Wednesday, April 29, 2009

St. Francis de Sales, "The Cathedral of South St. Louis"

I've often driven past this beautiful church on my way to pick up San Jose Volunteer from her child care job, but I never saw the interior until this past Sunday. Texas Volunteer and I ventured out to the Extraordinary Form (Pre-Vatican II) Latin High Mass at the St. Francis de Sales Oratory. It was my first time at a Mass like that. Despite my growing interest in the EF and my knowledge of Latin, I had mixed emotions when I actually experienced it. It was confusing and frustrating to worship in a way almost completely unlike the Masses I know. I'll have to give the EF another try after I have learned more about it.

Luckily the architecture of the church was easy to love. This soaring Gothic Revival building was completed in 1908 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. German dedications on the stained glass windows remind vistors of the immigrants who labored to build the church.

The 300-foot steeple is visible from several blocks away but badly in need of repair. There's a capital campaign underway to help restore "The Leaning Tower of St. Louis." It was so windy on Sunday we thought the tower mightjust blow over!

Inside, the 52-foot reredos makes the sanctuary the focal point and draws the eye upward. The statues of Mary and John at the Crucifixion remind worshipers what the Mass is all about.
The intricately carved pulpit on the left has panels depicting the four Evangelists.

The angels are watching the Mass too!

I was very impressed by the diligence and reverence of all the altar boys. Maybe if we had sat in a pew this close up the 130-foot aisle we would have a had a better idea of what was going on at Mass.

The nave is also full of artwork and symbolism. Here's the Annunciation fresco in the left transept, above the side altar to the Infant of Prague

Fresco of the Fall of Man in the right transept. The side altar honors Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a patroness of the Institute of Christ the King which staffs the St. Francis de Sales Oratory.

A Sunday of Mass Confusion

Since my Facebook status about this got so much attention, I think I need an entire note to give the full story.

Today I went to an Extraordinary Form High Mass (Traditional Latin/Tridentine/1962 missal etc) for the first time. They have EF masses every week at St. Francis de Sales, this gorgeous Gothic church in south city. One of my roommates works at the child care center next door, so I've always wanted to check it out. I've also gotten hooked on some Catholic blogs that are big fans of the EF - especially Fr. Z's astute writing at

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about the Mass - the sense of mystery, reverence and sacred space, the meditative sounds of chant from the choir loft, the priest's *ad orientem* posture that emphasizes the Mass as sacrifice. I even got up the guts to cover my head, which was actually pretty cool. (Stella, I used the shawl from your wedding which I thought was MUCH cuter than all those lace triangles.)

BUT there were also aspects of the Mass that I just about hated. The biggest problem was that we couldn't hear the priest AT ALL, so even if we were diligently following along in our red booklets we had no idea WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON???? We were sitting toward the back, so the only sounds we caught were the many restless children and the always-droning organ. Still, you'd think they would make better use of the sound system that was there.

I was very very frustrated. I thought I was well-prepared. I've been to the Novus Ordo in Latin. Heck, I took a 300-level Latin course in college. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn't be saying many responses and would need to mentally participate. But to be completely oblivious for most of the Mass? That was maddening and humbling.

So my little brain started ticking away and thinking all these semi-traitorous thoughts that would have made the women in mantillas smack me.
First, I realized that the 1962 rite did need reform. Adding Old Testament readings and more "audience participation" was a good call. I could see how someone observing a Mass pre-Vat II could come away with the impression that Catholic worship is full of goofy, secretive, empty ritual. I could see how there seems like too much emphasis on the priest and servers, to the point that the people in pews don't really need to be there. And do the people in the pews really understand and appreciate what is going on?

Then my historian brain started churning and I suddenly really, really sympathized with the Methodists and Baptists and dozens of other denominations who wanted to get rid of the trappings of religion and just let non-seminary graduates preach in big tent revivals. By the end of the 2 hour Mass I was ready to belt out some good Protestant style hymns rather than sit still in confusion.

So yeah, overall, my first EF Mass was nice, but not the glorious, sublime, vastly superior experience its fans make it out to be. I am still a child of the Novus Ordo, even if I do like Latin chant. I'll give the EF another chance one day, maybe at a different parish. Maybe after I do some serious reading about all the CRAZY vestments the priest was wearing. Also why are the altar boys always touching his sleeve, shoulder, etc?

Oh dear, is it really time for this?

It's annoying to say, but time really is flying by. April is practically over, and that means we have only about 2 months left in our VSC year! Volunteers for next year are already lining up. We current volunteers are realizing that we will soon, even though the weather is growing more beautiful and being outdoors in St. Louis is becoming more fun everyday.

Since the calendar is rapidly swallowing my free weekends, I need to make a list of "must do"St. Louis things before I leave. So far I have already seen/done
  • The Arch
  • Anheuser Busch Factory Tour
  • Missouri History Museum
  • St. Louis Art Museum
  • City Museum
  • Old St. Louis Cathedral
  • Ted Drewes' frozen custard
  • Italian food at Ragazzi's on The Hill
  • cheap happy hour food in the Central West End
  • many, many meals in The Loop (Fitz's, Blueberry Hill, etc. etc.)
  • Cardinals game in Busch Stadium
  • Blues game in the Scottrade Center
  • Walking through Forest Park
  • Kickball League in Tower Grove Park
But I still should get to:
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Forest Park Zoo
  • Science Center
  • paddle boats in Forest Park
  • outdoor theater at the Muny
  • movies at the Moolah, Tivoli
  • Soulard Farmers Market
  • Bellefontaine Cemetery
  • "The Rock" Church/ 2 hour Gospel music Mass
  • St. Francis Xavier/SLU College Church
  • that log cabin church in Cahokia Texas Volunteer wants to visit
  • actually doing good photo shoots of the Cathedral and local parishes now that I have my tripod in town
Not. Enough. Time. To be. A good. St. Louisan.
(Although really, the only way to become a true St. Louisan is to grow up in your grandparents' house here and then attend a notable high school.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

This is what non-profit management looks like

This was our office kitchen at lunchtime on Friday. See what a ridiculous amount of free food is always lying around? We have Easter candy co-workers wanted to unload, leftovers from the early morning Board of Directors meeting, a volunteer's leftover birthday cake, and the bread from someone's lunch sandwiches.

It's a good thing for me most of it is gluten. (Although GF Nurse did bring me a fudge cupcake!)

I'd like say I stuck to the fruit bowl, but those mini Cadbury eggs were calling me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Give me your arms for the brokenhearted"-Brandon Heath

In the VSC house we have dinner and prayer as a group 3 times a week. Tonight New York Volunteer was in charge of prayer, and did a great job as always. You can always tell her teaching background by the handouts and visual aids she prepares. She started with this song by Brandon Heath, which gets stuck in your head and urges you to share God's compassion.
Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see.

I once wished I had's God's ability to constantly be present with and know the heart of every person. I'd be so good at staying in touch with all my friends then! Really, this isn't practical for us mere humans. We can't internalize everyone's life story or we'd explode. The trick is to recognize God in the people we meet, if only for the second that they cross our paths.

This idea happens everyday at my job. Maybe it's becuase the Nicest Boss in the World is constantly affirming other people, and it's rubbing off on me. Maybe it's because we try to thank visitors like every donation is the best one ever. Whatever the reason, I love learning the stories of the people who stop by NFNF.

This morning Nicest Boss in the World and I helped two elderly women unload bags of baby clothes from their van. We offered a tour, and one woman asked if her service dog could come. Of course he could! So we welcomed a furry visitor wearing a "Don't Pet Me - I'm Working" vest. He had been abandoned, but some kind soul trained him to offer balance and protection to his fragile new owner.

Later in the day our Development Director walked up cradling a napping baby girl. This precious infant had come with her foster mom, who raises the girl's 7 year old brother and her own 6 year old son besides. I can't imagine taking in additional children only to let them go in a few months, but it's such an important job. The foster mom is white and the baby is African-American, but that's not really important. What is special is that the foster mom's son is learning to welcome and care for vulnerable people, if only for a brief moment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

St. John's Retreat Center in Plymouth, MI

Ok, we really didn't hang out in the swanky hotel lobby during the Vincentian Family Gathering, but I did get to spend some time with interesting church architecture.

According to a brochure at the front desk, the main chapel is done in an "almost-Medieval" adaptation of the Umbrian Style. Dedicated in 1955, it served as the chapel for St. John's Seminary until the school closed in 1988. (And was converted into a retreat center/popular wedding location, I assume.)

I liked that the Woman clothed with the Sun is depicted on the left- hand part of the mosaic.

Pews were in a choir arrangement. Note the marble inlaid floors. The walls are rough-textured Mankato stone and the pews are oak. (Hopefully after grad school I can throw around terms like that more easily.)

The Holy Family Chapel for daily Mass is definitely more modern. The room is a rectangle, but seating is in the round.

The tile circle patterns echo the patio tiles of the Mary garden outside. Overall the effect of the basement setting is coziness, not claustrophobia.

The tabernacle chapel? nook? was full of lovely sunlight and featured icons of Mary and Joseph. All the artwork in the chapel was printed on lucite and lit from behind.

This is a nice surprise

The VSC secretary just informed me that yesterday's post on the Vincentian Family Gathering has been quoted on FamVin, the international Vincentian family website. Wow! Frankly, I'm flattered that Fr. John and his team found me and thought I was worth mentioning.

If you are visiting from there, welcome! This started out as a private blog of sorts, but now I write for a more general audience. I always like to see more visitors to my little corner of the Catholic blogosphere :D Please feel free to leave comments and/or visit me again!

Finally, a new Archbishop!

Exciting news this morning:
Pope Benedict XVI announced the appointment of The Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson as Archbishop of St. Louis. Bishop Carlson is currently Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw Michigan.
Huzzah!!! By all accounts I have seen, Bishop Carlson is a dedicated pastor who did great work encouraging priestly vocations and Catholic schools in Saginaw.

This excellent article gives many clues about Carlson's pastoral approach:
Carlson is said to be distressed when he meets Catholics who have worked to advance their knowledge of professional skills and a wide range of topics from politics, hobbies, cooking to sports but have made no effort as an adult to learn about their faith. Those letter writers showed “clear examples of the erosion in Catholic formation for the last two generations,”
Those words speak to what I have observed in the Church during my few months here. St. Louis is a very Catholic town in terms of lovely buildings, tall steeples, and prestigious private high schools, but many STL natives make their faith only a nominal affair. Their Catholic education ended when nuns stopped grading their tests.
I am unable to form much of a personal opinion about Archbishop Burke, but I do know that he was a very authoritative, at times polarizing, figure. There are some people here who adored him, but there are also many who still love to hate him. It sounds like Bishop Carlson knows what is needed to bring about much needed healing.
“Kindness, courtesy, meekness, gentleness, humility, patience, prudence and eager concern are the virtues which must describe the pastoral ministry of the bishop."

Welcome to St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson!

Monday, April 20, 2009

One Big Moter City Family

This weekend the VSC girls made our long-awaited road trip to the Vincentian Family Gathering conference in Detroit. It was a busy and enlightening weekend. We sat through 3.5 days of talks and met Daughters of Charity, Congregation of the Mission priests, and Society of St. Vincent De Paul (SVDP) volunteers from all over the country. Our West Coast VSC counterparts were also there.
Hearing about the work other people do is always a great shot in the arm. Here's a sample:
  • The Hispanic parish in Charlotte, NC that offers a monthly free medical clinic
  • Sr. Elizabeth, who shares her sweet smile with incarcerated teens on an Arizona Reservation. She visits them, encourages them to hang onto Native traditions, and fights for the detention centers to offer more job training and rehabilitation
  • The Samaritan Center, a former Detroit hospital that is now a collaborative social service center. The huge facility houses an urgent care center, job search facility, assisted living home, dialysis center, small businesses, and a future mental health facility. Keeping the place clean and bright is a central component of respect for their clients. The staff is also great - we met a nurse decked out in gold jewelry who is possibly the most loving dialysis nurse on the planet. She cheerily greeted every elderly patient like they were her relatives.
  • On the Rise Bakery, a joint effort of Capuchin monks and the released prisoners and recovering addicts they mentor. Fr. Ray nearly broke down and wept as he told us about the men who started the business and their determination to build better lives for themselves.
I used to think the abundance of non-profits was a depressing sign of the state of the world. I could never donate to every single one, and they clearly hadn't succeeded in completely changing the world. Now I see the hope and encouragement in so many efforts to reverse poverty. A dozen impassioned, closely-knit local groups can be more specialized and effective than one government agency wrapped in red tape.

Meeting other non-profits is also good for getting ideas and forming potential partnerships. We did a lot of VSC publicity this weekend, since our program is pretty obscure even in the Vincentian world. (If the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is Diet Coke, VSC is RC Cola.) Once we had explained the year-long service in community concept, people loved it. They all seemed to be thinking "Where I can get one of these?" Could there be a VSC-Detroit one day?

The whole VFG gave me a lot to consider, not just about social justice but also the future of the Church and my own calling. This is probably going to be a multi-poster - tune in tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Scenes from my 'hood

You know what I don't miss about the DC suburbs? Vinyl siding. None of the houses here have it. Instead, every little house is made of brick, stone, and/or stucco. Their sturdy coziness never gets old as I travel around the neighborhood.

You know what else never gets old? Going to my library for a tote full of books. It's more modern-looking than most buildings near my house, and its insides are eclectic and intriguing. The books aren't the only cool part, the people there are fascinating. There's the tall man with the knit rasta hat who always works the front desk. There are moms with toddlers, people with backpacks napping in chairs, college kids thumbing the DVD cards. And then there are the Orthodox Jewish guys, who fascinate me. They lope along like any guy in his twenties, calling friends on their cells. The only difference is the yarmulkes on their head and the tallis fringe peeking from their fleece jackets. I've always felt like I appreciated my Jewish ancestry, but I've never lived in a town where you can see people walking to synagogue every Saturday afternoon.

I'm not ADD, but my library card is. I always feel like I'll be uncultured or bored if all my books are the same. Here's what I got this time:

Doc In the Box and Accessory to Murder - two of the Elaine Viets mystery novels I am hooked on
The Covenant - a sappy novel in which our Amish heroine battles intrigue. American sects and cults ahoy!
One Hundred Years of Solitude - One of those "books everyone should read" I hear it's about history and memory, which is a bonus
Stalin's Children - Three generations of Russian history. I should also get back in touch with the Eastern European history I used to obsess over.
The Flying Inn - I should also get acquainted with G. K. Chesterton, since he's one of those snarky Catholic authors people always quote.
Oscar Wilde's Short Stories - Once in a while, you need some British witticisms.
Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean - How could I not read this book? The author even lives in Kingston, Jamaica.

Whether I will actually read all of these remains to be seen. I suppose if I really want to be a Renaissance woman, I should pick up some science fiction or math theory. That would definitely be thinking outside my usual box!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

The VSC House is so full of Easter candy and cupcakes you might get diabetes walking in the door. There's also leftover ham, potato casserole, and fruit salad. Not to mention my GF chocolate cake with jelly bean Empty Tomb. It's been a fun, relaxing Easter Sunday. Two of the girls had family come into town, so we had quite the full house for brunch. We gave each other "Secret Bunny" baskets of goodies. The Easter Bunny (aka Texas Volunteer) even hid eggs full of jelly beans and confetti poppers around the house. Now we're crashed on the couches, uploading and tagging Facebook pictures of the day.

This has been a lovely, and at times lonely, Triduum. Last year I practically lived in the Catholic Campus Ministry chapel during Holy Week. I always had a crowd of friends around to pray, laugh, sing, and eat with. This year the VSC girls have done some services together, but last night I went to the Vigil Mass alone. I missed my family too, who were all pumped up to see Little Brother #2 serve at "the Mother of All Vigils" (MOAV) back in Virginia.

Two Daughters of Charity were at my Vigil, though, and they insisted on driving me the 50 feet to my house after Mass. It was 10pm after all :-) The Vigil is inherently beautiful - you can't not get goosebumps from blessing sacred fire and hearing the Exultet sung. The ritual can overcome musical ridiculousness, like the tambourine-accompanied musical number the choir director tried to create out of Moses parting the Red Sea. The same guy chose Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus for the communion hymn. I think he is seriously confused.

Mass at the Cathedral this morning, on the other hand, was blissfully magnificent. I was alone again, naturally, but it was worth it. I played in some abridged bell pieces, and just generally enjoyed being part of the choir but not actually having to sing like a professional. Of course the "Christus Vincit" and Hallelujah Chorus nearly reduced me to tears. This Mass was bittersweet, since it might very well be my last playing bells. I hate to leave just when I am finally a good ringer and recognized as part of the group. The "boys club" of lower register bells seems to accept me. Karen, our director, said I am a great ringer. The sacristan even knows I need a low-gluten communion host saved! Dear Pope Benedict, please assign STL an archbishop ASAP so I can play in his installation Mass. Thanks.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs

It's Good Friday, the saddest but most meaningful day of the year. The Triduum of Holy Thursday/Good Friday/Holy Saturday is definitely my favorite time of year as we relive Jesus' last days in real time. I'll be spending a lot of time in church this weekend, attending the most beautiful liturgies of the year. Yesterday I even got to see Bishop Hermann bless holy oils at the Chrism Mass.

Growing up, my family always watched a lot of Bible movies during Lent.
Yesterday's article in Slate about gory, gaudy Passion productions put on by Fundamentalist churches. I had no idea Cirque de Soleil-meets-Salvation History was such a trend right now. The article raises the valid point that the Gospels really aren't the stupendous epics these plays make them out to be. I've seen dozens Jesus movies and none are exactly the riveting "Greatest Story Ever Told" their billing promises. Maybe it's because we know what is coming - some Roman soldiers, some skeptical Pharisees, some preaching to crowds of extras in long robes. It's not quite action-packed. The accounts of Jesus' life are more like ancient tragedies than epics, full of dialogue until the main character meets a rapid and brutal end.

Unfortunately, this article got bogged down in the dialogue. In the process, the author missed the entire point of Easter. He suggested that instead of the Passion, churches should look to
a stirring parable Jesus told about a rich man who sends invitations for a fabulous dinner party, only to have no one accept. So the rich man has his servants round up "the poor and crippled and blind and lame," .... With the fast of Lent over, churches hoping to share their beliefs could take Jesus' parable as a suggestion: Throw a dinner. Make it lavish. "Go out to the highways and the hedges," as the rich man said, and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. What kind of story would that tell?
Treating poor people with compassion and dignity - what a concept! It's not like thousands church pantries and religious outreach programs do that every single day of the year. Jesus' death and resurrection are only a disturbing postscript to his career as a "good moral teacher." Let's just give away free stuff and everyone will convert.

St. Paul wrote that "we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." It really must seem absurd to non-Christians. They read about this nice man defying religious authority and preaching compassion, so far so good. Then suddenly he's arrested, flogged, tortured, and publicly executed. That is hardly feel-good literature. God willfully choosing for his Son to suffer in a humiliating manner seems illogical. It's not even epic- some obscure person dies in a backwater town.

And yet, it also makes perfect sense. Love one another as I have loved you, Christ commanded. How much did He love? Enough to be arrested, flogged, tortured, and publicly executed for our sake. Enough to quietly endure the same anguish that His creation brought on itself by sin.

Anyone I work with, even the non-religious people, could tell you about the anguish of sin in the world. We see it every day in the lives of our clients. Many of these women have been beaten by boyfriends, ripped off by landlords, enslaved by addiction, raped by men they trusted. They may be guilty of anger of neglect towards their little children. There are oceans of pain in this world caused by selfishness and bad decisions. It takes more than free diapers and or even lavish dinners to change that.

How do you solve such pain? By facing it head on. That's the beauty of the bloody Passion. I'll admit, it used to terrify me. As a child, I hid from crucifixes and the Good Friday scenes in Jesus movies. Then I heard someone describe Christ's death as the most beautiful love song ever written. There is something so comforting, so profound about worshipping a God who endured the spectrum of human misery and pain. For anyone who has ever been backstabbed, abandoned, treated injustly, physically attacked, reduced to the clothes on their back; there is an image in the Gospels of God experiencing the same thing. Through that painful experience, his love purified this sinful world.

He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Beautiful buildings can help you survive political debates

On Monday night Intern #4 and I went to a roundtable discussion about health care reform. The event was hosted by SLU's social work school and Center for Social Justice, so she knew everyone organizing it. I felt like a little bit of an imposter - as I always do when I'm surrounded by people with MSW degrees - until I remembered that my job at a health care non-profit totally makes me legitimate.

The panel was a combination of community organizers, lobbyists, health care advocates, and one health law professor. I walked away feeling like I had learned a lot about different health reform ideas, but I also felt like I needed to read A LOT more about single-payer vs. an "opt-in" government health plan. In the broad political landscape, the US has to decide which is worse - bigger government or a for-profit health system that leaves many people without care. Within the reform movement, there is also a lot of argument about the best way to change the system.

I'm not a hard-line conservative on this issue, but I decided at the meeting that many Single-payer advocates scare me. They are usually intense and determined, fired up with moral indignation. If you challenge their beliefs, then you are an idiot with no compassion for your fellow human beings. Their logic is often simplistic and questionable, too. "Every other country does this; we should too!" "Picture how much you pay for health care now. Under single payer you pay nothing! Woohoo!" They have no patience for gradual change that would accommodate the many Americans who fear "socialized medicine."

Luckily, the meeting was in a building full of lovely architecture. Il Monastero used to be a Presbyterian church. Now SLU has added several meeting spaces and rents it our for events. The longer I stared at the room in front of me, the more I noticed. Check out the picture - see how each chandelier is unique? And the Romanesque arches within the ceiling beams? And the perfect circles near the walls? The accent wall that's a different color from the rest? The only part I didn't like was the abstract-ish artwork. It was a little unnerving to have a female nude smirking at us in her voluptuous fertility. What exactly was the point of that tryptich, anyway? Intern #4 hates the gaudy carpet. I think that's her social worker frugality talking.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"You're leaving in the morning on an early train" - Phil Collins

I'm really glad I gave up getting rides home for Lent. Taking the bus is teaching me patience and to take things as they come - like when your afternoon train leaves 2 minutes ahead of schedule, pulling away as you try to run to the platform. With all the pockets of waiting time I have, I can read a book, pray the rosary, call my mom. It reminds me of "Jamaica time" on my service trip to Kingston. You get there when you get there, and just have a relaxed attitude as you move through life.

Deciphering the bus schedule and joining the crowds of commuters makes me feel like more of a city-dweller. All week long I have been dying to re-watch Stranger than Fiction, where the bus commute of Will Ferrel's character plays a pivotal role in the plot. I wouldn't mind having Emma Thompson's voice narrate by daily schedule, either.

Stranger than Fiction is not a masterpiece of a movie, but it's a very good one. I'm rather partial to it since it involves many of my favorite things: Emma Thompson, loony professors, ridiculous literary analysis, and Chicago's modern architecture. The soundtrack is pretty good too, and got me interested in the band Spoon. One of their albums got me through my errands today. It was so nice to drive around town with the windows down and peppy rock music coming from the speakers.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What should we add to the National Mall?

The Smithsonian just released the 6 designs under consideration for the upcoming National Museum of African AmericanLink History and Culture. All of the designs are decidedly modern, echoing the National Museum of the American Indian and East Wing of the National Gallery. This building, slated to open 2015, will likely be one of the last additions to the monuments and museums that already line the National Mall.
I'm excited to see how things turn out, and I hope the museum committee chooses something that will fit the dignity of the location. The slide show of options reminded me of HGTV's Designer's Challenge. Will the homeowners go with tasteful but boring, or ambitious and expensive? Will museum planners want a design that already dictate museum placement? Some architects proposed gallery names or "Door of No Return" slave ship mock-ups.

Here's my humble opinion on the slide show presentations.
  1. Not bad. It wouldn't clash with the surrounding neo-classicism, but it wouldn't quite thrill either.
  2. Ummm, this just looks silly. Like an alien structure from a children's TV show. The huge glass walls are a neat concept, but they don't mesh well with the hulking metal blob.
  3. I like this one. The nautilus design makes a good use of space and nature, and reflects the circular Hirshorn gallery. An ascending spiral of galleries to a "Celebration" view of the monuments gives a good sense of journey. My only qualm is that this lends itself to a strict time line interpretation. Visitors might be reluctant to wander as their interests lead them. I'm also imagining a train of school kids running back down to the bottom once they've reached the end of the line.
  4. Tasteful, with an organic feel, but also a little underwhelming. It's basically a decorated box.
  5. What. The. Heck. Oh, I see, it's "a building made of natural materials, rising as of out of bedrock and muck," aka when Stonehenge imploded next to the Reflecting Pool. "Along one side runs a wetlands scene, a nod to historic Tiber Creek that ran through part of Washington. Its glass roof features etchings echoing Yoruba ancestral arts, and it also has an outdoor amphitheater facing Constitution Avenue." This creative-sounding description is code for "ego as huge as the stone pylons." If this were built, it would be all about the structure, not the exhibits inside it. Every aspect, from the ceiling beams to the outdoor projection screens, is in-your-face and over-the-top.
  6. Ahhh, that's better. Dramatic but not like being pelted with boulders. The wood details are stunning, but I'm not sure how all of this would flow together. You can't just slap a ship's hull onto a rectangle. Also, I'm not sure how I feel about the very literal ship's masts at the entrance. African-American history isn't only about the slave trade.

"Lady Madonna, children at your feet, wonder how you manage to make ends meet." ~ The Beatles

Inadequate nutrition for poor people is always a matter of concern, but it's interesting to see how poverty diets have evolved over time. I'm currently reading Sweetness and Power, in which a anthropologist traces the history of sugar consumption and trade. I skimmed over the complicated mechanics of sugar cane processing, but the social history aspects are pretty cool. How did sugar evolve from the luxury of kings into the obesity-causing bane of school children?

Apparently in the Middle Ages sugar was considered a spice to be liberally sprinkled over meats or mixed into wine. It was also a status-symbol. Sumptuous feasts displayed elaborate sugar figurines or models.
Everything changed with colonization and industrialization. Thanks to the Caribbean, rum and sugar were available in large quantities. At the same time, temperance advocates promoted stimulants tea, coffee, and hot chocolate as alternatives to booze.

Here's where poverty comes in. For a family struggling to put food on the table, hot tea made bread and butter feel more like a meal. It didn't hurt that sugar in the tea provided a few extra calories. I was especially intrigued by the observation that poor Englishmen eventually deserted nutritious oatmeal for bread. Once moms began working in factories outside the home, store-bought bread was a lot easier to serve than all-day-simmering porridge. Jam on bread was also a cheap, tasty, sugary alternative to butter. That's right, fast food was already an issue for busy families in the 1840's. Even then, people were relying on caffeine and sugar to get them through the day.