Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rome again

After four years away from my first adventure abroad, I've returned to Rome for the summer. I've decided to reignite the blog that I started then, mostly as a way to document my thoughts, but if you're interested, read on! What I lack in creativity, wit and ability to form coherent sentences, I make up for in hustle and a general all-around go-gettem attitude.

Rome is where the traveller's spirit was first lit in me what seems like a long time ago. I fell in love with this city four years ago, and returning now is somewhat of an existential and unexpected experience. Studying here in undergraduate set in course the path that my life has taken these last few years, and I'm back in a way that I never would have expected the last time I was here. Since nervously packing my bag and saying goodbye to the only place I ever knew as home, I've spent time wandering the mosques and forgotten history of Syria, pumped battery acid through my lungs as I hiked in search of  the nearly extinct mountain gorillas in the mist-shrouded volcanoes of Rwanda, badgered British soccer fans at a World Cup match in South Africa by belligerently refusing to call it football, slept underneath the eerily silent night sky of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, ran a 104 degree fever on what I thought my death bed in a town in Zimbabwe that conveniently had no power, and watched Humpback whales burst out of the Indian Ocean 20 feet in front of my little scuba diving dinghy.

I'd like to think I've grown wiser. But I probably haven't. Cooler? Nah. But I am pretty sure I've gotten older. Nonetheless, outside of the rude realization that my favorite Sicilian gelato man, Ettore, has closed up shop, Italy is the same. Seriously. Even the street performers are doing the same act they did four years ago, and most of them aren't any better. I'm living in Trastevere, which literally means "across the Tiber," and it's still remarkably quaint. Known for its winding cobblestone roads, hanging laundry and nice blend of blue-collar Italians, American students and tourists, Trastevere somehow retains the feeling of a small Italian town in the sprawling city of Rome. However, the same idyllic neighborhood becomes a throbbing hive of Roman nightlife after 7pm. This past week, on a Tuesday, Laura and I searched the countless restaurants in Trastevere for a place to eat at 9:30 pm and we had to settle on a 10 minute wait. The Italians are still relentlessly impatient in everything except efficiency. The roads are still a death trap to everyone who doesn't have Indiana Jones faith in that invisible bridge every time they walk into traffic. The women are still glamorous and expect the world. I'm still that pasty ginger that could never look Italian no matter how well he speaks (not that well, by the way).

Rome is different this time around though...but only because I am. First and foremost, I'm spending this summer with someone I love, which inevitably means less time spent double-fisting in an ice bar at 6 in the morning, and more time drinking wine in piazzas, drinking wine at dinner, and really just drinking a lot of wine (what am I supposed to do? It's three euros a bottle!). Secondly, instead of spending my days "studying," I work at the Food and Agriculture Organization, which is a branch of the United Nations. Lastly, I can't risk what was once my dream to sneak into the Roman Forum at 4 in the morning and drink wine next to Julius Caesar's grave and the birthplace of Western civilization for fear of losing my job (stay tuned on this one, because I might change my mind).

The past week and a half has been a whirlwind. I spend my days researching and writing about the necessary legal frameworks to create an environment in which rural family farmers can successfully innovate and prosper. At this point, it seems that there is a serious conflict of interest between third world small holder farms and western corporations that develop seed for developing countries. At night, I wander around Rome with Laura, in and out magnificent churches that house a startling amount of famous art, from Raphael to Caravaggio, eat my own weight in pasta and gelato, aaaand drink wine. My clubbing spirit isn't dead as I spent Saturday night in Monte Testaccio until 4 am.

I'll provide some more updates about my job and what I've been doing in Rome in my next entry when it isn't 2 am. Maybe some pictures too.

I'm hoping to provide updates every weekend on the blog, but I'm notoriously bad on keeping up with these things, so let's hope I'm a changed man!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Melancholic Sigh


Like sand slipping through your fingers. Like the imminent chill at the tail of a waning sunset. Or like trying to engineer ways to keep a snowball from melting before your sister gets home from the mall so vengeance is had for when she wiped mayonnaise in your ear while you were sleeping. I fly home this Tuesday, and its a surreal emotion approaching the end of this year. I've been told that adjusting to life back home is much more difficult than adjusting to life abroad - like George Bailey coming home to Pottersville or Frodo to the Shire. The question I've asked myself repeatedly is how do I take this experience home with me? And I have no answer, but I know that this experience has changed me dramatically.

These last few weeks have been filled by balancing studies and goodbyes. My school gives no homework, tests or papers until the final oral exam, which is worth 100% of the grade, so the finals require an incredible amount of preparation. I finished my last final today though! In History of Medieval Philosophy. It went well, and its a good feeling to be done with school. It's just another natural end that marks my coming home though. Most of those with whom I studied and hung out with for the year have already left for home, wherever home is, which softens the blow. But every month I spend here, I get more and more acclamated with the culture. Only in the past few weeks have I become actually comfortable with the language. I think I can finally consider myself fluent. And now I leave! Italian culture is just so different from American too. We'll see how I can assimilate back into the lifestyle.

Anyways, I'm spending my last weekend in Sicily in a city called Catania. It's a gorgeous beach town on the coast of the Mediterranean. I plan on chilling and walking the shoreline, soaking up the final rays of European lifestyle. Life gets slower and more relaxed the further south you go. Sicily is also the home of the Italian mafia, so we'll see how that goes.

It's amazing how it's all wrapping up, but I can't wait to see everyone. I'd also ask everyone to keep my grandma in your prayers - she suffered a major stroke yesterday. The prognosis was optomistic, but we are still waiting for official news. I hope all is well with everyone, and I'm home on Tuesday, so holla back yo!

Monday, May 26, 2008

To Ireland!

Where do I begin to describe Ireland? Common sense tells me the beginning, but my $120,000 philosophy education tells me that the beginning is merely an illusory category imposed upon time by the human mind. Knowledge is power!

I convinced a friend from home to fly out to Europe before her job began in the States. Being a major in spontaneity, she jumped on board, and we met in Dublin for a 10 day trip in the Northern Isles.

The theme of our two days in Dublin should be - Parks: The Rich Food Remedy. We thought it appropriate to eat a hearty Irish meal at every meal accompanied by a pint of Guinness. I never knew how heavy Irish food was. We were incapacitated in St. Stephen's Green for 50% of our time in Dublin. Of course, we did the compulsory pub-hopping in the Temple Bar district, heard some Bob Dylan in Temple Bar, toured the Guinness Factory, and talked to some local North Dubliners about Las Vegas and the war in Iraq. Well, I guess I should say that I had interesting conversations, while Gina got constant attention from creepy guys. Score one for the Y-Chromosome!

The key ingredient is pride. Learned that one from Arthur Guinness himself.

For some reason, we found it necessary to break up the bronze lovers...

Turns out the ingredient that separates Guinness from every other beer in the world is water...

After a hearty two days in Dublin, we picked up our ridiculously little, powdered blue Fiat at the airport, and set out for Doolin on the west coast.Did I feel like a man driving this beast...

4 hours later on terrible roads we arrived in Doolin, and we were gonna go check out the coast rain or shine.

And it was worth it...

Doolin is the capital of music in Ireland, so we went to the pub to hear some traditional tunes. Two old men with fiddles strutted in like they owned the place, and started orchestrating sheer awesomeness. But the best part was that people would bring their instruments to the bar and join in unplanned. After a song, they would walk up to the stage, shake hands, and start playing. By the end of the night, we had 4 fiddles, a flute and a guy playing spoons. And God said it was good. Even better than my fish and chips.

The next day we headed out for Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, which, for those of you who aren't aware, are pretty baller.
However, if you lean out over the cliffs with one leg off the ground, you'll kick some rocks off. Or at least that's what I gathered from this.

Galway was good times, and I bet you'll never guess what we did. Yup, ate and chilled in some parks. Galway is a cool city, because unlike Dublin, it's really young crowd. We went to the river and joined about 200 people on the grass to watch the sunset. We met some strange, and I can see with a decent degree of certainty, already intoxicated middle age Danish people. One woman leaned over to me and showed me her fanta bottle, saying "You want a taste?" I was like, "No lady! Why would I want to drink your fanta?!" But then I gathered from her fiendish grin and raising eyebrows that it wasn't really fanta. Who sneaks alcohol into a place where there are kids 20 years younger than you drinking openly?

On the way back from Galway, we stopped and watched the greatest sunset ever. Behind us was a medieval castle, and inside was a musician playing the lyre. There are some transcendent moments in this world, and this was one of them.

After our 2 and a half days in Doolin, we forged onwards to the last leg of our Irish tour: the home of the Casserlys, Dudleys, Reardens and Mckeons - Cork! Gina had a friend from high school studying at the University of Cork, so we had an excellent tour guide for the 5 days we were there. Cork can only be defined by crazy good times, and had but one drawback: it turns out I'm going to get pregnant, since I stepped on the University's seal. Sorry mom.

Lieser gettin' down with the tap at the Beamish Factory. Much better than my pour...

Blarney Castle wasn't really a necessary stop on the trip, since both Lieser and I were born with the gift of gab, but it can't hurt right? I also got a free pamphlet of the castle in French, because the lady told me that my student ID picture is awful. She's right though, it is awful.

After spending the days with Gina and her friends, I was in serious need of some bro time, and this could only be remedied with some good conversation and some serious dance moves. I'm proud to say that I had more pints bought for me than the 9 girls I was with combined. I may not know how to get down with a tap, but mama didn't raise no fool.

And impromptu trash-banging sessions! With a chorus of football chants! I have no clue what they were saying, but I was definitely singing along!

But hey, the important part was that we all had good times in Cork, and I don't know why my family ever left. So we raise a glass to Ireland!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Viva Italia!

Luke (thoroughly discombobulated): Whoa! Where am I? What happened?
TGX2000 Supercomputer (nervously): You have just reawoken from a 2-month pasta-induced comatose. You need to shave.
Luke (with a gusto of heroic virago): No time, TGX2000! If I've been in a coma, that means my blog has been left forgotten and forlorn! My people need me!
TGX2000 (cautiously): Sir, your O2 stats have dipped under 90 and your BP has skyrocketed like a rocket in the sky. You need to rest.
Luke (impatiently brusque): Enough with the poorly constructed metaphors, TGX! Your mechanical heart lacks the substratum of the human condition: feeling!
TGX2000 (under his breath): Your feelings will mean nothing when my my electromagnetic messages pierce the Taurus ring and reach my people in the T9 quadrant of my galaxy.
Your precious feelings will become acidic-based fuel for my poetically handicapped brain.
Luke: What was that, TGX?
TGX2000: Nothing, sir.

My people! I have returned! And with the marvelous tales from the recesses of my pasta-induced dreams! Oh! I will tell you of the marmalade forests and the make believe trees! And of the grumpy wombat in the cottage cheese cottage!

No, but seriously. I've been lazy for about an eon and half now, and I will now make more reparations than the white man. In what form you say? Why in digital sugar bites, of course! No, but seriously, sugar bites of anecdotal wisdom. Ah, you see, it's a metaphor.

I don't even know where to begin, much like dressing myself in the morning. Easter has come and gone, as have the station churches. My travels have come to a regrettable close and finals now loom over my head like a big looming thing. Worst of all, my flight home is June 24th, which now feels like a deadline.

Whether I'm ready to go home or not changes daily. I've gotten more out of Europe than I ever intended. I remember the months of anticipation and planning I naively spent preparing for Italy, and looking back, I never could have planned for this year. This rings true especially for Italy, because they treat organization like it's the plague. Every morning, I wake up with no idea what I'm going to do that day, but it always becomes an incredible day. Whether I find myself 10 feet from the Pope at a personal concert put on by the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra or meeting someone randomly and deciding 10 minutes later that we're gonna go boarding in the Alps, it has been an incredible trip. A lot of people struggle with this country because of its disorganization and inefficiency, but those are the people that need to have their hands in everything. Once you relax and allow Italy to plan your days for you, you realize why it's been around for 2700 years. The pasta, the wine, the gelato, the people, everything in this country is so rich. You can see it in the 75 year old cantankerous grandmothers walking around in hair curlers at 10am. Or in the gawking tourists that stand starstruck on the corner of the street as they see you part the Italian traffic like Moses and the Red Sea. Or in the fact that I've never once been brought my check before asking for it. Or in the well-to-do Italian businessmen clutching their phone between their shoulder and their ear, because they absolutely need both hands to express their point.

Many complain that Italy is fading from significance in the modern world. Their economy is falling behind, there aren't many jobs, and the previous government only passed one law, and that was a pay raise. Italian progressives complain that Italy will never change, because the people don't have impetus to reinvent themselves. I look at it much differently though. The Italians are clinging to the last vestigial shreds of pre-globalization culture. With the immense amount of globalization, cultures are no longer tangential, they have infiltrated each other. While this is not a bad thing in its own rite, it sacrifices the real flavor of the culture. As countries begin to follow America's economic blueprint, the polarization of cultures will slowly melt into one proximate homogeneity. America is the poster child for this revolution. What great art forms can we lay claim to? One could make an argument for jazz and country music, but these hardly compare to the Italian renaissance, Irish music and dancing or French literature and poetry. Where does the heart of our culture reside? The heart of our culture resides in the dilution of the heart of every other culture. We have no real cultural dishes of our own, but you can find a weakened recreation of sweet and sour chicken, Italian carbonara or Mexican tortillas anywhere.

There is certainly benefits to an amalgamated culture, namely, cultural homogeneity. Nowhere else in the world can you find so many cultures existing peacefully side by side than in America. Unfortunately though, each of those cultures has to sacrifice an integral part of their culture in order to cooperate with the whole: the idea that their culture is their own. Say what you will about the peaceful coexistence of cultures in America, but Mexicans are not proud of their Mexican-American culture, but their Mexican culture. Italians are proud of their Italian culture, not their Italian-American culture. Italy alone has more strong cultures than all of America. Rome hates Milan, Milan hates Florence, Florence hates Siena, the South hates the North - cultures are radically different every 50 km. In America, we've sacrificed cultural identity for security and diluted uniformity.

Italy may never achieve a modern significance the way France, Germany or Britain has, but they'll always retain what makes them Italy. Italians are the only people more proud of their country than Americans (and maybe France), and I think there is a direct correlation between their strong culture and their pride. Progressives may say that Italy will never change, but I'm all right with that.

When I begin writing this, I didn't intend to bash America, it just developed that way. Let it be known though that I wouldn't trade my passport for anything, and I think the moral future of the globe lies in America's hands.

I have more updates about my travels, but right now I have to head to church. There's a gorgeous Byzantine rite mass near me with lots of incense, processions and song. It's gorgeous. I must be off! I promise to update soon! I still have tales of Aviano, Scotland, Ireland and the 2 weeks Italy will never forget.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Even More Bloggin'

All who recognize the intrinsic coolness of coolness should proceed to the following sight, offensivesatire.blogspot.com - it's a little sight whipped up by my bro and his friends. Now peons!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Recent Archaeological Discovery Has Catholic Church in Tremors

Here's a satire I wrote recently:

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA – Earlier this week, in Southern Cambodia, a team of attractive, racially diverse and sexually open-minded archaeologists uncovered an artifact with a crude carving of Christ depicted as a vampire. An inscription beneath the drawing read 'De Sanguine Cristo', meaning in Latin ‘On the Blood for Christ’, a slight variation of the traditional Christian passage, 'De Sanguine Cristi', or ‘On the Blood of Christ.’ The Christian understanding of the passage is the cornerstone of their faith in which participants receive the body and blood of Christ in order to participate in a divine union with God. With this discovery, that belief is deeply threatened.

“We feel that our opinion is that this is pretty much decisive evidence against the Christian religion, although not decisive in the sense that we’re trying to impose,” said Nahash Rainbow-Haus, an adjunct professor at Harvard University and member of the archaeological team, who has also been blessed with soulful eyes and a roguish grin, “and we are very excited to forge a new trail for humanity – one that exists without the strictures of a man-made religion. I vote first for the removal of the strictures of clothes.”

The artifact itself stands 18 inches tall, and depicts Christ flying through a dark night sky with long, canine-like fangs and a vial of blood wrapped around his neck. A crude speech bubble is drawn around his head with a Latin phrase that is roughly translated as “Vlah! I vant to suck your blood!”

The controversial vampiric depiction of Christ, however, is causing a stir in some religious circles over the proper worship of their Redeemer. “The House of the Dead shall be resurrected by the blood of the innocent,” said Count Chocula, the figurehead of a little-known, but scrumptiously delicious chocolate cereal, “I [expletive deleted] hate that cereal, but I thought the subtlety of marshmallows in the shape of detached organs and severed heads would get the children on my side.”

In the past 100 years, there have been a plethora of ancient texts uncovered with controversial interpretations of Christ, Mary Magdalene and his Apostles ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Gospel of Judas, but none have proved to be as contentious as the rough carving, which carbon dating places at 36 C.E. The discovery uproots a fundamental element of western religion that has come under fire in recent decades from leading intellectuals of our time, such as Dan Brown, Rosie O’Donnell and throngs of manic-depressive teenagers who wear makeup and eat their feelings.

“Dude man, I’ve been saying for way too long now, so all you fascists better listen up,” said Dylan “Souldeath” Tucker, a local teenager known for his whiney, pitiable poetry and his extensive Asian tattoo collection, “A lot of us have got things to say, and we’ve been saying them, or wanting to say them, and this just proves it, and now we’re gonna start saying things, and you’re all a bunch of damn fascists. Oh, and conformity is the death of individuality.”

Several of Dylan’s friends, who were physically linked to him with chains of body piercings, echoed his statement with a chorus of “yeahs” and “that’s right.” Dylan, however, wasn’t available for further questioning because he choked on an excessively large feeling.

Despite the novelty of the discovery, the western world is suffering from extensive ramifications from various social organizations, especially the VZEA or, The Vampire and Zombie Enthusiasts of America. Raymond Lofton, referred to by his peers as Vampiric Destiny, was kind enough to take a break from his FPSMMORPG (First-Person Shooter Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) to speak with us on the condition that the only light allowed into the room come from a pale computer screen, so as not to upset what he called “totally glazed over eyes”, and that Jerry, our news editor, continually press F6 to cast Bestial Howl for his level 79 Druid Warlock. “Man, I’ve always loved zombies,” said Lofton, a self-proclaimed level 14 zombie enthusiast, “and it totally makes sense that they’re like the henchmen of God. I mean, they’re just so wicked awesome. Did you see 'Dawn of the Dead' where the no-legged zombie attacks the girl with the big rack in the parking garage? I mean that’s Darwinian evolution and societal handicapped awareness bundled into one gruesomely awesome scene.”

Pamela Cranson, a visiting archaeologist from Stanford University, who also has a Ph.D. in open-mindedness, expressed her opinion, “It seems that after thousands of years of lies, deceit, prevarication and redundancy in the highest rings of the Catholic Church, we have discovered that Christ’s original intention was not for us to eat his body and drink his blood, because that’s just crazy. Rather we are to gather for him the body and blood of others as a penitential sacrifice for our wrongdoings.”

The recent development has many questioning the authority of Scripture and the Catholic Church, and although many believers have remained faithful to the Holy See, such concrete evidence as this is causing an unparalleled societal turmoil.

SexxyPrincessUnICOrnFairyStar73 told reporters on Instant Messenger that “religion is like so totally gay,” and that her “mom only does it cuz shes jealous of how omg HOTT I am and cuz she doesn’t want me to be with Timmy cuz dad NEVER kisses her like that!!!11”

Marketers, however, are already taking advantage of the new depiction of Christ, and are marketing him as a social revolutionary. Abercrombie & Fitch has begun mass production of T-Shirts with a print of Christ with fangs, ruffled hair and wild eyes on the front and "What Would Jesus Do?" printed on the back. A recent Marlboro ad shows Christ returning to his cellar in Transylvania after an exhausting night of ravaging the town. Leaning against his coffin, the rugged, dangerous-looking Christ stares despondently out the window and lights up a solitary, slender cigarette as the camera pans up to the moon. Reportedly, the vampiric Christ will even be appearing on next month's box of Wheaties.

"As marketers, it is our duty to turn controversial images and figures into diluted shells of their original self by mass-producing the image on T-shirts, coffee mugs and bumper stickers until the image is rendered utterly sterile," said Rich Hampton, Chief Director of Marketing Affairs at TGC (Thank God for Capitalism), "Vampire Christ is simply the next Che Guevara."

When Fr. Vodak Wozniak, the official theologian of the Papal household, was questioned about the recent discoveries, he stated, “Are you stupid?,” and mumbled either a voodoo incantation over my soul, damning me to an eternity of excruciating pain or something in Polish.

The widespread panic that has cataclysmically rung throughout every demographic has still received little response from the Catholic Church. Whether these discoveries will spell the dawning of a new age or simply another short-lived controversy remains to be seen, but for the first time in thousands of years, the integrity and legitimacy of the Catholic Church is wavering.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Aosta - Where Tiramisu-Related Dreams Come True

This weekend we decided to take it easy, and boarding in the Dolomites seemed to be the best way to relax. Our friend Gabe knew an Italian woman in the small town of Aosta who offered her place for us to stay for the weekend. She was a very sweet older lady and an amazing cook. Emphasis on the amazing. I'm talking about food euphoria. On top of that, her son is the top snowboarding instructor in Aosta, so he got us free gear! We only paid for our train and our lift tickets.

We had planned our trains like good travelers, giving us a 15 minute interval to catch our train to Torino from Milano. The Italians though get bored quickly, and to make thing more exciting they pulled into Milan at 6:14 for our 6:15 train. I wish we could have bird's eye footage of Father Pat and Nicole sprinting over the yellow line, Gabe carrying his backpacker's pack and me darting around old women while hugging my bag in my arms. Somehow we did make it to the train, which was standing room only, much to the chagrin of the poor passengers who were put inches for our sweating, huffing bodies. Ew.

The drama of travel though was repaid in full when we arrived at Umbretta's house with this view to console us.
While our original plans were to enjoy a weekend of snowboarding in the mountains, I began to strongly consider staying with Umbretta just to eat. As fun as clipping down the side of a mountain was, Umbretta's tiramisu takes the cake.When cool things gather, God tends to commemorate the celebration:

And of course, we did do a little boarding:

And no snowboarding trip is complete without shameless posing pics 8000 ft. in the air:

"Hey Father Pat, do you want to come and pray evening prayers with us?"

"Ummm...tell Avram...that I'll pray later..."

Nursing our (well, my) wounds at lunch with hamburgers and beer:

At the end of the day, as we were getting into the gondola that took us all the way down the mountain, Gabe sat down and broke the window of the car. The Italian monitoring the gondolas walked over, gave the window a pat, said "A posto" (everything's in it's place), and walked away. That would never fly in the States! Only in Europe...

And how about a little artistry at the end of the day?

Only now am I feeling the repercussions of testing the physical limits of my left buttcheek. Let it be known to all that if you spend an entire day falling on the same spot, it will turn into a deep purple, Van Gogh-like bruise that spans from the top of your tailbone to the back of your knee, and you will most likely spend the next few weeks on the prescription level of ibuprofen. Oh, and avoid stairs.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis has come up in conversation a lot recently, and I have to admit that despite that he's the most loved theologian of the last 150 years outside of maybe JPII, I don't like him. Whenever I mention it I get accosted with gasps and raised eyebrows with threats of tar and feathering at Piazza Venezia at the next Italian manifestazione. I have reason for my dislike though, but before I dive into that I will admit that he's very insightful and quotable. He could rumble with the best of them in terms of one line zingers, but when it comes to content and depth he leaves too much to be desired.

The chief mark of great literature is subtlety. Dostoevsky never spells out his intent. One could read Tolkien their entire life and never get and inkling (pun definitely intended) of a deeper meaning to the text. When I read C.S. Lewis I feel like he has a great stone tablet with "suffering" or "loyalty" inscribed on the side, and he's bashing me over the head with it. Great literature should invoke emotions and cultivate virtues without the reader ever having to rationally articulate why. It should sweep the reader off his feet into a sea of imagery and description. G.K. Chesterton says in his Everlasting Man, "Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits…” C.S. Lewis is the logician unabashedly forcing the heavens into his head. His writings never illustrate the complexity of the problem, and they thus devalue the spectrum of human emotion and the complexity of human nature. Literature has always taken primacy in man's experience. Myths, literature and stories expressed the world in a way that math and science couldn't. Man danced with the stars long before he ever measured them through a telescope.

A critique of Lewis shared by Tolkien and Lewis' colleagues at Cambridge was that his books were too neat. He would encounter a problem that had plagued humanity since the dawn of, well, humanity, and would write a neat, 200 page exhortation of the Christian perspective and be done with it - one book on suffering, the next on joy, the next on grief, without ever fully grappling with the depth and intensity of the human struggle with these questions. He undoubtedly makes insightful observations, but without a deeper examination, observations simply float disconnectedly in the cosmos of literature for a weary student to find on google. Even in his fiction, Lewis' characters lack the complexity of a Frodo, Sam or Sarumon. Whether it was intentional on Lewis' part, I don't know, but it seems consistent with his non-fictional works.

Even more bothersome about Lewis is the attitude that he takes towards truth. He's proper where he should be tenacious, and tenacious where he should be proper. There are certain things in this world that can be understood, but truth ultimately remains ever-elusive. The proper way to approach truth in literature is to seduce it from the shadows - to paint alluringly and hope to draw it into the light. Truth requires respect and prostration, but once that truth is revealed it has to be dissected with the full force of the veracity of our mind. Lewis approaches truth with an entirely inverted attitude. He brashly and irreverently tries to tear truth from the shadows, but when he stumbles upon something, rather than diving to the heart of the matter, he treats it superficially and dismissively. He's impetuous, hollow and has a tinge of arrogance. C.S. Lewis is tea-time.

I don't mean to detract from an expansive body of work, because Lewis certainly should be mentioned amongst the great modern theologians. I simply don't think he deserves the overwhelming praise and widespread popularity that he has received. He's like a big chocolate easter egg that looks great and has you thinking you'll be satiated in chocolatey goodness for the next 3 weeks, until you bite into it and find out that it's completely hollow.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Expand Your Blogging Horizons

For those of you who want to know more about the daily station churches check out either Fr. Avram's blog, viaperegrinatoris.blogspot.com, or Fr. David, hilariuspictaviensis.blogspot.com. Not only are they more dedicated, witty and eloquent than I am, but they bring cameras. That early in the morning I'm too focused on walking to really do anything else...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Idiot

I just picked up Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," and now I'm engrossed. I can't put it down. He created the book in the most tumultuous time of his life with the intention of trying to create the perfect character. The result is Prince Myshkin, or the "Idiot," which he is referred to by his peers because of his simple ways and sickly complexion. Dostoevsky has the ability to make a character come to life in a simple paragraph. But his characters don't simply come to life as people that we would observe, but as could have arisen only from Myshkin's perception. For example:

"He was very good-looking, well-built young man, also about twenty-eight, of medium height, with fair hair, a small, Napoleonic beard and a clever and very handsome face. Only his smile, with all its affability, was a trifle too subtle; it displayed teeth too pearl-like and even; in spite of his gaiety and apparent good-nature, there was something too intent and searching in his gaze"
"He must look quite different when he is alone and perhaps never laughs at all," was what Myshkin felt.

His descriptions are not only physically detailed, but he ties those physical aspects to a spiritual or mental condition. He threads psychology through physical countenance, which is genius because physical appearance is invariably affected by mental state. With a keen enough perception, one can know anything about someone before they even speak. This perception is Dostoevsky's greatest strength.

Myshkin is innocent, unacclamated with the world, loquacious and seemingly naïve, but behind his innocuous countenance is a keen perception of things around him. Throughout the novel, there is a running conversation in his head about the people he speaks with. At one point he picks up a picture of the beauty, Nastasya Filippovna (sounds beautiful, right?) and remarks,

"He seemed trying to decipher something that had struck him before, hidden in that face. The impression it had made had scarcely left him, and now he was in a hurry to verify it again. He was now even more struck by the face, which was extraordinary from its beauty and from something else in it. There was a look of unbounded pride and contempt, almost hatred, in that face, and at the same time something confiding, something wonderfully simple-hearted. The contrast of these elements roused a feeling almost of compassion. Her dazzling beauty was positively unbearable - the beauty of a pale face, almost sunken cheeks and glowing eyes - a strange beauty! Myshkin gazed at it for a minute, then started suddenly, looked round him, hurriedly raised the portrait to his lips and kissed it. When he walked into the drawing-room a minute later, his face was perfectly calm."

Myshkin's incisive perception is made without pretense, allowing him to peer directly into another's soul. Dostoevsky is suggesting something pivotal and also rather philosophical. He suggests that there exists an interiority and an exteriority in every situation. 99% of all human interaction operates on pretense - preconceived thoughts, phrases, perceptions. Occasionally, one will have a truly unique, interesting conversation, but the rarity of such a case should be alarming. As I sat out in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere today, I watched the medley of tourists and Italians meander through the cobblestone roads Trastevere is known for, and saw a particular drawl in everyone's eyes. Maybe Rome was not what they had expected, maybe it didn't offer the couples the rekindled marital excitement they hoped or maybe the Italians were just plain sick of tourists. But the peculiarity was the pretense with which everyone approached the situation. Every action is an attempted reconciliation of the internal world of the mind and the external world of reality; however, the common method of reconciliation is to force the world we see into the preconceived archetypes. For example, say I like a specific girl (yes, like like). All of the sudden, whenever she is around, all of my interaction conforms to that emotion. My emotions alter every conversation in order to make what I want become reality. Thus, my perception of the world is altered as I see it through tainted glasses. My perception is unfaithful to reality because it is sullied by my pretense. This example pertains to any desire: success, honor, family, love, lust, etc. People are so affected by these pervasive desires that it forms a ring of pretense around them. They can't approach or appreciate any situation for what it is, and therefore devalue everything around them, because it fits like a sandwich in a square hole. Have you ever wondered why it's so difficult for us to look one another in the eye? In a society with endless accomplishments - quantum physics, space exploration, personal computers and "therapy" - how is that we can't look at each other? Why is one of the most fearful things for even the most intelligent to lock eyes with someone for more than a split second? We have no trouble staring at another, making measurements and judgments, but the moment their eyes meet our own, panic sets in. Is it timidity? Or is it truly fear? Do we view this meeting of consciousnesses as a threat?

In a world of interiority and exteriority, we cannot bear staring into the interiority of another. Their interiority is a threat to ours. Their view of the world is different than our own, and that disparity threatens the destruction of our perception. With the destruction of our perception comes the destruction of our world. Another's gaze objectifies us. We become as real as the chair we are sitting on, and we disappear into the world of things. Their objectification destroys our subjectivity. With this constant intersubjective warfare, it's no wonder stress levels are at an all time high.

Myshkin, however, offers a solution to the dilemma. He has a particular love for children, and even describes that he was "in love" with children before. His love for children is conversely accompanied by an aversion to adults: "Whatever they say to me, however kind they are to me, I always feel somehow oppressed with them, and I am awfully glad when I can get away to my companions; and my companions have always been children, not because I am a child myself, but simply because I was always attracted by children...My whole life was centered on the children...Afterwards, for the last three years, I couldn't even understand how and why people are sad." Myshin's solution is simple. He views the world through the eyes of a child, absent from pretense and preconviction. His approach to every situation is with calm, perceptive and focused outwards. By turning his eyes out towards the world, rather than in towards the self, he views freely sees the world and others without pretense. Instead of filtering the entire world through his desires, he filters his desires into the world. By emptying himself, he reconciles the tension between the internal and the external and exists unfettered.

This is of course a very Christian message that Dostoevsky is expressing, but the emphasis must be placed on the line, "not because I am a child myself, but because I was always attracted by children." Myshkin is not a child, but he sees the world as one.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Buon giorno famiglia e i amici!

It was long overdue, but it's finally happened. I'm finally in my first exciting class...well, ok so I just showed up today and was so enthralled that I decided to enroll. The class is Fundamental Moral Theology with a Vatican theologian, Fr. Giertych. I was more intellectually stimulated today then I have been all year! I was hesitant when I heard the class title, because moral theology is generally legalistic repetition of Catholic doctrine over and over and over. Go to mass, believe in the Immaculate Conception, yadayadayada. But today we delved into St. Thomas and his understanding of science as that which can be rationally explicated as opposed to a modern reductionist concept of science to that which is measurable. Also, how St. Thomas interrelates philosophy and theology, and a response to his modern and medieval critics. It was awesome. Fr. Giertych has a booming, British voice - the type of voice you expect God to have - and he burns through the material, not in a hasty manner, but in a comprehensive way. I've never taken so many notes in a class. At times I was so excited that I forgot to pay attention. It's gonna be a good semester.

Also, the past two Lenten morning masses have been in Trastevere, my home turf. So I haven't had to wake up until 5:45 instead of 5:15. Yesterday, was at Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Today was at my parish church (if you can call it that) Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is adorned from one wall to the other with a beautiful mosaic above the altar. The homily was the most intense so far. The pastor definitely wins the fire and brimstone. He was tearing into us Americans! Our culture of death, our inability to cope with a world without war, our lack of history; the list just went on. You could tell the Americans in the crowd because they had slouched 2 feet lower than everyone else. People were waving their passports during the creed (not really). The priest was American though, so the jurors voted against tar and feathers.

Va bene. Alla prossima!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Latin Spice

Buon Giorno Dearest Reader!

I've been trying to make up for my protracted blogging laziness recently. I'm still recounting events from a month or so ago, but soon enough we'll be as up to speed as Keanu Reeves. The entry title refers not only to my recent trip to Barcelona, but also my recent Latin final and the commencement of the Lenten season.

Commercials have often asked me if I "Wanna Fanta?" and never
have I responded no.

Our time in Barcelona was difficult. Waking up late, eating rice and drinking sangria, sleeping on the beach, and most importantly, drinking Fanta. Life in Europe is sometimes just too slow...not! Barcelona was the most relaxed major city I've been to, despite that it's very modern. The parks are littered with dreadlocks, bongos, hackeysack and anything else that can be described as "chill." And of course the Mediterranean does nothing to detract from the unduly chillness of this fair, chill city. Chillin' on the beach in three different countries - not bad.
Literally chilling in the Meditteranean like these bold Brits - priceless.

The city itself has very little history, unlike most European cities. Although it was a Roman province, it was generally uncivilized, I think, until the 16th or 17th century. Because it experience its economic boom solely in modern times, there is very little historical architecture. Antoni Gaudí has a building on every corner, and is most famous for his unfinished cathedral "La Sagrada Familia." While it may seem like a typical modern atrocity from afar, it's actually very beautiful. The entire church seems as if it's melting, and the religious sculptures are jagged and sinister.
Ancient Spanish folklore holds that the Church was modeled after Gaudi's most inspirational work, "The Subway Melt."
The church faded into the background as all I saw was a catwalk...

Our first full day though, we took an hour train ride to Montserrat, which is a Benedictan monastery situated in some of the tallest mountains in Spain. After the train, you have to take a fifteen minute cable car ride up to the summit. When we arrived there was a low-lying fog that had set over the mountains, striking an almost eerie tone. The monastery is home to one of the most famous boys choirs in the world, but we weren't able to hear them, because the ten-year olds got lazy and decided to take Saturday off...just kidding. We did, however, take a 2-hour hike up to the mountain's highest point, which stood just above the clouds. In fact, while we stood whipping in the winds, a storm began to form around our heads. Cool beans, huh?

If you've ever been curious about what my first order of business
would be as president, it would look roughly like this.

The highlight of the trip though was the walk of the rosary monuments. Down towards the city there is a path that leads to a sacred grotto that was unfortunately closed for January. We were though still able to take the walk along the path that has a monument to every mystery of the rosary, beginning with the joyful, proceeding through the sorrowful and ending with the glorious. What made the walk so satisfying though was the ambiance. Because it was a chilly, windy day in January, the generally well-trodden tourist path was uncharacteristically quiet. The fog overtook the mountain, the hum of the mountain life fell silent, and all that could be heard were our muffled footsteps. It was as if the mountain reflected that attitude of the Passion. One got a special sense of Christ's sacrifice, because all the while along the winding path carved into the mountain, where the path veered around the mountain there stood over all a dark, bronze crucifix against the pale sky. Chilling stuff. Approaching the cross...

One of the monuments...

The Chapel of the Holy Cave...Closed!

Large, forbidding gates depress me...

But I never let it keep me down!

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying the Spanish food and sangria, which was such a nice break from Italian food and wine. Every other country I go to has more pizzerias than cultural restaurants. Even in Paris, despite its famed cooking. But in Spain there is tons of rice, chicken and seafood. Oh, and of course, Fanta, my personal drug of choice.

We even made it to a Barcelona football match, one of the best
teams in world, and sat in the 4th row! Ballin!

I giocatori in action. Thierry Henry, one of the best players in
the world, scored the only goal of the match right in front of us!

We flew home and I immediately began to prepare for finals. Yes, I just finished finals - we're lazy here in Europe. My final schedule was very disorganized, even by Italian standards. Three of my finals were tentative, and later postponed, because teachers were ill and in the hospital. Setting up times became so complicated that now I have to take all three at the end of next semester! That means I'll have ten finals next semester! My only two finals were then Intro to Sacred Scripture, which I passed (Grazie a Dio), and Latin. They went well and yesterday I started my classes for second semester. I'm hoping for more intellectually stimulating classes this semester, since last semester's courses were Dullsville. They were so dull that if I had taken dull pills, it would have actually been less dull. That gave me little incentive to either attend class or do outside work, and as result I was really restless. This semester though seems more promising. I have a history of ancient philosophy and one of medieval philosophy, Science and Philosophy, Intro to the World's Great Religions and Latin. However, this semester I'll be taking all my classes in Italian (pray for me!), because a. I need to learn Italian and b. I figure that if my classes are boring, I'll at least have some goal to work towards. Needless to say, it should be an eventful semester.

Also recently, as some people may remember, Lent began (not that it's a big deal or anything, especially in Rome). Lent in Rome provides an excellent opportunity for penance and sacrifice, because every morning at 7am there is a mass held at a different church in Rome. It's an excellent opportunity, because you see Rome at the crack of down (well, see may be an exaggeration. Perhaps squint through the crust in your eyes), and you get a see a number of churches that you would never have seen otherwise. And the hidden gems in Rome's churches are remarkable. Already we've seen the bodies of Saint Lawrence, Saint Jerome, Saint Monica and Saint Ignatius of Antioch, an altar by Bernini, paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio and St. Luke, Michaelangelo's Moses, the chains of St. Peter that bound him while he waited to be crucified, and an urn that holds what is supposed to be a piece of Christ's manger! And it's only been a week and a half! We have a decent sized group that makes it every morning, so needless to say the coffee infusion that is held afterwards is vast and necessary. We joked that along with the map of each church, there should be a map of the closest coffee shop. Roman churches, bodies of saints, painting of the greats and cappuccini all before 8 am!

Finally, this past weekend I joined some friends on a trip to Firenze. Although it was my second visit, they were all visiting for the first, so we hit all the necessary tourist stops: the Uffizi, the Accademia and the D'uomo. It was good though, because there is so much art in Firenze, it can't all be seen just once. Especially David. I think I could stare at David all day long. I think that I would marry David despite him being a guy and made of stone. Every detail is done so perfectly and on such a large scale that one can't help but stop and admire every detail. The one seeming imperfection is the immensity of his hands, but I found that Michaelangelo did this intentionally to express that the defeat of Goliath was not accomplished by human hand, but by a far greater power. The only stain on our trip was our final gelato trip. Several people had given up sweets for Lent and could only eat them on Sunday. Because the gelato flowed Saturday night, Jewish Law was enacted giving our penitents until sundown the next day. Because we had so little time Sunday afternoon before the sun set, we found the first gelateria in sight, which was ominously named "Very Good." I fully bear the blame for not seeing this dreadful red flag, but blinded by my desire for gelato I missed it. The tab came to 8 euros per person! We paid 48 euros for gelato! Are you serious?!? That's 72 dollars! I could buy an unbelievable bottle of wine for that price, or 48 three scoop gelatos in Rome, or 72 snicker bars, or 7200 tootsie rolls! Blegh.

Those have been my travels the last month. My Italian is approaching fluency and I hope to arrive triumphantly very soon. You're all in my prayers this Lenten season. Remember the immense suffering the Christ underwent this Lent for our sins, but never forget the hope of redemption that comes through that death. We are all very blessed with the comfortable lives we have been given, and I have been blessed to enjoy this year in Rome and to have your prayers to guide me. Buona serata a tutti!