My majors- and minors-only course, Modern Christian Thought, is what I'm most excited about this semester. In the two sessions we've had, we've been looking at the "religion of Reason" of the Enlightenment period, with students taking a deeper dive into related primary texts, either reading John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration, or else selections from Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary and Edward Gibbon's A History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Locke reading gave an opportunity to read in the direction of political philosophy for students who preferred that, in a text critical for the development of the American governmental experiment with a vision of a Christian state grounded in a policy of religious toleration, and the other two readings as a set conveying something of the era's anti-Christian cultural mood and style. The students seemed to throw themselves into the discussions with the zest I hoped for in such a select group, with only a few perhaps holding back at this point. I had the happy problem on Thursday going through the primary source readings of not having nearly enough time for all the conversation that could have occurred. Afterward, I grabbed a yummy big bowl of cream of broccoli soup from La Divina and had dinner with Chris, in an echo of last semester's Thursday night independent study sessions. He had been saving up a few theological questions he wanted to pursue in greater depth, and so we tackled some of that as we ate, including the thorny and tangled contemporary issue of Christian understandings of homosexuality and attendant ethical issues.
I had a few meals out this weekend, which has been pleasant for both being able to go out again (if still bandaged up) and for the fact that we have been having winter January days in the mid-70s. (While enjoying the mild weather, I confess to missing something of the snow and cold that my Mom was reporting from northern Illinois, which had me thinking of the lovely winters of my childhood, as pictured here.)
Tim and Minoo called Friday at about dinnertime, checking to see if I wanted to head out with them and Terri for dinner, and so we gathered over at the Saltwater Grill on Carrolton, where we talked the new semester and Terri kept us laughing with different stories from her career, or intrigued with anecdotes such as archaeological details she had noted in travels in Israel. I had a medium-rare salmon that was tasty as all get out, but they had substituted sweet potatoes that night for their regular garlic mashed potatoes, and the sweet potatoes, while entirely yummy in themselves, didn't match up with the salmon as well as I imagine that regular potatoes would have.
Saturday, I got together with Sarah for a later lunch. Changing our plans at the last minute, we just ended up getting burgers up at The Company Burger on Freret Street, talking everything from the stained glass window project we're working on together to the virtues of tater tots. Among other things, I found that I had had an invitation to go with Sarah to enjoy the afternoon with her Grandmother (who sounds infinitely cool) at the Fairgrounds. When I (naively?) asked what was going on at the Fairgrounds, Sarah looked at me like I was quite thick and told me about the horse racing. I suddenly realized (again) that I was in the South, and that the Fairgrounds would have a taken-for-granted association with steady horse racing down here that was only an occasional feature of the Fairgrounds I grew up with. Sarah had passed (for this day) for the both of us, but when she checked in with me I thought that that sounded like something fun for the future.
We passed a few hours talking there at the burger place, hitting some new details of her artwork and her current moves toward starting to market her work professionally in the city, and she was particularly interested in some details of some of my travels, which is the sort of thing she's pretty eager to take up herself. Both armed with iPhones, she was able to bring up pictures of pieces of hers, and I was able to bring up shots of places I was describing, which made for technology at its handiest. A tried and true New Orleans native, Sarah's never really experienced the sort of northern winter that was on my mind, and I was trying to describe the beauty in the extreme sensations of chilling outdoors and toasty indoors, and wishing that I could show her winter at its most gorgeous: the Jackson Hole winters I enjoyed in Kevin and Frannie's company. Then, describing last spring's abortive early discussions with Erik for heading to Jerusalem really reawakened that as a kind of ferocious hunger while we were talking.
I finally suggested we maybe walk outside a bit before she had to join her family at dinner, and enjoy the fabulous weather. So we went down to the Fly, which was littered with university students and locals enjoying the sun and the cool breeze blowing off the Mississippi River. As always, I got my particular pleasure of watching the shipping: there's something I really enjoy of the novelty (for me) of being in a major port city, and watching the freighters and the barges moving up and down the river, and the activity of the colossal rust belt of port facilities all along the waterfront, never gets old for me. We walked up and down the length of the park before finally settling in on a bench and watching the boats, the gulls, and the long lines of the sunset light, talking about the difficulty of making major life choices, and of sorting out the sorts of double-edged "rules" that you might apply to making such. As it started to feel cool and the light began to dim, we called it a day.
Someone finally added hundreds of 3-D buildings to New Orleans in Google Earth. I'm wondering if there is some sort of computer program someone devised to take the Google Earth and/or Street View data to automatically construct these things. I couldn't help but notice that my house has its old grey, pre-Butterlump paint schema in the model, as well as somehow lacking the entire ground floor of the building. That doesn't seem like it was a terribly hands-on project for someone. But it's cool to have a greater feel of the cityscape now, especially since the city is so flat that it really is the buildings that give the land all its shape and contours.
Sr. Liz came by this afternoon for a visit, with containers of frozen homemade soup in tow, and was pleasantly surprised to see how well I was doing. She had a hospital stay of her own recently, with some hip surgery, so we swapped medical stories and talked of the beginning of the new semester, of family, and the like. Lots of laughing.