Friday, May 29, 2009

Giovanni Laterano

Another complaint I have about ANGELS AND DEMONS, the movie....

In the beginning, when they're off to the Pantheon, a policeman says it's "the oldest Christian church in Rome."

Well, I hate to bust Dan Brown's bubble (not!) but this is a well-known fallacy. The Basilica of San Giovanno in Laterano (John Laterano) is the oldest Christian church in Rome, the first of Constantine's churches, built in the fourth century. It was followed by the Vatican (yes, it was second), San Clemente, San Paolo fuori le Mura, and then Maria Maggiore. There were a few other churches in there, but they're no longer extant. I guess you could argue that the Pantheon was the oldest building converted into a Christian church, but I think that's cheating - and so do the experts.

John Laterano has had a few make-overs, including a completely re-done Baroque exterior in the 18th century (it also got an obelisk, moved from the Circus Maximus, for its piazza - the biggest obelisk in Rome, in fact, Dan Brown). This church - and palace - is the Bishop of Rome's seat. When you step foot inside it's perimeter, you leave Rome and enter the Vatican, as the Bishop of Rome is the Vicar of Christ aka the Pope.

Of the churches mentioned above, Santa Maria Maggiore is the most well preserved (though it also got a new facade). To step inside this church is to see a fifth century basilica - just ignore the Conquistador's gold. I've heard said that there are a hundred churches in Rome dedicated to Mary alone, but this one is the biggest, the oldest, the Maggiore.

On a side note, I must wish my bestest friend, AL, a very happy birthday. For ten years - and three weeks in confined hotel rooms in Europe - she's been there for me, a constant joy and inspiration. I can't imagine an existence without her; life would be way too boring! I love you, hon!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our Beloved Mikey

I named him Michelangelo when he was tiny, before we knew that he would be the exact opposite of the temperamental painter/sculptor.... We brought him home and took him outside, where he looked at grass for the first time, and proceeded to hop in it, like a bunny.... When he was a baby, he slept in our arms and was the cutest thing you ever saw... He was a workaholic, soon taking over Sparky's guard duties... He protected us, quite diligently, from those pesky cars... He was unsure about men and always tried to protect us... He was always by our side, always wanting to be loved and to lick our ears... He was beautiful... He loved endlessly and was pure joy...

As I watch Syb sleep close by, I wonder what humans did to deserve such faithful companions. These creatures bring such joy, such beauty to our lives for such a short time. They bless us and care for us, all under the guise of us taking care of them. They are light amidst so much darkness.

Rest in peace, Mikey. We are so blessed you spent your years with us. We love you.

(Pic: Mikey's standing up and Sparky's laying down - two beautiful boys!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Amos Lee at the Granada

I've been to one concert (of the rock variety) in my entire life. Now, after Friday night, I can somewhat-more proudly say I've been to three. The first came on Thursday...

SK, one of my best friends, had tickets to see one of her favorite singer/songwriters, Amos Lee. I'd never heard of Mr. Lee but said I'd go along; after all, my life is so exciting! After a splendid dinner near SMU, we headed to the Granada....

We chilled out, half-leaning, half-standing, as we waited for the concert to begin. The place began to fill up and I was glad we got our third-tier, stage center spots early on. The crowd was mixed with adults of all ages - some with grey hair. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect here. The opening act - Dana something - was hardly extraordinary and she was unable to hold the restless crowd's attention. I must admit to feeling sorry for her. It takes so much guts to get up there!

Finally, Amos Lee took the stage and he blew me away right off. I have no idea what song he opened with but he was alone on the stage and it was awesome. Remember, I had no idea what to expect but I was surprised: his voice was unexpectedly pleasant!

His band came on after that and the pace quickened. Thankfully, his voice stayed the same, calming and oddly comforting.

There's something for everyone in Mr. Lee's sound which is indie-rockish/folkish with hints of blues and R&B. It's a unique sound and one that I can't get out of my head. Add to that Mr. Lee's ability to put on a truly captivating show and you're in for a treat.

By the end of the night, I wanted to buy all three of Amos Lee's albums. I was well and truly blown away. The only thing missing from the performance was a bit more of the charming smile we saw too infrequently. Performing in this setting is strangely intimate and Mr. Lee seemed to think he needed to convince us of his talent. Well, sir, you did that in the first song. Relax, you're a talent for sure!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ballband Dishcloth

Pattern: Ballband Dishcloth from Maxon-Dixon Knitting by Gardner and Shayne
Yarn: Plymouth Yarn Fantasy Naturale Multi (pink, 9991) and Lily Sugar n' Cream Solid (cream, 0003)
Needle: US 7
Made for: my mom
Time to completion: 11 days

I usually don't make a big deal out of my knitted dishcloths as they usually aren't complicated or noteworthy. (Hence why you've never seen them here or on Ravelry.) But I've been wanting to try the Ballband for so long.... And I finally got around to it the other night.

This is, however, a good example of why one should have an abundant stash of yarn on hand. My mom had actually bought this pink yarn in Longview, when we went to check out a yarn store five months ago. But I needed another color when I decided to finally use the pink the other night. This cream was the only complimentary color in my stash. The pink has a strand of both blue and light yellow and this cream, I thought, would work with the yellow. Cream is not a good color for a dishcloth, light colors in general are not good as far as staining goes, but I guess that only means I'll have to make some more!

But first, I must add to the stash! Fun!

On the last row of pink, I somehow counted incorrectly (blame it on the Mavs' elimination game last night) so it's a bit off. I didn't have the patience or the motivation to redo it because most people won't notice this minor fallacy. Sometimes, you just have to let it be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

History as Religion, or, Reverse That

I'm really tempted to write about this ridiculous Miss California stuff... But I won't. I'm more tempted to write about Dirk's superhuman effort in Game 4 to keep the Mavs alive. But I won't. I'm going to go a bit more personal, as this blog is a border-line diary to help me get my frustrations and triumphs on paper - well, out.

I'm back in a type of study-mode that I haven't experienced since grad school. My evenings have been made up with reading that would make most, if not all of you, yawn. This is happening because, well, I feel, at times, unequipped to probe any deeper in my research (for work). Generally, this doesn't bother me as my boss' interests and my own do not align. But, as I've been responsible for more material (secondary), I find myself grappling with topics with which our undergrads are intimately familiar. Remember, I do history, not religion.

My boss has given me ample opportunities to write papers, which could easily be candidates for publication (assuming they're good). I've always shied away from these because, as I said before, I feel ill-equipped. But I'm learning, slowly, that there are no definitions of "religion" written in stone anywhere. I can write a historical paper about a religious topic and it can still be termed a religion paper. Now, I may be embarking upon an entirely new entity (for me): a paper that examines connections of biblical and mythological characters throughout the history of biblical criticism. A mouthful, eh?

All this is to say that I'm trying, desperately, to feel at home amidst religion people - that is, in my own department. Thankfully, religion covers everything from Buddha to Ratzinger, Minerva to Calvin. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the possibilities in this field are endless. Or maybe my definition of how history is done is too limited.

Whatever the case, I have a pile of books to go through and there's no end in sight. It's daunting, for sure, but I can't wait!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sookie Number 9

May always brings a new Sookie Stackhouse book to booksellers and this month is no exception. Dead and Gone came out last week and it was in my mailbox on Thursday. Charlaine Harris has done it again with another action-packed adventure for our favorite telepathic heroine.

In this book, the were-animals "come-out" just as the vampires did before book one. This is a big deal and not everyone likes the idea of werewolves and were-dogs roaming around. Tensions are high in rural Louisiana and it all culminates in another gruesome murder that hits Sookie close to home. But that's not her biggest problem. It turns out that - as these books progress - we learn that those of the fey world - fairies, gobblins, and such - are much more dangerous to humans than either vampires or the were. Sookie, still uneasy with revelations about her genealogy, is caught in the middle of a fey war. All does not go well. Let the craziness begin!

Harris' books are nothing like the debacle, called TRUE BLOOD, airing on HBO. If I had never read the books, I could - maybe - watch the show. But what I've seen is nothing at all like the books; in fact, the show is just plain gross. So, I'm not watching. Since the books are in the first-person, the innocence and longing of Sookie are palpable as you read. The show, however, is not in the first-person and, frankly, there are some characters in the book that I don't want to see or know that well. The show forces these characters upon you in their most pathetic, disgusting state.

BUT. The book is great. Sookie is once again caught between too many men and creatures, armed only with a trowel and a toy squirt-gun. Ha!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea has been happily perched upon bestselling lists for quite a while now. When a friend loaned me the book, I was excited to have something to read that dealt with Pakistan, a place in the news so often these days. But this book is so much more.

This is the story of how Greg Mortenson began and succeeded in building schools throughout Pakistan, in places that foreigners trek to only to climb some of the world's highest peaks. Greg was a climber and went to Pakistan to climb K2. He didn't make it to the top but on the way down, he was aided by some villagers, an experience that changed his life forever. When he saw the children of their village sitting out in a field, on frozen tundra, which is where they held classes, he made an impulsive promise: he would build them a school.

What follows is a story of how one man can truly change the world. Greg sold everything he owned, he begged for money, he worked until exhuastion in order to build that first school. His efforts did no go unnoticed and he finally gained a benefactor. Eventually they set up a company, the Central Asia Institute, which consisted of Greg alone for many years.

I cannot retell Greg's story here but at a time when most of the world was ignoring Pakistan, at a time when the Taliban was educating too many young men in the region, Greg went around and built schools in the poorest of villages - schools that also accepted women. Shias and Sunnis worked side by side with Greg - literally - in order to help educate future Pakistanis. It's an amazing story and one that should not be missed.

I'm not even done with the book, but I had to tell you about it!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Africa Scarf!

Pattern: The Corrugator by Paula Smith
Yarn: Berroco Comfort
Color: 9763 (Navy)
Needle: US 10
Size: 40 inches long
Knit with two strands held together.

Ruth began collecting scarves to pass on to the local school children in South Africa and I couldn't resist committing to at least one scarf. Of course, I only got one completed, but E, at school, also finished one to send. Here they are below...

E's scarf is a bottle-green yarn by Lion Brand (Homespun) that refused to cooperate for the camera. On Friday, I sent these off to Ruth with lots of love. There's nothing better than knitting something for someone who you know will get use out of your hand-knit. Too often you give things away, not knowing if they'll be treasured, used, or confined to the back of the closet.

With the scarf done, I'm tackling a short but exciting project, the Ballband Dishcloth. Yay!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vatican Scavi

I got super exciting news on Tuesday regarding Rome. We're going to the Vatican Scavi!!

The Vatican was built on one of the seven hills of Rome - Vatican hill. During Roman times, the hill was the sight of a necropolis, or 'city of the dead'. Romans did not bury the dead inside the city walls so there are many tombs lining the roads leaving Rome and across the Tiber, on the Vatican hill. During Nero's reign, the emperor built a circus there, a place for races and spectacles. Then, a few hundred years later, in the fourth century A.D., an emperor named Constantine commissioned a Church to be built over the Necropolis. Why? Because St. Peter was buried on the Vatican hill. A thousand years later, another church was built on top of the old one, the present-day Basilica.

When inside the Basilica today, you can go down some stairs near the altar and see the original columns of Constantine's church, amid the tombs of various popes. But there's another layer to be seen...the Necropolis layer.

That's where we're going. You have to write to the Vatican Scavi ("Excavation") office months in advance and pray vehemently for a response. I got a response, long before I expected one. We're going on July 4 to see this underground city, filled with tombs. How awesome is that?! It's similar to the catacombs, containing tombs of both pagans and a few Christians...including the shrine built for Peter. This is where Constantine came after the battle of the Milvian bridge, when he converted to Christianity upon his victory. There is controversy over this shrine and the bones found under it but there is no doubt that it is in honor of Peter - either the place of his crucifixion or the place of his burial.

I don't know if we'll actually get to see that, but it'll be amazing no matter what. My excitement is very hard to contain!

**Pic above is of the Papal Palace at the Vatican, now the Vatican Museums. The Sistine Chapel is in the bottom right of the pic.