Friday, April 29, 2011

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE! You don't have to know Russian--just pick one option and go from there. Super-cute and fun, with great creepy bits--be sure to play around until you get the flies' Hamlet! Via EWC and MTM.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

ARS LONGA, UNIVERSITAS BREVIS: Uh, sorry for the probably-mangled Latin. Anyway, I don't really have much to say about my Gay Catholic Whatnot talk for Carnegie Mellon U's Newman Center. The audience seemed intrigued. I could intrigue audiences on your campus! Why not invite me? If you're not on the DC Metro I'd need you to pay for my transportation plus a nominal speaking fee, and feed and shelter me if I'm expected to stay overnight, but I would be very happy to have dinner w/students, do an extended Q&A, stay after the talk to speak with people privately, or whatever else I can do to reach out to students with questions on all things romoerotic.

The one thing I did want to mention is that one student (not from CMU, I think) described the atmosphere on her campus in a way which made it sound, to me, pretty vulgar. A lot of campus Catholic groups seem to do Bible study, prayer groups, and corporal works of mercy for those already within Mother Church, and focus their evangelization efforts on discussions of controversial issues. I wondered whether they'd do better to give students opportunities to encounter beauty. Why not show Therese (this one), or do posters with poetry from St John of the Cross or Thomas a Kempis's reworking of the Song of Songs as a hymn to Christ crucified?

There's more than one way to be countercultural; and contemporary college culture is so often banal (not only at secular colleges, either) that offering an encounter with sublimity might be the most oppositional thing campus Christians could do.
DRIVING THE POINT HOME: It's entirely possible I just didn't get The Walworth Farce, part of Studio Theater's Enda Walsh/"New Ireland" series. It's about a violent, delusional father who forces his two sons to reenact, day in and day out, his version of the events which led them to flee Cork for London. Supposedly a comedy?

It got about half a standing ovation tonight and although all four actors are really good, I have no idea why anyone would offer more than polite applause to what struck me as an unfunny, strenuously written and obvious ("For what are we if we're not our stories?" and quite a bit more in this vein), and often boring "edgy" play. I almost left at the intermission, and while it did improve from there, I just... would like my mortal hours back, please. I'm sorry. The actors really were good, and I suspect the direction is really good if you overlook the decision to stage this thing in the first place.
KITCHEN ADVENTURES: FAST AND FEAST! Two successful experiments.

First, the last meal I had during Lent: pasta with faked-up peanut sauce. I cooked spaghetti. While it was cooking I heated some olive oil in a pot. Chopped garlic and ginger and sliced onion went into the pot and got golden with browned bits. Then I added maybe two tbsps? of creamy peanut butter, some milk, and some bottled ginger-sesame sauce, and hit everything with the immersion blender. Added cumin, a bit of cinnamon, cayenne, and dried rosemary, and fresh basil, then buttered the pasta and topped it with the sauce.

This was really delicious, although I had the pasta-to-sauce ratio off (I'd intended to make this a very small bowl of food) so I had a bunch of leftover spaghetti. But I had been simultaneously intrigued by and fearful of this idea, and I was very pleased with how it turned out. I'll definitely make this again.

Second, the salad I had for dinner tonight: a random salad. The base of the salad was some thinly-sliced yellow onion, a little more than half of a round red farmer's-market apple (I don't remember the exact breed of apple, but it was described at the market as "good for lunchboxes"), two chopped cevapi sausages (pork and beef) leftover from dinner at Slaviya with Camassia, some shredded French sorrel, some shredded fresh basil, chunks and crumbles of chopped parmesan, and a toasted sourdough roll torn into roughly croutonish things. Then I whisked "Moroccan mustard" and olive oil with a fork until it emulsified and poured that as a dressing over the salad.

This was absolutely at its best when I got some of all of the ingredients in one forkful. The sausage and apple balanced one another perfectly. This is a tangy salad (apple + mustard + sorrel) so the parmesan and toasted bread really help create balance as well. I know the ingredients do sound a bit kitchen-sinky but I loved this.
"JESUS IS RISEN" BEIRUT FLASH MOB! I hate flash mobs as a thing, but I can make exceptions. Via Mark Shea.
Our reasons, in short, do not always really involve a belief that a prisoner is dangerous to us or has committed some crime; sometimes (and this is more debased) we mostly think we might find him useful…Here are other signs, according to the files, that a prisoner is dangerous: attitude toward the Star Spangled Banner; having been caught wearing a Casio F91W watch (a common model); perceived support for fellow inmates who committed suicide (there have been five).And more: according to the Guardian, the “GTMO matrix of threat indicators for enemy combatants,” which runs to seventeen pages, also lists having a connection to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or I.S.I.; given how much money we’ve given Pakistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, that detail alone is enough to make one’s head spin, if the Casio didn’t do it already…Is a Casio watch better than no reason at all? “It is undetermined as to why the detainee was transferred to GTMO,” the base commander wrote in a report on one of “three hapless Tajiks,” as the Guardian described them, who had been shipped there after being rounded up with others—not on what supporters of Guantánamo like to call the battlefield, but in the library at the University of Karachi, in Pakistan. They were held for two years.

25 ABANDONED YUGOSLAVIA MONUMENTS THAT LOOK LIKE THEY'RE FROM THE FUTURE. I can't believe I already have the perfect tag for this.

Pretty sure God shed a tear when I put 15 singles in the collection plate.

--Texts from Last Night meets the Desert Fathers

Friday, April 22, 2011

IF ANY HAVE TARRIED EVEN UNTIL THE ELEVENTH HOUR: As someone who made what I think might have been my only Lenten confession on Holy Thursday (I know, okay?), I was struck at least as much by the paragraph quoted from St John Chrysostom as by the actual, and amazing, story in this post. Go to Confession! The lines are long, but you can think of it as the Disneyland of Purgatory--eventually you'll get on that rollercoaster!
...Fr. George’s remarkable story of faith and courage is vividly told in the exemplary book, Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies, and Talks. The book is primarily a first person biography taken from several interviews with Fr. George. But it also contains many of his sermons, most notably the famous, “Seven Homilies to the Youth,” a series of Lenten evangelical and anti-communist sermons Fr. George presented in defiance of the Romanian tyranny in 1978.

George Calciu was the youngest of eleven children, raised by devout parents as a faithful Orthodox Christian. Romania became communist in 1944, and the government soon began to crack down on the Church. Calciu was a medical student at the time, and his open faith made him suspect. He was imprisoned in 1948, where he was subjected to 1984-style mind control experiments—tortured until he denied Christ, and then forced to torture others toward the same end. “They wanted our souls,” he recalled, “not our bodies.”

Anguished over his “weakness,” Calciu vowed to become a priest if he survived. Released in 1964, he married, had a son, and obtained a doctorate in French. But the call remained, and when he took an ostensible French professorship at a theological seminary, he was secretly studying for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1973.

Fr. George and his family lived quietly until the communist government renewed its assault on faith. Heeding what he considered a divine call to speak out sacrificially, he offered seven homilies to young Romanians, one homily building on the next during each Wednesday of Lent. It was a rare moment of courage for 1978 Romania: When the church was closed to him by his terrified Patriarch, he preached from its steps. When the gates were locked, the growing audience of youth defiantly climbed the fence to hear him. ...

He spent years in solitary. He knew nothing of his family, and they, nothing of him. One night, Fr. George heard the joyful peal of many church bells: It was Easter. Early the next morning, the worst guard in the prison—who delighted in torture—entered the priest’s cell. He should have turned his face to the wall. Instead, Fr. George looked his tormenter boldly in the eye and proclaimed, “Christ is risen!” Rather than delivering a blow, the guard paused, and blurted out, “In Truth He is Risen!” and nervously backed out of the cell.

That was when Fr. George experienced a vision of what Orthodox theology calls the Uncreated Light...

more (via WAWIV)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One should never know whom exactly one has married. [Lohengrin.]

Old corrupted females prefer to be redeemed by chaste youths. [Parsifal.] ...

It may have the direst consequences if one doesn't go to bed at the right time. [Lohengrin again.]


Sunday, April 17, 2011

[Frame 1]
Linus. I guess it's wrong always to be worrying about tomorrow

[Frame 2]
Linus. Maybe we should think only about today...

[Frame 3]
Charlie Brown. No, that's giving up...

[Frame 4]
Charlie Brown. I'm still hoping that yesterday will get better

--a Peanuts cartoon transcript, sent to me by Ratty

Friday, April 15, 2011


eta: Huh, for some reason I'd gotten it into my head that this was an English swan, when in fact it is German. Tags edited to reflect! Off to Pittsburgh!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

MOONLIGHT ENCORES: I checked out My Sergei, Ekaterina Gordeeva's memoir of her brief, happy marriage to Sergei Grinkov, because I'd heard that it was a window on to life, marriage, and dating in the late days of the Soviet Union and especially the Soviet sports machine. The book is so focused and so simply, cleanly-written that it doesn't actually illuminate the cultural context as much as I'd hoped, but it's a limpid portrayal of true love and the journey toward adulthood.

It's also quite candid. To take maybe the most obvious example, Gordeeva describes her plans to abort her child. Her mother and her priest basically talk/manipulate her out of it, and Daria becomes her most precious and lasting reminder of Sergei after his death. Ordinarily I would wonder what it must feel like to read that one's mother seriously considered abortion, but Gordeeva's love for her daughter (as a person in her own right, not solely a memento of lost love) shines through so clearly. The message, to the extent that there is one, is not only that children are a blessing but that it's later than you think.

There are also really detailed, lovely descriptions of the emotions behind the programs of Gordeeva and Grinkov's last year. I can't wait to watch or re-watch them with the insight Gordeeva provided.
CLIP REEL: Quick notes on some movies I've seen recently.

Brothers: This is the 2005, Danish version which got an American remake. When the responsible brother is missing, presumed dead, in Afghanistan, the layabout brother becomes a surrogate father to his kids--and maybe something more, to his wife. This is a brutal, heartbreaking story with incredible acting. Some kind of tragedy is inevitable from fairly early on, but the specific nature of it is the result of choices by the characters. The daughters, in their grief and anger and attempts at solidarity with each other, are very realistic kids. I'd definitely recommend this if you are up for two hours of feeling awful.

Apartment Zero: Lurid, politicized thriller, very well done despite many cliches. A serial killer is on the loose in the aftermath of the Pinochet regime. Is it the paranoid man in Apartment 0?

There's a Tragic Transvestite, which is a trope I could really do without, but other than that this movie actually uses its genre's inherent insouciance about actual human psychology to great advantage. This is about as reliable a guide to mental illness--or post-conflict reconciliation, for that matter--as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but it hits the right emotional notes. Fans of The Talented Mr. Ripley might also check it out.

Death and the Maiden: A vastly more serious post-South-American-dictatorship thriller than Apartment Zero, and a vastly worse one.

Sigourney Weaver plays a torture victim who believes that the man she has trapped in her home is her tormentor. Ariel Dorfman's script is overwritten and often cops out; Roman Polanski's direction sexualizes Weaver's character in a way which really feels like the movie exploiting her rather than the character making choices; Weaver overplays to the point that she sounds like Katharine Hepburn's character pretending to be a gun moll in Bringing Up Baby. She's just way too chop-licking. If you want a look at the intersection of sexual violence and political torture, Closet Land is much, much subtler and better. The best thing about this movie was the Schubert.

Of Gods and Men: Now playing. The story of Algerian monks murdered in the mid-90s. It's hard to know what to say about this movie other than that it's incredible. The use of singing, as pointed out by the friend who watched it with me, is especially beautiful. It's a believable and gripping portrayal and all of the actors are doing exactly what they need to do at every moment.

My one interpretive note is that I loved the use of Swan Lake toward the end, in a Passion of Joan of Arc-like scene focusing on each of the monks' faces in turn as they enjoy a meal together in the shadow of death. I think this is the only secular music in the entire movie, which makes it the most poignant way of representing what it means to lose this life, the world, even if you gain Heaven.

Here's Victor Morton's review. I really can't recommend this highly enough.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I AM BOTH AUDIO AND VISUAL. I'm speaking in Pittsburgh this Saturday on Gay Catholic Whatnot. 6.30 pm, Doherty Hall at Carnegie-Mellon University, Room 1212. There will be food and drink! Sponsored by the CMU Newman Club; for more info contact .

Bring friends! Bring foes! Tell me what to do in Pittsburgh!
IT GETS A LITTLE BOUNCY HERE SOMETIMES: ARGH SORRY. This was supposed to be a note telling you to check out Arena Stage's production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But I didn't pay attention to the closing date, which was Sunday. I'm sorry! You should check out the rest of the Albee festival though, since this production was absolutely stellar. They made the show their own (despite the commanding Taylor/Burton/Nichols movie) without resorting to strenuous directorial choices. (I don't think they got away from the written, mannered quality of the last five to ten lines as well as the movie managed to, but those are literally the only moments which didn't completely work for me and they're really Albee's fault more than anyone else's.)
The theme [Marina Zoueva] had created for us with the Moonlight Sonata was that of man celebrating woman as the mother of all mankind. She said that Sergei should get on his knees before me, because only the woman can give birth, only the woman can give him his children. ...

The beginning of the program was very soft, and we opened our arms to show the audience and judges that we were opening ourselves up to them. We were showing them not a program, but the story of our life. If you listen to the Moonlight Sonata, the music can only represent a man and a woman's life together. It can't mean anything else. It can't mean a season, or a march, or a dance, or a storm, or an animal. It's more, even, than love. Romeo and Juliet, that music was about love. But the Moonlight Sonata is for older people who have experienced real life. It expresses what changes love can bring about in people, how it can make them stronger, make them have more respect for each other. How it can give them the ability to bring a new life into the world.

--Ekaterina Gordeeva, My Sergei: A Love Story

You can watch Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov do what she considered their best performance of their Moonlight Sonata program here. I also love this Moonlight skate, by the Protopopovs, very much.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"WITHOUT HESITATION THEY BEGAN TO DANCE." The 2008 movie Exam is basically a cheapened version of William Sleator's terrific novel House of Stairs.

As the comparison suggests, Exam's first half-hour or so highlights the way that contemporary job applications and economic pressures infantilize adults (much as the surrounding pop culture infantilizes people who, in a better world, would already be raising children of their own). The adults in this movie can be treated like the teens in Sleator's novel because their life-stage is so similar. The pencil-skirt precision with which they present themselves, the marketing ethos which leads them to accept the most reductive nicknames, all make college applicants look like careerist twentysomethings and make thirtysomethings look like children.

Exam is a really bad movie, with tons of overplaying and overwriting. I do think it's kind of amazing as a cultural document. The parallels with House of Stairs were startling, and the really boringly obvious AIDS references were harsh enough that I choked up a couple of times despite knowing that I was being manipulated. A B-movie, if not a B-minus--every single twist will be guessed well in advance--but this is a window into what job-hunting really feels like, and that makes it painful. I thought the twistiness of the "are we pro- or anti-Big Pharma?" plotline was also surprisingly thoughtful, though I have really intensely low expectations there.

You really should read House of Stairs though. It's a sad, compromised look at martyrdom and complicity, and its characters are incredibly memorable. Peter and Lola are one of the most memorable and unexpected teams in children's lit.
WAS YOUR LENTEN FISH DINNER CAUGHT BY SLAVES? (Perhaps esp useful for linking to the larger CNN series on contemporary slavery. Via Mark Shea.)
The phenomenon of the Holy Snakes of the Virgin Mary has been occurring for centuries during the festivities to the Theotokos between August 5 and August 15 in the village of Markopoulo on the island of Kefalonia, Greece. The small black snakes appear at the church of Panagia of Langouvarda on the site of a monastery, established as a nunnery and dedicated to Our Lady of Langouvarda.

The myth about these snakes is attached to the year the monastery was attacked by pirates in 1705. The nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary for protection and were subsequently transformed into the snakes to avoid being taken as prisoners.

The snakes have a small cross on their head and their tongues are also in the shape of a cross. They are known to belong to the Telescopus fallax species, also known as the European Cat Snake, and they appear in and around the courtyard of the church, on the walls and on the bell tower. The snakes show no fear while the services are held and are harmless during the festivities. As soon as the Liturgy concludes on the 15th of August, they become hostile and aggressive and disappear back into the wilderness of the area. The snakes cannot be found until the following year.

more (via TKB)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

TOP SHELF: So I hate the title of my novel (New Wineskins). It's thematically appropriate but I realized that even I wouldn't pull it off the shelf to have a look, and I wrote it. Help me out here, people!

If you've read the thing and have suggestions for how I can get to a better title, email me. I've kicked around all kinds of variations on the book's themes and I've got exactly two ideas, neither of which I really like: The Future Tense of Flesh and Heartbreak in Political Theory. If you haven't read the book, do you think either of those titles would interest you if you saw them in a bookstore and knew nothing else about the book?

Thanks in advance....
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.

--from the middle of this poem by Adam Zagajewski, tr. Clare Cavanagh