Shame of Thrones

August 9, 2020


One of the interviews that I was involved in concerning the exile of the former Spanish king.



The New World Order

June 10, 2020

It seems to be characteristic of life today, and presumably has been so in all places and times, that we reflexively (though not, of course, intellectually) take things of our everyday existence as inevitable givens. The lockdown that we have been experiencing has undoubtedly put a dent in that for most of us.

Today, having been summoned for a test at the hospital in the neighboring town of Sant Pere de Ribes, I was struck by the act, once so simple and normal-seeming, as boarding a bus—since I hadn’t seen the inside of a bus or train since February.

The novel feeling of having been out of circulation for so long was enforced as the bus passed enormous vineyards with thousands of lush-looking grape vines in neat rows where there had been only mournful-looking brown sticks last time I saw them.

Then there was the hospital, which for my sins I know well. Or knew. This seemed an entirely different place. I walked through long corridor after long corridor completely deserted—not another soul to be seen. And the procedures in the hospital felt eerily unfamiliar, though they are now routine in other contexts: masks universally worn, hand sanitizer pushed on one.

The new perspectives that are spreading among us can be put to good use. Or not.

Resurrection and Life

November 2, 2019


“Lazarus, come forth!”

Today, All Souls Day, is the traditional day for commemorating all the “faithful departed.” Since I have a lot of departed family and friends in my life, with a lot of faithfulness among them, it is my practice to go to my local community’s ceremonial commemoration of all such each year.

This morning, unexpectedly, a Catalan priest whom I had never seen before, hit me with one of those simple-but-rich insights that I thought was far better than most entire sermons, and I stored it up to think about later. Speaking of Martha’s comment to Jesus about the death of his friend, her brother Lazarus, she said, “If you had been here, he would not have died.” Her sister Mary later affirmed the same thing separately. This preacher, whose name I don’t even know, then said, “For those of us who carry the spirit of Jesus with us, he is in fact ‘here’.” Needless death is just that: unnecessary. He may have said it better than that in Catalan, but my English more or less represents how I heard it. “Death has no more dominion over him,” wrote Saint Paul, and by extension, no dominion over us. At least it need not have, in many profound senses.

As I said, this thought was more than sufficient to repay my longish early-morning walk to the remarkably lovely chapel where this was taking place. But he went on. We need not limit ourselves to only one death and one hoped-for resurrection. We can treat other things in our life as “little deaths” from which we can, if we are willing, be resurrected: breakups, breakdowns, divorces, bankruptcies, addictions, depressions, and even things that are considered trivial but can build up to weights that bring us down. We can lie in the grave with these things, or we can use the means that we are offered (and, to Christians, there is a powerful one in the life, death, and continued life of Jesus) to rise up renewed and ready to start again.

On the walk home, it also occurred to me that this phenomenon of death and resurrection is also available to more than just discrete individuals—to families, communities both religious and secular, meaningful associations of all kinds (even football teams!). It happens that I live in a small country that has been seeking resurrection ever since a hostile takeover of it in 1714 by an absolute monarchy explicitly intent on wiping from the earth its ancient political and cultural traditions, including its very language. Against all odds, including much fire and sword, repression that is seeing a current increase in savagery, and periods of almost giving up, glimmers of resurrection have continued and are, in recent weeks, flourishing unprecedentedly among the masses of young people of Catalonia who are tired of seeing the unfulfilled longings, and sometimes real sufferings, of their parents and grandparents.

Without pressing the generalizations too far, I feel, with Saints Mary and Martha of Bethany (not to mention their brother Lazarus, who still had to face more life—and, no doubt, more troubles), that a means is available to us, in which all that is good and meaningful need not suffer definitive death if we choose to use it.

Link: The Death of Lazarus, according to Saint John the Evangelist



Roger Minus X=Humor?

September 20, 2019


During my youthful stint at Oxford, there was a fellow student whom I liked very much who was from Montreal. In those days, early in the prime ministry of the first Trudeau, it was still possible for an educated québequoise from the professional classes to be uncomfortable in English, and she was a self-conscious example of that. She said that, in Canada, she always refused to speak English to an English-speaking Canadian. (I gather that the atmosphere has changed in this regard in ensuing years.)

In my current situation of having close friends who don’t know me in English, I often think of her lament: “The problem is that I’m a very funny person, but only in French. People who know me only in English don’t know me.” I think I’m funny only in English, if then.

But this morning it occurred to me that there can be small compensations, when I was paying my therapeutic masseur and putting my shirt back on. He complimented me on how prim (slim) he thought I was looking. I replied, “Cada dia una mica menys de Roger.” And he laughed heartily. In English, it would never occur to me to say, “Every day a little less of Roger,” but the comparative restraint of reduced powers of expression does make me unintentionally funny sometimes.

Maybe that and my being of uncharacteristically few words in voluble Catalan company, letting others talk instead, give me unmerited popularity!


On the other hand, I hope the laughs at my Catalan are not of the same species as my own reaction to this e-mail that I got from my bank this morning:

Hello Roger,

As we come to speak, thank-you for yuor time and following subjects there are three items:

1st. We need please that you update your passport at our database, you can do this online or send me a nice copy. 

2nd. Tell me please the monthly amount of your income and I will check which fees can apply as best for you.

3rd. I attch information in case you would like a home insurance with us. You can contract this by phone. We will need the exactly door of your address.

I have calculated for 115 square meters 25.000 euros for the content.

Let me know please anything that we can do for you.


Montserrat [surname1  surname2]


Even this article, in diagnosing a current problem, doesn’t contemplate that possibility that the brightest students from the best universities might choose to be creators of literature, art, music, or . . . thought. All the Ivy League colleges, like the historic European universities, were founded primarily to train clergy, who for many generations then tended to be the best-educated, most intellectually focused members of American communities. What a change it is to turning out a steady stream of investment bankers! The second President of the United States, the Harvard graduate John Adams, was a kind of prophet when he predicted how things would go at his college, which was a mighty contributor to American culture before the current dismal trend:

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

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One Woman

November 19, 2018

Every morning, on a street around the corner from where I live, an elderly lady appears with a mop and bucket and cleanses the street in front of her house. That house, between a bank and a neat, newish frankfurter bar, is a surviving fairly scarce example of dwellings that have not given over their ground floors to international telecommunication conglomerates, smart boutiques, or homey cafés. But, despite all the resources belonging to these, she is the one who impresses with her small but regular effort of neighborly conscience. She neatly outlines a rectangle of spotless paving stones that is the length of her house and bisects the street’s width. There is no air of better-than-thou exhibitionism; one feels sure that she has merely continued what her own mother and grandmother did before her when the town had not yet become such a draw to the free-spending holiday-makers who often act as though it belongs to them. It’s also an opportunity for her to have short conversations with her passing neighbors—whether lifelong or gone-native immigrants like me.

I find it impossible not to think of hers as a sort of sacrament that witnesses to a very personal civic responsibility and a loving service to her immediate surroundings—this daily simple act by a fulfilled lady in the street named Jesús.


The news is full of truly sorrowful stories of how a President and his party’s legislative majority make a priority of something they call “tax reform,” but which is simply taking money away from the needy in order to inflate still further the riches of less than one percent of the population who live in wealth unexampled in all human history. This is to reward the people who make those elected leaders themselves rich as rewards for following the bidding of the richest of the rich.

Today, all around the world, people attending Masses hear a story commonly called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand.” Saint John the Evangelist, who included it in his Gospel (6:1–15) that was to become canonical, was clearly set on putting forth lessons that have nothing at all to do with whether or not such an event literally happened on such and such a day in Galilee (any more than the similar story about Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42–44 —also heard at today’s Mass—need be read as mere history). It strikes me that what is important to note is principles that are taken for granted in the narrative; and they are ones directly applicable to what’s so very wrong about the current push to rob the poor to give to the rich—which, while exemplified by the current Washington regime, is all too far from unique around the world.

  1. The Apostles automatically accept it as a given that the people must be fed when Jesus saw a crowd approaching and asked “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” These people are out for a day’s excursion by the lake to listen to a man whom they had seen going about doing good. They’re not in danger of starving, but it’s significant that Jesus immediately assumes that his right-hand men will agree with him that feeding these people is to be taken for granted. The contrast with what assumptions he could make about current leaders, whose very last consideration is the needs of powerless people, is already striking.
  2. Philip says to Jesus that they’d need a lot of money to go buy food for all these people: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” So these are not do-gooders who ignore hard facts. But nothing is said about getting the people to buy their own food, nor does the question of how “deserving” these particular people might be enter into it. No one is saying “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
  3. No one asks why these people have come unprepared. That might be an interesting question for another day, but it has no bearing on what is seen as the immediate issue.
  4. Andrew tells Jesus that he has spotted a young boy who has five barley loaves and two fish. I don’t know if he had asked the kid if he’d be willing to contribute this food, insufficient though it was for thousands of people. If he were a budding Wall Street climber, the child might automatically say, “Hold on! What’s mine is mine and these people are not my problem.” But would you say that in Jesus’s presence? No, and the boy would know that this was the wrong gathering in which to come out with that kind of thinking. People who loudly claim to be followers of Jesus today often say much worse things, making incoherent their claims to be his disciples. But the people that we find ourselves among are often cause, as much as result, of our attitudes and behaviors. The rarified Senate gymnasium and the House of Representatives dining room don’t seem to have unmixedly good effects on their denizens.
  5. Nobody mentions long-term consequences at all, much less the give-them-an-inch-they’ll-take-a-mile principle in which the poor become lazy unless they are constantly made to face harsh reality. In the event, there was an abundance of food left over after the people had had their fill. It’s as though the writer knew that, in the future, rich societies would have the means to wipe out all the hunger in the world immediately, given even a minimal will to do so, and, with good management, would still have plenty left over.
  6. And this was no merely utilitarian help given to the people. None of this, “You’re poor and should be grateful for bare sustenance that comes from generosity of your betters.” Jesus urged them to relax, sitting down on grass that Saint John considers it relevant to tell us was lush and thus comfortable. This catering emergency was being turned into a rather nice occasion, even before the people heard the nourishing words that they had come for.
  7. And we have no record that Jesus went on to talk to them about the caring actions of his gang or to draw lessons from it. As so often, his actions spoke for themselves.
  8. Jesus didn’t hand out the food himself but depended on his followers to do carry it to the people. “God has no hands but our hands.”
  9. As for what I (a believer that “there are more things in heaven and earth. . . than are dreamt of,” certainly by me) would regard as a side issue, namely the question of whether this records a miracle or a myth: Saint Augustine points out somewhere that it’s rather silly to be blasé about the fact that a few grains of wheat can lead to a whole field that produces a rich harvest and then worry about the unlikelihood of this particular feeding of the thousands. Why marvel only at the unusual and accept without particular remark the absolutely normal thing that is equally remarkable—equally “miraculous”?

I’m no scripture scholar, much less a theologian; but I’m a person who had read the newspaper before I went to Mass this morning, where I went to be fed by what we call “the living Bread” the multiplication of which has continued unceasingly through the ages, both for the rich and the poor. It’s not as though the lessons encased in this story, as rich as the most resonant ancient myths, are hard for an open mind to grasp (somewhat like, for instance, that of the manna for the unattractively grumbling Israelites in the desert). Nor are the lessons little-known or difficult to comprehend. They have to be ignored or explained away by those who call themselves Christians but care nothing for those outside their tribe or class, including even the most innocent children about whom they can be particularly brutal. The same master who taught his first followers to look after others also did not shrink from what can sound like threats but are really just straightforward statements of the ultimate misfortune of being that kind of self-seeking character. We can’t say we weren’t warned. The illusion of total self-sufficiency always finally ends in tragedy.


Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 16.49.13

From the Molt Honorable President de Catalunya, via Twitter


Wednesday June 6 was the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion and day of an enormous storm in Sitges, where I live. Streets became rivers, carrying large garbage dumpsters and even motor vehicles in their rush toward the sea. My electricity was off all day until 4 p.m., at which point I decided that I didn’t have to cancel the dinner party scheduled for that evening but did have to get cracking on shopping and other preparations. My kitchen has no windows and is thus more than usually dependent on electricity for its usefulness. The first couple arrived a little before 9, and the other arrived about half an hour later.

While all four guests were having aperitifs (one couple on their second and the other on their first) I went into the kitchen for something or other and bent over from severe pain in my chest and one arm. While I’ve never seriously thought about having heart trouble, I remembered something that I had read about a suspected heart attack, closed myself in the nearest bathroom and coughed heavily, as I had read that one should do. This didn’t seem to have any effect, and I decided that whatever this was would pass and that I’d conceal it from the guests. This was a meal that was almost entirely prepared when they arrived, so I could devote myself to waiting for my pain to pass and on being as good a host as possible.

This plan fell though, simply because I couldn’t even stand up properly. I thus told my guests that, while it was undoubtedly no serious problem, I needed to lie down for a moment, while pain in my chest and right arm passed. One kind guest relieved me greatly by telling me that it couldn’t be my heart, since the pain would be in my left arm. This cost precious minutes in dealing with the situation at hand, and I will always try to remember that fact before offering pseudo-medical advice in an emergency, however kindly meant.

I lay down on the bed in a room just off the saló, where my friends were drinking and conversing amusingly and where I could hear and talk to them, but the pain, if anything, became worse. After what I now realize was far too long a space of time, I agreed to let them call for emergency help, whereupon another kind of delay ensued. The person on the other end of the phone naturally wanted address and so forth, but he or she also demanded the identification number that is required for all residents of the Spanish state. This consists of a long series of digits and letters that I have by no means memorized and probably never will. So I had to get up off the bed and go retrieve the number. After all those items of information were conveyed, the emergency person then required that they be repeated! (I was not too enveloped in pain to cry out jokingly, “If you were calling about a death, the body would be in rigor mortis by now!”)

My friends soon told me that help was on the way. It occurred to me that I needed to move into a larger room, the better to accommodate the expected help, so I betook myself to a larger room and a double bed. In what seemed only a few minutes, six men surrounded my bed with all kinds of machines and other equipment. I was having things injected through my appendages and mouth from all sides. Early on, I heard the Spanish word corazón (heart) on my right and protested that there was nothing wrong with my heart, only to hear, on my left, the Catalan word infart (heart attack), and the man on my right told me that I was in the middle of a massive heart attack. I remember little else about those moments except that I vomited, a peculiarity of mine being that I almost never do that, even if I want to. I was later told that it was normal in the situation that I was in.

The next thing I remember is being scooped up bodily by some men and being placed in a chair that was then carried through the room where my guests were and to the curb where an ambulance (and some neighborhood onlookers or tourists) waited. As I was carried out, with all the things that you might expect me to be thinking of, two things predominated: I demanded my wallet with my CatSalut card in it, which grants me free health care in Catalonia, and then my phone.

“Where is it?” asked the friend who was going to ride up front in the ambulance.

“On the harpsichord.” Unlikely though it seems to me even now, I could say exactly where my wallet was and where my phone was. I was now wearing only the black pants that I had started the evening with and knew that I’d need the former and desire the latter.

The six life-saving men now turned me over to a driver and an attendant for the trip toward Barcelona, to Bellvitge, which is just outside that capital and has the premier cardiology center in this part of the world (some telling me later that it’s the best in Southern Europe). During the half hour or so that it takes to get there, the woman in the back of the ambulance with me conducted a friendly, normal conversation, telling me how unusual it was for them to enter a house in distress and find, as she said, a nice set of guests having drinks, appetizing smells coming from the kitchen, with table all set and candles lit: “Tot a punt!” she exclaimed.

Someone would ask me periodically from then on, where my pain was on a scale of 1 to 10. With the morphine, I could tell them that the chest got down to 7, but the arm remained at 10 for hours. I was alert enough to be slightly amused by being for the first time part of that scene from so many TV dramas in which the gurney is pushed with great speed down corridors with people jumping out of the way. We arrived in an operating room that reminded me of high-level recording studios, since there were more people behind glass with computers than there were people who would have more direct contact with me. Since I was in considerable pain, it seemed that we waited a long time for the top specialist who was traveling from X (I being in no state to catch the name of the place, even if it was one that I would have recognized). Since that must have been sometime after 10:30, I wondered if he was in the middle of another typically late-night Catalan sopar.

I had been told that a catheter would be inserted into my heart through my arm (right arm), which would in turn install a stent into the principal artery to my heart. I signed something.

Being unaccustomed to such treatments (having been hospitalized only once before in my life), I didn’t think to ask how long the operation would take. This would have been very helpful to me, since I was to remain awake and wondering, “Will this go on for two hours or fifteen minutes?” I don’t know how long it took, but I did notice that, as they wheeled me into Cura Intensiva Cardiològica, that a clock on the wall registered 1 a.m. on the dot.

The chest pain was entirely gone! The arm continued to hurt for an extended period, but much less than before. Herewith, I will end the detailed account. But, as I was wheeled past the neighbor who had ridden in the ambulance, I thanked him profusely and apologized for what must have been a tedious wait, as well as for his missing (as I had, too, of course) the chicken in coconut milk sauce, etc. left behind in Sitges. He said, “They’ve eaten it,” and it made me feel happy to know that the party had gone on despite my inconsiderate suspension of it.

On the next day, one of the other dinner guests arrived with a charger cord for my phone (essential by then) just after another friend had come with another one. Never had attention felt more gratifying. I was by now realizing that my dinner guests had saved my life. If I had been home alone, I’d almost certainly have taken several ibuprofen tablets and maybe some bicarbonate of soda, gone to bed, and died. So this was an educational experience to be stored up. Later that day, I was loaded into another ambulance and taken to intensive care closer to home, the Hospital de Sant Camil in the town of Sant Pere de Ribes, about a ten-minute drive from my house, my total hospital time being five days.

Emergency over, I’m not sure when it occurred to me—but it did occur to me impressively—that, at no moment during it all had I feared dying or even seriously considered it. (I was too occupied with trying to issue instructions for my phone, health card, and thinking of the practicalities of the dinner that I was leaving to others.) I did pray while we waited for the specialist in Bellvitge and during the operation, but not for my safety—only to gain access to the company, divine and saintly, that I thus was able to be conscious of. It also provided an almost aesthetic atmosphere that wonderfully transcended the merely technological and functional one of an operating room.

After five days in which I received sobering lectures from a cardiologist, who will now be “mine” in our nearby hospital (“Part of your heart has died irrevocably. It’s now up to you to take care of what you have left and to live a normal life via healthy practices”), I found him remarkably breezy and confident in our final interview. I then put on the clothes that a friend had brought from home (sets of my house-keys now being community property) and realized that I had forgotten to ask for shoes. So I walked out of the hospital to a friend’s car, and from his car to my front door, barefoot, just as I had come into the world, long ago and far away.

It was lovely to walk into my own home and find it in good order (the kitchen having been cleaned by the generosity of my erstwhile guests, during which activity the electricity had again shut down), but a dramatic moment occurred when I went into the back bedroom from which those men had carried me. Syringe reservoirs, bloody gauzes, empty medicine bottles, and former contents of my stomach were all over the place. It was like the dwelling of a junky. I closed the door and focused instead on my “garden,” a typical Sitges patio.




I tell this much of the story here and now, after two weeks, because hardly any of my friends abroad know that I’ve had this adventure. It’s not that I wanted to keep it from them (and a couple did get rumors via Sitgetans and other people in this country, through social media, since I live in a small town with a big reach), but I didn’t see the point of alarming them when I wasn’t capable of responding adequately to any concerns that they might have and alarms that might not have anticipated the happy recovery that I’m now two weeks into. My gratitude is great to literally hundreds of people who got wind of my attack via a friend’s post on Twitter and sent me messages (reaching even to the President of Catalonia, who sent me the message pictured above), but transatlantic communication from me was then almost entirely beyond my energies, even with our modern tools for it.

I’m a very fortunate person. Not least among the evidences of that are my friends.

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