Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Dining Out in a World Gone Mad

I would love simply to have written this blog about dining out last evening at a charming restaurant in Bologna known as Osteria Broccaindosso, located at door number 7 on Broccaindosso Street (which explains its slightly difficult-to-pronounce name). I would love to tell you that I savored the best lasagna that I ever had, that … Continue reading Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Dining Out in a World Gone Mad

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Dining Out in a World Gone Mad

I would love simply to have written this blog about dining out last evening at a charming restaurant in Bologna known as Osteria Broccaindosso, located at door number 7 on Broccaindosso Street (which explains its slightly difficult-to-pronounce name). osteria signI would love to tell you that I savored the best lasagna that I ever had, that the antipasto that led up to the lasagna was itself a feast, one that kept parading in waves toward our tiny table where it marched about in a ritual procession of smidgens of insalata al balsamico, miniature zucchini omelets, two super-fresh cheeses mozzarella cheese(ricotta and mozzarella) and other less easily identifiable but very easily devoured hors d’oeuvres. I would then love to have added that in fact everything in this tiny restaurant was thoughtfully prepared, delicate to the palate, and all of it something surpassing merely fresh. You would have to have performed in an Olympic triathlon to have worked up sufficient appetite to have desired, after the exquisite primo, a secondo, which I am sure would have been just as exquisite as the primo or antipasto. I would, too, have been sure to mention that the wine was an exceptionally high quality Sangiovese, a specialty of this region, rounding out the entire experience which, as by now you have ascertained, was simply remarkable. To top it off, even though both Piergiacomo (my friend who is an expert in art history, all things pertaining to Renaissance culture, and as a bonus, wine and food) Piergiacomo with orange hatand I did not ask for dessert, we were nevertheless treated to a spoonful each of the most amazing tiramisù that I have ever had—offered, no doubt, to be the final proof that we had died and gone to heaven. But I will not describe such an occasion in this blog, because it is not the time for that.tiramisu

 

 

 

Why can I not simply focus on something so delightful? Because others have died this week, and they have died not in a world rich in heavenly virtue or even rife with restaurants like Osteria Broccaindosso, for such establishments are rare, but rather they were murdered in a world gone to hell; they were shot to death in a world gone mad. While we saw something more than merely a hate crime in Orlando this week, we nevertheless did see hate-inspired killing at the hands of someone who smugly perceived himself a warrior in a battle. Driven on by hate, he envisioned himself as a hero about to die for a cause, not merely a cause, but for him the ultimate cause. He set himself up—or was set up by other insane zealots—as judge and jury and executioner. And he had, it would seem, no problem in taking up the last of these roles.

Many atheists see religion at the base of this man’s problems. Their facile argument is, “Remove religion and you remove the source of the hatred.” I don’t think it is really worth the time to demonstrate how specious such a statement is. It is probably not even worth suggesting that it is impossible to remove from most human beings their desire to discover their humanity not by repressing their religious impulse but by exploring it. It would be asking too much of a human being to ignore the soul’s cry for God, the hope for something beyond the grave. It is too much to ask us to see everything that is amazing—from the image of a mother lovingly nursing her infant to a powerful lightning storm to the Alps lightning in Alpsto humpback whales to the less spectacular (e.g. the color blue, another beautiful sunset)—as simply coincidence. Or what about that time you needed precisely $50 to pay the rent and you uncle sent you a card out of the blue with $50 in it? Yes, someone coulhumpback whaled say that’s all coincidence, but to most of us it does not seem to be simply that. On such occasions it certainly seems to the person receiving the $50 that there is a God. It seems that he is showing his care both in the particular and in the general. One can see the latter in the provision of this marvelous paradise in which we live, even though it is beset with dangers and grave challenges.

Yet I don’t want to get into a debate about religion. Rather, I want to close by addressing the world gone mad in which we live. In such a world it is important not to assign blame fatuously. Religion alone did not cause the shooter to act on his hatred of the freedom that characterizes American culture, of homosexuality, of the western world. Rather, a specific strand of belief did, a strand of one religion, a bad and hateful strand. That shooter’s hatred was not of a particular people but of the values that enable the freedom that allowed for the club that was attacked to exist. God did not cause the massacre in Orlando. Humankind did. A single member of our human community, no doubt egged on by others, took it upon himself to advance the attack on western values. And it all happened so quickly. So many died. So great was the horror. So sad the families. So shattered the lives of those who did survive.

So where do we assign blame if we are so compelled to do so? We have identified the problem, and it is us. For my atheist friends and, for that matter, for all my friends and anyone who might be inclined to blame religion or even God, I can only say this: we live in a broken world, a world broken by our own sin. We can either crassly counter hate with hate, or we can pray for our enemies, even love them. Does that preclude defending ourselves? Of course not. But unless part of that defense is genuine love and care for those who are spiritually lost, who have fallen into a spiral of hate and destruction, we will only get so far as political solutions allow us to get. It’s not simply that religion must solve the problem that one bad strand of religion has engendered. Rather it is that God—the God who offered a sacrifice for this world’s pain and grief, who speaks love, and who by his own example teaches us to love selflessly—alone can inspire the solution. And the solution to hate is, in a word, love.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Something about September

There is something about September. Let me explain. September is not only a special month because it is the month in which Harry Jakes, the father of Elaine Jakes and a major character in the Curious Autobiography, was born. He was among the great ones of the family. His first and middle names, Harry Reed, … Continue reading Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Something about September

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Something about September

autumn-leavesThere is something about September. Let me explain. September is not only a special month because it is the month in which Harry Jakes, the father of Elaine Jakes and a major character in the Curious Autobiography, was born.9781480814738_COVER.indd He was among the great ones of the family. His first and middle names, Harry Reed, were transmitted intact to a great grandson who went on to become a pastor, something no doubt that would have delighted Harry, as it did Elaine. And incidentally, the elder Harry, her father, welcomed her into this life, while the younger Harry was the last person to tell her that she was loved as she went to sleep for the last time.

But the fact that the elder Harry was born in September or even that the youngest of his great-granddaughters happens to have also been born in this month is certainly not the only reason the month is special. It is special because it is not simply a name on the calendar: it represents a tonal shift. It is the pivot from summer to fall, the introduction of the season that represents, in the human life cycle, maturity and wisdom. One has finally passed from the heat of the summer to a more sober, more beautiful time, one full of color in most parts of the northern hemisphere, the gentle hues of leaves fallen from tree limbs. About this very season I can remember singing a song as a child in school, in the age when children sang in schools—I imagine they don’t now as many lyrics could be deemed to contain trigger warnings or simply be too offensive to some children or at least coercing a child to do what he doesn’t want to; sometimes there might even be a controversial parking fee involved. There might, on a special occasion, even be “exploitation of a captive audience.” So, it is anodyne, I imagine, simply not to have the children sing lest controversy erupt.

Yet in the case of the song in question—“Try to Remember the Kind of September”—I think the reason it has been banned is it is age discriminatory and gender exclusive, as it assumes the singer is a “young and callow fellow.” It was written by Tom Jones, a Welshman, and thus, however one might feel about its potential to offend, belongs in this blog. And that song, though it may set off a trigger for the most sensitive among us, particularly the callow, I think actually captures the mood of September very well. It has a wistful feel to it, and September is, in many ways, a wistful month. It is also ghost season.

ghostly-treeAnd it must be ghost season, for the ghosts must get busy in September if there is to be a respectable Halloween. Now if you don’t believe in ghosts, well, that’s fine. But apparently you’re wrong. I can say this because I was at a dinner party last Saturday at the home of a famous artist—a ceramist, is the technical term, the less technical term, a potter—and he spoke of a time when, before he was famous and had spun out a fantastic career as an artist, he had, as nearly all real artists do, worked as a security guard in a library in Chicago. Now I myself, though I am no artist (unless being a writer qualifies), had enjoyed a season as a security guard guarding condominiums, which, I suppose, is near the height of irony, if not quite atop it: the artist guards books that the aspiring writer later will write, while the writer guards condos, for whose dining room table the aspiring artist might (and this is why it is only near not atop irony’s apex) possibly create a bowl or platter. It’s the “possibly” that kills the ascent of Mt. Irony. Alas. (By the way, not to brag, but in my entire two years as a security guard of those condominiums, I never lost a single one.)

But to return to ghosts. That selfsame artist was, qua security guard in the 1980s, stationed in the Chicago Public library every evening, where he took up his post on the first floor, assuming, rightly I think, that no self-respecting book thief would be willing to bring a ladder to downtown Chicago to ascend to the second or third floor of that old building to steal a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The October Country or Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. So he stayed, as I was saying, on the first floor. That is, until he heard the thumping from the floor above and promptly called the police. He did this thrice, and the police thought he was crazy.

That thumping may have been caused by the books landing on the floor. But who threw them there? And were they actually thrown, or had they been on the floor the day before? Of course, the police could not explain, and neither could the artist—let’s call him Paul. But this happened night after night until Paul decided to speak to the spirit. Gingerly would he ascend the steps, not quite coming all the way onto the second floor or third floor but staying just at the top of the stairwell, in case he had to make a hasty retreat. But he made his peace with that ghost—and he swears to this day it was a ghost—to the point where the spirit stopped tossing books on the floor. Now the sceptics will say there was no thumping coming through the floor. But how else can a spirit make such noise without tossing books? (Ghosts have no personal weight as they are spirits.) I can aver that Paul told the truth. Ghosts can toss books and that ghost is no doubt doing so to this very day.

But the other story that evening, one told by yet another dinner guest—we will call him George to protect his identity—had even stronger evidence. The story begins when George moved to central Texas. He did not then believe, and had never hitherto believed, in ghosts. But, as a merely passing avocation in the early 2000s George, just to get out of the house and have some fun, paradoxically joined in with some para-professional paranormal investigators. Each night they went on the prowl, each night found nothing until finally they visited a house that was reportedly haunted. Ever the sceptic, George carefully set up the video camera. That not-quite-September evening (it was April) was tepid and still—especially so, George averred, sans vent. After a spell, he and his partners went to the local convenience store to buy some coffee, as they knew it might well be a long evening. While they were gone there was an unbelievable event—mirabile dictu—one that gives me chills to think of even as I write this.  It was none other than the astonishing closing of a door in that haunted house, caught on film no less. With George’s permission, his personal film of that event is attached. I can tell you that I have absolutely no reason not to believe that George was telling the truth or that this video is not authentic. If you watch the video, you can decide for yourself; I can tell you that I have already decided to take George at his word.

Thus, September is amazing not simply for being a great birthday month, a turn of seasons, the fact that it represents a tonal shift on our life cycles, or even that the colors of fall finally arrive. Rather, it is special because it is when the ghosts come out, that Halloween might truly be scary. Beware of ghosts? No, but do be aware of them, especially in September!

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Illiberal Education, Shakespeare, and Campus Rape

It is fun to go on a college campus, even that of a college you never attended. It reminds you how privileged you are. You are walking across a mall that famous scholars have walked across and, more than just famous scholars, so have some of society’s great leaders. The campus that I was on … Continue reading Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Illiberal Education, Shakespeare, and Campus Rape

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Illiberal Education, Shakespeare, and Campus Rape

It is fun to go on a college campus, even that of a college you never attended. It reminds you how privileged you are. You are walking across a mall that famous scholars have walked across and, more than just famous scholars, so have some of society’s great leaders. The campus that I was on this week for a breakfast with some old friends who are heavily engaged in the academic enterprise once held the soles of the shoes of visiting lecturers such as LBJ, Margaret Thatcher, Desmond Tutu, and Ronald Reagan. So it is that a college or a university campus has a way of making you feel small, small in a good way—small, as in part of something greater than yourself—young and fresh, and eager to learn, whatever your age might be.

Yet today you find two dangerous, and perhaps not unrelated, trends developing on college campuses. These were among the otherwise quite pleasant topics of conversation that I had during my breakfast with old friends when I found myself visiting a local college this past week. The friends and I had been in a Think Tank, or if not quite that, a talent cluster whereby which we had spent a few weeks thinking together about how best to lead—years ago, considering leadership in a variety of settings. And now we had all grown in different directions but, on the invitation of one of us, we were once again sitting and talking delightfully in a campus dining establishment enjoying a delicious breakfast and a rich, multi-various and even for a few moments, disturbing conversation.

I say disturbing because we happened to light upon a ghastly topic, which is one of the two trends that I mentioned above, campus rape. We agreed that it is much more widely reported now than it had been even fifteen years ago when we had been in our select group together. And that, of course, was good. We agreed, too, that in the current climate the alleged aggressor was more or less guilty until proven innocent—not a good thing but perhaps apotropaic or at least admonitory. We spoke about the relative lack of a moral code among college students today, with relative being the operative word, as the notion behind the phrase “it’s all relative” (and old phrase now) had, over the last twenty years not just gained ground but flat out triumphed. Then we all laughed, as we knew that now we, too, sounded “old,” as we once thought, when we were in our twenties or thirties, people in their fifties had sounded to us.

But sadly we only brush-stroked a part of the solution to the current amoral climate. Let me define “amoral” here before I try to address the solution. By amoral I mean not simply that rapes happen on a college campus, but that many young men and women, whether of religious upbringing or not, nowadays are swift to engage in premarital sex. I’m not saying that premarital sex didn’t happen when I was in college—indeed, it did, as my generation found itself in the midst of the so-called sexual revolution. But I am saying that the trend toward premarital sex as the norm that began then has by now supplanted, by and large, even the attempt at chastity. Less people come to college with a moral foundation that was forged in their homes; or, if they do, their parents would seem conveniently to have left out the idea that sex is a special thing to be enjoyed by a married couple, not by just any two people who find each other attractive.

Why? Sociologists and many journalists would say that this is the case, at least in part, because the parents themselves had sex before they were married, whether with each other or multiple other partners.[1] Now parents would seem to feel it is hypocritical to tell their children that they should be married first. Besides, many may reason, that kind of legalistic thought is old-fashioned, not part of today’s mainstream thought, whether that be simply the popular morality one hears espoused at a Starbucks on a Saturday morning or one might hear in a mainstream church. And we want to be in the mainstream, we want to keep in step with our environment, to do what the world around us is doing. Right?

Let me now return to the setting of the delightful breakfast, delightful in every way except, of course, the sad moment when we considered campus rape. It seems to me that the current way of dealing with the vast problem of campus rape is to create a thoroughgoing legalistic culture, with “Report It!” reminders everywhere adorning a college campus—on T-shirts, on posters, on the university webpage—all prompts to the young person that she (or occasionally he) needs to let the authorities know if something dreadful has occurred. Certainly that is important, as the gathering of proof must be done almost immediately after a violent act such as sexual assault.

But to get at the underlying causes—to prevent rape from happening in the first place—that seems to me to be something that should ideally first come from a home environment that teaches young folks that their bodies are not commodities to be “had” by another or “used” by themselves, even if the use is intended to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. That is still “use,” maybe even abuse. Secondarily—and this, too, runs counter to mainstream thought—perhaps another arena in which discussions about one’s body and one’s sexuality might come into play could be a college classroom, via literature. If a student has the opportunity to read Virgil’s fourth Aeneid and have a robust discussion about it, maybe, just maybe, he or she can see the unintended consequences of a relationship founded on sex (what Dido saw as marriage, Aeneas saw as a fling). If those same students might read C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves, or read about tragic love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or the humorous circumstances of courtship in Love’s Labor Lost, then real conversations might be held on a college campus—conversations between friends, flowing from classroom to dormitory—about love, whereby love might be distinguished from lust and so on. I know in my college that very thing happened. I can remember Plato spurring conversations about ideas, Aristotle about virtue, Augustine about life’s journey and God’s call.

“Take away those great books,” I said as I directed the discussion to the second topic that I referred to above, “and you take away the opportunities for rich and meaningful conversations. You’ve changed “liberal” education to “illiberal” education. As learning becomes more and more career-oriented, we should expect our young folks to see their education as merely a means to an end, and their bodies, too, as merely something to be used with a view to a goal—even a good goal, such as a loving relationship. That good goal of the loving, perhaps even monogamous relationship,” I waxed on, “parallels the good goal of eventual gainful employment. But the means by which each is achieved—that makes all the difference.”

I was done. As you may have guessed, I had managed to throw a wet blanket over an otherwise delightful social event. I succeeded in wiggling my way out of the momentary yet deafening silence that followed my disputation by making a quip about my penchant for biking just about everywhere and my friends thinking it is because I’ve had a DUI. They laughed about that heartily. But I meant what I had said. The solution to our social ills must rely exclusively on the moral formation that may or may not occur in the home. Years ago that environment may have been the incubator of virtue; it is no longer. Rather, it may be that the last bastion of moral formation lies in books, books with great ideas and great ideals, perhaps out-of-fashion but never out-of-date. These ideals, shared via literature with many of the great men and women who came before, might just make us feel small in a good way, a part of something greater than ourselves, and eager to keep on learning, whatever our age may be.

[1] https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/why-i-wont-teach-abstinence-to-my-son-dncp/

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Books and Travel

Well, there’s nothing like curling up with a good book. An old dictum, and perhaps there’s none truer. My friend is writing a new book now, one that will be out this summer. Actually, he’s cowriting the book with a colleague from Italy, whom I also know, a certain professor from the university of Tor … Continue reading Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Books and Travel

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: On Books and Travel

hunt-stok-book
To order click on the image above.

Well, there’s nothing like curling up with a good book. An old dictum, and perhaps there’s none truer. My friend is writing a new book now, one that will be out this summer. Actually, he’s cowriting the book with a colleague from Italy, whom I also know, a certain professor from the university of Tor Vergata in Rome along with another American colleague. What seems to me to be weird about the book he’s writing is that, though it is a scholarly book, it is one that I think—for I am helping him proofread it—will be accessible to the general public. So it’s a good book in a different way than, say, the Curious Autobiography is said to be by its Amazon reviewers. Of course, my friend’s book, which can already be ordered is still in production, so it hasn’t any Amazon reviews of its own (or other reviews) just yet, though perhaps some “prodigiously famous” scholarly polysyllabricator will write a virtually unintelligible blub for the back cover. But I want to say that that book, which I am reading this weekend, seems to me to be really a good book, an interesting one that anyone could enjoy at home or abroad, for the only thing better than curling up with a good book is reading one in transit.

9781480814738_COVER.indd
To order click on the image above.

I very much like doing that—reading while roaming—not only because it lightens the burden of travel and luggage transfer but also because the movement of one’s eye over the page often whets that same eye’s appetite for scanning a new vista, studying every store window, admiring architecture, or considering the quaintness of each town on the journey. I’ve got a trip planned for a group of friends this summer, a group of friends who have never visited Bologna or eaten at the Osteria Broccaindosso, number 7 on Broccaindosso Street. There, you may recall from a previous blog, one finds the world’s best lasagna (thankfully my Aunt Lee Ann is not alive to read this, for she boasted the best lasagna, made in the Bolognese style), a truly scrumptious antipasto, which I devoured when I was there, of course, befobologna-foodre the lasagna came to my plate, not to mention the procession of smidgens of insalata al balsamico, egged-up zucchini treats, superb slices of ricotta and mozzarella, all served alongside high-quality local wine, Sangiovese. Dare I mention the dessert, the incredible mound of tiramisù? All that awaits my traveling friends’ lip-smacking palates, but that is not what is really amazing about Bologna: it’s the seven churches, Asinelli and Garisenda towers of the city center, the endless porticoes, and the chance to walk over the grounds of the oldest university in the western world.

venice-canalAnd that’s just the beginning of what will be a wonderful adventure. Next comes Venice (need I quip at all?), then, after a bus ride through the Alpine foothills, we’ll go on to Salzburg (the home of Mozart and the Opernfestspiele where, if we can get the tickets ordered soon, we shall see Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito); salzburg-cityscapethen on to Augsburg, Germany with a stop on the German side of Lake Constance, which in Teutonic is known as Bodensee, for dinner. St. Gallen beckons next, where we shall visit a superb monastery and library, and where, I hope, we shall all be inspired to curl up with that proverbial good book, for that town is tranquil beyond belief and the library pure inspiration. A stop at Zurich’s Altstadt follows before the trip winds up in Geneva, where there is so much to do and see that the mind boggles.altstadt

I’m hoping to read a good book on that trip, or maybe to write while in transit, for I much enjoy that, too. Perhaps I will begin writing the next installment in the Curious Autobiography series—something I’ve put off too long. So, while I am not certain about what specifically that trip will hold for me, I am sure that it will offer a sense of wonder to our entire group of wayfaring friends, who all will experience the overwhelming joy of grasping new cultures, shaking new hands and making new friends. And it will offer, too, inspiration, for one learns through travel what one cannot learn from staying home, even when curled up with a good book.

 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Donkeys, Snakes and Other Talking Animals

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog about a parrot with a Brooklyn accent.  And just when I thought that I was done with talking animals, I went to Verona which made me think of a conversation I once had with my fifth oldest child. She was not born in America; in fact, she was … Continue reading Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Donkeys, Snakes and Other Talking Animals

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Donkeys, Snakes and Other Talking Animals 

verona streetTwo weeks ago I wrote a blog about a parrot with a Brooklyn accent.  And just when I thought that I was done with talking animals, I went to Verona which made me think of a conversation I once had with my fifth oldest child. She was not born in America; in fact, she was born in Ethiopia, and she came to America with little English. When I was walking her home from school one afternoon, after her ESL class, she mentioned to me that she was hungry, so I told her that I would fix her a little snack when we got home.

“I don’t want one,” she said.

“Oh,” I replied, “I thought you were hungry.”

“I am,” she said.

“Well then,” I responded, “I will fix you a snack.”

“No, no, no,” she said, “I don’t want one.”

“How hungry are you?”

“Just a little.”

“Then a snack would be perfect.  Just a little one. There’s no need to fix you a big one.”

“No, no, no. I don’t want one.”

Only later did I realize that her hunger pangs followed by moments of apparently complete lack of hunger were engendered by her misunderstanding of the word snack. She thought, of course, that I was saying snake.  Now I know that some of my Texan friends eat snake.  But I am not a herpavor.  I come from Pennsylvania where, to my knowledge, no one eats snakes.  But my daughter thought I was referring to making her eat a small snake (as opposed to a large one) after school.

Now I had almost forgotten about this event until we arrived in Verona two days ago and, on the advice of an acquaintance, went to one of the finer dining establishments in this beautiful town, a five minute walk from the House of Juliette, which features, of course, the balcony said to have inspired the bard.  juliets balconyDrifting on from the mildly (if tragically) romantic courtyard of Juliette, we came to the aforementioned restaurant, one that astounded me, only in part because the tortellini that I ordered was deliciously garnished with fine northern Italian Balsamic—real Balsamic comes from either Reggio Emilia or Modena (whose accent rests on the first syllable).  balsamicIndeed, the pasta that I had chosen was delightful, far more delightful than the menu which featured, to my great consternation, both pasta with a meat sauce made of horse flesh and another with a donkey ragù.  Good heavens, I thought, it has come full circle.  Now I have become my daughter—but this time they really are eating the forbidden animal.  And the couple at the next table fulfilled my worst fears, he ordering the horse and she, with a chuckle that sounded to me a veritable bray, the donkey.

Now this seemed to me especially wrong on two counts.  First, having been a mule skinner for much of my childhood years, I can never brook the notion of eating the father (a jackass) of one of my beloved coworkers—hybrid, yes, but certainly almost human. Second, the woman who ordered the spaghetti a la donkey ragù herself cavorted in an asinine manner.  I’m not sure what nationality she was, but suffice it to say that the manner in which she displayed her discerning palate was a bit too much for my taste.  Thus it seemed to me that a bit of cannibalism might just have been going on at table 12.

alexander
Alexander mosaic, detail

Coincidentally or not, there are only two animals in the Bible—that is the donkey and the snake—ever reported to have spoken Hebrew (presumably Hebrew).  The ass, was of course, that of Balaam and the snake, well, that was Eve’s little friend in the Garden.  But the horse, while never having been said to speak in the Bible, has human characteristics, too, as anyone who has owned one can tell you.  Some horses have been very famous.  Need I mention Silver, of Lone Ranger fame, who spoke, or rather at least understood, perfect English and would come when called and do exactly as he was told; or Bucephalus, who despite his ox-headed name was said to have been the best of horses in antiquity, his master’s favorite and often depicted in artistic renditions along with Alexander.  The equus of Caesar was said to have been equally beloved of his master.  Both were said to have been portrayed with hooves resembling human feet.[1]  And should I even mention Mr. Ed?  Of course it’s a horse, of course, of course, but not ever meant to be a dinner course.

So, when the waiter offered me the spaghetti a la donkey ragù, I, as my daughter had once said to me, found myself stating repetitively, “No, no, no…!”  I was amazed at how visceral my response was, but I simply could not and would not dare even think of eating a donkey or a horse on basically the same principal that my dear daughter had innately adopted vis-à-vis even a small snake. Even though the waiter insisted it was tasty; even though the woman at table twelve was by then ravenously devouring it; even though it is part of Veronese culture, new to me on this trip (new since Switzerland, where I was two days ago, studying more manuscripts in lovely Bern); even though I normally try to embrace as fully as possible a new culture when I am travelling. In spite of all this, I simply could not eat an animal like Bucephalus or Balaam’s ass, or even Eve’s slithering sidekick.

Spaghetti a la ragù d’asino
Spaghetti a la ragù d’asino (sauce of donkey)

Wait, what about dogs and cats?  They don’t speak in the Bible, but they certainly have human characteristics and are a part of many a family in ways that snakes and donkeys normally are not. Well, that can be gotten around easily enough.  First, the dog is the one animal in the Bible whose name is everywhere, just written backwards, of course. So, the Eucharist notwithstanding, I think we can safely say that we should not eat dogs on roughly the same biblical principal as not eating donkeys.  It’s a bit harder to come up with a biblical refuge for cats.  The best I can find is about as convincing as Mr. Trump’s by now quasi infamous (but somehow not damaging to him) “Two Corinthians” reference.  Still for the sake of the species, I will try. The word “according to,” used for titles of each of the gospels in Greek, is “kata,” which is easily shortened to “kat/cat.”  So, cats, it seems, are if only indirectly, like dogs, in the Bible and thus sort of protected from being dinner—at least according to me.  Besides, our own dog, Knight, is a Great Dane, and thus qualifies both under the backwards goD heading and the horse category, as well.

But I will eat balsamic, and I will eat palatable pastas in peculiar places.  So I leave you with but a trifle this week–you should try a trifle as well, or I should say a truffle, which in Italy are fresh and quite lovely in late November. Indeed, though I normally recommend trying the odd foods and accepting the strange things that life throws at you, I don’t recommend eating animals that can talk or whose names can be somehow manipulated as to being semi-divine, even if they can’t quite talk.  And I do recommend warm Verona and snowy Bern, both lovely. Bon apetit, mon ami.

[1] Miriam Griffin, ed. A Companion to Julius Caesar (Cambridge, 2015).