Back from Babylon

November 30, 2008

Well, Avignon. Over Thanksgiving Break I traveled there, to the site of the medieval “Babylonian Captivity” – when the popes lived in Avignon rather than Rome.

Why were they in Avignon? Basically, in 1309 a French pope was elected and, rather than traveling to Rome, which was dangerous at the time (Roman aristocrats constantly feuded over who was pope, with various intrigue, etc), he elected to stay in Avignon. The Curia and supporting cast moved to Avignon to accommodate him, and the popes stayed there until 1377. This resulted in the French king having a lot of influence over the Church – obviously, if the pope is in France, the pope can’t do anything the French king dislikes without fearing repercussions.

Now, I’d say the Babylonian Captivity was not a particularly bright spot in Catholic history. The seat of the papacy is Rome – they’re not really allowed to move just because the king of France will protect them (provided they do what he tells them to).

But, that didn’t stop me enjoying the fruits of that Captivity – there is a very cool Gothic papal palace in Avignon, and a city wall built by the popes that is somehow still intact. I guess there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the fruits of what we do not approve of… or is there? If there is, there are some issues with ever studying art, literature, music, etc, since any work not by an orthodox Catholic would be suspect. I don’t think we want to say that.


Revised Plans

November 22, 2008

So, due to some mix-ups in the train schedules (basically, the Trenitalia website has no bearing on reality and so, when we went to Termini to actually make our reservations, we found out that the trains we wanted to take didn’t exist), my plans for next week have changed. Instead of going to Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, I’m going to southern France – Lyon, Avignon, and maybe some other towns. We don’t know exactly what yet. Which will be cheaper than Spain would have been anyway, but I would rather have seen Spain…

Also, just a heads-up that it would be foolish of anyone to expect me to respond to anything between next Wednesday and Monday.

Since I didn’t end up going anywhere this weekend (I was exhausted, somewhat sick, and lazy), the trip above described will probably be the only one remaining for me this semester. Though I might go somewhere the weekend after that (Dec. 4-6), depending on if I feel like actually studying for the finals I would have the following Monday (Dec. 7). My flight back to Irving is on Dec. 13th – only three weeks away.
Things should get back to normal-ish for me after that – you know, regular posts here (instead of random gaps of two weeks) and actually working on Orbivm a decent amount.

That’s all the housekeeping for now, I think. More interesting posts to come after I get back from France, probably.

The Goddess

November 21, 2008

We recently read Shakespeare’s play Othello in class. Now, I had already heard something about the play, and knew the basic plot, but I did not really expect to find the play as powerful as it was… and, strangely, it was not the character of Iago (who is considered the most interesting part of the play) that caught my attention, but rather the character of Desdemona. So I’m going to try to explain why this is.

Now, Desdemona is essentially a Virtue figure, in contrast with Iago the Vice figure (the entire play being based structurally on medieval morality plays, with Othello in the middle of these two forces). But, this is not a morality play. All of the characters in it are human, not allegories, I should hope – otherwise, why the hell are we even reading this play rather than just reading Mankind? And indeed, Desdemona is not purely virtuous – she definitely screwed up in eloping with Othello, for example.

But what’s interesting about Desdemona is how all of the men in the play interact with her (except Iago, who is a different story altogether). Even if she is human, none of them view her as such – they all see her basically as a goddess, someone to be worshiped because she is amazingly virtuous, beautiful, etc etc. And of course all the guys in the play seem to be in love with her because of this (Roderigo, Michael Cassio, Othello obviously…). And Othello is finally brought to kill Desdemona by Iago suggesting that she is not, actually, perfect, and is actually cheating on him.

So, we have an extremely virtuous woman, who is nonetheless human. How do we know she is human, not a goddess? Because we examined her faults and concluded she had them. Othello was under the delusion that she was a goddess as well, and was finally disabused of that notion – and brought to hate her – by examining her faults and concluding she had them. Drawing a loose connection between these two, it seems to me that, Othello is suggesting something like this: “When you are in love with someone in this disorderly worshipful way, the only way to stop worshiping them is to decide that they are not perfect – which will result in you not loving them at all”.

That’s a kind of disturbing thought. It means there is, really, no connection at all between true love and the kind of infatuation Othello is engaged in…

Venice, Florence, Assisi

November 17, 2008

I just took a class trip to Venice, Florence, and Assisi.

Overall, I liked Florence the best – but, I think, that was at least somewhat because I went into it disposed to like Florence the best, knowing that Dante Alighieri (the greatest poet-philosopher to ever live) and Michelangelo (one of the greatest sculptors and painters to ever live) both came from there. I was also disposed not to really like Venice, because the very idea of Venice irritates me (don’t frickin’ build a city on a frackin’ sandbar unless you’re damn sure you can make sure it won’t sink on you! The city deserves what’s coming to it, I’d say) – and it didn’t help that I’d been to Stockholm, the “Venice of the North”, the previous week, and enjoyed that much more than Venice itself (I was constantly comparing the two). Assisi I knew little about going in, other than it was the home of Saint Francis.

But I’ll try to just look at the cities themselves, minus my preconceptions. First of all, Venice. Well, when we were there it was raining the entire time. I love the rain, but, in Venice when it rains all the streets flood (as in, 3-6 inches of water in some places and they have to put up elevated walkways – it’s called acqua alta)
and it’s really unpleasant to walk around, which is all there is to do in Venice except go into expensive museums that I’m not interested in (I hate most museums – perhaps a post on this later). Venice is basically a huge tourist trap, after all – a bunch of souvenir shops and expensive restaurants. It’s definitely not a city I would want to hang out in for a long period of time. It is beautiful though – the whole built-on-water aspect may be idiotic, but it does make for some picturesque views. So, Venice is pretty to look at, but not that much fun to actually be in, I’d say. At least when raining.

Florence is strange for a number of reasons. FIrst of all, it has museums I actually like. The Accademia, for example, which houses Michelangelo’s David, is actually not bad as museums go, although small. It also has some cool churches, though I didn’t get to go into as many as I wanted. The Baptistery, for example, has some cool mosaics on the ceiling. But Florence is also kind of a slum, the entire city through; except for the area right near the river, it’s really run-down, kind of poor-looking actually, and there’s graffiti everywhere (though that’s true of most of Italy, really). I enjoyed walking around in it nonetheless (it’s actually more flavorful than walking around in generic middle-class neighborhoods), but it could have been better. It’s also rather irritating that you have to pay to get into most of the churches (apparently Florence doesn’t get enough voluntary donations to its churches so it needs to charge for them).

Assisi was probably objectively the best place we went. It reminded me of Delphi in Greece, actually – both are mountain/hill small towns that are pilgrimage sites, Assisi for St. Francis and Delphi for the Oracle. So Assisi had the natural beauty going for it, and the architecture of the entire city was quite medieval (old bricks and stone-paved roads). And it was very peaceful – the city itself was quiet, and when we hiked up to a nearby hermitage it was completely silent. Very relaxing. Assisi is a tourist town, sort of, but not in the same way as Venice – people don’t usually come to Assisi unless they’re interested in the spiritual aspect, so it’s a more sincere kind of tourism, I think. And Assisi has some cool medieval churches. Overall, then, I think Assisi was the best.

So, objectively speaking, Assisi > Venice > Florence. But personally, I have to say, Florence > Assisi > Venice. At least in terms of how much I enjoyed the cities, that’s definitely the order they’re in.

The Land of the Ice and Snow

November 11, 2008

This last weekend, I went to Stockholm, in Sweden, leaving on Friday and returning early Sunday morning.

Now, I went to Stockholm just because it’s in Scandinavia, and I wanted to go somewhere in Scandinavia before the semester ended. I bought the tickets back in September, but didn’t do any research whatsoever before going, and so had no idea what to expect. I was prepared to be disappointed.

It turns out, though, that Stockholm is simply a stunning city visually. The mood of the city was set by its beautiful blondes in somber black clothing walking amidst multi-colored ancient apartment buildings as if the two went naturally together. This fit perfectly with the weather, which was chilly but not cold, and very slightly overcast). There was also natural beauty; walking along the harbor was amazing, and some of the islands (like Kastellholmen) were a mix of rocky and grassy parkland and quaint-looking 18th-/19th-century “castles” and churches.

So it was a lot of fun to just walk around the city, and I did that a decent amount. This is one of my favorite things to do in new cities, after all; when I was alone in Cologne for eight hours over ten-day I just wandered around aimlessly for at least two or three of them. I think Stockholm is one of the best cities I’ve been in for simply wandering around for aesthetic pleasure.

But my other favorite thing to do is to go into random churches, and at this, Stockholm failed. There were very few churches – well, fewer than in, say, Rome or Munich – and those that there were, were Lutheran. Going into Lutheran churches does not particularly interest me.

This was, of course, expected. I knew Scandinavia was mostly agnostic, and nominally Lutheran not Catholic. But it was still disappointing, in a sense; I could not help but imagine how awesome Stockholm would have been if it had had this going for it as well. If Stockholm had been Catholic, I think it might have been my favorite city in Europe so far.

But that is just wishful thinking. Obviously Stockholm is not going to turn Catholic any time soon. That leaves me seeing Stockholm, and thus all of Scandinavia, in a wishful light; it was amazing, but it could have been more, so much more.


November 6, 2008

A simple question… why do we inherit the possessions of our parents? It makes sense that we would desire to do so – the evolutionary imperative and all that – but why do we see it as just? It seems in some respects markedly unfair – if you’re born rich, you become rich when your parents die, and if you’re not, you don’t, with no reflection of your own merit.

Does anyone have a good argument for why inheritance is justified?

I’m not sure, but it perhaps is related to how we see the Constitution as having authority over us even though no one alive ever voted for it. It has been handed down to us, and so keeping it preserves order – there would be chaos if we had to rewrite our constitution every generation. Similarly, there would be chaos if all wealth was redistributed constantly from generation to generation. It is better to allow us to be bound by tradition, which G.K. Chesterton actually called “the democracy of the dead”.

Where from here? (November)

November 4, 2008

This month promises to be… interesting. I’m going to be traveling probably every weekend (though perhaps not – unfortunately, it looks like my plans to go to Stockholm this Friday could fall through), and actually more (we have two breaks that are 5 and 4 days long, respectively). During this time (which is basically the final stretch of my Rome semester – damn, it’s gone by fast), I have to work out what I’m doing next semester (picking classes, figuring out where I’m going to live, making sure I have funding, etc – most of these have deadlines before Dec. 1st). And answering these questions necessitates having some sort of long-term plan (basically, profession and personal vocation). Plus I am in an odd emotional situation that probably won’t get resolved for several more months but that I think about a lot anyway (and enough about that – I can’t know who’s reading this so I won’t be more specific :P ).

I’ll probably end up making it by without actually giving a definite answer to anything not immediately pressing – it’s usually possible to make a decision without actually thinking about the long-term consequences and not have it turn out too badly. But for the time being, I have time, and thus am going to think about them even if I can’t make a decision.

So the problem isn’t that I’m not going to have any free time; it’s more that I’m not going to have any huge breaks (just a few hours here and there, never a full day or two), and small gaps like that tend to get eaten up with worrying about stuff like this. I’ll have free time, I’ll just be distracted. The question of “what should I do here?” is swallowed up by the question “where should I go from here?”. Which is frustrating, because there are things I want to do here (I have a few story ideas I want to work on, I’m working on an Orbivm campaign, etc), but doing them takes more effort than worrying about the future.

Who does this remind me of? In a certain way, it reminds me of Lokka, the villain in the (unfinished) campaign Gali’s Contract (which I am currently working on – though slowly). He, too, is unable to accomplish anything in the present (and is jealous of those who are) because he is distracted (though he is distracted by the past, me by the future). He could have been great, but he was not, and was in fact a hindrance to greatness, because of his distraction. (Depressing, really.)

So this month, I shall be Lokka, the lord the northern Cavernei and great-great-grandson of the dwarf who forged the Thunderblades. I don’t really want to be – I’d rather be Gali, obviously – but these are my predictions, not my aspirations. Lokka it is, then.

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