Post 259

Celestial: Reflections on Corpus Christi

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Quantum potes, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude,
Nec laudáre súfficis.

Laudis thema speciális,
Panis vivus et vitális,
Hódie propónitur.

Quem in sacræ mensa cœnæ,
Turbæ fratrum duodénæ
Datum non ambígitur.

Sit laus plena, sit sonóra,
Sit jucúnda, sit decóra
Mentis jubilátio.

Dies enim solémnis ágitur,
In qua mensæ prima recólitur
Hujus institútio.

In hac mensa novi Regis,
Novum Pascha novæ legis,
Phase vetus términat.

Vetustátem nóvitas,
Umbram fugat véritas,
Noctem lux elíminat.

Quod in cœna Christus gessit,
Faciéndum hoc expréssit
In sui memóriam.

Docti sacris institútis,
Panem, vinum, in salútis
Consecrámus hóstiam.

Dogma datur Christiánis,
Quod in carnem transit panis,
Et vinum in sánguinem.

Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animósa firmat fides,
Præter rerum ordinem.

Sub divérsis speciébus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res exímiæ.

Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
Manet tamen Christus totus,
Sub utráque spécie.

A suménte non concísus,
Non confráctus, non divísus:
Integer accípitur.

Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consúmitur.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.

Fracto demum Sacraménto,
Ne vacílles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragménto,
Quantum toto tégitur.

Nulla rei fit scissúra:
Signi tantum fit fractúra:
Qua nec status nec statúra
Signáti minúitur.

Ecce panis Angelórum,
Factus cibus viatórum:
Vere panis filiórum,
Non mitténdus cánibus.

In figúris præsignátur,
Cum Isaac immolátur:
Agnus paschæ deputátur
Datur manna pátribus.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortáles:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodáles,
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Allelúja.

It isn’t often that you’ll hear a Sequence sung at Mass, but this Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi (= “Body of Christ”), and so after the second reading, instead of standing for the Gospel reading, you’ll first hear a Sequence being sung. The above words were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas more than 750 years ago. (Isn’t that neat? Catholicism preserves the inspired work across centuries, so that new generations can enjoy it afresh). He wrote them in Latin, but if you don’t know Latin, then hopefully you’ll hear the English version on Sunday. (Latin is beautiful, of course, but comprehension is better, of course.)

It’s sometimes called the “Lauda Sion” or “Lauda Zion.” Here are the first three lines again:

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Here’s one translation of those first three lines. It’s a non-literal translation, partly to make it rhyme in English.

Sing forth, O Zion, sweetly sing
The praises of thy Shepherd-King,
In hymns and canticles divine;

Here’s another:

Sion, lift up thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King,
Praise with hymns thy shepherd true.

And here’s another, from the Lectionary for Australia and New Zealand. It is by James Aylward (1813-1872):

Zion, thy redeemer praising
Songs of joy to him upraising
Laud thy pastor and thy guide;

Putting the sequence into the sequence we’d use with modern English diction, would give a result something like this:

“Sing, Sion! Praise your Savior. Praise your leader and shepherd with hymns and songs.”

The name “Zion” appears in the Old Testament and referred to a geographical location, but you’ll hear “Sion” referred to by the Catholic Church sometimes, and you can take it as a reference to God’s kingdom as led by Christ. So when we hear the invitation to sing, then we can understand that it is directed at us.

The next lines, in Latin, are: Quantum potes, tantum aude: / Quia major omni laude / Nec laudáre súfficis. One translation is this: “All thou canst, do thou endeavour / Yet thy praise can equal never / Such as merits thy great King.” The Australian translation is: “Swell thy notes most high and daring / For his praise is past declaring / And thy loftiest power beside.” I prefer the first translation because I think that in prose, it would be something like: “Dare, to the best of your ability, to do what you can, because (He is) above all praise. No praise is enough.”

“Laudis thema speciális / Panis vivus et vitális / Hódie propónitur,” appears in English as “Today no theme of common praise / Forms the sweet burden of thy lays – / The living, life-dispensing food –” or “See today before us laid / The living and life-giving Bread / Theme for praise and joy profound” but could be written as “Today we present a special theme of praise: Bread, living and vital.”

These lines form the introduction. St. Thomas Aquinas was asked to write this Sequence, along with other parts of the Mass, specifically for the Feast of Corpus Christi (by Pope Urban IV), and so that’s why it fits so perfectly.

What I find rather amusing is how much theological content it has. Instead of lots of rhymes for the sake of rhyming, you can count on the good doctor to give us a catechism class in itself. Aquinas doesn’t do fluff. So it’s long, but when you consider what it teaches, you have to admit that this big saint is very efficient with his words, not to mention inspired. In 288 rhyming and perfectly ordered Latin words, he presents, among other things, foundational principles relating to the Eucharist:

  1. Christ instituted it.
  2. The bread changes into the Body of Christ and the wine changes into the blood of Christ. It is dogma, and although it cannot be understood or seen, the faith confirms this.
  3. The whole of Christ is received, when one receives the Body or the Blood
  4. No matter how the Body and Blood are divided, Christ is not divided or diminished, and each person receives the whole amount in even a fragment or portion of the Eucharist.
  5. That although both good people and evil people receive it in the same way, the results are completely different.

For most of Christianity’s 2000 years, being Christian meant that you believed Christ meant what he said when he said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Being Christian meant that you knew that Jesus was claiming that he was able to defy all the rules of human logic and science and past experience in order to create a new way to be with human beings and to change them.

When St. Aquinas wrote this Sequence, there was no such thing as Protestantism. There was no such thing as a Sunday service which reenacted the Last Supper by pouring grape juice into hygenic and disposable mini cups.

You always got the Real Thing. Real wine was changed into Christ himself. Real bread was changed into Christ himself.

It was done for hundreds upon hundreds of years, and it all began at the Last Supper, which we could say was the First Supper, being the first time that bread and wine were much more. The last shall be first, indeed!

Nevertheless, wherever you have had the Eucharist, or mention of it, you have had doubters and haters.

As proof of this, you’ll notice that the reading for Corpus Christi this year doesn’t bring us to the Last Supper, to the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, it brings us to the time Jesus spoke about the truth that was to be. The gentle Jesus was describing what he would soon be offering, and the response was one of incredulity and negativity. They were scoffing at the best gift that would be given. The Trinity itself comes to you, and you’re not even in Heaven.

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.

There are other Gospel passages which show that some of his disciples left him. Some of those who had followed him when everything was easy and pleasant decided to be done with him. Why? Well, he didn’t say what they wanted to hear.

He challenged their human understanding with something which sounded bizarre.

Who talks like this? They dismissed him because he no longer fit into the box that they had made for him.

Miracles to watch, interesting stories to hear, multiplied loaves and fish? Sure! We’re in! Bizarre words? Not so much.

The fact that what Jesus said was a cause for controversy shows us that it was a big deal from the beginning. It sounded strange because it was strange. It still sounds strange, because it still is strange.

Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Symbols can be explained. Go ahead and explain your paper cups filled with grape juice. As for this chalice filled with Blood, well, even a saint as big as St. Thomas Aquinas can’t explain it all. It’s a mystery and he must acknowledge that this miracle of miracles “baffles nature’s powers of sense and sight.”

Miracles and the truth just sit there, staring you in the face, watching what you do.

So Jesus didn’t alter his words. He didn’t alter his words to suit his listener, to soothe his listener when his listener felt discomfort. No. It was the listener who needed to change. The listener must enlarge himself to accept the Truth. It’s a choice.

When Jesus saw that some of his disciples were abandoning him, he didn’t reword or ‘reframe’ what he had said.  What he had said did not need alteration.  Instead, he asked his apostles whether they too, would leave. What a moment of sorrow! He didn’t know whether those closest to him could handle everything about him. Would they leave too? He asked because he wanted to know. His apostles had to decide; it was all in their hands and Jesus would not spin his words to avoid a painful parting. He had already spoken what was true, and it was now time for his followers to decide whether they could accept Him.

You see? What Jesus was saying was astonishing and disturbing. It was weird. It made no sense.

And indeed, the Eucharist defies our five senses, because here we notice that the Bread looks like bread, feels like bread and tastes like bread. The Wine looks and smells and tastes like wine. How can something have all the external qualities of something and yet be something entirely different?

I show you an ordinary wicker basket, and I say to you, “Do you see this basket, which looks and feels like a basket? Well, it is not a basket. It has all the qualities (the ‘accidents’ if you want to use the terminology) that a basket should have, but it is in fact (in its essence) a candle, and this candle is shining its invisible light upon you and the whole room.”

You would conclude that I was either completely confused or messing with you.

Do I mess with you?

 

Celestial Now

I’ll tell you what the sun looks like
Sometimes

The sun becomes larger and
extra bright

With precision
I’ll write

The inside
Is white

The outside
Is a soft and pleasing pulsing mix
What is it?
Pinks and blues and yellow?

The rim
The boundary
Is thin

The rim
Is silver and flashing
Whirring quick

Can you follow it?
Glinting
Spinning

What does it mean?
Why me?
I know

You wouldn’t want to believe me if I told you
I know
So I won’t

But
I’ll tell you what the sun looks like
Sometimes

Believe me
Sometimes the sun looks like

The Eucharist

Post 258

A Recipe for May

Manicotti is yummy. It sounds and looks impressive, but it’s not very complicated. (I am assuming, of course, that you’re not making your own pasta or milking your own cow to make the cheese.)

As a matter of fact, after making it a few times, you can do it pretty quickly. You make the filling, put it into the cooked pasta tubes and then arrange the tubes on a dish with some sauce on top. Then you put it in the oven. As for the actual filling part, there are a few ways to approach it. I don’t recommend buying any kind of kitchen equipment to do it, though probably there is such a thing. You can get by with using a little ziploc bag with one corner snipped off. That’s the method recommended in my cookbook. (“Spoon the filling into a zipper-lock bag, cut a hole in the corner of the bag, and squeeze gently from the top to pipe out the filling.”) I’ve done that before, but you can also use a combination of spoon and fingers to push the filling into place. You could, I suppose, even slice the manicotti lengthwise on purpose, fill it and then place them into the baking dish seam-side down. Whatever you do, the end result will be scrumptious.

This one is from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, 2010 edition:

Cheesy Baked Manicotti

Serves: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour (includes 30 minutes baking and cooling time)

When buying manicotti, examine the package to make sure the noodles aren’t broken or cracked. Any type of tomato sauce will work here, including your favorite jarred brand. You can substitute a 12-ounce box of jumbo pasta shells for the manicotti.

Salt
12 manicotti (8 ounces)
22 ounces ricotta cheese (2 3/4 cups)
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
3 ounces mozzarella, shredded (3/4 cup)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
4 cups tomato sauce (see note above)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the pasta. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the manicotti. Cook, stirring often, until the manicotti is almost tender but still a little firm to the bite. Drain the manicotti, spread the tubes out over a baking sheet, and let cool.

2. Meanwhile, mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the mozzarella, egg, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

3. Following the photos, squeeze about 5 tablespoons of filling into each manicotti tube (or spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into each shell). Arrange the filled pasta in an oiled 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

4. Pour the tomato sauce over the filled pasta. Wrap the dish tightly in foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the ricotta filling is hot, about 25 minutes.

5. Let cool for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with the parsley and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.

To Make Ahead
Assemble the casserole as directed through step 3. Wrap the dish tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Allow the manicotti to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding with step 4.

 

Post 257

Cubits Upon Cubits

Noah pondered the message that he had heard.
Death of flesh, an end to corruption and violence.
A boat to be built, cubits upon cubits.

A covenant. A flood.

Noah pondered the meaning of it all, and he imagined.
He imagined all the people he would save.
Had this not been his prayer, once?
Had he not prayed for a boat large enough to take
Everyone he knew
To the Lord?
Indeed, he had.

That, however, was a metaphor, and this,
Well, this
Was not.

This was cubits upon cubits, animals and food.
He imagined all the people that would fit
In such a ship.
He knew many people.
He imagined it would be
Rather like
A party.

He knew that his own family
Would be safe,
Along with Mr Bull and Mrs Cow

But he was quite convinced
That others, though unmentioned, would naturally be there
Out on the water.

Cubits upon cubits.

Noah started building.
His friends pretended
Not to notice.
He was amazed and utterly stunned.
Pretend
Not to notice
This enormous thing?

Noah kept on building.
Finally, someone appeared.
At last! Good old friend!
(We’ll play cards when we’re on board.)
Greetings and blessings to you and yours!
Silence.
So much for that.

Cubits upon cubits.
Noah didn’t stop.
Where was everyone?
Eyes averted. Strangers now.
Who were these people?
They were unchanged, but now Noah
Saw their hearts.

He kept building.
Cubits upon cubits.
Is it for real?

Did the Lord really say?
How did it go?
Animals, food, a flood and a covenant.
Animals, food, a flood and a covenant.
His sons, their wives, his wife but
Come to think of it,
Nothing more.

The Lord spoke again. It was time.
His family gathered.
With them were the animal kinds.

They closed the door upon the world they knew
And here we ask,
Who appeared as prisoners
When really free?
In any case
One week of nothing was
An eternity.

But the boat
in all its Mass
Was soon afloat.

Noah marvelled at the ark and at floating in the sea
Above his earthly abode.
Noah praised the Lord for poetry and beauty and justice and family.

As for friends,
He remembered them.
He remembered everything.

He remembered what had been said and what had been done
And he had
No regrets
For himself.
What he had
Was regrets
For them.

The smooth surface of the water
Hid many secrets
And many misdeeds.

Noah remembered.
The thing that pained him most
Was the memory of the laughter

The jokes about the beards and flying fruit, about tattoos and magic mushrooms and the Tabasco sauce cure. The jokes about the feet in the air and the wide bicycle chair. The jokes about the aunt stuck in the dirt and the dogs splattered on the windshield. Too many to count.

Memories upon memories, cubits upon cubits

The barbeque in the backyard the dinners at the restaurant and one last royal party. The photographs taken everywhere and the music playing loudly. Conversations about every moving thing and theories and analogies and good-natured chatter. Or so it seemed.

Past now

The water was still
It contained everything
And nothing

Noah now had nothing and everything
For he had everything worth having
In the whole wide world

He had his Lord
He had his family
And he had his dog.

 

Post 256

All About Asparagus: A Recipe for April

At even some of the best restaurants, vegetables are treated as rather unimportant. Sure, you’ll receive them cut into interesting shapes, but often they’re just steamed. Don’t get me wrong — steaming has its place, but some techniques really take veggies to another level.

This is from the cookbook The Best Vegetable Recipes, put out by America’s Test Kitchen. I am choosing asparagus because it’s the season for them and because the word ‘asparagus’ begins with the letter “A,” just like the month of April. Asparagus is often viewed as rather deluxe. Emperor Augustus is responsible for the phrase, “faster than cooking asparagus,” which I did not even know was a phrase. Another fun fact comes from Wikipedia: “A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.” Asparagus grows well in salty soil, but it can take a very long time (years) to get them set up properly.

I like broiling my asparagus because it’s quick and easy, but most of all, it’s tasty:

Another cooking option, and one that most cooks don’t consider, is grilling or broiling. The intense dry heat concentrates the flavor of the asparagus, and the exterior caramelization makes the spears especially sweet. The result is asparagus with a heightened and, we think, delicious flavor.

And here’s even more, specifically about broiling them:

The two primary questions related to broiling concerned the thickness of the stalks and the distance they should be kept from the heat source as they cook. In our tests with thicker asparagus, anywhere from 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, the peels began to char before the interior of the spears became fully tender. When we used thinner spears (no thicker than 5/8 inch), the interior was tender by the time the exterior was brown.

We then focused on how far to keep the spears from the heating element. At 3 inches, the asparagus charred a bit. At 5 inches, the asparagus took a little too long to cook, and they failed to caramelize properly. The middle ground, 4 inches, proved perfect for cooking speed, control and browning.

And more:

Grilled and broiled asparagus should be lightly oiled before cooking — use extra-virgin olive oil for the most flavor. After cooking, grilled and broiled asparagus can be tossed or drizzled with a viniagrette for even more flavor.

And here’s the recipe itself:

Master Recipe for Broiled Asparagus

Choose asparagus no thicker than 5/8 inch.

2 pounds thin asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper

Adjust an oven rack to the uppermost position (about 4 inches from the heating element) and heat the broiler. Toss the asparagus with the oil and salt to taste and then lay spears in a single layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Broil, shaking the pan halfway through to turn the spears, until the asparagus is tender and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool the asparagus 5 minutes and arrange them on a serving platter.

The accompanying recipes are variations. There’s “Broiled Asparagus with Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette and Parmesan” and “Broiled Asparagus with Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette” and “Broiled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Mascarpone,” but I’m done with retyping.

Besides, you know I like to keep my posts short.

 

Post 255

Not What You Expected:
The Small Voice of a Big God

When you see this phrase, “God spoke to Noah,” what do you picture? How do you envision it happening? Do you imagine a booming voice startling the man?

Sometimes, angels appear to people. They are God’s messengers. When they appear, the angels usually begin with the words, “Be not afraid,” because angels don’t look like chubby-cheeked cherubs. They look strong and powerful, and the sight of their radiant beauty can be, well, intimidating.

It’s not usually like this with God’s voice. God’s voice is gentle, like the voice of a patient father. Consider how God was not in the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire when he communicated with Moses. Moses knew it was God when he heard “a small still voice” (1 Kings 19:12), and he stepped forward from the cave. Consider how when Samuel was called by God, the only one who could hear God’s voice was Samuel. Samuel heard a voice and thought that Eli, who was nearby, was calling him, but it wasn’t Eli. Eli, for his part, could not hear anything at all (1 Samuel 3:7-11).

And that’s what we sometimes forget. When these prophets and saints heard God’s voice, usually nobody around them did. When they learned things from God, usually nobody else around them did. In most cases where God spoke to prophets or saints, there were neither eyewitnesses nor ‘ear’ witnesses; no one would be able to verify that the prophet or saint heard or saw anything out of the ordinary.

So what are you to do? Let’s say you’re there, minding your own business, when suddenly you hear God’s voice. It’s clear and it’s distinct and you’re not imagining it.

What do you do?

What makes the prophets and the saints holy is not that they heard God’s voice, but that they responded to it. Even Jonah, who is viewed as somewhat of a wimp for initially running in the opposite direction from the one that God wanted him to, did not doubt that he had heard what he heard. He believed that he had received a message from God and that he had a mission. What makes St. Paul special is not that he heard Christ’s voice, but that he heeded it.

More people have heard God’s voice than have responded. More people have been invited than have responded. Those who don’t respond don’t make history. It’s only later that we will learn about all the rejected invitations and the squandered opportunities to become what God had wanted his children to become.

When Joan of Arc heard God’s voice and invitation, she obeyed and made big changes and took big chances. What did the people around her think? They didn’t look at her and see a glowing halo. They saw someone utterly ordinary who was now acting Really Odd.

When Juan Diego saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, he did not doubt what he saw, but what did the people around him see? They saw an ordinary man who was wasting the bishop’s time and acting Rather Oddly. It was only after the others were given concrete signs that they understood that they were dealing with the supernatural.

When Mary conceived Jesus, the world entered a new era, but the world did not know it. People passed Mary and Joseph on the street, clueless that Mary carried within herself the Saviour of humanity. And indeed, judging from outside appearances, nothing had changed. It didn’t seem that a new era had dawned at all. Herod savagely ordered the slaughter of innocent babies, and the normal lives of Mary and Joseph were interrupted as they fled to Egypt. Did they have anything, now that they had unexpectedly relocated to a foreign land? They had their newborn baby but neither friends nor relatives. Humanly, these refugees had nothing. Spiritually, they had everything.

When Mary and Joseph returned to their homeland, they had with them Jesus, true God and man, but who would have guessed it? They blended in to their neighbourhood and people would have treated them as they liked, with familiarity, with disinterest, with friendliness or coldness. There was no bright neon sign flashing above their home: “Here Resideth Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Son of the Living God.”

No. It was quiet. God is, generally, quiet.

So when the neighbours found out that Jesus, that most predictable Jesus, son of the unremarkable carpenter, had appointed himself teacher, and was attracting crowds, well, they didn’t deal with it well. They had known him long before these crowds knew him, and they Knew Better. They chose not to accept the possibility that Jesus or his followers knew more than they did, and that this man was special, or holy, and that his current behaviour was justified. Their high opinion of themselves caused them to stiffen their necks and harden their hearts against him. When Jesus returned to the region, willing to shower them with graces, they lacked the requisite openness to him, and he left, having performed no miracles. A prophet is not acceptable in his own country, he said.

Indeed, those who know you from the past can’t handle a change in plans. They can’t handle God’s plans for you if you go in a new direction that they haven’t pre-approved. Can they handle God, who calls people out of an ordinary existence to act in ways that are unpredictable and ‘wild’?

I received an email from someone whose name was “anonymous” and whose email address was written as “anonymous@anonymous.anonymous.” Part of the comment was, “This was NOT what I was looking for or expecting.”

Expecting?

Excuse me?

What have I said or done to make you expect anything at all? What is the basis of your expectation? My past conduct? Our past relationship? The contract between you and me, where I promised to satisfy your needs and desires, for a handsome fee? The contract between you and the internet, to which I am a party, assuring you that you will find Everything You Desire Online?

Look elsewhere. I don’t write to make you happy.

Giovanni was popular and loved to laugh. He had many friends and appreciated them all. There was really nothing to dislike about him, because he liked everybody, even the unlikeable. He was one of those people who wanted to do everything for everybody, and when he wanted to be a soldier, people cheered him on. He had, so it seemed, everything a young man could want, including a father who provided for him. But then, suddenly, inexplicably, something ‘got into’ that young man, and he went off the deep end. (He went into the deep, you could say.) The fellow publicly disowned his father (for what? A dispute about some cloth?) and walked away, abandoning his very tunic. It made no sense; what has happened to Giovanni — known to his friends as Francisco? What has happened to St. Francis?

What happened to him was what happens to many of the prophets and the saints. It goes like this: you’re there, minding your own business, when the email comes in, and it’s from God. No. Sorry, let me begin again. You’re there, minding your own business, when the doorbell rings, and it’s God.

That’s the problem.

What proof do you have that you heard anything? What proof do you have that God spoke? What proof do you have that he said, “Rebuild my Church,” or “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Did he leave his business card? What proof do you have that Mary spoke to you? What proof do you have that you heard her sweet voice, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception”?

You have nothing. You have your word, easily discredited, especially in light of the way you’ve been acting lately.

The priests and the bishops gave many saints a very hard time. Why? It’s because they knew that God wouldn’t entrust anything important to an uneducated and unimportant layperson. Do I exaggerate? Read the accounts of saint after saint, distrusted by the clergy. How St. Faustina suffered!

Sadly, even in this post-Vatican II era, there is such a thing as clerical snobbery. It’s ironic, of course. As WiseOne once put it, “Where do priests think priests come from?” Every priest is born of a laywoman. The problem is that a priest, who is, generally, chosen by God to become a priest, forgets that there are other ways of being chosen. St. Peter was chosen to lead the Church, but St. John was chosen to be a son to Mary. St. Paul was not chosen as one of the twelve apostles, but he was chosen to preach to the gentiles.

Every person is invited, in more than one way, and more than once, to do God’s work. God’s voice is soft and hidden, but those who respond to his call may change before your eyes. The neighbour builds an ark. The shy man defies the Pharaoh. The shepherd boy becomes a king. The virgin has a baby. The carpenter’s son challenges the religious elite. The fisherman leads the church. The young man disowns his parent. The peasant girl leads an army. The wealthy widow sells her possessions. The laywoman becomes a blogger.

 

Post 254

Maple Leaf in the Middle:
Reflections on the Flags of North America

1. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH CROSS SHAPES

The Dominican Republic’s flag is divided into quarters by a white cross. In the centre is an emblem. The emblem, adopted in 1863, is the most Christian flag emblem in the world, featuring the cross in its upright and most typical style and a Catholic bible open to the Gospel of John: “And the truth will make you free.” (8:32) I like it and I think everyone should like it. So there.

Moving along, Dominica’s green flag is also divided into quarters by a big cross, but in the middle is a birdie. Yes, I can’t get away from them. I guess everyone kind of thought, “Hey, this flag is going to fly in the sky. Birds fly in the sky. How about we put a BIRD on the FLAG? Hey?” This bird is green and blue and has a yellow beak. Alright. It might be a parrot. I’ll just pop over to Wikipedia. I’ll be right back. Okay. I’m back. It’s a parrot. It’s the sisserou parrot, which I’ve never heard of, until now. It’s found only in Dominica. It’s endangered. There are only 250 individual birds left, which brings to the fore another question about animals on flags. What do you do if your chosen animal is suddenly in trouble? The images on a flag represent the nation, which includes, most importantly, the people of the nation, so if you must choose an animal, then it is best to stick with a generic version of it, in the same way that if you must choose a building, then it is best to stick with a generic version of it. Your symbol is less likely to disappear that way.

Jamaica’s flag looks alarming. That big yellow X on a background of black and green has an unsettling effect. Here’s something interesting: with one exception, all the other flags of the world incorporate at least one of the following colours: red, white, blue. (Mauritania’s flag is green and yellow.)

2. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS

Whoa! That’s a big emblem on the flag of Belize. There are two guys on it who aren’t wearing shirts. They look like characters you’d meet on the Simpsons or something. They have belts and muscles and white pants but no shoes. Someone thought this was a good idea. One fellow is equipped with an oar and the other is holding an axe, which you don’t see every day. The motto translates as, “Under the shade, I flourish.”

Costa Rica’s flag is nice, the only one in this horizontal category without an emblem.

El Salvador’s flag looks quite smart from a distance. Let’s go in for a closer look at that emblem. Well, it gets worse as it gets closer and closer to the center. The gold lettering is arranged in a circle, and that looks good. The leaves look nice, and they are tied artfully with a blue ribbon. The flags are arranged handsomely. But then – but then, you hit the triangle. Inside the triangle is a five-coloured rainbow, the Pacific ocean, a ridge of volcanoes illuminated by the sun, and, on a pole, in front of the sun, is the red Phrygian cap. I wish we could be done with the cap on a stick thing.

Honduras’s flag has nice colours, but your eye is drawn to the five stars arranged in a ninja pose.

Haiti’s emblem is strange because the design is placed on a white background. Everybody knows that’s not how you do an emblem, especially if you’re going to put it on a background of blue and red. It looks dorky. As for the emblem . . . AAAAGHHH! IT’S THE HAT! IT’S THE HAT! I CANNOT ESCAPE THE HAT ON A STICK!!!!

That’s right. It’s the cap again.

But that’s not all. The cap is on a pole which is stuck onto the top of a palm tree which is behind a drum which has two axes protruding from it. The drum is flanked by two trumpets pointing downwards and two cannons and two anchors. There are six flags and six long guns. There is a broken chain on the lawn (symbolizing freedom from slavery). I cannot figure out what the remaining items are. There are several golden balls on the lawn, and there are white flask-like shapes. On one cannon is, perhaps, a mortar and pestle. On the other cannon is something which looks something like a helmet. It’s just time to declutter. Let’s start with that cap.

3. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH CHEVRONS

The flag of the Bahamas is blue and yellow overlapped by a black chevron.

Cuba’s flag would have gone into the stripey category, but the presence of a chevron takes priority. It’s got a white star on its red chevron.

4. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Guatemala’s flag is very pretty, and the coat of arms looks attractive from a distance. Closer inspection brings you up close and personal with some weapons, however, including Remington rifles with bayonets and two swords. Sitting atop a scroll is a bird called a ‘resplendent quetzal.’ Reading about the resplendent quetzal only made me think of more reasons birds should stay off flags. This bird was associated with the snake god, Quetzalcoatl. The female bird often neglects her young. The resplendent quetzal is classified as ‘near threatened.’ Apparently, this bird was known to kill itself when held in captivity, and so somebody (maybe the bird?) decided that it should be a symbol of liberty.

The flag of Barbados is blue and yellow with part of a black trident. The trident is a three-pronged spear, and needs a stick to be of any use. This one is broken, and somebody decided that it should be a symbol of liberty.

And now we come to the Canadian flag. I didn’t know where it would wind up, but here it is, in the middle of the middle category. It’s centered, you could say. And indeed, the Canadian flag has a red maple leaf centered on a white background flanked by two red panels. You can fold the flag by placing the red panels on top of the white area, shutter style, in order to make a square.

It’s a great flag. Did you really think I would say otherwise? Let me count the ways. One: It has no rifles, Remington or otherwise. It has no spears or machetes or axes or clubs or cannons or shields or tridents, broken or otherwise. Two: It has no birds or snakes or dragons or animals of any kind. Three: It has no distorted astrological elements such as smiling suns, excessively pointy crescent moons or red stars. Four: It has a normal rectangular shape with normal proportions. Five: It is horizontally symmetrical, which in itself has two benefits. First, it means that whether it is read from left to right or right to left, or whether you see it from the front or the back, it’s the same. It’s still Canada. Second, symmetry is, in itself, attractive. Six: It cannot easily be mistaken for another flag. Seven: The colours are good. Eight: The red does not represent blood and there are no representations of anything negative. Nine: It is easy enough to draw from memory. Ten: It is transparent, both in the sense that it is not layered with symbolism and in the sense that seeing it from a distance gives you almost everything that you get from seeing it up close. Eleven: The leaf has eleven points.

I remember learning to draw the stylized maple leaf when I was five. It’s an interestingly shaped leaf — well-suited for emblem use, and the tree can be grown from Victoria to Prince Edward Island. I have such a tree in my own yard, and I can say that the red that you see on the flag is not an exaggeration.

Maple Leaf, square format

Mexico’s flag just did not work out. There have been many renditions of this eagle eating a snake while standing on top of a prickly pear cactus which is on a rock which is on a lake. The cactus on the current version looks cartoon-like. The first eagle, from 1821, was too big, but better. That eagle had a crown and wasn’t holding a snake. The cactus, the rock and the water were all better than they are now.

The flag of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines (doesn’t that sound like the name of a band?) is pleasing to look at, and clever in a subtle way. Three diamonds are arranged in the shape of a “v.” The colours are nice.

5. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH A STRONG DIAGONAL ELEMENT

The flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis has a diagonal black band. These thick diagonal black bands are not a good idea, especially when the background is yellow or red.

Trinidad & Tobago’s flag is no better.

6. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA THAT ARE SUPER STRIPEY

The United States flag is so recognizable that one can hardly objectively analyze it. I can’t imagine the United States having anything else, though we know that the flag has changed many, many times since its initial adoption to show the different number of states. The current version, with 50 stars, dates from 1960. If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state, then I suppose the United States will have a brand new flag, sort of. This is the problem with basing your flag on your political boundaries. It’s definitely a busy flag, and not at all symmetrical, but I can live with it.

7. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

There are four countries whose flags don’t fit.

St. Lucia’s flag is blue with triangles overlapping each other. I see three colours (black, white and yellow) but I don’t know how many triangles I am supposed to count. I suppose I should see them as two, because the triangles represent the two volcanoes, which makes me notice that there are ‘canoes’ in ‘volcanoes,’ but in the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that they’re technically ‘volcanic plugs’ and not volcanoes. At the same time, the thin line of white (arguably a third triangle) and the big triangle of black are supposed to represent two races living harmoniously. The yellow triangle represents sunshine and, at the same time, prosperity. It’s confusing and it doesn’t look good either.

Panama’s flag was designed by the family of Panama’s first leader. The flag features a small red star and a small blue star, which coordinate with the quadrants of the flag that are red and blue. It has a buoyant, almost circus feeling to me. It’s fun to look at.

The flag of Antigua and Barbados has a yellow sun rising in a black sky, which spells failure from the get-go. The intention of the designer was to have a strong “v” shape (victory) and so everything is made to fit into the red V.

Did someone say circus? Grenada’s flag is circus material, for sure. Gold stars are on the wide red perimeter, and then there’s one in the middle inside a red circle. The background is divided into green and yellow, diagonally, and that flame-like thing floating almost randomly on one of the green triangles is a clove of nutmeg.

I bet you didn’t see that coming. I didn’t, but I guess it all comes down to a clove of nutmeg. It makes me think of that William Carlos Williams poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” one of the first poems I loved. It still has a place in my heart. This bud’s for you, Grenada:

 

The Brown Shelled Nut

so much depends
upon
the lone nutmeg
clove

placed on the bright
flag

without the white
chickens.

 

Post 253

The English Evasion: Reflections on Etiquette

Christianity is found all over the world and in different eras. It has bathed certain regions of the world so thoroughly that the foundation of those regions are entirely saturated with Christian values and outlooks. Those who inhabit those regions today have a Judeo-Christian mindset without even realizing it. They take it for granted, for instance, that there is something deeply wrong with suicide and torture and infant-sacrifice and infidelity. When dealing with such issues, the dialogue is different. Those who declare themselves on the side of various forms of immorality have the style of revolutionaries, and this is fitting, because they are rising up against an ancient and wise tradition of moral know-how.

The difficulty that I want to explore has to do with the expressions of Christianity. Although Christianity, and specifically, Catholicism is oft seen as a system of rigorous and overly-restrictive picky rules, the truth is that there is, even within Catholicism – the most intellectually and spiritually complete version of Christianity – a tremendous amount of freedom. Christianity is compatible with every decent human culture. It is not, of course, compatible with all aspects of those cultures which have core practices antithetical to human dignity. In those cases, adoption of Christianity will result in abolition of abortion, infanticide, polygamy, self-mutilation and so on.

It is to be expected, then, that the expression of Christianity will be informed by one’s culture. The idea about how to be a good Christian will be shaped and influenced by the culture in which Christianity is practiced.

The Christian Golden Rule, to treat others as you would want to be treated, is expressed in various ways throughout the world. Cultural customs are retained, to a large extent, and so if you grow up as a good Christian in Japan, you’ll make sure not to walk around in someone’s home wearing your outdoor shoes. If you grow up as a good Christian in Italy, you might be quite accustomed to treating traffic signals as suggestions. If you grow up as a good Christian in Korea, you might interrupt your neighbour in eager conversation, but you’ll never blow your nose at the table, of course.

And that reminds me: did you know about Catholicism’s role in the development of Korean cuisine?

The Korean fascination with the chili is in itself a fascinating story since the chili originated botanically in the Valley of Mexico and Guatemala. The chili, which plays a central part in the high-voltage cooking of Korea, has developed a significance of its own in denoting the machismo of how much one can eat without gasping for breath . . . During the seven-year war that began in 1592 between Japan and Korea, Portuguese Catholic priests accompanied Japanese troops to Korea. The Portuguese took along the chili seeds or plants that the Spanish had brought from Central America to Europe. And so the chili entered Korea via Japan and took hold with a vengeance never to be relinquished.

— Copeland Marks, The Korean Kitchen:
Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm

(In other words, the Japanese didn’t have an interest in it, but the Koreans said to themselves, “Hey hey hey, whaddya think about mixing in some of this, eh?”)

If you grow up as a Christian in North America, your ideas about how to be a good Christian (or even, about how to be a good person) will be very much shaped by the English social norms. This is not necessarily a good thing. We owe a great debt to England in many ways, but it’s time to stop and think about some of these English tendencies.

Two tendencies are very English. The first has to do with appearing calm in all situations. The second has to do with indirectness.

You’ve heard the expression “stiff upper lip.” It’s a reference to both staying strong against the enemy and staying strong against oneself, where one is tempted to collapse in an emotional heap or pummel one’s mother-in-law. It’s an English thing.

Nevertheless, you would be entirely wrong in thinking that the British are without emotions. Their emotions run as deep as those of any human being. You can see this by noting that their artistic expression has the full range of human sentiment. I like what Elgar I’ve heard, and everyone knows that Shakespeare’s works show great insight into the human heart.

Chesterton spoke about how a Spanish man will run up to embrace his young son, but an English man won’t let himself. Chesterton said a Russian man will say, “Hello, I’m so-and-so and I killed my sister because her boots squeaked, how do you do?” I paraphrase his exaggeration, but there’s something to be said for such an approach. Indeed, there’s an openness of expression found in many other cultures that is frowned upon in the world of the English, particularly in upper-class circles.

England is very much a class-driven society. It is palpable when you’re there. There’s the Queen, and then there’s, well, you. The Trump phenomenon strikes the English as a prime example of the perils of the chaotic and ‘classless’ American way, where ‘just anybody’ can rise up to do anything.

The wealthy and those who pretend to be wealthy are dignified, reserved and very cold – on the outside, that is. On the inside, they’re as warm-blooded as any Chilean, as hot-blooded as a Korean soap opera star.

In the mind of an Englishman, being polite always involves being composed. Enthusiasm must be tempered and so must anger. All expressions of human sentiment must pass through a filter of respectability and decorum. You are left with what is tepid. You are left with what is neither hot nor cold.

But the emotions are there, and all of the anger and the hostility and the peevishness and small-mindedness are there. They are hidden under a veneer of perfect civility. The emotions are there, and the unspoken thoughts are there! Conversely, the words of love and tenderness and loyalty and heartfelt empathy are there. They just remain unspoken, is all. You complain?

The second attribute has to do with indirectness. I was recently chatting with a Ph.D. candidate who has a Slavic background, and she spoke about her impression of Canadians. She said that they were two-faced. She didn’t elaborate, but she did not need to. I know what she means. In their interactions with you, they are unfailingly smiley and agreeable. Once you turn your back, however, they will mutter to themselves or a close friend that you have failed in this way and that. She said that she once asked a classroom of students to separate a list of adjectives into two piles. Put the positive human qualities here and put the negative human qualities over there. Kind, trustworthy, generous, well, those go over here. Selfish, dishonest, blunt, well, those go over there. Whoa! She was so shocked – why do these Canadians categorize bluntness and directness as being a bad thing?

It’s our heritage. Our English heritage tells us that confronting things directly is ill-advised. Confronting an issue head-on could lead to conflict, and, of course, conflict is always bad. It could result in emotions being inadvertently expressed, which, of course, is bad. You see?

The English language therefore makes use of many round-about methods of talking. There are many circuitous ways of making statements and asking questions, to avoid direct engagement. You can speak in generalities, and you can speak using the hypothetical and you can speak in the passive voice where things happen without anybody making them happen. They are just The Way Things Went, The Way They Are and The Way They Will Always Be. And of course, there are many conversations about the weather, to avoid the elephant in the room. “Would you like me to change your tires?” “Oh, no thank you, I had them done just yesterday, as a matter of fact.”

It is viewed as polite, and, sadly, it is often viewed as The Christian Way.

Man. That’s when you need Jesus to walk in and kick the tea tray down the hall.

You’ll see that the heroines of the best English novels (written by Bronte, Austen, Gaskell) don’t play by the rules if the rules get in the way. They surprise and scandalize those who are ‘proper’ because they say what needs to be said and they refuse to say what is expected to be said. Deep down, we admire that, and so such novels continue to be popular. Chesterton’s protagonists are similarly simple and free, and do not follow the predictable style of the English upper classes. His heroes show their cards and they show their loyalty. When lines are crossed, words are spoken and sometimes swords follow words. His protagonists break the mold, and will break window panes if Our Lady is defamed. His heroes know how to fight for a worthy cause and they do.

Chesterton showed that the proper expression of Christianity was not shackled by the English upper-class’s definition of good manners. It’s important to separate the two things. Being well-mannered according to the English or Canadian standard is not an indication of your holiness as a Christian.

As a matter of fact, you can be on both ends of the spectrum at once. Here’s Horace, and he’s as polite as can be, but he relishes every opportunity to show that everyone around him is not nearly as composed as he is. He particularly likes any evidence that someone is flustered or perturbed. He is Mr. Unflappable. He enjoys verbal duels, and will use language designed to confuse or impress or both. He aims to unsettle and disturb others so that he can be, by contrast, very collected. It’s disgraceful, really, especially because it is underhanded. What seems to be politeness and restraint is disguised venom. When he meets his match, Horace resorts to the other English tactic: evasion. When his questions and attacks have been answered in full, he refuses to acknowledge that he has been answered. He poses yet another question. When asked a question, he pretends it went unheard. When asked the question again, he says that it is unanswerable. After causing trouble and hardship to others, he neither apologizes nor accepts responsibility. He haughtily says, “Pity,” and expects you to act as if all is business as usual.

In the other corner, we have Horatio. Horatio is a character. He has a big laugh and a big heart. His poker face is second to none, but if the Oilers lose in overtime, he takes it pretty hard. Horatio doesn’t colour within the lines and you never quite know what he thinks, until he tells you. He’ll tell you his opinion using words you’ll understand, and is unimpressed when archbishops use phrases such as “ratified this truth” when half the congregation has English as its second language. When you’ve made him happy, you’ll probably know. When you’ve hurt him, you’ll probably know. He’ll call you out using words you’ll understand. Those who cross him claim to be utterly mystified as to his reasons, and you can believe them if you want. I’m going with Horatio. At least he tells the truth.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Etiquette is well and good until it becomes a lie. Decorum and manners have their place, but they mustn’t reign as king. By the time politeness has demanded this and that and the next thing, it might have become a demanding dictator. It can become a way of life that is so ingrained that one views everything through the lens of etiquette, and, what’s worse, it can become a counterfeit Christianity. Everything is judged by whether it meets the modern definition of good manners. It’s no longer Good versus Evil; it’s Good Manners versus Bad Manners.

Good manners and general civility in society is important, but it cannot be confused with virtue, and it must give way, as needed, to the demands of a moral life. We cannot forfeit truthfulness and genuine dialogue in the name of good manners. To do so would be to limit our lives and to lead a two-faced existence. How many people imprison themselves behind a false mask of congeniality, going to their graves without expressing and living the truth of what they think and feel?

Does this mean that I am advocating temper tantrums when things don’t get well at the bank, the dentist’s and the podiatrist’s? No, it does not. Does it mean that I am in favour of screaming matches? It does not. It means that I am in favour of dialogue that doesn’t necessarily follow the script, because honest dialogue rarely does. I am in favour of real questions being asked and fair questions being answered fully and truthfully.

I know that there are saints who tell us to smile always and to be cheerful always, but those must be classified as suggestions applicable in some, but not all, contexts. Suggestions are good, but they should not be burdensome. These ideas are not in the Gospel and they are not in church teaching, so let’s not get carried away with this type of thinking, and treat, “Thou Shalt Smile” as the eleventh commandment. Jesus didn’t go around wearing a t-shirt that said, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” He did what he needed to do and he wasn’t smiling while he suffered in the innumerable ways that he suffered. It would have been unnatural.

The emphasis on demeanor is in the same category as St. Josemaria’s direction that one must not talk about food while eating. He says one should talk about intellectual or spiritual things in order to dignify the duty of eating. Such things about the details of everyday life are suggestions, not commands of the Catholic Church. To think otherwise would be to make the Church excessively and obsessively controlling. In the case of this suggestion, there are valid arguments in favour of talking about food at the table, in keeping with the themes of sincerity and simplicity in other parts of his writing. After all, Jesus wants us to be like children, and children will joyfully talk about food or whatever comes to mind, for that matter. Children are natural, and we’d be in a stifled world if we couldn’t speak about food and prayer and gardening and the latest homily and fiber optic networks in the same wide-ranging conversation. Besides, the cook is often anxious about whether the food has pleased her guests. If I enjoy food, I say so simply, and when others say they like what I serve, that makes me happy too. Why complicate matters? Similarly, if I am pleased, I smile. If I’m not, I don’t. Why add layers of Christian ‘requirements’ to life? Take such things as ideas for yourself, reminding you that there are things more important than food to talk about, but don’t take it as a rule, and don’t judge Sister Annata when she says these are the best asparagus spears she’s ever had.

So let’s be clear about things. At the end of the day, we’ll be judged on what we have in our heart towards God and our neighbours. Jesus had, at all times, immense love of God his Father. His heart could not have been more cheerful and happy, and he was full of love for those around him, but this was not expressed by a strict adherence to Jewish etiquette. He was a gentle man, but he wasn’t evasive. Indeed, when necessary, his words were direct and as sharp as a sword.

He was a gentle man, but thank God, he wasn’t an English gentleman.

 

Post 252

Sunburn: Reflections on the Flags of South America

1. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH CROSSES

Brazil’s flag is, well, strange. It features the stars arranged as they were at such-and-such a time on such-and-such a date in November of 1889. They’re not arranged the way anybody would have seen them, but rather, they’re arranged the way someone looking down from the other side of all the stars towards Rio de Janeiro would have seen them. That’s why the Southern Cross looks reversed. (It’s there, however, and that’s why it’s in this category.) Even with my limited knowledge of such things, I know that this gets tricky really quickly. Where, exactly, would you position this hypothetical observer? You have to make sure that all the stars are in front of him, which would mean that the stars closer to him would look really bright and big, while the stars further away from him would look smaller. These stars are on a deep blue background shaped like a sphere. This sphere appears tilted, as if on an axis, and reminds you of Earth, except that when you look for the land masses, you see none. This blue star-speckled sphere is then placed on a yellow rhombus. The background of the flag is green and a banner is wrapped around the blue sea or earth or sky.

2. HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND NO EMBLEMS

The upper half of Colombia’s flag is yellow, and the lower half is equal parts blue and red. After looking at flags divided into equal horizontal thirds, the Colombian flag looks off-balance, but once you get used to thinking in terms of halves and quarters, it works. The colours are good here and suited to a South American country.

3. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Ecuador’s flag has a coat of arms in the middle, the kind where you zoom in to see it better, and then you keep zooming because there are so many details. It’s kind of funny, because as I zoom in on the ship, finding details upon details, I half expect to see a loaf of bread with some cheese somewhere in this picture. I really like details in paintings. Do I like them in flags? Flags are trickier because you hope that the population could draw it reasonably well from memory, and if your flag incorporates teensy-weensy lines on the surface of a body of water to represent waves, and tufts of grass outlined just so, then getting it right isn’t easy. But more importantly, the success of details depends on what the details are. I don’t mind this steamboat on water scene, with the mountain in the back. I like the draping flags. There are a large number of pointy weapons, from what I can tell.

However, I could do without the smiley-faced sun and the astrological symbols and the Caduceus (staff with intertwined snakes). As for the big vulture atop the coat of arms, well, do I really need to talk about birds again?

Oh great. Bolivia has a condor too. I guess there’s no escaping him. Here’s another coat of arms featuring a mountain scene. This one has an alpaca standing next to a palm tree and some wheat. There’s a collection of weapons (two rifles and an axe), and the sun has two eyes. This sun is red, however, and has eyebrows. You can’t see the sun’s nose or mouth because he’s behind the mountain.

Argentina’s flag is blue and white, but in the middle is a golden sun with a face on it. He looks like the same guy who was rising in the Bolivian flag – same eyebrows and eyes. It’s not a good idea to have a face in the sun on your flag. It’s just not.

Uruguay’s stripey flag has the same sunshiney face that Argentina does, which wrecks it. Some say that this “Sun of May,” is a reference to the time the sun broke through the clouds when the new government was proclaimed, but I believe the alternate theory that the “Sun of May” is the Inca sun god Inti. The sun that broke through the clouds that day didn’t have a face.

Four countries have Inti on them: Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay. Argentina and Uruguay have him huge and on his own, but Ecuador and Bolivia have him as part of the landscape, sort of.

Venezuela’s flag is nice. It has three horizontal bands of equal size. The middle band is blue and has an arc of stars representing different states, which is one of these ideas which sounds good at first, but then winds up causing a hassle when new states are carved out of existing ones. Things get political and then you have to change your flag. Using your nation’s geography can work better, but borders of states and nations have been known to change from time to time, to put it mildly. Venezuela’s flag has its own anthem and student’s oath.

The flag of Suriname, which would have been pretty good in the context of the flags of Asia, is still not particularly appealing, looking like a less precise version of North Korea’s flag. On the plus side, it doesn’t have a sun with a face in it.

Paraguay’s flag is red, white and blue. It’s unusual because it has one style of emblem on the front and a different style of emblem on the back. There’s a lion on one side. He’s sitting up and looking to the left. He’s not happy. His tongue is sticking out and his teeth are on it. He’s biting his tongue, you could say. He has lots of pointy claws. On a pole is a little red hat, which is the Phrygian cap. Hats almost never work. I like the front side better – some leaves tied with ribbons, a yellow star and “REPUBLICA DEL PARAGUAY” going around the circle.

4. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH CHEVRONS

Guyana’s flag has a triangle on top of a triangle. All these pointy points seem pointless.

5. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS

Peru has, arguably, one flag too many. The one that can be used by the citizens has a central vertical section of white, and red on both sides of this. The citizens are to use this one, which has no emblem. The other flag has an emblem in the middle, and that’s the one that is used for anything official. Let’s take a look at the emblem. The emblem has the vicuña, the national animal, the cinchona tree and a cornucopia with coins spilling from it. I think it’s the only flag we’ve seen with money on it. And how do you feel about cornucopias in general? The ‘horn of plenty’’ is quite filled with this and that mythology, which is not a plus. Here at the flag design school, students are discouraged from using them, especially with coins spilling out of them.

6. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

Chile’s flag has the elements of the American flag, but only one of each. One big red stripe, one big white stripe and one white star on a dark blue upper-left canton. The Chileans sometimes refer to their flag as the Lone Star. It’s the fifth oldest flag in the world, after Denmark, Netherlands, Nepal, France and the United Kingdom.

 

Up Next: The English Evasion

 

Post 251

Star Crossed: Reflections on the Flags of Oceania

1. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH CROSS SHAPES

In Oceania, the cross shows up in many forms.

Everyone knows the flag of the International Red Cross. They adopted it in 1863, but it was already Tonga’s flag at the time. Did they know that Tonga already had that as its national flag? In response, Tonga changed its flag to its current design, which features what is called a Greek cross in the upper left canton. Tonga doesn’t want to change its flag again, however, and the constitution says the flag can never be altered.

The following flags get a cross by incorporating the flag of the United Kingdom (“the Union flag”): Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue and Tuvalu. As I said in the previous post, I’m not keen on flags that incorporate other flags. It’s too large a tribute to pay another nation. Do something else. Send them flowers or a fruit basket once a year or put a plaque at the base of some tree in your capital city.

Speaking of fruit, I honestly thought that the closest I would come to a banana would be the flag of Mauritania. The yellow crescent moon, in that position, reminded me of a banana. I didn’t tell you that before, but now I abandon my usual reserve. Little did I know that I would not get far before encountering genuine bananas and several other food products. The coat of arms placed on the flag of Fiji is busy. Wikipedia explains: “At the top of the shield, a British lion holds a cocoa pod between its paws. The upper left is sugar cane, upper right is a coconut palm, the lower left a dove of peace, and the lower right a bunch of bananas.” That sounds fabulous. What can you make with coconut, sugar, cocoa and bananas?

You can make a lot, seriously.

The cross also shows up in several Oceania flags in the form of the constellation known as “Crux,” or the Southern Cross. Australia has this, as does Papau New Guinea, New Zealand and Samoa. What do you think of having a constellation in your flag? While a cross works better than other shapes, I don’t think a flag is the place for a constellation. A constellation is not particular to one region; it represents the broadest of areas.

Tuvalu, however, has the right idea. They have an arrangement of stars, and at first sight, you believe that you’re looking at a constellation. However, those stars show the quantity and geographical position of the nation’s islands. The islands are represented by yellow stars, and the background is a light blue. Another point in Tuvalu’s favour is the colour of its stars; they’re yellow. Stars should be white or yellow, not red with white outlines (New Zealand’s flag has that).

Papau New Guinea has a disturbing black and red flag. To look at it is to wonder what type of creature is flying against the red background. I’ll tell you. It’s not a butterfly and it’s not a moth. This floppity thing is the Raggiana bird-of-paradise, which shows there’s a lot to be said about having a more recognizable bird on your flag if you need to have a bird (you don’t). As I said, it’s not easy to get animals right. Once you stylize them (here the bird is a yellow silhouette), they usually lose their attractiveness. On the opposite side of this flag is the southern cross.

Niue, which has the Union flag in the top left canton, added more stars to it, to represent, among other things, the Southern Cross. The technical name for this further decoration is to say that the Union Flag is “defaced.” Wikipedia comments: “It is very unusual for a flag based on a British ensign design, in having not only a yellow background, but also a defaced Union Jack in the canton.” I dislike it.

The Southern Cross is so commonly used in this region that other flags, almost subconsciously, feature a diamond-style arrangement of stars as well, and you have to look twice to see if it’s the constellation. The designer of the Solomon Islands flag specifically said that his arrangement was NOT the Southern Cross, thank you very much.

Constellations have always been a stretch for me. There’s a whole bunch of dots, and even when I connect them according to the package instructions, I still don’t wind up with that glorious image of a bear or an archer or a waiter walking in carrying champagne (and those stars right there are the bubbles).

2. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Nauru’s flag looks strikingly upside-down. Is it the only flag with its primary emblem in the lower left section? I guess there was Cape Verde’s flag, but in that case, the emblem extended closer to the centre.

Why is it there? Okay, so this is the deal. That skinny line going across the middle is the equator. The star just below the equator represents the island nation of Nauru. Naura is just one degree south of the equator. Why is the star is so far to the left? WiseOne suggests that it might be because Naura is to the left of the nearby international date line. Let’s go with that.

I think this flag is highly amusing, in a good way. It begins as a complete mystery, but once you know what it depicts, you say, “Ohhhh!” and then you laugh.

3. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH CHEVRONS

Vanuatu’s flag looks like it has a snail on it, but it doesn’t. That’s a boar’s tusk. Boars are big on this flag. The top part is red in order to represent the blood of men and boars. Alrighty.

4. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH A STRONG DIAGONAL ELEMENT

The flag of the Solomon Islands has five stars in the upper blue diagonal half. These are the stars that are not in the shape of the Southern Cross. It’s pretty good.

The flag of Marshall Islands is visually strong. So many flags try so desperately hard to be dynamic or exciting, but not many flags are. This one was designed by Emlain Kabua, the first lady of the new republic. The star manages to look bright, and the diagonal stripes widen as they go from the bottom left corner to the top right, creating a sense of motion. It’s similar to Nauru’s flag in that it refers to the island’s geographical position. The stripes represent the equator and the star represents the island.

5. FLAGS OF OCEANIA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

There are three countries whose flags don’t fit.

The flag of the Federated States of Micronesia is blue and it has four stars representing the member states: Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap. They’re arranged on the flag like the points of a compass, but that’s not how they appear in reality. In reality, they are in a line. It’s fine.

Palau’s flag is blue with a big yellow disc on it. Nothing is what you expect with this one. The blue doesn’t represent the sky or the sea. It represents the transition from foreign domination to self-government, somehow. The big yellow disc is not the sun. It’s the moon. And worst of all, that big yellow disc isn’t in the middle. It’s ever so slightly to the left. Odd.

Kiribati has a bird and a sun and lotsa wavity waves. Big blue and white lines go up and down and up and down and the sky is red and the sun with wiggly rays is yellow and the bird is flyin.’ The bird is yellow from beak to tail and goes flap flap flap. The flag will flap and so will the bird. It’s a frigatebird. You don’t want the frigatebird on your flag – trust me. You’ve seen his type on those animal video documentaries, and I think I saw you laughing when you saw that “the males have inflatable red-coloured throat pouches called gular pouches, which they inflate to attract females during the mating season.” I heard your dismay when you heard that frigatebirds are known for their stealing of baby birds from other birds nests, and you seemed grossed out when I told you that they “will rob other seabirds of their catch, using their speed and manoeuvrability to outrun and harass their victims until they regurgitate their stomach contents.” Strange birds. The females are up to 25% larger than the males.

Kiribati is, you could say, a strange country. Until January 1, 1995, part of it was on one side of the International Date Line, and the other part of it was on the other side, which meant that one side was 24 hours ahead of the other. Kiribati decided that enough was enough and moved the International Date Line, which means that the International Date Line is now quite a bit stranger.

Up Next: Flags of South America

 

Post 250

Red Yellow Green: Reflections on the Flags of Africa

1. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH CROSS SHAPES

There is one country in Africa with a cross shape. Burundi has a white saltier, also known as the Saint Andrew’s cross. Scotland has one. Burundi’s flag has a green and red background, and in the centre of the flag, there’s a white disc. There are three stars, each with six points, shaped like the star of David, arranged on the disc. If you want religious symbolism, this flag is about as diverse as it gets, especially if you remember how much the Islamic countries liked to incorporate green and red. The big disc in the middle arguably has an Asian feel as well. So what happens to a flag that is everything all at once? I think it winds up with a bit of an identity crisis.

2. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND NO EMBLEMS

The flag of Mauritius has four colours. You don’t find very many flags with four horizontal bands in different colours like this one. I don’t mind it.

The flag of Botswana is a very nice blue, but running across the middle is a black stripe, bordered on the top and the bottom by white. Blue and white are such a great combination that even a big stripe of black isn’t enough to ruin it, as Estonia can testify. And in the case of Botswana, they have the best excuses ever for that black and white in the middle. It represents peace between races, and something else: the zebra. That’s cool.

Gambia’s flag has the same design as Botswana’s, but with different colours. It’s pretty good too.

Sierra Leon and Gabon both have really nice flags. They have refreshing and cheerful colours and just look plain smart. Sierra Leon has green, white and blue, and Gabon has green, yellow and blue.

That’s it for the ones without emblems. Things get more interesting when we move to the ones with emblems, but interesting isn’t always a good thing . . .

3. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Rwanda’s flag isn’t bad. It has three colours and in the top right corner, there is a yellow sun which represents enlightenment. Should the sun be so far from the flagpole? What if the flag gets tattered, as many flags do? The first thing you lose is enlightenment.

Cape Verde’s flag has all the right pieces, but the arrangement is just ‘off.’ I have the urge to flip it the other way, so that the band is in the top half of the flag and so the circle of stars is in the centre or to the right or something.

Kenya’s flag is – whoa – what is that in the middle? A beetle? Okay. It’s a stylized Maasai shield and two spears crossed behind it. That one didn’t work out very well.

Ethiopia’s flag is strange from a colour point of view. The background colours of green, yellow and red are rather typical for Africa, but this one has a bright blue disc overlaid on the three colours, and in the middle is a stick-like star. The blue emblem is a relatively new addition, and although the star is supposed to testify to Ethiopia’s bright future, there is no bright future for those caught displaying the earlier version of the flag, which had no emblem. Various punishments await.

Malawi’s flag is a disaster. The top third of the flag is black and a red sun is rising in it. I don’t like red suns, especially if they rise in a black sky.

Speaking of suns, the flag of Niger has an orange disc in the middle, which represents either the sun or independence. I don’t think it’s good if your flag has a large circle in the middle for unknown reason.

Ghana’s background colours are red, yellow and green. In the middle is a black star. I don’t like black stars.

I want to say “Gambia’s flag has” but I see I should write, “The Gambia’s flag has.” That feels strange. The Gambia’s flag has red, blue and green bands separated by thin white bands. There are no surprises with this flag. Everything represents what you’d expect, but the red part represents the sun. The flag is fine and even likable.

Lesotho’s flag has nice enough background colours but something black and ‘interesting’ is in the middle. What is it? I’ll take a closer look and report back. Okay folks, it’s a hat. It’s a straw hat called a “mokorotlo.” Hmm. I suppose some places have crowns, and the Vatican flag has a bishop’s hat. I think the problem here, other than the fact that it’s rendered in black, is that you want something dignified for your flag, and folk symbols don’t always get you there. (Some animals, similarly, don’t get you there. A lion can look dignified, but a rooster won’t.) If you want to use folk symbols, I’d recommend incorporating them into a coat of arms style design, balanced with other objects from your kitchen and garage and cultural ceremonies.

Angola’s flag is red on the top and black and on the bottom, so it’s not off to a great start. The emblem here has three components, a star, half a gear and a machete (yes, a machete) arranged to remind one of the communist hammer and sickle. For a non-Islamic country, the flag sure reminds one of the Islamic flags.

Egypt’s flag is red on top, white in the middle and black on the bottom. Centred in the white band is the 1958 version of the golden Eagle of Saladin. I was surprised at how difficult it was to get basic information about this flag. I wanted to know, for instance, what the writing on the flag was, underneath the eagle. Finally, I found it. It says, “Arab Republic of Egypt.” The black band at the bottom of the flag represents the period of time when Egypt was under British control. Thus the Egyptian flag is one of many flags which incorporate symbols into its current flag which express negativity toward a past era. I don’t think that’s a good idea. It seems to me that any country or institution will undergo various hardships and struggles. Why memorialize these things and elevate them by giving them such prominence? Similarly, I have so often seen red on flags, with the idea that it symbolizes bloodshed on the way to independence. Is this a good idea? A country should be defined by what it is, and not by what it was against. Unity is one thing, but unity against an enemy of the time is another. If you knew nothing about history, you would imagine that England was the worst of powers, as you consider all the flags emphasizing their independence from it. Was England’s role entirely dastardly? Was the era under England entirely black? Egypt’s flag says that it was, but I believe that these ‘revolutionary’-style flags are sometimes designed in the heat of the moment, when recent losses and struggles are uppermost in the minds of those who decide on emblems and symbolism. But anyway, to return to Egypt’s flag, this eagle has a real Egyptian feel to it, by which I mean that it’s sculpted and stiff. Rigid animals are their forte. This art and this atmosphere are initially intriguing, pulling you in, until you realize that you really want to get out.

Let’s look at Libya. Red on the top, black next and green on the bottom. White star and crescent in the middle. Haven’t I seen this before?

Burkina Faso’s flag has a Christmasy feel to it: red and green with a normal-looking golden star in the middle. Nothing to complain about here. It’s distinct yet simple and rather cheerful.

Swaziland’s flag was interesting enough before the emblem arrived. The emblem is a black and white shield with a staff and two spears and some blue feathers. All of these over-sized items are shown horizontally. It’s as if the graphic designer just kept going and going and nobody had the nerve to tell him to stop.

4. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH CHEVRONS

Africa has a lot of chevron flags. Look at all these countries: Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Comoros, Democratic Republic of São Tomé & Príncipe, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

Sudan’s flag is red white and black with a green chevron. It looks painfully similar to all the other flags with those colours in the Middle East.

South Sudan’s flag is similar to Sudan’s flag but it has small white stripes dividing the horizontal lines and a bright blue chevron with a tipsy yellow star on it. It really looks like the unsuccessful merger of two completely incompatible visual ideas.

Eritrea’s flag isn’t technically a chevron. It’s an isosceles triangle that extends from one end of the flag to the other. The red colour represents – you guessed it – blood from something at some time. You should take a look at this flag because it’s has a real optical-illusion feel to it. When you look at it, don’t you find that the fly side of the flag (on the right) appears to be bigger than the hoist side of the flag? The golden emblem of leaves looks quite good from a distance.

Djibouti has quite a good flag – blue and green with a white chevron. I don’t like stars in red (here it represents the blood of the ‘martyrs of independence,’) but at least it’s not an ocean.

If I ran a flag school, I think I might start with the flag of Comoros. It would be an example of a flag where many things were attempted at once with questionable results. It looks like a group project gone wrong. The colours don’t coordinate and the themes compete. Here are some stripes, here’s a chevron. Let’s add a crescent and some stars. Hmm, how shall we arrange them? I know! Let’s make them all in a column in a line. Hey! I know, I know! Let me talk, will you? The BEST. IDEA. EVER. We’ll put them in a VERTICAL LINE!!! We’ll stack ’em up and they’ll go from one end of the crescent to the other. We are AMAZING!

The flag of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé & Príncipe is just kind of ugly. Red chevron, two black stars on a green and yellow background. It’s as if they weren’t trying.

Mozambique. I took a look at this one and I can say that even when it’s only one inch across, it’s clearly a flag that didn’t work. Let’s go take a look. Hoo boy. Okay, so these folks are really into layering. On the stripes is a red chevron. On the red chevron is a yellow star. On the yellow star is a white book. On the white book is a black hoe. On the black hoe is a black rifle. Yes, I did write, “rifle.” It’s supposed to represent vigilance and defence. The word “symbol” here is quite a stretch. When you start including precisely shaped weapons, you’re making a catalogue and not a flag. Weapons are bad enough, but modern weapons are even less poetic. What’s the idea here? If you trespass against us, we’ll take our rifles and blam blam blam?

Zimbabwe has a very stripey flag, but I’m going to keep it here with all the chevron ones, instead of putting it into my special stripey flag category. On this white chevron, there is what looks like a yellow duck with front paws attached to some kind of rectangular base. That, my friends, is the Zimbabwe Bird. The flag features a drawing of this bird, based on an artifact found somewhere (presumably in Zimbabwe) at some time (presumably a while ago). If you want to know more, you’ve got Wikipedia.

South Africa isn’t exactly a chevron flag, but it’s got that kind of an idea. It’s has two lines coming to a point and continuing on together as one line. It is a colourful roadway sign, signalling that it’s time to merge. Put your turn signal on.

The people who made the flag for Equatorial Guinea were in the same class as the people who made the flag of Comoros. They had a lot of the same ideas, so maybe the class assignment required the use of horizontal bands, a chevron and stars. This group decided to place the stars in an arc along the top, and their big innovation was a tree in the middle. I’ll give the prize to this group, because the colours are more pleasing, the motto is solid (“Unidad, Paz, Justicia”), and the tree is likable enough.

5. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS BUT NO EMBLEMS

Romania had a flag which was blue, yellow and red, and it did not have any emblems on it. However, during the Communist era, the flag was changed. The flag was changed so that there was an emblem in the centre. It had that emblem from more than forty years, from 1948 – 1989. I mention this because it means that when Chad chose a flag for itself, in 1959, the plain blue, yellow and red flag was not being used. I’m on Chad’s side on this one. A country cannot reserve for itself all variations of a flag. I sympathize with Romania in wanting to return to its pre-Communist flag, but it wasn’t available by 1989. By 1989, Chad had been using the flag for thirty years. A solution? Romania has a horizontal version of the blue, yellow and red flag in its history; it could return to that one.

The flags of Guinea and Mali are so similar that it’s a shame. Green yellow red yellow green. It’s not a good idea for one region of the world to use the same colour scheme over and over again, whether it’s those colours, the black, white, red and green combination or the red, white and blue combination. It becomes both boring and confusing.

Ivory Coast’s flag is, admittedly, different from Ireland’s flag. For one thing, the colours are in a different sequence. Ireland had it’s flag beginning in 1922, and Ivory Coast chose its flag in 1959. The visual impact, however, is the same. The other consideration is that flags are meant, for the most part, to be seen from both sides, which means that they can look even more similar to each other in some contexts. It’s too bad that Ivory Coast couldn’t have chosen something different.

Nigeria has green, white and then green again. It’s a unique flag, surprisingly, and it’s really quite fine.

6. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS WITH EMBLEMS

Algeria’s flag is green on the left and white on the right. A red star and an excessively pointy crescent are in the middle.

Like many African countries, Cameroon has a green, red and yellow flag. A yellow star is in the middle. What can I say that I haven’t already said? In the context of all the flags so similar to it, this flag is forgettable.

Oh my! I actually didn’t see this coming. The flag is Senegal is almost exactly the same as Cameroon’s! It’s green, yellow and red (as opposed to green, red and yellow) and it has a red star in the middle (as opposed to a yellow star). Cameroon got the better deal here, because a yellow star is always better than a red one. On the other hand, are there any winners when everyone appears to be imitating everyone else?

7. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH A STRONG DIAGONAL ELEMENT

The flag of Seychelles is wild. From the bottom left corner, there are five ‘rays’ shooting outward, widening as they do. It’s not visually appealing.

In 1963, the Democratic Republic of Congo brought in a diagonal stripe, with an accent colour of yellow on each side of the stripe. These accent colours give the flags a finished look. In 2006, the country moved to a very bright shade of blue, unfortunately. The deeper blue looked more mature and dignified, and provided a more fitting background for the star.

In 1964, Tanzania’s two states merged and they adopted a similar style of flag. This one has a blue and green background and a diagonal stripe going from one corner to the other. The stripe is black with yellow accent stripes on each side. Black, as you should know, is difficult to work with (black goes well with, um, black), and when it is adjacent to certain colours, it can produce a negative visual result. Black with white can work, and blues and greens can have a softening effect on black. However, the combination of black with hotter colours (red, orange and yellow) can look downright alarming, as makers of traffic signs and warning labels realize.

The flag of Namibia, adopted in 1990 upon Namibia’s independence, seems to be an imitation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s, but the diagonal line is noticeably wider, which makes the diagonal line seem to be more of an interruption of the background (or even a cancellation of it). It has a stencil-style sun in the upper left corner.

The flag of the Republic of Congo (yes, this is a different country from the Democratic Republic of Congo) has the same old green yellow and red. I suppose having these colours on a diagonal does make them more interesting, but after seeing that colour scheme again and again, one almost wouldn’t mind seeing a duck instead.

I’m kidding.

Ducks don’t work on flags.

8. FLAGS OF AFRICA THAT ARE SUPER STRIPEY

Central African Republic has four horizontal stripes, but what makes this flag different is that there’s a vertical red stripe going down the middle, which has the effect of slicing those four horizontal stripes into eight rectangles.

Togo has five stripes in alternating green and yellow and since the colour theme of Africa is green, yellow and red, I am sure that you can guess the colour of the canton in the upper left. Yes, indeed, it is red. For five additional points, can you guess the shape of the emblem on that red canton? Yes, indeed, it is a star.

Liberia’s flag reminds me of the United States’ flag, and a bit of reading shows me that this was done deliberately. Back in 1822, the American Colonization Society was involved in setting up freed slaves in Liberia. Those freed slaves wanted to show their ties to the United States, distinguishing themselves from Liberians born in Liberia. This flag shows those ties. I’m not a big fan of these acorn-from-the-tree flags because there are enough colours and design possibilities that a new nation should be able to devise something unique. Close duplication drags down the flags of both countries.

Uganda has a stripey flag with a chicken. Or wait. A rooster? No, no, silly! It’s a gray crowned crane. Oh. Okay, so it turns out that cranes don’t work on flags either. They’re better than rifles, but putting a bird (or any animal, for that matter) into stylized flag lingo is not easy. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s easier to fail than to succeed. In any case, Uganda’s flag’s many stripes, in black, yellow and red, are hyper and the net effect of this animated-style crane on a white disc on a vibrantly striped background reminds me of a pizza box.

9. FLAGS OF AFRICA FEATURING RECTANGLES ON TOP OF RECTANGLES

Guinea-Bissau has a rectangle-based flag. I’m not going to have anything good to say about this flag. The colour scheme is the same ‘pan-African’ one red and green and yellow, and on the red rectangle, there’s a black star. Or wait, here’s something: a black star is better than a black rifle.

Speaking of pan-African, Benin’s flag is a colour block flag of green, yellow and red. This idea of having a colour scheme for a region is a very bad idea. Arguably, countries that share geographical regions have more to gain by distinguishing themselves from each other using their flags. After all, they are separate countries, aren’t they?

Madagascar’s flag has a white vertical section on the flagpole side, and the fly side is divided horizontally into green and red. I don’t mind it.

10. FLAGS OF AFRICA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

There are five countries here whose flags don’t fit.

Zambia’s flag is unexpected. On the fly side of the flag, there is an eagle, which symbolizing the Zambian people rising about the problems of the nation. Below the eagle, there are, presumably, the problems of the nation. Well, I guess not. I see that the black stands for the people (when they’re not rising about the problems of the nation?) and the red stands for their fight for freedom and the orange represents the land’s natural resources and mineral wealth. I don’t think that black should be used to represent people, because it is a total absence of colour. The colour symbolism is rather mixed up, as it is in many flags. You have the people represented twice, an event, and an attribute of the land. The design is innovative, and this is probably the best bird I’ve seen so far, but the composition looks unfinished. It’s rare to have the emblem on the right side, which in itself is an interesting phenomenon. There are so many countries with different cultures and religions, but there is, nevertheless, a general agreement as to where these important symbols go. They go in the middle or in the upper left corner.

Mauritania’s flag is completely green but in the centre there is a yellow star and crescent. This crescent isn’t even pretending to be a moon, positioned on its back with it’s ultra sharp points turned upwards.

Tunisia’s flag is completely red but in the centre there is a white disc containing a red star and crescent.

Morocco’s flag is completely red but in the centre there is a green star.

Somalia’s flag is completely blue but in the centre there is a white star.

That would be the second part of my hypothetical flag design school. I’d show the flag of Morocco next to the flag of Somalia as proof of the obvious: colours matter. If you don’t know which flag is better, then you haven’t been paying attention to these posts. If you don’t think there is such a thing as “better,” then you haven’t been paying attention to life.

Up Next: Flags of Oceania