February 5th, 2012

Florence-City of Art

Personal: School, Bob and Dan, Meeting Yaël, Window-Sketching with Sarah

I still seem to be slow enough that I'm not working in the time to journal very much at the moment. Daily life is more-or-less dominated by the regular rhythms of the semester now, of course, and so perhaps while that continues to grab my constant attention, it isn't "exceptional" enough to make me think that "I need to write this down!" Still, this was a busy week. Prepping for my majors/minors-only "Modern Christian Thought" class on Protestantism in the Romantic era threw me a lot to chew on, not least the rubbery mouthful of Friedrich Schleiermacher's Fifth Speech ("On Religions") from his On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, which was the primary text we were reading together. Things were so busy that Tuesday went straight on into Wednesday, with the chance to finally sleep happening early Thursday morning. This left me out of touch when a friend tried to call with his little son Augustine in the hospital, which I felt bad about, although mercifully it seems that the boy is doing fine after his dangerous infection.

I had lots of little details or activities "filling in the corners" of this time: after my three Catholicism classes on Wednesday, I met with Bridget, a student who took my "Jesus Christ" course last semester, and who wants to add our Catholic Studies minor to her current Economics major. So we talked for an hour and a half in my office about how I got into what I was doing (a lot of students entering into these studies seem to want to compare biographies in terms of this interest, maybe for some reassurance that others went off the beaten path for the same reasons that they want to) and what she was thinking about doing with it. So that was exciting for me just in seeing one of my students so enjoying the material as to wanting to tackle it in a fuller way. This came shortly after another student came to me about switching to a Religious Studies major and jumping right into my "Modern Christian Thought" course. So I'm feeling like a successful recruiter for the department at the moment.

I had a great time Tuesday or Wednesday night (it's a bit fuzzy) when I had a long Skype conversation with newly-minted Drs. Dan Lloyd and Bob Foster up at Dan's place, lasting into the wee hours of the morning. Bob had recently sent me the abstract from his dissertation Renaming Abraham's Children: Election, Ethnicity and the Interpretation of Scripture in Romans 9 and so I thanked him for that, and we talked about my surgical recovery, everyone's current research or (post-dissertation) sudden ability to read things for fun for the first time in a long while, about our Marquette learning experience and the possible long-term results of that, along with how wonderful Marquette had been in our time compared to the political polarization we heard about before we had been there (and which was news to Bob). Dan said Amy's pregnancy was progressing well, that they think it's a boy, but that she was tired enough that she had gone to bed at the same time as the kids, and so I didn't get a chance to see her. Bob told me about his teaching this semester at Marquette (which is why he was staying at Dan's) and the latest news with the kids. (I couldn't help noting the next day or so, his wife Carmen posting this scorcher from their son on Facebook: "Logan: 'Hey mom, when you and dad are old and get sick and die, because you know, that is what happens to old people, can I have your money? You would not need it anyways.' Can you believe this kid ..... I should disown him right now.") So he and Dan drank great-looking wine, of which I had none here, and had to content myself with drinking A&W with them online. (But I drank it right out of the 2-liter I had just bought, so I still looked cool.) Good time catching up, and Bob was delighted to discover that my comic collection was stored in Dan's basement, which was news to him. So I hope I get the good stuff back, after I made specific recommendations to him. I miss these friends.

Thursday, after "Modern Christian Thought" concluded, I made my way over to Nunemaker Auditorium, where my cool colleague Dr. Mari Rethelyi was staging the latest in the series of Jewish Studies Lectures that she had arranged for this school year. This one featured Dr. Yaël Hirsch of Sciences Po (the Paris Institute of Political Studies) speaking on "The Last Marranos: Examining 20th Century Jewish Converts to Christianity in Light of the Holocaust." I'll probably post my notes on the lecture here later, but as the advertising blurb described the lecture:
Hirsch examined the lives and the writings of thirty Jewish intellectuals who converted (or were pressured to convert) to Christianity, as well as thirty children who were born Jewish, but had to hide and convert to Christianity in order to survive the Second World War. Her work argues that despite exhibiting a deep Christian faith, all these converts still considered themselves Jews after their baptism. Hirsch asks why they couldn’t leave their Jewish identity behind and investigates why they felt Jewish even after they stopped observing Judaism. Using interdisciplinary approaches combining history, sociology, psychology, and literary critique, she questions the bond remaining between the Christian converts and their Jewish identity after baptism, in order to find new approaches to this very old issue. Her book project on this subject will be published in French in 2012.
The lecture was very well-received by the university and the well-represented local Jewish community, and there was lively conversation in the question-and-answer session afterward. Mari asked me to come out with them for dinner when the lecture was completed, which I hadn't planned on, but which worked out nicely. I had been intending to have a late working dinner with my friend Sarah, the artist with whom I am working on a stained-glass chapel window project, but she had had to cancel at the last minute due to having to leave exceptionally early in the morning for a track meet (she's also our star sprinter).

So that was fortuitous: Yaël turned out to be fabulously cool to get to know a bit, as an old friend of Mari's (they had met when Mari was starting her doctorate at the University of Chicago and Yaël was studying in the U.S. for a bit), and so Mari insisted (quite rightly) that we take her out to The Columns so that should could enjoy that bit of New Orleans chic. It was interesting to hear something of the doctoral process in France from someone who was in the same junior faculty stage as Mari and I, as well as just to get a sense of the intellectual and cultural life of Paris from a native in a related field. (She lives a block from the Eiffel Tower – imagine!) So other than the kitchen putzing up their order of Louisiana Crabcake, which then took forever to replace as there was a very large party being served inside (Mari devastated the chips of my Fish 'n' Chips), it was a good time: wonderfully mild outside, perfect with just a suit jacket on, and tasty Amaretto Sours for me. I also discovered that Yaël was a lyricist and music critic in her secret identity as we got to talking Other Things and I revealed my own minor musical past while slipping her a copy of Life and Other Impossibilities. So I hoped that she would find something to enjoy in that.

I made up my appointment with Sarah Saturday afternoon. She came over and crashed out on the porch with me at first, telling me the most hysterical story of being dragged to some professional athlete/Olympian trainer who has a worn and rugged Rocky-set athletic center in a warehouse in the city, where he proceeded to ignore then finally make her run, yell at her that her form was crap but that he could help her for $3500 a month, or have her sponsored for free. Overwhelmed by his oddities, his spraying of the F-bomb like Gatling Gun-fire, and his "Don't smile at me!" reaching out and turning her face away from him as he apparently thought she was trying to addle him with her feminine wiles. (Sarah being one of the least wiley women I've met.) So she's telling me all this, laughing herself silly as she was trying to figure out what the hell to make of this guy, and, the whole while, decked out in workout top and trunks advertising his place, which he had insisted she wear. So that took a little time to unwind before we moved indoors (just before a torrential downpour), grabbed some paper and pencils, and started in on the stained-glass window project we're working on together. (Kev and Frannie, remodeling their house, are putting in a small chapel in the new version, and want a stained glass window featuring the saints/figures of their children's names, which I thought was a cool idea: so, Paul of Tarsus, Hagia Sophia, Maximilian Kolbe, and Augustine of Hippo.) We worked on the overall layout of the window, the relationship of the figures to one another, tried out layout models for our idea of the window's primary theme-text, discussed some about the unifying possibilities of background texture and color, and then spent most of our time doing studies for each of the four panels (I posed for all figures, so now I'm a model). She's headed home and will work on finished versions of each of the four kid's saints' panels, which we will then manipulate for size in each individual section so as to allow room for the accompanying text.