Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 29, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became a Pilgrimage (Part Five)

The Alien Planet

There is in Greek mythology, and, who knows, maybe Roman, too, a place way up North where things are bright and sunny, fields green, rivers sparkly and clear.  For the life of me I can’t remember the name they gave it.  And, maybe the whole thing is a figment of my imagination.  In any event, as we stood in the line waiting to board I played with the idea, thinking how cool it would be to land in a northern version of Honolulu and be met at the gate by lovely ladies singing sweet songs.  Of course, instead of being dressed in brightly colored skin tight diaphanous wraps these ladies would be wearing seal skin robes and boots, carrying spears and waving shiny sharp broad swords.  The sweet songs would be war chants and funeral dirges.  But the sun would shine.  Yes it would I thought, and Viking long ships would be everywhere.  Somewhere among the crowd would be Tony Curtis, the only Norseman ever to have a Bronx accent, and Kirk Douglas: chin dimple looking like nothing so much as a volcanic crater.

We sat on the left side of the plane.  It didn’t matter to me as long as I got the aisle.  My leg was killing me, and night had fallen…plop.  Perhaps I’d be able to doze off for an hour or so of the five it would take climbing up the world to Reykjavik.  They served us something to eat whose one redeeming feature was that it was neither too hot nor too cold; and it was small.  Goldilocks might even have liked it for those qualities at least.  It was also forgettable.  The noise started.  And, the lights went out.

I am told that the flight from Boston to Reykjavik is somewhere in the vicinity of five hours.  It was with some curiosity then that at about that much time after we had taken off I peeked out of the window and around the thing that was sticking out and keeping us up, to see what Reykjavik, or Iceland might look like.

Now, I have seen the pictures, all of them bright and beautiful, for the Lord God has made Iceland, too.  And soon I was to see, in fact I was looking down at what the Lord God had made; as far as I could see from a height somewhere between ten and ten thousand feet God had some work to do to live up to the press, the hype.

Have you seen the film(s) Alien?  Then you get an idea of early morning in Iceland, or perhaps any day at the Ninth Circle.  As we descended under a gun metal gray sky on a dim morning through sheets of rain and trails of thin clouds the ground below was a study in gray, at least forty shades of it.  There were black volcanic boulders, dark gray boulders, gray gravelly plains and smoky gray hills in the distance.  Here and there were a few patches of very light gray snow; gray probably because there wasn’t enough light for white.  Oh, and some green things that may have been plants…or pebbles.

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Iceland? Well, yes. But no Sigourney in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We landed and deplaned into the terminal, zipped from one place to another, down one set of stairs and up the next.  Waited to go through Immigration (though for God knows what reason I cannot imagine) and moved on to our gate out of Iceland and into light.

I got the impression that the terminal was a movie set and the production staff had moved on to the next project; lots of bare wood.  Within the hour we were airborne again, and on our way to Zurich to meet the Gnomes; a nice family who would be our hosts and serve us cheese.


No Cleaner Place Has Ever Been

I have no solid memory of the flight from Reykjavik down to Zurich, other than the fact that we were in a plane and everything below us was clouded over.  When we began our descent (somewhere above Denmark?) we found ourselves in the soup until about 10 feet above the runway.  Or, maybe that was 2 feet. That close doesn’t mean a thing.  Miraculously, the weather cleared up once we were inside the terminal.  The fact that the place was cleaner than a NASA Clean Room didn’t surprise me at all.  About every second person I saw was pushing a broom or packing a trash bag with something.  And, who wasn’t doing that was standing by to catch the rare and courageous stray dust mote.  Dirt and disorder are outlawed in Switzerland.

I think it was still kind of early in the morning, and since it was Saturday, anyway, the place was rather empty.  Besides us there were a few other travelers, but it was, all in all, a rather quiet, even pleasant, place…for an airport terminal.  We collected our bags and wheeled away down nearly deserted and shiningly clean corridors.  Most of the stores, all of which looked as if they sold stuff waaay out of my range, were closed.

Our destination was the train station where we were to catch a train for the little town of Chur (pronounced like cool with an “r” instead of an “l”).  But first, we needed to get a little pocket change, little being the operative word in Switzerland.  I cannot remember the exchange rate, but picture the Swiss franc as Andre the Giant and the U.S Dollar as Joe Btfsblk from L’il Abner, or Sad Sack, and that should give you a pretty good idea.  I’m surprised the nice lady behind the window didn’t look scornfully at us and say, “We no longer take those.”

Pocket change in hand we headed for the train station, about a quarter mile in that direction through some immaculately clean tunnels under a couple of probably immaculately clean streets.  Mariellen had, with her talent for organization, gotten us reservations on a train to Chur leaving in just a few minutes, and we were on the platform waiting as it eased to an almost silent stop before us.  A few minutes later and we were comfortably and cleanly on our way out of town, riding that train…

Our little trip took us south, down the west “coast” of what I’ve learned was Lake Zurich (duh!).  It was a very pleasant trip  along the lake and then through a wide valley between rolling hills and low mountains; a trip about an hour long, give or take.

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Lake Zurich looking north with Mariellen improving the view.

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A little lump of land in the middle of the lake

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Oh, the privations of rail travel in Europe!

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There were little towns and villages all along the lake shore on both sides, and many beach clubs, boat clubs and just plain clubs.

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A little church on a little hill. We were to see quite a lot of them…both of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chur, A Word Which Must Mean Something

Slowly, silently, smoothly, the train came to a stop at Chur and had I not been looking out the window, I would have had very little evidence to tell me of that fact.  We gathered our stuff together and eased on down to the platform.  The town, nestled into hills on both sides of a valley whose mountain walls rose a couple of thousand feet or so around us, was a postcard.  See the top of this page if you doubt it.   It was about 3:00pm when we stood on the square in front of the, what is it now??, the Banhof?

Mariellen had downloaded directions from the station to our hotel, only a short walk away.  She showed me them.  They were concise, clear and all in English.  What they did not indicate at all was where North was, so that someone reading them could determine whether “north east” was; left, right, in between, up or down from where one stood..  Had we turned left, and taken the next right, we would have arrived at our hotel twenty minutes before we actually did.  Nonetheless, our little ramble through the town was pleasant enough, even if up-hill.

Up hill, as the next few weeks were to prove, was about the only direction one could take getting anywhere.

And, so, we found it, The Romantik Hotel Stern .  It was on a quiet street, down a little lane from the main road in the shopping and business district by the way we took and only a few yards from another road, the more direct route to the station, and from the station by the way we would have taken if we knew the way to take.  I know, it’s a kind of “through the looking glass” situation, but that’s Europe for you; a different place.  From the outside the hotel looked neat and clean, but pretty un-preposessing I thought; a kind of businessman’s place, probably full of traveling salesmen and their suitcases of samples.  I was less than impressed too, when we entered the small lobby to check in, a room not much larger than our living room, and with less space to sit oneself down, or set down one’s luggage.

But that all changed when we got to the room, across a small covered drive leading to some other properties behind the hotel.  We took the elevator to the top floor and entered another little world; a space that might have dropped out of a novel about two folks staying in a lovely Swiss chalet, in a room with a balcony whose view was of broad mountain slopes, sharp mountain peaks, and snow at the end of May.  The bed was soft and inviting, a bottle or two of clear mountain water and a basket of lovely fruit nearby in our pine paneled spotless room.  It looked as if it had just been dropped off from the store that morning.  Mariellen had chosen the place especially for the flavor of an “authentic” Swiss hotel.  Whether or not it was, I may never know.  But, from then on, it became for me the measure all “authentic” Swiss hotels must meet.

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Mariellen captures the scenery from the balcony of our room. The spire in on a Lutheran church…which was locked when we walked up to it.

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An engraving on a big table in the dining room. Lovely work.

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Looking north from the balcony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wondered as we left to return to the lobby and ask about places to eat before a short walk, whether or not Iceland had the same.

Out on some lava flow, I thought.  Hung with harpoons and whale skins, I thought.

We looked in on the hotel’s restaurant, and decided on it.  Boy, am I glad we did!  Then we went exploring.  Once again, every direction was up.

And, we chose the way up to the left toward the very pointy steeple in the picture above.  Our way wound up a long hill past some vineyards, and a structure that looked like a monastery but was really a prison:

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Twice a day, every day…

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A lovely little prison right in the center of town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We happened upon a 15th Century Catholic church, the cathedral of the Diocese of Chur which dates back to the 5th Century, and its cemetery behind which contained the remains of at least one Swiss Guard, a captain, and the members of his family.

 

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After an hour or so of wandering about and taking many more photos than you see here, we returned to our room, relaxed a bit and then went down to supper.  What we ate shall remain a secret until next we meet.  But here is the little nook in which we ate it, and how that came to be is a story I think worth telling:

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Mariellen prepares for a lovely meal in Chur on our first night.

 

Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 27, 2014

So Much Depends On An Orange Balloon

It was to be a quiet evening, because we had work to do early the next morning.

We both had been at it for nearly three weeks at home; she for much longer than me, at least a month longer of actual work, and for months before that thinking and planning.  The house was filled with books, DVDs, CDs, cards and gift items from manufacturers and publishers large and small.  Catholic publishers, Christian publishers, all of whom do good work. Where there weren’t books there were boxes and packing materials.  The books were for the book fairs we were holding at five of the churches in Nashua over the next five weekends.  The boxes and packing materials were what they had been delivered in during the last several weeks by a steady train of UPS, Fed-Ex and USPO folks, pulling up to the door in their big trucks and little ones like cargo ships to a beachhead.  Those would stay until all the returns were made of unsold books and etceteras.

There were in truth only three chairs left on which to sit on the first floor of the house; two in the dining room, at the table which itself was piled with books, cards, pens, pencils, sticky tags, her iPad and file boxes.  We pushed those aside from time to time to eat.

Well more than a thousand books, and a couple of hundred DVDs and CDs had been catalogued and laboriously tagged in my fine Spencerian hand, the product of those years in St. Blatherum’s scriptorium under the sharp eyed but gentle guidance of Bro.  St. Cursivius da Velum.

And, now, it was the night before.  Bent, and ready for a little unbending upstairs in our hide-out, we rose and wandered away.  The hide-out’s a little room at the back of the house, far away from the world.  It has an amenity or two designed to allow the weary to move away from the turmoil and trouble of the day, to regain some sense of equilibrium, to glimpse, however dimly and distantly, Paradise. A humble couch, some soft pillows, a lap blanket or two and a small refrigerator to keep the wine cool until needed for the journey, are among the amenities.  It’s chief charm is in seclusion and quietness; though wine helps.

And, so we found ourselves, and settled, and turned on the TV to watch something from our ROKU thing which delivered bunches of old series on demand.

We gave no thought to the warning we had gotten from our neighbor earlier that evening.  She, the mother of three lovely youngsters, had just left the house next door.  Walking back to her own home, she passed us going in and said, “What, you’re not going to the party?”  “What party?” we asked.  There was to be a party for the little girl next door, and all her friends were ingathering to celebrate.  She made some smart comment about blockading her own home as she passed us with a carefree (for a few hours at least) wave; an augur of uncertain meaning, and unsettling for that.

The children arrived, and calls , high pitched notes of greeting from the little ones echoed briefly, before the doors closed.  All was quiet except for the cars gunning their engines as they left the drive and disappeared over the hill.

And. We relaxed.  Something was on, white noise and flickers on the glass screen.  The wine was delicious.

But then!  About an hour after the doors closed, as I mentioned above, on the little revelers, they opened again.  The front door lights, and the one on the garage went on.  They spilled out, now stoked on cake and ice cream, candy and soda, overdosed on sugar, and, all of that inside energy compressed like a collapsing star, they exploded on the lawn; tumbling, screaming as only little girls and boys can.  The party had spilled out onto the street.  For the next hour or so the air was filled with their games and random hypertensive activity: Shouts!  Screams! Gay laughing and cavorting. Frantic running around here and there. Then, as suddenly as it had happened, like the echo of a bottle rocket’s boom on a cloudy night is smothered in the clouds, the mania ended in a diminuendo of softer shouts, little giggles and total quietness.

There was an orange balloon on our front lawn as the day broke. I fully expected to find the bodies of two or three of the little kids who attended spread out on our lawn, under the bushes, overdosed on sugar and joy.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 21, 2014

Today, October 21, 2014: It Will Be Fifteen Years

IT WILL BE FIFTEEN YEARS

1976, At The Gap of Dunloe

1976, At the Gap of Dunloe, Killarney, Ireland, on a bright and lovely June day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember it was shirtsleeve warm that day, and bright, not at all like today, or at least not at all like today is now.  What it may become I’ll take.  I have nothing else to do but that.

And, we were awake early; she on the couch where she had been for several months, and I in the chair a few feet away where I had been for several months; in the school of love, keeping promises made to each other, fulfilling vows.

I made us tea, and sat on the couch while she sipped a spoonful or two.  Then I carried her into the bathroom, I think.  It has been a while and particulars, small things, fade away.  I hope some day I will remember them vividly as if they were right here with me and I with them.  It was, ans is in memory, for all of its trouble and sadness, a beautiful time.

Back on the couch once more, as comfortable as she could be made to be, I took my leave, ever so briefly, to wash and change.  Before going I found her favorite thing on the TV; some old movie in black and white from the ’40s or before.  She called then “big shoulders” films because of the shoulder pads in women’s dresses and suits…and men’s, too.  But it was the women’s styles that most amused her, I think; took her mind away for a while from what she had to do, to finish.  She had a fondness for those melodramas, the sweet and gentle comedies, the farces and the lively musicals.

When I came back downstairs from the bedroom unused all these months, she had fallen asleep.  The morphine did that, I thought.  Good, I could do a wash.  That, I remember.  And, when I came back upstairs she was awake.  Of course, she wasn’t hungry, but we observed the formalities, and I asked her what she might want for breakfast.  A piece of toast, and some more tea.  I remember now my grandmother fixing me the same thing when I was sick.  “Tea and toast,” she would say, “you’ll feel better right away.”  I believed her, and I did.

She took a little bird’s bite from her slice of toast, and had another sip of tea.  I work on reconstruction of the scene, now, not actual memory.  But this was the months long ritual; and ever less and less did she eat as the days grew shorter, and our time together with them.

Of course we talked, but what we had to say had already been said months ago.  For the most part our conversation consisted of her quiet requests for one thing or another.  She seemed to me, now, looking back, to be anxious about being alone and very aware that she needed help in the smallest things.  Of course, that may have been because she could not do for herself at all who had been so good at that; for herself and for everyone else.  And, all I wanted was to be near her, “breathing the same air”, as she used to say, for as long as it may be given to us to do.

We had our last argument in the afternoon.  It was all my fault.  And when it was over I wished, and have wished since that the silly lapse of mine, being too long away from her, had never happened.  Soon, with us, it was as if it never had happened.  But, still…

The afternoon went on.  It was time for her martini, and a cigarette, her last.  I wheeled her to the front door where she had a sip.  Holding her cigarette and glass for her she took one or two puffs, one or two  and then asked to be taken back to her couch.  She was very weak, very tired.  Ann stopped in, briefly, and confirmed the hospice nurse’s conclusion.  “She’s dying,” she said.  She probably also said she would be just next door if needed.  It would be like her.  And, then we were alone.

I carried her into the bathroom again, and turned away for the smallest bit, to turn back and find her falling off the toilet.  I picked her up and carried her back to the couch, putting her down as gently as I could.  She still breathed, but was only semi-conscious.  “Don’t you go until the kids get here,” I warned her.

Her last words to me were, “You bet!”  When she made up her mind to do something, she did it.  Wives and mothers, I have found, are like that.

Then I called Jeanne and Andrew and told them to get here quickly, and I waited.

Call it a vigil.  The sun set and the evening came on and her breathing got shallower.   I sat her up cradling her head in the crook of my left arm.  I know the exact place, still.  From time to time we moistened her lips.

Each of us with our own thoughts sat and waited.  I prayed wordless prayers I still don’t know.

And then the hard rattling breath grew clear, softer.  Jeanne and Andrew gathered close and held her hands.  I whispered, “You can go.  We love you.”  The children said goodbye sitting by her side, at her feet.

And she died on one last soft sigh of breath.

At 11:47pm it will be fifteen years.


 

 

 

Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 11, 2014

Today, October 11, 2014

It’s Not What It Seems

Even though the weather report says today will be a fair day, and the temperature is now 44F, that isn’t the case at all.  The sky is a uniform slate gray, and were this two months from now, I’d expect snow would begin falling at any minute.  At the called for temperature, the predicted one, that wouldn’t happen of course.  What would happen in December is one of its  cruel rains would fall and coat the world in ice, or a chilling mist that keeps the kids inside once they’ve had a run.  No fear of that today.  I was just out filling the bird feeders and things are at least ten degrees warmer than 44.  Not a breeze stirred limb or leaf, and at 8:00am it was as quiet as midnight in my neighborhood.  Looking at the houses round about, and all the darkened windows, I couldn’t be sure that everyone was there; that they hadn’t been raptured away, and only I am left to tell the tale.  The hungry birds and I.

A crow across the street calls hoarsely into the gray day from a tall pine, and no answer comes.  Things are happening, somewhere.  Nothing’s happening here.  And, now, he’s silent.  The birds are back at their feeders, though; a few of them.  I’d taken the feeders down and brought them to the shed to fill when I first went out.  The little chickadees, finches, titmice and woodpeckers that are the most steady customers were what attracted my attention to the fact they were empty.  And while I stood filling the one we use for the woodpeckers I turned around because I heard a tiny sound back up by the post on the hill.  There was a small confused woodpecker, come for breakfast and finding the place out of business.  He hovered at all the “stations” where hang the several feeders when they’re filled, lighted atop the thing and tried to figure out, I mused, if the feeders too had been raptured away.  When I’d done putting the seeds and nuts in his feeder I walked back to the tall post to hang it.  He watched me briefly and then flew off.  I smiled and thought, “You can feed some of the birds…”  And I remembered that saying that has been with me for, oh, so many years, “In the great boarding house of the universe, the pancakes, butter and syrup never come out even.”  No one, really is ever filled, ever satisfied, here.

That job done, and my dew-drenched shoes still dry on the inside, I considered whether I should do the feeders at the front of the house.  They were empty, too.  But was I, dressed as I was in my “night clothes” with a long blue bathrobe on, fit for the street?  What would the sight of me be like for folks in all those dark and silent houses?  I smiled considering that, and went ahead.  The birds, I knew, would enjoy the seeds.  And my neighbors might enjoy the site of the doughty and daft old man wandering around in his PJs.

I turned up Hildegard Bingen on my “electronic device” and finished the job, noticing a few little winged things coming in for a landing as I went back inside.  They didn’t care how I looked I thought, as long as the job was done right.


Here are some little bits culled from My Catholic, a site I use as my home page.  I was particularly attracted to them this morning when I read them earlier before I went outside.  I thought about them, especially St Augusine’s.  As Fats Waller was fond of saying: “One never knows, do one?”

Saint of the Day

Bl. Angela Truszkowska (1825-1899)
Angela was the well-educated child of noble, devout Catholic parents. From her childhood, she was drawn to prayer and genuine concern for others. She worked tirelessly for the poor, and founded the Felician Sisters. She is best known for her childlike love, her imitation of the virtues of Mary, and her Eucharistic spirituality.

Reflections from the Saints

Believe that others are better than you in the depths of their soul, although outwardly you may appear better than they.

– St. Augustine

One Minute Meditations

The Struggle
Whoever really wants to achieve sanctity, takes no breaks or holidays.

– St. Josemaria Escriva, Furrow, #129

Scripture Verse of the Day

Luke 12:29-31

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Life in Christ: Catechism #2441

An increased sense of God and increased self-awareness are fundamental to any full development of human society. This development multiplies material goods and puts them at the service of the person and his freedom. It reduces dire poverty and economic exploitation. It makes for growth in respect for cultural identities and openness to the transcendent.


Here is the text of the lovely chant: Ave Generosa
 I behold you,
noble, glorious and whole woman,
the pupil of purity.
You are the sacred matrix
in which God takes great pleasure.

The essences of Heaven flooded into you,
and the Great Word of God dressed itself in flesh.

You appeared as a shining white lily,
as God looked upon you before all of Creation.

O lovely and tender one,
how greatly has God delighted in you.
For He has placed His passionate embrace within you,
so that His Son might nurse at your breast.

Your womb held joy,
with all the celestial symphony sounding through you,
Virgin, who bore the Son of God,
when your purity became luminous in God.

Your flesh held joy,
like grass upon which dew falls,
pouring its life-green into it,
and so it is true in you also,
o Mother of all delight.

Now let all Ecclesia shine in joy
and sound in symphony
praising the most tender woman,
Mary, the bequeather/seed-source of God.

Amen.


It’s raining softly now, and the birds are finishing up their morning meal.  I can’t decide whether it will be a Waller kind of day or a Hildegarde kind of day.  But, it never is what it seems, down here anyway.  Is it?  Ave, generosa Maria, help me at least not misbehave today.
Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 7, 2014

Backyard Bestiary V

THE ROBIN’S CALL

As light takes form, homes, where sleeping still
My neighbors lie, appear, and small birds fly,
As it swells stronger, from nests once filled
With hungry chicks; to search with darting eye
For little bugs about, or tiny seeds
Wind blown promise of Spring from shrubs and trees.

Just so, Robin, first to wake, atop a tree
Faces east trumpeting reveille -
Sweet sound – across the morning air.  More prayer
Of pure joy in life and light could there be
You must say.  I neither know nor care
To learn.  His song opens day’s book for me.

Oh, night returns, necessarily so,
With Robin’s song again in sunset’s glow.
One bird one song sings.  It seems good for all.
Beginning day.  Sweetly chanting night’s fall.

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10-07-2014

Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 26, 2014

Today, September 26, 2014

Autumn has put his bags down on the drive out front, and paying off the limo driver, he’s turned and waved to me at the window, all bright smiles and cheer.  What a fellow he is.  He has arrived, come back at last.  Thank God he’s back.  I do love his brother Summer, himself just gone, but, good Lord, he grows tiresome some seasons; particularly strength sappingly so this year when he just wouldn’t stop with his warm embraces, soft hearted fellow that he is.  I grew to miss his sweet sister Spring as I hadn’t for a couple of years, and yearned for at least a month for him to get up, stretch, and tell me, “I think I’ll take a little trip.”

Those were the thoughts I found inside me as I put my feet on the floor just a few hours ago.  It was six-thirty and the sun had been at its work for at least a little while; rising now much further south to trace a shallower curve across the sky than its long June voyages into the north; to make a cooler ever more swift journey into evening.  I made myself a cup of tea, or it made itself for me.  And while it brewed on the counter beside the sink I went outside in the back yard to test the day and count the many reasons why it was as good as it seemed to me through the window at the kitchen sink while the kettle came to a boil.

There were a few slim clouds above, gold ribbons , saffron veils hung between the rows of trees; wrapped around the maples’ shoulders, the raised arms of the pines.  And where the sun had risen finally between two large oaks in my neighbor’s yard in June, clear sky, milky blue, the color of Mary’s mantle in almost every painting I’ve ever seen, promised me peace today.

Ten huge blossoms on the nearest Moon Flower greeted every one above with their chorus of white beauty, their sweet honey flavored perfume bathing the whole yard.  No bees yet at work over there among them I wandered over and bent to take a little taste of heaven and got my slippers and my feet dew drenched in the journey.

Back inside, the tea was ready and warm.  I sat, then, where I usually sit and began to read, to think, to pray in pure thanks for the gift of the day.

“I arise today…”

Here is  poem I wrote a long time ago after I had been atop the Hill of Slane where the fellow who wrote those word had stood early one morning long ago:

ATOP THE HILL OF SLANE

If I remember it correctly
The first day of February
Was New Year’s day, Beltane.
In another place far from here
The day once had that name.
It had something to do with kings
And hills of course, and flame.

I was in that country not long ago
At year’s other end from Beltane
Near Tara’s Hill, atop the Hill of Slane.
A tree was there, a ruin, a pasture
Spread with grass, wet manure
And old crumbled stones, crushed ruins bones.

This is what I saw
And this is what I saw.
The sky above, the earth below
And waiting all around
The light of day against the night.
The light of Christ in Patrick’s hand
Tara and the king far off, so,
Beltane a memory, wish, shadow,
The four points, once far, so near.
The light of Christ with Patrick dear.

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02-12-04


One Minute Meditations

Eternity
I advise you not to look for praise, even when you deserve it. It is better to pass unnoticed, and to let the most beautiful and noble aspects of our actions, of our lives, remain hidden. What a great thing it is to become little! Deo omnis gloria! –All the glory to God.

– St. Josemaria Escriva
Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 16, 2014

BACKYARD BESTIARY IV

Higher Still and Bold the Wren

“Why should I not be,” says the Wren, “as bold
As bright day’s bold.  The sun’s above the world
Alive with light, white clouds sail blue sky curled,
Meadow’s sheen shatters, tall trees’ leaves flash gold.

Let the black crow scold all below his eye,
His rough call’s raid so end the peace of day.
Let eagles soar cold space where stars held sway
And chill faint hearts with piercing cry.

Though lightnings flash as storms sweep, thunders crack
the sky apart and rain’s lashings turn all
Streets to angry stream in torrent’s fall
At end my bright and single song’s hurled back.

My calling’s singing.  I say song am I.
Though slight, higher still will my notes fly.”

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9/16/2014

Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 15, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became a Pilgrimage (Part Four)

In Which We Close the Door Behind Us

I will not deceive you and say that I stepped out bravely down my not-so-evenly-any-longer-bricked-walk.  There were a lot of imponderables, free radicals, roaming around in my head.  This was to be the longest time I had spent away from home since I was a mere lad sailing before the stack around the world.  Then I was 18.  Now I am 72 and on my best days NFFD.

We were on our way to a place where no one I knew was waiting with open arms to welcome us; not as in Ireland where I have often felt more at home than the place I called home, or some of the other places I’ve visited down the years since I first put my foot over the rail onto a ship when I was young and had neither fear, nor the sense to have it.  Now, I had sense, or was supposed to have it.  What, I wondered as we got into our neighbor’s car for the short ride to the bus which would take us to Boston’s Logan Airport, what was I, what were we getting into?  We would be strangers in a strange land.  That song kept going through my head, “Two Lost Souls”.  Small comfort that “we got each other” I mused in the back seat while Mariellen and our friend Miriam chatted amiably and excitedly about the adventures, the lovely times ahead; all of that history, culture, good food, great weather; and I thought about being stranded thousands of miles from home, or surrounded in dark streets by cut throats, or poisoned by bad food, bad water, bad attitudes.

Well, before I knew it, really, we were on the bus, and incredibly, soon at the airport.  Maybe, I remember thinking, as we built a tower of luggage on the sidewalk to wheel inside the doors to the check in desk, maybe it was a good thing that this trip had so far come off without a hitch, and so very quickly.  God had so arranged the traffic that we slid south from Nashua in near record speed, and through the still relatively new Ted Williams Tunnel to the airport as quickly as I’d put an arm through a silk shirtsleeve; if I had a silk shirt.  All of my previous experiences of that particular artery have convinced me that it suffers, and painfully so, from cartherosclerosis.  As well do those suffer, too, who must inch through it in any direction.

With her incredibly sensitive nose for sniffing out a bargain, Mariellen had arranged for us to fly to Europe on Icelandic Air.  Those of a certain age will remember Icelandic Air, and its ads in those happy days of yesteryear when they offered the cheapest…and longest…flights to Europe of any airline in the universe.  One only had to stop off in Reykjavik, to replace the feathers on the wings, probably, and then fly on to your sunny destination.  We are of the bargain age, now, so we took the deal.  Check in was a breeze.  They spoke English and we only had to wait while a party of visiting Walrus before us haggled with the booking agent about their carry on stuff, raw fish from the No Name kitchen.

Eventually they flopped away and we were next.  The agent at the desk, dressed in typical Icelandic costume: whaleskins, a ski mask and wearing a caribou’s antlers for a hat, motioned us forward and took our checked luggage, two overnight bags into which we had both managed to get a month’s worth of clothing and assorted accoutrements for modern travel, including four or five miles of charging cords for our “hand held electronic devices” and a Bowie knife I brought along just in case we were threatened with all of the threats I dreaded we’d have to contend with where we were going; Etruscans included.  The bags themselves each had the density of a neutron star, but in a miracle of physics and folding, they were under the weight limit, two and a half pounds each, and we did not have to pay a thing for extra baggage; a real arm and a leg apiece.  I crossed off one of my paralyzing worries and felt circulation begin to work in the leg I feared I might lose.

Actually, it was a breeze, and so was the trip through the labyrinth of chutes at the stockyard-like TSA grope-a-thon.  I was surprised that we weren’t touched, wanded or scoped.  I suspect that we were profiled, though.  White haired old folks have their own categories: confused and harmless.  And so, in record shattering time we found ourselves fully dressed and “inside” the special zone of travelers freed to leave the country, that zone where everything you might need is at least three times the cost of the same article anywhere else in the universe.  And, we only had three hours to wait for our plane to take off.  Or, was it four hours?  What difference does it make, now.  We were in somewhere not anywhere else.

Now I Know Where Limbo Is

It is no longer spoken of nor speculated about, but I know all about Limbo and where it is.  It was where I spent the next few hours.  It is always there, and has always been.  Those favored with a ticket may pass through.  Thousands do each day.  I know, though, that millions uncounted, poor souls all, are there forever, like Charlie on the MTA.  Though no Virgil spends his time there, nor unbaptized infants or pagan babies, eternities pass for who find themselves inside its borders more or less uncomfortably confined in little black chairs, committed to little more than the pleasure of CNN’s interminable stroll through the world’s daily woe, perfection of the art of the thumb twiddle, or a bad meal in a noisy place at outrageous prices.  Not to mention a chocolate bar or bag of peanuts for $4.00.

We wandered up and down Limbo’s 600 yards.  We knew it well, having passed through less than a year before on our way to Ireland with Carolyn, our granddaughter.  Eventually we stopped for a meal.  I had some breaded and fried cardboard.  I can’t remember what Mariellen had, and I am pretty confident that she doesn’t want to remember it.  The beer was good, though, and when we were finished I still had enough money left for our trip.

Then we decided to exchange some of that money for the pretty stuff that passes for money these days in Europe, and wandered down to the American Express booth so to do.  We didn’t exchange a thing except hot air, and the reason why we didn’t I shall tell you.  American Express declined to accept our American Express card.  The nice lady behind the counter smiled and said, “Sorry.”  I did not think she was nearly as sorry as I was; thinking then of panhandling my way through Europe.  Mariellen and I walked back to the vicinity of our departure gate where she took out her lap top and began notifying all four hundred of our credit cards carriers that we were leaving the jurisdiction.  As she said just a moment ago the notifications may not yet have reached their destinations.  That is how slow the connections with the real world are in Limbo.  We would have had, I think, a better chance with a cote of pigeons.

Well, there not being much else to do for another hour, we did just that.  Mariellen, once finished with her notifications opened her kindle and disappeared.  I sat and watched the flow of people in and out of gateway doors, up and down from little black chairs while, caring not a whit for the fact that we would be paupers in what once was paradise, CNN’s brigade of anchors prattled above me.  At one point I took out my little camera and played with it, snapping photos of spies, terrorists and skullduggers eating away at the heart of all that is good.

The restrooms were nearby.

In Which The Crew Arrives

I didn’t hear the fanfare, but I did hear the heavy sound of heels on the floor as the crew of our plane arrived.  It sounded like an occupying army marching down the boulevard.  And soon behind the sound came they, the Icelandic crew straight out of the Edda.  All of them were at least seven feet tall, even the women.  They carried spears, and wore huge broad double edged swords or axes at their sides.  I vowed then and there that if I was allowed on board I’d not move again until the doors opened to let me out in Switzerland.  Then I remembered that we had a stop over in Reykjavik.

It was good the restrooms were nearby.  I thought about that as the flight was announced, and our rows were called for boarding.  It was only five hours to Reykjavik.  I could wait, and sleep, maybe.  They’d never notice me.

And pray, too.  Yes, that.  Pray.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 2, 2014

FOR SHEER JOY


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Glory to God for thunderheads whose curled
Columned cool gray ranks wind-combed ride
Wind waves at world’s edge, and folded, furled
Parade above surging sea or granite
Cliff where in cool shade bold eagles fly.

Give Him praise for the roar of waves, wild spray
White foamed at land’s edge as brave sea birds plunge
From cloud height to emerald deep, swift seals play,
Sleek dolphins leap, and sharks lean, lunge
At prey in sea lanes where wave-long whales lounge.

Glory God who holds such little wonders grand
Above mosaiced meadows in high summer’s light
As swift sleek hummingbirds in His hand,
Or bumblebees busy among flowers bright
Whose brief beauty rivals star filled sky at night.

Glory for farms and herds, their work thrum, hooves drum;
Song of bird’s trill and babe’s soft milk sweet smile;
Many berried briars, squirrel’s rest, home
Haven for birds and butterflies awhile;
Neat gardens herb scented and flower frilled.

Glory give to God for all these things,
Nor least the Wren, who for sheer joy sweetly sings.

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September 2, 2014

 

As We Rejoin Our Heroes:

It is nearly one year since the events I’ve been describing in this little chronicle took place, Pilgrims.  I have received one plaintive note, and that quite some time ago, to bring things to a close.  The fellow is old, and he may want to see things to the finish before he’s finished.  The other five of you who had been following this chronicle have either died already, given up waiting in despair of ever finding out where the pot of gold lay or never really cared. Well, I have picked up the thread and have set to work despite my own inertia of rest.  I pity you coming to this lately with all my heart.  For the rest of you, poor miserable creatures, who had nothing better to do than become interested in our little lives rounded with a trip in a car too small for one: Fear not!  Put down your TV Guide, postpone folding your wash again, and attend.

I shall continue, having become dimly aware that I hadn’t finished.  Truth, a thing I occasionally involve myself with, requires that I tell you this, intrepid reader:  My memory, under the best of circumstances an impoverished thing, seems to have become even more feeble than it has always been.  What you will begin to read below are the first few paragraphs of our trip from Abbeyleix to Killarney on a quiet Saturday morning, our first full day in Ireland.  What I do not remember, now, cannot be told.  But, I have a rather well developed talent for fantasy.  So, should I detect a gap in the story coming on, pardon me if I weave a tale into the telling.  I hope to make those transits from fact and into fantasy seamless, short and few; and, who knows, it may be all the more interesting for the lies I’ll tell you.

Ahem!  We pick op the thread in our hotel in Abbeyleix, after supper.

 

CHANTICLEER SLEEPS WELL

Carolyn, God love her, had gone down after supper to feed the cats and bring at least temporary relief to the mice, voles, the odd squirrel and careless birds who might be interested in a tasty piece of garbage out behind to hotel.  And when she returned to the room at our hotel in Abbeyleix Mariellen and I had already made ourselves as comfortable as we could.  I was on my way to dreamland, a trip I needed to take; the unfinished business of no sleep for a day or so pressing on my eyes.  So, I closed them…

And, then, blankness.

We had left the window open in the room and it was the voices of some fellows down in the parking lot at about 6:00 AM that brought me back, too soon.  My room mates were still asleep, sound asleep.  It had to be early, I thought lying there trying to remember where I was, trying to remember who I was, to orient myself.  Through a break in the thick curtains keeping out the rude daylight, muffling the fellows below, a slim bit of the world outside presented itself; the trees across the street still in shadow and the sky above them merely a ribbon of pink cloud below a thread of blue above disappearing into the dusty yellow drape.  Whether or not I liked it, I was awake as awake can get.

My first duty then, to myself and to the world, was tea.  Actually, my first duty was to get out of the bed…somehow.  Our room established a pattern to be repeated in the other hotels we’d occupy on this trip across the waters.  It was, umm, compact is a good word.  It was so compact that I was left with no more room than a few inches between me and the wall on my side of the bed; a wall as unyielding as walls can be, cold, hard, uncaring and close.  I don’t move well at any time, and especially after lying in bed all night.  All of those things that do move on me ..poorly..during the day take that time to lapse into rigidity.  I thought for a few moments about simply attempting to ooze out, feet first, from the bottom of the bed onto the floor, like some kind of me shaped glob; a white haired octopus.  And, I tried.  But the sheets down there had to have been nailed to the underside of the mattress.  I couldn’t undo the bedclothes.

So, I rolled over and slid one half of me out of the bed, until I was stopped by the wall.  I put my right hand and foot on the floor and managed, God knows how, to kneel on my right leg, then stand on it, then pivot until I was standing facing the wall.  It wasn’t too difficult then to inch out along the bed until I was free.  Once out where normal movement was possible I made for the window sill where we had put all the tea things when we arrived yesterday.  We needed the small desk and the outlets there for our phones and lap top and “gear”.  I took out some plugs and put in some plugs and soon, with a prayer of fervent thanks, was pouring coal black tea into a mug.

By then, Mariellen was awake and Carolyn who had in the universal teenage fashion, and as she would for the rest of the trip, simply wrapped herself in her blanket and, holding her friendly pink elephant, fallen asleep atop the bed covers, began to stir into consciousness.  Stirring into consciousness in no way means that she was anywhere near that state.  It is a long trip, a trek more like it; akin to a Mormon’s march to Utah, or Columbus’ voyage of discovery across the Ocean Sea, Ulysses and his companions beyond the Pillars of Hercules; hazardous, thrilling and fraught throughout with the chance of failure. You know them, the ones who never seem to wake up.  Classrooms and courtrooms are full of them.  So are legislative chambers.

Anyway, it was Saturday in Ireland and our adventure was underway in earnest.

 

IN WHICH I MAKE A DISCOVERY

The time was nearly 7:00am when I finished the tea.  Carolyn had arisen, and we spent a few quiet moments listening to, well, nothing, really.  The fellows below, to whose noises I had awakened, had gone inside the hotel, and all was quiet as we contemplated the next move.  For me it was a shower.  The outside of me felt like the inside of a slime soiled sewer main, and seemed quite as smelly.  So, tea done, I announced I would return shortly a new man and, gathering something from the suitcase which looked as if it was mine and would fit, I entered the bathroom.  It didn’t used to be a bathroom I suspected. Things looked all an afterthought.  Such is often the case I’ve found after many years of travel and many stays in places throughout Ireland.  Catering to Yanks has done amazing things for the plumbing industry in Ireland, and very possibly coined the term “en suite” for the room that replaced the little house in back and the nearby barrel of rainwater.

Anyway, I got down to business, thankful once again that this was an age when such things were done inside, and not outside where the chickens and barnyard cats could look on.  One does not want to scandalize the livestock…or the neighbors.

The preliminaries taken care of I prepared to shower away the last bits of North America I had brought with me.  There was soap.  There was a squidgen of shampoo in an eyedropper sized bottle, even.  There was a bath towel that would have covered a stallion’s back.  What there was not was a wash cloth.  There was, however, a face towel if one’s face was the size of an elephant’s.

Desperate times calling for the same measures I made the “face” towel my wash cloth and showered away, finished and rolled around inside the towel, dressed and returned to the waiting world.

I should have known, you know, that there wouldn’t be a wash cloth.  Such a refinement is not commonly provided in Irish bathrooms we have found. Mariellen was stricken with contrition when I told her what I was forced to do to get by.  She had forgotten to pack one or two of them for the trip.  I forgave her while having a second cup of tea during the time that she and Carolyn dressed. At no time did I think of telling her how difficult it is to wash one’s ears with a wet and soapy ten pounds of towel; though it is good for toning and conditioning arms and shoulders.

By the time we were ready to go to breakfast the whole incident was pretty nearly forgotten.

 

IT’S NOT THE LEAVING OF ABBEYLEIX THAT GRIEVES YOU

Breakfast, they said in the stuff we got when we booked the hotel was to be served in the dining room starting at 7:00am.  It’s quite probable now that I think of it, that they meant 7:00am somewhere else than in Abbeyleix.  We arrived at about 7:15 and were the only people there.  Of other guests or staff there wasn’t the divil of a sign as my grandmother, may she rest in peace, might have said.  The advantage of that was we had our choice of seats.  We chose three near a table set with what appeared to be utensils and serving dishes for the breakfast fixins to come.

Well, it was Saturday, and allowances could be made.  Within a few minutes and for the next ten minutes or so after a young lady came from inside someplace and began bringing out containers and bowls of things to eat: cereals, fruits, juices and milk.  Mariellen and Carolyn made their way. around the table while I ordered The Full Irish Breakfast; advertised in the menu.  And, of course, we ordered more tea.  As the ladies ate, well while Mariellen ate and Carolyn made some lovely re-arrangements of the few things she had put on her plate, I wreaked havoc on eggs, bacon, puddings, tomatoes and mushrooms and about a half of a loaf of brown bread and “lashings” of butter and jam.

We were ready, then for what may come.  It was time to get on with the journey, leave Abbeyleix and strike out for the next bit, Cashel and its Rock, on our way to Killarney.  While the ladies settled up at the desk I moved stuff outside.  We had staged our bags in the lobby before going in to breakfast.  Finding the car was a breeze.  It was one of three in a parking lot which only about 15 hours before looked as if it held most of the cars in Ireland.  Now there were three lonely vehicles, about to be two.  And, not a car went by on the road beside the hotel.

That might be a function of one of the “benefits” joining the EU brought to Ireland.  They built themselves a bunch of new and zippy roads, straight lines, up and down and across the country to bring themselves up to speed.  Towns like Abbeyleix, bypassed, wither in the windy slipstream of progress when that happens.  It once had two hotels.  The other one, just up the road toward the center of town was an eyeless crumbling hulk.  Alas.

 

EXEUNT ALL

After stuffing the car with bags, blankies and pink elephants, I returned to the hotel lobby just as Mariellen was finishing up.  Carolyn, was where I figured she would be, out back giving her breakfast to the cats.  I had a pretty good idea how to get from Abbeyleix to Cashel and from thence (I love that word.  It’s from “Thence” Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, you know.) to Killarney.  But I asked, anyway, since it had been a while would it be best to take the old road or the new EU one which bypassed everything, like a wormhole between galaxies.  The blank stares of the young are the same everywhere, I guess.  The young lady was trying, I knew, but she was using all of her band width just to make her eyes move; and not doing well at all.  She smiled.  We smiled, and waited.

We were about to go looking for Carolyn, and leave, when a fellow walked through the front door.  He had a few miles on him, so I tried my question out again.  “It’s straight on from here,” he said with a wave of his hand out the window at the old road.  “There’s no need of that thing over.  Ye’ll see the entrance though at the cross if ye need to get there before ye leave here.”  They speak just like that for the most part in every place in Ireland outside of a few big deal restaurants and fancy hotels in Dublin; and some colleges I guess.  Joining the EU changed a lot, but not that, yet.

I thanked him for his directions and advice, and the young lady, too, who had a nice smile if little else.  Since Carolyn had joined us and our bill had been payed there was only the leaving of Abbeyleix to accomplish and the ride down the old road “straightaway” to Cashel and its Rock.

 

CROMWELL’S WORK’S WELL DONE

One might argue that without the Lord Protector’s interest in the place, there might well be nothing worth visiting in Ireland.  Take the Rock of Cashel for instance.  It stands, a majestic ruin of monastery and cathedral, on a huge rock over a large plain at the edge of Cashel Town.  From any direction its ruined silhouette is a dramatic signpost of religion run amok, and a reminder of what once was lively, lovely and lost.  On any day it’s crowded; with tourists, crows, black ravens and ghosts, even when the sun shines.  Below it on one side the town lies between and around some hills, in front of it on the broad plain stretching away to mountains on either side another ruin spreads its stones and crumbling walls, an old Augustinian monastery.  Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, even Godot would go well in either place.  Perhaps they have.  Cromwell chose well for his horde’s work.

Our drive down from Abbeyleix was like an arrow shot.  Had it been today that he came the poor monks wouldn’t have had time for a Nunc Dimittis before the righteous rage swept them away.  When we arrived I was surprised at the changes wrought on the place.  There was actually a metered parking lot.  Tour buses, that sure sign of popularity and worth were beginning to pile in and disgorge their forties and more.  We found a spot and meekly wandered up the hill and through the door on a morning cool and sunny, bright and clear.  And, for the next two hours, the three of us, sans interpretive guidance wandered unguided through history and made of it what we could.

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