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I interrupt my Lenten posting to bring you news of life at the ball park.  

I find myself this morning with a list of 106 gels, ages between 7 and 11, complete with tryout stats, style commentaries, team-mate and practice schedule preferences and other data.  I also find myself with a four page memo about the draft rules, complete with arcane expressions like “snake draft” and complex regulations regarding managers’ and coaches’ options to draft their own kids and the status of draftee siblings.

Tomorrow night I have to pick twelve or thirteen gels out of this rigamarole and begin to turn them into a AAA softball team.  I also have to figure out eftsoons when I’m going to hold practices – in theory the fields open up next week, but the weather is unlikely to cooperate.  Nonetheless, the requests are first come, first serve and if I don’t move fast, I’ll find myself holding practices at 2:00 A.M. on the Beltway median.

On top of all that, I’m beginning to become worried about the subject of coaches.  At practices, I want ideally to be running two or three different drills out on the field, plus have the pitchers and catchers working together separately.  I have been hoping all along that I can dragoon some parents in to help out (as was the case with our team last fall), but I have a sneaking suspicion that some other folks have already got formal coaching staffs lined up.

What on earth have I got myself into?

When I said yesterday that I didn’t have that many indulgences to begin with and therefore that finding something to give up would be a bit difficult, I confess that I fibbed just a tad.  One of the means by which I habitually get through the day is to have my radio on in the car and the office, tuned to the local classickal station.   I turned it off for Lent last year and found myself missing it a great deal, even if technically speaking it was largely background noise.  After having thought it over, I’ve decided to take the same measure again this year.

However, as far as sitting down and listening to musick in a serious way in the evenings, I’ve decided not to cut that out.  (Truth be told, the last few months I haven’t really listened formally to much musick anyway.)  However, for the season, I plan to stick strictly to spiritual works.  (Was it not Augustine who said that he who sings prays twice?)

monteverdi-vespersTo this end, I’ve got a fairly large stack of works to get through, including a lovely recording the Monteverdi 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine and an outstanding collection of monteverdi-duets1Monteverdi duets and solos by Emma Kirby and Evelyn Tubb.

I’ve also got this powerhouse awaiting a suitable reflective moment:

bach-st-matthew The Bach St. Matthew Passion.  Regular readers of a musickal bent probably will pelt me with rocks and garbage for having put on airs up to this point when I confess that I have never actually even heard this work performed before!  I bought this CD some time last fall after reading rave reviews of it and have been saving it up for a special occassion.

handel-messiahThen there is Handel’s Messiah.  Don’t let the usual Christmas association fool you: Only the first part of the oratorio deals with Jesus’ birth – the full production goes right through his life, death and resurrection.  Indeed, if memory serves, the first performance of The Messiah took place at Easter in Dublin.

haydn-mass-time-war Another piece I intend to come back to is Haydn’s Missa In Tempore Belli, written at the height of the Napoleonic War.  I am trying out a new recording here, featuring the outstanding English Baroque Soloists under the direction of John Eliot Full-of-Himself.   A funny story about this piece:  Back in college I had a cassette of it recorded by some Soviet bloc orchestra and chorus.  I would swear that the chorus was using a Classical Latin pronunciation, not a Church Latin one.  I often wondered if this was required by the censors to keep the thing strictly a work of art and not let it get contaminated by religious cooties.

Well anyway, that’s just some of the musick I intend to listen to.  Any other suggestions – particularly from earlier periods – would be greatly appreciated.  In particular, I’ve been meaning to get into some Thomas Tallis and really don’t know where to start.

The Anchoress has posted her Lenten reading suggestions, prompting me to put up my own intended list here.  You must understand that between work, commuting and home duties, I don’t have enormous amounts of time on my hands, so I am trying to be realistic about the number of books I can actually get through between now and Easter.  (I know that there’s no rule that says a book started for Lent must be finished in Lent, but I am neurotic enough to try for such a goal.)

Anyhoo, here’s what I have in store:

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  I once started highlighting quotes in this book but had to give it up because I found myself highlighting everything.

An Introduction to Christianity and Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI.  I’ve not read the former yet.  The latter is superb.

The Confessions by St. Augustine.  His is one of my patrons, after all, and this book has become something of a Lenten tradition for me.

The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  Always good to keep an eye on what’s going on in the enemy’s camp.  I also hope to start The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe with the nine year old very shortly, as she and Mrs. R are almost done with the Little House series.

A Short History of Thomism by Romanus Cessario.  I forget who recommended this to me, but I bought it some time back with the idea of reading it now.  I know enough of Aquinas to admire him (and indeed, to select him as another of my patrons) but not enough to articulate what it is that I admire in words.  Seems silly, but I’m going largely on faith and trust here.  I may also reread Chesterton’s The Dumb Ox as well.

The New Testament – KJV.  I understand that my beloved KJV is at least tolerated by Rome, so until the Vatican says cut it out, I will do my personal reading from that one.

As I say, the list is fairly short.  But it’s no good reading a book if I’m just going to fly through it at lightning speed and not take anything in.

Of course, I’m always open to other suggestions, so feel free to comment away!


No posting from me today other than this one.

As I sat in Mass this morning listening to the homily, I found myself thinking of my soul in terms of the Augean Stables (which violently incongruous pagan metaphor I sincerely hope will be forgiven by my friends of the Cloth).  Time to reach for a navigable river and start dealing with things in earnest.   Mom routinely lectures me about not being so hard on myself, but especially on this day I simply can’t stop thinking that I’m not hard enough.

Somebody asked me the other day what Lenten observances I was planning and, more specifically, what I was planning to give up.  I had to think about that one for a while.  The truth of the matter is that I have very few personal indulgences left, especially now that I’ve been requested and required to give up the gargle.   So this year I’m going to accentuate the proactive instead:  more reading and reflection and prayer at home, more charity out in the world.

As for blogging, no I don’t plan to stop.  But I am going to limit or cut out the more frivolous sort of posting and concentrate instead on, well, reflections like this one.   If you’re interested in the inner workings of what passes in Robbo as spiritual thought, stick around.  If not, make a note to come back after April 12.

mendelssohn In case you were not aware, this month is the bicentennial of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn.  (His actual birthday was February 3.)

While I’m not sure that I would pull out my bag o’ superlatives to describe Mendelssohn’s musick, I am still nonetheless fond of some of it.  I also hold Mendelssohn in considerable esteem for the work he did to reignite interest in the musick of J.S. Bach.  I further like him because he bucks the Romantic Artiste stereotype by having been happy, prosperous and popular.

At any rate, in celebration of this anniversary, the local classickal radio station has been going heavy on the Mendelssohn playlist all month.  Among the orchestral pieces, they seem especially to be favoring his Symphony No. 3 in A minor, known as the “Scottish” Symphony.

I don’t mind this bias in the least because if put to it I would have to say that the “Scottish” is my favorite of all his symphonies.  Conversely, when I was a yoot I used to be a big fan of his “Italian” Symphony – No. 4 in A Major.  Now I really can’t stand it.

On occassion I attempt (rayther feebly) to play some of Mendelssohn’s keyboard works.  In particular I enjoy his Rondo Cappriccioso.    There is also a little A minor (I think) scherzo that I like to mess with which makes a cameo in, of all things, The Wizard of Oz.  (It accompanies the bit where Toto is getting away from the Witch’s castle.)

edgar-muller-chasm Whoa.  The Telegraph is running a series of photos of the 3-D street art of one Edgar Müller.

This technique apparently is known as anamorphism, which the online dictionary defines as “a distorted projection or perspective; especially an image distorted in such a way that it becomes visible only when viewed in a special manner.”   I have to admit that just looking at the photo makes me a bit nervous on behalf of the painter.

According to the Telegraph slide show, the technique has been known since the Middle Ages and has been used by numerous famous painters including Michaelangelo and Da Vinci.

Truth is that this reminds me most of the old gag in the Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons where the Coyote would paint a simulated road tunnel on a cliff face.  Of course, the Roadrunner would blaze right through it, and of course, when the Coyote tried to follow him, he’d smash up against the hard rock.  Seconds later, as he lay in agony, a bus or truch would come flying out of the “tunnel” and mess him up even further.

(And to those who would say that I am a mere Philistine for allowing Art to remind me of cartoons, I would reply that no, I am a student of the way in which the best cartoons borrow concepts straight out of Art.)

(Like the festive fonts? No yellow, I’m afraid, because you can’t see it on the white background.)

I really don’t have any Fat Tuesday plans this year.  I may or may not get away from work early enough to drop in on the tail end of the pancake supper being cooked by the eldest gel and her youth group friends for parishioners over at RFEC, but aside from that I suppose I’ve simply got too old to whoop it up before the onset of Lent.

Every year, I recall to myself what happened my first year of law school.  A classmate of mine, who hailed from Noo Awlins, invited a bunch of people over for some home-made jambalaya.  Even now, all these years later, my mouth starts to burn in memory of teh hot that I put into it that evening.  Dayum, it was gooood, though!  Later, a group of us went down to the then-only bar in the entire town of Metro-Lex, Virginny.  There, we got the bartender to concoct a drink we called the “Generals’ Crewe”, a layering of purple, yellow and green liquors, the actual names of which I can no longer recall. I also cannot recall how many I had, but I do remember that the final bill was stupendous.

The whole evening I had a nagging feeling that, instead of being out partying, I really should have stayed in swotting up my Crim Pro reading for the next morning.  Roger Groot, the professor (now, sadly, deceased) who taught the course and was known as the “Groot Monster”, was a big, tough, ex-Marine Corp JAG country boy who did not suffer fools or layabouts gladly.  He was famous for singling out one or two students per class session and making their lives pure hell, and being called on by him hung like the Sword of Damocles over all of us.  For some reason, I got it into my head that evening that I was going to get nailed the next morning.  And damme if I didn’t.  (I suppose in retrospect that he was actually rayther lenient on me, since all he did when I failed to answer adequately was to give me a look and move on to someone else.  Those who really angered him were often subjected to shotgun-like personal critiques.)

The other Mardi Gras memory I have is of being in Mobile, Alabama on Ash Wednesday the year after Katrina hit Noo Orleans.  Mobileans are very tetchy on the subject of Mardi Gras celebrations, claiming that they started having them first, but that the folks from Louisiana pinched their idea and exploited it.  Because of the hurricane damage that year, however, Mobile was able to snag a lot of people who would otherwise have gone to New Orleans.

Wandering around downtown Mobile the morning after, I was simply dumbstruck by the aftermath.  It was utterly disgusting and the only thing that kept the stench from knocking me flat was the fact that there was a keen northwesterly wind whipping through.

I’d like to do more by way of celebration next year, I think.  Perhaps the weekend before we should join in on the tradition of baking King Cakes.  It looks both fun and tasty.

I just finished reading Malcolm Bradbury’s Eating People Is Wrong, a satiric treatment of academic liberalism set on a provincial Brit campus in the 50’s.

Because it is that kind of book, EPIW is compared inevitably to Kinsley Amis’ Lucky Jim.  And because of their similarities, I found myself doing more or less the same thing as I read along.  In the end, although I believe Amis was a superior writer in terms of use of language, I think I preferred Bradbury’s take.  Despite all the glowing reviews I had heard in the past, I found Lucky Jim to be rayther, well, dull when I finally came to read it a few months back.  Mom reports that when it first came out, what propelled its popularity was its shock value.  Given the times in which we live, what caused people to gasp fifty odd years ago simply invokes a shrug and a yawn now (at least from me). On the other hand, Bradbury’s theme of the bewilderment of fuzzy-headed professors and students in the face of Reality is much more enduring.

All of this put me in mind of the question of what an academic satire would or should look like these days.  Of course I’ve read Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, but frankly, I think it wasn’t one of his best novels, the sledgehammer being employed too often in the place of the scalpel.   Also, its main focus was on the students, not so much the professors.  On the other hand, Modern Academia is such a parody of itself that I’m not sure whether an author could come up with anything to top it.

I was pretty proud of myself for the way in which I deftly managed my schedule yesterday, especially as I was still discombobulated from my travel of a few days before (which always throws me).

♦   First stop was RFEC, where it was “Jazz Sunday”.  As I’ve mentioned in previous years, it is the practice of my former rector on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday to bring in a jazz combo (with himself on the drums) and have us sing them old tyme spirituals instead of the usual fare of 18th and 19th Century hymns.  As I’ve also said many times before, I find the whole concept of a gang of well-healed, upper middle class suburban whites singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” to be rayther tacky.  So aside from “Amazing Grace”, I simply kept my mouth shut and smiled thinly.

However, I had particular reason to be there, apart from the whole family unity policy.  For one thing, the 5th grade class was handling the Old Testament reading about Elisha succeeding Elijah, and the eldest gel had bagged the former part.  I think she was selected for the forcefulness with which she kept telling the sons of the prophets warning about Elijah’s impending exit to pipe down.    For another, the nine year old’s youth choir sang the Offeratory Anthem.  The gel is rapidly becoming a leader in this group, and when her eyes start sparkling and she decides to let rip, her voice is quite distinct among the general hubbub.  It is a real treat to watch and hear.

♦   After the Offeratory was over, I slipped out in order to dash over to a neighboring school, where was being held the final day of softball try-outs.  The past couple sessions, I’ve been sitting with the other AAA managers.  The atmosphere is considerably less intense than it is with the major league sharks, and I’m beginning to sense that I’m going to have a lot of fun working with them.  Our draft is next Sunday, so hopefully I’ll be able to start getting my team organized very shortly.  As I was leaving, I was accosted in the hall by the mom of one of the AAA players, who immediately started lobbying about how nice it would be for her daughter to be on my team, especially as the girl sings in the choir at RFEC with my nine year old.  She also started offering helpful hints about all the wonderful training drills last year’s coach had devised.  On the one hand, I’m inclined to try and nab this girl both because I know her and because I think she’ll be good.  On the other, I’m not so sure I want such a self-advertised fussbudget hovering around behind me.   I suppose it’s just one of those things that goes with the position.  (Good thing we get paid the big money.  What? We don’t? Hey, waaait a minute…….)

♦  Because this was just a make-up session, try-outs ended at 11:30.  This gave me enough time to collect myself and dash over to my own Church in time for the Latin Mass.  The musick was by Palestrina this time and, in all fairness, although it was perfectly fine, it did not move me half as much as I thought it might.  Go figure.

As I stood in line to get up to the altar, I suddenly realized that a couple places in front of me Father S was having a whispered argument with some fellah over whether or not he should receive Communion.  I couldn’t quite get what the fellah was saying, but I could hear Father S whispering, “This is the way we do things in the Catholic Church….”  In the end, he refused.  I thought the fellah was going to spring at him.  What would be the etiquette in such a situation? To come to the aid of the Cloth?  Or to stand staring into space and pretending nothing was happening? (I should mention that Father S is a muscular young man with whom I would certainly not want to tangle.  I imagine he could have taken care of himself perfectly well without my help.)

♦  Thus, a whoooole lot of livin’ packed in and, as I say, I came through it with flying colors.  It was only in the early evening, as I sat in the bleachers watching the gels’ swim team practice, that I found myself dozing off.

Emily Karrs reviews the new 3-D stop-action animation movie Coraline:

Coraline is trapped in a world of uninteresting people who are uninterested in her. Her mother and father spend their days catatonic in front of their computers in their home offices, and her neighbors prattle on about themselves without even bothering to learn that her name isn’t “Caroline.”

Then, one day, she finds a secret door into the world of her dreams. Inside this Other House, the chief occupation of her Other Mother and Other Father is searching for ways to please her, her toys leap to life to entertain her, and everyone knows her name. The Other Mother, a precise copy of Mrs. Jones but for her paper-white skin and black button eyes, invites Coraline to sew a set of buttons over her own eyes and take her place at the locus of this Coraline-centric universe.

Our heroine discovers that this fulfillment of her desire for attention and adventure comes at a price, and the price becomes increasingly apparent as she runs at needlepoint from the Other Mother. The Other Mother never intended to accept any answer but “yes” to her invitation. Coraline’s dream world deteriorates into a nightmare.

And so Neil Gaiman explores every corner of what it means to dream. He delves into the varied fruits of our daydreams—the power of wishing and the agony of a wish come true. The Coraline we are introduced to at the novel’s opening pines for adventure and attention. Yet the eerily wonderful world to which she journeys causes her to exclaim, “I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?” Coraline lives out the maxim of St. Teresa of Avila: “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”

My lot saw the movie over the weekend.  (I did not.) I don’t know whether they picked up on the underlying theme or not, but I do know that the film, in their words, “totally freaked them out.”  The thing is billed as a “family film” and I don’t believe anyone was expecting it to be as dark as it turned out.


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February 2009