Virginia Tech always give Florida college football teams a HECK of a game, never giving up, fighting with grit and gristle to the end. Sadly, the Hokies community today has been dealt a horrible blow. So today, we leave our rivalries behind, and join them in prayer.
May all who died so needlessly, rest in peace, and may this never happen again, anywhere...
Social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster have revolutionised how we interact online, as much, if not more than blogs because they are proactive, rather than often reactive like blogs are.
Participation, not lurking, is what keeps them going since the experience is lessened if you don't join in the fun.
(And have you noticed that seemingly all "third-wave" inventions have a way of becoming unbelievably addictive? From the internet itself, to such things as gaming, to Youtube, as well as Facebook I've heard, are all time-wasting portals of drastic proportions. Who said modern man has a short attention span? It's just selfish, is all)
So it was without too much amazement that I heard from Renato, that the Friendster idea has been made into a niche market for us cinephiles.
...well, it's been here since January 2006, but you get the picture.
Anyone of you on Flixster already?
I am about to join, but I dread falling under the spell of its addictiveness, if only for that first week when all you do, is haunt and lurk its site (first night I was on Youtube, I was on from 11 PM to 6 AM, straight).
We'll see if I join, because anything which takes me away from Sundries, and therefore, my friends here, is not something I like.
Still, finding people who actually can speak for hours about a given film which no one around me knows, or I think doesn't know -- that's a boon, I must say, even if my particular readership here is unusually gifted in being able to speak knowledgeably about many films.
Since we're on the topic, allow a quick review of the latest film I've seen this month, The Namesake.
-- As an aside, you know me. Rare, rare is the weekend where I don't stuff my face with at least 2 films at the cinemas. But since February, I've seen oh, maybe, 5 films? Including Breach and 300, the first of which I thought almost cartoonishly anti-Catholic, the second of which I rather enjoyed, actually. --
I don't know about your previews, but my cinema chains were heavily HEAVILY promoting trailers of The Namesake, even months away from its premiere.
Having been thus primed, it was a film I couldn't wait to see, because it seemed like a suitably interesting film amongst the dreck of the New Year, the traditional time when the studios throw their worst films at us, the viewing public.
What, after all, is not to like about The Namesake, given my own background?
A coming-of-age movie about a young immigrant who learns to appreciate his parents' culture, and who finds an inner peace about his sometimes irascible relationship with his father, as he does so.
Maybe not exactly my case, but close enough.
For those of us who are both repelled and attracted in turns by Bollywood films, it also seemed like a respite from all the corny sashaying and endless musical numbers which one gets, like it or not, from such productions.
Also, it didn't look like one of those cutesy pictures like Bend it Like Beckham or Bhajji on the Beach, which no matter how much I liked (and I did), were still minor comedies at best.
Finally, I thought, a serious film about a topic which is truly universal: learning to grow up and awakening parts of one, we didn't know existed so deeply inside us.
Alas, alas, The Namesake fell well short of its appointed rounds.
I have not read the book of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri, so perhaps those of you who did, might be better disposed towards the film.
Certainly that happened to me with Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, which I walked out of because I have KNOWN people like him, and his mother, and thus was deeply discomfitted to see it laid out before me (Annette Benning was terrific, though).
The story revolves around a man who has a life-altering event occur to him as he is reading Nikolai Gogol's story, The Overcoat, which incidentally I adore.
He decides to emigrate to America, and some time later, comes back to India so that his parents may find him a suitable wife. They do, and the couple moves together to America, where they eke out a cold, humble existence in New York, where their son is born, then their daughter.
In memory of that life-altering event, the man names his son Gogol, who as can be imagined, hates his name because of its tease-making quality at school.
But is it his first name, or his parents' alien culture that Gogol hates? As you can imagine, it's all interrelated, which we know, but it takes him almost a lifetime to come to terms with, sped up after a tragedy in his life alters his way of thinking.
As you can see, the story outline itself is fascinating. One is gripped by a simple story of angst and reconciliation.
The story's strong suit are the two minor leads -- the father, played with deft elegance by Irffan Khan, and the mother (who is perhaps too pretty and young, not to mention statuesque throughout, to be properly convincing), Bollywood leading actress, Tabu.
When their story is the focus of the film, in effect, in the first hour, the story glides effortlessly, though not without flaws.
The scenes of assimilation are almost all rehashed from a million tales of immigration (we know that Ashima is going to find it difficult to cope with the cooker and the laundrette -- give us something different!).
But when the couple is together, there is a tenderness, an INDIANNESS that is lovely to behold.
Maybe it hurt that I had recently seen Kal Penn in the abysmal "Epic Movie" (yes, what? I love spoofs) but let me say, he is perhaps the worst actor I've seen in a while.
His torturedly American diction doesn't help matters, and his delivery thus is encumbered by some kind of self-conscious patter which makes his lines fall flat before they are out of his mouth. Ack, he's so distracting!
Neither he, nor his wife, nor indeed, his sister in the film add anything to its storyline, and that's not even mentioning the completely forgettable role played by Jacinda Barrett (playing yet another upset would-be bride, as she did in The Last Kiss).
From start to finish, The Namesake promised much, and gave so very little for what its trailer represented it to be.
Watching that, you'd think the story centred around Gogol returning to India to find his roots, only then realising how treasured his ancestry was and what his parents meant to him, and thus primed for that, we looked for a kind of epiphany which never came.
Look, it's not My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with its weedy stupid storyline, but neither is it Maria Full of Grace which was starkly bitter.
I couldn't help thinking that the 3-hanky weepie, The Joy Luck Club, did a much better job with the little they were given to work with, only by the charisma of its secondary actors.
The Namesake couldn't even muster that. As they say, wait for the DVD.
Ah well. We'll just have to see what other film is out there for us adults to enjoy.
QUICK SPRING 2007 MOVIE GUIDE
Well, since we're on the topic, and you'll perhaps remember my Christmas Movie Guide 2006, here are some quick reviews which might be of some interest to you.
A lengthy film (almost 3 hours long) which doesn't get bogged down in its own detective worship, unlike so many crime thrillers around (Black Dahlia comes to mind, achingly).
Whilst not as good as the stellar reviews said, it still is a churning search for the Zodiac killer which haunted the Bay Area in the 1970s. Stage veteran, Mark Ruffalo, yet again shows why he is one of the more exciting actors around.
Meet the Robinsons
The surroundings, which will soon be blogged on Sundries, were the highlight of this film for me, not the actual movie which was trite almost to a sacchrine degree. Walt Disney isn't capable of producing that age-defining film anymore, and that's a shame.
If you get to see it on 3-D, do. If not, forget about it.
Oh God. If it's not the hysterical anti-Catholicism of the Da Vinci Code, it's this winter's little gift box from satan, Breach.
Sure, Robert Hanssen's story is definitely worth telling, because it was the worst breach of security in our nation's history. But unlike the other recent spy stories, this was given the nod by Hollywood presumably because Hanssen's motivation wasn't JUST greed -- it was fame, intertwined with a malevolent Opus Dei personality.
Upshot, Catholics bad. Catholic spies, worse, and hypocrites to boot.
Are you kidding me? If you come for a rendition of the Battle of Thermopylae as presented by Herodotus, save your money.
But if you come for a rollicking good time, filled with mythic warriors who acted as larger-than-life on screen as they were in real life, enjoy this film.
It was a ROMP, one that I wish the studios would make more often. It had the quality, and joyfulness of a good-old-fashioned Hollywood epic, even dire ones, like Clash of the Titans.
(Soon to watch: Iraq in Fragments, Miss Potter, Inland Empire, Colour Me Kubrick, Offside, Summer in Berlin, Disturbia, Lonely Hearts, Grindhouse. Stay tuned...)
Have you ever gotten a shock of surprise, when reading a particular passage in a book?
It so happens that the current book I am reading, the late Sir Steven Runciman'sThe Traveller's Alphabet (sadly out of print), was not the book which gave me this start of recognition.
But when he got to the bit about his trip to Roumania, I suddenly remembered this remarkable lady's book of later memoirs, and that very reaction which they produced about a location, at one point, which I had been meaning to tell you about for a long time.
First, let me transcribe the exact passage so you can get into the right mood.
During the famous Versailles Conference, where she played such a dazzling role for her adopted homeland, she was lionised socially, and literally invited everywhere.
One day, in the middle of the treaty-making, she just decided to play tourist, and did what many of us would do -- went to visit one of those enormously grand cathedrals, of which France has an embarrassment of riches.
Namely, Notre-Dame de Reims.
"A moving sight, indeed, that mighty cathedral rising like a ghost of unimaginable beauty from a grey mass of formless ruins.
Because of its many wounds, its lines and angels had become blurred, softened as seen through a veil; its glassless windows paint a tracery of lace against the sky, and, like so many decapitated martyrs, its statues seem frozen with pain.
Yet there the great building stands invincible, having defied the modern means of destruction and with them the spirit of hate. A vision of another age, of a stronger faith, ascending above the surrounding chaos, more sacred than ever because of its mutiliation, more supremely stately because all around it has been laid low, and today the sky is its only vault.
Such it appeared to me that early spring day, when we stood, mute, gazing up at its perfect majesty. Somehow one became speechless or spoke only in whispers."
Ladies and gentlemen, in my short lifetime, I have read hundreds, thousands of books, but never have I read a paragraph which so impressed me for its perfect descriptive powers.
This lady, vainglorious, slightly absurd, and magnificent, had the power to see something as it was, and yet to describe it flawlessly so that at the end, you felt as if you yourself had drunk of that imperial cup in Moscow, had viewed that ravine in Malta, and had quadrilled with Winston Churchill until your clingy dress brought down two partners on the dancefloor with you, by mere conjuring of her pen.
In short, that woman was one hell of a writer.
We arrived in Luxembourg's tiny airport, my father, mother and I, via the Bahamas on Icelandic Airways that December morning, ready to make a run to the car rental counter, but first had to pass through the custom's window.
Despite the three of us being "European", it was my newly American citizen mother's passport that the lady behind the guiché fawned over, practically falling over herself to welcome an US citizen to her little land -- an attitude which has forever stayed with me, because it was repeated a dozen times that following month on the continent.
When my dad and I presented our passports next (I was a dependent in his passport, as was the custom in those days), she took a look at that blue UK booklet of travel, and wordlessly, stamped it and bade us no farewell.
Arriving at the car rental office...no counter as thought, but actually a little wooden office located outside the airport...the lady there took one look at us three, and starting speaking in rapid-fire Letzebuergisch, though none of us were Luxembourgers.
Not sure what this baptism of linguistic fire was about, but her surly demeanour was not improved even when we tried German and French, as a courtesy, before my dad opened his mouth and finally said, "Do you speak English?".
The paperwork was still to be done, despite long-standing reservations Telexed from the States (remember Telexes?).
There were International Driver's Licences to produce, on old-fashioned paper with stamps and black-and-white photos, long since gone today.
And again, those passports, since you can't do anything in Europe without documentation up the wazoo, something Americans and British both should be happy their cultures are by nature, against.
Finally, we had our keys to the Opel Kadett in dad's hands, since of course, he drives.
He may have paid for my mother's medical education because as he said, "I don't want to live the next 50 years beside a stupid woman", he may have encouraged me to stay away from the kitchen, and paid for riding lessons when other girls were learning how to do laundry and sweeping up, but he was still macho enough to always insist on being the driver in any car he was in.
It was December, and of course, there was snow all over the ground.
Being British, he is a trusting sort, who still never checks what a person behind a counter gives him, because he always assumes the bag will contain exactly what he paid for (to his chagrin, when he arrives with two Big Macs, instead of the Fish sandwich I requested).
He turned on the windshield wipers on the Kadett, and...nothing. He got out of the car, jiggled them, and...nothing.
We were on our way to Paris, with no windshield wipers working, and with snow threatening to bear down on our party of 3.
He turned on the headlights...nothing. This can't be happening!
(My mother immediately blamed the surly Luxembourger woman who obviously "had it in for us", which is a common assumption between most women about each other, by the way)
With no windshield wipers, and no headlights, and a starving child, we rushed from Luxembourg to Metz, then on our way to Nancy when it started to snow.
With mittened hand, my intrepid father cleared the snow from the windshield, as he tried to speed ever faster in the direction of Paris, convinced he could make it before it got really dark.
(Fortunately that American nightmare of coppers pollulating the highways just when you least need them, doesn't really apply on the continent. We were safe from tickets defended in awkward French, as long as we stayed on the highway)
Daylight now was a mass of dark greys, and menacing inky blues.
Whether by design or complete and utter misdirection, we turned into the nearest big town, since we obviously were not going to get to Paris by nightfall.
We three of us, cold, hungry, and lost, were in Reims.
With a child's concept of time and space, the ride might have taken 8 hours or 80 minutes, for all I knew.
And looking at a map today, I have no idea how dad took that exit that led us to Reims, since clearly Nancy is well below it.
Mother was asleep in the front seat, but I was very awake now, having decided that if she were sleeping, I would be on duty as co-pilot for my father, still doing the mitten jig every minute.
The thing with family car trips is that they are not tour guide jaunts, who get announcements in 5 languages like, "Turning your heads, you will now see Reims approaching to your left", whereupon docile tourists in coaches do as they are bid, and suitably enlightened, they open their green Michelin guides to the Reims section.
Dad and I simply, and with expert economy of speech, looked at the passing signs and wondered where we were.
Théâtre this, Republique that, and Musée the other.
A million towns in France are exactly the same, but undaunted, dad kept driving, no doubt on the lookout for a nice, but not too costly hotel to kip down his tribe.
That's when it happened.
Imagine me, a child in warm earmuffs, and a little cute beige Christian Dior coat, leaning over my father's shoulders as he drives, suddenly turning in slow motion (why are unforgettable memories always in slow motion, as if in a dream?) and seeing a long foggy avenue to my right.
In that exact moment, in fact, as dreams tend to be, with perfect timing, the fog lifts slightly and to my right is an enormous edifice, in more shades of grey that I have ever seen in my whole life then, and even now.
Reims Cathedral loomed to the right of our car and thus stunned my father and I into submission, as it had for over 1600 years to families the world over, come to pay their respects.
I prod mother awake.
Years later, she said the sight that she beheld as she opened her eyes was like in a gothic nightmare, all jutting spires, and overly imposing saints staring at her, no, through her very being.
Wow, I am so happy my memory is one of shared awe, not fleeting, devilish terror as hers.
And now I must confess that I love Reims. And I'm very scared of it at the same time.
What was it that Queen Marie said?
"...that mighty cathedral rising like a ghost of unimaginable beauty from a grey mass of formless ruins".
I was seeing it a good 70 years after she had, and yet that description SIMPLY cannot be improved upon.
With fog spiralling around us in the massive square in front of the cathedral, my father held my little gloved hands, approaching to pause to look at the august doors, and their weirdly carvings.
I was a stoic little kid, and would never confess to fright or discomfort, but he must've sensed me quaver through our joined hands as I looked up and up and up to the reliefs of saints in Christian agony.
He hurried me along, and there before us, stood the most enormous cavity of a nave you have ever seen in your life.
When, years later, I read that armies had lodged themselves in that self-same cathedral, including possibly (disreputably) a German ancestor of mine, or two, I understood.
Yes, a child has a memory of bigness that is by its very nature, exaggerated. Anyone who has ever tried to visit their grade school as an adult, will know exactly that feeling, "...was my desk really that small?".
But Reims cathedral defies magnitude.
First, though I've since seen photographs of its interior which shocked me for its brightness, the Reims I knew was as dark as sin, and nearly as welcoming.
I cannot remember the layout exactly, but never will I forget the dazzling statue at the centre of Saint Joan, yes, that Saint Joan, who is not buried there having had her ashes thrown into the Seine, but who we British had selfishly put to death.
But Saint Joan HAD been inside Reims, as she witnessed the fruit of her battles in the coronation of that duplicitous king, Charles VII.
In fact, Reims cathedral for centuries fulfilled the same function Westminster Abbey did in England -- not only the last resting place of the august Elizabeth I, and a slew of other kings, but also the place of their crowning before God.
I have been to both, and I have to say, Reims is the place where even a king can feel humbled (or indeed, a queen), not the dear old spinsterish Abbey.
I am not sure if all parents do this, or it was just mine, or even, if it was the knowledge that we were "just" in a church, for all its jumped up grandiosity, but my parents let me wander all alone for a good 15 minutes.
Tombs passed me by, as I inched my way around the littered chairs in the middle of nave -- which then, as now, I found a little awkwardly-placed.
I saw him.
He must've been middle-aged, but to me he was old. A man wearing a black overcoat, holding a candle in his hand, praying with his lips moving, but in French, so that the sound was like a gushing stream in soft flow.
"Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâce. Le Seigneur est avec vous...
(Je vous salue Marie, pleine de grâce...beautiful, just beautiful)
I stood there, transfixed, for seemingly hours.
But even so, I was careful not to be seen by him, conscious that I was intruding into a very private moment, one that fascinated me, because I had never seen my own father in such a position.
Children's ultimate yardstick being all things parental, of course.
And just like that, my parents reappeared. In their eyes I saw my marvel mirrored back at me, so I knew that, veterans of many cathedrals themselves, this was a special one nonetheless.
I turned back, as we left, having yet to learn the lesson of Lot's wife. One last look, one last frisson.
Even its very name suffuses me with a chill of majesty that I believe we mortals were bade by God to know as the word "awe".
We went inside our car, and drove now in the darkness, carefully, with hand on the horn.
The streets were empty (and I've been told by many Frenchmen, that Reims at night, is nearly dead), so whatever blessing we had been given inside the cathedral, followed us on our way to our lodging.
Neither my parents nor I recall the name of the ENORMOUS hotel we ultimately found to lay our weary heads, but I do remember one thing about it.
My dad mentioned what a wonderful cathedral her city had, and the concierge lady, who sported a manly blond haircut -- a French Gertrude Stein -- took about 10 minutes to teach him the right pronunciation of said city, with such a gutteral accent, emphasising that nasally sound, that even a German would be proud of.
REIMS! REIMS!! REIMS!!!
As long as I live, I will never forget Reims' farewell impression on my childish eyes, my tall father towering over this tiny corpulent Frenchwoman, as she schooled him (tired, dishevelled, in need of bed not elocution lessons) as to the correct pronunciation of her town, Reims.
If only Audioblogger were still around. Wouldn't we have fun listening to me saying REIMS! over and over again, just like that lady concierge did over 20 years ago.
And no, I don't ever want to return to Reims again, despite my love for it. Some places do not need a repeat visit. Let them haunt your reveries until all your hairs be white, until you die.
Can you imagine a black man stopping a white cop for directions, and the white cop not only obliging, but holding up traffic a full 2 minutes, as he directed said black man on his way? At the end, exchanging a hearty, "okay man, take care"?
Well, it happened right in front of me the other day.
With all this talk of racism this week, of the nappy-haired ho variety, it's good to remember that not everything in the United States is as Reverend Al Sharpton and his ilk, would have you believe.
Nuvo is the latest liqueur incarnation ready to hit clubs and restaurants running this spring, the brain-child of Raphael Yakoby.
Mr. Yakoby is known as that Long Island club "wizard" behind the previous marketing hit, Hpnotiq, back in 2003.
(It's a vodka/cognac/fruit juice liqueur that is not at all advertised in the US, and is known primarily via the club circuit, so bully for you, if you knew about Hqptoniq. I didn't)
Taking him over 3 years to concoct, Nuvo is being aimed specifically towards the female demographic -- which if the shot of pink all over the bottle isn't enough of a give-away, the words "For Her" are stamped on the bottle for all to see.
Oh, and it's sparkling vodka.
Yes, because we women can't be trusted to buy an usual no-frills bottle of Finlandia, presumably.
If you are clamouring right now to know how much this Nuvo drinkie will set you back, here is the pricetag:
$30 for 357 ml $20 for 200 ml
Not being very good with either metrics or boozing, I'm not sure if this is competitive or not, but I'm sure someone will appraise me of either, if it is.
This time, Raphael isn't letting good word of mouth from club aficionados on the lash do his advertising.
Nuvo will be launched on May 1st with much hoopla and babes abounding. I can't wait!
Having seen the following quiz on an online forum some time ago, I decided just now to take it.
...now, you know I'm an only child.
...what's more, my parents always said I was 13-going-on-59 when I was growing up.
...even more worrying, I have always felt much more at home with people WAY older than I, than with my contemporaries.
So I never expected to get this score!
YOUR MENTAL AGE
"[X] I know how to make a pot of coffee [X] I do my own laundry  I can cook for myself  I think politics are interesting [X] My parents and grandparents have better things to say than my friends
 I show up for school/college/work every day [X] I always carry a pen in my pocket/purse. [X] I've never gotten a detention [X] I've watched talk shows [X] I know what credibility means without looking it up [X] I drink coffee at least once a week
Total So Far: 8
[X] I know how to run the dish washer [X]I can count to 10 in Italian/Spanish/French/Ger man and Japanese and Portuguese! [X] Normally When I say I'm going to do something I do it [X] Both parents trust me.  I can mow the lawn.  I can make adults laugh without being stupid.  I remember to water my plants.  I study when I have to [X] I pay attention at school/college [X] I remembered to feed my pets
Total So Far: 14
[X] I can spell experience without looking it up [X] I clean up my own mess. [ ] The first thing I do when I wake up is get Diet Coke [X] I can go to the store without getting something I don't need [X] I understand jokes the first time they are said [X] I can type fast
Total So Far: 19
[X] I have realized that the weather forecast changes every hour. [X] I have realized that no one will take you seriously unless you are over the age of 25 and have a job. [X] I can read a book and actually finish it
Total So Far: 22
Add the numbers difference between your age and your total above. Your combined total is your mental age. "
My mental age is plugged at 32. Crikey! Correct!
That couldn't be right, surely, so I tried another quiz. See if you get a more correct result yourselves.
You’re a great person to know ‘cause you’re so wise and mature. Plus you’re probably good at shuffleboard.
The good news is, you're fearless, and you've got a healthy outlook on life. The bad news is, you've got one foot in the grave. Hey, that's okay - we're sure you'll be partying it up in the afterlife, too.
Best sight during the Easter Sunday telecast from the Vatican, as Pope Benny gave his Urbi et Orbi speech?
Why, this precious munchkin, of course!
Although I must say the Esperanto-poster-wielding crowd at the back were a hoot, too. Did you notice how the Pope smiled and waved at them, when he said his Easter greetings in Esperanto?
I thought the Aramaic crowd looked particularly vexed, though.
P.S.: In harder news, it turns out that the Pope MIGHT have been the lynchpin statement which forced President Mahmood Ahmedinejad to release our British military personnel from their illegal imprisonment in Iran.
Just a few hours before the President gave back the servicemen (and one rather portly, disgustingly overfriendly servicewoman), the Pope sent over a message saying that releasing them would be taken as a great sign of "goodwill", especially notable if was done before Easter Sunday.
And so it was done.
Who knows what the reason was, or what prompted the disgraceful behaviour of the released prisoners of war, to act as they did.
No one in Colditz would have behaved like that, that's for sure.
I knew I wasn't going to have much time to blog on Easter Sunday, but I had no idea I would end my night with my parents at almost 2:30 AM.
For it was today that, after our paschal duties were over; after taking a swing over to Coconut Grove for a dinner nosh; after seeing the sights around this travellogueable city and relaxing, that we all 3 of us sat down to watch on DVD:
And though I feared my dad, a veteran of more Bond films than I'm sure he'd care for me to mention, would not like for the newest incarnation, the Blond Bond, he passed judgement minutes ago by saying that Daniel Craig is the best Bond yet!
(I don't know about that, but he seemed fairly certain he is better than Sean Connery. Oh, come on...even if he's a Manure supporter)
For you see, there is always a moment in a film which captures your attention and your regard (as it was with me in Children of Men with the statue of David), and for my doctor dad it was the scene with the difibrilators.
My mother said it was the psychological game the newest Bond girl and 007 played with each other, where they sized each other up simply by their powers of observation, which caught her heart.
As for me, it wasn't difficult. If you've seen the film, can you guess?
It was at the very start of the film, when 007 is in hot pursuit of a bad guy in Miami, and he is seen inside a taxi passing a vista I pass almost every day.
Miami going to Miami Beach via Macarthur Causeway, with the newest condominiums still skeletons, looming up ahead.
Each one of us three, liking what we like inside of us, what we love outside of us.
But above all, there is something wonderful about watching an enjoyable film with people you love.
It's absolutely great to Bond.
...see you later Monday, my friends, after I sleep the sleep of a thousand happy winks tonight! Hope your Easter was as grand as mine.
No matter where you are, chances are that if you're a Roman Catholic, like me, you're not far away from a church celebrating the resurrection of Our Lord.
For today is Easter Sunday, and on this special day, Sundries is taking you on a very special travellogue...a trip around 3 of the many Catholic churches in South Florida!
Yeah, a little church is good for you, for me come to that, ya hear?
At least, every once in a while, if only to hear some of the most beautiful voices singing their little hearts out for you, doubtlessly after many heated rehearsals all week, in the name of the Lord.
And it goes a little like this:
Young, old, woman, man, every section of society is represented in this humble church choir.
It also is your first introduction to one of our featured travellogue churches, which debuts this blogpost quite nicely.
STS PETER & PAUL ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
You've been to the Silver Bluff-Shenandoah neighbourhoods before with me, on Sundries, even if you don't immediately recall. That's where the cutest little house in Miami is located, remember?
And where Robert of 26th Parallel held his wedding, at this very church, the much beloved, Saints Peter & Paul, which also features a school of the same name. In fact, all 3 churches pictured in this travellogue, have schools attached to its parish, one of the imprimaturs of a healthy and successful Catholic community.
You know, I don't know about you, but I've yet to know of a Catholic school that didn't have a yard long waiting list for its school, a fact which has always made me smile.
For the world says that the Roman and Apostolic Catholic Church is in frank disarray, with dwindling membership, and an embittered and suspicious faithful -- which I don't doubt is true for many.
But this opinion is also an exaggerated view, often culled up by secularists who in repeating this, hope to seed doubt in people's minds. Catholic Church is dying! No one is attending Mass! Catholic priests are all paedophiles!
Well, in these three churches, ranging from working-class to elite status are anything to go by, perhaps all what we Catholics really need is a little more faith...in our faith.
By the way, did you see, "Sts Peter & Paul -- Panthers"?
How MANY schools have "Panthers" as their mascot in America?? It must be the single most popular mascot animal in this country!
Why never "Home of the Chihuahuas", hmm, hmm?
Holy Week started with me deciding to be a little more devout than I usually am, so on that note, I told my parents that I would be accompanying them to Mass, whenever they went. They have never forced me to do so, and for that, I've always been grateful.
In my own way, I'm rather religious, but man, am I lazy.
But anyway, mother rejoiced, and dad snickered, but then he would, old agnostic that he used to be.
So off we went to Sts. Peter & Paul, since that's my mum's favourite church.
Look at that neighbourhood. PACKED, totally packed. Not even a spot to swing the proverbial handicapped parking space cat.
We walked from two blocks away, where we had finally found a space, having first left a sign in my car window saying that I was at Church, so irate owners wouldn't have me towed away.
Oh, in two languages, of course! After all, that area is almost completely Cuban-American.
...and 50 years after their exile began, some of them don't even speak ni un pepino de ingles. Ah well.
That's St. Peter to the left, and St. Paul to the right. Or is it the other way around? I forget.
Either way, as you can see from the wide wooden doors, and aged sconces outside, it is a modern church (built in 1939), but still not an ultra-modern mega church, just another barn-like edifice masquerading as a house of worship, which frankly, I've never liked.
I just never have found the presence of God inside those modern, Protestant-looking Catholic churches which seem to abound in the US (sadly), you know?
But Sts Peter & Paul doesn't have that problem. It is very elegant, with all that implies -- understated colours, muted stonemasonry, and yet stately lines.
If I had to describe this church in one word, that word would be SOLID.
I always enter this church by the left-most door, and you know why?
Because the right-hand door leads you immediately to a statue of St. Joseph, holding as is the custom, our baby Lord, Jesus Christ. I like me some St. Joseph, it's not that, but I LOVE ST. THÈRÉSE OF LISIEUX.
And that's where the left-hand door leads you to: to her beautiful statue, in those Carmelite robes, holding that famous spray of roses with which she is so closely associated.
When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother made me read her famous autobiography, Story of a Soul, and like millions of Catholics after her death, I instantly fell in love with this saint, who preached a Catholicism we could all do -- The Little Way.
Whichever church I go to, she's always my first port-of-call.
Like many churches, Sts. Peter & Paul has two little side rooms, an antechamber of sorts, where you can pray quietly and give a few dollars to help the church meet its expenses.
Right next to St. Thèrése, we have just such a room where a wonderful, unadorned crucifix of Our Lord hangs.
I'm not too keen about this newfangled modern candle thingie, where by a mere push of a little button, it lights up an electric "light" in memory of your loved one, and so forth.
Yeah, the old versions were fire hazards, but if the Vatican doesn't mind being engulfed in a conflagration to preserve the custom, with its holdings which are beyond price, why should a more modest church not do so, too?
Bring back the real candles!!
Every Catholic country has its particular Saint this, or Our Holy Virgin Mary of the other, and Cuba is no different.
Next to the prie-dieu above, there is a tiny little space for the Cuban "Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre" (Our Lady of Charity, which a Cuban friend once mistranslated as Our Lady of Sweet Charity with a totally straight face).
The French have Lourdes, the Portuguese have Fatima, the Mexicans have their Guadalupe, and the Brazilians have their Conçeicão, but the Cubans revere the story of this apparition of Our Lady for many reasons.
Three fishermen, one white, one black and one indigenous (the first totally Politically Correct santico crowd in the world, and to think, Barbara Walters had nothing to do with it...), chanced upon a statue of a lady in the waters where they fished. Attached to her was a little wooden plank with the words, "Yo Soy La Virgen de La Caridad" (I am the Virgin of Charity), which is some calling card, boy.
Her legend grew in Cuba, to the point where both Catholics and voodoo priests worship her with equal fervour. Interestingly, she was appointed patroness of Cuba by another Benedict, Pope Benedict XV in 1916.
I've never seen this little statue without some little old Cubana senior citizen praying reverentially under her.
(Ooh, I don't like the look of that panel in the ceiling, all peeling and yucky, which isn't noticeable when you're actually there, though. Never mind fire. What is the church doing about its damp and rot?)
Obviously, a cute little sign in brass asking parishioners not to use calculators inside church.
Sucks for the 6th graders cramming just before an exam.
Jam packed for Holy Week services, this elegant lady had to stand up, and do her devotions on the floor.
Mother turned to me and whispered, "I think that's Catherine Deneuve".
Oh totally, mum, definitely.
Catherine Deneuve flipped the bird to La Madeleine and Notre Dame and chose to attend Mass in an obscure Cuban-American Miami neighbourhood church, Sts Peter & Paul.
Anyway, is she even religious? Belle du Jour, indeed.
My favourite chorister is the lady allll the way to the back-right, who looks like a Cuban Barbara Bush. Que nice.
And what a booming alto! She's the topmost voice you hear singing "La Gloria Del Señor" in the Youtube clip above.
(In case you wondered, many of the Masses we attend are in Spanish, but neither my parents nor I, mind. Dad just pretends it's Latin, and mum sings in a mixture of French and Italian, much to the amusement of the viejitas around her)
A lovely, long view of the actual interior of the church.
You can get a fair idea of what kinds of people attend services, although I do have to say this is most probably 100% Cuban-American (minus stray gringos like myself, or other Hispanics).
Funny thing about it, is that some of the kids actually wore their school uniform, I noticed! It had the logo of the school on their yellow polo shirts, and blue trousers. You couldn't have paid me to put on my school jumper after hours, back in England...
Lastly a word about the "cura", the priest.
He's from Spain, apparently, and has a wonderful voice. Mass and services around the world are made or broken by the voice of its vicars, priests, imams, rabbis, etc.
Get a really boring, monotone chap, and that 1 hour of devotion will inch second by second, until all you do towards the end, is count the moment when you can bolt out the door.
But this guy? He has charisma, and a lot of presence.
Mum says she doesn't understand a word he says, because his Spaniard accent is too thick, but she loves going there at nights, just to listen to his voice.
If only our Church had more like my dear old mother.
EPIPHANY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Our next church is located in upscale Pinecrest, the old neighbourhood of ex-Governor Jeb Bush, and in fact, used to be his and his family's local parish.
Yes, Pinecrest is a very wealthy area, with million dollar homes strewn all over Old Cutler Road, but for all that, its citizens are not to the manner born, like in Coral Gables.
Epiphany Church (yes, with school next door) reflects their non-fussy attitude, where Catherine Deneuve would never deign to appear.
It's actually a fairly new, ginormous church, resembling a cathedral in size and import, but still just a church.
It's not exactly to my taste, since it has a hint of that modernist architecture which I told you I greatly dislike, but their services ARE mostly in English, so my family and I sometimes go there just for that.
Makes a change to understand what's actually going on, you know?
Massive doors frame the entrance. It's not as minimalist as it seems, though. It's just a bit new, and hasn't grown into its character, like Sts. Peter & Paul.
Give it time. 60 years, which in Miami-time, is 300.
Not too sure I approve of the wicker ceiling (I think that's what it is). But at least the stained glass windows and depth of the transept give Epiphany a nice glow in daylight.
This is the Good Friday liturgical Mass, which was preceeded by the Stations of the Cross devotional.
(My favourite part of the whole Easter calender is Good Friday, when the Passion takes place. And yes, I was first in the queue when Mel Gibson's movie came out some years ago)
The priest in this church was a young, American chap, and very nice too, I'm sure. But he just doesn't have the gravitas the other Spaniard priest had, best illustrated by the lack of timbre in his voice, which he used to RUSH through the Mass (40 minutes flat, in what usually takes 1 full hour!).
My parents and I kept looking at each other, wondering where the fire was?
A Winchellesque performance, which I hope he will grow out of, as he ages gracefully into his role -- just like Epiphany church itself.
The paddles for the "offerings", or what you heathens know as the "begging for money" baskets.
I took a photo of the open door because it reminded me of an Oxford boatrace, when the oars (blades) are lined up just like that.
Fitting, because the service was over faster than an Eights Week bumps race...
Yes, there are poor folk in Pinecrest, which is like saying the poor of Kensington or Park Avenue, heh.
And here is the proof.
That's my mother opening up her purse and putting in a whole 3 bucks into the poorbox, one dollar for each minute of the Mass...
I'm very conscious that I'm taking pictures of reverential places for this travellogue, so I make sure I never catch anyone in actual prayer, which would be wrong.
I break this rule of mine, only once in the travellogue, and here it is.
Mother, child, looking up in devotion to Our crucified Saviour. Every photograph I have shown you has been taken with the joy of sharing my world with you.
But here, in this one photograph, I am showing you what my religion means to me, through the faceless body of a devout mother introducing her child to our faith.
What can be more beautiful than that?
If you guessed that I wasn't particularly bowled over by Epiphany church, you would not be wrong.
But I'll give them this -- that's the best church bell tower in all of Miami, bar none. On a fine day, you can hear them clear across Coral Gables, calling its faithful to pray in their Grand Prix.
CHURCH OF THE LITTLE FLOWER
So far, you've followed me to upwardly-mobile working-class Cuban-American Silver Bluff. Then you've traipsed with me to services in flexingly nouveau-riche Pinecrest.
But now, we're in the heart of the elite world of Miami -- Coral Gables!
Mum and I lost the armwrestle match with the old lady you see emerging triumphantly from the illegal parking space just in front of the church, so we parked three blocks over.
I'll say one thing for my newfound religiosity. What with the genuflections during Mass, the ups, the downs, the hiking of miles from parking space to church, I must've lost at least 3 pounds.
Catholicism is not only good for the soul, but it tones your abs, too.
I'm not exactly sure whose bust of a saint that is -- frankly, it looks not a little like Machiavelli or Savanorola.
(Just behind it is the requisite school of the Little Flower, which is $$$ to get into, as can be expected)
Keeping up my tradition, I always enter through the left-hand door of the church, though since this whole CHURCH is dedicated to my Little Flower, I don't do so to encounter her statue, more of which anon.
It's just that I like the view from the left, as one enters.
High vaulted ceilings. Flouncy alcoves, and a massive cupola above the Altar. I love it.
Yeah, a little ornate, but ornate is better than a modernist Costco Warehouse. Who can find God next to the Rice Crispies?
The only thing I found a little disappointing, was that the crowd was almost all older, and not very enthusiastic, as at least the Epiphany crowd were.
And I tell you what else disappointed me, now that I am in quibble-mode.
The outdoor statue of St. Thèrése, my beloved saint.
Nooooo, that's so totally not her face! She looks like a young Mirta de Perales! Look at that nose. Cubanaza and a half!
That's another thing about us Catholics -- we're fussy about our faith, and we each of us have in our minds, how certain things should be relating to it.
Take me, for example.
I can only worship in a church I like, which gives me the right "feeling" inside, when I enter it. If there is a priest I don't care for, or a statue which rubs me the wrong way, I may shun its comforting purpose, because I can always find another church which suits me better.
Sure, many religions have that peculiarity too, and furthermore, I do so because I have a wealth of choices around me -- but Catholics are notoriously sentimental about their churches, their priests, and their saints.
Anyway, just because the Church of The Little Flower has a snub-nosed St. Theresa outside, who looks like she just came out of the ring with Leila Ali, doesn't mean I have to look at her all day.
That's why I bring my Little Flower rosary box with me, so her more recognisably beatific face stares at me, whether the priest be boring, speedy or folksy.
Ahh, that's more like it. The Little Flower looking at me, for once a good little Catholic girl, observing her duties to her faith, and sharing it with all and sundries. But now, I must say...
This travellogue is ended. Go in Peace!
And Happy Easter, everyone!
UPDATE: Blogger colleague, Class-Factotum, makes an amazingly similar observation for the "workout" portion of the Catholic ritual. Read the blogpost here.
I know I shouldn't be sacreligious on such a day, but that's never stopped me before.
Why, I ask myself, hasn't a priest ever realised he could treble his parish numbers, if he instituted step classes in CYO?
Just a thought.
Please also read Benning's Easter post on the Resurrection. Very moving!
(Click here for Internet Ronin's political bumpersticker find du jour! Hilarious)
Let's play the political bumpersticker game today!
I will show you two South Florida snapshots, taken on the various byways and highways of Miami.
Neither car has any kind of outright Party paraphenalia on it -- no elephants or donkeys clinging to their windows like politicised Garfields.
And no, I didn't pull up to their window and ask to see their voters' registrations, although I could've, since I'm a Clerk of a polling precinct and well within my Little Napoleon rights.
But I think it's still interesting to wonder:
Republican, or Democrat?
- Flatbed F-150 Ford truck (American make) - One yellow "Support the Troops" ribbon - One red-white-blue "God Bless the USA" ribbon - An aged Triple AAA sticker - A weathered "One Nation Under God" or similar sticker - One blue sticker showing an heart with the US flag colours and "God Bless America" - A licence plate holder advertising "The people of the United Methodist Church", "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." - And finally, a tablet of the Ten Commandents to the left hand side, on top of the paintwork
- Honda Element Sports Utility Vehicle (foreign make) - A licence plate holder advertising "Japanese Car Care", "305-262-0002" - A single bumpersticker saying, "He's STILL NOT My President"
Now then, with this information and other ones you may like to point out, would you care to guess which of these vehicle owners is an redblooded, godfearing, patriotic Republican?
Or an Internationale-singing, hypocritical pinko commie Democrat?
Well, I've decided to make this a regular feature on Sundries, since (a) I revel in architecture in general (perhaps having inherited that from my maternal grandpapa, who was an architect by profession), and (b) there is so much variety in houses here in South Florida, quite unlike my country, of the self-same, boring, semi-detached, brickwork homesteads.
To that end, I keep my eyes peeled for any local houses which might interest you in a blogpost.
And who knows. One day, if you live down here, I might just take a picture of your home, and won't you be surprised then!
Here is today's featured South Florida home.
For me, the perfect house has to have a circular driveway. Be located on the corner. Have a nice herbaceous border, instead of a picket fence. And lastly, it has to be remarkable architecturely, for any reason.
This house is smashing, in every respect.
Look at its vibrant ochre hue (I confess, I have a thing about deep ochre -- an Oxford affectation perhaps).
With its dainty Seville tiles framing the windows, and general Spanish colonial feel, this is a home George Merrick, Coral Gables' founder, would have been proud to grace his model city.
Like many old Miami homes, I believe it has a chimney -- which is probably used 2 weeks out of every year, usually between December 31 to January 15, but it does come in handy if its still in use (most aren't, of course).
Check out the solid iron weather vane, another special delight of mine, which I will make sure my future home has. I think it's a rooster, but perhaps it's a crow (sheesh, what bad luck if so!).
It even has a second floor, which is a rarity in these here parts. After all, we're only 14 feet above sea-level, and our bedrock doesn't like lumpy, two storey houses.
Those vines give it a very elegant feel though, but as everyone in Britain knows, ivy is a killer on plumbing and pipes.
But with such careful pruning of the borders, I can tell these homeowners won't let anything get too shabby, any time soon.
A close-up of my favourite part, those blue-tiled windows. Click on the photo, and you will see the scroll-work on the window reads, "1924"! Why, the University of Miami was founded in 1926, and its a stone's throw away from that.
Look how the ochre, the yellows of the marigolds, and the bougainvilleas overhang and blend in beautifully with the usual Florida green of everything else.
You know, sub-tropical climes like us are brutal even with hearty perennials.
In places like Rio de Janeiro, you never see a shot of colour anywhere, and have to content yourselves with the green of the trees and shrubs, only.
(There are other reasons for that, such as parks are concrete playgrounds there, because it costs too much to upkeep, and the homeless mistreat their surroundings too much in third-world countries...alas. One of the problems of South America, is that you can't prettify anything outside of the posher places, because it's soon ruined)
But we in Florida are luckier.
We have a gentle breeze which pollinates our flowers; a lovely warm clime which allows for a wide variety of flowers to grow, even temperate-loving roses; and the delights of year-round greenery -- though others may dislike that.
We don't get autumn and winter down here.
It's one perpetual hot spring day.
Those of you in New England may scoff and point to your Vermont autumn days, when houses and barns look as a pretty as a postcard.
But we in South Florida don't mind, as long as its April all year round.
As for this house, its colours melt into that deep blue Florida sky, don't you think? Ochre being the perfect foil for its robin's egg blue.
Maundy Thursday got a different twist today, at eponymous Victoria Station. It was filled with a flash mob, dancing at a preset time, at the behest of a clubbing website.
More than 4,000 clubbers danced through the rush hour at Victoria station in Britain's biggest flash mob stunt.
Revellers responded to e-bulletins urging them to "dance like you've never danced before" at 6.53pm.
There were knowing looks and giggles among the casually dressed crowd that gathered from 6.30pm, wearing earphones.
But not all commuters, most who weren't in on the joke, were happy to have their already long commute, made longer by students, and online geeks.
"I was trying to get my train home but the whole concourse was filled with students dancing and I couldn't get through. The last thing I wanted after a hard day at work was to miss my train because of the idiots."
Oh come on! Live a little, you boiled shirt!
In case you didn't know, as I didn't, here is what the term means:
"Flash mobs, groups of people brought together via the internet who perform a bizarre act together before disappearing, took off in America in 2003."
Ever been a part of a flash mob, yourself?
And God, please don't say you were -- during last year's Wank Week. Ewww.
Today, someone praised my teeth, making the inevitable comment, "Wow, you're British, but you have straight teeth. Did you have braces?".
For the record, no, I did not.
Except for a small bonding procedure on my front teeth, I've never had any kind of orthodontic intervention to get my pearlies to look this even.
What's even odder, is that BOTH my parents have bad teeth, which were rectified with a lot of time and money.
This included having tonnes of cavities, whereas I've only ever had one cavity the whole of my life.
-- As an aside, even then it was a bit dodgy. My regular dentist was on holiday, so his partner took my appointment instead. He told me that I had a cavity, and that he would be filling it right then and there. I gulped hard, and accepted the procedure. Then he said that my x-rays showed "incipiencies" which would have to be filled later. It was then I suspected that he had seen my perfect teeth, and realised no good money was being made from me at all, and set out to alter that. I never returned. 6 months later, the other dentist I went to didn't utter a peep about "incipiencies" and gave my teeth a clean bill of health. Ugh, I hate cheats. --
Because of all this, I thus saved myself a lot of childhood aggravation, and teenage dementia, because of the simple fact that ever since I was a small child, I've been cleaning my teeth religiously after every meal, and before bedtime.
That's my "American" habit, which my mother encouraged as an antidote to my genetic background, and lo and behold, it worked.
But my ex-countrymen are not so lucky. In fact, we're rather conscious of that fact. Half of the Donny & Marie cult which still possesses Britons to this day was based on their teeth alone, I'm convinced.
We are always making fun of Americans for not having socialised medicine, and having to mortgage their houses to pay for their health care, but you know what -- Americans have mega-awesome teeth.
And they pay for their kids' braces happily, whereas we around the world, just don't.
It reminds me of that line in the otherwise unmemorable film, A Good Year, where Russell Crowe says, "The only country that issues teeth like that, is America".
Also, it doesn't help that orthodontics sites like this one, come out already with a defeatist attitude about braces.
"If you have many decayed teeth, or your oral hygiene is poor, the orthodontist probably won't recommend any treatment involving braces. Orthodontic treatment is time-consuming and to get the best results, you need to be very motivated. Your orthodontist will be reluctant to start any treatment unless you can show that you keep your teeth very clean."
What? Please. You think an American orthodontist will say, "if you're not motivated, you won't qualify for braces."
Of course not. If the parent pays, he gets!
Not all Britons conform to this stereotype, which however like all stereotypes, do have more than a grain of truth to them (that's why stereotypes usually hurt, as well as stick).
I am going to show you two young Brits and you will judge the state of their choppers for yourself. Ready?
Trust me, I'm as grossed out as you are.
This young man's name is lost to posterity, thankfully, because I lifted his photo from an online Oxford University forum without reference. But let me just say two things.
Frikkin' floss already!
Stop smoking, drinking creosote, chewing tobacco or WHATEVER it is that you do to get your teeth so yellow, so young. Okay, if you're 40 and have lived a life of tea-drinking excess, but sheesh, you're surely no more than 21!
But not all is lost in British dentureland. I give you,
This is Vernon Kay, who is a young, all-purpose British presenter similar to say, Ryan Seacrest.
Amongst his claims to fame is having dressed as Mr. Blobby during a Noel Edmonds' House Party show.
Like Ryan Seacrest, he's known as a very elegant dresser, and for his close attention to his general appearance, such as his long, feminine tresses and gleeming white American teeth.
So, you see, all is not lost in Britain.
We know there is a world out there with people who have better teeth than we do, and we're starting to get our wits about that topic ourselves.
We may not be Donny or Marie any time soon, but no longer will we be content to be the lovable Mr. Humphreys (John Inman), either.
Even Madonna doesn't have a gap that big, yikes.
P.S.: Actually, my teeth have started to get a bit yellow, but don't worry. Dr. Jonathan Levine is coming to my rescue.
Yes, pricey, but your teeth are your calling card to the world, and should always say: I'm free!
ADDENDUM: Oh dear, I've only just found out from Sundries commenter, Conv442, that beloved actor, John Inman, passed away last month...any British child under the age of 30 will know and love him not for his AYBS? work, but for his tireless commitment as one Panto dame after the other.
Had I known about his passing, I would never have been so cheeky so soon after his death. RIP Mother Goose.