Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Looking for Jobs

Periodically I have a conversation with B.A. about my off-and-on job search.

"In Toronto," I say, "we find jobs through our friends and acquaintances."

"That's not how it works here," replies B.A.

"I think that's how it works everywhere," I say.

B.A. is not convinced, as he got his job fair-and-square by answering a job ad twelve years ago. However, in that same twelve year period, I got every writing assignment and every editing job through people-I-know, friends-of-friends, and students-of-former-profs-or-former-clients. Alas, the editing jobs have dried up, probably because of this. At the time I was so furious on Ross Douthat's behalf, I didn't notice the bridge burning behind me.

(That said, Ross linked to the piece from The New York Times, which was one of those thrills that money just can't buy.)

I hate looking for jobs because I don't deal well with disappointment and rejection and never have. When Victorian gentlemen waffled about women needed to be protected at home from the horrors of the workplace, they were talking about women like me. I was made for knitting socks for soldiers, sending little parcels to the needy and, once in a blue moon, being dragged out to dinner parties to make conversation with Sir Magnus Lumpengent, my husband's superior at work. Naturally I would have left the housework to my staff of two, as this is 1910 we're talking about. My parents raised their daughters to be ornaments in 1910 society and even bragged about this from the front seats of their Toyota Corolla as behind them I fumed.

Little Women and the Anne novels were my guides to life. Is it any wonder that when I looked at the Scottish job ads yesterday morning I had shrieking hysterics? I mean, look at this. What does it even mean?

Enhancement Themes Project Officer (Part-Time)

Role Purpose

This post will support the requirements of the college's Enhancement Theme work and support the ET institutional team in evidencing outcome of enhancement activities.
As a matter of fact, there is one sort of work I am very good at---besides giving my opinion in various Catholic publications---and it is teaching adults how to write and speak good English. In Warsaw I covered for a pal's vacationing employee and spent an agreeable hour-and-a-half making an executive repeat "should", "would" and "could" in conversation. It was great fun.

Although I have no ESL (or EFL) certificate, I did teach English writing skills at an Ontario post-secondary institution for three years and I did set up a writing clinic at my theological alma mater and toil away in it for two years. Helping adults make their writing efforts better and their ideas clearer is truly a source of joy.

The fact is that I would have made a super prof, were it not for the wickedness of academic politics,  the current state of the American Theological Academy, and my thin-skinned inability to cope with rejection and disappointment. Polish Pretend Son, who goes out of his way to annoy his colleagues by plastering his cubicle with Trump propaganda, will doubtlessly shoot to the top.

For some reason, this reminds me of a poster I saw in a Warsaw shop, which was supposed to be in English, but charmingly illustrates the Polish double negative:

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Five Dubia

Rome pal Jan Bentz has reported in LifeSiteNews today that four Cardinals may be demoted (aka "stripped of their hats") for asking Pope Francis the following questions and, when he did not respond, publishing them.

Incidentally, I see that Jan has been regularly reporting for LSN, which is THE biggest Catholic media organ in Canada, a gazillion times bigger than Salt +Light or any diocesan heirloom, so good for you, Jan.  

Anyway since it is being posited that in this Year of Mercy there is such a thing as a stupid question (or five), I thought I would publish them here so we don't ask them ourselves by accident. (I have cut them from Please read so that you know why five leading churchmen, any one of whom could have been himself elected pope, risked being called names, demoted, etc. All emphases are mine to add ease and variety to your reading.

1. It is asked whether, following the affirmations of “Amoris Laetitia” (nn. 300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and thus to admit to Holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person “more uxorio” (in a marital way) without fulfilling the conditions provided for by “Familiaris Consortio” n. 84 and subsequently reaffirmed by “Reconciliatio et Paenitentia” n. 34 and “Sacramentum Caritatis” n. 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live “more uxorio”?
2. After the publication of the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 79, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?
3. After “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (cf. Mt 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration, June 24, 2000)?
4. After the affirmations of “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 81, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?
5. After “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 56, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?
What I notice is the invitation for Francis to say "No, the black-and-white unmerciful thinking of Saint John Paul II was wrong and my fifty-shades-of-gray house theologian was right, and that's just how it is. Deal." Why does he not say this?

Actually, he doesn't even have to say this. All he has to say is "Yes" or "No" to each of the five, and then LifeSiteNews can get a million more hits as desperate Catholics-Who-Care try to figure out what is going on. 

I pointed out my problems with Chapter 8 within 24 hours of its release (and what a day that was). I was completely free to do this as my own theological career basically ended in Mainz, Germany one January day in 2006 when a worried former professor, switching to French so les americains at the table would not understand, warned me that I had better not piss off a neurotic current professor or I might damage my carrèire.  

"Je m'en fiche de ma carrière," I snarled, which was true only relative to my sanity and the Catholic faith as my father and grandparents and their grandparents understood it. All the same, I no longer have a carrière, so I have nothing to lose by writing things like:

Work 3, or Chapter 8, is a torturous and tortured attempt to make adultery seem that much less adulterous. Particularly intriguing was the author’s (or authors’) insinuation that some men and women cannot cease to have extramarital sex with each other without incurring sin. This too will disturb the orthodox Catholic reader.

 What I would love to see, if the Cardinals are indeed stripped of their offices for asking five questions regarding the validity of the doctrines of the Church as understood and promoted by Saint John Paul II, is an emergency synod and red mozette flying through the air like so many frisbees.

Update. Worth a read: Fr Mark Drew in the Catholic Herald.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Polsko! Twoje Działo!

Actually, that wasn't Poland's fault. That was my fault. And you can read 800 words of the story in next Sunday's Toronto Catholic Register.

One detail that I regret to say did not get enough emphasis in my column is that once an attending nurse realized how much trouble I was in, I shot to the front of the two-hour long queue.

Of course, that's a rather vigorous way of putting it. In reality, after I blundered into the hospital examination room to say my eye hurt, I was sent right out to sit on my butt. However, within fifteen minutes I was summoned back in to read letters on a chart. Soon I was sent back out, but then I was summoned in again to sign some form. Soon after that, the nurse touched my arm, I went back in, and I was seen by the doctor. Queue-jumping is an unforgivable sin in the UK (and I apologized profusely) but happily there is such a thing as triage--in Poland as elsewhere.

My advice to anyone who is unlucky enough to be hurt, injured or fall ill in Poland is to have studied Polish for at least five years in advance. You simply must not assume that "all educated people speak English anyway." No. Human brains are human brains, and if they don't still need all the foreign languages they memorized for exams, the foreign languages leak out of them. English does not have magic glue. Neither does Polish; if she could have heard me last week, my Polish teacher would have wept. All the same, five years of off-and-on study meant I got the job done. The job, in this case, means keeping alive, fed, housed and all five senses.

Of course, you can get around the language requirements by having Polish-speaking friends who don't have to go to work or be anywhere else. Or perhaps by having any tough-minded travel companion.Graham Greene survived his first trip to Liberia thanks to his cousin Barbara. 

Anyway, if you can, get next Sunday's Catholic Register and ponder the corporal works of mercy, particularly the one about strangers. I certainly am.

Another lesson to ponder is "truth is what is" versus "truth is what I want it to be." However, I won't go into this until subscribers of the Catholic Register have read my column.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Polish Winter Fashions

While preparing for my trip to Poland, I stared at videos of Polish demonstrators, so as to see what women dressed like in Poland. Poland is not a country that is quite as sanguine (or simply uncaring) as the UK about people dressing however they like---although if there is one thing I have discovered about poorer parts of Scotland, it is that you don't want to stick out. 

Thus I decided to buy an inexpensive long blue puffy coat, a new beret and black half-leather, half-suede winter boots. I wore green-and-black tweed suit on the plane, and packed a grey wool dress, some changes of tights and shirts to go with the suit, a dinner dress (just in case) and a pair of black flats. And behold! Warsaw was dotted with women wearing inexpensive long puffy coats and black winter boots. Younger women, however, wore toques (i.e. woolly hats sometimes topped with a pompom), whereas only older women--usually the oldest women--wore berets. Many of the younger women wore jeans or short skirts, of course, and only a minority wore those horrible black leggings with short jackets. 

I kept my straightened-for-the-trip hair in a bun fixed with a spiral pin. I shifted between wearing my rather severe-looking glasses and my contact lenses until I had a sad contact lens accident. Then for a dramatic afternoon I wore a huge white bandage and a young woman gave me her seat on the tram. However, before then I maintained a strict, scholarly appearance, albeit with lashings of MAC Viva Glam II lipstick---until I lost the lipstick in a rare rock formation outside Kielce where people used to worship the Polish Wind God. Then I just looked scholarly--or (on Tuesday) like the victim of a horrible accident. 

Wearing a suit every second day led to the provost of the religious house in which I was staying to ask if I were a naukowiec (scholar), which I found highly flattering. I did not at all mind looking older than my age (if I did), for it probably discouraged gallantry. There was a sudden outbreak of gallantry within five minutes of my alighting from a bus in front of the Palace of Culture and Science (at 1 AM on a patriotic holiday), and I was not interested in any more. Twenty years ago, being found interesting by local gallants would have been enjoyable, but I haven't the patience or the time nowadays for the inevitable questions after the booze has worn off regarding my actual age. Besides, I'm married. (Just thought I'd let you know I remembered that.) 

The desirability of dressing old may be a novel concept, but I recommend it, especially in societies where younger people still give up their seats to older people and where young men still think it manly to show an exaggerated interest in women. 

I didn't pay very much attention to fashions for men, except at the Independence March, where the most chic garment was a hooded sweatshirt with "GOD, HONOR, FATHERLAND" written in Polish on the front and "DEATH TO THE ENEMIES OF POLAND" written--again in Polish, naturally--on the back. I considered purchasing such a garment for B.A. for about two seconds and had a good giggle. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Returned from Poland

In case you were wondering, I have spent the last two weeks in Poland.  As the Historical House is a national treasure containing national treasures, I don't like to advertise when B.A. and I, or just I, am away.

I have an overdue article to write, but when I have finished that, I have some amusing (and at least one scary) travel stories and interesting snapshots to share. In the meantime, here is my article in Catholic World Report about the nationalists' parade on Polish Independence Day.

Some time ago I declared that Poland was not somewhere I go to relax but to be challenged and to grow. This still holds true---and how! But for relaxing, I don't think Italy fits the bill. When my plane touched down in Edinburgh, for one shining (and obviously confused) moment, I thought I was in Toronto. As much as Toronto drives me nuts, I don't think I will be truly at rest until I am there again.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Good or Bad for Canada?

Canadians do not find this funny for some reason.
Update: Since my post this morning was a bit terse, I feel that I should first of all congratulate American readers on having got through election year without a civil war breaking out. It's over. Whew. Believe me, many foreigners suffered along with you although
obviously not quite as much.

Also, I wish you all peace, prosperity and many freedoms in the years ahead. Fingers crossed.


I apologize, dear American readers, but that is my primary response to the American presidential election. Hopefully Canada remains way below the radar as usual. Hopefully Prime Minister Trudeau doesn't embarrass us in any egregious way.

Meanwhile I object to the "I'm moving to Canada" meme. Canada is not a protectorate of the USA. She is an entirely different sovereign country with her own history, with parliamentary democracy, with a monarch and with one heck of an immigration process. Canadians are not just quiet Americans--oh, and by the way, any foreigner who moves to the province of  Quebec has to send their children to French-language school. I believe this has come as a shock to visiting American and British academics, but there it is. English-speakers are marginalized in the entire province of Quebec; unless you speak fluent French, you don't want to live there. Meanwhile, house prices in Toronto are shocking.

No-one can "just move to Canada" unless he or she is a Canadian. Everyone else needs a visa. This "I'm moving to Canada" thing reminds me of left-wing, Democrat-voting students in Massachusetts telling me Canada is  independent only because the USA allows her to be. If successful in getting visas, such people should leave this attitude south of the border, along with any handguns.

Meanwhile, I object to any peace-time mass migration on principle--I think it is terrible for migrants, their host countries and the poor countries they leave behind--so naturally I object to mass migration of Americans to Canada, too. Controlled, steady migration is fine. My family has migrated back and forth over the border over the centuries; it's worked out nicely for us and, I hope, Canada.

Oh dear. It may be a tough day listening to British people opine on the subject of the USA. On the other hand, my confusing accent may stem the flow. This is Scotland, so nobody is likely to ask me how I voted, but if they do, I will explain that I am Canadian and think the Americans can vote for whomsoever they like, just as long as the new president leaves Canada alone.

And now I shall check Rzeczpospolita to see what Putin is doing.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Christmas Cake is in the Oven!

Great was my concern when I saw via Facebook that my mother had already baked, wrapped and put to bed her Christmas Cake for its long Advent nap. However, I have been busy clearing the decks for my trip to Warsaw, so I managed to start only yesterday.  That's when I bought, washed and dried the sultanas, California seedless raisins and currants and soaked them overnight in brandy.

Today I bought the rest of the ingredients for the fun part, which is putting everything into a vat and mixing it up with my arm. My vat used to be part of a tabletop oven. I have no interest in the heating device/lid, but the safety-glass oven itself is excellent for mixing the Christmas Cake batter.

Christmas decorations appeared in Edinburgh shops on November 1, and there are now post-Bonfire Night supermarket adverts--actually alluding to Bonfire Night--on TV counselling us not to resent Christmas stuff. "Too soon?" asks a supermarket ad husband, showing his wife a Christmas song CD. "Nah, bring it on," says the supermarket ad wife. 

Since proper Christmas Cake must soak in brandy (or rum, if your family uses rum instead) for at least six weeks before eating, the appearance of Christmas adverts is a sign that it is now time to start the Cake. Perhaps this is why I don't mind the beginning of British Christmas shopping season falling on November 1. Meanwhile, many Britons--including my husband--get holidays from Christmas Day until New Year's Day, so there are at least Eight Days of Christmas, instead of Almost Two Months and Then Blah. Friends of ours have an annual Twelfth Night party, too, so traditionally enought that is the last hoorah before Burns' night.  

This year I have promised B.A. that I will not go crazy with the Christmas baking and will even make a small version of the trifle. I didn't say anything about the Cake. Or the Bun. Wigilia Supper, however, has been banned by name.

"Unless a Pole spends Christmas here," I qualified.

"No," said B.A. 

Monday, 7 November 2016

Visited Family Graveyard

My plans to visit the principal Catholic cemetery in Edinburgh on Nov 1 or 2 were all for naught, so today I dropped by Dalry Cemetery to pay respects to my grandmother's grandfather, wherever he may be. Dalry is a wreck of a cemetery, and I shudder when I imagine what the Poles must think of it.

One year I hope I come across my ancestor Andrew's gravestone, but it may be that the family couldn't afford such frills back when Victoria was Queen. My mother still holds the title deed to her great-grandfather's plot, so developers had better not get any ideas.

I think Dalry's dead will be allowed to lie in peace: the "Commonwealth Graves".i.e. soldiers' and war nurses'  graves, do get some upkeep. All the same, even on a sunny, golden-leafed day like today, the cemetery is a melancholy sight.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Missing Post

I decided this morning's post was better suited to a wider and yet more local audience. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I am fine.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Nursini

This is a hard post to write for a few reasons. The first is that I am as guilty as anyone on focusing on the expatriate English-speakers in Norcia when reporting on the earthquakes and the aftermath of earthquakes. In recent years so many English-speaking Trads have been to Norcia, we speak as if it belongs to us.

The second is that my Italian is not as good as it was when I was, say, 27, and so most of my interactions with the Nursini have been fraught with anxiety and embarrassment.

The third is that a Norcia shopkeeper once ran off with my change, and I had to throw a bilingual strop to get it back. To be honest about a place, you can forgive the foibles, but not forget. Meanwhile, I seriously hope he is okay.

Norcia is a town that depends on tourism. Tourists are the people who give the Nursini money. They depend on us for a living, but we aren't them, are we? The relationship between the local and the tourist (and the expat) is problematic, as we saw in my resentment at being poked by an African bag-seller in Rome. I'd be curious to know if the Italians in Rome accept the bag-sellers as Romans. This may depend on whether or not the bag-sellers speak Italian. I'd also be curious to know if Scots accept me as an Edinburgher, since I certainly do not have an Edinburgh accent. Incidentally, there a lot of tourists (and expats) in Edinburgh, too.

We tourists can be a demanding bunch. What is it that we are looking for when we roam the world? A number of things. Sun or snow, relaxation or adventure, new foods and new sights, a chance to meet locals, perhaps. This last aspect of tourism makes me very nervous, as tourism is acquisitive. An American tourist told me that she'd rather collect experiences than photographs (sure enough) but most of all she'd like to collect people. I felt very uncomfortable. Although the young have different rules, the natives of a place are really unlikely to invite tourists home to experience the "Real Edinburgh" or the "Real Bonn" or the "Real Venice". Relationships with locals are fleeting. Tourists may remember them forever, but the locals will forget the tourists in seconds. There are just too many.

That's another reason it's difficult to write a post about the Nursini: who am I to say anything about them? However, I feel as if they have disappeared behind the mostly-American monks, the expats and the rubble of the historic buildings. Therefore, I will give it a shot.

In Norcia there is a beautiful Art Nouveau style café called the Caffé Tancredi. Behind the counter there is a dark-haired, wide-eyebrowed male server in semi-formal waiter dress or a blonde lady or a dark-haired lady slightly younger than the blonde. It is the custom of many of the Nursini to drop in at least once a day and down a coffee and a "pasta" chosen from the plexiglass display. Promiscuous use of chocolate syrup is the hallmark of the Caffé Tancredi: unless you ask him or her not to, the server pours a good dollop of chocolate into your cappuccino. The locals chat, or sit at one of the few tables and looks at a newspaper.

In Norcia there is an old-fashioned jewellery store with windows like display cabinets. When I said regretfully that the gold crucifix pendant I admired was too expensive, the proprietor took out an example of  the silver version. He named a price, and it sounded reasonable to me, so B.A. left the shop to get his wallet. This gave the jeweller a chance to establish that I was Canadian and to tell me all about his relations in British Columbia. When B.A. arrive with his wallet, the price of the silver crucifix had mysteriously dropped by 20 Euros or so.

In Norcia there is a luxury goods shop that includes a hairdressing salon. One day last month I decided that instead of buying a bottle of conditioner and doing a long-overdue dreadlock seek-and-destroy mission, I would pay the Nursini hairdressers to do it instead. I popped into the shop and began to gabble in a bizarre and shame-making language made up of Italian, English and Polish. Our phrasebook had no useful phrases for the hairdressers, and although I now remember the verb "pettinarsi" (to comb), I'm not sure I remembered it then.

However, I convinced the hairdressing staff to take me on as they examined the terrible state of my hair and said various things I couldn't understand, and a young woman took me away for a hair-washing. I felt very sorry for her, as presumably did an older hairdresser, for she eventually came along to help her junior pick apart the dreads. They were worried that this hurt me, and frantically suppressing the Polish that came to mind, I tried to assure them that it didn't. Meanwhile, the hairdressers chatted to each other about my hair, and perhaps it is lucky that all I understood exactly was their astonishment that I wasn't screaming.

Then I was moved from the sink to a chair, and we agreed that my hair was now better, and again there was a team effort, as the clock ticked speedily towards lunchtime, to comb out the last of the snarls. The hairdressers exchanged approving remarks about the colour of my hair, which they observed was natural. Then there was work with a blow-drier. and my shame-making attempts to explain that I'd be happy if they just put the hair in braids, and the job was done, and I was well and truly hosed at the cash register.

When you have twice as much hair on your head as do most other heads, being hosed at the cash register is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When it doesn't happen, I tip heavily out of sheer gratitude. However, on this occasion I didn't have enough money on me, or my cash card, so I had to ask if I could come back after lunch to pay. The young lady behind the cash register--and the male boss--were fine with this, so off I went to lunch.  I returned later with a handful of cash and left a tip. The young lady behind the cash register had the same shifty, self-conscious look as the shopkeeper who, after Christmas, ran off with my change. I felt a bit bad about that, but I couldn't think of a way to say, I don't really care. I'm on holiday, and I suspect the [August] earthquake has left everyone badly off.

There are other Nursini I'm thinking about, too. There are the waiters and waitresses at the Granaro del Monte and other restaurants in town. How are they? Are they working? There are the women serving behind the counter in the bakeries, and the friendly lady who runs the kitchen goods store. Do they have enough to eat? The lady in the fruit-and-vegetable store, the lady in the cheese shop, the men and women in the butcher shops.... How do you deal with perishable stock in the wake of a natural disaster?

There's the couple in the wine shop who, at Christmas time, directed us towards an expensive bottle and then, when I wittily managed to say we were too poor, towards the cheaper stuff. Have the bottles survived?  Then there's the young lady in the Campi di Nursia who led us on our donkey-trek. Is she alright? Are the donkeys and mules all right? And then there are the children who threw firecrackers at Christmas and the teens who queue up to be taken by mountain bus to high school in Spoleto. Are they okay?

There are almost 5,000 Italian Nursini, which means that there are almost 5,000 stories about Norcia that are not being told in English. I'm not equipped to tell any of those stories, or even to help the Nursini--unlike the monks who have remained in the area, at risk to life and limb, to minister to them. But I can at least offer a link. The easiest way, I have been told, to get money directly into the hands of the Nursian needy is to send it to the monks, stating explicitly that it is for the people. Here is a link to the Monks of Norcia donation page.