Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Me and General Robert Lee

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Europe and Me

I was going to title this quick post, "The Faith Isn't Europe and Europe Isn't the Faith", but I don't know how many people would get the Bellocian reference and it's not really the nub of what I'm talking about.

I wrote about the story of Father Solanus Casey reaching the Capuchin monastery through snowfall on Christmas Eve a couple of days ago. That story really enchanted me. In fact, as I was reading about it on one web page, and re-watching another YouTube interview about Fr. Solanus that I'd seen many months ago, I had something of a "purple notebook" moment (although purple notebook moments can only ever be verified afterwards; the purple owl spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk).

Part of the reason I found Fr. Solanus's story so moving is because it combines the permanence and sublimity of the Faith, with all its lofty associations, with the familiarity of American references; Yonkers, Harlem, street car operator, and so forth.

And musing on this, it occurs to me that I'm completely cold to the romance and glamour of "Europe". Yes, I know Ireland is geographically in Europe, but I mean the continent, and especially the Romance-speaking lands. The sight of a piazza or a cobbled street doesn't excite me one bit; to be honest, it kind of depresses me. And all those relentless blue skies...

I had my honeymoon in Germany, France, Italy and Austria. They were nice, but...you know, they were nice.

The same is true of European history. I'm afraid I find the High Middle Ages to be a crashing bore. All those principalities and duchies and royal families just make my head swim. As a monarchist and a localist and a Catholic, I should probably view this as a golden age, but I don't.

I love Ireland, and I love England, and I love America.

Ireland; smoky photographs of Brendan Behan, Michael Collins, and Eamon De Valera in dark pubs; sausages, rashers and white pudding; tea, tea, tea; green fields, real or imagined; a kind of endearing awkwardness in the populace, right down to how we carry ourselves; the Irish mammy; the cult of heroic failure.

England; Big Ben; Carry On movies; the eccentric vicar with a model railway in his backyard; ghost stories featuring donnish middle-aged men who cycle from cathedral town to cathedral town; the cult of heroic failure; names like "Hampden" and "Bromley" and "Coventry"; bleary seventies movies where everybody and everything looks tired, dishevelled and worn-out.

America; the Budweiser Clysedales; Target stores; Macy's parade; flat, square buildings and low skylines; extreme weather; a sense of enormous space; a sense that even outdoors is somehow like indoors, people are so relaxed and unselfconscious; a kind of respect for everybody's personal projects, and an eagerness to talk about them (tell an American person some project you have, and they take it seriously); more than anything, gusto.

I'm also rather drawn to Japanese and Russian culture, what little I know of them. I told this to my sister and she said: "I've noticed people who are drawn to Russian culture are usually also drawn to Japanese culture." Perhaps it's their unapologetic insularity.

But Europe leaves me cold.

15 comments:

  1. I've never been to mainland Europe but I never suspected that Target was more interesting.
    We have plenty of Target stores in Australia. I have family in Umbria at the moment, they seemed to have found Assisi more interesting than Target... And Castello...and Fatima.
    On a more serious note... Everyone is bound to have different tastes, but was there no enjoyment of Europe's Christian patrimony at all? Even, granted the secularism in all countries and, indeed, the commercialisation of Christianity in some parts too, looking for large donations to enter churches etc. A very Francophile musician couple I knew mentioned,when Sínead O'Connor was ordained at Lourdes
    "you know....there's Lourdes and there's Lourdes!"



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    1. Maybe Australian Target doesn't have the awesomeness of American Target!

      I did like all the crucifixes at crossroads.

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  2. I don't think Italian style would be my taste either but France has a very different style altogether. I like gothic.
    Rome has a special "bond"with weekday Masses according to the 1962 missal, if that makes sense. In the old rite, every important season of the year has daily "stational churches" ,always an old church of Rome, something largely symbolic to most Mass goers, but which would mean a lot to anyone visiting Rome who usually attends the traditional liturgy. Also,a lot of early Roman martyrs are commemorated in the traditional Mass, this would all make Rome more enriching for people who attended this Mass daily, which I know few can do. I suspect the Church, after the Council wanted to make the church seem more universal by letting a lot of this go.
    Still... My sister and brother-in-law could have saved a bit of money... To think....their own daughter worked in Target all through uni.

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    1. I prefer Rome seen from a distance, so to speak...as a symbol or an idea or a centre. People always assume I would like to visit the Vatican, but I've no desire to!

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  3. I never had the desire during John Paul's reign or now, during Francis' reign , not because of a any dislike mind you, but somehow I probably would have liked to visit during Pope Benedict's time, had I gone at all.
    Virginia Woolf, of all people liked Rome, saying while she was there that she liked the catholic church after all, not that it had much overall effect

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  4. ultimately there's the old saying We won't find God anywhere if we don't bring Him with us

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    1. Indeed! Although people have been moved towards faith unexpectedly by visiting somewhere. I think if you're LOOKING for God somewhere, you won't find him.

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  5. I note your side allusion to M.R. James - a great, and often overlooked, creator of atmosphere. Have you seen the 1968 BBC production of "O Whistle and I'll come to you my lad"? A really brilliant ghost story, possibly better than James's original.

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    1. Remarkably, no, although I've seen plenty of other TV productions of his work. Last Christmas my brother bought me a DVD production of Robert Powell reading some of his stories. I've also watched some with my horror club, including a recent series with Christopher Lee.

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  6. I'm shocked. Staggered! Maybe you should read Patrick Leigh Fermor. Or Christopher Dawson. Or maybe you already have. In which case there is no hope for you!

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    1. I have never read either of them, but I still think there's no hope for me!

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  7. I'm not giving up that easily. Try the first chapter of A Time of Gifts when PLF arrives in Rotterdam a couple of hours before dawn right at the beginning of his walk to Constantinople. The snow-covered statue of Erasmus, the quayside landlord who offers him fried eggs, coffee and Bols to send him on his way...

    Or the first chapter of A Time of Gifts when he crosses the bridge into Hungary at Esztergom on Holy Saturday...

    PLF was English and claimed Irish descent, so....

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    1. Ha ha. OK, I'll give it a go. Never even heard of him before.

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  8. I actually envy you slightly. Discovering PLF is one of the great joys of the literary life. Here is an introduction of sorts http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/roads-less-travelled-patrick-leigh-fermor-lived-an-adventurers-life-403467.html

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  9. I'm quite late to this subject--but I quite sympathize. Europe holds very little interest for me (though, to be even-handed, so does Target). I don't imply that I think the less of all of that history, all of that accomplishment, and all of that art, or that I am trying to downplay the impact it's had on the rest of the world, and on me. There just isn't any great desire to experience it firsthand. I enjoy travelers' tales.

    I say that, and then I think "But what about the pilgrimage to Santiago Compestela"? That, I must admit, I do find quite compelling (apart from the "relentless blue skies" I suspect one must brave to get there). But I think it's possibly the walking aspect that appeals to me more than anything, the idea of pilgrimage, of moving on one's own two feet towards a holy destination. Though I say that with Tomás' remark about bringing God along with one clearly in my mind!

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