Sunday, April 22, 2018

JEAN VANIER'S ARK FOR THE BROKEN AND THE FRAGILE



This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

L’Arche is many things — a sanctuary for the developmentally disabled in which they and their assistants, as they are called, live together as members of the community. 

An international federation that has spread throughout 37 countries and 149 communities. A sign. A paradox. A sticking point.

A mystery, based on Jean
 Vanier’s abiding beliefs: that the disabled are not burdens but rather teachers, that our strength as human beings lies not in our worldly accomplishments, but rather in our vulnerability.

Vanier has written more than 30 books, and travels worldwide to give retreats, visit fellow houses, encourage and teach. But he makes his home at (and is still a member of) the original L’Arche community, Le Val Fleuri, in Trosly-Breuil, France.

“Summer in the Forest,” the 2018 documentary directed by Randall Wright, is so named because of the sunlight-dappled forest that lies adjacent to that community.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

FLANNERY O'CONNOR: A WRITER OF UNCOMMON GRACE

FLANNERY O'CONNOR'S BEDROOM AND CRUTCHES
ANDALUSIA FARM

This week's arts and culture piece begins:

Flannery O’Connor ordered her life to her vocation, and she found in suffering the key Christian mystery

The Easter season seems a fitting time to pay tribute to the American short story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor.

O’Connor (1925-1964) was an only child who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and whose father died of lupus. As a young woman she studied at the prestigious Iowa Workshop.

On the verge of a promising literary career, she contracted lupus herself and returned to the family dairy farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, to live out her remaining days with her mother, Regina.

A devout Catholic in the overwhelmingly evangelical Protestant South, O’Connor referred to herself as a “hillbilly Thomist” and often read a page or two from the “Summa Theologica” before going to bed. She never married.

Closely observing the family members, neighbors and farmhands with whom she came in contact every day, she wrote stories — about intellectual pride, the perils of secular humanism and the violence of grace — that even today have the power to shock.

In “Good Country People,” Hulga, a would-be nihilist home from college, is seduced by a traveling Bible salesman who steals her wooden leg.

In the novel “Wise Blood,” backwoods prophet Hazel Motes blinds himself with quicklime.

“Jesus thrown everything off balance,” notes The Misfit, the escaped convict in perhaps O’Connor’s best-known short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Then he shoots the whole family, including the grandmother.

In this culture where “everyone’s a writer” and reality show celebrities, porn stars and disgraced athletes dash off a “memoir” in a week or two, it’s worth reflecting on the qualities of a real writer.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

WELLNESS, SCHMELLNESS




Over Lent, I recorded a couple of podcasts with Deal W. Hudson, host of the show "Church and Culture."

Here's Part 1, March 24. 

Here's Part 2, March 31.

At the end of Part 2, I give a bit of my take on, or perhaps I should say against, the cultural concept of "wellness."

By which I mean the "Wellness" (the very word annoys me) Industry.

It drives me insane when the marketers get a hold of a simple, natural, instinctive human desire such as to connect or be healthy or enjoy the outdoors and turn it into a whole spectrum of consumer products such that no one can say hello any more except through FB, or take, say, a simple walk without thinking they need to first buy the right shoes, hat, jacket, water bottle, earphones, odometer and all sorts of other utterly unnecessary paraphernalia.

Huxley described this very phenomenon at the beginning of Brave New World.

Children in the totalitarian society he described are conditioned from birth, by means of painful electric shocks,  to hate flowers and books.

Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks–already in the infant mind these couples were compromisingly linked; and after two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson would be wedded indissolubly. What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder.

"They'll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an 'instinctive' hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They'll be safe from books and botany all their lives." The Director turned to his nurses. "Take them away again."

Still yelling, the khaki babies were loaded on to their dumb-waiters and wheeled out, leaving behind them the smell of sour milk and a most welcome silence.

One of the students held up his hand; and though he could see quite well why you couldn't have lower-cast people wasting the Community's time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes, yet … well, he couldn't understand about the flowers. Why go to the trouble of making it psychologically impossible for Deltas to like flowers?

Patiently the D.H.C. explained. If the children were made to scream at the sight of a rose, that was on grounds of high economic policy. Not so very long ago (a century or thereabouts), Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers–flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport.

"And didn't they consume transport?" asked the student.

"Quite a lot," the D.H.C. replied. "But nothing else."

Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For of course it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it. The problem was to find an economically sounder reason for consuming transport than a mere affection for primroses and landscapes. It was duly found.

"We condition the masses to hate the country," concluded the Director. "But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport. Hence those electric shocks."

"I see," said the student, and was silent, lost in admiration.


Here is my "healty" regimen. For years I belonged to the working-class 24 Hour Fitness in K'town. I think it was 13 bucks a month. Now I belong to the working-class 24 Hour Fitness in Altadena, which through Medicare sets me back 20 bucks a month. Between that, frequent long walks, for a long time weekly stints of tennis, and some free weights at home, I have been perfectly healthy and presentable enough so that people don't flee in horror for decades, knock on wood and all glory to God. I did have a small bout with cancer in 2000, went AMA, refused chemo and radiation and still have both breasts and my health, thank you.

The upshot is that at almost 66,  I weigh the same as I did in high school, 120 give or take. I take no prescription medications--and that includes psychotropics. In fact, I have never taken so much as an antidepressant and trust me if anyone qualifies, I do. Ditto anti-anxiety medication. (Of course I was a falling-down blackout drunk for 20 years--but even then I took no "outside" medications, if only because I sensed that if I ingested one more "foreign" substance, I'd keel over and die on the spot).

I have no special equipment. I don't own a pair of scales or even a full-length mirror, not that I don't like to admire myself!

I'm not anti-medicine but I'm anti- thinking like or being treated like a lemming.

In fact, all of the above is in spite of, or perhaps because, of the fact that I also have a life-long, chronic illness: alcoholism.  Because I'm grateful, I tend to my body without, I hope, being fussy or fetishistic about it. Because I'm grateful, I know the condition of my innermost heart is way more important than good physical health, which is in many ways a crapshoot.

Because of my alcoholism and the spiritual solution with which I've treated it for 31 years, I have a visceral, violent aversion to our profit-based, human-being-as-commodity "healthcare" system.

Recently, for example, I learned I had high cholesterol (though everything else is top-notch). My doctor sent an email saying I could pick up my Lipitor script at the pharmacy. Not a word of further info. No discussion of diet. No mention of the fact that once you start taking statins, you can basically never stop.

So as with my cancer, I'm doing my own research, my own praying, my own inner call-to-arms. I'm eating lots more barley, quinoa and other grains, lots more vegetables, lots more fish. And if I die of a heart attack (God forbid), so be it and maybe the good Lord was sparing me from Alzheimer's.

Meanwhile I make sure to regularly get off by myself (this includes while I'm at home in my own apt), take long walks, ponder the mysteries of nature, human relations, and the universe.

While I'm on the subject, here is another pet peeve: at church when they quit offering the chalice during flu season. Are you kidding me? People of faith have died from cholera, bubonic plague, leprosy while serving the sick and suffering. We're supposed to be willing to lay down our lives! [See. e.g,, this rousing biography of St. Camillus]. We'd take our own health over a chance to partake of the Blood of Christ? Wusses!

"Healthy people don't need a doctor; sick people do," said Christ.  I know the ways I'm "well"--every one of them a boundless, unmerited grace--but I really know the many, many ways I'm sick. Grateful as I am for Kaiser, I thus appeal for real healing to the Great Physician.

And continue in many ways to be sick, and continue in many ways to suffer.

Because that is what it is to be a human being.

I'm reading Dr. Victoria Sweet's Slow Medicine, a follow-up to her splendid God's Hotel. Highly recommended.


FROM NIPTON, CA
AND THE MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE

Sunday, April 8, 2018

MUSIC FOR THE END OF OUR LIVES



TREES AT THE HUNTINGTON,
EASTER MORNING.
I GOT TO GO BACK LATER IN THE WEEK
TO HEAR THE CLARINET QUINTETS.

This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) has been proclaimed “America’s finest chamber orchestra” (Public Radio International), “LA’s most unintimidating chamber music experience” (Los Angeles Magazine), “resplendent” (Los Angeles Times) and “one of the world’s great chamber orchestras” (KUSC Classical FM).

The 2017-18 season marks LACO’s 50th anniversary. Its new “In Focus” series aims “to provide insights into the chamber music repertoire through the lens of LACO artists in an intimate setting.”

Curated by Concertmaster Margaret Batjer, LACO artists will serve as “musical tour guides” through the pieces, and NPR’s Renée Montagne will lead a short post-concert discussion.

In April, the series will highlight two sublime chamber works: Mozart’s “Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings” (1789) and Brahms’ “Clarinet Quintet in B Minor” (1891). A clarinet quintet is a work composed for one clarinet and a string quartet.

The concerts will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, at The Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, and at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at the Moss Theater in Santa Monica.

Both will feature Joshua Ranz, principal clarinet of LACO and also of the New West Symphony.

Raised in New York, Ranz and his wife, the oboist Lelie Resnick, met while both were playing for the Honolulu Symphony.

They moved to LA in 1999. Since then, Ranz has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times for his “stunning artistry.” He performs regularly with the LA Philharmonic and has recorded more than 100 soundtracks for leading Hollywood composers.

Preparing for our interview, I did a little research. The clarinet is said to have been invented around 1700 by German instrument maker J.C. Denner, I learned. It was based on the “chalumeau,” a Renaissance shepherd’s instrument with a range of but a single octave.

But what really fascinated me was the fact that Ranz is married to an oboist. So straightaway after getting him on the phone I asked, “So is there a certain personality attached to certain instruments?”

“I’d say oboists — I do think my wife is an exception — can tend to be a bit uptight, and with good reason,” he said. “Oboists are obsessed with finding the right reed. We clarinet players, with a single-reed instrument as opposed to their two, are just partially obsessed.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

HELEN MARTINS' OWL HOUSE





Do you ever feel that other people aren't interested, at all, in the same things you are?

I do.

Recently, for example, I have breathlessly reported to several friends something like the following:

"I am completely obsessed with this South African woman I just learned of, now dead, named Helen Martins who was an eccentric and a recluse and built a place over the course of several decades called Owl House! Covered every surface with colored ground glass, then added mirrors, zillions of candles, and a weird mummy-like sculpture with one cloven hoof that lay on the floor in the middle of everything She had had two abortions which haunted her. Had a series of black workmen who helped her and carried on a decades-long affair with a married man who would not leave his wife. When she was finished with the house, began a bizarre sculpture garden with cement camels, cats, temples, mythical figures. Made a sign out of wire--"This is My House"--that she hung on the fence, then in her 80s drank caustic soda--lye--and killed herself! Wonderful book by Sue Imrie Ross that I retrieved from interlibrary loan. Fascinating! Female psyche that did not quite become integrated"...

Now if someone told that to me, I would be like, "Oh excuse me I have to use the bathroom" and would be in there madly scrolling through my phone to get more info and at the soonest possible opportunity, would read/watch every single thing about such a compelling, bizarre, paradoxical, tragic, mystifying figure that I could get my hands on. 

As is true of much of what I breathlessly report, however, I have not been able to drum up much interest. 

That's okay! It is good to have our own little things that set us on fire.  


LIKE ME, HELEN LIKED GREEN. 


HELEN MARTINS (1897-1976)
AS A YOUNG WOMAN


AND WITH MUCH OF HER LIFE'S WORK
COMPLETED.
RIP HELEN AND THANK YOU. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

THE OCTAVE OF EASTER: THIS GOD WHO LIES IN WAIT





Who among us does not find the inn of Emmaus to be a familiar abode? Who has not walked this road one evening when all seemed lost? Christ died in us. They had taken him from us: the world, philosophers and scholars, our passion. There was no more Jesus for us on the earth. We were following a way, and someone was walking by our side. We were alone and we were not alone. It is evening. Here's an open door, the darkness of a room where the fireplace sheds light upon the clay floor and makes the shadows move. O broken bread! O breaking of the bread accomplished in spite of so much misery. 'Stay with us…the day declineth…'

The day declineth, life is coming to a close. Childhood seems further away than the beginning of the world; and our lost youth means no more to us than the last sound in the dead trees in some strange wood.

'And they drew night to the village whither they were going, and himself made as though he would go further; and they pressed him, saying, 'Stay with us, for evening approacheth and already the day declineth.' So he went in to stay with them. And it came to pass when he had reclined at table with them, that he took the bread and blessed and broke and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him and he vanished from them. And they said to one another, 'Was not our heart burning within us whilst he spoke to us on the way, whilst he laid open to us the scriptures?'

Another time Kephas, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John were fishing. They had come back to their Sea of Tiberias, to their boat, to their nets. ("They have settled down," their families must have thought.) They caught nothing. A stranger told them to cast down their nets on the right side. They caught so many fish that John suddenly understood. "It is the Lord! Peter, it is the Lord!" And Peter immediately cast himself in the sea the sooner to reach his Beloved. He was there, upon the shore. It was indeed He. Some embers were smoking. The sun dried Peter's garments. They cooked their fish; they ate of the bread that Jesus gave them, and they did not even ask: Who art thou? One was never entirely certain that it was He. But yes, my God, it was Thou, it was indeed Thou who asked the question (how familiar it is to us! alas how rare the answer!):

"Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than do these?"

"Yea, Lord, thou knowest I love thee..."

"Feed my lambs..."

Three times this dialogue passed back and forth on the shore of the lake. Then Jesus moved off a little way and Peter followed him; and John a little after him, as if he had lost his privileged place of the "most loved," as though the risen Lord no longer gave way to the preference of his heart. Nevertheless, he uttered to the son of Zebedee those mysterious words which were to make the other disciples believe that John would not know death. And when, several weeks later, Jesus tore himself from the midst of the disciples, ascended, and was dissolved in light, it was no final departure. Already he was lying in ambush at the turn of the road which went from Jerusalem to Damascus, watching for Saul, his beloved persecutor. Thenceforth in the destiny of every man there was to be this God who lies in wait.



François Mauriac, Life of Jesus (1936), ch. 27.


NARCISSUS FROM MY GARDEN, CALLING...
WAITING...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

MY NEW BOOK: FAMISHED, A FOOD MEMOIR

LET'S EAT!




FAMISHED:
A FOOD MEMOIR, WITH RECIPES

Heather King


We dream about food, plan around food, fetishize food.

We have books about cooking food. We have books about growing food. We have books about nutrition, local sourcing, and becoming a celebrity chef. We have Michael Pollan earnestly giving us food rules.

But we have few books about the spiritual dimension of food that also have a sense of humor. We have few books exploring the way our relationship to—and neuroses around—food shape our relationships to money, sex, love, and the search for meaning. Famished treats of the Eucharistic overtones of food: food as an echo of our longing for transcendence and communion; food as a manifestation of our fears, our obsessive-compulsions, our quirks; food—ordinary, everyday food—as a sacrament, a mystery, and a source of unending delight.

In a series of loosely-related, loosely narrative essays, I tell my story—one of eight kids in a blue-collar family in which the overriding emotion was financial anxiety; twenty years of hard-core drinking; a move from Boston to L.A.; a marriage that bore fruit but didn’t last; the lawyering job I quit to embark on the perilous vocation of writing; my conversion to Catholicism; cancer; divorce; cross-country road trips; unrequited love. With food the connecting thread, I write of the discovery that the human condition is not a sickness to be healed but a paradox to be pondered, mystified by, patiently endured, and rejoiced over.

Through the essays runs the story of my love affair with food: foraged food, street food, my tendency to hoard food, dinner parties I’ve thrown, the shared meal as perhaps the highest form of human communion.

There are several COLOR PLATES of my apartment, garden, and tchotchkes. 

Plus, folks, there are recipes!

INA’S GRILLED GRUYÈRE, RED CABBAGE AND APPLE SANDWICH
JEFF DIETRICH'S BREAD PUDDING WITH WHISKEY SAUCE
ROSEMARY CORNCAKES
CHEWY CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD COOKIES
CHICKEN LEGS WITH KUMQUATS, GREEN OLIVES AND PRUNES
SLOW-ROASTED SHOULDER OF PORK
PASTA WITH GOAT CHEESE, RADICCHIO, KALE AND PINE NUTS
PEACH KUCHEN

AND MUCH, MUCH MORE!

So come into my kitchen and pull up a chair. 

BUY FAMISHED HERE!

Monday, March 26, 2018

DREAMS DEFERRED: LORRAINE HANSBERRY'S A RAISIN IN THE SUN



LORRAINE HANSBERRY
1930-1965


This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

“Reading with Patrick” is a wonderful memoir.

Author Michelle Kuo, Harvard-educated and the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, volunteered after graduation to teach high school in a small town in the Arkansas Delta.

Initially, she thought to energize her black students, to educate them to the way their race has been so cruelly bowed down, to rouse them to action.

She showed them photos of lynchings, which were passed around in horrified silence until one boy put his head down on his desk and mumbled, “Nobody want to see that.” She introduced them to Malcolm X — they were bored. Obama likewise elicited yawns.

Deciding to try one last time, she introduced Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play, “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“It was a hit,” she wrote. “The angry banter between Walter and Ruth, husband and wife, got laughs. Their complaints about living in a crowded house got nods. Ruth’s despair over discovering she’s pregnant made the room go silent. And the students universally loved the grandmother. All seemed to know her.

“Born in Mississippi and religious, she scolded her son for wanting to start a liquor store, slapped her daughter for saying there is no God, and yelled at her daughter-in-law for wanting an abortion. As I assigned parts, the students clamored to be cast in her role. ‘She don’t play,’ they said admiringly.”

Through April 8, Pasadena’s The Noise Within (“Classic Theater, Modern Magic”) is staging a stellar production of this American classic.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

WAITING FOR THE SWALLOWS TO RETURN TO SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO


THE OLD TRAIN STATION SIGN, NOW HALF-HIDDEN IN A COPSE OF TREES

This week's arts and culture column begins:

March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph. Only many years after coming into the Church did I learn that it’s a day, for Italians at least, upon which Lenten fasting is (perhaps unofficially) lifted (except for meat).

Such is the fate of converts, sweating tears of blood as we refrain from, say, sugar, while real Catholics are laying out a feast.

But for those of us in Southern California, St. Joseph’s feast day has a deeper significance. March 19 is the day upon which, tradition has it, the swallows return to the mission at San Juan Capistrano.

The swallows migrate 6,000 miles each year from Goya, Argentina. Their scientific name, “Petrochelidon pyrrhonota,” refers in part to the rich red, “flame-colored” feathers on their necks and lower backs.

Legend has it that the tradition was started by Father St. John O’Sullivan, pastor of the mission from 1910 to 1933. Walking through the village one day, he came upon a shopkeeper angrily knocking swallows’ nests from beneath his eaves with a broom. Appalled at the birds’ evident agitation, Father spoke to them on the spot. “Come on swallows,” he invited, “I’ll give you shelter. Come to the mission. There’s room enough there for all.”

Supposedly, the very next morning the swallows began building their nests outside the Serra chapel. Father O’Sullivan went on to write a booklet, intended to raise preservation funds, entitled “The Little Chapters about San Juan Capistrano,” and to co-author “Capistrano Nights.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

ALTAR OF THE NEWLY RENOVATED MISSION BASILICA,
A WORKING PARISH

ST. FRANCIS IN A NICHE



 


PICTURESQUE, NO?



Thursday, March 15, 2018

CAMERA OR MIRROR?


BROOKLYN, CIRCA 1960
PHOTO: WILLIAM GEDNEY

"It is a continuously amazing thing that this impersonal machine, the camera, should render not only the surface of the visible world, but is capable of rendering so sensitively the personality of the photographer."

--William Gedney, quoted in Geoff Dyer's afterword, "A Long Patience," to What Was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney




HEATHER D. KING,
LOS ANGELES SOMEWHERE
YEAR UNKNOWN