Who do I think I am? Well I’ve got answers now.

My AncestryDNA results came back, and I was a little surprised by the result. If you read the post I made when I put the tube-o-spittle in the mail, you’ll see that my original guess was

  • England/British Isles I’m guessing 55-75%
  • Ireland 5-25%
  • Western Europe (German) 10%
  • Southern European 0-5%
  • Native American 0-5%

The actual results were:

  • 43% Ireland
  • 35% Great Britain
  • 5% Europe West
  • 5% European Jewish
  • 5% Finland/Northwest Russia
  • 2% Scandinavia
  • <1% Italy/Greece
  • <1% Europe East
  • <1% Iberian Peninsula

My top two guesses were pretty close. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of Native American heritage – not because there is anything wrong with Native American Heritage, just that it would mean I screwed up on my family tree somewhere if there actually were some, as the rest of the family seems to believe. Mostly the rest of this makes sense, although I have some new questions:

Where is the Jewish connection in my family? I’m really curious about this.

The farthest back I can get in my mother’s paternal line is a guy named Lorenzo who lived in Liverpool, England at the height of the Atlantic Slave trade. Was he perhaps descended from Portuguese slavers?

I’m clearly descended straight from Socrates and Alexander the Great since I’m <1% Italian/Greek, however I’m wondering if this has anything to do with my 15th great grandfather being a papal notary. Or does it have to do with the Romans and their conquest of the Celtic peoples long, long before that?

Finland/Scandinavia fit in well with the stories of England/Scotland being invaded by Vikings. Specifics pls.

The cool thing is that Ancestry found like 50+ 3rd and 4th cousins of mine genetically, and our family trees all look eerily similar. It makes me think the records at the very least point in the right direction. Hooray!

Learning to bake with daddyPrimate: I thought shortbread was supposed to be easy

Pro-tip: When only 7/10 of the biscuits you’ve baked turned out aesthetically pleasing, put those biscuits on top of the bucket. People will assume the others were damaged by clumsy hands snatching cookies. 😉

 

Having not baked much new in a while, and having a good excuse to take something in to work after a four day weekend, I thought a great exploration of my cultural heritage would be shortbread. Blah blah blah emotional spiritual bullshit blah blah blah heritage blah blah blah. Butter. There was lots of butter.

mommyPrimate recently got Tanya Burr’s “Tanya Bakes” and so far everything we’ve had out of it has been super primo, so I thought I’d give her shortbread biscuits a go. She said the dough was crumbly in the book. She was totally right. I had a bit of a hard time rolling it out and cutting it. It’s making me rethink my idea for a shortbread advent calendar.

At any rate, you can’t really go wrong with shortbread. Mainly because butter buffers out every bad decision you could make. My boss was the first one to stop by my desk, her boss the second. Score. Cookies area  subtle form of bribery. Just a little way to pay someone off so they like you a little better. Before leaving for the day yesterday, 3 days after these cookies arrived and left faster than a model can change clothing between runway walks, my boss stopped by my desk and said. “I tried to wait until the afternoon to eat the cookie, but then I looked at the expanding puddle of butter on the napkin it was sitting on and I knew it was too good to wait.”

Shortbread, you’re not easy to work with, but you do your job well. When your job is to fish me out some compliments at work.

Now to finish my first cup of coffee this morning.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Cathedral de Santa María de la Almudena – Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain Catedral de Santa Maria de la Almudena, Madrid, España

The first European Cathedral my primate foot set upon was in Madrid, Spain. First of all, let me start out by saying, España, te amo. Tienes buena gente, vistas bonissimas, y la comida mejor del mundo. Okay. Now that that’s out of the way (and frankly it should go double for Catalonia, so just go read this post and think that thought softly to yourself.) We were pretty severely bedraggled after getting married, partying all night, then an early morning drive to Houston to catch a longish overnight flight to Madrid when we first arrived. Frankly our first day on the continent was spent sleeping, followed by a quick break for sandwiches (ay! Cién Montaditos! Te amo. Eres la comida rapida necesito en mí vida todo los días.) followed by more sleeping.

Madrid, Spain
Saints and Martyrs at the entrance to the Cathedral

After a quick reconnoiter for breakfast and bearings-getting, we made our way to the center of Spanish Royalty. In Madrid, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Wall (a visage of St. Mary appeared at the city wall during the Moorish invasion, if my history is right) is situated directly across from the Palacio Real. The Palacio was closed, so it was onto the Cathedral.

Madrid, Spain First glance at the interior of the cathedral

The Cathedral provided some rather stunning vistas of Madrid, and being a newer Cathedral, the Gothic Revival architecture and somewhat modern approach to the relief carvings was immensely interesting. I felt like we lived in a place where the ancient coexisted with the modern when we were in South Korea, but frankly, I feel as if Spain is really the place where ancient culture transcends modern aesthetic more than any other place I’ve ever been.

Madrid, Spain
The colorful ceiling panels in the nave of St. Maria de la Almudena

Foodies will speak of a food’s terroir, meaning you can taste a little bit of the earth that it was grown/raised in/on. I feel like Cathedral churches do that too, showing you a little bit of the zeitgeist of when and where they were built. If you’re familiar even distantly with 19th-20th century Spanish history, you know if was a rough time. I feel like this church, much like the works of Pablo Picasso, Goya, and other Spanish painters, captured a moment of stunning beauty in a clime of general difficulty and despair.

Madrid, Spain Transept of St. Maria de la Almudena

I remember remarking about how the art style of the iconography in this Cathedral wasn’t dissimilar to what I’ve seen in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas – which was once of course part of Spain. While the scale of the building is far greater than anything we have in my sleepy little hometown, the religious core, what the carvings of the saints, Mary, and Christ himself look like, are very similar.

Madrid, Spain
Cupola of Santa Maria de la Almudena

As with any cathedral church, the verticality of this building was absolutely stunning.

Madrid, Spain Stained glass with a distinctly Spanish flair

I found the angular design and bold colors of the stained glass to be quintessentially Spanish, and the modernity of the glass contrasted starkly with the statuary and classic design of the altar.

Madrid, Spain
The altar was remarkably old fashioned

I feel like a second post will be necessary to talk about the Crypt at Santa Maria de la Almudena. We had to stop for lunch in between visits, as it was just a bit too much to take in at once. You can look forward to that in a future post. This post unfortunately, has gone a bit long, but I feel like this Cathedral deserves it.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Church of Sts. Just and Pastor – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

When mommyPrimate and I were in Barcelona, we absolutely fell in love with the place. So in love with Barcelona that we got all up inside of Barcelona. We saw as much as we possibly could, and spent so much time on our feet that we were absolutely exhausted by the time we boarded our bus to Firenze. One day was particularly remarkable though, at least in my memory.

We started the day out by seeing Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and after lunch decided we should check out El Barrí Gotic. We walked for hours through the narrow streets of ancient Barcelona, exploring plaças and streets that have been there for a millennium. Towards the end of our walk through the gothic district, we stumbled into Plaça Just, where the church of Saints Just and Pastor sits in a quiet little square.

We went inside, as one does when there is a 14th century church nearby. We sat down. There are holy relics of Sts. Just and Pastor in this church, but we just weren’t there at the right time to seek them out. We didn’t explore much or take many pictures as it didn’t feel like the right thing to do, with their small choir practicing. If I remember right, the choir wasn’t more than four or six pieces, however their voices (in the most perfect four-part harmony I’ve ever heard) filled up the ancient space in a very powerful way. We sat and listened, listened and sat, until our stomachs started “singing” in a very ugly way.

At any rate, rather than write the millionth blog post about La Sagrada Familia or St. Peter’s Basilica today (these posts will get written) I wanted to focus in on the memory of sitting down, feeling my feet get a little rest, and my ears being tickled by the beautiful sound of a choir singing in a language I don’t understand. That was bliss.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Abbey of St. Victor, Marseille, France

Marseille, France
The Abbey of St. Victor, exterior (I think)

During my last semester at university, I took a History of Western Europe class that I mostly slept through. You know, because I was 21 years old, already knew everything (ha! if only I knew what I didn’t know!) and couldn’t figure out how to go to bed early enough to get a good night of rest on school nights. Anyhow, one of the things we learned about a bit was the trade in Holy Relics. I thought it was something that happened long ago, and that there weren’t really like, the kneecaps of saints still on display.
Marseille, France
Reliquary at the Abbey of St. Victor, Marseille, France

 

I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. Though I had at this point been to Cathedrals and old churches in the United States, Spain, and China (Hong Kong and Macau), I had yet to run into a decoration that used to be somebody. I know that the word decoration makes light somewhat of what relics represent, but I can’t come up with anything better at the moment.
Marseille, France
Anyhow, it turns out that the Abbey of St. Victor was one of the most important abbeys in the Mediterranean world in the middle ages, and it’s stuffed to the gills with relics. It was burned to the ground once by barbarians, and it’s a pretty amazing example of medieval romanesque architecture in the darkest and mustiest way. You can really imagine a knight in shining armor saying his prayers here before getting on a ship to sack Jerusalem.

 

Marseille, France
Though absolutely beautiful, this Abbey was definitely built during the dark ages

I guess the Abbey of St. Victor holds a very vibrant place in my memory because it’s one of the oldest places I’ve ever been that wasn’t in ruins. It was built in the 5th or 6th century, destroyed in the 7th or 8th century, and has had a presence ever since. It’s kinda crazy that it’s not an empty shell of a building that requires imagination to envision, but rather a place you can walk around and imagine who had been there instead.

 

Marseille, France
My imagination fills these pews with costumed people from a Renn. Faire

Should you find yourself in Marseille, I suggest a visit to the Abbey of St. Victor. Take in the relics and the history, take in a deep breath, and be grateful that you don’t live in the middle ages.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York, New York, USA

St. John the Divine Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Rose Window Exterior

In 2011 my life was about to take a severe jag out into left field. Until just a couple of years prior, I didn’t think that I would ever find a mate, or ever have the kind of financial situation that would allow me to travel around the world much. Hell, I could barely afford to watch Anthony Bourdain travel on TV (seriously America, why is cable and internet so expensive here?). mommyPrimate and I had just been accepted into the English Program in Korea and were on an epic road trip across North America visiting with friends and family before heading into the great unknown of life abroad. Her sister lives in New York, New York, and we were in town for a visit.

St. John the Divine
Rose Window Interior, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

It was cold, and I was intimidated by the city in general. mommyPrimate suggested as we get out of the house that we check out the Cathedral because she remembered it being pretty cool. We walked the 5 or 7 blocks or so up to 110th and Cathedral Parkway and went inside. I was blown away by the size of the place, the stained glass, and very welcoming atmosphere.

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine View of the Nave from way up high

Fast forward a couple of years. mommyPrimate and I had just become mrandmrsPrimate and moved to New York. Not having a ton of money, the Cathedral was kinda a great place to hang out in the heat of the summer, and it’s a quiet place in a city that is anything but quiet. Being quite modern, St. John’s is an easy place for more secular people to visit, too…and then came the tours.

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
The stained glass at St. John’s is thematic,reflecting on professions of NYC and their ancient roots. This panel depicts Hippocrates, with biblical figures who followed a similar path in the panels below

We took a symbology tour where they led us around the massive building looking at all of the subtle details and explaining their biblical references. It was also pretty enlightening to find out where all of the art and furnishings came from (all over Europe, all over the timeline, and so on).

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine St. John’s was built for occupants at all levels, not just humans. Even the upper reaches of the Cathedral are stunningly beautiful.

A couple of weeks later we found ourselves on the “vertical tour” of the Cathedral. A trip up into the dizzying heights of the church where I constantly felt as if I was going to barf. Heights are not my thing. The architecture and design of the loftiest places in the church were showcased in a great way, though, and I’m very happy to have experienced it, much the same way as I am happy to have climbed to the cupola of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, and don’t mind the idea of never, ever, being up that high again with such small railings.

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
If you can’t imagine a Cherub flying through here, you don’t have much imagination.

New York is a great city for church hopping, and the ability to walk from amazing site to amazing site on a whim is something I much miss about life in New York. Now I must end this post, as babyPrimate is waking up and will require my full attention.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Church-hopping with daddyPrimate

St. John the Divine
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York, New York 

I’m not sure when it became “a thing” for us, but I remember the first time mommyPrimate and I set foot in a spectacular church together. It was the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Hardly an old cathedral (construction started in 1892) but certainly one that remains at the top of my list of “most beautiful buildings on earth.”

Marseille, France Reliquary in the Abbey of St. Victor, Marseille, France

At any rate, neither of us were very religious, but I think we were both intrigued by how someone (an architect) could be so inspired to even come up with the idea of such a beautiful place, and really master the beauty that can be created by open space and light. Since that cold day in January of 2011, we’ve visited dozens of old churches and cathedrals around the world. We’ve noted the differences in art styles, admired the stained glass work, and the wooden carvings of religious icons. We’ve amassed what seems like an archive of photos of the insides of these beautiful places, and they’ve sat locked away in the confines of online storage for a few years while we found jobs, settled down, and started the routine of family life with babyPrimate.

Hong Kong
St. Andrew’s Church, Hong Kong, China

When I started this blog I wanted it to be about whatever I wanted it to be about, not just baking or whatever, and now I want to include some old travel and adventure memories, so expect some posts about old churches we’ve visited, foods we’ve eaten, beaches we’ve lazed upon, and that kind of thing, because that’s what my brain is on about right now.

Rome, Italy
St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy

At any rate, I’ve been holding on to photos from our travels for far too long, and I feel the urge to get “words on paper” so to speak, even though that paper is now this blog, so I think some travel memories and photos will be appearing here from time to time.

Until next time!