Monday, May 13, 2019


How the internet makes me feel.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Hail Mary, full of grace

Our Lady and the Blessed and most holy Trinity,

A talk by a good old friend of mine, Fr. Eduardo Garcia of the Chicago archdiocese, one of my favourite people.


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The book that started it all

Everyone has a book that started some kind of lifelong interest. This is the one that really got me gardening: "Betty Crocker's Kitchen Gardens" by Mary Mason Campbell and with illustrations by Tasha Tudor.

I had forgotten where the mental image of exactly these illustrations came from until I was looking at a Tasha Tudor page a while back and it hit me like a weird ghostly echo of a thunderclap out of the past.

It's funny how an image can stay in your mind for a lifetime, and how much it can go to forming your inner mental world. I must have only been a child when I first found the book in the library. It seemed almost magical to me, and in some way I don't quite understand it still does.

Even though I must have been very young, I knew when I saw it that this is what I wanted my life to look like. This was the world I wanted to live in. And what an indescribably strange feeling it is to hold it in my hand again and see these pictures and remember how important it was to me so long ago.

Anyway, I mentioned it all to a friend, how strange it was to have these exact images come back to me, and to find them on the internet, like seeing a ghost, and he bought the book for me for my birthday. It arrived in the post today.


First nice sunny day in a few days of rain and wind and chilly temps. Down to 4 C last night. I usually stick my nose out the door before going to bed to see what's happening, and if the kitties want to come in, and I could see my breath on the air. Extremely odd for May in Umbria, and especially after such a strangely warm March. It's as if March and May have changed places.

So much to do at this time of year...

Anna keeps telling me that the field poppies are just weeds, but I love them. I went out last year while they were just getting started and collected a bunch to transplant. Of course, they self-seed, and now they're all over. If you give them decent soil and enough sun they are really magnificent garden plants, though the flowers don't tolerate cutting. They just fall apart before you can even get them into a glass. But they're so beautiful. I love having masses of them all over.

There's actually a big block of tufa in there that he's sitting on. It's for standing on when you need to weed the bed.

The Big Round Bed is divided into three sections with these blocks. But it all turns into a big mass. Right now I'm sinking old bathroom tiles (beautiful blue... would have been awful in the bathroom, but they're nice in the garden) to create a bit of a barrier for the lemon balm in hope it doesn't just drown everything else... or get into a big fight with the white campion.

The Big Round Bed is mostly herbs, with three kinds of thyme, lemon balm, a pot of mint, big patch of sage, calendula (wild and cultivated), some kind of wild oregano that I found in the hills and brought down from Norcia, lavender, borage, garlic, and chamomile interspersed with flowering hellebore, daffodils, gladiolus, day lilies, thrift, dianthus. And now cosmos, which I seeded last year and didn't do anything and that have now come up all over, and is just about to start. I had forgotten I even put them there and thought they were stray carrots when they started. I'm hoping to see the blue corn flowers later too and the nigella sativa that I seeded last year but only got a few of.

Gardening is one of those things you either have to resign yourself to being disorganised about, or go completely OCD and make a list. I've never in my life made a list of things to do in the garden, but the other option means things are a bit disorganised and random. Today I was going to just fill the beet bed. I have a zillion beet seeds sprouting and I desperately need to finish their bed that I started a month ago. So I revved Gertie up and loaded up the buckets and spade and whatnot, and headed out. But we got to the end of the lane to turn around, and I thought, Oh, I need to cut some more canes for the pergola, because the grape vine is already starting to go nuts... So I stopped and got out and started cutting the canes... An hour and 40 canes later...

Now too tired to dig out the soil, so I just did four buckets worth and then went and sat down in the shade, all pooped out and read the Desert Fathers. Then was all... Oh, got to go put some straw under the strawberries... so you go over to the orchard to collect up some of the dried cut grass, and on your way you see the little bag of onion sets, the leftovers from the big onion bed you were going to put around about sort of randomly, just for fun, so you grab a stick to dig some holes and...

But at least nearly all the couch grass in Annamaria's iris bed is gone. For now, anyway. That was nearly two hours. I started it because I was too tired to lift another bucket of dirt.

Anyway, by the end of the day, the beet bed is still not filled. I did get nine buckets in the bed, but need at least that again. And every day the beet sprouts get bigger and more insistent about being planted out.

It all needs doing big and little, and battling the couch grass made me feel like I was fighting Morgoth. Found out why Annamaria's calla lillies aren't blooming. Damn couch grass has drilled into the rhizomes and used them as fuel... bastards. I dug up a bunch of dead and rotting calla rhizomes with very healthy couch grass seedlings growing up through them. I really went after them. Pulled up a bunch of the terrace tiles. Dug way down...Pull! Pull!!! PUUULLLLL!!!!

And then I made a fire and burned them... ha ha HAH! Take that, you jerks!

It's funny how it's so hard to stop, and then even when you're tired and grubby you find you don't want to go in. I remembered there was still a bunch of year-old firewood in the shed and thought, why not. A nice fire in the evening and a little sit-down with my magic book with the bats flickering around, at least until the light goes and the Night Bell rings at Sant'Andrea.

With the bucket of couch grass runners next to my chair. Grab a few now and then...toss em on the fire.


Saturday, May 04, 2019

He covereth the heavens with clouds and prepareth rain for the earth.

Saturday, 1st Vespers of 2nd Sunday after Easter

Ps. 146

Great is our Lord, and great His power *
and His wisdom is beyond measure.


He covereth the heavens with clouds,*
and prepareth rain for the earth.

He maketh the grass to grow on the hills*
and herbs for the service of men.

Happy Sunday.

Just a few pics from the last few days.

On the way home from the shops.

Looking up along our lane to the hamlet of San Fortunato.

 Everything coming along nicely. I really do trim it all back regularly. But the next day it's back to this.

A lot of gardening is just waiting to see what will come up. I didn't plant this. Or at least, I don't remember planting irises here. Quite a lot of the seeds I tried last year have only put out plants this year. Nature has its own ideas about things. 

These beautiful bearded irises did nothing for the first two seasons, but I've been trying to make them more comfortable, mulching with compost. It seems to have worked. 

Had the first two today. Not quite perfectly ripe, but the snails were already having a go. It started pouring or I'd have finished the job of collecting some dried cut grass to use as straw mulch.

California poppies. They came up from a packet of mystery-mix last year and were quite modest. This year I'm having to stake them up and be quite ruthless in cutting them back to give the strawberries enough light and space.


Friday, May 03, 2019

Gigantification and the Enstupidment: Why "easier" isn't better

It's my favourite meme. Be like Grandma. My own Grandma cooked and sewed, kept a garden, painted and made pots in her own studio.

I started writing the following here and then decided it would do for the Remnant's blog. I guess it's more or less a manifesto. Get out of the city. Or at least learn to do things for yourself. Anything. Learn to change your own oil in your car. Learn to knit, or at least sew on a button.

Stop being dependent on the government or Giant-corp for every single thing in life. The government and Monsanto don't love you, don't want you to be happy, healthy or independent.

The Gigantification of life, the doing of everything on a massive and unimaginably distant scale, is all said to be in aid of "saving us labour." But what have we saved all this labour for? So we can live in suburbs and drive cars to go work at a desk doing something that has nothing whatever to do with our own life. So we can forget how do to anything ourselves? It may have saved us all labour but it has also left us with nothing Real to do. What are we saving our labour for? What do most of us do with the time we don't spend weeding a kitchen garden or making beer or milking cows? Have we separated ourselves from the sources of our life only so we can spend more time watching TV? Scrolling Facebook? Arguing for hours over nothing on Twitter? Are we holier? More learned? More enlightened? Do we write poetry and play music? Do we even know any poetry?

My landlady, Annamaria, is a contadina with deep, deep roots in this place. She has been teaching me all the contadina things. She’s taught me what time to plant what, and how the phases of the moon can guide your planting and harvesting. When and how to prune grape vines, fig, plum and pear trees. What kind of carrots you can grow in clay soil (short stubby ones). Today I wanted to clip my grass but discovered my hedge trimmers were busted. She took one look, took them into her big magical garage-of-all-things and ten minutes later handed me my trimmers back in full working order.

But it seems that since the advent of mechanised farming (mass-production of food on the huge scale you see in North America) we've straight-up forgotten the small intimate details of how to do anything. All that about soil management and all the little things that made medieval agriculture work is all gone. Who needs to think about replenishing natural soil nutrients or maintaining the substructure if you've got machines and bags of fertiliser, amirite?

There are good reasons why the referendum on abortion in Ireland went the way it did. The Yes votes all came from the cities - Dublin mostly, while the rest of the country said No. A major task of the Freemasonic take-over of the western world has been to herd people by all means fair or foul out of the countryside and small towns and villages and into the massive conurbations.

In a big city you immediately lose personal control over much of your life, you accept "services" that come from "the government" instead of doing things yourself, living within your means, being self-reliant, "making do and mending". You relinquish control over the intimate things of life while at the same time isolating yourself. You live now far away from your family and the people you grew up around. You don't know your immediate neighbours except to bang on the connecting wall between your flats when he's noisy.

Eventually every aspect of your existence comes under external control, including your interior. Your ideas no longer come from your family or your upbringing or your church but from advertising and government-controlled news. You believe what you are told, you do what the people in charge want you do do, you eat what they deign to give you, you wear what the fashion industry tells you to wear, you want the things they tell you to want. City life is slavery, and in such a complete way that the Romans would have found it shocking. Slavery of the mind, the will, the intentions, the desires.

The artificiality of Gigantified city life, its loneliness and pointlessness, the forcible wresting away of agency, the hopelessness of any thought of escape (false, btw) is literally killing us. Reject it.

You don't have to move to Umbria to escape Gigantification (though I do recommend it most emphatically). You just have to start by rejecting it interiorly. All other stages will come naturally after that. It's like repentance; reject Gigantification the way you reject Stan and all his empty promises. Stop letting Mega-Corp and Monster-Govt do everything for you. Become involved in your own life. You'll be amazed how much more fun it is.


Thursday, May 02, 2019

Medieval whales


Urban farming nuns?

If I were in a missionary/active religious order I'd have the working part of it be urban farming in places like this.

I thought at first it was Detroit. But Kansas City? Holy moly!

Our entire modern experiment in urban life has gone off the rails and the people at the bottom of the social heap are living worse than animals. "Men beat each over who gets first run at the garbage dumpster." Good Lord! They're being literally dehumanised by the post-civilisation they were born into.

The urban farming movement can save us, in the material sense. But what about the eternal, supernatural sense? All it needs is some praying people, a daily Mass offered early in the morning before work starts. Imagine this with habited nuns doing the work. Imagine all this turned into an opportunity to show people the love of God, the love of Christ, directly and explicitly. Offering catechism and confirmation classes to the kids who wanted it. Stopping work at lunchtime with a bell and the Angelus, dedicating an urban farm to Our Lady and St. Isidore.


Monday, April 29, 2019

Spot the difference

How gardening makes me look:

How gardening makes me feel:

What gardening does to my brain:

What gardening does to my soul:

How I feel when I have to write:

My face when I'm writing:

How I feel when I'm blogging about "The Crisis":

What blogging about "The Crisis" does to my soul:

What blogging about art and gardening does to my soul:

Pretty much a no-brainer.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Egg tempera is the painting medium of the saints; oil is for profane moderns

Well, a whole week away in Rome and Santa Marinella! The glorious liturgy of the Church for Triduum, including the pre-1955 Good Friday (four hours that flew past!), Easter feasting and evenings with friends. It's more excitement than I'm used to, that's for sure.

Bertie is certainly glad I've brought the Lap home with me.

Getting started on a New Thing

But one big practical reason to go to the City from time to time is the presence of the art supply store that sells ALL THE THINGS!

Poggi on the Viale Trastevere, I learned, has all the things needed to do classical, original-materials egg tempera painting. Right down to the fancy-schmancy agate burnishers and stamping tools, Armenian bole and all manner of arcane sizing and finishing potions for gilding and to decorate the gold. I'm not quite at that stage yet, being determined not to bite off more than I can chew with this learning curve. Strictly going one step at a time.

But I did take one pretty significant step forward.

No more commercial acrylic gesso for me!

Pictured, left to right, are about 400 g of rabbit skin glue granules, 1 kg of "polvere di marmo" - Carrara marble dust - that has a completely different texture from the regular Bologna gypsum - and a jar of ready-made True Gesso (that I'm not too sure about). The marble dust has the highest recommendations from the experts who are doing all the research re-constructing this medium. The difference is quite pronounced; marble has a texture like extremely fine sand or even fine-granule sugar or salt, while the gypsum is more like the chalk dust that used to collect at the base of the classroom blackboard.

Egg tempera painters call the rabbit-skin-glue-marble-dust/gypsum kind, "True Gesso" (always capitalised) to distinguish it from commercial acrylic gesso. The difference is rather like the difference between egg tempera painting and oil painting in general. Acrylic gesso is Novusordo gesso, a profane, modernist outgrowth of Protestant gesso.

It's a bit of palaver to make and apply, but I think that really just adds the value of authenticity to the work. And there's nothing more fun than learning something ancient and arcane.

Lost arts are the best arts.

How the Protestant/Secular revolution really happened...

Koo Schadler, the recognised queen of traditional egg tempera research and technique - whose book a kind benefactor bought for me recently - says something quite profound about the transition in the art of Christendom in the early 1400s...

In one of her articles on her website, "History of Egg Tempera Painting" she notes that the transition from egg tempera to oils was one of the things that changed our civilisation from a Christian to a profane or "secular" one.

"Greater realism suited the less spiritually oriented, more scientific and humanistic culture of the Renaissance."

It wasn't merely the usual story we all know - that society was changing from other factors, that humanism was being born in Europe through the influence of ancient texts newly re-discovered at the Spanish Reconquista. It was the influence of northern European painters, using oils, producing artworks of a completely different - profane - nature brought down to Italy.

"Northern European painters were not as immersed in an egg tempera tradition, and their guilds were not as beholden to a particular school or working method. Northern Europe also had a history of an early form of oil painting behind it [Byzantine/Christian Greek]. Thus it was in the north that more experimental materials and methods began to develop. In his book on the lives of famous painters, the 16th c. historian Giorgio Vasari credits Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck with single-handedly creating the revolutionary technique of oil painting. In actuality the use of drying oils in easel painting can be traced back to a long and gradual development.  
"Oils were used in decorative painting and as protective coatings throughout the middle ages, probably earlier. These early oils were generally dark, thick, and not well suited to easel painting. But by the 1400s texts began to appear that described how to refine drying oils to make them lighter in tone, faster drying and have better working properties. 
"A commercial renaissance was taking place throughout Europe and with it came the distribution of the new materials, methods, and the paintings that resulted. 
By the late 1300s to early 1400s, northern European painters were working partly or entirely in oil.1 Slow drying oil paints blend more readily than fast drying, linear tempera. This makes it easier in oil to paint smooth transitions and three-dimensional forms. Because of its higher refractive index, oil is capable of darker shadows than can be achieved in tempera. Whereas tempera must be applied in thin layers, oil can be applied thickly (impasto), which contributes opacity to lights and highlights and makes them “pop”.  
"In other words, oil is better suited to creating natural light effects, atmosphere and more realistic imagery in general. Greater realism suited the less spiritually oriented, more scientific and humanistic culture of the Renaissance." 

- Panel paintings prior to 1400 are most likely pure egg tempera.  
- Panel paintings from 1400 to 1500 can be either pure egg tempera, or a combination of tempera and oil, or pure oil. The later in the 1400s the work was painted, the more likely it is oil (although not necessarily). More linear brushwork indicates egg tempera; more smoothly blended, atmospheric work indicates tempera grassa or oil.  
 - By the early 1500s nearly all panel paintings were executed in oil (with the exception of icons). 

I blame William of Occam for this too.

It really does explain a lot, particularly about why the northern Renaissance art of more or less the same period as the Italian art has such a markedly different tone or "feel". The subject matter is still broadly the same, since it is mostly the still-intact European Catholic Church doing the commissioning. But the northern painting of Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 – 9 July 1441) is already of a completely different nature - and obviously a completely different purpose - from that of Fra Angelico whose dates, 1395 – 1455, are about the same. And it's pretty significant, I think, that Fra Angelico has been beatified by the Church where his contemporaries, often much more famous and lauded to us moderns as "innovators," and later Italian painters like Leonardo and Raphael, are not.

It all rather hearkens back to what I was saying before about why modern "sacred art" - even when done by consciously devout modern Catholics for authentically Catholic reasons - fails in ways that we modern people have a hard time understanding clearly.

"This is why these modern "sacred art" paintings that try to "humanise" sacred persons using modern visual standards fail as sacred art. This is a function of Modernism, both in its artistic and theological expressions; the urge to de-sacralise the subject by naturalising it. But naturalistic visual language has become so ubiquitous - the photograph is now the only visual standard - that modern viewers of sacred art, while they may be aware that these works fail to do what they're advertised to do, fail to do what the art of Fra Angelico did, they often do not understand why."
The point with sacred art is not to depict the subject - the Virgin Mary or an angel, for instance - as looking like a particular person, but to depict a completely different order of reality, one that "eye has not seen..." and which cannot ever be fully grasped by the human mind in this life.

These details of paintings by the great transitional (late Gothic/early Renaissnce) sacred painter, Duccio Buoninsegna, (c.1255/1260 – c. 1318/1319) clearly show the development of Italian sacred art from its Byzantine roots. All the "canons" of proportion and form are present.

It is hard not to recall reading this article by Koo Schadler that the Protestant Revolution, that protocatastrophe that led us into all this modern misery, didn't start in notoriously secular and materially wealthy Florence.


It is good to be home

And there's lots to do. Going away for a week at the very moment the spring is making everything spring leaves you with lots and lots of work.

Beds to finish filling, things to turn over, cantaloupe, hollyhock, nasturtium and squash seedlings to plant out...

Home is best.

Now the question is, "Do I let him stay on the worktable while I'm gessoing and painting?"

On the one hand, Bertie has only just established this as his Spot. Poor chap has been a bit displaced while the other two are more assertive. But cat hair in the paint...


I should have known. Poor old Bertram just can't catch a break.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Cristus surrexit vere, sicut dixit! Alleluia!

Mark 16:1-7
At that time, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought sweet spices, that coming they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen. And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe, and they were astonished. Who saith to them, Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here; behold the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples, and Peter, that He goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him, as He told you.

Cristus surrexit vere, sicut dixit! Alleluia!


Down in Rome for a few days.

Here's some pics of adventures so far.

A feast for Easter morning. Staying with friends who have four little kids and it was a delight to see them searching the house for chocolate eggs and rabbits.

This Roman gentleman was getting the tram toward the centro this morning as I was off to the Mass. He'd just been to Porta Portese market, (every Sunday, Easter or not) and bought this beautiful book and allowed me to take a picture of it.

The Divine Office for Holy Week, published in Venice MDCCXC, which is 1790.
He told me he'd got it for 30 Euros. I said it was a great treasure.

I pulled my missal out of my bag and said I was going to the Old Mass, in Latin. He seemed surprised and said, "But you are so young!"

One of the side chapels at Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini, the FSSP parish in Rome, has one of the very few contemporary paintings of St. Philp Neri as a young man. Here he is shown welcoming sick pilgrims and the poor in the hospital he founded for their care - which is where the church gets its name: "dei Pellegrini" means "for the pilgrims". The chaps in the painting wearing red robes with white collars are members of the confraternity who were entrusted with the care of the convalescent poor. This confraternity has recently been revived at the parish and is now flourishing with new members. They perform many spiritual and practical functions.

St. Philip, the poor sick pilgrims and the confraternity as they are shown in the sacristy.

This little shrine to Our Lady was recently refurbished, and there was a queue of people waiting to pray here this morning, an encouraging sight.

Baroque art and architecture is meant to fool the eye, to make you think it looks smaller than it is. It is difficult to get an idea of the scale of that painting - the great masterwork of Guido Reni - but it might help to know that when new candles are put in the big gold candlesticks above the main altar, the whole thing reaches about 13 feet.

At Easter the parish pulls out all their precious Baroque portrait reliquaries. All those gold busts are gilded wood portraits of the saints whose relics are inside.

What Catholicism looks like.