Monday, January 28, 2008
One of the films we saw this weekend was There Will Be Blood. The movie intrigued me in two ways.
The first was because of Eli Sunday, the character who was setting up his own church (played by Paul Dano). Watching the way the church developed around Eli’s personality made me think about the changes in religion over the last one hundred years. Eli didn’t have to go through any Committee on Ministry to legitimize his call or worry about getting someone’s permission to set up a new congregation. The people of Little Boston had very little concern for whether or not what Eli was teaching was orthodox as long as he provided charismatic preaching and healing. The film was an interesting chance to reflect on the pluses and minuses of modern mainline Protestantism. Today while individual parishes may be influenced by the personalities of their pastors, the uniqueness and quirkiness of Eli’s congregation rarely exists anymore because of our connectionalism (both in terms of denominationalism and communication technologies).
But even more intriguing was the acting of Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis stays in character for the entire period (often months) during which the film is being shot. He immerses himself in the time period of the film and the character’s life, spending his days and nights in the way that they character would have. The effect is clear in the vivid, powerful way the character—in this case Daniel Plainview- is brought to life on the screen. Day-Lewis’ way of preparing by becoming his character made me reflect on styles of learning. We’ve known for years that experiencing things rather than just passively learning about them. But short immersion trips to places like Plymouth Plantation, Williamsburg, Vesuvius or Ostia Antica—while upping the educational experience beyond what people would have from just reading about the time periods—don’t quite seem enough. Neither do the more modern forays into such experiences that Second Life and other virtual worlds are providing. Yes, I can go to Second Life and step into ancient
Friday, January 25, 2008
Now that I've got all three of my spring courses set to go , I've begun to think about the new philosophy course that I may be teaching this summer. The description of the course material will be something like this:
What makes us human? Is it our minds, our emotions, our genetic makeup, or something else? Are humans different in any way from animals and androids (like Commander Data in Star Trek Next Generation)? What are human rights and who should be protected by them? How is our individual human identity embodied in virtual worlds and online games? What impact will genetic technology, with the possibilities of human enhancement and cloning technology, have on human identity and embodiment? This course will use movies, online communities (like Second Life), reading (both popular and scholarly), and discussions to explore these and other issues raised by recent and developing technologies.The course will probably be divided into four areas of material:
1. What makes us human--looking at standard western and eastern philosophical views, as well as issues of personal identity;
2. Humans, animals, and androids-- focusing on human rights and who should have them
3. Humans in virtual worlds-- looking at issues of disembodiment, "trying on", avatars as human reflection, and human rights in virtual communities of various kinds
4. Humans and biotechnology- Will genetic technology change the definition of human and, if so, how?
Since I haven't taught any of this material before, it'll be a huge amount of work and I haven't yet come up with decent possibilities of textbooks, but the description at least seems a start.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I've got two of my three classes for the spring semester ready to go and spent most of the long weekend doing some of the "reading updates" on the third, my Contemporary Issues in Religion course. (Who could possibly imagine that so much stuff would be written on religion and biogenetical issues in one year!) In between reading articles on stem cell research and Michael Crichton's Next (one of this year's required books for the course that I'm 1/3 of the way through rereading), Kathy and I did some garden planning. We decided that, while we'll cut back on the variety of potatoes this year and plant only three kinds--Onaways, Cranberry Reds, and All-Blues-- we'll double or triple the number of hills we'll make.
We're also going to put in more tomatoes this year than last because I really can't stand the tasteless "fake" ones they sell in stores and serve in restaurans during the winter and spring. With more of our own, we'll be able to can some and make sauce from some so that we'll have the real tomato taste during these colder months. We'll go mainly with traditional types--Burbank, Brandywine, Calabash, and Chadwick cherry-- though I ordered a Tigerella (a variety on the Green Zebra that disappointed me last year) and a Yellow Perfection plant (both of which are heirlooms) for some variety and a Stupice so that we'll have tomatoes early in the season as well as late.
We're going to skip cucumbers this year, since no one really liked the ones we grew last year. Instead we'll expand our lettuce varieties. Rather than just green Romaine, we're going to try to grow Red Iceberg, Savoy, Red Romaine, and Formidana-- and we're going to try to start them from seed. We're also going to put in more peppers than last year-- mainly sweet varieties in orange, red, and purple--so that we can freeze some for winter and spring cooking. All of this will mean probably doubling the amount of the tiny back yard we give over to gardening, which I find really exciting!
On top of that, since Kathy would like to grow some berries, we're also going to try to do some container gardening as well, planting Ozark Beauty strawberries and Top Hat blueberries in medium sized pots and keeping them on our back porch.
Now to begin the two month countdown until I can begin to prepare the soil!
Friday, January 18, 2008
|Your Brain is Orange|
Of all the brain types, yours is the quickest.
You are usually thinking a mile a minute, and you could be thinking about anything at all.
Your thoughts are often scattered and random - but they're also a lot of fun!
You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about esoteric subjects, the meaning of life, and pop culture.
- What book have you read in the last six months that has really stayed with you? Why?
Three very different books stand out from the past six months.
They are Cormac McCarthy's The Road (for the stark beauty of the relationship between the father and the son), Shane Claiborne's The Irresistable Revolution (for its challenge to all of us about the role that Christians are called to play-- and could really play-- in today's society), and Geoffrey Thorne's Sword of Damocles (for its presentation of a universe that represents real diversity).
- What is one of your favorite childhood books? One? You've got to be kidding.
Among favorites would be James Garfield's Follow My Leader (about a boy who is blinded and his seeing eye dog), Ruth Gannett's Elmer and the Dragon, Ethelyn Parkinson's series of books about Rupert Piper, and the Nancy Drew mysteries. And then there are my favorite books from my children's childhoods-- Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, and The Clown of God.
- Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Do tell!
It'd be a toss up between Jeremiah, Job, and the gospels (though over the past year or two I've become more and more fond of Acts as well).
- What is one book you could read again and again?
I reread lots of poetry, especially by Mary Oliver and Adrienne Rich, as well as books by Nikos Kazantzakis, Elie Wiesel, Annie Dillard, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
- Is there a book you would suggest for Lenten reading? What is it and why?
During Lent I often dip into the writing of Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and Rumi.
And because we all love bonus questions, if you were going to publish a book what would it be? Who would you want to write the jacket cover blurb expounding on your talent?
Over the years I've imagined writing lots of books-- among them a book exploring the early 13th century and how the lives of Francis of Assisi, Rumi and perhaps the Jewish mystics of the time interacted with religious institutions of the day, a novel that leaps off from a family mystery that's never been solved, a murder mystery that takes place in both a virtual world and the "real world" at the same time-- but I've never had the luxury of undisturbed time to write any of them, much less thought of who would do the blurb for the jacket cover.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
As I've been writing for their service, I keep having the following words from Mary Oliver echo through my head:
"When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world."
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Yesterday when I was sitting waiting for Con Ed to finish its work in my home so that I’d have heat and access to my computer, I grabbed a piece of paper and did my own bucket list. Until two years ago, I’d done something fairly equivalent during the week before Christmas—a list of things I hoped to do in the upcoming year, the upcoming ten years, and at some point in my life. In 2006 and 2007, we were traveling during that last week of the year so I’d let the habit drop. Yesterday’s bucket list takes the place of the 2007 list, though without the three category breakdown.
Much of what I put on the list continues to be in the same three or four categories-- travel, music, water activities, gardening, and the arts—as when I used to do the old list. And a lot of the specifics are even the same because family responsibilities, work obligations, and money issues continue to make many of the items on the list impractical, if not impossible.
New this year would be my desire to be able to grow enough vegetables to sustain our family through a year, though having a greenhouse –even a small one—remains right next to that on the gardening part of my list because I’d still like a chance to raise African violets and orchids. Travelwise, my first choices of places I’d like to see still remain
But of course there are also the more mundane things to enjoy. Right now I've got bread baking and stew bubbling away on the stove and the house smells wonderful from them—so I’m more than content!
I recently saw Paola Antonelli’s 2007 TED talk, in which she described heaven as a place where your curiosity can be satisfied and then went on to talk about how some of that heaven is already a reality for her, especially in her work as design curator of MOMA. I think she’s right on target in her definition of heaven on earth though I prefer the way in which W.B. Yeats puts in “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”:
I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch…
I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!...
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Last year, I slowly made my way through Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and learned a lot as I read. I followed it up with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. All of it seemed to go hand-in-hard with our move into making our own jams and cheese and our addition of new vegetables to those grown in our garden. So, when Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto was announced for an early January 2008 release date, I preordered it. On the day it arrived, I sat down and read it—and was a bit disappointed.
It’s not that the general content of the book isn’t good; it is. And it’s not that Pollan doesn’t raise important issues; he does. It’s just that a lot of In Defense of Food contains simple stuff that we already know—don’t snack, eat food your great-grandmother would recognize (as opposed, for example, to Gogurts), and eat at the dining room table. Pollan may be right that people “would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact and healthy” but I’d hoped that, while adding its pragmatic focus, In Defense might have a bit more of the depth to it that Ominvore’s Dilemma did.
In his earlier books and essays on food, Pollan has often been called an elitist and some of that view continues to be felt in this book. At one point, for example, after arguing as Kingsolver does that it’s important to return to local, basic food, Pollan suggests we foragein the wild for our salad greens. Where in
And yet, despite its shortcomings, In Defense of Food calls us back to some important truths—that trying to reduce food to its nutritional components misses a lot of what matters about eating, that we should “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”, and that we should restore civility to the traditional idea of the meal, replacing fast food and eating out with the time and money it takes to cook and share a meal around a home dinner table. Such reminders, coupled with Pollan's enjoyable and easy-to-read style of writing makes the book entertaining and worthwhile.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
The town is surrounded by farmland, vineyards, and (though it was twilight as we arrived) I think I even saw an old fashioned windmill or two. Inside the walls are narrow, cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses with the traditional terracotta roofs we saw in most villages we explored. Several of the houses seemed to be lined with the beautiful tiles of the 17th and 18th centuries, though the crowds made it impossible to stop and look carefully at any of them.
As you approach Obidos during the Christmas season, you notice that the castle and ramparts are all encircled in lights. The main street which cuts through the town, goes through the praca that houses the Igreja de Santa Maria, and ends at the castle, has strings lights suspended overhead, huge varieties of decorated Christmas trees along its way, and periodically other types of Christmas decorations. When we arrived, the police were directing vehicles away from the town, which was packed to overflowing. But, because so many people wanted to see the special decorations and be part of the Christmas-New Year’s celebration, they were parking along the main roads outside of the town and hiking into the area. We were pretty sure that all we were going to get to see was the outside of the lit village walls but Joachim, our driver, told the police that we were Americans who had traveled to Portugal specifically to see Obidos during this special event. We were not only allowed through the barricades but allowed to park right next to the beginning of the “celebration walk” down the main street. Go figure!
We entered the city through the Porta de Vila, the southern town gate which was decorated with tiles. Along with the rest of the jostling crowd, we moved quickly through the lit main street, glancing at the decorations as we went and enjoying the smell of the roasting chestnuts coming from several venders’ booths along the way.
At one point we all paused because Becca wasn’t with us anymore. I made my way back a block or two and found her stopped as one of the turns in the road, shopping and talking in a combination of French and Spanish with a local man who made some earrings she was interested in buying.
We continued toward the castle, stopping along the way for the traditional Christmas drink of "Ginjinha de Obidos" (a liqueur similar to sherry made with Ginja berry), which is served in cups made of chocolate.
Because it was getting late, rather than continuing through the main street to the castle, we decided to cut through side streets—in the process seeing a little of the rest of the village that wasn’t decorated for the holidays—and circle back to the car.
While I enjoyed the rest of my time in
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
On the flight back from
The storyline, clearly meant to be an allegory, is not what stands out in The Cave. Instead it’s Saramago’s stream-of-consciousness style that captures the reader as he fills in the characters’ motivations and reactions to events around them or interrupts the story with side discussions about storytelling, family foibles, or the meaning of literature. Amidst it all there are retellings of creation myths, the story of Adam and Eve, and Plato’s myth of the cave, which is retold several different times in different contexts. In several places The Cave and The Matrix echoed off each other in interesting ways. All of this is going on while Saramago is of course also making a point regularly found in his writing, critiquing the evils of corporate capitalism and consumer culture.
If I was allowed to choose my own texts for courses I teach, The Cave would be ideal to assign to my introductory philosophy class that spends 2/3rds of the semester reading Plato as a postmodern reading of the ancient myth. It'd give them a sense of how the dialogues they've been studying continue to live in newer settings. With standardized texts, though, all I can do is mention it as worth reading when we get to the part of the course on The Republic.
On Saturday, we visited the Placio Nacional de Queluz, an 18th century palace with formal gardens to match.
Walking into the first room of the palace and then looking at the gardens afterwards, I was reminded of the Chateau de Versailles. From there, after dropping me back at the hotel to deal with an upset stomach, Kathy and Becca continued on to Sintra and its neighboring villages.
The writer Jose Saramago rightly describes the Palacio Nacional de Sintra as a “building whose individual components are characterized by fantasy, insensibility, bad taste and improvisation” with “the romantic excess of the exterior” not deserving “the bourgeois excess of the interior.”
From Sintra, Kathy and Becca drove along the coast to Cabo da Roca, with its spectacular views of the coast. They traveled through resort towns and upscale fishing villages. Cabo da Roca is the westernmost point of all continental
The next day, a Sunday, we headed out to
The esplanade at
On one side of the square is the Capela das Aparicoes, a simple building next to the oak three where Mary appeared. All that exists in the building is a simple altar surrounded on three sides with an aisle, where people who are taking vows to say the rosary on a regular basis move on their knees from one end to the other, and plain benches on which to sit and pray. To the left of the Capela das Aparicoes is a place of where large, five foot candles, can be bought and lit in honor of Mary. On the right of the esplanade is another small chapel, the Perpetual Adoration Chapel, where the host is continually exposed so that people can gather before it in silence and prayer.
But the largest building on the site is the basilica, which was begun in 1928 and finished in 1953. Mass was going on while we were there, so we only got to see a few of the fifteen altars it contains. The sanctuary itself didn’t impress me much, although I did enjoy the stained glass windows at the very top of the basilica walls. On the right side of the basilica are the stations of the cross, done in mosaic and reflecting a much more modern sense than is actually true. And of course, behind the basilica is a huge gift shop, where you can buy religious statues, rosaries, and just about any other kind of Catholic paraphernalia you could think of. Seeing it all, one wonders how many tears Mary has wept on behalf of the poor as the money was used to build this site. Or, as Saramago summarizes the area, “only faith can save
We left the formal site of Fatima, drove past statues of the three children watching over their sheep, and went to the much, much poorer area of
As we were looking at the statue of the angel’s appearance that’s been put in one of the fields that Lucia’s family owned, Joachim also gave us a lesson on cork trees and how cork is made. Somehow this struck me as much more satisfying than what I’d learned about
From Fatima we headed in the direction of Obidos, the place I most wanted to see in
We all enjoyed both the church and the small square outside with its shops and sat in the square, enjoying a few of
Monday, January 7, 2008
The Baixa is the part of
resting for a while near Robert Indiana’s well-known Love sculptures that decorate Rossio Square, and getting our first glimpse of the Castelo de Sao Jorge from the Praça da Figueira, which was itself filled with what looked like a large indoor (roller or ice?) skating rink and some kind of XBox 360 game tent.
We circled back toward the Praça do Comercio. By then all the Christmas decorations in the area had been lit u p. Becca shopped a little more. We ate traditional pastries and then later that evening dinner at the Restaurante Martinho da Arcada, one of
On our last day in
From its balcony there were even more stunning views of the Tagus and the old city of Lisbon as well as a statue of Saint Vincent de Fora (who is Lisbon’s patron saint) holding two ravens (the best-known symbols of Lisbon). Urged on by Kathy’s continual “It’s only three more blocks” (said after every three or four blocks we’d walked) we continued our walk up to
The Castelo de Sao Jorge was very busy on New Year’s Eve as people gathered to celebrate the end of 2007. We walked through the castle’s gardens and courtyards, enjoying glimpses of a different part of
By then it was beginning to get dark, so we left the castle and headed back down through the Alfama toward the Baixa, stopping at one point to watch swarms of tiny birds (I’d guess a good 200 or so flying together) make unusual shapes in the sky as they rode the currents coming off the
Friday, January 4, 2008
The Nine made me fonder of Tony Kennedy and his penchant for international law than I’d been in the past and upheld my appreciation for some of what Sandra Day O’Connor accomplished for women (though I still can’t warm up to some of her individual states’ rights rulings) while reinforcing my dislike for Nino Scalia. And it made clear how the only factor that will determine whether the Supreme Court will continue to limit and ultimately reverse such decisions as Miranda, Brown, and Roe is a political one. It makes this next presidential election even more crucial than before, since several of the justices— including the more liberal Ginsburg and Stevens—will probably resign during the next eight years.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
We’re back from
We got into
From the lights on the huge pine tree (to the right in this picture) as we rode up the driveway through to the Grand Ballroom (now the Valle Flor restaurant where we ate most of our breakfasts and one dinner), the place was decorated for the holidays. Even the chapel, which seats about 40 people and served as the site of a wedding on the Saturday we were there, was decorated for Christmas.
Our bedrooms were located in the modern extension to the room and, while they had a great view of the large private garden filled with subtropical plants and trees (several of which were still in bloom), they were otherwise very basic, especially in comparison to the rest of the place. Fortunately, except for the afternoon I spent in the hotel because of an upset stomach, none of us hung out in our rooms.
The food at the hotel was a different story. While breakfasts were very good with many different choices in the daily buffet, the rest of the food didn’t live up to the “Portuguese cuisine of the highest standard” which reviews say it serves. On the night that we ate in the dining room, as we were surrounded by ornate ceilings, windows, and marbled columns, the best parts of our meals were the rolls and one of the desserts, a crème brulee. My cod was overly salty, the waiter confused orders several times, and none of us were very happy with the food that we were given in exchange for the large bill at the end. But we thought maybe it was a fluke, so we tried again and ordered room service another night when we were tired from a full day of walking around seeing Lisbon, only to find that the food was equally bad and equally expensive.
Other amenities were so-so. The spa had a very small Jacuzzi and, while it was great to swim several evenings, the pool was small for the number of people who used it, especially on the weekend. The internet in our room didn’t work right so Becca had to make numerous trips to the
The hotel wouldn’t have been my choice of a place to stay—I’d rather spend the money on the actual travel than on accommodations—but I think Becca loved all the glamour of the place, from the rose petals placed in the toilet bowl during bed turndown in the evening to the chocolates and raisins delivered to each room on New Year’s Eve to capture a Portuguese tradition of wishes of fertility and abundance for the upcoming year.