giovedì, settembre 29, 2005

View from the roof of Casa Lasalle a few nights back.

Sufer Culture in Rome

Surfer Culture And The Mystery of Rome

By Julian Ahlquist

An Italian legend, so I’ve learned, says that Rome has a secret name. “Roma” is a mere alias used for public discourse ... as well, on a side note, “Amor” spelt backwards, interestingly (which explains a lot of interesting things I’ve seen in the public areas so far that ought not be public usually). Romulus shrouded its real identity in mystery so that its enemies, not knowing its name, would be unable to bring curses upon it ... or something to that effect. Consequently, it is a great sacrilege to speak the real name of Rome, though no one knows what it is, except the Pontifex Maximus.

I’ve embarked on the quest to find that name. The Pontifex Maximus, even though he’s the Pope right now, should really have someone on the side who knows the name too, just in case. Also, I am dying to know. Accusations may come in condemnation of my efforts, but I argue that my mission does not profane the Eternal City, for it is obvious that I will fail in a futile and spectacularly pathetic and humorous attempt. Further, it would be neat to know and perhaps lend the key to understanding this strange place known as Rome.

Rome has been an Empire, a City-State, a Religious Center, the Symbol of an ideal existence. It’s a kind of amorphous, ethereal beast that no one can figure out, but one that has conquered the world.

I can’t figure out the Italian people either. I’m partially Italian, but that probably just makes things worse. At first, I was repelled by their apparent and blatantly obvious lack of sanity. It can be foremost recognized on their streets by the way they operate cars. They seem to want to kill people when they get angry, but they always just come short of it. It is an emotionally hot culture but not violent in the least. They scream at each other but never throw punches. Italy’s appearance is operatic, dramatic, theatrical but not real. The true reality is hidden somewhere else.

This mysterious beauty I’ve witnessed all throughout Rome, from its Roman temples to its Italian tongue. The Pantheon and the Basilicas make one ask the question how on earth could such a thing be built. Modern architects are baffled. They are beautiful and mysterious. Italian language shares the same. It has a strategic use of vowels and consonants that brings forth the maximum amount of pleasure to the listener (and this certainly contributes to the interesting things that happen in public areas, as mentioned above). There are mysteries sown into their speech as well. Most of it makes sense, but some things are quite weird.

“Prego” is an Italian word that wears a veil of secrecy. Italians say it all the time, but no one knows what the heck it means. Americans have heard it from the Pasta Sauce. According to our textbook, it means “to pray” or “to beg” or “you’re welcome,” but that’s mere tomfoolery. It doesn’t mean anything, and it also means everything, or something in between those two. Italians speak it with a fearsome liberality amongst their turbulent fast-talking seas of nonsense. Linguists can try their best to unsheathe its meaning, but this, I fear, is a futile gesture. It shall remain a lexical mystery in the land of grapes and olives ... and love.

I, however, may have found its English clone a few days ago, and I believe it’s “Dude.”

The word “Dude” is surely the most versatile word in the English language. “Dude” can be shaped into various masterpieces of expression by the mere inflection of one’s voice. One can adopt it for interjectional shock: “Dude!”; or while nodding unconsciously to another’s incoherence, “Dude”; or for a strange interrogative, “Dude?” Or for manifesting a content, relaxing sigh, “Duuude.” The religious sister who is teaching us the Italian language has attested to the ambiguity of “Prego.” And thus, I think it can be said, Prego is Dude.

At breakfast, this word came in handy. Upon reaching the cereals, I failed to infuse a pitcher of milk into a bowl of granola, and delivered the dairy onto the nice table cloth instead. Embarrassed by this lactose misdemeanor, I glanced nervously around and found the Italian-speaking nun standing right next to me, as well as an opportunity to redeem myself with a keen use of Italian linguistics. “Prego!” I said to the spillage, pointing to it condemningly, as I looked to the nun for her professorial approval. She shook her head despairingly and said that even with the forgiving, ecumenical use of that word, somehow I still had managed to use it badly. She recommended, “Ecco” instead, which means, “Here it is!” Under holy obedience, I contemplated these things in my heart and paid no attention to when I tried to pour the milk again, and poured it onto the table for a second time. “Prego!” I said again and wondered why I was so stupid.

Nonetheless, I acted rightly. To cloak one’s stupidity, one must publicize it. It is counter-intuitive and deceptive. The best way to hide something is to make it obvious. This, I think, is what Romulus has done with the name of his city. He has hidden it in the Italian language. He has disguised it as something that looks like itself. I have fancied that Rome’s name might be “Prego.”

martedì, settembre 27, 2005

Tomorrow's (Highly Unsatisfactory) Rambler Article

This Journey Towards Elysium

By Romulus

For Christendom's The Rambler

<>Rome took all the vanity out of me; for after seeing the wonders there, I felt too insignificant to live, and gave up all my foolish hopes in despair.
Louisa May Alcott in Little Women (1869)

The great folly of the anticipation of travel, especially for the young and the inexperienced, is that one is so unsure of what to anticipate. Many prospective and youthful wayfarers will, in the time leading up to their departure to the unknown, dream away their days in idle and ill-informed excitement, conjuring forth a stream of phantasms of this or that distant and exotic land and all without any sense at all for the soul—or, in many cases, the most basic geography—of the place to which their aircraft is set to carry them.

In many cases their ignorance naturally leads them—as human nature is wont to do—to create idealizations and expectations that have more in common with all the promises of our fore-fathers pertaining to the pleasures of Paradise than with anything earthly. Many are captured by this hope—one of the most ancient of dreams found weaving its amorphous way through the collective soul of Man—that the moment the soil of the earth has fallen away beneath our feet, that in that moment we will also have left behind all pain, all boredom, all confusion, all worries…all things human; and it so often leads to the devastating folly of Icarus.

Before boarding the plane for Rome I conscientiously forbade myself from anticipating the Eternal City. I have been burned by this particular flame before and wouldn’t be burned again; I have given in to the folly of holding distant lands to standards that no place on earth was ever meant to meet—except for that long forgotten Garden—and when they failed to measure up, as they are bound to, I met the sickly specter Disappointment.

So whenever anyone asked me of my coming journey (and many, many did) “are you excited?”, I could only tell them, in all honesty: “No.” I couldn’t be bothered. What would be would be, and this time I would patiently wait to see what would be.

But being a dreamer by nature I was only able to suppress the natural response of Man to the unknown for so long; especially such an unknown as Rome. And so, halfway through the six hour flight that would land in Paris I woke from a nap, and found to my shock that I was no longer in the same craft that had roared so violently off the tarmac at Dulles in Washington in the District of Columbia in the United States of America in the continent of North America on the spinning planet Earth, so many hours before.

Most all of the lights on the interior plane had been extinguished; outside the tiny windows of the cabin everything was black, and everything inside the cabin was cast in an eerie, unearthly glow; everything was suffused with the heavy weight of the restless sleep of the two hundred semi-divine wayfarers, while the craft (whatever exactly it was) itself vibrated so very faintly with the strange hum of mechanized flight that has nothing at all in common with the progress of any of the trains or automobiles or traveling beasts that are chained to the sandpaper surface of the globe.

Without really thinking about it, or stopping to choose words, or to ask what on earth I was going to write, I flipped open the notebook that I had solemnly dedicated to my travels and swiftly wrote (and I quote):

“…I am no longer on any of the terrestrial crafts of men. Now I find that am a passenger on a spaceship that is shooting haphazardly through the darkness of the cosmos; I am on a journey to a world that is beyond my understanding of the nature of the universe. Perhaps, I suspect, we aren’t even in the universe anymore, but are passengers on the craft of the Great Divorce, speeding through God knows what to God knows where –but not France, not Paris; anything but there. Something immeasurably greater; something ethereal, a little dark, at least to our understanding – and that is why we sit so silently in our seats, staring straight ahead, not caring to talk to our neighbour, not when we have within our minds, when we carry in our imaginations this precious treasure, this image of the Elysium that this celestial craft is destined toward.

“It is no matter if the image is false – it is not the particulars of these haunting dreams that are the manna of the mind, but rather it is the unknown wonder that await us, the peace and the happiness that we can be sure are at the end of this journey, in whatever form they should take. So much the better if it is all unlike anything we can think of; so much the better if it surpasses the phantasms of our minds, those images that are at best only extensions of the images of the earth, after all.

“It is only a trick of the imagination of course. For I know that when we land we will land in a city, the stones of which have been cut and placed by the hands of men. And in that city men will awake in tears and will live out their days in sorrow; and there is yet another spot on earth “where men sit and hear each other groan” and “ but to think is to be full of sorrow” .

“And yet, it is so much more than a trick of the imagination, is infinitely much more. All along I know that it is not just a dream, but a memory and a foretaste. If you look hard enough the sweet—the now bittersweet—taste of Heaven lingers in the air all around us; Heaven suffuses everything with its odour. Dare (and you must dare) to touch it, taste it with the tip of your tongue and you will never ever forget; you will always, always know that the prize at the end of the road is far to great to pass up; not for life, not for anything.”

Tonight I stood on the roof of Casa La Salle (the hotel where we reside). It is against the rules, but I appeal to the theological loophole of penal law; plus, I was alone, and silent, and very unlikely to cause a ruckus. I stood watching a distant fireworks show glimmering to the East over the sparkling silhouettes of pines and palms and apartment blocks, and over above St. Peter’s and the Coliseum and the breath-taking basilicas that are the pillars that keep Rome standing; everything was silhouetted in flickering gold and silver (and this so soon after the great fireball of the setting sun had painted everything with a fluorescent brush). It looked and sounded like a battlefield.

<>Being in a reflective mood I thought of many things. Much of what I thought centered on
the unexpected, breath-taking realization that absolutely everything here in the Eternal City has surpassed all my expectations.

“Everyone who has gone to Rome before you has come back changed,” she said to me before I left. I didn’t believe it though. What business does a place, just another spot on the surface of this earth, filled with men and their sins, have in changing a man? What place on earth has the power to do that?

The answer, I have found, is none at all. But Heaven certainly does. And in Rome most of all, all of the glory to be found in the final, eternal Kingdom descends in one giant column of flame and touches the plane of Man; and at the very center of that flame is St. Peter’s, and from that epicenter it spreads out in an inferno that is constantly kindling every part of the globe in this divine conflagration. Throw as much water on it as you will, it is but a drop in an ocean.

Heaven, it is so very clear from this, the tallest tower on Earth, is nothing less than inevitable; and that, I believe, is the source of all of the hope and comfort of our Faith.

(As always, comments, questions, or concerns about “Ramblings from Rome” may be e-mailed to: John Jalsevac –, or Julian Ahlquist – Julian and John also have a joint weblog full of pictures of our adventures and many other such jolly things:

domenica, settembre 25, 2005

Required Viewing For the Day

Alright, it's got absolutely nothing to do with Rome. Just watch it anyway and stop your whining.

Link courtesy of Julian (Remus).

sabato, settembre 24, 2005

Multiply this 50X, and you get a sense of the breadth of the excavations of Ostia Antica. The whole purpose is to give some sense of how an ancient city would be laid out. And it gives a very good sense of exactly that. Photo: Danni Ampi

Julian doing deep things outside San Pudentia basilica. Unfortunately I cannot take credit for this beautiful shot with its lovely earth-tones. The credit goes quite thoroughly to Danni Ampi.

A portion (2/3s) of the BC dated amphitheatre located in the ancient city of Ostia Antica where Christina Matatics and I today performed the scene of the confrontation between Ophelia and Hamlet. It was a truly lovely experience, and both of us were quite amazed at how easy it was to get into character in the broad daylight in public and on the stage of an ancient theatre. The acoustics were brilliant. Unfortunately, for reasons that I cannot ascertain, the entire panoramic shot did not work out. I am disappointed.

Christina and I running through our lines before performance time. Photo: Danni Ampi.

The performance. The stage was, well, a little larger than Little Washington.

John's Unofficial Trip Position: Photographer to the photographers.
Where: Ostia Antica
Famous Why?: A massive (truly) complex of uncovered largelyBC built ruins, Ostia Antica is particularly famous for being the spot where St. Augustine conversed with his mother St. Monica in what is arguably the most mystical and beautiful passage of The Confessions. St. Monica would die shortly thereafter. We read that passage of the confessions today at that precise spot of Ostia.
Who is in this photo?: Front: Dannilu. Middle: Monica. Far back: Angela
What are they all taking photos of?: A complicated question. Angela was taking photos of Dannilu and Monica who were taking photos of Danni Ampi, who was up top taking photos of them, while I took photos of all three of them. Confused yet? I am. I suppose the saddest (or best, depending on your outlook) part of this is that this was not staged.

Danni Ampi's picture of me taking pictures of Angela taking pictures of Monica and Danni Lu taking pictures of Danni Ampi. Yes, that is all quite accurate.

Continuation of the "photographer to the photographers" series.

Continuation of "photographer to the photographers".
Location: San Pudenzia basilica. The colours of the exterior of this basilica were extraordinary. The whole time I was just dreaming of having a decent SLR camera. This point-and-shoot with its constant wide apeture is more than a little annoying.

Danni Ampi's accompanying shot to the previous shot.

venerdì, settembre 23, 2005

San Pudenzia. Alright, I know, it's another artistic shot. So sue me. My ever-faithful Dannilu, and an unwitting Claire make for a photo with decent compositional depth. I know, the foreground is washed out, but what do you expect with a $150 digital point and shoot?

Part of a post brought from the Holy Land, to which it is believed our Lord was chained and scourged.

Erin reading unwittingly. Perhaps you won't like this photos as much as myself, but the spot she chose to sit in was so very symmetric that I couldn't help it.

From inside San Pudenzia basilica. Bottom: Anni Clark and Christina Matatics. Top: Angela Von Ehr, Dannilu, Danni Ampi.

THIS is Italy. Tiny cars, and pizza. And yes, that is how we found this particular car on this particular avenue on this particular morning, pizza and all. Julian couldn't resist. After he finished the pizza he stole the car as well.

giovedì, settembre 22, 2005

Danni-Loo. St. Paul Outside the Wall basilica.

Inside the Pantheon. It's very difficult to give any sense of the breadth of that dome. But at least we get a good sense of the unbelievable awesomeness of The Julian

After assiduously avoiding the museum guards...

Emma and St. Paul face off.

Blurry picture of the prison where Peter and Paul were kept. There would have be none of the artificial lighting that we had, except maybe for the occasional candle. On the left is me, my head actually touching the ceiling of the dungeon, which gives you a sense of the dimensions.

Umbrella fight outside the pantheon. Adam Wilson is actually the disembodied figure wielding the other umbrella.

My personal favourite place to go. St. Andrea's basilica. The golden hues are something indescribable.

Inside St. Peter's 7:00 AM Sunday morning. There was a Mass of all of the bishops installed into office in the last year, worldwide.

St. Peter's at 6:30 Sunday morning. Gorgeous, rich blue hues in the sky that Julian's camera miraculously captured quite well.

mercoledì, settembre 21, 2005

Julianism of the Day

In exercising his infinite wisdom Julian has discovered what he has chosen to label--in sequential order from highest to lowest importance--the three pillars of philosophy.

These are:
1) Wine
2) Sleep
... (elipse necessary according to paragraph 58 of the Julian catechism)
3) Rationality

As is to be expected, the consequences of this teaching are sometimes bizarre, since at the dinner table it has been known to occur that a neophyte in the study of Julianism will make the request: "Pass the philosophy please."

This however is heresy, since Julian has made clear the truth that although wine obviously forms the crux of the study of philosophy, and may be thought of as the most weight-bearing of the three columns, the other two are, in various measures, absolutely necessary for the pursuit of knowledge and the love of wisdom. Without one or the other for support, in the end, although it may take some time for the disaster to occur, and the student may for some time keep up the appearance of philosophizing with the support of the sole pillar of wine, the ivory tower will collapse.

Such heretical neophytes have been subject to punishment according to paragraph 2 of the Julian catechism: kaphoozling until hilarity sets in.

Contact Information

Contact information for Julian (Remus) and John (Romulus):

Casa La Salle
Via Aurelia 472-476
00165 Roma

Telephone: 0039-06-66523301
Ask for room # 439


In the distant off chance that any should you feel tempted to send any substantial packages in this direction, I would greatly disuade you from doing so, since, for reasons that nobody can discover, there is an absolutely enormous fee here at the Casa for receiving packages.

lunedì, settembre 19, 2005


Today, horror of horrors, classes have begun. I'm quite sure that until now I didn't believe it possible that we were to waste hours in a classroom with this wealth of knowledge, of history and theology and everything else that man has set his mind to and God has given Man to plow with his intellect and imagination, within a few mere minutes of travel.

This morning’s class, however, in an appropriate fashion, rather than being held inside a classroom, was transported to the streets of Rome, to the Pantheon (which boasts the largest dome in the world, which, if you must know, is breathtaking), to some sort of collection of ruinous pagan temples named uncreatively after the first four letters of the alphabet, and to the prison where the apostles Peter and Paul were incarcerated and awaited their eventual executions.

The pagan ruins made little impression on me. Such things are scattered everywhere
around this city, and furthermore it is a good bet that we walk over a good dozen or so of them each day, buried far beneath the cobblestone of modern-day Rome, and likely destined never to be uncovered unless modern-day Rome itself should one day fall prey to the ravishing hands of time. Which, I suppose, it probably will, as all things do.

The prison where Peter and Paul were kept made an enormous impression on me, although I am sure, not enough of one. The appropriate reaction could only have been to fall to my knees and to have wept and kissed the ground and to have prayed with such tears streaming down my
face; to have wept for the suffering of Peter and Paul, and to have wept for my own paralyzing cowardice, and to have kissed the earth where once lay the broken bodies of these men with more of the courage of God and the love of Christ than I fear I will ever know or have.

It is told that Peter and Paul converted all forty-seven of their fellow prisoners, as well as their two jailers. It is also told, by all accounts accurately, that, being without the water with which to baptize those forty-seven and two, a miraculous spring burst up through the stone floor when the divine liquid was needed.

I could not say what the dimensions of that dreadful dungeon are; but in order to have converted their forty-seven fellow prisoners, there would have had to be just that many men crammed into that damp, unilluminated, demonic place. There would not have had even enough space to lie down; and they were there, if I recall correctly, for nine months. We cannot fathom; it is so infinitely beyond anything in our experience. And as I stood there I closed my eyes and I am sure that I tasted something of the fear and the horror that settled itself on the shivering souls of those forty-nine men in that cell; and even that vague taste was more than I could bear, and I shook it off before it completely overwhelmed me.

In the stone of the ceiling of the cell is cut a hole only a few feet in diameter, through which prisoners would have been lowered to serve their sentence, that, one way or another, resulted in death. And at the back of the dungeon was another sort of aperture through which the corpses of the dead would have been removed: dead by starvation; dead by pneumonia; dead
by God knows what else—-fear, most likely, and despair, which is likely so often the cause of death of such men, and which disease no doctor has yet been able to diagnose. Although Peter and Paul proved themselves doctors capable of curing it, with the grace of God.

The Pantheon also made a deep impression on me, but for very different reasons. Facing the front of the Pantheon, one sees only the expanse of the portico, which is bordered by a number—perhaps a dozen or so—very large, impressive columns of the Corinthian species. Then above these around the perimeter of the portico there is the architrave, which, as we travel vertically, gives way to a roof that comes to a peak. From this angle there is no sign at all of a dome, for it is cleverly hidden by this façade and the peaked roof; this was done quite purposely, and ingeniously, such that upon entering the Pantheon one is completely bowled over, thrown off one's feet, overcome in one's senses, by the sheer immensity of the dome that rises overhead. Walking through those doors feels how I imagine it would feel if you had had a twenty pound brick sitting on top of your head all your life, and of a sudden some blessed liberator came along and plucked the thing off; and certainly in that moment, with that accustomed weight suddenly gone, you would feel as if you might very well rise right off the ground. Such is the liberating effect of that impossible bit of architecture's breadth billowing above one's head.

Our guide had in fact explained that this was the intended effect even before we walked through the first century giant bronze doors, but even so my skepticism led me to be delightfully unprepared for it.

After that we came back to our hotel, which doubles as our school. After lunch was philosophy, the professor of which could not possibly have yet left his twenties, who does not have the piece of paper which so many value now as the only possible indication of learning, and who almost immediately proved himself immensely more knowledgeable than most who do have it. It is a two hour class in medieval philosophy, and I was enthralled from beginning to end. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that in the future. So I will leave it for now.



The Sequel

The Confessions of Julian Ahlquist

(A continuation of the post by Romulus below. Read previous post first in order for this one to possibly make sense.)

By Remus

I contemplated abandoning the cursed suitcase at a different terminal and having that one shut-down and swarmed with bomb-squads and airplane delays rather than our terminal, so that we would be just fine. But then I was overcome by the small residue of conscience I had left, as most of it had been eroded away by violent thoughts against the French. My heart oscillated in painful gasps as I surveyed the Airport battleground. To me, this suitcase was worse than a bomb. I wished it was a bomb, so then it would blow up and disappear and leave me alone. But no, it was a normal suitcase. It wouldn’t go away.

As I headed toward an alternate terminal, I threw myself at the mercy of the airport ticket agents, saying, “Excuse me, I thought this was my friend’s bag, but it isn’t. What should I do? It’s not my bag. I don’t know whose it is.” And I didn’t mention that I had brought it through security illegally.

They asked me, “What’s your airliner?”

And I shot back in haste, “Air France.”

To my chronic depression, they explained that this terminal was, in fact, not Air France but Luftansteinawitz or something wretched like that. They commanded me to take the terrible luggage back to the Air France terminal. This, of course, was out of the question, as the legalistic French weasel from hell was standing guard at those very gates with the knowledge of our sin.

At this point, I executed a plan which I had kept in the back of my mind if all diplomacy should fail. I charged into the bathroom, opened wide the stall, and set the suitcase upon the toilet seat. Here, I rested, meditating in silence what evil consequence might come should I give this bag a final resting place in this lavatory jail. How long would this hermitage outlive the janitorial world before some unsuspecting Mexican would drop his mop in terror and run for help to the bomb squad? The police would investigate the bag, and perhaps employ hidden security cameras to discover the idiot behind the scare. Surely, either man or camera would behold my entrance to the latrine with the bag and my exiting without it, and they would have their revenge.

The toilet was not the destiny for this unholy grail, so I discerned it had a vocation elsewhere. I decided to stuff the entire suitcase into a trash can. What legal snare could grip me then? People throw a bunch of stuff in garbage bins at airports, but they aren’t crucified for it. Why then could I not throw an illegal suitcase in it as well? The answer was simple in my case: it was too big. I thought about ejecting the contents first, giving the bag greater flexibility to sail through the opening of the can, but, alas, the case was built too solid, and jettisoning the cargo would not ease its wasteful travel. So I disembarked from the bathroom on the edge of despair in the sea of chaos where time and French sought my destruction.

I found a security guard gliding innocently down an escalator. I sought to make his life miserable by heaving this burden onto him for my own salvation. Maybe, just maybe, he would be the Messiah.

I proclaimed to him, “Excuse me, sir.” After which flowed from my lips a golden-tongued stream of the most Ciceronian eloquence rivaling the rhetoric of John Crysostom himself that could persuade anyone to do anything. This man, however, was not convinced. Mental reservation had dammed the tides of incriminating information, yet still this individual, after he asked, “Did you bring this bag into the airport?” (To which I replied ‘yes’ with great vexation), told me that it was my responsibility and that I should take it to Air France. I lamented to him, “I don’t want this bag any more. Just take it and incinerate it.” But no. He did, however, suggest that I could take it to the luggage office to plead my case there. And as the luggage office was not French, I agreed to this alternative.

Unfortunately, this new destination seemed like it was in France ... allegorically. It was quite a hike, and more like a painful sprint, as I was bearing this bane of bureaucracy as well as my two legitimate carry-on’s. My tongue, once so Ciceronian, became parched like desert. An endless canal of moving sidewalks was before me, crowded with Japanese people, forcing me out onto the immobile floor, making me rely on my own locomotion for success. At this dark hour, I became convinced that I would miss my flight. I would not be going to Rome. I would not enter the Eternal City. I would be left behind.

Yet still I kept going, almost indifferent to the law now. They could harm my body but not my soul so I didn’t care. I marched up to the Baggage Office and rejoiced sarcastically to witness of very long line congesting this alleged Baggage Office. I didn’t have time to storm this Bastille so I went up to an American, a guy standing near the place with a walkie-talkie, one who understood oppression and was not shackled to the Satanism of Bureaucracy, and said, “Sir, I thought this bag was my friend’s, but it’s not. I don’t know whose it is. I need to catch a flight.” With humane undertones in his voice he told me to get in line. But in my dying breath, I called out again, “I’m probably going to miss my flight. I’m really late.” And behold! The camel was cleaved in two! He hesitated and said, “All right, go catch your flight. We’ll take it.” He popped open his walkie-talkie and reported, “We have an unclaimed baggage in sector –” as I bolted for freedom. I did not look back.

Perhaps the bag erupted in a terrorist explosion for all I know, as I ran with my back to it, for God did not find even ten righteous bureaucrats there. I did not dare look back at Sodom and Gomorrah for a water fountain, though my tongue had turned into a pillar of salt. I persevered to the distant terminal, hoping that it had not been overrun by the enemy. I passed through, the French did not decapitate me, and I came into the Promised Plane. My friends tried to interrogate me about what I had done, but I simply smiled nervously, wondering if they might still be watching me. I sat down and prayed and when the machine took flight, I knew I had won. The bag had been destroyed, and I had not.

Upon sitting peacefully in my 2nd class seat, I remembered I had discreetly removed the name tag from the evil suitcase before we went through security. I reached in my pocket and found it. “Bryan Fox.” The airport had sent Greg Roth this suitcase claiming that it was his, even though the suitcase had “Bryan Fox” written on the tag. Why would they do that? Furthermore, why the heck didn’t we check the name tag before we tried to check it in!? We could have avoided everything! Idiot! Now poor old Bryan Fox will never see his suitcase again. It’s been incinerated. We have his phone number and e-mail address, though, and John and I thought about contacting him, but we wouldn’t know what to say.

But I’m glad it happened. I do fear my return to the United States, but I am confident that I can plead my case with legalistic subterfuge. Javert will be waiting. But I am Jean val Jean.

domenica, settembre 18, 2005

In The Beginning

Julian Ahlquist And the Case of the Cursed Luggage

By Romulus

Nobody said traveling would be easy. And absolutely everybody said that traveling with Julian Ahlquist would be lunacy; and this most especially in my case. Not the least of those who portentously dissuaded me, warning of impending tragedies and devastating mental and physical traumas, is my former roommate Paul Provencher.

Paul, it should be noted, has proven himself singularly able to effortlessly keep track of my worldly possessions and in large part my whole physical person, which often wanders about getting into all sorts of trouble without my consciously being aware that that is what it is doing; being aware of just how much I depend on this sort of thing, and well aware that Julian would be more likely to absent-mindedly lead me off a cliff in the Alps onto my final resting place of jagged rocks than to be able to perpetually pinpoint the precise position of my pipe (alliteration strangely unintended), he fretted for at least thirty seconds about whether I would survive without him.

Not surprisingly, both what had not been said, and what had been said, are proven correct. I may very well not survive this trip. And yet, four days into this pilgrimage, or whatever name you care to give it, I still firmly ascribe to the belief that sometimes living on the edge, and even a little over the edge, maybe even contorted and bleeding and dying on a bed of jagged rocks in the Alps, is worth its weight in gold.

For instance, the very first act of mine and Julian’s on this trip, even before leaving American soil, was one that was dreadfully and shamelessly illegal, as certain uniformed people-who-would-know repeatedly told us in angry voices while threatening to call the sort of uniformed people-who-know who specialize in the use of firearms. Jolly good fun.

The following not-so-tall tale is one that Julian and I have told a good two dozen times in the last few days, and is likely more amusing in person, since we have developed a nuanced accompaniment of bizarre and grandiose hand gestures and impassioned anti-French invective; but this article will simply have to do.

The curtains rise on the campus of Christendom College on the day of our departure. At first it had been our intention to ride to Dulles airport in a Christendom van some time in the early afternoon. Sam Philips, however, graciously offered to drive Julian and myself a little later which presented the blessed opportunity for me to finish packing and to enjoy a little more time with a particularly lovely native of Oklahoma. At some point while doing exactly that I received a frantic message that our beloved registrar, Walter Janaro, was in Regina Coeli on the verge of having an aneurysm. The reason was a piece of baggage that had mysteriously surfaced and that belonged to a student who had already left in the Christendom van.

The bag belonged to Greg Roth. It had, directly contrary to Greg’s specific request to the contrary, just been sent to the College by the airport which had misappropriated it the day before when Greg had flown in from Saskatchewan. The solution seeming clear. I took the bag, saved Walter’s life, or at least his sanity, and the matter seemed closed. It wasn’t. Goodness no.

A few tearful farewells later and we arrived at Dulles. Seeing as both Julian and I each already had the maximum of two bags to check in, and Greg’s bag appearing too large to take as a carry-on, I bucked up for a fight and asked if I could check in the bit of luggage on Greg’s behalf. The expected negative was delivered by the expected airport peon, a pasty young fellow with spiky black hair and a lethargic attitude. I asked if I could speak to someone in authority. Certainly. Spiky-haired youth disappears and pops back with rodent-like Frenchman in tow.

I explain the dilemma. “It is illegal” I am informed in a thick French accent. Because of security reasons, I am told. The weasely Frenchman proves himself unable to explain why they can’t just search the bag and thereby alleviate all security concerns so that we can all go on our merry ways and be friends. But, I quickly remind myself with a curious bent for optimism, this is a bureaucrat, a weasely, bald French bureaucrat nonetheless, and I shouldn’t expect too much, and certainly, God forbid, not logic. “Well then, what if the 50% bagless Roth, who had already checked into the airport, comes out here and claims the bag.” Certainly. If you can get him to do it within fifteen minutes, at which point check-in for the flight ends, which is unlikely.

“Well, could you please page him for us then?” No. It’s against the rules. “Can we use your telephone?” No. “Julian, do you by chance have ESP? Can you channel spirits? Do you have mystical powers of bilocation? Can you walk through walls? As prime-minister of the kaphoozle ministry can you order this French bureaucrat to shut his trap and allow us to do as we please?” No. “What use are you then?” None. “I see. I’ll remember that.”

Turning back to the bureaucrat who has enclosed himself in his comfortable and impermeable fortress of red-tape: “Well, what are our options here, then, if you don’t mind our asking?” You can leave the bag somewhere in the airport, the bomb squad will be called, and the bag will be sniffed, searched, and incinerated. “Ah. Not much of an option is it, really?”

Dark feelings of hopelessness set in.

The time has come for drastic measures. Julian becomes bad cop, furrowing his eyebrows together and raising his voice, while I becoming good cop, maintaining a cool, collected, reasonable demeanour. Julian begins to yell at theweasely French fellow, while I pretend to try to calm him down and ask cool, reasonable questions of the bureaucrat. Contrary to the plan this bald, weasely Frenchman does not raise his hands in surrender, nor does he announce his intention to drop everything and have an immediate revolution. “What,” I ask in what strikes me as a particularly ingenious maneuver, “if we actually lied before, and this is our bag after all? What’s to stop us from claiming it as our own?” The fact that you told me that it wasn’t. “Ah. Yes. There is that isn’t it? Quid est veritas?” He’s not taking the existentialist bait.

I am feeling glum. The distinction between the good cop and the bad cop becomes increasingly glossed over; and a spark of fear ignites the eyes of the weasely Frenchman when he realizes that he has two large, furrow-browed, stage-voiced, indistinguishable, angry, curly-haired men who are seriously questioning the merit of his continued existence.

He threatens to call the police. This strikes myself and Julian as a good point to ease off a little. We do. Actually, we turn around and leave; steam is billowing from Julian’s ears.

After exploring our options in depth, and concluding that we don’t have any, we decide that rather than leaving our friend’s bag to be sniffed, searched, and incinerated we will bank upon the inability of bureaucrats to communicate with one another and bring the offending bag through security as a piece of carry-on luggage. Brilliant. This we do, with not the least amount of trouble. And as we stride away from the X-ray machines, on the right side of the airport, we are both filled with feelings of elation. Now all we need to do is take the bag on the plane, hope that Greg doesn’t say anything about it, and upon arrival in Rome transfer it to his possession. Foolproof.

Foolproof, of course, if it were not that the weasely Frenchman happens to lead a double-life as a ticket collector inside the terminal. The sight of him, there should be no need to say, causes great consternation. We curse in fashions that are not entirely Christian. But he has not yet seen us and we make full use of his ignorance. As a last ditch maneuver we engage the services of one of the girls to go up to the front of the line, to grab Greg who is waiting in queue, and to bring him back to where we are standing.

“Greg,” we say in nervous stage-whispers that can probably be heard in Timbuktu, “we have just brought your bag in through security illegally. That weasel-like Frenchman up there is out for our blood. Take the bag, and cross your fingers, and pray like a maniac, and maybe with the Grace of God you can get it by him. Just take the damn thing off our hands! We don’t want it any more. It is cursed.”

However, Greg is looking at us in what strikes me as a situationally inappropriate fashion. We wait his answer.

He looks down. And then he looks up. “That’s not my bag.” He giggles nervously. We both think about socking him one, but fortunately for him we have bigger problems now.

We discuss leaving the bag here in the terminal. But a man in the line behind us says that we can’t do that because they’ll shut down the whole terminal and our flight won’t leave. As a bunch of us throw ideas back and forth I notice that Julian’s face has donned a frightening look of determination, and there is a red gleam in his eyes. Of a sudden he grabs the offending bag with a visceral grunt of frustration and anger, turns around and before I can get out a word, disappears through the crowd. It is an image that I will not soon forget.

Ten minutes later I am on the airplane, and Julian is not. Seven minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave I have said fifty-eight full rosaries, and have experimented in the use of the force and voodoo to will Julian onto the airplane. Five minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave, to my immense relief, he appears; a goofy grin is splashed across his face.

“Thank God!” I say as he takes his seat. “But what on earth did you do with that accursed bit of baggage?”

Julian, however, only smiles mysteriously, unwilling to say. I explore different scenarios and continue to pepper him with questions. But he will not reveal his secret, and all the way to Rome that mysterious, inscrutable smile is the only answer I receive to my inquiries.