Locus Focus: Take Eight!
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Although I love the freedom of getting to pick any setting that strikes my fancy--or bubbles up in my memory--I also like the challenge of theme memes. (Depending on the way you pronounce "meme," the idea even rhymes!) These won't be for every week, of course, but I think one every month will be all right.
Let's start next week, when the theme will be . . . FAMILY HOMES!!!
"Awww, Enbrethiliel, we've been doing homes and other houses since you started this thing and you just didn't catch up until Bat pointed them out!"
Well, in that case, you have all the practice you need and are way ahead of me, aren't you? ;-) Isn't the chance to show me up fun??? (But really, if you have other thoughts about that, let me know in the combox!)
As for today, we have a setting that is definitely not a family home . . .
The Woman Who Had Two Navels
by Nick Joaquin
Though alone atop a sheer hill, St. Andrew's could hardly be deemed isolated from the world: on the one side at the foot of the hill was the racetrack, with the roar of its crowds to disrupt Sunday vespers; on the other side was Wang Chai, Hong Kong's red-light district, whence came the wicked cries of thieves hawking their loot and of prostitutes haggling with sailors. St. Andrew's, in fact, said the friars, holding their noses, reeked with the smell of the world; cloister and corridor stank of it; for the Chinese manured their vegetable farms on the hillsides with latrine hoardings and a wind suddenly rising as the friars sat meditating in choir on hot summer days would make them sit up and glance suspiciously at each other, though the steadiness of the odour would soon prove that no one had been at fault. Father Prior had once tartly remarked that, however holy, no friar of St. Andrew's, alas, could hope to die in the odour of sanctity.
There is something so perfect about this religious house, which reminds its monks that the real challenge of religious life has always been to be in the world yet not of the world--as Jesus Himself saw no contradiction between His public ministry and His at attendance weddings and parties with tax collectors and prostitutes. (Catholicism is the "Let's party!" religion. "Gaudeamus" in Latin, if I may be so liberal with my translation.) This is why the stink the convent must endure from the people all around it is such a hilarious symbol.
Another thing about Catholic places is that they're also always very local. St. Andrew's is richly Hong Kongese, with its (unconsciously) self-segregating novices--the Chinese, the Tongkinese, the Filipinos, and the Eurasians--and Father Prior's "Chopsticks Day" for the training of future missionaries to China.
Father Tony giggled, thinking of the frustrations in the refectory as the non-Chinese members of the community struggled with the slippery sticks. What sighs and blushes as food triumphantly hooked after so much labour escaped at the last moment and dribbled down fresh habits! During the procession to chapel for thanksgiving after meals, much furtive shaking of clothes would leave a long, long trail of fish crumbs, noodles and meatballs; but still, in chapel, as they massed before the altar chanting the Miserere Mei, there was always sure to be some shocking sight: a boiled shrimp clinging to a brother's collar, or a faded noodle gracefully draped round an ear.
Other characters who add to the ambiance are the married laywomen, the Ladies of St. Anne, who regularly come to arrange flowers for the convent's church. Though their first language is Cantonese, they speak English with a thick Irish brogue, thanks to the Irish missionary sisters who schooled them. (Sort-of related tidbit: After World War II, parents in the Philippines often chose convent schools for their daughters based on the national accents of the sisters who ran them. Today, most teaching religious are natives who speak like everybody else.)
Yet as fascinating as this setting is, it is not a major stage for the action. The story unfolds mostly in Hong Kong's streets (during the Feast of the Chinese Moon!), jazz clubs, pocket-sized apartments and luxury hotels. But in the same way there are no small roles, there are no small settings. St. Andrew's appears for only a few fleeting pages . . . but that is enough to make a world of difference. Make your own Christian allegory out of that; I'm saying no more!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D
EDIT: Just in case the linky's server is down, here are some quick links to this week's participants:
Geoffrey Chaucer's Tabard Inn (Birdie's Nest)
J.R.R. Tolkien's Faery and Wootton Major (Spike is Best)
Image Source: The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin