My sister reports that in Italy people are shocked if you put ketchup on a hamburger.

Here in Rio people often put ketchup on their pizzas. Take THAT, Italy!!

We recently discovered Italian ketchup in Brazil, a brand called Mutti. It’s so delicious our meals now revolve around what one can put ketchup on. My take: it’s good for burgers and fries. My husband’s take: works with eggs, rice and beans, hot dogs, burgers and fries.

Why is there an Italian ketchup if they don’t put it on any of the above items? They must put it on something!

Not some sky daddy!

How many times I recall educated American (and European) friends protesting that while they might believe or feasibly be able to believe in God, they could never believe in a childish idea of a Bearded Sky Daddy(TM?). For some reason I’ve never found the traditionally imagery of God the Father to be revolting. Like this:

It’s the whole Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But my question is, what advantage or appeal comes from thinking that God is a vague force of nature with no personhood, no Incarnation, no relationship to you or me? So many of God’s best qualities are qualities that manifest in the relationship of persons: love, compassion, tenderness, mercy. Even the conversation of prayer!

Mangled words!

Thick polyester “fleece” blankets are popular in the winter here in the Rio area. I mean double thick heavy things, far too warm for the actual 60F night temperatures. I find them clammy and unpleasant. They are popularly printed with colorful scenes or cartoon characters. Sometimes they are just plain brown.

Of all weird names these blankets are called “edredom” (eh-dre-DON) which seemed a mysteriously un-Latin thing to call a blanket. No Portuguese in their right mind would have invented that word. It’s a bit like “gorgurão,” the long-suffering version of the French word “grosgrain” (a kind of ribbon, if you don’t sew). These are the sorts of mouthfuls that the young people in my English classes struggle with. Too many consonants in all the wrong places.

Finally, the mystery is solved.

Edredom is from “eiderdown,” the ‘featherbeds’ used in northern Europe at night, which in the USA we would call a ‘down quilt’.

The word apparently crept into French from Danish, and from French it spread into Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese. I assume it spread along with the sales of imported or imitated Danish eiderdowns into Iberia. Perhaps when some Danish princess popularized them during a marriage or a voyage?

Ever wondered what eiderdown is? It’s the down feathers from a kind of duck what lives in the north Atlantic. It’s collected from the abandoned nests of the ducks: the female ducks line the nests with these delicate feathers. Sixteen nests yield a kilo of feathers – the tradition of collecting the feathers dates to the 9th century.

A cool video about it:

And the mysterious origins of polyester fleece:

Painting the Heavens

Medieval illuminations often have interesting things going on in the sky.

Little angels peeking over the edge of heaven.
Patterns of blue-on-black foliage fill the sky.
The faces of dozens of angels looking upon Christ and the saints.
God the Father and an array of little angels worked in tiny golden brushstrokes.
Some beautifully worked foliage patterns in the sky.
The angels are obvious, but there is also delicate white filigree filling all the blue of the background and sky.
This one is full of obvious angels, but a closer look reveals myriad half-hidden angels, too.
Here the choir of angels frames an ordinary sky full of stars.
And here some rather cute angels peak down at the Virgin Mary from a sky full of stars.


By Tango7174 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Some twist of conversation the other day brought up the subject of very ancient trees whose products are still being harvested:

The world’s oldest cork tree

The Thousand Year Old Rosebush

The World’s Oldest Apple Tree (browse the photo galleries)

The Olive Tree of Vouves (there are several other very old olive trees listed here, too: Wikipedia List of Oldest Trees)

The Hundred Horse Chestnut Tree


Adventures in shopping for fruit: Best done at dawn, at the CADEG (a sort of wholesale market).

Fruit picking techniques: Melons, knocking. Pineapples, sniffing. Oranges, squeezing. Mangos, looking.

Best smells: mangos! What a perfume! It filled the car on the way back.

Oddball specialties: just beer and salt cod; just pumpkins; just watermelons

Fun details: varieties of veggies that look almost like north american ones, except a little different, such as the yellow and green bell peppers, or the pale green zucchinis.

Best people watching: the very elderly shopkeepers and their elderly cats; the shoulder-carrying skills of the shop assistants (or, in the photo below, the convent’s driver)

Shattered glass

A friend was mentioning some teachings that stood out in his mind over the years, that I likewise found touching:

God takes the shattered pieces of our lives and makes a beautiful stained glass window out of them.

God is love. But sometimes we think of the love part in human terms, and try to fit God into that limited view. Better is to recognize that we need to conform ourselves to His love, not conform Him to our love.

When we pray the Our Father, the “Our” reminds us that Christ is praying with us and we with Him. It is the prayer he taught us to pray.

It’s really amazing to read the stories of Esther, Jael, Judith and other great women of the Old Testament in light of Mary. Sometimes the modern imagery is all syrup and sorrow, which doesn’t do Our Lady justice. I have half a liking for this unusual engraving. That’s Jael (lower left) and Judith (lower right), dispatching their enemies.

Image found online years ago. I don’t know the source.

Boring sports

If you work out at the gym or walk the dog for exercise, and feel the need for some adrenaline, enjoy this ridiculous sport in which energetic young men race down mountains on mountain bikes, starting at the very top, on the glaciers, and ending at the very bottom, in some little village. It takes about 30 minutes of concentration and a bit of luck to make it to the bottom in one piece.

Thinking long term

I can’t recall any instance in my secular life where someone, faced with dealing with a perpetually annoying person, shrugged and said “Look, in 20 years he’ll be gone, let him do his thing, treat him kindly, and later someone else can do a better job of it. Patience!”

Being accustomed to working in NYC I was accustomed to people being promptly fired if they didn’t please the boss. And if a new boss arrived, one had to adapt or be fired.

But even in daily life I never heard someone say about a noisy or nosy neighbor, “She’ll die one day, and then we’ll have a different neighbor with other quirks. Meanwhile, charity and patience.” Usually one either brainstormed mock revenges or called in complaints or confronted the neighbors directly.

So the first time I encountered the patient approach I was startled. A young priest discovered that every 9am Sunday Mass at his new parish was animated by an adorable elderly couple playing peppy guitar and drums. However, since they had been playing for decades and were elderly, he shrugged and carried on, letting them have the pleasure of their service for a few more years, though it was a far cry from the kind of music appropriate for the Mass. Hearing of this I remember thinking, but why not just fire them?

Once this remarkable idea had entered my head I found it explained many things in parishes, including lengthy periods of patience with insufferable people of all sorts. It probably explains the patience others have had with me, too!! It explains, perhaps, even the striking attitude towards gardening I encountered once, when I came upon some young men with shears cutting down a flowering vine. Why not, I inquired, cut down only the weeds, and leave the pretty flowers to grow? Ah, but it all grows back! one responded. And so it does.

But in any case I’ve lately begun to think of all the interminable ‘crises’ in the Church as much more easily understood if one takes this long view. The radicals of the 60s will soon be gone. The beloved customs that were banned by heavy handed revolutionary enthusiasms will grow back, if they were worthy of being beloved. We can try to extirpate the Word of God through neglect or direct assault, but the gates of hell cannot prevail, and we would do well to trust far more in God’s infinite power and majesty than fret that our feeble vanities do much damage beyond potentially damning our own souls.

Abingdon Apocalypse Manuscript, via Wikimedia Commons