Sunday, March 18, 2018

The call to solitude...

The more I learn about rural Romania, the more I want to go hide there. Rural Italy is pretty great, and Umbria has a piece of my heart, but the part I live in is pretty modern and central. Down here on the lowlands. I keep longing to go back up to Norcia where - even more now - there are really just not very many people, and we were surrounded by the Big Empty. Where wild boar would come close to the house at night, and if you got up early enough you'd sometimes see wolves in your garden. (At least, so I was told my my friend the vet, whose house was close to the base of the mountain.) One of the most painful parts of Norcia was the annual summer tourist invasion. It was just way too popular.

Being from coastal British Columbia, and from a time before it got completely overrun, I find it hard to bear living cheek-by-jowl with so many strangers. It just feels strangely invasive to know what people - people I don't know - are doing every day.

The lower Tiber Valley is very heavily populated for a rural area, this big horseshoe of towns and villages and hamlets and farms, Perugia, Assisi, Bastia Umbra, Foligno, Spoleto... all practically within walking distance. I know for people who only think of Italy as a tourist place that sounds like a dream come true; but how I miss those early Norcia mornings in the winter, the only sound was the birds and the bells of the Basilica ringing for Prime, the mist rising slowly up the sides of the mountains...

I don't know where this thing in my character comes from, this urge to be away from everyone else. But it gets stronger by the year. My 52nd birthday was last week, and though I'm liking my little place here more and more, the urge to be away from everyone else keeps whispering under it all. I guess it's how I ended up here, so far away from where I started. The Island is unrecognisable now, my interior mental landscape of long stretches of the Island Highway with nothing but trees has been completely lost. That highway is one long strip mall now, lined with seedy car and hot tub dealerships; the remote, wild place where my grandparents build their little house on the cliff in the 60s now a tame and paved suburb of Nanaimo.

The more I learn about Romania, the more that instinct starts its little quiet bell ringing.

... Or maybe the Faroe Islands...


Sunday, March 11, 2018

What to do during a Divine Chastisement...

I have a wonderfully interesting book - a reprint of the 1906 original - titled "The Records of Romsey Abbey" - being the long story, put together from original sources, of a women's Benedictine house near Winchester, founded in AD 907.

This morning I was reading an interesting bit from the middle of the 14th century: what to do in times of grave chastisement.

It seems like pretty good advice.

"The advent, in 1349, of the Great Pestilence, or Black Death as it is commonly known, brought desolation to Romsey Abbey in common with other communities throughout the country. It is supposed that this awful scourge originated in China in 1334. Thirteen millions of person are believed to have been swept away by the floods of the Yangtsi or destroyed by hunger and disease, and according to the rumours of the time it was the corruption of unburied corpses which caused the Black Death. [The true cause of Bubonic Plague, the bacterium Yersinia pestis, was identified in 1894, but its connection with the historic pestilences so dreadfully remembered by Europeans, was not widely accepted until after the publication of the book.]. In China the pestilence ended in 1342, but not so for the rest of the world; it spread and being a soil poison found favourable conditions throughout medieval Europe. This was the age of feudalism and walled towns, with a cramped and unwholesome manner of life on inhabited spots of ground, choked with the waste matter of generations.

The monasteries were especially favourable spots. Within the walls, under the floor of the chapel or cloisters, were buried not only generations of monks but often the bodies of princes and notables, and of great ecclesiastics. Again, in every parish the house of the priest would have stood close to the church and churchyard. Thus the pestilence spread slowly but with a certainty, which would alone have made it terrifying, taking a whole twelve months to pasts from Dorset to Yorkshire, and exhibiting its greatest power in walled town, monastery and in the neighbourhood of churchyards.

But whilst this pestilence was a soil poison, it is not to be supposed that it was not directly contagious, it was virulent, and so contagious that those who touched the dead or even the sick, were incontinently infected that they died, and both penitent and confessor were borne together to the same grave. It is supposed that the population of England at this time was not more than five millions, and that half of this total succumbed. One half of the clergy in the diocese of York died, and in Hampshire some 200 clergy perished.

The pestilence entered a port in Dorset, said to be Weymouth, about August, 1348. Bishop William de Edyndon wrote an eloquent letter to the Prior of St. Swithun's, Winchester, on the 24th of October following and sent similar letter throughout the diocese: -

"William, by Divine providence, Bishop, to the Prior and Chapter of our church of Winchester, health, grace, and benediction. A voice in Rama has been heard; much weeping and crying has sounded throughout the countries of the globe. Nations deprived of their children in the abyss of an unheard plague, refuse to be consoled because, as is terrible to hear of, cities, towns, castles, and villages, adorned with noble and handsome buildings, and wont, up to the present, to rejoice in an illustrious people, in their wisdom and counsel, in their strength and in the beauty of their matrons and virgins; wherein too, every joy abounded, and whither too, multitudes of people flocked from afar for relief; all these have been already stripped of their population by the calamity of the said pestilence, more cruel than any two-edged sword. And into these said places now none dare enter, but fly afar from them as from the dens of wild beasts.
Every joy has ceased in them; pleasant sounds are hushed, and every note of gladness is banished. They have become abodes of horror and a very wilderness; fruitful country places without the tillers thus carried off, are deserts and abandoned to barrenness. And news most grave which we report with the deepest anxiety, this cruel plague as we have heard, has already begun to afflict the various coasts of the realm of England.
We are struck with the greatest fear lest, which God forbid, the ell disease ravage any part of our city and diocese. And although God, to prove our patience, and justly to punish our sins, often afflicts us, it is not in man's power to judge the Divine which, propagated by the tendency of the old sin of Adam, from your inclines all to evil, has now fallen into deeper malice and justly provoked the Divine wrath by a multitude of sins to this chastisement.
"But because god is loving and merciful, patient and above all hatred, we earnestly beg that by your devotion He may ward off from us the scourge we have so justly deserved, if we now turn to Him humbly with our whole heart. We exhort you in the Lord, and in virtue of obedience we strictly enjoin you to come before the face of God, with contrition and confession of all your sins, together with the consequent due satisfaction through the efficacious works of salutary penance. We order further that every Sunday and Wednesday all of you, assembled together in the choir of your monastery say the seven Penitential Psalms, and the fifteen gradual psalms, on your knees, humbly and devoutly. Also on every Friday, together with these psalms, we direct that you chant the long litany, instituted against pestilences of this kind by the Holy Fathers, through the market place of our city of Winchester, walking in procession together with the clergy and people of the city.
We desire that all should be summoned to these solemn processions and urged to make use of other devout exercises, and directed to follow these processions in such a way that during their course they walk with heads bent down, with feet bare, and fasting; whilst with pious hearts they repeat their prayers and, putting away vain conversation, say as often as possible the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary. Also that they should remain in earnest prayer to the end of the Mass, which at the end of the procession we desire you to celebrate in your church."


It's Henry Purcell Sunday: Rejoice in the Lord Alway!


Friday, March 02, 2018

Dulce Domum

The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture--the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation. Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of a smouldering log.

But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtained world within walls--the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut out and forgotten--most pulsated. Close against the white blind hung a bird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, and appurtenance distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday's dull-edged lump of sugar. On the middle perch the fluffy occupant, head tucked well into feathers, seemed so near to them as to be easily stroked, had they tried; even the delicate tips of his plumped-out plumage pencilled plainly on the illuminated screen. As they looked, the sleepy little fellow stirred uneasily, woke, shook himself, and raised his head. They could see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a bored sort of way, looked round, and then settled his head into his back again, while the ruffled feathers gradually subsided into perfect stillness. Then a gust of bitter wind took them in the back of the neck, a small sting of frozen sleet on the skin woke them as from a dream, and they knew their toes to be cold and their legs tired, and their own home distant a weary way.

Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either side of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendly fields again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far over-sea. They plodded along steadily and silently, each of them thinking his own thoughts. The Mole's ran a good deal on supper, as it was pitch-dark, and it was all a strange country for him as far as he knew, and he was following obediently in the wake of the Rat, leaving the guidance entirely to him. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, as his habit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight grey road in front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly the summons reached him, and took him like an electric shock.
The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame


It occurs to me that all the literature of my childhood was about the same longing for home.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A window through which the winds of heaven blow...

A good article from our Ortho friends about why beauty in sacred art is an absolute requirement for the life of faith.

"Despite protestations to the contrary, it is not the icon which is so offensive to Gnostics and iconoclasts, it is the message which the icon represents which cannot be tolerated."

It's not the thing itself that the Soviets were so keen to burn, but the reality it represented. It is why Muslim militants destroy and forbid religious art.

The Sacred Icon - and as a Latin I would expand this to other forms of true sacred art - is an indispensable sign of incarnational religion. In our time, not creating sacred art is a form of idolatry:

"When a religion rejects images of God, it confirms the message that God is only a spirit, and that He has no physical body. Before the Incarnation, that was true. After the Incarnation, it is false, and is therefore, as false worship, idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping false gods, or worshipping the True God while misrepresenting Him."
Before the coming of Christ, the Jewish Temple signified God’s presence, and His people bowed down toward it. Before the Incarnation, it was impossible to make an image of the invisible God, a heavenly reality, without misrepresenting Him. Once, however, God became flesh in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, the invisible God became visible, the immaterial God was suddenly approachable. 

Pic from "Anglicans Ablaze"

Traditional iconography has been described to me as a kind of window onto heaven. The figures of Our Lord and Our Lady and the saints are always idealised, and always presented with exactly the same details to symbolise the absolute unchanging perfection of the life of the blessed in heaven. Heaven itself is symbolised by the colours, particularly the use of gold which never perishes or dulls.

The Icon is not a ‘holy picture’ designed to increase piety. Neither is an icon something spiritual in itself, as it does not depict “God” in general. The icon is a dogmatic expression of a theological truth. It is, therefore, not variable as artists would claim by ‘artistic license’ – a term I, as an artist, have always found to be a cop out for lack of talent or lack of vision.
Just as one cannot translate the Bible any old way one wishes to and still remain true to the text, one cannot paint an icon any old way one wishes to and still remain true to the prototype.


"Come higher up and further in!"

I've long been fascinated by the concept of a door or other opening between this world and another, better more magical, more significant world. It appears too many times to count in mythology and children's stories. I've described my own spiritual efforts with the metaphor of a lifelong search for the Door to Narnia. Many times Narnia uses this image of a magical door - that opens only at the will of Aslan and not yours - that allows you to leave this ordinary, uninteresting and unimportant world behind and go to spend time in the more real, more beautiful and often more perilous world of Narnia. This is a world where the stakes of life are incalculably higher because the Realness there is incalculably more real.

And if you get to go there, the more-realness of that world changes you to become more real yourself. The very air of Narnia has magical properties, bringing out the best, the bravest, strongest and most noble aspects of our characters, allowing you to achieve great feats of sacrifice and self-conquest. Once this air has worked on you for a while you are altered interiorly, making it possible for you to pursue the adventure that Aslan sends, whatever it may be and however difficult. And once you have been there and returned, you will never see this world the same way again - you will have been changed forever. Even if you fail, even if, as sometimes happens, you betray that change and try to forget it, even if you turn your back on it willingly to embrace the old world and the old you as you were before, it will never leave you. You will never be able to un-know what you know.

Lewis described the difference between that world and ours as being like looking at a beautiful scene though a screen door, and then someone opens the screen and all the details are sharper, the colours more vibrant. It is like the difference you see in a garden on a dull overcast day when the sun breaks through, and for a moment all is gleaming, the colours flash and every drop of rain becomes wonderful. Once you know it's there to be sought, you can't stay still, you can't be satisfied with even the beauties of this life. Like trying to be content to stay forever in the Wood Between the Worlds, a pretty enough place but where nothing ever happens and there's no reason for anything.

I suppose the idea of a magic window is similar, one you could put on your wall and look through and remind yourself what is and isn't real... Imagine what a window to heaven would be like. Or, if this is too difficult, imagine a magic window that would allow you to sometimes see through the barriers between the worlds, to catch a glimpse of the Narnian countryside. Maybe if you left that window open in your home, the Narnian wind could sometimes blow through, bringing its scents and magic with it.

You can't get through that window, not yet anyway, but you can at least look, you can gaze through and remember. And you can yearn. I would soon forget about everything else if I had one. Wouldn't you?

C.S. Lewis described the notion of "Joy" as this yearning, this intense longing that one feels all one's life after the merest glimpse of that other, more real place. Once you had seen it, even only for a moment, you would give up everything, every dull and colourless and pointless thing this world offered, to go and spend the rest of your life seeking it.

You could along the way perhaps sometimes lose the feeling of refreshment it gave you, and you could become distracted. But then you would be granted another glimpse, or even a scent that would bring the memory and the longing back as sharp and painful and sweet as before. Or it would come back to you in a dream and you would wake to find everything shiny and lovely in this world returned to its greyed and faded state and you would resume your search, distractions forgotten.

You would wander your whole life, attached to nothing because nothing in it ever came close to what you were seeking. The grandest waterfall, the sweetest fruit, the most delicate flower, would only serve to increase your longing for the more Real things in the more real place. The ripples of fields of summer wheat would only remind you of the wind in the Lion's mane.

We all  know the longing for home, because in a real sense we all leave our home when we are no longer children. That earthly home was the one that we could not have forever. But the yearning to return to it, as impossible as we know it is, is what will compel us forward. There is a home, but it's not here.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Spring in Umbria

First sunny day in a couple of weeks here. I should have realised it was going to be nice when I heard the wind that has blown away all the clouds.

I've got some deadlines to chase today, but thought I'd share some pics of the garden, and a few ideas I'm working on for the spring. (That is apparently happening right the heck now!)

I've become enamoured of the idea of creating a medieval herb and flower garden in what I can really no longer call The Big Dry Patch. Building beds is rough work though.

Annamaria has pruned her olive grove and there's a small mountain of olive cuttings that aren't doing anything. I've already started wattle fence experiments.

Gathering data for a series of articles - haven't decided where I'm going to flog them - on the concept in medieval mysticism of the "Hortus Conclusus" - the "garden enclosed". It shows up starting in the mid-14th century in the manuscripts, where Mary is often depicted sitting (frequently on a "turf bench") in a lovely garden, surrounded by all manner of flowers and animals, and often accompanied by ladies in waiting like a courtly medieval queen, entertained by minstrels. There's a lot to unpack.

Also gathering garden ideas. I'd like everything to be documentable from primary sources. Fortunately, there's a LOT of stuff uploaded, and the medievals seemed to really love painting their gardens into the manuscripts.

The turf bench shows up again and again in the manuscripts, most often set in front of a trellis with red or red and white roses. Apparently one was supposed to put on one's best clothes and go out in the summer and weave little bonnets with the roses. All very symbolic. I'm working out how to do a turf bench with the materials at hand.

Here's my first trellis, taken a few weeks ago. The side supports are an old wooden ladder that's lost its rungs. The space behind it is just the right size for a melon and squash patch. I'm planning another trellis, made of much sturdier materials, that will be an a-frame for the viney plants to climb. This will create some shade for things that like a bit of shade like lettuces.

New beds, lots of mulch to treat the clay soil and keep the water in when it gets hot; in the background are rows of brassicas in the orto (and Henry, guarding his territory from the farm cats). I got about 25 nice Romanesco broccolis - now all packed away in the freezer for summer - and still have some cauliflower and red cabbage to go. I've planted lots and lots of garlic too, as well as red onions and a few white ones. 

Everything looking a bit grim and grey this time of year, of course, but it's perfect weather for getting out and digging and building. Couldn't do it in the heat. 

Unfortunately, after the very bad drought and unusually hot summer, the loquat tree decided that autumn was spring, and produced all its flowers in November, which were subsequently killed by the frost. A few of the flowers that were a bit sheltered survived and there will be a little fruit. But droughts are bad for so many reasons. 

New beds to protect the beginning grape vines, all planted around with garlics. I'm only about half way done. You can see the big stack of tufa stones in the background along the base of the jasmine hedge. Got plans for all that. In front is my first go at making an obelisk trellis out of bamboo uprights and olive branch twists. It's for sweet peas.

 Here it is in the bed, and the sweet peas are all planted.

That beautiful black soil all comes bucket-by-bucket from Annamaria's family compost heap. It's got to be at least a hundred years old, and covers an area the size of three parking spaces. She's said I can help myself to as much as I like.

Pippy loves to help in the garden.

The apricot in blossom.

My neighbour Franco's almond tree blossoming as it towers above my still-bare fig tree.

Magnificent botanical accuracy in a detail from one tiny corner of the great Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck. You can clearly identify every species. So much research to do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's no wonder that Italian politics is the way it is.

Nosing about today into the local history of Umbria in the Spoleto-Perugia area, the big horseshoe valley of the Tiber.

My local village church, San Martino, was rebuilt in 1815, as were most of the parish churches of this area. It's a really lovely building, and of course was built in the same spot as the older church from the 13th century. But I wondered why that particular date and why all the rebuilding around here, since all the churches up and down the country road here were all about the same date and by the same architect.

As it turns out, there's a very sound historical reason. Of course, I live in what was once the Papal States. And that's kind of where the problem begins.

The history of the Church in Italy is not a happy one, and of course has a lot to do with the 1000 year conflict between the Pope and the Emperor, that spilled over into various iterations through the ages, culminating in the catastrophe of the secularist/freemasonic revolt of 1870 and the disastrous farce of unification, an artificial construct that has little actual social reality.

But as Rome and the Papal States flipped back and forth between rule by France, rule by Naples/Sicily, rule by the pope, like an oscillating sprinkler, there were brief moments of peace. One of these was at the end of French rule in this area, the département Trasimène (prefecture of Spoleto) ended in 1814. I expect after Napoleon had finished imposing his weird ideas of religion and the relations between Church and State, there wasn't much in the way of Catholic life left around here, so rebuilding was a way of reviving Catholic culture. Look particularly at the dates 1815: Rome changed hands three times in a single year. Hardly surprising that steps were taken in the provinces to try to establish some kind of ecclesial order.

Later in the 19th century the secularist Italian rulers had another go at the Church, in much the same way and for much the same reason as the English Dissolution: a kind of national possession of odium fidei...

Here is a little blurb about the decree of the governor Gioacchino Pepoli of 1860 in which all the convents and monasteries in this area were stripped of their possessions.

The Italian Suppression in 1866

With regard to the religious suppression decreed by the Italian Government in 1866, there is no specific mention in the Records of the Convent.

It is known from other sources, though, that the first decree of expulsion was issued by the High Commissioner of the Government, Gioacchino Pepoli on November 1th, 1860, after the occupation of the regions of Marche and Umbria. Such decree contained a clause which stated that all mendicant friars could remain in their cloisters of residence, provided that they expressed their intention to do so. They then provided to do such request. The definitive decree arrived nonetheless on July 7th, 1866.

Leafing through the Provincial Records in S. Maria degli Angeli, we have found a historic document sent to the General Ministry by the Provincial B. Stefano from Castelplanio, in 1882: “S. Antonio of Paccian Vecchio”, diocese of Città della Pieve – The Friars were expelled from this Convent as well, on March 24th, 1864”. The Church remained closed, and the building as well as its surroundings were rented to third parties.

Who was this Pepoli guy, and how could he have had the power to just wipe out Catholic religious life with the stroke of a pen?

This was the period of the beginning of the great disaster that Italy is still suffering from today. This comes from the 1935 (Mussolini-period) Italian Encyclopaedia...

Note the little ting of approval...

"Well accepted to Napoleon III, he was among the most valid cooperators with him to make him benevolent to Italian politics, especially to the Piedmontese one. Liberate the Romagne (1859) and appointed governor of them L. Cipriani, the P. assumed the posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finance, of which he was an expert connoisseur. Member of the Romagne assembly, governor of Umbria, when he was occupied (September 1860) by the Italian government, he administered the region with wisdom..."

The blurb comes from the historical notes of a former Franciscan convent that is now a swank agritourismo near Trasimeno (a common fate of many, many monasteries and convents in Italy, and increasingly so...)
The Convent of Sant’Antonio of Padua Pacciano Vecchio, situated in the diocese of Città della Pieve, dates back to 1496. Its construction was authorised on July 16 that year by Pope Alexander VI, addressing the inhabitants of Pacciano Vecchio and Panicale. He affirmed the importance of this authorization based on the need of the presence of priests who would spread God’s Word and celebrate the Holy Misteries. He therefore gave his permission to build the Convent (“which would have the indulgencies and privileges of all other churches”) with a Church -consecrated to Saint Antonio of Padua- a bell tower, the cemetery, a dormitory, a refectory, a cloister, vegetable gardens and the smithery.

There is a Memorial, found in the Parish Archives of Panicale which says: “The Convent of the Fathers of Sant’Antonio of Paccian Vecchio was founded at the expenses of people from Panicale and Pacciano in 1496, in the site of the prisons of the County of Pacciano Vecchio, granted by the Counts Baglioni”.

It's no wonder that Italian politics is the way it is. They've had hundreds of years of this or that foreign or domestic ideological power declaring itself to be the rulers of this country. It's not surprising that the ordinary people have developed their unique Italian form of mental stoicism, a kind of aggressive indifference to politics at the national and international level, and the instinct to simply ignore the larger issues and preserve the family and one's private holdings, to be concerned exclusively with the local area, to protect the local interests.

It is also enlightening to see where the current suppression of the Catholic Faith within the Church's own institutions came from. It was, of course, in part the work of Modernist and Neo-Modernist theologians mainly from northern Europe. But a study could be usefully made of how the anti-clerical and secularist suppressions of the 19th century affected the situation in Italy, France and Germany to generate a kind of episcopal hopelessness, a sort of culture of ecclesiastical despair in response to the apparently unending stream of catastrophes of the modern period in Europe.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Christus mansionem benedicat

Monache Agostiniane d'Urbino

Yes, sorry. I know I've been away a long time. Just found this lovely little video from Italian TV series "I passi del silenzio" - Footsteps of silence. It's a series of one hour videos showing a single day in the life of a monastery, with interviews. Beautifully shot, and if you have even a little Italian, very uplifting. I was surprised to hear them chanting the Magnificat at Vespers in Latin using the Chant.

I actually went up to Norcia for the Christmas weekend. It turned into five days in all, and was wonderful, though at first very painful and difficult. It was the first time I've been up since going to the house to fetch out my belongings, and the first time since the quake that I've been there just to be there, and not for "business" reasons. I wanted to make a proper retreat of it, and the monks very kindly allowed me to attend many of the Offices, including the whole thing on Christmas eve. From 1st Vespers then a break for a quick bit of dinner and a couple of good stout coffees to fuel the marathon, to Matins that started at 8pm and went straight through to Midnight Mass, then Laudes afterwards. We few who made it all the way through were there until 2:30 am.

The glorious experience of the Christmas Eve liturgy also cemented something in my soul. I feel as though my lines had finally been re-secured, to use a nautical image, that had been flapping wildly in a storm for over a year. This was the thing that remains deep in my heart after everything; that particular form of intimate communication with God in the liturgy of the Office. At once so intimidating and so enticing, a paradox. The incredible intensity of joy and the enormity of the silence, the not-about-you-ness of it is something close to terrifying.

After I got home, the innernet was off for a week or so, and I was happy to let it stay off for a bit and have a little in-house retreat. I've been given Isaiah to read along with the Office, and it's dense and intense, like 70% dark chocolate. You have to read very, very slowly, and something strange starts to happen when you do. Your perceptions of things alters in ways that are hard to describe. After a week or ten days of not much more than Isaiah, the Psalms and some sewing and housework, the din and clamour of the world - especially the frantic yammering of the internet - seems to become mostly irrelevant. It was hard to put it back on again.

Suddenly being face to face with the Living God without distractions, made me start to understand why people often flee from their vocations. We like our lives to be trivial & superficial, unchallenging and "normal". But we are no judge at all of what "normal" really is.

This world, and this life, is what we know. It's what we imagine we can control & understand. But only because of how small and limited we are. That whole vasty reality of God's is something we just don't want in our little house. We fear He won't fit, like a lion whose nose barely makes it into the door and whose shoulders could shake apart the whole house. The merest whisper of this titanic reality is more than we can bear. So we retreat and run.

It's a terrible thing, but it's the reason why I would prefer to watch Big Bang Theory and Star Wars videos on YouTube than be alone with the Lord God of Hosts. Thank God He never gives up chasing us, no matter how hard we try to avoid Him.

O Lord, increase my faith in You.

Some Norcia holiday pics.

Dolcezze, everyone's favourite pastry shop, re-opened in time for Christmas after months of renovation. One of only about 30 businesses still open or re-opened in Norcia.

... including the blessed Norcia pizza take-away. Best I've ever had, and an immensely cheering and encouraging sight to see when almost nothing else in the centro was open.

Norcia cows.

From the agritourismo on the hill next to the monastery, looking down to town and toward the valley entrance. Weather was very changeable, sunny, foggy, raining, brilliant clear nights and some wind. Never dull.

There were mornings, especially in November, when you would look out the window and see the fog settled into the valley looking like a huge bowl of milk.

They don't see many people that high up on the mountain at this time of year. All eyes were on us on our little hikes.

The trail leading up to the road from the Tana dei Lupi agritourismo. Fun early in the morning, but too dangerous at night. Fallen oak leaves covering big loose stones, but also at night lots of wolves, wild boar and other night hunters and gatherers. Good fun early in the beautiful mornings though.

On the way to Terce, a good stiff climb first thing in the morning.

The new chapel in monte.

The monks' presepio on Christmas morning.

What "crollate" means. This was one of the fanciest houses in town, next door to the monastery on the hill.

For just a few minutes before I had to go get on the bus, it was nice to feel normal again. Thank God the Seneca was not damaged.

And back at home, Pippy enjoying the wood stove in the kitchen in his inimitable way.

And over the front door. I've never done it before. Thanks Jamie for such a good explanation.

Christus mansionem benedicat.



Thursday, December 07, 2017

O Magnum Mysterium

This was the first piece of sacred polyphony I ever sang in a choir.

Doing this, you forget everything earthly. For just a moment, no worldly thing matters. No worldly thing even exists.


Monday, December 04, 2017

You don't have to garden like they tell you

Here's an article by a guy who turned his front garden into a little wildflower paradise. He lives in one of those villages in England where everyone told him to pave over his front garden to create "extra parking". They literally think it's a good idea to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

So many people see front gardens as a utility area. How many front gardens really are 'gardens' any more?

Drive through villages, towns and especially cities, and you will more than likely be greeted by row after row of paved over, gravelled over, or even tarmac covered unattractive car parks, resembling the complete opposite of a true garden.

Despite the fact that many of us now have several cars per household, meaning that extra space for a vehicle on the front comes in handy, we need to view front gardens as we used to; a space that is green and nice to look at, catches rainwater and boosts wildlife habitat in the places we live.

For five years, at my previous home, I jumped at the chance of creating a show piece wildlife garden at the front of the property, knowing full well how many heads it would turn in a village where people keep things 'neat and tidy'.

You don't have to live like they tell you. And you don't have to garden that way either.

I've been slowly - bucketful by bucketful - building raised flower and veg beds on the Big Dry Patch since the weather turned. The soil here is really heavy, sticky clay that has serious drainage and compaction issues, so each bed gets dug out, bordered by upright terracotta roofing tiles that we have a mountain of, and filled in with a combination of Annamaria's beautiful, black composted earth, a bit of the clay soil and buckets full of half-composted material from my own compost heap. Then they get planted it with various bibs and bobs as each one gets finished, then the whole thing sprinkled generously with white clover seed, and topped with leaf mulch. I've bought several tins of white clover as a ground cover to help inject some nitrogen into the soil and provide a "green manure" to till back into the soil in the spring.

I bought about 30 daffodil bulbs, since they're far and away my favourite flower. In the beds are red onions, little white spring onions and about 20 garlic plants, as well as a couple of little starter bedding plants of thyme (one regular and one lemon) and a lavender, and I moved my day lilies from the balcony into the bed where they can spread (but I liked them on the terrace outside the kitchen window so much I might have to go find some more). I'm happy to say that the cime di rapa, coriander and other brassicas I put in in September have laughed derisively at the attempts of the frosts to kill them.

But best of all, I've got a whole box full of various wildflower seeds I mostly collected on my stomps around Norcia. When the beds are ready all you have to do is sprinkle them on the surface and cover with leaf mulch. One of the abandoned farm houses (yes, it's a thing in Italy and there are lots of them) is surrounded by hollyhocks that were very prolific, so I've got several jars of these lovelies. Others are blue Nigella Damascena, white and red campion, sunflowers, poppies and wild chamomile and all manner of lovely things.

It's going to be a flowery spring.