December 14 John of the Cross

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: You may not know who used it first, but you know the phrase: “dark night of the soul.” Most of us have suffered in that desperate, airless place. Recently, though, I’ve been chained to the dank, dark night of customer service. Phone wrecks: Yesterday I pissed off people in three states and they returned the favor.

I refi’d with Citibank, signed the papers in a hurry that they shrilly insisted on (“Your rate will expire!!” So, yes, I missed the error) and then I corrected the address when they sent me a card asking if all was correct. No, you left off the “Ct.” following the street name. Like “Blvd” or “Ave” my little condo is on a Ct. It was when I wrote each application form and it still sat there when I received docs from Citibank. On that little gravel side street. But Citibank’s appraiser–and then the title company, Southwestern Title, lost my Ct. A lady at Southwestern Title nervously claimed they were responsible only for the “legal” description. Oh really? You’re not supposed to get the street address right? You’re a TITLE  company. I called her again but she hid.

Citibank insisted, though I provided the correct address initially and paid them thousands of $, I still had to change it now, at the county office a thousand miles away. Two Citibank managers, sighing, hissing, snarling, essentially ordered large, yellow earthmoving machines to hook up their cables to my small Ct. and drag it away to the impound lot. My condo neighbors, trying in vain to find our alley, are going to be awfully mad. Claudia, I’m sorry!

*  {Disclaimer: Whining in Part I has no connection with the poem of Part II.}

“The dark night of the soul”: John of the Cross‘s words. Some of the many opponents to St. Teresa de Avila kidnapped her friend John of the Cross in December of 1577 and locked him in a Toledo prison room.

His cell measured six feet by ten. One small, high window admitted feeble light. The monks jailed and starved him in bitter cold followed by summer’s smothering heat. They beat him; when he did not cry out, they accused him further. Friendless, spoken against, bloody and scarred and tempted to give in, John of the Cross went down into a dark night.

This long dark night wore away reason, will, and senses. Memory and imagination failed to comfort; it seemed that even prayers could not pass the thick stone walls. His soul emptied: it knew nothing, it was nothing. “I went out of myself,” he wrote.

Eventually he escaped. Out of that captivity and an ecstatic state afterward sprang his enduring poems and commentaries defining the soul’s dangerous journey. In “En un Noche Oscura,” he tells how, guided only by a lover’s burning longing for God, he made his way from a quietened house alone, blessing the dark, secret night he walked through, for within its emptiness he met his Beloved. All ceased then—world, senses, self. “My cares,” John wrote, “I left among the lilies, forgotten.”

*

We lost Christopher Hitchens last night–erudite, fearless, dazzling word magician. I don’t think he’d like to Rest in Peace.

December 13 St. Lucy’s Day

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: Why, I’ve let an entire semester go by, doing my school duties rather than writing. Sure, teaching, grading, meetings, student complaints can be urgent, but I let the most important thing go. So now on St. Lucy’s Day, the shortest day of the year–or close enough–I want to promise myself not to steal from myself what most essentially keeps me going.

When I was in grad school Jayne Ann Phillips (“Black Tickets”) came to read, wearing a startling chartreuse post-pregnancy boxy-dress, and she said she had to have everything finished–housework, errands–before she sat down to write. I didn’t understand her at all. But I do now. Like an enormous Victorian stage curtain across your little gaslit day falls the accumulation of must-dos, expected and add-ons, list-making, list-crossing off, forgetting of one big meeting / iPhone alarm cheeping an hour too late; thus vigilant stiffening of all the former procedures, daytimer blue with notes. Obligation is Scrooge striding your office in angry spats, the lead-paint fairy sprinkling to-do chips on your drooping head.

Next semester, I promise me some time. You do the same.

*

 Lucy, girl martyr, patron of the shortest day and of light: “’Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks,” wrote John Donne. “Let me prepare towards her, and let me call/ this hour her vigil, and her eve, since this/ Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.”

Lucy resisted a Roman consul who tried to pry her with toruture from what she loved, God. The consul’s tactics: throw her to a crowd of rowdy men, drag her with a thousand oxen, bespell her with magicians’ wands, pour boiling oil over her head, plant a dagger in her throat.

She still spoke and held her bit of ground. Lucy did not die until the people nearby echoed her own last word, “Amen.” Donne’s poem finishes:

At the next world, that is, at the next spring, 

 I am every dead thing

In whom Love wrought new alchemy.

August 9 Edith Stein

Posted in Uncategorized on August 6, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: Flashlights! Flashlights! All beaming at Nebraska Governor Heineman‘s mansion last night. Many, many (I’m not good at counting crowds but oh . . . 300 or more) citizens gathered by the state capitol to protest TransCanada Pipeline’s planned route through the fragile Nebraska sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer. The crowd shined their flashlights at the mansion so Governor Heineman couldn’t hide. But he did. Not so, one rabbit and one mute security guy in Bermuda shorts. With a flashlight. Behind us, cruising cop cars.

We chanted slogans, though most fell off pretty fast. (I just can’t get behind nonmusical blurts. Here’s a suggestion for next time’s chant: that Queen anthem, with the stomp stomp clap rhythm then

We will,  we will  stop you  clap  stop you clap). Some rough-throated singer could belt out the verse:

Buddy you’re a guv man hard man
Shoutin’ in the street gonna take on the world some day
You got oil on yo’ face
You big disgrace
Wavin’ your banner all over the place

Just an idea.

I’d spent the day writing letters at Lynda Madison’s, Shelly Clark‘s, and Suzanne Kehm‘s Write Right Now write-in, though I took my stuff home and wrote from there, all the NE reps, the Gov, Hillary Clinton, the Pres. Took a lot longer than I thought. News flash: Tony Fulton, a Republican!, wrote back that he agreed with this campaign.

That pipeline should not be cut through such crucial Nebraska landscape. We depend on the Ogallala Aquifer for water to drink and to irrigate crops (30% of the groundwater to irrigate US crops); in short, to live. Two ND ranchers whose land has been transgressed by the Keystone XL Pipeline spoke to us, as well as Randy Thompson, landowner from Merrick County, who’s been politicized by this threat to the land. The North Dakota ranchers drove down here because they’ve seen the spills themselves–12 LEAKS IN 12 MONTHS. One man was the first eyewitness to report a spill, and it was larger and flowed longer than the oil co. execs admitted in waffling PR statements.

Nebraskans are keeping in mind the Gulf Coast citizens whose livelihood and land are blighted (4.9 million barrels/605 miles of coastline affected). We’re paying attention as Governor of Montana (and scientist) Brian Schweitzer wrestles with the execs of Exxon/Mobil for the truth about the Yellowstone oil spill a month ago (50,000 gallons). Oil co. execs say they’ve spoken to Governor Schweitzer but he says not. “We have people who answer the phones,” he said. “I gave them my personal cell number.” He hasn’t heard from them.

Some of us even remember Alaskan shores and wildlife drenched by the 1989 spill of the Exxon Valdez (11 million barrels/1300 miles affected). Spills are not rare accidents. Spills ALWAYS happen.

That’s what the Gov and some of our legislators have planned for Nebraska: 12 LEAKS IN 12 MONTHS.

**

Edith Stein’s family were observant Jews, but Edith became an atheist at 16, in 1907. Intellectual, philosophically-inclined, the girl earned a PhD under the well-known German philosopher Edmund Husserl, her thesis titled “On the Problem of Empathy.” She joined the faculty at Freiberg and edited Husserl’s papers alongside Martin Heidegger, who would become more famous than his mentor Husserl and also a Nazi. Nevertheless, Husserl rejected Stein’s thesis because she was a woman. In 1921, the autobiography of Teresa of Avila changed Edith Stein’s life. She converted to Catholicism, taught at a girls’ school, and immersed herself in study and translation of Thomas Aquinas’ writings. She became a lecturer at a Munster Institute for Pedagogy in 1932; Hitler’s anti-Semitic legislation put an end to that position. In protest, Edith Stein wrote to Pope Pius XI:

As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.

“Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself ‘Christian.’ For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name.” 

Stein received no answer. The Pope did publicly criticize Nazism and anti-Semitism in 1937; by then Edith Stein was a Carmelite nun with the name of Teresia Benedicta a cruce: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who continued writing philosophy. Nazi savagery grew; her Discalced Carmelite order bundled Edith away to the Netherlands. She was not safe there. On July 26, 1942, the Reichkommissar of the Netherlands directed the arrest of all Jewish converts. Teresia Benedicta, Edith Stein, and her convert sister Rosa were among those rounded up and boxcarred to Auschwitz. The two sisters never had a number tattooed on their forearms. August 9, they were gassed.

July 22 Mary Magdalene

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: This whole entry is a spoiler alert; you’re warned. Little groggy from reading Dave Eggers‘ “Zeitoun” yesterday in one go. I’d never heard of the short-lived but sincere concentration camp/prison force-built by an American married couple, i.e., Homeland Security and FEMA, during the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The timing of the construction was past boggling. Hundreds of hours spent (by convicts from Angola), hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to construct a temporary prison for terrorists, who, Homeland Security projected, would take advantage of the hurricane to disrupt NOLA.

The city was flooded, communications were down, fires broke out. As it happened, terrorists weren’t needed to fill any gaps in the disruption process.

The prison construction took place during the same period in which people were suffering in flooded attics and in the Superdome, on overpasses and roof tops, and many many animals were dying of hunger and thirst. Eggers’ story is about a man from Syria. Zeitoun is a painting contractor by trade, an American success story whose ads ride the sides of NOLA buses. He’s well aware of ethnic profiling. But he ends up at an intersection of the damned: bureaucratic paranoia, bigotry, perversion and subversion of governmental power and resources.

Zeitoun’s wife had begged him to evacuate with her. He stays to watch over their property and friends’ and customers’ properties, he camps out in a pup tent on his roof, continues his custom of prayer five times a day, feeds dogs in houses around him from his own slowly-defrosting freezer. He paddles the streets in a second-hand aluminum canoe, rescuing people. Noisy fan-boats full of uniformed personnel roar by him. They ignore his signals, unable to hear the faint, beckoning voices Zeitoun can hear from his silent canoe. Feeding a pair of starving dogs, helping an old couple from their house, he feels a great calm. He thinks, This is why I stayed. God must have wanted me to stay, so that I could help these people and these animals.

Later, after being seized in his own house, after the ordeal of the prison camp, Zeitoun tells himself that this moment of grace was hubris. He should have gone when his wife urged him to; the experience has quenched him.

This is a heartbreaking, true story told with staggeringly honest detail. Knowing its force, Eggers finishes with a twist of mercy. He shows Zeitoun having rebuilt his house, larger than before. Zeitoun builds in order to endure what was done to him, but he also builds to live. His family will move into their new house. Other people, tenants, neighbors will move into houses he has built or painted or repaired. They will live in those houses, work from them, sleep in them, cook and make love and waste time in them. The convict-constructed Homeland Security prison is already dismantled; indelible but a memory. Haunting but a ghost.

**

Magdalene by Gheorghe Tatterescu

In a Byzantine chant by the 9th century female poet Kassia, Mary Magdalene laments:

Alas, what a desperate night I’ve traveled through!

                        extravagant the desire, dark, and moonless

                        the needs of a passionate body . . .

            Bend to the pain in my heart, You who make the sky bend

Mary Magdalene is the woman with bowed head, with tears flowing past the fall of her hair: the Gospels’ great sinner. But it’s probable that church fathers and believers alike made one story of three different women. Luke wrote about an unnamed woman of the city who wept over Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. Mary of Bethany, Jesus’ friend, perfumed his feet with spikenard ointment before he was arrested. Mary of Magdala was a convert, “freed of seven devils” who became a faithful follower. In 591, Pope Gregory the Great cemented the image of the three women, preaching, “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary (of Bethany), we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify if not all the vices . . . . It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.”

Forbidden acts. Thus the nameless sinner, contemplative Mary of Bethany, and Jesus’ follower, Mary of Magdala, were painted as a single harlot by the highest authority.

Then, in 1945, 1500-year-old manuscripts were unearthed at Nag Hammadi. By 1970, they’d been translated, and Mary’s story enlarged. In these Gnostic manuscripts, not chosen for the compilation that became the Bible, Jesus values Mary Magdalene as a disciple. She is a questioner, a teacher, “a woman who had understood completely.” When Peter jealously orders her to keep silent, Jesus says, “Speak openly. Thou art she whose heart is more directed to the Kingdom of Heaven than all thy brothers.”

The poet Kassia wrote her chant in the anguished voice of a “woman who fell into many sins.” Now we know of the adept who “walked with the Lord,” the full if embattled disciple, the lover of truth who said, “I want to understand all things just as they are.” Perhaps closer to the truth of Mary Magdalene is a line found in “The Proverbs”: “She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” And it is fair to plead, as Proverbs did:

Give her a share in what her hands have made.
Let her works tell her praises.

 **

Reading in Lincoln at Amy Kucera’s gallery space The Ink Spot at 14th and O, probably around 7pm, on July 22, Mary Magdalene’s day.  Happy Birthday, Evan Briggs and Ruth Elfers!

June 23 St. John’s Eve

Posted in Uncategorized on June 17, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise:  My artist friend Catherine and her artist friends, Judy and Philip, live in Galisteo, New Mexico, down a dirt road from one another. Judy’s house once belonged to a quiet-tempered widower who had the bad luck or judgment or the peculiar taste to take a hateful woman as his second wife. As known in the village for her rages as the husband was known for his passivity, the wife inhabited the end room in what is now Judy and Philip’s L-shaped house. She died there.

Years passed. (Always wanted to write that.) Judy and Philip hired four young men from Chihuahua to remodel that wing and room. One worker set down his hammer on the floor and joined the other three for lunch in the courtyard. The four men ate, gazing in at the room they’d been working on. They were aghast to witness the hammer rise high in the air and then crash itself down on the floor.

The owner of the hammer knocked on Judy’s door to discuss this upsetting matter. “Hay una fantasma,” he said, but Judy didn’t know that word in Spanish.

“Casper,” tried the young man. Eventually the story was told and understood.

“I’ll take care of it,” Judy said.

Her husband Philip is half-Hopi, so that night Judy burned juniper instead of sage to purify the room. She made and hung a prayer-feather. The young men from Chihuahua knew what it was when they saw it. Last week in New Mexico, wrathful fantasma and exorcism. This week, remodeling continues. Que se vaya con Dios, Senora.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Jun_chin_close.jpg

Juniper

Very few of the saints’ days mark their birth; rather, the saints are feasted on the dates of their deaths. St. John the Baptist (June 24), however, is celebrated on his birthday, as fixed by the Gospel of Luke, six months before Christmas. June 23, then, which coincides with the summer solstice, is magical St. John’s Eve. Shakespeare‘s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set on this date in a whispering, night-black forest flutter-lit by the miniscule torches of mischievous fairies. Superfluous Spoiler Alert: It’s silly and fun—and turns out well, as did the event above.

Happy Birthday on June 24, Julie Sandlin!

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/99/CandleCake.JPG

June 13 Anthony of Padua, the saint of lost things

Posted in Uncategorized on June 12, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: Even the sun’s on fire.  Smoke rolling up to Santa Fe from the Arizona wildfires has transformed the setting sun into a flame-red plate with a pulsing aura of marigold and brass. The sky is hazed to a less heart-stopping shade of blue. By the end of the day your throat’s scratchy. New Mexico is as beautiful as always, only you’re constantly conscious of the miles of land blistering to the south and of the dedicated, weary crews fighting that monster fire.

In 2000, a controlled burn in the Los Alamos area leapt out of control and burned that city. People evacuated, a miles-long train of cars headed out. Evacuees piled up several families to a house, friends with friends and with strangers. When it was over, 262 houses were leveled to remnant, slab, and chimney. Cars melted into black shells. The evergreen mountains had a new land-cover: thirty-foot-tall, extinguished matchsticks. Yes, there is regrowth, but eleven years later much of that matchstick forest remains.

Los Alamos was where I worked and where a co-worker lived, whom I drove the streets with after the fire. An anguished man yelled at us from the remains of his home, a driveway, to go stare at somebody else, as though we had touristed down from Milwaukee to gawk at his losses.

I remember the intact house, next to a swathe of ruin, which was not an uncommon sight. This one’s window had been painted:  FIREFIGHTERS, THE BABY THANKS YOU FOR SAVING OUR HOUSE.

St. Anthony, please find Arizona some rain; please find it for the whole Southwest. Buckets, sheets, downpours, monsoons. Cats and dogs.

**

In our book we talk about saints as archetypes and as humans who had lives, stories. Anthony would have been the quiet guy who surprises you. Unassuming, unobtrusive, in the corner. Listening, absorbing. Until he was called upon.

Then he spoke, with the encyclopedic range of a master scholar, the depth of a subtle interpreter, for he had studied long years in Coimbra and was said to possess what we would call a photographic memory. Equally rare: he also had a loving heart’s conviction.

Anthony made such a speech to a rather exalted company that thought they were calling upon the local rustic for a homily. The awe that followed echoed to Francis himself, who drew Anthony of Padua, already a Franciscan, into his service. Anthony’s preaching became known as “the jewel case of the Bible”; he preached to the papal court and to throngs of townspeople, and once, famously, to a school of respectful fish, who lined themselves in the Brenta river by size and nodded their glistening heads at passages that praised “My brothers, the fishes.”

He died near Padua on June 13, 1231, but is much beloved even today. St. Anthony is often called on to find lost things, perhaps because of a story popularized in the 17th century. A novice borrowed Anthony’s psalter without permission—shortly after, a hideous spectre loomed over the young man, and he sprinted to give back the book.

The often unobtrusive but deeply amazing poet Greg Kosmicki has illustrated St. Anthony’s special power:

The Patron Saint of Lost and Found

One time in 5th grade I lost my Catechism

so I looked in all the usual places—

 

under the davenport, under my bed, on the closet floor

stuffed full as usual with all the junk

I cleaned up for the last weeks,

the clothes hamper, the shelf in my room,

under the seats in the cars,

under the kitchen table,

even in my desk.

 

Nowhere was it to be found.

After a week or so I gave up hope

and started to pray to some Saint

who’s the Patron Saint of Lost and Found

or Lost Causes or something like that,

and after a week or so

not really having given up on the Saint

I went and bought another Catechism

because the teacher was bugging me

and I had a lot of stuff to memorize out of it.

The day after I bought the Catechism

like mom made me with my own money

(“You won’t forget that way, honey.”)

I looked down at my feet while waiting

so we could go to school

in the back seat of the station wagon

and saw the missing Catechism.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!

 

I never told anybody about praying

to that Saint

because it was, after all, 1959.

 

I would have never brought it up even now

if I hadn’t been rummaging around

like in an old closet full of toys

through the clutter in my head

where the Saint whose name I have long since lost

stayed, and searched, and found this poem for me.

Poem reprinted  by permission of Greg Kosmicki, who, thank goodness, is not lost.

May 30 St. Joan of Arc

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: I got the link to Jonathan Franzen‘s May 21st commencement address from a friend on Facebook, and I listened to the whole recorded speech. You can hear it at Kenyon College’s site or read it in today’s New York Times. It’ll make you think.

Franzen started by talking about replacing one beloved Blackberry with a sexier and instantly more beloved one; even so, I was surprised to hear him say love was the true subject of his speech; he promised to get to that topic eventually, which he did, though first came a witty, scathing view on our techno-consumer society. Notably: “the transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb “to like” from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving.

“The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

“Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.”

**

This is the season for graduations. In this spring of Nebraska State Poet William Kloefkorn’s passing, it’s impossible not to meditate on Bill Kloefkorn, his marvelous, giving, articulate life, work, being, his mellow, mesmerizing voice. Bill Kloefkorn carried a doubleness always, the life force, the love force that is its constant company for those who feel and recognize it, and choose it, and write about it, as he did:

I have seldom loved more than one thing at a time,
yet this morning I feel myself expanding, each
part of me soft and glandular, and under my skin
is room enough now for the loving of many things,
and all of them at once…

Even when they write about whiskey or oranges or cobwebs or fathers, poets are always writing twice about things—about the life and the death in them and the unease or perfect sync of this duality; about the infinitely variable dances life and death pull us into; about an orange pip that grows into a tree or a dying father’s last surprise.

Christie Brown:

I had no words for him…I had for him only whiskey
the old bitter gift
the poor tribute of one poorer in spirit
than that jaded near-blind half-deaf soul reclining so tamely
in a wicker chair
in a ward of fearful paralysing resignation
a ward full of already dead people
sleeping as the television blared.

Yet the hand that gripped mine spelled out love
and the raw lovely courage of that old landscaped face
put my feeble pity to shame.

Anna Akhmatova too starts with death but she just can’t stay there:

I used to think that after we are gone
there’s nothing, simply nothing at all.
Then who’s that wandering by the porch
again and calling us by name?
Whose face is pressed against the frosted pane?
What hand out there is waving like a branch?
By way of reply, in that cobwebbed corner
a sunstruck tatter dances in the mirror.

Whose face, whose hands, whose light, whose voice—someone we loved. Someone we memorized.

 **

Joan of Arc’s confessor Jean Pasquerel recalled, “It was said to her: Never have been seen such things as you have been seen to do; in no book are to be read of deeds like them.” She was a 17 year old French girl who heard in churchbells the voices of saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine, and did their bidding. By the sheer power of inspiration, she raised an army that fought and defeated the English and put a Frenchman on France’s embattled throne. She astonished scarred veterans with her knowledge of arms and tactics and with her courage–though she herself had been told by her voices that “I shall last a year, scarcely more.”  The voices were correct. The Dukes of Burgundy captured Joan and sold her to her enemies the English.

Archbishop Peter Cauchon of Beauvais and a tribunal of French clergymen sympathetic to the English interrogated her for five months; for five months Joan answered them with confounding eloquence and without fear for their power over her. Purity itself, she was tried for impurity. Illiterate, she could not read the charges against her nor the papers she was forced to make her mark upon. A being inseparable from her own conviction, she did not comprehend the cruder human motives that bound her.

She was asked a question designed to trap her: Was she in God’s grace? If she answered no, she aligned herself with the devil—if yes, against the church as represented by the churchmen before her. Her response left a ringing silence in the court. “If I am not,” Joan said, “may God bring me to it; if I am, may God keep me in it.”

No one came forward to help her, not the King she crowned or the generals she made victorious or the soldiers whose hearts she had infused with the breath of God. She stood alone, without advocate. Eventually the tribunal contrived to proclaim her guilty. On May 30, 1431, they ordered a pyre built and burned young Joan at the stake. Regret and remorse were also kindled. In 1456, the verdict of the first, false trial was overthrown. A hearing was arranged for any who wished to speak against Joan. None appeared.

May 17 San Pascual Baylon

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: There are millions of people, as evidenced by the popularity of cooking channels, who dream about flavors and textures. They dice like robots on meth. They whip up creme fraiche or raspberry vinaigrette without having to visit the store. They make ribs circle like Stonehenge and rice so fluffy it floats around the kitchen like snow. Farmers’ markets to food-people are like week-old fishes to dogs. They snap at the whiff; they want to roll in them. Their files contain recipes in sepia ink passed down from great-great-Aunt Minnie, recipes typed by their mothers on 3×5 index cards, they have rows and rows of cookbooks that have been opened. Many times. And used. Stained with oily, bloody, caramelized, cream-cheese frosted, pesto-y fingerprints. Their facebook pictures are of platters of food. My son, who doubtless learned to cook out of self-preservation, sometimes posts a plate of green chile enchiladas; he’s a whiz with chile. My friend Laura, a wonderful cook, always prefaces her thousand-course meals with “Oh, we’ll just make something simple.” It’s the same spooky thing the chef said on the cooking show I watched for five minutes. “It’s zzzo zimple.” Him with pots of every size and species and great honking cauldrons and spatulas and brushes and whisks and knives of all lengths and serrations and 40 frightened minions out of camera range, monitoring the quirk of his eyebrow.

An ironic retort when I was in grade school, say, to “Could I ride your bike sometime?” was: YOU WISH. Well, I wish.

I do. However. Once, and I was 19 then, I left a single egg boiling on an electric stove and came back to find charcoal and a half-melted pot. Yesterday I incinerated another grilled cheese sandwich. Blackened the pan, which I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed with Bon Ami scouring powder. Whoever named Bon Ami understood my genotype, for Bon Ami is my friend. Our friend, for the existence of Bon Ami proves the existence of others like me. We put food in a pan, light the burner and mean to come back straightaway, we do, we really do, but in what seems only a quarter-teaspoon of time we smell smoke.  And in the meantime, not mean time at all, something fascinatingly flavored and textured has seized our attention.

**

San Pascual began as a little shepherd boy more drawn to reading than to keeping an eye on his father’s sheep, which wandered farther and farther away. He grew into a cheerful man whose counsel was sought by people of every station; he was particularly tender to the poor and the sick. A story tells that one night his Franciscan brothers came upon Pascual Baylon flushed and dancing at the altar, an ecstasy of light radiating from his body.

But legend puts him in the monastery’s kitchen, for Pascual is known as the patron of cooks. Zabaione, a dish of egg yolks whipped with sugar and wine, was said to be an invention of his. The recipe for this fluffy pudding was easily remembered as 1+2+2+1: Pascual the cook mixed one egg yolk with two spoonfuls of sugar, two eggshells of wine, and, ever mindful of the poor who could not afford much wine, one eggshell of water. As was his custom, he prayed while he worked. Thus angels hovered nearby to save Pascual’s custard from burning.

YOU WISH.

May 16 St. Brendan the Navigator

Posted in Uncategorized on May 15, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: When I think of adventurous, close-call lives, I often think of writers just because I spend so much time with books. I think of Hemingway assassinating African wildlife or absorbing a bullfight from a seat in the sombra or zigzagging a rattly ambulance around shell holes or hoisting a copita in Spain with ragged Republican troops, a copita with an Italian surgeon, a copita with the soldiers’ priest.

I had drunk much wine and afterward coffee and Strega, and I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to; we never did such things.

But, you know, he pretty much did, winefully, even to the end.

I think of Isak Dinesen, who married second best, even if he was a baron, the brother of the man who broke her heart, so she could build a life in Africa, on another continent, in another world.

 I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The equator runs across these highlands, a
 hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time
you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid
and restful, and the nights were cold.

Or of Orwell, snipered through the throat as a corporal in Catalonia,  tramping the roads with Tommies (WWI vets) cold-shouldered by postwar England, broke and washing crusted pots in a Paris restaurant.

It is disagreeable to eat out of a newspaper on a public seat, especially in the Tuileries which are generally full of pretty girls, but I was too hungry to care.

Then each of them ventured again, to some quiet place; they locked themselves in and did what they hoped they would—spun gold from typewriter ribbons and bottles of ink.

**

St. Brendan was the sailor/navigator of the saints.

Irish and Latin versions of his life, as well as the widely translated Navigation of St. Brendan tell of Brendan’s voyages. For these journeys, he built a coracle or small boat like half a shell, covered with hides softened by butter, and added a mast and sail. Later he built a wooden vessel, says the Irish Life, “a great marvelous ship and it was distinguished and huge.” Having learned of the Land of Promise where God would greet his saints, a heavenly Eden of flowering plants and fruits and stones like gems, Brendan and his monks set out to find it. Their adventures, romantically written by an 8th or 9th century ex-patriot Irish monk, thrilled the medieval world.

I love the Irish description, “a great marvelous ship.”  Can’t you see a small crowd around candlestick and writer, pestering?

“Make it good aboot the boat, Sean. Na enoof  you have there. Put in how smart she looked.”  Scratching of quill: ” . . .and it was distinguished.” “Aye, Sean, ‘distinguished’ that’s brilliant, isn’t it, but a good word never broke a tooth, put in again how big she was.” Scratch of quill:  ” . . . and huge.” “Deadly, Sean!”


May 5 Cinco de Mayo

Posted in Uncategorized on May 5, 2011 by Lisa Sandlin

Today in Paradise: So we got him. Our raid was as stealthy, lethal, risky, and successful as the one at Entebbe in 1976, when Israeli commandos sprang 100 Jewish hostages stashed in Uganda. We didn’t even lose anybody, while the Israelis did; only a helicopter whose maintenance crew must have fainted. Huge coup; imagine the book(s) and the movie(s) to come. Bin Laden is at the bottom of the sea, Islamic precepts were respected in the process, and President Obama receives a well-deserved surge of approval.

I don’t get those people who instantly don’t believe he’s dead, who want the blood-spattered headshot. Like their sort wouldn’t, then, declare it photo-shopped. If bin Laden’s not dead, Al Qaida will be popping an up-to-date video onto their site, high-fiving each other, and arranging a spread in Pakistan’s Daily Jang: Alive and kicking, you infidel dogs. All this simulated controversy is just the 24-hr news combines fill fill filling time. I get those people who don’t like killing being celebrated with chest-bumping, and I also get those who declare this one justice. Bin Laden was a mass murderer whose life plan was more mass murder. Earth needed his absence.

But we Earthlings are nothing if not individual. The comments of Nikki Stern, who lost her husband on 9/11: “Satisfaction, a sense of justice being served? Perhaps, in a general sort of way, although bin Laden was to me as my husband would have been to him: a symbol; nothing more, nothing less. I certainly wouldn’t have given an egocentric, megalomaniacal personality such as his the satisfaction of taking his rants personally. So in one sense, I meet this story with a shrug.”

Goya, 1808

I think about seeing “Dead Man Walking,” Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon‘s movie about the true case of a condemned man in Louisiana. He had raped a young woman and shot her and her boyfriend to death. He asked a nun to counsel him as he appealed his sentence of execution. The film-makers made an effort to be even-handed about 1.) the horror of the crime, 2.) the humanity of the ignorant but eventually conscious, remorseful prisoner, and 3.) the inhumanity of capital punishment. For many people, and certainly one man in the theater’s audience that day, numbers 2) and 3) simply do not figure—not if it were your daughter, your sister, your friend who suffered and was left dead in a bloody field. Just as Sean Penn was strapped on a gurney constructed as a cross, in order to over-make the point that executioners were killing a healthy, regretful human being capable of change, one tall, thick man stood up in the dark. His silhouette bisected the screen. The theater happened to be in east TX, very close to Louisiana. The man started to clap. Hard, slow, loud claps, until the needle went home. Then he strode out of the theater.

**

No saint today. Thought I’d write about Cinco de Mayo because I wanted to know what exactly it celebrated. Turns out to be a battle, the Battle of Puebla. The defeat, on Mexican soil, of 8000 invading French soldiers, crack troops, by half as many Mexicans in 1861. An upset victory by the underdog that showered Mexico with national pride. Alas, three years later the French were back with thirty thousand troops and the Emperor Maximilian. He ruled 3 years, until the Americans finished their Civil War and sent help to expel the French emperor. Maximilian, along with a couple loyal generals, lined up for the firing squad. His last words: “Viva Mexico!”  Now Cinco de Mayo remains as a holiday, a celebration of Mexican heritage, culture, and pride, much as  Texans celebrate (or used to) the battle of San Jacinto.

So. Dos Equis, tequila, limes, enchiladas, rancheras, Nortena music, dancing, swirling skirts, Mexican arts (!Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Carlos Fuentes, film-makers and other artists galore), la tierra y la lengua espanol y la gente, family and hard work and la Virgin Guadalupe, who produced for her dear Juan Diego fresh roses in December. Que viva, indeed.