by both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, almost all of whom were refugees from persecution elsewhere in Europe. The mostly impoverished Ashkenazim, with their untrimmed beards, long hair and traditional garments, particularly captured the artist's attention, as can be seen in a sensitive black chalk drawing of a seated Jewish craftsman at work and in a rapidly executed oil-on-panel "Portrait of a Young Jew" (c. 1648). (Read entire article.)
(Image Source)

Puritans and Antidepressants

A doctor weighs in.
So why is there so much hostility directed at these medications? (The same question could be raised with respect to psychiatry and psychiatrists, but that’s another story). I believe that a good deal of the animus arises from our Puritan heritage, and its attitude toward suffering, sin, and expiation. For the Puritans of New England, disease was essentially a divine punishment for Man’s original disobedience to God. As historian An Vandenberghe has put it, for the Puritans, ‘Even though there were more than two thousand different diseases…the primary cause of all of them was the “Sin of our First Parents.”’ There was also a strong link between disease and personal sin: the person whose tooth ached probably did something nasty with his teeth!

Now, when psychiatrists see patients with severe major depression, these unfortunate souls often express the view that their illness is a “punishment” of some sort. Some believe that God is punishing them for their sins. But this attitude, in a less extreme form, pervades our society’s views about depression—that it is, in some sense, the “fault” of the depressed individual. Some clinicians who argue that depression has an “adaptive” value often begin with the premise that depression represents the person’s “failure to resolve their social dilemmas”—a clinical euphemism for blaming the sufferer. The logical extension of this line of reasoning is that the depressed individual must somehow “repent of his ways”—for example, by ruminating on his problem until it is solved, or by “pulling himself up by his bootstraps.” (Read entire article.) 
(Via Dymphna's Well.) Share

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Shade Garden

The place to be in late summer. Southern Living visits a spectacular North Carolina garden. Share

Village Life in America

The diary of a young girl sheds light on the mid-nineteenth century .
Village Life in America is a name given to a diary written by one Caroline Cowles Richards, later Mrs. Edmund Clarke, from 1852, when Caroline was 10 years old, to 1872, when she is married and has a family. The writer lived in Canandaigua, New York, in the finger lakes region, with her maternal grandparents, Mrs. and Mrs. Thomas Beals, and her sister Anna, younger by four years. Caroline's mother had died, and their father had sent the girls to be raised by the Beals, as he pursued his career, remarried, and had a new family. He wrote to the girls often. Even with these paltry facts, we can note that the nuclear family was not so stable as we might think in yesteryear, as it was often torn asunder by death, and children may be sent to live with relatives rather than stay with a single parent. This is just one example of the richness of comparisons and insights into mid-19th-century housekeeping, social mores, attitudes, child-rearing, and religious belief and practice that are to be gained from this slim and charming book. (Read entire post.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Stolen Life

When I imagine the future, I see myself helping families heal after traumatic situations. Families are like snowflakes: they come in many shapes and sizes and no two are the same....When two or three snowflakes merge, they strengthen their chances of surviving in an ever-changing world. Unlike snowflakes, given the right tools, families can survive through the worst conditions. — from A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
There have always been evil people in the world. All anyone has to do is study history or read the Bible to see that wicked and perverse individuals have always been with us. The difference between now and the past is that because of technology evil is more readily disseminated, so that if we are not careful we can be inundated by both pictures and ideas that attack faith and  human dignity. I am thinking especially of a person like Philip Garrido, whose unwholesome fascination with little girls was inflamed by pornographic films and magazines, like throwing a lit match down an oil well. Unfortunately, the one to suffer the most from Garrido's twisted obsession was an innocent little girl, Jaycee Dugard, who has written a memoir about how she survived the eighteen year ordeal.

As Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post writes:
The vast majority of 11-year-olds who walk to the school bus stop on a crisp morning in a quiet town, especially a tiny one like mine, will not be kidnapped. They will not be turned into sex slaves, tortured in a backyard shed, repeatedly raped and impregnated by a drug addict who says his evil deeds are the bidding of the angels whispering in his head.
Jaycee Dugard assures us: “Stranger abduction is very rare.” But Dugard is part of the “1% of the population” who has been abducted. All those things happened to her.
In her book, “A Stolen Life,” Dugard gives us all the fetid horror that authors like Dean Koontz and James Pattersonhave been trying to conjure on their pages for years. Only this time, it’s real. And it’s worse than fiction.
The story of Dugard’s ordeal fuels every helicopter parent’s unreasonable Velcro parenting. See, it can happen! And now, most American children will never ride their bikes in the empty lot until dusk or kick a can on a meandering walk home.
It’s a tough read. But work through it, and you’ll find more than the stomach-churning details that make you put it down the first night. This little memoir, which shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list the day before it was released, was written plainly and simply by Dugard herself, without the help of a ghostwriter. And in that, it is powerful beyond its voyeurism.
Dugard starts the book with her life in my home town, South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where her family relocated after their apartment in Anaheim, home of Disneyland, was burgled. Aside from the small grease stain that the casinos occupy in this Sierra Nevada idyll, Tahoe is a quiet place. The most frequent assaults are night raids on garbage cans by raccoons.
I walked to the bus stop throughout my childhood. I was always afraid, like Dugard was, of missing the bus and having to ask my dad — asleep after pulling a night shift in the casinos — for a ride to school. I was lucky. I made it to school just about every day and was away at college on June 10, 1991.
On that morning, my little brother did his usual trek to a bus stop just a few miles from the spot where Dugard was doing the same thing. It was the last time my brother walked alone as a kid.
A car pulled up alongside Dugard, the window rolled down, and the driver began asking for directions. This happened all the time in Tahoe, where we would delight in sending tourists on a 70-mile trip around the lake to get to the casinos that were just two miles away in the opposite direction.
But the driver, Phillip Garrido, didn’t want the casinos. He and his wife, Nancy, wanted the 11-year-old blonde in a pink windbreaker. He zapped her with a stun gun and dragged her into his car. The voice describing all this could be straight from the pages of an 11-year-old’s diary, but the details are more likely to be found in the script of a hard-core porn flick. “The strange man tells me to look at him. I glance real quickly and want to start laughing in spite of my fearfulness. His private part looks so funny,” Dugard writes of the first night that Garrido forced her to shower with him, then handcuffed her and locked her in a shed in the back yard of his house outside Antioch, Calif.
 Many abducted children never return to tell the tale. Because of Jaycee we know first hand about those first moments of sheer horror that descend upon a child when the realization dawns that he or she is in the hands of strangers. Anyone who causes that degree of fear in a child should burn in hell forever and ever, not to mention all the other hideous acts that usually follow.* The mystery of why someone would want to hurt a child in such a manner is one which Jaycee never understands. I certainly do not understand it myself. I guess it is a blessing that my mind cannot even go there.

What saved Jaycee's sanity and self-respect, other than the grace of God, was the memory of her mother. She knew that she was her mother's beloved child, no matter what she was to her captors. She knew that the love she had for her mother was a reality as real as the nightmare around her. When she bore the children of her rapist, without any medical assistance through either of her pregnancies or deliveries, she chose love over hatred. She nurtured and protected her children and did everything she could to educate them with the meager resources at her disposal. When her youngest daughter was eleven, the very age in which she was kidnapped, Jaycee and the girls were delivered at last from captivity.

The book is disturbing beyond words; I have not read anything so upsetting since the last time I read about the Holocaust or life in the gulag. To think that such horrors occur in our own country makes me want to never leave the house. But I do, because I must. The fact that Jaycee since her liberation has been able to embrace all the good that life has to offer, and she refuses to be stifled by the past or poisoned by bitterness, is enough to give the rest of us courage to do what we have to do in our own pilgrimages.

HERE are photos of the tent in the backyard where Jaycee and her children were held captive.

The review in the Washington Post is definitely worth reading.

* NOTE: On this blog we pray for all souls to be saved and we acknowledge that the final judgment belongs to God alone regardless of what we may personally think or feel about a particular crime.


Nine Deadly Diseases

They afflicted George Washington.
George Washington is a mainstay of history books for fighting everything from the British Empire to a cherry tree, but his private battles may have been the fiercest. Tuberculosis. Malaria. Smallpox. Dysentery. Some of the deadliest ailments of the 18th century attacked him early and often.

"There are many points before and after the Revolutionary War when he could have died," said Dr. Howard Markel, director of University of Michigan's Center for the History of Medicine. "He was really quite ill, even when he was president."

A look back at Washington's medical chart on this 235th Independence Day offers both a snapshot of America's original biological villains and a progress check on its medical advances.

Today, Washington would probably take a preventive shot for diphtheria, pop some pills for tonsillitis, and skip the deadly blood-letting procedure for epiglottis. Yet he would be even more susceptible to skin cancer in the 21st century and the pneumonia would likely be just as unpleasant.

Washington ultimately died of a throat infection at age 67 -- but his relative health amid other sicknesses offers a lesson, Markel said.

"His body won more times than not. There's a million and one things that could have killed him, that could kill any of us, but they didn't," he said. "And that's the wonder of the human body." (Read entire article.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Marie-Antoinette's Gambling Addiction

My post on the new blog Lost in the Myths of History. Share

Daphne du Maurier's Cornish Cottage

The cottage was a haven for the writer amid the storms of life.
The cottage was originally built as a coach house and stables for the nearby waterfront Italianate mansion, Point Neptune. By the time she arrived at Readymoney in 1942 with her three children, du Maurier had already written Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek. But according to her biographer Margaret Forster, she arrived under something of a cloud. She had been staying with friends in a grand house in Hertfordshire while her husband, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning, was away busy setting up Britain's first airborne division. Unfortunately, according to Forster, Du Maurier, was caught in an embrace with her hostess's husband. Du Maurier, then 34, wrote to a friend that "after many probings and thinkings" she was moving to Cornwall, where her mother and sisters were living and which had inspired her famous works, to "sort myself out". (Read entire article.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cottingham Farm

I read about a lovely nearby organic farm in the newspaper. I admit that the idea of having an organic farm enchants me, although as far as I have ever gotten with it is an organic garden in my back yard. Such farms add to the health and well-being of the entire community. The farm website shares the history and mission of Cottingham, as follows:
Cottingham Farm in Talbot County, Maryland has a long and a short history. The land was settled in 1658 by Isaac Abraham who arrived from England on a condition of plantation to farm tobacco on fifty acres. 
Jonathan and William Shaw, from “Cottingham” in Yorkshire England, claimed an adjacent 900 acres in 1662 and called it Cottingham. Tobacco grew here in colonial times, likely followed by wheat to feed General Washington’s Continental Army, followed by fruit tree orchards through the early 1900’s, supplanted by feed corn and soy in the 1940’s. In this new century, the land (now about 160 acres) is being transitioned to healthful sustainably grown and locally distributed fruits, vegetables and herbs. We grow our produce using organic methods, with no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, surrounded by buffers of wildlife habitat and buffers for the Chesapeake Bay. We like to call it Real Food....
We believe we must return to the times of organically growing healthy and nutritious food for people to eat – and there is no better place for this to happen than on Maryland’s Eastern Shore which lies in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — which has an agrarian history and reputation — and is within a short driving distance of some of our favorite metropolitan centers in addition to our own small Eastern Shore towns. Organic food is healthier for us because it is free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and because there is significant evidence that it contains higher levels of nutrients. Further, we select for nutrient value and taste rather than for transportability, uniformity of size, and shelf life.

 In addition to providing more nutritious food, this type of farming creates jobs (it is labor intensive rather than reliant on chemicals), it frees up land for implementation of good environmental practices (like buffer strips, cover crops and fallow periods), it can help us grow a Maryland economy (because Marylanders will be paying Marylanders rather than Californians, Floridians, Canadians and Mexicans to grow our food for us), and it can even have, in the collective sense, an impact on American health care costs as well as on the tremendous energy costs of our existing industrial agricultural model (under which the average food miles traveled by your food is 1,200 miles – and 1,500 miles if it is fresh produce). (Read entire article.)
Here is an article about the need for change which says:
The current food supply system in Maryland, as in much of the country, is dominated by low value corn and soy, fed to confined animal feed operations (“CAFO’s”), chicken “broilers” in the case of Maryland, and beef, hogs, and chicken in other areas of the country, which is then distributed on a national basis. This industrial system produces “cheap” food with very high costs. It costs taxpayers billions of dollars in annual federal corn and grain subsidies. It imposes extraordinary health care costs on American.... (Read entire article.)

The Secret Garden

The hidden depths of a masterpiece.
Meanwhile, the book's tackling of disability and the life of "invalids" is at once intriguing and troubling. Most notable is the depiction of Colin Craven, a cousin of Mary's even more unpleasant than she is. After his mother died giving birth to him, his father, the master of Misselthwaite, left his son to be hidden in the house. He grows up to be an angry, self-loathing boy who unnerves the servants and has a neurotic fear of becoming a hunchback. While Mary is the protagonist, her story is paralleled in Colin's. Indeed, one of the book's strangest features is that it is the two most wounded and unlikable characters who do the most to heal one another. The moral guidance of kindly adults doesn't have much to do with it.

The secret garden is a catalyst for healing in the characters who see it, and with Colin the effect is literal. Unable to walk when we meet him, he discovers in the garden that he can stand. He secretly practises until he is able to shock his father by getting out his wheelchair and walking. With Colin, it's apparent from the start that his disability is psychological, rooted in a loveless childhood. (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What Stands in a Storm

Southern Living has a moving series about citizens who came together to help each other after the winds died down.
Almost nothing stood.

Where the awful winds bore down, massive oaks, 100 years old, were shoved over like stems of grass, and great pines, as big around as 55-gallon drums, snapped like sticks. Church sanctuaries, built on the Rock of Ages, tumbled into random piles of brick. Houses, echoing with the footfalls of generations, came apart, and blew away like paper. Whole communities, carefully planned, splintered into chaos. Restaurants and supermarkets, gas stations and corner stores, all disintegrated, glass storefronts scattered like diamonds on black asphalt. It was as if the very curve of the Earth was altered, horizons erased altogether, the landscape so ruined and unfamiliar that those who ran from this thing, some of them, could not find their way home.

We are accustomed to storms, here where the cool air drifts south to collide with the warm, rising damp from the Gulf, where black clouds roil and spin and unleash hell on Earth. But this was different, a gothic monster off the scale of our experience and even our imagination, a thing of freakish size and power that tore through state after state and heart after Southern heart, killing hundreds, hurting thousands, even affecting, perhaps forever, how we look at the sky.

 But the same geography that left us in the path of this destruction also created, across generations, a way of life that would not come to pieces inside that storm, nailed together from old-fashioned things like human kindness, courage, utter selflessness, and, yes, defiance, even standing inside a roofless house.

As Southerners, we know that a man with a chain saw is worth 10 with a clipboard, that there is no hurt in this world, even in the storm of the century, that cannot be comforted with a casserole, and that faith, in the hereafter or in neighbors who help you through the here and now, cannot be knocked down.
Part I
Part II
Part III Share

"Dracula" and the Battle of Belgrade

Without the dreadful Vlad the Impaler, the crucial battle would not have been won.
Yes, Dracula—or, more precisely, Vlad III the Impaler, who is better known to history by the dreaded name. Pope Callixtus III added the Feast of the Transfiguration to the calendar to celebrate the important victory of the Hungarian nobleman Janos Hunyadi and the elderly priest St. John of Capistrano at the Siege of Belgrade in July 1456. Breaking the siege, their troops reinforced the Christians at Belgrade, the Muslim Turks were routed, and Islam was stopped from advancing further into Europe.

With the exception of St. John of Capistrano, Hunyadi could find no significant allies to accompany him to Belgrade, but he did enlist the help of young prince Vlad, who agreed to guard the passes into Rumania, thus cutting off the Turk. Without his aid, the battle might not have been won. (Read entire post.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Taste for Theatrics

While the Opera of Versailles was a theatre of court, the small room at Trianon was a theatre of society, as many existed then in residences in the countryside where, to pass the time, the owners and their guests would put together plays or operas. During her childhood in Vienna, Marie-Antoinette had gotten used to these familiar performances. She wanted to do the same with her close relations, princes of the royal family and some rare friends.
 In 1780, on the orders of Marie-Antoinette, Richard Mique built this theatre whose severe exterior contrasts with the refined interior which, through its harmonies of blue, white and gold, recalls the opera of Versailles, only smaller since it has a capacity of only a hundred people: the domestic service on the floor and the guests on the first floor behind the boxes with grids. But the greatest luxury is not in the wooded room painted in a false, veined white marble and adorned with sculptures made of pasteboard, it lies in the machinery used for the scenery changes, which was fortunately preserved. On the stage of Trianon, plays by authors who were fashionable at the time, such as Sedaine and Rousseau, were acted out and entire operas were sung, and everyone agreed that the Queen was very good. (Read entire article.)