I got a nice e-mail from an Avocado Memories reader yesterday, which I responded to - here (4/3/12).
Last night I watched an episode of the PBS series "American Experience," this one about the Donner Party, the most spectacular disaster ever to befall Western immigrants, which led to cannibalism. EGAD. Horrible! 87 pioneers started out from Missouri; 48 made it to California after the Winter from Hell in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Truckee Lake.
Fun fact: One of the party, a German immigrant named Lewis Keseberg, later opened a restaurant in Sacramento.
The cultural legacy of the Donner Party is far reaching, even into Warner Brothers animation. There was a Christmas special episode of the cartoon "Pinky and the Brain" where the Donners (you know, one of Santa's reindeer) were going to give a gathering at their home:
Pinky: "Look, Brain, the reindeer are inviting the elves to a party at Donner's house."
Brain: "Hmm. Somehow the idea of joining the Donner party is unappealing."
From some wag on the Internet: "When I make a reservation or leave my name at restaurants I always use the the name "Donner." When they call us it's always funny: "Donner party? Donner party?"
From some other wag on the Internet: "They have a 'Donner Party Reunion' among the descendants of those that made that fateful journey. I imagine that they watch each other closely."
...and so it goes. You can watch the "American Experience" episode here.
The book I'm reading currently - a library sale purchase - is a real hoot. Called Unholy Popes - Outrageous but True Stories of Papal Misbehavior by Bob Curran, it's a description of the various notable (notably bad, that is) Popes. There are all sorts listed in this book: the Married Pope, the Gay Pope, the Female Pope, the Promiscuous Pope, etc. In fact, the Table of Contents is so funny I posted it here. Take a look.
The introduction to the section about the Jewish Pope is great: "Is the Pope Catholic? Not necessarily..." (NOTE: Wikipedia gives this about this particular Pope: "...only one of his 8 great-great grandparents, Benedictus, maybe Baruch in Hebrew, was a Jew who converted into Christianity." And the article makes it clear that the Jewishness of this particular Pope is a bit of a reach.)
In this book I read about one of the more shabby and disreputable incidents in Western European medieval history, the "Cadaver Synod" (depicted above in an 1870 painting), which I had never heard of before. The entertaining wikipedia article is here, but, essentially, Pope Steven VI (VII), in January 897 in a fit of extreme pique, had his predecessor Pope Formosus exhumed, dressed in papal garments and put on trial for perjury. Formosus was found guilty and stripped of his papal standing.
A constant in this book is the often bewildering confusion about papal history. The Papacy is 2,000 years old, so it stands to reason that some of the incidents are rather poorly recorded, dependent upon revision, doctrinal or political reverses or papal agenda. Every Pope named Steven, for instance, has a rather clunky numbering scheme due to historical confusion. There's one Roman numeral and another in parentheses. Another constant is the Roman population, who seemed to have enjoyed strangling people - including the occasional Pope.
Note: Am I disparaging the Catholic Church? I hope not; such is not my intent. I used to be a Catholic! As I wrote, the Papacy is 2,000 years old. There are bound to be some historical hiccups there, such is human nature.
Paul McCartney's son James muses about a Beatles Generation 2 band. Whew... good luck with that. Talk about a hard act to follow!
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