Tool of the Devil




Tool of the Devil

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

It hates me. It’s like one of those pets which only likes one person in the house – and I’m not the beloved. This morning the spring-loaded caddy holding the grounds popped open 3 times – twice while the grinding was going on and once during brewing. If I were a more strong-minded person I’d break it, tell my mother it died on its own, and buy her something ELSE.

The coffee maker has certainly been the biggest drawback of my 10 morning visit home – when I’m here we definitely need two pots to get through the morning, and making a second pot with this machine means washing and carefully drying the built-in grinder. What a pain! The pity is that when it works it makes pretty good coffee.

Year-end giving opportunity – the Vanderbilt Catholic Chaplaincy!

Looking for somewhere to send a check and get a tax deduction? Father Baker doesn’t have online giving set up (hint hint!), but get it postmarked and I’m sure he’ll send you all the receipt you’ll need:


Vanderbilt Catholic Community

2417 West End Avenue
Nashville, Tennessee 37240

There’s this, but it still involves a mailed check.
I’m not going to use superlatives here – it would be ridiculous. Just know that Fr. Baker is doing fine work.
Here an excerpt from the Giving to VanderbiltCatholic page:

Bishop Choby last summer gave me the privilege of becoming the first diocesean chaplain at Vanderbilt University in 35 years. As a native Nashvillian and a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School (1989), I have great affinity for Vanderbilt. As a priest I have a great desire to offer Jesus Christ in the sacraments to this generation and to present to them the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ embodied in our ancient faith so that these young adults may in their own right choose whom they will follow.
I am writing you because of your love of the Church and your relationship to Vanderbilt. I know that you are aware that a university campus is a cacophony of voices recruiting for all kinds of causes and commitments. It is clear that the Church and serious Catholics have a duty to enter the fray in order to encourage these young people in their faith and to counteract the enormous pressures being brought upon them by the world, the flesh, and the devil, especially in their first years of independent decision making.
The harvest is plentiful at Vanderbilt, even though at present the workers are few. It is estimated that 25-30% of Vanderbilt students are Catholic. I had an active first year on the campus, with six RCIA candidates and five other students confirmed, daily Mass and confessions, and a more active student organization. In order to see how we should grow at Vanderbilt, I had the opportunity to visit some of the most dynamic Catholic campus ministries in the country. Two of the “best practices” that we have the opportunity to bring to Vanderbilt are the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and the Awakening retreat program. FOCUS will place four well-trained recent college graduates at Vanderbilt to be missionaries to the campus. The Awakening retreat comes from Texas A&M, which has more graduates enter seminary and religious life than any school in the nation, and is now in place on many campuses.

He does have an online Mass Intention form! Cool, but not fundraising. Send money. I did.

Ack! I leave in 4 days!

Christmas was great. I seem to have gotten over my early-life “O Holy Night” trauma finally (that was 9th grade, by the way). I do like the texts for the Mass of Christmas Day a lot. There was more loot than I’d asked for, but no dress shirts, which was an explicit request. With some luck I won’t wear a button down shirt and tie in a classroom for some time, so I can cruise on the current backlog. The one tie I got (thanks, Patrick!) is interesting and, I think, wearable with the tweed jacket I’m taking to Rome. Of course, I intend to buy ties there!
Mother and I ran down to Birmingham to see the big show of stuff from Pompeii – bound for Houston, next. If you’re in range you ought to go! It’s great!
Of course, being the happy South and having two of the ingredients for the game satisfied (mid-South, college-educated) we had not one but two small-world incidents in the museum restaurant.* As we were finishing our meal one of my favorites of my father’s former colleagues came in with his wife and mother. We went over to say howdy to them, and one of mother’s first cousins walked over. Cousin Julius at least has the excuse of living in Birmingham, but we certainly hadn’t planned to run into him Wednesday!
My current traumas?
1. Not all the students who are not taking the group flight have told us when they intend to arrive. Oh, well – it was made clear to them from the get go that if they can’t meet us at the airport they are responsible for their own ground transfer to the first hotel. Still, in loco parentis and all, one worries.
2. Then, in the midst of corresponding with one of the ones who had until then not told us when she intended to arrive, I find out that there is a major disagreement between what the HANDBOOK gives as the arrival time and what everyone seems to think as the arrival time for the group flight. I’m confused. I’m sure it will work out, but one worries.
3. I’m still working on reconstructing a book of readings which I foolishly misremembered as being all neat and pretty .doc files ready to print. No such luck.
So – it’ll get done, I’ll get away, but it’s not going to be pretty.

*some of my long-term readers may remember the Small World party game (though I used to play it in bars and hotel lobbies in the Atlanta of my youth). Name 3-4 characteristics, and if the crowd has them in common I will know someone or someone’s college roommate or someone’s sibling. Mine used to be Southern, private high school or college, Presbyterian or Episcopalian. That usually did it. Mr. Barrow isn’t a Southerner, but he’s lived in Chattanooga 35 years or so. Southern and the kind of people who go to museums worked Wednesday, and I bet if I’d asked around we would have found some more remote hits. What are your 3 or 4?

Zoo-going

Will attendance go up or down at zoos in the wake of the tiger attack?
I was reading an article this morning about the tiger attack – yes, she got 3 people. Perhaps it’s more significant that she got 1/7th of the people in the Zoo at the time – it was an hour before closing on Christmas day and there were only 20 people in the park!

Gorgeous weather, minimal last-minute shopping, and oyster stew

What more can a lazy man want from Christmas Eve than good weather, no more than 30 minutes of shopping, and oyster stew? Oh – good mass timing; I’m not sure if it’s the absence of chirren or not (the nephews and nieces are keeping a nuclear family Christmas in Virginia and then heading up to visit the other side of their family later), but I can go to the Mass of Christmas Day – in other words, not stay up late. Middle age, I guess.
Our family tradition, presence in Chattanooga permitting, is to have an old friend of the family join us for oyster stew and gift exchange. The oyster stew we make comes from M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster (which we have in The Art of Eating) – Oyster Stew 2. It’s not one of her own, but we love it:

Rinse a stewpan and put it on the fire without drying, so the milk won’t stick. Dump in one quart of milk and 1 dozen oysters with their liquor and plenty of salt. Cook very slowly, without boiling of course, and give an occasional light stir to see how the oysters are plumping out. Just before their edges begin to curl, dump in 1/8 pound of sweet butter and at least 2 tablespoons of paprika. More paprika won’t hurt, but will give a richer hue to the stew, and make you wish you’d made twice as much. Swirl the paprika and melted butter around to make an attractive, mottled, topping, and dish it out the second the edges begin to curl. If cooked any longer, the oysters will be hard.

Every year we wonder how folks are supposed to know when to add the butter and paprika if they haven’t already overcooked a pan or two, but such are some recipes. This was a particularly good batch – perhaps a good sign for the whole Christmas season.
I offer Christmas prayers for all my readers, regular and occasional – and may all your holiday meals this year be tasty, whoever shares them with you.

Trapped in an icy, bureaucratic Hell

I really wanted to be out of here by now, on my way to balmy Tennessee and the bosom of my family. I knew it wouldn’t work, so I didn’t rush it. It’s really not working now.

I am going to vent a bit – please be assured that I apologized several times for the crankiness that I let show to the functionary on the phone.

1. I take a number of maintenance medications for allergy and asthma
2. I leave 1/1/08 for 4 months abroad from Tennessee, having gone to celebrate Christmas with my family without returning to Geneva, NY
3. The last time I taught abroad I took a 4 month supply of my drugs with me, thus saving shipping fees and assuring myself of a wheeze-free spring
4. These Colleges are changing insurance carrier as of 1/1/08
5. I informed (as fully as possible, I thought) the H.R. folk of my needs and plans in October. I have been assured on a number of occasions that everything would be fine
6. I got all my prescriptions rewritten in 4-month form
7. Today, having not received my expedited insurance card yet again, I call H.R. and am told that I can download a temporary card and that it should work
8. I go to the pharmacy. Of course it doesn’t work. I call H.R. They tell me now (not an impersonal “they” – I speak to two of ‘em) that I should get a month on my old insurance and that somehow after 1/1/08 the rest will be filled and will be shipped to me in Rome (no persons involved, so far as I can tell from their explanation)
9. I get cranky
10. I apologize
11. I point out that whoever is going to do this in January will be paying a hefty copayment + shipping – do they want me to leave cash? No one has an answer
12. I am told to email the H.R. director with the names and dosages of the medications and that she will contact New Carrier and ask
13. I come home cranky to await word
Further – Hell Thaws
The H.R. Director made a great push and things will work out – I wrote a check for the copayment and she will receive my prescription drugs and ship them to me in Rome! Yay! Thanks!

Ah, the Sanctimony of the Nation-state

My colleague and I are teaching a course on arts/media and identity together this semester for all of the students going with us: Inventing Rome, Inventing Romans. We’re going to do 5 or 6 case studies of how different folks have invented the identity of Romans (and Italians) by deploying typical media of their times – sculpture at the Ara Pacis (and its Fascist and post-modern reconstructions), oratory in the Renaissance, sport in contemporary Italy (Forza Italia!) – you see the point.
I guess we have to go to this show of reclaimed antiquities, with which this silly modern thing called Italy tries to identify itself with Magna Graecia and the Etruscans by claiming that anything dug from the Italian soil belongs to the Nation. Here’s an Italian version.
The headline in the Washington Post version is especially offensive – There’s No Place but Home For This Stolen Italian Art. On things like this, I can sympathize with Metternich – “Italy is only a geographical expression.”

Books and travel

I know that I have too many books. But you know, I use these damn things! How many can I take . . . and do I have the budget to ship some of them?
Further: the good thing about digging through all my shelves? I found TWO Christmas present books I’d bought this summer and put away! Yay!

Latin for re-learners

A old friend (and former blog-link) sent me a review of a couple of new books on Latin: Ad Infinitum: a biography of Latin (Nicholas Ostler) and Carpe Diem: Put a little Latin in your life (Harry Mount). By happenstance, I came across another review of the same two books. As a former high school Latin teacher myself I don’t need the first, but the second looks pretty interesting. I read Ostler’s Empires of the Word this summer and like it a lot. Any book that can make me want to learn Akkadian has done a pretty good job of making dead languages spritely.
The reviewer at Slate makes some interesting comments about the change in the title of the Mount book for the American edition – from Amo, Amas, Amat … and All That in Britain to Carpe Diem in America. The shift is not only Dead Poet Society-driven; certainly carpe diem is the best known Latin phrase left in American English (well, unless you count et cetera spelled all the way out as a phrase rather than a verbal tic), but related to the differences between geeks and wankers. It’s an attractive review!

The biannual horror

I finished grading last night at about 9 and went to the Registrar’s web tool to input the final grades for the last few folks in my 101 stack only to discover that one of my students is NOT on the roll. That’s never happened to me! In fact, I’m not sure how it happened! He’s been there all semester, he did all the work, and he got some flavor of B. He was certainly enrolled in the course’s Blackboard site – and that happens automatically at the first of the semester, which implies that he WAS registered for the course at some point. I can add students myself, but I usually don’t do that until they have officially added the course. I can imagine that I slipped up and put him into the Blackboard version of the course without checking the Registrar’s list first, but if so it’s a novel mistake for me. Argh!

–Update
As best as the Registrar’s folks and I can figure it, said student probably presented me with a drop/add sheet – which is usually my precondition for a manual addition to the Blackboard site – and then failed to turn it in. They noted that he had failed another class at the same time slot as mine, evidently for never having attended. Youths. What are you going to do?

Long delayed gratification

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I finally got down to New York City this weekend, in part to see the classical wing at the Met. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but I couldn’t resist one or two of their Endymion sarcophagi (follow the link for a full view).
GOSH the newly refurbished south end of the building is something. I should’ve taken some views, but wasn’t thinking. Go here – lots of pictures.
The main floor is filled with stunning stuff, and the second floor is set up for pontificators like me. I hope I wasn’t too boring when I started exclaiming “see – that’s exactly what I was saying downstairs, but here you can see a metal one and a ceramic one side by side! The ceramicist is imitating the metalworker, not the other way round!” The second floor, you see, has big glass cases packed with stuff arranged to warm the well-informed heart, though it’s probably a little less enthralling for people who don’t teach the classical courses – except for the Etruscan chariot!
So why can’t I resist Endymion? Well, with my selfish medievalist bent, I look at the Endymion scenes on sarcophagi and see the promise of eternal life, eternal youth, and nightly visits from the goddess who loves him (though there is that annoying problem of sleeping forever) and understand that it’s a fine example of non-Christian, non-mystery religion interest in a pleasant afterlife — but then I flash forward to the Jonah sarcophagi. Here’s a great picture of one of them. See the similarity between Jonah (in the upper right under a gourd vine) and Endymion (bottom right of the picture above)? I forget how long we’ve known this, but the standard interpretation of this phenomenon in Early Christian art is that sarcophagus cutters were working out of pattern books. When (probably) pagan sarcophagus makers were asked by Christian customers for an illustration of the Jonah story, someone flipped around in the pattern book and pulled Endymion out for the whiny-Jonah-under-the-gourd part of the story (if you don’t remember that part, it comes after the whale - here you go).
It’s a great example of how one goes about making art for a new religion — not an example of syncretism, but of folks using an already accepted visual language to tell a new story.
And that, dear readers, is exactly the kind of thing I’ll be teaching in Rome!