Browse By

Where you been?

Golly! That’s nine days away! Sorry about that, y’all. Had some things to think about.

Some friends came to visit last week. We were going to go look at lots of important things, but it was just so much nicer to sit around in the garden and drink tea. And I didn’t have to put on my shoes, which is always a bonus.

I’m retiring. If Diocletian can quit to grow cabbages so can I.

It’s just so boring!

I’ve got a confession to make. I can’t be arsed over the Asteroid anymore. Does anyone mind if I just stop talking about it?

It’s partly spring, and Lent. I don’t usually purposely go off the ‘net for Lent, but it seems to be working out that way more or less anyway this year. At least, I’ve been mostly off the Bad Internet, and have discovered it’s pretty nice and maybe I should just stay away permanently. (And maybe you all should too.)

In fact, the internet in general just seems not to be able to hold my attention that much anymore. Maybe I’m getting old. Or – and here’s me going out on a limb – maybe it’s just not really all that interesting. Whenever I try to pay attention to it, my brain just can’t get a purchase on it. It’s like my eyes just slide off the text. It tires me out almost before I’m done reading.

Now and then I go back to watch the ongoing kerfuffles and mostly it just makes me shake my head. How can anyone think this is interesting? How did I ever think this stuff was important? And why is everyone so horrible? I was thinking the other day how much nicer it was before the internet taught us how horrible we all are, how much viciousness there is out there and how easy it is to fall into the habit yourself.

And it seems inescapable that the nature of the medium itself – the promise that you can say any regrettable thing in the safety of impersonal anonymity – has brought many of us down to an almost animalistic level. I think we were already getting pretty bad. I think since the ’70s Modernia has become a toxic swamp transforming our moral DNA into something unholy. But people were still people. I think it took the ‘net to turn us all into orcs. In fact, I think “troll” is a good word for it. I think Jordan Peterson – who I still have hope will come to Christ soon – used a very apt expression: “transgressive”. I’ve been thinking that word a lot lately.

And if we think about it, isn’t a great deal of the transgressive behaviour generated by the medium itself? People like to show off and the ‘net provides everyone – all the people who would normally not be worth paying attention to – with an instant audience of millions. It naturally inflates the ego. Not a lot of what passes for politics and the various shenanigans would have even been happening if the ‘net hadn’t provided a gigantic audience for it all. All this SJWing and Antifa protesting and all that nauseating, toxic stuff is generated exclusively for the iPhones in the crowd. It’s all just a kind of theatre. And it’s really crappy as entertainment.

I just realised it’s not very important to me. I’ve said my piece. And honestly, having the Asteroid be my job was mostly just making me stop. I just stopped. I stopped doing anything at all. Finally I’ve found myself so stuck that I can’t write about it. I can’t even read about it anymore. It’s like being psychologically paralysed.

And I’m just tired of being cranky and out of sorts all the time.

All this stuff is what’s important to me:


A friend – another Ben Oblate living in the States – admitted that he has just lost interest too. Easy to do when it’s always the same, I guess. Is it outrage-fatigue? Maybe. Or maybe the cheap thrills just don’t thrill after a while, and that’s more or less all the ‘net has got. My friend – a father of 12! – said, “We’ve got seedlings growing in our kitchen that need a nice weekend for garden planting. And IRL stuff is increasingly more interesting.”

And that’s pretty much it. Some time ago, during a visit to the monks, I met a hermit – yes, the real thing, big beard and all – who said, rather to my surprise, that he reads me. “More gardening posts please!” was the last thing he said as he headed back to his mountain.

Real Life stuff is my new obsession. Now I’m occupied with things that simply won’t interest anyone else.

About a month ago.

With King Henry the Cat for scale. The little round wattle beds I built last year as an experiment weren’t very good in the summer. Very difficult to get them to retain water. The water just poured out the sides. I did them at first as copies of the ones I saw in medieval manuscripts. But I think they must have been lining them with something that helped them retain water. Oil cloth or something. So I think I’m going to pull them out and just build up the spot with some tufa blocks.

I cut all the broccolis yesterday. If you haven’t tried Romanesco (also called “cavolfiori verdi” – green cauliflower) you don’t know what you’re missing. So good!

Like fact that for a second year in a row, I’ve magically made my favourite food come out of the ground! Did you know you can make food? I don’t mean cook a dish out of ingredients. I mean, make actual food! It takes a while, but you put a bunch of little seedlings of Romanesco broccoli in a raised bed of soil – it costs about ten bucks – and three months later, you have a freezer full of your favourite vegetable!

Spent a lot of time building new sweet pea trellises. Spring is pruning season for the fruit trees, so you get all these useful, flexible canes. This year I’ve had a warning that simple sticks aren’t enough, and I’ve sort of been going nuts building trellises.

Also, pleased to report that I’ve finally figured out how to get sweet peas to germinate. You have to start them inside by soaking them in water overnight, then leave them to sprout on a little tray covered in a damp paper towel. You put a plastic freezer bag over this to keep them warm and damp and spray them with water regularly. And you have to make sure Pippin doesn’t decide to snooze on them since they’re in the sunny spot. Most important is they don’t dry out. In just a few days they start to crack their little hard shells and in a week you’ve got wee teeny seedlings on the tray. I’ve been potting them out in seed starter pots, three and four to a pot.

Only about 5% sprouted last year which was very disappointing, though the ones that did come up were gorgeous. I thought I’d got a bad batch of seeds. New Rule: always check the gardening-innernet before starting any new seeds because there’s tricks you have to know that the packet won’t tell you. So this year, having so few work last year, I overcompensated and started a couple of hundred, thinking I’d get maybe 30% and wouldn’t you know it, every single one of the beggars has come up! Now my biggest problem is finding places to put them all. There’s going to be absolute masses of them.

Having had such a success, I’m going to see if I can improve germination rates for other things that didn’t do too well. Hardly any of my nasturtiums sprouted last year. And they’re usually even easier to start than pea-family things. I couldn’t understand it. Anyway, I’m going to see if soaking can help them too.

Finding a path – hopelessly Latin but feeling ecumenical

I have also been spending rather inordinate amounts of time looking at iconography videos and hunting around for instruction websites to learn the techniques –  mostly egg tempera and gold tooling. And it’s not because I want to be an iconographer. (I’m sorry Dale Price) I still can’t make myself like Byzantine art. I mean, I guess I sort of like it, because ancient and Christian and deeply authentic and historic and whatnot. But it’s just … well…<cringes><bracesforinsanescreechingtrollattacks> … boring. It’s all exactly the same. And the primitivist thing, with the hyper-stylisation and hyper-canonicalness of the faces and draperies and stuff… You go to the iconographer’s websites and they are all exactly the same. I just … don’t really like it. It’s boring. I’m sorry. I know it’s lame.

And I do get that this is the point, that they’re supposed to be the same, and that the purpose of them is quite different from the purpose of later forms of sacred art as it developed in the Latin West. I’ve really been learning a great deal of things I didn’t really get before about it, and am coming to appreciate it more. But to really get into that mindset you have to be culturally Byzz, and I ain’t Byzz. I’m afraid I’m hopelessly Latin at least aesthetically. I can’t stop myself being Western I guess, so Byzz stuff just seems weird and foreign. On good days it’s “exotic,” which is better.

And don’t the icons just TOTally go together with this! It’s like the icons themselves are singing along.

For instance, Russian chant mostly sounds depressing as all get out. I’ve been to the Russicum a few times and heard it in person, and it’s amazing IRL. And I’m all over very early chant recordings you can find on YT, like those Templar chants and the Hildegarde stuff that is heavily Byzz-influenced. But no matter what text they’re actually singing, the Ruskies make it all sound like they’re being dragged off into Babylonian bondage. They could be singing “Rejoice in the Lord alway” but the music sounds like the lamentation over Jerusalem conquered. Maybe “joy” means something different in Russian than it does in Anglo. Or maybe it’s just the minor key.

Manly Byzz-influenced Latin chant.

But this is unquestionably extremely cool. I’ve been told they do this with the plank because their Islamic oppressors had outlawed bells. (Bastards! Delenda est!)

Been downloading quite a lot of this lately, and it goes pretty well with the Silmarillion, which I’m finally getting around to reading.

And in the course of all this searching about for iconography, of course it’s impossible not to find quite a lot of Orthodox theology, and I gotta say, a lot of it is rock solid pastoral stuff, more or less just applications of Scripture and the Patrology to modern day problems, (which is something the Latins might want to get off their well-fed arses about). Probably due to the persecutions and the consequent Coptic diaspora, there’s a huge YouTube presence of Coptic Ortho stuff in English, and they are really good at giving sound answers to modern problems. You’ve just got to ignore them when they talk about ecclesiology and the papacy – which they pretty much never do.

(I can hear the innernet harpy-screeching already – “Hilary White’s going Ortho!!!” <screechscreechscreech><flapflapflap>)

Along with Fr. Lazarus el Anthony, whom we already know and love, there’s these guys:

And, Skodge, weren’t we just talking the other day about this? Here’s some pretty good stuff on it.

Also, hey! Hey you!

This is for you…

Yes, you.

You know who you are.

So what am I paying attention to, apart from the sweet peas and cantaloupe seedlings?


For me the big influences for art lately are late Gothic and very early Renaissance, particularly the Umbrian school, and only up to about 1480 or so. No later than Pinturicchio who was still loading a bunch of Byzzy stuff into his work. As soon as we get as far as Perugino my brain just starts going ‘meh’. And once you’ve got as far as Raphael, I’m thinking, “Degenerates. No one cares what your boyfriend’s muscles look like. Reel it in, creep-o.” So, I’m OK with Filippino Lippi (but not his degenerate dad Filippo) and Pinturicchio, but Fra Angelico is really holding my full attention at the moment. And nothing good can come out of Rome.

The photos make no impact. Seeing art only in photos – especially on the ‘net – tends to naturally make a person shrug and think art is pretty much unimportant. But when you see them in real life, which is how you’re supposed to see them, they knock you right out of your shoes.

There’s of course a load of Peruginos in the Perugia gallery and a couple of them are good strong colours and have retained some of the innocence of the early Ren./late Gothic, but mostly they’ve got a bunch of frescos loote… err… saved out of churches and it’s all very girly and pastelly. I have to admit that I mostly just sail right past them on my way to the Pinturicchio altarpiece, which is so arresting that it practically reaches out and clocks you in the brain if you try to walk past it. The gallery seems to know this, and they’ve got it in a room by itself, in case it tries to bully the other paintings, and there’s a bench you can sit on to gaze at it. I think maybe people have collapsed from exhaustion after standing there all day, so they made sure you could sit if you needed to.

But most often I don’t even get that far. To get to the Perugino and Pinturicchio part of the gallery, you have to go down stairs to the later sections…

and to do that you have to get through rooms of Gothic altarpieces

and giant Umbrian crucifixes…


…and at least three rooms of Fra Angelicos, which don’t reach out and punch you in the head, but instead snake out invisible arms to just grab you and hold you in place. I think I get sort of hypnotised by it. I was never a Fra Angelico guy at all until I started seeing them in real life.

So I was up last night until two am looking for iconography schools and courses in Umbria. All the technical stuff that Fra Angelico knew – how to paint in egg tempera and do the super-fancy gold leaf tooling – is still being done by modern iconographers, so the skills are out there to learn. And of course as you may imagine there’s quite a market for it in Italy. I’m making progress just working on it myself, from Youtube videos and a very good book by a woman who has done a lifetime of primary source research into the techniques and materials. But I think a few weekend courses from real iconographers couldn’t but help move things along.



Anyway, I think this is more or less my announcement of retirement. Not completely, but from this blog and from the War. I think put all together it means I’ve run dry. I’ve just got nothing more to say about it. It’s pretty much the same reason I stopped writing for LifeSite. There’s only so long you can keep writing the same three articles over and over and over before you just can’t force yourself to care anymore.

So, this will be the last post at What’s Up with the Synod/FrancisChurch. It was really only supposed to last for the duration of the Synods anyway. And after four years… five? I can’t remember … I think we’ve got it sussed. If anyone asks, we can just point them to old posts that explain it all. Or to other people. Peter Kwasniewski can tell you about the Faith and why the liturgy is important. There are other people, if you still need to keep up with the goings-on. But I quit.

As for what’s next. I’m going to keep writing for the Remnant. Mike’s got all sorts of plans for things. He’s agreed that we need to write about the Faith itself, and I’m on board with that. You can read my thing on how to beat the Kasperians/Bergoglians by praying, here. And there’s another one about prayer according to what I’ve been reading in the Benedictine sources in this month’s print edition.

The one I’m working on now is about the extraordinary story of the 300 Syrian Hermits of Umbria, how in the 4th century a group of hermit-refugees from persecution in the Middle East came to Italy and set up shop in the Valnerina, and their mysticism and holiness launched Benedictine monasticism – and later Franciscan mysticism – that changed the whole world. There are amazing stories to be told, and all of them more interesting than… that other stuff.

I hesitate to say these kinds of things, but it sort of seems to me that I’m being steered in a different direction. To wit; painting, instead of writing. The plan is to make a complete reversal of priorities. I’m still writing for a living – which just seems increasingly dumb to me – and painting on the side. I’m going to see if I can switch that up. So I’m at the stage of screwing up my courage to the sticking point. Change is scary. As Fr. Faber liked to say, “All change is bad, even change for the better.” This is just a summary of St. Philip’s Rule of Life that if you are in a bad kind of life you must not hesitate; you must change it for a good one immediately. But if you’re mostly in a good kind of life, any thought about changing it for a better one should be taken very, very carefully and slowly. One must change as little as possible so as not to discombobulate yourself. And there’s been a lot of changes in the last few years. More than I like. But this direction – painting more than writing, and NOT writing about The Crisis – is starting to seem necessary and inevitable.

And as I think about all this, and look down the long, long road that stretches before me to competence as a painter, the noise of the Twitter arguments, the vicious self-righteousness of the ever-increasing divide in the Trad-o-sphere and the unholy yowling and snarling, the Black Speech of Mordor pouring like toxic smoke out of Barad … Rome just sort of recedes into the irrelevant distance.


Retired; not dead

I want to assure all the incredibly loyal readers – many of whom have become actual friends, albeit sometimes necessarily long-distance – that I’m not disappearing. But if it’s OK with y’all I think I’m just going to archive all this, and move back “home” to my original blog. Just a humble little blogspot blog that I started way way back in 2005, while I was still trying to figure things out. I got into it all, so many years ago, (1998!) because I wanted to find out what was going on. It’s been a long time, but I think I’ve got it. time to move on.

I’m told all the time that people like the gardening and travel and art posts, and honestly I like them too. So that’s what we’re going to do. I have another year on the lease here, so this is going to be the last full growing season in this garden, and I’ve got lots of plans. Then it’s going to be time to find a more permanent home. This has been great as a place to crash land after the disaster, and to set up a base camp, but it’s close to impossible to live a sacramental life here, and it’s been very isolating. So of your charity, I beg prayers for a good resolution to the housing sitch.

The plan for the time being is to start in November looking for a place to rent – which is becoming more possible – either inside the Valnerina itself – somewhere like Sant’Anatolia di Narco, Scheggino, Borgo Ceretto, or close by – and on the main train line from Rome – in the Spoleto neighbourhood. Rents are cheap and nice country places are abundant, and there are four buses a day up to Norcia. Fr. Cassian has approved the plan, and there are already some Norcia oblates living in Spoleto who have said they hope there will end up being a colony there. Perhaps a community of sorts. There are also iconography courses held there from time to time.

I want to thank everyone for their support, and most especially for all the notes and emails and things telling me that it’s made a difference, that you’ve figured things out because of some of the things I’ve written. Writing and wrangling with all this stuff for so long can take it out of you – not to mention being interrupted by catastrophic earthquakes – and it seems to me that doing this blog and paying attention to the disaster in Rome and living through the personal disaster of the quakes, has been oddly connected. All of a piece. And I guess I’m ready to move on. Maybe we should all just move on. Get on with our lives, spiritually, socially and in the practical realm. I’m done moping.

This is the last post for What’s Up.

From now on, go here to see what I’m up to: Orwell’s Picnic

We’ll do gardening, cooking, cats, painting, Umbria, and Benedictinism – prayer and whatnot.

Here’s a tease:

Henry the King, a literary kitty like his great predecessor Henry II the HR. Emperor and oblate.

Pippin knows he’s a movie star.

Bertram the Brave, exploring.

Caveat: these aren’t my photos. My friends who visited last week included one with actual photography skills and a real camera. But we’ll do our best.