Staying with the Sisters

I love nuns. I think my fascination with them started when I lived in Landstuhl. Often I would go down from the Army post at the top of the hill into Landstuhl proper and see several sisters in a line, wearing brown and white habits, thick stockings, and no-nonsense shoes uglier than a nurse’s. Though the nuns were usually elderly with thick horn-rimmed glasses, I always thought they were beautiful, ethereal creatures.

Recently I copyedited a book Spice & Wolf, volume 2, about Holo the Wisewolf and her companion Lawrence, a traveling merchant. The book takes place in an alternate reality, a Medieval type of Japan, where guilds, the church, and knights factor in highly. One idea that writer Isuna Hasekura brings up is the beauty that the nuns possess because most of them are the illegitimate children of a noble and peasant, who originally coupled because the lesser born had uncommon beauty. There is no place for these illegitimate children in a rigid society, and they must be placed safely away so they cannot compete with any actual heirs. Most of these children end up being shuttled off to a convent or monastery to dedicate the rest of their lives to God. I find it ironic that these children, the product of sin, are forced to repent for their parents’ error, and I think there is a great element of truth to Hasekura’s ideas.

While in Florence, touring the Uffizi, I came upon a portrait of Giovanni de Medici as a two-year-old child posed with a goldfinch, a symbol of the church.
Even at that young age, this particular Medici had his whole life planned out by his father without any input from him. He was destined for the church. Such a powerful family needed to be aligned with what was perhaps the most powerful organization of the time, the Catholic church, and children would be dedicated, pledged to this institution.

My sister and I stayed at the convent Instituto Oblate dell’Assunzione while in Florence in two austere rooms with the plainest of twin beds, a chifferobe, and the only artwork a Byzantine crucifixion scene.
Florence was a candyland of art. Even getting lost involved beauty, walking down crooked little cobblestone roads with yellow stuccoed houses rising up around us, discovering shrines to the Virgin or various saints every two hundred yards.

I so wanted to become a victim of Stendahl syndrome, that illness peculiar to Florence, where a traveler becomes disoriented, sometimes not knowing what century they are in because they are surrounded by so much beautiful art. It did not happen, and maybe it was because of our stay at the convent. The sisters did not speak a word of English, so Kristi and I had to make do with our pidgin Italian, and we had no distractions in our rooms and a curfew of eleven thirty. After pounding our feet on the marbled floors of museums and the cobblestone roads of Florence, we would have a two-hour dinner with lots of vino rosso; then, we would return to the convent and talk about all we had seen while occasionally going out onto our narrow balconies and sharing a cigarette, whispering like naughty schoolgirls.

Kristi took a photo of me with one of the sisters before we left Florence, and I love it. When I posed with the sister (who fastidiously folded up her glasses before standing beside me),  I felt something special, and it was not Stendahl syndrome.

A backdrop to our visit in Italy was Dan Brown’s new book The Lost Symbol. We saw it in every bookstore window with every translation available. People carried it in the trains, read copies of it in cafes. Brown’s work is not just an American phenomenon; everybody wants to know about the secrets of the church.

I think one day I will write about a nun. With such discipline and constant meditation, I think she would be an interesting character with a very rich interior life.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 2

I’ve always found zombies the most terrifying of monsters; I think because what a zombie represents is a loss of individuality and that’s one of my biggest fears. Then, of course, what a zombie craves is the organ most associated with individuality: Brains!

I read the first volume of The Walking Dead last year but didn’t pursue the second volume because the graphic novel reminded me so much of the zombie film 28 Days Later. I remember looking at the copyright page of that first graphic novel because there were so many similarities between the graphic novel and movie–I wanted to make sure I was getting a fresh zombie story.

Reading the second volume of The Walking Dead, I’m beginning to reevaluate my original take. There is only so much you can do with zombies in a postapocalyptic world and pacing is different in a graphic novel compared to a movie or traditional literature. I’ve noticed that with my favorite graphic novel series, it usually takes until the second volume before I really get hooked because there’s so much setup required in the initial story. I definitely felt that way about Fables.

In the second volume I finally know the characters and the general direction of the story, so as a reader/viewer I am able to notice the details more, the nuances. What’s coming through in the second volume of The Walking Dead is what a pain in the ass a zombie apocalypse would be–how the looting and general lack of food would affect a person only used to a supermarket and the currency of cash to provide the essentials, how people pair up as mates when the population is reduced so drastically, what it’s like to sleep in the same place so much that the structure starts to smell (the last one really got me).

My friend Susan, who lent me the graphic novel, griped because they had changed artists for the second volume. I didn’t really notice since so much time has elapsed between reading the first and second volumes, but I am bothered by how the children are drawn. Their proportions are off, so they look like midgets rather than kids. Sometimes the kids appear scarier than the zombies, and I’m pretty sure the artist didn’t intend this.