All in all, a rather amusing year I thought. In 2015 there were a lot of jaunts to the continent, but 2016 — in true Brexit fashion — was the year of the domestic excursion (or ‘staycation’ if you’re a modern person). I also, through great cunning, managed to get to the theatre fairly often and even a jaunt or two to the opera.
Here are a few photos from the twelve months just past us, in no particular order. (more…)
My old desk when I was working at The New Criterion in New York.
The bottle of Pimm’s — a gift from “Mr & Mrs Peperium” — was, alas, knocked over and broken by the cleaner.
Rose and Molly are two of my favourite people in the entire universe, and when they announced they were racing a tandem across the Cape Peninsula to raise money for the men’s charity Movember, how could one fail to get behind such an effort?
Movember is the charity that raises money for and awareness of men’s cancer (prostate, testicular, etc.), poor mental health, and physical inactivity amongst men. It turns out Molly happened to meet one of the global charity’s founders in a brewery not too long ago and was inspired to help out. Movember is most well known for encouraging men to grow a moustache and raise money during the month of November, but for obvious reasons this option is denied to Rose and Molly. And so instead they will be competing — on a tandem! — in the 2016 Cape Town Cycle Tour next month.
The girls have a blog going to publicise their training and efforts, as well as a JustGiving page to raise money, but they decided to throw a ‘Big Movember Lunch’ yesterday to raise extra dosh for the cause. This caused particular salivation in Cusackian quarters as both of them happen to be excellent cooks of the highest order, skills which draw many to their amusing parties in easterly bits of London.
So yesterday we satiated our voracious hunger at Movember’s UK headquarters in Exmouth Market where Molly and Rose treated us to culinary treats beyond one’s dreams — and Mark from Movember explained a little about the good work the charity does and how it’s expanded in recent years. The good cause and delicious food were only added to by the superb company Molly and Rose had assembled. If you have a shekel to spare, send them some love.
Tostadas with Guacamole and Black Beans and chorizo
Dill Scones with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish
Stilton and Pickled Pear Puffs
Mini Meatballs with Mango dip
Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tartlets
Gammon and Mustard Terrine on Sourdough or Rye Bread
Slow Cooked Chicken and Mushroom stew, Pomegranate and Quinoa Salad, Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato and Tzatziki on Beetroot and Buckwheat Pancakes
Rose and Pistachio Cheesecake
Petits Fours and Coffee
Sun, sand, champagne, Scotland: there’s not much more you could ever want, but to have an alignment of these four in the month of October is rare. It had been quite some time since the Cusackian feet had last graced the cobbles of the beloved ‘auld grey toun’ – the Royal Burgh of St Andrews – but a friend got in touch on a Monday morning with the provocative text “Scotland Friday?” I couldn’t resist. (more…)
Between the vernal equinox and its autumnal confrère tomorrow there has been perhaps an excess of fevered activity. Aside from the usual time in London, I have been in Amsterdam, the Wolds of Lincolnshire, the Essex seaside, the Pyrenees, Kent, Paris (much scrubbed up since my last stay), Chartres, Oxford, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Lebanon, Midlothian, Connacht, and Norfolk. And before Christmas I should have two trips to Rome.
Regardless, here are just a few photos from the past six months, arranged in roughly chronological order and lightly explained, in order to keep you up to speed. (more…)
THE HOLY VALLEY cuts down like a gash in the earth, with the cathedral city of Bcharré on the clifftop, almost hanging off of it. One almost wonders if you started building at the other end of the town, it might force St Seba’s Cathedral off over into the deep beyond. There is something almost Lord of the Rings about the setting, a Levantine Minas Tirith, if only Tolkein had been a Maronite.
The Qadisha Valley (Ouadi Qadisha, وادي قاديشا, literally the “Holy Valley”) takes its name from the Aramaic word for saintly and for over a millennium its natural caves have provided shelter for hermits seeking solitude as well as others seeking refuge and safety. Evidence of human habitation dates back to the Paleolithic era, and the Qannubin Monastery here is said to have been founded by the Emperor Theodosius the Great in the fourth century. While this is the holiest ground of the Maronite Catholics, hermits living in these caves and in these monasteries have been Melchite, Nestorian, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian. When the Monastery of St Maron was sacked by Antiochene Monophysites, many monks fled to the Qadisha Valley, strengthening the presence of this Eastern church which has always remained in communion with Rome. For over five hundred years, the Maronite patriarch made Deir Qannubin his seat. (Since 1830 the Patriarchate has been based at Bkerké above the pleasant Mediterranean city of Jounieh).
It was a hot summer’s day when we arrived and as chance had it we couldn’t even get very far into Bcharré.
“A man has died. We can’t go on,” the driver mysteriously intones. (A funeral procession is underway).
Very well. We carry on down circuitously weaving through the outer-lying portions of the town, through a small necropolis, and then finally into the valley proper. While the Qadisha valley attracts many pilgrims and travellers, this is not some easy tourist route, though nor is it difficult as hiking goes (unless, like us, you have a partially blind Paralympian among your party).
Up and down you go amongst small rivulets and meandering paths joining and divorcing from your own, led by a guide who speaks neither French nor English (thank God our Lebanese friends were with us).
Eventually, having passed a considerable way down, and then up a little ways, we are taken to a cave which has been segmented with stone walls into a chapel.
Much to my surprise, murals still survive in this exposed environment, protected by the overhanging rock.
The iconoclastic damage looked quite recent, and our guide explained it probably dated from as recently as the Syrian occupation (1976–2005).
Monasticism began in the East, of course, and Western monasticism is a slightly different kettle of fish. While hermits once lived in these caves, almost all of today’s Qadisha monks are gathered into the formal Maronite communities (Baladites, Aleppians, and Antonins) or into the other non-Maronite monasteries in the valley.
Brushing the dust of the Qadisha Valley from my shoes at the end of the day, I wondered if the first monks slapped their sandals together, discarding the very same sand sixteen hundred years earlier after they finished their Liturgy of the Hours for the day (though I somehow doubt it).
Friends are continually sending me postcards from Rome, such that they have gradually accumulated in a pile in my room. An English friend sent me one, and then an Irish friend saw it while visiting and, doubtless moved by the spirit of one-up-manship, sent one himself, whereupon the first friend sent another, to be followed by the most recent one (which arrived today) of the Chiesa di S. Agostino in the Campo Marzio. A miniature St Peter’s Basilica was recently added to the mix as well.
My written views of the city you will have to wait for (presuming they ever see the light of day), but here are a few photographic impressions from my jaunt to the Kaiserliche Hauptstadt. (more…)
Culinary skills are not prominent among my varied talents, though I was pleased that the guests at the last dinner party I held in my riparian West London abode received the evening rather well. (If the food was only so-so at least the thought behind the choice and mixture of guests was appreciated). In my limited (but slowly expanding) experience, I have found haggis a rather useful addition to the repertoire.
T’other day I cooked a haggis for supper, alongside some chips and peas — an unjustly neglected vegetable I can’t help but feel. (Boring old botanists insist the pea is actually a fruit, but never you mind). Unfortunately I lacked a suitable gravy or sauce, so had to make do with ketchup and mayonnaise (plus a dash of HP).
But what to do with the leftover haggis the next day? I tried spreading it on oatcakes but that was far too dry — oatcakes must be reserved for pâté, it seems. So instead I crumbled bits of haggis into a pot of tomato sauce, dobbed it with oregano, some mixed herbs, sea salt, and freshly crushed peppercorns, and enjoyed a surprisingly delicious meal which I’ve decided must be christened linguine alla scozzese.
From a Pimlico rooftop, Friday afternoon.
At lunch, Friday.
A Saturday Mass in St Wilfrid’s Chapel, the Oratory.
A surprisingly sunny afternoon, yesterday in Ennismore Gardens.
IT WAS LATE summer, neither particularly warm nor cold, and a bit rainy. I hadn’t seen Nicholas in a while but he wasn’t particularly keen on travelling into London. “Why not meet in Winchester?” he suggested, and, never having been to England’s former capital, I thought it was a good idea. I popped on the tube to Waterloo, got on a train, and in no time at all was in the county town of Hampshire. It’s a humanely size town, admirably located, and most famous for its medieval cathedral.
The thieving Protestants, not content with stealing all the cathedrals we built throughout the width and breadth of the land, highten the insult by charging admission to these former shrines and places of worship. I had arranged to meet Nicholas in the Cathedral, though, and the blighters got a good £6.50 out of me. I had a good wander round, though.
These mortuary chests contain the remains of the Saxon royalty of the kingdom of Wessex and later England.
Norman architecture is woefully underappreciated, and might form a useful style to return to today given its relative simplicity. So much Norman architecture was destroyed and replaced by Gothic during later periods of medieval prosperity, but at Winchester the Norman transepts remain.
William of Waynflete, buried here, was a high-flyer in his day. He was, varyingly, Bishop of Winchester, Headmaster of Winchester College, Provost of Eton, Lord Chancellor of England, and founded Magdalen College, Oxford. Not a bad innings.
Richard Foxe chose a more macabre memorial, but enjoyed similar success in this world: he was Bishop of Exeter, then of Bath & Wells, then of Durham, and finally of Winchester. He was Lord Privy Seal and founded Corpus Christi College at Oxford. Foxe and Erasmus sometimes wrote to eachother, and his elaborate crozier is on display at the Ashmolean.
The tomb of Henry Cardinal Beaufort is my favourite memorial in the cathedral. Beaufort — a Plantagenet — was Dean of Wells, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Bishop of Lincoln, Lord Chancellor of England, and finally Cardinal Bishop of Winchester. He was a sometime papal legate for Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, and most famously presided over the trial of St Joan of Arc.
One of the walls was inscribed with graffiti.
The cathedral is also the final resting place for the earthly remains of Hampshire native Jane Austen, but nevermind that.
Tours of the College were available, but we decided to leave it for another visit, and went on a wander in the direction of the Hospital of St Cross.
The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is the oldest charitable institution in England and the largest medieval almshouse. The church could be a small cathedral in and of itself, but as we arrived an interment was taking place, so we thought it best that it, too, was left for another day.
Such has been the massive exodus from Facebook that I am forced to return to my previous practice of sharing random photographs via this platform. I suppose it’s just as well, as it will assure relatives in other places that I am actually alive. Keen observers will note that there are, in fact, more than ten photos, but nevermind. Apologies for the lack of explanation and the occasional in-joke (that’s in-joke… with a ‘Y’).
Burns Supper, Fulham.
Reunion of Scottish University Students, outside the Brompton Oratory.
Me and Johnny at Lourdes.
Party chez Jabre in the Lebanese mountains.
Marian procession, Malta pilgrimage, Walsingham. (Photo: Stephanie Kalber)
Autumn Drinks afterparty (disaster!) & Chabrouh fundraiser the next night.
A midwinter night’s run-into on the KR.
Yuletide, the West Country (…with a ‘Y’).
The Photo of 2012: Don Finiano convinces our favourite Member of Parliament to try out his new motorbike.
The bishops of England & Wales cunningly arranged for the Feast of the Epiphany to fall on the actual Epiphany this year. We had a great big festive lunch at our favourite little Italian place in South Ken, but the night before I went out to Hertfordshire, where I witnessed the tradition of a door being CMB’d with holy chalk for the new year (above).
Those unaware of this tradition can read a bit more here. The C+M+B stands both for Christus mansionem benedicat (“Christ bless this house”) and the names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
Some consider winter the time of death and desolation but I disagree. Winter for me is the incubation, the child in the womb, the seed beneath the soil waiting for the moment to sprout. Autumn, rather, is the time of melancholy and retrospection. Most of the trees here in New York are now bare, but before the leaves fell our friend the Brooklyn-based graphic & web designer Emily E. Owen (website here) caught these photographs of New York in the brilliant crepuscular light. The views are from Fort Tryon Park at the very top of the isle of Manhattan. (more…)
Scotland has been enveloped in snowfall, and the BBC has put a photo gallery up of reader-submitted images of the recent precipitation. The In Pictures feature of BBC News Online’s Scottish section has for years been one of my favourite parts of the website, offering a new series of photographs every week varying from the startling to the quotidian. Above is Michael Rennie’s view of a rather peaceful-looking Loch Ness. (more…)
I never paid much attention to rugby before I lived in South Africa, where it is inescapable, especially since I was studying at Stellenbosch, which the rugby-est of rugby universities. After becoming a rugby spectator you cannot go back to watching American football, which, with its stopping and starting, suddenly has the feeling of being a demented child’s game. And so, across the Connecticut border to trusty old New Haven, to join some friends and fellow club-members for some Saturday afternoon rugby and revelry, with champagne, whiskey, and home-brewed porter on offer. (more…)
With a bit of time to spare between the rugby match and dinner, we discovered a friend of ours was exploring the newly renovated headquarters of the Yale Daily News and were invited to join in. The handsome gothic structure is now overshadowed by an ugly extension to the previously ugly Yale School of Architecture, widely believed to be the ugliest building in town. Henry Luce paid for the YDN building out of his own pocket in memory of his Yale classmate Briton Hadden, who died just 31 years old. The place went up in 1932 and underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation over the summer, and the place was looking good. (more…)
One of the pleasures of South Africa is that it is so conducive to the leafy things in life. Plants grow most of the year, so even while many of the trees may be bare, there is usually enough greenery about to keep things merry, as supported by the evidence of these shots of the garden of the little place in Stellenbosch where I used to live. Of course, this amenity to growth has its faults as well. Oak trees grow too quickly in this part of the world, leaving their wood too loose and unsuitable for use in barrelling. Wine- and brandy-makers must import their barrels from abroad, adding an irritating expense. Regardless of this incidental deficiency, South Africa still manages to produce some top-notch wines. (more…)