Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Prayers for the Repose of the Soul of Julia's Babcia

A prayer request for long-term reader Julia's Babcia (grandmother), who died today in Australia.

Edwarda was 90 and a veteran of the Second World War. In fact, she was a member of the Polish Home Army and took part in the Warsaw Uprising. 

I have always enjoyed Julia's Babcia stories, and I hope she will share her memories with us in the future.

Please pray for Edwarda.  To her, O Lord, and to all who rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light and peace. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen. 

The Snow Is Sticking

I don't mean real snow. We do live in Scotland, but it's not as cold as that. I am talking about (guess) the Polish vocabulary that I shovel in great clouds into my brain, mostly through my eyeballs. The initial excitement of learning new Polish words, akin to that of a child perceiving the first snowflakes of winter, gives way to disappointment upon discovering that the words, like snowflakes on an as-yet-too-warm pavement, aren't sticking.

The way to make words stick, according to contemporary research, is through spaced self-testing, so I have been giving that a go. Meanwhile, five years of accumulated work--not that I was very systematic for the first two or three years, God wot--seem to have prepared the ground. Yesterday life handed me a pop quiz, and I passed it with honours.

In short, I was prevented from checking a Polish tourist guide out of the library by the Machine, which told me to see a human. I found a human, and she scanned the book into her computer. The computer said that the book was "in transit", but while looking over the librarian's shoulder, I saw that it was describing an entirely different book. Whereas the book we were investigating is called Polska by Roman Marcinek, the computer thought it was called  Lwów by Roman Marcinek. I pointed this out, so off we went to the Chief Wizard Librarian to see what was going on.

The CWL scanned the book into his computer, and I translated the description of the book the computer showed, which was clearly not about Poland but the beautiful city of Lviv which is no longer inside the Polish map. The CWL, dealing with barcodes, determined that that fault was with the ISBN number, and had nothing to do with the Machine's belief that the book was in transit. He cleared up the latter problem though some librarian magic, and now I have Polska  to hand, whatever the ISBN number thinks.

In case I have lost you, the point is that I could read a random text about a Polish tour guide. Okay, it muddified the fuzzification (as the great Allan Fotheringham would say). However, it showed that the snow is sticking, and once I am done memorizing all the vocabulary to Baltic, pies który płynał na krze", I will begin learning all unfamiliar words from the "Warszawa" section of Polska by Roman Marcinek.

In sad news, a Pole has actually been murdered--indeed, beaten to death--in Harlow, Essex, England by a gang of teenagers--boys and girls--just for speaking Polish on the street. Unfortunately, this is all too believable, not only because of anti-Polish sentiment to be found in the UK, but because of the moral degeneracy to be found among some British youngsters, both in history (one thinks of the razor gangs of the 1930s) and today.

P.S. I reshelved a Polish-language book whose title had obviously been mistaken for the name of the author. As much as librarians hate people doing this, I think in this circumstance it was a Good Deed.  The book is called Czarny Krab, and its author is Jerker Virdborg, so I do see the shelver's dilemma.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


I have heard it said that a house without a cat is not a home. The Historical House does not have a cat because cats can be absolutely ruinous to historical furnishings. The Last Aristocrat kept cats and they were very, very naughty to ye olde antique sofas. Therefore, I am not allowed to have a cat as long as I am the Lady of the Historical House.

Neither am I allowed dogs because there was once was someone living in the Historical Flat who... Well, the less said about that the better. At any rate, in my dreams a Siamese cat guards the Flat from invaders and a pug snores happily from the wing chair in my dressing room. Also I have my own garden and the houseplants flourish. It seems to me that it is much easier to keep a cat alive than a plant--but I digress.

I helped friends move house over the weekend, and it was terribly jolly. They have three children under six and now a back garden to keep them in. The garden has mint, lavender and dill. The children had grandparents, godparents, an uncle and a god-sibling in attendance. The men drove off to load boxes onto a van, and the women took turns tending to babies, humouring children and carrying the boxes (when they arrived) indoors and upstairs. The men informed each other of how Celtic was doing.  It was very lively. I enjoyed it all thoroughly.  I wished, not for the first time, that B.A. and I were 15 years younger and such family life joys weren't denied to us. Woe.

Thus, thoughts of such baby substitutes as pets, and as real pets are forbidden, robot pets. Another friend--very fond of cats--recently gave a robot cat to an elderly relation in a nursing home. The elderly relation has dementia, and so thinks it is a real cat. I'm afraid the cat wouldn't fool anyone else. It is definitely a robot--but a lovable robot.

I spent too much time last night searching the internet for a robot cat that really, really looked like a cat. The most lifelike robot pet currently in existence seems to be a baby seal ($8,000), which is used as therapy for the elderly.  It has been invented, of course, by the Japanese, and I wonder crossly why they haven't yet come up with a cat version just as good, and priced it at $100, so I can have one.  (Here's a link to what they have managed.)

Cat purists will no doubt say that there is no substitute for a real, living cat, and the litter box hassles plus the paw in the face at dawn are worth it. I am sure this is true. However, we can't have a cat and because I can't keep houseplants alive, the flat is devoid of life. What to do? (Please don't suggest cacti, for I have hated the prickly little things for as long as I can remember. Either my mother or my grandmother had some existing in a dish of silica pellets and the whole thing reminded me of death.)

Monday, 29 August 2016

Regional Differences

B.A. and I were watching the first episode of the new season of "The Great British Bake Off." The show is a national obsession, so it is not unusual viewing for men. In this episode the contestants were asked to make Jaffa cakes, a very British cookie. It's more of a flat cupcake than a cookie, though, and it's topped with orange jelly and a covering of thin chocolate.

Naturally the judges Paul--a leonine 49 year old Liverpudlian --and Mary--a patrician 81 year old from Bath--appear to wait out the challenge by eating perfectly executed Jaffa cakes of their own. I was paying them only half of my attention, so I was barely aware of Paul dunking one in his tea. 

"Ecccccccch," said B.A. in disgust and I looked up just as Mary said, "We don't do that in the South." This confused me. The South? Like, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee? But Mary is as English as my china pattern. She must have meant not-Lancashire. 

"What, did he double-dip?" I said brightly. 

"No, he just dipped it in his tea," said B.A.  

"It's wrong to dunk cookies in your tea?" 

"It's just Not Done."

"But in Canada everyone dunks their cookies in their tea." Or glasses of milk, I might have added, although come to think of it, I only did that because I saw it in ads. I don't actually like mushy cookies, or crumbs in my milk, or a wet sludge at the bottom of my tea cup. 

"I guess it's not just the South, then; it's Edinburgh, too," I concluded, but I could tell from B.A.'s unusually steely demeanor that he thinks it ought Not to be Done anywhere. 

"You could get away with it if you were an eccentric aristocrat," said B.A.--or something like that--which was a dead giveaway that cookie-dunking is not about region but about The Taxonomy That Must Not Be Named.  Meanwhile, I suppose that if you don't have any teeth--having had them all pulled out to save yourself the expenses of future dentistry--cookie-dunking makes complete sense.

However, Paul quite obviously has a tremendous set of choppers and, anyway, dunking a Jaffa cake must be ruinous to the chocolate. I suspect he did it to tease Mary and to create a minor scandal. 

Update: I must check with B.A. if he was talking about all cookies or Jaffa Cakes, which aren't really  cookies, at least for tax purposes and, of course, Cake Week on TGBB.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Language Parent and the Spy

It's Polski Piątek, so I will return to complaining about my brain. "Brain" in Polish is "mózg"--pronounced moozk--by the way.  Boli mnie mózg means "My brain hurts", and it most definitely did yesterday. This was thanks to my Language Parent, who was determined to fix the way I pronounce trz.

"It's not ch," she scolded. "It's trz, which is more like sh!"

Having just searched fruitlessly through Success with Languages (ed. Hurd & Murphy) and How We Learn (Carey), I can't tell you where I got the term "Language Parent" from. However, I can tell you that a Language Parent is someone who is willing to help you learn to speak his/her language in the same way a parent is willing to help his/her infant learn to speak his/her language: with sincere attention, good humour, constant correction and constant encouragement. This is a lot to expect from anyone who is not actually your parent, so if God sends you a Language Parent you must not look him or her in the mouth---except literally, to see how they make the trz sound.

My Language Parent works in the Historical House café--a seven minute walk from here--and is a force of nature. She very much likes people---very useful for language-learning--and perfected her English working in a tourist-trade shop on the Royal Mile, which culturally would be the equivalent of me working in a Judaica shop in Białystok. Clearly Language Parent is much tougher and braver than me.

Fortunately, Language Parent is confident in my powers and predicts that after two weeks in Warsaw, I'll be, like, "Cześć [incomprehensive youth slang with a rhythm strangely like that of a rap song]." I am not so sure, so I creep down to the café to await Language Parent's lunch break.  According to everything I have read, the best way to learn a language is to speak it to a native and listen to the native speak back to you as often as possible.

Naturally this is not easy because nothing in learning Polish is easy. However, it is made easier by LP's interest in my current children's storybook, which she has me read to her. LP interrupts at every word I get wrong (many) and assesses what my personal pronunciation and reading problems are. This is absolutely brilliant. Before LP pointed it out, I had no idea that I read the preposition "z" as  the preposition"w", but sure enough, during last night's Polish club meeting, I caught myself doing it.  How bizarre. Someone from Warsaw University should come and do a study on me.

According to How We Learn interruptions help us learn, so it is good to be corrected in this way--as long as it doesn't make us lose heart, of course. Mistakes also help us learn because we tend to remember them--when they are pointed out and corrected. When I was 10, I had my whole Times Table down cold except 8 x 7 = 56. Notice that I remember that.

At any rate, our concentration for half an hour was so intense that I got a headache and begged a paracetamol from the first member of Polish club who arrived. In general, I try not to think in Polish on the same day as Polish club or Polish class because it tires out my brain, which accordingly gives up at 8 PM, if not sooner.

Another brain-tiring activity is watching Polish films without English subtitles, which I can assure you I would not have had the discipline to do before 2015 or whenever it was that I made myself watch Przysłuchanie (The Interrogation) while house-sitting.  Przysłuchanie was emotionally intense and much, much too hard. Currently it is a better idea to watch a film with the English subtitles first, and then watch it without the subtitles or with Polish subtitles.

This week I watched the spy thriller Jack Strong, first with B.A. (English subtitles for the Polish and Russian parts) and then alone (Polish subtitles for the Russian and English parts). The best parts of the film (besides all the guy stuff that made it husband-friendly) were the scenes of the Polish spy trying to write a letter in English and of the American spy speaking beautifully grammatical Polish with a strong American accent. I now have a clear language goal; I want to speak Polish at least as well as an American spy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Is the Burqini Bad?

WHAT a MODEST pose! 
Oh dear. I have just written a post on how I feel about the burqini/burkini which I won't post because I have changed my mind again.  This article did it. 

Is the burqini useful, harmless beachwear, or is it a uniform expressing adherence to anti-western ideology?

I can't decide. As much as I fear the sun--being blue-eyed, red-haired and fair-skinned, fear of skin and eye cancer haunts me--I would not wear a burqini, let alone a burqa, because I don't want to be perceived as wearing an Islamist uniform. To completely block out the sun on the beach, I could wear a surfer's or long-distance swimmer's neoprene swimsuit and nobody would give me a second glance.

Should the burquini be banned? My best Catholic friends fight me on any kind of governmental bans on public dress because they fear this will come back to bite Catholics. I don't mind "hijab" aka foreign-looking headscarves because Christian and Jewish women in the west covered their hair day in, day out for centuries. Naturally, I think it is nicer and less ghettoizing when western Muslim women wear western headscarves instead of Saudi desertwear; I know a Muslim female theology student who tucks her hair into a big knitted cap. If you want to cover your hair, cover you hair. I don't mind. If you want to cover your hair with a silk square covered in swastikas, I wonder if covering your hair is actually your intent.

What I object to are uniforms, the uniforms of anti-western ideologies.  My father's mother's people were German-Americans, and my grandmother was a proud German-American, but neither she nor her family wore traditional German dress during the First and Second World Wars. I mean, it's not just that they didn't wear Nazi uniforms--which I am sure would have got them arrested for disturbing the peace, if for nothing else--it's that they didn't wear HIYA! I'M A PROUD GERMAN-AMERICAN NOT ALL GERMANS ARE NAZIS YOU KNOW clothing either. And France, as politicians solemnly tell us, is at war.

Well, sound off in the combox if you are moved to, but remember that as usual on my blogs, the tone of the combox is sternly restricted to good humour, wrinkly-foreheaded thought and mildly hurt feelings soon soothed by apologies and explanations.

UPDATE: This Spectator article explains the current social and cultural climate in France. I think one thing to be kept in mind is that the current fuss about the burkini is about the burkini in France. When we read about massacres in France, we feel sad and upset for a week or so. When the French read about (or see or survive) massacres in France, they stay mad. Understandably.  Especially in Nice.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Norcia Needs Our Help

Latest Update: Hilary White reports from Norcia. Absolutely harrowing.


Umbria has suffered a catastrophic earthquake. The epicentre was ten kilometres from St. Benedict's birthplace of Norcia (Nursia), and the nearby town of Amatrice was half-destroyed.  The Benedictines of Norcia didn't suffer any serious injuries, but their monastery and the church has taken damage.

Please consider donating to the Benedictines of Norcia here or to some agency assisting the devastated villagers of Umbria.  I will ask around and find out what those agencies are. Obviously Italy is not at the top of the list of worldwide disaster relief organizations. 

I am terribly, terribly, terribly cheap--ask any of my ex-boyfriends--no, actually, don't--but even I managed to whip out ye olde credit card and  give to the Benedictines of Norcia.  If you prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, well, these are our Benedictine monks, if you know what I mean. Charity begins at home, and if you're a trad who's been to Norcia.... Well, I don't even have to finish that thought.

Update: A friend suggests Caritas Italia but also the Monks of Norcia. If you want your money to go directly to Umbrian quake survivors, it may be a good idea to donate to the monks but make a note on the donation form that the money is for devastated townsfolk. It is actually physically difficult for rescuers to get to the mountain towns of Umbria, so it looks like the locals themselves are digging through the ruins for survivors.

Update 2: If you donate to Caritas Italia, specify that the money is for the earthquake victims with the words “Colletta terremoto centro Italia” (central Italy earthquake collection)".  More information: 

The Church which is in Italy joins in prayer for all the victims, and expresses fraternal closeness to the populations involved in this tragic event. The dioceses, parish networks, religious institutions, and lay groups are invited to alleviate the difficult conditions in which the persons are forced to live. For this purpose, the president of the CEI announces a national collection, to be held in Italian Churches on 18 September 2016, coinciding with the 26th National Eucharistic Congress, as the fruit of charity which comes from it, and the participation in all the concrete needs of the affected population.
The donated collections will be promptly sent to Caritas Italiana, Via Aurelia 796 - 00165 Roma, using the current postal account # 347013, or by bank transfer of the Banca Popolare Etica, via Parigi 17, Roma – Iban: IT 29 U 05018 03200 000000011113, specifying the reason: “Colletta terremoto centro Italia” (central Italy earthquake collection).

 In addition, please pray for the dead and wounded.

Every Backpacker's Mother's Worst Nightmare?

Of all the places to be attacked by a young "French national" yelling "Allah Ahbar", who would imagine a backpacker's hostel in Queensland, Australia?

Probably a mother, that's who.

One of my sisters had the Australian backpacker adventure, working as a waitress in some outback tavern, bungee-jumping, hugging koala bears... It never occurred to me to worry about her being stabbed to death by "French nationals." That was before I had access to the internet, so I didn't yet know about the cats-meat imam, the beach rioters and other colourful characters who have popped up in Oz.

My father has been to Australia a number of times, and he once brought back a book called "Dangerous Australians." It featured extremely scary snakes, man-eating plants, jumbo-jet sized bugs and probably fanged hedgehogs. Thus I was a bit nervous that my sister might encounter them.

I have a special horror of tourists who behave badly. Canadians pride ourselves on being our usual polite, self-effacing selves on holiday, and we flinch at the loudness of Americans. (Most American tourists I've come across abroad have been perfectly nice, but comparatively loud. A study should be done to see if Americans really are louder than anyone else. Germans are also loud, incidentally, and seem to think nobody around understands German when they make fun of the nuns walking across a piazza in Rome, etc.)  In fact, there are also loud Canadians, very likely including me. It's hard to tell when it's you. Meanwhile, B.A. and I cringe at stories of Britishers abroad, especially the ones who go to Poland, already out of their minds with drink. The worst tourists I have seen abroad were British men. However, I have never heard of a British backpacker suddenly hauling off and stabbing other backpackers--and a dog--while shrieking "Allah Akbar."

Incidentally, I also have a special horror of foreign students who behave badly.   This incident sank deep into my  soul. This is partly because I was a foreign student at the time. However, it may also  be because I have the highest respect for foreign students who can conquer language barriers and culture shock well enough to get a university degree abroad.

Whenever I think about going to the Jagellonian to finish my theology PhD ( one of my we-win-the-Lotto dreams), I feel chills of terror. Currently I am reading Benedict XVI's "Why I believe" in Polish, and it is soooo harrrrrrrd.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

On Writing for the Church 2

Simcha Fisher has been let go from NCR. I am stunned. Indeed, I need to sit down.

Oh dear. I am sorry. I'm not a regular reader, but Simcha is funny and full of faith. She has a houseful of children, and she isn't too proud to write about the poverty this can plunge you into; she wrote about it on Facebook, too. I read B.A. her remarks about losing-her-mind-bought-steak-on-green-stamps, and he laughed out loud at her "gravy from the blood of the American worker" quip. I can't decide which is more humiliating, green stamps or the food bank. (We don't have green stamps in Canada or the UK. Update: Actually, I don't know what they are. What do Americans mean when they talk about "green stamps"? Are they literally coupons?) Good for Simcha for laughing through her tears.

In the wake of the Mark Shea firing, I read about Simcha's use of naughty words on Facebook. This is the second time the Catholic blogosphere has been sent to Simcha's Facebook page. I remember some scandal involving her husband chiming in with the naughty words. Neither of them is a patch on my online pal Artur Rosman, who was fired from Patheos. I don't think that was for naughty words, though, but for fighting on social media and in comboxes.

Artur has an earthy sense of humour, which is putting it mildly. He thinks that there was a funny side to the Incarnation and that our Lord sees it too and agrees with Artur that it is hilarious. The fact that God the Son willingly took on our bodily functions... I'll just stop there.

Somebody disturbed by Artur's take on the Incarnation started to follow him on social media and to collect a dossier of outrageous comments he and his friends made to each other. (One pal delighted in leaving stuff when he knew Artur wasn't around to immediately erase it.) The stalker then sent the collection to the editor of OnePeterFive, who began a social media brawl, which spilled out onto the pavement of his blog, and it was really terrible. Artur said something fatally dumb, of which Steve made the worst possible (if not surprising) interpretation, and it went nuclear. Patheos stood by Artur (as did I, weakly wailing in the OnePeterFive combox), but at the next difficulty...

Anyway, here is a tip I learned from my dealings with American Catholic Media: conservative American Catholics hate other Catholics to use dirty words. This is true even of reported speech. I have written dialogue in which characters use the kind of words those kind of characters would use, and they have been struck out by uncomfortable American editors. We aren't talking just about the F-word which, incidentally, I don't use in public. We are talking about the S-word (which I also don't use in public).* The S-word cannot appear in American Catholic media without American Catholics going bananas, and I have come to respect that. It's part of the culture. It's not MY culture, but it's the culture of my biggest audience.

Rule Number One for Writers: Respect your audience. 

Meanwhile, my Facebook page isn't public, and here is where I explain to all readers that, with very few exceptions, I don't become Facebook friends with someone I haven't met in person. I think it is mad to assume that, having given the world access to your family-and-friends bulletin board, the world won't look and your self-appointed enemies won't take screen shots to shame you.

Rule Number Two for Writers: Know your audience. 

I think we have come to a particularly acrimonious time in both the Church and in American politics--and I have a pretty good memory. When I was a child, a media take on Ronald Reagan was that he was an irresponsible, warmongering cowboy-idiot who might very well lead us all to nuclear armageddon. People groaned in holy horror that an actor had been elected president. And, of course, someone tried to assassinate him. However, the Clinton-Trump stuff is beyond the scale of nastiness and worry, and I feel terrible for my American readers who think they have to choose between them.

Some years ago, a friend was dithering between the Republicans and the Junior Senator from Illinois. She really didn't like the Republicans, but the Junior Senator's voting record on life issues was abysmal.  Speaking as a Canadian, I am fascinated by the Americans' "write-in candidate" option, so I asked her who she honestly thought would make a good president.

"My dad," she replied.

"Besides your dad," I said.

"Oprah," she admitted.

Okay, Oprah struck me as a viable candidate. I imagined that any number of people were probably already writing in Oprah's name. If enough people refused to do as they were told and just voted like FREE AMERICANS for Oprah, beautiful it would be. The people would really have told the political class where they get off.

But I digress.

Rule Number Three for Writers: Write from the heart, but keep a cool head. 

I honestly don't know how much NCReg pays its columnists. I don't imagine that it's much, but whatever it is, it must be better than zero. This strikes me primarily as a financial blow for the Fisher family, and for that I am truly sorry.  Of course Simcha's fans will still be able to read her writing online, but how one earth to make online writing pay without begging is a conundrum I, for one, have not been able to solve.

Update: American traditionalists may wonder why I didn't mention NCRegister's firing of Pat Archibald. It is because Archibald had a column at The Remnant  (and therefore a new paycheque) before I registered that NCR had let him go. To be frank, I take a writer's point of view on all this. We write because we love to write--often to the point of being unable to do much else--but we also need to eat. Of course we can't fake what we believe to sucker editors and readers into giving us money--an unforgivable sin in a columnist. However, it is sad (if inevitable) when your point of view and the owners' points of view diverge so much that you are let go. It's sad for your fans, but it's even sadder for you because, hello, food, shelter, clothing, student loan payments, hardworking spouse who can't bear the financial burden alone.

*Since I'm on the subject, there are all kinds of words I don't think ladies and gentlemen should use in public--at least, not in mixed company. Naturally, what words these are is determined by culture. The Polish word for "whore" is so bad (yet nowadays so used) that a friend once bragged that his father had never said it in his life. In French Canada, two of the worst swears are the French for "chalice" and "tabernacle". "Whore sitting on a tabernacle" is so bad, I am imagining my Quebecker brother dissolving into giggles as he reads. However, in both Poland and Germany it is perfectly acceptable to exclaim the Holy Name as an expression of surprise.

What swearing is (and often what blasphemy is) is culturally determined. I am uneasy about writing down anything any English-speaking Catholic would construe as a blasphemy--even when spoken by a blasphemer (say a character in a book)--but I have no problem at all quoting a naughty word--when necessary for a piece of art. Context. Intent.

Monday, 22 August 2016

On Writing for the Church

As the American-and-Canadian side of the Catholic blogosphere has lit up with the news that Mark Shea is no longer writing for the National Catholic Register (not to be confused with Canada's plain old Catholic Register), I have some thoughts. The first is that nobody gets rich writing for the Catholic media. There are some "rock stars" of Catholic publishing--I am thinking of Fr. Ron Rolheiser and Sister Joan Chichister--but however much their books bring in, that goes to their religious orders. They have vows of poverty. They don't have kids.

If you want to make money in the Catholic media, don't become a writer. Become an editor or a fundraiser or part of a sales team, or anything that looks like a 9-5 job that pays more than minimum wage. Become a graphic artist. Design computer programs. Become tech support.

Of course, if you are are a writer, the kind of person who would rather write than do anything else, then you rejoice whenever anyone buys one of your pieces, and you are pleased when you get a column in a Catholic paper or magazine. I am very grateful that there are Catholic editors out there--probably not terrifically well paid themselves--who like my stuff enough to offer me space in their journals. A column here and a column there and a piece on this here and an interview there eventually add up--especially as, unlike Mark Shea, I have not been blessed with children.

Stop me if I've told this story too often, but when I gave some lectures in Poland--and Canada's Mr Coren was quite right when he told me appearances make more money than writing--a shy young lady asked me how to become a writer. I asked her when she had started writing. She hadn't started writing. It was just an idea she had--a wish to become a writer. At risk of being a total writer cliché, I told her not to become a writer. If you're a writer, you write. You just do. And the pay is terrible.

I didn't tell her that the writing that pays best is not the best writing. My mother is addicted to softcover fiction, and yesterday I began reading one of the books she took out of the library. It is set in Sheffield and is about three women, a Bridget Jones knock-off whose boyfriend keeps a spreadsheet rating their acts of intimacy, an empty nester who discovers her husband in bed with a blonde, and a young woman whose fun life of working in joe jobs all around the world comes to an unwelcome end when Brexit  she is summoned to her father's hospital bedside. Eventually all these women will meet in, I think, Italian class--the reason I chose this of all Mum's library books to read. Eat, Pray, Love will no doubt ensue. It's a fun (if also disturbing) read, and as intellectually nutritious as a bowl of vinegar crisps. The sex-based humour is very ho-ho-ho, men, eh?

It's a bestseller. The author is bestselling. She's very talented at what she does, which is write that sort of women's novel. I would like to be able to do that too--quite apart from the money, it would be fun-- except that I read  Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner and Possession by A.S. Byatt, which ruined me for "OMG," typed Alice into her mobile. She didn't know what else to say. Tony had been hinting about this for awhile now. Maybe she was just a prude. Sandra's attitude was that she would do anything once, but Alice retained a sense that there were things a girl who had once won a blue ribbon at the Chuffing Village Gymkhana just should not do. 

Back to Mark Shea. I wasn't a regular reader of his stuff, since he wrote about issues of more interest to Americans than to anyone else, but I liked him at his most cheerful, and I was pleased when he linked to Seraphic Singles and echoed my plea to the Catholic men of the world not to talk about chastity and sex on the first date. At the time, I thought of him and Father Z as the kings of the Catholic blogosphere. I think Mark liked that. (Father Z didn't write back.)

My hope for Mark Shea--keeping in mind that I have no pony in the U.S. horse race--is that he gets a job in the mainstream media. There are serious difficulties for Catholic laymen whose livelihoods come entirely from the Catholic media vineyard, and Mark Shea's Catholic career is proof of that.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Wanda Półtawska

Wanda Póltawska with a priest who looks sort of familiar. Hmm...
A friend sent me a link to a speech on  "the family" by a very elderly lady named Wanda Półtawska. I didn't know anything about her at all, and I wasn't sure if she was talking about a threat to the family or she was the threat to the family. So I looked her up here on what seems to be a feminist site, and the "critical biography" sternly mentions what the writer disapproves of in this courageous woman, e.g. nationalism and her stance against contraception, while giving her due reverence for being an Important European Woman. (Incidentally, if nationalism is so terrible, why the biannual obsession with the Olympics?)

Like Blessed Natalia Tułasiewicz, Wanda Półtawaska was imprisoned in Ravensbruck prison camp. Unimaginable things happened to her, mentioned in the article, including--I am warning you in advance--medical experiments. The day before I read it I had remarked to my friend the Polish waitress that every single time I read about Poland in the Second World War, I am surprised and horrified by yet another ghastly revelation. (When I am in Warsaw this November, I will be staying near the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, and she had just advised me to prepare myself before I visited.)

The Culture of Death, most obvious in Nazi prison camps, continues across the world today--in ISIS occupied countries, but also in supposedly-sterile hospitals and laboratories in the West. Ugh. What a truly horrible thought. No wonder we distract ourselves from it as much as we can as often as we can.

If you understand Polish well, you might profit by the Youtube video I was sent. So far I cannot understand most of it, actually.  I think I will need to find a transcript somewhere before I can really appreciate what she says.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Confessions of a Late Worker

Occasionally I receive "Dear Auntie Seraphic" emails from high school students, which I don't encourage as I don't think the under-18 set should be writing to random grown-ups on the internet without their parents' knowledge. They want advice about dating, and I tell them this is for later, their job right now is to study and explore the worlds of mathematics, languages, art, geography, etc. and--by the way--they should  share my email with their mothers or, if they don't get on with their mothers, their favourite aunts.

I have never received a request for advice from a child, which is just as well, but the advice I wish I had got when I was, say, seven was "Talent is just the icing; work makes the cake."

Be it far from me to blame the Parable of the Ten Talents for an overemphasis on personal, unearned ability in the training of the young. I was going to blame a misunderstanding, a wrongful equation of the "ten talents" (by the way, a talent was an enormous weight of coins worth approx $500, 000 US in total) with "God-given abilities", but it would appear that the traditional understanding of the Ten Talents is indeed an exhortation to use your "gifts". (If I am wrong on this, I would very much welcome a correction.)

We are brought up to admire and feel awe for "gift", for seemingly effortless ability. It seems infinitely more precious than stinky old hard work. "She makes it look so easy," we sigh, especially if we ourselves have attempted whatever it is and failed. I am overwhelmed with mingled admiration and envy whenever my husband pronounces French "R". He can purr in the back of his throat with such ease, I bang my head on the dinner table in dismay. Meanwhile, he barely speaks a word of French. It seems a shame that I, not he, have been bitten by the polyglot bug, but there it is.

Perhaps there are exercises for greater control of the back of the throat. And this sentence shows the essential difference between Child Dorothy and Adult Dorothy, for Child Dorothy would not have thought of that. She would have said "I guess I'm not talented in that way" and given up at once. My whole childhood was a long recitation of things I was not talented at: swimming, figure-skating, ballet, piano lessons, gym class, hockey and eventually maths.

Nevertheless, I was singled out and separated from my peers for the school board's "Gifted Program", which meant I spent one day a week at a different school as a guinea pig for educational experiments. Scholastically, I was considered "Gifted"--probably because I had good manners, above-average facility in verbal communications and had not yet--at the age of 9--come up with a bump against x + y = z.

It was very bad for me to be marked out as a Special Snowflake, alone of all my peers. The resentful peers spent the next three years cutting me down to size, and I coped by floating in my teacher-supported daydream of superiority--when I wasn't berating myself for my inability to dance, play piano, enjoy gym class, etc., etc. Despite these physical infirmities, adults thought I was mentally GIFTED in away my classmates weren't, and this set me apart. (We were encouraged in Gifted Program to discuss being marginalized for our giftedness and therefore to wallow in self-pity.)

Fortunately, I really did have a easily won, God-given ability to write stories, and as unpopular as I was, I held my classmates spellbound--there really is no better word for it--when I was asked to read one in front of the class. I tended to write them at the breakfast table the very day they were due; those flashes of inspiration do, in hindsight, seem heaven-sent.

What was missing in my mental make-up was a belief that I could master any skill (or most skills) through concentration and hard work. I just didn't believe it. I didn't connect my brother's skill at the piano with the hours and hours he spent playing. (As an adult, my brother finally bumped into the glass ceiling separating the highly gifted amateur and the world-class professional, a story I'd love him to write about.) He had the ten talents. I had one--and only one.

I wish I had known then that a talent really meant a half-million dollars, not a single shiny coin.

My inability to believe in the power of work continued, atrociously, into university, and I would have been suspended from my undergraduate program--I, the Gifted--had I not switched from Classics to English and used my mostly unearned, God-given talent to write last-minute essays that wrung As and A+s from apparently grateful professors. (God bless them.)  My subsequent M.A. program was a bit of a nightmare, as for the first time in my life, I had to read really, really hard stuff, i.e. Freud and Lacan, and somehow comment intelligibly on what I was later assured was unintelligible.

So when did I finally learn to work? Appropriately enough, at work. At a proper 9-5, first doing incredibly boring office work and then doing rather more interesting, if routine, government office work. But also--and possibly more importantly--in a gym, lifting increasingly heavy weights (starting painfully at 5 lbs) and running on an increasingly fast treadmill. It was at the gym--at the ripe old age of 25--that I saw and knew that effort brought improvement.

I really had no expectations other than growing stronger and (above all) losing weight. I had no ego about weights. I didn't despair because the big guys around could lift 200 lb weights whereas my hardly-used biceps could barely manage to curl five pounds. This was quite a contrast to my high school anguish that my poetry was, next to that of T.S. Eliot, utter rubbish.

Then the same went for boxing, at which I trained for up to 3 hours a session, three nights a week. I had no God-given talent for boxing--I knew enough about boxing to know that--but I could do it out of sheer practice and determination.

Sheer practice and determination improved my languages, too. After gym, work and boxing gym, or nights the boxing gym was shut, I worked through an Italian textbook, a French textbook, a Latin textbook and an Ancient Greek textbook. In short, I did the kind of work I ought to have done as an undergraduate. Eventually I put aside French and Greek and focused on Latin and Italian. My great reward came when I toured Italy with a Contiki tour group and actually spoke Italian. (This alienated me from most of the tour group, in which a strangely adolescent dynamic flourished, but I did not let that ruin my enjoyment and set off on priceless solitary adventures.)

"You were never talented at languages," someone once said to me--rather devastatingly--but it's true. God didn't give me the ear for them, and I wasn't sent to French immersion, and I just plodded through elementary school French classes like an obedient donkey, assuming (wrongly) that this would eventually lead to fluency. Not to get all Pelagian about it--note how we even curse hard work with accusations of heresy--but whatever foreign-language communications I can make came from sheer, determined, forehead-wrinkling, tooth-grinding graft.

Above all the things I wish I knew when I was seven, I wish I knew that. As long as you can work, think, concentrate--as long as you strive--you are not powerless. You are not at the mercy of talent. Macie siłę.

Update: I have been reading a book about horseback riding by a woman who was frightened by horses but decided to spend a year conquering fear.  It is called My Year with a Horse, and the author Hazel Southam has this to say in the postscript: "What's been interesting about these five years is that I've been doing something that I don't naturally excel at. This is very rare. Ask yourself when this happens in your life? I wager that it doesn't." 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Baggy Eighties

This morning I am pondering the Clothing of my Youth, which is to say of the 1980s.  Until 1987, short skirts were out and long skirts were in--when skirts were in, that was. In the earliest 1980, one did not wear skirts, one wore jeans, unless one was me, wearing my mother's 1960s tartan skirts. I hated them then but I wore them again in the 90s and 00s. I was taller and thus had thus returned to their original mini-skirt status.

My mother's motives for dressing me thus were of economy and general dislike of jeans. It was not about "modesty" because--this will blow your minds--it was actually difficult to dress immodestly when you were a child in the 1980s. If you were determined to do so and could get away with it, I suppose you could have worn a T-shirt with some saucy double-endre motto. You could also buy make-up which you smuggled out of the house and applied in the girls' washroom at school. In the 1980s, Catholic parents in Toronto generally frowned at their 12 year old daughters wearing the ton of make-up de rigeur for adult women back then.

Nevertheless, in the 1980s barely pubescent girls still felt a vague internal pressure to feel or look "sexy", and the standard for "sexy" in 1983 was set by a movie called Flashdance, which I not allowed to see.  Flashdance featured an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, leg-warmers and headbands (i.e. a string or piece of fabric around the forehead, originally worn by tennis players to keep the sweat from their eyes). In the generally covered up schoolyard, Jennifer Biel's one bared shoulder was just the epitome of glamour and daring. When I made my own headband--a fancy braid of bright blue macramé yarn--I was mocked for trying to look attractive to the boys. I got pink leg-warmers for Christmas, which I cherished and wore to ballet class, but I never dared rip the neck out of a sweatshirt and wear it á la Biel.

I remember the fashions of the 1980s so distinctly because, after my weird hair, my weird clothes were the bane of my existence. To underscore this to traditionalists in the audience, my clothes were no more modest than the clothes of the other children. It was as unthinkable (and laughable) to wear the lady's miniskirt of the 1960s as it was to wear the lady's maxiskirt of the 1970s: kids wore jeans. The fact was that my mother hated malls and enjoyed sewing dresses and knitting sweaters and knew--even if we didn't--that she was supplying us with better quality clothes than the mall sold to the parents of our peers. I developed a fanatical longing to "fit in" which was so obvious that my peers' ridicule intensified, and I was truly shocked and disappointed to discover that my first pair of jeans did not solve all my social problems.

Neon-bright clothing came in, and Cyndi Lauper and Madonna appeared simultaneously.  They wore a lot of clothes, and indeed female rock stars did wear an awful lot of clothes in the 1980s. They wore long skirts, flounced skirts, fingerless gloves, jean jackets, stirrup pants, baggy sweaters and hats. So did female characters in movies, as you can see in The Breakfast Club,  a movie which I had to battle my mother to see but did see. Madonna blew a hole in all this 1980s upholstery when she wore underwear as outerwear, but she was definitely in the minority and, anyway, that wasn't until 1986.

Elements of the punk counter-culture did trickle down to the heavily-dressed mainstream before 1986, which is how I explain the presence of a black T-shirt covered in zippers hidden in my friend's room. It was either 1984 or 1985, and neither she nor I would have been allowed to wear it in pubic. The zippers actually zipped.  It was the raciest piece of clothing I had ever seen in my life, and I longed to wear it. I was absolutely sure it would spark love in the heart of my crush object of the time; like many girls that age, I had the concepts of love and lust all mixed up and hadn't a clue what it was that made boys really like girls. Fortunately, I never did wear it. At least, I don't think I did.

Indeed, my breakout costume--which made my mother cry--was a button-down shirt, a purple pullover and grey cords, which I wore in 1985 to a high school dance. My mother thought I ought to wear my ice-blue, shoulder-padded, belted church dress with dress shoes. (If it was a gift from my American grandmother, as I suspect, it must have come from JP Penny.) Shirt, pullover and cords were borrowed from a worldly-wise church friend who identified as a "prep" (which meant she favoured, among other things, golf shirts with little crocodiles on them) and was wont to repeat such prep-positive slogans as "Pink and green make the scene."

Today I think it is very funny--and rather touching--that it was then perfectly unobjectionable for a girl to wear a collared shirt and a purple pullover to a high school dance. I met a lot of boys, danced up a storm and had a wonderful time. I felt normal at last--indeed, better than normal.  And when my mother dried her tears, she went to the hated mall and bought me my own purple pullover and grey trousers. (I still have the trousers.)

Then the 1960s revival hit.  The mini came back in in 1986 or 1987 and I gave up wearing trousers to dances for the new femininity. Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach Video" (which caused an uproar half because of the racier costume and half because it seemed to be anti-abortion) meant the malls stocked underwear-as-outwear. I recall trying on a bustier in a dressing-room, and my accompanying pal and I shrieked with shocked laughter.  This went beyond the 1960s mad sleevelessness. This was almost cleavage! 

I didn't have the courage to buy Madonna's bustier--I don't think I ever saw a girl wearing one--but I did summon up the gall to buy sleeveless turtlenecks in green and a black-and-white pattern. I was so embarrassed to be sleeveless at first that I wore my new top with an open oversized black-and-white shirt when I went to my own school dance. They went with my new stretchy black mini, of which I was greatly fond. Shoulders--scary. Legs--no problem.

So those were the 1980s. Until Madonna came along--and even for some time after that--it was a decade rather covered up. I was obsessed with fashion and spent whatever money I had at the mall, especially at Le Chateau, which specialized in cheap knockoffs of the latest runway fashions. (They were a tad extreme; I liked extreme.) I wore sleeveless turtlenecks with ballooning skirts, with tight miniskirts and with short, floaty skirts. I wore flats and kitten-heels. Most of the time, when I was not in my school uniform, I wore jeans and pullovers.  I wore big earrings. For a formal dance, my mother made me a bubble dress, the bubble skirt having very briefly come back into fashion. The frothiness of the bubble made the dress very short; in balance, it was long sleeved and, yes, featured another mock turtleneck.

In the 1980s we showed a lot of leg--if we wore skirts--but we did not show our breasts or emphasize our buttocks. We knew about hot-pants, but they were considered relics of the laughable 1970s or stripperwear. Madonna was not considered a good role model for Catholic girls, and so the average Catholic girl in my elementary school and high school did not dress like Madonna. I remember envying asymmetrical haircuts and breathing in the clouds of hairspray thought necessary for the big hair of the day. (My big hair was kept short from 1984 until 1990.) Ordinary women did not get breast implants, let alone butt implants.

I am trying to remember what clothing (or lack thereof) my friends and I thought immodest--besides bustiers, short-shorts, cleavage, bare shoulders, that is. Probably all the hooker clothes Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman, which came out in 1990, especially the boots.  Poor Vivian looks very flat-chested for the poster girl for prostitution now, doesn't she?

Needless to say, we would have all been staggered by Beyoncé's outfits, to say nothing of the Kardashians. At the same time, I would have been very hurt and surprised had an adult condemned my black stretch mini. Some girls in my high schools managed to cut their kilts down even shorter than my beloved skirt, and I never realized just how short we wore our uniforms until I visited the old school 10 years or so after graduation. The 1990s--never mind the 1980s--were over, and I was staggered by all the teenage leg on unconscious display until I thought back.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Black Camisole in the Sanctuary

This post may definitely leave me open to accusations of mad traddery. I am not sure. However, we all love a discussion of women's dress, do we not?

When I was a teenage Trekkie, my mother remarked that the heating system on the Starship Enterprise must have been rather strange, as the men wore heavy jerseys and trousers whereas the women wore mini-dresses. I thought of this yesterday in a Catholic church as I listened to a choir sing Vespers and noticed fumed that although the men were soberly attired in black button-down shirts, covered from neck to wrist, there was a young woman in the very center wearing what appeared to be a black camisole. There was also two female instrumentalists with bare arms. Really, I had not seen so much skin on display in a Catholic church, let alone in the sanctuary, for so long, that I was seriously taken aback.

Bare arms, bare shoulders... It really doesn't seem like much to cause a distraction. They're just arms. They're just shoulders. (We'll get to the upper chest later.) And yet the male choristers didn't appear in the sanctuary in tank tops. I couldn't see their arms or their shoulders, and I would certainly have found it startling if I could. I am just no longer used to seeing bare arms and bare shoulders in church. Indeed, I am no longer used to seeing women in the sanctuary, so seeing women--women under the age of 60, that is, for I occasionally go to Mass in the Ordinary Form--in the sanctuary was itself a bit of a rarity. Speaking as a woman, I wish all the women had dressed as decorously as the men.  Speaking as a woman, I was embarrassed.

To be strictly fair, I should note that B.A. didn't even notice. He was much more interested in which composers' works were going to be used for this Vespers, which was both a Christian celebration and yet also a performance in an arts festival. And also to be strictly fair, the woman showing the most flesh had a lovely, professionally-trained voice. For a moment, it made me forget the vast expanse of pale flesh contrasting so dramatically with all the black clothing. I suppose it would be most charitable to assume that she didn't know she was going to be performing in a Christian church, or at least, that she didn't know she was going to be appearing at the very front of the Christian church. However, I doubt such an assumption would be intellectually honest.

It is much more likely that neither she nor her conductor thought there was anything wrong with women choristers wearing black camisoles during Christian services (although presumably they would have objected to male choristers doing the same), and if any Christian were offended by this, that was the Christian's problem, not theirs.

And maybe it is. However, I can't get past the contrast between the men who were covered from neck to wrist, from neck to floor, and the women who weren't. I feel something similar when I see a man wearing shorts and a T-shirt while his wife, clad in hijab and a black abaya, pushes a pram beside him. Why does the man wear western clothes when his wife does not? Why don't women cover up for church when men do?

I mean, really. Put yourself in my shoes. I am in a large Catholic church, and all the men and women I see in the congregation seem to be soberly dressed. It is not a hot day although I certainly feel warm wearing my coat indoors. There are perhaps 15 men on the altar, a half-dozen in clerical choir dress, perhaps three of those in chasubles or dalmatics as well. The rest of the men are in decorous black. The women, too, are in black, except for the flash of arm playing the cello and--in the very centre, right behind the altar, right before the tabernacle--an expanse of bare female chest.

Am I getting old? Would I have noticed this ten years ago? Is this what happens when you habitually worship among men who wear jackets and women who wear veils to Mass? Is human flesh really THAT distracting in a place of worship, or am I suddenly oversensitive?

As certain instruments demand freedom of movement, I could understand that musicians would prefer to wear sleeveless shirts during performances--except that men musicians don't. Somehow a convention has sprung up that men must not show any flesh but their faces, necks and hands in formal settings, but women may show our legs, arms, shoulders, cleavage, stomachs--anything at all, really, as long as it is not "bikini area", or too much all at once. Why? If it is to express proud femininity--well, there is such a thing as a skirt.

There are overwrought young Catholic men (or at least I know of an overwrought young Catholic man) who think women should dress as the Blessed Virgin Mary is depicted on statues, which I imagine would be extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient in urban Scotland, if sensible for first century Palestine. Let's not be ridiculous. However, let us not entirely discount the testimony of men who say they are distracted--quite against their will--by what flesh women flash in church. I am a middle-aged married woman and yet I too was quite distracted by what flesh women flashed in church. It entirely ruined any enjoyment or edification I might have experienced or true worship I might have expressed. To a certain extent, this is probably my fault. But only to a certain extent.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Fifty Shades of Patricide

This is, actually, the worst (probably teenage) daughter I have read about in my whole entire life. Words fail me. I just can't imagine being in the shoes of anyone who could do that. The only guess I can come up with is that she has been thoroughly coarsened by the pop culture of which FSG is the nadir.

Strict father, my eye. My parents would have had my guts for garters had they caught me reading the 1980s equivalent of FSG, let alone overheard me saying it was my favourite book.

Update: Words have come back. "Honour your father and mother" is the fourth commandment, and it is not conditional. If you have terrible parents, you get to a safe distance as soon as you can, work to forgive them so that your horrible childhood has less of a hold on your soul, and you save them--even if at arm's length--from dying in a bus shelter in their old age, if you can.

Fortunately, most people do not have terrible parents. Most of us have flawed parents, and those flaws are most noticeable when we are shifting from a childhood perception of our parents as all-wise and invincible--that is, when we are teenagers. In theology school, we called such a time "critical distance." In short, we move from a false image of someone to an unhappy new realization and, hopefully, we get through it and come to accept the person for who she or he really is.

Sadly, various forces--most clearly advertisers--take advantage of the teenager's period of "critical distance" to direct a child's natural (and divinely commanded) loyalty to his or her parents to some other authority, like an artist with music to sell. Advertisers preach a gospel of teenage rebellion against parents as if it were a fact, not a construct made up by Hollywood. (When I was a teenager, I was not particularly interested in rebelling against my parents but in the stultifying hypocrisy that seemed to flourish  in the Metropolitan Toronto Separate [i.e. Catholic] School Board. Oh, and also various prevailing ideologies, like multiculuralism vs the centuries-old process of fashioning a uniquely Canadian identity, similar to the process that had developed in Australia. But I digress.) This normalization of "teenage rebellion" makes things all that much easier for people who would seduce children away from their parents--for example, older, wilier, would-be boyfriends. It's almost amusing how teenage girls are so ready to disobey their parents to obey some new near-stranger, thinking that this is all very brave and grown-up and Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet, by the way, is the most misunderstood, and probably the most disastrous, of our culture treasures. To repeat yet again, the point about Romeo and Juliet is that their parents had everything in common and therefore the two principals were perfectly--from a social point of view-- matched, and the tragedy was caused solely because their fathers had a long-standing neighbours row. It is as if, in suburban Cardiff, Mr Jones and Mr Davies couldn't agree who owned the tree along the dividing line between their back gardens, and as a result, young Rhys Jones was not invited to the Davies' snazzy 18th birthday bash for their Carys. The quarrel between Capulet and Montague had absolutely nothing to do with race, ethnic group, social background, religion or even what age it was appropriate for girls to accept suitors. The Capulets were perfectly happy to marry Juliet off before she was 14.

Anyway, I am shivering in horror that things in the West have come to such a pretty pass, and that the attack on the family--which is what the celebration and promotion of "teenage rebellion" comes down to--has been so successful, that a girl in Britain would be psychologically capable of wrongly accusing her father of eight counts of incestuous rape, making up her testimony from a dirty bestseller.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Douai Abbey Retreat

Fr Crean is a good guy and a great priest, so I am wholeheartedly promoting his

Young Catholic Adult Weekend @ Douai Abbey 28st -30th Oct 2016

Are you 18-40, do you want to deepen your knowledge of the Catholic  faith, learn its devotions and meet like minded people? Young Catholic Adults are organizing a weekend at Douai Abbey in Berkshire) led by Fr. Thomas Crean O.P. You’ll be able to hear catechetical talks, learn how to sing Gregorian Chant, say the Rosary, socialize and have fun. Book soon as places are limited!

This weekend is a unique experience, which brings the Catholic faith to a new generation!
 For updates goto:- For more details goto:- Prices start from £12.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Speak Any Language in 6 Months?

Today I found this TED talk, and I found it very interesting, as you can imagine. The most important points are personal relevance; communicating from Day 1;  "comprehensible imput" (that is, when you know it, you know it); physiological; having a positive, relaxed mental state.

My Polish skills have approved a lot this summer because I have been focusing on one project--reading a children's book with my Polish learners' club. I am the moderator, and so I put a lot of work preparing for the meetings, including compiling little dictionaries for each chapter. I hand out the vocab for the next week's chapter at the end of meetings.

At the beginning of meetings, I give a quiz--an incentive for everyone else to memorize at least ten words. The one big rule of Polish club is that nobody is allowed to speak English for an hour. Thus we all have one solid hour of Polish immersion, even though that Polish is mostly Learner Polish. However, kindly Polish native volunteers appear to help us out, which is extremely awesome of them.

Preparation + our little group conversations about the book + listening to Polish recordings in the morning = greater fluency in spontaneous conversations, as I've discovered from visiting the Historical Café.  And four of five of the above points do indeed play a role in this:

1. Club conversations are about chapters of this book, so the vocabulary of the chapters is highly relevant for our conversations.

2. Everyone gets a turn reading aloud and everyone asks each other questions, so communication is a given.

3. Many words are repeated in subsequent chapters of the book. Frequent repetition in different contexts most definitely sticks vocabulary words in the mind. As my friend in the Historical Café struggled to grasp what a Scot meant by "bin bag"(i.e. garbage bag), I was able to supply "wórek na śmierci" because two of them show up in the early chapters of the club's book.

4. The physiological is something I could definitely work on, but I have been trying to a certain extent to improve my accent by, er, lifting my top lip in a kind of Elvis-sneer.  I really like the idea that learning--or at least speaking--a language is more about physical exercise than about knowledge. Of course--you use your eyes, your ears, your tongue, your voice box, your jaw and probably your teeth.

5. In Polish club, we have some time to chat in English and get ready for our hour of speaking and listening to only Polish, and we start by chanting the week's vocabulary list together, repeating after the Polish volunteer. Next the volunteer reads aloud to us like a young Matka Polska to her babies. Then, thoroughly relaxed, we read aloud. Finally, we ask each other questions. A question sometimes leads to a full-fledged group conversation, interruptions and all.

Naturally we have all been trying to learn Polish for more than six months. Meanwhile, I really very much want to improve before I go to Warsaw in November and very much immerse myself.

The TED talker says that immersion doesn't work, but I think it probably works if the immersion is geared to the student (as French immersion school is geared to schoolchildren) or if the student has already had a good grounding in the grammar and, say, a thousand words. Of course we'll drown if we're just chucked into a pond of foreign without being taught the first thing about swimming.

I am not sure yet where I am staying in Warsaw. However, I wrote an email to a convent there this morning, so hopefully I will have good news soon.

Update: Hmm. The language learning blogging community begs to differ with Mr Lonsdale. Here's one post on the topic. Gosh, there's a whole world of language blogs out there.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Love Local

It's almost ridiculous, but an ISIS sympathizer in Strathroy has been killed by police in Strathroy, Ontario after detonating "a device".  Where? Well you may ask.

Strathroy is a tiny town near London, Ontario in what I call farm country. The ISIS sympathizer was named Aaron Driver; I would not be surprised to discover men on both sides of his family fought for Canada in the First and Second World Wars. I would also not be surprised to find out that half his ancestors were from Holland, because I associate Strathroy with ollie balls, not freaking ISIS.

Strathroy is a fair distance from my native Toronto, but I had a friend from there in my university days (the maker of the ollie balls) who had come to the Big Smoke to work for IBM. In the 1990s, working for IBM carried the caché of working for Google now, but I digress.

I'm really thinking about living and loving locally, which may sound rich coming from me, an expat who married a Scot and relies greatly on the internet to make and sustain relationships. However, when people are so into the internet that they heed voices that come out of it telling them to kill their actually physically near neighbours, there is definitely a problem.

No doubt journalists in Canada will find out exactly WHY an Anglo-named Canadian from the sticks was attracted to a violent form of Islam. I shall read with interest. I understand that there is a lot of boredom (and therefore drugs) in farm country nowadays, but surely the neighbours think of interesting things to do outdoors in their spare time?

After reading this news, I went to the nearest  proper supermarket which is a mile away and across a river. I took the time to have a proper look at who else was at Tesco before noon. Not surprisingly, they were mostly elderly people and mums with prams. I recognized a cabbie from the local taxi company helping an old wifie with her bags. I tend to be a daydreamer when I walk, but this time I really wanted to focus on who my neighbours were.

On the way back, I popped into the Historical Coffee Shop to have a wee bit of a blether in Polish with the Polish server, who is literally the Pole closest to me, being only metres away from the Historical House. Then I went into the HH to put away the groceries, say hello to my mother, and work on learning a Polish song about the Vistula (Wisła) River.

The song is very sweet, and its proud conclusion is that Poland will last as long as the Wisła flows, and I was delighted that the Polish composers and singers of the song identify so much with something physical, something local, something in the landscape that came before them, something so many Poles live near, as it flows from the mountains to the south to the Baltic Sea in the north. I wish I knew a song about my local river here in Scotland.

Don Camillo and the Heterodox Priest

Actually, this is not a Don Camillo story, but it could be. If it were, at the end Dom Camillo (or "Mr Pulaski") would brag of his cleverness to Christ Crucified and be royally slapped down.

What would have made the story morally palatable is if the parish council hired a detective to find out what was going on with Fr. Stan. Then they could have gone to him in person and presented him with the evidence and the ultimatum. Or, indeed, depending on the severity (personally I suspect he just up to no good with the wannabe priestess), they could have gone to the police.

Ah me. O tempora, o mores.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A Curious Find

My visiting mother reads several books a week, so it is a good thing that I have a library card. We fill up at three Edinburgh libraries, but her favourite is Central Library on the George IV Bridge because it has German crime thrillers. They take longer to read than English ones, you see.

One is allowed to have only 12 books checked out, so instead of browsing, I went to the language learning section and had a look at the half-shelf of Polish books.  A hardcover book had fallen behind the poetry volumes, so I fished it out. To my surprise, it was entitled "Homosexuality in the Nineteenth Century."

My first thought was that some disgruntled fellow Christian had hidden it there, so as to protect his (or her) fellow man from something or other. But, on the other hand, perhaps someone had hidden it from other patrons for his own convenient reading later. Later I thought perhaps it was a "drop" for spies, so I flipped through it to see if there were any interesting bits of paper. There were not. That evening I imagined that the book had been hidden by the author of a similar, rival work. And now it occurs to me that a censorious Edinburgh book-hider wouldn't necessarily be a Christian. To judge from the foreign language materials on clearest display, Muslims use the library, too.

After "who" and "why" I pondered "where". Did the book-hider assume that nobody was likely to thumb through the works of Milosz and Szymborska? If so, he or she does not know Edinburgh very well, as the largest migrant group, after the English, are Poles. Or, if the hider was a Pole, perhaps he or she judged that Edinburgh Poles are unlikely to want to read Milosz and Szymborska, having had enough of them at school.

Meanwhile I wondered what I should do with the book, someone else clearly having thought it too dangerous for public consumption. I have highly consistent Catholic friends who will throw books they (and no doubt all popes before John XXIII) consider evil on open fires although open fires are now so rare, such stories about them strain credulity. Possibly they cold-bloodedly set fire to the offending tomes out of doors after borrowing a lighter from an innocent smoker.

However, I really don't see a work on homosexuality in the nineteenth century as being in the pornographic or occult "book of shadows" class so disfavoured by my pyro pals. Moreover, I was given a row by my doting dad when I was 20 just for running off with a pile of student newspapers whose then-current issue featured an image disrespectful (although not actually blasphemous) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In response to my bragging about this pious deed, he said this guerrilla action had been theft and censorship. "What about the Index?" I demanded, and lo, my father said the Index was wrong and always had been.

Pace patri, I am not so sure the Index was wrong, for books (like television, films and the internet) are powerful and dangerous traps for the unwary and semi-literate, and a little learning is a dang'rous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pyrian spring, etc. However, paternal disapproval drove at least the joy of faith-based vigilantism out of my soul. After checking the book for secret spy notes (which was foolish, for I should have looked for microdots or words in the book underscored meaningfully), I left it on an adjacent empty bottom shelf for the librarian to find.

Update: Here is Alexander Pope's famous poem on the topic of trivial vs deep knowledge. I am not sure what he thinks happens if you "drink deep" though. Surely he doesn't mean you don't attempt the Alpine journey at all?

As it happens, drinking deep--although essential for intellectual honesty, of which humility is the lifeblood--can highly complicate your life. This chap, whose videos I have been watching, is a hyperpolyglot almost entirely obsessed with languages--until recently to the detriment of earning a living.

However, this suggests that he is not particularly interested in himself, and indeed there is something deeply holy about him.Naturally he is interested in how his brain works, but that is not the same thing as self-regard. Curiously, thinking about how your brain works is a form of healthy self-objectivity. As Aquinas says, truth is what is.

Furthermore, We Do Not Eat Babies

Excellent (if old) article in Zenit here on how the media grossly exaggerates Catholic clerical sexual misconduct. Sadly, part of Catholic life today is constantly reading outrageous, knee-jerk comments against priests. Whenever a priest is in the news--even for being murdered during a break-in--someone just has to mention sex crimes in the combox.

It's a sad fact that some people just enjoy despising Catholics. In the UK, this was once because we were seen as foreign and freedom-hating. Back when Protestants still went to church in large numbers, they apparently thought we were planning the overthrow of religious freedom. However, the thought certainly occurred to us that error had no rights, so maybe--before 1962--they were right about that.

Then there is the fact that the majority of Catholics (including me) in the UK since 1820 are Irish or descended from the Irish (unless we've been outstripped by the Poles).  My family got sneered at by a neighbour during our sojourn at Cambridge University in the 1970s when he saw us leaving church. However, this was at the height of the IRA bombings, so no doubt he was sorely tried.

Today we are less likely to be despised for belonging to another tribe, as long as we are "in recovery". The weird question "But you're recovering, right?", which I heard occasionally in Canada gets uttered in the UK, too. Believing Catholics are still among the wrong-thinking even though the form of majority "right-thinking" has changed. I suppose we are still seen as being "against freedom" or even "against science" despite our constant references to human biology.  Unlike those who wish to redefine marriage, sex, manhood and womanhood, we don't think reason is overthrown by the will.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Love Working, Hate Looking for Jobs


I was trying to explain the writing life to B.A. thusly: if you are a writer, you have to open yourself to rejection, but if you get rejected too often, you become psychologically incapable of writing. Writing has caused the rejection, and rejection hurts, so the thought of writing hurts.

After a period of recuperation, writing doesn't hurt, but the thought of being rejected again hurts. It takes an act of real courage to send the piece in.  This is often rewarded with another rejection.

To tell you the truth, though, some forms of rejection are better than others, as Searching Single men all know. A swift "no, thanks" is supremely better than "Oh, I don't know, I'll have to ask around, I'll get back to you when they get back to me" followed by dead silence.  Dead silence from beginning to end is bad too, for it says "You/your stuff is so beneath contempt, you don't deserve a response. Let's both pretend you never wrote to me."

That is why having friends, colleagues and fans in any industry is so important. I went out and got a college night school teaching job on my own once, but for the most part, every good job opportunity that has come my way has come because some kind friend, professor, colleague or fan has sent my name in to someone looking for someone with my skills, or because I came up with a good idea and presented it to some kind friend, professor, colleague or fan.

B.A. says this is not how employment works in the UK. Nevertheless, I have a new writing gig in the UK because a friend sent my name in to someone looking for someone with my skills. That said, I just wrote to my Polish teacher to say I can't afford to take her course this term. And house-hunting is not a fun past-time but an opportunity to beat myself up for using up my "second chance" at theology school, not teachers' college, or whatever. Of course, I did not know, when I enrolled, that I was going to end up in the least Catholic country in the English-speaking world.

Nor, admittedly, did I know I was going to go trad, which is not a good career move for a female M.Div. Still, even before I came to Scotland, I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of doing jobs priests should do. When I was thinking of ways to escape from Boston College, I considered becoming an army "chaplain" but my great-grandmother's great pal Father William Corby was an army chaplain during the U.S. Civil War, and I couldn't bear to think what he would think of it. For one thing, I couldn't give absolution to a dying soldier, could I?

Anyway, one cannot give up. This morning I have expanded a blogpost to a 2,000 word essay hopefully suitable for publication, sent it to a someone-I-know and asked another friend about any casual, very short-term English-teaching opportunities in Poland.  I have also translated a page of Benedict XVI's book for Polish children--or for children, translated into Polish, Dlaczego wierzę? (Why Do I Believe?) 

The poor man never wanted to be pope and didn't think the office was destined for him, but he says he concluded that God's will was not his will and that God had prepared something new and unique for him. This would be all very edifying had Benedict XVI not quit.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Success with Languages

I am in a relationship with the Routledge Study Guides' Success with Languages. It's not an easy book. It's a book that demands concentration and, ye heavens, feedback. It's a book that defies skimming. It's the opposite of Fluent Forever and its ilk.

I read a chapter of SWL, and then take it back to the library three weeks later. A week later, I take it out again. I read another chapter. I reluctantly find a pen and paper and begin again, this time doing the "Tasks." The book is not just a strict but undeniably good teacher; it's a therapist.

Therapy is painful. Why did I give up studying Italian once I had got my OAC (A-Level equiv.)? Alas, alack, my parents wouldn't pay for me to go to  summer school in Italy, and it never occurred to me (A) to pay for it myself (B) openly defy relatives' rather antiquated beliefs about the safety of teenage girls in Italia. My brother, naturally, went to the Beauce to perfect his French. My sister, the rebel, just would have forged my parents' signature although not, admittedly, the cheque.

Today the book asked me to think about "what works" for me. What works for me--what has always worked--is writing out vocabulary words in the left margin, writing their English equivalents on the right of the margin line, and then folding over the margin, so that I can't see the vocab words. Then I try to remember what they are and write them besides the English words. Then I fold over the English and try to remember the English for the vocab. And so on.

I did that in high school for Italian, and the end result is that 20+ years later, I still remember high school Italian vocabulary. Of course, it helps that I had a thorough review when I was 27, and now go to Italy once a year or so, buying the bus tickets, the train tickets and the lunches.

Actually speaking the language most definitely works for me. Today I went by the Historical Office to give B.A. and his teammates some cake, and I ended up in the Historical Gift Shop, shooting the breeze po polsku, with a young lady who perfected her English the hard way, i.e. working in a gift shop on the Royal Mile. Jings crivens, help mah bob, as Scots  say only in jest.

(That reminds me. Today near Waverley Railway Station, as I wriggled through a heaving sea of tourists, I overheard a woman I thought was French lecturing her son about his scooter. "T'm'as fuit", I heard and then a second later realized she was saying "My foot." )

Another amazing language learning tool are good old Pimsleur CDs, which you can get from the library, so don't bankrupt yourself before you check. Italian resources are rather more plentiful than Polish resources, and as B.A. and I are going in Italia next month, I have borrowed "Pimsleur Intermediate Italian" to stock the front of my brain with useful phrases.  Pimsleur is rather limited in terms of scope and vocabulary, but it is excellent for improving your accent and jogging your memory. It is also up-to-date, which is useful as my Italian is probably of a very 1980s order.

 Anyway, I offer those titles to those of you who are slaving away at languages: Success with Languages to address your learning skills and Pimsleur to train your tongue and wallop useful phrases into your head, repetition after repetition after repetition.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Russell Square

So church friends' relations were in a cab in Russell Square when the murderous knifeman ran towards it. The cabbie locked the doors.

Every time there is sudden violent stranger attack like this, I do a quick mental assessment of who is where. The Bataclan massacre was the really frightening one, and I was so relieved when the "So and so is safe" feature appeared on Facebook.

I feel really awful for the relatives of the poor American woman who was murdered, and the others who were stabbed. Nobody expects this to happen to them on holiday in London.

Not the Shroud of Turin

A Rubenesque acquaintance posted this article from Slate on Facebook, and it is both beautifully written and terribly sad. It was written by a man who is apparently American's most important window dresser, so we are not talking a Benedict XVI approach to life here. Still, an artistic eye often makes for darned good writing, e.g. that of the incomparable art historian A.S. Byatt.

There are several aspects in this interesting essay that strike me as terribly sad. First is the assertion that gay men are drawn to tragic, drug-addled women. On the one hand, it is good that someone loves tragic, drug-addled women. On the other hand, one wonders if it is the tragedy and the drug-addledness that is the true subject of the devotion. Fortunately, there is Cher, who is arguably neither tragic nor drug-addled. No doubt there are learned studies on this topic. 

Second is the toothless visage of the author's Northern Irish grandfather. Blimey. What kind of pain makes a man go to the pub every day to get "thoroughly obliterated"? I quite love him for the (albeit rare) "Poor wee thing" remark. (A skillfully told anecdote there, Mr Doonan. Note the contrast between the horrible-looking old man and the pin-up queen, aspiring writers.)

Third is the thought of Marilyn Monroe's worn clothing being presented to viewers "like bodies after a plane crash".  That Marilyn was a slim woman with a statistically unusual figure is neither sad nor a matter of joy--for us, anyway. What I find sad is that this woman, who has made other people millions of dollars, died among a pile of  worn and torn clothing, paste jewellery and greasy cookware. "She was not materialistic," enthuses Doonan, pointing to Marilyn's first editions, and while I get his point,  I recall that poor M.M. suffered from ill health, abused alcohol and was hooked on drugs. Holes in your clothes and no dish soap are part of all that. 

Fourth is the reminder that Marilyn, whose most famous and beloved roles were funny, sexy, ditzy blonde bombshells who made up for a lack of brains with surprising pragmatism, really wanted to "cultivate her mind."  To "cultivate your mind" you need to stay off booze and (as much as possible) medication, hire teachers, have one clean room to study in, and enough income to support your studies. To a certain extent, talking about what you are studying with (or, even better, teaching) other people is very helpful. However, M.M. was such a comic genius, it is hard to imagine anyone taking her thoughts on, say, capitalism or Death of a Salesman seriously: Lorelei Lee on the gold standard? Ha, ha, ha. 

We always categorize M.M. with Great Tragic Women, when in fact, she probably had more in common with Great Tragic Comedians like James Belushi and Robin Williams than, say, Princess Diana.

Fifth, of course, is Doonan's advice about how to look good in photographs against all the odds. What he writes is funny, but really, what is the point? If we all look terrible in photos, we all look terrible in photos, so why fight them with models' tricks? 

As a matter of fact, an unflattering photograph may be the catalyst an unhealthily overweight man or woman needs to smell the coffee and chuck the sugar in the bin. (I recall a ghastly one in which I am serving up a homemade Battenburg cake.) Whereas I am no beauty queen, I much prefer photos in which my facial bone structure is less encumbered by fat. 

Without having ever suffered from an eating disorder, I was once thin enough that my family protested. "You look gaunt," yelled my sister. I didn't think I was gaunt (and I don't think I look gaunt in photos from that time.) The truth is, I just couldn't see myself the way others saw me. It is really hard to see oneself as one actually is (or appears to others), physically, mentally and spiritually, which is why friends who practice truth-in-love--and spiritual directors--are so helpful. 

I think a last thing to mention is that Marilyn Monroe's shape, though  touted as the Traditional Feminine Ideal, was unusual. It was unusual then--her waistline was two inches fewer than average in the skinny 1950s--and it is unusual now. Most women do not have hour-glass figures. That said, the hour-glass figure is easy enough to fake with clothing, if you care that much about it. Padded bra, poufy skirt, squeezy underpants--hey presto. 

Now I am sad I have dedicated so much thought to women's figures, but c'est la vie des femmes. And of window dressers, of course.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Christ Transforming Culture

"One of Cicero’s famous sayings defines history as a thing ‘which bears witness to the passing of the ages, sheds light upon reality, gives life to recollection and guidance to human existence, and brings tidings of ancient days’ (De Oratore II, 9, 36). 

"And it is precisely the witness of history that shows us how the ancient peoples lived, with their cultures given to idolatry, slavery and even human sacrifice. Christ changed all of this by bringing the light of the truth and the law of the Gospel; he gave his disciples the mandate to preach to all nations and to transform the face of the earth. They were to lead all to live by God’s precepts, in his grace, and in fraternal charity. 

"Saint Paul, a paradigm in so many areas, heeded the Savior's bidding and also became a paradigm of respect for all cultures. He sought to purify them of error, and perfect their qualities. With the Greeks he spoke Greek, and preached in the Areopagus of Athens of an ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17:23); as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37; 22:25, 27), he understood this people’s jurisprudential leaning, and spoke to them of the Law in legal terms, (cf. Rom 7:1). As a free man, he made himself a slave with the slaves; a Jew with the Jews, he made himself weak with the weak, to win them over: ‘I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it’ (1Cor 9:22–23). As Benedict XVI points out, being the Apostle to the Gentiles, he is even a prototype of the universality of the Church: ‘Paul thus appears to be at the intersection between three different cultures – Roman, Greek and Jewish – and perhaps partly because of this was disposed for fruitful universalistic openness, for a mediation between cultures, for true universality’ (Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 27, 2008).

Read the other quotes from pontiffs on this subject at The Denzinger-Bergoglio.

I have been reading them in the light of a Canadian who now lives in Europe and has been given partial responsibility, through marriage and residency, for the flourishing of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Scottish Christianity predates Scotland by a century, perhaps two. Of course, not even in the 10th century were Scots universally saints. We all need to be--as is the motto of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland--"semper reformanda."

One of the sad things about such Christian institutions as orphanages, hospitals, free schools and homes for elderly widows is that they have been taken over by the state. No longer are these things supported by primarily by a generous transaction from one Christian to  others but funded by a tax levied on working adults by the self-congratulating state. When such takeovers happened in Scotland, Christians were often very glad, for they truly thought this would help the orphaned, the sick, the children, the elderly, the poor. Perhaps it did, too, on the material level.  However, it took the cultural focus away from Christ and faith in Christ, and socialism began to take the credit for what was built in Christ. 

Since the Protestant Reformation, the Church of England has dominated England, and Presbyterianism Scotland (the Church of Scotland had schism after schism, so it is hard to say without more research which branch of Presbyterian dominated; I suppose it all depends on the century). Therefore, it is only just  (and would be fat-headed not) to give Protestantism credit for post-16th century developments in Scottish culture. Famously, Protestants were quite enthusiastic about teaching everyone how to read, i.e. read the Bible.

Of course, the new religion did away with many native Scottish cultural elements seen as "popish" or "pagan".  Some of them have come back, I've noticed, without the old Christian transformation. Traditional bonfires are against popular, but unfortunately they are explicitly pagan with men and all-but-topless women dancing about in demon costumes. (I know an atheist Polish migrant who is so incensed that female Beltane dancers aren't allowed to show their nipples that she has begun a free-the-nipple campaign.)

Immodesty of dress is, of course, an obsession of this and probably every era, but--honestly--it is awful to see how Christian-in-name-only Scotland habitually dresses. Women either dress for our own maximum physical comfort, or to show allegiance to some idol--like a brand name or a football team--or to awaken carnal interest in the opposite sex.* None of these these goals are compatible with traditional Scottish Christianity, be it Catholic or Reformed.

Ironically, the atheist Polish nipple-freer is one of the few young adult women I know in Scotland who (when not doing pagan dances) looks pretty, not self-indulgent or sexy. But why am I banging on about clothes, eh?  I suppose it is because dressing in such a way that one's neighbours experience an aesthetic, not erotic, enjoyment of one's appearance seems to me the simplest way to work towards a restoration of Christian Scotland.

Here is an interesting essay on the topic of religion in Scotland. Its focus is on public Christian worship, so it is a little narrow in its approach. A major element of Scottish public life until the 1980s was respect for Sunday as a  quiet day of rest.

*Scotsmen dress better than women in that Scotsman often wear national Scottish dress not only to weddings and formal dinners, but (in a modified fashion) to Scottish sporting events. When it doesn't endanger Scotland's financial well-being, I am all for Scottish nationalism. I do not think nationalism is in itself at all incompatible with Christianity but is a logical extension of Christian social teachings. "Who is my neighbour?" First of all, the people geographically around us, and if you don't understand that, then perhaps your neighbours are right to be a little chary of you.

I have always regretted that there is no Canadian national dress. The closest we come, for Miss Universe pagents, etc., seems to be sexed-up versions of the dress uniform of the  Royal Canadian Mounted Police. How sad is that? I hope the Quebeckers, at least, sometime don a habitant costume although heaven only knows what might happen if they did that too often--start having big families and going to Trad Mass, I suspect.
                     Bonhomme dit, "Allons-y á la messe!"