Wednesday, 24 November 2010

God Save the English Part 2

English sauage egg spaghettiImage via Wikipedia
Food: This is like shooting fish in a barrel. I shouldn't talk about English cuisine. Let's just say that after 4 years in England the only English food I really liked was apple crumble. I like cottage pie too but with an Italian touch.

I remember the first time I saw my English flatmate opening a can and pour the contents into a plate. To me it looked like cat food but as far as I knew she didn't have a cat. Then to my horror she started eating it. I had a look at the can. It said spaghetti hoops. It was just horrible and disgusting to me. Cat food is more appropriate.

But England never failed to surprise me every day. I found out that you also put spaghetti in cans. This is just mental. There ought to be laws. You should not put spaghetti in cans. Never. For any reason. It can't be done. It's against nature. Italians know that of all the kinds of pasta, spaghetti requires special care in cooking. It's very easy to get the timing wrong and then you can't eat them. As soon as they are cooked they should be seasoned and eaten because otherwise they get sticky and horrible. So to put them in a can is out of the question.
But just when I thought it couldn't be worse than this, my then friend Mark told me one day he had ravioli on toast for lunch. What? I said with my usual horrified expression. He explained me that he opened a can of ravioli and poured it on toast. I almost fainted! Images of my mum and my nan spending afternoons making homemade ravioli came into my mind and a certain feeling of disgust and pity filled my stomach. Ravioli in a can? Why do you do such things England? Why don't you love your people enough to nurture them with proper food? That day I honestly felt pity for Mark who had never tasted proper ravioli and according to me never had proper food. Thank God I saved the man from English cans and opened to him the paradise of Italian cuisine and my mum's delicious lasagne.

Loose shoes: In England you seem to have very loose shoes that you can take off at anytime and everywhere. This is something else that really shocked me and my friends during the first weeks. Students would take their shoes off during the lecture, in the library, in the cafe, everywhere. But it wasn't just students, I noticed it in the town library as well as in other public places. Why? It's not as if it's that hot in England that you need to take them off all the time and then it's just not very nice to do it in public. This is something that made us quite uncomfortable, especially if we were talking to the person who suddenly took their shoes off. A very uneasy feeling. And yes Mark, quite unihygienic too, as your countrymen do like fiddling with their feet quite a lot.
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Saturday, 6 November 2010

God Save the English

Here is my revenge Mark!

I lived in England for 4 years. No day passed without me thinking "What is this?", " How is it possible..." or "Why would anyone do that...", and very very often "Bloody weather!". I missed my country a lot. I missed the changing of the seasons; in England there's only one season, the rainy one. Obviously I missed the food, the sunshine, my family and friends and more generally the personal contact. But I stayed, and I 'm happy I did because England gave me the man of my life, my lovely husband, soon to be a lovely father.

Talk to your baby: This is actually something I came across a few days ago reading the Guardian online. But it provoked my usual reaction of "How is it possible? Why? What?". Basically, the article talks about the difficulty that English parents encounter in talking with their little ones. It starts with a question: "Do we need to talk to our babies?". And I say: "Do we need such a question?" Of course you need to talk to them, but most importantly, it's not a need, it's a pleasure to talk to babies. Apparently not for the English. They need to be taught, they need resources and materials from the National Literacy Trust to talk to their offspring. This left me quite bewildered as my husband would say. Personally, I just need my baby. I started talking to him when I was 4 months pregnant and I've carried on since then.
TTYB aims to help parents and carers to get
over the embarrassment factor – "I feel stupid talking to my baby" – by showing
how much difference such communication makes to emotional and learning skills
later in life.
I can't believe a parent could feel embarassed talking to their baby. After 4 years in England I can believe an English parent could feel that way. But it's still something beyond me.
"facing-baby" buggies. A simple idea, but one which – if well executed and
developed in large enough numbers – can have a disproportionate impact on
countless lives.
You can rotate the buggies as much as you like but you still need to talk to your babies. That's what makes the big difference. Good grief, how on earth can you find talking to your baby embarassing or even stupid? What can actually have a disproportionate impact on your babies is if you talk to them! Not if you rotate the bloody buggy! I simply can't get my head around it and this happened quite a lot during my stay in England.

Taps: Yes, taps. Cold water, hot water: that kind of tap. Let's talk about it. My dad coming out of my loo exclaimed: "Bloody hell Monica, am I back in Pakistan? Didn't progress reach this country?". Wise words dad, wise words. I wish I had an answer.

We had a mixer in the kitchen sink, but even with that I could tell you which side the hot water and the cold water were flowing out without mixing. Impressive! Why on earth you've got this separate taps business I don't know. Why? Why? Is it that difficult to make a mixer in England? In the morning I always had to decide whether to scald my face with hot water or freeze it with cold water because even if I decided to open both taps and mix the water in the sink, by some kind of English magic the water wouldn't mix properly. In England the hot and cold water are parted like the Red Sea. So very annoying! I wish someone could explain to me the existence of separate taps in the 21th century in a progressive country like England. To me it's a mystery.

Door opening etiquette: Well, this is something me and my friends found pretty annoying during the first few weeks in England. We got used to it in the end but it was still a bit/quite annoying. The very first week we slammed doors in the faces of many English people but we noticed that people opened doors for us, so we gathered that something was wrong. Hard to say what. So we applied the door opening etiquette. But it was annoying. Reminding yourself at any given point in the day when passing through a door to look behind you in case anybody was around so that you can leave it open. And there are such heavy doors in England! At least build lighter ones if you want me to keep them open for you every time I pass through them. Going to the library on rainy days was always a nightmare. You had to hold an umbrella and books and make sure to hold the heavy door open for the person behind you. Don't get me wrong (yeah, yeah - and the rest - ed.), it's not as if we enjoy slamming doors on people's faces in Italy. We leave them open if someone is really close or if someone has problems getting the door open. In England you leave doors open for people miles away from you! That's too much! I would enjoy it a bit more if you made lighter doors.

The Rinsing business: This is something that really shocked me and my Spanish, French and German friends. To find out that English people don't rinse when they wash up. Gosh, that's very very strange at the very least. And very unhygienic (it was only a matter of time - ed.) at the most. Do you realize, English people, that you are actually drinking and eating soap? The fact that after a bit the foam disappears from the dishes doesn't mean that they are clean! I just can't think about all the bacteria breeding on those dishes and I just can't think about how many times I've eaten and drank from those glasses. Before drinking or eating, I would make a mental (mental is right - ed.) sign of the cross and recommend my body to God. This is not just me being paranoid. All of my European friends agreed with me and they all had the same shocked face as I still have when I think about it. This again is something I can't get my head around.
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Monday, 18 October 2010

Fratelli d’Italia pt. 2

Striscia la Notizia StudiosImage by via FlickrPart 2: we shift to television, as I said before. 
  • TV Debates Generally - I already mentioned politicians arguing on televisions, but they're certainly not the only ones. On Striscia la Notizia they frequently draw attention to the phenomenon with a sort of chart called I Nuovi Mostri ("The New Monsters" - I believe it's a nod to something rather more cultural) where they basically run through the people who've made arses of themselves on TV in various ways during the week. Some people seem to get invited onto TV shows specifically to argue - if you didn't know that Berlusconi was behind Italian TV you might suspect Jeremy Kyle had something to do with it. The thing I really don't understand is the lack of intervention by TV presenters. There's a certain naivete about it all: when someone, either in the audience or properly in front of the cameras, is shouting over the top of someone else, so that the whole spectacle has become entirely farcical, a presenter might implore some dignity, a bit of calm, but the idiot somehow retains use of the microphone. Note to Italian TV people: when you take a microphone away from someone, it makes them harder to hear. Thank you.
  • Repetitive, Crap TV - The most obvious criticism that you can make about Italian TV is that it's lousy. I generally get told at this point that English TV isn't up to much at the minute, plus, you have to stay up later than I do to watch the good stuff. Fair enough. Bad television isn't strange in itself: what I'm curious about is the way in which it is bad. There's a spectacular lack of variety: a good number of programmes are on every working day, such as Renegade (old, American, shit, ugly protagonists with bad clothes) and Squadra Speciale Cobra 11 (silly German series about a special branch of the traffic police with implausible storylines and obligatory scene with cars exploding on the Autobahn - Monica reserves a special scorn for Germany's contribution to Italian TV). There are also programmes on every day which aren't bad, but there's simply no need to repeat  them, such as The Simpsons ('Woo-hoo!' = "Mitico!" btw) and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which even runs on Saturday I think - basically, you can tell that it's the day of rest when even Gerry Scotti isn't on the idiot box. I was recently reminded of the extraordinary fact that the Mayans (before the Spanish decided to destroy their civilisation) believed that the sun would cease to rise if they ceased to offer human sacrifices. One wonders how such a situation could arise, but I suppose you start small. Perhaps in 100 years, Italians will believe that the sun will not set if they neglect to broadcast Striscia every single day of the week including Sunday (or Veline/Velone/Paperissima to appease the god of the summer hiatus), as is their current practise.
  • Films on really late - More of the same scheduling madness. Again, I am penalised for my early nights, but it seems a bit over the top to me. Some of the best films that I see in the terrestrial schedules begin at somewhere around 11:30, whereas the lousy ones (Big Mama is on at a watchable time this evening, for example) get the primetime slots. The way I see it, the films must cost the channel the same amount no matter when they broadcast them, though the revenue from advertising must be higher before midnight. So isn't it in their own interest to give us the best films in the evening, and the bollocks at night?
  • Veline
    Apparently there was a feminist movement in Italy once. This explains why there is civil divorce and legal abortion. However, I frequently wonder what happened to all the feminists; there's still rather a lot of work to do. I allude in this instance to the veline, properly speaking a feature of Striscia, but representative of Italian TV in general. With varying degrees of sobriety, there are a lot of women on TV whose only purpose is to act as eye-candy. Striscia's veline, as the wikipedia article says "perform short dance breaks or stacchetti, always finishing up on the news anchors’ desk. They usually perform in swim-suits or tank tops and sing pop tunes as they dance." They do nothing else, except for the strange style of staged publicity that they have here for the shows' sponsors. Apparently the veline are meant to be a parody of the bimbos (strange use of Italian by us by the way - a bimbo is a male child) but I don't buy that story for a minute. Now, I have an ambivalent relationship with feminism (if you were to use the term "feminist literary theory" for example, I would immediately feel contempt) but I'd feel happier if they came back and addressed this outrageous affront to the dignity of women. As I say, this phenomenon exhibits itself with varying degrees of class: the most crass examples I'm aware of would be Ciao Darwin and Chiambretti Night, which I can't watch and the most tasteful Che Tempo Che Fa. But the last example is perhaps the most depressing, because it's a good programme, but they employ this completely superfluous Scandinavian woman. She may be elegant, she may have a reasonable amount of clothes on, but she's still purely decorative.
Update: I received, in response to the last part, a link to a documentary on the subject. And I see that there's even an English version.
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Friday, 15 October 2010

Fratelli d’Italia

Satellite image of Italy in March 2003.Image via WikipediaI would have liked this to be my first ever proper bilingual blog post, but for reasons which will soon bcome clear, this is not really on the cards. I only have so much free time...

Anyway, this is inspired by an exchange in the kitchen at work. We were talking about English pronunciation, which led, naturally enough, to the conclusion that the English are strange. It must have been Manu (that’s Emanuela, not Manchester United) because I proceeded to vent my indignation in her direction, with a combination of gusto and bad Italian – my cool was lost, though I wasn’t at all offended. Us, strange? That’s a bit bloody rich considering what goes on in this country – that was the gist of it. Ever heard anyone in England start a sentence with "If this was a normal country..."? Me neither, but in Italy, every now and then...

I didn’t get to the point of saying “You want a list?”, but I thought it might be fun to blog one. Some of these things I just find interesting, and some I find very annoying. The only key element is that I think they’re a bit (or bloody) odd.
  • Berlusconi
    I know, I know – it’s too obvious. However, in the same way that the Nazis tend to find their way into discussions on morality, if you start talking about Italy’s problems, there’s one of them which is always, inexplicably, on the telly. Where to begin? A man who clearly should not be left in charge of organising a piss up in a brewery, who is a gaffe generator of Prince Philippian proportions, whose political efforts are all concentrated on keeping himself out of trouble, who thinks that Italy gains by association with Muammar al-Gaddafi (who’s always popping into the country for a visit), who is a walking conflict of interest as far as his media empire is concerned, who is compromised by his alleged criminal history which he (coincidentally of course) takes measures to ensure are not investigated – I’m amazed that a single Italian could vote for him, let alone the requisite majority.
  • Berlusconi’s Smile
    I feel that this deserves an entry in itself. If I were in charge of Italy, I don’t think I’d be smiling. He, on the other hand, always has this cheesy grin on his ridiculous mug (which, by the way, is beautified with a hairdo that looks uncannily like shoe polish) – happy as Larry. There’s no small amount of discontent in Italy at the moment; how is it that no-one has taken the trouble to punch that smug grin off his face?
  • The OppositionOn paper, being the political opposition in Italy must be a piece of cake, right? "Hey," they might say, "you know that moron who's in charge of the country, the one who looks like a used car salesman? If you vote for us, the worst that could happen is that a different moron will be in charge." At this point I imagine the populace desperately breaking down the doors of the voting stations. It's not quite like that. You can't entirely blame the electorate. They don't (by their own admission usually) really do politics here. I've been here about two years, and if you asked me what policy differences exist between Berlusconi's Popolo della Liberta and the principal left-wing opposition party, the Partito Democratico, I honestly couldn't tell you. I may be partially to blame for this, because reading the papers is something I never got the hang of in English, let alone Italian, but I'm sure the PD could get their message (always assuming that they actually have one) onto TV if they put their minds to it.
  • Politicians on TV and in the Camera
    Two words that you might hear a lot in Italy are "pazienza" (patience) and "vergogna" (shame). They like to tell each other that they should have these important characteristics. In the case of the second, the sense is "You ought to be ashamed of yourself". This applies especially to politicians I think. Now, Italians don't have a problem with talking, and sometimes shouting over each other, whereas we don't. It takes some getting used to, but there's nothing essentially wrong with it. Variety is the spice of life. On the other hand, when I see Italian politicians on TV I often find myself thinking "But you know you're on TV, right? That people can see you, and that you're behaving like a child?". They call each other names, shout over each other, throw tantrums, refuse to let other people speak, and so on. And it's not much better in their parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. I seem to recall a fight breaking out once. If you think Prime Minister's Questions can get a bit juvenile sometimes, think of Italy and count yourself lucky.
I made a list of things to cover, and I've just done 4 of about 27, plus things continue to occur to me. It so happens that the list switches from politics to the telly at this point, plus, I've had request to break this mother down into smaller sections, so I will.
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    Sunday, 10 October 2010


    A mug of golden beer with a white froth; again...Image via Wikipedia Just a quick note to say how much I'm appreciating my parents' birthday present (birthday in may, but the moment was not opportune) - the BruBox! Apparently to the extent that I'm basically giving them a little publicity. They don't supply direct, but they do list stockists.

    It's a little cube for brewing 10 l of beer in about the simplest way possible. I reckon I might even manage to do it with a small baby about. It's something of a godsend in this mysterious country where they know (almost) everything about food, but nothing about beer...

    I wonder how I'll get the next packs.

    N.B. It does make a bit of noise though. I'd advise the presence of multiple walls between the kit and, say, a pregnant wife.
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    Sunday, 3 October 2010

    Say it with water! pt. 2

    A follow up post. Mostly because I had a look at the video that my friend mentioned in the comments. He asked me to let him know what I thought, and I asked him if I could blog about it, so here we are. I transcribed the bits I wanted to mention in the video, but I only took down references to the bible, so perhaps the translation used was a bit different.

    There was also a comment from Scott which is worth putting up if I am blogging again:

    Just to point out, since you began the discussion, that not every instance of "baptism" in the New Testament means a baptism of water. When it says "so many of you as were Baptised into Christ Jesus", it does not mean water baptism. (like when Jesus says "you cannot be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised in".

    Most theologians consider there to be three baptisms:
    1. Baptism of Salvation
    2. Water Baptism
    3. Baptism with the Holy Spirit
    The video makes the same point more explicit: "baptism" means "immersion", and can be interpreted, according to context, in ways which have little to do with water. As I said at the time, I don't see anything in the bible which says that Romans 6:3-8 isn't related to water baptism. What's more, John 3:3-8 links spiritual and water baptism. I also think Romans should be read in the light of Matthew 28:18-20, but that is perhaps a bit abstract.

    Leaving aside the factual accuracy of whether or not most theologians say that there are three baptisms, it is in any case possible that they occur simultaneously. The fact is that a wealth of interpretations are available. My starting point is the teaching of the Catholic Church rather than the bible, partially for that very reason. I won't say any more on that here, but I will give you a link to a previous post about the same thing.

    Moving on to the video more explicitly ... well, I'm back where I started really: I'm not really sure where the idea of baptism as an expression of faith comes from. I can't think of a passage that suggests it. My friend said that biblically "it's a public statement of a decision to join/follow" and the video repeatedly stresses that public aspect.

    My friend was kind enough to say that it'd be okay for me to blog on the video (I don't think it's his technically) so I'm very conscious that I shouldn't be gratuitously critical, but I just don't see it. I think I went into the biblical picture of baptism pretty thoroughly for some bloke with a keyboard and an internet connection, but the verses that indicate that baptism is an expression of a pre-existing spiritual reality - I just didn't see them. Where are they?

    "...a person being baptised in the name of Jesus is saying publicly that they've been immersed in Jesus and that they're taking on his characteristics."

    "The bible says that a person has a spiritual baptism as soon as they believe in Jesus."

    And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
    Ephesians 1:13-14

    For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
    1 Cor 12:13
    It doesn't say that baptism expresses immersion in Jesus, it says "we were all baptized by one spirit into one body".

    As for "the bible says that a person has a spiritual baptism as soon as they believe in Jesus", I just think that's wrong, especially the "the bible says" part. The verse given from Ephesians - which in fairness probably isn't intended as a proof text - doesn't even mention baptism. You might perhaps read it together with other passages to make this argument, but to me it seems that this is simply a case of going beyond the text.

    More technically, if you look at the points that I marked in italics, you'll see that the second is translated by the NIV as "having believed". The word is πιστευσαντες in Greek, and, from what I understand from John Dobson, that's a straightforward literal translation. Now, "having believed, you were marked" could be read as "at the moment that you believed, you were marked", but it isn't necessarily the case. The only certainty is that belief comes before being marked. If for example I say that Steve, having caught the 8:45 to Exeter, went to the 11:15 church service, there's nothing logically wrong with what I say, though you may wonder what Steve did to kill the time. Therefore, that "as soon as they believe in Jesus" also seems unwarranted to me.

    I marked "when you heard" as well because I noticed that it actually has the same form as πιστευ-σαντες; it's ἀκου-σαντες. I'm sure that there's a good reason why the NIV translators went for "when you heard" but equally I think that "having heard" may perhaps be more literal. I won't labour the point because I'm still learning Greek after all.

    "...but the bible also says that alongside this inside experience, the outside experience of water baptism should happen too."

    Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    Acts 2:38

    "They're saying Jesus has washed away their sin"
    "They're saying that Jesus took the punishment for their sins at the cross, washing them clean in God's sight[.]"

    And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.
    Acts 22:16
    It doesn't say that baptism should happen in addition to a spiritual experience, it says "repent and be baptized [...] for the forgiveness of your sins". And it doesn't say that baptism expresses being washed clean of sin, it says that we should "be baptized and wash [our] sins away, calling on his name." Does baptism wash our sins away? Does calling on his name wash them away? This verse (or at least this translation) doesn't make it clear. Taken together with John 3:3-8 and Acts 2:38, I think the natural conclusion is that water baptism somehow washes our sins away. St. Peter even writes that "baptism [...] saves you". (1 Pt 3:21)

    "They're saying that, in Christ, they've been born again to a new, eternal life with God."

    We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
    Romans 6:4

    ...having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
    Colossians 2:12
    The bible doesn't say that baptism expresses being born again, it says "we were [...] buried with him through baptism [...] in order that we too may live a new life" and that we were "buried with him in baptism and raised with him through [...] faith". Both verses say that baptism into death actually precedes new life. And Jesus says "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water" (and the Spirit) (Jn 3:5).

    They're saying that they now carry Jesus with them at all times.

    [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
    Galatians 3:27
    The bible doesn't say that baptism expresses carrying Jesus with you, it says that whoever is baptised has "clothed [them]selves with Christ."

    Perhaps this has been a bit repetitive, but basically I don't just disagree with the emphasis that the video was placing on publicly expressing faith, I don't even understand what the biblical basis for it is.
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    Sunday, 26 September 2010

    My Music

    I'm pleased to say that my mp3s now have a (hopefully permanent) home again:

    The Ego Pegs
    What I want from Idiosyncracy

    Sunday, 12 September 2010

    Say it with water!

    Baptism of Christ –via Wikimedia Commons
    A friend of mine in Exeter works for a local independent church (unless I'm getting my wires crossed) and just publicised an event of theirs on Facebook:
    Say it with water!

    3 Sunday afternoons to help you explore baptism before you take the plunge!
    I thought straight away about the difference in belief expressed by that catchy title, but I didn't feel like saying anything at first. By the next day someone had left a comment saying "Love that slogan!" so I decided I would after all:
    We think about baptism in a different way (which we think is biblical or we wouldn't believe it). Whereas I'm not really sure where the idea of baptism as an expression of faith comes from. I can't think of a passage that suggests it off the top of my head.
    To which my friend replies:
    What else is it? In the Bible it's a public statement of a decision to join/follow.
    So here I am to tell you what I and my church think baptism is, beyond an expression of faith.

    The Sacrament of Baptism

    I was a little surprised by the question (perhaps it was rhetorical) because the bible says quite a lot more about baptism and he does know the bible, I'm sure.
    Anyway, we call baptism a sacrament. A sacrament, in brief, is a symbol of grace and a means of grace i.e. baptism both symbolises an important spiritual reality and is an important spiritual reality:
    Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. - CCC 1127
    More specifically on the subject of baptism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:
    Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. - CCC 1257
    I'll write something on what that doesn't mean towards the end.
    Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word." - CCC 1213
    Baptism before Christ

    I think it makes sense to step back a moment before looking at Christian baptism. From the perspective of someone who doesn't know the gospel or Christ, the physical act doesn't suggest an expression of faith in itself - it suggests washing. That's an image that the bible adopts for Christian baptism, but also expresses the ministry of St. John the Baptist:
    And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. - Mark 1:4-5
    Rather than an expression of faith exactly, it seems to be a symbolic washing in token of repentance for sins. They even confess their sins at the same time. The prophet who prepares the way for Christ makes it clear that baptism is an expression of conversion, and we in hindsight know that we need that conversion in order to live according to Christ:
    John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "[...]Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.["...]

    "What should we do then?" the crowd asked.

    John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."

    Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"

    "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.

    Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay." - Luke 3:7-8,10-14
    So far there's no reason to suppose that anything beyond the symbolic is happening at all, and yet in the course of Jesus' ministry we learn that it seems to be something very special. When he asks the priests and elders "John's baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" (Mt 21:23-27) he deliberately asks a dangerous question. To the people, evidently, it was heavenly, and what's more, the priests and elders couldn't confidently refute this belief.

    In fact, that question might be taken to represent the two viewpoints discussed. For Catholics, baptism is very much "from heaven" - the Catechism says in fact that it is Christ who baptizes - whereas many Christians, although not saying that baptism is truly "from men" (no-one is saying that we invented it ourselves), stress that it is the witness of men to faith in Jesus.

    But whatever the baptism of John was (I'm not entirely sure myself now) what is clear is that Christian baptism is greater:
    "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." - Matthew 3:11
    This opens some questions as well, like the meaning of and whether there is a difference between baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire, and if so, to what moments in the life of the Christian in the Church they correspond. However, I'm not sure myself and I'm happy to move on because there's a lot more to say without dwelling on things I don't understand. The bible makes it clear in many passages that baptism is more than just washing your body.

    Baptism is salvific
    Eight people went into [the ark] and were brought safely through the flood. Those flood waters were like baptism that now saves you. But baptism is more than just washing your body. It means turning to God with a clear conscience, because Jesus Christ was raised from death. - 1 Peter 3:20-21
    It's amazing what you can miss when you read the bible. St. Peter writes that baptism saves us, and I didn't notice for years. He also recalls St. John's message of repentance, of "turning to God with a clear conscience". Another verse indicates that baptism is salvific, but it comes from a disputed passage in the bible which apparently does not exist in the "most reliable early manuscripts" (NIV). Here it is, for the sake of completion:
    Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. - Mark 16:16
    Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life

    Another symbolic aspect of the act of baptism is the concept of death and resurrection. Descending into the waters represents death and rising again represents participation in the resurrected life of Christ. A pair of episodes in Jesus' ministry suggest a link between baptism and Jesus' passion and death, the request of James and John, where they accept the same baptism as the Lord (Mk 10:32-40), and an exclamation of Jesus (Lk 12:49-50). St. Paul writes much more explicitly:
    Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
    If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

    Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. - Romans 6:3-8
    I apologise if I went a bit over the top with the highlighting, but it's a relatively long passage to read on a screen and I wanted to emphasise the phrases which are especially relevant. Baptism, writes St. Paul, is our means of dying to Christ. "If" we have died "like this" then we can share in his resurrection and a new life.

    Through Baptism we are freed from sin

    A pair of passages indicate that baptism is linked to the forgiveness of sins:
    "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
    With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized. - Acts 2:38,40-41
    This passage also hints at a salvific meaning, since those who accepted St. Peter's message of salvation were baptized. The other passage is perhaps more strong:
    'And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' - Acts 22:16
    Through Baptism we are reborn as sons of God

    Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.*"

    "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

    Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'* The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." - John 3:3-8
    The asterisks indicate where the NIV gives the alternative translation "born from above", suggesting a heavenly, perhaps sacramental, act. Being "born of water" does immediately suggest baptism as the means of being born again, even if this is controversial. It is important to consider Christ's concluding instruction in St. Matthew's gospel:
    All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. - Matthew 28:18-20
    The fact that Jesus instructs his followers to baptize after teaching, more cryptically, that we must be "born again / from above [...] of water" is very leading. It is similar to Jesus saying "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (Jn 6:51 see also 35,55-57) and then taking bread and saying "Take and eat; this is my body." (Mt 26:26) - for there to be no connection would be very surprising.

    Through Baptism we become members of Christ and are incorporated into the Church

    For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. - 1 Corinthians 12:13
    You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:26-28
    A further passage covers quite a lot of areas:
    For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
    When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. - Colossians 2:9-15
    An interesting passage because it suggests that baptism is a replacement for circumcision, or rather that circumcision foreshadowed Christian baptism. Circumcision was of course a requirement for the Jews, it marked you out as one of the people of God. And "fulness in Christ" also makes us his people, members of his body. Associated with baptism, again there is new life in Christ, again there is forgiveness of sins.

    And this baptism that makes us one in Christ gives us good reason to consider all baptized Christians as brothers:
    Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church." "Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn." - CCC 1271
    Having gone through all that, it's clear that, even if you don't agree with me and my Church about the specifics, the bible has a whole heap of things to say about baptism other than that it's an expression of faith.

    What the Catholic Church doesn't say about Baptism

    You have to be clear about these things, because someone might think baptism is strictly necessary for salvation. It's not so.
    The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. - CCC 1257

    Every man who [...] seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. - CCC 1260
    That phrase "he himself is not bound by his sacraments" bears repeating. God gives us baptism as a gift, a means of salvation, but God does as he wills.

    There are quite a few instances in the New Testament where God seems to have other ideas, but then God's always doing that - it's rather his style. When the good thief is told he's going to paradise and it seems unlikely that he's baptised (Lk 23:39-43) that's fine - it's God's grace operating without human intervention, as it only too obviously can do. The same kind of thing applies when there's a separate baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5), when baptism come before the Spirit (Acts 8:15-17) and when the Holy Spirit is received before baptism (Acts 10:44-48).
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    Saturday, 21 August 2010

    Ho hum - nearly work time again

    I wanted to do a final post before setting off back for Sassuolo, but it might be a bit bitty, as I've been, well, just relaxing, and Monica's not really up for the beach at the minute. To the left is our baby, but more on that later. I'm due back at work on Thursday and we have a gynaecologist appointment on Tuesday, so the plan is to head back on Monday on the train.

    What I've been mostly up to is working through Learn New Testament Greek by John H Dobson. A bit before I met Monica I was thinking that it was a shame I'd lost my German, because I was pretty good at that and I like language, and maybe it would be a good idea to try and have another go. I didn't want to learn a language that I didn't actually have a use for, or that I couldn't practise without making a particular effort. I spotted the above book in SPCK ("Is Christian Knowledge different to the usual kind?", I recall Norris asking once) and got about a third of the way through it before losing momentum. I tried again later and got a little further through. Then I met my Italian wife-to-be and learning Greek was understandably displaced with learning Italian.

    Fast forward several years and I feel confident enough with my Italian to get going on Greek again. I also figure that it's now or never (or at least significantly later), since becoming a father leaves little time for learning Greek. Armed with splendidly helpful and free MemoryLifter and generous 3 week holiday, I've been getting on pretty well and enjoying myself. When you get on to about a third of the way through, you start reading from the New Testament itself (you need a copy) and the course is specifically designed to help you get to grips with the basics so you can feel like you're making rapid progress. I'd highly recommend it.

    Back to the baby. We had the morfologica on Wednesday, which is when they take a load of scans of the baby and take loads of measurements too, to find out if everything is going okay. It is, in short. Monica was worrying beforehand. She does worry. It's all very exciting anyway. There was a TV-sized screen in front of Monica so we could see everything, and it all looked very swish. It was somewhat like being on the bridge of the starship enterprise. Plus, it highlights various flows in real-time with colour-coding, which makes it look as though a series of atomic explosions is going on inside one's wife, or perhaps that the photon torpedoes are ready to be launched. And then, when you've got used to the idea of seeing inside your baby's brain (they should do one for wives) and heart (textbook - the doctor kept on going back to look at it and opining that it was perfect) - Bam! 4D view of baby! Even if for some reason the colour they decided to use was that of earwax. We got a DVD with two short clips of that.

    Other than that, not a lot going on. Been going for coffee at the new bar pretty regularly with Carlo. Went again on Thursday for an ice cream with Giovanna but the place was packed and noisy and I didn't feel like queueing. Working through the games section in Il Messaggero. On holiday, basically. Nearly over though, and probably back to (lack of) service as usual.
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    Tuesday, 17 August 2010

    In the beginning was the Word

    The "confusion of tongues" by Gustav...Image via WikipediaI'm not a theologian. Nor have I studied linguistics. On the other hand, I'm a lifelong Christian become Catholic with a BA in English Literature who works in translation. Both these areas interest me.
    Occasionally the following pops into my head, and I thought I'd blog it: isn't it funny that human language doesn't seem particularly aligned to Christology, given the centrality of Christ to Christianity (natch) and the big deal that is made of Jesus the Word of God:

    In the beginning was the Word:
    the Word was with God
    and the Word was God.
    He was with God in the beginning.
    Through him all things came into being,
    Not one thing came into being except through him.
    He was in the world that had come into being through him,
    and the world did not recognise him.
    He came to his own
    and his own people did not accept him.
    The Word became flesh,
    he lived among us,
    and we saw his glory,
    the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father,
    full of grace and truth.

    John 1:1-3,10-11,14

    God said 'Let there be light,' and there was light.
    God said 'Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground.'

    God created man in the image of himself,
    in the image of God he created him,
    male and female he created them.

    Genesis 1:3,26-27

    Man is made in the image of God, through the Word, whose glory is full of truth. All of creation bears the imprint of God, man especially so. Both these passages at least hint at the Holy Trinity (let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves), which, as has often been pointed out, allows the affermation that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) to make sense; since God is a community of persons even before (causally) the world was created, love can be a part of his nature – the Father loves the Son, and the Son the Father, and so on. And if he is a community, then communication is also part of his nature, part of his unity. The Word even became flesh and dwelt with man.

    And yet, from this vision of God and man which suggests that language isn't just something that we do, it's an essential part of who we are we move to the reality of people who can't talk to one another because they don't have a common language. Something fishy would appear to be going on. Back in my first year at university we took a little look at linguistics, or at least at two broad schools of thought in linguistics, structuralism and post-structuralism. I can't remember in great detail what they were about, and what specifically distinguishes them, but I remember discussion of (or perhaps just listening to) how words are related to meaning. In any case, you don't have to be a linguist to appreciate that words seem to be somewhat arbitrary: a dog, for example, is a Hund in German, a chien in French, a cane in Italian, and so on and so forth. What I think marks to the passage from structuralism to post-structuralism is essentially the same thing that marks the passage from modernism to post-modernism: the former, inspired by the enlightenment, attempts to classify and provide a logical internal structure (again, natch) for understanding language, the latter sees how bloody difficult this is and gives up, abandoning examination of the relationships within language for relativism and (proudly?) proclaiming that meaning is in fact a myth.

    We've got something of a disconnect on our hands: is language essential, unifying and full of truth or is it arbitrary, unable to unify us and devoid of meaning?

    I have to admit that I don't have this clear in my own mind. Both visions seem pretty extreme; I guess that the solution lies somewhere in the middle, as it is prone to do. I certainly don't doubt God's revelation, but it's also very easy to follow the logic of the post-structuralists. Of course, revelation does give us an account of the matter. However, unfortunately it's one of those incidents where God comes out looking like a bit of a cosmic jerk on the face of it:

    The whole world spoke the same language, with the same vocabulary. [...] 'Come,' they said, 'let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top reaching heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we do not get scattered all over the world.'
    'So they are all a single people with a single language!' said the Lord. 'This is only the start of their undertakings! Now nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they cannot understand one another.' [... T]here the Lord confused the language of the whole world and from there the Lord scattered them all over the world.

    Genesis 11:1,4,6-7,9

    I'd prefer not to get too bogged down in defending God's reputation – perhaps that's a topic for another time – but the passage itself is surely fundamental, given the topic. Note again, that God seems to act as Trinity on this occasion as well. God deliberately limits man's ability to communicate, to stop him doing whatever he wants to do. In fact, perhaps this is obviously for the best after the fall. We all know very well what a mess we've made of the whole world with the percentage of our brain that we do use, just think of the damage we would have done by now if we'd devoted all of our grey matter to it! On the other side of the equation however is Pentecost:

    When Pentecost day came round, they had all met together, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and there appeared to them tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves.

    Then Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed them in a loud voice:
    [... T]his is what the prophet was saying:
    In the last days – the Lord declares -
    I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity.
    Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
    your young people shall see visions,
    your old people dream dreams.

    Acts 2:1-4,14,16-17

    Here we effectively have the tower of Babel in reverse, as I'm not the first to say. And here we have the Trinity and consequently Christology. As he promised, the Son has sent the Spirit, the Spirit in whom we are adopted sons and can say "Abba, Father!". We are co-heirs with Christ and members of his body, caught up in the life of the Holy Trinity, and in this first Pentecost of the Church, preached by the apostles, God sees fit to restore unity of language as a miraculous sign of the outpouring of his grace.

    The post-strucuralists gave us a pretty bleak vision of language, but that's not the only way of looking at it. Disparity of language doesn't seem to actually be a bad thing in itself. I think it's fascinating personally. Looking back at the creation account, we see God's creative action through the Word and we see man made in his image. Human languages are of course the result of creativity. God has made us co-creators in his image, and different communities of people have created their own languages, through which they have communion. As it's very fashionable to say nowadays, especially in response to people who are complaining about declining standards in English, this is also a continuing process, and involves, whether we like it or not, the concise text messages sent among groups of disenfranchised youth. "Word made flesh" might in fact be an apt expression to describe the development of language among mankind. Also, I understand that St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the great variety of life and difference in creation is an expression of the glory of God, praised by all his works in chorus. And though I might sometimes have a little trouble in the supermarket here in Italy, perhaps its more important after all that Gods praises are sounded with a variety of sounds.

    That's all I can think to say on the matter. I'm sure it's just the tip of the iceberg. I'd like to know what a proper Christian linguist had to say about it, but I don't remember seeing many books on the subject. It might be a niche interest, but I'm sure someone other than myself must find it interesting.
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    Sunday, 15 August 2010

    Happy Assumption/Ferragosto!

    Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)Image via WikipediaFerragosto is a special time of the year, when Italians like to simultaneously queue on motorways. I think I read somewhere that this is a Roman tradition (presumably without the motorways), but the Church decided to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the same day. I think they may have overestimated common sense levels, because many Italians prefer queuing on the motorway to going to Mass.

    Anyway, I thought I'd take this occasion to look at a Marian thingamy. Yesterday (we went to the vigil Mass because it's easier on Monica at the moment) the Church gave us the following first reading:

    David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: And the Levites carried the ark of God upon their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.

    And they brought the ark of God, and set it inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. - 1 Chr 15:3-4, 15,16;16:1-2

    That may not seem a particularly relevant reading for the Assumption, but it is. Mary has long been considered as the new ark of the (new) covenant. The lost ark bore the Ten Words of the law and manna, the bread from heaven. Mary bore the Word made flesh, the Bread of Life which came down through heaven. What's interesting though, is that the connection isn't only the result of the imagination of the early Church, it's also alluded to by St. Luke and St. John.

    Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting since the cloud stayed over it and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling. - Ex 40:35
    Now when the priests came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord, and because of the cloud the priests could not stay and perform their duties. - 1 Kgs 8:10-11
    When St. Luke narrates the annunciation, he uses the same Greek word used in the Septuagint to describe how Mary will be overshadowed with the glory of God:

    The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. - Lk 1:35
    There is a similar series of allusions in the visitation, to 2 Samuel:

    David went to Baalah of Judah, from there to bring up the ark of God [...] They transported the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of Abinadab's house which is on the hill. [...] David and the whole house of Israel danced before the Lord with all their might. [...] That day David felt afraid of the Lord. 'How can the ark of the Lord come to be with me?' he said. So David decided not to take the ark of the Lord with him [but] the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom of Gath for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his whole family. [Bringing the ark up to the city of David,] David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might. - 2 Sam 6:2-3,5,9-11,14
    Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in the womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said 'Of all women you are the most blessed and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?[' ...] Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home. - Lk 1:39-43,56
    As far as St. John is concerned:

    Then the sanctuary of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake and violent hail. Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth. [...] The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken up to God and to his throne[.] - Rev 11:19-12:2,5
    One wonders what the ark of the covenant is doing in heaven anyway. I mean, its been lost for centuries despite the best efforts of the nazis, and in the meantime, the very Word of God has come to earth, tabernacled among us and, having ascended to the Father, sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in temples which are situated in the most unlikely of places – in men.

    However, there is a new ark in heaven, and St. John seems to associate it with this woman who can be readily identified with Mary, even if we can also see different interpretations. Obviously there's nothing here saying explicitly ark = woman either, but the way the images run together is telling. St. John has already done the same sort of thing when he writes that one of the elders says "Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah [...] has triumphed, and so he will open the scroll and its seven seals" (Rev 5:5) only to see the seals of the scroll broken by ... a lamb. (Rev 5,6,7,8)

    I think it's interesting to see these links because it provides a key to understanding the Marian dogmas, especially her perpetual virginity (as well as the virgin birth) and immaculate conception. It was an appropriate sign of the holiness of Jesus Christ that the womb that bore him bore no other child and that she knew not a man, as it was not permitted for just any man to enter the holy of holies. It was also appropriate that the mother who bore him was free from the stain of sin; the sinless Mother of God was a fit dwelling place for the Son of Man who has conquered sin.

    I'd like to recommend Mark Shea's three books "Mary: Mother of the Son" on the subject of all things Marian. Mark was an atheist, then an evangelical, now a Catholic, so he knows how to approach the subject of such a strange-seeming phenomenon as devotion to Mary in a way which is sympathetic to the sceptical.
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    Saturday, 7 August 2010

    Back to Offagna!

    Coat of Arms of Offagna.Image via Wikipedia
    Hey hey!

    Well here I am again in Offagna with my beautiful wife again and on my unprecedeted 3 week summer holidays. Life is good.

    Wednesday, my last day of work, went about as well as could reasonably be expected. Half an hour before home time, I ran out of work, not a particularly frequent occurrence in itself, and especially handy given that I was planning on getting up at 5:30 to catch the train from Sassuolo. I was playing it rather safe, but better that than risking missing my connection.

    Obviously I was knackered, but the journey went very well. My seat was at the end of the carriage at a table with some girls and a woman, and though I had feared a boring, insular journey (3 of the 4 of us had our iPods out to start with) I cunningly managed to strike up a conversation with the one who was reading the book of the film of Robin Hood (with Russell one-face Crowe) in English so we ended up chatting for most of the journey. I like talking to people on trains. I know that in theory, you can end up cornered by a bore, but it's never happened to me.

    Offagna's changed a bit. The manky old bus stop that I used to wait in for the coach/bus to my Italian for foreigners lessons has been replaced with a little bar in the centre of a new roundabout. A big improvement. I popped there after dinner with Giancarlo, who approves of the coffee. It's not as if I've become a connisseur or anything (indeed, I'm not even sure how to spell it) but I would tend to agree.

    It was a long day, the day I arrived. As I mentioned previously, I got up at 5:30. Once I was starting to settle down in Offagna after the ample meal which always awaits me here (what a thing it is to have Italian in-laws), Monica had rather a shock. She said that she felt her heart stop, and then it began to beat very strongly. She panicked, got to her feet, and then she lost her vision for a moment. Monica, as you may know, can get very anxious, and if that happened to me, I'd be pretty anxious too. We went to the pharmacist's for some advice, who advised us to go to the doctor's. Monica does not hold Offagna's local doctor in high regard, so she probably wouldn't have gone except that the usual doctor was away and there was a locum (is that right?) covering his holidays. Whether or not he's a good doctor, he has an inspirational Mussolini calendar and a little bust of him behind his desk, so I think I'd probably avoid him too. The doctor though it was probably a reflusso (update: Neil says it means reflux) which was aggravated by the fact that everything in Monica's upper body is a bit closer together now she's pregnant, and further exacerbated by the fact that she got up suddenly in panic. So we decided to go to A&E to get a check. This is something I've done myself actually. When I was working at the Exeter RD&E hospital, I had a pain in my chest and had it checked out (rather oddly meeting my old Exeter University Choral Society conductor, who was working at the reception) because it doesn't pay to ignore these things, even if it does turn out to be nothing. I won't go into how it happened, except to say that we went to the wrong hospital, and from thereon in, the whole process was dealt with very badly, but we were there for about four hours, and only left after midnight. In any case, Monica's fine, but she'll have to pay attention to not eating big meals, and eating frequently instead.

    My sausage was a bit cold by that point.

    One of the other things that's changed is that my little niece Beatrice has got bigger. I understand that this is in accordance with the general trend. Monica had been telling me for weeks on the phone, but she is a very happy baby. She's always laughing, and I should hope so too, because she cerainly eats enough to be a very happy baby. She was a little wary of me at first, because I haven't seen her for some time and she's forgotten who I am, but she got over it pretty quickly. We took her out for a stroll the other day, and saw another of Offgna's little novelties, the Mary Poppins bookshop. Nice. Bought a couple of cards at exorbitant prices.

    Other than that, not much to report. Brought a few books with me: A Concise History of Italy, which I'm rereading because I've forgotten most of the contents, Learn New Testmant Greek by John Dobson and The Two Towers in Italian. It's something of a celebratory time here in Offagna, because Fabrizio the deacon has finally got his upgrade to priest, and is celebrating his first mass in Offagna tomorrow in the Church of the (really) Blessed Sacrament.

    Saturday, 31 July 2010


    Silvio Berlusconi 09072008Image via Wikipedia
    The man is a dangerous fool. I would have liked to write something much stronger, but I'd hate to turn people off the gentler religious content here.

    Just read this from the Guardian. He's trying to censor Facebook and blogging.

    He's trying to censor Facebook and blogging. It's not enough that he basically owns Italian TV, has incredible influence over the papers, intimidating the ones that criticise him and governs the bloody country, he's trying to censor the Internet like in, you know, communist China!

    Seriously - do us all a favour. Write to your local MP and tell them that you're very concerned about the activities of a certain intellectual pygmy who has somehow contrived  to become the prime minister of a country in the European Union. That you, in point of fact, could have sworn that you saw your own prime minister in the same room as the man, speaking to him as if he didn't represent a serious threat to society.

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    Saintly Catholic scientist types

    St. George Jackson Mivart (1827-1900)Image via Wikipedia
    Since Monica's been away, I've been listening to Catholic Answers Live a bit. I like CAL, but I don't usually listen because they're a bit long, and there're 10 of the buggers every week, so it's a bit impegnativo. But give it a listen if you haven't. It's easy to find the podcast, either through the site or iTunes. I like the host they have now; the old one was a bit earnest, but they replaced him with a Canadian who's always messing about.

    Anyway, I like it, and I like learning new things, such as the existence of two Catholic scientists who otherwise would not have passed under my radar. One is a Saint (*) and the other is having his cause for sainthood postulated.

    The one I just found out about is St. George Jackson Mivart (see also Catholic Encyclopedia). I went to the trouble of  editing a video of the CAL show that mentioned him so here it is:

    It's only 2 minutes, and it saves me from paraphrasing other people, but he's an interesting person.

    The other person I found out about is "servant of God", Jérôme Lejeune. No mp3 to fall back on here - he did important research into Down syndrome, discovering that children with the disease have an extra copy (called a trisomy) of a chromosome in chromosome 21. From the wikipedia entry, I have also just learnt why my wife is currently knocking back the folic acid. He doesn't have a cause for sainthood because of the science, obviously, but because of the love he showed to Down syndrome children.

    So I found that quite interesting and hopefully you did too. It's good to find out more about your brothers in Christ, and the many gifts that they offered to Christ, the Church and the world.


    * Confusingly he may not be a Saint after all. The wikipedia talk page says he's simply named for St. George. Why does life have to be so confusing?
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