At the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, Jesus is crucified most afternoons around 5 p.m. On the day I visited last fall, things were humming along right on time, if remarkably quickly. Six minutes after the redeemer’s bloodied corpse was carried into the tomb, a shout—“I am alive!”—proclaimed his return. A gold-spangled, virile-looking Jesus emerged from a cloud of smoke to announce that the sick shall be healed, and then kicked off a Hallelujah dance party.
Miracles are the stock-in-trade of this Christian theme park, which welcomes about a quarter-million people per year. They might come to the Holy Land Experience (HLE for short) out of faith or fascination or a misplaced sense of irony, but they all pay fifty dollars for entry, and some will spend a little extra for a “My Cup Overflows Refillable Souvenir Cup.” In return, they get a curious kind of history lesson, plus a dose of American prosperity theology, which turns spending into a higher calling and spiritual pathos into gaudy pageantry.
The remarkably prolific Iris Murdoch wrote 26 novels over a 40-year span; today, she’s best known for 1978’s The Sea, the Sea. The novel won the Man Booker Prize, and deservedly so: it’s a world-eating emotional chronicle in which the elderly narrator, Charles Arrowby, tries to fix his greatest mistake: letting his first and only love go. But almost 20 years earlier, Murdoch, who worked and reworked similar moral themes throughout her entire career, wrote a much more potent and incendiary novel than The Sea, the Sea. This delirious little book, A Severed Head, is a dirtier, more bizarre study of the messiness of human desire, complete with incest and spouse swapping. It was likely too weird to win the Booker, but it’s arguably the better book.
As well as being a sharp and evocative collection of travel essays that takes the reader to such locations as China, New Mexico, Svalbard and Los Angeles, and various landscapes of Dyer’s memory, White Sands is an examination of some of the fundamental questions of life.
Still, I did see something of the rest of the country. My oldest friend from high school tracked down a family friend and he scooped us up from the resort and drove us to Negril. We stopped at a roadside stall and got fried fish, before reaching a piece of beach with stiller, calmer waters than the rough undertow of Treasure Beach. Later, on the return trip, we visited our guide’s family, who lived in a modest wood house with a tin roof. It looked like old photos I had seen of black sharecroppers. My eyes must have given me away.
River Bank, the beleaguered fishing village that serves as the setting of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s dazzling debut novel Here Comes the Sun, reminded me of that place. Roads that hug the shoreline revealing “the wide expanse of the sea” and where “the shacks look like interspersed cardboard boxes on the land surrounding the river … floating on the water like sleeping whales.”
What we need to get over is the implicit idea that foods come with red or green lights attached, allowed or forbidden. Overcoming these assumptions requires more than avoiding the moralistic buzz words that infect our conversations about food, even though that is at least a good place to start.
We — the U.S. taxpayers — help subsidize farmers by paying part of the premiums on their crop insurance. This helps ensure that farmers don't go belly up, and it also protects against food shortages.
But are there unintended consequences? For instance, do subsidies encourage the production — and perhaps overconsumption — of things that we're told to eat less of? Think high fructose corn syrup or perhaps meat produced from livestock raised on subsidized grains.