Saturday, 8 December 2012

Birthday trip looking at churches and art galleries

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Wonderful lunch in a little restaurant in Rome, discussing history and two different bottles of superb white wine, with Father Athanasius McVay. Followed by the Lateran, the chief church of Christendom.  Then coffee with Gregory di Lippo who says that Mussolini did a lot of good for Italy despite the tortures and brutality. Then Simon Boccanegra directed by Riccardo Muti which seemed to have no good tunes and persuaded me that I am still a musical philistine.

Drizzle brings out the soul of Rome, as it does the soul of every city.


very good Moroccan dinner the next night with my dear old friend Father Brendan Smyth in Brussels. The capital of the EU, by the way, is becoming increasingly Moroccan and is now 25% Muslim. 


According to Wikipedia:
People of foreign origin make up nearly 70% of the population of Brussels, most of whom have been naturalized following the great 1991 reform of the naturalization process. 32% of the inhabitants are of European origin, and 36% are of a non-Western background mostly from Morocco,Turkey and Sub-Saharan Africa. Among all major migrant groups from outside the EU, a majority of the permanent residents have acquired Belgian nationality.
The next day to Aachen by train - a journey that should have taken 70 minutes were it not for delays caused by snow which made it twice as long.

It is unfair on Aachen to visit it - my first time since I was sixteen - straight after Florence and Rome, but oddly enough it stands up to the comparison very well. I had forgotten from my teenage visit how spellbindingly beautiful the cathedral or Dom is. It beggars belief. I liked the cathedral in Aachen more than the Duomo in Florence and the church of St John Lateran in Rome. In fact, Aachen Cathedral makes my heart sing with joy. The mosaics in Aachen Cathedral are very wonderful (though restored a century ago) and the odd synthesis of Byzantine beauty and German savagery takes your breath away. Perhaps the oddest and most arresting church I ever saw, it has a lot of the German soul in it.


I want to learn much more about Charlemagne and skip ahead in Gibbon to the chapter dealing with him. I'd love to read or better to write an essay comparing him to Muhammad and Justinian. 

Who knew Charlemagne was declared a saint? 'His saintliness, however, was never very widely acknowledged outside the bishopric of Liège where he may still be venerated by tradition'. Gibbon says he had nine wives or official concubines as well as irregular amours and this sounds worse than St Stephen the Great, recently canonised by the Romanian Orthodox Church, who is said to have fathered an illegitimate child in every town to which he laid siege. When I said this to my extremely devout friend who lives in the countryside, Mrs. Rusu, she only smiled and said. ' Well, he was a man.' 

The odd silhouette of the brooding cathedral overhung the Christmas market where mulled wine for sale. Christmas is supposed to be Middle Eastern but was in fact invented in Germany.

Bruegel landscape from the train from Aachen to Amsterdam and the canals under snow are enchanting.


Finally Amsterdam and Utrecht beautiful in the snow, especially Utrecht. I wish I had organised myself to charge my camera. All the necessary parts of the camera and charger were in conjunction and i even found and identified with the help of the man in the hotel the battery, but I did not get round to it. Utrecht in the snow was a dream of loveliness though bloomin' cold. But Holland is not a country I could ever love. Far too Protestant and bourgeois and, which is even worse, far too cutesy. I much prefer Germany.

How do you know when you are middle aged? When you don't want to go to parties for 30 year-olds anymore in Amsterdam. i preferred watching DVDs even though Thank You for Smoking and Goodbye Lenin were spiritual exercises in accepting boredom meekly. I see why I never watch films or television. I lack patience. At least books require mental effort and hold ones attention, sometimes.

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