Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rosa and Roberto

Rosa and her brother are wearing blue jeans. They took quite a while to make. Actually, Rosa was not demanding about her hair and clothes, but Roberto was another story. He insisted on having a Mohawk!  hmmmm  Maybe his picture should have been a profile so you could see his "crest."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A provocative thought

I just read this in a review. It seems so akin to the purpose of this blog that I want to include it as a bit of wisdom to ponder. The author is Nicole Coonradt.

In such projects, methods and conclusions will always be liable to complaint; but there is something brave in the foolish attempts to comprehend the life of another in the imperfect evidence of opaque remains, and something sadly timid in the principled refusal to condone any daring speculation about the secrets of an extraordinary mind.  Risks may lead to discoveries when caution leaves us reconciled to ignorance.
[My emphasis]

Friday, October 23, 2015

Purely personal

Last weekend a professional photographer at Our Lady of the Assumption in Claremont, CA took this picture from the balcony of the church.
It's our Secular Franciscan Fraternity renewing profession. We generally do this annually. It brought back many memories for me.
     I'm a Chicago girl who never dreamed she'd see California. I was professed at St Peter's in Chicago. Not the famous one at 110 W. Madison with the marble front and crucifix that extends to the fourth floor of the building. That St Peter's was constructed in the business district to serve the thousands of visitors and countless people employed in the Loop.

So the Franciscan presence moved directly into the heart of downtown Chicago. The new building--with marble surfaces inside and out--is one block from State and Madison. "St Peter's in the Loop," as it is called, was consecrated in 1953. My children remember attending monthly Franciscan meetings there as a family. But that's not where memories led me.

My husband and I were professed at Old St Peter's, which no longer exists. It was not called "old" then. It was just the Franciscan church in Chicago. St Peter's stood at Clark and Polk amid railroad yards and tall commercial buildings. It was graced with a hand-carved communion rail and pulpit created by woodcraft artists in Munich, Germany.

Old St Peter's Church

Old St Peter's Church stands somewhere in this mass of commercial and manufacturing buildings that adjoin the railroad yards.

     Established in 1865, it had been a parish of 1,200 families with a church and school. Over time, however, the neighborhood's ethnic and residential character evolved into an area concentrating on commerce and manufacturing. Proximity to the railroads, no doubt, an influence.    
     The late 1800s brought the Third Order of St Francis to the parish. (The Third Order is now called the  Secular Franciscan Order.) First came a German-speaking branch, but many of Irish ancestry also joined and soon became a second, separate fraternity.
     In 1871, the Chicago fire changed the life of the city. Flames a mile wide and four miles long came within a few blocks of St Peter's. One could claim a miracle when all of a sudden the fire changed its course. The wind veered northward, and St Peter's and its school were spared. Late that evening a heavy rain put out the fire.
     Of the 150 families of the parish left homeless, as many as possible were housed, fed, and otherwise provided for in St Peter's classrooms.
     Afterward, many families moved farther south and St Peter's experienced a rapid decline as a parish. It became, instead, a "chapel of ease" among the railways and huge buildings that surrounded it. A contemporary author expressed the service it provided this way: "Where the boss, the secretary, the doctor, the nurse, the judge, the lawyer, the manager, the clerk, the banker, the teller, the foreman, the laborer forget their differences." A daily noon Mass was introduced in the days of World War I. During these years the Third Order continued to grow and flourish.
     What had been a German and Irish parish gradually became seventy-five percent Italian. Most were poor.
     By 1925, the parish had dwindled to twenty families. The number of school children had been reduced to forty with two nuns in charge. But not until 1942 was the decision made to close the school.
     After that, the school building continued to be used for offices and meeting rooms for the many organizations active at St Peter's. One such group, introduced in the 1930s, was the Antonians, a Third Order Fraternity of young people. My husband and I met, as Antonians, about ten years later.

I was professed--that is, I promised to follow the Franciscan Rule as my way of life--as I knelt at the beautifully carved altar rail in the venerable old church by the railyard on October 24, 1948. That's 67 years ago. One week later, my first baby was born. The Franciscans have shaped my life. God bless them.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Limited offer--post paid

Sorry world, this is only for the U.S.  If you email me your name and address by Thursday, October 22, 2015, I'll send you--your choice--one of my books:

Pilgrim Chaucer: Center Stage
Who's Afraid of Middle English?

The number of books is limited, so, if you're interested, email me ASAP.  There's no catch. I won't keep your address or send it to somebody else.
My email is:  chaucer600@aol.com

Friday, October 16, 2015

So what happened?

The New Chaucer Society conference, in London in July 2000, would be the extent of the British celebration of Chaucer's 600th anniversary. Recalling Dr. Barnes' concern about the cooling trend toward the age of Chaucer, I found the whole thing alarming. If the rest of the world seemed ready to bypass the red-letter day, those of us in Claremont would need to manage our own celebration. But what to do? Where to begin?
     My friend Barbara remarked that Chaucer's last sentiment was a request for prayer. It's true. The closing of the Canterbury Tales says: "All who hear or read this, I beseech you to pray for me." Among Catholics, it is customary to have a Mass said on the anniversary of a death. That would also have been true when Chaucer lived. A small, private Mass at my home seemed appropriate, with eight or ten Chaucer-lovers attending. So, early in September 2000, I spoke with the secretary at our parish office to arrange for a home Mass on the evening of October 25. When the pastor, Father  (now Monsignor) Tom Welbers, got word that a Mass would commemorate the date of Chaucer's death, the event suddenly went public. With unexpected, but gratifying enthusiasm, Father Tom urged, "It's a celebration that needs to be publicized." The Mass would be celebrated in church; invitations would go out to all the English Departments in our area; local newspapers would be notified. Now, to picture many people attending a Mass in church required a whole new plan. Where do we begin? Publicity, music, and food were starters.
    A special Mass needed special music. Shirley Robbins directed medieval instrumental ensembles,  and trained vocalists in the techniques of "early music." When I asked her to help, I got a warm reception, "I'd be delighted to take part," she said.
     With the music arranged for, food came next because such a Mass would have to be followed by a reception. And the menu had to be medieval. The book Pleyn Delit by Constance Hieatt had medieval recipes adjusted for modern cooks, with modern substitutes for 14th-century ingredients. We planned a sit-down dinner of selected recipes the likes of which folks may never have tasted  before.
     Dinner would begin with a salad of greens. (Tomatoes were unknown to Chaucer.) Vinegar and oil added to a combination of minced fresh parsley, sage, mint, fennel, dill and savory can create a palate-pleasing dressing. The greens would be creative--borage, spinach, and whatever else was available, along with thinly sliced small leeks and scallions. Hieatt's one caution for authenticity: avoid iceberg lettuce. Besides the salad, we would make cheese-mushroom pasties, and pork tarts flavored with nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, pepper, and saffron. Dessert would be apple-almond pudding.
     What to drink? Mead for the toast to Chaucer must be found, but what to serve as a dinner beverage? The fourteenth century had no coffee, tea, or chocolate. An email to Professor Hieatt brought a ready answer--apple cider.
     Cider, in October, could be found at any grocery store. Mead, on the other hand, presented a challenge--with a happy ending. While buying 10 pounds of mushrooms at a local store, I talked with the cashier about the dinner. A woman standing behind me interjected, "You'll have mead, of course." I said we hadn't been able to find any. Smiling like a fairy godmother, she offered, "Just give me your phone number. I'll call you when I get home and tell you the number for my regular supplier." Good at her word, I called the number and ordered a case of, wouldn't you know, Chaucer's Mead!
     I had been scheduled to give a talk about Chaucer at the city library a week before our medieval extravaganza. (That's a story of its own.) At the very end of my presentation, I invited everyone to the Chaucer Mass and reception the following week. Perfect timing.
    The week was dominated by preparation for the event. I told the writers' group I would not be attending during that week because of all the baking. Someone offered sympathy saying, "What a lot of work for you!" I smiled and said I didn't consider it "work." It was a celebration I'd been hoping for for 30 years!
     Judy Wenrick and her husband Jon had often provided a helping Chaucer hand; they agreed to oversee the dining activities in the hall. Judy had the last word about serving the food, and the seating arrangements. Jon would open and pour the mead--and propose the toast to Chaucer.

With the Mass about to begin, I welcomed the guests seated in the church with Chaucer's prayer request read in Middle English--followed by the same words in today's English. That signaled the recorder players and the percussionist, with his little drum, to lead the altar servers and Father Tom down the aisle. From the first thump on the drum, a medieval atmosphere filled the church. Shirley had assembled a small consort of instruments and a vocalist. When the Mass ended, many of those in attendance lingered to hear the musicians' final offering.
     Then the crowd headed for the long tables set up in the parish hall. Close to 100 attended. The food was unusual but delicious. The salad was superb. The mead was exquisite. When a guest asked if we would be doing this again next year, the answer was "Yes!" What a great way to give life to Chaucer's name. We had started something.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Special birthday edition

Jolinda, a lovely young lady, takes my German Shepherd for a walk twice a week. My dog is nuts about her. Last week the young lady mentioned her birthday was coming up.  hmmm  She has gotten a kick out of the dolls I make, so . . .  Why not  a miniature Jolinda?
     There is one outstanding feature about Jolinda--her hair! So here she is as a 5 inch replica.

Jolinda, a grown up young lady, does not tie bows in her hair,  but otherwise this is her hair style. It's long enough to sit on! My dog and I hope she has a very happy birthday.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

And the winner is . . .

Virginia's inspiration of a Chaucer contest to stimulate interest in the first great poet of the English language had a successful conclusion. The New Chaucer Society (NCS) spring newsletter announced the competition. Both scholars and students submitted entries limited to one page (500 words). Submissions answered the question, "Why, after 600 years, are we still studying the works of Chaucer?" The entry of Robert Meyer-Lee, a graduate student at Yale, won the prize. Based on two lines from "Pilgrim" Chaucer's intro to the Tale of Thopas, here is what he wrote:

"The Allure of the Phantom Popet"

This were a popet in an arm t'embrace
For any womman, smal and fair of face.

This couplet, spoken by the redoubtable host of the Canterbury Tales about the poet's own pilgrim alter-ego, is, in the fullest sense of the word, charming. Endearingly elusive, it captures in its thematic play and formal sprezzatura [studied nonchalance] the essential reason why, after 600 years, we are still so interested in--and so mystified by--Chaucer's poetry. The lines are at once self-deprecating, self-aggrandizing, and self-effacing. Apparently submitting himself to the mockery of the host, the poet is in fact ostentatiously making his own person the topic of his verse--only to leave us with both a remarkably concrete image and an utter befuddlement as to what the image ultimately suggests. Does he intend it to be a faithful self-depiction, or merely another example of the host's crude and sometimes cruel jocularity? Is his affection a reinforcement of gender stereotypes, or, by placing both himself and woman in opposition to the voice of the host, an ironized subversion of these stereotypes? These and countless other questions exist, however, only in the readerly aftermath of the couplet. Initially, we seem to gain such an intimacy with the author that we, too, wish to embrace him. Only upon reflection may we feel completely hoodwinked into this desire. Once again we have been nudged into mistaking fiction for presence, and, despairing of discovering the latter, we interrogate the former. We unearth dramatic complexity. We notice that underneath the apparently natural, colloquial speech of these lines is a virtually flawless iambic pentameter. And yet, finally, what we most relish is the initial trickery, and behind this we imagine once more an authorial presence--precisely that "elvysh" personality that forms the other half of the host's characterization of the narrator. Like the prodigal son, we return, wiser and wizened, to the scene of our former interpretive innocence. I may be accused in this appreciation of focusing too narrowly on the immanent qualities of Chaucer's verse, failing to call attention, for example, to the immense cultural importance of his work as revealed by not only the texts themselves but also by the institutions that perpetuate their canonicity. Certainly, we continue to study Chaucer's works because we believe we may understand better the anglophone cultures which they both represent and have helped to produce, and--just as certainly if more cynically--because we have already invested so much in this study. Yet I believe that the fundamental reason we remain drawn to Chaucer is the magnetic sense of authorial presence that lurks around the corners of the verse. Over and over this presence reveals itself to be an illusion, yet we cannot make it go away, and the more we pursue it the more it eludes our grasp.

The prize was awarded in London, the site of the NCS conference in 2000.

A few years later, when the NCS met at the University of Boulder in Colorado, Meyer-Lee and I, as members, both attended their annual conference. He was a young professor by then. In reflecting on the essay, he said how much he enjoyed thinking about it. "It brought me the greatest financial compensation per word than anything else I've written!"

Here is a personal recollection of mine from the Boulder conference. I found myself in a room full of professors and graduate students, and took the opportunity to ask a question about the Thopas story. "Why, in these days when obscenity is accepted and even encouraged, why, when Chaucer says 'pricking' do the notes continue to advise, as they have for generations, that he means galloping or spurring?" (Pricking is the main activity in the story. Everyone in the room knew that.) One older gentleman allowed that the word may not have been a sexual referent when Chaucer lived. (The MED, however, offers intercourse as a possibility.) Galloping surely dulls down the flavor of the potentially spicy Tale. And, oddly enough, the horse and horse riding are a sexual convention dating back to biblical times. Pilgrim Chaucer does not tell an exceedingly foolish story, as is generally maintained. Instead, he tells the raciest story in the collection. Beyond the gentleman's comment, no one had any more to say. How status quo.

So where is Meyer-Lee now?  This year Robert Meyer-Lee is the Margaret W. Pepperdene Distinguished Visiting Professor of English at Agnes Scott College, a women's college in Decatur, GA near Atlanta.  He is on leave from his usual campus, Indiana University at South Bend, where he is an Associate Professor of English listed as Bobby Meyer Lee.

He is academically well prepared.

B. A., Williams College
M. A. New York University
Ph.D., Yale University

His "Teaching and Scholarly Interests" are described on the Indiana University website as specializing in early English literature, especially the literature of the late medieval period, from about 1350 through the early 1500s. In his teaching, he seeks to foster students' appreciation of both the familiarity and strangeness of these early texts, and how their very distance from us fruitfully complicates such basic questions about the literary enterprise as: what is literature, what do we claim to be its value and function, and how well, in practice, it lives up to these ideals. Such questions also lurk within his scholarly interest with his published work addressing topics ranging from the relations of poetry and political power in the 1400s to the theoretical and practical implications of the way modern editors have put together Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
     You can find Meyer-Lee's name on Amazon as author of Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt, published by Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature. It appears he continues to be a "winner" to this day.