Sometime during the afternoon of my visit to his home along the Sandy River, Father Palladino asked if I knew he’d been in a movie.
After his other startling revelations, this was just one more teaser.
Well, he qualified, his name had been in a movie.
While teaching calligraphy at Reed College, he said, he’d had a student in one of his classes–a young man who’d subsequently dropped out, though not before he’d returned for a second term studying and practicing the craft.
It was clear he wanted me to ask who the student was, and I did.
Steve Jobs, he replied.
Steve Jobs? Studying calligraphy?
Father Palladino did not philosophize about the matter with me then and there, though he’d likely often done so with others. He left me to wonder alone what it was about Steve Jobs, the great technological innovator of global consequence, which drew him to calligraphy–and not for just one college term but two.
It seemed to me this must provide a window in to the mind and motivation of the man, the titan. Was it as simple as the elegance of the artform?
How would elegance fit into a mind of… Continue reading
More interesting to me than the little book of Latin abbreviations was the story of Father Robert’s life, both because his early years were so similar to those of my character Brother Alphaios, but more-so for its trajectory, much of which was quite remarkable in mid-twentieth century America. In short, he was born in 1932. Entered a Trappist, cloistered monastery when he was seventeen. Professed as a monk some five years later and then as priest. Choirmaster for his brothers. Left the cloister after some eighteen years. Fell in love with the principal clarinetist of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Resigned his collar and was dispensed from his vows by Pope Paul VI. Wedded the woman he loved and fathered a child. Became an instructor of calligraphy at Reed College. Was widowed only eighteen years into marriage. Petitioned the Church to return to the cloth. Was given papal dispensation, and once more became a seminarian and once more a priest. When retired, continued to serve numerous parishes when their clerics were ill or away. Passed away in February of 2016 at the age of eighty-three.
I would have liked to spend more afternoons with him, learned much more about his nature,… Continue reading
Yes, dear reader, we are in the midst of a serial blogpost…
Father Palladino, as I now knew him to be, invited me to his home (a small farm several miles southeast of Portland) and we settled on a time and date. I asked for his address so I could MapQuest it, but he said he didn’t do computers; he’d mail me an address and map. I decided not to tell him about Siri.
Several days later an envelope arrived, my name and address written in an elegant, oversized script. Calligraphy, done by a master of his craft. The manner of it, the beauty of it, elevated my day. Inside the envelope was a letter of welcome, warm in its content and beautifully penned in the same letterform as the envelope. Also enclosed was a hand-drawn map. Gentlemanly manners at their very best.
Wending my way through an evergreen forest and down and across the Sandy River, I arrived to find Father Palladino waiting for me at a gate alongside the road. He swung it open, closed it behind me and guided me down a curving,… Continue reading
And so we continue…
Just a few months before, I’d had the pleasure of attending a series of seminars on ancient sacred texts—including illuminated books—at St. Martin’s University just up the road in Lacey. They were given by an international panel of scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls and other ancient manuscripts. They were paleographers, all four of them: experts in early languages, writings and religions. Unfortunately for me, none of them had directly addressed the part of the craft I now needed to understand. Even so, I called St. Martin’s and explained my problem. No one here with that expertise, they said, and suggested that perhaps only Harvard University or Oxford might be able to help.
Daunted by that prospect, and preferring to meet with someone in person, I Googled “paleographer” and added the modifier “northwest United States”. Nothing. Deciding that the expertise I needed was more about the forms of scripts rather than their history, I typed in the words “calligraphy, northwest”. Down in the weeds I found a reference to Reed College in Portland (some forty miles south), and an undated press release. In the last couple… Continue reading
If you’re drawn to stories of the art world (and who isn’t?), the beauty and the money and the chicanery, you might have considered picking up the following books. For me, aspiring writer that I am, they illustrated some of the differences between rather ordinary storytelling and the remarkable. I didn’t set out to make such a comparison, but the rather startling weaknesses of the first were all the more apparent upon reading the second.
The Art Forger is a debut novel by B.A. Shapiro (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013). Glossy and sexy, the cover is clearly intended to draw the attention of what I’ll call the airport patron: quick choice, disposable, and full of positive reviews (“engaging”, “addictive”, “ingenious and skillful”, “blazingly good”, etc.). It was the subject matter, though, that drew this reader.
It’s a twist upon a twist in the art forgery sub-genre: Is the stolen, now-recovered Degas the original work or a forgery? If the latter, is making a forgery of a forgery a crime? It’s an interesting concept, and in more sure hands it might have been pulled off.
For me, the term “insouciance” came to mind. (I can’t tell you quite… Continue reading
One of the reasons I’m convinced of its sublimity is that I’m really not keen on poetry, and in fact don’t care for anything else Eliot ever wrote.
But this particular poem encompasses, encapsulates, the entirety of human existence, in a way no other type of writing could. A novel would make all the subtext into text, and rob it of its nuance; a play would make it mundane and common by forcing the words to be spoken by mere mortals; setting it to music would limit and trivialize it. It has a solemn, tragic beauty that would be diminished in any other form.
The poem isn’t flawless (“I should have been a pair of ragged claws …” is a tad goofy), but the missteps add to the poem’s overall perfection, the way a slightly “off” feature on a beautiful face makes it even more beautiful.
This is my favorite stanza:
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail… Continue reading
It was mountains of sound—vast parapets and promontories and cliffs of sound. The deep bass notes were born of thunder, or the roar of a great fire, or the eruption of a volcano. They filled the space completely, as thoroughly as the air, as densely as water.
Somewhere in the interstitial spaces between the notes, the trills of the higher ranges could be heard flitting overhead. It was as if the very songs of the birds had been captured for the pleasure of the composer.
It was the last few bars of the benedictory song being played one ordinary Sunday morning on the great pipe organ of New York’s Trinity Church.
It shook the air.
It was the roar of an immense waterfall. A roar of booms. It was primordial, as if left over from some great cataclysm. Or beginning.
It shook the air and vibrated the body and the soul.
It was sublime.
Though it was one of my mother’s great joys to finally obtain a Hammond for our small town church, I’ve never been enamored by the sound architecture of the ordinary organ. And though my favorite aunt Marian sang… Continue reading
I have suggested in a previous post (June 19, 2014) that George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue may reach that pinnacle of human accomplishment which is incomparable, transcendent, even sublime; that it is a composition—a musical invention—beyond the possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. That it is an accomplishment of the human spirit which moves us to a place of great visceral, intellectual, emotional or spiritual wonderment.
Following is how Brother Alphaios (Al-fay-us) hears this amazing piece. He’s a cloistered monk and the protagonist in BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios, a novel written by this author and available to you at the click of a link.
Today, Alphaios was especially happy to escape the confines of the monastery. The morning had been spent in a dull chapter meeting that Brother Richard, possessed of a good heart but small mind, had stretched out interminably. And lunch had been uninspired even by monastery standards.
It was a false spring day. More rain and cold would come before winter released its grip on the city, but today he would enjoy the contrast of warm sun and chilled air. The… Continue reading
Several recent blogposts notwithstanding, I have never been one to lean on the quotations of others, great or not. I have preferred most of my adult life—but to less effect, I suppose—a more experiential search for wisdom. So I have been surprised at the strength of my appreciation for the series of literary plaques set into the sidewalk near the New York City Public Library.
From the concrete below, a bronze rectangle faces upward to the sky and warns, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” (From The Awakening, an 1899 novel by Kate Chopin, 1851-1904.)
Lest one think only of race or ethnicity (and why might one not, for it is true there as well), the context for this particular remark is womanhood—the quiet constraints on the freedoms of women at the turn of the twentieth century. It would be two decades before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally recognized (not “gave”, as some might say, but recognized) the right of women to vote. That was a necessary step, but a hundred years later we know it was not anywhere near sufficient to dissipate the hard… Continue reading
“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”
So says Hanta on the first page of Too Loud a Solitude, a novella by Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997).
What more could any writer wish than to have such a reader?
And, too, the words are so vivid as to create the very physical sensations of which he speaks.
I considered posting the sentence with only a simple “wow,” but found myself wanting to know more about these words and their context.
I was in for a surprise.
This happy sentence, chock full of the delights of discovery (and the savoring of it) stands out in the novella as brilliantly as a diamond—not so much for the quality of its construction or insight (for that is superb throughout), but in its brightness of mood. Too Loud A Solitude is full of oppression and darkness and even the putrid. And… Continue reading