I was going to title this quick post, "The Faith Isn't Europe and Europe Isn't the Faith", but I don't know how many people would get the Bellocian reference and it's not really the nub of what I'm talking about.
I wrote about the story of Father Solanus Casey reaching the Capuchin monastery through snowfall on Christmas Eve a couple of days ago. That story really enchanted me. In fact, as I was reading about it on one web page, and re-watching another YouTube interview about Fr. Solanus that I'd seen many months ago, I had something of a "purple notebook" moment (although purple notebook moments can only ever be verified afterwards; the purple owl spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk).
Part of the reason I found Fr. Solanus's story so moving is because it combines the permanence and sublimity of the Faith, with all its lofty associations, with the familiarity of American references; Yonkers, Harlem, street car operator, and so forth.
And musing on this, it occurs to me that I'm completely cold to the romance and glamour of "Europe". Yes, I know Ireland is geographically in Europe, but I mean the continent, and especially the Romance-speaking lands. The sight of a piazza or a cobbled street doesn't excite me one bit; to be honest, it kind of depresses me. And all those relentless blue skies...
I had my honeymoon in Germany, France, Italy and Austria. They were nice, but...you know, they were nice.
The same is true of European history. I'm afraid I find the High Middle Ages to be a crashing bore. All those principalities and duchies and royal families just make my head swim. As a monarchist and a localist and a Catholic, I should probably view this as a golden age, but I don't.
I love Ireland, and I love England, and I love America.
Ireland; smoky photographs of Brendan Behan, Michael Collins, and Eamon De Valera in dark pubs; sausages, rashers and white pudding; tea, tea, tea; green fields, real or imagined; a kind of endearing awkwardness in the populace, right down to how we carry ourselves; the Irish mammy; the cult of heroic failure.
England; Big Ben; Carry On movies; the eccentric vicar with a model railway in his backyard; ghost stories featuring donnish middle-aged men who cycle from cathedral town to cathedral town; the cult of heroic failure; names like "Hampden" and "Bromley" and "Coventry"; bleary seventies movies where everybody and everything looks tired, dishevelled and worn-out.
America; the Budweiser Clysedales; Target stores; Macy's parade; flat, square buildings and low skylines; extreme weather; a sense of enormous space; a sense that even outdoors is somehow like indoors, people are so relaxed and unselfconscious; a kind of respect for everybody's personal projects, and an eagerness to talk about them (tell an American person some project you have, and they take it seriously); more than anything, gusto.
I'm also rather drawn to Japanese and Russian culture, what little I know of them. I told this to my sister and she said: "I've noticed people who are drawn to Russian culture are usually also drawn to Japanese culture." Perhaps it's their unapologetic insularity.
But Europe leaves me cold.