But, as I said, Friday proved to be an agreeable shift from that line of meditation. My former student and current friend Jessica and I had been playing tag for a few weeks about trying to set some time together to catch up at greater length. That's been complicated by her summer school and work schedule, and my frequent absences of late in going down to visit family. When we decided to meet for lunch, postponing from Thursday to Friday in order to accommodate a particularly heavy bit of reading for her work in philosophy of crime and punishment, we ended up opting for the classic Milwaukee venue of lunch outside down at Alterra on the Lake. There was a bit of lunch rush when we got there, a little after noon, but we manage to grab some outdoor seating looking over the marina, and settled in to enjoy the food, light, air and company. So we talked about some of the expected topics: her and Nathan's upcoming wedding, their marriage prep and the state of marriage prep in the Catholic Church in general, what she was doing in her current course, Fahey's reaction to my most recent dissertation chapter – that sort of thing. We talked a bit about our current re-reading of The Lord of the Rings (I had just finished re-reading it the other week, she was in the midst of it, when she could get past her school reading), and about the re-reading of books in general, as I also mentioned re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince prior to the movie adaptation of the book coming out this week. I peppered my end of the conversation with an old story or two that came to mind that I thought were funny.
We had also gotten onto a bit of a run about Milwaukee architecture, as we came walking down to Alterra after going past the new hi-rise condominiums and a few of the grand old houses on E. Lafayette. We got back onto this as we climbed the hillside back up to Lafayette, after Jessica expressed interest in walking over to Villa Terrace, which she had never seen before, or heard of for that matter. I was particularly interested in her take on the "Italian-ness" of the Villa, given that Jess is a native of northern Italy, despite her American citizenship, as her Mom teaches at a school on an American military base about 90 minutes north of Venice, which is where Jessica lived from when she was four until she started at Marquette. So we talked about the features of the houses we were looking at, and I particularly enthused about some of the large porches on them – being a big fan of porches: my undergraduate mentor Marvin A. Powell and I once identified the screened porch as the high point of human civilization – and I compared what we were looking at to the architecture of the houses I saw in Tunisia, designed as they were with balconies and deck spaces to be open to the movement of the wind along the Sahara frontier.
We found one house, old, stern, and battered-looking, set amid an overgrown yard on the corner of Lafayette and North Terrace Avenue that we decided looked fabulous for the traditional haunted house I loved in spooky stories from grade school. There were still some "improvements" that needed to be made, we decided: the house next door's wrought-iron fence should be placed around this house and made two or three times as high, and it needed to be set further back from the street. Jess thought it definitely needed a broken window or two. I was about to go up to the porch, and maybe peer into a window or two when we discovered a Mercedes parked in the driveway around the side of the house, which surprised me, given the state of the lawn. I would have thought the neighbours in such grand old mansions would have raised a ruckus about keeping things more uniformly trim. We then wandered into Back Bay Park, which I never had done, stopping to look out at a bench set in a good spot giving an overview of all of Milwaukee Bay, watching the boats and discussing the virtues of my new camera and digital cameras in general. When we wandered on to look at the houses along the park, an elderly man who owned the one right on the bluff overlooking the Lake, which we were most interested in, stepped out not to yell at us, as we feared, but to give us an architectural history of the place from its initial construction in 1896 and the alterations made to it in the 1920s. He got most excited raving about the view of the moonrises over the waters that he had been enjoying the last few nights, and I was pleased to discover that such a place belonged to someone who so enjoyed it. He then discovered that he had apparently locked himself out of his house, and while Jess and I tried to coach him on where we thought we were hearing the jingle of keys – he was rather hard of hearing and never understood any of our suggestions – he continued his running commentary on the development of the house, finally finding his keys in the door, where he had left them as he unlocked the wrought-iron outer door when he stepped out to speak with us. It was priceless in a sort of kindly, polite, "Mr. Magoo" kind of way.
When we got to Villa Terrace, Jessica seemed quite struck by it, which of course pleased me in the "I'm glad I didn't waste your time" sort of way. The woman selling admission to the museum gave us the quick overview of the history of the place, and we decided to step outside into the gardens before taking in the current exhibition. Now we got to talking a bit more about what Jessica might do with Theology after graduation and after the wedding. Nathan, her fiancé, is an Army engineer who just finished his ROTC training along with his education at Marquette, and who is working in the Veterans Administration hospital system. This year, conveniently for them as Jessica goes into her senior year, he is stationed in Madison, and next year they will head out to Portland, Oregon. That opens up the possibility of doing something at the University of Portland, which is a CSC school, like Notre Dame: founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross (Congregatio a Sancta Cruce). I met a lot of guys from Portland when I lived at Holy Cross House at Notre Dame, and so I talked about my general feel of the community and what possibilities might be there (as I don't actually know anything about a Master's program there). My classmates Brett and Theresa are also living there now, and actively involved in local ministry, and having mentioned that I could make an introduction to such good people, I told Jess a bit about their story, which was one of the epics of our time at Notre Dame. Jessica talked about a Bioethics program that she was considering being able to do long-distance, which she described as being "as practical as she could stand."
So we leaned on the rails of the terrace and talked "shop" for a while, although I took time to tell her the story of taking aristotle2002 her when he visited and his creating a minor stir among LJ friends by describing the Villa in the pictures he posted as "Mike's place." Most interesting for me to hear was her realization that Theology simply excited her much more than Philosophy did (she's doing a double-major), and that that seemed to provide a certain clarity for what she might want to go on to do. I don't think that everyone who becomes literate in Theology ought to become a theologian: what good would that be? But I got big points in the Department for "discovering" Jessica her freshman year in my Introduction to Theology class, which she was taking as part of her standard Marquette undergraduate requirements during her first semester at the University, without knowing at all that she had been blessed with a profound talent for the reflective sciences. I can remember how odd, and sort of thrilling, it was for me as a sophomore, when Albert Resis became the first of the History faculty to talk to me about doing a doctorate. It's an odd thing, to see a beginner and to realize that they have that sort of talent in them. So, even moreso now that Jessica has become a good friend, I'm quite interested in seeing whether she might go the distance in the field, although I understand perfectly well that it's also a Good Thing if she simply becomes a "civilian" in some other discipline or life-plan who just happens to be exceptionally talented and literate in theology, because certainly a field like ours that has been so popularly marginalized by the Enlightenment over the last 200 years, also just needs such people as part of re-creating a popular literacy and competence. (I'll forego here my general spiel about how the Enlightenment's attempt to "free" people from Theology has simply resulted in a theologically and philosophically naive population instead: people far more likely to be taken in by bad theology or anti-theology than to be sound and free thinkers.)
Ach. This is getting longer than I expected: perhaps I'll come back and do another entry to talk about the later conversation, our look through the Jon Michael Route exhibition, "For the Love of Metal," and then my evening over at the Lloyds, catching up with them for the first time since I'd gone to visit family (other than talking with Dan at the library last week) and enjoying the presence of Barnes, who was in town to see his granddaughter and harass Mike and Dan for drafts of the first chapters of their dissertations on second century Name Christology and the Trinitarian theology of Novatian, respectively. Or maybe not: I'm still being pretty distracted by my own reading (and mumbling).