I'm ready to come home. Today was not my best day in Europe. Awakened at 5:30 by the fire alarm in the hotel. (Turned out to be a false alarm, but couldn't get back to sleep for love or money.) Consequently, I was late catching my train this morning. Probably due to the confusion caused by lack of (a) sleep and (b) food for some 18 hours, I mis-read my map and wound up at the wrong station, headed in the wrong direction. After walking through what seemed like a mile of connecting tunnels, and climbing or descending approximately 47 staircases, I managed to get to the proper correspondance, only to find the line absolutely clogged with morning commuters.
All of which meant that, instead of having time to sit down and read the morning paper over a fairly leisurely breakfast before registering at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I got there, hot and sweaty, just in time to register ahead of the last-minute rush before the first entry at 9 a.m. They had the files I'd requested on Friday ready for me, but then wouldn't let me take pictures of them--if I wanted copies, I had to pay to have them photocopied or microfilmed. So I transcribed. All day. No breakfast, no lunch--and no dinner the night before. Finally on the way home, I seemed to wind up with every slowpoke, every elderly or handicapped person, God love them because I surely wasn't!, and every lost or confused tourist in Greater Paris directly in front of me or between me and where I wanted to go.
Got back to the hotel, and while the internet was working, it wasn't working well. The shuttle company that I'd found this morning to take me to the airport on Thursday so I don't have to manhandle a suitcase, a briefcase, and a shopping bag full of goodies through the Metro and/or the RER on the hour's journey to Charles de Gaulle, informed me that because my hotel was in the suburbs and not in Paris proper (a condition not mentioned on their website), it would cost me 90 euro instead of the 27 they'd advertised. I said "No, thanks." Went to the local pizza chain for dinner and asked the waitress for a quiet corner where I could read the paper and sip my wine in peace, only to have a talkative family group and an anxious baby seated within spitting distance of me--and I was about ready to spit, by that point.
Fortunately, dinner (and more importantly, a quarter-liter of a nice rosé from Provence) arrived and I became less interested in infanticide and more interested in the pleasures of the table. That's when I turned to page 9 of today's issue of Le Monde, and started breathing threats and murder again. Follow me below the fold for a discussion of why that happened.
The top story on page 9 in today's issue of Le Monde was an analysis of one of the top stories on the front page, about the fake-reality show in the Netherlands. That wasn't too bad, though it probably raised my blood pressure a couple of notches. The next story down the page was the one that really had me shaking my head and thinking "What the fuck?" Here's the headline (sorry, can't provide a link yet; it's too late for today's news to be up on the main page, and it hasn't gotten into the archives yet):
Quatre personnes ont été arrêtées en Belgique pour avoir injecté le virus du sida au cours d'orgies homosexuelles
For those of my readers who don't read French, I'll translate: "Four people have been arrested in Belgium for having injected the AIDS virus during gay orgies." According to the story, two of the suspects in custody have already been interrogated, and they told police that they wanted to "make their victims happy" in infecting them, since that would allow them to have unprotected sex afterwards. Which sort of made it sound like this was a voluntary thing. Except that earlier in the article it was stated that during these private parties (for which people were recruited or signed up on the internet), that the suspects "drugged their victims with the help of cocktails containing GHB ...called the 'rape drug'--and ecstasy. The men then raped their victims and occasionally injected them with a mixture of each person's infected blood."
Not exactly happy reading over dinner. The article concluded by stating that two groups were also being investigated in connection with the incidents: the HIV Association of the Netherlands and one of its constituent groups, Poz & Proud. I hope the connection turns out to be anomalous or incidental. Because while I see nothing wrong with being accepting (hell, even proud, though I can't quite figure out how a health status turns into a cause for pride) of one's status as HIV-positive, it's a long, cold, dark walk through some very, very bad places to get from there to the idea that because you are proud of your HIV status, everyone else you encounter should share it.
Nor am I having much luck wrapping my head around the idea that HIV is a good thing because it liberates one from the necessity of taking precautions during sex. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? If you want to have unprotected sex, have unprotected sex--though if you must, then for your own sake if not for that of everyone you will ever have sex with thereafter, pick your partners very carefully and play as safely as possible. There's no need to bring HIV into the mix, though it will quite possibly (or, depending on just how discriminating you are about whom you invite into your bed for unprotected sex and a few other factors, quite likely) rear its ugly head soon enough.
I lived through the 1980s when it seemed like every gay man on the planet was doing nothing else except going to memorial services and sitting by the bedsides of friends and lovers wasting away as the medical staff either deliberately or because they just didn't know enough to do otherwise, sat back and watched them die. Why on earth anyone would deliberately want to put himself or herself into that position is beyond me. Yes, we have inhibitors now. Yes, it's possible to live a fairly long, fairly active, and fairly normal life despite being HIV-positive. That is, if you're willing to live your life by a regimen so strict it would make the toughest drill sergeants at Parris Island wilt. You'll live your life by a prescription schedule, and the drugs that will keep you alive are neither cheap nor particularly nice in terms of side effects. There is nothing hip or cool or liberating about being HIV-positive and no, AIDS is nothing like the common cold.
Then, for dessert, came the story of a group of
traditionalist schismatic Catholics in a little village near Laval (Mayenne, just a little south and west of Lower Normandy, and just east of Brittany). They've had a special dispensation from the bishop of Laval for more than 40 years to celebrate Mass according to the Tridentine rite that was formally suspended at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. But the priest who held that dispensation recently died, and the bishop decided it was time to end the practice in favor of allowing the Latin Mass to continue, but according to the new rite.
That decision did not find favor with several of the 120 regular communicants at the church, so they decided to occupy the building to keep their irredentist traditions alive. While a part of me admires their pluck and determination to stand up and fight for what they believe in, another, skeptical part of me thinks they're holding on to tradition primarily for tradition's sake. One member of the group who was interviewed for the story offered a few justifications for continuing to want the old ritual, but they sound a little jaded to this Catholic's ears--and I would be surprised if even a plurality, much less a majority, of the people who are agitating to keep their old-fashioned ways can come up with articulated reasons why they should be allowed to move out of the mainstream of the Church and into the backwaters of schism and separatism and factionalism.
Of course, they're hanging their hopes on a motu proprio (Latin for "on his own initiative," a kind of middling papal pronouncement) that Benedict XVI is said to be ready to release and which is intended to bring the schismatics of the Pius X Society of the excommunicated former archbishop Lefebvre back into Rome's embrace. As part of that agenda, the personal decision of the pope is expected to allow priests to decide on their own whether or not to say the Mass in Latin, though now it requires a special permission from their bishop to do so. Personally, I hope that motu proprio is never issued--and if it is, that it will be among the first things stricken from the books by Benedict's eventual successor.
I'm all for a little Latin in the Mass now and then. I rather like the sort of hybrid French style, whereby many of the standard parts of the Mass are rendered in Latin (the Gloria, the Creed, and occasionally the Our Father)--because it cuts down on the amount of liturgical French I have to master. I can do Mass parts in Latin in my sleep after 20+ years in choir. Heck, I even went to the 10 a.m. chant Mass at Notre Dame this past Sunday because I like the sound of the music in that space and because, unlike a lot of the people who hanker after it because it's Latin, I actually understand the text.
But I don't like the Tridentine rite, and neither do I much care for the present pope's seeming determination to reintroduce a lot of the medieval fripperies that Vatican II justifiably took out of the ritual because they added little if anything to people's understanding of what was happening or toward bringing them into closer communion with the Divine. I don't care for all the bowing, and particularly not to the minister who is about to give me Communion. I reverence the Body of Christ--not the person who hands it to me. I don't much care for extra bows and signs of the Cross in the middle of the Mass, and I don't understand the recent penchant for having the celebrant bend over at the waist and half hide behind the altar during the Consecration--that should be something that nobody should have to strain to see. And for the love of all that's holy, get rid of the damn chimes! (Though perversely, I rather liked it at the Collegiale in Colmar when they would ring the church's bells throughout the Canon of the Mass. Sue me.) If I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and following the course of the ceremony, I don't need a bell to tell me we've arrived at the consecration--I've been watching all along!
If people of their own volition want to do things that they feel help them get closer to God, I'm all for that. Just don't try to inject them into the Mass so I have to do them with you--because they may take me further away from God, and that's not what's supposed to happen during the celebration of the Eucharist. I should not be wincing, rolling my eyes, and muttering "Боже мой" under my breath at one of the key moments of the liturgy--but that's usually what happens when I hear those damn bells. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "To everything there is a season" (also a great song from my youth, which I'm probably going to have stuck in my head for the rest of the day). But as I've always said, cribbing from people much wiser than I am, "Pray as you can, not as you can't." And if someone else's way of praying is interfering with mine, then we're going to have to work something out--and that argues, to my way of thinking, for keeping the Mass as simple and uncluttered as possible, so people can bring to it what they need, without having extraneous frills imposed upon them simply because they're "traditional."