Saturday, 24 October 2015

Self interest or altruism

My 92 year old WWII era Marine Betty had a bad fall last Thursday.

I was walking around the pond when I saw the ambulance drive away from her home/.

As luck would have it, her neighbours Judy and Linda were on the scene, so they were able to fill me in on the details.

This meant that I could call one of Betty's sons (he lives in Colorado)  and alert him to his Mum's accident.

Turns out that Betty had broken her right hip.

I saw her in the hospital on Friday, a few hours before her surgery,  She was a bit "out of it" due to the effect of pain killers.

I then e-mailed her local friends to tell them about Betty's accident.

Her Friday evening surgery went well.  She was under the knife for just about an hour.

Saturday dawned and I learned the surgery had been pleasing to the surgeon.

I have been in constant contact with the Colorado son, with Betty's neighbours and with her friends.

I saw her today.  Despite severe pain, she was her usual funny and feisty self.   She had undertaken two short walks -  less than 24 hours after surgery -  go figure. She will most likely move to a rehab. centre as soon as Monday.


So, here's the deal:

Has my ministry with Betty and her circle been a matter of my care for Betty and my altruism?

Or has it been a matter of my self-interest? (I love to be at the centre of things - this case the point person).

It's most likely been  a bit of both.

That being the case I venture to suggest that all the calls for volunteer lay-ministry in the Church  should be couched in terms which appeal to a person's altruism and to  her/his altruism/

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Pulchritude (and other words)

Of course I know the meaning of the word pulchritude, but it always sound to me like a "dirty word".  (That may be because I like dirty words).


I am reading "Under Magnolia - A Southern Memoir" by Frances Mayes (Crown Publishing 2014). It's a sweet and bitter, sad and funny of life as she grew up in the small town of Fitzgerald, GA.

Here, from the New York Times,  is a review of the book:


On page 159 Frances Mayes  muses about the Greek and Latin roots of some of our everyday words. I  looked into this at

Have fun and see if you can discover the common roots of the words subtle, textile, text, and texture.

(Subtle was the one which I least expected).

subtle (adj.) Look up subtle at
c. 1300 (mid-13c. as a surname), sotil, "penetrating; ingenious; refined" (of the mind); "sophisticated, intricate, abstruse" (of arguments), from Old French sotilsoutilsubtil"adept, adroit; cunning, wise; detailed; well-crafted" (12c., Modern French subtil), from Latin subtilis "fine, thin, delicate, finely woven;" figuratively "precise, exact, accurate," in taste or judgment, "fine, keen," of style, "plain, simple, direct," from sub "under" (see sub-) + -tilis, from tela "web, net, warp of a fabric"

textile (n.) Look up textile at
1620s, from Latin textilis "a web, canvas, woven fabric, cloth, something woven," noun use of textilis "woven, wrought," from texere "to weave," from PIE root *teks- "to make"

text (n.) Look up text at
late 14c., "wording of anything written," from Old French texte, Old North French tixte "text, book; Gospels" (12c.), from Medieval Latin textus "the Scriptures, text, treatise," in Late Latin "written account, content, characters used in a document," from Latin textus "style or texture of a work," literally "thing woven," from past participle stem oftexere "to weave, to join, fit together, braid, interweave, construct, fabricate, build," from PIE root *teks- "to weave, to fabricate, to make; make wicker or wattle framework" (see texture (n.)).
An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns -- but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth. [Robert Bringhurst, "The Elements of Typographic Style"]

texture (n.) Look up texture at
early 15c., "network, structure," from Middle French texture and directly from Latin textura "web, texture, structure," from stem of texere "to weave," from PIE root *teks- "to weave, to fabricate, to make; make wicker or wattle framework"


Frances Mayes also reminded me that that word Khaki is derived from an Urdu/Hindi word meaning "dust coloured".

Monday, 19 October 2015

A "fail" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune 19th October 2015: I smiled until I sighed.

Comer back ye Copy Editors -  all is forgiven

Our local newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a "puff piece" today about the founding Pastor of St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church:  the Revd. Charles Eslander.  The article was written by one Jeff LaHurd - an H-T "correspondent".

Here is the header:

Sarasota history: The priest, the church and the circus.

By Jeff LaHurd

And here are excerpts from the story:

SARASOTA - On Sunday morning, Oct. 2, 1927, Father Charles Elslander celebrated his first Mass in Sarasota. He had been a priest for five years, serving St. Augustine, Tallahassee, Orlando and mission churches in north Florida before he arrived to become this community's Parrish  (1) priest.

Father Elslander's first service was in a small wooden structure built in 1911, at Adelia and 9th Street, on property donated by the Owen Burns family. St. Martha was Burns mother's patron saint. A man of the cloth, Elslander served not only his own congregation of Catholics but embraced those of all faiths. A fellow priest noted that he was Ecumenical (2)  in spirit

His kindliness and generosity were well known throughout the county, and in his heart and through his deeds he was the Chaplin (3) of all of Sarasota.

Father Elslander was filled with praise for the circus personnel who were “essential in the construction of the Church.” He noted that for eight years, they gave two performances just before leaving for the annual tour, bringing to the church grounds nearly the entire menagerie and the finest acts. It was John Ringling North  (4) who requested that Father Elslander and his altar boys bless the circus trains each year, an act captured on celluloid in “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Thereafter North would not let the trains leave the yard until they were blessed.

Blessing the Circus Train (This photo' was not in the H-T article)

On Oct. 20, 1957 the cavernous Municipal Auditorium was filled with community well-wishers who came to pay their respects to him on the occasion of his 65th birthday, his 30th anniversary at St. Martha's and his 35th anniversary as a priest. An editorial in the ( former Sarasota) Herald describing Monsignor Elslander's festive night, said of him : (5)“...his accomplishments here are nothing short of phenomenal.” 

 "The Parish (6)  gifted him a 1958 Buick".


(1)  Parrish is a community some 27 miles north-east of Sarasota.   Monsignor Elsander was the Pastor at St.Martha's Parish.

(2) The word "ecumenical" is an adjective. So why did Jeff LaHurd write Ecumenical, and how is it that the H-T's copy editor did not understand that the first letter (e) should not have been  upper case/capital.

(3)  Did Charlie know about this?  (The word is "Chaplain", not "Chaplin") [This made  me giggle!)

(4)  John Ringling North was the nephew of the more famous John Ringling. North ran the circus after his uncle died.

(5)  Back to 1957 and to the old Tribune.  Strictly speaking, all  our accomplishments -  good, bad, or indifferent  - are phenomenal!

(6) Dear Jeff LaHurd, you spelled "parish" correctly this time. But  why oh why did you not use plain and simple English?  by writing that "the Parish gave him a 1958 Buick",  rather than your awkward construction "The Parish gifted him a 1958 Buick".

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A place where I lived for sixteen years - Pittsfield MA - and where I had the most enjoyable years of my ordained ministry.

According to Rand McNally  Pittsfield MA is about 136 miles from Boston MA.

But for the newspapers in  Boston (which is self-identified as the "Hub of  the Universe")  Pittsfield might well be a City in an alternative Universe.

What you will read below is a "puff-piece".

It 's nice enough , but it utterly ignores Pittsfield's loss of up to 15,000 blue collar jobs since the days of the Korean conflict.

It utterly confuses the locations of the former Berkshire Savings Bank; the former Pittsfield National Bank,; and the frmer First Aggie (First Agricultural) Bank.

It ignores the lovely neo-Gothic First Church, U,C.C. on Park Square,

And whilst  it says nice things about the gorgeous Tiffany windows at St, Stephen's Parish (not St, Stephens as the Globe  crews up its grammar) ), it has never a word to say about the the fabulous mary elizabeth tillinghast  stained glass windows and altar at St.Stephen's.

Maybe that's because a male (Louis Comfort Tiffany) has more credibility in the eyes of the Boston Globe than a female (Mary Tillinghast),



PITTSFIELD — My grandparents were born here. They met and married here, then raised my father and his siblings a few miles from where they’d grown up themselves. Later in life, my grandparents traveled extensively, but Pittsfield was always home. They lived their whole lives here, and considered their lives full.

Trips to Pittsfield, the largest city in the Berkshires, were highlights of my childhood. During the early 1980s, I’d walk along North Street, the downtown hub, with my grandmother. She’d point out landmarks, filling me with tales of the city’s glory days. We would stop at the red wagon in front of First National Agricultural Bank for a greasy brown paper bag of popcorn and she’d remember that the same wagon had sold popcorn by horse-drawn carriage when she was a girl.

In front of a long-shuttered venue, my grandmother often reminisced about a glitzy New Year’s Eve party there in the 1930s. I’d seen a photo of the night, my grandfather in a tuxedo, my grandmother, dazzling in a drapey white dress. I was mesmerized by the 19th- and early-20th-century stone buildings that presided over downtown.

Stately and detailed, the structures spoke of importance and fine craftsmanship. There was glamour to the architecture, a mystique that hinted at a bygone era.

My grandparents were proud to live in Pittsfield; they’d come of age during the city’s heyday. But by the 1980s, the city was on a downward spiral. Pittsfield was incorporated in 1761 in a primarily agricultural area.

By the early 1800s it was a center of woolen manufacturing and when the railroad arrived during the second half of the 19th century, Pittsfield evolved into a bustling metropolis.

In 1890, William Stanley Jr. put Pittsfield on the map when he developed the first electric transformer at his Stanley Electric Manufacturing Co.

A decade later, General Electric acquired the company and opened three manufacturing facilities in town, employing more than 15,000 workers for 70-plus years. North Street was lined with banks, department stores, and specialty shops, all of which stayed open late on Thursdays, the day GE employees were paid.

In the late 1970s, GE began shutting down its operations in Pittsfield and over the next 10 years, the city lost its luster. The population plummeted, the once-thriving downtown became a dim stretch of vacant storefronts, and no one was coming to visit. My last visit was in 2003, and I found it to be dreary, depressing, and sad. I couldn’t wait to leave.

While many unsuccessful attempts to revitalize downtown Pittsfield have been made over the last two decades, word has spread that momentum is finally taking hold, that the city is gearing up to be a Berkshires destination. This fall, I ventured back to see for myself.

An integral component in the resurgence is the fact that there is finally an appealing downtown hotel. With both a hip aesthetic and a time-honored feel, Hotel on North (297 North St.,413-358-4741, is what residents have wanted for years, say owners David and Laurie Tierney. A while back the Tierneys — David runs Pittsfield-based construction company David J. Tierney Jr. Inc. — partnered with Main Street Hospitality Group, which owns notable Berkshire hotels including Stockbridge’s The Red Lion Inn and North Adams’s Porches Inn at Mass MoCA, to bring a boutique hotel to downtown Pittsfield. After years searching for the right spot, in 2014 they acquired two National Historic Register brick buildings that housed Besse-Clarke department store from 1909 through the early 1990s.

The 45-guest rooms are spacious with high ceilings. Luxe bedding and marble clad bathrooms are paired with the structure’s wide plank floors, exposed brick walls, and antique furnishings found at the Brimfield Antiques Fair. Lounge-like common areas are decked in jewel tones with plush contemporary seating and early-20th-century tables acquired from an old mill.

With long windows overlooking downtown, the hotel restaurant, Eat on North, features an oyster bar and cuisine inspired by various cultures. Dinner menu offerings include rotisserie duck with Korean barbecue glaze; chicken and waffles; and Scottish salmon. The breakfast fare reflects a similar inventive influence (red quinoa oatmeal; maitake mushroom hash).

If you’re looking for a more casual place to enjoy your morning joe, head to Dottie’s Coffee Lounge (444 North St.,, 413-443-1792). With hard worn tables, mismatched chairs, and a blackboard that covers an entire wall with the coffee selections, it’s a favorite hangout of hipster families, students, and old-timers alike. Don’t let the laid-back atmosphere fool you, the food is thoughtfully conceived and unbelievably delicious, I had the best egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich on a homemade scallion biscuit I’ve ever tasted. As my husband said, “That’s a sandwich worth getting fat over.”

The buildings that captivated me as a child still strike me — a seasoned design writer — with awe. From Park Square, the 1.5-acre oval public green in the heart of downtown, you can view some of the city’s best architectural specimens: the white marble courthouse, built in 1868; the Victorian Gothic-style Registry of Deeds; St. Stephens Church, with its Louis Comfort Tiffany windows; and the elegant columned former First Agricultural National Bank that cost a whopping $250,000 to build in 1909.

A large part of Pittsfield’s allure is the now-thriving arts scene, which the city has put great effort into. Downtown’s state-designated Upstreet Cultural District includes the Tony-award winningBarrington Stage Company (30 Union St.,, 413-236-8888). Housed in a 1912 vaudeville theater, the company draws more than 50,000 visitors annually to see musicals, cabaret, classics, and new work
Another place to see live performances is the Colonial Theatre (111 South St.,, 413-448-8084), which hosted Sara Bernhardt, John Barrymore, and other legends in the early 1900s. It shuttered in the 1950s, but after it was made a National Historic Treasure, the community invested millions to refurbish the theatre. Today, the interior’s ornate, Gilded-Age glamour has been meticulously restored and the Berkshire Theatre Group hosts headliners who have included James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, and The Eagles. Opening in December, “A Christmas Carol” kicks off the city’s holiday festivities.

The 1903 Berkshire Museum (39 South St.,, 413-443-7171) was opened by Zenas Crane, an owner of Crane & Co., the venerable paper manufacturer. Crane was entranced by the collections of the Smithsonian, The Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His concept was to blend the best attributes of their revered collections in his museum. Today, the museum exhibits remain diverse. A 10-foot-high stegosaurus outside the museum advertises the dinosaur gallery. Inside, visitors find paintings from the Hudson River School, the writing desk of Nathaniel Hawthorne, an ancient gallery featuring an Egyptian mummy, and a 30-tank aquarium. A National Geographic exhibit showcasing photographs of the American West runs through January.

Next door is a gem of a shop, Museum Facsimiles Outlet Store (31 South St., 413-499-1818) where the highlights include baby gifts, small leather goods, and wall decor. The array of beautiful frames, prints, and letterpress greeting cards are made in Ken Green’s factory down the road. Most impressive are the enlarged book spines of authentic editions of classics in beautiful frames. I went home with “Emma” for my daughter, whose name is also a Jane Austen heroine’s.

It used to be that downtown Pittsfield had scant few restaurants and none of them were memorable. The offerings have expanded immensely and there are now nearly 20 restaurants in a quarter of a mile. One of the standouts is District Kitchen & Bar (40 West St.,, 413-442-0303), a new gastro-pub. With exposed copper pipes that run along the ceiling, steel chairs, and deep grey walls the decor feels both industrial and enveloping. If your appetite is small, there’s a fantastic a goat-cheese BLT with cucumber; if you’re in the mood for something more substantial go for the garlic and herb marinated strip steak. The Cuban-style corn on the cob is a must.

There’s a rustic, chic vibe at Methuselah Bar and Lounge (391 North St.,, 413-344-4991) where the communal table is popular, but there are also nooks with private two-tops. The menu comprises cheese and charcuterie; small plates (the roasted butternut squash tacos are amazing); salads; and hearty, eclectic sandwiches. There’s a lively bar scene often accented by music from a talented guitarist.

Pittsfield is equidistant between North Adams and Great Barrington, the northern Berkshires and the southern. So it’s a perfect home base for travelers looking to explore the entire region. With weekend rates as low as $179 a night at Hotel on North, it’s significantly less expensive to stay in Pittsfield than in the higher profile towns.

On the way out of town I noticed, with the glee of a child, that the popcorn wagon is still there. Now owned by Berkshire Bank (99 North St.), it’s operated by participants in a Goodwill program that teaches business enterprise skills. As we drove away, I felt happy to have seen that the legacy of my grandparents’ beloved city is being preserved and that Pittsfield is evolving, poised to endure for a long time.