Popular Culture

Amuse-Bouche For August

It is August. This is the time of year to loll in a hammock, take bribes, and be fanned by eunuchs. But I have no hammock. No one is coming forward with a bribe. And all the eunuchs are clustered where they have always been—in high places, far from here and out of reach. Still, I can dream. In reality, there is no alternative to getting on with the job. This time, though, hot weather gives me a plausible excuse to put aside a proper essay and just . Continue Reading
Keeping It Lite

It was a gift from the Sixties, our user-friendly funeral Mass. Every time I attend one, I come away convinced that resurrection is in the bag. In keeping with the confident, self-affirming modern cosmology that animates our memorials, it is as if the dead were already risen. So why not just strike a commemorative medallion and be done with it? I remember the service arranged for . . . call him Stan. Friends and family stepped to the lectern with smiling eulogies. Continue Reading
In Morte Sumus

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write: From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. —Book of Common Prayer Souls Transformed into Birds (15th C.). Venetian manuscript illustration for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Biblioteca Marciana, Venice. Can we stay awhile with death? This is November, month of the Holy Souls. Poor Souls, in the wording of my childhood. It is the season to remember that “in the midst of life, we are in death.” The Church gives us a full month to consider what the culture around us strains to obscure. Continue Reading
All Hallow's Eve

It cannot be said that a man endures death easily or uneasily when he does not think about it at all. He who feels nothing, endures nothing. —Voltaire
When did I stop liking Halloween? Was it when parents horned in and started dressing up along with their kids? When the previous director of my town library celebrated Hallowmas by showing up in drag? [Honest. He did.] When all the local merchants turned shop windows over to middle schoolers to paint—in washable gouache—ghosts, witches and tombstones that go BOO? Continue Reading
Just For Fun

Trivia question: Do you know this girl? Of course you do. But who knew just how contemporary that Mona Lisa smile could be? A stylized, stock expression in Leonardo’s day, it suddenly looks quite current removed from its Renaissance setting and inserted into a post-modern one. The bloody amputation might be a bit over the top, but the figure’s facial mien—part simper, part sneer—would do nicely in a Vogue photo shoot. Not quite as enigmatic as it has been deemed down the centuries. Continue Reading