Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Worst Ever Made

The movie I was trying to think of was entitled "The Pride and The Passion", released back in 1957, which was almost half a century ago, a fact which makes me feel really old. Although they didn't exactly present some of their best performances, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, and Frank Sinatra starred in the movie, along with a cast of thousands. Of course, Sophia Loren was cast as the stereotypical fiery "Latin woman", who in one scene couldn't feign dancing a flamenco convincingly enough if only to save her own life — at least according to one reviewer I glanced over. Another reviewer I read classified it as one of the worst movies Hollywood has ever made. None of the synopses I came across mention anything about the statue of Santa Teresa showing up at the end of the movie, but I am very sure that I recollect that happening. In any case, Ávila was definitely the city that got bombarded by the really big cannon.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Book Review

Title: Teresa of Ávila
Author: Shirley du Boulay

I just finished reading Shirley du Boulay's book "Teresa of Ávila—An Extraordinary Life". I had previously read St. Teresa's own autobiography, but Boulay's biography covers her entire life and fills in several details that I did not know about. For example, Teresa did a good deal of traveling all over Spain, and considering just how difficult traveling was in the 16th Century, her journeys were often feats of endurance. Boulay's book was very well written and quite vivid, and it kept its attention squarely fixed on the person within the context wherein she live, and best of all, it refrained from trying to conscript St. Teresa into serving some sort of 21st Century political purpose.

St. Teresa of Ávila, who canonized in 1622 and was later declared the "patroness of Spain" in 1812, had a very active and extraordinary life, to say the least. And, in many ways, her life was very far-removed from my own: I'm a 21st Century "charismatic" (for lack of a better term), and she was a 16th Century Spanish Catholic "mystic" and foundress of numerous Discalced Carmelite convents. That's a pretty wide gap in fact, but nevertheless, for some strange reason, I found her life fascinating, and although she had some rather beyond-this-world experiences — and I'm one of those persons who doesn't have too much trouble accepting the possibility of beyond-this-world experiences — Teresa always seemed very lively, witty, humorous, practical, and down to earth in many ways.

However, the thing that was shocking to me was how veneration of relics got a little out of hand especially with regard to Teresa after she died in October of 1582. Over the course of time, her body, to put it crudely, was pretty much carved up and spread all over the landscape, with pieces here and pieces there, even if it was done with the best of intentions. As regards to the resurrection of the dead, well, even so, it presents no difficulties. In any case, I imagine that the Catholic Church is nowadays a little more strict about how these matters are conducted. By the way, I remember finding the website of an organization dedicated to stopping the illicit trade in relics.

I do recommend Boulay's biography. I picked it up at Borders Books just recently.

Addendum: Of course, everyone is familiar with Bernini's erotically overwrought depiction of Teresa's "transverberation". And it's funny but I also vaguely remember seeing long ago a movie about some Spaniards stealthily hauling a really big cannon to go blow some holes in the walls of a city occupied by soldiers of Napoleon. They were doing it for Santa Teresa, if I remember it rightly. Or at least they were invoking her help in driving Napoleon out of Spain. I'm not completely sure which, but I'm pretty sure St. Teresa was somewhere in the movie. But it was helpful for the Spaniards to have the cannon, and the French general had a rather surprised expression on his face when he saw it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sucking lemons

Book Review

Title: A Church In Search of Itself
Author: Robert Blair Kaiser

This week I took a look at Robert Blair Kaiser's book "A Church In Search of Itself", which I picked up from the "new book shelf" at the nearby public library, mostly out of curiosity. Kaiser is currently the editor of the website Just Good Company, which describes itself as a "A Cyberjournal of Religion and Culture". And in times past, Kaiser had been a "religion reporter" for the NY Times, Time, and CBS, at least according to the blurb on the book's dust cover. And the website says he now "lives and works in Rome as a reporter and editor for Newsweek magazine and The Tablet".

Anyhow, to put it briefly, Kaiser's book concerns recent events in the Catholic Church since the death of John Paul II and the installation of Benedict XVI. And I think I can tersely summarize it as follows: Kaiser is sucking lemons because things have not turned out the way he wanted, which was for the Liberals to have taken over, completely, the Catholic Church. In fact, if one glances at his picture on the dust cover, Kaiser even looks like he's been sucking lemons, what with his stern glare of a man who is peevishly disapproving of everything. While his straight forward news reporting was okay, by and large Kaiser's book was very slanted. And I think it's fair to say that Kaiser made no effort to disguise his disrelish with Benedict XVI.

Liberals can be very peevish, I guess, when they're not getting their way.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Broke His Neck

Book Review
Title: The Silver Chalice
Author: Thomas B. Costain

I picked up, for 50 cents, from the "ugly book sale" at a nearby public library, an old copy of Thomas B. Costain's book, entitled The Silver Chalice, published back in 1952. I vaguely remembered seeing long ago the movie version, starring the very young Paul Newman in the role of Basil (an appearance which Newman is now embarrassed about). However, the only thing I could recollect about the movie was the spectacular yet disappointing belly-flop into the pavement which was done by the villainous Simon Magus, from a great height for entertainment of Rome and Emperor Nero. Simon had been boasting of his magical ability to fly, so he was put to a test. Out of curiosity mostly, I picked up Costain's book — it was cheap anyway — and started to read it.

I only got about half-way through before I conked out. The worst part was that it was a rather boring book. The language was silly and stilted. And the main character, Basil, was completely uninteresting. Of course, I never expected the book to be historically accurate, which it wasn't. Later, I might try to pick up where I left off as a sort of personal challenge, just so I can say I had read it all.

However, let me point out what was said in chapter 31, at the end of section 3. After seeing Simon the Magician do his belly-flop, Gaius Petronius (who probably wrote the Satyricon) turned to Caesar Nero and said, "He has broken his neck most thoroughly … And most artistically." So I guess he gave Simon a high score there. Nevertheless, the emperor Nero was not pleased with the performance.