Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ball Gowns

All dressed up with no place to go. Apparently they no longer have court presentations of debutantes in England, presentations which the author if this article mysteriously describes as "ludicrous" but I think they sound like fun. When I was a teenager in Frederick County they had a Mardi Gras ball and eighty young girls in white ball gowns would be presented to the Mardi Gras "King and Queen." A good time was had by all; I am glad I was able to experience such ludicrousness. According to the Wall Street Journal:
There's been a lot of fuss made recently about the "Ballgowns" exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I can understand why. Britain is famous (perhaps infamous) for its eccentric and constrained social strictures, made manifest by that quaint custom of holding balls where the crème de la crème of society gather to marry well and behave badly....

Balls and ball gowns have long been used by writers as a method of denoting social standing. Most notably, Jane Austen's modestly dressed (and very modestly incomed) Eliza Bennet meets the urbane Mr. Darcy ("he has ten thousand a year") at a country dance, while the decline of literature's most glamorous opportunist, Thackeray's Becky Sharp, is charted via her increasingly diminished sense of style and obvious lack of means at balls and dinners.

In 1958, the queen stopped the ludicrous court presentations of debutantes. But that hasn't stopped the French or the American South aping the practice (minus the royal, of course). The whole concept seems even more outmoded these days, until one considers that the Duchess of Cambridge only has to don a long, ball-gown-ish dress and a bit of sparkle to lead the global news agenda, or that the "posh boy" image that dogs the U.K.'s present prime minister is due almost entirely to a picture of him standing with his student drinking buddies in full evening regalia.

"Ballgowns" (until Jan. 6; focuses only on the past 60 years, which is a shame since the most glamorous and relevant eras were certainly long before then. That the shape of a ball gown has changed very little since the days of Becky Sharp isn't in doubt. John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen have all used the original silhouette of a nipped-in waist, plunging décolletage and billowing skirt to great effect. Dresses owned by Jill Ritblat, Elizabeth Hurley, Gayle Hunnicutt and, inevitably, the Princess of Wales are all on show. Designers such as Charles Frederick Worth, Hardy Amies, Bellville Sassoon, Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes and Catherine Walker are also represented—not forgetting the master of social conformity, the court dressmaker Norman Hartnell. What has changed are the fabrics. Once satin, silk tulle and taffeta were de rigueur; these days, feathers, sequins, lace or latex are as likely to make an appearance. Gareth Pugh created a dress especially for the exhibition made almost entirely of metallic leather.

The ball itself has given way to the red carpet and the society benefit. These days, as the exhibition illustrates, long, extravagant gowns are as likely to be seen at Cannes and the Met Ball as they are at the Crillon debutante ball in Paris. Just because the venues have changed doesn't mean there's a lack of subject matter. In fact, since "Ballgowns" begins with the 1950s, there must be a wealth of photographic material with which to play. (Read entire article.)

Bitter is Better

How we need to program our taste buds away from sugar. To quote:
The tongue is a unique muscle. The best way to exercise it, if you want to make the most difference to your waistline, is not to flex or fatigue it, but to stretch it. Expanding our repertoire of foods isn't just about exploration and new pleasures. It's also the first step toward eating a broader, healthier diet.
We are born loving sweetness, so we heap sugar into our lattes and drown our Chinese food in sweet sauces. But constantly indulging our craving for sweetness has an insidious effect. With each new overly sweet food that we consume, whether it is high in calories or not, we dull our palates to other tastes and flavors, especially those of nutritious fruits and vegetables.

We also may be altering our brain chemistry by eating more and more sweeter and sweeter foods. New research shows that the excessive consumption of calorically dense foods changes the way that our brain responds to future foods. The effect is akin to a drug addict's need for more and more heroin to satisfy his craving.

Experts in food neophobia—the fear of new food—have shown that it can take five to 10 attempts at trying something before you reach the point where you don't reject it outright. That's a lot of soapy cilantro to get down the hatch. But patience pays off on the joyous day when a child realizes that she kinda, sorta doesn't hate broccoli any more.

Here are some exercise tips…for your palate:

1. Eat More Bitter Foods. We're all born with an aversion to bitterness, but our levels of sensitivity vary greatly. Some kids will eat broccoli from the get-go. It may taste one-third as bitter to them as it does to the child who tests your very last nerve at the dinner table. You can usually tell who is the tolerant taster (that is, the one with the less sensitive palate) and who is the hypertaster ("I only eat white foods"), but you can coach and nurture them both into being open-minded eaters.

One study found that only 5% to 8% of the calories we eat are bitter. But the compounds that make foods taste bitter (carotenoids in sweet potatoes and spinach, flavonoids in cranberries and kale, polyphenols in wine) also make them good for us. Consider the initial taste shock of bitter foods such as cranberries, cocoa and kale to be positive, rather than negative. Bitter = healthful.

2. Try Something New. At a restaurant, order something you would never cook at home. Instead of recoiling at the smell of something foreign and pungent, get to know it better. I used to abhor the very smell of canned tuna. That was before I landed a canned-tuna client and had to taste it every week for four years. These days I'm an aficionado of good (healthy) tuna. (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

St. Pius X on St. Joan

Jeanne d’Arc est interrogée par le cardinal de Winchester dans sa prison (1824) par Paul Delaroche.

Here is an excerpt from the decree of beatification of Jeanne d'Arc.
...In our time more than ever before, the chief strength of the wicked, lies in the cowardice and weakness of good men... All the strength of Satan’s reign is due to the easy-going weakness of Catholics. Oh! if I might ask the Divine Redeemer, as the prophet Zachary did in spirit: What are those wounds in the midst of Thy hands? The answer would not be doubtful: With these was I wounded in the house of them that loved Me. I was wounded by My friends, who did nothing to defend Me, and who, on every occasion, made themselves the accomplices of My adversaries. And this reproach can be leveled at the weak and timid Catholics of all countries....
Pope St. Pius X, Discourse at the Beatification of St. Joan of Arc, Dec. 13, 1908"

Stand and Fight

Here is a rant from a lady named Ann Barnhardt. In spite of some of the crude expressions, graphic language and name-calling she makes some excellent points about the dangers of retreat and compromise when faced with unjust laws. The only way to deal with unjust laws is to refuse to obey them and to give no quarter. To quote Miss Ann:
 I do not understand how it is that this isn't glaringly, beat-you-over-the-head obvious, but whatever. I'll explain it....Withdrawing health insurance (like Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio), shutting down schools, closing adoption agencies, soup kitchens or ANYTHING ELSE in "protest" of ObamaCare and the HHS "mandates" is EXACTLY, PRECISELY, TOTALLY and COMPLETELY what the Obama regime wants....

The Obama regime is sitting back and watching all of you cowardly fools fold your own tents. None of the stupid bread-and-circus addicted crowd knows anything about any of this. You have to break out of your narcissistic little world and understand that even though these things are earth-shattering to you, uh, most people in this country don't even know that their "government" has declared war on the Church.

So, in a few months, after you all have played right into their hands and shut down your facilities, hospitals, schools and services, congratulating yourselves on your "brave protest", the Obama regime is going to make a ginormous propaganda offensive telling all of the stupid TV-addled idiots that the Catholic Church doesn't give a crap about "the people" because they have shut down their hospitals, schools, their soup kitchens, their adoption agencies and won't even provide health insurance plans to the poor, poor youths attending their universities. The Catholic Church hates "the people", hates charity, hates sick people, hates women, hates children, hates poor people and is hoarding all of its money.

Oh, but the Obama regime LOVES you. The Obama regime will provide you and anyone else who joins their Free Shit Army with all of the "free healthcare", "free education", "free food" and free unicorn farts they could ever want or need.

Listen, you fools. YOU DON'T SHUT ANYTHING DOWN. You keep going exactly as you have been, and you force those dirty rotten SOBs to literally storm your hospitals and shut YOU down at gunpoint. And I'm not kidding. Make them physically shut down your hospital by dragging you out at gunpoint. Make them physically shut down your schools. Make them shut down your university by force because you won't cover abortions in your student health plan. Make them physically shut down your soup kitchens....
In other words, STAND AND FIGHT.

The only proper course of action is total non-compliance with these totalitarian edicts of the regime, and FORCING THEIR HAND.

Anything less than that, and you LOSE. MEN fight wars. If you refuse to do your duty and act like MEN, then the war is already lost. And make no mistake, cowardice is a grave sin, and you will answer for it.

Every bishop is given a crosier upon his ordination to the episcopacy. A crosier is a shepherd's staff. It is a six to seven foot long staff that a shepherd uses to beat the crap out of wolves. That's your job. Beating the crap out of the wolves - not killing all of the sheep yourself so that there is nothing left for the wolves to eat. (Read entire article.)
*NOTE: Cardinal Dolan on resistance, HERE. Share

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


From the Wall Street Journal:
This renewed interest in tiaras is likely to heighten in coming months as Queen Elizabeth II—the woman said to have the finest collection in the world—dons a glittering assortment for her Diamond Jubilee, and exhibitions mark the occasion. At Buckingham Palace, her majesty's "Girls of Great Britain" tiara, made by Garrard, and other personal jewels will be available for closer study in "Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration," opening June 30. The fairy-tale diamond tiara, with its delicate festoon-and-scroll design, was presented to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, who later became Queen Mary, as a wedding gift in 1893, on behalf of the "Girls of Great Britain and Ireland." She passed it on to her granddaughter Elizabeth on her wedding day in 1947.

Last year, Prince Albert II of Monaco's wedding gift to his bride, now Princess Charlene, was the "Océan" tiara [above], fashioned from diamonds and sapphires by Van Cleef & Arpels. But it isn't only royals with state banquets to attend who go shopping for bespoke tiaras. "With the growth of republics and democracy, so many courts vanished in the 20th century and therefore the tiara assumed a decorative value. It no longer has the same political implication," says Diana Scarisbrick, a London-based jewelry historian and author whose books include "Timeless Tiaras." "But always it is to transform the looks to make you look rather more special than the next person." (Read entire article.)

Paris Through the Eyes of Children

A creative way to explore Paris with the family.
It's no accident that a passport is a book, and no question that books are passports. Especially Paris books, and especially in our house. Whenever Ludwig Bemelmans's "12 little girls in two straight lines"—including "the smallest one...Madeline"—embark on another walk through the city, we tag along. When Albert Lamorisse's "Red Balloon" takes flight, we leap after the string. And when young Hugo nervously approaches the little toy shop in "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," we take a deep breath and follow him.

If you're packing for Paris, here's advice no guidebook will give you: Bring a 4-year-old. And a 9- and 11-year-old, if you have them. Stuff their suitcases not with electronics but books—children's books with Paris at their core—and once you land, prepare to do something really counterintuitive: Let your kids lead you around the French capital.

When my wife and I did just that for a week this spring, we not only survived, but had the most fun we've ever experienced in Europe. We saw things we'd never have otherwise: A tiny toy shop full of surprises so startling my daughters gasped. A restaurant so very French we were the only foreigners dining. And a bookstore where pondering a purchase caused us to rethink our lives.

We started with "Madeline," because Mr. Bemelmans not only takes his book's 12 little girls on a comprehensive Parisian tour, but also shows readers how to tour: Stick together, ignore the weather, run and play whenever possible and stay out of the metro.

It's not that the author had anything against the subway, just that his vibrant books made me realize the obvious—it's hard to see Paris from underground. Less obvious was that the dozen little girls don't walk a straight line through Paris. Rather, we discovered, they embark on a wandering expedition that totals almost 16 miles. Perhaps Mr. Bemelmans took liberties; we took the bus. (Read entire post.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Franklin at the Court of France

Benjamin Franklin was received with great deference in 1778 by Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their court, although Louis personally did not care for him, and put Franklin's picture in the bottom of a chamber pot. To quote:
Print shows Benjamin Franklin receiving a laurel wreath upon his head. From left to right, some of the members of the French court include: Duchesse Jules de Polignac, Princesse Lamballe (holding flowers), Diane de Polignac (holding wreath), Comte de Vergennes, Mme Campan, Contesse de Neuilly, Marie-Antoinette (seated), Louis XVI, Princess Elizabeth. 
The Franco-American alliance  was promoted in the United States by Thomas Jefferson, a Francophile. Based on the Model Treaty of 1776, Jefferson encouraged the role of France as an economic and military partner to the United States, in order to weaken British influence. (Read entire post.)

Good Humor Treats

The ice cream truck is part of the magic of summer for many neighborhoods. (I like Blue Bunny, too.) To quote:
Good Humor treats date back to 1920, when Harry Burt, a candy maker in Youngstown, Ohio, stuck some ice cream on a stick and dubbed it the Good Humor Bar. Mr. Burt received a patent for "ice cream on a stick" in 1923, after years of debate among authorities about whether his creation differed enough from the Eskimo Pie. (Eskimo Pie, a contemporaneous chocolate-covered ice-cream bar, had no stick; it received a patent in 1922.)
Later, Mr. Burt waged a legal battle against Popsicle Corp., whose fruity ice on a stick, he claimed, infringed his rights. The companies struck a licensing agreement. Unilever, which bought Good Humor in 1961, today owns Popsicle, too.
Good Humor developed franchises, and the "Good Humor Man," with his trademark truck, became a fixture of the American summer by the 1950s. In the late 1970s, the company sold the trucks off to individual buyers.
Today, Mrs. Chimbolo, 46 years old and the owner of a classic 1969 version of the truck, is starting her fourth summer delivering frozen sweets in Madison, a seaside Connecticut village.
"Who wouldn't want to drive an ice-cream truck?" she says, ringing her brass bell as she rolled slowly past stone walls and Colonial style houses. "People recognize you and it's like, 'It's the ice-cream lady!' " (Read entire post.)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The May Queen

The Mad Monarchist has a post on the Belgian princess who became the last Queen of Italy.
The time finally came on January 8, 1930 when the glamorous Belgian Princess was married, in Rome, to her tall and dashing Italian prince. It was a lavish, colorful ceremony, planned to awe and inspire but it was something of an ordeal for the new Princess of Piedmont. She would have preferred something simpler but Prince Umberto, fastidious himself, was determined that the ‘look’ of the event would be one all Italians would always remember. The new couple did have some things in common. They were devoted Catholics, they dreamed of a glorious future for the Italian people and they were both compassionate and good-hearted individuals. Aside from that, there were not many things they shared. For Princess Marie-Jose, the vibrant, outgoing free spirit, there was also the fact that she had married into the Italian Royal Family during the Fascist era and with her background, attitude and character, she clashed with the brutish dictator from the very start. Mussolini disliked everything about her, from the way she spelled her own name (she refused to convert to the Italian version out of nationalism) to how she dressed (Fascists preferred a more dour and matronly appearance) and he certainly didn’t like her ideas on freedom, tolerance and the sort of liberal, artistic people she surrounded herself with. Of course, Princess Marie Jose was just as repelled by everything Mussolini stood for, be it his bombastic, crude manners, his love of war or his fawning friendship with Germany. (Read entire post.)
For an in-depth discussion of Queen Marie-José, please visit the Tea at Trianon forum.

For everything you would ever want to know about the Queen and her extended family, I encourage a visit to the wonderful and erudite Cross of Laeken blog. Share

Silent No More

A mother grieves. To quote:
There is no consolation to be had for the mother that loses a child. She will grieve in her heart for the rest of her life. Abortion; however, not only robs a child of it’s life and a mother of it’s child, it also robs the mother of her grieving. She is not allowed to grieve because she cannot publicly claim the title Mother.

Abortion advocates will never admit a post-abortive woman is a Mother because to admit that would acknowledge the existence that there was once a child. Not a clump of cells, but a very real living child. When girls begin menstruating they are not called mothers to a clump of cells, yet so many people really believe an abortion is just like having a heavy period or passing a large menstrual clot. This was how it was described to me when I found myself in their clinic fifteen years ago. Two years later when I returned to have a second abortion the lie had not changed.

For fifteen long years I’ve lived with the pain, shame and guilt associated with my past. In that time I’ve experienced denial, anger, and depression. It wasn’t till my conversion to Catholicism that I finally sought the reconciliation my soul needed. Once I received the grace of forgiveness I was charged with the next most important task of my life… to tell as many women as I can how horrible, evil and despicable abortion is.
However, it has taken me another six years to find my courage. In order to honestly talk about the truth I needed to admit to my past and in this one area my words failed me. Today I write this past so that I may finally own up to what it is I have done and make the necessary reparations for my crimes so that others will know just how fundamentally soul-destroying abortion is. (Read entire post.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Old West

Photos from 150 years ago. (Via Joshua.)
In the 1860s and 70s, photographer Timothy O'Sullivan created some of the best-known images in American History. After covering the U.S. Civil War, (many of his photos appear in this earlier series), O'Sullivan joined a number of expeditions organized by the federal government to help document the new frontiers in the American West. The teams were composed of soldiers, scientists, artists, and photographers, and tasked with discovering the best ways to take advantage of the region's untapped natural resources. O'Sullivan brought an amazing eye and work ethic, composing photographs that evoked the vastness of the West. He also documented the Native American population as well as the pioneers who were already altering the landscape. Above all, O'Sullivan captured -- for the first time on film -- the natural beauty of the American West in a way that would later influence Ansel Adams and thousands more photographers to come. [34 photos] (See entire article.)

Stop Whining

Therapists try tough love with clients.
"Talking endlessly about your problems isn't going to help," says Christina Steinorth, a marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, Calif. She tells her patients in the first session: "If you are looking for the type of therapy where I am going to nod my head and affirm what you are feeling, this isn't the place to come."
When clients whine, Ms. Steinorth has them make a list of how their life could improve if they stopped complaining and started working to solve their problems. She suggests they set aside a 10-minute window every day and do all their whining then. For clients who still won't stop, she suggests they consider discontinuing therapy until they are ready to move forward....

Often, people don't realize they are whining. The trick: Raise their self-awareness without using accusatory or sarcastic language.

Go gently: Even therapists say this conversation sometimes ends with the client walking out. Start by telling the person who is whining how much you appreciate him or her.

Use a tone of genuine curiosity. You want to get to the bottom of the problem together. You may want to mirror the negative communication. 'I don't know if you hear yourself, but listen to what you just said.'

Point out there's a pattern. Say, 'Do you realize it's the fifth night in a row you've talked about this?' Offer to tape future conversations so the person can hear for him or herself.

Open up the conversation. A person whining about work may be feeling unwell, or stuck in his career. Ask, 'Is there something else that's wrong?' Explain that it is hard for you to hear the real issue because the person's tone and attitude are getting in the way.

Ask the person what he or she plans to do about the problem. Hold them accountable.

Suggest alternatives. The person might want to write down a list of complaints and leave it in a drawer. Or keep a journal and circle repeated complaints in red pen. Or spend an hour at the gym, or do something outdoors with you.

Set a time limit. For 10 minutes a day, the person can whine unfettered—and you will listen. Then time is up. Do this once a day, once a week—or challenge the person to a 'whine-free day.'

Give positive reinforcement. Say, 'I love to hear good things about your job.' Praise each increment toward healthy communication. (Read entire article.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cardinal Josef Mindszenty

Rehabilitated at last.
The glorious Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, Archbishop-Prince of Esztergom and Primate-Regent of Hungary, has been fully rehabilitated from the legal, moral and political standpoints by legislation passed by the Parliament in Budapest and by a ruling of the Hungarian Supreme Court.

Both powers have recognized the Primate’s complete innocence and declared null and void all the charges trumped up against him by his Communist persecutors.

Cardinal Mindszenty was arrested by the Communist regime in 1948.

By injecting drugs, the Cardinal’s socialist torturers got him to sign a “confession” of conspiring against the Communist dictatorship and stealing Hungarian crown jewels in order to crown the legitimate heir to the Hungarian throne, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, as Emperor Eastern Europe, and also of planning to launch a Third World War against Moscow.

The illustrious Cardinal was released by the anticommunist uprising of 1956 and obtained asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest for 15 years.

But the mere presence of the Cardinal at the U.S. Embassy continued to disrupt the Marxist regime. Therefore, the latter pressured the Vatican, eager to implement its “Ostpolitik,” to have the Primate taken out of Hungary and renounce his ecclesiastical posts. These events took place in 1971 after intense diplomatic pressure from the Holy See under the authority of Paul VI. (Read entire post.)

Poor Baby

A review of Heather King's powerful new book.
In her newest work, “Poor Baby: A Child of the '60s Looks Back on Abortion,” a self-reflective journey hovering somewhere between essay and autobiography, King tells the story of her three abortions and the decades of pain, anxiety and, ultimately, forgiveness that followed.

And also a revelation surprising to her: that she could be a mother to her lost children.
“I had suffered in silence as so many women do,” King, 59, said recently in a telephone interview. “It’s a story about death and resurrection. It’s a story about Christ.”
Suffering, she writes, is the “most radical, most incendiary, most taboo subject” in which we can engage, and nothing can alienate a person more than suggesting that our relationship to suffering can illuminate the meaning of life. Suffering is, for so many, born of sin but then reconciled through God, and King’s experience with it is no different. Her desire to grasp the truth meant getting right back into the muck, the mire of it all and coming out the other end.

And in the end, she was still a mother.
(Read entire review.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Meeting with Catherine II

Madame Lebrun minces no words.
A few minutes later I was alone with the autocrat of all the Russias. The Ambassador had told me I must kiss her hand, in accordance with which custom she drew off one of her gloves, and this ought to have reminded me what to do. But I forgot all about it. The truth is, that the sight of this famous woman made such an impression upon me that I could not possibly think of anything else but to look at her. I was at first extremely surprised to find her short; I had imagined her a great height – something like her renown. She was very stout, but still had a handsome face, which her white hair framed to perfection. Genius seemed to have its seat on her broad, high forehead. Her eyes were soft and small, her nose was quite Greek, her complexion lively, and her features very mobile. She at once said in a voice that was soft though rather thick: "I am delighted, madame, to see you here; your reputation had preceded you. I am fond of the arts and especially of painting. I am not an adept, but a fancier." Everything else she said during this interview, which was rather long, in reference to her wish that I might like Russia well enough to remain a long time, bore the stamp of such great amiability that my shyness vanished, and by the time I took leave of Her Majesty I was entirely reassured. Only I could not forgive myself for not having kissed her hand, which was very beautiful and very white, and I deplored that oversight the more as Count Esterhazy reproached me with it. As for what I was wearing, she did not seem to have paid the least attention to it. Or else perhaps she may have been easier to please than our Ambassadress. (Read entire post.)

More Assaults on American Women in the Military

Discharged for "personality disorders"?
  "My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41 percent of the female veterans seen there say they were victims of sexual assault while serving in the military," said former congresswoman Jane Harman, quoted in the story....

Ms. Vlahos eloquently argues "that after shock-integrating women into what is still largely an obdurate, misogynistic institution, the Pentagon is ill-equipped to deal with the staggering rise of rape and assault, the predatory behavior and harassment, and the callous nature of battlefield commanders, who in a growing number of documented cases, have reacted to the plight of young female service members with the grace of Pleistocene Neanderthals."

After noting that "women make up approximately 15 percent of the active duty force and 20 percent of the reserve components," Ms. Vlahos says "the military would not have been able to wage the Long War without them." This second claim I knee-jerkedly rejected as so much feminist claptrap, but after a moment's reflection, realized that she's dead right. The American paradox of fighting imperial wars with a volunteer army requires every warm body whose brain can be washed to fight. Any why would the war machine discipline and imprison a stronger male when a weaker female can more efficiently be discharged? (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Harsh Realities of Life In the Eighteenth Century

 From author Leah Marie Brown:
Those chandeliers?  The wax often dripped on the people below, burning exposed skin, ruining expensive and time-consuming hairdos, and making the dance floor a sticky mess. Ladies lived in fear of the wax ruining their expensive gowns.  Fortunately, a good maid/valet knew how to remove wax from any garment.... 

18th century French noblewomen spent weeks planning their wardrobe for a big event, fretting over fabric and color choices.  Wearing an unfashionable gown or unflattering shade of puce would open the lady up to ridicule and social exile.  On the afternoon of the event, she would spend hours seated in an uncomfortable, low-backed chair, dressed in a chemise and powdering gown, while her physiognomist labored to arrange her coiffure.  Height was essential so horse hair pads were often used to elevate her tresses.  It was not uncommon for women to spend upwards of three hours in the stylists chair only to find their hair had been teased to such a great height that they could not fit in their carriage without sitting on the floor. Some women opted to stick their heads out their carriage window. 

Some women suffered from hair loss, eyestrain, and headaches because of the constant torturous manipulation of their tender tresses. Pests were another very personal and real problem. Fleas and lice infested some of the most genteel heads in eighteenth century Paris. Indeed, women of fashion often carried long, think sticks with claws at the end for scratching their scalps. (Read entire post.)


Justice for All

African-American journalist Thomas Sowell discusses the racially motivated crimes that do not get reported.
One 22-year-old woman, who had been robbed of her cell phone and debit card, and had blood streaming down her face, said, “About 20 of us stayed to give statements and make sure everyone was accounted for. The police wouldn’t listen to us, they wouldn’t take our names or statements. They told us to leave. It was completely infuriating.” (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mary Henrietta of England

The daughter of Charles I and mother of William III.
Wishing to imitate the French tradition of the firstborn daughter of the King being known as Madame Royale, the French-born Queen consort wanted to do something similar for her own daughter. So, in 1642 King Charles I gave Princess Mary the title of Princess Royal, establishing a new tradition in the British Royal Family. Even as a tiny child, the new Princess Royal was immediately the center of marriage negotiations. Originally, King Charles had wished his daughter to marry into the Spanish Royal Family to secure a long-lasting alliance between Britain and Spain. His own father had tried to see him married to a Spanish princess as King James had hoped that Britain could act as the great peace-maker between the Catholic and Protestant powers as the wars between the two sides were tearing Europe apart. This was a long-standing ambition of the House of Stuart, to emerge as the monarchy that restored peace, if not unity, to Christendom. (Read entire post.)

La Princesse de Clèves

Catherine Delors discusses one of the first historical novels.
The plot is very simple: a young noblewoman, Mademoiselle de Chartres, marries the Prince de Clèves, a man she esteems and respects but does not love. This is not a forced marriage as was all too often the case then, not even an arranged marriage.

Madame de Chartres, the heroine’s mother, is a caring parent, though she is also ambitious and wants the best possible match for her daughter. The husband, the Prince de Clèves, is a completely decent man, very much in love with his young bride.

What is tragic thing here is that the heroine does not even suspect that something is missing from her marriage. She is, in a way, happy in her naiveté.

Her peaceful universe collapses when she meets, and falls passionately in love with the dashing Duc de Nemours. She is torn between her passion and her high religious and moral standards.

I said earlier that Princess is a historical. It has all the makings of one. The setting is the French Court in the 16th century, during the final years of the reign of Henri II. The author lived 120 years later and thoroughly researched the era of the Renaissance. (Read entire post.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Versailles Express

Travel in style from Paris to Versailles. Share

Etiquette According to Catherine II

From All Things Ruffnerian (via Gio):
The following rules of etiquette were posted by Catherine the Great at her Hermitage and are reprinted from the 2000 exhibition catalog of Treasures of Catherine the Great:
1. All ranks shall be left outside the doors,
similarly hats, and particularly swords.

2. Orders of precedence and haughtiness,
and anything of such like which might result from them,
shall be left at the doors.

3. Be merry, but neither spoil nor break anything,
nor indeed gnaw at anything.

4. Be seated, stand or walk as it best pleases you,
regardless of others.

5. Speak with moderation and not too loudly,
so that others present have not an earache or headache.

6. Argue without anger or passion.

7. Do not sigh or yawn, neither bore nor fatigue others.

(Read entire post.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Flower Reader

The turbulent court of Mary Queen of Scots is the backdrop of The Flower Reader, which tells the tale of Marina Leslie of Granmuir and her struggle for survival in Reformation Scotland. Of mixed French and Scots descent, “Rinette,” as she is called, possesses a clairvoyant gift which is stirred by the presence of flowers. Nevertheless, having the knowledge of future events does not prevent her from being almost continuously in trouble.

A distant relative and protégée of Marie de Guise, Rinette is entrusted by Marie with a silver casket of Nostradamus’ prophecies which must be delivered to no one but young Queen Mary. While determined to fulfill her promise to the late Queen, Rinette is also intent upon marrying young Alexander Gordon, whom she not only loves but who will help her to keep her lands out of the hands of more powerful nobles. When Alexander is killed by a mysterious assassin, Rinette must use the hidden silver casket as a bargaining chip to save not only her patrimony but to obtain Queen Mary’s help in bringing his assassin to justice. Nothing turns out as she plans, however; very few characters are what she first thinks them to be, except of course Rannoch Hamilton, who proves to be a greater wretch than Rinette ever suspected.

Mary Stuart is portrayed in all the fullness of her enchanting youth: impulsive and sweet, majestic and clever but also vain, naïve, temperamental and slightly neurotic. Her court is brought to life, as are the various factions and plots which rend Scotland asunder and lead to Mary’s downfall. Loupas accurately depicts a stormy, complex era by means of a page-turning mystery and romance.

This review originally appeared in the May 2012 edition of the Historical Novels Review.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Monaco and Lourdes

Believe it or not, there is a connection.
The site of the vision of Our Lady of Lourdes holds a special distinction for the Princely Family of Monaco and this was not Prince Albert's first visit, nor will it be his last. Prince Albert II came to Lourdes in 2008 after the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and hopes to return again this summer with the regular pilgrimage of Monegasque faithful. His father, Prince Rainier III had gone on a pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray that Our Lady would help him find a good wife. Not long after he met and was soon married to Princess Grace who, at her confirmation, had taken as her patron St Bernadette, the little visionary of Lourdes so, it seemed, the hand of the Holy Mother had brought the two together and Lourdes has remained important to the House of Grimaldi ever since. (Read entire post.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Forsaking All Others

In this continuation of the “Sister Wife” series, Pittman continues the story of Camilla Fox, whose flight from her Mormon husband corresponds with her spiritual awakening. Found half-frozen on the prairie by the United States Army, Camilla finds new hope even as she must undergo excruciating surgery as well as anguish over the loss of her children. Determined to rescue her young daughters from Mormonism, Camilla risks her life, health and heart in an odyssey which tests both faith and the full extent of maternal love. Throughout the novel, Camilla is torn between her passion for Nathan Fox and her awakening love for Colonel Charles Brandon, the soldier who has given her his protection.

While there are a few anachronistic expressions in the course of the narrative, the reader is given a fascinating glimpse into Mormon pioneer life and explores the psychological and social aspects of polygamy. It is interesting to see existence inside a cult. No character is stereotypical, however, and one sees why Camilla was drawn to the Mormons in the first place. It is also clearly shown why she ran away. Pittman weaves an unusual tale of the Old West, a tale which is both inspiring and romantic.

This review originally appeared in the May 2012 edition of the Historical Novels Review.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


The Dinner Jacket

How did the dinner jacket, popularly known as the "tuxedo," come to replace the traditional tailcoats in modern formal wear? According to The Wall Street Journal:
The story of how the tuxedo made its initial debut in American society dates back to the Gilded Age, when the founders of the posh Tuxedo Park resort in Orange County, N.Y., are thought to have introduced the coat at their exclusive sporting club. This fall, current residents of the Park, along with the local historical society and the distinguished Savile Row clothier Henry Poole & Co. plan to celebrate the legacy of the tuxedo in a manner befitting its eminent birth. But significant questions linger, like when and where the coat was truly born, or even why it's called the tuxedo.

For generations, one account eclipsed all others as the creation myth of choice. (Read entire article.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina

Virginia Rounding offers a fresh look at the relationship of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra (Alix) his Empress, their accomplishments and fatal flaws, in this intriguing biographical study. For those not familiar with the Romanovs, there is enough background not to get lost. For those who are familiar with the topic, Rounding provides unique insights focusing on aspects of the imperial marriage and political policies too often ignored.

Rounding explores Nicholas’ political achievements and his oft-demeaned temperament and Alix’s mysterious, incapacitating ailments. While her symptoms are usually claimed to be the result of hysteria, Rounding surmises that the Empress may have had some genuine health issues, together with emotional instability. The strange dynamic between the imperial couple and Alix’s friend Anna Vyrubova is scrutinized in detail. Alix’s belief in Rasputin is blamed for precipitating the catastrophes which followed, not so much what Rasputin did as what he was perceived to have done by the public. Most enlightening is the treatment of the spiritual lives of Nicky and Alix and how their faith flowed into their love for each other. As a stirring portrait of a marriage, this book is second to none.

 This review first appeared in the May 2012 edition of the Historical Novels Review.)

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Easter Island

It seems the heads have bodies, long buried underground.
The head statuary of Easter Island is instantly recognizable to people all over the world, but who would have guessed that, lurking beneath the soil, these famous mugs also had bodies? The Easter Island Statue Project Conservation Initiative, which is funded by the Archaeological Institute of America, has been excavating two of the enormous figures for the last several years, and have found unique petroglyphs carved on their backs that had been conserved in the soil. Their research has also yielded evidence of how the carvers were paid with food such as tuna and lobster, as well as clues to how the enormous structures were transported. (Read more.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

St. Hildegard Comes into Her Own

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict has written a great deal about St. Hidegard of Bingen. Here is an article about the great German mystic by best-selling author Nancy Bilyeau.
1.) Hildegard was given to the church at age 8. She was born at Bockelheim on the Nahe, the tenth child of a German count who historians believe was a military man in the service of Meginhard of Spanheim. Hildegard was sent to be instructed by Meginhard’s sister, Jutta, a nun who lived in an enclosed set of rooms, referred to as a vault, in a Benedictine monastery. Hildegard took vows herself at age 15.
2.) Sickly most of her life, she made it to age 81. As a child she was often too weak to walk and sometimes could not see. As an adult she could be in bed, paralyzed, for days. Historians now believe she suffered from severe migraine.
3.) Hildegard said she had visions of God her whole life. The first “shade of the living light” came at age 3 and the visitations never stopped.  She described one as “Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame.” At age 43, she said God told her to “write down what you see and hear” and for the first time revealed her visions to the world.
(Read entire post.)
I will add that Hildegard asserted her authority against unjust actions by certain prelates for the sake of justice, not to rebel or put herself forward. She was an obedient Daughter of the Church, and one on fire for justice and truth. Share

The Genderless Child?

An article about a family where gender has no meaning. The Brave New World is here.
In suppressing the truth about God and what can be known from nature, our senseless Western minds have become darkened. As the Scripture points out, one of the most obvious symptoms of this is sexual confusion: promiscuity, contraception, and homosexual activity, all involve a turning away from what the body teaches us about sexuality. Sex is pleasurable to be sure, but that pleasure is obviously oriented to pro-creation. The bodily aspect of sexuality is clearly unitive  but it is also procreative. We cannot simply set aside the procreative dimension of sexuality without doing violence to what the body reveals.

And, as we descend deeper into sexual confusion it would now seem that we have come to a place where some cannot even decide what it means to be male or female. How can anyone be so confused? And the yet Scriptures say plainly how. Just suppress the truth, by ignoring God and what he reveals in creation, and the downward slide begins.  Before long, there is utter debasement, confusion and, at least collectively speaking, our senseless minds are darkened.

As the lights go out, the Church cannot simply curse the darkness. We must light a candles of Revelation and Natural Law. We must hold them high. And as we do so, the world will curse us, for light is obnoxious to those accustomed to darkness. But gradually, the light can be adjusted to again.

The following video is another example of the sexual confusion being pushed on others. In this case it is indoctrination in the public schools of California which insists that one can “choose” to be a boy, a girl or “both.” The “instructor,” as he points to his heart and head says, “Gender identity is about what’s in here, and up here.” It is pure Gnostic dualism,  and a Cartesian retreat into the mind, and away from reality. All that matters is what I think. What is outside, “doesn’t matter.”

We have a lot of work to do. (Read entire article.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Plan for the Marriage Supper

Table arrangement for the bridal supper of Louis and Antoinette. (From Vive la Reine.)

The young couple in their wedding clothes, May 16, 1770. Share

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Torture and the Tudors

'It was during the time of the Tudors that the use of torture reached its height,' wrote historian L.A. Parry in his 1933 book The History of Torture in England. 'Under Henry VIII it was frequently employed; it was only used in a small number of cases in the reigns of Edward VI and of Mary. It was whilst Elizabeth sat on the throne that it was made use of more than in any other period of history.' (Read entire post.)

Watergate Revisited

What really happened behind the scenes.
A battle to control the soul of the president, not unusual in any administration, was under way. While the conservative, hawkish in de pen dent oilmen thought he was insufficiently loyal to their cause, the Rockefeller Republicans felt the same from their side. Writing in the Dallas Morning News, Robert Baskin noted fears among the Eastern corporate elite that Nixon was being dominated by the right wing. A few months later Baskin further underlined the point in an article headlined “Divisiveness Within GOP Rising.” In truth, Nixon’s reign was a highly complicated one, far from doctrinaire, with issues handled on a case- by-case basis. Thus, Attorney General John Mitchell could say the administration was against busing but for desegregation. Nixon himself could complain about people in his administration being too tough on corporations, yet his Justice Department aggressively pursued antitrust actions that angered industry. While waging the Vietnam War, Nixon held secret peace talks with the North Vietnamese Communists. He also produced a series of liberal-leaning reforms, including creating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And Nixon implemented the first major affirmative action program. But some of his Supreme Court nominees leaned far to the right, and Nixon and his attorney general championed tough law-and-order tactics against political protesters and dissidents. His presidency was a mixed bag, meaning no one was entirely happy, and everyone perceived someone else as having the inside track.

Thus, the July 1969 Dallas Morning News article describing moderates as fearful of the influence of a cabal of conservatives – a cabal that included such names as Tower, Morton, Dent, and Allison. What was left unsaid was that all these people were in the Bush camp. If nothing else, it was a testament to Poppy’s dexterity: the embodiment of blue-blooded Wall Street interests had morphed into a champion of the radical, upstart Southwest. (Read entire post.)
Via A Conservative Blog for Peace. Share

Monday, May 14, 2012

Maiden Meditation

A painting by George Goodwin Kilburne.
By the fast setting sun;
The pensive fair maiden

Looks thoughtfully on;
She roams by the streamlet,

O’er meadows she goes,
And darker and darker

The pathway fast grows.
I rise on a sudden,
A glimmering star;
“What glitters above me,

So near and so far?”
And when thou with wonder
Hast gazed on the light,
I fall down before thee,

Entranced by thy sight!
~From "Longing" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

On the Cartesian Anxiety of Our Time

An enlightening article from Monsignor Charles Pope.
1. The retreat into the mind and loss of connection with reality. In radically distrusting his senses, Descartes disconnects himself (and us) from the world of reality. What is real is only what is in my mind. The actual “is-ness” of things is no longer the basis of reality. Now, it is just my thoughts that are real. Reality is not “out there” but it is only in my mind. It is what I think that matters.

This leads to a lot of the absurdity of modern times where we tend to overlook reality and reduce everything to opinion. We often think of things abstractly and as “issues.”

For example, abortion is an “issue” for many people, rather than the dismemberment of a human baby. Many tend to think of abortion abstractly and repackage “it” as choice, or a woman’s right. But abortion is not an abstraction. There is something actually happening “out there” in the real world. An actual child is being dismembered and suctioned into a jar. But the Cartesian retreat into the mind allows many to continue to think of abortion abstractly and as an issue. And the mind, detached from reality can do some pretty awful rationalizing. Showing actual pictures of abortion seems to have little affect on those who have retreated into their minds and think of abortion abstractly as an issue, rather than a real thing.

The same is true for the issue of homosexuality. Any even rudimentary look into the biology and design of the body makes it clear that something is disordered with homosexual activity. The man is for the woman, not for the man. The biology is clear. But with the Cartesian retreat into the mind, the body no longer has anything to say to many people. “What does the body have to do with it?” Many ask. All that seems to matter is what they think. It is opinion, not reality, that wins the day. Thought overrules the body, dismisses the external reality. Here again is the Cartesian flight from the real world into the mind.

And the same holds true for just about every moral issue today. It is merely my thoughts and intentions that matter. What I am actually doing is, to the Cartesian dualist is not that important. It is what I think that matters.

2. Reality is no longer revelatoryThe revelation that comes simply from the way things are,  is “not reliable” and is mere opinion in this Cartesian world we have inherited. Scripture and the Natural Law tradition had held that creation and the way things are were revelatory for us. St. Paul says, For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made (Romans 1:18-19). There was a confidence in the Scriptures, and Natural Law Tradition, that the created world, that reality, provided a reliable guide to what was right and true. We had only to study the “is-ness” of things to learn. But this is all jettisoned in the Cartesian world, which remains skeptical that we can really know or reliably perceive the “there” out there. (Read entire article.)

Personhood and the Death Penalty

Some wise reflections from Katie Walker.
First of all, the most important difference between the pro-life/personhood movement and the anti-death penalty movement is that preborn children, euthanasia victims, disabled, handicapped etc. are denied their rights because they are considered by society as less equal, as less human, lesser non-persons, because of their age, mental or physical condition or residence.

All these things are situations which they CANNOT alter.

Condemned people on death row are also stripped of their right to life, but NOT because they are considered intrinsically less human, lesser persons. They are stripped of their rights based on the social contract which says that certain crimes demand certain payment to society. Those who receive the death penalty are stripped of their right to life because of a situation which they COULD have altered – the crime they committed. Preborn children have no rights. They are not recognized as persons under the law. Condemned criminals are recognized as persons and accordingly receive due process of the law. (Read entire post.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The War on the Family Farm

Children can't work on their own farms? Is this for real? It appears to be....
Last August, the Department of Labor looked around, scratched its head, and decided the new thing it should focus on was applying child labor laws to agricultural settings. Offhand, you're thinking, "Well, shouldn't they be applied?" Well, sure. In a corporate feed lot. What we're talking about here is the use of children on farms that those children's families own. Put into practice, these laws will, in the words of a Department of Labor press release, prohibit children under the age of 18 from "being employed in the storing, marketing, and transporting of farm product raw materials."

Furthermore, the laws would designate a number of farm-related places as completely off limits to children. Dangerous places like country grain elevators. And silos. And... livestock auctions?

Our country isn't as loaded with family farms as it used to be hundreds of years ago, but such farms do, indeed, still exist, and these child labor laws would do nothing short of hurt them.

According to Secretary of Labor Solis, the reason for this move is simple. "Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America," she says. "Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department." It doesn't take a genius to know that any time the government cites the children as a reason for an action, all of us should be extraordinarily nervous.

So let's look at what these laws would accomplish, before we determine why.

Off the top of my head (where all great ideas come from), I can think of at least two ways the application of these laws would be detrimental. First off is the fact that any family farm which relies on its children to help pick up the slack will now be forced to hire outside help, which, like any kind of hiring, is going to cost some money. Many farms barely make enough money to stick around without hiring outside workers; it's easy to see where adding this expense would be enough to shut those kinds of farms down.

Secondly, this move will cut children off from the family business in an obvious, substantial way. For what would probably be the first time in human history, we would suddenly see a number of children managing to grow up on farms without having any clue whatsoever how they run or how to run them. This isn't notable just for its absurdity; its notable because, without a generation of educated farm kids, we will undoubtedly soon be lacking in educated farm adults. (Read entire article.)
(Via A Conservative Blog for Peace.) Share

Saturday, May 12, 2012

An English Country Inn

Like inns of old, the Gunton Arms is a gathering place for locals as well as a refuge for wayfarers.
Sitting, quite alone, just inside 1,000 acres of Norfolk parkland, on England's East Coast, is a rather special place: the Gunton Arms, a Victorian-style pub with rooms that art dealer Ivor Braka and his artist-wife, Sarah Graham, transformed into a comfortable, refreshingly contemporary retreat. It is as richly decorated as an English gentleman's club, and blissfully without a single sign of the modern-day hospitality industry.
Originally built as a steward's house in 1820, the building is set back from the main road on a narrow, unmarked park drive, giving the impression that a horse-drawn carriage might pull up at any moment for a Heathcliff-type character to go tearing through the 19th-century coaching-inn doors. Inside, this feeling continues. One instantly feels drawn by the wornleather Chesterfield sofa to sit by the fire with a drink....
On Sunday morning, the patrons in the bar could have been hired out of central casting. In one corner sits a man in a mechanic's jumpsuit, a regular who arrives by tractor, chatting with Mr. Kew, who delivers the pies. Next to them, also joining the conversation, is Lord Suffield, with his wife and children. (The Suffields, the original owners of the park, are still part owners with Braka and a third partner, architect Kit Martin.) Most people know one another, and the Brakas delight in this loyal, local clientele.
The menu is English country food, hearty and earthy, and reads like a page out of Dickens, with dishes such as potted goose with beetroot and horseradish. Head chef Stuart Tattersall, formerly of Hix in London, cooks in the dining room at a large open fire on a steel shelf (an idea Braka poached from a restaurant in Paris), where cast-iron pans roast potatoes and specialties of the house—a rib of beef for two, a rump steak. "Stuart has tremendous presence and charisma," says Braka. "He and his fiancée, Simone, have built a genuine team; that's why the pub is such a hit." The ingredients are almost all local: The crabs are from Cromer, a nearby coastal town; the venison is straight from the park; and the smoked salmon is cured in the property's own smokehouse. (Read entire article.)

Vogue Encourages Models to Be Healthy

A very positive trend indeed. To quote:
In an effort to promote a healthy body image among its readers, the editors of 19 global editions of Vogue magazine agreed to some changes. NPR's David Folkenflik filed this report for our Newscast unit:
"From June on, no models will appear in Vogue's pages who are under 16 or who appear to suffer from any eating disorder.
"The magazine will also ask agents and casting directors to police the ages of models when casting shoots. It promises to encourage healthy eating practices among models and new practices among designers to promote the casting of models from a broader range of body sizes.
"The moves follow years of criticism of fashion magazines — and the industry more generally — in pushing young girls to believe their bodies are somehow malformed if they do not mirror those of models. The use of photoshop to whisk away blemishes and unwanted fat from the pictures of celebrities has if anything accentuated those concerns."
New York Magazine has the six bullet points that the agreement consists of. Among them:
— "We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models."
— "We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late."
But critics say the Vogue agreement doesn't go far enough. The AP spoke to Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood who said Vogue should have followed the example of fashion organizations in Italy and Spain. The Vogue agreement is vague, while Italy and Spain simply don't allow models on a catwalk if they fall below a certain BMI. (Read entire post.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mexican Martyrdom

Here is a fairly succinct history of the twentieth century persecution in Mexico by Ann Ball.
Until the May 21, 2000 canonization of 25 Mexican martyrs, many Catholics—even in the neighboring United States—were unaware of the scope and ferocity of the persecution unleashed against the Catholic Church in Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s. The bitter conflict known as the Cristero Rebellion (the Cristiada) is rarely mentioned by popular historians. Under the dictatorship of Plutarco Elias Calles, from 1924 to 1928, the Mexican government was bitterly anti-clerical; Calles wanted to eradicate the Catholic Church. In 1925 he attempted to establish a national church, expelled all foreign clergymen from the country, and confiscated the property of Church-affiliated agencies such as schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions. In 1926, 33 new legislative measures designed to suppress the Church—measures which became known as the Ley Calles (the Calles Law)—were enacted. The Ley Calles limited the number of priests who could serve in any locality, and the number of services they could lead, closed down seminaries and convents, and barred foreign priests from serving in Mexico.

With the knowledge of Pope Pius XI, the Mexican bishops closed the country’s Catholic churches in protest against these new repressive laws. Faithful Catholics mobilized, collecting over two million signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the Ley Calles. But their efforts were ignored by the Mexican regime, and finally some Catholics, concluding that they had no other choice, took up arms in an effort to restore their religious liberty.

The Cristero rebels, whose cause was always handicapped by a shortage of weapons and a lack of military training and experience, officially began their military campaign on New Year’s Day in 1927. The rebellion began in Jalisco, and spread rapidly to surrounding areas. It ended 30 months later, with the results settled at a bargaining table rather than a battlefield. 

Most of the Mexican Catholic bishops had always opposed armed conflict. From his place in exile, Bishop Pascual Diaz of Tabasco ceaselessly worked to formulate an agreement with the government that could bring an end to the fighting. Dwight Whitney Morrow, the US ambassador to Mexico, and Father John J. Burke, the head of the US National Catholic Welfare Conference (the predecessor to today’s US Catholic Conference) were also key players in the search for a negotiated solution.

When Alvaro Obregón, Calles’s successor as Mexican president, was assassinated two weeks after his election, Emilio Portes Gil was named interim president. Portes Gil was more flexible than his predecessors, and on June 21, 1929 his government reached an agreement with the Catholic negotiators. On June 27, the churches of Mexico were re-opened, to the joyous pealing of their bells. (Read entire post.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

May, 1789: The Opening of the Estates General

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette enthroned.

 Louis XVI from a portrait album created to celebrate the opening of the Estates General. Share

Tragic vs. Sad

What makes a novel tragic? Is there a difference between sadness and tragedy?
In his book "Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic," the British critic Terry Eagleton addresses this very question, conceding, however, that he does not have a particularly satisfying answer. "In everyday language, the word 'tragedy' means something like 'very sad,'" he wrote. "It may well turn out that 'very sad' is also the best we can do when it comes to the more exalted realm of tragic art."

Yet there are clear differences to the admittedly subjective feeling of sorrow. While it's sad for a son to see his elderly father dying (as in "Dad" by William Wharton), it's a very different kind of grief from a Polish woman who is forced to decide which of her two children will survive Auschwitz ("Sophie's Choice" by William Styron). As Thomas Hardy wrote, "That which, socially, is a great tragedy, may be in Nature no alarming circumstance."

Hardy wrote tragic novels, including "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," "Jude the Obscure" and "The Mayor of Casterbridge," but unlike earlier tragedies, the fallen in Hardy's stories are ordinary people, dairymaids and wood cutters rather than kings and princes, who are undone by ordinary human "passions, prejudices and ambitions," as Hardy wrote, and their inability to escape the consequences. That's also at the heart of the tragedies of "Anna Karenina," "The Scarlet Letter" and "Madame Bovary."

David Nicholls's "One Day" ended on a sad note, but I wouldn't call it a tragedy. Nor, I feel certain, would Aristotle, an early theoretician of the tragic, who believed tragedies should inspire not just pity but also fear. Although Richard Yates's and Cormac McCarthy's novels are almost unbearably morbid, they're not tragedies on the order of "Macbeth" or "King Lear." Theodore Dreiser named his novel about an ambitious young man murdering his pregnant girlfriend "An American Tragedy," but the story was based on a squalid real-life crime of an ambitious young man murdering his pregnant girlfriend.

It's clear how profligately the word tragic is tossed around when you look at what books users of LibraryThing ( have tagged as "tragedy." Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible"? Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections"? "The Rotters' Club" by Jonathan Coe? These are all fine novels in which people suffer, but that's life, not tragedy. It would be impossible to write great fiction without some characters, even beloved ones, suffering misfortune. "The novelist can not write a novel which is felt to be an absolutely comic novel or an absolutely tragic novel," Thornton Wilder once wrote. "Human experience can only be regarded as presenting a synthesis of both." (Read entire article.)