April 9th, 2012


Personal/Theological Notebook: Family, Classes, Friends Highlighting the Easter Holiday

Some excellent moments throughout the last week or so. While being sort of marooned away from family was not my first preference for the Easter holiday, I had some chances to make up for that. One highlight was having a good talk with my brother Joe at the beginning of April in celebration of his birthday, reminding me again how after my visit to his and Daniele's home in December just how much we haven't gotten to just hang out together in the last several years, and how we're almost always seeing each other at big family functions, which are all good, but don't give the opportunity for extended slow and random time together.

I'm getting some other family time in an expected way, though: my Irish cousin Michelle's visit was good fun for her and her boyfriend Vinh, it seemed, and I think I did alright in adding my bit to that. We didn't know one another too well, and so I worried that we might end up flailing for conversation a bit. But the Panorama Jazz Band was in as good form as I had hoped when I met them down at the Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchmen Street, playing a few of their pieces that I've particularly come to like. We grabbed some food at a place on Bourbon Street afterward, talking more easily with each other, getting to know one another a bit more, and me and Vinh getting to know each other for the first time, comparing notes on Milwaukee, where he had done his medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin and his residency in radiology at Froedtert. That gave us a bit of a respite from the mess of Bourbon Street, too, which often seems more desperate and sad than festive to me.

They spent Sunday exploring the Warehouse and Lower Garden Districts, and so when I brought them Uptown to take in dinner at Jacques-Imo's, they'd gotten a better sense of the city than just exploring the Quarter will give anyone. We only got in toward ten, just before closing, but we sat outside with cocktails, leaning against the Jacques-Imo-Mobile, until they seated us, where they went exploring with Vinh ordering the snails (salty) and she grabbing the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake, while I stayed more tame with a Grilled Duck Breast with Orange Soy Glaze, Shiitake Mushrooms and Pecans. Michelle picked a Syrah for us, but the way the wine would activate the spices left on my tongue from the food replaced the wine's sweetness with fire, depending on what I had eaten immediately before drinking. (I've been noticing this as a New Orleans problem in ordering wine with a meal.) Michelle then became my hero when we were a few blocks away and realized for me that I'd left my bookbag at the table, so I hustled back for that, only to discover to our disappointment that the Columns Hotel bar closed at midnight, at which point we called it a night.

I got off the streetcar and home still pretty tipsy, collapsing into bed and waking up the next day around one with a mouth that tasted of old laundry and the confusion of weird dreams. That left me in a pickle of having to try to hurry and clean as well as review my prep for the day's lessons, which came off well, on American mid-20th century "Christian Realism" and the brothers Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr. But what else ought you to do for family? This afternoon my Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen will arrive in town, and so that'll give me family within a day of Easter, which I trust will feel like it levels things out. (Although long phone calls with Mom and Dad, and Dan Lloyd up in Milwaukee, helped make Easter Day itself more festive for me.)

The day after that, I was discussing sexuality as a metaphor for the love of God tomorrow (the "Sacred Desire" chapter from Andrew Greeley's The Catholic Imagination) in my Catholicism class, and so I was preparing, as best one can, for the rather unpredictable reactions students tend to have to this image. That discussion actually came out fairly strongly. In my first class, I actually had two guys so struck by the chapter that they started discussing it without prompting while I was still taking attendance! Interestingly, the classes seemed more uniformly interested or keen on the image, whereas in semesters past, students seemed split between finding it useful or illuminating and finding it just wrong: either those who didn't like it shut up in face of those who vocally did find the image intriguing, or there happened to be a lot less people who wanted to insist on what I suspect is a "amiable grandparent" image of the love of God. So that made four hours of discussing the same material three times through go by without any weariness on my part.

Huge storms rolled though New Orleans in the middle of the week, leaving me with no sleep Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, but a deep pleasure in the rain and storm itself made up for that. I had biked over to the office earlier, when the radar showed me a gap in the rain, and it was like artillery pounding the city after that, including light hail. A wondrous racket! The house shook constantly for the worst of it, around 3:30am, and I texted Sarah, sure that she was up, and was pleased to hear that she was enjoying the chaos of it all, too, as I guessed she might be. (Growing up in the Midwest gives you an appreciation of big thunderstorms as a kind of free natural fireworks show, as long as you aren't in a tent.)

Holy Thursday was made extra lively by a dinner invitation from Chris, after proposing we attend the Mass of the Lord's Supper together at Holy Name of Jesus. I ended up being late because a streetcar didn't come for 40 minutes, and I waited in order to not do a fast 20-minute walk there so that I wouldn't be sweaty and such in church. When this sometimes happens in New Orleans, that a streetcar doesn't come in a timely way, you think, "Surely, just another few more minutes..." and it still doesn't come, and then you feel a fool. New Orleans. On paper, they come every 7 minutes, which would be so cool!

So I arrived in a bit of a mood, which was dumb, and then the texts and homily really had me lingering in my own worries, too. So not the most amiable of Holy Thursdays, if that makes a lick of sense, but my current circumstances certainly made for a really vivid meditation. The mood picked up significantly once we headed out to Chris's for dinner, which was a simple, but excellent meal of good, high-quality chicken breasts I had (two each!), which he prepared with Creole spices, garlic powder, rosemary and a honey glaze, then bow-tie noodles and the most *perfectly* prepared asparagus I've ever had, which made me like asparagus a lot for the first time. So I learned how to properly prepare asparagus (and broccoli, as a related style). All that with an inexpensive but decent Chianti made for a very pleasant evening of tastes with good conversation on food, theology (especially some of Chris's ongoing interest in the significance for God of the humanity of Christ), friends, and his upcoming Jesuit Volunteer Corps placement in San Jose.

I had to burst out laughing a couple of times as we talked past midnight, as his roommate's father had amused himself by buying all sorts of Western-themed decorations for his son, who despite being from Boston, had taken to rodeo riding. So Chris was parked in front of a giant, beautifully framed, slightly absurd cowboy painting, whose presentation would have made more sense as a presidential portrait in the White House. He graciously allowed me to photograph the juxtaposition for my amusement and memory.

I then spent Good Friday entirely devoted to the stained glass window project. Sarah did some greater detailing on some of the figures (The Father; The Son and Spirit/Sophia; and Maximilian Kolbe, with vision of Mary), which blew me away when I first saw them, and with how quickly she could turn vision to reality on a piece of paper. I then proceeded to Photoshop into the the existing large working file (with an excursus on the work I'd done on Dali and the two of us peering at my prints on the walls). That was some painstaking detailing and annoying computer tweaking, with a printer that wasn't letting me do what I knew it *could* do, if I could remember how to persuade it. We ended the evening going out for an "inexpensive" dinner that, to my chagrin, cost us about twice as much as I intended, but which got us both in La Crêpe Nanou for the first time each, which was pretty much as good as it was said to be. She grabbed the Crêpe À La Crabe (fresh jumbo lump crabmeat in a Mornay sauce with creamed spinach) and I the Crêpe Bourguignonne (filet of beef tips and mushrooms braised in red wine and served with potatoes), which we both judged the superior one. We just "added on" an appetizer of mussels and then glasses of Bordeaux and surprise! surprise! that really cost more! So I felt a bit foolish, but it was great conversation. And, having deferred to me after suggesting an appetizer, she found that she really liked the mussels (steamed in garlic, cream and white wine), and so I felt I'd done a culinary mitzvah that way.

She got an internship this summer in San Francisco working for an illustrator who is currently doing a film about illustrators, so (with perfect timing for Sarah) she is going to be able to scout out what a lot of professionals in the field actually are doing before she goes into her senior year having to find some way to make this work for her living when she graduates. In other words, she managed to get an internship that doesn't show her the work of one illustrator and how they make a profession out of this, but the different forms of work several are engaged in. So I think she scored on that one, and then not least in getting to know San Francisco, which will really be her first immersive new city experience.

In a random piece of happenstance, later that night, I was digging through a box of odds-and-ends and found a set of long-lost photographs that I had taken during a Christmas holiday in college with my buddy Kim when he came to stay with us in Oregon. I had been wondering where these were for years, fearing them lost forever, and had just mentioned them in passing as the lead-in to a college dating story I told to Sarah over dinner. So that was a very minor, perhaps, but personally satisfying Easter gift for me, and I stayed up scanning those into computer files at last so that I could try to be more sure of preserving them, laughing all the while at how pretentious (but very 80s!) and unskilled our attempts at dramatically shooting one another ended up being.