Monday, 28 March 2016

Mopping Up the Blood on Easter Monday

Please pray for the Christians killed and maimed by a suicide bomber in Pakistan yesterday and for their families. Those killed are probably martyrs and those wounded confessors for Pakistan is really not the most comfortable country in which to be a Christian.

My Facebook is filled with Easter greetings from Christian friends and anti-Christian Easter jokes and insults from non-Christian friends. Presumably the latter know not what they do. 

We might also pray for the missing Father Thomas Uzhunalil, as there is no evidence as yet that he was crucified by ISIS over the weekend. It is being reported that he was, but there is as yet no evidence for this. 

Sorry for this downer. Later a rather more cheerful Easter post will appear. My Easter Day was quite a happy one. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

Thursday, 24 March 2016

"Do Something!" Repost

Here are my thoughts on "See Something, Say Something" reposted in Quadrapheme. Underscore my fame and make the editors happy by clicking. They don't have any money, so the clicks keep them going.

"Explain Brussels" Tweeter Arrested

Update 2: This could be the tweet that got him arrested. [Language warning re: replies.] Yes, that does indeed look like incitement.  It also suggests his interlocutor had reason to be afraid of him. So much for my carefully considered freedom-of-speech post. Well, here it is anyway:


Matthew Doyle of Croydon was so furious about the Islamist terrorist bombings in Brussels that he asked a passing woman in Muslim dress to "Explain Brussels."

"Nothing to do with me," said the woman.

"A mealy-mouthed reply" tweeted Doyle, and the Twitterati had hours of fun mocking him.  That's how Twitter rolls. That's also how free speech rolls. You say what you think, and then people cheer, blow raspberries or ignore you.

However, Doyle has now been arrested for "inciting racial hatred"--and the fun is over.

First, as we all should know by now, "Muslim" is not a race. It is either a religion, a political ideology (for many Muslims deny that Islamists are Muslims at all), or a mix of the two. If a white Scottish woman submits to Islam, marries a Muslim and dons a hijab (or not), she hasn't changed race.

Second, it is not a crime in the UK for men to ask strangers their political opinions and then diss them afterwards. On the face of it, that woman--presumably British, whatever her ethnic origins--gave a reasonable answer. An indignant man asked her a question, she perceived at once that her clothing had attracted his attention, and she defended herself. Personally, I would have gone with "I can't explain it. Isn't it awful?" but then I more-or-less dress to blend in. If my mother, who still wears a Canadian flag pin when she travels, is asked by an indignant Scottish stranger to "Explain the abuse of First Nations children in residential schools", I hope that's what she says.

Doyle has argued that the woman, by wearing Islamic clothes, was "wearing a flag" --presumably he means that she should be expected to account for the political ideology that led to the bombings. And this is where things get tough because he may have a point.

Not all Muslim women find it necessary to wear the hijab, the abaya (long cover-all coat) or, obviously, face veils. Millions of Pakistani women, for example, just wear Pakistani clothing. Thousands of Muslim women in Canada wear western clothes, and it is perfectly possible to dress modestly in western clothing. It is admittedly difficult to hide your hair in contemporary fashions, if you want to, but a few hairpins and a big knitted cap should do it. Wearing uniquely "Islamic" clothing seems to go beyond mere social and religious strictures about modesty into the political realm--as does my mother's Canadian flag pin.*

What about the habits of Catholic religious and priests then? Certainly their distinct dress--deemed optional by many religious and priests--makes them stand out, and a collar-wearing priest at my theology school--a wonderful professor I admire very much--was apparently spat on by a Canadian angry about clerical sexual abuse of minors. That behaviour strikes me as much worse--and of a completely different order--than "Explain Mount Cashel!"--a challenge to which my professor could have said "I can't. It's terrible. I went to a junior seminary; I could have been one of those boys."  On the other hand, he could have actually explained, saying "Lack of oversight, tribalism and a terrible culture of abuse among the Christian Brothers." However, when dealing with an emotional person, "I can't, it's terrible, it could have been me" gets top prize.

"Nothing to do with me", although technically true, would not stand a Catholic priest or nun in good stead when angry strangers ask about abusive priests and nuns.

"Nothing to do with me" would probably not stand me in good stead either, if I was asked about Catholic clerical abuse. As a matter of fact, it is something to do with me and every Catholic my age from a church-going family--we were all potential victims. The lady in Croyden lives in Europe, so--come to think of it--she herself is a potential victim of Islamist terrorism.

In fact, although I wouldn't call it mealy-mouthed, that lady did give an unsatisfactory answer. On the one hand, perhaps she was scared. (I wouldn't like a big guy challenge me on the street, either.) On the other hand, she missed an opportunity to show that Muslim Britons care just as much, and are just as frightened, as anyone else about Islamist terrorism. She wasn't a child or a vulnerable adult. If a Catholic man in extraordinary "Catholic dress" is expected to give an account for the behaviour of other men who wear such dress, then surely a Muslim woman who wears extraordinary "Muslim dress" should at least be able to commiserate with a fellow Briton about the violence of men who lay claim to the religious ideology her clothing expresses. Still--freedom of speech. She can say what she likes and get cheered or booed or ignored like everyone else.

Frankly, I believed that Doyle was out of order--surely many people are tempted to demand answers from anyone in Islamic dress after an Islamist outrage but contain themselves--until he was arrested. Now I think--hold on a moment.  Are we no longer allowed to express our disappointment when we dislike our neighbours' political opinions? For, when we are talking about Europeans' fear of Islamist terrorist attacks, saying "Nothing to do with me" does have political implications. Whereas a drubbing on Twitter is the price of Tweeting, it's outrageous that Matthew Doyle was arrested.

Update: More on Matthew Doyle. (,<-Language warning--Twitter is a sewage dump.) If he really did tweet the "towelhead" tweet, than he is certainly a jerk. I'm not interested in rehabilitating his character. My sole interests here are the freedom to elicit and express political opinions and solidarity with those protesting violence and abuse.

See Update 2 (above.)

Update 3: After thinking about it off and on all day, I'm sorry I wrote this post. After reading Doyle's whole Twitter thread, it was just too clear that he was not interested in any kind of neighbourly dialogue but scapegoating, plain and simple. Freedom of speech and the question of collective responsibility (who for what, who for when, who for who) are important issues, but Doyle's opinions didn't deserve my attention. Inciting followers to attack members of a religious minority was indefensible and disgusting.

*The ubiquitous Canadian flag pin or badge on the clothing or baggage of Canadians is an attempt to profit from Canada's relatively good reputation in the world while avoiding the drawbacks of being mistaken for an American or some other national the Canadian resembles. It is also a way to meet conversation-starved Canucks on the road; a homesick Quebecois all but fell into my arms on a trip to Germany.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

What Can We Do?

The Spectator has produced a good editorial on yesterday's Islamist bombings in Brussels.

My question, as ever, is "If we are at war, why don't we try to win it?"

During the Second World War, the fighting was not left to the soldiers. The entire citizenry of the UK, for example, was expected to contribute to the war effort in some way. The will to do this was easily aroused by the thought of a German invasion. (The Germans did, as a matter of fact, invade and occupy the Channel Islands.) 

When Canada went to war against the Taliban after 9/11, Canadian soldiers were mobilized, but the Canadian public was not. Although 9/11 woke me up to a serious new danger in the world, my life didn't change--except at the airport, of course. The reason we sometimes have to take off our shoes (and usually our boots) in the security line--or tread on a pad--is because of this man.  All the fuss with our toiletries is because of these people. But other than asking me to submit to airport procedures, Canada never asked me to do anything. Well, other than not take out my indignation on whichever random Muslims my eyes fell upon after hearing of the latest Islamist atrocity. 

The USA did make one attempt to enlist my aid against Islamism, however. As a graduate student in Boston, I received an email from the US government (passed along by the department) offering scholarships to students who would drop their current studies and learn one or more of several listed Asian languages, e.g. Dari, Farsi, Urdu, Arabic. It was open only to U.S. citizens, but I appreciated that the U.S. government was actively trying to recruit civilians to the national security effort. 

The US also has the "If you see something, say something" invitation, which as been trademarked. (Goodness!)   There must be something similar in the UK or Canada for when I saw a woman behaving very strangely at my gate at Toronto's Pearson Airport this month, "If you see something, say something" jumped to the forefront of my mind. 

What was she doing? Well, first of all, although it was evening and we were indoors, the woman was wearing sunglasses. It was uncomfortably warm in the lounge, but she was wearing a long, heavy, black coat and a fluffy tartan shawl. She was a thin and pale with every scrap of hair tucked into her beret, which was perched extended on her head like a mushroom. She was also pacing back and forth, grimacing to herself. I noticed her when I saw the people sitting across from me staring at her. 

Bloody hell, I thought. How weird. 

Since 9/11 I have flown quite a bit--across the Atlantic at least twice a year--and I don't remember anyone at the gate in dark glasses at night, let alone being quite so obviously nervous about something. The impulse not to say anything and just be tolerant of the crazy was strong. However, I was getting on a plane with the woman. Seven hours strapped into a tin can hurtling itself over the Atlantic with two hundred strangers, including Madame X--ugh. "If you see something, say something," repeated my brain. So I crept up to the young woman at the desk and said it. Naturally I began with "This is very embarrassing, but..."

And that was it. The young woman asked me to point out the person, I did, and then I sat down again, feeling mingled shame and satisfaction that I had done something. Of course, there was no guarantee that the airport employee would do anything besides sigh at the paranoia of middle-aged travellers. Therefore I asked myself why, since I had felt the need to point out the weirdness of Madame X, I was going to get on a plane with her anyway. My answer was that she reminded me more of eccentric female academics than of faith-based activists preparing to break the law (of whom I have known many--not that they possessed a particle of violence; it's the excited anticipation coupled with absolute confidence in the justice of one's cause that I'm thinking of). I could imagine her making an unpleasant fuss--and, to be honest, that was it.

In the end, she did not--to my knowledge--make an unpleasant fuss. And although there were a few minor fusses on the plane, thanks to a family trying to reorganize its seats,  the flight attendants were geniuses at resolving them. But I do not feel embarrassed because I had done the one thing the community seems to expect from its citizens when it comes to safety: I had said something.

Amusingly, I said something almost as soon as I landed, too. Some poor woman left her suitcase in a loo stall in a ladies' room at Glasgow airport. When I walked into the stall and saw it there, I shouted at once, "Is this anyone's bag?" Startled faces turned towards me, and I disappeared into another stall. When I emerged, the bag was gone, saving me the embarrassment of having to find an airport employee. 

The time for polite embarrassment--save as a tactic--is over. If there's something to say, we should just say it--aloud, in person,  to the people around, or to someone whose job it is to protect us. The primary (some say the only) justification for paying taxes to the state is that it provides protective services. If it ceases to provide protective services, what is the point of it?  This question is particular pertinent when, as in the UK, the state has a complete monopoly on protective services, and the private citizen is barely able to protect himself. As the European Union seems not only not to protect the borders of the UK, but even render them meaningless, many citizens and residents of the UK are preparing to vote to leave the EU. How effective this would be in ending Islamist attacks in the UK, however, is uncertain, as the UK has its own "home-grown" problem. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016


Serious outbreak of Belgianophobia in wake of arrest of Paris atrocity suspect.  Thirteen  Twenty-three, Thirty-four dead, dozens  over 150 wounded.

Have a careful day, western Europe.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Viktor Orbán's Speech

Speaking of Belgium, here's Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's recent speech about resisting Brussels, i.e. the bureaucrats who rule the European Union.

As a patriotic speech, it is a master of rhetorical art, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Rhetoric is an art. As the internet goes, this 13 minute speech in Hungarian certainly grabs the attention.

The speech is interesting because contemporary European Prime Ministers and Presidents tend not to talk this way.  When David Cameron defended the UK from an allegedly Russian slur that "nobody pays any attention to a small island," his 60 second "Small Island" speech was a riff on Hugh Grant's "Britain" speech in Love, Actually, only without the tough talk. (That said, Cameron's was the better and funnier speech.) Of course, if David Cameron got up before the cameras and talked smack about the E.U. forcing us to take in refugees as a part of a plot to destroy the nation-state, there would be shrieking from Land's End to John O'Groats.

Nevertheless, a former Labour speech-writer, Andrew Neather, alleged in 2009 that there had been a deliberate attempt by the last British Labour government to change the demographics of the UK forever and ever through mass migration. Why anyone would want do that is an interesting question, but the answer is more likely to be rooted in some sort of no-borders ideology instead of bloodless cultural genocide.

"Come and share our wonderful way of life" is indeed a generous impulse, but it naively assumes that is what all newcomers would want to do. In extreme cases, newcomers even kill family members who become "too western" or "westernized", which is to say, sharing more fully in our wonderful way of life. (Google "murdered" with "westernized" for examples.)  Other newcomers become deeply disenchanted with our wonderful way of life, dismissing British culture (for example) as greasy chips, drunkenness, sluttishness and "Eastenders" on telly. One grumpy foreign student told me years ago that "Scotland has no culture of its own." (Instead of fainting dead away in shock, I suggested that she leave the multi-culti environs of Edinburgh Uni once in a while.) Speaking as an immigrant who has her own small challenges with integration, despising the majority population (especially young women doing or wearing stuff of which you disapprove) may be a symptom of culture shock or some other malaise brought on by migration.

Anyway, Europe is certainly an interesting place to be, and Hungary and Poland are particularly interesting for their noisy refusal not to have their immigration policies dictated to them by the E.U. Of course, anti-E.U. feeling is not confined to Central Europe: the UK's Brexit Referendum will be on June 23.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Addictive Nature of the TLM

Today I listened to a discussion about going to heroic lengths to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (aka the Traditional Latin Mass). My mind sped back to the house in eastern Belgium where I told my vacationing brother Nulli that I planned to take the bus 65 miles west to Namur on Sunday morning, so as to attend the Extraordinary Form. Nulli very sensibly suggested that the whole family should go to Namur by car, and I was supremely grateful.

The majority of Catholics who frequent the Traditional Latin Mass (aka the EF) don't go to heroic lengths to get to it because they think they have to but because they want to. It doesn't matter where we are. It's not about the social life. It's not even about linguistic curiosity: the last time I was in Krakow, possibly the most devoutly Catholic big city in Europe, I went to the TLM. Something about the Mass itself overrode even my Polish language obsession. 

I wouldn't say the Traditional Latin Mass is an acquired taste like mustard, for I don't demand mustard every Sunday. Maybe it's more like coffee. On Sundays I don't want tea: I want COFFEE. When I was a child, I liked to drink milky tea with my grandmother. Now that I am an adult, I like coffee, and the better the quality of the coffee, the better I like it. Naturally this is not a perfect analogy for Mass. I doubt there is an perfect analogy for Mass. Meanwhile, I would not take the bus 65 miles for a decent cup of coffee. I would settle for instant and dream of better days. (Better yet, I would have a cup of tea.)

How far I would go to get to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was tested when I was at home visiting my parents. Parish life is quite important to my parents. They have gone to the same parish church for almost forty years. My mother has been active in the parish CWL almost at long. If I'm at home in time for one, I toddle along to a CWL meeting. I even gave the ladies a lecture on Summorum Pontificum, and bless me if one or two didn't tell me why Mass in the vernacular is better. At the time they had been suppressed by an [interesting] pastor who had banned them from the church hall for  (let's face it) being elderly, but were they going to put up with my traddy propaganda? No. They are staunchly loyal to the Catholic status quo, whatever the reigning archbishop says the Catholic status quo is, and God bless them for that. (God bless the archbishop, too, a good, courageous man who preaches truth to power.)

At any rate, after I had been home for a week and had attended Sunday Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Holy Family in battered Parkdale and arranged my trip to Quebec in such a way that I be back in time for Sunday Mass at Holy Family in battered Parkdale, my mother tentatively suggested that it would be nice of me if I went to Mass at the parish church. 

Dear me. Oh dearie dearie me. Yes, I could see how it would be nice of me if I went to Mass at the parish church--and yet Mass at the parish church is not that bad. 

The priest is a very good chap; I rejoiced when I heard he was assigned there, for it meant the CWL's (and everyone else's) troubles were over. 

There are lots of elderly ladies there I've known (at least to look at) since I was wee. 

The priest alone gives the homily...and would not give me a row if, instead of sticking out my hands for the Blessed Sacrament, I stuck out my tongue. 

The hymns, from the CBW III, not Glory & Praise, are (despite the pious introduction by a Canadian bishop eventually charged with possessing child porn) inoffensive. 

Five or six ladies would say, "Well, Dorothy, how's life in Scotland?  I always read your column in the Register." And I would say, "How's Elizabeth? How's Margaret? How's Eileen?" The conversations after Mass would be terribly reminiscent of Anne of Windy Poplars

But know...Traditional Latin Mass. A whole week without Sunday Mass in the Extraordinary Form. It wasn't the social life--I know only a few people at Holy Family by sight, and there's no coffee after. It wasn't the joy of song--their EF congregation sings but rarely. It was the Mass. Having seen/heard/participated in the first four traditional episodes of the Sundays in Lent, I couldn't bear to miss the fifth episode in the series. This is hard to explain.

Naturally this post could leave me open to accusations of missing the forest for the trees or mistaking the means for the end. But the four primary ends of Mass are adoration, thanksgiving, atonement and petition, all of which the EF does--slowly, seriously and with the highest standard of reverence. Beside this there is something about it that is absolutely mesmerizing ... and also addictive. Is it the deep, meditative silence that makes it so? Is it the curious, ritual movements of the priest, deacon and sub-deacon? Is it the priestliness of the sanctuary and/or the silent agreement between priests and people that their space is their space, preserved for them on our behalf, and we bless them, not blame them, for that? Is it the confidence that, from this pulpit at least, we will not hear a lot of worldly nonsense or sermons pitched to children? Whatever it is, I need it every Sunday. 

I went to Holy Family every Sunday I was away, and never went to Mass at my parent's parish church. I tried to make up for it by sorting books for my mother's book sale for the sick. It felt rotten to say "No" to my mother Latin Mass, you know. The Lord Jesus trumps even parents...and, yes, I know He's at the O.F., too, so how can I explain?

Update: Happy Saint Joseph's Day! Great Saint Joseph, petition your Foster Son that we all will be given the blessing of a good and happy death. 

Friday, 18 March 2016

Pomidorowa Song

It's Polski Piątek, so let's have another song. This one featured in last night's Polish class at Edinburgh Uni. "Pomidorowa" ("Tomato Soup") is a parody of last year's big Polish pop hit "Naucz mnie," and apparently in Poland it is still funny, not a sticky social situation, when men with five o'clock shadow dress like women. Lyrics and translation underneath. The cultural concept to be understood is that, generally speaking, Poles eat chicken soup on Sunday.

Jutro znowu będzie pomidorowa    Tomorrow it will be tomato soup again
Zrobiona z rosołu z wczoraj.           Made from yesterday's chicken soup.
Wielki gar stoi w kuchni.                A massive pot is sitting in the kitchen.
No zobacz, trzeba zjeść.                "Well, look, you have to eat." 

Znów pełno jej w garze                 Again the pot is full of it
Jak wody w Niagarze.                    Like the waters of Niagara.
Dwa metry ma gar.                       The pot is two meters deep.
Kto tu będzie to żarł?                     Who here will guzzle it? 

Solniczkę, pieprzniczkę na stole postawię  I set the salt and pepper shakers on the table.
Ta zupa jest mdła, więc doprawię            The soup is bland, so I season it.
Nie chcę Ciebie jeść zawsze.                     I don't want to eat you forever.
Nie schowasz się na dnie.                         You're not hiding in the bottom.
Tak dużo wciąż Ciebie jest.                       There is still too much of you.

I wiem, że teraz nie patrzysz,                  And I know that now you're not looking
Więc wybacz, przepraszam.                     So forgive me, I'm sorry.
Nie chciałem jej więcej jeść.                    I don't want to eat any more of it. 

Jutro znowu będzie pomidorowa                Tomorrow it will be tomato soup again
Zrobiona z rosołu z wczoraj .                      Made from yesterday's chicken soup.
Wielki gar stoi w kuchni; no zobacz,            A massive pot is sitting in the kitchen. "Well, look.
trzeba zjeść, co się będzie marnować x2     You have to eat, why should it go to waste?"

Już mało jej w garze    Just a dab of it in the pot
Jak serca w kanarze.     Like the heart of a canary.
Ostatni już dzień          It's the last day 
Żrę tą zupę.                I will eat this soup.

I myśl mnie rozpiera, że jutro niedziela.  And the thought that tomorrow is Sunday overwhelms me.
Nareszcie zjem coś, w czym pomidorów nie ma. Finally I will eat something in which there are no tomatoes.

Wiem, że teraz nie patrzysz     I know that now you're not looking 
Więc wybacz, przepraszam.      So forgive me, I'm sorry
Nie chciałem jej więcej jeść.    I don't want to eat more of it.

Dzisiaj nie ma już pomidorowej.     Today there is no tomato soup. 
Jemy rosół z kury i schabowe.        We are eating chicken soup and wiener schnitzel.
Zdejm kapotę i usiądź przy stole;   "Take off your coat and sit at the table;
Zobacz sam, jaką dobrą masz żonę See what a good wife you have."

Dzisiaj nie ma już pomidorowej. Today there is no tomato soup.
Jemy rosół z kury i schabowe.  We are eating chicken soup and wiener schnitzel.

-A co będzie na obiad jutro? "And what is for dinner tomorrow?"
-Jutro ?                               "Tomorrow?"

Jutro znowu będzie pomidorowa           Tomorrow it will be tomato soup again,
Zrobiona z rosołu z wczoraj.                  Made from yesterday's chicken soup.
Wielki gar stoi w kuchni, no zobacz,       A great pot on the stove: "Well, look,
Trzeba zjeść, co się będzie marnować x 2 You have to eat, why should it be wasted?"

Thursday, 17 March 2016

One German View of the Migrant Crisis

Part One 

Notburga tries to sort out how she feels about the million-plus refugees/migrants in Germany and begins, as Germans can't seem to help doing, with the Second World War.

I don't believe Notburga is older than 35, which would mean she was born 35 years after the Second World War ended. Neither Notburga nor her parents (presumably either small children or not yet born in 1945) had any responsibility whatsoever for anything that happened in Germany during the Second World War. Nevertheless, like every other German I have met of Notburga's generation, she is haunted by Germany's role in that war. In 2006, when I commented on the egregious behaviour of English football fans then strutting around Frankfurt, a 21 year old boy said, "Well, we bombed Coventry."

Notburga mentions that two of her grandparents were refugees, only what she means is that they fled from the easternmost regions of then-Germany to more-western Germany--presumably before they could be murdered or otherwise ethnically cleansed out to make room for the Poles being ethnically cleansed out of what is now called Ukraine. The snottiness her relations encountered about being "Poles" reminds me of the snottiness southern Italians have encountered in more northern Italy about being "Africans" and even of Canadian Newfoundlanders confronted with unkind "Newfie" jokes in Ontario.

However, Notburga's grandparents were (I believe) ethnic Germans who went to live with other ethnic Germans and rebuild Germany with all the other badly off post-war Germans. It was an entirely different situation from that of refugees and economic migrants sitting in Germany right now. Strikingly, nobody in the 1940s had a mobile phone, and whatever men at leisure to flee were all accompanied by women. (How many German men of military age were not, between 1939-1945, either at the front or POWs?) However badly contemporary Germans want to feel about 20th century Germans, German men didn't have so much a sense of masculine superiority that they would willingly leave their female relations to armies of rapists, if that's what it took to save their own skins.

For, despite her attempt to identify with the refugees, Notburga mentions the embarrassing detail that most of them ("a curious preponderance") are young men without any family. She also reports that attempts to keep Christian refugees safe from attack by Muslim refugees by segregating the two groups--which should not be a radical idea to any historically Catholic/Protestant country--have been rejected. Why this is, is a little unclear. Is it because the "Muslim" centres will be burned down at a greater rate? It seems rather mean to let refugees persecute other refugees, not to mention cowardly to allow a continuation of the persecution from which the Christian refugees have fled.

Well, I don't want to critique Notburga's piece too harshly. For one thing, she was clearly browbeaten  into writing it. But what strikes me about it is that it is not so much a picture of the refugee crisis as it is of a thoroughly educated, 21st century German mind. Take these sentences: No one nice dares to say that in the long-run (at least after the immediate crisis has past) it might be a country’s right to decide which rate of permanent immigration it thinks is compatible with national welfare. Actually, even hypothetically writing this, a part of my mind denounces me as a crypto-fascist.

Part 2

I frankly believe it is citizens' right to decide which rate of permanent immigration they think is compatible with national welfare, and no part of my mind denounces me as a crypto-fascist. When I have a vague thought that one might as well give up and let the world become one vast Toronto--Toronto is a nice place--I denounce myself as a traitor to all those little countries whose cultures would be swallowed up by whatever percentage of the world's 7.4 billion people might decide to move there. If everyone who wanted to move to Paris moved to Paris the effect would not be Toronto (let alone Paris), but Calcutta crossed with Beijing, much to the disappointment of the Indians and Chinese who moved to Paris.

Any fair-minded reader should now be screwing up their eyes and asking, "And what about you?" True, oh reader. Good point. It is a terribly irony that of all the voices on Scottish buses I hate most, it is the North American. My ear isn't usually good enough to distinguish urban U.S. accents from Canadian, so I have to assume some of that overly loud, air-piercing, concrete mixer gable is coming from Canadians, and so I sound like that, too.

Who knows what Americanizing effect I am having, in my own small way, on Scottish culture? However, to be honest, I was raised with Scottish values by women of Scots ancestry, so I do not feel any more at war with wider Scottish society than I did with wider Canadian society. Above all, I believe in the right of a Briton born in Britain to live in Britain with the spouse of his/her choice, no matter where that spouse is from or how grating his/voice on my nerves. It is perhaps a very old-fashioned notion, but it goes together with my old-fashioned belief in the nation-state.

It is inevitable that cultures will change as they mix and intermingle. Can this be stopped? Should it be stopped? I see in today's Telegraph that elderly Englishmen and Englishwomen in Yorkshire have been prevented by Muslim caregivers from eating bacon sandwiches. This was in Bradford, which has the largest proportion of people of Pakistani origin (20%) in England. However, that is not a lot of people, as Bradford has, tops, 529,000 citizens. There are more people of Pakistani origin in Toronto than in Bradford, but I do not foresee any bacon sandwich bans there because Toronto is too diverse for members of any one group to impose their own dietary prejudices on the elderly.*

This, I think, is the secret to Toronto's relative success. The city is not 80% Old Toronto (which is to say, Canadians of mostly pre-war British migration stock) and 20%  A Unified Group That is Entirely Different, but (by ethnicity) English (12.9 %), Chinese (12%), "Canadian" (11.3%), Irish (9.7%), Scottish (9.5%), Indian (7.6%), Italian (6.9 %), Filipino (5.5%), German (4.6%), Polish (3.8%), Portuguese (3.6%), Jamaican (3.2%) and so forth.

One group not mentioned by the Wiki article is the one actually native to Toronto, which is to say the Mississaugas of New Credit.  Wiki says that in 2005 there were only 1,375 of them left. Mass migration with no respect for the wishes of the original inhabitants certainly took its toll. The major difference is that the Mississaugas really didn't have a choice.

P.S. Happy Feast of Saint Patrick to readers in Ireland and Irish ex-pats but not to anyone else because, having made apparently unconvincing claims to Irishness in my youth, fake Irishness now drives me nuts. (I permit myself make claims to Irish Catholicism when someone around is badmouthing Irish Catholicism.)

*Update: After pondering the justice of this statement, I think I should add that there must be other factors in play, including education, career choices/skills, Canadian priorities in admitting immigrants and opportunities. I have read that 90% of caregivers in Canada are Filipino; whereas this may be an exaggeration, it does suggest another difference in the cultural dynamics at play in Bradford and in Toronto.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Fraternal Love Expressed Through Music

My brother Nulli Secundus asked me if I would like a digital piano as a birthday present. I decided that I was not averse to a digital piano as a birthday present. Never look a gift piano in the strings or--if presented with a digital piano--the wires.

Moreover, Nulli must be the only person in my entire acquaintance who ever thought I deserved my own piano. I am moved.

It has been many years since I attempted to play for an audience, or to accompany a sing-song, let alone cried through acidic lessons and eternal half-hour practices. The crying stopped when I graduated from elementary school and was released from bondage to my quite probably abusive piano teacher. After a year or more of freedom, I asked my mother if I could take piano lessons in the local convent. She agreed--probably with surprise--and paid out her $15/lesson (or whatever it was by then) to a kind teacher who--it must be said--had never heard my brother play or even knew I had a brother until I apologized up front for not being as good as he.

I wish to underscore that I never blamed Nulli for being a child prodigy. For one thing, I have loved my brother in an uninterrupted fashion since the day he was born. For another, I always loved the music he made. One of the great joys of my childhood was waking up on a Sunday morning to the sounds of Nulli Secundus playing away. The old woman next door, a wealthy retired radio star, liked my brother's playing so much, she got her housekeeper to open the window facing our window, the better to hear it. She also sent a great sheaf of old music and a number of old song books for him to play from. This was a matter of pride for our whole family, and it only occurs to me now to wonder what she thought of my much more ordinary attempts.

Ordinary, not horrible. You will have noticed that I have broken my rule against the Nominative First Person Pronoun, but really there is no way to tell this story without it. In short, for I thought that because my brother played so well, I must be playing horribly. (Certainly I never heard anyone play worse.) No matter what my poor mother said to encourage me, my playing became nothing more than an occasion for blistering self-hatred. A very feminine little girl, I turned my anger on myself. Grown women often do this, and when our anger slops over onto our husbands and children, we hate ourselves even more.

That is why I am surprised, thinking about it, that I gave piano lessons another try in high school, and somehow limped along to complete the work for the Royal Conservatory of Music's Grade 8. My irrational self-dismissal was no longer corrosive but pleasantly ironic. I could play to amuse myself--never doubting for a moment that what I was turning out was utter rubbish--but never to an audience. My otherwise sympathetic teacher convinced me one day to sign up for a small recital, and on the day I froze solid at the keyboard.

It's not that I was a coward--I became a teenage pro-life activist after all--it's that I thought I couldn't do it, so of course I couldn't. The last time I had forced myself to do something everyone but I thought I could do, I began to drown--literally drown, I mean, in the municipal swimming pool. (I was rescued by a nice older boy who, wide-eyed and white-faced, suggested I stay out of the deep end from then on.)

The sad irony in all this is that I very much love piano music. This is probably why I love my brother's playing, if you see what I mean. On the other hand, maybe I love piano music because I love my brother's playing. Perhaps it all reminds me of waking up late on a Sunday morning in a sunbeam while Nulli plays piano and the smells of pancakes and coffee mingle in the air.  I hope Chopin--he probably made it into Purgatory on the prayers of Poles--doesn't mind that he reminds me of pancakes and sunshine and the coffee grinder whizzing.

Nulli did not become a professional pianist--which is just as well as it's a chancy profession--but he continued to play in adult life and even came up with a bump against the nastiness of geniuses who give lessons to very gifted who are never gifted enough. I think it was a shock to him, and when I heard about it, I was aggrieved on his behalf. Of course, now that I think about it, it may have given him an insight into what I suffered for however many years. This may have been valuable; I notice that his wife and children's teacher seems to be a pleasant, competent woman.

During our visit to the House of Music, my mother offered to treat me to a piano lesson with this excellent teacher after she had finished the other family lessons, but I demurred. Nevertheless, I had been pleased to discover that I could still read music and that I could play simple arrangements of classics with relative ease. I could also play a few old assignments, if awkwardly, and mirabile dictu,  a Chopin Prelude. The Prelude hurt my fingers and, to my mingled amusement and pride, I found myself holding my hands under a tap of cold running, as my brother often has to do--albeit after five or six of them. My fingers never hurt when I played as a child--no doubt because of all those scales, chords, and other secretly finger-strengthening exercises. And I realized that my mother's money and my time and tears had not been wasted. My brother can play Chopin because he's wonderfully talented and has always loved the piano. I can play Chopin (just) because from the ages of 7 to 14, I was not allowed to quit. 

One of the revelations of adult life--too bad I didn't realize this years ago--is that although there's no substitute for the spark of genius, hard work  can give innate talent a run for its money. When I began to read Bernard Lonergan's swinishly difficult--and yet intellectually honest--Insight, I had no great love for philosophical texts. When I finished my Insight course, I was no longer afraid of philosophical texts. When I began to study Polish, I had listening comprehension skills so terrible, I could barely make out the lyrics of recorded English-language pop songs.  Almost five years later, I could make out the Canadian French broadcast over my sister's car radio. When I was twelve, my self-hatred was so fierce, I sat on the piano bench weeping. Over thirty years later, I am convinced all I need to do to improve my playing is work at it until I do.

One last thought. Although I was not prepared to let even a nice, professional, kindly woman sit beside me and judge my playing (let's not go crazy here), I was happy to receive the first lesson of our lives from my brother. It was very simple--just an explanation of how one can master Chopin's chords without straining one's hands--but it was incredibly useful and beautifully explained. Thirty-five years ago, I would have cast myself into a bit of humiliation afterwards, but now I am eager to try out Nulli's advice on the piano he has given me. So thank you very much, dear Nulli! Apparently it should arrive by Friday noon (see picture).

Update: Julia notes (below) that Chopin made his deathbed confession. I have gone about the internet, and the Abbé Lizst himself is the source of this story, that is, he passed it on from Chopin's confessor Abbé Jelowicki. I wonder why I have not read this story before; perhaps, as with Adam Mickiewicz, all kinds of interested parties having been writing duelling biographies of their hero, and until now I hadn't come across "Catholic Chopin".

Catholic Match on Eye of the Tiber

Here's the EOTT piece.

The funniest bit is in the combox, however:

It's possible to meet a traditional Catholic woman who is also smoking hot. Most of them are from the Philippines. But hey, that's just me. It was my son from a prior union who said it best: "Dad, for a guy like you, you sure found yourself a babe." He's right, and I probably don't deserve her. The only way to meet Mrs Right is to be Mr Right.

Mr Right's photo shows a plump, grey-bearded, non-Filipino dude.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Last of the Tribes

This is quite interesting.  It came as a surprise, not that there are still isolated communities that keep up a hunter-gatherer way of life, but that other people still exploit them and bump them off with measles and the common cold.

One isolated tribe, the Jarawa, are in the news again because of a murdered five-month-old baby. It is apparently Jarawa practise to murder what few bi-racial Jarawa babies are born, and a Jarawa man is believed to have killed one recently. He has not been arrested because local, non-Jarawa, police simply do not know what to do. (Nobody seems to be arguing that India does not have sovereignity over the Jarawas' island home. Interesting, nobody seems to be referring this to Jarawa legal authorities, either, e.g. a tribal leader. Are the Jarawa anarchists?)

It's terribly sad about the baby although it is hard to wring one's hands over him or her convincingly when 11,777 abortions were performed in Scotland (pop. 5.2 million) in 2013.  Many people would, of course, say that the moral status of a 24 week old (or younger) fetus is not as great at that of a five-month-old child, but it's something to think about anyway. (Paging Peter Singer.)

Another thing to think about is the difference in attitude towards isolated tribes of African or Latin American origin and close-knit groups of European origin, e.g. Mennonites, the Amish, and other historical groups whose culture clings to the lifestyle of 19th century farming communities. Of course, Mennonite kids aren't literally going to die of measles if they're put in foster homes--but then this little half-Jarawa baby DID die, drowned like an unwanted kitten.

Whether or not it is good or bad, well-meant or self-serving, paternalism towards to other groups is full of moral conundrums. It is very likely that very good people were among those who thought First Nations children in Canada--and Sami children in Scandanavia and the Baltics--would be better off assimilated into mainstream, modern society. The good people seem to have been wrong: mainstream, modern society is not all its cracked up to be. On the other hand, the contemporary reservations seem pretty horrible. 

Update: One commentator pointed out that the young mother of the murdered baby is not an animal. True, that. As tempting as it is to see the islands inhabited by the Jarawas and other pre-urban peoples as wonderful wildlife preserves, the Jarawas are not actually wildlife. However, they do get medical treatment, so presumably if the woman wants outsider justice, or to leave the island, she can ask for help.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Now That's a Vocations Talk

A homily by Father De Malleray found its way onto Rorate Caeli. Ah, the FSSP.

A small quibble. (Cough, cough.) Father Harkins is a Scot.

Justin and the Culture of Death Reblog

My post on Canadian euthanasia was reproduced by flattering old Quadrapheme. Give them a click to make them happy. This reminds me that they asked me for a post about Brighton Rock. Stay tuned.

Only a strangely misinformed Catholic Canadian (or American for that matter) would vote for a Catholic politician because he was a baptized Catholic who went to Catholic school. Not to throw stones at all the priests and bishops in Ottawa, but some priest(s) and/or bishop(s) in Ottawa gave Trudeau Pere, Martin Fils , John Turner and Jean Chretien extremely bad counsel. One doubts Trudeau Fils bothered to ask a priest for spiritual advice, but woe to whatever priests are sucking up to him instead of ticking him off.

Update: Ottawa, I apologize.Apparently it was not all your fault. 

Three Distinct States of Unconsecrated Life

Home in Edinburgh, your blogger struggles against an overwhelming need to use the nominative first person singular. It comes in terribly handy in travel writing. However, it is good for the mind to find alternative solutions. It may not be fabulous for ye olde writing style, of course, but never mind that for now.

Life in Edinburgh is much more isolated than life in Toronto and the Eastern Townships, for the Historical House lacks family and children. When one resident or the other wakes up, there is only one other person there, and there is no mystery about what he or she is up to: he or she is either asleep, or in the bathroom, or in the kitchen with the BBC turned up really loudly, or tapping away on the computer. Apart from the BBC, all is calm and quiet.

However, in the House of Books, populated by a multi-generational family, all kinds of things are going on from about 6 AM. Doors open and shut. The shower turns on. Someone--who?--pads down the stairs. These dawn noises eventually give way to voices: morning greetings, inter-generational squabbling about being ready for school, "Slow German" broadcast from the basement, the cuckoo clock announcing the time, various residents announcing their plans and departures. When the phone rings, it is usually the library computer informing whomever that the books my mother has reserved are now available.

The House of Music in the Eastern Townships, though usually only populated by a nuclear family, has a similar rhythm. Doors, the shower, padding, followed by voices, inter-generational squabbles about school (etc.). There are also computer game noises and piano music and the sounds of children playing and fighting together. The telephone rings a lot, as my brother works from home and Ma Belle Soeur is a doctor.

Back in Toronto, there is also the House of Children, headed by one of my best friends and her husband. So far they have three children under seven. These children are not permitted electronic devices and are only allowed to watch TV/videos at their grandparents' houses. This is truly heroic, for it means my pal, a stay-at-home mother, is on duty 60/24/6.  (7 features a visit to a grandparental house.) Her idea of time off seems to be sending the middle child to a play-school for three hours while the eldest child is at proper school and bundling the baby into the stroller for a walk. Occasionally, however, another child is put in her care, for the adults of her Catholic set rely on each other to take this child or that child for the afternoon, while they do something or other. The day-long wheedling chorus of "MA-ma, Ma-ma, mo-om, Ma-ma, mo-om" is thus supplemented for a few hours by "Mrs. [Such-AND-Such]."

Being a stay-at-home-mother with only children to talk to can be very lonely, as my own mother made quite plain. There wasn't much her children, being children, could do to alleviate that but at least now we can do something for our stay-at-home-mother friends. Thus your blogger, who woke up at 6 AM anyway, sometimes ventured forth from the House of Books to the House of Children before rush hour to sit around drinking tea and keeping an eye on things so that her stay-at-home-mother pal could go to the bathroom unaccompanied, etc. It was intensely enjoyable and quite like visiting a somewhat familiar but also quite alien culture.

There were also visits with Single friends and relations, of course. These visits were not so home-based. Indeed, out of all my Single friends and relations, only one owns her own home. The others rent, but there was only one visit to a rented flat (my youngest brother's). Most of my visits with Single friends took place in cafés, bars and restaurants, and it was in cafés and bars that old acquaintances were encountered by accident. (The 1990s Toronto Spoken Word scene seemed to flash before my eyes.)

Meanwhile, an email from a long-time Single reader thanking me for keeping "Seraphic Singles" online appeared in my in-box the Monday after Mothering Sunday. She had had a wretched Sunday--for one thing a crush object had appeared at Mass with a woman more attractive than herself--and reading old "Seraphic Singles" posts had brought her some measure of relief. (This is why, by the way, "Seraphic Singles" is still up.)

All these experiences led me to reflect that there really are three distinct forms of non-consecrated life, and there are real and serious reasons why married people very often don't hang out with Single friends. The distinct forms are Adult Single Life, Married Life without Children and Married Life with Children.

Single Life, lived away from the birth family, with all of its economic uncertainties, would be simply miserable without friends, hobbies and goals. My Single friends fit their lives around work schedules, but for most of them, work is what keeps them housed, their hobbies going and their goals attainable. Apart from the 8 - 10 hours of work a day, 5-6 days a week, they have a lot of time. Without friends, hobbies, goals, art galleries, cafés to read in, clubs to dance in, time would hang very heavy on their hands. The one real block to total freedom to do whatever they like (in terms of hobbies, goals, travel) is lack of money. Oh, and responsibilities to aging parents, if applicable.

Married Life without Children has a lot more economic stability, to say nothing of the cheerful thought that if you do end up living in a sink estate (public housing gone bad), at least you two will be together and no children will suffer. On the other hand, married people without children are sometimes conscious that their lives would be much more meaningful with children in them. This is most acute when people tell you that in their country (e.g. Poland), childlessness in married people is seen as divine punishment. However, married people without children do, of course, have a lot of freedom, bounded only by work schedules, money, responsibilities to aging parents (if applicable), and each other's permission. No matter if you have children or not, a married person has to ask his or her spouse's permission to do things all the time, or at least beg their indulgence, agreement or forgiveness.

Married Life with Children also has economic stability, compared to Single Life, but is fraught with worry because the local school has a drug problem so maybe you should move, and because you aren't sure what level of internet security is practiced by your son's new friend's parents, and because your teacher has suggested your daughter visit a specialist. The number of things contemporary parents worry about is infinite. They seem to think about work and children 90% of the time, and when they think about hobbies or travel, it is usually wistfully or like a general planning a campaign.

Married people with children are most likely to socialize with other married people with children, when they socialize outside the family at all. Their lives are almost completely incompatible with the social needs of Singles because Singles need undivided attention when they express their joys and woes, and Marrieds are usually completely distracted by small children saying "Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Dad, Dad, Dad" or breaking things or hitting other children. Speaking as a long-time former Single, it is highly annoying when you are telling a married mother about your broken heart and she interrupts you to tell her adorable proof of love to get Daddy to fix it, whatever 'it' may be. When married people with children do get together (not just hand over children at the door) their children play together and the parents all get distracted together. It is very noisy, and even married people without children can take only so much of it. It must be positively hellish for Singles.

Married people with children have less freedom of mobility than anyone outside of a cloistered convent. In order to spend time with married friends, the best thing you can do is go where they are, whenever they are there. This is usually their home, and unless you are super-close, they don't want you to see their home because it has been denuded of dangerous furniture and covered with toys, if not random bread crusts.

Married people and Singles worry about different things, and the worries of opposite groups can seem quite laughable. The Single talk about their latest romance and the Married mother, on a bad day, tries not to roll her eyes. The Married Mother discusses her worries about her child's music lessons, and the Single is struck by how wonderful it would be to have children and a husband to help pay for their music lessons. (Depending on her level of acceptance of her lot, the Married Woman without Children may have similar thoughts.) Therefore, when time available for socializing is at a premium, the Married Mother is most likely to want to talk to someone who can and will understand and sympathize with her problems.

The upshot of all this is that Single Life and Married Life with Children are almost directly opposed. The Single person needs and deserves emotional support, but the Married person with children already gives so much support to the unmarried--his or her children--that they usually have no more to give. They are both tied and tired. They are no longer who they were when they were Single, which can be difficult for their Single friends to accept.

Meanwhile, Singles think their Married Friends with Children have everything they want, whereas Married Friends with Children, without wanting to change their lot, see their Single Friends as having boundless freedom and also rather petty problems compared to the dangers that lurk in every corner, threatening the Married Friends' children.

Therefore, the best thing a Single can do when she find all her friends getting married is to make more Single friends. These friends are going to start being younger than her, but so what? Some of my best formerly-Single friends are at least ten years younger than me, and some Single friends and acquaintances are ten years younger than that. Some Single friends and acquaintances are ten years older than me. (My best Married without Children friend just turned 70.) To survive as a Single you have to be flexible where friendship is concerned. (This will serve you very well, incidentally, should you immigrate to another country in middle life.)

This is especially true if you wish to maintain friendship ties with Married Friends, especially Married Friends with Children. First, you have to accept that your Best Friends Forever may not be who you think they are. Your Best Friends Forever are actually the women who are happy and grateful --not angry and humiliated--when you turn up at their houses at 8:30 AM and start picking up the toys. Nobody knows who their Best Friends Forever are going to be when you are twenty; you just think you know. History, not you, decides.

Second, you have to accept that your Married Mother Friends are basically under house arrest, and you have to meet them where they are, if they'll let you see what their captivity looks like. A kind thing to say is, "Ah, what the heck. You can clean when the kids are all in school."

Third, you can learn a lot about marriage and children from your Married Friends with Children. Marriage and parenthood do not look at all like they look on TV or in magazines, and although we hear it, we don't KNOW it until we're IN it, or at least have a ring-side seat. Speaking as someone who enjoys socializing with children, especially her nephews and niece and courtesy nephews and nieces, parenthood seems to involve Stockholm Syndrome. Children can't help taking their parents' hearts hostage, but they do, and the parents--good and sane parents--just fall in love with them and hug their chains.

Well, that's enough from me. What a long post.

Update: Although it has the fewest responsibilities, Single Life seems to be the hardest row to hoe, followed by Married Life without Children, with Married Life with Children--which has the least freedom and the most work--the easiest. Yes, it's a paradox.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Bicker Bicker Bicker

Dear me. A blogging priest has used categories from his Protestant past to bash Roman Catholics of traditional mien. The idea is that traddies are wicked and cranky and disrespectful and crypto-Protestant and just no fun at all, especially when they are pointing out inconvenient truths. Which reminds me--Voris on the Archdiocese of New York, eh? Whew!

Anyway, the perceived nastiness of trads is something to think about when you meet with traddy pals for a Gin-and-Tonic or Easter Lunch or a jolly supper at their favourite restaurant in Rome. Meanwhile, if you're in Toronto, Holy Family Catholic Church has an absolutely lovely Missa Cantata on Sundays at 11. Wonderful choir, reverent priests, stirring homilies, young family men in jackets and ties chasing down their escaped progeny before they actually reach the altar, young mothers glumly (if selflessly) carrying off their screaming cherubs to the vestibule. Beautiful! Hooray for the Oratorians!

Question to a Young Catholic

Auntie Seraphic: And what are your career aspirations?

Young Catholic (age 6): Aspirations?

Auntie S: I mean, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Young Catholic: Well, I wanted to be a Ninja, but I can't because of the Fifth Commandment.

Auntie S (sympathetically): Ah, yes.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Canada Bringing Back Capital Punishment--for the Sick

Like father, like son. Pierre Trudeau, rumoured to be a "good Catholic", liberalized ab*tion laws in Canada and now his son, Justin Trudeau, rather less rumoured to be a "good Catholic," but nevertheless on the books as an R.C., wants to bring in euthanasia.

One day Canadians, most of whom have no access to palliative care, will find themselves having to choose between suffering agonizing natural deaths and being murdered. Perhaps the doctors will hand the desperate the button, so--at the weakest, most helpless, most hopeless moment of their lives-- Canadians commit suicide instead. Those will be our choices: agony, murder or suicide.

Catholic hospitals which refuse to go along with legal murder will be shut. After all, they "receive government funding." The centuries-old Catholic ministry to the sick will end.

Catholic medical students who refuse to go along with legal murder will not be able to graduate. After all, they " receive government funding", too. There will no longer be Catholic doctors.

Never mind that the government is not some hard-working philanthropist; "government funding" is no more that the tax dollars taken from Canadians--including the Catholics, the doctors, the medical students and the future murder/suicide victims.

The risk to palliative care in a socialized system of medicine in which murder is an option seems very real to someone who tried--and failed--to find treatment for her age-related infertility that was not IVF. Having decided IVF was the solution to end all infertility solutions, the NHS in Scotland offers no other solution to those who object on moral grounds to IVF. You can accept childlessness now, or you can commit IVF.  Sometimes "choice" means NO OTHER CHOICES than the one the government wants you to pick. And adequate palliative care is more expensive than a lethal injection, isn't it?

This is all extremely horrible. Fortunately Toronto's Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Collins has once more stepped up to the plate and written a letter that needed to be written.  It was read (or was supposed to be read) from every pulpit in the Archdiocese at every Sunday mass yesterday.  Here is is.

Naturally, murdering the sick (the underage, and the depressed) is completely morally repugnant. But here's a compromise. Let's not drag innocent doctors and nurses into this. To begin with, it's a bad idea to mix life-giving and death-dealing, and it won't be pretty when Canadians find themselves wondering how many people their GPs have killed. No, no. Either bring back the public hangman, who need now only push a button or, better yet, let Justin do it himself.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Mothering Sunday

It is Mothering Sunday in the UK. Hopefully the American and Canadian innovation of separating the mums from the mumps, applauding the former while ignoring the sad faces of the latter, has not taken root there.

However, if it does, recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II that all women are called to be mothers, spiritual if not physical, and so some of that applause rightly belongs to you. If you know some, encourage the nuns to stand, and then stand with them. If the priests are going to innovate, perhaps we women should innovate on the innovations and ALL stand for the applause/blessing/confetti throwing.

Feel free also to take the rose/carnation from the questioning usher with a sweet smile and the words "I'm a spiritual mother." Okay, that's only if you are 21 and over. If you are under 21, behave yourself.
Update: Of course, it goes without saying you have to honour your mother on Mothering Sunday or Mother's Day. Why not honour your spiritual mothers in some way too?

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The House of Music

The House of Music is a large bungalow sunning itself between a frozen lake and a row of snow-iced fir trees. No-one ever goes in through the front door. The side door is closest to the driveway, after all, and opens onto a friendly hallway populated by boots,mittens, ski equipment, skates and modern art. From the hallway a visitor can go up a step to the long galley kitchen or down two steps to the wide conservatory. The sitting room is at the front--but de facto the side--of the house, and that is where most of the toys are: the Lego, the "big Lego", the castles, the figurines, the blocks, the plastic construction straws, the adventures of Lucky Luke, the long squashy sofa and the television. It is a nice room, but it is dwarfed in both size and importance by the conservatory, for that is where the piano lives.

My brother, through some alchemy, managed to find a house with a concert hall. Well, that's perhaps an exaggeration, especially as my friend Tricia literally owns a house with a theatre. I suppose the conservatory is akin to the salons of musical patrons of the 19th century, only with a tiled floor and tall windows stretching almost from floor to ceiling, lined up wall to wall. There's a gas fireplace in on a corner wall painted red.. Between the red wall and the windows facing the snowy back garden is a painting by my sister-in-law showing two little figures sitting on the shore looking at boaters on the lake. It is quite obvious who these little people are.

The piano is across the room from the fireplace, beside the row of windows looking towards the snowy pines. It is black, something bigger than the standard parlour grand, but smaller than a concert grand. It is tuned beautifully, and why not? All four members of the household play it now. The lid is kept closed and across it are scattered a number of music books: thin, tidy books for Peanut,  Popcorn and Ma Belle-Soeur and fat, battered books for my brother. Many of the thin books have easy arrangements of great classical pieces; the "originals"appear in the fat books. Thus, the adult visitor can warm up with (and feel very pleased by) the simplest version of, say, Chopin's Prelude Op. 24, no. 4 before tackling those finger spraining, if immortal, chords.

At the bottom of the short flight of stairs from the hallway is an acoustic guitar. A visiting one-year-old, the son of Red Mezzo (a Montreal pal whom my most faithful readers may remember), toddled towards it yesterday. Was it in tune? The toddler strummed and pinged. Yes, it was in tune.

There was no formal recital during my visit this year. Sometimes my brother and his wife beseech Red Mezzo to leave the farm for an evening, plan a repertoire and open the house to music-loving villagers. Nulli plays, and Red Mezzo sings.. But this week the recitals were just informal affairs en famille: Scarlatti, Chopin, "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" and, er, Q-bert, as he has been rebaptized by my niece.( "You know, Q-bert. Beethoven's friend.")

Yesterday being a First Friday, there was a small expedition to Saint-Benoit-du-Lac to visit a golden strand of the precious fabric that was once Old Québec. Though it is thin and warn, the thread of French Canada's monastic life has not yet snapped. Fifty Benedictine monks still reside in their patch of Estrie, making cheese and apple cider, praying the Hours, tending the goats and cows. They celebrate Mass at 11 AM; the shop shuts fifteen minutes beforehand. That there is daily Mass in the same place every day in 21st century Quebec is a bit of a miracle in itself as the Quiet Terror continues to oppress and weaken the Ancient Faith. In the choir of the postmodern Gothic chapel were 19 monks, and in the nave were ... more than a few laity. My brother may have been the first layman to arrive in the chapel, but by the Sign of the Peace, he was neither the only one, nor the youngest.

Yes, it was the Novus Ordo--en français--but the Gregorian Chants were as they have always been, sung as only monks can sing them. My brother, a fine church musician, listened with respect. Afterwards we went right back down to the shop to browse among the cheese, the cider, the chocolates (made by Trappists), the maple syrup, the books, CDs and rosaries.

It was a very happy visit.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Wieszcz

Young Adam
A wieszcz is a Polish poet who is sort of a cross between a druid and a bard. The wieszcz of wieszczes is Adam Mickiewicz (1798/9-1855), who wrote the great Polish epic "Pan Tadeusz."  Adam's son Władysław apparently did his late-Victorian best to alter the record so that his father appeared to be a giant of respectable family-man Catholicism; the 2008 biography "Adam Mickiewicz: Life of a Romantic" by Roman Koropeckyj does its considerable best to turn him into the Polish Lord Byron.

Polish Mickiewicz experts would be better judges of Koropeckyj's slant.  However, even a complete amateur can see that for most of the poet's life Mickiewicz was a symbol of Polish nationalist aspiration, and therefore every Polish party wanted a piece of him. This is to say, all the many quarreling factions of Poles wanted Mickiewicz to represent them and their values. ("He was a good Catholic!" "He was a firm Towianist!" "He supported Emperor Louis-Napoleon!" "He was a committed socialist!" "He was a Jew!") And so it may be with this biography, which seems to want to make Mickiewicz over into a bad Catholic and a really sexy dude. When it is unclear if Mickiewicz bedded this or that beloved female friend--or impregnanted one--Koropeckyj assumes he did.  And whereas the philosemitic Mickiewicz's minor gentry father went out of his way to prove his family did not have Jewish roots, Koropeckyj prefers to think that they did. One might well ask if this is UCLA's way of getting Mickiewicz to represent them and their values.*

That said, the biography is a cracking good read, and Mickiewicz's life (according to Koropeckyj) is quite eye-opening, surprises at every turn. Anyone brought up to believe that Mickiewicz was this or that is bound to be disappointed; the Catholic "Pan Tadeusz" fan should just be grateful Adam was a good orthodox, Mass-going, confession-frequenting Catholic when he wrote his magnum opus. After his political expulsion from Polish Lithuania as a charismatic student leader until a sojourn in Rome, Mickiewicz was apparently an indifferentist. After he settled in Paris, he met a Polish cult leader and became a Towianist. (Towianists argued that they were badly misunderstood orthodox Roman Catholics, but, man, do they sound crazy--and incredibly mean to each other between bouts of love-bombing.)

Whatever Polish Catholics may think of Koropeckyj's take on Mickiewicz as womanizing heterodox cult leader, he certainly structured his book well. Thanks to his deft arrangement of chapters, a very convoluted life is made quite clear. There's the impoverished "Childhood (1798-1815) " in Nowogródek; the golden "Youth (1815-1824)" in which he writes his first--quickly famous--poems and songs; the Russian "Exile (1824-1829)" in which he hobnobs with aristos, billionaires and Pushkin while his buddies rot in Siberia; "The Grand Tour (1829-1831)" in which he befriend Goethe and ends up in Rome; the "Crisis and Rebirth (1831-1832)" in which he reverts to orthodox Polish Catholicism;  "Emigration (1832-1834) in which he, like so many Poles of his time, takes refuge in France; and so on to his final "Rebirth and Death (1855)".

Compared to the average Pole in the first half of the nineteenth century, Mickiewicz was very, very lucky. But on the other hand, he was also a hard worker at university and incredibly talented at languages. For much of his adult life, he could stand before a group of friends and just improvise beautiful Polish poetry for hours. (In this he was a lot like his near-contemporary Beethoven, who spent hours improvising splendid music for patrons.) His early songs and poems, plus his expulsion from Polish lands, coming as they did at the beginning of the Romantic era made him the Romantic Polish poet par excellence, and therefore incredibly attractive and fashionable for the early 19th century Russian chatterati. (It is too bad Koropeckyj did not add an appendix of Mickiewicz's army of patrons because without the constant financial support of rich friends and admirers, Mickiewicz and then his wife and children would have starved to death.) It helped, too, that he was the 19th century equivalent of a rock star to the Poles. And not just any rock star. He was THE rock star, only with the moral authority largely absent from rockstardom. When he wrote a historical epic called "Wallenrod," a disguised call-to-arms against the Russian oppressor, lo and behold, young Poles rose up and rebelled against the Russian oppressor. They were cruelly suppressed, of course.

 (Poles are always being cruelly suppressed by foreigners, which is why you should never get into a fight with a Pole. They expect foreigners to cruelly suppress them and, having learned from history what do to, they fight like hell until they are dead or knocked unconscious. If you are a woman, and you find yourself in an argument with a Pole, burst into tears. It's the only way to win. If you are a man, you are out of luck unless you want to do life in the joint for murder. However, you could try making a funny joke or playing the Polish national anthem on the nearest piano or suddenly sagging into a chair and informing your opponent that your mother died that morning.)

God made Mickiewicz the most important Polish nationalist poet of his age, which Mickiewicz and everyone around him figured that out pretty soon. Therefore, from both an artistic and a trad Catholic point of view, it's a shame he fell into the clutches of Andrzej Towiański, one of the charismatic religious nutters who flourished in the 19th century. For one thing, the Wieszcz of Wieszczes stopped writing poetry after that. For another, he used his position in Paris as a professor of Slavic Studies not to promote Slavic Studies so much as to promote Towianism. This was a real betrayal of the field, as real scholars of Slavic Studies pointed out at the time. Various factions of Polish emigrés tore their hair out, but there was nothing anyone could do about this except the bemused French authorities who finally put him on permanent academic leave.

However, Mickiewicz had written the most influential Polish poetry of the early nineteenth century (Koropeckyj neglected to create an Appendix for Mickiewicz's works--or for anything else, his bad), and thus was firmly enthroned in the hearts of all Poles who didn't know him and in those of most of the Poles who did. To put this into 20th/21st century perspective, the name "Princess Diana" comes to mind although Mickiewicz did a lot more than the Prince of Wales' ex to win such otherwise irrational adulation. Maybe the 20the/21st century Polish esteem for Saint John Paul II would be a better comparison although in this case, JP 2 was a saint, and as the poet himself told a starstruck Polish lady in Turkey, Mickiewicz was not.
Old Adam

Thus--at least according to Koropeckyj's point of view--everyone was prepared to overlook the poet's irregular sex life (which may have been perfectly regular after he reverted to practising Catholicism despite Koropeckyj's assumptions), his dodgy academic work, his strange inability to join his fellow Poles on the battlefields he sent them to and his wacky cult and to nail them behind the wall carpet once he was dead.

Meanwhile the educated reader who wishes to understand contemporary Poland would do well to read this biography of Adam Mickiewicz, for his influence continues. At an afternoon Gin-and-Tonic in Edinburgh, a twenty year old Pole who voted in the last election not for the center-right PiS, but for the radical-right Janusz Korwin-Mikke was overheard asking a studious older lady what Polish poetry she preferred. She mentioned Szymborska, Miłosz and Herbert, and the young man looked decidedly disappointed. Clearly, given the boy's nationalist politics, the woman should have mentioned Słowacki, Kraśinski and--above all--Mickiewicz.

*Koropeckyj conveniently never references the poet's rather anti-Semitic (or anti-rabbinical, anyway) "The Rabbi and the Flea." The Towianists had a mystical interest in racial Judaism (e.g. in "Jewish blood" not in rabbinical Jewish beliefs), so whereas Mickiewicz was arguably warmhearted towards Polish-Lithuanian Jews (see, e.g. Pan Tadeusz) and he certainly didn't (as many did) sneer at the Jewish roots of some Polish Catholics, he was still a nineteenth century Catholic Pole, not a 21st century Slavic Studies prof in California.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Auntie Learns to Ski

Of all the questions Auntie has fielded this holiday--"Was Buddha bad or good?" "What is chi?"--the hardest to answer was "Auntie D, you don't know how to ski?"

This was delivered by a tiny shrimp of a creature wearing a pink crash helmet in such tones of amazement that her aunt hung her head in shame. Her head was already hanging pretty low as it was, thanks to the golden robot feet slung around her neck. Skiing involves a lot of heavy things, but the high tech boots are the heaviest. As nervous as Auntie was, she was sure she was as likely as the Tin Man to break her legs.

Quebec is a wonderful place to be outdoors when it is 10 below zero if you are wearing your mother's pink turtleneck sweater, your brother's snowpants, your sister-in-law's red ski jacket, your sister-in-law's old ski mitts, your brother's black-and-blue crash helmet and giant robot feet. You may look fat, but so does everyone else at the ski lodge. As everyone is fat and most are wearing orange ski goggles it is very hard to recognize people.

"Where's your mother?" Auntie asked small Popcorn, her niece.

"I'm right here," said the blue and white, orange-goggled creature beside her.

No longer worried about freezing to death, the visitor to Quebec can stand around in the snow admiring the pine trees and the mountains and the brave people careening down the ski slopes. The frozen wind slapped Auntie around the face, but she merely found it refreshing. The skiing thing could not be so hard, she thought. After all, she had been taught how to stop by a five-year-old ("Pizza!", i.e. make the shape of a pizza slice with your skis) and consoled by her sister-in-law that it was basically the same as skating.

The ski lodge was neither as intimidating nor as luxurious as ski lodges are in novels, possibly because it was geared towards families. Children clumped in their own robot feet hither and thither, and apres-ski apparently means not mulled-wine fueled affairs with viscounts but chocolat chaud avec les enfants.

The ski rentals were downstairs, so downstairs Auntie went to rent skis and poles from good-humoured if plain-speaking French-Canadians which entailed telling them her weight. Quel horreur. Skis and poles collected, Auntie put her feet into the robot boots which clasped her calves like twin Iron Maidens. But however uncomfortable they were (or to be precise, the right one was), Auntie felt even more certain than her ankles were safe. She clanked upstairs and went outside and, under the watchful eyes of Belle Souer et Bratnica-Popcorn, stepped into her skis. Wielding her ski poles, she wiggled her way over to the clump of trees for her lesson with David, the young professional. When David arrived, she wiggled down to the bunny hill with its "magic carpet" ski lift, i.e. electric-powered ramp.

And then something wonderful happened: Auntie learned to ski. In fact, it seemed as if Auntie had always known how to ski, possibly because Auntie has known how to skate since she was four, or perhaps because the good cold Canadian air intoxicated her like ice wine. Down the bunny hill she went, happily making S's in the snow, and soon graduated to the big hill where, unfortunately, she fell off the ski lift. Undaunted, Auntie got her to her feet by clutching David, and then she careened down the big hill without falling down again. It was the most amazing thing.

It was sixty million times more fun than hockey.

Sadly David discovered that there was not enough time to go down the big hill again, so that was it for the lesson. La Belle Soeur collected Auntie and took off her skis and shepherded her inside and up the stairs to the big windowed attic of the ski lodge where apres-ski happens. As Peanut and Popcorn walloped each other and tested the patience of their ski-loving European grandfather, Auntie ate half a chicken sandwich and drank a hot chocolate and thought of nothing but getting back outside again. As soon as her chocolate was drunk, she rushed out after her family, who were on the bunny hill, and rod up and skied down until Popcorn called a halt.

Truly, thought Auntie, skiing is the most amazing thing. It may even be worth learning to drive for.