Monday, January 18, 2010
My new official portrait
I am in something of a quandary: my editor at the 'Vermont Catholic Magazine,' the little bi-monthly I write a column for, that is read by literally dozens of readers, does not like the picture that is included with my column each fortnight. I agree with her; it shows the face of a man made only for exposure on radio. I much preferred the old black and white picture they used to use, but now colour is the big thing. However, the reason she, and others, do not like the (new and old) picture is that, apparently, I am not smiling. My eyes, even though they are half-English, are smiling. Why should we smile in official portraits/photographs? When did this fashion appear that we must look like exhibits on the National Geographic Channel? What does a smile convey? I decided to search the official portraits of the Presidents of the United States: you do not see teeth on any US President until....wait for it.....Ronald Reagan! After him, it's all teeth and gums. Gerald Ford has the merest hint of a wintry smile - no teeth, though - like a hint of sunshine on a cloudy day. Dwight D. Eisenhower is serious, so is Lyndon B. Johnson. Gravitas, my friends - that is what an official portrait should convey - not confirmation of Darwin's Origin of the Species.
A couple of years ago I remember stating that one of my New Year resolutions was to "become more Pickwickian." Sadly, I have to report that has not occurred, at least as far as I am aware. However, I am becoming inspired once again, after reading, for the first time, G.K. Chesterton's "literary sketch,' (not biography) Charles Dickens. There is some beautiful writing in this book - my copy is a lovely, mouldy, Methuen & Co., Fourth Edition, dated January 1907. Chesterton truly captures the reason for Dickens success, which most of us only see now by watching the wonderful BBC adaptations (just saw Little Dorrit - wonderful!) He captures the fact, overlooked even by critics in the time of Dickens, of the folkloric/religious character of much of Dickens work and, of course, the fact that the characters are everlasting. A couple of beautiful quotes:
"To every man alive, one must hope, it has in some manner happened that he has talked with his more fascinating friends round a table on some night when all the numerous personalities unfolded themselves like great tropical flowers. All fell into their parts as in some delightful impromptu play. Every man was more himself than he had ever been in this vale of tears. Every man was a beautiful caricature of himself. The man who has known such nights will understand the exaggerations of "Pickwick." The man who has not known such nights will not enjoy "Pickwick" nor (I imagine) heaven. For, as I have said, Dickens is in this matter, close to popular religion, which is the ultimate and reliable religion. He conceives an endless joy; he conceives creatures as permanent as Puck or Pan - creatures whose will to live aeons upon aeons cannot satisfy. He is not come, as a writer, that his creatures may copy life and copy its narrowness; he is come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. It is absurd indeed that Christians should be called the enemies of life because they wish life to last forever; it is more absurd still to call the old comic writers dull because they wished their unchanging characters to last forever. Both popular religion, with its endless joys, and the old comic story, with its endless jokes, have in our time faded together. We are too weak to desire that undying vigour. We believe that you can have too much of a good thing - a blasphemous belief, which at one blow wrecks all the heavens that men have hoped for. The grand old defiers of God were not afraid of an eternity of torment. We have come to be afraid of an eternity of joy...........he is there, as I have said, to exaggerate life in the direction of life. The spirit he at bottom celebrates is that of two friends drinking wine together and talking through the night. But for him they are two deathless friends talking through an endless night and pouring wine from an inexhaustible bottle."
"There are two rooted spiritual realities out which grow all kinds of democratic conception or sentiment of human equality. There are two things in which all men are manifestly and unmistakably equal. They are not equally clever or equally muscular or equally fat, as the sages of the modern reaction (with piercing insight) perceive. But this is a spiritual certainty, that all men are tragic. And this again, is an equally sublime spiritual certainty, that all men are comic. No special and private sorrow can be so dreadful as the fact of having to die. And no freak or deformity can be so funny as the mere fact of having two legs. Every man is important if he loses his life; and every man is funny if he loses his hat, and has to run after it. And the universal test everywhere of whether a thing is popular, of the people, is whether it employs vigorously these extremes of the tragic and the comic.............And all over the world, the folk literature, the popular literature, is the same. It consists of very dignified sorrow and very undignified fun. Its sad tales are of broken hearts; its happy tales are of broken heads."
G. K. Chesterton - Charles Dickens
Sunday, January 10, 2010
News from Britain is grim: the Nation is grinding to a halt, the snow is piling up and there is no salt or grit for the roads -oh, and it's rather chilly! The temptation is to smirk and make comments about shoveling snow yesterday (the regular work of a Vermont Parish Priest) in temperatures of -10F (I don't know what that is in the funny money calculus) - but we will not give in to that temptation, no, not a bit of it. Little note to my friend Father John of 'Caritas in Veritate' - experienced snow-shovelling P.P's do not usually wear the full cassock - tends to get in the way - but the Saturno looks excellent!
Friday, January 8, 2010
In a (slight - and friendly) parody of the inimitable 'Fr. Z' - or Fr. Zed, as the great Father Blake calls him - Friday supper........
Take a beautiful can of the finest Heinz baked beans - English Heinz beans ideally, for flavour and quality. Gently open with a Roman can opener. Pour slowly into a copper-bottomed pan. Heat gently and with love. Meanwhile, prepare two pieces of toast. This will involve opening a packet of bread and inserting the bread into a toaster....you will want your bread to be brown but not burnt..... we in England call it "toast." When you judge that the beans are ready, butter your toast with Kerrygold Irish butter, pour the beans over the toast and, for that final "je ne sais quoi", remove from the fridge the ketchup (tomato sauce in English) and squirt ( a technical "foodie" term) over the "beans on toast." Buon appetito!
p.s. Just saw the movie 'Julie and Julia' about the cook Judith Child - for English readers imagine Fanny Craddock - but more eccentric (is that possible!) - obviously this inspired my friday night culinary masterpiece.
Thank you for all the kind comments. The patient is still under the weather but, after the late night anointing, the Owl of the Remove blogs breathing became less laboured and the quartet of nuns who were saying the rosary by the blogs bed noticed some colour returning to the blogs cheeks. I suspect the powerful prayers of the Pastor of one of the finest parishes in the South helped, along with other devout supplications. Partial paralysis may still be an issue, often lasting several weeks.........we must wait......and pray.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Last night the doctor was summoned to the bedside of the Owl of the Remove blog. It has been sickening for some time. Last night the breathing became laboured, some thought they could hear the death rattle. Several pious women are praying by the bed, hoping for a miraculous recovery.......perhaps their devout petitions will be heard. At the moment, it is 50/50.... the priest was called around midnight to administer the Last Rites......it will all depend on the prayer of the faithful. If the sun comes up in the morning, perhaps there will be life in the old blog, it is so hard to say...there is so little strength in the old and weak body...........prayers please!