(An ecumenical follow up to the prior post – here’s an update from January 30, 2012)

There are three archangels in religious tradition: Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. Of the three, Gabriel is the one who curiously keeps popping up — not just in Christianity but in other faiths as well.  Gabriel is not just a divine messenger from God, he is an uber messenger. . . . .

In the Jewish tradition, Gabriel is the holy messenger who in the Old Testament book of Daniel offers an explanation of Daniel’s visions. In Christianity, it is Gabriel who foretells the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. It was Gabriel who visits Mary to deliver the good news of her new role.

In the Mormon faith, Gabriel ministered to Joseph Smith.  In his earthly life, Gabriel was believed to be Noah. Some say, Gabriel continues to serve as a divine messenger having visited earth as recently as 1954.

In Islam, it was Gabriel (Jibril) who revealed the Qur’an to Muhammed.  In the Bahai faith, Gabriel is referenced in their holy texts (Baha’u’llah‘s mystical work Seven Valleys).  Among Yazidis, Gabriel is one of the “Seven Mysteries.”  In the Gnostic manuscripts, Gabriel is a divine spirit who inhabits Pleroma and who existed prior to the Demiurge.  

With Gabriel’s influential involvement in so many religious traditions, one has to wonder why religious strife focuses as it does on differences. Perhaps Gabriel, the Messenger, is trying to tell us something.  Perhaps He who sent him is too. . . . 

The Year with no Summer

There was really an entire year — without a season of summer.   No – I’m not talking about the year 2019 in Chicago (at least not yet anyway).  I’m talking the 1816. . . .

It is well-documented that the year 1816 had no summer.  Severe climate abnormalities caused temperatures to drop for the entire summer season in the Northern Hemisphere – around the globe. The ones who suffered most were those in New England, the Atlantic seaboard in Canada and parts of Western Europe. This climatic anomaly was characterized by a persistent “dry fog” that dimmed the sunlight such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the “fog.” Lake and river ice continued unabated in the northern climes of America — in August.  

There is evidence to suggest that this anomaly of nature was prompted by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).  The weather had a dramatic negative effect on crops – and thus the supply of food.  The Columbian Register (New Haven) reported: 

It is now the middle of July and we have not yet had what could properly be called summer.  Easterly winds have prevailed. . . . the sun has been obscured. . .  the sky overcast with clouds, the air . . . damp and uncomfortable, and frequently so chilling as to render the fireside a desirable retreat.”    

I don’t know about you, but so far – as we approach July – weather in the Midwest has been cold and rainy.  I’d like 1816 to remain alone in the history books.  But hearken!  As of Monday, the temperature reached 80 degrees.  Today it is pushing 85.  Looks good to me.  Though the 7 day outlook has snow in the forecast. . . . 

The Rosetta Stone

From before the fall of the Roman Empire (408 A.D.) until 1799, no one was able to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.  On July 15, 1799, all of that changed.  Soldiers in Napoleon’s army while rebuilding a fort near the Egyptian port city of el-Rashid, stumbled across a stone marker made of black granite.  What made this marker unique was that it had writing on it — in 2 languages but in 3 scripts:  ancient Greek, Egyptian Demotic script and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

Viewed as a curiosity by the French, it was promptly acquired by the British in 1801 when the British defeated the French in Egypt.  And the Rosetta Stone has been in the British Museum since 1802.   Over the course of the next 25 years, the Rosetta Stone was translated – and the secrets of (and “key” to) Egyptian hieroglyphs were revealed. 

The Rosetta Stone was carved around 196 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy V.  It is called the “Rosetta” Stone because that is the town where it was found — Rosetta (Rashid).  It stands as one of the most amazing “finds” in world history.  Today, if someone uses the term, it will most likely refer to a “key” (“The spectrum of hydrogen atoms has proven to be the Rosetta Stone of modern physics. . . “).  Someone ought to write a book about it.  Or at least a blog post. . . . .  

Stay out of Highwood. . . .

[A repeat from September 29, 2016]  Shortly after the movie Ghostbusters was released (1984), Donna, Lauren (age 8) and I were on a flight from LaGuardia to Chicago. We were sitting in my least favorite spot — the bulkhead (no leg room).  So we take off and we’re flying along when Donna announced that she was going to the bathroom.  Since we were sitting at the opposite end of the coach section bathrooms, the flight attendant said Donna could go up to first class.  

When she returned, she sat down and said “You will not believe who is sitting right in front of us!”  “Bill Murray!”   Now Lauren was keenly aware of Ghostbusters and she immediately had to go to the bathroom.  And she whisked through the curtains.  I could see her standing in the aisle – staring at the person directly in front of us (presumably Mr. Murray).  She giggled – went to the bathroom – and returned.  “He made a funny face at me!” she exclaimed.  Soon thereafter, she had to go to the bathroom again.  And again.  And again. . . . . 

After we landed and pulled into the gate, I asked if Lauren wanted his autograph.  Embarrassed, she said “no.”  We walked through the terminal toward baggage claim – with Bill Murray (now wearing a large floppy hat) a few feet ahead.  As we got to baggage claim, I told Lauren this was the last chance.  “Do you want his autograph?”  And she said “Yes.  But you go first.”  So I approached Mr. Murray – Lauren behind me – peeking out.  “Hello, Mr. Murray.  We are from Wilmette [where he grew up] and we are fans of your new movie.  May we bother you for an autograph?”  Bill Murray looked at Lauren behind me – grabbed her and picked her up and gave her a gentle shake “whatsa matter?  Can’t you talk?”   And Lauren melted.  

He signed a large card “To Lauren – Stay out of Highwood” [the place in our area known for taverns].  So far, she has.  I think. . . . .    

My Last Cigar

In his 1924 classic Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway constructs a dialogue between himself and another American on the subjects of bullfighting, soccer and football.  The number of young men injured, paralyzed and killed playing football numbered in the thousands (today, it’s the tens of thousands).  The number of young men hurt playing soccer is minimal by comparison.  And then there is bullfighting.  Where humans occasionally get hurt – but rarely killed.  Hemingway’s point — those who decry bullfighting rarely raise a whisper about American football.   

Many years ago, in another lifetime, Donna and I spent the better part of a month following the corrida de toros circuit in Spain.  Diego Puerta was a favorite.  Madrid.  Cordoba.  Malaga.  Sevilla.  And others.  It was pretty special.  I still have great pictures from those Sundays.  There was artistry.  Tension.  Spectacle.   A unique smell.   There was the classic music.  And the denouement. . . . .  The last time I went to a bullfight was in Monterrey Mexico with my good friend Antonio G.  The Plaza de Toros Monumental on the Avenida Alfonso Reyes.  That was the last time too when I had a cigar.  A gigantic Cuban.  Hand-rolled.  Cohiba Robusto.  If you haven’t been to a bullfight, read Hemingway’s classic and then go.  I’ve read it a few times.  And get yourself a big hand-rolled Cohiba Robusto . . . . .

“TWA Emergency”

[A repeat from September 28, 2014]  Years ago – I would flit off to Spain and Portugal every few months.   One Wednesday, I was returning on a TWA flight from Lisbon to Chicago. The flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 pm. I arrived at the airport in good order (probably 90 minutes ahead of departure) and got in the check in line. There were no clerks checking in passengers. So we stood. 12:15 pm. 12:30. 12:45. No clerk. No nothing. People were grumbling. Looking at watches and the marquee with flight information.   Finally at about 1:00 pm, a man emerged from the back – behind the counter – and advised that the flight was oversold and was taking no passengers (which was odd since some folks had stood there for two hours).  “Come back on Friday and we’ll make sure we get you on a flight.”  And the clerk beat a hasty retreat. 

The Portuguese travelers picked up their suitcases and shuffled off for the exits.  Not so the 14 Americans who remained.  Fuming.  We huddled.   Brief introductions.  Two of us went off in search of answers and help.  I left my luggage with a bunch of complete strangers.  After a call to TWA from the American Embassy (“please take care of these folks“), we were offered lunch.  TWA personnel took our names – promising to call family to let them know of the glitch in service.  The plan was to fly us to Frankfurt that afternoon and put us up in the Airport Hotel.  Next morning, we would head off to our respective destinations. 

Lunch was passable and the BOAC flight to Frankfurt uneventful.  I checked into a nondescript hotel room in Frankfurt.  Showered.  And headed down for a late dinner.  Then back up to the room.  And sleep.  Next morning, I was on a flight through London to New York.  I arrived home – finally.  Lauren seemed especially glad to see me.  

I learned that the TWA folks in Lisbon had called my home.  Donna was playing tennis and Lauren (age 10) was home alone.  Lauren answered the phone.  “This is a TWA emergency!  I must speak with Mrs. Petersen.  TWA Emergency.”  Lauren said her mom was not home and – click – the line went dead.  Lauren called the tennis center.  Hysterical.  Donna rushed home and after an hour of calling – and waiting – learned that I had not deep sixed into the Atlantic but simply been delayed.  Lauren was relieved.  When Donna arrived home, she had been sobbing.  Holding my picture.   TWA emergency.  


Donna and I went to a local synagogue to hear James Carroll speak about his book The Cloister. The presentation was on a Saturday following Shabbat services. As we approached the entrance, we were greeted by a heavily-armed security guard – wearing body armor. We looked okay so we entered the temple.  And I donned my kippah. . . .

Mr. Carroll, a former Catholic priest (who remains a devout Catholic), discussed his book — and the love story of Heloise and Abelard.  But then he edged into the issue of anti-Semitism which has roots going back more than a thousand years.  14 million Jews in the world.  1.8 billion Muslims.  2.18 billion Christians.  And who today gets an uneven distribution of hatred?    Yep. . . . .

I just finished the book Anti-Semitism – Here and Now by Deborah Lipstadt.  Read it.  Please.  Most of us are aware of anti-Semites on the alt-Right.  But there is a growing anti-Semitism on the left — especially in American colleges and universities. For the latter, it is pointless to ask why we do not boycott human rights abuses in China, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe. It is Israel that is in the cross hairs of the radical left.  And because many Israelis are Jewish, it is their faith that take the heat. 

There are glowing embers of discrimination in Europe.  It is dangerous for a man to wear a kippah in public.  Synagogues are guarded by police.  And Jews feel concerns for safety from the moment they arise in the morning.   Anti-Semitism.  Making a comeback.  But did it ever leave?   

It is a small collection of alt right jerks who wave their despicable flags.   But for increasing numbers on the left to indulge in anti-Semitism is troubling.  Randy Rosenthal’s Chicago Tribune review comments and quotes Lipstadt’s work “And so if we think ourselves to be liberal, or progressive, or simply decent, ‘we must insist that anti-Semitism be treated with the same seriousness as racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia.'”  I hope you say “Amen.”