Saturday, October 21, 2006

Calling Mary Poppins

I had one of those Disney push button phones when I was a kid—the kind where you could dial up different characters and they’d squeal the same sentence over and over again into your ear. (I tried to find a picture of one—no luck. They probably all broke pretty quickly).

It was a fun enough toy, except for one thing: it had Mary Poppins on it. I just could not stand Mary Poppins. Cloying, umbrella-carrying, able to fly for no apparent reason. Yuck. Eventually my parents caught on to the fact that I was steering clear of her every time I used the phone. “Don’t you want to call Mary Poppins?” they’d ask, as if they were surprised. And they’d very specifically give her a ring.

Fine for them. But no way was I going to call Mary Poppins. I just had too many other phone calls to make: to Mickey, to Minnie, to Donald. Mary did not make the cut. And the more my parents called her the madder it made me. They made such a point of it. They were all “Oh, Mary Poppins, it’s so good to talk to you” and such. Like they weren’t making it up. Prissy priss with her umbrella, hogging my parents. “Oh you want to talk to our daughter? Here she is!” they’d say. And then I would be pressured, because there she was, on the line. I held firm though. I did not answer the phone. She could wait all day, if she wanted.

Because of my grudge, I was 11 before I ever watched the movie. Spoonfulls of sugar, votes for women (step in time), chalk drawings, canons. Of course I liked it. Good old Mary Poppins. She was just hillsarealive Maria after all, singing her heart out with those funny looking kids who wanted to feed the birds for tuppence a bag.

Today, I’d totally take her call.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Still Life

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it: the ghostly green of Adriaen Coorte’s “Still Life With Asparagus” (1697). Apparently, it shows his “predilection for sexual symbolism” (always the phallus, yes?) It’s more than that, though: the asparagus has aphrodisiac qualities. Its nutrients (it is said) promote sexual well-being, and, since you can eat the little phallus with the fingers, your eating experience is particularly sensual.

What do we make, then, of the little sad, limp, loose one? And the fact that the rest are so tightly bound? And the fact that it makes me want asparagus? (I mean that in a literal sense, really. I like asparagus.)

I also think of the asparagus scene from Election with Tammy and Lisa and their little cups of urine and their laughter and half-love.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

St. Rita

There was a little statue of St. Rita in the vestibule area of my childhood church. She was almost life size—maybe 4’5” or so. Maybe that was lifesize for her day, what with poor nutrition and fasting and anorexia(1) and all that. Anyway, she was a very pretty lady, from what you could see of her. She had a full nun’s habit, but her face was delicate and slender and she had great ceramic skin. Best of all was a lovely, ruby red gash on her forehead. It was her trademark—a wound that seeped for 15 years because she was so smitten with the Passion of Christ. They used to tell us that story in school: how she would stare and stare at her crucifix and beg Jesus to let her suffer like he did and one joyful (sorrowful) day—kapow!(2) A thorn in the forehead. And 15 years of seeping.(3)

Rita was from one of those far away places and she suffered terribly. Not just from the wound—even before that. Lots of beatings and things, I think. But also lots of forgiveness and redemption. (Checked on that: beatings galore from husband Paolo, whom she married because her parents wanted her to.) Apparently, according to the “Catholic-forum” website “she never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with him.” But since her life on earth was full of misery and she lived in the 15th century, I can’t see how her “desire” is so especially saintworthy. (I can also think of a few equally deserving latter-day candidates.)

The wound is the best thing about her, I always felt, the thing that makes her different from all the Anns and Bernadettes out there. Every time my friends and I would walk by the statue, we’d touch it, presumably so that the holiness of St. Rita would rub off on us, like blood. I also made wishes on it—prayers I would have called them, but definitely not high-level ones. More like superstitious bits. I can’t remember if any of them came true.

FYI: She is the patron saint (among other things) of infertility, bodily ills, and (surprise) wounds. I’m thinking that if you want your wound to heal, though, she is not the saint to pray to. 15 years is a long time.

If you’d like to buy some Rita products, you can check out
And if you can figure out why there’s a St. Rita medallion that features “a figure of a baseball player on the back,” let me know.

(1) For more on this, see Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women by Caroline Walker Bynam. I haven’t read it since 1998, but I remember it had some very interesting moments.

(2) As you can see from the photo, this was all very sci-fi. There’s an even better photo of the event at
She doesn’t look quite so pretty, though, which seemed to be a prereq for canonization.

(3) I very irreverently used to think “If she really wanted to suffer like Christ, doesn’t one cut along the forehead fall a bit short of crown of thorns, nails in feet and hands, etc.?” But I quickly pushed these thoughts aside. Who was I to question the saints?