September 21, 2016

America the Beautiful

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee 

To some degree, this is what could be defined as a blog-post on demand, in fact it originates from a request by a good friend of mine, who asked me about a decent Italian translation of “America the Beautiful,” the classic patriotic song that many Americans regard as a second national anthem. After a quick search on Google I realized that there is essentially nothing at all—except a few really awful automatically generated translations (or supposedly such). So I decided to translate it myself (look at the bottom of this post). But at the same time I thought that it would be great to seize the opportunity to get deeper into the subject. Which I enthusiastically did—by exploring the genealogy of “America the Beautiful,” its context, meaning and inner beauty—because I’ve always loved that song. So this post is the result of such an effort. And my humble tribute to such a magnificent example of poetic and musical talent, as well as, of course, of American patriotism.

In the beginning there was a poem.
Katharine Lee Bates
In the summer of 1893 a Massachusetts professor of English at Wellesley College, Katharine Lee Bates was giving a series of lectures on English literature at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. The writing of “America the Beautiful” was the result of that trip. “One day,” she recalled in her diary, “some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there.” It was “the most glorious scenery I ever beheld, and I had seen the Alps and the Pyrenees,” she wrote. “My memory of that supreme day of our Colorado sojourn is fairly distinct even across the stretch of 35 crowded years,” she wrote a year before her death in 1929. “We stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit, hallowed by the worship of perished races, and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse.” “It was then and there,” she recalled, “as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind”:

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!


Yet, “America the Beautiful” is not just a nostalgic evocation of a pastoral landscape. It’s also a tribute to the faithful courage and tenacity of the Pilgrims, who first tamed the wilderness,

Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!


and to the heroes who fought for freedom

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!


In a letter to friends, Bates also rebuked her fellow countrymen/women by observing that “countries such as England failed because, while they may have been great,” they had not been good. That's why, “unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way”...

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!


The poem is also a hymn to the “dream” which is America herself, to the nation’s potential—including the gleaming modernity of its “alabaster cities” :

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!


“America the Beautiful” was published in three revised versions: the first on July 4, 1895, in a weekly church publication in Boston called The Congregationalist, the second on November 19, 1904, in the Boston Evening Transcript, and third and final one in her book America the Beautiful and Other Poems (1911).

The poem became quickly popular. “No one was more amazed than I at the way the hymn was taken up,” the poetess once explained. “When I found that you really wanted to sing it, I rewrote it in some respects to make it a bit more musical.” The poem was sung to many different tunes for years—many simply started singing the words in the tune of a folk song, such as “Auld Lang Syne”—until, finally, it followed the melody of Samuel Augustus Ward’s “Materna,” which became the standard melody still used today. So “America the beautiful” became the great patriotic anthem that we all know and love :

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!


Over the years, the song has been recorded by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.


Since the very beginning of it all, many citizens have lobbied Congress to make the song the national anthem of the United States of America. On July 4, 1993, an “America the Beautiful” plaque was installed on the top of Pike’s Peak to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the poem.

The plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of "America the Beautiful"


AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
- ITALIAN VERSION -

O bella, per i cieli spaziosi
Per le onde ambrate di grano
Per la maestà di montagne color porpora
Sopra la pianura fruttuosa!
America! America!
Dio ha sparso la sua grazia su di te
E corona il tuo bene con la fratellanza
Da mare a mare splendente!

O bella per i piedi dei pellegrini
Il cui severo e appassionato sforzo
Ha tracciato una strada di libertà
Attraverso deserti e terre selvagge!
America! America!
Dio ripara ogni tuo difetto,
Rafforza la tua anima nell’autocontrollo
E la tua libertà nella legge!

O bella per gli eroi che hanno mostrato
Il proprio coraggio
Nella lotta per la libertà.
Che hanno amato il proprio Paese
Più di sé stessi
E la misericordia più della vita!
America! America!
Possa Dio raffinare il tuo oro
Fino a rendere nobile il successo
E divino ogni guadagno!

O bella per il sogno dei patrioti
Che vede al di là degli anni
Brillare le tue città di alabastro
Non offuscate da lacrime umane!
America! America!
Dio ha sparso la sua grazia su di te
E corona il tuo bene con la fratellanza
Da mare a mare splendente!

ORIGINAL TEXT

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!




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September 17, 2016

Love Letter



Happy Birthday Princess,
We get old and get use to each other. We think alike.
We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.
But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me.
You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.
Happy Birthday Princess.
John


~ Johnny Cash, Birthday letter to his wife, June Carter Cash, 1994




Country music legend Johnny Cash wrote the above quoted love letter in 1994, on June’s 65th birthday, while he was in Odense, Denmark. Voted the greatest love letter of all time by the readers of the Daily Mail in the U.K.—topping romantic missives from, among others, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to his wife, poet John Keats to his next door neighbor, musician Jimi Hendrix to a mystery woman, and actor Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor—the letter proved once and for all that The Man in Black was not only a talented performer and songwriter but also a man of deep feelings and extraordinary sensitivity. The pair married in 1968 and remained together for more than 30 years. June died in May 2003. Johnny passed away just four months later. As many know, the sometimes tempestuous, but always profound and genuine love story between Johnny and his wife has been chronicled extensively in the movie Walk the Line—a pretty good one, not a masterpiece, though.




To conclude here is a video that illustrates—perhaps in the best possible way—what true love is all about. It is a bit sad, I know, or that's how it might seem at first glance, but this is part of the mystery which is Love itself.




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August 22, 2016

Magnificat

What are your favorite New Testament passages? One of mine is Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat). These verses are one of the Marian texts par excellence and one of the most notable prayers in all of Scripture. I’ve always loved them, but the more the time goes by the more I find myself in love with the meaning and even the sound—especially, I must say, in Italian, my mother tongue—of such wonderful and inspiring words. Here is the text in English and Italian.

The Visitation by Lorenzo Monaco (1409 ca)
The Courtauld Institute of Art - London


My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded
the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

(King James Version)



ITALIAN


L'anima mia magnifica il Signore
e il mio spirito esulta in Dio, mio salvatore,
perché ha guardato l'umiltà della sua serva.
D'ora in poi tutte le generazioni mi chiameranno beata.
Grandi cose ha fatto in me l'Onnipotente
e Santo è il suo nome:
di generazione in generazione la sua misericordia
si stende su quelli che lo temono.
Ha spiegato la potenza del suo braccio,
ha disperso i superbi nei pensieri del loro cuore;
ha rovesciato i potenti dai troni,
ha innalzato gli umili;
ha ricolmato di beni gli affamati,
ha rimandato a mani vuote i ricchi.
Ha soccorso Israele, suo servo,
ricordandosi della sua misericordia,
come aveva promesso ai nostri padri,
ad Abramo e alla sua discendenza, per sempre.

(Versione Ufficiale C.E.I.)


Johann Sebastian Bach's Magnificat, in turn, is one of the most magnificent works in the whole choral repertory—and one of my favorite music pieces ever!

Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Concentus Musicus Wien
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor:



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June 7, 2016

Western Identity



It is because of America, its success, its conflicts, and its symbolic importance in the world, that the question raised by Spengler is still with us: the question of Western identity. Take away America, its freedom, its optimism, its institutions, its Judeo-Christian beliefs, and its educational tradition, and little would remain of the West, besides the geriatric routines of a now toothless Europe.



~ Roger Scruton, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged.




Taking part in a radio debate and discussing how America has retreated as a world leader, English philosopher and writer Roger Scruton recently said, “It’s certain that President Obama will not be seen as a strong president.” Then, as a man with a foreigner’s perspective, he added, “What are we, the rest of the world, to do without American leadership?”

The above quoted excerpt from his preface to Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged might be of some help in explaining his concerns about the future of the world.



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June 5, 2016

My Books & the Historic Athenaeum Fund of Ca' Foscari University of Venice


Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice. Sansovinian Hall
I am pleased to inform the readers—especially those living or visiting the Venice area—that starting from June 2016 my books have been catalogued and incorporated into the collections of the Fondo Storico di Ateneo (Historic Athenaeum Fund) of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice—which is part of the Italian National Library Service (SBN) promoted by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and locally managed by the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. The books are available for consultation by scholars and students.

Here are the direct links to the books:



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May 17, 2016

Mr. Trump Goes to Washington


After Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected and Simple Patriotism Trumps Ideology, yet another must read by Peggy Noonan, the great speech writer for Ronald Reagan and now a columnist for The Wall Street Journal: Mr. Trump Goes to Washington. Here are a couple of excerpts:

But almost every conservative and Republican in Washington—in politics, think tanks and journalism—backed a candidate other than Mr. Trump. Every one of those candidates lost, and Mr. Trump won. After November, think tanks and journals will begin holding symposia in which smart people explain How We Lost The Base.
Mr. Trump’s victory was an endorsement of Mr. Trump but also a rebuke to professional Republicans in Washington. It was a rebuke to comprehensive immigration plans that somehow, mysteriously, are never quite intended to stop illegal immigration; a rebuke to the kind of thinking that goes, “I know, we’ll pass laws that leave Americans without work, which means they’ll be deprived of the financial and spiritual benefits of honest labor, then we’ll cut their entitlements, because if we don’t our country will go broke.” The voters backed Mr. Trump’s stands on these issues and more.
A political question for November: Does Mr. Trump pick up more Democrats than he loses Republicans? Is that how he plans to win? Does he draw in enough new or non-Republican voters to make up for the millions of Republican voters he will surely lose?
In an act of determined denial, Washington Republicans and conservatives continue to see and describe Mr. Trump’s nomination as the triumph of a celebrity in a culture that worships celebrity, the victory of a vulgarian in a vulgar age, the living excrescence of our shallow values and lowered standards. Also, he’s tapped into the public’s rage.
He is all of those things. But he is more, and Washington is determined to ignore the more. He understood, either intuitively or after study, that the Republican base was changing or open to change, and would expand if the party changed some policies. He declared those policies changed. And he won.
As to the matter of rage, it’s more like disrespect for those who’ve been calling the shots. If you know Trump people in real life as opposed to through social media, if they are your friends and family members, you understand that “rage” doesn’t do them justice. They dislike the Republican Party, which they believe has consistently betrayed them, but Trump people in person are just about the only cheerful people in politics this year. They actually have hope—the system needs a hard electric shock, he’s just the man to do it, and if it doesn’t work they’ll fire him.
[...]
Those who oppose Mr. Trump should do it seriously and with respect for his supporters. If he is not conservative, make your case and explain what conservatism is. No one at this point needs your snotty potshots or your supposedly withering one-liners. I confess I have lost patience with many of those declaring they cannot in good conscience support him, not because reasons of conscience are not crucial—they are, and if they apply they should be declared. But some making these declarations managed in good conscience, indeed with the highest degree of self-regard, to back the immigration proposals of George W. Bush that contributed so much to the crisis that produced Mr. Trump. They invented Sarah Palin. They managed to support the global attitudes and structures that left the working class jobless. They dreamed up the Iraq war.
Sometimes I think their consciences are really not so delicate.
As for the political consultants who insult Mr. Trump so vigorously, they are the ones who did most to invent him. What do they ever do in good conscience?

By the way, I'm currently reading—with great pleasure!—Peggy Noonan's new book, The Time of Our Lives (hence the picture at the top of this post). Needless to say, strongly recommended! Here is a great review by Dana Perino.



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May 12, 2016

Political Correctness As 'War By Other Means'



Angelo Codevilla in The Federalist (definitely a must read):

Led by Barack Obama’s Democrats, echoed by the media, backed by big corporations’ muscle, and trailed by Republicans with tail tucked between legs, our rulers demand no less than the paradigm of totalitarianism in George Orwell’s novel, “1984.”

Recall that Big Brother’s agent berated the hapless Winston for preferring his own views to society’s dictates, then finished breaking his spirit by holding up four fingers and demanding that Winston acknowledge seeing five. Our rulers, like Big Brother, hector us to accept their rewritten history and to superimpose their scales of value on ours. [...]

Our Progressive ruling class’s war on our scale of values climaxed in 2016 with a campaign in favor of “transgender rights”: a demand that Americans accept that someone with a penis can be a “woman” while another with a vagina can be a “man.” Object to that mandate to take leave of your senses, insist that sex-specific public bathrooms be used exclusively by persons with the requisite personal plumbing, and be expelled from polite society. Next to this, Big Brother’s demand to call four fingers five is small, mild stuff.

Read the rest.




Angelo M. Codevilla is a fellow of the Claremont Institute, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace: Among Ourselves and with All Nations, Hoover Institution Press, 2014 (click here for a review by David P. Goldman in The Federalist). He served in the US Navy, the US Foreign Service, and on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Also very interesting by Angelo M. Codevilla: "America’s Ruling Class — and the Perils of Revolution," published in The American Spectator in 2010. Codevilla enlarged this article into a small book, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It.



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The Silent Life



Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his own true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting.



~ Thomas Merton, The Silent Life.





Thomas Merton, or Father Louis by his monastic name, knew that only the true contemplative experience teaches the discipline of silence, which needs to exclude any noises and unnecessary chats, because they would profane those spaces of silence. But all true wise men—as a Camaldolese monk, Father Franco, once told me—speak few words and their words are often “silence” at the same time. Their words spring from a deep meditation. True silence keeps us away from narrow mindness. The word is a great thing, but it is not what is greatest: if word is silver, as the old proverb goes, silence is gold. Hi who aims at the higher levels of spiritual life needs silence as much as he needs his daily bread and rest for his body.



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April 4, 2016

The Best Laws Cannot Make a Constitution Work in Spite of Morals



The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage. That is a commonplace truth, but one to which my studies are always bringing me back. It is the central point in my conception. I see it at the end of all my reflections.



~ Alexis de Tocqueville, De la supériorité des mœurs sur les lois.





The above is not only a truth. It is a truth we should take to heart—especially in this day and age when we tend to put more emphasis and value on other factors, such as social and economic ones—and a truth we should never forget.



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March 1, 2016

Why We Continue Looking at the Sky




How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopped describing the sky, simply listing what they see... We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.



~ Umberto Eco, Interview with Der Spiegel, 2009.





Umberto Eco died a few days ago, but he lives on in his books, articles, essays and interviews. He has left a huge legacy that will surely benefit generations to come. Sit tibi terra levis, professor Eco.



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February 26, 2016

Yes, Donald Trump Is America's Silvio Berlusconi


It has happened. What was thought to be impossible has now come to reality. After Donald Trump’s third-in-a-row victory in the Nevada caucuses Tuesday, the confident predictions about his candidacy over the past eight months “have been disproven again and again—starting with the judgment that he wouldn’t run, that his outrageous statements would undermine his appeal, that voters would show up for the entertainment value of his rallies but not cast a ballot for him when it mattered,” says USA today. Now the question is no longer can Trump win— it’s can he be stopped?

For us who have lived in Italy in the last 20 years it would be hard not to compare the Donald to the man who ruled Italy for a total of nine years between 1994 and 2011, Silvio Berlusconi, whose political career was—like Trump’s—rooted in both popular entertainment culture and real estate. “The similarities between Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi are striking,” writes Italian columnist and essayist Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times: “Both are loud, vain, cheeky businessmen, amateur politicians and professional womanizers. Both have a troubled relation with their egos and their hair. Both think God is their publicist, and twist religion to suit their own ends.” But the above description is (intentionally) more evocative than accurate. Therefore, let’s try to summarize the similarities between the two in more systematic way :

  1. Like Berlusconi, who presented himself as Italy’s strongman, a political outsider who entered politics out of patriotism to save Italy from the Left, promising to restore the country to its lost international stature, and big things such as “less taxes for everyone,” “a million new jobs,” etc., Trump presents himself as the living antidote to decline, the GOP’s savior who promises “to make America greater than ever before” and to become the “best jobs president God ever created.”
  2. Berlusconi speaks more like an entertainer than a politician, and his clowning sense of humor is legendary. Trump, in turn, has built a political campaign employing unvarnished language and jaundiced humor. About half of Italians think Berlusconi “just speaks his mind” (and they don’t care if foreigners are puzzled, or worse). Similarly, many Americans think Trump is straightforward and brutally honest in all of his dealings, and that “that’s what we need in the leader of our country.”
  3. Like Berlusconi, Trump is running on his claim of being a rich, successful businessman: “I don’t need anyone else’s money, I’m really rich,” he said. “I have total net worth of $8.73bn. I’m not doing that to brag. I’m doing that to show that’s the kind of thinking our country needs.”
  4. Like Berlusconi, Italy’s biggest TV tycoon, Trump “has leveraged his wealth, celebrity, and manipulation of the media […] into political prominence,” as Robert Tracinskiy—one of their many detractors—writes in The Federalist.
  5. Like Berlusconi, Trump “makes his own life, personality, and outrageous statements the center of a national political circus act” (ibidem)
  6. Berlusconi’s political success largely benefited from the backwardness of the Italian Left—let’s not forget that the Democratic Party is made up mostly of former Communists, whose totalitarian tendencies are well known and, so to speak, encoded in its DNA—just as Trump might benefit from the Democrats’ march toward socialism.
  7. Both Berlusconi and Trump exploited voters’ rage at a discredited political establishment. In Italy, it was their own poor reputations in voters’ eyes that prevented established politicians, viewed as inept, corrupt, boring and uninterested in the concerns of ordinary Italians, from fending off Berlusconi’s challenge, as Rula Jebreal—a Palestinian foreign policy analyst and journalist with dual Israeli and Italian citizenship—puts it. Similarly, Trump has managed to tap into real anger and disillusionment with the American political class and a gridlocked political system, viewed as incapable of taking action to relieve the plight of middle class Americans, much less help the poor.
  8. Another similarity between Trump and Berlusconi, as Severgnini fairly notes, is that “they both bring to politics a flair for seduction that served them well in their previous careers in construction, television and entertainment (and elsewhere, or so it’s said). They know their message ought to be reassuring and easily digestible. Both are convinced that, in an era obsessed with appearances, image is key.”
  9. Furthermore, Trump’s recent sexist attacks on female candidates and journalists—such as opponent Carly Fiorina and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—remind us of when Berlusconi dismissed opponents as “too ugly to be taken seriously,” or when he referred to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel using two derogatory terms in a telephone conversation with a newspaper editor.
  10. Last but not least, both of them are hardcore narcissists...

So far, however, those who have written about how much Trump and Berlusconi are similar have focused mostly on the negative aspects of their respective personalities and behaviors. Therefore their main contribution to the discussion was to warn public opinion about the absolute necessity of stopping the “populist insurrection” of Donald Trump. A bit too simplistic and one-sided, in my view. They don’t take into account (at least) two important considerations.

First, not everything Berlusconi did was bad. He did good things as well, and sometimes very good things such as his “epoch-making” operation—though somehow incomplete—of legitimizing the Right within the Italian political system. As Italian historian and columnist Ernesto Galli della Loggia put it, Berlusconi “has re-established the Right electorally and in government, but has failed to restore its social or cultural legitimacy. He has failed in the only way this is ever accomplished, by creating and establishing at grass roots a real party, organized and structured as such, a vehicle for demands, a hub for relations with various circles and people, a formulator of proposals and a collector of ideas.”

Second, unlike what many seem to think, not everything Trump does and says is wrong, vulgar, clownesque, etc. “Trumpism,” as Charles Murray puts it in this WSJ Saturday essay, “is an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.” Believe me, this is not a partisan point of view but an intellectually honest overview of America and its society: definitely a must read for everyone to understand what is at stake in the next few months.

What I do agree with some critics of the “magical duo” is their warning that to dismiss Donald Trump as a joke, as many Italians did with Silvio Berlusconi early on, and many Americans continue to do with the New York tycoon, would be a terrible mistake in any case. On the other hand, apart from being unjust per se, obsessing over him would be yet another big mistake. By the way, from his own point of view Severgnini is perfectly right: “to obsess over him is exactly what the man wants. ‘You see?’ he can say. ‘They all gang up on me, those establishment types!’” Besides, this would be yet another similarity with the Berlusconi case.



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February 23, 2016

Books




Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means.


~ Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, 1980 (English translation by William Weaver, 1982).




When Umberto Eco wrote The Name of the Rose (it was released in Italy in 1980, followed by French and English editions two years later) he could never have imagined what a cultural phenomenon he'd created. No one who loves and cares about books and their fate in the present world should miss reading, re-reading and reflecting upon this great novel. The Name of the Rose is a book that speaks of other books, a book whose main focus are the books themselves...



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February 14, 2016

Trump’s America


Are you dismayed by Trumpism? Well, you definitely are in good company. But you’d better read this WSJ Saturday essay by Charles Murray before you jump to hasty conclusions, because Trumpism is nothing but “an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.” And the historic American identity is rooted in the Anglo-Protestant heritage and what we may call the very idea of America… As historian Richard Hofstadter once said, “It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.” But this is just the prologue. Highly recommended.



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December 10, 2015

What Is Your Relationship with Power?





Rhine-gold! Rhine-gold! / guileless gold! / O would that thy treasure / were glittering yet in the deep! / Tender and true ’tis but in the waters: / false and base are all who revel above!



~ Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold (Der Ring des Nibelungen, Vorabend), 1854, first performance: September 22, 1869, National Theatre Munich.




What is your relationship with power? If you ask me what is my personal philosophy on this, the answer is in the above quoted “Rhine Daughters’ Lament” at the end of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold...



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November 28, 2015

The Sainte Baume


The Sainte Baume (click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of  BACKYARDPROVENCE

Last night while attending a conference on medieval studies, I heard the speaker touching on a subject I happen to be quite fond of, the Sainte Baume, which is a sanctuary in Southern France, in Provence. I first stumbled upon that place almost by chance—and suddenly fell in love with it—several years ago. Since then I went back a couple of times, and always enjoyed the magic of the location.

Most of the charm of the Sainte Baume comes from an old legend or tradition, according to which Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha, Martha’s maid Martilla, Maximinus, one of the Lord’s seventy-two disciples, and Cedonius, expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land, traversed the Mediterranean Sea in a frail boat and landed at the place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, near Arles. Then they traveled by land to Massilia (Marseille). Here is how Jacobus de Voragine tells the story:

Then fourteen years after the passion and ascension of the Lord, long after the Jews had killed Stephen and expelled the rest of the disciples from Judean territory, the disciples went off to spread the word of the Lord in the various regions inhabited by the Gentiles. At that time blessed Maximinus, one of the Lord’s seventy-two disciples, was with the apostles, and it was to his care that Peter had entrusted Mary Magdalene. When the disciples went their separate ways, the blessed Maximinus, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha, Martha’s maid Martilla, and the blessed Cedonius, who had been blind from his birth but was cured by the Lord together with many other Christians, were put on board ship by unbelievers and set adrift on the sea without pilot so that they should be all drowned. But by God’s will they reached Marseilles. There they found nobody prepared to take them in, so they sheltered under the portico of a shrine where the people of the region worshipped. When the blessed Mary Magdalene saw the people streaming to the shrine to sacrifice to their idols, she got up, quite calmly, and with a serene expression on her face and with measured words, began to turn them from their idol worship and with great single-mindedness to preach the Gospel of Christ. Everyone there admired her for her beauty, for her eloquence and for her sweet manner of speaking. And it is no wonder that the lips which had pressed kisses so loving and so tender on our Lord’s feet should breathe the perfume of the word of God more copiously than others.
[The Golden Legend, Jacobus de Voragine]

The Sainte Baume
(Click to enlarge)
After this, Mary Magdalene is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume (“Holy Cave”, baumo in Provençal), where she spent the last thirty years of her life.

The route to the Sainte Baume is very beautiful and scenic. Leaving the nice village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, the road winds its way up the hill. Pilgrims and visitors must park their car in the Hostellerie de La Sainte Baume, which is run by the Dominican sisters. From the old Hostellerie, which stands alone in a wooded valley, a path leads to the austere cliff and the sanctuary carved in the mountain.

As I already touched on, every detail of the sanctuary, starting from the physical characteristics of the site itself, has its own magic, but there are no words, or pictures, or videos that can capture the essence and beauty of the place. You just have to go there!

Ah, I almost forgot—when I first went there it was the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22, as I realized once I was there and unexpectedly got involved in the celebrations...



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November 25, 2015

Holden Caulfield's Favorite Books




What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.


~ J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951.




I couldn't agree more with this quote, which is deeply true in its naivete. Of course, like any great quote, it should be adapted to the current situation—the 50s were the age of telephone, the current age is that of the Internet and the social media...



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November 16, 2015

A Christian Story in the Spirit of C.S. Lewis

The story is set in a dystopian future in which humans have built walls and barricades to protect themselves from a world that has become a very dangerous place… A centuries-old wall stands over 30 meters high and 5 meters thick. It encircles the entire village, called the Wee, and keeps the demons out. Of course, at the same time, it locks people in. But one day the demons—not mere metaphors, but flesh and blood living entities—break through the village walls. A restless and somewhat impetuous sixteen-year-old girl named Fox Fire joins Cross Academy to be trained for the fight against the evil monsters. Things get more and more complicated when Fox Fire’s best friend KI—who had his parents killed by the demons several years before—becomes he himself demon possessed.

Pleasantly and colorfully written, Cross Academy is recommended if you like dark epic fantasy. But this book is more complex (structurally and thematically) than you’d think. In fact it is written by an American committed and devout Christian, Valicity Garris, in the spirit of C.S. Lewis. It’s a Christian story, though an unconventional one, which reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).



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November 10, 2015

A Powerful and Mesmerizing Story

This book was definitely worth my time and I am glad to have read it! Not that I’m a big reader of the fantasy fiction genre—even though perhaps Blood and Soul, by Allen G. Bagby, transcends its genre and seeks to understand the basis of human existence, and that’s also why I enjoyed the read so much, and once started reading I couldn’t put it down. Fascinating and complex characters, sparkling dialog, and intriguing plots combine to create a powerful and mesmerizing story that I highly recommend to all lovers of fantasy and high adventure.

Set in a world similar to our Middle Ages, in a land called Agontica (a full-color map is available for download from the Author’s web-site), the story is a Hero’s Journey—a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual one—with all the archetypal, symbolic elements: the Hero (the bastard Prince Ledarrin), the Antagonist (Mathagel), the Mentor, etc.

Simply put, the story has all the ingredients of a blockbuster epic: loyalty, intrigue, betrayal, war, survival, magic… At the same time, though, it is more than that: in this book you will also find history, theology, ethics, and politics. Which is something that adds a lot of value to the book and encourages the reader to think differently about life and the issues we deal with.



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November 8, 2015

A Perfect Dystopia

In an Author’s note at the end of the book, Peter Meredith tells us that A Perfect America was inspired by two things. The first is the 2012 election—“a bit of a shock to many conservatives,” he recalls: “It seemed that a perfect storm had aligned against the president—terrible economic news, bad job reports four years running, skyrocketing debt, and poor performance in foreign policy—made it seem like the republican nominee would be a shoe-in.” But no, Romney lost to Obama. “It made me wonder,” Meredith continues, “if Romney couldn’t win in this situation when could another Republican ever win and what would happen if they never won again? I took the thought and ran with it. Though with history as a primer it didn't take much imagination. We don’t have to look past the Bolshevik revolution to see that a culture could be utterly destroyed and replaced with something almost exactly like what is described in A Perfect America. Scary indeed.“ Yep, scary! A perfect dystopia. Take a look at the Timeline of A Perfect State:

“2016— Defense of Marriage Act declared unconstitutional
[…]
2018—President offers blanket pardon to all illegal aliens. “No human is illegal!”
2019— Full Implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act
2020— Cost of Patient Protection and Affordable Care act greater than expected. Top Marginal Tax rate increased to 49%.Healthy Americans Law—among other things the law prohibits use of Transfats and restricts the amount of sugar in canned beverages and cereal.”

And so on, in a crescendo of liberal madness and Orwellian lunacy…, until

“2074— Private ownership of business declared illegal
2077— Freedom of Speech(Including freedom of the Press) is curtailed, determined to be of ―less importance‖ than the protection of the State and the Party.
2078—Fourth and fifth Amendments declared unconstitutional.
2080—Census shows steady population decline and continued negative population growth. New Population Laws are passed—cash rewards are given per child.
2081— Religion is declared illegal. Worship of God is considered subversive.
2082— The Greater Constitution of America ratified—this mainly dictates the rights of the State and the obligations of the citizenry.”

After all, as the good old Abe Lincoln once said “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

The second source of inspiration , says Meredith, is the Bible. But let’s postpone it for a while… The story is the following: in the year 2122, in the perfect state of America—in which the government owns everything and is everything, and religion, capitalism, homosexuality, and freedom of speech are illegal—Phil Tarsus is an Inquisitor, a man who is used to inflicting pain and causing terror, who makes a living rooting out and executing those people who have been charged with treason against the sanctity of the State. Yet, Stephen, a self-confessed gay sentenced to death by stoning, challenges him with strange, archaic concepts such as redemption and God…

Did you get it now? Phil Tarsus is nothing else but Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle who tortured and persecuted Christians—and was witness to the stoning of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr—until, on the road to Damascus, he experienced a vision of Jesus that forever changed his life. The 2012 election and the Bible. “Merge the two halves of the story and A Perfect America is born,” says Meredith.

All in all, therefore, the book provides the reader with both a warning and a sense of hope—there is always a way of escape. Even from the worst of all possible dystopias.

Thought-provoking, fast paced and well-plotted, this book is something I highly recommend for any lover of thriller novels and political fiction. Needless to say, a must-read for Conservatives and Libertarians.



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November 7, 2015

Quote of the Day



At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.


~ Abraham Lincoln, Address before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838



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