Thursday, September 19, 2013

Honk, honk!

A friend who runs a European opera company was putting on a Rameau opera in a Balkan city, he wanted a series of talks or even workshop to accompany it. I offered to speak about string technology from the 16th to the 18th century, I even offered to do some workshops, making linen or horse or human hair strings for the earlier period, then gut strings out of lambs intestines and loading them with lead or plaiting them to illustrate the development, then finally ending with the great innovation after the loosely wound-on string of the tightly wound on string. We could have explored the different tonal qualities of gold, silver and brass, all of course annealed to different levels, I must admit I am somewhat weak on the use of alloys, as my main interest is those strings made by family industries around Freising rather than Northern Italy.
It wouldn't have just been about cleaning and stretching intestines but making gold and silver wire and the whole art of 'winding on', as well as explaining catgut is caterpillar gut or silk, not moggy. [Factoid: their intestines are irregular and therefore unsuitable for strings of any real length, it is a carnivore thing, I have a paper by Robert Spencer on it somewhere.] I would have read up on bandora stings at the court of Philip II, which is a very interesting subject in itself,

Despite my enormous knowledge of the subject and our friendship he didn't think it would draw great crowds, especially in translation, hence I share a little with you now. 

If you are still with me, it is just a way of saying there are some things we men can get obsessed about. Most chaps know a great deal about cars and nothing about the stringing of bowed and plucked instruments before the middle classical period, I am afraid I am different. I am not quite as bad as a friend of mine who whenever a barber asks, 'See last nights match? replies, 'Gosh yes, Argentina got a terrible trouncing in the third chukka didn't they'. He gets a peaceful, prayerful haircut.

Well cars: the Pope seems to have a thing about them. There were reports of him checking out the Vatican car parks to see which official was driving what, now a friend says some Roman priests are a bit disgruntled over the Pope's remarks to the assembly of young people in which he castigated priests with new cars, they see it as playing to the gallery and into the hands of that insidious Italian anti-clericalism. I am told that scratching priests cars has become a bit of a game in some parts of Italy, probably with a small 'F', for Francesco and if you want to embarrass any cleric you just ask him about his car, now it can never be old or tatty or dirty enough.

I knew a priest who is dead now, pray for him, he drove a rather ordinary car around the parish and a very splendid large shiny one whenever he was out of the parish he changed it every year and used to claim he had been lent it by a parishioner. It turned out he was a bit of crook and might well have gone to prison had he not died.
I can only imagine what the dread around the City State when that little newly restored little white Fiat, which is going to be cosseted by the Vatican mechanics, honks its way around the Palazzi on surprise visits or inspections or transferring His Holiness from his apartment in the Casa Sta Marta to his appointments in the unslept in but still used for work Apostolic Apartments. One or two members of the Curia have been arguing for a fleet of eco-friendly electric golf buggies for everyone to use to get from office to office for ages.

A classic refurbished Fiat is a plaything for a wealthy man who has everything else, the kind of man who still has his shoes repaired in Argentina, few priests I know wear shoes that are worth repairing these are for princes not for poor shepherds who smell of the flock, their cars are necessity not a luxury.

Big question: is the Pope going to car share?


JARay said...

Sorry Father but the Pope's new car is not a Fiat. It is a Renault. I have owned two Renault 4s like the one which he has just received. They are a quirky car. The gearbox is in front of the engine and it is a front wheel drive. The gear lever is a rod through the dashboard and it then is attached to the gearbox by a lever straight down to the gearbox by means of a flexible connection when the rod through the dashboard meets the rod down to the gearbox.
To change gear you have the delight of pushing the rod through the dashboard either forwards or backwards and then twisting the rod in a semi-circular fashion with either a right or left twist.
Quite a bit of fun really. The first new car I ever bought was one of those Renault 4s. My last car before I emigrated to Australia was a Renault 6. They were amongst the cheapest cars to buy. I liked mine a lot. Air conditioning was simply a matter of pushing out a lever between the dashboard and the front window. This opened a flap which let the air flow straight in at your face.
Very simple!

Anonymous said...

"Big question: is the Pope going to car share?"

Another question: Is he not sleeping in Apostolic Palace in order to avoid the same fate as John Paul 1?

Watch that space!

gemoftheocean said...

Ah. Francis being irritating again one sees. If he were Amish he'd be using binoculars to see if the neighbor woman had pink underwear out on her wash line and try and excommunicate her from the fold.

If he were a Baptist he'd be sneaking around through his neighbor's garbage cans at night looking for empty bottles of Jack Daniels.

If he were Muslim he'd be standing in the street corner measuring beards to see if they were long enough, and persecuting girls on their way to school.

If he were Jewish be checking the larders and kitchens of his friends for tell-tale smells of bacon.

He'd be an annoying pest no matter what he was. The kind of person whom if you had him for a boss he would unite the staff in devising ways to get his goat. Truly humble people don't brag about how "humble" they are. [St. Paul was an irritating nag like that. "I'm not going to boast about me" -- then he proceeds to boast about "me."]

He'd better watch himself or the nuns will be short-sheeting his bed and putting extra salt in his soup. And "the guys" aren't going to invite him over for poker and pizza either. And the Vatican website will start referring to him in English as "Pope Frances" and claim it was a typo. Just keep it up, but he needs to remember he needs to sleep sometime.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Nice one, Father.

Sorry I was on holiday while the b*****s were getting at you. Ad multos annos.

Lola said...


I do not think the question ought to be whether the Holy Father would be willing to car share because Pope Francis is a religious and any gift given becomes common property of the community, in this case, it now includes the Papal household/offices. If Roman priests misunderstand the Holy Father, it could be because their formation is secular and do not profess a vow of poverty. I believe, the question we must all ask is why it is so. It is a topic that I have always queried with religious nuns and priests in my family but, have constantly been told that one ought to ask a secular. So, over to you, Father.

God bless.


Glad to see you back in form! Prayers continue and, God-willing, may even visit you one of these days.

mark said...

Fr Ray,
Pope Francis' car is a Renault 4, not a Fiat. It was offered to him by a north Italian priest. Initially the Pope asked for the car to be given to charity, but eventually he agreed to accept the gift. It seems he has driven a Renault 4 before, and so I suppose that he likes the car? More importantly, he is sending a message to clerics in Rome (and beyond), some of whom in the past have liked to give themselves top-of-the-range cars.
So far as his shoes are concerned:- this was new to me, but I see that there is a story in the newspapers along the lines that the Pope wears black shoes (always the same model) which an Argentinian cobbler has always made for him. The cobbler says that the Pope has slightly flat fleet. So I suppose he wants and needs to wear shoes in which he feels comfortable? As regards the general matter of repairing shoes:- I have shoes which I repair when they wear out, and I am not a wealthy man. Do you throw your shoes out, whenever they wear down?

I am not clear what the point of your post is? Are you trying to imply that the Pope's tastes in cars and shoes make him some sort of wealthy toff, who simply pretends to follow a simple life? If so, then I think you are wrong.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mark the shoes I buy, I wear until they they wear out, I only ever buy cheap ones.

mark said...

Good shoes, if repaired when needed, will last decades - and therefore they will prove to be far more economical than your 'cheap' ones.
But I don't really understand why we are talking cobblers at all?
God bless.

Delia said...

The car is a Renault 4. I had one once (cardinal red!), but it used to leak like anything - water sloshing round the feet, literally. It was new, too. If his is like that, Pope Francis will need some new shoes pretty quickly, and he might just as well have them made in red.

Unknown said...

I'm really not at all interested in the Holy Father's car but I did just want to say that I think your friend's response to your very kind offer to give a lecture on the subject of wound on strings was churlish to say the least and I shall tell him so.

Roses and Jessamine said...

So every time we hear a beautiful string quartet, we're listening to the belly of a lamb sing. I like that.

Also like His Holiness's cool new wheels. Big change from the distancing, bullet-proof glass box of the usual Popemobile.

We crazy Papists get obsessed with all sorts of strange and wonderful things. I was fascinated by arachnology for a while, e.g. when a male spider detects the presence of a female, he will do an elaborate courtship dance on the web, plucking the strings of silk like a harp. Spider music.

The wonder of God's design and creation.

GOR said...

Seeing that the Renault 4 is no longer manufactured, will Renault (or whoever owns them now…) reintroduce it? I can see the Ads now: “Want to drive like a Pope? Buy a Renault!”

I agree with JARay – the Renault 4 was fun to drive and the gear lever was unique. As the car slants towards the front when empty, the back end would go down when fully loaded. But Renault thought of this and had little levers on the headlights to adjust the beam.

Of course Pope Francis’ automotive tastes are Catholic, as he has already use a VW, a Ford and a Fiat on occasion. However, if I see him in a Smartcar, I’ll get concerned…

JARay said...

I bought some shoes only a couple of weeks ago. They were a 2 for one offer on the Daily Telegraph. They could only be bought by Englishmen because they were men's shoes so I had to have them delivered in the UK. I too go for the cheapest and these claim to be leather. I will be picking them up in January. How fortunate I am to have a relative resident there!
The worst feature of the Renault 4 was that its doors would be blown open and then there was a nasty crease down the door because it had not been restrained before opening too far. I speak from experience!

Sonia Gable said...

Thanks for the information about catgut being nothing to do with cats. I'm so relieved.

Jacobi said...


Like you, I am intrigued by this current major issue in the Catholic Church, namely the obsession with second hand and otherwise elderly cars. It reflects the increasing preoccupation with the environment (earthly not Heavenly) which is of course simply a reflection of the degree to which the Church is becoming Secularised i.e., adopting the current and no doubt passing concerns of the Secularised society in which we now live.

It is bad science. Modern cars are very much more efficient in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide, particle, and many other emissions. A cancer increase of up to 11% is reported in some congestion areas (Rome??). New cars also keep people in work and able to support a family.

I believe it has something to do with idea of a poorer Church. Well personally I wouldn’t worry. Judging by the looming bankruptcies in the States , see Voris, we may well get our poorer Church sooner than we think.

Not a bad thing mark you! We can then concentrate again on the Heavenly environment.

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