Review: Sister Helen Prejean’s fiery soul
Review: Sister Helen Prejean’s fiery soul Helen Prejean, C.S.J., is best known for her work against the death penalty, but her new memoir, River of Fire, tells the story of the woman she was before she ever set foot on death row. The book leaves off, literally, where her famous memoir Dead Man Walking begins. The last sentence of River of Fire is the opening line of Dead Man Walking: “When Chava Colon from the Prison Coalition asks me one January day in 1982 to become a pen pal to a death-row inmate, I say, Sure.” Advertisement That pen pal was Patrick Sonnier, whose correspondence with Sister Prejean would lead to her accompanying him to the execution chamber at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, the nation’s largest maximum-security prison. Mr. Sonnier was put to death in the electric chair with Sister Prejean looking on. Sr. Prejean vomited, and then resolved to spend her life fighting state-sanctioned executions. The magnitude of this resolution might surprise even longtime followers of the activist sister. It seems almost impossible to imagine Sister Prejean as anything but the fiery, outspoken woman who has spent decades addressing structural inequality with barbed statements like, “Capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment.” But in River of Fire, Sister Prejean explains that it was a long road from her parents’ Louisiana estate, Goodwood, where the family employed black household servants, to St. Thomas Housing Projects in New Orleans and the death chambers of Angola. Sister Prejean describes her childhood at Goodwood, near Baton Rouge, with humor and fondness while lovingly chiding her past self for her ignorance, particularly of racial injustices. Storytelling is the Louisiana vernacular, and it comes naturally to Sister Prejean. She details her mother’s piety by explaining how when her brother was sick, her mother drew crosses on his skin with holy water. She details her own internalized racism by recounting how she bristled when her classmates called her “blackie,” or when they used the most offensive racial slur when she returned from summer break with a tan. It seems almost impossible to imagine Sister Helen Prejean as anything but the fiery, outspoken woman who has spent decades addressing structural inequality. Soon, though, young Helen leaves Goodwood behind to become Sister Louis Augustine, a headstrong novice trying (and often failing) to fit into her 1950s-style novitiate with its silent meals, early morning prayers, ill-fitting habits and ban on “particular friendships.” It is in this nearly silent world that Sister Prejean’s sassy and self-deprecating internal monologue shines. After complaining about a novice who sits behind her in chapel and annoys her by sighing and clicking her fingernails together, she says: At our weekly conference, our novice mistress, Mother Noemi, talks to us about putting up with one another’s faults and foibles. Now, there’s a new nun word, foible, part of a whole new lexicon I’m learning…a quaint little word if there ever was one. I’ve seen it written but never heard it used by real people in real conversations. Well, ol’ Click may well be the Foible Queen of the World. As far as I know, I don’t have too many foibles, but you can never be sure. After a sigh of relief when her novitiate is over, Sister Prejean goes onto teach English and then work at a parish, both in ritzy, white neighborhoods in 1960s New Orleans. It is during the time of the Second Vatican Council, and Sister Prejean describes the thrill and tumult of its effects both in her parish and in her religious order. She is sent to study theology for the first time, where she falls in love with an intelligent young priest. She describes their seven-year affair with candor, explaining how they unsuccessfully tried to live a “third way” between religious and married life. (The two ultimately recommitted themselves to their religious vows.) Following Vatican II, the Sisters of St. Joseph, like many other orders of women religious, began to wrestle with what kind of institute they wanted to be: Sister Prejean boils it down to “spiritual” versus “social justice”—and says she gave impassioned speeches in favor of the spiritual: I’m up at the microphone at our meetings arguing that we’re nuns, first of all, not social workers, and our main job, our only real mission is to help people find God, and if people have God in their hearts, they’ll be able to conquer whatever oppresses them. What do you mean, “poor” people? Even Jesus said the poor would always be with us. I make these speeches with a whole lot of enthusiasm and sincerity. And defensiveness. It is not until almost the end of the book that Sister Prejean describes her awakening. At a gathering of her religious order in 1980, one of the “social justice” sisters says, “Jesus preached good news to the poor.... Integral to that good news is that the poor are to be poor no longer.” She describes the statement as striking her like lightning, causing her to realize at once that in the four decades of her life, she had never known a single poor person, nor had she known any black person as an equal. She began to realize that her conception of herself as an apolitical person had been wrong, because supporting the status quo is an inherently political position. For a full year after her lightning-strike realization, Sister Prejean struggles to put her newfound call to social justice into action. She writes with honesty about hatching lofty plans and failing to implement them until a member of her community delivers a stinging critique: “Barbara Miller stood up and challenged me to live and work among poor people myself before I try to inspire young people to work for justice. How can I teach them what I don’t live?” In the last chapter of River of Fire, Sr. Prejean packs her bags and moves into the city to work at Hope House, a ministry in the St. Thomas Housing Projects, where, she says, she finally learns to listen. In working with the people there, she sees firsthand and begins to understand generational poverty and racial bias in the criminal justice system. Sister Prejean clearly sees River of Fire as her last book. She writes in the afterword that she is now 80 years old: “Mama and Daddy both died at age eighty-one, so I know my death can’t be far away.” And lest the reader assume that Sister Prejean’s work against the death penalty—the legacy that most will have in mind when reading River of Fire—is the sum total of her story, she spends the final pages of her afterword calling out the places where she sees continued injustices, particularly in the treatment of women and L.G.B.T. people in the church. She includes as an appendix a letter she wrote to Pope Francis calling “for the Catholic Church to fully respect the dignity of women,” in which she describes her dismay at being excluded from “certain opportunities of service” in the church, like preaching a homily and proclaiming the Gospel. Although Sister Prejean can count among her victories Pope Francis’ change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018 outlawing the death penalty, support for the practice is ramping up again in the United States. Just last month, U.S. Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to resume federal executions in the United States after nearly two decades. Sister Prejean was fighting capital punishment back then, and she is ready to continue doing so now. keane Fri, 08/16/2019 - 14:52 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Advertisement
‘Blinded by the Light’ is a song-and-dance celebration of Bruce Springsteen
‘Blinded by the Light’ is a song-and-dance celebration of Bruce Springsteen Tim Reidy Thu, 08/15/2019 - 12:39 Advertisement
The myth of the decisive victory
Battles that Changed History: Epic conflicts explored and explained by Phillip Parker, R.G. Grant & Andrew Humphreys, foreword by Sir Tony Robinson (Dorling Kindersley, £20.00) There is something deep in the male psyche that loves wars and tales of wars. Women with their very different view of the world are generally unmoved by tales of war, though they may well admire a hero. This is then a book which will appeal to a wide readership, from 10-year-olds to 80- year-olds still in touch with their inner child. But it may well leave the more thoughtful with deep concerns. The text recycles the traditional events of such collections. It begins with Marathon in 490, but as it proceeds it adds in little known battles from Asia, from India, Tartary and China. It seems from the contents that Africa and the Americas have had no decisive battle before the coming of the Europeans. But we know who were defeated in those continents and why. Ireland has its place here, with the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The short entry remarks: “Despite having taken place, this battle was fought between two English kings – one Catholic, and one Protestant...the Williamite army overpowered the Jacobites and James fled to France, ending the threat of a Catholic resurgence in England.” Of course, this was only an apparent decisive victory – the struggles between England, Scotland and Ireland went on, and alas still do, as Brexit has revealed. Murderous 
march Fifty-five pages later a small entry appears for Cullodon, with no reference to the “decisive” nature of the Boyne. This too is seen as decisive: no mention is made of the Duke of Cumberland’s murderous march through the Highlands, which was “decisive” in its own way for the social history of Scotland, though not in the way the editors mean. The truth of history is that there is no such thing as a decisive battle. All battles, all wars, merely lead to more wars, more battles. Take, for instance the last battles dealt with in these pages. One of these is the Battle of Dien-Bien-Phu, in which the Viet-Minh defeated the French, simply by superior strategy. This along with the Algerian War a couple of years later disillusioned the French elite completely. Yet that victory only led to US intervention, and the long years of the Vietnam War that ended in defeat for the Americans. The last battle of all is Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The section avoids any mention of the political context which allowed Saddam to believe that he could reintegrate Kuwait into the territory of Iraq, which it had formed part of under the Ottomans. That war ended with George Bush declaring ‘victory’ after three days, only to have to fight for the whole country in 2003. This was only an apparent decisive victory – the struggles between England, Scotland and Ireland went on” In the account of this war (three pages later) the editors have to admit the validity of this invasion remained a matter of debate (as indeed it still is); nor did it prove decisive, as the US army remained in occupation until 2011. And Iraqi cannot be called a peaceful place even now. Despite the vain pursuit of “the decisive victory” soldiers and politicians and patriots are obsessed with the one last push theory that will crack the problem. Given the sheer slaughter of humanity by the advanced industrial powers, and their agents, using their developed weapons in other continents, uncountable millions have died – only estimates of those killed by state power can be given – exact figures simply do not exist. This all leaves the Christian, let alone the Catholic, in a quandary. War for industrial societies has changed: destroying cities in complete safety from 30,000 feet requires no courage, merely the skill of a video games expert. The post The myth of the decisive victory appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
The last illuminated books…what next?
Mainly About Books by the books editor   At this time of year a long queue snakes around the square in front of Trinity College’s Old Library, those in it waiting patiently to gain access to see the Book of Kells. Other ancient manuscripts are preserved in Ireland, some of which can be visited online. But the Book of Kells is Ireland’s great treasure, indeed a treasure of world culture. We are aware of the book as an example of the illuminated book in early Christian times in these islands. This is where a great tradition, so to speak, began. But we rarely think about how it progressed, or where and how it ended. In the centuries when books were made by hand manuscripts were costly, even without illustrations. Those with illustrations, often the work of one or two artists, were unique. From the 8th Century onwards such books were regularly created. A few achieved astonishing levels of virtuosity. One such is the Livre des Merveilles, a compilation of accounts of medieval travellers’ accounts of Asia, which then accounted for much of the ‘known world’. This book illustrated the wonders and curiosities of Asia as described by Marco Polo, Caprini and other authentic reporters, and the fictional travels of Sir John Mandeville, which drew so heavily on them. Nature
 world The images are quite enchanting. They have a direct simplicity, but a seriousness which is quite profound. They were an attempt to explain the nature of the world, and will always be of interest to both the scholar and the ordinary reader. The Book of Kells, however, was a liturgical book. And liturgical and devotional books have always lent themselves to rich decoration. The most astonishing of these devotional books is the Très Riches Heures (c. 1414) made for the Duc du Berry. In this as the seasons pass a series of paintings illustrate the ordinary life of late medieval France. As with the book on Asia, the pages give insights into the life of the time. But here a sense of real life, rather than fantasy dominates. What is interesting, too, is that all levels of society are shown from the peasant in the fields to the lord in his chateau. (The sorts of lives that lay behind these images are wonderfully explored in that classic book by Eileen Power, Medieval People. a book to sit on your shelf with Helen Waddell’s The Wandering Scholars.) In the later middle ages and the early Renaissance there were many illuminated masterpieces produced. But it was the introduction into Europe of printing with moveable types (developed over the preceding centuries in East Asia) after 1450 that transformed the making and distribution of books. The colour possibilities of printing were limited initially, and took centuries to develop and are still being developed. But the illuminated book now became the province of the artist. One of the most extraordinary creations of the period is now preserved in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. This is one of the most precious books of the European renaissance. Earlier 
work In 1561 a master calligrapher named Georg Bocskay was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to create the Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta (The Model Book of Calligraphy). This itself was a remarkable book. But around 1590 Ferdinand’s grandson, the extraordinary Rudolf II, commissioned Joris Höfnagel to illuminate the earlier work. This he did with images largely of plants and animals, an extraordinary medley of script and image, a masterpiece of calligraphy and miniature painting. If the Book of Kells was a miracle of art from an age of religious belief – a similar book seen in Kildare by Gerald de Barri at the time of the Norman invasion was called “the work of angels” – this little book was a masterpiece of an age of individualism, and a passion for new observations of the world, expressed by the human hand and eyes. One wonders what will be the digital ages’ equivalent, and will it have the lasting power of these earlier creations of soul and spirit; will Japanese tourists queue around the block at some future date to them? One wonders. The post The last illuminated books…what next? appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Recent books in brief
Bursting Out in Praise: Spirituality & Mental Health by Gavin Thomas Murphy (Messenger Publications, €4.95 / £4.50) The author has bipolar disorder, but he has put his own experience of this, and his own solutions to it in his own life, at the heart of this brochure, which many families may value for its non-technical language and its appreciation of the totality of the human person. He is promoting to others his triangle of relations: dependence on God, service to God (which in effect means for him service to others), and a balanced mood of mind. In describing his six steps to mental health he draws from the past, from the writings of St Ignatius, St Francis and Hildegard of Bingen. But he also incorporates insights from medical science as it is now. He helps his readers, quite literally, to make the best of both worlds. But the author’s enthusiasm for sharing his positive experiences with his readers will be appreciated by those who have been troubled by mental health issues, and that positivity, that “bursting out in song”, that gives this booklet its special tone. This is an excellent and insightful little work easily approached by those whom it might help.   Second Marriage in the Catholic Church: Annulment and other Solutions by Paul Robbins (Independently published; Amazon paperback price £10.50; ISBN 978 17911753153) This, sadly enough, is a book which many people will find of great value to them in their personal and familial situation. The author is a canon lawyer, fully qualified in philosophy, theology and canon law, with over 30 years experience in dealing with those who have sought recognition of a second marriage. The whole question of marriage in modern society generates a lot of heated debate. But the indissolubility of a true marriage which the Church calls for is posited on the necessary factor that the marriage was a real marriage in the first place. What may look like “a marriage” in the eyes of the world, may in fact not be one, in the eyes of the Church. When examined it may not have been valid in the first place for various psychological, psychiatric , social, or religious reasons. “The Catholic Church,” the author notes, “teaches that marriage is for life. Yet, the Church also offers a number of solutions that mean that remarriage is often possible.” However, couples cannot act on their own: advice from an experienced counsellor and the opinion of a seasoned canon lawyer may well be needed. It may seem strange that this book has had to be independently published, but this should not dissuade potentials readers, for it is filled with sound information and well-grounded guidance. The difficulties of modern publishing practice make it difficult for many serious books to get into print otherwise. This book provides both advice and guidance, strictly from an authentic Catholic point of view. Troubled couples should never feel that they are all on their own: help can always be found. The post Recent books in brief appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Well-presented drama still a hard station
Films and TV programmes, when dealing with religious themes often go for the cultish, extreme or even twisted versions of Faith, but on good days it’s just the pleasantly offbeat. Last Saturday night’s film on BBC2 was all of the above. Stations of the Cross is a German film, serious, well made, but not easy viewing. It told the story of a teenage girl receiving Confirmation preparation from a traditionalist Catholic group who reject the Pope and Vatican II. I found it absorbing, disturbing, sad and challenging. The traditional stations are compared to a series of 14 key events in the girl’s life over a short period. I think militant atheists will be confirmed in their distaste for religion, traditionalists will be displeased about the way they are portrayed and more mainstream people of faith will be uneasy (especially with a Communion scene) but also glad that their outlook is reflected in one of the most sympathetic characters, a French au pair named Bernadette. Apart from confronting the difficulties of being a traditionalist religious teen in a secular society it’s also about the idealism and naiveté of youth and how it must be carefully nurtured, and neither exploited nor crushed. With so much ugly gun violence of late, the film Amish Grace (TG 4, Thursday) was timely,  exploring the theme of forgiveness and is based on a school shooting in the Amish community – it was noteworthy at the time because of how quickly that community offered forgiveness and engaged with the family of the shooter. This dramatisation is wooden at times, and in the efforts to avoid it being too upsetting the shooting is treated so obliquely that it’s hard to know for a while what exactly has happened. Tammy Blanchard (also seen to great effect in the pro-life film Bella) gives a fine performance as the shooter’s distraught wife and deftly captures the gamut of emotions she experiences. Kimberly Williams-Paisley does pretty well as the fictional mother of one victim – unsurprisingly she has difficulty in being so forgiving and her inner turmoil gives rise to much of the dramatic conflict. Media characters give something of an outside perspective, reflective of how difficult it is for some to understand the Amish commitment to forgiveness in the face of such tragedy. The problematic issue of ‘shunning’ – where the community shuns those of their own who have offended against it – is also explored. Also with a strong message of forgiveness, it was good to see Life and Soul back again last Sunday morning (RTÉ1, RTE Radio 1 Extra and Long Wave 252) with another impressive programme, marking the 50th anniversary of the start of ‘The Troubles’ and focusing on the impact of those events in the lives of various people. Bridie McGoldrick’s only son, a Catholic, was shot dead in a sectarian murder – not God’s plan, she said, but man’s plan. Every day, she said, God gives her the grace to forgive. Fra Sands, Catholic, and Johnny Clements, Protestant, had learned reconciliation and understanding thanks to a Border Walk and Youth With a Mission. Jason Rutherford now works in the service of young people but as a youngster had been groomed for involvement in a loyalist paramilitary group. He resisted despite risk to himself and was now a passionate believer in the reality of God. John Ashe was raised Catholic in Antrim, was in a mixed marriage and now attended a non-denominational church, avoiding religion, he said, to have a better relationship with Christ  – that begs more than a few questions but that’s for another time. David Williamson had a story both heart-breaking and uplifting – in his days as an RUC officer he was motivated by service but suffered severe injuries in a bomb attack. Having recovered he was later involved in a car crash that killed his wife and daughter and left him and another daughter with severe injuries. Yet again he recovered against the odds, miraculously he believes. Finally, Carl and Linda Whinnery were a couple in a mixed marriage, coming from very different religious backgrounds, learning, creating bridges and serving in youth initiatives. The music, from the groups Rend Collective and I Am Worship, was top notch, though I would like to see more diversity of musical styles.  Dramatic reconstructions have been replaced by short and well-drawn animations, though I think these too are unnecessary – let our imaginations do the work!   Pick of the Week Keepers of the Flame RTÉ1, Monday, August 19, 9.35 pm The universal story of a generation dealing with the consequences of war and civil war, shedding light on Ireland’s post war psyche – on all sides. Everybody Loves Raymond Channel 4, Wednesday, August 21, 8.40am Debra’s hippy sister shows up unexpectedly and announces that she’s decided to become a nun. Daniel O’Connell: Forgotten King of Ireland RTÉ1, Thursday, August 22, 9.35pm Broadcaster Olivia O’Leary journeys from Kerry to Glasnevin to Rome to chronicle the trailblazing life and the contemporary legacy of Daniel O’Connell. The post Well-presented drama still a hard station appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Delight and musical history in wonderful NCH performance
A recent phone call from pianist Darina Gibson invited me to a recital in the NCH’s John Field Room being given by RTÉ NSO flautist Sinéad Farrell and herself. As their principally French programme looked enticing I gladly accepted the invitation. The evening began with Bach’s B minor Flute Sonata where the opening Andante found Ms Farrell’s tone giving the impression of the brighter sounding recorder and with both artists keeping a nicely mobile tempo. The central Largo had a cantabile stylishness before the concluding Presto. Its ever-twisting textures showed Ms Farrell’s seamless breath control and Ms Gibson’s colourful and supportive accompaniment. A Donizetti Concertino implied a series of short operatic scenes, some serious, others jocose, as was the way of the composer, and had the duo blending beautifully together. The rest of the recital was beguilingly French with a four-movement suite by Charles-Marie Widor – better known for his organ symphonies (he was organist at St Suplice in Paris for 64 years) – a Concertino by Cécile Chaminade and Francis Poulenc’s charming Flute Sonata dating from1967. Each was interpreted with elegance and finesse with the Poulenc having an extra bit of chic and sophistication, counterbalanced by amusing diversions into impertinence and witty repartee. Highly entertaining, the performance sealed the artists’ engaging musical partnership. But I found something else in this programme – an intriguing musical history lesson. Both the Widor and Chaminade were written for the eminent 19th Century flautist, Paul Taffanel (1844-1908), while the Poulenc came through the composer’s friendship with a highly imaginative flautist of the last century, Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000). Honours Taffanel, who came from Bordeaux, was initially tutored by his father before moving on to the Paris Conservatoire. Graduating with multiple honours, he later became the institute’s professor of flute. Having the reputation of being an inspiring instructor, Taffanel revised his department’s teaching methods by focusing on the importance of individual tuition. His interest and research into composers of earlier generations led to an important revival of Baroque music with a exceptional emphasis on Bach, then not at all well known in France. Taffanel’s playing is said to have had ‘elegance, flexibility and sensitivity while his phenomenal virtuosity was made as inconspicuous as possible as he hated affectation’. If all that was not enough, Taffanel was principal conductor at the Paris Opéra for 16 years from 1890. Born in Marseille, Jean Pierre Rampal was, like Taffanel, also taught by his father who was professor of flute at the city’s conservatoire. As his family wished, Rampal studied medicine before entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 22. There his instrumental brilliance was quickly recognised. During his lengthy international career as soloist and ensemble musician, Rampal raised the status of his instrument to an unprecedented level. He was also principal flautist at the Paris Opéra for many years. He, too, had an abiding interest in the Baroque as well as in music of his contemporaries. The influence of Rampal’s flair and presence paved the way for the next generation of flautist superstars including our own James Galway and the younger Geneva-born Emmanuel Pahud. The post Delight and musical history in wonderful NCH performance appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Review: Can social justice activism go too far?
Review: Can social justice activism go too far? For many Catholics, social justice is an imperative of their faith. Advancing a social justice agenda is not just something that is in vogue, but a crucial part of church teaching. But there is another social justice—a secular one unmoored from the faith-based tenets that created the concept in the first place. In Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America, Noah Rothman surveys and attempts to deconstruct systematically the social justice movement that he believes has gone awry. Advertisement Indeed, most of Unjust is a thorough examination of the most egregious examples of the modern social justice movement as Rothman sees it. This examination essentially amounts to a list of activist trends, aggressions and failings. It is also the book’s biggest shortcoming, not because demonstrating absurdity is a bad thing, but because it is used to the detriment of a more insightful analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of the negative trends Rothman identifies. Rothman states early in the book that “the mixing of identity consciousness with the precepts of social justice” has transformed “an ethos of equality and egalitarianism across lines of class, race, and sex...into a bitter ideology that resents classically liberal policies.” As Rothman sees it, social justice initially was a way for the Catholic Church to insert its ethics into the Enlightenment understanding of the “liberal and laissez-faire” way society should be ordered. Two Jesuits, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio and Matteo Liberatore (who helped draft Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum” in 1891), laid the foundation for understanding social justice as “a moral theory of societal and economic development.” “Identitarians” on both the left and the right, Noah Rothman argues, have consistently abandoned colorblind principles and have supplanted them with concerns central to their narrow identities. But over the course of the mid-to-late 20th century, notions of social justice went very, very wrong. Rothman attributes their corruption to the rise of identity politics—which gained greater prominence after the 2016 presidential election—and “Identitarianism,” which he defines as “a set of values and beliefs based on the politics of personal identity.” “Identitarians” on both the left and the right, Rothman argues, have consistently abandoned colorblind principles and have supplanted them with concerns central to their narrow identities. Rothman finds this leads to an emphasis on issues that divide, as well as the creation of a system that incentivizes claims of victimization to achieve preferred policy outcomes. Ultimately, Unjust falls short of its mission. Its critical lens on the left and right is much needed, but the book fails to achieve the escape velocity needed to be as authoritative as it claims. keane Wed, 08/07/2019 - 14:25 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. J Cosgrove1 week 1 day ago Advancing justice not social justice. One is moral the other is political. Advertisement
Review: Latinos are protagonists in the American story
Review: Latinos are protagonists in the American story Though he died long before the construction of any U.S. border wall, the poet Walt Whitman appears to have anticipated our current racism-infused immigration debate. For U.S. Latinos like myself, that debate can often appear as if our country is contesting the merits of our presence. But all the way back in 1883, Whitman wrote, “To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts.” Advertisement Whitman’s thoughts on those of us known as Latinos (or Hispanics—the terms are functionally similar, if not fully interchangeable) is one of many telling details that Carrie Gibson weaves together in her new work of history, El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America. Rejecting the implications of the label “minority,” Gibson instead tells the history of Latinos as equal protagonists in the American story. Telling the entire 500-year history of Spanish-speaking peoples in what is now the United States in a single volume is rarely attempted, and Gibson is bold to do it. The book speeds through time and place at a breakneck pace, and so occasionally suffers from lack of depth. Events as pivotal to American Latino history as the 1960s farmworker movement are given barely a page of analysis. Nevertheless, including so many diverse periods, peoples and places in one book, and finding the sometimes faint thread of heritage and experience that unites them, is a great accomplishment. Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans alike will find themselves in this book, but will also learn something about the others. All the way back in 1883, Walt Whitman wrote, “To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts.” The Hispanic history of North America is also inescapably a history of Catholicism. Many of the early portions of the book, including Gibson’s explorations of Spanish colonizers, are preoccupied with the often violent expansion of the church. Here is yet another reminder that there is dark history for the church to reckon with. Ultimately, El Norte itself comes at a pivotal moment in Latino history. Naturally, the book addresses the fact that the sitting United States president ran on a message of explicit anti-Latino bigotry. The book falls short of answering the question I have been asking all my life: Why does American society seem to hate Latinos so much? It does, however, offer this glimmer of hope: Latinos have been through worse, and yet endured. keane Wed, 08/07/2019 - 13:59 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Vince Killoran1 week ago I think that one of the complicated aspects to this history is the constructed nature of "Hispanic." It is a fairly recent invention and there is considerable diversity among Hispanics, e.g., racial identity, political loyalty. Daniel B26 min 13 sec ago Vince, I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis about the construction of the word "Hispanic." By its nature, it is designed to lump together an otherwise diverse people with a diverse and complicated history. As a "Hispanic" myself, I have noticed how politicians and so-called Hispanic or Latino activists have been using the label to refer only to a subset of the Hispanic / Latino population. One of the main reasons why Hispanics were disliked by non-Latinos in the US for many years was for the same reason the Irish were disliked: they were predominately Catholics in a predominately Protestant country. Advertisement
Down to earth in rural Ireland
Lay of the Land: Reflections on life in rural Ireland by Fiona O’Connell (Red Stag, €12.99) Christopher
 Moriarty   This collection of chatty articles is attractively illustrated by Caroline Barry with a pen-and-ink sketch at the head of every one of the one hundred plus short chapters. They are a selection from the author’s weekly articles which have been appearing in the Sunday Independent since 2012. They cover a wide range, but are centred on incidents of rural life, some fanciful, some true and original. Fiona O’Connell clearly loves the country and makes a plea for its preservation, drawing attention to many of the threats, real or perceived, to the land and to the people and creatures that inhabit it. Amongst the people are the owners of small, traditional village shops and, amongst the creatures, special place is given to the hedgehog which appears in the very first chapter and again later on in the book. Some readers will find her complaints entertaining and, without doubt, they are intended to bring problems to the attention of the authorities and to her fellow country-dwellers. But this approach has a down side in giving an overall impression that the entire country is in a state of malaise. Perhaps it is but, in the experience of this reviewer, the good immeasurably outweighs the problems. Not only that, but the supposedly ignorant people in authority whom she is attempting to educate are for the most part knowledgeable, dedicated and as deeply concerned as the author. Generation In an ‘author’s note’ which appears even before the contents list, she explains that one reason for her leaving her native Dublin was because “my generation was perhaps the last to live in a city that still had green space with hedgehogs and badgers roaming around our new estate that was steadily swallowing up the countryside”. Yes Dublin is spreading. But it spreads around carefully maintained green spaces, wonderful new parks and even new lakes, all of which teem with wildlife and in which wild flowers are deliberately given space. Meanwhile the suburbs have come to be inhabited by birds, such as buzzard and little egret. And the beautiful goldfinch, which was strictly a country species in my childhood, is now a devoted user of peanut feeders in nearly every garden – while still as plentiful as ever in its former haunts. The hedgehogs that appear in the first chapter are dead – killed by traffic. For some reason she gives this hedgehog mortality a date of commencement as the ‘70s, probably 70 and certainly 20 years after it began. On the positive side is her mention that hedgehogs visited her back garden. This is an interesting observation and could be expanded by a little something about the fact that suburban back gardens are amongst the richest bird habitats in the world. Distressing But to return to the hedgehog, of course the sight of any dead animal is distressing to most of us. Remarkably what the sad hedgehog corpses, plentiful for more than half a century, tell us is that the hedgehog population of Ireland is thriving. The fact is that biodiversity in Ireland is alive and well and nowadays enjoys the added advantage of being taken seriously by all sorts and conditions of public officials together with a host of the plain people. The post Down to earth in rural Ireland appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Making the most of a wide, wide world
Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel by Rosita Boland (Doubleday, €16.99) Barbara
 Pierce   Elsewhere is a fascinating series of essays written about extraordinary journeys travelled by Rosita Boland over a period of about thirty years. She set off alone with only a 10kg bag, a passport and a black note book, no camera! These notes and her memories were her source for these nine thought provoking essays. In a forward, the author tells of her love of words and how she learned new words taken from Chamber’s Dictionary to enrich her poetry. This now enriches her prose. The title of each chapter is a country name and an unfamiliar word which hints at a deeper theme to the traveller’s tale and of the authors personal journey. From a friend, she hears a new word, “Fernweh” an ache for distant places, and responds, “So that’s the word for it, all these years, for this yearning for elsewhere.” Freedom In 1988, newly graduated, the author went to Australia on a one year visa, working briefly in a holiday resort deep in the rainforest and, as her departure date neared, she realised that she had acquired “an intense desire for freedom” which would not allow her to settle in back Ireland. Over the years, Rosita Boland worked in England for three periods, usually in publishing, earning enough money to go ‘elsewhere’, always planning her next escape, not wanting a career, but always restless, always collecting dreams of elsewhere. In 1995, during such a period in England, Rosita Boland fell in love. It was mutual, but complicated by the fact that he was in a relationship. So she decided to stick with her planned journey to Asia. There follows a riveting account of how the author made her way back from Nepal to Europe through Pakistan, where she walked alone on the Karakoram Highway close the Chinese border in awe of the range of 6,000m mountains of which K2 is one. It was there that she had her formidable courage tested by a terrifying bus journey along a ledge between a mountain cliff and the Hunza river hundreds of feet below. All during this time she was sending and receiving poetic love letters from each post restante. Brame, which means ‘fierce longing, passion’, is the apt word for this There are many more adventures to be recalled, remembering Thailand, where she spent Christmas exactly two years before the devastating tsunami, author reflects on how Fortuna, the goddess of luck, chance and fate has protected her always. She was never assaulted or ill, while ‘elsewhere’, although there were unpleasant and potentially serious incidents. In absorbing stories of experiences in Japan, Peru  and Antarctica, each with a defining word or phrase, we learn a more about the author, her own story, her values, her joys and her sorrows and friendships formed, some long-lasting, others brief. In 2015, after all her independent journeys, Ms Boland returned to Ireland and became a journalist for the Irish Times. She found that she did have a career after all, and in this role she visited Iceland, ‘the land of the Snow Queen’. Accounts Reading these exciting accounts, I envied her fierce determination to follow her dream and her ability to overcome obstacles and dangers, but was only envious of her time in Bali. Although for her it was a time of suffering and healing. Rosita’s other great desire was to someday be a parent. She had suffered two miscarriages and sought to adopt, only to hear that she had ‘aged out’ of the process and would never be a parent. Devastated by this, she took leave of absence and went to Bali, where she lived and reflected, surrounded by beauty, releasing her pain by immersing herself in a magical infinity pool and swimming and swimming. Just before she left this paradise, a final agonising and deeply experienced ‘arcane’ massage freed her spirit enough to bear her pain and allowed her to feel again delight in an ‘image of a red haired woman on horse, flying with silver edged wings, through a starry night’. Her life has been mended with gold! The post Making the most of a wide, wide world appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
‘Rethinking the World’ – Bauhaus artists on display at the National Gallery
Bauhaus 100 – The Print Portfolios Continues to December 1, 2019 – NGI Print Gallery, admission free This year marks the centenary of the founding in Weimar Germany of Das Staatliche Bauhaus, better known as the Bauhaus, an institution which served to promote modernist architecture, making Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe international figures of influence – the recently revamped Bank of Ireland buildings in Dublin’s Baggot Street are now renamed The Miesian Plaza, a nod to the inspiration architect Ronnie Tallon took from Mies’s NYC Seagram Building. But there were other aspects of the Bauhaus project – craft art, typography, even industrial design – where the group’s influence persists. For nearly 30 years after WWII modern German typography, thanks to a refugee designer, imposed its elegant purity and rigid simplicity on the design of Penguin books. However, the new small show at the NGI, intelligently curated by Niamh MacNally, presents a lesser known aspect of Bauhaus, a display of selected images from the famous, but little seen, portfolios of New European Graphics the group issued between 1922 and 1924. The idea behind these, according to Gropius, was to show how “the artistic generation of our time shares the ideas of the Bauhaus”. Some 45 artists’ work is to be seen in this show. Aspect The images come from the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, and are being uniquely exhibited aboard here in Dublin for the anniversary. Some of the artists displayed are known to all, Klee, Muche, Schwitters, Kandinsky and Kokoschka; but in contrast lesser, yet still vital, figures provide a context. This is reason enough for seeing the show. Their work presents a little known aspect of the Bauhaus, through sets of images. There were to be five of these, but the one of French artists never appeared. However images by both the Bauhaus masters and German, Italian, and Russian artists did, distributed in large and expensive portfolios. These all reflect the grim and yet exciting post-war years, also in their glimpses of violence and neglect prophesy the later years of oppression under National Socialism. Bauhaus made little impact on Irish architecture except for a few select buildings, such as early work by Michael Scott. In Harry Kernoff alone we can see in a 1930s Irish artist some echoes of this creative outburst. But the whole range contrasts with what Irish artists were largely producing in the 1920s and 30s. The post ‘Rethinking the World’ – Bauhaus artists on display at the National Gallery appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Throwing light on internet shadows
A lie can be halfway around the world, as the adage so often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain has it, before the truth has got its boots on. The internet has managed to make this depressing reality all the worse, and just as paper doesn’t refuse ink, so one thing screens cannot do is screen out falsehoods. We need our eyes and our wits more than ever nowadays. Take, for example, an article published on the egregious just last week under the rather alarmist title, '‘British coup’: Author claims UK gov’t may have helped in Pope Francis’ 2013 election’. Now, the article has been tweaked in a number of ways since publication, not least in correcting its original descriptions of Ireland’s Cardinal Seán Brady as English, but its fundamentally misleading nature, feeding into an ongoing anti-Francis pattern, is still the same. Commenting on Catherine Pepinster’s 2017 book The Keys and the Kingdom: The British and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis, the article reports the book as claiming that the UK government played a key role “in setting up a meeting where key cardinals networked with lesser-known cardinals to promote Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for Pope”. “Calling Bergoglio’s election a ‘British coup’, Pepinster’s work suggests that a secular power was involved in the election of a Pope,” the article proclaims, adding that “this should justly cause concern” and that “this report certainly should lead to further inquiries also as to the involvement of British foreign intelligence assets”. Key 
source Now, a bit of cop-on is needed with stories like this. Success tends to have a lot of fathers, after all, and a key source for this story was the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, an affable man who wasn’t backward about putting himself forward. It’s worth remembering too the adage that all news is local, such that Ms Pepinster’s emphasis on a behind-the-scenes British role in a conclave devoid of British prelates really looks like little more than an attempt to titillate a British audience. Stripped of hyperbole, so, Ms Pepinster really just reported that cardinals from poorer countries in the global south hadn’t had much scope to talk among themselves about what sort of Pope they’d like before the 2005 conclave, and that senior figures in the English Church had realised that they – or at least the UK – could facilitate that. So cardinals from the poorer parts of the Commonwealth were invited to a reception in the British ambassador’s apartment, with Cardinal Cormac basically being a kind of co-host. There were just a few minutes, it seems, he could speak privately with the cardinals from the south, and nobody has revealed what was said. It should be obvious that there’s nothing here to suggest the UK government was involved “in setting up a meeting where key cardinals networked with lesser-known cardinals to promote Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for Pope”. Rather, Ms Pepinster says the reception involved Cardinal Cormac and cardinals from poorer countries, with the UK government simply seeing it as a chance for Catholic leaders from poorer commonwealth countries to network. Crucially, among those Commonwealth cardinals says were Cardinals Turkson and Gracias. Turkson, readers may recall, was a name heavily toted for the papacy back in 2013. The whole thesis smacks of racism, to be honest” Admittedly, his candidacy came to nothing – according to Gerry O’Connell’s ‘Exclusive: inside the election of Pope Francis’,  Cardinal Turkson got just two votes in the first conclave ballot – but is it really plausible that one of the more publicly papabile cardinals was invited to a shindig at the UK ambassador’s apartment so a retired cardinal could tell him to vote for somebody who wasn’t even being whispered about as a possible Pope? The whole thesis smacks of racism, to be honest. It’s one thing to say cardinals from poorer southern hemisphere countries were given a chance to network and discuss the kind of Pope they’d like. It’s another to suggest that white Europeans told them to jump, and they happily said: “How far?” The post Throwing light on internet shadows appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Feel-good films enjoying a field day on our screens
International films are having a field day on our screens at the minute. Blinded by the Light takes up where Yesterday left off, giving us the story of a disaffected young Asian man becoming liberated by music. Bob Dylan once said that hearing Elvis Presley for the first time was like “busting out of jail”. Something like this happens here too if we replace Elvis with Bruce Springsteen. Gurinder Chadra’s film is set in Luton in 1987. Margaret Thatcher is in power. Everything seems bleak for Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra). He can’t seem to settle at anything, but when a Sikh friend of his (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to Springsteen’s music his life goes into a new groove. He becomes his inspiration, his escape from Thatcher’s tunnel vision of what constitutes true worth. He’s suddenly ‘Born to Run’ as The Boss himself might say. The genie is out of the bottle. This adrenalised rite-of-passage film is based on Sarfaraz Manzoor’s semi-autobiographical book Greetings from Bury Park. Manzoor was only two when his family moved from Pakistan to Britain in 1974. As he grew up he found it difficult being a Muslim in an alien environment. But then he heard Springsteen singing ‘The River’ and a light bulb went off in his head. Everything suddenly began to gell. Springsteen became the glue that bound all religions, all lives together. If music is the cathartic influence behind Blinded by the Light, love performs that function in Ritesh Batea’s Photograph. It deals with a struggling street photographer from Mumbai (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who’s being pressurised to marry by his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar). One day he asks a shy young woman (Sanya Malhotra) to pose for a photograph with him. He pretends it’s a photo of his fiancée to try and get his grandmother to cease her matrimonial tirades but then she meets her. Now Malhotra has to play the role for real. Deanna Durbin made a film called It Started with Eve with a similar theme in 1941. In that instance it was a grandfather (Charles Laughton) doing the pressurising. Laughton was seriously ill. His grandson gave him a tonic by presenting him with a fake fiancée in Durbin. It was obvious from early on in that film that the two leads were going to fall in love. So it is here too. Photograph is slow-moving and gentle like an old-fashioned rom-com. Batea photographs Mumbai like an extra character in the film, charming us with his light touch. Novel Also on release at the moment is Transit from German director Christian Petzold. It’s based on a novel by Anne Seghers about a man trying to flee Nazi-occupied France during World War II. He falls in love with the widow of an author whose identity he assumes after the author commits suicide. Petzold has preserved the essence of the plot but transposed it to modern times, replacing the Nazi threat with one focussed on terrorism and the refugee crisis. The post Feel-good films enjoying a field day on our screens appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Not so private discussion on Liveline
There are some programmes I like and some I dislike, and then there are programmes I find inspiring at times, and irritating at others. Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1) fits into the latter category, and last week I was definitely irritated. It all started on the Tuesday when ‘Diane’ (not her real name) expressed how upset she was by reaction towards her at a recent silent retreat in Donegal. Strangely she was on this retreat despite being Protestant and an active lesbian. She seemed taken aback to have Catholic teaching outlined to her (by her own admission in a gentle manner) by Bro. Basil, a Benedictine monk from France. Allegedly her friend was called an adulteress by another monk, and subject to intrusive questioning. Bro. Basil came on the line on Thursday’s show, which may not have been the wisest move. So, what followed was an uneasy discussion of what had been a private pastoral conversation – better if they had stuck to general principles. Presenter Joe Duffy gave Bro. Basil what I thought was an overly intense grilling. Joe seemed particularly hung up on a prayer that was given to ‘Diane’ – a prayer for purity and chastity. Yes, the language sounded old fashioned and maybe the Church needs to find a better language to gain more traction for its teachings on sexuality, but Bro. Basil stayed calm, doing a reasonable job explaining this teaching (“eloquently and fluently”, said Joe). It didn’t help, however, that he was being prompted in the background by another monk. Third
 party Joe didn’t help by bringing in another third party, a woman who knew the two who were on the retreat. It all became rather anecdotal and third hand and there were some discrepancies as to the length of the retreat and the numbers attending. At one stage Bro. Basil declared himself unhappy with the direction of the interview, which Joe, I thought unfairly, interpreted as him threatening to hang up. When another woman came on the line defending Church teaching Joe asked her: “You’re saying Diane should seek forgiveness for being gay?” She wasn’t, and even after she made the distinction between act and orientation he repeated that question to her. She suggested he might need to seek forgiveness himself for being rude and said that the Catholic Church isn’t anti-women or anti-gay. Great. I needed some light relief after that and got some laughter therapy from US sitcom The Kids Are Alright (RTÉ1, Friday). The show features a US Catholic family in the 1970’s – eight boys (we get it – large Catholic family) with no-nonsense parents. It’s fast paced, witty and avoids sentimentality. So far the Catholic element is background. The eldest has left the seminary, there are references to the mother going to church, the boys cover the eyes on a picture of Our Lady so she won’t see their mischief – and there’s a lot of it! Despite bringing the boys up strictly the mother has a certain moral flexibility – in one episode she gets a fancy hairdo and leaves what she thinks ought to be the price rather than the actual charge, which is greater. The local priest, Fr Dunne, doesn’t get much of a look in – given that he’s played by Paul Dooley I hope he features more prominently in future. Sermons References are made to his sermons and in last Friday’s episode the father insists on bringing one of the boys, 18- year-old Eddie, to Confession after he comes home at 3am having visited his girlfriend. These are suspicious parents and usually their suspicions are well grounded – I’d say most parents can relate to staying awake restless until all the family members are in bed. Creator Tim Doyle has created a show that’s entirely credible. He does the role of narrator himself and it has to be said this show reminds me particularly of The Wonder Years and, to an extent, Malcolm in the Middle and Young Sheldon. And that just means the show is in pretty good company. Finally there was a very positive item about Catholic education when Songs of Praise (BBC1, Sunday) visited St Mary’s University in Twickenham. Vice-Chancellor Francis Campbell spoke enthusiastically about the legacy of the visit of Pope Benedict in 2010 and it was uplifting to see a group of articulate and faith-filled young adult students living in a religious community in a house named after the Pope.   Pick of the Week Film: Stations of the Cross BBC2, Saturday, August 10, 1.55 am Challenging film about a young girl undergoing instruction within a strict fundamentalist Catholic order to prepare for her Confirmation. Life and Soul RTÉ1 and RTÉ Radio 1 Extra Sunday, Aigist 11, 11 am To mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, we meet people whose lives have been impacted. With music and reflection. Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz EWTN, Monday, August 12, 10am, also Tuesday, August 13, 9.30 pm Actor Leonardo Defilippis as St Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest who withstood the horror of Auschwitz until his death. The post Not so private discussion on Liveline appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
A Martha’s Vineyard mystery from Richard Russo
A Martha’s Vineyard mystery from Richard Russo Richard Russo is our great chronicler of men of a certain age. Examples abound, but the Platonic ideal remains Sully, the irascible protagonist of Russo’s novel Nobody’s Fool (1993) and its sequel, Everybody’s Fool, from 2016. You will find no better portrait of the aging American male, rivaled only, perhaps, by Paul Newman’s performance in the film adaptation of the original novel from 1994. In his latest novel, Chances Are…, Russo introduces three more men of this type (all of them 66 years old, college class of 1971) and places them in a summer house on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, in the town of Chilmark, Mass. In a surprising twist, at least for Russo fans who may be used to longer, looser tales, the plot is set into rapid motion by the mystery of a young girl’s disappearance. A detective story is not what we have come to expect from Russo, who generally operates at the same, easy-going speed as his male protagonists, but he shows himself to be well versed in the basic requirements of the genre.Advertisement The last time these three men were on the island together was shortly after their graduation from Minerva College, a tony liberal arts school located on the southern coast of Connecticut. Unlike many of their classmates, Mickey, Lincoln and Teddy did not come from money, so they worked as “hashers” at a campus sorority, waiting tables and cleaning pots in the kitchen, and had limited social interaction with the young ladies of Theta house. The exception was Jacy, a free-spirited daughter of the WASP establishment who enjoys hanging out with the self-proclaimed “three musketeers.” When they all decide to spend one last weekend at Lincoln’s family house on the Vineyard, it comes as no surprise when things do not go exactly as planned. The year being 1971, the shadow of Vietnam looms. (One of the book’s touchpoints is Jefferson’s Airplane’s song “Somebody to Love,” with its opening line, “When the truth is found to be lies….”) Mickey has a low draft number and is trying to decide whether to flee to Canada. His buddies are pushing for him to go, but he feels a tug of loyalty to his recently deceased father, who told him that if he did not serve, some other poor kid would have to. The year being 1971, the shadow of Vietnam looms. This is familiar territory. People my age (Generation X) grew up with many stories, both in books and on film, of the conflicted young men sent off to serve their nation in Southeast Asia. It is a tribute to Russo’s skills as a portraitist that these debates do not seem stale. In his hands, Mickey, Lincoln, Teddy and Jacy are just kids buffeted by the winds of history. The three men return to Chilmark in 2015 as Lincoln is deciding whether to sell the family house. They are all haunted by the disappearance of Jacy, who left in 1971 without saying goodbye and was never seen or heard from again. It turns out there was once a time when people could be out of touch for weeks and even months and no one assumed anything bad had happened to them. Teddy, Mickey and Lincoln are full of flaws, but Russo does not judge them. Together again, the three musketeers return to familiar patterns. “Was this what we wanted from our oldest friends?” Russo writes in one of the book’s many wise passages. “Reassurance that the world we remember so fondly exists? That it hasn’t been replaced by a reality we’re less fully committed to?” Lincoln is the most successful of the lot, a real estate operator who has six children and a father whose influence he still can’t quit. (“Like many fathers, Lincoln’s now had two permanent residences, one in Dunbar, Arizona, the other in his son’s head.”) Mickey is still a committed son of the ’60s, driving a motorcycle and playing rock ’n’ roll in bars. And Teddy, well, he looks something quite like a reader of this magazine. An adjunct professor, he once thought about joining a monastery, but instead opted for teaching and editing a small publishing imprint called (wait for it...) Seven Storey Books. “To Teddy,” Russo drily notes, “it seemed that almost as many people were writing books about faith as were reading them. Most of the submissions were dreck, but a few small gems were mixed in. No new Thomas Merton, of course, but he hadn’t expected there would be.” They are all haunted by the disappearance of Jacy, who left in 1971 without saying goodbye. It is said that reading fiction can make you more empathetic, more attuned to the world inside someone else’s head. Reading Russo, this seems especially true, and not just because he creates a rich inner life for his characters. I have read many novels about characters whom I know well but do not feel a great deal of sympathy for. Teddy, Mickey and Lincoln are full of flaws, but Russo does not judge them. In fact, it could be said that he loves them as much as they love each other. Why else spend so much time in their company? “Mickey and Lincoln, the friends of his youth? He loved them too,” he writes of Teddy. “Still. Anyway. In spite of. Exactly how he himself had always hoped to be loved. The way everyone hopes to be.” This sentiment could seem treacly in a lesser writer’s hands, but Russo earns his moments of pathos. It helps that he is an extremely funny writer who knows that humor is the way men speak to each other, especially when they are facing moments of crisis. (It should be noted that there are also women in this novel, and not just the one who disappears. There is probably an unpublished dissertation floating around somewhere on “The Long-Suffering Women in the Novels of Richard Russo.”) The title Chances Are… comes from a Johnny Mathis song, which Jacy, Teddy, Lincoln and Mickey sing together on the porch in Chilmark on their last, boozy night together. The significance of the choice does not become apparent until later in the story, when Russo has a chance to muse on free will and fate, what we can change in life and what we cannot. “What made the contest between fate and free will so lopsided,” he writes, “was that human beings invariably mistook one for the other, hurling themselves furiously against that which is fixed and immutable while ignoring the very things over which they actually had some control.” It is no coincidence that the narrative returns on more than one occasion to the room in the sorority house where they all watched the draft numbers announced. For their generation more than most, the fates exercised a strong hand. The plot developments come at a quick pace. This is a book you can easily read in an afternoon or two in your beach chair. On one or two occasions, the plot veered a little too close to soap opera for my taste, but I am getting a little older and pickier about the kinds of things that I like. Richard Russo would understand. Tim Reidy Tue, 08/06/2019 - 09:20 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Barbara Beliveau1 week 3 days ago In 2019 I am 66; my classmates and I generally graduated from high school in 1971, college in 1975. John Mack6 days 23 hours ago Richard Russo is a brilliant illuminator of rural/small town class structure in the USA, including the class structure behind the rural/small town class structure and its entwinement with morality and conscience. This class structure is largely unknown to the US left when making class analyses. The clearest example is the novel Bridge of Sighs. The protagonist is an artist, who ends up living abroad. he is the person who transcends his small town's class/morality structure. His story makes the entwinement of class and morality clear. At the top, in the first class, you have the mill owners, the most respected, that is, the "most productive" social/economic element and therefore the most moral element. The owner lives in the "best" upper class neighborhood with fellow bigger business owners and certified professionals. Thus this neighborhood is truly made up of the brightest and the best, the cream of US meritocracy (as opposed to European social democracy). All the residents constitute the first class. Among them are some of the second class, the strivers, who were not raised well off but who have slaved away to make it into the first class. Like the first class, all the strivers consider themselves contributors to the community and society in general. The family to which the artist is attached and comes to visit is a striver family, a small owner family striving to grow rich enough to move into that "best" neighborhood. The third class is made up of elements that do not own (renters), mill workers who are passive, with no ambition except to get by and maybe enjoy family life. Among the third class are also petty thieves, gig workers, people on the lookout for when and how they can "get over" and make some money through devious means. Each class category corresponds to a moral category. The First class are intrinsically virtuous because they are productive an disciplined and they aim to enjoy the classic conservative conservative notion of liberty, that it is "earned" through ownership, and not some to which you are entitled as a human being by birth. Ownership ioncludes passive lwnerhip, that is, savings and investments as well as business ownership. Ownership also includes the possession of knowledge-based certified professional expertise which qualifies you for careers with good income, the opportunity to invest and a certain measure of security such as tenure as a professor or lifelong licensing as a lawyer or physician. The strivers aim for these things are therefore productive, disciplined and morally good and worthwhile as citizens. Byr the third class are not really disciplined (passive or deviant), do not enjoy any significant (subject to growth) ownership, and are takers rather than contributors. If you want to understand the not nutty US conservatives you need to understand this entwining f class structure, morality and human worth. Richard Russo lights up how this works. Next time you hear someone say "bourgeois" think ownership. Advertisement
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
Nick Broomfield’s documentary is an excellent introduction to Leonard Cohen, seen through the frame of his residence on the Greek island of Hydra in the ’60s; and, in particular, through his relationship with Marianne Ihlen.
The ‘lost city’ of Eblana
Mainly About Books by the books editor   The publication in late 2016 of Pat Wallace’s Viking Dublin (Irish Academic Press, €60.00), was a summation of decades of work by two generations of archaeologists from the National Museum and others, to define the city’s beginnings. However, the book has nothing really to say about pre-Viking Dublin. That was not Wallace’s remit. The idea that Dublin was ‘founded by the Vikings’ in the 9th Century – around 841 – is now so well established that it is almost never questioned The truth is that there certainly was a settlement at Dublin from far earlier times, and it was not a mere village at a river crossing. This place might be called ‘the lost city’ of Eblana. Many ancient cities were unwalled. They grew up around a market place outside the citadel” That name, the oldest known for Dublin, comes down to us from the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy who lived in Alexandria. His geography was a major record of the known world at the beginning of the Christian era, written before 150 AD. Though ‘Eblana’ echoes the name Dublin, we are now told this was not a real city, and may refer to a different place altogether. Actually what Ptolemy referred to, as he wrote in Greek, was a place he calls Εβλανα πολις [Eblana civitas in Later Latin]. For the Greek world the idea of a polis meant something exact, for Greek is a very definitive language. A polis was a place with an organised community, a ruling elite, and a central citadel. A village would have been called a χωριό [chorió]. The words polis and civitas imply both an organised town and a large body of people – they would not be applied to a mere village. Ptolemy tells us as directly as possible that there was a city at the mouth of the Liffey. Information Much of his information derived from Marinus of Tyre (fl. 110c), who had access to Phoenician sources, though Roman sources must have also been utilised by Ptolemy. But as the trade in copper, tin and gold brought Mediterranean traders to the coasts of these islands for thousands of years before that, going back to the Bronze Age. The evidence of that trade is there in the archaeology; hence the knowledge of the traders has to be factored in. That date 150 AD is the end of a period, not the beginning of one. Many ancient cities were unwalled. They grew up around a market place outside the citadel, that is to say in Dublin’s case, west of Dublin Castle along High Street and Thomas Street. Here the ancient system of roads covering Ireland converged – and made connection across the sea with Chester and other parts of England. But what gave this settlement its real substance were the ecclesiastical establishments. This place was an early Christian site. Palladius we are told was sent to Ireland in 429 by Pope Celestine to the Irish “believing in Christ”. The legendary date, 448, of ‘St Patrick’s’ visit to Dublin when he is said to have baptised the local ruler to Christianity may actually be derived from an act of Palladius, later attributed by Jocelyn to Patrick. We are now told that ‘Eblana’ was not a real city...” Between 450-600 development of the original settlement into a Christian centre continued, with numerous establishments, and a local population dependent on them. Some eight local churches were early in existence mostly in the area between Cook Street and Dame Street; and other institutions stood in the surrounding district. Irish monasteries attracted many students and refugees from Britain and Europe, and many would have passed through Dublin to take advantage of the road system. To ignore the pre-Viking settlement is to quite ignore the Christian roots of the city. It is means passing over in silence some 800 years or more of Dublin’s earlier history. No; I think the search for this “lost city of Eblana” should be pursued with serious intent, if only because in represents an important aspect of the very early history of our capital. The post The ‘lost city’ of Eblana appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Myth, mystery and the depths of religion
Living the Mystery: What lies between Science and Religion by Mark Patrick Hederman (Columba Books, €19.99) Christopher Moriarty This book is a heartfelt plea from its erudite author who has spent more than 50 years of his life as a Benedictine monk. As a devoted man of religion, he celebrates the value of faith and, as a person who enjoys the physical wellbeing that the achievements of science have brought to humanity, he rejoices in the success of its discipline. But he is keenly aware of a void in human understanding – and especially in our system of education which permits it. What has been omitted from our culture in recent centuries is the ancient knowledge embodied in the mythical. Mark Patrick Hederman argues forcefully that myths play an essential part in our understanding of the universe and of ourselves as a significant sector of it. Theme In addressing his theme the author wanders far and wide to illustrate a multiplicity of significant points. This makes for a most delightful book which introduces – or re-introduces – the reader to a panoply of poets, philosophers, artists and divines with extensive quotations from many. Amongst Irish writers he brings in Yeats, Joyce, Seamus Heaney and John Moriarty. The film director David Lean comes in for honourable mention as does the philosophy of poet Rainer Maria Rilke and there are many others. Besides extracts of the works of so many luminaries, there are many very memorable and inspiring statements by the author himself. Here is one example: “We alone of all the inhabitants of the Earth are capable of praise. Our task as human beings is to achieve the balance between the gravity of the Earth and the openness to the Spirit: the space between the within and the without. To live the ‘outside’, to allow its breath to seep through us so that we become its sound-box – this is what the Earth is asking of us.” Our task as human beings is to achieve the balance between the gravity of the Earth and the openness to the Spirit Religion in a narrow sense is based on doctrine and science, equally narrowly, uses observation and experiment of the physical world. But myth is the culmination of the human imagination. Nobody is free from its influence and, even in this day of media-saturation, children and adults consciously or unconsciously absorb myths. They abound both in science and in religion in spite of the efforts of the exponents of both to deny the mythical existence. The absence, from our formal education systems of teaching of myths, especially those relating to physical localities and to folk memory, leads to a tragic lack of shared experience throughout society. For a long time the author has taken a leading part in developing consciousness of the importance of the myth. Among other achievements was his foundation, with Richard Kearney, of the journal The Crane Bag in which many seminal articles on mythology were published. Mark Patrick Hederman argues forcefully that myths play an essential part in our understanding of the universe” In the current phase of enthusiasm by educational planners for teaching ways of enhancing material gain, the ideal of bringing back an awareness of myth and mystery seems more aspirational than achievable. Hopefully this book will induce something of a change of heart. In the meantime it stands as a feast of exciting ideas and a signpost to a wealth of reading. The post Myth, mystery and the depths of religion appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Can this fine book really be Gabriel Fitzmaurice’s swansong?
A Farewell to Poetry: selected Poems and Translations by Gabriel Fitzmaurice (Currach Press, €19.99) Seamus Cashman   The title of this collection invites echoes of its author’s friend and fellow poet Michael Hartnett’s Farewell to English — and who knows, perhaps Gabriel’s mind is quietly nurturing a similar outcome?  Though it is a challenging title, it does give the poet freedom to issue this ‘selected poems’ equivalent, and to then live with whatever the muse will insist upon in future years. When it comes to poets at their trade, every word becomes a micro-verse of tension, wrapt in politics, social history, language origins, contemporary and previous usages and more. So when the word ‘Farewell’ feeds the title, it merits attention. Here is the ambiguity of ‘me’ and ‘you’, or perhaps more accurately of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’. It holds speaker and listener in the moment; offers goodwill into present and future time; carries its perfumed sense of separation or departure tinged with a sadness otherwise un-signalled; it blossoms between the ‘now’ and ‘forever’. There is also the hint that separation will be long-term. In his poetry too, Gabriel uses language, not in ‘Bastilles of the word,’ to use a Thomas Paine phrase, but as landscapes of both personal and communal ground:   From ‘Out of the Abyss’: The years I wasted lost in hurt and doubt! I trusted none, to none I gave my all, Dwelled upon myself, with flesh and stout I drugged my demons and ignored Your call.   From the Irish of Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) ‘The Purge’: This is Ireland, and I’m myself. I preach the gospel of non-assent, Love and art is the work I want As empty as a dipper’s nest, Whiter than a goose’s breast – The poet’s road with no wayside stop upon it, A road of insignificant herbs Welling quietly from every hedge.   The Fitzmaurice children’s poems are superb, and again, never short of a telling title for poem or book As Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times) says on the back cover, “Fitzmaurice is one of the last of the tribal bards, a poet in and of his own kind” – a significant tribute; and he adds: “This is the golden collection and a true testimony of his mastery of the craft.” And I would add, that his translations from the Irish, well represented here, are really exquisite English language versions (his anthology in 1991 co-edited with Declan Kiberd, An CrannfaoiBhláth is a major work). So Farewell to Poetry distills 35 years of collections, anthologies, translations from Irish language poetry, plus books of poems for children garnishing his adult worklike necklaces of gems. Here is a writer who, before the arrival of rap and stand-up ‘spoken-word’ gigs, brought entertainment, joy and community to his many poetry readers. The Fitzmaurice children’s poems are superb, and again, never short of a telling title for poem or book, e.g. do teachers go to the toilet; and Teanan Muinteóirí go dTígh an Asail – and are imbued with a transparent ethos, social sense and respect for the young listeners and readers.  Indeed all his poetry carries a social integrity, an ego finely tuned to the importance of community, of environment, be it for a bluebottle or the possibilities in a fireplace Whether or not you already have a Fitzmaurice collection on your shelves, Farewell to Poetry never disappoints, is accessible, energetic, true and pleasure-giving, and is a ‘must have’ of contemporary Irish poetry. The post Can this fine book really be Gabriel Fitzmaurice’s swansong? appeared first on The Irish Catholic.