Democrats Eat Their Own

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  John 8:7

It seems impossible that it was just eight days ago that a firestorm of political “scandal” broke out in the tinder-dry undergrowth of sanctimony in Richmond, Virginia.  Governor Ralph Northam (D) was revealed to have included a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page (Northam is an M. D. with a practice in pediatric neurology) showing two costumed people, one in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood: the ultimate Odd Couple.  There were also pix of a young Northam in a cowboy hat, and another in front of a “Dukes of Hazard” style muscle car. Not too surprising for one raised and educated in east Virginia.  The revelation was made on a far-right political website related to Breitbart, the organization to which former Trump advisor Steve Bannon is connected.

big 3

Virginia Democrats in Deep Trouble: (l to r) Fairfax, Herring, Northam     Photo by USA Today.

Instantly the calls began for the governor to resign on the spot.  Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Virginia Senators Kaine and Warner, former Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Representatives from many districts, including veteran Gerry Connolly (11th District) and newbie Jennifer Wexton (10th District), the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and countless others.  All of them progressive, nearly all of them Democrats.  It was an avalanche.  My pastor had to wait until Sunday morning to add to the list, but made it very clear that while working with Northam in the cause of social justice had been most constructive, we’d need to move on to work with his successor once he was gone.  The rationale always came down to the “good of the party” or the “good of the state.”  In the mighty cacophony of righteous moral indignation, barely a Republican voice was heard.  The progressives drowned them out.

But as we all know, what the “good of the party” is became much more complicated less than 48 hours later, when the same hyper-conservative website revealed that Lieutenant Governor, and now Governor-in-waiting, Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault by a woman stating she was the victim.  Vanessa Tyson said he forced her to perform a non-consensual sex act in 2004.  Interestingly, the cacophony this time was less loud.  The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which had called for Northam’s ouster in about three nanoseconds, hemmed and hawed for several days about Fairfax (an African American) and finally said there should be a complete investigation of the charge made by Tyson.  Jennifer Wexton stated that she believed Tyson, evidently based not on an investigation of any kind but solely on the fact that Tyson is female.

It seemed inevitable that Governor Northam would have to resign, once every active Democratic voice in the nation had demanded that he needed to do so for the party’s good, since he had lost the ability to rule effectively.  Now the first man in the line of succession, Justin Fairfax, was also a good way toward being DQ’d.  The far-right website had played the Democrats like a fine violin.  They used the same tactic that football teams use against an overly-aggressive defensive opponent.  The offense fakes a play to create the illusion that the ball is going to a certain spot.  When all the charging defenders converge on that spot, the offense runs the real play in the areas vacated by the fooled defenders.  In this case, the far right got universal Democratic condemnation of Northam based on a tasteless and degrading image generated a third of a century ago.  (When Connolly was asked if that one episode erased an adult lifetime of excellent public service he said “no” and went on to explain in detail why Northam need to resign anyway.)  Then the far right implicated Justin Fairfax not in a tasteless and insensitive image, but in a criminal act.  How could anybody who had insisted that Northam go not insist even more strongly that Fairfax also resign?

As if that weren’t enough, Mark Herring, the same State Attorney General who proclaimed Northam had to resign, admitted two days after the Fairfax accusation that he too had put on blackface as a college undergrad in 1980 to imitate a rapper in a dance contest (Northam confessed to using blackface to imitate Michael Jackson while “moonwalking.”  At least he didn’t need a very heavy layer.)  Herring is the second in the line of succession, behind Fairfax.  The next in line after Herring is a Republican.  The situation is still very fluid.  Governor Northam has apparently concluded he will not resign any time soon.  A second woman, Meredith Watson, has accused Fairfax of rape while both were undergraduates at Duke in 2000.  Fairfax has denied both allegations.  After the second accusation, the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus for the first time has called for Fairfax to resign.  The logic escapes me.  So there’s some chance that the Commonwealth of Virginia will be governed by a Republican until 2021.  There’s also some chance Northam will hang in there.  So far only one Republican outside the state that I know of has called for Northam to resign, namely moderate Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland.  Joe Lieberman (D?, CT) has stated that Northam need not resign, which in my mind is the strongest argument why he should do so.

So what do we conclude from this fiasco?  I think the Democrats need to recalibrate their responses and standards in matters of ethical conduct.  The original response to Northam was so shrill and so absolute, just as Breitbart thought it would be, that it risks a far greater calamity than one Democratic governor resigning; it risks losing dominant Democratic influence in Virginia now and in the future.  The degree of self-righteous sanctimoniousness in judging others needs review.  People who should know a whole lot better came off sounding like the foul-tempered, furious Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.  “Off with his head” cannot be the first and only judgment, regardless of the offense.  There needs to be perspective and most importantly a way forward, a process of reconciliation and healing, in cases of insensitivity.  Also, Democrats need to reflect on what being a “party” means.  It surely should include the idea of elected leaders supporting one another, of having one another’s backs, of assuming that investigation, evaluation, reflection, and sound judgment should be practiced in all instances of apparent malfeasance.  Governor Northam must be thinking “with friends like this, who need enemies”?  And in fact, those who wish Northam no good have been able simply to keep silent while the delusional “circular firing squad” of friends did its work.

As a Democrat, I am disgusted with the state party’s moral arrogance in this fiasco.  I made a pledge to contribute to the state party, which I will rescind.  I will not vote for state-level Democrats in the next two election cycles, instead saving my contributions and votes for promising Independent and third-party causes.  I don’t want either my money or my electoral support going to people who behave this way.  If they had been present when the woman was taken in adultery (John 8), they’d have stoned her to death despite Jesus’ admonition, because they believe they have no sin.  At least the scholars and Pharisees who were there had consciences.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019.


Frank Robinson

The great baseball player and manager Frank Robinson died yesterday.  He was a Hall-of-Famer twice over, having been Rookie of the Year in 1956, Most Valuable Player in both leagues (Cincinnati in 1961 when the Reds won the NL flag, and Baltimore in 1966), a twelve-time All Star, with a tidy 107.3 WAR in a 21-year career.  One stat that jumps out at me is his 198 career hit-by-pitches, which means he did not back off the plate, and was an aggressive hitter.  Robinson was also the first African American MLB manager, and the manager of the Washington Nationals in their first two seasons, 2005-2006.  In all his roles he was hard-driving, assertive, and successful.

Frank Robinson as a Cincinnati Red in 1962.

For years I thought my favorite Frank Robinson story came from the excellent Jim Brosnan book on the 1961 Cincinnati pennant-winning season, Pennant Race.  Turns out I was wrong, though.  It’s actually from the March 21, 1960 Sports Illustrated story “The Private World of the Negro Ballplayer,” by Robert Boyle (see URL below).  The article itself is something from another era, 59 years ago, when persons of color were called “Negro” with no insult intended, when racial stereotyping and classifying was taken for granted, when there were all of 57 African Americans in MLB, and when callow politicians-to-be put on blackface to enter dance contests.  Needless to say, these 57 big-league players of 1960 would have had something of a world of their own; it was only 13 years after Jackie Robinson became the first big-leaguer of color.

The story in the article is about Robinson’s advice to Vada Pinson, then a young player hustling to make good.  Robinson was a four-year veteran in 1959, while it was Pinson’s first full year.  A couple of years later when the Reds won the pennant race, Pinson was the other half of a “dynamic duo” with Robinson:  Pinson batted .343, got 208 hits, 87 RBIs, and 16 homers, while Robinson batted .323, got 176 hits, 124 RBIs, and 37 homers.  As the story is told, it seems that Boyle wants to cast Robinson as the savvy veteran who gets by with minimum effort, while Pinson is the gullible youngster who tries very hard, almost too hard, given the innate laziness of his race.  The whole article has that feel.  But I always thought, from the time I first read the piece in 1960, that what it really shows is how much Robinson enjoyed playing the game, and how he reveled in his role as slugger—big, powerful, menacing and yet playful, attuned to the sense of the moment.  Some players went barnstorming after the regular season, and

they take it so easy barnstorming that they refused to allow Pinson, a youngster who doesn’t know how to stop hustling, to make a trip. Pinson was told, “It’s best you don’t go. You wouldn’t know how to play it. You wouldn’t know how to slow down.” Poor Pinson doesn’t know how to slow down when he hits a homer. Once last year he sprinted all the way home even though he saw the ball clear the fence as he was rounding second. When he got back to the bench Frank Robinson, Cincinnati’s Negro first baseman, said, “Listen, kid, you’d better just stick to singles and leave those long balls to us cats who can act them out.”

Few players ever enjoyed acting them out, while at the same time playing the game for all he was worth, as much as Frank Robinson.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019.

The Christmas My Mother Pranked Me

As a young adolescent kid in the early 1950s, I was a nut about aircraft and aviation.  I subscribed to Air Progress and even the industry’s journal, Aviation Week.  I had files of pictures clipped from those and other magazines.  I went to airports and air bases whenever I could, in an era when going to airports was not a common thing to do.  On my 50-mile bike ride for by Boy Scout Cycling merit badge, I journeyed from my home in Arlington, Massachusetts to the Naval Air Station in South Weymouth, just to get a long-distance glimpse of a few dark blue radar planes.

Me and models '53

Me and some of my airplane models, May, 1953.

But above all, I made scale model aircraft.  I spent many hours with my balsa wood, Xacto knives, Duco cement, Testors dope, and decals of all kinds.  They were solid models, not for flying but for display.  I especially liked military aircraft, the new fast jets and the plethora of prop-driven planes created over the prior two decades to fight World War Two.  Magazines like Air Progress featured three-view drawings from which one could fashion splendidly accurate models simply by transforming them on graph paper to the desired size, and rendering them in balsa wood.  By checking my file photos, I could refine details and markings.  There were also some pretty good kits by Guillow and Strombecker (Monogram and Revell made plastic kits, of no interest to true scale modelers), but especially Dyna-Model, which featured die-cast metal parts for things like the wheels, propellers, engine nacelles, and the rockets attached to underwings of some fighter aircraft.  The latter models were wonderful fun to make, but quite expensive.  Sometimes I saved up my allowance and walked to the hobby shop about a mile away, in Belmont Center, to buy a kit.  But they were also great gifts for birthdays and Christmas.

I think the Christmas my mother pranked me was 1953.  I would have been 14, and I was in my model-making heyday.  Old enough to have some serious model-making skills, and young enough to enjoy using them, just before girls, driver’s licenses, and (in my case) cool jazz jumbled my priorities.  Our home family Christmas morning routine was well-established.  My younger brother Jim and I shared a bedroom for most of those years, and we’d keep ourselves up as late as we could, listening to Christmas music at low volume on the big short-wave and standard broadcast radio my dad had re-installed in a hand-made modern case that also served as a table between twin beds.  We’d always fall asleep eventually, but we’d somehow wake up by 6:00 a.m. in the midwinter dark.  That was the statutory limit on how early we could wake Mom and Dad to go see what “Santa” left, check whether he’d consumed all his milk and Christmas cookies, and open family gifts, including the ones that arrived in a big box mailed from Kalamazoo.


Lockheed P-38 “Lightning”

This particular Christmas I had asked for a model plane; I’m pretty sure it was the Dyna-Model P-38, the Lockheed “Lightning,” a slick twin-engine WW 2 fighter that looked super-cool because of its twin-boom construction, and was a difficult model to make for the same reason.  I was playing “Santa” that Christmas morning, distributing gifts.  Thus I could assess my different gifts based on their size, shape, and weight.  Like most boys of 14, I was far less passionate about the clothes and other “practical” gifts that were part of our giving and getting.  Even though my mother could and did pick out great shirts for me, a skill she practiced all her life.  So I set aside one soft, flattish rectangular gift for me, that felt for all the world like a heavy winter shirt, with a gift tag written in her inimitable hand.  But where was that P-38?  One gift after the next was too narrow, too heavy, too small.  At last everybody had gotten their gifts, and though I had opened some nice things, no new scale model project.  Finally the shirt was all that was left.  Though I knew what it was, I had a pro forma requirement to open it.  It felt like a shirt, it looked like a shirt, it was a shirt.  Off came the wrapper, but it was no shirt.  It was a big padded mailing envelope instead.  And inside the padding was, of course, the Dyna-Model P-38.

Mom had me dead to rights!  She knew me too well.  She was not known for her sense of humor; one of her tag lines was a disapproving “’Taint funny, McGee,” taken from an old radio show featuring a wife (Molly) much put upon by her feckless husband (Fibber McGee).  The phrase was the midcentury, mid-American version of Victoria’s “we are not amused.”  But that morning she gave us all a good laugh—even me, once I got over the embarrassment of being so cleverly skewered by my own mother.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Part I

One of the best of all Christmas stories is a medieval chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  It is written by the “Pearl poet,” an otherwise unidentified writer in the English Midlands, specifically Cheshire near the Welsh border, in the fourteenth century.  He was thus roughly a contemporary of Chaucer in time but not in place and culture.  He wrote three other poems, Pearl, Patience, and Purity.  The common authorship is established largely through internal evidence of linguistic usage.

Beheading game

The Beheading Game, from the original MS of the poem

I decided to write about this poem largely because it is so good in so many ways, and because it reminds us of the early, long, and complex celebration of the Christian midwinter festival in parts of Europe.  Two centuries after this, separatist Puritans in England ceased to celebrate Christmas, and they brought non-Christmas with them to America.  We had thus to re-initiate our own festival as time went by, and we did so erratically and unevenly.

My intent is to be selective in focus and non-pedantic in approach.  Nevertheless, to start I must say that I rely most heavily on the Marie Borroff translation just because it is good, literate, lucid, and the one I first read as I got into the poem in my university studies.  It’s also probably useful to know that the poem uses the Old English rhyming scheme of alliterative verse, in which there are four stressed syllables and any number of unstressed syllables per line.  Three of the stressed syllables alliterate, and there tends to be a “break” (like a musical rest) between the first and second half of the line.  There are also a few passages of end rhymes mixed in.  But because the stanza structure is “bob and wheel,” meaning a longish narrative stanza ending with a few briefer lines, the short “bob” at the end has just two or three stressed syllables per line.

The poem is in four narrative “Parts,” or “Fyttes.”  It begins on a Christmas Day and ends a year and a week later, on New Year’s Day.  I will present the four sections so that my comments end on New Year’s Day, 2019.

The First Part occurs in Arthur’s court at Camelot on Christmas day, at the Christmas Feast.  The well-to-do in the Middle Ages tended to have large feasts on special occasions, mostly holy days.  Arthur is in his youthful prime; Lancelot and Mordred lie in the far future (or in the distant past if you’re Merlin, I suppose).  The poet says of the king that his “lordly heart . . . [was] a little boyish, / His life he lived lively . . . / So busy his young blood, his brain so wild.”  And he got his fill this day, because just as the music was over and the first course had been served, a giant warrior bursts into the hall riding on a huge steed.  The poet goes on for several lines describing just how big and imposing both horse and rider are, slyly saving for the end the one thing everybody there would have noticed first: he and his horse are green!  Green raiment, green skin, green hair, green everything—with a little gold trim.  The original readers would have recognized several interconnected connotations in the green color: it was the hue of the faerie world, the color of nature and natural cycles, and of hope.  It expresses all the pre-Christian values of the Winter solstice: life enduring the powers of death, the magical force of the turning of the season, the expectation of life’s return from the “dead of winter.”


Victorian image of Sir Gawain. The 19th Century loved medieval lore.

This magic giant knight rides up to the dais and asks which one is the famed King Arthur, as if that was not quite obvious.  And he offers a challenge in the form of a common medieval folklore motif called the “Beheading Game”:  he will allow any knight one free swing at his neck with the huge axe he is carrying, if that knight will agree to meet him the following winter and allow him, the Green Knight, one free swing in return.

Such a challenge seems a no-brainer, but no knight rises to accept it, thereby defending and protecting the king from risk.  The callowness of Arthur’s court is vividly exposed.  Finally Gawain, though a younger, lesser knight, does meet the Green Knight’s dare. And he beheads the challenger with one mighty swing.  The bloody head rolls on the floor between the banquet tables, so that “people spurned and parried it as it passed their feet”; the image of refined lords and ladies toeing the gruesome visage like some demonic soccer ball has always struck me as a fine detail.

But then the magic kicks into overdrive.  The Green Knight’s torso walks over, picks up the head, holds it out to the stunned revelers.  It looks around the assembly and at Gawain, uttering the medieval equivalent of “see you next Christmas—my place.”  He mounts his steed, tucks his head under his arm, and thunders out of the banquet hall, having sucked the gaiety out of the feast and given Gawain much to reflect on in the year ahead.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

National Pastime

It’s April and the baseball season has started.  As a Nats fan I’d know the month without a calendar from the mere fact that Adam Eaton is on the DL.  Over the last three days we’ve been given reason to remember why this sport is our “national pastime,” amusing, entertaining, and thrilling us consistently for six months of competition and then another of postseason drama.

Three days ago the up-and-coming, but not there yet, Atlanta Braves jumped all over the ex-defending champ Chicago Cubs to lead 10-2 after 3 ½ innings.  It was still 10-5 going into the bottom of the 8th.  But in that frame the Cubbies scored nine runs, transforming a 5-run deficit into a 4-run lead.  This feat was accomplished not by a lot of long, loud hits thundering off Cub bats.  No, it was more the two hit batsmen, the wild pitch, and the 5 walks (four of them in a row, three of them RBI walks) that did it.  The Braves got two outs on the Cubs before the first of the nine runs scored.  The two singles and a double, the only Cub hits of the inning, were almost incidental.  The Wrigley crowd went home happy.

Colon hurls

Bartolo Colon gets all of his 285 pounds behind a pitch.

Next, a couple of days ago it was the all-Texas showdown between the Rangers and the Astros.  The Astros are the current defending World Series champs.  So naturally the Rangers sent out Bartolo Colon to quiet them down.  At 5’11” and 285 pounds, Colon is baseball’s version of a sumo wrestler.  He is rotund, but beneath the outer layer of fat lurks the body of an athlete, apparently.  Colon has pitched in the big leagues for 22 years, nearly a quarter of a century.  He’s been with 11 teams in both leagues, and as a member of the L. A. Angels he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, when he also led the AL with 21 wins.  Possessor of an efficient, low-stress delivery, he pounds the strike zone and pitches to contact.  But he is 44, and he almost didn’t find a team this year.  Yet against the Astros he was awesome.  He carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, and positioned the Rangers to win in ten, 3-1.  Forty-four, and nearly perfect.  Go figure.

And then there was last night’s Nats-Mets game, and another improbable rally.  As with the Cubs, the deficit was five runs, the homestanding Mets having racked up a 6-1 lead behind the strong hurling of Jacob deGrom, leader of a strong starting rotation and at least a couple of pounds lighter this season solely by virtue of former beard and flowing locks shorn to conventional athletic standards.  He carried his handy lead into the eighth, but after opening the frame by sandwiching a pair of hits around a whiff, he had thrown 103 pitches.  He was relieved, and the fat was in the fire.  Three more hits, a hit batsman, and four walks (2 of them RBIs) later, the Nats were up 7-6.  In the ninth the Nats got one more on a leadoff homer, and it looked like they’d need it after the Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera doubled with one out.  But in an inexplicably bonehead move, he attempted to steal third with the tying run at the plate and first base open.  He was out.  One out later, the Citi Field crowd went home unhappy.

What other sport can beat this combination of skill, derring-do, and luck, triumph and defeat?

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I went to vote in a special school board election today. Had to go way around to the far back of Thoreau Intermediate School, my polling place. In the process I drove past an incredibly long pick-up line of parents waiting for kids, one per idling car, in the cool rain. I thought, “they could carpool.  They’d save gas, pollute the atmosphere less with their exhaust, and save the time of, let’s say, four parents, who could be waiting at home watching The Young and the Restless and painting their toenails until their happy kiddies are dropped off.”  OK, OK, just kidding about the soap opera and the nails.  But all it would take would be a little activist organization and maybe a PTA membership list to organize this.

Then it occurred to me they could go farther than that.  They could pool their resources and get a van, maybe with an innovative ecology grant from the County or Greenpeace.  That would pollute even less, and tie up fewer parent-drivers.  In fact, if they took the next step and hired a driver, they could probably cover the salary with the money they saved on time and gas sitting in that line.


Fisher-Price “Lil’ Movers” Bus

And a professional driver could control a bigger vehicle too.  It might be large enough so that you’d want it to be especially visible on rainy days like today.  So you could paint it a bright color, maybe yellow.  And then there’d be even less pollution, fewer cars on the road, and parents would have more flexible schedules and a freer day, especially when you consider they have to drive the kids in the morning.  A win-win-win situation!

You could spread the idea far and wide if you identified the vehicle so others would understand that they too could avoid those silly pick-up lines.  Just paint a single informative phrase on its side, let’s say “SCHOOL BUS.”  Oh, wait . . .

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.

The Chalice

Last Saturday Jane and I took the Metro to the National Gallery of Art to attend a lecture by our friend and my colleague Eric Denker.  The Metro was fairly crowded, because it was the occasion of the March for Science and Earth Day.  That’s why we did not drive; too many street closures were in the offing, and even if we got in we would not be likely to get out easily.  We struck up a couple of conversations with grizzled marchers (one couple from Newton, MA), carrying their placard slogans, and wished them well as they debarked at Federal Triangle, launching into the drizzle for their walk to the Washington Monument.

Our own walk in the insistent wet was to the East Building Auditorium, where Eric spoke on the subject of Frédéric Bazille, a young, aspiring French painter, friend of the more famous Impressionists.  His more concrete style stood in contrast to the broken brushstrokes of Monet, and was somewhat more in the Manet camp.  He decided, with the thorough disapproval of all his family and friends, to enlist to fight in the Franco-Prussian war as a Zouave.  The bright, flashy uniform on his 6’2” frame must have made a good target, because he was killed on his first day of combat, less than 50 miles from Paris, just a few days before his 29th birthday.

Afterwards we completed our tour of the Bazille exhibit that we’d begun before the lecture, and stopped by to see a magnificent exhibit of Della Robbia ceramics from the Italian Renaissance.  We’d never appreciated the differing styles of the different family members, or the secret and exclusive success of the glazing formulas.  Our favorites included Luca’s “Holy Visitation,” Andrea’s “Virgin and Child,” Girolamo’s “François I,” and Giovanni’s “Resurrection of Christ.”  We traversed the length of the West Building indoors to stay out of the rain longer.  And then, before the wet walk back to the Smithsonian station, we stopped to visit The Chalice.

The National Gallery of Art is not noted for its pre-Renaissance holdings.  For medieval and ancient art in our neck of the woods one really needs to head up I-95 to Charm City and the Walters Art Gallery.  But our beloved National Gallery of Art has one piece that will stand up to just about any single piece in any European cathedral treasury . . . well, except for Aachen.  Ever since I discovered The Chalice in the 1970s, I have been drawn to it like a moth to flame, and more often than not we stop by the small, dark room of which it is the spotlighted centerpiece when we visit the museum.

Smithsonian chalice

The Chalice

The Chalice is a 12th-century work consisting of a sardonyx cup dating back to the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE, carved from a single piece of spectacularly marbled stone, in a heavily gilded silver setting with rubies, sapphires, pearls, glass, and white glass pearls.  The goldwork is heavily filigreed.  On the base are four discs; the one original shows the Byzantine Christus Pantokrator and the Western Alpha and Omega.  The other discs probably portrayed St. Denis and his two companions.  It was made for Suger, Abbot of St.-Denis, near Paris.   Suger, a powerful French churchman and statesman, caused his abbey church to be rebuilt in a new, light and lofty style.  It’s the earliest Gothic church there is.  Suger believed in the mystic spiritual power and symbolism of light.  The choir of his rebuilt church is illuminated by tall pointed stained glass windows all around.  In 1144 this renewed building was dedicated with many notables in attendance, including King Louis VII and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  (As one historian said, “much of [Louis VII’s] trouble” arose from this marriage to the headstrong Eleanor).  This chalice was presumably used in the dedication ceremony.

It’s not just the building in which The Chalice resided that’s remarkable.  St. Denis himself is a worthy personage.  He was the Bishop of Paris in the 3rd century, a time when the Christian Church was subject to persecution.  So effective were he and two colleagues that the Romans who then occupied the region perceived him as a threat to pagan practices.  Denis (whose name is a Frenchified version of the original “Dionysius”) was executed by decapitation shortly after 250 CE on Montmartre.  He then attained fame as “one of many cephalophores in hagiology” (thanks, Wikipedia) by picking up his head and walking 6 miles (10 km) to the place that now bears his name, preaching repentance all the way.  (An alternative narrative has his headless corpse being thrown into the Seine, and then recovered and buried by his followers the same night.  But where’s the fun in that?)  A small shrine was built there in the 5th century, and from the 10th century onward all French kings were buried in the church, until their remains were all desecrated by the French Revolution.  Today the community is a working-class suburb of Paris, with a stop on the Metro and the French national football stadium, the Stade de France, as well as the church in all its 900-year-old splendor.

With all this rich Christian and French tradition surrounding The Chalice, who wouldn’t stop and soak it all in whenever possible?  We went home in the rain happy.