03 July 2010


Locus Focus: Take Eight!

Now that my contest/giveaway June project has run its crazy course, I thought I'd have some fun with my first baby, Locus Focus.

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 . . .

St. Andrew's Convent
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!

Now it's your turn!
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


Birdie said...

That's fantastic!
I particularly love the persistent food at the end of meals.
And since we're doing family houses next week, I'm going to delay what I had planned for this week...so now I've got to cogitate on a different spot....*puts on thinking cap*

Enbrethiliel said...


Ah, I'm so sorry that I forgot to warn you in advance, Birdie! =( I should put the themes and the dates on the sidebar soon. I was thinking "Nature Settings" for July: any place that isn't under a roof, to be as general as possible. And maybe a Movie Edition for August! And of course, "Schools" for September. ;-)

Birdie said...

OH, no worries! Actually, I quite like having a theme, and now that I know about the "nature settings" I'll be reserving one of my others for that!
I'm going to have a hard time separating Movie Edition and Schools, since I'm *dying* to use Marcia Blaine from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. *squeaks with excitement*

Paul Stilwell said...

The author writes very well. I love his description of "Chopsticks Day".

And like the way Jesus suffered all the more for being innocent and being without sin, so the stink smells tens times worse when its smelled in a convent rather than when its smelled in the fields.

Word verification: "visor"

Sullivan McPig said...

I thought I knew which of your featured books was the one I was most interested in, but now I'm torn between two books!

Enbrethiliel said...


Birdie: The limitations of challenges have their own appeal, don't they? =)

Stilwell: Nick Joaquin is really one of the best!

Another thing about the convent . . . everyone who hears Mass there or visits one of the monks goes away smelling of the place, too! =P Some of the characters are very proud to stink of latrine hoardings, because it is a sign that they have been extra pious!

Sully: Well, I've been pushing this book, haven't I? *rueful smile* But I do believe it is as good as I think it is, so that's not too bad of me! ;-)

Belfry Bat said...

Dr. Thursday was quoting Chesterton on the naturality of limits quite recently. (the very last excerpt)

That sounds funny to a mathematician of my sort, because limits are inherently natural...

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Enbrethiliel!

So here I am! I had visited your blog before, let me tell you, but I had only given it cursory glances. You have SO MUCH to choose from! I've never seen a blog like yours -- it's very, very unique!

I noticed that you have my blog link posted in the list, "Unrequited Cheese". Well, now you can remove it, and place it on your other list, because I have become a follower!! Yes, indeed!

And you know what my favorite section is, so far? The one I'm in right now -- Locus Focus!! In fact, I'm posting your LF button on my blog.

I really enjoyed reading about this book, and will promptly add it to my already overflowing TBR pile. This book reminds me of all the humorous tales associated with growing up Catholic...and the picture of monks in the chapel with pieces of food on their habits, and even dangling from an ear, is too funny!

And all that smelly business, oh, my goodness!! Hilarious!!

Thanks for such a GREAT post!! : )

Enbrethiliel said...


It's so great to see you, Maria! =D Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog.

This setting certainly hits on one of the great things about being Catholic: the home-grown "flavour"--evident even in this "exotic" monastery in Hong Kong. Every Catholic community in the world--be it religious house or parish--has its own special "taste." =)