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Archive for July, 2008

Before I bought At Mount Zoomer, I read reviews about how they recorded it at the church owned by the Arcade Fire. My heart caught in my throat. The Arcade Fire treatment, I thought, was the last thing my lovely Wolf Parade ever needed, because Wolf Parade is all rough edges and the Arcade Fire is all sandpaper. To sort of mix a metaphor, I like the Arcade Fire okay, but I feel like they’re in third gear all the time and need to push it to overdrive. I realize this is not a popular opinion among the skinnypants-and-ironic-shirt wearing crowd.

It’s not as bad as all that. Actually, that’s not fair to say–At Mount Zoomer is downright good. It’s full of the howling synth and vocals, both always sounding a little off key, that I loved on their first album. It’s downtempo, it’s got melodies and hooks. It jams. It has lots of those driving grooves that make you tap your foot and nod your head and you don’t even realize it, along with my favorite rock & roll trick, which is the mid-song tempo change. Lots of eighties-style singing along the lines of New Order (see also: Modest Mouse, Interpol) that some other blogger doesn’t like but I do.

The thing is, though, that I can’t talk about this album or the show I went to a few weeks ago without comparing it to their first album, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Calling that one frenetic and raw wouldn’t be amiss, and that’s something that’s just not there in Zoomer. It doesn’t have the same wild, screaming-at-the-rafters energy of the first, the near desperation you can hear in all their best songs. And who knows, maybe they really were desperate. Maybe the sound of Mount Zoomer is the sound of relief.

The concert crowd agreed with me, though. They cheered for the new songs, but they went berserk for the older stuff. Hell, I went berserk, sitting up in the balcony in my padded seat I was waving my arms, singing along and probably looking a little like a lunatic. I felt like a lunatic, and it was great.

I couldn’t really find a decent concert video of these guys (although they were amazing), so here’s a great regular video.

At Mount Zoomer: ★★★★☆

(Apologies to the Queen Mary: ★★★★★)

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Painted in 1531 by a German painter, apparently before they discovered perspective, since the tooth and her head are the same size.

Painted in 1531 by a German painter, apparently before they discovered perspective, since the tooth and her head are the same size.

Way before a dude named Prince was making Purple Rain, there was a martyr in Alexandria, Egypt, named Apollonia.

Nothing, apparently, is known of her life, besides the fact that she was a Christian virgin who lived in Alexandria. Some sources say she was an older lady, but other sources say that’s a mistranslation, and what the letter it’s from actually says is that she was a deaconess. Either way, she was doing her thing in 248 or 249 CE, right after Rome’s first millenial celebration (it was founded in 753 BCE), and during one of the most intense persecutions.

The Emperor Decius, who ruled for all of two years (which was an admirable stretch at the time), decided that Christians were a big threat to the empire because a) they had weird customs, b) they weren’t worshiping the proper gods, and c) they were more loyal to the Christian god than the Emperor. Seeing an opportunity to unite the rest of the Roman people by joining together to beat up the Christians, they all got rounded up and told to convert or die. That’s the point I tried (and failed) to make last week: this is how most organized religious persecutions go, more or less.

A whole lot converted. You don’t hear about this much, because instead of getting sainthood they got to live out their lives, but it’s true. Here and here are some certificates saying former Christians had sacrificed to the Roman gods. Many went back to the church a little later asking to rejoin, which caused a big fuss, but that’s for another day.

That’s the deal they offered Apollonia. She refused, so they beat her, and either punched her and knocked out her teeth, or extracted her teeth as a torture method. When she wasn’t deterred, the mob (remember, it was a family activity) made a fire and told her to change her mind or she’d be burned alive. By pretending to consider, she got the crowd to unhand her, and then jumped in the fire herself.

You may think that this counts as suicide, which is totally a sin. St. Augustine, early father of the church, says it wasn’t, though. Clearly, as a holy person, she was told by the holy spirit to jump in the fire. Since she was just obeying God, it wasn’t suicide, so she was a martyr and therefore holy. It’s a little circuitous.

Apollonia became a saint, and Decius dealt with a huge smallpox pandemic (5,000 people PER DAY died in the city of Rome) right before being the first Roman Emperor to die in battle with barbarians.

Unsettlingly, Apollonia is the patron saint of dentistry, usually pictured with a tooth and sometimes pliers. She has relics all over the place, but her head is in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is totally near where I lived when I did a semester in Rome, and I went there a couple of times because I was just as crazy then.

Her saint day is February 9, but I recommend the nitrous oxide.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Wikipedia

Butler’s Lives of the Saints

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Why do all Russian dudes look like Rasputin?

Why do all Russian dudes look like Rasputin?

Sometimes I purposefully pick a saint that doesn’t seem to have too much weird stuff going on in the hopes that I can post on him or her in a quick, timely fashion. I’m never right. There’s always too much interesting historical stuff in the way.

St. Nicholas of Japan was, in fact, a Russian. Although I tend to think of Russia as “Eastern Europe” and Japan as “East Asia,” it turns out that Russia is really big and they’re right next to each other, and as such they’ve had lots of contact throughout history. His birth name was Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin, and he was born in 1836 to a Russian deacon. He went through the usual priest school, and then volunteered to serve at a chapel in Japan. He went there in 1861.

Until 1873, Christianity was technically illegal in Japan, or at least, proselytizing wasn’t allowed. For some reason, I was surprised to find out that a largely Buddhist nation has a long history of religious persecution. It was first outlawed in the 1500’s, partly to avoid the religious wars Europe was having at the time. The Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu also claimed it was because he feared the Christians would have a greater loyalty to each other than to the Shogunate–sort of like another big empire I can think of.

In 1880, Nicholas became the bishop of Revel, Russia, which he never actually visited.

Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov–later Nicholas II of Russia and the last Czar–visited Japan in 1891, and St. Nicholas was around for it. At the time he was tsarevich, which is like the Russian Prince of Wales. While he was there, one of his police escort attacked him with a saber and his cousin, the Prince of Greece and Denmark, saved him by blocking the blow with his cane. It left a huge scar on his forehead, and he ended up cutting his visit short. It’s now known at the Otsu Incident.

The Japanese totally freaked out when this happened. One town forbade use of the attacker’s family name. 10,000 telegrams were sent. A seamstress named Yuko Hatakeyama slit her throat in front of a government building as an act of public contrition, and the media praised her patriotism. Obviously I’m not a Japanese or Russian history expert, so I can only make stabs at why the Japanese reacted that way. Clearly it’s a big deal to almost have a foreign leader assassinated on your watch, but the Japanese army was also MUCH smaller than Russia’s at that point.

Fourteen years later, the Russo-Japanese war began. It was an imperialist deal, mainly over Korea and Manchuria. Basically, all imperial Russian wars start when someone important says, “You know, guys, we could really use a port that isn’t frozen over half the year.” This time they wanted one on the Pacific.

Being a Russian in Japan, the war was hard on Nicholas. On the one hand, he was Russian; on the other, part of his job was to pray for the Emperor of Japan publicly. The Orthodox liturgy at this time demanded that one pray not only for one’s sovereign, but for the explicit defeat of the sovereign’s enemies. Nicholas didn’t participate in public church services during the war.

He also helped Russian prisoners of war, at one point discovering that 90% of them couldn’t read, and dispatching nuns and priests to help sovle the problem. His attitude and manners during the war impressed everyone, including the Emperor Meiji. Russia lost the war pretty badly, which contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

After all this, in 1907, Nicholas was elevated to the Archbishop of All Japan by the Holy Russian Synod. He was also the first to translate the New Testament and parts of the Old into Japanese–translations which are still used today. He’s considered the first saint of the Japanese Orthodox Church, and his saint day in February 16 if you’re old school, 3rd if you can handle that the earth goes around the sun.

Wikipedia

Orthodox Wiki

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Did you know there were book trailers? I’m a reading beast and I didn’t. Of course, maybe that’s the problem, since I guess trailers tend to be on television.

I’ve learned about them recently thanks to the LA Public Transit system. The newer buses have TV screens in them, and most of the time it’s news, get-out-of-debt commercials, commercials in Spanish for fast food (“injection marinated” chicken? Is that good?), and commercials for Spanish telenovelas. To be honest, I have considered learning Spanish more than once mainly so I could watch telenovelas. So imagine my delight when this come on the Transit TV today as the 761 is headed down the Sepulveda Pass:

HELL YEAH. Apparently shot by a high school film class, there’s a lovely lady! A “dashing” gentleman! Some European city, or maybe a couple of them! Making out in front of a Monet painting with a bomb behind it! Some sort of technological threat, as evidenced by the “scrambled” TRUST NO ONE message! People hitting other people with frying pans! Check out the sweet ninja action at 1:11, by the way.

And don’t worry, I have no intention of reading the book. Obviously that would ruin everything.

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Hello fervent readers of Friday Obscure Saint blogging! Just popping in to say that there won’t be an obscure saint (or, probably, much else) for this week or next week. Henry & I are moving house–literally–and packing all your things and then unpacking them somewhere else is kind of a time suck. Hopefully we’ll be back by the 18th.

While you’re waiting, try out some of these: walking submissively, worshiping triumphantly, witnessing urgently, working fervently, watching expectantly. Wait, no. That’s for the rapture.

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