Category Archives: history

Floods I have known.

Three days ago.

More than one of my readers has asked if I live near the potential flooding from the Oroville Dam spillway failure here in Northern California. [Update: Here is a place you can see videos of the scary action http://kron4.com/] I do not. But when I was a babe-in-arms my family lived in the county just south, and I started this post thinking I would paste in a photo — which I can’t find after all — of my mother cradling her swaddled first child as she stands in front of our house in water up to her hips.

It wasn’t the last time my poor parents had to deal with floodwaters and babies at the same time, living as they did in farmland fed by various rivers that had not yet been dammed or hedged out with levees. I’m thankful to say that as an adult, the floods I have known have not caused any personal property damage or even much inconvenience.

May the Lord have mercy!

Through Athanasius wisdom shone.

athanasius_frescoAthanasius of Alexandria has been highly regarded throughout Christian history, East and West. Today is one of his feast days In the Orthodox Church. I first heard of Athanasius when I was a Protestant, because his treatise On the Incarnation was recommended to me many times. I finally read it a few years ago at Christmastime, and found it very encouraging. I notice lots of discussion of Athanasius still going on in the blogosphere in this century.

Athanasius was born about 297 and was present as a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325. It was he who suggested the word “consubstantial” (homoousion) to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father, in opposition to the Arians who believed Christ to be a creature. The word was immediately adopted and became an important point of sound doctrine from then on.

When Bishop Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius reluctantly consented to take the bishopric, and he remained bishop for 43 years, though he spent a total of 17 of those years in exile at the command of four different emperors, and was many times forced to leave the city under threats to his life. These incidents led to the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world.”

I don’t need to repeat what I have written before, or tell you things about St. Athanasius that you can easily discover online, but I wanted to remember this important saint here. Here is are some excerpts from St. Nicolai in his Prologue for today:

Only for a while before his death did he live peacefully, as a good shepherd among his good flock, who truly loved him. Few are the saints who were so mercilessly slandered and so criminally persecuted as was St. Athanasius. His great soul patiently endured all for the love of Christ and, in the end, emerged victorious from this entire terrible and long-lasting struggle.

For counsel, for comfort and for moral support, Athanasius often visited St. Anthony the Great, whom he respected as his spiritual father. A man who formulated the greatest truth, Athanasius had much to suffer for that truth–until the Lord gave him repose in His kingdom as His faithful servant, in the year 373 A.D.

Through Athanasius, wisdom shone,
And the truth of God enlightened men.
The people recognized that wisdom is not bitter,
But, to all who drink it to the bottom, it is sweet;
To all who suffer for it, it is dear.

Found Cousins and Founding Fathers

These men were the reason that Philadelphia became a place we visit for historic tours, and their life-size statues made me really glad I had come. However, if it weren’t for the fact that my cousins live here, I wouldn’t have made the trip.

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It was less than four years ago that I “found” my Pennsylvania cousins after losing contact with them for most of our lives. They were on the east coast, our family was on the west, and when we were children our parents didn’t have the means to get us all together. When my aunt died, I had the time and money to go to her memorial, and since then her three daughters and I have been getting to know each other.

Grace picked me up at the Philadelphia airport; we had made plans to visit some historic sites, so we did that right away. It was still less than one week since the national election, so our government and constitution and the events of our country’s founding were pertinent to all that was on our minds and hearts.

At the National Constitution Center we sat in a theater-in-the-round for a show called “We, the People,” which had rousing recorded music and multimedia images, but was focused on the live performance of a real human with a pleasant voice dramatizing the story of the Constitution of our nation. It was short enough for the shortest attention span, I think, and went by too fast, but I loved the presence and speech of that woman and was glad that our admission fee was contributing to a quality presentation about something fundamental and important to us all.2016-11-14-12-10-29

My favorite part of this place was the bronze statues. Being able to walk so intimately among them and look in their faces was very affecting. I admire those signers of the Constitution, and others of the Founding Fathers who weren’t there at the time, so much! I know, one isn’t supposed to say things like that without mentioning sins that we moderns judge them for. But I don’t think many of us could hold a candle to their bravery and principles, their intelligence, and the hard work they did to hash out the Constitution. I am supremely grateful to them, and I loved this exhibit for reminding me of that.

I like that they have Benjamin Franklin sitting down; he was over 80 at the time and it is said that “though he did not approve of many aspects of the finished document and was hampered by his age and ill-health, he missed few if any sessions, lent his prestige, soothed passions, and compromised disputes.

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Alexander Hamilton’s statue is standing alone, not in conversation with anyone. I would like to read more about the man and find out if there was an artistic reason for that attribution of body language in the placement of him. A day or two after this my cousin Renée played some music from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” for me, and I liked it a lot. If any of my readers has a book about Hamilton that you would recommend, please tell me.

Grace and I went next to Independence Hall, where the Constitution was actually signed, a 250-yr old building whose exterior is largely intact. It was built as the state house for the colony of Pennsylvania, the main part of the building completed in 1748.

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The furniture in the Assembly Room where the signers met is mostly not the original pieces — in fact, the interior of the building itself is nearly all reconstructed/restored — except for two items: 1) the inkstand  used to sign the Declaration of Independence, and 2) the chair that George Washington sat in to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

“At the successful conclusion of the convention, Benjamin Franklin stated that he had looked at the carved sun at the top of the chair many times, but had never known whether it was rising or setting. With agreement on the Constitution, he announced that it was a rising sun, symbolic of the promising future of the United States.” That is why it is called The Rising Sun Chair (picture below).

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Benjamin Franklin’s house used to stand a short walk from Independence Hall. Now its site is a historic exhibit; you can look down into a hole and see some of the brick of the original house, which was Franklin’s Philadelphia residence in the last decades of his life, and you can walk among the rooms that are no longer there.

I liked this exhibit, because of the quotes from his letters printed on floor plaques in the various “ghost rooms,” evidence that he was away a lot in those years. His wife had moved into the house in 1765, but he left for England that year and didn’t even see it until ten years later. He wrote lots of instructions about what he wanted done in and to it, though, plans for curtains and dishes and things. He wrote about his friends, and about building his library:

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Years ago I had turned down an offer from my husband to visit Philadelphia for a day; I told him I’d rather wait until we could stay three nights in the city, so that we’d have two whole days for touring places like this, and more. But now that I’ve had my brief walk-around, I feel satisfied for the time being. Maybe if I spent more time reading about the people and events who are memorialized here, I’d want to come back for longer. But on this trip I was ready to go home with the cousins, and for the remainder of my stay, to live in the present.

Strolling Kate’s neighborhood.

gle-row-housesThough Kate has lived in Washington, DC for almost eleven years, I’d never spent a night in any of her dwellings before. This time, I stayed five nights with Tom and Kate in their apartment that I was seeing for the first time.

I am a country girl who lives in the suburbs – I’ve never in my life been a city-dweller. When I get the chance to take any kind of walking tour of a city with this much history, I find myself stopping and staring a lot. Just the brick row houses could keep me occupied for hours, if I had hours to spare.

131 neighborhoods are unofficially recognized in our nation’s capital. One of them in the “Old City” is Dupont Circle, arranged around streets that extend like spokes from the traffic circle that was part of the original plan for the city, designed for President George Washington in the 1790’s. This is Tom and Kate’s neighborhood for a few more months; you can see it just west of the center of this map:

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Pierre Charles L’Enfant was the architect who laid out the streets of what is now called the “Old City.” Much of the area was not developed until after the Civil War; in 1871 the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the traffic circle that was then called Pacific Circle. About ten years later Congress renamed it Dupont Circle after Samuel Francis Du Pont, to honor his service in the Civil War. He was the grandson of another Du Pont I heard about a few days later. Here is one of his original drawings:

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I arrived in D.C. the day after the presidential election. The next morning Kate and I walked through her neighborhood….

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…and on to the White House, where the President-Elect Donald Trump was meeting with President Obama. Some quiet demonstrators were there, too. Lots of construction was going on and we couldn’t get as close as usual.gle-demonstrators

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This young woman was talking for as long as I would watch, to the boy in the Trump t-shirt. He was listening meekly. I wondered if he ever got a chance to talk, or had anything to say. There at the White House, I didn’t see anything hateful, and I don’t believe in speculating about the thoughts of other people’s hearts.

We spent quite a while touring the Renwick Gallery – so much beautiful artwork, which my pictures don’t do justice to, so I’ll just share one bit of Jennifer Trask’s art; she creates her designs with the antlers, teeth, and bones of many different animals including snakes, water buffalo and camels.

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My daughter and her husband have been living the best kind of city life, the kind where you sleep, work and worship all in the same neighborhood. On Sunday we walked a couple of blocks to their church, the Cathedral of St. Mathew the Apostle, where I also had not been before. I was sorry to leave after the service, there were so many beautiful mosaics to gaze upon, and quotes from St. Francis in the side chapel dedicated to him.

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Because that first photo blocks the face of St. Mark, I will share another, which shows a part of the beautiful dome, and all of St. Mark.

 

 

 

 

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This quote from the prayers of St. Francis took my thoughts back home, where we really appreciate every drop of moisture that falls on our farms and gardens. Speaking of farms, Kate’s neighborhood boasts a farmer’s market, which we walked through after church, to sample fruit and salsa and pickled jalapeño okra. We bought apples and a jar of the okra.

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Right next to that market is the Colombian Embassy, and in front of it a fiddler was busking.

A bookstore-café, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, is a popular spot in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. It was the first of this kind of duo to open in the capital. We browsed in there, too, and I even took pictures of books 🙂

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Tom bought a different book that afternoon, Speaking American by Josh Katz, which kept us busy for hours afterward — and afterwords in this case — because it is full of statistics on regional differences in word usage: Do you say sneakers or tennis shoes, sub or hoagie? Maps show where you likely live, if you prefer one word or the other. Tom seemed to be “from” all over the place.

This example from the book shows something I already knew from living in that neighborhood for a few days, that in D.C. they say “traffic circle,” not “roundabout. But all in all, it’s a pretty inexact science.gle-speaking-american-exampleBeing in the nation’s capital during this particular week meant that I engaged in more political thinking and talk than is usual for me, but as a group we weren’t entirely consumed by the kind of emotions that the media stories seem determined to rouse. We were too busy exploring all the rich cultural, natural and even culinary riches to be had close at hand. Oh, yes, if you don’t mind I will indulge in just one food photo, of some coconut milk panna cotta I had for dessert at a restaurant that actually wasn’t in their neighborhood. We got there via Uber!

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Another reason for our relative calm may be that we have been influenced throughout our lives by the truths and reality exemplified in another quote that I found in the neighborhood, right in Tom and Kate’s living room. The words from the Bible were part of a gift that Kate’s brother made for them the first year they were married, and they do help keep things in perspective.

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In my next post there will be more books, buildings and quotes.
Come back again if you also like this sort of thing!