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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"When Halloween evening arrived, I put (the costume) all together, (including) my homemade cape, on which I had written SANTO PREPUZIO with a large Superman-style 'SP' underneath. Finally, I put on the brown ski cap, the color of which perfectly matched my brown turtleneck, rolled up the edges of the cap, and affixed a gold circle with the wire over my head." - the author goes to an Italian Halloween party dressed as the Holy Foreskin

Growing up Catholic, I was peripherally aware of the existence of holy relics though I never got too worked up about it. And certainly not to the obsessive degree admitted to by the author of AN IRREVERENT CURIOSITY, David Farley.

To make a long story short, Farley's narrative is an account of his extended stay in the medieval hill town of Calcata, 29 miles north of Rome, in which the Holy Foreskin, ostensibly circumcised from the infant Christ, made its appearance in 1527 and was subsequently venerated as a precious relic until its disappearance in 1983. David's self-imposed mission was to track the lost artifact down. A hobby is a good thing.

Most fascinating to me was Farley's history and description of the type of relics available for veneration by the pious in the Middle Ages subsequent to the death of Charlemagne in 814. Countless slivers of and nails from the True Cross, the breast milk, hair, comb, handkerchief and wedding ring of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph's hammer and one of his carpentered carts that Jesus helped build, the Redeemer's tears, barbs from the Crown of Thorns, a preserved fish and stale bread from the miraculously enlarged picnic lunch used by Jesus to feed thousands, the very finger that Doubting Thomas stuck in the risen Christ's side, shards of marble from the pillar on which God's son was flogged, the sponge used to quench his thirst on the Cross, a chunk of the Last Supper's table, and JC's own sandals. And, of course, the Holy Foreskin. Several, in fact. The list is endless when one includes the alleged bits and pieces of the saints and martyrs left behind. One can only imagine the hand-rubbing glee felt by the Levantine flimflammers as they watched the suckers debarking from the long ships arrived from the ports of Western Europe.

The subtitle of AN IRREVERENT CURIOSITY is IN SEARCH OF THE CHURCH'S STRANGEST RELIC IN ITALY'S ODDEST TOWN. The town is, obviously, Calcata, and its history and inhabitants absorb much of the author's narrative; so much so that the main thread of the book - the hunt for the sacred relic - is sometimes obscured by all the textual padding. Of course, it's to be expected that the recorded experiences of a resident in foreign climes become focused on the eccentricities of the locals. One only need read the books of such expats as Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence), Annie Hawes (Extra Virgin: Amongst the Olive Groves of Liguria), and Victoria Twead (Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools); that's part of the fun.

And what degree of success did Farley have in his quest for the Holy Foreskin? Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it? Let it suffice to say that AN IRREVERENT CURIOSITY reminds me more than a little of Miracle Ball: My Hunt for the Shot Heard 'Round the World, in which author Brian Biegel recounts his search for the missing home run ball - a contemporary holy relic to some - socked into the bleachers by New York Giant Bobby Thomson to beat the Dodgers in the 1951 National League playoffs. Indeed, I'm tempted to award a similar number of stars - three. However, the interesting history lesson that David provides and his congeniality is such that I'll gladly ratchet the award up to four.

I'm left bemused, however, why Farley would sneak his 10-pound miniature pinscher/Chihuahua mix of a dog, Abraham Lincoln, into the Vatican's Sancta Sanctorum hidden in a shoulder bag. Is that ridiculous or what? Remind me to smuggle my favorite cat, Amanda, into Westminster Abbey next time I visit to examine tomb inscriptions.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2009
The 1942 film "Tarzan's New York Adventure" starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan stands today as a fairly good example of the "stranger in a strange land" motif in film, with the requisite comedy and drama thrown-in. And if using this film the benchmark, David Farley's "An Irreverent Curiosity" reaches the level of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Hercules in New York." (Heavy on hoke, with cultural pretension and, dare I say, cultural/religious intolerance, sprinkled on for good measure)

I really wanted to like the book, (having enjoyed articles of his I have read) I just feel that if the author is taking me on a journey to "find" something, we better.

This isn't Homer's "The Odyssey," the journey really doesn't take us far enough.
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