Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The mind is a funny thing

Taught my first class in Louvain-la-Neuve today (course description here).

For about half an hour before class started, there was a tune going through my head. It was only afterwards that I could put my finger on what it was:

The mind is a funny thing.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Vote with your body": must try that

One afternoon a couple of years ago (after sitting in on a seminar on Husserl: a namedrop that will set the tone) I was enjoying a coffee on the terrace of a café just outside the gates of Cardinal Mercier's Higher Institute of Philosophy, and chatting to some American philosophy students. I'd bought an anthology of Dorothy Day's writings that morning, and spotting it one of them recommended Utah Phillips to my attention.

Although I'm drowning in translations and lecture prep at present, I did want to share these snippets off youtube, fruits of my just-before-bed substitute for television (which is becoming just too dire to contemplate). Two years ago there was only the hilarious Moose Turd Pie: there's been a Utah Phillips explosion on youtube since.

"If Dorothy Day would be standing right here on this stage now, that wonderful woman, if she was standing right here and looking at you with those piercing black eyes, I know exactly what she'd say because I've heard her say it ..."

And a 20th-century folksong, The Trooper's Lament:

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

National Treasure number 83 ...

from the National Museum of Korea, otherwise known as "Pensive Bodhisattva", has been in Brussels for the past few months, in an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux Arts (a.k.a. "Bozar") that a friend of mine did the design for (which in this case meant putting nothing but explanatory text on the walls, and displaying the objects in a series of cunningly built and arranged vitrines). She sent me tickets for the opening, but something came up (I can't even remember what now), and tomorrow is the last day of the show, so it was really now or never. There are some marvelous things on display, but most stunning is undoubtedly the famous NT83. The curl of the fingers and the toes, the curve of the back and the shoulders, the folds of drapery below, the smoothness of the torso above, and the warm glow of the bronze, with the posture conveying alertness and introspection at once (and to think the whole thing is a lump of metal!) - the effect is a captivating combination of fluidity and fixedness. It really is one of the great masterpieces of world art.

The picture above was put on flickr by user pravin8; I think it can be reproduced with attribution, but if I'm wrong, let me know and I'll replace the copy with a link. There's a better photo, but from a less interesting angle, here. As so often (always?) pictures can't even begin to convey the impact of the work of art itself. The piece is best seen full-front and slightly from below (which meant sitting on the floor).

In the exhibition as a whole I was surprised at the amount of iron and granite on display - compared to (say) bronze and marble - but this reflects my ignorance of Korean arts and crafts. I was also disappointed that the sutras and suchlike were either calligraphic or block-printed. Just about the one thing I did know about Korean arts and crafts is that they invented cast-metal moveable type, so it would have been nice to see a specimen.
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Coldest cold-snap in 30 years

And the first time the village pond has frozen over in 18 years (or so I hear - I've only lived here for eight!)
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"We Three Kings of Orient Are"

No, not really. But the beauty of a very parochial society is that local customs vary somewhat, so after singing out the old year in one village, the children can amass a whole other pile of loot by "King Singing" in another village at Epiphany. I suggested the four of them could be three kings and a star - but number one son insisted they were three kings and a camel.

Like English carols, Three Kings songs can be used to raise money for good causes, as well as to accumulate sweet stuff. The kids preparing for the formal renewal of their baptismal vows, as a preliminary to the Confirmation course, braved the cold to raise money for the projects of local hero "Bishop Bert", whose vocational training for AIDS orphans has inspired our number one daughter to various money-raising exploits of her own.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Liturgical oases

On the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a young Salesian (the first priest I've met in a long time who's actually younger than I am!) said Mass in the next parish along - with (almost) nothing left out, nothing put in, and with great devotion. Just a few hours earlier he'd been disc jockey at a New Year's party.

More than ever, I'm starting to think we need a "Society of Pope Paul VI", dedicated to preserving and promoting the Ordinary Rite of the Latin Church in the face of mind-numbing (and occasionally heart-breaking) attempts to make it more "relevant". So much New Age blather attracts people looking for transcendence, while the most transcendent fact imaginable is being disguised as a combination of sing-along and pep talk.

I hope this doesn't come across as grumpy, or whining, or controversial, because really I feel happier and more hopeful than I have in a long time.
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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Taizé in Brussels: New Year's Eve

I had vaguely hoped that after singing out the old year, the children might like to go and meet some Missionaries of Charity, or hear a Serbian or Congolese choir, but they stubbornly insisted on resting, dragon-like, on the piles of sweets they’d amassed. Taking reluctant children to public events is not something we have good experiences with, so we stayed in for the afternoon - again failing to take advantage of any of the edifying encounters laid on in Brussels for the Taizé youth meeting.

New Year’s Eve there was to be a peace vigil in a neighbouring parish till midnight, followed by a “festival of nationalities”, in which the foreign visitors to the two parishes would share some aspect of their culture with one another. As the pilgrims arrived back in the parish they gathered in the primary school, and we went en masse, bearing flaming torches, and singing Laudate omnes gentes part of the way, from our parish church to neighbouring Sint Teresia (not untypically for Belgium, the distance between the two parish churches is less than a mile). It was certainly a sight to lift the spirits on a misty midwinter night, particularly with half a dozen of the pilgrims almost literally juggling flaming torches, mobile phones (for texting New Year’s greetings back home), and assorted paraphernalia for the festival.

The booklet of instructions provided to parish organizers by Taizé had said the festival should be alcohol-free. At one of the preparatory meetings one of the brothers had muttered something about a single glass of champagne for each participant being acceptable. Well, Taizé might be in Burgundy, but we’re in beer-brewing country, so the concession of “a single glass of champagne” was universally taken by the parish organizers to mean “or a glass or two of beer” - especially when a local brewer offered to provide tins of the world-famous cherry beer (or kriek) for free. A local baker offered bread, a local delicatessen wholesaler offered whatever was close to its sell-by date (salami, chicken and tuna spreads, mortadella), and a local Vietnamese restaurant offered spring rolls. There was far more than could be finished (how much can even a 20-year-old eat after midnight?) and on New Year’s morning the copious leftovers went to a homeless shelter in Brussels.

The entertainments laid on by the participants were culturally instructive: a dance I’d seen in an American sitcom, described as “the bunny hop”, is apparently a Romanian folkdance. All the animators put their best foot forward (the Romanians, all joking aside, by far the best) and a good time was had by all. That is to say, I was caught in the melancholy reflection that for the first time since getting married I spent the turn of the year out of my wife's company; and a young Croat looked on with boredom at the whole proceeding; and three drunken young Poles had to be barred from the premises for part of the time; but these are minor exceptions.

After the singing and dancing of Southerners and Slavs, the proceedings were brought to a close with some good old northern pensiveness: in traditional Swedish fashion, the participants from Gotland greeted the New Year with a recitation of Edvard Fredin’s translation of Canto 106 from Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H.

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Taizé in Brussels: a blog in Dutch

I'll try to get something about days 3, 4 and 5 down later. For now, a link to a blog (in Dutch) about the five days (four nights) of having young pilgrims in the house.

Updating a day later (and changing the time stamp): there's also a video of brief "witness" from a host family (in Dutch) and from some young pilgrims (in English, about 1 minute 30 seconds in). The pictures alone will convey all the essential details.
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