The Ten Weeks: Weeks Two and Three (20 December-2 January): A Lovely Catholic Confession, An Ugly Secularist Rejoinder

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral was the oldest Catholic church of any kind on the Island; the original structure dated back to the 1870’s, and the Cathedral was preparing for its centennial. It was rather small for a cathedral, and although quaint it had none of the architectural beauty of St. Sebastian’s over on Point Collina, which Lucian Gerland built in part to make up for the Cathedral’s shortcomings. Nevertheless the Cathedral had one unique adjacent feature: the Island’s only completely Catholic cemetery, which was the final resting place for many Catholics who came and laboured in a land which always looked at Roman Catholicism as an aberration in the general scheme of things.

Madeleine found the transition from deft handling of a tennis racquet to handling a cane easier on her physically than her pride, but going to the Cathedral meant that she saw few of her Catholic schoolmates, most of whom went to St. Sebastian’s. She managed to genuflect upon entry with her family and then made her way towards the confessional boxes, which had a reasonably short line. Behind her was Raymond, who knew he needed forgiveness—from God and his family—more than his sister did.

This evening she insisted upon wearing a veil on her head in the old Catholic tradition, even though this had been discarded by most of the women in the Cathedral. As she stood waiting for her turn in the box, Pierre turned to Yveline and said, “She looks just like you did when you were young and going to Mass.”

“Her dress is considerably shorter than mine was,” Yveline noted.

“Young men do have some advantages these days,” Pierre said. Her illness had obviously not dimmed her focus on outfit coordination, with her white dress and matching stockings and shoes which exuded a message somewhere between the angelic and the sensual. The way she carried herself, accentuated by the cane, tended to shift the scene towards the angelic.

The cane did help steady her through the entry, exit and kneeling of the confessional box, as it had on the steps that led into the Cathedral. She emerged shortly, followed even more shortly by Raymond (“He must have given the executive version,” Pierre dryly noted later.) They returned to their pews towards the back to join their parents, where they prayed as they waited for Mass to begin.

The Cathedral’s conduct of the Mass was about as eclectic of a business as Madeleine’s outfit. The Novus Ordo Missae had been introduced into the diocese earlier that year, and priest and lay person alike were settling into it. The Cathedral’s music was still traditional, unlike St. Sebastian’s which set forth as much of the new music from the mainland as it could get through customs. The Cathedral was at its best at Midnight Mass, but one got the impression that the exhortations of Vatican II for congregational participation in the liturgy had a long way to go to realisation.

That impression was driven home with the people’s hearty response to Bishop Santini’s announcement that the Mass was ended. But the usual stampede for the door was braked by the conflagration outside. The des Cieux were a little slower than usual thanks to Madeleine’s condition, but they managed to make their way around the edge of the crowd which had filled the narthex and spilled out into the street and ended up at the curb on First Avenue.

The focus of everyone’s attention was the large trash fire that was burning in the middle of the street. Obviously the subject of great care of its makers, it burned white and hot in the cool Christmas Eve night which had turned to Christmas Day.

The des Cieux ended up standing next to Father Moore, who attempted to compensate his short visit to Madeleine as she lay ill by standing next to her family admiring the bonfire before them.

“What is this? Why is there a fire in the street?” Moore asked.

“It is a Yule Fire,” Madeleine replied without emotion. “They have set it to remind us of what they want this holiday to be.”

“Yule Fire. . .isn’t it supposed to be a ‘Yule Log?’” Moore came back.

“It is the best this place can manage,” Pierre observed.

“Shouldn’t we call the police?” Moore asked.

“Why? This is not a hidden event. They know what is going on. They just don’t want to come,” Pierre stated.

“But that is their job,” Father Moore came back.

“Their job is to stay out of the CPL’s way,” Pierre said.

“The CPL is behind this?” Moore asked, surprised.

“You and Bishop Santini are slow learners,” Pierre sighed. With that the des Cieux turned away to find their car. As the fire started to go down, others did likewise to find that their cars were either stolen or vandalised. Now the frantic calls to the police began, and they duly arrived to go through the motions of taking the information so at least their insurance company would do something.

The 2CV was unharmed. “Papa, why do you think that they left our 2CV unhurt?” Madeleine asked as they puttered home.

“Maybe they didn’t think it was a car,” Raymond quipped.

The Ten Weeks: Week One (13-19 December): In the Clutches of Nationalised Health Care

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

The sun was just setting over Verecunda Bay when the ferry pulled into its wharf in front of the customs house. Even before they had a chance to step on the gangway and go ashore, Luke Allen, Pierre’s warehouse manager and a burly man with some Island native blood in him, greeted them in his usual straightforward manner. Luke wasn’t much for a sunny disposition but even before he helped Pierre and Raymond get their luggage off of the boat he delivered news as only he could.

“Madeleine’s in the hospital, Boss,” Luke informed Pierre.

“Hospital? For what? Why wasn’t I called, at least in Alemara?”

“She only went in this afternoon—felt a little woozy yesterday, went out of her head this morning, collapsed just before lunch. ”

“So what is the doctor’s idea of what is wrong with her?” Pierre asked, agitated.

Luke thought for a minute. “You’ll have to ask him, Boss—I’m not really sure. It’s serious, though.”

“Very well,” Pierre sighed. With that they disembarked. Luke did his usual magic getting Pierre, Raymond and their luggage into Pierre’s old Citröen 2CV—another of Pierre’s “trademarks”—and with Luke driving they puttered off to the hospital.

The Verecunda Municipal Hospital was an imposing building between Gerland Street and the university. It’s main virtue was that it was the only facility of its kind on the Island. People came from everywhere to be greeted by inadequate hall lighting shining on the green walls, resplendent in their lead-based enamel paint. While admiring this, doctors, nurses, patients and visitors alike were able to walk on well waxed, beige asbestos floor tile.

The main entrance lobby was decorated to match the rest of the establishment. Pierre and Raymond were only cheered by seeing Yveline des Cieux in the lobby waiting for them. They threw their arms around each other as they had not in a long time.

“So what has happened?” Raymond asked.

“She has encephalitis,” Yveline gravely reported. “It is a serious case. The doctor will be by in about half an hour. Let’s go.”

“Indeed,” Pierre agreed, and they headed to the elevator. As it rose up to Madeleine’s floor, it beeped and flashed as it passed the intermediate ones, echoing Madeleine’s own heartbeat and struggle for life. Pierre hoped that Madeleine’s own inner rhythm was quicker, because the elevator was interminably slow as it crawled upward past each floor. Finally they arrived at her level, burst from the elevator in uncharacteristically rapid fashion and made their way to her room, not far from the nurse’s station.

Pierre stopped dead in his tracks at the door—not for Madeleine, but for Pete and Alice Stanley, standing up to greet them. A couple in their early forties who still echoed in looks and demeanour the fact that they were high school—or Upper Division, as the Islanders would put it—sweethearts, they owned the feed and seed store that supplied upper Uranus along with Vidamera, Alemara and sometimes Aloxa. They were also tractor and farm equipment dealers as well, which meant that they purchased tyres from Pierre from time to time.

“It is very kind of you to visit,” Pierre said, not sure what else to say.

“It is her doing,” Pete answered, pointing to his daughter Carla awakening from a nap on her cot. A Sixth Former like Madeleine, Carla was almost the perfect “Aryan” in appearance: bleached wavy blonde hair flowing down her back, blue eyes and fair complexion complemented by broad shoulders and a slender figure. She roused herself and stood up, not well put together in the present situation.

“She insisted on coming and being with Madeleine,” Alice added. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Because of the crime that’s about, we came with her. My brother lives in town; we’ve made arrangements to stay with him while she’s here.”

Pierre removed his hat very slowly, as if in respect. “I have had many loyal customers over the years, but you have exceeded all of them.” From that he approached his daughter lying in the bed. Madeleine was wired with IV’s and monitors. She had a very pale look about her as she lay in the bed motionless. Raymond was right behind him; both were visibly shaken at the sight before them.

Pierre finally turned back to the Stanleys and Yveline. “My wife tells me it is encephalitis. But how?”

“We were playing tennis on Wednesday, up in Hallett,” Carla said. “We were both bit by mosquitoes. I guess her’s was the bad one.”

“But this time of year?” Pierre asked.

“Since they outlawed DDT, they’ve gotten worse,” Pete stated. “Even in a dry December like this one. We used to worry about the ones coming over the border. Now we’ve got to deal with our own.”

“So what are they doing about it?” Raymond asked.

“There isn’t much they can do,” Pierre gravely observed. “We must wait and see what happens.” He looked around. “How did she get this private room?”

“Pulled a few strings,” Pete admitted. “Makes it easier on Carla. They moved her out of intensive care because there wasn’t much more they could do there.”

“Surely you’re not going to stay all the time,” Pierre declared.

“I can’t leave her,” Carla said. “It takes forever to get anything around here. She needs me.”

“Since they set up national health care,” Pete came in, “things have gotten slower.”

“They lost quite a few doctors,” Alice added.

Pierre found himself lost in his thoughts at all that suddenly confronted him. He looked around to see the two flower arrangements that were in the room.

“I assume one of those is yours,” Pierre said, looking at Pete and pointing at the flowers.

“The other came from your people at the warehouse,” he replied.

“Has the priest come?” Pierre asked.

“About 16 hours,” Yveline said. “He came in, performed the last rites— or the unction of the sick, as they call it now—and left. That was all.”

Pierre stood in silence again. “The doctor’s supposed to be here shortly, isn’t he?” he finally asked.

“Supposed to,” Carla replied. “But they run slow too. If he’s here by eight, I’d be surprised. It took them three hours to figure out what was wrong with her to start with.”

“Why don’t we take the kids down to eat somewhere while you stay here for the doctor?” Pete asked after a very long silence.

“That’s a good idea,” Pierre agreed, “but I sense that I will be waiting for Godot.” With that the four of them left for the hospital’s cafeteria.

Challenges Infinity, and is Soon Gone: The Death of Tony Clarke

Back in November, I posted a brief narrative piece from the Moody Blues’ album Days of Future Passed, along with some thoughts on the album’s New Age underpinnings and its influence on me and on my novel The Ten Weeks.

A snatch of that narrative piece is a good way to note the sad passing of the album’s producer, Tony Clarke:

The record producer Tony Clarke was one of the architects of symphonic “prog rock” through his work with the Moody Blues. His production on the group’s album, Days of Future Passed (1967), and its hit single, Nights in White Satin, blended the sounds of an electric rock band with a symphony orchestra and came to be seen as a hugely influential landmark. He went on to work with the group on six more albums, helping them to become one of the most commercially successful bands of the era.

Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed, and a Reflection on the New Age Idea

This is the last in the series of music videos from music alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks. But it’s not a video: it’s a more prosaic “photo and sound clip” combo from a scene in the book combined with a brief excerpt from the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed.

This album is, IMHO, the best fusion of rock and symphonic music to come out of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  There were others that tried the same thing, and then there were those who performed classical music in a rock way (like Emerson, Lake and Palmer.)  But none of them quite pulled it off the way the Moodies did in on this album.

Below: the starry scene from the novel (with the planets conveniently annotated.)  You can click on the image for the audio clip, which comes from the first part of the album.

“Look over there,” Alicia blankly replied, pointing in the direction she was facing. “There’s Mercury just above the horizon.” She moved her pointing hand upward. “There’s Venus. Up from that is Jupiter. Star charts say that Neptune is just next to Venus, and Uranus is further up in the sky from that.”

“‘Pinprick holes in a colourless sky/Let insipid figures of light pass by…’” Vannie recalled. She turned to Alicia. “You came up here just to see that?” (p. 197)

Thoughts on the Album, and the New Age Idea

Although released in 1967, I didn’t get this in my collection until 1974.  It’s always been an album that appealed the most in times when things weren’t going well (for a Christian album that serves a similar purpose, click here.)  That’s not an accident; Days of Future Passed is a very strong expression of what has come to be called “New Age philosophy,” more so than even the more explicit In Search of the Lost Chord.  That deserves an explanation.

One leitmotif in G.K. Chesterton’s work is his idea that Eastern religions are basically pessimistic at heart, a giant sigh of despair.  It’s too bad that this album wasn’t out at the time, because it’s as powerful of an illustration of that as one could want.  The choice of using a day as the framework for the album, although seemingly benign, only adds to the gloom.  It implies that life is a giant cycle, that we are trapped in an inescapable round that, instead of centuries or aeons, only lasts 24 hours per course.  Transferred to the daily life of the urban and suburban 1960’s UK, and one longs for a Chestertonian characterisation.  The lyrics only add to the impression, including those in the audio clip.

“New Age” philosophy, which was most in vogue in the 1960’s but still very much influences our culture, is derived from Eastern religions, and specifically those of India.  For all of the happy face that many of its practitioners put on, it’s still a message of despair, that we’re trapped in a cyclical round and round we can’t get out of, not any time soon at least (I’m thinking about the reincarnation cycle.)  Happiness needs to have a stronger basis in fact than just raw “belief” or “positive thinking.”  It needs an objective that is real and attainable.

I think that one reason why people in places where religion such as this have been predominant are turning to Jesus Christ is that he offers them a way out of the cycle of despair, and he can do the same for you.

As I said at the start, this ends the series of music alluded to (or perhaps shouted out) in The Ten Weeks. I trust that you have enjoyed it and hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Cream: Pressed Rat and Warthog

I almost overlooked this musical gem alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks.  It’s Cream’s “Pressed Rat and Warthog” which appeared as a single along with “Anyone for Tennis” (an appropriate subject for The Ten Weeks.)

“Pressed Rat and Warthog” also appeared as the first song of the second side of the first disc of Wheels of Fire, which was the first double album to go platinum and whose cover art won several awards.  (Update) It was co-written by Ginger Baker, who passed away in 2019.

Cream first performed it live in 2005, and that live performance is below.

Learning Persistence at Palm Beach Day Academy

The esteemed Palm Beach Day Academy brought in author Jerry Spinelli on this subject:

Striding to the front of the auditorium to launch his talk, the father of six made another important point: Don’t overlook the value of failure and the importance of persistence.

He quizzed the kids about what they would do if they, like he, had experienced an abundance of rejections when he tried to publish his first manuscripts.

After responses that included, “publish it yourself,” and “send it to a new publisher,” one brave student advised, “write a new book.”

Spinelli waited for the expected roars of laughter and then praised the student for his choice. That’s what Spinelli had done.

Forty years ago, they could have saved themselves the honorarium.

There’s a great deal of talk about the effects of people, finding themselves at the bottom of the social heap, being bullied.  And I experienced both at the Palm Beach Day Academy, in a social system that could be very brutal.  But one thing it did teach me was to stick adversity out.  That was reinforced by the fact that my parents did not even consider getting me out of what was then Palm Beach Day School, even they were doubtless aware of what I was going through.

There are some situations where it becomes impossible to properly function.  For the rest, there’s persistence in the face of adversity.

Therefore, having been pronounced righteous as the result of faith, let us enjoy peace with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is through him that, by reason of our faith, we have obtained admission to that place in God’s favor in which we not stand. So let us exult in our hope of attaining God’s glorious ideal. And not only that, but let us also exult in our troubles; For we know that trouble develops endurance, and endurance strength of character, and strength of character hope, And that ‘hope never disappoints.’ For the love of God has filled our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given us… (Romans 5:1-5, TCNT.)

Jethro Tull: A New Day Yesterday

This week, I’m going to veer away from the “Top 40” stuff in this series of music alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks.  And veer is a nice way to put it: it’s a video of Jethro Tull’s “A New Day Yesterday,” originally on their second album, Stand Up.

This live performance comes from Fillmore East in 1970, not only contemporaneous (more or less) with the novel’s setting, but probably with the same performers who made Stand Up (Ian Anderson of course, but also Martin Barre, Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker (they also made the next album Benefit, but with the addition there of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond.)

It’s fair to say that Jethro Tull dominated my gramophone for most of the first half of the 1970’s, as evidenced by posts like this:

Osmond Brothers: One Bad Apple

Continuing the “Top 40” music alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks is the Osmond Brothers’ “One Bad Apple.”

The Osmond Brothers were certainly the main “competitors” to the Jackson 5 at the time.  It’s interesting to note that, while the Osmonds were (and are) Mormons, the Jackson 5 were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that makes an interesting “head to head.”

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

The trip through the music alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks will take a mellow turn this week with Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”  Lightfoot is the only Canadian represented in this list.

This is a relatively new performance, but this is still a very smooth and beguiling song and performer.

One general observation I’d like to make is that you hear the music from this era piped into malls and shopping centres and reperformed.  The first time I noticed this, I was in Boynton Beach, back in the 1990’s.  I thought, “has WQAM‘s signal bounced back from some far planet?”  But the reality is that this was a very creative era, and not just by really well-known groups such as the Beatles.

Santana: Black Magic Woman, and the Isolation of Academia

This week’s music alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks is Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” a song that got a good deal of radio play at the time the novel is set.  But I’d like to digress a bit and use it to illustrate how academics (and I am one, part time at least) can be out of touch with reality.

My wife is an independent music teacher, has been for many years, and is a member of the Tennessee Music Teachers Association.  I usually travel with her to their annual meeting, which allows me to take in the piano recitals and other cultural events.  For the most part, music education in the U.S. (esp. at the collegiate level) is centred around what is improperly called “classical” music, even though that style of music is about 5% of what people actually listen to.

With the cultural events come the feeds.  (I mean the eating feeds, not the RSS ones.)  One year we were at one function where the opening entertainment was done by a member of the jazz faculty of the local university.  That was a nice treat, but at the end of the performance he had to excuse himself because he wanted to take his son to hear Carlos Santana.

One of my wife’s college faculty colleagues turned to me and asked, “Who’s Carlos Santana?”

The video below should explain it all…