Thursday, 8 February 2018

Historically Home-less

Prudently I cannot say much about it, but for reasons I will not go into, I have very few clean clothes,  and Benedict Ambrose and I have to live somewhere else for at least a week.

(Pause while I run for an enormous "Tłusty Czwartek" [Fat Thursday, i.e. beginning of Carnival] doughnut.)

My home office is a little closed-door island of sanity in an environment suddenly gone upside down.   The accident-to-the-system we have feared for almost ten years has happened, and we say things like, "Well, at least it wasn't a fire" and "It could have been worse" and "If it had to happen, it happened in the best possible way."

Someone suggested it happened because I wrote this, and the devil was mad.

P.S. Sugar is evil, but not on Tłusty Czwartek.

P.S.2 I'm afraid my best clothes have been ruined, but as they still haven't dried out (!), I can't yet tell how many.

On the one hand, thank heavens it wasn't the books. On the other hand, clothes are necessary to life.

Would you be mad or glad if you suddenly lost 50% of your (already Kondo-ized) wardrobe?

Monday, 5 February 2018

Virginity Obsessions

Advisory notice: hymen chat.

I hate stories like this. 

There are two abiding myths about reproduction that have made countless numbers of women miserable:

1. The sex of a baby is determined by the genetic contributions of his or her mother, so if the baby is a girl, it is the mother's "fault."

2. Every sexual active woman who ever lived bled the first time she had sex.

No and no.

Some women are born without hymens. Some hymens get broken during physically strenuous athletic endeavours. Some stretch instead of breaking. Therefore, there is no physical way of proving that a never-pregnant woman has had sex in her life. Been pregnant, yes. Given birth, yes. Had sex, no. And yet women are murdered for the crime of "not being virgins."

I understand that men-in-general feel competitive towards other men. I also understand the impulses of sexual jealousy. People in western countries, possibly because the Sexual Revolution forced us to do this or go crazy, put a lid on that kitchen fire with "it was a long time ago/it was before we even met."

I also understand the high value of virginity for traditional cultures, and I recall that St Ignatius of Loyola almost killed someone who doubted that the Blessed Virgin Mary retained her physical virginity after giving birth. One of the few times I have been so angry I actually saw red spots was in theology school when a dirty-living classmate spoke slightingly of Mary as an unwed mother. (The eyes of the young Hungarian across the table bulged with fury, and my gentle Jesuit friend looked at the ceiling and imagined it crashing down on the classmate's head.)

However, whatever virginity is---and Saint Augustine forever linked the concept with a free decision to retain it--human dignity does not depend on it. Whether or not you have had sex (or sex has been done to you), you have same rights as anyone else.

In some respects virginity is merely an accident, by which I mean both a characteristic and a historical circumstance, belonging solely to the person to whom it applies unless the person has consciously dedicated their virgin state to Almighty God. We talk about virginity as something that we own or give or consectrate or give up or have stolen, but actually it is not some "thing" but a state.  It's like priesthood.

St. Thomas Aquinas was a virgin AND a priest. St. Augustine was a priest but not a virgin.  Therefore, according to a vision seen by Reginald of Piperno, Aquinas was the greater saint. Virginity freely chosen and dedicated to God--which applies to men just as much as to women, thank you very much--is what is important. Obedience to God by not seeking sex before you are married is important, too, of course.  The freedom from sexual diseases is plus. However, that's about it for the benefits.

That you never had sex with anyone else before you got married may be a wonderful testimony to your obedience to God, but it is not in itself a golden ticket to a happy marriage. In fact, the young marriage will have to cope with the strain of one or both people's sexual initiation and that is not always pleasant.

Meanwhile God alone knows how many children and teenagers, let alone 20-something women, have had sex forced upon them. That someone is a "physical" virgin--which is to say, has never experienced sexual intercourse--on his or her wedding day may be as much a sign of his or her very good fortune as it is of his or her conscious chastity.

Almost at a Milestone

"Is it true," demanded a former classmate when we bumped into her in the street, "that you have read a whole book in Polish?"

She said this as though I had climbed Mount Everest or participated in Dancing with the Stars.

"Oh," I said, thinking back. "Well, sort of. I read through one and a half Harry Potter books, but I gave up looking up all the words I didn't know."

Or words to that effect. I didn't ask, "Who told you that?" because it didn't matter. I must have bragged in some class or other and word trickled to Edinburgh Uni's night school's other Polish-language obsessives. As most of them could tell you, your not-always-so-humble correspondent advanced quickly in reading skills despite being barely able to string together a sentence, so I am not actually the laughing-stock I have often thought I must be.

That said, people have laughed. I probably dropped that casual reference to reading (skimming) Harry Potter to stave off despair.

Typically, I forgot that I had also read Baltic: Pies który płynał na krze (Baltic: the Dog Who Sailed on an Ice-floe) with the most obsessed of the Polish language obsessives one summer, with strict attention to looking up all the words I didn't know and making vocabulary lists for everyone else, plus quizzes. And since then some simpler children's books, too.

But, anyway, what I actually want to say is that I have read and listened to the end of Siostrzeniec Czarodzieja (The Magician's Nephew), and now all that remains is to

A) look up the dramatically smaller lists of words I don't know;
B) memorize them;
C) continuing re-testing myself on the previous lists.

There are two big elephants in this room (as there literally are in Siostrzeniec Czarodzieje):

1. I do not know which words I have been assiduously studying are commonly used in Polish conversation;

2. Although I have been listening to the CD almost daily, my pronunciation is still way off, e.g.

Me: "Is nieustannie used in everyday speech?"

PPS: Nieustannie. 

Me: Nee-oo-STAN-ee-eh.

PPS: Nieustannie. 

This is why textbooks and teachers continue to be important in language studies. Textbooks are the result of scientific linguistic studies, and so they specialise in everyday speech. Teachers can sometimes be relied upon to fix your accent. (Sometimes they give up.) The Polish language obsessive with the best accent in Edinburgh (unless someone with a better one has come along during my exile from the classroom) is married to a Pole who corrects her accent all day.

What reading books in another language does, if you look up all the words you don't know, and make progress in memorising many of them, is make you better at reading books in another language and  using the dictionary. (Using a Polish dictionary effectively is a learned skill, let me tell you.)

Does it make you a better speaker? Yes--to an extent. I have a much bigger reading vocabulary than I did 13 weeks ago, and I have a somewhat bigger speaking vocabulary, thanks to using the words I memorised in conversations with my Polish tutor.

However, I have decided that after I have finished testing and retesting myself on Narnia vocabulary at the end of February, I will stop memorising vocabulary from literature. Instead I will continue reading novels, but memorise textbook vocabulary. That way I will shove the most practical words into the forefront of my memory without losing the discipline of reading.

Every modern European language is actually four languages: the language as spoken, the language as heard, the language as written, and the language as read. This is why I can walk into a Polish folk museum and gleefully read the labels without being able to have a learned discussion in Polish about what I have just read or, indeed, to thoroughly understand a lecture on it.

The bright side of this is that if you are a university student and you don't care about the spoken language side of things, you just want to read never-translated Polish papers by Karol Wojtyła (for example), then you can concentrate solely on reading and looking stuff up in the dictionary, and reach your primary goal.

Or, if you don't care about reading, you just want to make travel easier, you can concentrate on conversation, as home-study kits always do, and have a nicer, less frustrating time.

If, however, you wish to pass the European Union C-2 exam, you have to do everything: read, write, speak, listen. Blah. It's so much work, it makes me sad just thinking about it.

Sometimes I look at the task I have set for myself, and I feel totally overwhelmed. I have to actively remind myself that every big task can be divided into little tasks, and there is no point in rushing a process that takes years.

As in the stages of learning how to draw, there are no shortcuts to learning a language. There is just prioritising, which is what polyglots do. Alexander Arguelles is primarily interested in world literature; Benny Lewis is primarily interested in conversations with strangers in bars. Lewis would probably be more fun to talk to in a foreign language while waiting for a plane, but Arguelles is one of the few non-Russians alive to have actually read War and Peace, not just a translation.

The feelings of satisfaction after having a successful conversation in a foreign-to-me language (or  understanding the gist of a randomly selected foreign-to-me book), however, are enormous, and last longer than the thrill of having published a new book, which may be why I use up so much time on language study instead of writing a new book instead.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Judgement Saves Lives

My work week is gruelling because I am always writing--and rewriting--sad stories. It's meaningful, though, because freedom from the Culture of Death isn't free, and if any of my readers have suffered catastrophically from the Sexual Revolution, it may be because our parents and grandparents and their priests and ministers and rabbis didn't fight hard enough.

This week I was fighting against the day your child or grandchild goes to a euthanasia clinic after a spell of depression and is put down like a dog because he doesn't believe he'll ever be happy again.

Believe it or not, my battle did not meet with universal applause, and I got a rare piece of hate mail. I get surprisingly little hate mail, but I've had enough over the years--plus column cancellations and rejection letters---to toughen me up about it. Well, when it comes from people I've never met, or never met in person, I'm pretty tough.  When it comes from good friends and old colleagues (even rarer), I'm a wreck.

The great thing about this piece of hate mail, however, is that it showed how my (heavily edited) op. ed.  about a now-dead Dutch woman (about whom you can read about at LSN) made at least one person REALLY MAD. S/he was just appalled that I had the temerity to say that the now-dead euthanasia-demanding Dutch woman had done a terrible thing and enjoyed doing it.

Having coped with clinical depression myself (though not, thank heavens, psychosis), I don't automatically give the mentally ill a total pass on their/our behaviour. Freedom is usually impaired, not totally wiped out, by mood disorders and mental illness. However, I gave the departed the benefit of the doubt, expressing my opinion that very little guilt attached to her,  and saved my choicer remarks for the complete strangers who typed sentimental versions of "Jump, jump" on the deceased's Facebook page.

I suspect my critic was one of those complete strangers although s/he didn't lay into me for insulting them. Nope, the anger was directed towards my refusal to see the departed as the brave and noble freedom-fighter against oppressive Dutch euthanasia regulations her fans told her she was. And that's good because that means I may have saved some lives.

Why? Because people seem very frightened of the negative judgement of complete strangers. They even think it is a kind of weapon, which they now use in return by telling Mrs Judgey what a b**** she is, etc. But I don't think sending an angry message is enough to assuage the discomfort of having felt judged for egging on a suicide. I think such an email writer may now think hard before lazily writing "You'll find comfort in your mother's arms, sweetheart" (or whatever) to the suicidal daughter of a widower who (by the way) didn't want his child to die.

Even better, my critic may also be stopped in his or her fantasies of also becoming a noble hero of the right-to-euthanasia because, look out, there will be Mean People somewhere in the world who will JUDGE, and in THEIR minds he or she will not be a hero but someone who has done a Bad Thing.

And suicide is a bad thing. Even if you put aside the metaphysical reasons why this is so, it is still so because it is CONTAGIOUS and causes utter anguish for those caught up in it. For this reason, I seriously hope the deceased's father and friends are in therapy.

Suicide is also incredibly ugly, and one of the most powerful things I was ever told in high school was that when you die, your bowels relax, so that if even you get yourself up as Juliet, maybe putting on a white nightie and lying down in on clean white sheets, you will be found in a smelly puddle of excrement.*

God alone knows how many lives were saved by that image.

Assisted suicide removes some of the ugliness of suicide, so I can see why the suicidal would rather leave the dirty work to a professional. However, this still does not solve the problem of people expressing their judgement that suicide is wrong. Of course suicide is bloody wrong--we're born with "Thou shalt not kill" tattooed on our hearts---and managing to repress that thought is so hard, it's no wonder people are furious when people like me pop up saying "The suicidal woman did a bad thing."

Yes, I will continue to judge the actions of suicides. I may even, depending on the circumstances, judge the person. The time I was more depressed than I ever had been, my best friend--who isn't a believer or even pro-life--tore a strip off me when I mentioned the S word. She told me what she had said at a suicide's funeral in her rage at her dead friend: it was basically (and mysteriously) "I would have preferred if she had murdered other people."
Well, if I had needed a bucket of water over my head--I didn't, for as I explained to a dubious therapist, my faith forbade suicide and, besides, I couldn't do that to my family--that would have been it. My super-gentle, self-effacing, generous, leftist pal was totally judgey in defence of my life, and that, dear readers, is true love.

I had another communication a few weeks ago. This communication was a bit scary because it came from the Scottish government in response to one of the emails I had sent them about ab*rtion. It was also scary because it told me the government wanted to remove the stigma of ab*rtion.

Well, you can't remove the "stigma" of ab*rtion. First, "stigma" is Greek for "wound", and even if the poor mother isn't wounded, physically or mentally, the embryo or fetus sure is.  Second, there are millions upon millions of people alive today who think ab*rtion is wrong, and even if they are afraid to say so, they are not afraid to think it. They might conquer any temptation to judge the women who get them and even the people who do them, but they will still judge their actions as WRONG.

They will do this because the actions ARE wrong, and it really takes some mental effort to hide this fact from oneself. Hence the public's terrible discomfort with pro-lifers and the over-the-top rage against our witness.

And that is the scary part because a government that wants to eradicate a "stigma" that can't be eradicated might come down hard on those who point that out. I will not be voting SNP again, that's for sure.

To stop the inevitable, yes, I have friends who have attempted suicide, and a high school pal who is often in my prayers succeeded in committing suicide, and at least one post-abortive friend, whom I admire very much, despite our opposed views on almost everything. I think what she did is wrong, and she knows that, but somehow we're still friendly, for which I am grateful.

*The deceased revealed before her death that the information that she would turn blue gave her pause. She didn't mention excrement. I wonder if the counsellor mentioned excrement.

Friday, 2 February 2018

We Can Discover What They Think, But We Won't Always Like It

Facebook offers such interesting conversations. Here's one that I had yesterday that is of interest to my old Single gal readership:

Complete stranger in USA: I gotta say, X, I'm not impressed by "classical liberal" girls. They're still going through their "equity feminist" phase, which just means that they're not nut job "gender feminists", but still take umbrage when you tell them that, if women didn't vote at ALL, the Democratic party, and whatever your version of that is in [Canada], would die. 

X, a pal of mine back home: Well, that would be the Liberal Party up here. And as an old man long out of the dating cycle, I have the luxury of not having to deal with many "young women" any more, so your take is probably more valid than mine.

Now this caught my eye because I occasionally hear "women shouldn't vote because" arguments, which annoy me because they're lazy. If it is true that women almost always vote for the better looking candidate, then it may also be true that men almost always vote for the taller candidate, for which there is evidence. So what are we going to do, remove men's franchise? One solution is to train children up in rational thought from the age of 4, when they can first grasp the concepts of "Handsome is as handsome does" and "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 30:31)."  I hate to admit it, but English Canadian society was a lot more rational when it was Presbyterian.

But back to the Complete Stranger in the USA.

CSiUSA: The irony with me is that, where before I'd be excited at all these semi-red pilled girls into David Rubin and Jordan Peterson, who are "questioning" their PC indoctrination, nowadays I'd rather just date an apolitical gum chewing airhead, that works at a hair salon. 

Then I sat up because it was a guy frankly talking about what kind of girl he thinks he prefers. Men aren't always right about this. What they think, what they feel, and what they actually do are often disconnected; they're not as holistic as women. They compartmentalise like crazy. It is useful to know this if you are a woman who has, or  ultimately wants to have, a man in your life.  So I asked some questions.

Me, Journalist-Novelist-Blogger: I write a lot for never-married conservative women, so if you are serious, please explain why. The social science is that women want to date "up" and men don't care what women do for a living, as long as they are agreeable and attractive. Possibly the word "airhead" indicates that you are not serious, however (and every woman I've ever met working at a hair salon was very smart about life and money) .

To my surprise, CSiUSA became defensive and, instead of typing "What do you mean?" or real insults, like Polish Pretend Son would have, he whimpered:

CSiUSA: 100% serious. When you say my use of the word "airhead" indicates I'm not "serious", and then you're saying, "every woman I've ever met working at a hair salon was very smart about life and money..." indicates to me that, in spite who you pull the lever for, you are trying to change my mind via shaming tactics, and I do not like it.

Oh dear. It took me a while to understand what he meant by pulling a lever, but then I remembered Americans vote by pulling a lever, not by marking boxes with an X with a pencil. However, I didn't give up hope of getting his opinion. When trying to get men to produce research results, you must be super-gentle, like you would be with guinea pigs or white mice.

Me, JNB: No, no. I am not shaming you. Nor am I interested in changing your mind on anything. I am just contemplating the women I have known in hairdressing salons and wondering why you characterise them as airheads when you find them attractive. Questions for clarification, as it were. My readers are often very interested in what men think about dating (and related activities) although they are not always happy when they find out. Nevertheless truth is what is, in the words of a forerunner to the great Jordan Peterson.

Okay, that was St. Thomas Aquinas, so I was sort of joking. But sort of not. You should hear me at meetings trying to convince people that JP is like TA in that Thomas used Aristotelianism, the fashionable science of his day, to elucidate Truth to the best educated, JP is using psychology, the fashionable science of the day, to elucidate Truth to the best educated. Also, I suspect JP would be even more interested in Catholicism if he read Trad stuff, especially Thomas Aquinas's masterful and amazing Prayer After Communion, because Trads are alllll about facing up to wickedness, our own and other people's.

Anyway, good news. CSiUSA decided I was legit. Which I was. The stakes on what men really want in women are very high. I'm happy to be married to B.A., but I'm not happy I got married too late to have kids. Married trads having and educating kids is the best chance we have for reversing the civilisational decline.

CSiUSA: "The social science is that women want to date "up" and men don't care what women do for a living, as long as they are agreeable and attractive." I was dating a chick, cute as a button, obsessed with her music, her tattoos, how she looked, and not much else, and was completely ignorant, and it was perfect. We were driving, and she was complaining about how our air is dirty, and how it doesn't matter if you smoke, and then I told her that we have some of the cleanest air in the world, and that India and China are the filthy polluters, and she goes, "really?! I didn't know that! You know a lot of stuff! I need to come to you when I want to know about something!" Yep, that's what I like. None of this, "I'm a conservative women! I want to be a doctor and a lawyer!"

That was so freaking brilliant: painful truth about what men think they want. Now it may occur to you that CSiUSA is probably not himself a doctor or a lawyer. Very few men are. I don't actually know what the average guy does for a living. Whatever he can, I imagine. Something boring and often unpleasant.  No wonder they think they just want women to be attractive and agreeable.

Me, JBN: Okay, I got it. She didn't set herself [up] as competition instead of as a partner, and she made it clear that you were attractive for your brains and added something to her life. Sounds like good girl-friend material! What did she do for a living, if I may ask?

Wrong question. The right question was "What do you do for a living, CSiUSA?" Too late, though.

CSiUSA:  I actually think she was a hair stylist.

And thus my point was proved: women who work in beauty salons are very smart about life. I didn't ask CSiUSA why he didn't marry Miss Completely Ignorant Perfect--probably because unbeknownst to him he hasn't sorted out his own feelings about class, or that she picked up that she can do better than a guy who thinks she's an "airhead." Like I said: beauticians I've met are very smart about life.

University-educated women can also be very smart about life if we stop thinking courting men works the same way as getting a job. I had a bad Pretend Mother moment when Polish Pretend Son wrote about some attractive Nordic atheist he had met who had umpteen scholarships but told him that he was the first man she had ever met who was smarter than her. Every pretend-maternal siren went off.

That Nordic woman was an evil genius, with real smarts as well as scholarships. I respected her the way you respect a worthwhile enemy, as does the hero of a Chesterton novel for his enemy, you know?  But virtue must triumph over evil, so I pointed out to PPS that he was being snowed, and now he's marrying a Nice Polish Catholic Girl*, so my job there is done.

One thing the rom-coms get right: if you want a boy to like you, and he already kind of likes women like you, impress upon him that he is smart and can add to your life. The one caveat is that you should pick a nice boy. I'm not sure CSiUSA is actually a nice boy.

*Incidentally, the NPCG is a doctor. But she got PPS's attention, which she didn't necessarily want that badly, by singing him a song about some nefarious fictional character of whom he reminded her. Song girls are such sirens, especially when they don't know it... Jordan Peterson would have a field day.

Update: One thing I think we would have problems getting men to admit is that men also always have been interested in marrying in such a way as to improve their financial circumstances. Anyone who  has read a Georgette Heyer novel--do men read Georgette Heyer novels?--should know this. It is quite obvious that one contemporary reason for men's rejection of marriage is that they believe (wrongly) that marriage is a bad financial risk. What is bad for finances is divorce, not marriage. Divorce-prevention is indeed very important but not impossible.

I once broke up with a guy who worried a little too obviously about my ability to earn money. That wasn't the only reason I broke up with him, but it certainly added to the Negative side of the ledger. I'm a bit more sympathetic to such concerns now, but then I was still of baby-having age.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Danger of Rom Coms

I have to go to work now, but I have spent much time this morning contemplating the romantic comedy genre of films, and whether or not they are actually bad for people to watch. We don't shape our ideas about public transit from Keanu Reeve's Speed, so why do we turn to films like Just Like Heaven for clues about romantic relationships?

After pondering this for perhaps too long, I turned to Doctor Jordan Peterson who opined, on video, that the western world's obsession with romantic happiness was insane and as if we were all trapped in the fantasies of a 13 year old girl. Which may account, I mention here, for the popularity of 13 Going on 30.

I would also blame the big brown puppy-dog eyes of Mark Ruffalo if it weren't for the fact that I didn't give him a second glance when I watched the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind back in 2004.

Now that was NOT a rom com but a scream of anguish on behalf of my generation. Not to be dramatic or anything.

The Mini-Break Part 3

Bust of Jan Matejko, Painter
To my surprise I received an email from someone impatiently waiting to hear about the Sunday of our  mini-break in Kraków. That was encouraging, so I will consult my travel journal.


Sunday was a little stressful, actually, because I knew we would be squeezed for time between Mass and our flight back to Scotland, some of which would be taken up by me explaining to Polish security guards that B.A. can't go through metal detectors.

There are no shortage of Sunday masses in Kraków, which is probably the most devotional big Catholic city in Europe, if not the entire world, but B.A. insisted on going to the Traditional Latin Mass, and the only one before our flight was at 10:30 AM. According to my calculations, we had to catch the airport train at 12:07 PM.

However, I mapped out our morning to be as relaxed as possible. We had already pruned some belongings so as to fit my new books and "Red-is-Bad" white eagle shirt into our bags, and we checked out of the hotel at 8:40 AM. We took the enormous birthday bouquet of tulips to the Church of the Holy Cross, which was already open, and B.A. laid it on the Mary altar. People were coming in for the 9 AM Mass, and a recorded version of Lulajze Jezuniu  (a traditional Christmas carol) was playing softly through discreet speakers.


Then we headed back along the Old Market and down yet another mediaeval street to Szczepański Square and "Charlotte", which is a French-style hipster bakery, bistro and cafe. "Charlotte" is kitty-corner from the Szołayski House National Museum---I realise that that that is the second "SZ" in a row there, but bear with me.

(Polish SZ is not that scary--it's just like the "sh" sound in "shower." CZ is basically like the "ch" in "Charlotte." SZCZ is sh'ch. After two years of practise, you'll be able to say Szczepański and Szołayski in no time.)

Szczepański Square had a dozen or so big many-sided posters in its middle, celebrating the heroes of Polish Independence because 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of the Partitions. We had looked at them the night before; helpfully the captions were in English as well as Polish. So what really drew our eye that morning was the little crowd of 20-somethings patiently waiting outside "Charlotte" for the door to open. It opened on the dot of nine, and I was very happy we had been there in time to get a good table with a view of the Square, or at least of the bust of painter Jan Matejko looking across at the Szołayski House National Museum from his perch in the baroque facade of the "Palace of Art."

I was also very happy I had done my research and picked "Charlotte" for our pre-church destination because it was big and bright and hipstery, with walls painted white or left rough stone, a cathedral-ceiling, variated levels, and really, really good croissants. The music was French and nostalgic, by which I mean it was a mix of French 1960s pop,  French war-time and 1950s music hall songs, and French jazz. (The breakfast room at our hotel had played horrible cheesy American and British rock/R&B/whatever at a high volume, so after Friday morning, I avoided it except for coffee, which was bad.) The coffee at Charlotte was very good indeed.

It may have been sunny; yes, I think the sun came out and lit up the gold painted panels flanking Jan Matejko's head. Benedict Ambrose ate a plain croissant and read a copy of the Spectator; I hoovered an almond croissant, a piece of quiche and two cups of black coffee while watching the bistro fill up with twenty-somethings. Although some had big, travel backpacks, these were, for the most part, Polish-speaking twenty-somethings. There were also some married-with-children Polish twenty-somethings, either heading for tables downstairs or waiting in the queue for loaves of fresh French bread.


Kraków always strikes me as a city full of young people. This may be because of the universities, or because the young of the region flee there from their villages for work and variety, or because Poles of my generation had rather more children, and at a younger age, than my generation in general, and now these children are in their teens and twenties. Whatever the reason, they are a pleasant and cheerful sight, almost always slim and usually attractive. Well, the girls are usually attractive. The boys run the gamut; the Astrophysicist once sweepingly denounced his countrymen as ugly. You should hear what he said about English girls in Plymouth, though. Ouch.


After an hour or so, we headed back to the Church of the Holy Cross, hoping to find a coveted back pew so as to slip out early, if necessary, for our train. Ha, ha, ha. When we got there, we saw people, and their baby carriages, crowding in the door and when we jostled our own way in, we saw that the church was packed and that the only seats available were ancient wooden boxes on the sides of the nave or up in the very mediaeval choir section between the High Altar and the communion rail.  B.A. objected to not being able to see the altar---"Or there's no point!" he hissed heretically--and so we ended up on two chairs set up in the aisle between choir stalls.

I was wearing my faux-bear fur hat, as everyone could see, so I jammed it further down my big head so as to take up as little of the view as possible. There were no mantillas in the choir stall; Continental  Trads are not as wedded to mantillas or even hats-for-women-at-Mass as women in English-speaking countries are. The younger men were wearing suits (or, in case B.A. objects to this word--jackets and trousers that may or may not have matched) and ties and looked keen and a bit ferocious.

In a country where over 90% are Catholics, of whom 40% of go to Sunday Mass*,  and the priests and bishops largely orthodox, strict, and (as far as I've seen) straight-looking, it takes a Very Special Kind of Person to go to Traditional Latin Mass in Poland. I think I overheard on Friday night that the vast majority of young men to go to the TLM are hyper-patriots or, not to put a fine point on it, "alt-right", but I highly doubt there has been a scientific study done.

Anyway, the TLM at the Church of the Holy Cross was said by a friendly- and fatherly-looking Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter priest in his late forties. The choir led hymns instead of singing the propers, which disappointed stickler B.A. There was a very lovely Christmas tree, even though the purple vestments alerted us to the fact that it was Septuagesima, and the priest highlighted the contrast in his homily. At least, I think he did.  He definitely commented on how nice and homey the Christmas decorations all over Krakow were, and he definitely talked about our fallen state and  warfare of some kind.

TLM enthusiasts will be interested to know that there was no incense, both the Epistle and Gospel were read aloud in Polish after they were announced in Latin, and there was no Second Confiteor.

I was grateful for that shortcut because time really started speeding up after the homily. I had planned our exit for 11:30 AM, but we were trapped behind the communion rail, and B.A. refused to budge until the last communicant had received. I was in agony of fear lest we miss our train, miss our plane, and generally have a financial disaster. Originally we were supposed to fly home on Sunday night, but RyanAir upped and cancelled hundreds of thousands of flights last autumn, and after getting a partial refund out of them, I had to book EasyJet's 1:30 PM.

However, when we left at 11:40 AM, eyes cast down to the floor to avoid the curious gaze of Polish Trads, I discovered that it didn't take as long as I thought to walk to the railway station, and when we found the platform, a man on it told B.A. we could buy tickets on-board.


Unfortunately, I was down to our last 15 zl in cash, and tickets came to 18 zl, so I really should have ignored Mr. Excuse to Speak English and found a ticket machine. For, to my utter humiliation and horror, when the young ticket collector came by, we discovered she did not take credit or debit cards.

For some reason, I found this unbearably humiliating and promptly forgot how to speak Polish, and as the now extremely uncomfortable and irritated ticket collector sat down across from us, waiting for me to come up with the 3 zl (i.e. 75 p) we didn't have, a kind-hearted duo of Polish women on the other side of the aisle voluntarily paid them. I found this so unbearably humiliating that I wanted to DIE. Even now I have to remind myself that although in 1990 everyone was painting their Easter eggs with the juice of onion skins, nowadays Poles of working age usually have a few zlotys to throw around, even to bail out foreign morons. B.A. smiled and said "Dziękuję" a lot as I descended into a black and wordless gloom.


Anyway, we got to the airport in plenty of time, and I managed to make my special speech about B.A.'s "tube in brain" and not to take it amiss when the security guard, after asking me if my husband spoke Polish, switched to English to address B.A. directly. One of my spiritual/psychological goals on this trip was not to be disappointed whenever Poles switched to English, and so I never was. That said, outside of hotel staff, most Poles I spoke to were happy to stick to Polish.

And that is that, except that when I got through Passport Control--the border guard successfully suppressing a smile when he asked me what I had been doing in Poland and I said I liked Poland very much--I found Benedict Ambrose in an animated conversation with Polish Pretend Daughter and French Pretend Son-in-Law. They had been visiting her mother for a week.

Our Flight

On the airplane, we had more good luck, for there was no-one in our window seat, and so I slid into it to continue reading Siostrzeniec Czarodzieja (The Magician's Nephew) and The Art of Travel. The same noisy drunk British woman whose laugh had so irritated B.A. on the way over was also on our flight, but perhaps she didn't drink this time, for I never noticed her.

*If 40 36.7% Mass attendance sounds low for Polish Catholics, you should know that of the 15% of the residents of Scotland who are Catholic, only 19% of them go to Sunday Mass. This is about the same figure for English-speaking Catholics in Canada; I won't depress you with the numbers for French-Canadians.