Tag Archive: father joseph

Magic in the Maquis

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by Mike

Philippe’s grandfather was found dead in the Maquis with his back against a tree and his rifle across his lap. Philippe sat in the position to show us as he retold the story, holding his arms to his chest as if clutching a rifle. “The Gestappo – the Italian police, you know? – they were in the Maquis on a full moon night and saw the light shine on the barrel. When they found him he was dead. Heart attack at 46.”

Philippe shares his grandfather’s passion for guns and hunting, as many men do on this island. A common scene was the Hunter’s Bar in Ota: a bunch of men sat drinking Pastis and looking at guns on a computer or in magazines. They wore camouflage jackets and hats and there were boar’s heads and stuffed birds on the walls. They poured more Pastis and played cards and other hunters came and went, everyone greeting everyone else.

I asked Philippe if he hunts with dogs and he said he doesn’t, he prefers to hunt at night. “Wow, that’s intense,” I said.

In the book we’re reading about Corsica (Granite Island by Dorothy Carrington) there’s a chapter about other night hunters, the Mazzeri. The Mazzeri were improperly baptized individuals who lived in the villages but apart from the people. They had the gift, though, of foretelling death. At night they’d hunt in the fragrant Maquis and kill the first animal that came along – a dog or a boar or whatever. Then they’d roll it onto its back, look in the face and recognize somebody from the area. In the morning they announced the news that the person they saw would die within a year.

Carrington writes that the Mazzeri didn’t actually cause the deaths, rather they interpreted what was sent to them. They were compelled to go into the Maquis to hunt just as the animal was compelled to cross their path. It was Destiny, and their only part was to read it. But she writes that night hunting becomes addictive for some Mazzeri, despite their reluctance to read more deaths.

The closer you look at the tradition of the Mazzeri, the further back you look “into the night of time,” further back even than the megalith builders who inhabited the island thousands of years ago, whose works you can still see and touch, faces carved into upright, human-sized stones. The Mazzeri reflect a people grappling with the basic human activities of hunting and dying at the dawn of cognizance.

When I asked Father Joseph if the megaliths were interesting to visit, I was kinda annoyed by his answer, “Well, they’re ok if you’re interested in rocks and old stuff.” But now that I better understand the historical context I can see why he answered that way. The megaliths (“rocks and old stuff”) were symbols for the beliefs and traditions that Christianity struggled for a thousand years to dislodge. The megalith builders were active on the island since 3000 B.C., while the traditional customs & beliefs lasted from the dawn of cognizance deep into Christianity’s crusade – even up until the Second World War Corsica remained an island writhing in the coils of busy myths. By contrast, Christianity has only been here since about 500 A.D. That means that in the year 3509 A.D, it will still be another 2000 years before Christian beliefs will have been on this island as long as the megalith builder beliefs have been here to now.

A couple weeks ago I wrote to you about touching the stones that ancient people touched and trying to imagine what compelled them to build. I wrote that I hoped “my mind would be refilled with the mind that built those walls” and maybe I’d tap into something fundamental to the human experience that I’m missing now. Only I failed to connect. Obviously I don’t believe I can conjure the minds of the past, I don’t believe in that. But I’m starting to realize that a fundamental piece of human experience that I’m missing is the very instrument that allowed people to communicate with their ancestors – magic.

The disappearance of magic is a symptom of the changed pace of the world. I think that the key to understanding another person’s experience is living the rhythm of their life, and to understand the wall builders I’d have to quit using a car and stop working a job and extract the internet from my body and ignore the media. It would mean living with the seasons and working with my body and living a shorter life but maybe living in constant wonder.

Philippe, stroking the barrel of his gun, said, “This is my dream, realized. I wanted my life to be hunting, guns, motorcycles, cheese, goats.” He didn’t mention his wife and daughter in the next room. “And now I have it.”

We left his house late at night and as we rode home I thought about what it would be like going into the Maquis with a rifle and just sitting and waiting and listening. I thought about what I would feel if I sat still for a night, and what I’d hear if I didn’t talk, and what I’d see if there were no lights, and what I’d sense if time and rhythm slowed to heartbeat and breath. I wondered if Philippe was addicted to night hunting like the Mazzeri and if I could be too.

The scooter pulled through the night to the crest of the hill and from a height that felt like floating, we looked down the spine of Corsica. There were a few towns hidden in folds facing the sea. It felt mythical at that time, and the next night we went back to the same spot to take pictures. I thought about my own dream realized, honestly: traveling with Azure by motorcycle (the scooter has done fine) with a camera and my journal, trying to learn the rhythm of other people’s lives.

My yearly religious rant

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by Mike

I woke up at 8:35 to go to mass this morning, I brought my camera thinking there might be some good pictures but of course I was over ambitious… I’m not going to take pictures during a church service. I did take a video, though. It was of the choir from Porto Vecchio singing during the mass – it was apparently a special occasion to have them there, so I’m glad we caught it. The service would have been pretty dry without, I’m sure.

I’ve been unimpressed with this church. I guess I shouldn’t have expected much since we are staying in a convent – it’s not going to be revolutionary – but there seems to be an enormous disconnect between the Fathers and real life.

Father Joseph was skeptical of me at first, probably because I rang during lunch, but then he warmed when Azure showed up. I told him we were here to learn. I think when I said that he understood me to mean that I wanted to learn about Christ and Christianity. Of course I’m way more curious about the life of a Catholic priest living in a convent, but it didn’t translate.

I asked whether he’d studied Judaism and Islam, two religions based on the same god and the same core texts. He said he had, but he was dismissive of them, saying essentially that the Jews had missed the boat and then he downplayed Mohammad’s importance. It sounded silly from where I was sitting. Here’s how he sounded from my perspective: A guy handed people a book from god and it was ok at the time. Then another guy came along and amended that book and added his own stuff and only fools didn’t follow. Then a third guy came along and amended that book and added his own stuff and only fools did follow. It sounded childish, narrow-minded.

I told him we were going to a prehistoric site that day and asked if it was good. “Well, it’s fine if you’re interested in rocks and old stuff.” (Which, actually, I am). I asked him what he was interested in. He pointed to the beautiful blue sky and the sun.
“The sun?”
“God.”
“Oh, right.”

His lectures to us were in line with what I understand of traditional Christianity: “People say that the earth was created long ago and life formed slowly, but what force drove it? There must have been some force.” “I live to serve others. You need to ask yourself, are you doing something for others or for yourself? If it’s for yourself, it’s egoism.” “Some people think that when you die that’s it, you disappear, but I believe part of us lives forever.” “My life is about knowing god. I aim to reject all material comforts.”

We got one glimpse into their part of the convent and it felt like sneaking into the teachers’ lounge. Everything was extremely clean, extremely organized. He showed us the sun room and it took our breaths away – the sun room had the best view we’d seen of the town and valley, and it must be the best you can find without renting a helicopter. The convent is perched on the side of a hill and the priests’ quarters stick out a little farther for unobstructed 180 degree views. The sun room was bright when the rest of the convent was dark, but what caught our attention was on the table and window sills – there were a dozen orchids staring at us appearing simultaneously fragile and stately and defiant and precious. It didn’t seem right for him to have orchids after what he repeated about materialism.

His office, actually, was the only place that wasn’t neat. Papers were spread on the desk as he prepared his Sunday sermon. I asked what the sermon would be about. “Well, it’s about the gospels.” Well, what’s the subject? “The teachings of Jesus… here,” he handed me a small book, almost a pamphlet. “Every church in the world follows this book so every Sunday you get the same message no matter which church you go to.” I opened the book which was organized by date. It was just excerpts from the bible, as far as I could tell.

This happened again and again when talking to him – I’d ask for perspective or an interpretation or insight and he’d defer to something like, “Well, I reject materials and try to live simply. I’ve made my choice to follow God. Other people make other choices, but you can’t go around changing your mind.” That last statement, ‘you can’t go around changing your mind,’ got under my skin. It’s either ignorance or stubbornness.

The first piece read at Mass today was about Adam and Eve getting expelled from the Garden of Eden for choosing to pursue knowledge. I looked at our, “we just want to learn” statement a little differently. I have two aims when I travel: To learn and to experience (which teaches). It makes my life look incredibly at odds with the aims of the Church. If the apple represented the forbidden fruits of knowledge, then humans were rejected from the Garden of Eden for satisfying their curiosity (learning) and lust (experiencing).

The Mass was bland, uninspiring, he didn’t say anything about real life and in general it looked like he was trying to project authority. Here are the quotes I wrote down: “Readjust your attitude during these 40 days.” (before Easter), “You are made in God’s image.” “Separate your heart from materials.” “Spread the Good News to your neighbors.”

The Mass was conducted in such simple words that I could understand almost everything. The message I received from our week at the church is one that I wasn’t expecting: “Don’t question things. Let God take care of it.” I’m open to talking about religious philosophies (it’s where the rubber meets the road, after all) but not if it’s without critique. Not if I’m simply told to “have faith.” I guess I don’t.

(By the way – If anyone [like Fred, especially] has some insight on the apple story I’d welcome critical comments).