Monday, March 30, 2015

Turning Toward Montreal

When I first posted about my planned 425-mile walk from my home to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, it was with the enthusiasm that I usually bring to new things.

Beginning five months ago, I drew up a route and preliminary plans, to start on May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker; I read some books on pilgrimage and St. André Bessette, who inspired the Oratory; then I let it all lie. The winter was too cold and icy to even think of such a long walk.

In the past several weeks the reality of my pilgrimage has been slapping me in the face—alone, on a path of my own devising, through Massachusetts, wild New Hampshire and Vermont, and the French-speaking eastern townships of Quebec. Without the preexisting infrastructure of hostels, restaurants, and cafés found all along the Camino de Santiago.

Did I mention alone? I will be alone.

No one else that I know of is planning to walk—or has walked—the Camino de Montreal. People ask if anyone is going with me, and I answer, “Are you volunteering?” So far, no one has said yes.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mark Knopfler’s “Tracker”: Guitar Poems, None Finer

If all you know of Mark Knopfler is Dire Straits, “Sultans of Swing,” the “Money for Nothing” video, and the theme song from “Local Hero,” you haven’t been listening for twenty or thirty years.

“Tracker,” just released, is Knopfler’s eighth solo album since Dire Straits broke up for good and all in 1995; and I have spent much of the past three days with it.

I own all of Knopfler’s albums—they’re all I buy on CD anymore—and I treasure each. Knopfler’s listed #27 among Rolling Stone’s all-time greatest guitarists, but that’s a joke. Factor in the poetry and Mark Knopfler is in a universe all his own.

I would love to claim Knopfler as a fellow Catholic, but I can’t, or if he is one, he isn’t saying. His songs are good ones for Holy Week, though. They might as well be subtitled the Broken Body of Christ.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

“Do You Believe?”: Yes

If you sit through “Do You Believe?”—now playing at a multiplex near you but not for long—you may ask yourself, as I did, what was the difference between that well-made independent film and hundreds of other affecting, character-driven stories that pass for what are known these days as indie hits. 

“Do You Believe?” artfully weaves a dozen life stories in a compelling chain of circumstance with enough recognizable faces to make you think you’ve seen another good “little” Hollywood movie.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Greatness of Patrick O'Brian

I first heard of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series from a yachtsman. He was a client of mine; I was helping him write his memoir; he kept glancing at the series of twenty historical novels in his private library (first editions, probably signed, of course) as though they were the holy of holies.

This made an impression but I am no yachtsman.

In fact, I am known in my family as Bert Dow, Deep-Water Man because of an unfortunate incident in the lagoon at Disneyworld, during which I abandoned ship while my two young children were still aboard. But I’ll leave that lying with my deeper, more shameful secrets.

A friend of mine with whom I used to take took long Saturday hikes along the North Shore was next to tell me about O’Brian’s series of twenty historical novels, which stretch to more than 6,500 pages in the Norton edition. Dick said that he was rationing the books so that he would not finish them much before he died.

Dick was sixty then. I don’t whether he has finished them yet or not, but he is not dead that I know of. Unless he died last night.

Still, I didn’t bite.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Croquet Championship: Update

No news is said to be good news, and since I posted Friday about the Sarasota County Croquet Club championships, there has been no news at all on this page, about croquet or anything else.

My croquet news is not good, however. I was oh for the tournament, losing all five of my matches. I had a couple of memorable battles, especially with Alan Cottle, who ended winning the whole deal. (Photo shows Alan with his winnings from the Boca Grande tournament two weeks before. Alan’s a good player.)

Three times in my match with Alan, I had an opportunity to take control. The last two times, in the final five minutes of the match, I could have put Alan away. Instead, I made mistakes and lost 16–13. But it was a good show, all the same.

If the tournament held a lesson for me it was that I can’t show up in Florida after roughly six months away from the game and expect to beat top players who have been playing all winter. That probably doesn’t qualify as news either.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Keeping My Balance on the Croquet Court

American six-wicket croquet is an exercise in thinking on your feet. Alone on the court for 75-plus minutes (except maybe for the rosaries in your pocket, for those nervous moments when you’re watching your opponent run a “break” and you’re imagining the tick-tick of the game clock) you have to make all of your own decisions.

No conferring with a coach, a friend, an iPad. No hand-signals from your wife. You’re on your own.

In the backyard version of nine-wicket croquet this was never a problem. You popped another cold one and whacked your opponent into the neighbor's rose garden.

In six-wicket, the American version, with a rule book the size of a contract bridge manual, you have to excel at situational thinking. The situation on the court changes literally with each shot. And not in the way it does on a billiards table.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Seven Years with Joseph

I have spent seven years with St. Joseph, who first spoke to me seven years ago today at morning mass in my hometown. Easter Vigil was three days away, and as a convert-in-waiting I was planning to take Thomas as my confirmation name. As in Thomas More, father, writer, statesman, martyr, and hero of my all-time favorite film, “A Man for All Seasons.”

But on Wednesday morning, March 19, 2008, I went to mass and found—I didn’t anticipate this—that the Church was celebrating the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Before that mass was over I had decided that I would take the name Joseph, instead of Thomas.

The celebrant, whose name was David, may have influenced this decision. Or maybe the Holy Spirit did. In any case, I realized that Joseph was right-sized for me, that Thomas might be aiming a wee bit high.

Instead of great man, I went for good father.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

“Still Alice”: Good Performance, Weak Film

After seeing “Still Alice” this evening, I tried to think of any movie in which I’ve liked Julianne Moore’s character. I couldn’t.

“The Hours” and “Magnolia” are all-time favorites of mine, but in both Moore plays the same wan, limp, neurasthenic person she always seems to portray—certainly not the sort of big-hearted, fun-loving woman I’ve always been attracted to and, in fact, married.

Moore’s IMDB file lists 76 credits for movies and TV, so there’s something about her that appeals, obviously. And she just won the Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland, a Columbia professor and mother of three who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. Good for her.

I admired Moore’s performance in “Still Alice,” wondering to myself if she had finally found the role that suits her best—a woman whose life is visibly draining from her as we watch. Unfortunately, this Oscar-worthy turn was almost the only thing about the film I did admire.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Our Camino, Table of Contents


I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago again, and although I only did it in my imagination, it took five weeks, just like the first time.

On Monday, February 9, I began posting a tight edit of the more than sixty blog posts I wrote while walking the Camino with my daughter Marian (together in photo here) in 2012.

I have now completed an eleven-chapter “e-book” totaling nearly 25,000 words. To begin reading from the beginning, click here.

For the convenience of readers who might like to study only one or a few stages of the Camino, here is a table of contents of our journey, with a link to each stage:

Chapter 1 — Preparation
Chapter 2 — St. Jean Pied de Port to Uterga
Chapter 3 — Uterga to Navarrete
Chapter 4 — Navarrete to Burgos
Chapter 5 — Burgos to Terradillos de los Templarios
Chapter 6 — Terradillos de los Templarios to León
Chapter 7 — León to the Cruz de Ferro
Chapter 8 — Cruz de Ferro to O Cebreiro
Chapter 9 — O Cebreiro to Ribadiso
Chapter 10 — Ribadiso to Santiago de Compostela
Chapter 11 — Father’s Day and the End of the World

Our Camino, Final Chapter, Father’s Day and the End of the World


(This is the eleventh and final installment in my newly edited story of walking the Camino de Santiago with my daughter in 2012. The tenth chapter is here.)

On Sunday, June 17, Father's Day, my daughter Marian and I attended the pilgrim mass at high noon at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. From the time Marian invited me to walk with her the previous autumn, the Camino had been about fatherhood, something lodged so deep within me that it sometimes seems the closest thing to God.

I find it hard to imagine someone having a close relationship with God if they haven’t had a positive relationship with their own father. An abusive or absent father must nearly be the world’s greatest curse. My faith and my Camino both began with my father, whose name was David, a good old Biblical name, unlike Webster, who never was a saint. Sorry, Peter, David was my rock. In the five years before he died, he and I took three memorable trips together. So I understood the value of Marian’s invitation—and that I might wish to be as good a father to her as Dad was to me.

We met several other parent-child combinations walking the Camino together, including a mother and her 12-year-old son, the youngest pilgrim we met and maybe the most enthusiastic. But our presence and our compatibility were apparently so striking to people that we often heard questions like, Are you the Bulls? Are you the father and daughter from Boston that I’ve heard about? Are you Marian Bull’s dad? Are you Webster’s daughter?