Erik called yesterday, picking up our conversation from Thursday dinnertime, when he had been talking with me when Tim Cahill, the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Loyola had called me with the job offer. ("Tell him I said 'Hi!' laughed Erik randomly, as I switched over to the other call. I did. I'm probably lucky I still got the job.) Erik was full of congratulations, and we talked at some length about New Orleans itself, a city he's both enjoyed in the past, and has also found somewhat disturbing. "More Mardi Gras than Lent?" I asked. "Exactly." I expect, however, I might have some cause to see the fuller Catholic culture and heritage of the city, rather than just the party aspects some might exclusively emphasize. He agreed that online real-estate hunting can be entirely addictive. I lost two nights to it almost entirely, going through page after page, house after apartment, map reference after map reference, Google Earth to Street View, imagining after imagining. I've never had to do this sort of thing online before and you really can just get lost in the information, in that surfing way the internet has. I suppose there are worse addictions.
Dinner on Saturday was a gift from Dan and Amy of beautiful filets with mushrooms and fried onions, along with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables to put the cuts in their natural habitat, and balanced the meat with a Roija, a Spanish region the wine from which I had tried and enjoyed once or twice before. This was a brown-red that was astonishingly fine and sharp (not "fine-okay" but "fine-delicate/precise), not as sweet as I tend to prefer, but without being bitter by contrast. We were going to have this dinner on Friday, but we were invited over suddenly to Julia V's with Barnes, and had a grand but too-short time socializing with them and Madeline when we had to leave for Amy's already-planned outing that evening. So thus I was back on Saturday, receiving their congratulations on the job and talking New Orleans neighbourhoods and lesson plans.
Once we could tag-team for babysitting, the three grown-ups were out the door to meet Mike Harris, Barnes and Maddie (who I thought did a great job of holding her own in a crowd where the next youngest was twice her age) over at Mayfair to catch a crowed showing of Iron Man 2, which I thought picked up the original story nicely. People have said that it didn't exceed the original, but neither did I think it let it down: it just didn't have the original's impact simply because it was already familiar. It was a grand action flick, full of great effects, and filling the audience with the unique desire to be so cool that you could build your own homemade particle accelerator in your basement, which is a rather unprecedented version of popular coolness. Dan remarked that it still ended up being big machine versus big machine like the last one, but that's really the point of the myth: technology as something between "two-edged sword" and "Pandora's Box," along with the understanding that technology can improve human capacity and condition. In this case, it also had a lot to do with the idea of evolution in weapons technology and the sort of permanence of "arms race" as a facet of human politics forevermore now that science and technology have so irrevocably been melded to military applications. It wasn't that long ago that Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prizes in a fit of guilt for having created what he thought to be the ultimate doomsday weapon.
Bells. For the last several weeks, I've been hearing the bells of the Jesuit's Gesu Church – four blocks away – far more than I think I have throughout the whole time I've been here at Marquette University. Basically, they've been lost in the city noise: heard and tuned out as "regular," in the way that I soon learned to do with ambulances and fire trucks when I lived by the emergency station and the hospital in the Mar-Main Arms Apartments in South Bend, or when I learned to tune out freight trains and traffic, when I lived in the horrible DeKalb slum perched right between the two. But for some reason, I'm hearing the bells a lot, now: the striking of the hours and quarters by the traditional Westminster Quarters.
Just that consciousness of time via bells, rather than by a watch or clock, has had me musing on the medieval sense of time, whether the late medieval rush of building mechanical clocks and bell towers, or whether by the older ways of keeping time: water clocks or sundials with hand-struck bells. I remember noting to my high school Church History students that the magnificent Rule of Saint Benedict, with its spirituality of ora et labora, prayer and work, and turning human work into a kind of prayer and spirituality, even made a point of giving the oldest or most infirm member of the community a meanful job; one of the jobs necessary for the monastery, the Rule points out, is for someone to give the signal (probably ringing a bell) for the various hours of the day: that person became the community's clock.
In our incredibly time-concerned culture, it's been different to lately simply hear the time, given in music, and relaxed enough to only mark the quarter-hours. If there are lessons to be drawn from such different experiences of time, I'm trying be open and attentive to them. At the very least, not counting every second and decorating time with music is making me recall that "Time is a gift on loan...."
I'll be heading down to New Orleans at the end of the month to meet some faculty and do a bit of apartment-hunting. I talked travel a bit with Erik yesterday, too: along with going to New Orleans, I've got a standing invitation to visit him again in Boston and do more history exploration with him (as well as visit Professors Fahey and Sullivan, of course), and we'd love to do more of that at leisure. (We both mentioned wanting to actually board the USS Constitution, which was in overhaul when we were there; that desire is even stronger now for continuing to plow through the Aubrey-Maturin books in spare time: I'm now in The Thirteen-Gun Salute.) But I also have much-overdue trips to Victoria to see Kate and Paul, and especially San Diego to see David and Priscilla. Not to mention the too-neglected friends in the Chicagoland area like Urosevich, P.J. or Jenny, who have lost out to me spending most of my travel budget on family. Living the simple student lifestyle has had its drawbacks. So I'm thinking about all of that as I now have some secure income coming.
After being welcomed by a few Southerners to their country, I've got some regional travel opportunities coming up that I'm looking forward to: Emily has already drafted me for an Auburn football weekend in the fall, and the occasionally-annual summer do-it-yourself retreat that's happened around Kevin is scheduled for this August, with everyone conveniently meeting in the Ozarks, and with the happy coincidence that I will now be as equally "local" to Arkansas as everyone else coming in from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri.
My final Marquette University final exam was given yesterday afternoon. I only had one section of Introduction to Theology this semester, but it was a memorable one. I usually find that in a group of 38 students, only about three or four students become "alpha-talkers," joining into the discussion every day, and usually more than once. In this class, I had two or three times as many alpha-talkers, along with the those who would then speak frequently, occasionally, and on down the scale to those who never spoke and would not be drawn out, and who thus remain as personally unknown to me as they were the day they walked into the class. But on the whole, this class was one of the great pleasures of my teaching career: as involved, passionate, and thoughtful in discussion – as well as fun, occasionally silly, and willing to give me grief – as I could hope for. I suspect that a few students will make a point of staying in touch, even if just as casual "Facebook friends." I would certainly be interested to hear how some of their stories turn out. One of them, Ashley V., has been bitten by the bug at some level, as I wrote about the other week, and has a gift for Theology as a discipline, to the point of wondering whether this might be what she wants to major in. I'll be curious to see, even if from a distance, how that curiosity and possibility plays out for her.
A few of my other stand-out students of the past few years who became majors are graduating this year, with me. Jessica, who was my great discovery her freshman year and who won me enormous status among the faculty just for finding someone of her talent for the field, has long since just become a friend, and actually already graduated in December, got married in January, pregnant last month or so, and she and Nathan have bought a home in Nashville where she'll start graduate work in Theology next year at Vanderbilt. Zoom! Tim R., Christopher O., and Fran H. are graduating this month, and I ran into Tim the other day and heard that he's lined up law school at Indiana-Bloomington, and so that's fabulous. I'll see them at one of the events for the majors this week, and try to do my bit to give them the honor that is their due.