Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THE DEAREST FRESHNESS DEEP DOWN THINGS

CANNOT REMEMBER WHERE TAKEN.
SIMPLY CAPTIVATED AS USUAL BY LEAVES AND LIGHT. 



ROSE ARBOR IN BACK OF SOME HISTORICAL HOUSE
WITH LOVELY DESERTED GROUNDS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
 IN PORTSMOUTH, NH

I have been traveling and am feeling just a teensy bit drained as in I am going to Logan six hours early Friday to try to get on stand-by for the three flights back to LA before mine.

Yes! Eager to be back in my little sanctuary: my own bed, my own coffee-maker, my own birds. 

Times like this I turn especially to the life force of trees and flowers.
Times like this I think especially of Gerard Manley Hopkins.


GOD'S GRANDEUR

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877









BEACH PLUMS, JULY 16, 2018
APPROX 7:30 am.
MISTY MORNING. OCEAN BOULEVARD,
RYE BEACH, NH

Monday, July 9, 2018

THE (NIKOLA) TESLA COIL




Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

July 10 is Tesla Day.

That would be Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer and eccentric known principally as the developer of the modern alternating current electricity supply system.

Tesla claimed to have been born during a lightning storm, and as a child had vivid nightmares. His father, an Eastern Orthodox priest, wanted Nikola to follow in his footsteps, but eventually relented and allowed the boy to pursue engineering studies.

He emigrated to the U.S. in 1884 and found work for a time with Thomas Edison designing direct current generators.

The two, famously, were not entirely simpatico. Tesla wrote of their time together:

“We experimented day and night, holidays not excepted. … He had no hobby, cared for no sport or amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene. There can be no doubt that, if he had not married later a woman of exceptional intelligence, who made it the one object of her life to preserve him, he would have died many years ago from consequences of sheer neglect.”

He then quit to pursue his own project: the alternating current induction motor.

Tesla’s dream was to provide free wireless electricity to one and all.

He had grand ideas and cosmic thoughts: on man’s human destiny, the Rotary Magnetic Field, world peace, divine power and other inventors (he considered Einstein’s work on relativity shot through with “underlying errors”).

“Everything is the sun,” he observed.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

LIZARDS LIKE MUSIC, TOO



The lizard clan is diverse and fascinating--also, some members are very sentimental and love to be sung to. I found this out one day by chance when I was meandering about and singing to myself in a stand of tall Mentzelia laevicaulis, well bedecked with its big gistening water-lily-like blooms of soft ;primrose yellow. This Mentzalia grows only in gravelly places which catch the maximum of sun; lizards also like such places. As I sang, two very unlike specimens came out from under the stones. One (the more musical--or perhaps unmusical--of the two) was over a foot long and incredibly beautiful with a bold tan armadillo-like design worked on his mustard-yellow body. He resolutely advanced and together we sat on a rock. I stopped my noise and he made preparations to leave. I began it again and he stepped on to my knee. He showed an enormous capacity for large doses of song, closing his eyes in absurd abandon and opening them whenever I shut up, his eyelids sliding back to reveal pleading orbs. This went on for some time till I finally had to tell him that I must go about my business, and as I placed him, limp from emotion, on the boulder, I pointed out to him that the music the rock wren yonder was making was much better than anything I could do. But his reproachful eyes followed me on my way.


--Lester Rowntree, Hardy Californians



ROSES (which are not California natives, but generally like it here)
HUNTINGTON GARDENS
SAN MARINO, CA


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

BLESSED IS HE WHO BELIEVES WITHOUT SEEING: A SHORT TRIP TO NEW YORK


ST PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL.
PRAY FOR US TOURISTS!

Whoa. Life is speeding by so quickly that I'm not able to quite catch up.

Last week at this time I was in NYC.

I was in town to accept an award from the Association of Catholic Publishers: Holy Desperation (Loyola Press) won first place in the "Inspiration" category and Best Book of the Year.

As I told them, the last time I won an award was in eighth grade. So the whole event was quite exciting.

Loyola put me up at a fancy hotel and I spent a good part of my time feeling like I was using up way too many "resources." Should I fast, for instance (even though I wasn't paying), in order to make up for the inordinate price of my hotel? I ordered room service the first afternoon, thinking to stretch my modest order over two meals, so ate half and set the rest aside, only to return a couple of hours later and find the whole whisked away, the curtains and blinds drawn, and laid out beneath my bed a pair of terrycloth slippers, embossed with the hotel logo.

I took two baths in the giant tub. Walked a ton as always when I'm in NY. Ducked into St. Patrick's the first early evening after walking to Rockefeller Center from the Bowery for  an interview on Fr. Dave Dwyer's radio show. Went to noon Mass at St. Francis of Assisi the second day.

Had a nice moment that afternoon in a little pocket park across from Muji (where I nabbed four small notebooks for a buck twenty-five apiece!). There I sat with a Starbucks venti iced Americano and eating from a plastic bag of Rainier cherries freshly purchased from the corner fruit man. A moment of respite from the frantic pace and noise of the city. Felt the sun on my face. Happy to simply sit with a random microcosm of humanity. One older lady who'd arrived on a bike read a book. The teenager next to me played her music too loud. A couple of middle-aged guys pored over a chessboard.  Did not look at my phone, did not check up on news, did not read even. Just sat. Said a few Hail Marys.

The other "moment" of my trip occurred at Newark Airport the next morning as I waited to board my 9 a.m. flight. Deafeningly loud. Banks of TV screens blaring bad news and hideous piped-in electronic robot "music." People swarming all five group lanes of the United gates. All of humanity (of which, again, I am a proud member) shoving, sprinting, jostling.

Suddenly I thought--Do I hear a bird? I checked my "personal device" as I have somehow managed (an ordeal of several hours) to install a bird ringtone on my iphone, but no. Still, the more closely I listened the more I became convinced that a songbird had found his or her way into this cacophonous madness. I looked around in all directions. I checked the faces of my fellows to see if anyone else had a look of surprised and delighted wonder--again, nothing. Finally, I looked way way up to the very top of the soaring glass and steel pod and sure enough, perched on a cross-bar several stories up, was a tiny bird--a sparrow perhaps--that had found its way inside Terminal C and was singing its heart out!

I hailed my little fellow creature from below, it acknowledged me with a return salute, and then, its job done in that particular part of the airport, it sailed away I'm convinced to greet the next passenger ready and open for a love letter from the universe.

Today is the feast day of Thomas the Apostle who, again like me, often, doubted. Christ invited him to put his hand inside the wound in his, Christ's side. "My Lord and my God!" Thomas said. To which Christ responded, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

But what does it mean to believe?

In today's Magnificat reflection, ex-Pope Benedict XVI observes:

"Our relationship with God is first of all and at the same time also a relationship with our fellow men and women: it rests on a communion of human beings, and indeed the communication of relationship with God mediates the deepest possibility of human communication that goes beyond utility to reach the ground of the person...

The knowledge of God demands inner watchfulness, interiorization, a heart that is open and that in silent composure becomes personally aware of its direct links with its Creator. But at the same time it is true that God does not reveal himself to the isolated ego and excludes individualistic isolation: being related to God is tied up with being related to our brothers and sisters, with communion with them."

I'm thinking this morning of the Statue of Liberty that guards New York Harbor, where my paternal grandparents arrived on a boat in the early 1900's. What has happened to: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

How any follower of Christ could want to exclude a single fellow human being is beyond me. Can anyone possibly imagine the Son of Man, who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me" approving of the unconscionable ripping apart of families, and the general greed-based meanness, that is taking place on our borders and in our interior?

Thank you, Archbishop Jose Gomez, who has said again and again that it is the duty of all Catholics to speak out against this rank injustice.

This blot on our national conscience.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

THE BEAUTIFUL BRAIN: DRAWNINGS BY SANTIAGO RAMÓN Y CAJAL





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

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) is considered the father of modern neuroscience.

As a neuroanatomist, he examined super-thin pieces of brain under a microscope, treating them with chemical stains to reveal both different types of cells and the structures within the cells.

As an artist — his second vocation —he produced more than 2,900 drawings depicting the human nervous system over the course of 50 years.

“The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” (Abrams, 2017, $30), features 80 of these stunning drawings. Some are familiar to Cajal aficionados; others have never before been published.

Cajal was born in Petilla de Aragón. As a teenager he was an obsessive collector and a prankster with an innate distrust of authority. His passions were drawing and photography. Following in his father’s footsteps, he entered medical school at Zaragoza, and graduated when he was 21.

During a year of army medical service in Cuba he contracted malaria, leaving him with a delicate constitution more suited to teaching than the more arduous physical practice of medicine.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

THAT'S RIGHT.
THIS IS YOUR BRAIN! 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

THE WENDE MUSEUM AND THE COLD WAR

 
SOVIET YOUNGSTERS WERE HIPPIES, TOO!

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

The Wende Museum in Culver City aims by use of the word to describe the “transformative period leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”

Admission is free. The museum is open Wednesday and Thursday for school and university tours only, Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On offer are art, artifacts and history from the Eastern Bloc.

All is modern, sleek, clean, crisp.

Display boxes lining a side hall include “socialist realism” sculptures, diplomatic gifts, glassware and ceramics, and blocky Cold War radios and telephones that could have come straight from an episode of the ’60s spy-spoof TV series “Get Smart.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


THE WENDE'S LOVELY GARDEN

Thursday, June 21, 2018

TO THE CHILDREN OF COLUMBINE, SANDY HOOK, PARKLAND, SANTA FE AND WAY WAY TOO MANY OTHERS



"You sound so very old."

"Sometimes I'm ancient. I'm afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always use [sic] to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I'm afraid of them and they don't like me because I'm afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn't kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different."

*****

“There are many actors alone who haven't acted Pirandello or Shaw or Shakespeare for years because their plays are too aware of the world. We could use their anger. And we could use the honest rage of those historians who haven't written a line for forty years. True, we might form classes in thinking and reading.”

"Yes!"

"But that would just nibble the edges. The whole culture's shot through. The skeleton needs melting and reshaping. Good God, it isn't as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus every now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it's a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily...In any event, you're a fool. People are having fun.

"Committing suicide! Murdering!"


--Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1951)


Saturday, June 16, 2018

MORE ON OXFORD AND AN AWARD


PORT MEADOW AT DUSK


My humble arts and culture column just won a Catholic Press Association First Place for the second year running:

Catholic Press Association 2018: M05a: BEST REGULAR COLUMN:  Spiritual Life First Place Angelus, “Crux” by Heather King Standout set of entries featuring well-written content regarding important issues of the day.​"

Thank you, Angelus, for allowing me to serve!

I posted text and a series of poppy photos recently in honor of my trip earlier this month to Oxford, England.

This week's column fleshes out the visit a bit.

It carries the heading

Discovering the link between real and imaginary in Oxford, England

and begins like this:

Every so often life presents travel opportunities.

Mine recently presented me with a trip to Oxford, England, the “city of dreaming spires,” a term coined by the English poet Matthew Arnold in the 19th century.

Oxford, as you may know, is home to 38 colleges. Each has its own dining hall, chapel and garden.

Oxford also has scads of museums, all with free admission, among them the world-renowned Ashmolean (art and architecture; the oldest public museum in the world), the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (reconstructed dodo; originally funded with proceeds from the sale of Bibles), and the Pitt Rivers (“a cornucopia of ethnographic treasures from shrines to shrunken heads”).

My hosts were Bob, a Rhodes Scholar physicist who attended St. John’s and Theresia, a Doctor of English Literature and a professor at LMU, who reads at The Bodleian.

My week there seemed a series of mental snapshots — cobblestone streets, churches of tawny Cotswold limestone dating back as far as the 12th century, vast courtyards lush with emerald-green grass.

Cheese stores, Blackwell’s emporium of books, high tea at The Parsonage.

But the best thing to me about Oxford was that you can walk everywhere. Bob and Theresia’s flat is on the edge of Port Meadow, an ancient stretch of uncultivated common land that supposedly has not been plowed in 4,000 years.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.





IN THE OXFORD BOTANIC GARDEN



Monday, June 11, 2018

LA'S SHRINE TO POPE JOHN PAUL II

Jerzy Popiełuszko


Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko (1947–1984), Polish Roman Catholic priest who became associated with the opposition Solidarity trade union in communist Poland and was martyred. Our Lady of the Bright Mount Church in the West Adams district of LA has first-class relics of Fr. Jerzy, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Pope St. John Paul II.

***

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

Our Lady of the Bright Mount Church, in the West Adams District, is the only Polish parish in Los Angeles.

On Oct. 25, 2015, Archbishop José H. Gomez declared it LA’s Shrine of St. John Paul II.

The shrine is only open during Mass, which is 9 a.m. and noon on Sunday, 8 a.m. on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, devotions and prayers before (all are welcome to come and pray or sit in silence).

All Masses are in Polish.

Before making my way to the church for Pentecost Sunday Mass, I arranged to meet afterward with Sebastian Konarski, office administrator.

Then I brushed up on the history of Poland and studied the information on the church’s website:

Eleven-year-old Jadwiga, a “delicate young girl,” installed as queen in 1384.

The intrigue surrounding the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, known to the Polish faithful as the Black Madonna.

The terrible suffering of the Polish people, first under Nazi Germany, then the Soviet Union, from the beginning of World War II until the 1989 establishment of the (democratic) Republic of Poland.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Friday, June 8, 2018

SAFE HOME


UNITED CLUB, HEATHROW AIRPORT

I flew back to LA yesterday from Heathrow, my week in Oxford having been completed.

In my mind, I divided the trip into segments, so as to mark progress along the way instead of pulsating with the ungodly thought that all told I was going to spend 18 hours or so in transit.

There was the walk along the canal in Oxford to the Gloucester Green bus station, the bus ride to Heathrow, the journey through security (short in time but long in anxiety), the very long walk to the United Club (I get two annual passes through my Visa card--they had tons of actual food, drink and appropriate electrical outlets!), the trip to the gate and onto the plane (ditto Segment 2), the 10 1/2 hour flight home, and the Flyaway Bus to downtown's Union Station.

We left at 2:10 pm and arrived at 4:40 pm the same day which just seems weird. But as we made our descent it was so lovely to look out the window and see a deep blue, cloud-studded afternoon sky (it would have been midnight or so in Oxford).

England is all green and sort of empty and LA is all brown and sort of to put it mildly full.

And I must say I do not hold with the notion that it is somehow deeper or more evolved to love the one and despise the other. 

In fact, my heart soared with joy as I looked down and made out the smog, traffic-clogged 405, and endless grids of what look from the air like cookie-cutter houses.

I love quiet and woods and green and lanes and little shops, and I also love the whole mad, improbable, teeming beehive of Los Angeles.

Not that the place doesn't often drive me crazy. But to live richly and fully and sanely in LA is to be equal to a great and ongoing challenge. You learn to find beauty, and rest, and solace in what might to the uninitiated, or to the mentally and emotionally lazy, appear to be a wasteland.

Plus I was so glad to be off the freaking plane probably anything would have looked good!

As it was, I marveled at the golden chain trees I'd never noticed before that somehow manage to thrive at the downtown interchange of the 10 and the 110 which, if you've ever driven it, is not exactly the spot you'd expect a tree of any kind to be able to survive more than about 10 seconds.

When I discovered a rush-hour uber from downtown to Pasadena would cost $29.14, I decided to take the Metro instead ($.75, old people's discount) which, though slower, allowed me to study the faces of my fellow passengers, exult in the afternoon light (nowhere has light like LA), and realize all over again how beautiful the San Gabriel Mountains, in whose shadow I live, are (excuse tortured usage: jet-lagged).

I could have taken an uber from Memorial Park station, but since I'd come this far, I figured why not walk the mile or so with my dear Swiss Army roller bag suitcase? That way I got to go past St. Andrew and thank the Lord for landing me home safely, stretch my legs, smell the night jasmine that's in bloom this time of year, and greet the assorted drug-addled teens, gangbangers, housekeepers, office workers, suburban moms, fruit-sellers, and the crazy guy who called me a bad name en route.

We had a "freezing cold" (i.e. 62 or so degree most of the time) May, but now, at last, it is warm.

I love the unpacking, sweeping up, organizing watering plants, catching up on administrative tasks, opening mail and all the rest that comes from returning home from a trip.

My own coffeemaker! My own bed!

Today is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

"Arise, then, beloved of Christ!" says St. Bonaventure in the Second Reading of the Office. "Imitate the dove that nests in a hole in the cliff, keeping watch at the entrance like the sparrow that finds a home."

I was at 8:15 Mass at St. Andrew.

PRICKLY PEAR IN BLOOM IN MY BACK YARD