Alberto Angela: Une Journée Dans La Rome Antique

July 4, 2022

     This is the third book in Alberto Angela’s astonishing trilogy about life in Ancient Rome. The previous two – Empire and Les 3 Jours de Pompeii – were really good: a journey around the Roman Empire imagined through the travels of a one sesterce coin, and an hour-by-hour account of the days leading up to and immediately following the volcanic eruption which annihilated Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79CE. This one is self-evidently about the daily life and routines of the Eternal City. Angelo chooses a Tuesday some time in 117CE, when the empire was at its greatest extent.

Angela is a well-known writer and historian in Europe, not really known here although Empire is available in English as The Reach of Rome. It’s definitely popular history in its tone, rather than an academic work, but it very definitely is not dumbed-down: every article, object or place is always given its Latin name, for instance, for those who want to know or remember…

Although I studied Roman history at school, there was very little about how Romans lived; Angelo has taught me a lot, as have various visits to Roman sites like Hadrian’s Wall, or Arles and Orange in Provence. It had never occurred to me that Romans collected antiques, for instance, but Angela points out that ancient Egyptian ‘collectibles’ were already 2000 years old at the time he is writing about. It is the wealth of details, and the explanations and connections with our own times that fascinate here: food, clothing, daily household tasks and routines, and the objects used. All this serves to humanise and bring that ancient world vividly to life.

I’d never really taken in the scale of the megalopolis that was Rome at its heyday, with over a million inhabitants, most living in the equivalent of today’s tower blocks; the place was on the scale of today’s London or New York with its buildings and crowds and problems. It’s also very hard for us to visualise what any Roman town of city would actually have looked like, since all we get to see are pillaged and stripped ruins which are, above all, denuded of their original colours. And the colossal amount of wood they needed to burn every day.

The explanations of how Roman public toilets actually worked, and the horrors of childbirth in those days, are vividly presented. Often Angela will go into such detail as to leave one thinking ‘this is docu-drama, he’s inventing to bring this to life’ and then explain that that particular person actually existed and cite the sources for his information.

In the end I found myself marvelling at how Angela manages to synthesise his portrayal, from the writings of classical writers of the time, from archaeological and historical research, and from scientific sources: when all this is put together, you end up with an accessible yet detailed and fascinating book. Full marks here, and where are the English publishers to make Angela’s work accessible to readers here?


Fifty years on…

July 3, 2022

The older you get, the more anniversaries there are; it recently occurred to me that it’s now 50 years since I sat my A Levels… good grief! And what a simple business it all was way back then. All exams, for a start: no continuous assessment, no coursework or anything like that. Just sit in silence and write and write and write.

English literature (well, obviously); I think we’d studied eight set books and only had to write about six, so there was a choice. Othello and King Lear, Doctor Faustus, Paradise Lost 9 & 10, Chaucer’s Merchant’s Prologue and Tale, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Shadow of a Gunman, Andrew Marvell’s poetry… is that all of them? Don’t recall which I avoided…

French: dictation, I remember, unseen and prose translation, essay, and literature. Le Mariage de Figaro, Le Roi Se Meurt, Servitude et Grandeur Militaires, Confession de Minuit. The killer was, that French Lit and one of the English lit papers were timetabled on the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon; eight essays altogether and I remember I filled thirty-six sides of foolscap (predecessor to A4 if you need to know) that day and had a seriously sore hand.

Latin of Classical Civilisation (yes, weird title) with unseen, prose translation, a Roman history paper and set books, though I can no longer remember what they all were, apart from tiresome Livy Book 30.

I’d already passed two A levels in previous years so I knew what to expect, roughly, and I had my revision plan and just powered on through it; I certainly have no recollections of pressure from other or myself, and no stress about any of it, either. Innocent days, perhaps; the end of school, certainly. I recall getting pissed in the village pub, raiding the kitchens where we took and ate all the strawberries, a naked dip in the freezing pool and ceremonial urination on the cricket pitch. Then it was all over.

I had offers from three of the five universities I’d applied to and had fallen in love with Liverpool, so that was my first choice. With two A levels already, and since I’d originally applied to read Latin and French, my offer was one D grade, in French. Results day meant an envelope in the post and a scrawled note from my tutor saying, ‘That should be good enough for Liverpool’ (about my 2 As and a C). Done. Except my A in English Literature was making me review my options, and I knew I’d really rather read English than Latin. So I wrote and asked – I’d already made the rather unusual for those days request for deferred entry – could I change my course based on my results. That would be fine, they said.

Do I make it all sound far too easy? Maybe. I did take naturally to study, because I enjoyed the subjects and they fascinated me; I was also quite an organised student, and I had really good teachers. I put in the time and did the work; at a Catholic boarding school there were few other distractions, which meant I was rather a slow learner in other areas of life.

What I took away from the whole experience is rather more important: a deep love of literature and languages instilled by teachers with a genuine passion for their subjects, and I suspect already at that time the prospect of becoming a teacher and passing on some of that enjoyment to future students was beginning to form itself somewhere deep in my unconscious.

What I realise now is the simplicity of those days, without pressure or expectation, which students of today cannot know or enjoy; no real thoughts about what would come after university; the comfort of knowing that with my place would come a grant to cover my living expenses, and the course costs I didn’t even have to think about, because there were no tuition fees. I have often wished that such freedom was on offer nowadays, because I have always been a great believer in learning for learning’s sake, and studying what you enjoy, rather than because it will bring you a high salary. I’m aware that university students were an elite then, a very small percentage of the population rather than today’s 50%. The greater democratisation and accessibility of higher education is surely a good thing, but I’m also aware that it’s primarily a great money-making opportunity for so many different people, with the needs and rights of the actual students quite a way down the list of priorities.

I’ll finish with a line from Virgil. Forsan et olim haec meminisse juvabit…


Siegfried Sassoon: Does It Matter?

June 24, 2022

Does it matter? – losing your legs?
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.


Does it matter? – losing your sight?
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.


Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they know that you’ve fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

Another poem from Sassoon designed to shock readers back home, more than anything else, I feel. Let’s start with the jaunty rhythm, the metre forcing you to sound jolly and cheerful as you read the poem aloud, even as the words themselves hint at real horror: such a mis-match between metre and subect-matter is both deliberate and very effective.

Three stanzas, and a repeated first line (more or less): repetition used to dramatic effect. Sassoon moves from the physical disability of being confined to a wheelchair to the arguably, for most of us, worse condition of blindness, onto the unseen mental horrors of shell-shock, nowadays hidden by the initials PTSD, which nobody thinks to unpick as they hear the letters.

The poem is about survivors – in a similar way to Owen’s Disabled, though the subject is treated in a totally different way. And the response of those around them is outlined in the shocking couplet that is the second and third lines of each stanza, the repetition in the second and third stanzas of the vague phrase people will always be kind. You need to stop and think: who are these people, and what does being kind mean, for a young person faced with the rest of their life in such a condition? The survivor’s life is then contrasted with the so very different lives of those back home, unaffected, in the final two lines of each stanza. Look particularly at the sadness implied in the last line of the second stanza, or the horrible effect of rhyming glad and mad in the final stanza.

Sassoon attacks the notion of patriotism in the final two lines, implying that the words fought for your country mean everything, while then implying that people soon forget.

It’s another very simple poem, in terms of language used: none of the complex and sometimes deliberately archaic language that Owen often uses, none of Owen’s very effective poetic devices either. It’s all done through suggestion and shock: the treatment of such a serious subject in such a casual and offhand manner stops the reader short; we are forced to reflect more deeply on the implications of what the poet is saying, of what lies behind the words. We are in the later years of the war here, and the early illusions everyone had at the outset have gone, only to be replaced by others,,,


Siegfried Sassoon: The General

June 23, 2022

Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
……
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

 

If Wilfred Owen is ‘in your face’ through his use of graphic detail in many of his war poems, Siegfried Sassoon is often brutally out to shock by saying a different kind of unspeakable thing. We see it here in a very short but vicious poem which goes straight to the heart of an issue that historians still argue about today: the competence or incompetence of the high command, those who ran the war and took the decisions that led to the deaths of millions of ordinary men on all sides.

There’s no specific form to identify, and the rhyme scheme is very simple; the hiatus between lines 6 and 7 is deliberate, and the final point is amplified by the third occurrence of the ‘-ack’ rhyme.

The metre is inescapably jaunty, jolly even, nursery rhyme-like, as becomes evident when you read the poem aloud, and the jolliness is designed to clash with the power and seriousness of the underlying message. It helps to visualise the scene: the general walking through a long line of soldiers at attention, with a repeated lively ‘Good-morning!’ every few yards. Sincerity? No.

The language is informal, casual, the language of squaddies among themselves, with slang thrown in. The third line is delivered in an almost throwaway manner, and the fourth line continues this feeling; the scene is personalised in the fifth and sixth lines when it’s narrowed down to two soldiers, being talked about by the anonymous speaker of the poem; their names are commonplace, Harry and Jack. They grunt to each other, they slog up the line with their kit.

And then the shock of their deaths – they were cheerful and alive last week, remember – is delivered in the same offhand way: he did for them both. The incompetence referred to in the fourth line has its results in a plan of attack. Interesting to notice that incompetent is the only complex word in the entire poem.

Effect? Well, I find it shocking in the manner in which Sassoon delivers such a simple tale, and one which must have been repeated countless times. And I also try and imagine the effect of such verse at the time of the Great War, when many people would have found the idea of speaking about death so casually extremely shocking, and the idea that the generals and other senior officers didn’t really have much of a clue what they were doing was also very shocking. We all have a tendency (perhaps not so much nowadays) to trust that those in power and control, above us, know what they’re doing…


Wilfred Owen: Anthem For Doomed Youth

June 21, 2022

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Form, first of all: this one is obviously a sonnet. Sonnets were traditionally love poems above all else, so what is Owen doing here? Is he sending up the idea of love poetry, using the sonnet in an opposite way (war=hate)? Or is he expressing a sense of love for those who are lost, killed in war? Or both, perhaps? Why not? It’s a Petrarchan, rather than a Shakespearean sonnet. Notice the rhyme scheme, and the shift in mood after the eighth line.

What is it about? Funerals. Except that Owen is drawing out a distinction, all the way through the poem, between the traditional religious funeral rituals of peacetime, and the total absence of anything like that when someone is killed at the front line. And it’s also interesting to think about the fact that Owen originally called his poem Anthem for Dead Youth, rather than Anthem for Doomed Youth. Is that significant, and is his final choice of title more effective? There’s a finality about dead, whereas doomed sounds more ominous, because the person is alive but not for much longer… And if you are interested in how Owen changed and revised his poems, then you can find drafts and revisions to look at online.

You need to pay full attention to how Owen uses language, and all the poetic devices that he crams into his poems; this one is no exception. Although I shall mention many of them, you may well find more.

The passing bells are those that would toll slowly at the church where a funeral was about to take place. They sounded very solemn and everyone would know what they signified. On the battlefield, the only sound is that of gunfire: look at how Owen presents this. The men die as cattle; contrast the lengthy vowel sounds early in the line with the short a of cattle, which brings us up short, as does the image of cattle, which conjures up the image of a slaughterhouse. The heavy two syllables of monstrous echo artillery fire, whilst the onomatopoeia of the stuttering rifles, and the alliteration (rifles, rapid, rattle) echoes machine-gun fire. This continues with the half rhyme in the next line (rattle, patter).

Orison is an archaic word for a prayer, a crucial part of any church funeral service. On the battlefield these are hasty – as if there would be any time at all for praying over someone killed there. Patter is remarkable in a number of ways. Firstly there is the echo of rattle I just noted above. Then there is the meaning of the word, in the sense of words used quickly without any real focus on their meaning, like the patter of a salesperson. Finally there would be, for readers in Owen’s time, the reminder of the Lord’s Prayer (which begins Pater Noster in Latin).

Into the second quatrain: such ritual would be a mockery on the battlefield. No prayers or bells then; no choirs such as would sing hymns and anthems (back to the poem’s title) at a funeral in church. Instead, the poet likens the sound of approaching shells before they explode; the word demented emphasises the utter craziness of it all. The bugles recall the training camps before the men were sent to the front (look at Owen’s poem The Send-Off) and the alliteration of sad shires reminds us of all the different local regiments which the men volunteered for, or were conscripted into. These ‘pals battalions’ often meant that entire communities of men were wiped out together in a single day’s fighting; there are monuments all along the Western Front to such battalions.

The noise and anger of the octave gives way to a calmer, more peaceful, sad and mournful mood in the sestet. Candles are an obvious part of a church service; in days gone by, special candles made from unbleached wax were often used to add solemnity (and gloom) to a funeral service. No alter servers or choirboys will be carrying these to funerals at the front. We need to remember that often there would be no physical remains after a death on the battlefield, as well as the government decision that all the war dead would be buried where they fell rather than brought back home. So the grief is internalised. The rhyming of eyes and goodbyes is very effective, very moving, as is the idea of holy glimmers.

A pall is the heavy embroidered cloth which was used to cover the coffin while it rested in church during a funeral; none of these at the front, obviously; and yet the idea of the pall is prefigured in the pallor of girls’ brows. Who are the girls? Girlfriends? Daughters? No flowers at the front either, although we may be reminded of the poppies of Flanders’ fields. And look at how the pace of the poem gradually slows down as the sestet develops, through longer vowel sounds until we reach the poignant alliteration of the final line: dusk/drawing/down/blinds. This is a reference to how blinds or curtains would be shut in a house from which a funeral set off.

It’s a powerful poem, which pays reading aloud, with attention to how the poet uses sounds and repetitions to create a solemn mood, a sad mood. We are reminded how serious a business a funeral was a century and more ago. If you need to compare this poem with another, you can do worse than pair it with another sonnet, Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier. Contrast the tone and mood of the two poems, and remember that one was written in the early days of the war, and the other when the war was part of everyone’s lives, and its awful reality had sunk in on the people of England.


Lorca: Aube d’été

June 19, 2022

     I’d never read, or felt particularly moved to read, anything by Lorca until I came across a reference to travel writing; the French publisher Folio has a series of mini-books at 2 euros each, so I decided I’d have a go. Apparently these are some of his very earliest writings, and at times that’s very evident, reminding me frequently of GCSE descriptive writing exercises. If that feels a little harsh, I’ll add that I would have been assessing them at A+ or A*…

Mainly he focuses on southern Spain, and his descriptions, often quite short, are languorous, evocative, effortless as he paints vivid pictures of the humidity and torpor of very hot places. They are like unfinished sketches. He is clearly fascinated by, or attracted to both religious buildings and settings, and places in ruins or decaying.

I did feel a lot like a teacher assessing as I read these pieces; there was lots of promise, flashes of brilliance; at times I felt he was trying too hard, but here was certainly a talent I’d want to encourage. And there were several much more developed and coherent, lengthier pieces that really worked for me.

I also discovered the limitations of translation apps as I read this book; they’re all right for run-of-the-mill, everyday language, but when a writer gets into names of plants, flowers, trees, or more poetic and slightly archaic descriptive language, then they’re pretty useless: both WordReference and Linguee failed completely with this text…

It was worth a 2-euro punt and I’ll be on the lookout for some of his later travel writing.


Jan Potocki: The Manuscript Found In Saragossa

June 15, 2022

     I dug this out to re-read at least a couple of years back, and finally got around to it: why did I take so long? I’d forgotten pretty much everything about it apart from the fact that I’d really enjoyed it first time around. Now I can’t wait to watch the film, which is apparently a 1960s cult classic.

You won’t get much of a summary of the plot, because there isn’t really one, and because it would be impossible. It centres on the bizarre adventures of an officer in the Wallonian army while travelling through Spain in the eighteenth century, but he’s really only the vehicle for an astonishing series of interlinked fantastical tales narrated by a group of different characters, ranging from a gypsy chief, various Spanish nobles, the Wandering Jew and many more. It’s a picaresque ramble rather than a novel, very reminiscent of the nested tales which are the famous Thousand Nights and One Night; it’s fluent, easy reading which rapidly draws you in, and you’re hooked, with no real idea where you will be heading…

The history of Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries is woven into the backcloth, but where truth ends and fantasy begins, I have no idea.

Potocki – and if you read any biographical account of his life, you’ll quickly discover what a curious character he was – creates a very wide range of interesting characters who all have tales of varying degrees of complexity to share; the tales are broken off regularly, in the same fairly simple fashion, every evening, and someone’s tale will be resumed, or a new one will start, the following day. Thus there is some suspense of a sort, if you can retain all the different tales and characters in your head.

I found myself wondering what Potocki was trying to achieve, since when he wrote (early 19th century) the novel was rather more developed in terms of plot, style and characterisation in quite a few countries. He certainly comes across as a freethinker in terms of both morals and religion, via the activities and attitudes of his characters. There is also a certain amount of self-reference in terms of the nature of narrative, its complexity and how stories should be told; he engages with his readers, somewhat in the manner of Fielding.

Potocki’s great learning is clearly in evidence, as are his wide travels, and various Faustian aspects are woven into some of the tales: we never know whether the devils are real or not, and our hero never reveals the secret to which he is sworn in the earliest chapters. It works its way to a fair whirlwind of an ending; the whole thing is quite a stunning tour-de-force, and I’m intrigued now to see how on earth anyone managed to turn it into a film. I may report back…


ed Anthony Storr: The Essential Jung

June 14, 2022

     I’ve been delving into some of Jung’s writings lately, finding a number of his ideas and insights helpful in terms of understanding and interpreting my own life and where I am at currently. This is a selection from the vast corpus of his life’s work, presented by Anthony Storr, who also provides an excellent summative introduction to the salient parts of Jung’s life and thought.

There’s a vast range of extracts, presented thematically to show the stages and development of Jung’s work and his theories, along with very helpful commentary that links, enlightens, and above all for me shows process; in a single, selective volume like this, the presentation is vital.

The early years, work with mentally ill patients, the friendship and then the quarrel with Sigmund Freud is a bit amorphous; it’s when Jung turns his attention to developing an understanding of how healthy minds work, and what’s going on deep beneath the surface (I oversimplify appallingly here!) that it all becomes really interesting and eye-opening. I find myself led to reflect on my own life and experiences in different ways, from different perspectives. The gradual development of Jung’s own methods of psychoanalysis, and the humility, I think, of recognising any therapist’s own limitations is also very interesting; there is much that we can know or find out, and even try to change, but there is much more that we can never know, or know with certainty…

Jung lived adventurously, in terms of taking all sorts of risks at various points, with his own life and sanity in terms of advancing his understanding of workings of the human mind; I was certainly conscious of a man driven to want to know, to explore, to find out and to explain. He saw life as an ongoing process, a part of which necessitates our coming to terms with ageing, and the prospect and inevitability of death, things which we naturally prefer to avoid or hide from ourselves.

This led Jung on to wrestle with religion, and the psychology of religion; there’s an awful lot of very good sense in what he has to say which I do not think invalidates the idea of faith. There is some rather over-the-top stuff where he’s wrestling to make Christianity fit in with his theories, and then when he moves on to alchemy, he lost me completely. I could see why, though everything in this book of extracts is obviously part of Jung’s life and work, a good deal of it is no longer widely referenced. It seems as if he felt he had to explain everything and integrate everything into his theories, which led me to think that here was yet another scientist who was attempting to explain and rationalise religion, ie attempting the impossible.

The final very pessimistic section on the potential future of humanity chimes in all too well with our age, and a feeling that though we may be an intelligent species, we’re not that clever, and the problems we are faced with may be too many and too complex for us to surmount. He foresaw the world of Trump, Johnson, Le Pen and Orban and where such men may lead us, whether we will or not, because – and I have to agree with him here – people are too easily led, and not self-aware enough.


Edward Abbey: Desert Solitaire

June 13, 2022

     I really enjoyed revisiting this minor classic of travel literature and 1960s hippy days. Abbey is both curmudgeonly (in a nice sort of way) and iconoclastic, too. Here he writes of his time as a national park ranger in the wilds of Utah, occasional encounters with often gormless and exasperating tourists, and the adventures and exploration he was able to undertake alone and with friends whilst in those remote regions. It reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels (I think) about his time as a fire-watcher in one of America’s great forests…

Abbey describes really well, conveying atmosphere very effectively, observing all things very closely, and interpreting where he needs to, from a deep knowledge of flora, fauna, geology and geography as well as of the various indigenous American tribes of the region. He revels in isolation, hence his deliberately sought volunteer post out in the back of beyond; he enjoys stillness and silence, his own company and being able to be with his thoughts, all attributes which call to me as well. And he is not afraid of the dangers – animal or natural – which abound in the region. There is a recklessness about him and his activities; he is unfazed by a number of scrapes he gets himself into.

Here is a man who feels at home in the desert and who can share with his readers his heightened awareness and appreciation of the most mundane of things and events. It is very much a masculine world he inhabits, and I suppose what we might today term alpha male activities he indulges in, but it is a text of its time and reflects the attitudes and values of those transitional times. I also found myself considering on what to me came across as specifically American in his experience, that love of wilderness and vast wide open spaces which it’s very difficult to experience here in Europe.

He’s also opinionated, but I enjoyed this, as I suspect most of us do when the opinions coincide or overlap with our own. There are frequent polemics against what he calls industrial tourism, and against the car above all, as a way for people get out into a wilderness but then fail to interact with that environment. Sometimes there are stories unconnected with his park duties or park life that ramble on rather too long, but they were bearable in the end.

An anarchist, hippy, eco-warrior (not that he’d have recognised the term) then; what shines through this book is the beauty of the natural world and his sense of ecstasy in being part of it, and his fearlessness despite the dangers. It’s a really good and uplifting read.


Karen Armstrong: The Case for God

May 25, 2022

     I do find Karen Armstrong’s writings on religion fascinating and thought-provoking, as you can see; there’s a lifetime of research and exploration there, by someone seeking to understand and explain, as far as this can be done, and I can identify with this in a number of ways.

This book is much more approachable than the previous one. Her starting-point is our changing understanding of what God is, and the problems this presents in our modern and would-be rational age, leading to responses such as fundamentalism and atheism. She outlines how in the ancient world there was no belief in a single supreme being, along with an acceptance of God as something inexpressible and incomprehensible, which we now want to rationalise and tie down and explain…

The ancient Greeks launched the Western pursuit of Reason: there was a rational explanation for everything if it could be found or worked out… and the philosophers’ quest for understanding of the world and the cosmos seems to have been focused on the right way to live. Humans were rational creatures, carrying within them a spark of the divine.

The section on language, and the changing meaning of the word ‘belief’ was fascinating; the Greek and Latin words translated now as ‘belief’ were in earlier times more about a sense of trust and commitment in God, than about unquestioning acceptance and assimilation of a set of dogmas defined by other humans. From about the 4th century onwards, Christianity began its shift towards insistence on doctrinal correctness. And once the idea of creation ex nihilo gained acceptance, then God and the universe were separated… Belief in literal truth of scripture rather than scripture as allegory to help us see, led to the ongoing separation between spirituality and theology. Armstrong explains that we participate in a mystery, whereas we solve a problem: nowadays we try to turn the mystery into a problem which we can then solve.

I decided that, in the end, this book and others by Armstrong are of course yet another 21st century rationalist approach to the exploration of spirituality and religion. Inevitably: this is what we do in our present world and time; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just our version of the aeons-long human quest. We are necessarily creatures of our own age. So much of the book is about clever people wrestling with the (still!) ungraspable in the attempt to explain and understand, when this seems by definition impossible. Armstrong earns my respect for being engaged for so long, and bringing forth so much enlightenment. For her, religion is a practical discipline, is not easy, and is about living intensely in the her and now. Amen to that.


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