The Lovers of Valadro

Thoughts from Dr. Joe They died young, probably during late adolescence. However by the looks of it, they were in love. Two 6,000-year-old prehistoric skeletons from the Neolithic period were found locked in an eternal embrace in Valdaro, near Verona, Italy, hidden from the eyes of humanity. It could be the oldest love story. Verona is where Shakespeare set the star-crossed lover’s tale "Romeo and Juliet." Incidentally Verona is the same area where Giuseppe Verdi set the opera Rigoletto, the story of doomed lovers. Archeologists believe the find has more emotional than scientific value. The lovers were adolescents of the Neolithic age, a formative period in the evolutionary development of society. It was during the Neolithic era when religious, societal and emotional sentiments were formed, particularly relative to family and village. Thus scientists and anthropological experts assert that the lovers’ embrace with arms and legs leave little doubt that their final connection was born out of deep sentiment. The remarkable story of the Lovers of Valdaro aligns with the aurora of love. Although we compose music, write love songs, prose and love stories we hardly scratch the surface attempting to intellectualize love’s phenomenology. Subsequently we encapsulate its mystery Read more

Channeling Father Flynn

Thoughts from Dr. Joe I first came face to face with Father Flynn in 1957; I was in the 5th grade. I had to answer for the D’s Sister Mary Judith gave me in behavior. Father told me I would hang from the flagpole at Saint Frances of Rome if I were to continue such antics. For the rest of that fall, I was his indentured servant. My servitude continued well after the fifth grade. I became his eyes and ears in the neighborhood, his muscle, and prosecuted his will in a tough Italian/Irish neighborhood in the Northeast Bronx. I was conscripted for life and couldn’t break the hold he had on me. Although Father Flynn has passed, I am linked to his memory. He was the reincarnation of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Genghis Khan. Saint Ignatius was a soldier before he found the Jesuits; Father served with the China Marines prior to ordination. It was rumored he became a priest to atone for the mayhem he cause growing up Hell’s Kitchen and what he did to the Japanese in the war. He was shrouded in mystery; that’s what made Read more

Thoughts from Dr. Joe

A Vote for Progress for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

My mom told me, “Never trust anyone who complains too much; they’re up to something.” She must have read Shakespeare!  He proposed a way of cutting through the minutia of an argument; it’s called finding the hidden agenda.   Remember in “Hamlet,” when Queen Gertrude says, “The lady doth protest too much methinks?”  I thought of Shakespeare when I saw “Protect La Canada Flintridge’s ad concerning the master plan construction project of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy (FSHA).

The intent of Sacred Heart’s master plan is to modernize the campus and there-by ensure the educational viability of a 21th century institution.  However, the hyperbole of the opposition with their banter and images is contrary to the reality of what is proposed by FSHA’s modernization project.  Shakespeare was a smart guy, subsequently he engineered Queen Gertrude’s phrase to mean that one can insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying.  Thus it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that such insistence raises a potential red flag.

I’m from the Bronx, and that makes me skeptical.  We call it street sense! Maybe it’s common sense!  But Bronx Boys have an uncanny knack of reading between the lines.

Do you think the opponents of FASH’s modernization give a darn about protecting La Canada?    If you do, I’m going to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s clear to me that their altruism fails before the imperative of self-interest.  Under the guise of stewardship, they are intent at impeding the progress of an institution that has been a good neighbor to this community for 81 years.  It’s always the same argument, once I’ve built my home nobody else can build above me.  Where’s the compromise.

Without compromise one is chained to a narrow vision.  The roads to righteousness and arrogance are parallel and it’s often difficult to decipher which path you are on. However the path to righteousness is paved with compromise and the road to arrogance is paved with self-interest.

I understand that those vehemently opposed to FASH may not exceed 12 individuals.  I learned at the University of Dayton in Father Leo’s statistics class that 12 is not a representative sample of the aggregate.   We are however a constitutional democracy therefore the opposition deserves their day in court.  Well, they’ve already had it.

Self-interest should never impede progress?  Without change there is no progress, only stagnation. Subsequently we become prisoners of our first amendment.  In science we learn that life generates itself through change.  Sacred Heart is intent on change, to create a better institution there-by continuing the noble work of educating young women.  When will rationality prevail over those who would impede the natural progression?  Inertia causes decay.

Throughout, Sacred Heart has taken the moral high ground.  They have been a good neighbor, accommodating to the will of the community, fostering honest dialogue, respecting the process, and have been open and transparent throughout.  John Milton said, “the best apology against false accusers is silence and sufferance, and honest deeds set against dishonest words.”  Righteousness lies in the moral in ground.

Margaret Kean, Chief Development Officer at FSHA explained, “We believe the process is good and if we follow the process the outcome will be good.”  However life is not always fair as it’s adjudicated by fallibility.  Thus the city council must decide.  Leaders do the right thing.

The strategic master plan at Sacred Heart is within their footprint.  It is a multi-phased modernization of facilities that are 60 years old.  It has a distinct purpose. With the advent of technology and their commitment to insure that FSHA graduates walk confidently, competently, and securely throughout the world, they seek a new pyridine.  Change!  Change brought mankind through the dark ages.  However it takes only a few misguided individuals to take us back to the dark ages.




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I heard them before I saw them.  It was a rumbling, a force to be reckoned with.  As the Suburban rolled defiantly down Foothill Boulevard eight teenagers moved to the beat of “Some Nights,” by Fun.  A sign painted on the vehicle in large red letters read, “Seniors Rock 2013.”  They were proclaiming to the world, “We have inherited the earth and everything in it!”

As they bopped on by we starred at each other. The expressions on their faces read, “You wish you were us!”  I wonder how they knew?

The brashness of youth is intoxicating; its beguiling nature is an aphrodisiac compelling one to remember younger days.  Its attractiveness defines the right of passage.  High school graduation begins the process of adulthood. Falling into the future is life’s most consummate adventure.

I feel an attachment to the class of 2013.  I’ve seen you act, play sports, cheer, dance, heard you sing, I’ve even been to Europe with you.  For many of you I was the guy who wore the red vest supervising recess at La Canada Elementary.

And now you’re seniors.  The universe has just whispered its secrets in you ear.  Surely you should be lauded for the mountains you have climbed; so what gifts can I possibly give you other than thoughts?  Words are all I have.  Believe me when I say, there’s something extraordinary about words.  They hold you captive zigzagging themselves around you like spider silk, penetrating your pores, entering your veins thus creating alchemy.  And sometimes they even change your life.

I was a teacher for 38 years and often wrote my students letters summarizing the salient points of my lectures.  I called them “The Stay Gold Letters.”  There are almost two thousand letters, over a million words; consequently it was overwhelming to find the perfect message.  There were countless perspectives, philosophies, quotes, and stories all of which have significant meaning for an emerging life.

Maybe I should heed the Sufi Philosophers, “There are many paths; pick one.”  So I did!  That alone is pretty good advice.

I saw you at the fireworks in Memorial park last week.  I watched your joyous antics.  I tried to intellectualize your magic: capture it, put it in a bottle, and then drink the potion and wait for a do over.  It didn’t work.

Once I was you! However, I never stopped to see my reflection in the looking glass.  I was always running up the next mountain never stopping to inhale the moment.

Let me share some insight from the poem “Ithaca,” by Constantine Cavafy.  It’s the story of Odysseus’ 10-year voyage back to Ithaca to be with his wife Penelope.  It’s the Odyssey!  We learn that the magic of life is not found in the destination but in the journey.  Merely accomplishing goals is not experiencing life.  Mountains lie before you; you must ascend them; it’s what you were born to do.  But as you travel, always keep the summit of the mountain in sight, but don’t hurry to get there. To arrive is not your ultimate goal.  The mountain gives you the beautiful voyage; that’s called life.  When you arrive at the top, you will not find your reward.  Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit you possess throughout your journey.  Your reward is the experience and recollection of the moments you’ve had along the way.  That’s the secret.  This moment is all we’re promised.  Don’t let it slip away.

At the end of Odysseus’ voyage, he finally reaches Ithaca; he is rich with all the experiences he has gained along the way.  It was Ithaca who gave him the splendid voyage.  As he sits in the harbor after 10 years at sea he finally gets it.  Life is not the destination; it’s the journey.

Congratulations on your graduation!










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The Extinction of Freedom

During my trip to Prague, I reunited with a former student, Jeff Weller.  Jeff was my student 35 years ago.  He’s an ex-patriot and owns a Hotel near the Legion Bridge.  His sons, Emil and Damek study political philosophy At Charles University, founded in 1348.

I spent hours with the boys in the Evropa Café, on     Wenceslas Square discussing the philosophies of the great thinkers and political reformists.  It was the intellects that influenced the Prague Spring of 1968, a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia.

“Dr. Joe,” they said.  “Look out the window in front of the National Museum.”  On the ground I saw a cross made of bricks imbedded in the street.  “That’s where Jan Palach set himself ablaze protesting the Soviet invasion.” In 1968 the students of Prague under the mentorship of Alexander Dubcek rebelled against Soviet oppression.  Russia sent 200,000 soldiers and 200 tanks to extinguish this flame of liberty.

I was curious why students born 20 years after the Prague Spring still carry the memory of 68’ and of Jan Palach. So I asked. I learned that the struggle for liberty and equality is humanity’s greatest initiative. Emil quoted Ayn Rand, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.”  He explained, “Those who deny individual rights become the oppressors; the rights of the individual is the cornerstone of liberty.  Sacrificing individual freedom for the collective good is the first step toward political oppression.”

Damek interjected, “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it vanishes. Of all the human rights that have ever been sought, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.  That’s why we don’t forget,” he said.

There’s a disparity between the students of Prague and those of America relative to the value we place on freedom.  They are more serious than us.  I can understand this since the people of Central Europe experienced a degradation of the human spirit and were subjected to oppression for 40 years.  Have we lost our ideals?  What once touched our hearts and made our blood boil we now take for granted.

After I returned home from Europe, I became sensitive of the dance between majority and minority perspectives.  I began to see evidence of a gradual decline in our individual liberties.  Recently the majority at Glendale College banned smoking from the campus and disregarded the rights of those who smoke.  We just don’t have a democracy in this country where-by the majority’s will prevails.  Instead, we have a Constitutional Democracy, which safeguards the rights of the minority.

Of course it’s a bad example to compare Glendale College with North Korea but it makes me wonder what they’ll ban next?  Soda! Candy!  It’s the gradual decay of individual liberties that scare me.  We cannot defend the concept of freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

Last year the LCHS seniors were banned from wearing a shirt because of a reference to Don Equis Beer.  They then wore shirts that referenced them as the most politically correct class. Individual rights are being abolished for the sake of political correctness.  I see evidence of this daily.  Because it is gradual, it appears benign.  But it is a malignancy.

First the gods enslaved man. But he broke their chains. Then the kings enslaved him and then it was by his birth or his race. But he broke those chains as well. Man then declared there is nothing more sacred than liberty.  We stand on the threshold of freedom; because of the blood shed by the patriots before us.  If we are not vigilant the oppressors will oppress the minority.  Then different oppressors will oppress the oppressors.  And it will continue; so what are then left with?

Ronald Regan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”












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We Sing Through Europe with the LCHS Choir Part II

I’m still at loss for words trying to express the essence of the LCHS Choral Artists’ Cantemus tour through Central Europe.  If you remember, the choir had just finished singing in Bratislava, Slovakia. Keith Eddins, the Chargé d’Affaires of the American Embassy with teary eyes proclaimed, “You are cultural ambassadors for America.”  Even the Greek Heroes Prometheus and Hercules couldn’t prevent the divisiveness between the Titans and the Olympians.  I hope the choir understood, it’s not power that unites us but rather heart and gesture.  Their voices spread goodwill winning the hearts and minds of those present.


My story continues as we sailed the Danube to Vienna on a cold and blustery Easter Monday.  The music of Mozart and the philosophy of Goethe resonate in this monumental city, the gateway to Central Europe. Vienna’s streets are paved with culture.  During the students’ third performance, Mr. Brookey brought their final note to a climatic crescendo in Saint Francis Cathedral famed for its acoustics.  The choir stood breathless as they listened to a five second echo and marveled at their beautiful voices.  It was a musical moment and all present were wrapped by an epiphany that we had witnessed something remarkable.

We docked in picturesque Krems, Austria.  I spent time as a Bohemian with a cigar and a coffee at a local cafe pecking at the great American novel.  Through the window that opened to the main thoroughfare, I witnessed a metamorphosis where-by the angelic singers of LCHS transformed into kids savoring and rampaging through the deserts, souvenirs, and the charm of the town. When I observe kids I realize that parts of ourselves given up for dead are merely dormant and that old joys often reemerge but in a different form.  These kids were showing me how it’s done.

Amidst the grand cathedrals depicting man’s most eloquent creations adorned with golden angles, flying buttresses reaching to the sky, and masterful artistic renditions of the Divine, Central Europe has fallen into a malaise of secularism.  The only proof of God is from the angelic voices of the artists as they sing the holy liturgy in the cathedrals.  Europe has lost its soul and after the artists sing, the colossal edifices built for the grandeur of God become silent and wait for the Messiah.

Within us theologians decree that a propensity exists called, “Capax Dei,” the capacity for God.  Communism stripped faith, dignity, and humanity from the people of Central Europe. Subsequently the people became secular. They lost hope, and joy atrophied from the citizenry.  In “Man Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankel contends that meaning and purpose in life are sacrosanct.  Through the centuries, faith has been the foundation of purpose. The communists took that away from the people eradicating their predisposition toward God.  The locals in Prague expressed unhappiness and a lack of hope.  In the café’s, political strife hung heavily in the air.  I read the angst on the faces of their youth, as their lives are remnants of religious and political oppression.

I meandered around the back alleys of Prague and saw a young couple locking a padlock to the railing of a bridge.  They then threw the key into the water and kissed.  There were hundred’s of locks all symbolizing the unbreakable bond between lovers.  I’m a sucker for love.      

In Durnstein, Austria the choir gave a stellar performance in the cathedral with the blue steeple.  As Mr. Brookey readied the choir for their first piece the steeple bells rang.  When the artists finished the last note of the last hymn, “Lord Hear my Prayer,” the bells chimed again.  All remained quiet and relished the moment.  I bet the Lord did hear their prayer!  Such serendipity has followed us throughout our travels. 

The LCHS Cantemus tour came to an end.  I wonder if the artists realize, some of our classrooms aren’t classrooms.                       





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We Sing Through Europe with the LCHS Choir Part I

It’s 8 AM in Austria and the MS Mozart, Queen of the Danube River glides with the current passing abbeys, cathedrals, and villages from the 13th century.  The snowflakes fall and nothing stirs from the quaint little houses with the steeple roofs.  It is a screen morning in the Wachau Valley.  Charlemagne marched through this very corridor and its’ hard to comprehend such a peaceful place could’ve incited the slaughter of the Great War.  We are passersby and today the world turns for us and we are humbled by this experience.

I’m with the ‘friends and family’ accompanying the LCHS Choral Artists’.  It’s the Cantemus tour, meaning  ‘We Sing’ in Latin. 101 artists will perform in the cathedrals, palaces, abbeys, and galleries, of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary.

I absorb the sensations emanating from a plethora of experiences.  It took Johann Strauss, a musical genius to capture the enchantment of the mysterious Danube valley; my only tools are words, hardly sufficient.

Our first night underway I was savoring a cup of Darjeeling while listening to the choral artists rehearse.  With my back to the artists I gazed at the river watching the ripples dissipate with the movement of the ship.  The singers sang “Halleluiah” and as the Mozart leapt she swayed to the sound of an American spiritual. Their beautiful voices brought life. “Yes He is,” the artists proclaimed.  And at that moment, He was.

The next morning we arrived in Budapest, the Paris of the East.  The girls wore beautiful gowns and the boys jackets and off they went to perform in an enormous castle, The Palace of Fine Arts.  They sang under the dome; behind them hung a Renaissance masterpiece depicting a Christian victory over the Ottomans.

The LCHS choral artists were brilliant.  They performed three encores and received two standing ovations.  “Oh Lord Hear My Prayer,” they lamented.  Their words were serendipitous since the Moguls, Romans, Ottomans, and Christians fought for centuries over this river valley, and as we float the Danube we see only peace.

I hobbled around Budapest enjoying the antiquated edifices of a remarkable city.  I spoke with two old men who told of the Russian invasion in 1957 and the student freedom fighters who fought Russian tanks with Molotov cocktails.  Some survivors came to America as refugees settling in my neighborhood in the Bronx.  I was a boy; I knew them well; I listened to their stories.  And at a young age I learned that freedom isn’t free.

On the Mozart the meals are pageantry and the Artists are treated to a gourmet fare of seven courses reminiscent of the country that we travel through.  White tablecloths and a fork for every entrée are lessons in civility.   Our tour director, Sandra is loving, giving, and German.  Her attention to detail is meticulous and when she says, “Be there at 8 AM,” she means 7:55.  The artists have named her the “Tour-minator!”

We left Budapest with hot chocolate and woke up in Slovakia!  It’s Easter. The artists conducted a Sunday service and then an egg hunt.  The town of Bratislava waited laden with snow and touted as having the most beautiful women.  But the artists came to sing so they trudged through snow toward Saint Gregory’s Abbey built during the 13th century.

There are no words to express their brilliance.  Their faces contorted to their voices and the crescendos they hit stirred their souls.  There were tears in Erin Salmi’s eyes and there I saw the divine.  They were alive and when they sang they were angles.  I’ve been around the world, held life in my hands, and saw the sunrise when I expected I wouldn’t, but tonight the choral artists of La Canada showed me something I’ve never seen.  Magic!  In Bratislava, in the snow, in the abbey, in the dark of night, I listened to these beautiful kids. How can their not be a God?




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