Monday, January 30, 2012

Millennials and Ron Paul.

To my mind, one of the most fascinating aspects of the ongoing race for the Republican nomination for president is the enthusiasm of many young voters for the oldest candidate in the race, 76-year-old Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Though his principled libertarianism and outspoken antiwar views set him at odds with many in his party, Paul has done consistently well with Millennials in early-voting states. In Iowa, Paul won 17-to-29-year-olds with 48 percent of the vote, compared with 23 percent for Rick Santorum and 13 percent for Mitt Romney. Paul did nearly as well with young voters in New Hampshire, getting 46 percent of the vote among 18-to-29-year-olds - versus 26 percent for Romney. South Carolina proved to be less hospitable territory for Paul, but he still managed to finish two points ahead of first-place finisher Newt Gingrich among Millennials, winning the 18-to-29 bloc with 31 percent of the vote to Gingrich's 29 percent.

Ron Paul's popularity with Millennials has attracted considerable notice from the media - for a very small sampling of recent articles on this topic, consider these reports from the Dallas Morning News, the Boston Globe, Forbes, and the Baltimore Sun. The reasons for Paul’s appeal to Millennials are easy to identify. For one thing, the Texas Congressman has chosen to emphasize issues that resonate with young voters: Paul's opposition to U.S. military action overseas has a natural appeal to people of military-service age who are willing to enlist but averse to risking their lives for uncertain gains, while his calls for sweeping cuts in the federal budget and for more aggressive efforts to control the national debt make sense to young Americans who are acutely aware that their generation will be paying for the fiscal choices of their parents. Though I suspect that some of the Congressman's young supporters may disagree with specific details of Paul's platform, the candidate's libertarian emphasis on respecting personal autonomy also seems to align broadly with the values of many Millennials.

Of course, Ron Paul appeals to many Millennials not merely because of his message but also thanks to his inimitable personal style. Paul's reputation as a maverick is matched by a lack of pretense that sets him apart from the blowhards and empty suits who often seem to dominate contemporary American politics. Much in Paul's self-presentation proclaims that he is a different kind of candidate, including his oft-referenced background as a practicing physician, his ill-fitting suits and goofy laugh, and his disarmingly matter-of-fact way of answering questions that usually invite a rehearsal of each candidate's tired talking points (for example, when asked during the most recent debate about what he would do if Raúl Castro called him in the Oval Office, Paul answered, "I'd ask him what he called about"). Roger Ebert (of all people!) got it right in a tweet from the night of the Iowa caucuses: "Leaving politics out of it, what sets Ron Paul aside from every other GOP candidate? He's the only one who's cool." Perhaps what makes Paul cool to so many young voters is his evident authenticity - here, for once, is a candidate who is clearly comfortable in his own skin and is unmoved by any compulsion to change his convictions or public personality to conform to media expectations of what a major party presidential candidate should be like.

Lest the effusive tone of the preceding paragraph strike some readers as an endorsement, I should hasten to note that my intent here is not to speak for or against any candidate. What interests me about the 'Millennials for Ron Paul' phenomenon is its broader cultural and social implications. There are many questions here which deserve serious study; for example, I would love to know exactly how many Millennial Paulites supported Barack Obama in the last election - Paul's ability to attract the support of Democrats and independents has been widely noted, so I imagine that a not-inconsiderable number of people who are now for Paul were once for Obama. The reasons for these shifting allegiances also deserve attention: are young voters who have moved from Obama to Paul simply switching from one charismatic 'hope and change' candidate to another, or is this shift a sign of a political coming of age? In other words, I wonder whether some Millennials who supported Obama in 2008 because they liked his image and rhetoric might now be supporting Paul because, on reflection and in light of the past four years, they now believe that Paul better represents their views. Are Millennials supporting Ron Paul as an expression of a youthful idealism that will pass in time, or is their enthusiasm a harbinger of a generational shift that could reshape American politics in coming decades? It's too soon to answer this question, but I'd love to see more polling and analysis on the Millennial Paulites and what they may mean for the future.

Finally, a word on the age issue. As I noted above, the candidate who is currently drawing the most enthusiastic response from young voters is also the oldest person running. Of course, chronological age isn't everything: Paul's energy on the stump and behind the debate podium belies his years, and the unaffected exuberance that he displays when speaking to much younger crowds suggests that Paul is still young at heart. Even so, Baby Boomers should pay close attention to what is going on here: the '60s mantra about not trusting anyone over thirty doesn't apply to many Millennials. Indeed, it is tempting to draw a parallel between young voters' support for Ron Paul and the affection that many young Catholics have for Pope Benedict XVI, an even older man who impresses youthful audiences with his genuine personal humility and his willingness to deliver a challenging yet inspiring message. To say the very least, it is striking that many of the most engaged and committed members of the Millennial Generation are looking beyond the Boomers and taking their inspiration from leaders who came to maturity in the 1940s and '50s. While it is too soon to be sure what all of this means, I look foward to finding out. AMDG.

A Jesuit remembers Joe Paterno.

I wasn't planning to post here about the death last week of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, just as I've avoided writing about the tragic circumstances which brought Paterno's six-decade coaching career to an abrupt end last November. As for those circumstances, I'll now say all that needs to be said, which is that I pray for all who have been abused and for their families, as well as for a just resolution of the Sandusky case and for healing in the Penn State community. I also pray for Coach Paterno and for all who mourn him; he was, by all accounts, a very good and decent man, and Pennsylvania seems diminished by his passing.

The reason I'm writing about Joe Paterno at all is this post by Jesuit Father Jack Siberski, a proud Penn State alumnus who writes very movingly about an unexpected personal encounter with the coach. As a young medical resident, Jack once found himself caring for one of Paterno's five children, who had been hospitalized following a serious - and widely publicized - accident:
One night while I was on call for the unit the child developed some difficulty that was going to require an urgent procedure. It was about 3 AM but it couldn’t wait until later in the morning. After I called the attending docs, but before they arrived, I called the Paternos at their room in the inn near the hospital. They arrived in about five minutes. (Yes, I had to dial the number more than once because I was shaking.) When they arrived Mrs. Paterno went into the room and I began to explain to Coach Paterno what needed to be done, why and that we would need signed permission. Though I offered to let him wait until the staff docs came in he said there was no need. In his Brooklyn accent he said something to the effect of Doctor, you’re doing a fine job. We trust you know what has to be done. And he signed the papers.

There was no, "Are you an intern?" or "I wanna talk to the doctor in charge." Just a thank you. And he addressed me as Doctor. That meant a lot, particularly as at the time I had dark hair that brushed the base of my neck and, if not pulled to the side would have obscured most of my vision, was wearing a rumpled scrub after 20 hours with no sleep, and smelt of stale cigarette smoke (I had not yet quit). The staff docs arrived, procedure was done and all turned out well in the end.

For several years before that people would carp that Joe Paterno’s public face was just an image. No. It wasn’t. At 3 AM with a sick child in ICU there was no need to maintain an image. He could have, and many would have, thrown a complete animal act that a young second-year internal medicine resident was seeking permission for a procedure before the “real docs” had arrived (I was not going to be doing the procedure as it was surgical). There was no image. Just a good man who trusted those who knew what had to be done. It was an unforgettable moment.
To read the rest, click here. For more on Joe Paterno's ties to the Society of Jesus, consult these items from the New York Post and the New York Times. AMDG.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chicago-Detroit Jesuits in Peru.

I still plan to post something on the GOP primaries - hopefully I'll do so this coming Monday - but, in the meantime, here's a plug for a worthy cause. Since 1958, Jesuits from what is now the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus have been living and working in Peru in collaboration with Peruvian Jesuits and the local Church. More than forty Chicago-Detroit Jesuits have been missioned to Peru, some staying for a few years and others remaining for a lifetime.

The above video offers a glimpse of the work that the Society of Jesus is doing in Peru, focusing on several Chicago-Detroit Jesuits who arrived in the country decades ago as young scholastics and have chosen to devote their lives to serving the Church there. I met each of these men and saw the places where they work when I visited Peru as a novice, so watching this video brings back memories for me. To learn more about the works of the Society in Peru - and, if you're so inclined, about what you can do to help - take a look at the websites of the Chicago-Detroit Province and the Province of Peru. Please join also in praying for the Jesuits of Peru and those they serve. AMDG.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday afternoon on Hawk Hill.

The above photo was taken earlier this afternoon on the campus of Saint Joseph's University; as you may notice if you look carefully at the tree in the foreground, Hawk Hill is now covered with snow (I may be mistaken, but I believe that this is the first snow that Philadelphia has seen this winter - it's certainly the first that I've noticed). Having weathered the first week of a new semester, I went outside after lunch today to capture some photos of the icy snowscape before retreating to the warmth of my room to listen to some great music.

As for the new semester, it's shaping up to be a busy one. Having agreed on short notice to take over a course from a colleague who has had to cut back on teaching in order to take on new administrative responsibilities, I have three preps rather than my usual two. All three of my courses are ones that I've taught before, but I still have to put a lot of time into preparing for them: I believe that good teaching requires regular revision and reconsideration of what you've done in the past, so I'm not one to simply recycle old lectures and hope for the best. The first week was predictably hectic, but I'm excited and looking forward to what I expect will be an enjoyable semester.

In other news, I also expect that I'll be glued to the television and the computer screen tonight following the returns from the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. Unreformed political junkie that I am, I enjoy the drama and intrigue of a hard-fought primary: a campaign where the outcome is uncertain is always more exciting than a de facto coronation. A couple of posts related to this year's primaries have been gestating in my mind, but I have been too preoccupied with schoolwork to actually write them. As long as there is a real race to write about after South Carolina, hopefully one or both of those posts will appear in the coming days. AMDG.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A day without Wikipedia.

You may know that this is the day on which the English-language pages of Wikipedia and many other websites have been blacked out in opposition to two bills currently being considered by the United States Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). If you want to know why so many people on the Internet are concerned about SOPA and PIPA, consult this Google resource page as well as the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. AMDG.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jesuit chaplain seeks to reconcile divided House.

Last May, I noted the nomination of Father Patrick J. Conroy, S.J. as the second Catholic priest - and the first Jesuit - to serve as Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives. New York Times religion reporter Samuel G. Freedman recently caught up with Father Conroy and his Senate counterpart, Reverend Barry C. Black, and offers a profile of the two chaplains focusing on their efforts to bridge the partisan divide on Capitol Hill. Here is a bit of what Freedman has to say about Father Conroy:
The Rev. Patrick J. Conroy invited all the members of the House of Representatives and their families to the holiday reception he was hosting last month as the chamber’s chaplain. He put out hot cider, cookies and a not-quite-functional chocolate fountain, and for the benefit of the children he picked up his folk guitar to perform "The House at Pooh Corner."

Amid the well-organized cheer, though, Father Conroy noticed one subtly disquieting scene. It was apparent that two of his guests, representatives from opposite sides of the partisan aisle, and both sent to Washington to do the nation’s business, had never even spoken directly to each other before.

. . .

Over in the House, Father Conroy prepared for his job in part by reading "American Lion," Jon Meacham’s best seller about Andrew Jackson. The bitter rivalry between Jackson and Henry Clay in Congress has provided him with some assurance that “it’s not an unprecedented thing in American politics for there to be recriminations and a lack of civility.”

Particularly as a Jesuit, though, Father Conroy said he looked to the order’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who taught the importance of recognizing "godliness in the other." (In the saint's time, that meant Protestants, not the Tea Party or liberals.) The chaplain has also been striving to understand why the House can seem so resistant to that generosity of spirit.

"One of the things that's true today that hasn't been true of the past 30 years is that there are fewer civilizing forces," he said in a mid-December interview. "The members’ families don’t live here. It's easier on Friday to get on a plane and go home. So Congressman A's spouse isn't friends with Congressman Z’s. Or their kids don’t play together. You have no social bonding at all. The only relationship those congressmen have is as opponents."
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Patron X" speaks.

Today's edition of the New York Times includes an exclusive interview with the anonymous New York Philharmonic patron whose unwitting disruption of a concert in Avery Fisher Hall Tuesday evening has been reverberating through the musical blogosphere. As the NYT's Dan Wakin reports, "Patron X" is quite contrite:
"You can imagine how devastating it is to know you had a hand in that," said the man, who described himself as a business executive between 60 and 70 who runs two companies. "It’s horrible, horrible." The man said he had not slept in two days.

The man, called Patron X by the Philharmonic, said he was a lifelong classical music lover and 20-year subscriber to the orchestra who was friendly with several of its members. He said he himself was often irked by coughs, badly timed applause — and cellphone rings. "Then God, there was I. Holy smokes," he said.

"It was just awful to have any role in something like that, that is so disturbing and disrespectful not only to the conductor but to all the musicians and not least to the audience, which was so into this concert," he said by telephone.

"I hope the people at that performance and members of the orchestra can certainly forgive me for this whole event. I apologize to the whole audience."

Patron X said he received a call from an orchestra official the day after the concert. He had been identified by his front-row seat. The official politely asked him not to do it again, he said, and the man took the opportunity to ask to speak to Mr. Gilbert, to apologize in person.

The men talked by telephone (it was a land line) on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Gilbert said he told Patron X, "I’m really sorry you had to go through this," and accepted his apology.

. . .

Both Mr. Gilbert and Patron X found something positive in the episode.

"It shows how important people still feel live performance is," Mr. Gilbert said. "This is something people either consciously or implicitly recognize as sacred."

The patron agreed. The incident underscored "the very enduring and important bond between the audience and the performers," he said, adding, "If it’s disturbed in any significant way, it just shows how precious this whole union is."
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Alan Gilbert and the persistently ringing iPhone.

I have only heard Alan Gilbert conduct once, at the Met premiere of Doctor Atomic, and I was suitably impressed. I wish that I had more opportunity to hear Gilbert's work with the New York Philharmonic, as I have admired some of his more adventurous programming choices, like ending his first season as music director with Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre and planning to perform Stockhausen's Gruppen at the Park Avenue Armory. I now have even more reason to admire Alan Gilbert thanks to this report from Paul Pelkonen on how the conductor handled a particularly thorny problem at a concert last night in Avery Fisher Hall:
Tuesday night's New York Philharmonic performance of the Mahler Ninth was stopped dead by an unusual instrument - the iPhone.

An iPhone (using the marimba ring-tone) went off repeatedly in the fourth movement of Mahler's final completed symphony. According to an eyewitness, the offending phone owner was in the front rows of Avery Fisher Hall when his phone went off, just 13 bars before the last page of the score. In other words, in the final moments of a 25-minute movement, that ends a 90-minute symphony.

"Mr. Gilbert was visibly annoyed by the persistent ring-tone, so much that he quietly cut the orchestra," the concert-goer reports. She related how the orchestra's music director turned on the podium towards the offender. The pause lasted a good "three or four minutes. It might have been two. It seemed long."

Mr. Gilbert asked the man, sitting in front of the concert-master: "Are you finished?" The man didn't respond.

"Fine, we'll wait," Mr. Gilbert said.

The Avery Fisher Hall audience, ripped in an untimely fashion from Mahler's complicated sound-world, reacted with "seething rage." Someone shouted "Thousand dollar fine."

This was followed by cries of 'Get out!' and 'Kick him out!.' Some people started clapping rhythmically but the hall was quieted down. House security did not intervene or remove the offender.

The ringing stopped. "Did you turn it off?" Mr. Gilbert asked.

The man nodded.

"It won't go off again?"

The man shook his head.

Before resuming, Mr. Gilbert addressed the audience. He said: "I apologize. Usually, when there's a disturbance like this, it is best to ignore it, because addressing it is sometimes worse than the disturbance itself. But this was so egregious that I could not allow it."

"We'll start again." The audience cheered.
To read more - including comments from various people who were apparently in the audience last night - click here. Thousandfold Echo also has a post with an eyewitness report and commentary. As a listener who loves Mahler's Ninth, I can appreciate the anger of the audience and conductor at one person's "egregious" disruption of some of the most transcendently beautiful music ever written. I'm also reminded of the following comments from Bernard Haitink, which I've shared here before:
"One of the things I was thinking [in preparing to conduct Mahler's Ninth] was: how can I keep it quiet at the end? Because it's a unique ending, this breaking off of everything and disappearing in the air. And I thought, 'Whatever I do, they [the audience] must be silent.' I don't know what I did, but they were silent! Then you have one or two idiots in the hall shouting 'Bravo!' and the whole thing is broken."
The whole issue of audience noise during concerts is a tricky one, for reasons that Gavin Plumley summarizes well in a recent post at Entartete Musik. One cannot expect audiences to be totally silent, but it is reasonable to actually expect people to turn off their phones during concerts - especially when most concert halls (including Avery Fisher!) explicitly ask them to do so in announcements made before the start of each performance. Individuals who do not or cannot comply with such requests should not be surprised when they receive the strong reaction that Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic audience offered last night. AMDG.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Reading "Moby-Dick," redux, or "tempus fugit."

Following up on yesterday's post on New Bedford's sixteenth annual Moby-Dick Marathon, here is an item from today's Standard-Times highlighting the faithful three dozen who stayed at the Whaling Museum for all twenty-five hours of the Marathon. Given that over 2,500 people participated in this year's Marathon, the 36 who stayed for the whole thing are a truly select group:
Melville lovers — many of them looking a bit disheveled and bleary-eyed after pulling an all-nighter — closed the book Sunday on the 16th annual reading of Herman Melville's classic "Moby-Dick."

The 36 people who stayed the course for the marathon's 25 hours — going from noon on Saturday until 1 p.m. on Sunday — were given a compact copy of "Moby-Dick," signed by Peter Whittemore, a great-great grandson of Melville.

Graham Voysey of Brookline, a staff member at Boston University, and his brother, Ian Voysey of Pittsburgh, who is visiting family for the holidays, were both admittedly tired at the end of the marathon.

"It has been awhile since I pulled an all-nighter," Graham said.

He said he can't remember where he heard about the marathon, but he said it sounded crazy and fun and like something he wanted to be a part of it.

Ian Voysey, who works at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, said except for the occasional snoring, it was peaceful in the Whaling Museum during the wee-hours of Sunday morning.

Graham Voysey admitted to grabbing a few winks.

"I can't say how long I was asleep, but I can tell you how many pages I was asleep for," he said.

A couple of others who stayed all night were Cecilia Almeida, a sculptor and educator at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, and her friend, David Shaerf, who is in the early stages of producing a documentary about Melville enthusiasts.

Shaerf said the experience was wonderful and they felt welcomed as they conducted their interviews. "It was a community feeling," he said.

"There were people here from all over the world today. I was totally amazed," Almeida said.

Shaerf said the documentary is about two years away from being finished.
If you don't feel like waiting for the documentary but want to know more about the faithful readers who attend the Marathon each year, you may want to take a look at David Dowling's Chasing the White Whale, a book about the 2009 Moby-Dick Marathon. Meanwhile, consider the Standard-Times' list of some of the SouthCoast politicos who read at the Marathon this year:
The list of readers, as it usually does, looked like a who's who of local celebrities. New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, former Mayors Scott W. Lang and John Bullard, Superior Court Judge Raymond P. Veary, Reps. Barney Frank and William Keating, D-Mass., Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter and New Bedford City Councilor Jane Gonsalves all read.

For the second consecutive year, former Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz and his son, Ricky, now a freshman at Bishop Stang High School, each read chapters.
The last bit identifying Ricky Kalisz as "a freshman at Bishop Stang High School" is the basis for the tempus fugit in this post's title. I was a volunteer on Fred Kalisz's first campaign for mayor of New Bedford in 1997, and I remember that Ricky was born just before his father won the election. The fact that young Mr. Kalisz is now in high school reminds me of how quickly time passes - and makes me feel a bit old. It's a good thing that some things, like the Moby-Dick Marathon, and Melville's classic itself, are truly timeless. AMDG.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Reading "Moby-Dick" in New Bedford.

Today's edition of the New Bedford Standard-Times has a report on the sixteenth annual installment of a local tradition, the Moby-Dick Marathon, which I previously discussed in a post from five years ago. Here's more on this year's marathon, courtesy of the Standard-Times:
Some read yellowed, dog-eared hardcovers while others followed along on digital screens.

The young and old, Melville devotees and newcomers, packed New Bedford's historic Seamen's Bethel Saturday as Rev. Dr. Edward R. Dufresne, dressed in 19th century clerical garb, ascended the bow-shaped pulpit to read Father Mapple's famous sermon from "Moby-Dick."

"Shipmates, I do not place Jonah before you to be copied for his sin but I do place him before you as a model for repentance."

For 16 years, Herman Melville's epic novel, the bane of many high school students' existence, has attracted healthy crowds for a marathon reading that has become a cultural phenomenon in New Bedford.

The 25-hour reading of the classic novel began at noon Saturday in the New Bedford Whaling Museum's Lagoda Room when Bristol County Superior Court Judge Ray Veary read the novel's iconic opening sentence.

"Call me Ishmael."

A succession of readers that included Mayor Jon Mitchell, his predecessor Scott W. Lang, local singer Candida Rose and others took turns reading chapters from "Moby-Dick," which critics panned after its publishing in 1851.

The novel — which gives modern readers a glimpse into New Bedford and its waterfront during the city's whaling heyday — did not catch on in literary circles until decades after Melville's death in 1891.

But Saturday, a crowd of at least 200 people gathered in the Lagoda Room while someone at the microphone, standing in front of a large black and white photograph of the city's waterfront in the 19th century, read from the novel.
To read the rest, click here. For more on the Moby-Dick Marathon, including streaming video of this year's event, consult this page on the website of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. AMDG.

Friday, January 06, 2012


It has been my custom in recent years to post something on this blog for the Feast of the Theophany (or Epiphany) of the Lord, widely celebrated on this date. If you're interested, you may consult my Theophany posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 for more background.

For this year's Theophany post, I'd like to share a brief video showing part of the Blessing of Waters that occurs on Theophany, filmed here on the banks of the Mahoning River in northeastern Ohio. For me, there is something profoundly moving about the image of a small band of believers gathered by a snowy riverbank to celebrate the manifestation of Christ's divinity and the sanctification of the created world. I hope that some of you will be similarly moved, hence my sharing of the video. My prayers are with all who celebrate this bright feast, either today or in the coming days. AMDG.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Taylor Street.

Since New Year's Day, I've been staying on Taylor Street, the former heart of Chicago's Little Italy and now a multiethnic and gentrified corridor known for its mix of restaurants and its proximity to the University of Illinois at Chicago. I lived on Taylor Street for a bit more than four months while I was a novice on experiment at St. Ignatius College Prep, and I enjoy returning here whenever I'm in Chicago.

The Christmas lights on these bare trees offer a hint of the charm that makes Taylor Street an enchanting place - even on a frigid, icy winter night like the one on which I took this photo.

In a previous post, I made mention of Chicago's "honorary" street signs. These signs honor a wide variety of people and institutions, but I have yet to encounter one with as long a name as "Honorary 35 Year Teacher Mary Garramone of Riis Elementary School Street."

A few doors down from the St. Ignatius Jesuit Residence, Thai Bowl was a frequent weekend dining destination for me when I lived on Taylor Street. If you like high-quality Thai food served in massive quantities at low prices, this is the place for you.

Named for chef/owner Joël Kazouini, Chez Joël is a Taylor Street restaurant that I sadly have not visited. Every time I come back to Taylor Street, I go by this place and am reminded of my desire to dine there, but the opportunity to actually do so has never quite presented itself. Here's hoping I actually get there at some point.

This photo is here simply because I liked the way these shelves looked in the late-afternoon sun shining through the front window of Gentile's Wine Shop.

Nea Agora Packing Company is a venerable Taylor Street butcher shop - from the way that the phone number is written (HA-1 5130), one can tell that this is an old sign. I've never been inside, but I was intrigued by a Yelp review that says that going to Nea Agora is "like stepping into the movie Moonstruck. Cash only, a few chairs, a refrigerator, a saw, and a cutting board . . . [and] a bunch of old (old!) Italian guys . . . sitting around ordering their lambs for Easter."

Finally, another true Taylor Street institution: Mario's Italian Lemonade, known throughout Chicagoland and beyond for the eponymous product, which matches the description of what most people would probably call Italian ice, and which comes in a variety of flavors beyond lemon. Mario's has no official website - it's not that kind of place - but there is an 'unofficial' website with fan photos as well as a Facebook page. Mario's is only open from May to September, so I didn't get there on this visit - but I hope to go next time I'm in Chicago during the summer. AMDG.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Wernersville in the NYT.

Today's New York Times includes an intriguing report on a retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. Author Susan Gregory Thomas is "neither Catholic nor anything in particular," but thought that a silent retreat at Wernersville might provide "a solid period of quiet to recombobulate" in the midst of a busy life beset by various worries. Priced at $560, a five-day retreat at Wernersville struck Thomas as a bargain - a thought that may induce groans in readers who know how hard it is for retreat centers to stay open at a time when the cost of maintaining large, old buildings is going up and there simply aren't enough retreatants like Thomas to pay the bills.

As a Jesuit who knows Wernersville, I found it fascinating to read Thomas' outsider view of what goes on during an Ignatian retreat as well as to consider some fresh impressions of a familiar place. The paragraphs that I enjoyed the most had nothing to do with Thomas' impressions of the retreat itself but were concerned with the Jesuit Center as a building:
. . . [W]hile I’d had the notion that it would be tough to keep quiet for five days, I realized, on arrival, that I had not developed a textured sense of what I was getting into. The facility itself, an English Renaissance-style building constructed in the late 1920s, was gigantic and dark — attributes intensified by the resident Jesuits’ ubiquitously posted wish to keep the light bills low. Fantasies of sequestered holy men tending to herb gardens and homemade beer stills were combusted by industrial platters of green beans and pigs-in-blankets provided by Sodexo, the integrated food and facilities management services behemoth.

But there was also an ineffable sphinxiness about the place. For example, I got there an hour and a half late the first night, and there was no one to tell me where to go or what I should be doing. The only signpost was a list of names and room numbers tacked to a corkboard, so I found mine and rollerbagged down the building’s spooky, caliginous hallways until I tracked down my assigned spot. I creaked open the lockless door and found a jumbo crucifix resting on the bed pillow. If Stanley Kubrick had found this place, he’d never have shot a movie anywhere else.
The last sentence made me laugh, partly because it made me think of the moment I arrived at Eastern Point Retreat House to make the Spiritual Exercises when I was in the novitiate. Taking a look at this old mansion surrounded by snow, I joked to another novice, "This reminds me of The Shining." It reminded me even more of The Shining when, during the retreat, we were literally housebound for three days after a particularly severe Nor'easter dropped enough snow on the property to cut us off from the outside world and the staff advised us not to go outside to avoid the danger of exposure.

The Kubrick comparisons end there, but I'm glad that Thomas picked up on the spookiness that I've also noticed in more than one retreat house. For the rest of her views on Wernersville, click here. AMDG.

An der schönen, blauen Donau.

Continuing the Viennese theme of my last post - and because I simply miss Vienna - here is some harmless nostalgia for the start of a new year: the classic waltz "An der schönen, blauen Donau" by Johann Strauss II, a staple of the annual Neujahrskonzert of the Wiener Philharmoniker, heard here at last year's concert conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. The Kinderballett that begins around 1'10" is the sort of cutesy thing that I usually don't care for, but in this context I find it kind of charming. Since my time in Vienna was a great personal highlight of 2011, it seems right to me to begin 2012 with something that reminds me of the place. To all readers, I once again extend my prayerful best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year! AMDG.