So it begins…

Standard

A blessed Lenten season to you all, and my sincerest apologies for not posting more. I’m currently studying abroad in Italy and have been quite busy with architecture school here.

I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.

It’s the age-old cliché… chocolate is something everyone loves and it’s tasty and good and easy to remember to avoid. It seems trite. But frankly, it’s going to be harder than ever. The only food-vice I love more than chocolate is coffee, and I can’t give up coffee lest it become the most penitential Lent ever for the other 41 students here with me. At least chocolate doesn’t have withdrawal symptoms.

This is my third attempt at giving up chocolate. The first time I tried, I failed miserably. I was going through it with my sister (in an attempt to have some sense of solidarity) and we both caved around St. Patrick’s Day. That was rough. The second time, I was much better, and I think I only broke twice. However, about halfway through Lent I decided I subscribed to the “Sundays don’t count” mindset. This year, it’s day two and I’m already struggling.

Remember, I’m in Italy right now. We can buy Kinder here. And Ferrero everything. And truffles, and pastries with chocolate. Every kind of pastry with chocolate. Oh, and nutella. And, the icing on the cake? It’s the Old World. People expect to walk a lot. So I can literally walk down the street, go into Despar, and buy as much chocolate as my wallet has Euros. This has been very, very dangerous (molto molto pericolo) for both my wallet and my waistline. But how I love it…

Additionally, I am restricting my personal access to cappuccini to one, on Sundays only. This means that my favourite bar is closed so I won’t have to explain to them (in my pidgin Italian) that I don’t actually want chocolate in my cappuccino–since by now, they do it without asking. It means that if I need a kick during the day, I just order “un caffé” and I’ll have to develop a taste for straight espresso. (Sadly, while it’s stronger in flavour than drip coffee, it has only half the caffeine. I don’t know how these Italians do it.)

I may be in Italy, but I think it’s going to be a rough Lent. Or, rather, a purifying one. I hope. Every time I want chocolate I remind myself that it’s a vice, a small pleasure, and to deny myself it is a way of becoming closer to God. It’s little. It’s silly. But it’s really, really hard. Colour me cliché.

The Magic of Imagination

Standard

Continuing in the vein of the past two posts which centred around Halloween, this, too, is a defense of the holiday–for children, this time.

Maybe I was an odd child, but I really loved dressing up when I was younger. (I still do, but that’s a topic to tackle later.) I loved getting dressed up and pretending to be someone else. Halloween was the perfect excuse to do this because I could coordinate my dressing-up with my friends, and we could all be someone else together, and it would be fun! Plus, there was candy involved. What’s not to like about that? I loved Halloween so much that I would spend weeks coming up with costume ideas and pitching them to my mom. She heard me out, and frequently shot me down, but did so nicely. (Like the time I was about… seven? and wanted to wear sparkly gold high heels as part of a fairy princess costume. That got vetoed. I was insistent. She was the mom.)

The point of any and all Halloween-related childhood anecdotes would be this: imagination is magical to a child. There is something unbelievably special about being small and thinking that you’re really a princess or an evil witch for a night. As a rather perceptive child, I knew when grown-ups were just “playing along” with me to make me feel better, so I would often up the ante to catch them off guard. In hindsight I think they were probably just really happy to see me so happy–I love seeing children play now that I’m an old and grizzly grown-up. Nonetheless, why on earth would I take away the opportunity to let a child’s imagination run a little wild for a night?

I’m not going to say don’t dress your kid up as a saint. I’m going to say don’t force your kid to dress up as a saint. However, I haven’t done Joan of Arc yet, and if I ever find myself with excessive free time (ha), you can bet I’ll be making that armour. Point being, sometimes they might think it’s actually cool to dress up as a saint! And that is, I guess, the  ultimate goal. Make them think the saints are cool enough to be emulated on the same level as the fairy princess or superhero. Frankly, if I hadn’t been Elizabeth of Hungary for every saint report I ever had to do, I’d totally have been her for Halloween as a kid. I mean, she was a freaking PRINCESS who would probably carry around a basket of bread or roses. Long flowy dress, crown, and automatic prop to double as a trick-or-treat bag? What’s not to like about that?

Facing the Darkness

Standard

A conversation with one of my friends reminded me that not everyone in the “Christian” camp believes in the perpetual spiritual war between good and evil. This is one of those perks of being Catholic (and another thing which makes most Protestants think we’re all completely mad)–I can say to you, with a perfectly straight face, that we are in the midst of a battleground at this very moment. The war is raging all around us and we are an inherent part of it whether or not we want to be (because as humans we’re inherently spiritual creatures but that’s another Catholic pre-supposition).

Come Halloween-time, it’s a very common practice of Protestants and Catholics alike to “sterilise” the holiday by making it only about saints and churchy things–or making it not exist at all. This is the 180-degree turn from the secular world’s tendency to utterly defile Halloween and turn it into a festival of lust. I take issue with both approaches to Halloween.

Obviously, caving to the secular ideals turns the entire night into an occasion of sin. But it is almost equally detrimental to completely saint-wash the day and ignore the fact that there is a darker side to the world–one we don’t see. All Hallow’s Eve is, technically, the vigil celebration of All Saint’s Day. In the dark vigil hours, however, we should face the darkness. As with Easter Vigil, where the service begins in darkness and ends in light, All Hallows Eve does the same–over longer time and on a much less dramatic scale. The night before All Saint’s Day is dark (because it’s night, and it’s October). And with darkness comes uncertainty–a certain degree of mystery. It is that mystery which keeps children dressing up year after year, and having people ask them who or what they are. In the dark before the light, they can be someone or something else, just for a little while. The mystery turns into magic for them.

This is turning into a post on mystery now, which could easily lead into a discussion of the Eucharist–so I think I’ll leave that for another day.

The Halloween Countdown

Standard

I may be busy and I may be crazed but Halloween is coming up and I am absolutely determined to have a really good costume this year. It is, after all, my absolute favourite holiday.

…yes, my dear Catholic readers, my favourite holiday is Halloween. Not Easter. Not Christmas. Halloween. Now before you go calling me a pagan, let me quickly point out that the respectable Leah Libresco ALSO loves Halloween and seems to be getting on just fine as a newly minted Catholic. There’s my obligatory finger-pointing taken care of; now for some of my actual justification.

This time of year, there is always a debate going on in the Catholic world. To celebrate Halloween or not? and if we celebrate it, do we make the kids dress up as saints and traipse through the neighbourhood in their robes and crowns with their super-symbolic candy buckets?

As a former witch (of every variation), flower child, ragdoll-Sally, bat, princess (of several flavours), galaxy, Ariel, and Mom-only-knows what else,* I object wholeheartedly to this proposal. Halloween is the day to dress up and pretend to be someone or something else. While I have not repeated a costume in my entire life (and I don’t plan to start any time soon!), my sister was a cat for at least four years running. And she was an adorable cat, too. But being a cat has nothing to do with saints or All Hallows Eve or souls. It does, however, have to do with the fact that on one day a year, we have a chance to put on a mask and costume and transform ourselves.

So, with 29 days left until Halloween, I’m hoping to write up a series of short posts about the holiday and why it’s not terrible to celebrate it.

*Mom made a lot of my costumes for a long time.

Speaking Other Languages

Standard

Anyone who knows me in person will know that the ellipsoidal orbit of my life now has, as its two foci, architecture school and ballroom dance. The past couple of weeks, there have been more followers than leaders in ballroom club. Since I’ve been hanging around the group a lot and practicing and stuff, I ended up leading last week and this week. Last week, it was a disastrous mess. This week, I didn’t do so terribly, and I learned that I could both lead and follow! I just have to switch my brain.

A couple weeks ago, one of my friends was telling me that we had to teach me how to lead, too. I told him that he was nuts, and he informed me (quite happily) that he could follow, enjoyed it, and thought it was fun! all he had to do was switch his brain. I thought he was just being vague and kind of assuming that it “just worked that way” because it works for him but after this week I agree–I can just “switch my brain.” Some of it, I think, had something to do with the fact that I have decided to immerse myself in Spanish this month. If I switch languages while speaking, it’s easy enough to switch languages while dancing. When I speak to people who are bilingual about being bilingual, they point out that something just kind of “switches” in their brain and they stick to one or the other language after the “switch” is made. They don’t mix it up with the other one if they’re really fluent. I aspire to get there with all my languages, and I think that I’m one step closer to that achievement in Spanish. Similarly, I think I’m getting to the point where I can not-mix-up following and leading simply because they’re such different roles.

This is where the philosophical thoughts come in. The difference between leading and following is very much like speaking two languages. It’s closely tied to the roles of the leader and follower in dance–the leader’s job is to tell the follower what to do and to make her look beautiful. The follower’s job is to do whatever the leader tells her to do and to look pretty while she does it. The very language of leading is different than the language of following. Leading, done well, is a strong but gentle force, while following done well is humble submission to the leader while adding some flourish for fun. Having done both, I have more brain-space when I’m following. Leading requires concentration and focus–or at least some sort of intention and thought about what to do next. Following is just reacting appropriately to cues, so it’s easier for me to chat or think about things. (Also, I learned as a follower first, and I’m better at it.)

I went out dancing at the end of my week again (Friday night salsa is the best thing ever) and, after having learned to lead at least two dances with a bit of confidence, I think I follow better. Kind of like how students better understand English when they have to study the grammar of Spanish or French, I think I begin to follow better when I know how to lead.

Standard

“The technological ability to build 100-story buildings on every square inch of the face of the earth–whether it be Madison Avenue, Times Square, or the plains of Kansas–is not necessarily a mandate to do so.”

Adele Chatfield-Taylor, founder/former executive director of New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation
(taken from my textbook on Historic Preservation)

Birthdays and Feasts

Standard

Today is the Feast of the Assumption. It’s also my little sister’s birthday–and has been since she was born.

When I was little, I used to get really jealous that we had to go to church on her birthday. For me, it was a special thing that we “got” to go to church on her birthday every year, but not on mine. My mom pointed out that there was daily Mass on my birthday–but, the silly child I was, I insisted that it wasn’t as special because you didn’t have to go on my birthday. It’s true–I wasn’t born on a Holy Day of Obligation, but my sister was.

In hindsight, I realize it must have sounded kind of silly… “It’s no fair, you have to go to church on her birthday but not on mine!” But at the same time I think it’s kind of cool that I was so enthusiastic about church. Now that I’m a bit more grown-up, I realize that the Mass said on my birthday (June 26) is just as cosmically important in the spiritual war as the Mass said on my sister’s birthday (today, August 15), even though it doesn’t carry the weight of a Solemnity.

My sister’s birthday is more special than mine for this very reason–she was born on a Holy Day of Obligation. She is forever blessed with multiple Masses said on and before her birthday in celebration of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. And little old me on my 26th of June… well, if I want to go to Mass on my birthday, I guess I can. It would probably involve getting up early and going to 8am daily Mass. And it would be one more soul fighting in a minor battle against the ever-present forces of evil. But today–my sister’s birthday–is a rallying day. A day when hundreds and thousands more souls are celebrating the Sacrifice in the harmonic time of our existence, experiencing “as through a mirror darkly” the systolic time of the Eternal.

I haven’t made it to Mass yet today–I’ll be going with my family in the evening. And as we celebrate the glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I add in a prayer of thanksgiving for my little sister. She may be five inches taller and five times smarter than me, but she’ll always be my little sister and my best friend. Happy birthday!