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Apparently I have not mentioned it before, but not long ago I purchased a copy of Second Friends: C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation by Fr. Milton Walsh.  In essence, Fr. Walsh lines up side by side Lewis’ and Knox’s beliefs on a variety of topics within the Christian Faith, illustrating this comparison with excerpts from and references to the two men’s own writings.  Knox and Lewis only met each other once, but each was quite pleased with the other.  And as it turns out, they had quite a good bit in common when it came to theological matters.  I would highly recommend this book to anybody.

One of the effects of reading this book – apart from helping me with my own meditations, of course – is that I am finding myself scooping up as much of the source material as I can (if I don’t already own it, that is).  So far since beginning to read Second Friends, I’ve acquired Knox’s Captured Flames and A Few Loose Stones plus Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress.  I would also like to find Knox’s A Spiritual Aeneid, but it seems that one can’t get a used copy of this and the recently reissued new edition is a bit on the pricey side.

Have I said lately, by the way, that Msrg. Knox is rapidly becoming one of my very favorite religious writers?  It’s true.  Practically everything he touches on – from his own swimming of the Tiber to his commentary on kindly but ill-judged attempts to water down Christianity to make it more “appealing” to a greater number of people – has me figuratively flapping my arms about and saying, “Yes, YES!  Exactly!!”  And as for his style of delivery – well, all I can say is that anyone who can explain St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Proofs in a manner that I can not only understand but can repeat….well, he gets the Robbo Seal of Approval hands down.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers (that is, if any of you are still about)!

As you may gather if you’re reading this, ol’ Robbo is back home after a week’s worth of travel.  To southern Arizona, in fact.  Tucson, specifically.  And since I suspect that the reason you stop by here in the first place is to read exactly the kind of post I’m about to write, please allow me to record a few impressions of my time there:

♦  My first and overriding impression of the landscape of the valleys of southern Arizona is that they resemble the surface of the Moon with a thin spread of scrub brush over it: long stretches of sand, dust and rock in all directions, with clusters of jagged, steep mountain scattered about, some of them close by and others way off in the distance.  It is, frankly, beautiful in its own way, but it’s a harsh, savage beauty that is, as they say, nice to visit but not conducive of thoughts of Home.

♦    My second impression, akin to the first, was to wonder why in Heaven’s name anybody would want to live there.  One afternoon when I had a bit of time, I sauntered over to the local Historickal Society museum to see if I could find an answer to this question.   And the answer seems to have be that prior to the advent of modern environmental technology, nobody wanted to, they just had to.

Apparently, the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the region were a tribe called the Hohokam.  And if you think this continent was populated by peacefully co-operating bands of Noble Savages who shared all the gifts of the Great Father with each other on a routine basis, you can start smoking something else:  These people didn’t live hand to mouth in the desert just because they thought the sun was good for their complexion or because they wanted to limit their carbon footprint, they did it because the Apaches who lived in the more hospitable parts of the mountains to the east had a habit of routinely beating the crap out of them.   And speaking of Rousseauian Paradises, the museum also had some information about the intricate irrigation system developed by the Hohokam in order to sustain their agriculture.  What it didn’t mention – and what I only recalled vaguely until I came home and looked it up -was the fact that the Hohokam managed to wipe themselves out by the middle of the 1400’s with this same irrigation system through its unintended salinization of their fields.  (There is a fascinating chapter on this in Shepard Kretch’s The Ecological Indian, in case you’re interested in the matter.)  Indeed, it doesn’t even seem to be a matter of general knowledge that the Hohokam disappeared at all – most of the folks I talked to used that name to describe the Indians living in the region both before and after European arrival.  I gather this is not accurate, the more recent tribes being the Akimal O’Odham and the Pee Posh.  (They still live there, by the way, on the Gila River Reservation, which I drove through owing to a bad bus crash that closed the interstate.)

I don’t mention all of this in order to be unduly harsh about the Indians, by the bye, just to emphasize the point that this part of the country is just damned inhospitable.

Eventually the Spanish showed up, of course.  The Tucson area was the ass-end of the northern part of their Empire and they felt compelled to construct a presidio (Presidio San Augustín del Tucson, built in 1775) in order to guard both the local Indians from Apache raids and their own territorial claim from, well, whoever else they supposed might saunter in and try to jump it.  Of course, the Jesuits were there, too, doing what Jesuits do: the first of them, Eusebio Fracisco Kino, founded a mission nearby in 1700 in order to convert the locals.

However, the thing that seems to have promoted any real interest in the area at all up until the advent of climate-control, mass transportation and Yankee snow-birds, was the ore to be found in the region’s mountains, primarily copper and silver.   There was a steady stream of miners into the area that never really let up – Indians, Spaniards and  Americans.  The museum had a lot of photographs of these people from the mid-1800’s going forward that I thought would be extremely educational for sniffy arm-chair liberals to contemplate the next time they start gassing on about the social inequities of the frontier (the museum had its own obligatory section about racism and discrimination), and which reenforced my point: It was a hard place and a very hard life, and only very hard people or people who didn’t have any other choice were going to show up there and try to make a go of it.  Ugly? Certainly.  But frankly, that’s the case with most of Mankind’s history.  What the hell else could you really expect?

As I stood mulling over a group photo of some hombres sitting around in a saloon in the 1870’s, I was reminded again of something that has always irritated me exceedingly:  Back in the day when “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman” was on teevee (I never actually watched it), they used to run radio ads plugging the show.  One of the voice-overs in the ad about this Strong Woman’s life on the Frontier was of some fellah with a sing-songy, Mr. Rogers-like voice, saying, “It’s the wonderful di-ver-sity that makes this place so special.”   The historickally-fraudulent smarminess of that line always made my toes curl involuntarily.   And as I thought of it again, I couldn’t help reflecting that if somebody had actually walked into the saloon in this photo and said something like that to the real frontiersmen in it, he’d be mighty lucky just to get off with a lynching.

Well, anyway.  Times have changed.  The place (well, at least the part that I saw) is dominated now by a military airbase and the University of Arizona.  It was rayther coo-el to watch the A-10 Warthogs flying about, with the odd F-16 or C-130 thrown in.  Made you think you were getting your money’s worth.   On the other hand, my hotel was right on the edge of the university’s campus.  Kids today:  they’re young.  And shameless.  In case you’re interested, the dominant fashion amongst the young ladies seems to be extremely skin-tight jeans and high, leather boots, capped off to the north by either more or less, depending I suppose on the individual’s confidence in her, ah, assets.  [Mrs. R: “Senex! Come away from that house of shame this instant!”  Self: “Oh, but Dear – I was just standing here saying, “Shame…..shame.”]

♦  On a whim, I decided to dial up some musick with a local flavor on the radio as I drove about.  Thus, I came across Station KNAI, 88.3 FM, in Phoenix, known apparently as La Campesina.  I believe the style of the musick is what is known as Norteño – a specialized Northern Mexican genre of mostly waltzes and polkas, usually played by strings with an accordian fronting them, and sometimes including brass (or, more often than not, cheezy synthesized brass that sounds quite vile).   The singers were all men – I didn’t hear a single female vocalist – and all seemed perfectly willing to sacrifice accuracy of delivery in the name of what I can only describe as bully-boy crooning.   This is, in fact, peasant musick, and not very far out the barn door yet.  (I’m not being condescending, btw.)  It was quite refreshing to listen to at first (as a local alternative to the mainstream stuff coming out of Los Angeles or Nashville), but it soon seemed that the station’s playlist didn’t last more than about 45 minutes:  I swear I heard the same song multiple times within a few hours, and that’s not just because it all started to sound alike after a while.

♦  Finally, given my well-documented phobia, no doubt you’re asking yourself how I handled the five hour flights back and forth between Phoenix and home.  Well, I’ll tell you.  On the way out I sat next to an old guy, a retired radiologist in fact, who was both a history buff and a licensed pilot himself.  We chatted the entire way, mostly about the Civil War, and the time went like a snap.  (Why is it that I communicate with people thirty or forty years older than me with such ease and yet can’t seem to keep a conversation going with my own contemporaries much past, “Hi.”  The Mothe says it’s a typical oldest child characteristic.)  Coming back, on what was a pretty bumpy flight, I didn’t speak to anyone, but buried myself in my crosswords, one hand clutching the arm-rest throughout.  When we touched down, the woman sitting next to me said, “You don’t like flying very much, do you.”  I had to smile because I suddenly remembered that line from Airplane! when Ted Stryker is sitting next to the old woman before take-off:

O.W.:  Nervous?

Stryker: Yes.  A little.

O.W. (reassuringly):  First time?

Stryker:  No, I’ve been nervous before.

Ba-DUMP-Bah!

UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to mention two things.  One was that I have nothing to say about the local food.  As a rule, I hate eating by myself in public, so usually on these trips I just confine myself to room service.  The other was that on the whole, I found the folks there to be friendly and very laid-back.  Whether this is just the type of person likely to gravitate toward such a place, or whether they’re like that because of the ten months per year of mind-boggling heat, I couldn’t say.

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