Thursday, December 31, 2015

So, didjer 'av a noice Christmas or wot?

Mine was fun because all the good buds came up from Rome and Dingleterra and all manner of other places and kept me'n'a kitties company. We ate much and drank much and had many fires in the nice camino.

Yeah yeah... I know. I thought about it. I thought about ditching the blogs entirely. I think we're done over at WUWTS, and around here we might be good an done with ter whole Francischurch thing and well done. Who cares. Me n' my buddies have been trying to warn everbody for freaking decades, man. Those who were going to listen have listened by this time. If you want to keep hearing about it, go read the Remnant. I'm on there now and then, but strictly for the money, you understand.

What I did do in the last month that I'm actually happy about is I finished my first big painting. It's in the monks' shop and they've put a pretty respectable price tag on it, but it occurs to me that there is a wider audience for my stuff than just our local Nursini and the tourists.

I had a huge struggle over it, and mostly the kind you have between your ears and your ribs. I didn't actually really think I could produce something worth looking at, the sort of thing I saw in my brain-o. What I came up with was not perfect, but was a good deal better than I had been expecting at the start. The other big struggle was with the medium, since I'd never really painted before except with oils and very briefly and under close supervision in Andrea's classes. I'd certainly never used gouache before, and had a heck of a time getting some reasonable level of mastery with it.

It's quite terrifying to put brush to surface when you're aiming at the thing you're doing being at least some level of quality and you don't really know how to do what you're doing. I realise the solution would have been to do a number of little studies and smaller practice pieces. But as I was going along, I figured it would be a pretty good lesson to do the hardest and most complex thing I was capable of right off the bat so once I was done it, I would have crammed in as much knowledge and skill as possible in one go.

It's a lesson I learned from fencing. I used to play safe and only fence with people mostly at my level. One day I was asked, "Wanna fight?" by the son of the coach, a boy whom everyone acknowledged was heading rapidly for the BC Summer games. We fought furiously all day, and from then on I only fought with him at every practice. (I also had a terrible crush on the handsome and suave fellow). I never once got a touch on him. Not one. But after three weeks of fighting Oliver, I kicked the asses of everyone I had used to fence with without even trying. I remembered that.

Reach waaaaaay higher than you think you can go. It won't matter at all if you miss that goal; you will get to the top of your own set in no time.

This is the first of my "sort of medieval" paintings for sale. I didn't want to do anything very formal. There are already a number of artists in town who do very formal and correct by-the-book icons and they're very beautiful. But I wanted to do something a little more friendly and informal. I wanted it to have a sort of fairy tale look and remind people perhaps of their childhood or of Narnia. It really follows no rules at all for anything, neither the iconography nor the style. It's vaguely based on a number of 13th - 15th century manuscripts and is an amalgam of styles. I guess I could say that I was mostly messing about and experimenting and wanted to end up with something cheerful and nice to look at, both from far away and close up.

It's done on an old terracotta tile, the kind the Italians have used to build their walls for centuries. Treated with a layer of plaster and then gesso. I dug it up out of the ground at our community's "old monastery," the property the monks are renovating up on the side of the hill. It's impossible to date the tile, of course, since it's exactly the kind that have been made forever around here, but the monastery dates to the 13th century. It was mostly knocked down by earthquakes in the '70s. (Yes, I got permission! Shee, what d'you think?)

Here's some pics.

The text turned into rather a disaster. The thing with calligraphy is the ink has to sink into the paper or parchment a bit to sort of stick. But since I was working on ceramic tile treated with gesso, it just sat there on the surface and got messy. Next time I'll just do the text in gouache which will look much tidier. The red-pen work around the D had to be completely redone in gouache, since the Windsor and Newton "scarlet" ink came out much too orange. It was a bit of a struggle, and took quite a few tries and my studio is festooned with little slips of paper covered in spidery red pen work.

I think the little cinghialino looks a bit more like a rabbit, but I guess it's pretty medieval to have the animals look a bit wonkey. 

At about the time I started the painting part, there was a great population explosion of coccinelle in town, and the little critters were all over the house.

I have been drawing butterflies and bugs for some time now, and they were so fun that next one is going to be all bugs and vines and gold.

It's a pity the camera can't pick up the glitter of the gold on the wings and elsewhere. I was very liberal with the gold, which, sadly, is just paint and not real. Real gold would have required me not only to learn a whole set of skills at the same time I was learning just to control the paint, but would have pushed the final selling price way past what I was aiming for. I want people to actually buy the things.

I kept thinking, "What if we treated both the vines and the clouds as real? Which would go over top?"

I was told by one of the monks who knows lots of formal rules about medieval art that Benedictine monks are not usually pictured in adoration. I shrug. Time to correct the oversight, I think.

Apparently the monks have been discussing which of them was the model for my little fellow here. But he's none of them. An amalgam. He does look quite a lot like Fr. Basil, though his beard is more like Br. Augustine's. 

And here's the red-pen work in the original orangey-ink. The test with gouache that you can see here brought it up to a much richer scarlet.

I'm especially fond of this angel. He will be appearing again and again.
I was just going to do one little flower, a lily, at the angel's feet, but it turned almost by itself into a field of wildflowers. 

I was very pleased with the way the border turned out. In the real medieval manuscripts, the blue would have been decorated with white lines and swirls, and I've done that but was worried it would end up looking too busy. But the borders were so fun that the next one is going to be all border and bugs.

The background is supposed to suggest Norcia and the Valnerina. The only thing I added from life were the mountains and the cross on top, which we have here, and the mist that rises from the valley every morning and hangs about the hills. For at least some of it, I just looked out the studio window and more or less painted what I was looking at.

I learned a great deal, and when I started I'd never used this medium before, gouache. I think I've mostly got the hang of it now, and I'm moderately pleased with the results. And as a friend kept saying all through my process of agonizing over it, "This is the worst one you will do. After this, it will be better and better every time."

Either way, I know that as I was doing it, I kept getting bright ideas for more and more, and when I was done, I felt sort of at a loss as to what to do with my time, and wanted quite badly to start another one right away. Which I will do just as I've caught up with a couple of writing deadlines.

It's in the shop right now. If you want to buy it, send me a pm. The monks say it will probably go pretty fast.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Greatest mushroom soup evah!

You guys seriously have to try this one.


1/2 onion, chopped
5 cloves fresh garlic, minced fine
1/2 peeled green apple, chopped
big lump of butter
1-2 potatoes sliced
2 cups of diced pumpkin
2-3 cups sliced mushrooms
handful of rubbed basil
1 porcini mushroom soup cube
2 cups milk

In a large pot over a medium heat saute the onion, garlic, basil, soup cube, mushrooms and apple in the butter until they're soft. Add potatoes (I don't peel) and pumpkin and enough water to cover. Reduce heat and simmer until the spuds are soft. This should be about 20 mins. Make sure the water level doesn't go down too far. Add more if needed.

While this is doing up, cut up some more mushrooms into nice bite-size chunks and sautee them in a pan with more butter and then set aside.

Take another pot or a big bowl and blend the hot soup together with the milk in portions, letting it go long enough to make it really smooth and frothy. If you've got it, try heavy cream instead of milk.

Transfer the blended soup into the new pot and put it back on a very low heat to warm up. Add the mushroom bits.

Eat with fresh bread and butter.

Oh! Best one ever!


Sunday, November 22, 2015


From now on, I'm just going to be using these gifs everywhere the Twitter or FB thread has become so tedious that I want to punch someone.

Gonna ask myself, WWTD?

"Oh, sorry... were you still talking?"

"Oh, no no. I didn't actually want to know."

(Yes, I didn't see these movies, but thanks to my glorious high speed innnernet and a certain surfeit of  time on my hands, I've become a screaming Thranduil fan-girl. Where's my pointy nerd-ears?)


Saturday, November 21, 2015

How the world ended

Minoan art; all happy and nature-y and dolphins! But then the sea turned out not to be our friend.

Here’s a thought experiment: what do you think would happen if China suddenly found that no one in the West were in a position any longer to buy their export goods? Just not enough money, too much debt. What if the lending institutions, credit card companies and international global financial institutions that hold national and individual debts, were one day to find themselves insolvent and demand immediate repayment? What if they just disappeared? Swallowed, perhaps, by a titanic tsunami hitting the Eastern Seaboard? (We’ve all seen that movie.)

Next, what if enormous numbers of fighting-age single men from a culture accustomed to violence, with sharply divergent assumptions about morality and social responsibility, with no jobs, no money and no family ties, were suddenly imported into countries already suffering chronic economic, social and moral instability after a century of devastating wars? What if this all happened right at the moment when these countries had severely cut back their military budgets? What if at that very moment, global “food security” were suddenly severely tested by ongoing environmental challenges? Drought, in a word.

Would this create some kind of vast instability? Could there be some kind of collapse? There have been a lot of people throwing around terms like “civilisational collapse” and “world war three” lately. But what does it take to actually bring down such an entity? Has it happened in the past?

What if I were to tell you that most of this had already happened in another remote time in history? And that the result was the near-annihilation of a hugely successful, cosmopolitan, multi-national civilization, in many ways like our own?

The opening paragraphs of a ridiculously long piece I finally finished last night for the Remnant. Mike said he's going to put it in the print edition, and then in a couple of months online.

Earlier in November it was ancient history documentary week at Hilaryhouse after a friend of mine with a degree in classics came to stay for a couple of days and, to my great relief, didn't want to talk about Francis or the Church. We had a bang-up time going over the sudden horrifying collapse of the Minoan civilization after the Theran Explosion and all its many far reaching after effects. In brief, a whole island in the Aegean - that just happened to be the major port trading centre of the Minoan empire, like the Hong Kong of the ancient Aegean, more or less just turned instantly to dust and ash and launched into the atmosphere, followed by what they think was one of the biggest tsunamis in human history - killed 80 per cent of their population in half an hour and destroyed nearly all their cities and infrastructure and reduced them from the greatest sea-traders in the ancient world to beggars in the space of a day.

Being a life-long sci fi fan, I've been fascinated with the idea of The Big Collapse. What would we do if suddenly there were no longer available the social framework to support us that we're used to? I was astonished and fascinated to discover that precisely this has already happened, though a very long time ago.

[This guy is kind of annoying, and not-funny, but he does summarize the whole thing pretty well.}

A big part of the Late Bronze Age Collapse, according to the Egyptian and some of the Hittite and Ugaritic records was this group who have been labelled "the Sea People" who came out of nowhere one day like a horde of proto-Vikings and started pillaging the crap out of everybody. It is all tied up with the rise of the New Kingdom in Egypt, the Theran explosion causing 150 years or so of recurring drought in the Nile breadbasket, and the cessation of 100 years of war between the Egyptians and the Hittites - suddenly there was a massive group of young, unattached, unemployed single men who got laid off from the two armies after the wars ended who had nothing to do and decided to go into business for themselves as raiders.

The city states, kingdoms and empires had been weakened by the economic effects of drought and had reduced their military budgets and were left more or less helpless. Chaos followed and as the cities burned behind them, people literally just grabbed the kids and a few goats and tools, and ran for it to the hills where they stayed. What followed was 300 years of the Greek Dark Ages where no one knew about writing or history or music or art. And no one ever went back to those cities again, which were later just buried and forgotten. They had to start all over again.

What I thought was most fascinating was what happened to the Minoans toward the end. They had had their civilization completely decimated. Literally; only about one in ten survived. What was left was a pathetic vestige, and within about 80 years of the tsunami they had been brought very low, losing their whole culture, essentially forgetting who they were and what they were about. The evidence shows that they ultimately started doing child sacrifice and possibly cannibalism - something almost unheard of in the ancient Aegean societies. It was just as they reached this lowest-low that the Sea Peoples showed up - possibly a group of proto-Greeks whose fleet had been sheltered from the wave and ended up being the only sea power left - and put the Minoan survivors mercifully to the sword.

Anyway... You can guess that this article comparing all this to our time has taken much of my attention lately. I finished it and sent it last night after Vespers over a couple of glasses of wine. 3700-odd words and not a single one of them was either "pope" or "Francis".

I'm hoping to make it a trend.

There's a fantastic story about the Valnerina and Norcia and St. Benedict and 700 Syrian hermit monks that needs a wider audience.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

I have just found the perfect television show

The final television show. The ultimate fulfilment - the Thomistic perfection - of all television shows. After this, there will be no need to watch any other television show, ever again.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Hilary, everyone knows that the perfect television show was Firefly. That was the peak. After Firefly there was simply no point in watching television again." And you would be right... except for one thing. Oh come on, it's the obvious thing. 14 episodes. Ugh. Firefly was not the greatest television show of all time. It was the greatest television tease of all time. I hate Firefly for that. Hate it.

So now you're thinking, "OK, OK, maybe not Firefly then. We've all felt the pain. But what about Fringe, Hilary? What. About. Fringe?"

OK, you may have something there. Fringe, after all, had Walter Bishop, the greatest mad scientist of all time, complex relationships and parallel universes AND Buckaroo Banzai. Of course it's up there. Of course we want to buy it all on DVD. Of course we need a Fringe movie franchise. All these are a given.

But were there pies? Was the whole show all about pies and death and resurrection?

And did it have Lee Pace?

This guy? (Yes, yes I know. We all want to lynch Peter Jackson for his bloated Hobbit desecration, but seriously, who wouldn't give just about anything to meet Thranduil IRL?)

I give you... (wait for it!)

Pushing Daisies

You're welcome.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Head for the hills!

I can't believe I stayed up til three am watching a guy go camping.

I've started watching "bushcrafting" videos. How to start fires in the rain with just a stick and no matches, how to catch fish with yer bare manly hands and whatnot. They're really great. Surprisingly relaxing.

This one that I watched last night was in equal parts peaceful and fascinating, and really had surprisingly beautiful photography for a home-vid kind of thing, and decent editing. One guy showed how to make quite a nice looking basket out of wild clematis vines, and I might try it. He knew all sorts of useful things about plants too.

If some day y'all don't hear from me again, It'll most likely be because I've made myself a bullrush basket to carry the kitties in, and gone off into the woods and hills never to be seen again.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A long stretch

Wow, that was a while, sorry.

There was something cosmically correct about getting a ferocious bout of the flu immediately after that horrifying debacle in Rome, don't you think? As though my immune system just couldn't take any more and forced my brain to shut down for a week.

Some friends fled up here from Rome after it was all over to try to regain some mental equillibrium and we did have a splendid time. Much beer and sausages, long, cool, sunny walks in the Marcite, leaves turning and falling, wild boar frisking about and bunnies hopping all over, birds and butterflies flapping, walnuts, pears, apples and rose hips ready for collecting.

The garden needs work, and I have many plans.


Had a little adventure last night. Not really completely recovered, but yesterday was going to be day eight cooped up in the house-o, so I was just about ready to burst. Every day here has been more gorgeous than the last, with cool foggy mornings and splendid warm sunny afternoons. Yesterday was so warm - had to be at least 25 - I couldn't stand it any more, and wheezing and coughing I went out for an 'easy' walk. Took the bike down the hill and parked it in a field and had a stroll about 3:30 in the afternoon (remembering that it's full dark now by 5:30.)

When I first started walking in the Marcite, one of the first things I'd noticed was the large areas of turf that had obviously been rooted up by some digging animal. The damaged areas were sometimes as much as 30 or 40 feet in diameter, so I didn't think it could possibly be rabbits or other small furry woodland creatures. I wondered if goats would do that, since there were always a few mixed in with the sheep flocks that were pastured down there. But as far as I know they only eat leaves and grasses, and don't dig for stuff underground. I remained puzzled, until I read about cinghiale - wild boar.

Pigs root, and the only reason it hadn't occurred to me was that I never would have thought that wild boar would come so close to where people are. But the more I walked about those fertile grassy, marshy lowlands, the more I saw signs of them. The rooted-up parts were always near the water courses, and were often muddy, so their cloven hoof marks were often still visible. Then I started seeing their trails. Wild animals will often create little highways where they cross open land single file, always taking the same path to known food sources from their dens. So I have been able to follow some of the trails they make, all clearly from the hills on the opposite side of the valley.

I knew they were nocturnal feeders, so wasn't worried about actually meeting any down there, but was mindful that it would be quite a bad plan to go to the water meadows after dark. So, yesterday, I had only intended to go for an hour, the last hour of daylight, and stick to the wide paths and farm tracks... and it's a good thing I did.

I was heading back towards the town gate along the old rocky farm road that skirts the base of Norcia's small hill, when I looked over at a commotion about 30 feet away in the bullrushes below. I was up fairly high above the marsh, about 2 or 3 meters and the road is elevated on a ridge that creates a kind of back wall. I thought it was ducks at first, but where ducks are a burst and then you see them flying off, this went on for a while and then subsided. I saw the rushes and other plants obviously being moved around violently.

It became clear that it was a large animal of some kind. Expecting a dog, since it was still mostly daylight, I stopped and looked with my little field glasses, and it was four wild boar, a mother and three babies. I stood still and watched them for a bit. They obviously hadn't seen me and were just rooting about. Then I must have moved or perhaps the breeze brought my scent over to them, and they all jumped at once and took off.

For a brief moment I had a bit of a turn when I wondered if they might be coming my way, but they know all about the town, and from the motion of the underbrush it was clear that they had tooken off the opposite way back towards the hills. I figured I was pretty safe where I was, since there was no easy way for them to get to me, but still, it gave me a bit of a turn! And it crossed my mind that it might have been quite different, since I had been considering walking back the short way along the marsh path, but had decided it would be easier on the farm road and with the bike.

It will make me more cautious from now on about the time. The sun "sets" early here because of the mountains and the valley was completely in shade, but there was still light on the eastern slopes and on the town, and it was certainly light enough to see them easily with the field glasses. But shade, apparently, is sufficient for them.


I know, no pics. Sorry. I have a good camera, but one day the little window that keeps the battery in fell open while I wasn't looking, and the damn battery isn't the kind you can buy at the shop. It has to be ordered, and we are still waiting. When it comes, I will be sure to secure it with a sturdy piece of duct tape.

But this video shows exactly where I was, and has lots of lovely pics of the local area.

At exactly 7:08 there is an arial shot of the lower end of Norcia and the farm road is clearly visible, hugging the base of the hill.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

"What's up with the Synod?" is turning out to be a bit time consuming...

Lets' face it, we all knew this Synod thing was going to be a bit of a s---storm, but for some reason, I sort of thought I could keep half an eye on it while doing other things. But ...

It is kind of fun, though, isn't it?

We interrupt this apocalypse to bring you a word from our sponsors.

Haha! Just kidding! We don’t actually have any sponsors.

The URL for the site was bought out of pocket by the volunteer IT guy, contributors are donating their material for free, there is one (1) volunteer PR person in California who emailed me out of the blue to donate her time to promote WUWTS on Facebook and Twitter and I am doing the rest.

But rent-day cometh. And I would dearly like to offer the hard-blogging contributors and tech-staff at least a token couple of bucks.

If you’ve enjoyed what a reader has called “just the perfect amount of snark” and we’ve managed to cheer you up at least a bit, as the Synod to End the Family unfolds its noisesome petals into the full blossoming of apostasy and heresy, and want us to continue making jokes and laughing at it all, to the bitter end…

do consider dropping a few sheckles into the collection basket, which can be found on the sidebar of my personal blog, Orwell’s Picnic.

Your support in the commboxes and on Twitter and elsewhere is already greatly appreciated.

I think it’s working, don’t you? I already feel mightily cheered up.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Steve Skojec podcasts me drinking

Yes, you can actually hear the booze (homemade elderflower champagne) sloshing into the glass.

It's not about the Synod.

It's about living in Norcia and having cancer in a foreign country.


Church of Babel

These nuns live not very far from here and have a business manufacturing and selling herbal remedies that are very popular. "Produtti monastici" is a Thing in Italy, and the Orte nuns sell their products all over the country, including in the shop at our monastery.

I am thinking of going there to make a little weekend retreat soon, and was pleased to find this video to know what sort of liturgy to expect.

But it's a rather depressing video, in many ways. First, there seem to be almost no Italians in the group, that appears to be made up almost entirely of Asian straniere. There is nothing wrong with the solemnity with which they recite the Creed, but... but...

I don't know the liturgy in Italian. Frankly, because no parish in Canada ever uses the Nicene Creed at Mass, I don't really know it in English either. I only know it in Latin. And this is kind of the whole point.

The abandonment of the universal language of the Church has splintered the entire Church into national enclaves. No one belongs any more to the universal Church. We belong to the British Church or the German Church or the Italian Church, and very little crossover is possible.

Now that we have the German bishops and others clamouring for the local national conferences to decide matters of doctrine according to local fashion, the final manifestation of this appears to be ready to launch, and the notion of a Universal Church united by belief will finally be dead. Divide, confuse, scatter, then pick us off one by one.


Monday, October 12, 2015

You know you're a cat lady when... answer the door and it's the package guy with a box from Amazon: The Cat in Art.

It's surprisingly beautiful. Good call, DF, thank you. And the timing was perfect.


It's a little chilly in the house, but not enough to make it worth putting the heat on. So you go get a shawl to drape around yourself. Then you get too hot and take it off and toss it onto the chair. Pippin the kitty comes along and plops himself onto the scarf and immediately goes to sleep and starts looking like about the cutest thing you've ever seen in your life.

You get cold.

You go into the other room to get another scarf.


Sunday, October 04, 2015

Bein' bad...

Did your high school have a smoke pit?

It might be a north American institution... doomed now that nearly all public places ban smoking. When I was in high school the smoke pit was a sheltered picnic table on the school grounds where the rough kids hung out during breaks. They were the bad kids. My school was unusual, though, and had a rather high standard, with smart and talented kids applying all over the district to get in. So we were unusual in that the smoke pit kids were also mostly the straight A and honours students. It's where I learned to value the combination of smart and bad.

I didn't smoke, but the smoke pit was always the most interesting place to hang out.

I kind of think of What's Up with the Synod as the smoke pit of the Synod coverage.

Come on, hang with us... be a little bad


Saturday, October 03, 2015

I have defeated entropy!

Well, that's a life-changing event. Someone has just given me a nice big cupboard, with doors that close with a magnetic latch.

This might not seem like such a big deal to N. Americans and Anglos, but in Italy is is normal for a home not to have any built in storage. No closets, no cupboards, shelves or anything. (Yes, it's weird, but there are so many of these little incomprehensible Italianisms that you really sort of cease to be bothered by it if you can hold out long enough to break through the wall.) You have to buy it all, and there are still lots and lots of wardrobes around, and all sorts of storage units, lurking in people's garages. If you're not used to this, you don't own these things and when you move into an unfurnished apartment, until you have acquired a few of them, your stuff sits around in boxes and tends to accumulate in stacks all over the place.

The cupboard that arrived this morning at nine am, is just about as ugly an object as the late 70s was capable of producing. Pressboard, covered in some kind of cream coloured faux...stuff...I don't know what, exactly. Anyway, it's going to get covered in paint very soon.

The real thing about it is that all my art stuff, jars of pencils, brushes and tools, little boxes of gouache paint tubes, cartons of watercolour pencils, bottles of various toxic substances, big tubs of gesso, books, palettes and assorted paraphernalia, were spread all over my work table, making it a daily chore to make space enough to actually do anything. And every night, since the work room is also the kitties' room where they sleep at night, another chore was securing everything so the entire array didn't get turned into hockey pucks.

But it's all in there now. All up high where, should the day arrive that they figure out how to open cupboard doors, it will be completely out of reach.

I feel like my nose has suddenly cleared after a long cold, and I can breathe again.


(Yes yes yes... Synod of Doom... Asteroid... yadda yadda...)


Friday, October 02, 2015

Liveblogging the Apocalypse - coming out of retirement


Introducing my little Evil Project for the duration of the Synod.

Later today (I hope) The Remnant will be producing a longish article I wrote explaining in detail (and at length... sorry in advance) why I abruptly gave up news reporting in May this year, literally walking away. In truth, I had gone down to Rome for the March for Life, and the little quiet voice that had been whispering to me for about five years to move on, grew to a roar. I could no longer ignore my misgivings about the value of it. I'm not even really sure what came over me. I had gone to lunch with some friends, and then a couple of us went to the pub for a mojito. Then we went back to my friend's place where I was staying, and watched a movie.

The next morning, when I woke up, feeling surprisingly refreshed, I simply knew that the time was up. I packed my things, took leave of my friends and got on the train and went home.

I spent most of the summer doing not much more than thinking about it and going for walks. I did a few things for the Remnant, and found a new voice started developing, and a new conviction. We all knew full well that the thing that started today, the Synod, would be a watershed moment in the history of the Catholic Church. We all saw it coming, though even now no one really has any idea of exactly what to expect. For me, however, the one thing remained clear: this was too important to treat as "news".

But as we drew closer and closer to the day, I found the old urge to report and reveal coming back furiously.

Yesterday, talking to some blogger friends, it was suggested that we set up a war room, a place where traditionally-minded Catholic bloggers, writers and commentators can write and comment about the Synod as it is happening.

And, as things on the internet are generally about three minutes between conception of the idea and realization of the object,

Hey Presto!

A group blog,

What's Up With the Synod?

I have recruited some familiar voices who have agreed to help with their examination and analysis of the situation, with a no-holds-barred rule. Names will be revealed shortly (though in some cases, identities will remain obscured.)

I sent around the following note to some of the louder-mouthed among my colleagues:
We'll run original blog posts as opinion pieces, we'll steal other people's stuff from other sites like the pirates we are, and we'll run original interviews with people on the ground in Rome that no one else will get because we'll have at least a couple of people on board who will be in situ. I will be inviting people to blog against the highjacking of the Synod ... We will give voices to people who would otherwise never be heard.
So, beware, beware, oh those of delicate sensibilities, there will possibly be some salty language as well as some unabashed truth-telling, some openly "divisive" posts, some people (I hope) saying things there that aren't being said anywhere else.

You thought the Mad Rad Trads were the bad kids before? Well the gloves are off today, boys and girls.

I am also opening the commboxes. Get in there, people. Tell us what you really think.

Once more unto the breach!


Ride to ruin, and the world's ending!

I just keep coming back to this, for some reason.


The plot sickens.

Trad quote of the week:

"When I turned trad I never imagined I'd have to determine the credibility of various Italian journalists to figure out if a pope abdicated properly or not."


Thursday, October 01, 2015

A New Papacy for a New Church

It's funny about the popular obsession with the red shoes, huh? Two years ago there was a kind of weird miniature frenzy over the fact that Bergoglio doesn't wear them (and of course, the implicit sneer at Benedict who did.)

So much noise was made about the shoes in the press that we had Bergoglio himself getting in on the rather nasty joke during the recent triumphal progress. Like every school bully that ever existed, he does seem to make a point of picking on the weaker kids, in this case, the last remnants of believers in the Church. In what is now the normal papal style, he landed a sucker punch and then while the victim was gasping and wondering what was going on, turned around to his gang of followers and snarled out a joke about it.

Mocking and bullying devout little old ladies. What a mensch.

But why did the red shoes even get a mention at all? Why did anyone even notice they were missing in Bergoglio's chosen manner of dress?

Because they are symbolic. Because somewhere deep in the festering swamps of modern man's soul, there is still a tiny glimmer of recognition that symbols are a real thing, there is still communication going on. It's just that now, the New Catholic Man hates and violently rejects what the shoes symbolise. They were one of the last fragments of the deeply symbolic papal grandeur that Benedict XVI was able to revive, and even that so enraged the enemies of Christ that they were the subject of electronic reams of scorn-heaping articles.

But of course, none of the journalists sneering at Benedict or sniggering at Bergoglio's nasty jokes has bothered to stop and look it up, and find out why popes used to wear the things they did. A while ago someone wrote somewhere that this kind of portrait of a pope, where it looks like he's wearing so much stuff that it's holding him up, was like that on purpose. That "holding him up" was precisely the desired effect. This was because the papacy was not supposed to be about the pope. It was supposed to be about Christ and His holy Church.

Remember those photos everyone mocks of President Obama dressed in a polo shirt and cycling shorts and a bike helmet? Those are understood as symbolic garments, and the American political cartoonists have got the message: Obama is a liberal Beta male, not someone to be taken seriously. They are often placed next to pictures of Vladimir Putin bench pressing Russian bears. Political cartoonists are perhaps the last people on earth who still fully grasp the purpose of the physical symbols of politics.

Just try to imagine what the People's Pope would look like dressed up like Pope St. Pius X, Hammer of the  Modernists...


Yeah. Me too.

Today I came across possibly the best description of the purpose of all that papal pomp and circumstance that New Catholic Man hates so much. Read it, and you will learn why New Catholic Man is no one I want to meet.

One of the things the following clarifies, once again, is that Bergoglio is not anything surprising. We have the pope we've been asking for, for decades. He's a pope in the populist model that John Paul II was so beloved for, only without all those tiresome big words everyone had to look up all the time, and most importantly, without all that tedious religious stuff.


[I have retained all the ridiculous American spellings, to prove that it wasn't me...]

It's a very Catholic instinct, a reflex, really, to adore the pope as our sweet Christ on earth, as the sacrosanct keeper of the keys, as the vice regent of the King of the Universe. The problem is this papal affection has been running on the wrong kind of fuel for decades.

When the papacy decided to "loosen up," lower itself, scrape off the barnacles, lose the triple tiara, dye the Church´s proverbial hair and spring for hair implants, the focus, paradoxically, went from the august office to the active, and even hyperactive, man in that office. If you observe the photo of Pope Pius XII in procession, there are multiple layers of order and decorum and rank which act like a kevlar vest for the instinctive popular clamor...

Precisely because Pacelli was ensconced in such an intricate web of sacred semiotics and, shall we say, mystical bureaucracy, the savor and brightness of his unique person was blunted, dimmed, diffused, so that the popular devotion flowed towards what he was animating, rather than towards his charisma, jawline, hand signals, idiosyncratic gestures, etc. A man elected to be pope did not just die to himself by devoting all his labors to the care of the Church, but his personality was radically smothered by the byzantine demands of his clothing, routine, manner of speech, associations, residence, and so on. That was how a sacrosanct office ran on the fuel of sacrosanct populism.

As things stand now, though, the papacy has become so democratized, so "personalized", that the ancient instinct to adore the pope can only find purchase on the unique surface of the particular man with the papal ring. Without the traditional semiotic buffer, the pope-man cannot but become one Great Leader among others (e.g. "the Catholic Reagan," "the Catholic Obama", etc.). This is why Francis's famous "humility" rings so hollow.

Precisely by rejecting the conventional residence, clothing, shoes, forms of expression, associations, liturgical disciplines, etc., he becomes a tractor beam of attention. It may be unwitting but he´s inadvertently become the biggest egotist in the world, sort of like the man who becomes the loudest in the room by repeatedly assuring everyone that he´s not going to say anything else. He is Pope Kanye West and he is here to stay.

As for the selfies, that's just symptomatic of our dumbass age. I suspect Dante would have penciled in a perverse punishment for the vanity that smart phones generally sustain. Perhaps an arm wrapped around one's own throat in an eternal sneering strangulation.

But I digress...


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thanks for all the help.

...I'm about half way to my hoped-for goal of covering the gas and electric bills.

Total Pageviews
1,000,863 yesterday, up to
1,003,368 today!

Holy hannah! Welcome zillions of Pewsitters!!!

A sincere, no-joke thank you to all who have helped so far.

Things have been a little weird lately, haven't they?

I hope to continue covering the weirdness in an unrestrained fashion over the next month or so, but it would be a lot easier if the Italian national gas and electricity monopolies didn't cut me off.

I quit my day job in May and... well... it's been getting weirder and weirder out there, y'know?

Let's just say that those writers with more... forthright dispositions are finding it difficult to get freelance gigs in what we must now call the "mainstream Catholic media," if you know what I mean.

I do hope to continue reporting/mocking events as we proceed into what will likely be one of the most interesting periods of Catholic history.

But to do so, I could really still use a little help from kind readers.



... He'll be here all week...

Take my mayor... please... 

I'm starting to feel toward Frank how I ended up feeling about Berlusconi... it's a bloody train wreck, but hilarious.

Yes yes... we're all very upset... blah, blah, blah...Evil pope destroys Church, yadda yadda...

But the sheer Italianness of it all is starting to be pretty entertaining.

The difference, of course, is that Silvio always did stuff with sly grin, like he realized it was all a joke and he was letting you in on it. Frank, on the other hand, is deadly serious, particularly about himself and his own wonderfulness, which makes the whole thing even better.

Yesterday's Papal comedy sketch was pretty good. Did y'all see him diss the mayor of Rome?

Pope calls Rome Mayor Marino a "pretend Catholic."

The unforgiving assessment of Ignazio Marino -- a man the Italian media love to hate -- further heightened tensions between the pope and the mayor in the run-up to the start of the Holy Year of Mercy in December, with the Vatican fearful the Italian capital is ill-prepared for the millions of extra pilgrims.

There y'go. One for the "pope of mercy" files.

Of course, once again as usual with Pope Frank, the move wasn't exactly "speaking truth to power." Marino is just about the most hated man in the country right now. Rome is falling apart (more than usual) and the people who live there, as they wait on stifling hot subway trains that stop for half an hour in the tunnels between stations, spend their time thinking of all the things the Roman Mob used to do to unpopular Emperors. So, you know, pretty safe target.

And funny thing... just for no reason at all and out of the blue and stuff, the next day, the Rome cops came to the streets around the Vatican and ticketed every Vatican employee car they could find.

In case you've never been to the Eternal Dumpster, this is Rome on a completely normal day,

... and none of it ever distracts the Roman police from their important flirting-with-women investigations.

Today's update on the papal vaudeville act:

A Rome radio station decides to prank the Vatican (a popular form of entertainment for Roman radio personalities). Someone from the Radio 24 satirical programme, La Zanzara (The Mosquito) impersonating the Italian premier Matteo Renzi, calls Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Holy See's Pontifical Council for the Family and one of Frank's lower level lieutenants, asking him how the pope felt about Marino joining the papal entourage in Philadelphia.

Paglia replied, not without embarrassment, that Marino’s “exploitation” of the World Meeting of Families on 26 September “infuriated Number One [Pope Francis]”.

Asked by the Renzi impersonator whether Marino had “gate-crashed” the event, the prelate quickly agreed in the affirmative. “Marino was very insistent on seeing Pope Francis [in Philadelphia] and this annoyed the pope tremendously”, said Paglia, adding: “The mayor is a good man, a good person, but nobody on our behalf invited him.”

120% increase in Rome fender-benders as Romans listening to the radio in the car go limp with helpless laughter.


I realise Americans tend to take the whole Vatican thing with absolute deadly seriousness, following the papal lead. But Italians are somewhat more ... errr... irreverent.

This man commands a cwack dicastewy!
He wanks as high as any in Wome!

"Centuwian why do they titter so?"

"Just some Roman joke, sir."

"Are they... wagging me?"

"Oh NO sir!"


Well well... we topped a million

Total Pageviews

The result of writing snippy stuff about the pope, I guess...

(Actually, I didn't install the visit counter until I'd been blogging at this site for five years, so, I expect we actually topped a million at least a couple of years ago... but anyway...)

I feel as though I ought to open a bottle of champagne.

Except that four months ago, for various reasons to be revealed shortly, I quit my regular gig, and now can't cover the gas or electric bills. Freelance gigs haven't quite flooded in as I had hoped.

I really could use a little help. Any donations to the tip jar on the sidebar would be greatly appreciated.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"There was a blackmail come from who knows where, through SWIFT, exercised on Benedict XVI."

This is starting to not be funny anymore.

Ratzinger non poté “né vendere né comprare”
Ratzinger he could "neither sell nor buy"
Maurizio Blondet

Roughly translated by Google:

"Few know what SWIFT (the acronym stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) is: in theory, is a global "clearing house", uniting 10,500 banks in 215 countries. In fact, is the most occult and sole center of American-globalist financial power, a bastion of blackmail on which the hegemony of the dollar, the most powerful means of political and economic espionage (to the detriment especially for us Europeans) and the means by which the most feared global finance breaks the legs of states that do not obey. …


"'When a bank or territory is excluded from the system, as it did in the case of the Vatican in the days before the resignation of Benedict XVI in February 2013, all transactions are blocked. Without waiting for the election of Pope Bergoglio, the Swift system has been unlocked the announcement of the resignation of Benedict XVI.

"'There was a blackmail come from who knows where, through SWIFT, exercised on Benedict XVI. The underlying reasons for this story have not been clarified, but it is clear that SWIFT has intervened directly in the management of affairs of the Church.'

"This explains and justifies the unprecedented resignation of Ratzinger, that many of us have been able to exchange for an act of cowardice; the Church was treated as a state 'terrorist', but worse — because note that the dozen banks falling into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria 'are not excluded from SWIFT' and continue to be able to make international transactions — and the Vatican finances could no longer pay the nunciature, to convey transport missions — in fact, the same ATM of Vatican City had been blocked.

The Church of Benedict could not 'neither sell nor buy'; its own economic life was counted in hours."


Monday, September 28, 2015

Well... I am definitely feeling something present...

May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”

It could just be that this man and his supporters are doing what modern people do with words. Modern people don't think about what words mean. They follow the doctrine of Mao who said that we, the "West" who were at that time his opponents, were still labouring with the mental handicap that words mean things. No, no! Words, he said, are not a way of conveying meaning. They are little sticks of dynamite that you implant in people's brains to incite them to this or that desired action. To such people words are goads for driving a donkey. As a good Peronist populist demagogue, the evidence certainly would support the theory that Bergoglio has this attitude towards the things he says.

But aside from the few of us humans left who do remember what words are, there are two other classifications of rational beings who also know it. Whatever a Maoist, a Peronist or Jorge Bergoglio thinks their words are for, there are still powers who know what reality is. Whatever Bergoglio meant by this, the true meaning was not lost in Heaven or in Hell.


“Those who covered this up are guilty. Even some bishops who covered this up,” he said. “It is a terrible thing.”

I realise we have more or less established that this man does not know what a logical contradiction is. That he feels nothing is amiss in saying one thing one day and its opposite the next. Or in saying one thing one day and doing its opposite the next.

But seriously...

Those who covered this up are guilty. Even some bishops who covered this up,” he said. “It is a terrible thing.”

Is it just that he doesn't know that the world is writing down and comparing every single thing he says and does? Do he and his friends really think we aren't out here keeping track?

Or are they simply so drunk on power that they just do not care?

"Danneels advised the young man not to “make a lot of noise” about the abuse he endured from his uncle bishop because Vangheluwe was scheduled to retire in a year anyway. “It would be better that you wait..."


Whom do you worship?

Whom do you worship?

Whom do you welcome?

Why are you there?

The backdrop of this whole visit is not what's happening in American politics or a presidential campaign. The backdrop is a world steeped in violence and bloodshed and rancor and hatred, and here we have coming to your city, to our diocese, a real prince of peace. If there's any princely title that should be associated with Francis, it's a prince of peace, it's a bringer of peace,” Rosica said.

“When peacemakers come, they upset those who are not at peace. So, if people are going to be upset in any side of the spectrum here, let them look inside themselves and see what those issues are first, because in the presence of Francis, as you know and as I know, you're in the presence of extraordinary goodness, of kindness, of intelligence and of humanity. So, humanity is coming to teach us how to be more human,” he added.
Whom do you bring to the faithful?

To whom do you belong?

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Guys? Hey guys!

All my friends on FB watching the pope's visit to the US,

this is you:

(Just try to watch that thing without doing the same thing with your eyes, I dare you.)

I felt like snapping my fingers in front of their faces... hello... can you hear me?!

Guys, it's OK. It's OK. If he was bad last week in Rome, he's exactly the same bad today in the US. It's OK.

Go watch cat videos.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Well, I didn't mean to...

Monastero di San Claudio, Serravalle

According to the internet, I walked more than 16 kilometers yesterday.

Last week I went for a short stomp around the neighbourhood, and in a field close to the river I found a large quantity of wild hops growing in a spot where the farmers had cleared a lot of the brush. Yes, that's the same stuff that you use to make beer. The flower heads were the biggest I'd ever seen on the wild varieties, so I dropped everything and collected as much as my backpack would hold. Then I walked back to town and showed Br. Augustine, one of the brew-monks and he was so excited by this find that he suggested we go - all the brew staff - later in the year when the foliage had died off a bit but before the frost, and dig up the rhizomes to plant in pots so we could have some all the time. He said the when they do their next brew, he'll siphon off a few gallons and add the hops and see how it turns out.

Being terribly pleased with myself at this very positive reception of my explorations, I told Br. Augustine that I would go and mark the spot where I'd found it, tying a ribbon or something around the strands of the vines. Hops are a very vine-y kind of plant, and grow like clematis or bindweed all over other plants and trees, and it can be difficult to figure out where the plant originates in the ground.

So, yesterday, being somewhat fed up with the internet and it being a rather cool and cloudy sort of day, I packed up the backpack with a trowel a few plastic shopping bags and a length of non-biodegradable orange cloth (a duster) I set off back to the spot. I had seen that there are also forests of sloes ready to be picked and had been looking up sloe gin and sloe wine recipes, so I thought I would go and see what was ready. I parked the bike in my usual field behind a hedge and walked the rest of the way to the hops-place. I was only wearing trainers since I had intended just to go there and back.

but it was so beautiful out...  the perfect day, cool but not cold, with patches of sun and fast-moving big fluffy clouds, that once I had found and marked the spot where the vines were starting, and had determined that the ground was quite soft and that it would be a cinch to get the rhizomes out, I looked around and thought, "Huh... wonder what's over there..."

Famous last words.

There was the field all full of a gorgeous wildflower I'd never seen before, so, you know, I just had to go and see if I could dig up a few samples. Then I was close to the river and it's beauty, all set about with willow and bull rushes, was mesmerizing. I followed it downstream and found a dozen places where it was obvious the fishermen would come to catch the trout, and I stood many times just watching the perfectly clear water flow over the sandy bed like liquid silk, and spotted the mysterious little fish, gently waving their tails in the stream.

Then I thought, 'Well, I've never been down the valley on this side of the river... I wonder what's over there,' and somehow just kept going. I found a ruined stone house and collected a new tile, nice and flat for painting on, dug up a few more wildflowers and found a bunch of wild raspberries growing on the riverbank and got some lively looking roots from them. We'll see if we can get some raspberries in the garden next year.

Before long, I found myself at the bridge, and being tired of listening to the highway, crossed and turned along the Ferrovia toward Serravalle, the little village where you change buses to go to Rome. It's only 15 minutes by bus of course, and I had heard there is a swimming hole somewhere along the river near there that I wanted to find. The Ferrovia is the old train line ("ferro" = "iron" - via... get it?) but the last train was 1968, and the entire line has been dismantled. Now all that is left is the wide track and the little station houses, apparently in the middle of nowhere, all falling into ruin, and a few rather forlorn looking old fashioned stone mile markers along the way.

These days it's a very popular hiking and mountain biking trail, and if you follow it you will see the whole valley (though I'm told some of the tunnels are no longer very safe.) I kept saying, 'You know, if you keep going, you'll end up in Spoleto... You are remembering that you'll have to walk back, right?' Somehow, though, this voice of reason made no impact, and my feet just kept going. By this time, I had decided I wanted to go as far as Serravalle, stop in the little bar where the bus goes, and say hello to the swans in the little pond there. I like swans. They're the only creature in the world with crankier dispositions than me.

Along the way I found out that hops are a common wild plant, and collected a bunch more. I found a crab apple tree and filled a shopping bag with the windfalls, about four pounds. They're in the freezer to put together with the rosehips when they're ready to make some crab apple and rosehip jelly to go with the Christmas turkey.

The blackberries had clearly suffered during the Big Heat. 12 weeks of 35-38 degree weather had killed most of the crop that were facing the sun and now the only place you find berries for eating is in the shady spots. Well, one field had plenty of this, and I must have eaten half a gallon of them.

The walnut trees were dropping their little protein bombs, and when I sat down at the base of a large one for a rest, I just picked them up out of the grass and cracked them between stones while listening to the leaves rustling in the breeze. I kept thinking that surviving in the wild here wouldn't really be too difficult... at the right time of year.

This late in the season there are not many people along the Ferrovia. I only encountered a middle aged English couple and one woman dressed for vanity-jogging who looked strangely out of place in those lonely and mostly wild surroundings. Other than that it felt like I could be the only person in the valley.

The Ferrovia runs parallel to the highway, but apart from the occasional truck taking sausages down to Spoleto, the only sound was my footfalls and the constant refrain of the river.

I had left the house just before noon, and it must have been (left my phone at home) about 4 pm when I found the little cemetery of Serravalle, like a walled garden, and stopped to say a little prayer for the sacred dead. It had clouded over, with the weather that had been brewing over the tops of the mountains in the morning finally boiling over and flowing into the valley. I felt a few drops of rain then, but it was far too late to worry about getting a bit damp. Even without the side-trips through the fields, the march back along the Ferrovia was going to be at least an hour and a half.

The cemetery was nearly on top of the exit from the Ferrovia path where the little side road takes the bus to the bar, so I knew I had almost made it. As I came off the trail and onto the road, right in front of me was a sign, pointing almost straight up the mountain on the other side, towards a large church, perched up high on a cliff face. The sign said, "Chiesa San Claudio. XIII sec." and had a little stick figure of a man with a backpack and walking stick. The sign for the official trails is a little red and white flag, and there were other signs giving the estimated distance to "San Lazaro"; 7.5 km.

(San Claudio as seen from the Ferrovia is at 1:38)

I had seen the church with its tall bell tower far above the road in glimpses along the trail, and had thought there must be a road to get up there. Well, it turns out that the "road" was a rocky, overgrown track that would have been impossible with anything more than a donkey. San Claudio had once had a hermit occupant, who had died in 1986. Since then there had been sporadic efforts to get funding to save it, or at least to prevent the bell tower from collapsing. I stood at the bottom of the trail looking up with a keen sense of longing... It was at least as steep as 30 degrees in places, but somehow, from the bottom of the trail the church didn't seem that far.

I couldn't resist. I started climbing and the little voice that had been talking about how far it was to get back, now became quite insistent. The climbing was steep and difficult and it was hard to imagine that anyone would have been willing to take this route regularly, even in the 13th century when people were tougher, and the way less overgrown. About 50 yards up the slope, common sense finally got the better of me, and even though it was heavily overcast I could tell that the daylight was not going to last more than a couple more hours. When the trail took a turn and the church could be seen, I discovered that it was a great deal higher up than it had seemed from the road. I hadn't brought my climbing stuff either; no sticks, no boots, no cell phone, no nothin'. Not even a bottle of water.

When I felt the rain starting a little harder and heard the roll of thunder, I finally thought better. The trail was deeply gouged in places where the heavy rains we'd had at the end of August had caused little rock and mud slides. I suddenly realised rather keenly that a single misstep could be disastrous in my soft little shoes. I had already gone up high enough that I felt my right knee (the oldest part of my body, apparently) protesting loudly as we climbed back down the path, dislodging little stones that went rolling merrily down ahead.

I got to the bottom and apologised to my ancient joints, and promised myself I'd come back with the proper equipment... and a buddy.

The bar at Serravalle was only about another 50 yards and as I sat eating the only thing he had to eat - a not-very-fresh cornetto integrale - and drinking my water, I had time to wonder what had possessed me.

The walk back was an easy stroll by comparison, straight along the Ferrovia and I didn't stop again. The rain had become steady, though light, and I pulled out my umbrella, the one piece of equipment I had been sensible enough to bring. It wasn't cold, and there were plenty of places along the trail where the trees completely sheltered the path. The bike was, of course, where I left it, and I was pushing up the hill as the 6 o'clock Angelus bell was ringing.

I checked on Google Maps when I got home, and discovered it was 8.25 km from Norcia to Serravalle. No wonder my feet were sore.

It's a funny thing, that urge to start walking.