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Teresa of Ávila s a young woman by François Gérard, 1826

Last March 28, I saw on a website that it was the birthday of St. Teresa of Ávila. I’m not a “religious” person these days in the sense of an organized religion, but I have an odd relationship with St. Teresa.

It started when I was 13 and attended “Sunday school” at St. Leo’s Church in Irvington, New Jersey . The year I was 13 I had for my class a young and kind nun. Those two qualities set Sister Teresa Avila apart from all the other nuns.

I knew nothing about the real Saint Teresa of Ávila whom she was named after until many years later. The Saint Teresa (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer.

Teresa grew up in a wealthy household in the province of Ávila, Spain. She was a beautiful and social girl who loved her privileged life, perfume, jewelry, and elegant clothes. Her mother died when she was 14, and her father sent her to convent school to protect his beautiful daughter.

Perhaps surprisingly, she found the religious training very appealing and she decided to become a nun.

After twenty increasingly important years, she established her own monastery, She then traveled around Spain on a donkey, setting up 16 new monasteries for women. She also wrote several books, including The Way of Perfection (1566) and The Interior Castle (1580).

One day in my thirteenth year, I had forgotten a homework assignment for Sunday school catechism class. Sister Teresa told me to go home, get the assignment, bring it to the convent and ask for her. The nun who answered my knock at the convent door went to get Sister Teresa.

When Sister Teresa Avila appeared she was not wearing her nun’s habit. I can only imagine how my face must have looked.

She was beautiful. She had long, dark, shiny hair. She asked me for my assignment which was in my hand. I was frozen. It probably took me a few seconds to respond but it felt like a lot longer.

I was in love with her in the way that a boy of 13 can be in love with an adult woman. I don’t know in what way a boy can be in love with a nun.

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini , 1652

In college I took a course about religion in literature and although it was taught by a religion professor, it was the most influential literature course I took as an English major. Along with novels, we read religious works including The Wisdom of the Sufis, The Dark Night of the Soul  by Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa’s The Interior Castle.

The Interior Castle was inspired by a Saint Teresa’s mystical vision of a crystal castle with seven chambers, each representing a different stage in spiritual development. She immediately wrote her book which is divided into seven parts (also called mansions, dwelling places or chambers) Each level brings you closer to God.

Entrance into the first three mansions is achieved by prayer and meditation. The fourth through seventh mansions are considered to be mystical or contemplative prayer. The soul achieves clarity in prayer and a spiritual marriage with God in the seventh mansions.

Of course, as I read the book my thoughts often returned to Sister Teresa rather than Saint Teresa. The two have remained blurred in my mind. I imagine Sister Teresa before she took the veil as a beautiful young girl much like the Teresa of Avila in 1529.

 

Over the years, both Teresa’s have been in my thoughts and have been alluded to in other works. Simone de Beauvoir writes about Teresa as a woman who lived her life for herself in her book The Second Sex. George Eliot compared the character Dorothea to St. Teresa in Middlemarch. Thomas Hardy took Teresa as the inspiration for much of the heroine Tess (Teresa) in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a character who in one scene lies in a field and senses her soul ecstatically above her.

Saint Teresa appears in a few contemporary songs: “Theresa’s Sound-World” by Sonic Youth  and in “Saint Teresa” by Joan Osborne.

But none of those allusions have had as much of an impact on me as reading The Interior Castle through the lens of a 13 year-old boy discovering another kind of love.

In December 1970 I was in my senior year of high school. I was thinking about college. I was thinking about the Vietnam War and that the following year while at college I would be part of the draft lottery. Someone would pull a ball with my birthday (October 20) on it and then another ball with a number (from 1-365) that would decide if I was going to be drafted into the Army.

On Thanksgiving break, I had bought Laura Nyro’s new album,  Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. I knew of her two earlier albums but I didn’t own them.

I bought it because of the title and because her sad eyes were staring at me.

People knew her music because there were pop covers of her songs on the radio by other artists. (The 5th Dimension with “Blowing Away”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “Sweet Blindness”, “Save the Country”, and “Black Patch”; Blood, Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul & Mary with “And When I Die”; Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson with “Eli’s Comin'”; and Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End”, “Time and Love” and “Hands off the Man (Flim Flam Man).” )

Laura didn’t have hits, but I heard her on WNEW-FM regularly. Ironically, Laura’s own rare cover version of a song, the Carole King-Gerry Goffin oldie “Up on the Roof,” was probably her only Billboard “hit.” I saw that Laura Nyro was playing at the Fillmore East in New York City on the 22nd.

Though we celebrated Christmas in my family, the holiday has lost all its childhood magic seven years before when my father got really sick. When he died, after five years of crippling illness, Christmas had become a depressing time of year.

For some reason, during this period of my life, when I was depressed, I would do things to drag myself deeper into that depression. Smoke, drink, stay away from people, take long walks alone and listen to depressing music.

In three days, it would be Christmas. Laura Nyro’s seemed to me to be a tortured artist who fit right in with my mood.

Also on the bill was Jackson Browne, a songwriter whose songs were recorded by others. He wouldn’t release the eponymous Jackson Browne until 1972, but he played songs from that album that would launch his career: “Doctor My Eyes”, “Rock Me on the Water”,”Jamaica Say You Will” and “Song for Adam” which he wrote about the death of a friend. He often was paired on bills with artists like Nyro, Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell.

I went to the concert. Alone.

Poco had been at the Fillmore a few night before on one of those oddball multi-artist bills along with Savoy Brown, Gypsy and Jo Mama. The day after Christmas, Mountain would roll into the Fillmore and “Mississippi Queen” their way on a hard rock “Nantucket Sleighride.”

But at the Fillmore East on December 22, 1970, it was a much quiter night with a woman and her piano and a man with his guitar. My Christmas gift to myself.

I stumbled on an audio recording of Laura Nyro on that night on YouTube. I don’t know the copyright/wrong-ness of the posting, but I hope it stays there so that other people can listen.

 

Did Laura’s music make me more depressed? She programmed her set nicely for me. It started out soft and sad. “And When I Die” sounds like a downer and it can be, but it can also be seen as a positive outlook about death. “And when I die/and when I’m gone/there’ll be one child born and a world/to carry on/to carry on.”

“Christmas in My Soul” (which is actually more political than you might expect) was done as a poem.

But there was no way to stay depressed through her closer of “Time and Love” and “Save the Country.”

Nyro was inspired to write “Save the Country” after the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy. That doesn’t sound very upbeat, but again the outlook is positive. Listening to it this week, I couldn’t help but think of the state of our country right now.

Come on, people come on, children
Come on down to the glory river
Gonna wash you up and wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down

Come on people! Sons and mothers
Keep the dream of the two young brothers
Gonna take that dream and ride that dove
We could build the dream with love, I know…

Everyone around me was singing, gospel style, that last line “We could build the dream with love” over and over. It felt like we could.

 

 

In late 1996, Laura Nyro, like her mother, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died the following year. I had to look up some things this morning to write this post and saw that she died on this day April 8, in 1997. Synchronicity. She was only 49, the same age at which the disease had taken her mother.

After her illness was diagnosed, Columbia Records prepared a double-disc retrospective of her music which was Laura’s final musical project. She lived to see the release of Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro. She was reportedly pleased with the outcome.

After some days away from Paradelle, television news and the Net, I have returned. Was it the cleansing that being offline might provide, as I had written about earlier? Yes, though even on a literal faraway island, news creeps in on you. Perhaps, I needed a deserted island. Still, my sleep changed for the better and my mind turned to things too often pushed aside (poetry, sketching, mindful and mindless meditation) for more “serious” matters.

I had some posts that were in the queue for this first weekend back in Paradelle, so they will go off into the universe of bits floating in a cloud. But the important thing for me this weekend is trying to keep that clear horizon clear?

The Dodge Foundation has run a program for many years of poetry as renewal that they call “Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain.” The title comes from a short poem by Robert Frost.

The Pasture 

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

Though I don’t have a literal pasture spring to clean out for the new season, I did clear away some leaves from the garden yesterday on a warm, sunny, breezy day here in Paradelle. Today it is snowing. And next week even more snow predicted.

After you clear away what is blocking you, how do you keep the path clear?

Frost used that poem as the introduction to his 1915 collection, North of Boston. (The book is in the public domain now and you can read the poems online.) I think of the poem as a statement of intent. Frost wants these poems to move away the leaves that might block a reader’s perception. As the water clears, you can move further into the collection. Like the little calf that is also being cleaned by its mother, we can totter ahead.

In this time before spring when the weather reminds us of both the recent past and the coming days too, it is a good time to think about many kinds of rebirth and renewal. It’s a better time for new resolutions for the year than January first.

I am going to try to tend the fountain and keep what has cleared for me open and moving ahead. You come too.

 

Just a brief note: I’ll be dropping off the grid, slipping away to some wilderness or wildness, escaping to an island in these early morning hours, taking my own advice about resetting my internal clock. All the signs were here.

Maybe I’ll be back online in a week or two. Or maybe I’ll go native. The universe will have to give me  a sign.

You take care of yourselves and the Net for a while.

off island

 

100million

I was eager to check all my blog statistics at the end of January because I had calculated that the numbers would trip my blog odometer over to a big number.

I keep a spreadsheet for the 8 blogs where I write online. I don’t keep track of stats for my Tumblr or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the other social sites I use. And I don’t obsess over the numbers month to month because I don’t get any income from people just viewing a page. I am curious about which posts got the most attention because it gives me some insight into what people want to read.

Looking at the total page hits for the eight blogs over their lifetimes, the number has now crossed the 100,000,000 mark.

That’s one hundred million page hits, which doesn’t mean there were that number of “unique visitors.” It is safe to assume that many of those hits come from the same people – and that’s a great thing. Blogs get subscribers and followers who are usually notified of new content and who, hopefully, come back to read more of your posts.

That number – 100,000,000 – sounds like the population of a country – my own little country of blogs.   My blog country is a bit smaller than the 12th largest, the Philippines at 107,668,232, but we are bigger than Ethiopia (96,633,456) and Vietnam (93,421,832). Sure, we are only half the population of Brazil (202,656,784) and Pakistan (196,174,384), but everyone in Austria (8,223,062) could visit the site a dozen times each to get us to 100,000,000.

Weekends in Paradelle has a largely North American readership, but the UK, Germany, France and India account for about 25 percent of visitors to this particular blog.

paradelle-readers

My most oldest and most read blog is Serendipity35. I have been writing about technology and education there since 2006, so it has a head start on the other blogs. It pulls in about a half million hits every month (532,468 in January and 859,860 in December 2016) and accounts for 97 million of those hits.

jan17hourlystats

Serious bloggers look at when people access their blog and then try to post in that time period. For Serendipity35, which has a much wider global audience than this blog, there is no “hot” hour. People are dropping by all day and night from somewhere.

You would assume that Weekends in Paradelle gets most of its hits on the weekends since that is when I post (mostly in the morning). Wrong. The most popular day is actually Wednesday (30% of all views), and the most popular time is 4 p.m. ET. Go figure. But I’ll still be posting on Fridays – Sundays most weeks.

It’s nice to know there is a country of visitors out there. It’s even nicer when you leave a comment, so I know it’s not just Google search bots visiting!

68ali

1968

I still subscribe to and read a few magazines printed on paper. One of those that I have subscribed to pretty much without a break is Esquire. I realized while looking through a few old issues that I saved that I have been reading it for 50 years.

Esquire is an American men’s magazine, published by the Hearst Corporation in the United States. It was first issued in October 1933.

Its boom time was probably during the Great Depression when it was guided along by one of its founders, Arnold Gingrich.

I started reading it when I was in high school at the end of the 1960s. As someone who planned on being an English major, I figured I had to read magazines such as Esquire and The New Yorker.

But The New Yorker, despite poetry, John Updike and friends and great cartoons, was very expensive for a high school kid saving for college. I subscribed once and the weekly issues kept piling up. I couldn’t just throw them away and tried to go through every issue, but it was overwhelming.

Esquire lacked regular cartoons and didn’t run poems, but it had its own set of famous writers like Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald and André Gide back in the early days, and starting in the 1940s, it had Petty Girls and Vargas Girls. Those pinups moved to Playboy in the 1950s but Esquire provided some occasional sexy or semi-nude photos, but it never became a “men’s magazine” in the Playboy way.

Esquire

October 1970

I started reading Esquire in 1967 and probably subscribed around 1969. That was the time of  “New Journalism” and the magazine featured writers as Norman Mailer, Tim O’Brien, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Terry Southern.

One of the issues I still have is the October 1970 issue with Hemingway on the cover. It is a nice time capsule of the fall of my senior year of high school when I was full of thoughts of college, reading literature and becoming a writer. That issue has “Bimini” the first publication of a major episode from the forthcoming novel by Hemingway, Islands in the Stream. As I page past ads for the Chevrolet Vega, a Yamaha 60cc mini-bike and a section on Johnny Carson’s new fashion wardrobe, I read about “Esquire’s Heavy 100” who’s who and who isn’t in rock music, and “Lost Chapters” of Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan, and an article on Sundance Kid Robert Redford. That’s a pretty good time capsule.

women

David M. Granger became editor-in-chief in 1997. No surprise, the magazine has changed over the years and as editors change.

It still picks up National Magazine Awards, but there is less fiction and more non-fiction and politics.

It changed, but so did I. I’m less in love with the magazine these days, but we have been friends for so long that I can’t give up on it.

These days the writers I read most regularly there are the profiles and essays of Tom Chiarella, Scott Raab and Tom Junod.

The women are still there. In a time when even Playboy gave up on the nude photos because no magazine can compete with the Internet, Esquire has its annual “Sexiest Woman Alive” issue and regularly has “Women We Love.” I’m sure that many women still find all that to be sexist, but I think it’s done in good taste – and often with humor.

The magazine published its 1,000th issue and is still going strong.

Penelope Cruz, Sexiest Woman Alive in 2014

Penelope Cruz, Sexiest Woman Alive in 2014. I agreed then. I agree now.

The magazine has online “Esquire Classic,” a subscriber service archive that allows you to read “anything Esquire has ever published.” I probably don’t have time for any of the unread 50,000+ articles they have published.  It also has audio and there was a free podcast (I think that is done) and you can read and listen to things like F.Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-Up,” or “Superman Comes to the Supermarket” by Norman Mailer ,”  or “A Few Words about Breasts” by Nora Ephron and “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese.

There was a Donald Trump Cover in 2004 to accompany an article titled “How I’d Run the Country (Better).” In it, he pulls Esquire into his Iraq War fantasy. You should have read in 2004. You really should have read it in 2016. You’d better read it in 2017.

 

Trump cover from 2004

Trump cover from 2004

I know it’s hard times for print publications, but you can subscribe to Esquire for $5 (10 issues) and I can guarantee that in a year you are going to find a lot more than five dollars worth of entertainment in there. Support print!

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