Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Marriage Advice for the Young Ones

I've been thinking a lot about the ideas in this post. I was going to put them in a letter, and then I thought I'd put them on this blog, but then I decided just to give them to my boss.

B.A. hasn't actually lost all his charm. Okay, maybe other people wouldn't find him charming at the moment, but I have a soft spot for guys who look like a cross between Saint Anthony in the Desert and Bill the Cat.

People keep asking me how B.A. is, clearly expecting me to say "Oh, much better, thanks!" But the best I can say is that he is not worse--and also surprisingly patient and even sometimes verging on cheerful.

He's not worse, and my mother is here, and various people from the TLM community are going to visit them this weekend, so I can go to the LSN Gala in Washington D.C. this Thursday.  I will be home first thing Monday morning.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Polski Piątek Returns!

If I'm blogging for the second day in row, life must be returning to normal. Or no--maybe I have become sufficiently adjusted to the new life to write about it.

The secret to remaining sane, when one suddenly has a husband recovering from a second surgery and a full-time job as a culture warrior, is to wake up early. This morning I woke up at 6:45 AM, made coffee, returned to bed and reached for the Amazon package I hadn't opened yet. 

The cardboard envelope contained Johanna Michalak-Gray's Polish Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook. I spent a happy hour with this book before showering, dressing and tidying the kitchen. While putting away the clean dishes and washing the dirty ones, I listened to my Polish in 4 Weeks CD. Then I took out the trash and the recycling in two separate trips to the Historical Stable Block. Finally, I made breakfast. 

Now it is 10 AM and I am at my desk to start the day's culture battle, having already improved my Polish and done the most pressing housework. It's a very good feeling. 

At 1:45 PM I will take a break to row four virtual kilometers on the home rowing machine.

Culture warring is gruelling and rife with new disappointments in humanity. For example, while researching the charges against Cardinal Pell, I discovered that the UK's Daily Telegraph had incorrectly located a particular allegation made against the cardinal at a swimming pool in Melbourne. It wasn't Melbourne where the men allege Pell touched them up: it was the city of Ballarat. Now, I understand how pressing deadlines can tempt one to relax the fact-checking, but the Telegraph is a national, a major, a relatively conservative, British newspaper. I depend on it and other national papers to get my facts right. 

Meanwhile, either Pell did those things (Julia Yost wrote a brilliant piece in First Things on why there is ample room for doubt) or those men are lying for gain or a petty revenge against their Catholic upbringings. Either way, it's awful. 

I have to read and write about such things every day--although asked also to write up examples of the Culture of Life, thank goodness--so it is very important to take time before and after work for beauty. On Wednesday night, I set up a computer and an attached "big screen" on the foot of B.A.'s bed so that we could watch TV together. We watched a splendid BBC documentary on how traditional Japanese craftspeople make kimonos, and then we watched a half hour or so of Don Camillo

Unfortunately yesterday I had no time for TV-watching, so I'm looking forward to setting up the cinema at the foot of B.A.'s bed tonight. Maybe I can convince him that he really will enjoy a Polish film.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Che Gioia!

Thursday mornings are special. My new routine is to leave the Historical House shortly after 8 AM, buy an all-day ticket on the bus to town, alight at the excellent Twelve Triangles for a cappuccino and croissant, and then get on another bus to my Italian tutor's flat.

Today was extra-special because my tutor told me that I was ready to do interviews in Italian. I was incredulous, but he thinks I can do it. We pretended he was a Cardinal, and I interviewed him. As usual, he chided me on my archaisms. Apparently you really can't address an important (or very elderly) person in  the second person plural, even for Cardinals, except maybe in Naples.

In one magical moment, I realised I was nattering away at top speed. It seems miraculous. I suspect I have Polish to thank. It's not that Polish improves my Italian vocabulary, of course. It's that Polish has exercised the relevant parts of my brain. Also, Polish is much harder to speak than Italian, so speaking Italian is like a holiday.

Tomorrow I will use any free time in the morning to work on Polish. But today's Italian work was delightful.

B.A. was better today. I felt I could safely let him have a bath unsupervised (when he was in, not when he was getting in or getting out), and he actually put some clothes on (with help). A generous friend drove us to the hospital and waited with me while B.A. had a routine brain scan. On the way home, B.A. and I fought about the refugee crisis, and both our friend and I thought this was a very good sign.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

While Waiting for the Doctor

Temporarily brain damaged Benedict Ambrose told me this morning that he doesn't have a "bucket list." He just wants his ordinary routine back. This means getting up at 9, showering to the noise of the BBC on the radio, and dashing off to the office to work. He worries too much about when he is going to be able to do this.

I don't have a bucket list either although, when I pondered the question, I thought it would be great to pass some European Union language exams in Italian and Polish. (I think I could at least pass the B2 in both, but I'm not sure. Passing the A1 in either might be an impossible dream.) Unfortunately, my Polish classes are over for the foreseeable future: to keep in sync with the Eastern Seaboard, my work day starts late and stretches into the evening.

The past month has been about loss: B.A.'s loss of short-term memory, B.A.'s loss of balance, B.A.'s loss of his grip on reality and then B.A.'s loss of autonomy from tubes. He has a tube stuck in his brain, snaked down his neck and into his stomach, and that is the way it is going to be.

My losses are pretty inconsiderable next to that. The big one is loss of time. Writing well takes a certain about of staring out the window and puttering about relatively empty-headed. My favourite way to write anything--essays, stories, newspaper articles--is to read and make notes all afternoon, putter about in the evening, read some more, go to bed, wake up early and write the work all at once, tapping away until it is done.  This is not practical for daily news writing, I'm afraid.

Another surprisingly big loss was my column in the CR because it was my umbilical cord to my native city. I loved to chat to my imagined (though real) audience, which had a number of faces: that of an elderly member of my mother's Catholic Women's League, of a Filipina-Canadian university student at Toronto's St. Mike's College, of a forty-something husband and father, of an Oratorian at the breakfast table, of an old, old priest in the archdiocesan priest's retirement home. The cord is snapped, and spiritually I'm alone on the other side of the ocean, une Canadienne errante in more ways than one, it would seem. "Banni des ses foyers sounds about right.

I hope they all read LSN, but it's unlikely. Not everyone has made the jump to the internet, and the LSN is (obviously, given the erasure of my little corner of the CR) not everyone's cup of tea.

Possibly feeling deeply sorry for myself is not helpful , but the normal response to loss is to mourn, so this is me mourning.  The comfort of writing reminds me of the good things that have happened recently, which include of course, the fact that B.A. is still alive and did not die from brain fluid pooling up behind his eyes again. Although I knew something was wrong, I didn't know it was THAT wrong. How horrible it would have been to wake up and discover B.A. had gone totally blind overnight or had even just gone and died beside me.

Then there is the joy of having a new community of friends, a band of brothers (and sisters) in the virtual newsroom. I am even invited to the parties, which is a delightful experience. Freelancing had its lonely moments, and I felt rather wistful when I discovered that full-timers at various media houses had been at a Christmas party or had gone on a cruise.

Making a full-time salary feels surprisingly ho-hum in comparison although it certainly helps toward putting B.A's mind to rest. This may be because I am not particularly interested in buying anything at the moment--not clothes, not food, not travel. In snatched minutes in the evening, I read all about minimalism, and I highly approve of minimalism. Not only is it in line with apostolic poverty, there's less to clean up.

Then there's going to the Italian tutor on Thursday mornings. This is a source of great joy. I natter on in Italian about my high school Italian classes and my various trips to Italy over the years and when afterwards I walk to the bus stop, I simply beam at the world.

Then there was the introduction to Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages by Peter Kwasniewski. I volunteered to review it for LSN but was only halfway through by deadline, so I wrote this first.  NBTH is such a delightful book, and I was so sorry that I had to speed through, that I  ontinued reading it over the weekend.  As a first introduction to the Old Mass and what people think is wrong with the New Mass, NBTH can't be beat. I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Kup teraz, as Polish merchants say. My Amazon review is over on amazon.co.uk. 

The only problems I have with the book are the lack of a glossary (some words one has to look up) and the complicated title. "Why Most People Think Mass is Boring" is snappier and easier to remember.

Well, the doctor hasn't arrived yet, and I have fifteen minutes before I must sit down and read a lot of Italian Church news so I can write all about it myself. How shall I spend them? Oh, the hot water must have heated up by now, so I will spend them washing dishes.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Small Town Ontario

What a year to start working full-time! But Benedict Ambrose's first brush with death scared the heck out of us, and when I saw a good Catholic Media Job up for grabs, I grabbed at it. During my first interview B.A. shut himself in a room and prayed to St. Joseph that I would get hired. I thought this was from the stress of being the primary breadwinner, but he says it was because he thought the job would be great for me.

Now I am the primary breadwinner, and B.A. lives in his pyjamas as he recovers from his second operation. Naturally I do all the housework too because the poor man can barely totter from room to room, let alone push a hoover. But I am so tired I am blogging only because I said I would.

While I was being trained in "Someone's Basement In the Ottawa Valley" I had the opportunity to meet three stay-at-home mothers of big families, and I was totally blown away by them. These were amazing women who were living out their vocations like heroines of God. The only one who looked like she had slept in the past year or so was the one with kids older than 12.

I asked this one what there was for women to do in town after dinner--besides yoga. (There seemed to be a lot of yoga on offer, which a lot of Catholics avoid on principle.) Apparently there wasn't anything---although my mother pointed out when I told her this that what women of many children want to do in the evenings more than anything else is sleep.

But I really loved this little town, and how the Catholic church nearest me filled morning after morning for daily Mass, and how the family names in the churchyard were the same family names on shop windows and business signs. I saw a big old-fashioned house with a "For Sale" sign and was very tempted. Do I owe it to the good women of Someone's Basement to qualify as a Pilates instructor, move to their town and offer evening classes? B.A. and I could flee south to Toronto for a holiday during the town's two-week blackfly season. But then what would B.A. do for work? And do the women of Someone's Basement WANT to go to Pilates class?

I can't find the answer to this question in The Benedict Option, although this little town sure reminded me of The Benedict Option.

I shall write about The Benedict Option anon. I was supposed to write about it for Catholic World Report, but then I loaned the book to a homeschooling pal and my not-writing-for-LSN-at-the-moment window shut.  What I can say at this very tired moment is that I enjoyed the book a lot, especially the parts about Norcia. However, having worked on three pieces for LSN today, I am of the mind that we can't run away from the war because the war will come after us and  smoke us out of the hills.

The original Visigoths had no problem with monks shutting themselves quietly in monasteries. But the New Visigoths hate the idea of anyone not celebrating them and their way of life, so it's a different situation now. Back in the day, it wasn't good enough to have a "Homohop" dance at the Univeristy of Toronto; it had to be advertised at the Catholic college, too. That was the big battle back in 1990; I forget when St. Mike's caved in to that. They put up the rainbow sticker in 2001.  Here's  a history of SMCs relationship to the gay movement, written by gay activists. As you can see, SMC was not left in peace to just be a Catholic college.

But I certainly hope I'm wrong and that the Benedictine Option is a place of safety. On the bus ride to Somebody's Basement and during my first evenings there, I read the AP Guide to News Writing and fell in love with its portrayals of American life.  The book was originally published in 1991, and I must say that while reading it I felt highly nostalgic for the 20th century. We're not even talking the Fifties, here, peeps.  I wasn't around in the Fifties. No, we are talking Nineteen Ninety-One. I miss 1991, only I wish I had gone to Aberdeen University instead of SMC and met B.A. when we were young.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

I Return to the World of Blogging

Hello there, my little chickadees!

Apologies to regular readers for my absence. One week I was in "somebody's basement in the Ottawa Valley" for journalism training and the next week my husband was told he needed another life-saving operation. You can read something about that here  

Although I whiled away the hours of B.A.'s surgery translating Italian for another article, that piece was really the only thing I was capable of writing until last night, when I wrote about the Bambino Gesu offering to take Baby Charlie. (A colleague scooped me, darn it!)

Benedict Ambrose (aka Mark) is now at home and feeling a little physically better every day. He was rather downcast yesterday, so I am trying to think of ways to cheer him up. He is as thin as water, and the only food he seems to like is green grapes. 

It was probably odd that I tried to power through the hours of my husband's surgery by working on a translation, especially as my mother-in-law was waiting with me. My Italian tutor might have found it odd the next day when I consulted him on it, having explained that I was late because my husband had had surgery the day before, etc. However, that seems to be how I coped. I still have not submitted the translation. 

My best hours last week--the only hours I was at all happy--were the ones I spent beside B.A.'s hospital bed. Sometimes we talked, but sometimes we just sat and looked at each other, which was the opposite of boring. I have been reading Cardinal Sarah's The Power of Silence, and I can testify to his claims for "full" silences, not only at Mass but in love and suffering. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Neurology Department, Etc.

B.A. and I spent seemingly endless hours in the neurology wing of Western General today. When we weren't getting nasty jolts from ophthamologists and  then welcome relief  from nurses and then nasty jolts from ophthamolgists again, we were watching the news about the London fire on the waiting-room TV. Not cheerful.

The upshot of all this is that B.A. is going back on leave from work and that he has more drugs and more appointments. However, he is not in so wretched a state that I have to cancel tomorrow's work trip to Canada. Happily, French Pretend Son-in-law is coming to stay for a week, and so I will not be leaving B.A. alone.

Squirrel reports another day of no change. She is still 10 stone 12 (152 lbs). Chin up, Squirrel! You're playing the long game here.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Squirrel No Change

No change to Squirrel's vital statistics despite under-800 calorie eating yesterday. As one expects. It is the experience of some people with the Blood Sugar Diet that five stubborn pounds just drop off one day after a plateau.

Managed to write down 10 words (Polish and Italian) before falling dead asleep. I submitted three articles to LSN yesterday, so I was BEAT.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Mullarkey Strafes the Poles

Jezu, ufam Tobie.
Dear, dear, dear. Artist and critic Maureen Mullarkey thinks the image of the Divine Mercy is girly and that Sister Faustina was a self-aggrandizing rival to Saint Teresa of Avila. I'd bet my growing collection of Polish dictionaries that Mullarkey has never read Sister Faustina in Polish, let alone in the context of Polish culture, but fine. If Mullarkey thinks the Divine Mercy image is "an astral fetish"  and that Sister Faustina is not her cup of tea, good for Mullarkey.

However, one (one) reader protested Mullarkey's post, pointing out how Catholic Poland still is, and so now Mullarkey takes obvious joy in quoting Time magazine, Der Spiegel and Telegraph---all undisputed friends of Polish Catholicism, no?--articles that suggest Polish Catholicism is on the skids. There's a big difference in disliking Sister Faustina and reveling in a people's sins. One is a matter of taste, and the other is a nasty old sin in itself.

From an intellectual point of view, Mullarkey also makes some unfounded claims about the Divine Mercy shrine, claiming it is meant to rival the Jasna Góra shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Really? Evidence? Quotes? Polish sources?

Polish sources?

Polish sources?

I would not bother writing about this if I didn't think it was a gift to Polish readers who enjoy a good fight. Personally I don't enjoy fighting with Poles, and when the Catholic Register gave my piece on Gdansk a particularly tone-deaf headline ("Poles Need to Learn Meaning of Freedom"), I burst into horrified tears.

Meanwhile, I'm also writing about this because I am hyper-sensitive about anti-Polonism, which has been in the USA as long as German migrants have. Among them were branches of my own ancestors, and apparently my Irish/German-American granny was not above yelling "You stupid Po**k" when cut off in traffic. Ah, Chicago. What a lively place you are, or were.

 Whack fol the diddle lol the dido day.
Chicago's Irish Catholics (from whom I more obviously spring--see face -->) were NOTORIOUS for shoving the Italians and Poles off the archdiocesan sidewalks, as it were. This is why St. Patrick's Day in Chicago gave rise to massive St. Joseph's Day celebrations. Speaking as a Cummings regarding a Mullarkey, I raise my left eyebrow slightly.

I am also hyper-sensitive about people spewing nonsense about Poland because I know from six years of graft how difficult it is to understand Poland, never mind Polish. You cannot just mouth off about it after reading freaking Time magazine. When I visited Warsaw in 2011 I was absolutely amazed that a church on Marszałkowska Street was packed to the rafters for daily Mass. When I returned to Kraków, I told my publisher's head of sales this, and he frowned in confusion at my amazement. "But it was First Friday," he said.
William Hunt, "Light of the World"

I'm not saying that Polish devotion hasn't dropped off somewhat; I'm merely pointing out that Mullarkey hasn't done her research. And I would suggest to Mullarkey that as much as she dislikes the Divine Mercy image (which is no worse, and the Kazmirowski version is certainly better, than William Hunt's "Light of the World", IMHO), she should refrain from mouthing off about Polish Catholicism, about which she knows clearly knows little or else she would not be going cap in hand to Der Spiegel for information.

I will end this by relating an anecdote about an exuberant Polish homosexual party boy I know who teared up over a statuette of the Divine Mercy. The statuette was a gift from Polish Pretend Son to a trad Catholic, who was unsure if PPS was joking or not. All we sophisticated liturgical purists looked solemnly at the kitschy thing while PPS smirked darkly and the exuberant  Polish homosexual party boy perked up.

"Ah, the Divine Mercy," gushed the latter. "Jezu, ufam Tobie!  [Jesus, I trust in you]"--and tears sprang to his eyes. If I remember correctly, they actually dribbled down his face. Then he stopped himself, laughed and said, "I am crazy, you know?"

Since that day I have prayed to the Divine Mercy, a devotion to which I was hitherto indifferent, for that exuberant  Polish homosexual party boy.

Squirrel Diet-Vocab Pact Day 5: Squirrel ate fewer than 400 calories yesterday, and I disapprove. She is supposed to eat about 800 calories a day. If she wants to fast all Friday as a penance, that is swell, but this is this the 800 calorie a day Blood Sugar diet, not a frat house dare.

Here are her stats:

Weight 10 stone 12 (152 pounds)
Bust 36
Waist 31.5
Belly 35
Hips 42
Thigh 24

As for me, I compiled a list of 15 words at 11:30 PM and studied them before I fell asleep. This was not ideal, but it was a very busy day. I got all but one when I woke up.

Monday, 12 June 2017

See How They Love One Another

Since the Second Vatican Council, great effort has been made to stop Roman Catholics from despising any religious group--except other Roman Catholics.

My childhood parish church was run for decades, I now suspect, by highly Marian crypto-trads, but over the years I have heard this or that other priest slagging off  his 'conservative' bishop, the 'conservative' pope, or "the bad old days", meaning Church history between Pentecost and 1963.

All this does not fall upon deaf ears. When I was six or seven--very small indeed--a Catholic teacher in my Catholic school told me the Society of St Pius X (the SSPX) were a bunch of dangerous crazies, and I believed her. I think I must have been asking what had happened to "the Old Mass", for when I was a child I couldn't understand why my experiences of Mass didn't match up with the descriptions of Mass in books.

My childhood priests (or the Archdiocese of Toronto) loaned the Church to the small Armenian Catholic community, and nobody thought about them much. Their celebrations must have been late in the afternoon, after all our Masses and our Coffee Hour. Occasionally I would find in the church hall incomprehensible literature in a strange script. The Armenians were a mysterious and invisible presence, but I thought no ill of them until some Armenians threatened to set off a bomb in our subway (metro) system. My mind flew to the cryptic messages in the church basement. Hopefully my mother sorted out my childish fears about the innocent people who met there.

Given this childhood memory of loaning the church to the Armenians, I am all the more staggered by the attitude of some parishioners at the Edinburgh church where the local FSSP priest says Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. They scowl at Catholics who come to this Mass, and then complain that we do not acknowledge them.

They have made witty jests at our expense after the Novus Ordo Mass in the church in loud voices while those who have come early for the Old Rite (like me) take their places to pray.

Someone has turned the heat on on warm days, and someone has turned the heat off on cold days.

An archdiocesan priest was overheard in the sacristy bad-mouthing the Old Rite--our Old Rite--to some doting laity.

If as much as a crumb is left on the parish hall floor after our Coffee Hour, there is much moaning about our iniquity.

Baptisms and meeting have again and again been scheduled during the Coffee Hour, so that it is cancelled or--if nobody tells the FSSP priest--we are told to leave.

What makes this particularly pathetic is that sectarianism was, until recently, part of Edinburgh daily life. Good Edinburgh Catholics sneered at the Prots. Good Edinburgh Protestants reviled the Fenian scum. Those days (and most church-goers) are gone, but I get a strong impression that some Catholic Scots really, really miss having someone to hate. And who better to hate than those people who cling to that fancy-pants Mass? Surely it's not as if any of us can actually understand Latin. Who do we think we are?  We're all liturgical fur coat and nae living faith knickers. They kent our fathers. Et Edinburgh cetera.

Generally we just put up with it. The FSSP doesn't have its own church, and those who love the FSSP Mass are growing in number, so we don't all fit in the chapel. It's not like we're living before the Penal Days Summorum Pontificum, but all the same we don't want to rock the boat. We understand that the "parishioners" think they own the place, and maybe, morally, they do.

However, I've had had quite enough. Yesterday it was rainy, so those who go to the Old Rite on Sundays scooted into the church hall rather more quickly than usual, and we had a wonderful Coffee Hour. There is a new American family with six lovely children, and a new French au pair who hopes to improve her English while she is here. There were two men--a local and and Austrian--in smart Highland dress eating a quick packed lunch before embarking on a motor trip through the Highlands. There was a young newly-married Anglo-American couple. There were university students, undergrads and grads, including a young married Portuguese couple. An English girl washed up the cups, The atmosphere was friendly, hospitable and joyful.

And then the word went around: the Parish Council were about to have a meeting and they wanted us out.

Sluggishly, we began to move. Those sitting at the tables got up and moved towards the exit. However, we didn't stop chatting. Chat, chat, chat. We bottle-necked at the door and continued chatting as we waited for space to move. I barely noticed the small group of sixty-somethings take their place at a table. Chat, chat, chat. But then a furious little white-haired man suddenly stormed up to us and began to splutter. "Could...could you... PLEASE LEAVE!" he barked, his voice cracking hysterically.

An awful hush fell over the crowd. We stared at him and at each other. Behind him a large old woman stood as if to back him in some physical battle. She scowled. He scowled.

I tried to think of something witty to say, but the only thing that came to mind was the old song "My father he was Orange and my mother she was Green", and I invariably get that mixed up because it was my mother's parents who were Orange. The message my mind was giving me was this was JUST MORE SECTARIAN NONSENSE, only, bizarrely, the two sects were Roman Catholics who go to the Noon Mass and Roman Catholics who go to the 10:30 AM. 

Anyway, we Noonies slouched out the door, and in the car park I observed aloud that the average age in the parish hall had gone up by 30 years. The young American bride confessed that she had been just thinking that herself. Nevertheless, I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, and it stayed there for hours.

I don't know what on earth the secular clergy are teaching people at the early Mass, but if they are teaching brotherly love, the Parish Council hasn't got the message.

Diet-Vocab Pact Day 4: Squirrel managed to eat about 800 calories yesterday, and here is what she reports. Recall that she is 5' 4". I caution Squirrel to drink a lot of water to replace the water she is no longer getting from food. That is 150 lbs.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Language Updates

My brother Nulli is an expert at switching from English to French to English again. This is a normal activity in his Canadian village. I suspect he is even more comfortable doing this than just speaking English all day, for when he came to visit us in Edinburgh, he seemed almost relieved to speak French (and English) to French (and French-learning) salespeople and waitstaff.

I find this very interesting because it is difficult for me to switch from one language to another, or to speak Italian or Polish to people to whom I normally speak English. This is why, when I met my new Italian tutor, I answered his English greeting in Italian and answered his English questions in Italian. I try not to speak English to my tutor because whenever I see him, I want my brain to think "Parliamo italiano adesso."

As I was in Italy with Benedict Ambrose and as we spoke a lot of English with friends, Italian came less rapidly to my tongue in Firenze than it does when I see my Edinburgh tutor. Although in Edinburgh (speaking to my tutor) I am reasonably fluent, my Italian skills were sludge by the time I popped into a Florentine beauty shop. It also turns to sludge when I see an Italian friend at Mass, for we have spoken English--just English--for years.

This is also why it is difficult to speak to Polish Pretend Son in Polish. However, where there is life there is hope, and I have little trouble writing to Polish Pretend Son in Polish, perhaps because I have done so for at least two years.

As Benedict Ambrose gloomily divined long ago, I am having a stormy love affair with the Polish language. In this situation, I feel like I am the man and Polish is the woman because my anglophone brain is simple and straightforward whereas Polish is complex, mercurial, difficult and unfathomable. Poles can argue all day long that they only have three verb tenses (untrue--there are at least four), but they have two sometimes entirely different words for the past tense of almost all verbs. And that's only the beginning of the labours of the anglophone Hercules.

The world speaks English not just because of rock and roll but because English is objectively simple compared to Central European languages like Polish, German and (dear heavens) Hungarian. The reason English-speaking peoples have difficulty learning other languages is NOT because we're stupid or lazy but because it is difficult for human beings to go from the simple to the complex. (I suspect this is also the secret to the French reluctance to speak non-French.) When they learn English, Germans and Poles (but especially Poles) are moving from a highly complex language to a simpler one.  The Poles get stuck on when to use definite (the) or indefinite (a, an) articles, but big deal.  For English-speakers an apple is always an apple, not a jabłko, jabłka, jabłku or jabłkiem depending on the context.

Occasionally I am so furious at the complexities of Polish that I burst into tears and take some furious action like packing up my Polish books and stuffing them in the hall closet. Or I swear I won't buy a Polish book until I have finished reading the ones I already have. Or I decide that I really can't afford to go to night school this term, especially as my brain is really quite tired at night. But then I go and buy a £32 grammar, and the affair is on again. How appropriate that my Polish education began with seething tango songs from the 1930s.

Diet-Vocab Pact Day 3.  Squirrel had a 300 calorie lunch, but then she couldn't get out of a dinner engagement, and so ate a 800 calorie steak, plus salad. Still, she kept off the sugar, including booze, so well done, Squirrel.

10 stone 12
Bust 36
Waist 32
Belly 35.5
Hips 42
Thigh 24

I have memorized yesterday vocab, and have made a new list for today.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Sunday Lunch

Our old-fashioned Sunday Lunch was two weeks ago tomorrow, so I will have to cudgel my graying brain for details. Certain aspects stand out in my mind, however.

The first is that Polish Pretend Son got me to describe Sunday Lunch to the Beautiful Young Lady.  I explained that when PPS was in his Edinburgh infancy, it was the custom of a bunch of his fellow trads to have a boozy, weekly Sunday Lunch after Mass lasting from as early as 1 PM to as late as 4 AM. 

This custom has fallen into disuse, however, as the expense fell rather heavily and unequally onto those who actually hosted Sunday Lunch. There had also been spiritual objections to the binges, social crises, movings away, etc. Nevertheless, for PPS's sake, we contrive to recreate the Sunday Lunches and Delightful Dinners of his Edinburgh infancy when he comes to visit because it is horrible for foreign students to return to the golden setting of their diamond youth and discover everything has changed. Besides, everybody likes a boozy lunch if it doesn't break the bank, the head, or the spirit. 

The Beautiful Young Lady absorbed all this expostulation trustingly. 

The second aspect of Sunday Lunch I remember is the menu, which was Caprese salad, roast pork with roast potatoes and boiled corn and peas, and a Polish cheesecake assembled by the Beautiful Young Lady before Sunday Breakfast.

The difficulties in making this cheesecake jut out in my mind as the third aspect of Sunday Lunch, in part because I was suffused with shame and regret that I had neither bought potato flour nor remembered that Polish cheesecake must be chilled some time before it is eaten. At any rate, arrowroot substituted for potato flour, but something else was missing, so I ran off into the early morning to the nearest shop and ran back again while the BYL mixed together great quantities of egg, butter and fatty white Polish cheese.  Only when the cake was safely in the oven did she sit down to Sunday Breakfast, which was a whole different feast, featuring bacon, eggs, mazurek królewski and for some reason known only to Polish Pretend Son, vodka. 

The fourth thing I remember is Polish Pretend Son's face after we all took a taxi to Mass. It had the dark, intent look of the sky before a thunderstorm; this look appears whenever PPS thinks someone is ripping him off or has just succeeded in doing so. He began to cross-examine me in the car park on how much taxis to Mass usually cost, and my answer was inadequate because we take cabs all the way from the Historical House to Mass but rarely.

Then (fifth thing) after Mass Benedict Ambrose and I eschewed After-Mass Coffee, got home the earliest ever, and set to work washing dishes, preparing the roast, and finishing the baking of the BYL's cheesecake. This was very dramatic, actually. The BYL was not happy with her cheesecake when we had to turn off the oven and get into the taxi because the bottom, chocolate, layer was not entirely done. The top, vanilla, layer was perfect, but the chocolate base was too sticky. As a keen baker, I felt her pain. After much thought, I put the paper-lined cake tin on a stove element, turned on the heat, and whisked the tin off when I smelled the paper scorching. Miraculously, this did the trick, and when the BYL saw the result, she clutched me in gratitude to her bosom. 

The kitchen had become rather crowded with slender, beautifully dressed women holding wine bottles; downstairs various men were helping B.A. set up tables in front of the Historical House. I had put dishes, glasses, all the usual things in boxes and baskets to be taken outside, and the guests duly came up and went down the stairs with the goods. I salted the tomatoes, chopped up the mozzarella, and took a brief break to hang a Polish flag from the grand double staircase outside. (We had the Union flag and the Saltire on the table.)  Polish Pretend Son made Gin and Tonics at the tables (pushed together to make a square) for the throng. We were ten in all. 

Finally we were settled and Sunday Lunch was ready, and although the day was sunny and warm, it was not uncomfortably hot (as past Sunday Lunches sometimes have been). We said grace and started eating and drinking, and it was all very pleasant. PPS had brought mead to drink with the Polish cheesecake, and it was tremendously delicious. So was the sernik.  Like most Polish cakes it was less sweet than British and American versions, but it was all the better for that. 

Two guests went home at dusk, others stayed for a ramble around the Historical Fields, others helped  B.A. take the dishes, etc., upstairs. What remained of the party reassembled in the sitting-room, where more drink was taken and savories were consumed.  Finally the last outside guests went home, and the remaining house party went to bed. (Convalescing B.A. had been in bed long since.) 

In the morning I woke up as early as I could to wash all the dishes, but discovered that the Beautiful Young Lady was herself awake and had already washed half of them. That was a real kindness, and I picked up a dishtowel with a lightened heart. 

Squirrel Diet-Vocab Pact Day 2. Squirrel, who fasts periodically, ate nothing at all yesterday, consuming only water.  She reports: 

Weight: 10 stone 11
Bust 36
Waist 32
Navel 35
Hips 42
Thigh 24

Thus, Squirrel is down two pounds in one day; such is the way of the scales. I hope she has a good breakfast: I recommend an omelette of two eggs cooked in a dab of butter, filled with cooked mushrooms. 

I did not study any vocab yesterday as I felt compelled to blog madly before starting my day's toil for LSN. However, I have made a list of 15 words today and mean to have them memorized before bed. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Diet-Vocab Pact

Reader (of the lurker variety) Squirrel has asked me to be her Accountability Buddy as she embarks on the eight-week Blood Sugar Diet. She has bought The Fast Diet Recipe Book and swore off booze last night. This is a woman who habitually puts two spoonfuls of sugar in her morning beverage, so hardship lies ahead. She would like your prayers.

Unlike me, Squirrel finds that shame helps her to stick to her resolutions. Thus she will tell me every day what she weighs and how many calories she consumed and if she snapped and ate a tub of ice-cream or drank a glass of the Englishwoman's Little Helper at "wine o'clock." 

Today is Day 1 of her eight-week regimen, so let us see her vital statistics:

Squirrel Height: 5'4"
Squirrel Weight: 11 stone 1 (155 pounds)
Squirrel Bust: 36"
Squirrel Waist: 32"
Squirrel Belly: 35.5" 
Squirrel Hips: 42"
Squirrel Thigh: 24"

Since Squirrel is inspired by shame, I will observe that bust and belly are almost the same circumference. However, this is not as shameful as it is dangerous to health. As the Polish children's song observes, it is good for a pear to have a fat belly. All the sweetness of a pear is in its belly, and "nobody wants a skinny pear." However, we must admit that the same cannot be said for non-pregnant human females. Fat bellies lead us to diabetes, heart attacks, amputations and death, not a starring role in chocolate-pear pie.

To cheer us up, here is the Polish Pear Song again:

Squirrel's eight-week goal is to lose a stone, which is to say, 14 pounds. I caution her that it is absolutely essential to keep off bread, potatoes, pasta, alcohol and such other staples of the carboholic British diet.

In return for this Accountability Buddyness, every evening I will send the Squirrel a list of the 15 vocabulary words I mastered that day: 5 Polish, 5 Italian and 5 Ancient Greek. 

A Flat With a View

Not what it was when *I* was a young woman, etc, etc.
There is much to write about: the sunny Sunday Lunch in front of the Historical House, the diet-vocabulary pact with Squirrel, and the McLean trip to Florence. We'll start with Florence.

We were in Florence for the past nine days. That's why there has been no blogging. Benedict Ambrose and I left for the airport only an hour after I led Polish Pretend Son and the Beautiful Young Lady to the railway station. Miraculously, we have come home to a relatively tidy house and no dirty dishes---though the recycling boxes are overflowing and the kitchen ponged with sour wine residue. Pity.

But never mind that. We flew to Pisa airport, took the new "Pisa Mover" rapid rail to Pisa's Central station, and then boarded the next train to the Big Handbag. Shortly after climbing off the train at Santa Maria Novella station, B.A.'s knees collapsed and he began to stagger like a drunk. Oh, my poor B.A.!

I grabbed B.A. and then his bag and got them to the station's grand hall. While holding up two rucksacks and a husband, I looked around wildly for a place for the latter to sit. I found a place occupied by a handbag, so I shouted "I'm sorry, but my husband is sick" in Italian at its young owner. She stared at me uncomprehendingly (Tip: in emergencies in European tourist centres, just use English) but moved her bag. I  plunked our rucksacks down, placed B.A. gently on the seat, and then went in search of our hostess, who turned out to be only yards away, deep in conversation with a handsome youth.

To everyone's relief, the handsome youth carried B.A's rucksack. He also attempted to entertain me with a flow of chatter while I sneaked peeks at the astonishingly beautiful shop windows that lit up the night like dreams. More on these anon.

B.A. and I found ourselves ensconced in a high-ceilinged and perfumed flat with big windows overlooking a cheerfully noisy street. There were two bedrooms (we only used one), a sitting/dining-room and a cleverly small kitchen tucked along a partition wall. I spent a lot of time at the big table in the sitting-room studying Italian grammar or doing the trip accounts---but I spent even more time looking down from the open sitting-room window, enjoying any breezes and watching the tourists, the beggars and the Florentines go by. I learned many things from hanging out this high window, including how funny bottle blondes look if they don't keep their roots up.

The weather was wonderful. Sometimes it was rather hot, but we didn't mind that (except at night). Sometimes it was just perfect: sunny and warm with gentle breezes. On our last night it was rather cool, and I would have liked my jacket. However, the lovely walk along the Arno river warmed me up.

So what did we do? Mostly we rested. Benedict Ambrose slept late while I made coffee and studied grammar. Eventually I tired of my own coffee and went across the street to a caffé  for a proper cappuccino and cornetto naturale (plain croissant), standing at the bar trying to read the pro-coffee poetry posted over the espresso machine while munching and sipping. I also went on some early morning walks to avoid the endless shifting crowds of fellow tourists. This meant dodging an awful lot of commercial vans and trucks, but seeing Florence in the thinner morning light was worth it.

We lunched well, either as a picnic or in the flat or at restaurants recommended by friends in the know. Then we napped. Then we went to Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which was provided by the Institute of Christ the King. On weekdays, this is usually in a side chapel away from the tourists, who occasionally pop up anyway and gape at the splendidly vested priest, the veiled ladies and the jacketed men as if we were animals in a zoo.

One day--I had one very bad day--I glowered so violently at such a tourist who was raising his expensive camera at us that he put down his camera to wait until I stopped. He didn't budge, though. He was determined to get his photos. Hate stuck out of my lovely Christian eyes, and as this shocked even me, I stomped out of the enormous marble nave, past the Della Robbia Madonna and Child, and sat outside on the steps to pull myself together.

The problem with Florence--which is an old problem, but I think it is getting worse--is that the ratio of Florentines in the historic centre to tourists is low. Historic Florence does not look like a place where people are born, play, go to school, receive First Communion, take up a trade, marry, have children, vote, strike, struggle, cooperate, get sick, send for the priest, die.

Historic Florence looks like an enormous outdoor shopping mall with the odd historical building--left by a vanished civilization about which very few tourists know anything about--sticking up here and there.

Historic Florence is where a constant stream of tourists--often speaking German or American but there are many others--flow through the streets looking at things and buying whatever is for sale. It is usually a handbag.

There are dozens--hundreds--of shops selling rainbows of leather handbags, and all the handbags look the same. There are also very beautiful shops selling the best designed, best constructed clothing in Italy, and whereas they are delightful to look at, most tourists (I imagine) do not have the means to purchase their goods . But there are also "markets" that resemble tent cities, where Italians, South Asians and Africans try to get a piece of the tourist-money action by selling the same old T-shirts, hats, handbags, wallets. There is little pretense about these vendors, who begin their sales pitches in English. One enterprising merchant near the Piazza San Lorenzo had a device blaring bhangra music into the air. Is bhangra authentically Florentine? Well, maybe now. Truth is what is.

On the other hand, there are real Florence-born Florentines and there are even Florentines who are not part of the tourist trade, or at least are part of the carriage trade. After Mass B.A. and I generally drank (wine for me, sparking water for him) with friends at a hotel bar, bar and hotel the property of an ancient aristocratic family who still live in the 15th century joint. The wine we drank came from the family vineyards. Meanwhile, there were many people in the bar who gave every impression of being Florentines themselves, so there was a better Florentine: Foreign ratio, which I found refreshing.

I also found the sight of children--actual real children among the seething hordes of grown-ups--refreshing. From my window I watched as a Florentine child emerged from his parents' shop and happily kicked a soccer ball against the ancient, faded ochre wall opposite. His parents were Chinese. Florentine children of Italian heritage were visible at Sunday Mass, and two little Florentines received their First Communion from the hands of the ICK priest without much fanfare: their white dresses, veils and wreaths were the only clues that this was their special day.

The very elderly were also a rare sight--except in the early mornings when they walked their dogs--but some of them were notably well-dressed. These were the gracefully aged. The ungracefully aged looked like 23 year olds with long blonde hair and teenage clothing from behind. From the front they looked like by-products of the leather factories.

As for African migration to Italy, which is the Italian story of the century, every morning I saw a beggar take his place outside the caffé-bar, the fake-designer-handbag salesmen, and the frightening trinket-pedlar who roamed a very exclusive shopping street, trying to shove a thick bangle onto women's arms. However, I also saw an African in work clothes rejoining an Italian work party who had gone into the caffé-bar while he lingered outside scowling and ignoring the  beggar. And I saw beautifully uniformed Africans in the grand hotel upon whose terrace we also had drinks. These struck me as signs of integration. Oh, and of course there is an African priest in Florence's ICK, and I saw a black novice among a choir of seven religious sisters.

The politically correct will be relieved to read that there are also old-fashioned white Italian beggars on the chic and sunny streets. There's an elderly one on the bangle-pusher's street who shouts "Ho FA-me" ("I'm hungry") for hours on end. Oh, and there are a pair of gypsy Roma girls who paint their faces white, wear white headscarfs and long white skirts that get rather dirty, put their arms around tourists as they photobomb their selfies, and fish sandwiches out of garbage cans. Benvenuti a Firenze!

My feelings about Florence are perhaps coloured by B.A.'s ill health. I thought the better, sunnier climate would help him, but I spent my days worried that his knees would collapse again (as they did on at least three other occasions) and my nights being woken up by B.A.'s mad roaming about. Perfectly sane by day, B.A.'s injured brain would feed him strange dreams at night, and he got up to act on them.

"Darling," he said one morning at about 4, "where are the keys? I have to throw them outside."

"[Benedict Ambrose]", I hissed, angry as a rattler at being woken from a deep sleep. "You're raving! Come back to bed."

Fortunately, my patience increased as the week went on, and I was nicer about these nocturnal ambulations. I am saving my ire for  B.A.'s doctor and surgeon who neglected to tell us what to expect after B.A.'s brain operation. Although the doctor kept saying he could write B.A. a note to get him more time off work, he never explained that this might be necessary or that B.A. would find old routines mentally taxing or even impossible.

We had a picnic in the Boboli Gardens--which I do not recommend at mid-day, unless you can get to the shady, more garden-like bit--and we spent an hour or two in Santa Croce, and I think that was it for cultural excursions. Lest you think I am a barbarian, this was my fourth visit to Florence in 19 years, and when I was 28 I spent an entire week looking at its treasures. In my twenties, art works like "The Prisoners" exploded in my consciousness like bombs, but now they are like reruns. "Oh, look. Giotto. How lovely," is as enthusiastic as I get, now that I'm in my forties.

It has taken effort to adjust to my middle-aged calm. I was so disappointed last year when I looked over Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo, and it didn't have the impact it had when I first saw it at 27 or when I saw it again--at dawn--at 28. Yesterday morning I climbed up there alone and reflected that the rooves didn't look as orange as they did 18 years ago, but that this probably had more to do with me than with the rooves. Meanwhile, I had noticed--and could describe in detail--a few other tourists who were also on the Piazzale Michelangelo at 7:30 AM. In my twenties I was all about heart-stopping views, and in my forties I am simply more interested in people. Yes, il Duomo loomed vast over the sunlit city, but it always does that, and much more interesting was whether or not the blond young couple quarreling in German were lovers or brother and sister.

What I liked best in Florence were the following:

Morning: going to the caffé-bar to drink cappuccino and eat a cornetto; having a newspaper to scan was a bonus
Noon:  sitting outside a trattoria eating a boozy lunch with friends
Night: sitting outside a fancy hotel drinking cocktails with friends or sitting inside a fancy hotel bar drinking Chianti with friends

Unsurprisingly, I gained about four pounds. But this brings me to my second post du jour, which is about my diet-vocabulary pact with  Squirrel. See post above. I will end my Florentine piece by saying that I managed not to buy a leather handbag. Instead I bought an Italian tablecloth from an old-fashioned hardware store. It reminds me of the Italian grandmothers of Italian-Canadian friends.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Historical House Weekend

Polish Pretend Son is in town, and so it is back to cooking and baking, waiting by the doorbell and racking my brains for simple Polish words I was sure I knew five minutes before PPS turned up. Last night's forgotten word was "jedzenie", which is pretty basic, for it means "food,"

The Historical Flat was not in apple-pie order, as I have been working career woman hours, and there were no homemade cookies to offer. However, I rectified this cookie deficit this morning when I made ginger cookies that are "almost keto." PPS has been on a more-or-less strict "keto diet" for over a year, and he is positively glowing with health, one must admit.

Instead of staying for supper with his Scottish Pretend Father and me, PPS merely scattered his belongings from one end of the flat to the other and went out on the town. But that was fine by me as I was working late in my new-style career woman way. And at some point in his carousing about, PPS went either to the bus station or to the railway station and by prearrangement met a  Beautiful Young Lady whose baggage he commandeered and whom he escorted to a dance.

At about 2:20 in the morning, I took the phone call and unset the burglar alarm and pushed the door button and met the happy dancers at the top of the stairs. My Polish was really very good for 2:20 AM, which just goes to show the power of sleep.  I put the BYL in the super-nice guest room and PPS in the linen-closet-turned-library. Then I went back to bed where I tossed and turned before giving up and moving to the sitting-room to read myself into a stupor. At about 4 AM I returned to the matrimonial chamber and at last fell asleep---only to be awakened by the bl---blessed fire alarm at bl---blessed 5 AM.

Why, why, why, why does the fire alarm so often go into fault when there are guests in the house?!!!!

BA rushed out and down the stairs to the controls. I got up and pulled my silk dressing gown over my cotton nightgown--by the way it was bl--blessed 84 degrees Farenheit last night, which is a very rare occurrence in Scotland---and knocked on the BYL's door to reassure her that the Historical House was not really on fire and to give her my ear protectors. Then I went back down the hall to commiserate with PPS, who bounced into the hallway in a state of déshabille rather startling in someone who usually wears so many pieces of clothing all at once.

This reminds me of the day I knew my glamour girl days were good and over, and I was only a Pretend Mother/Auntie sort of person. Gather around for this sad but short tale.

One Sunday our traddy priest announced at Mass that two traddy Canadian girls were coming to Scotland on "on pilgrimage" and would anyone take them in? Naturally I didn't believe this pilgrimage nonsense, but the girls were Canadian, so it was clearly my job to feed and house them. It was also clearly my job to have a little dinner party and introduce them to Nice Catholic Boys although I bet the priest didn't think of that.

The traddy Canadian girls thought that this party was a good plan, so they dressed up in whatever finery they had brought and sat in the sitting-room to await the Trad Catholic Bachelors. The most age-appropriate Trad Catholic Bachelors invited were Polish Pretend Son and Tobias.  (Do you remember Tobias? He eventually went into the seminary and became Seminarian Pretend Son.) When these worthies arrived, I told them that the visiting girls were in the sitting-room and, as if one man, they both checked their hair in the hall mirror.

I had never felt  so old.

Anyway, to return to last night,  PPS stood about in the hallway en déshabille, for the alarm kept on shrieking in his room when it had shut up everywhere else. As I am now a career woman, I did not have another guest bed prepared for such an emergency, so I entreated PPS to sit in the sitting-room until Benedict Ambrose managed to turn off the alarm. Then, unused to seeing quite so much of PPS, I rushed down the stairs in search of BA,and almost bumped into a trio of fire fighters. (The Historical House being so entirely Historical, every time the bl---blessed fire alarm goes off, fire fighters are duty-bound to turn up.)

After informing BA of PPS's very bad luck in having the sole remaining alarm-screams in his room, I went back upstairs and was relieved to find PPS now swathed in a bed sheet. He complained that he resembled "a war child", but I thought this was a much better look for Historical House emergencies. Soon the alarm subsided, and PPS and his sheet went back to bed.

The irony in this story is that at about 2:30 AM, after I had shown BYL her room, a befuddled BA appeared in the hallway in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, and I sent him back into our room for his dressing-down lest he shock the tender young people.

This morning I got up and set out breakfast things and made some lovely żurek (a kind of Polish soup) and the almost-keto cookies. This evening after buying bags of jedzenia for tomorrow's snazzy Sunday Lunch, I made chałka (Christian challah bread) and the dough for a mazurek królewski. I am now sitting up late waiting for the children to come home from a party, which reminds me of my mother sitting up late waiting for me to come home. I always wished she wouldn't, but in this case I have to, as PPS can't have a key, and someone must turn off the alarm, push the door button, set the alarm again, etc., etc.

Incidentally, I will never forget when PPS was born. I was thousands of miles away on the other side of the Iron Curtain dancing with the sons of Yugoslav defectors (among others) at a dance hosted by Brebeuf College School. Of course, this assumes PPS was born rather early in the Polish morning. If he was born later in the day, I was either asleep or busily writing all about the dance in my diary, which is almost the same thing. The next time I see his real mother, I will ask her to clarify the time.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Traddery Meets Polish Politics!

Good heavens. At the end of a tough week, an astonishing alignment in the constellations of my interests:

Polish Prime Minister's Son to Celebrate Traditional Latin Mass.

H/T  My source the Baron.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Lois Lane, C'est Moi

I worked hard all day, producing three articles.

Here's the one that's up. 

If I'm Lois Lane, that makes B.A. Superman! And it also makes Polish Pretend Son Jimmy Olson although I think he would resist being Jimmy Olson. He has probably never heard of Jimmy Olson, however. The Polish resistance to  American pop culture is an awesome and wondrous thing.

On the other hand, if I am Tuppence, and B.A. is Tommy, does that make PPS Albert? I wonder if he would like being Albert. Probably not.

What other youthful sidekicks are there? Every couple needs a youthful sidekick! On the other hand, I've just had a celebratory shot of ice-cold krupnik, and that could be the krupnik talking.

Saffi Rose Died

Quite clearly, anything that inspires the mass killing and maiming of little girls, their mothers and their aunts must be evil.

Here's OnePeterFive on the root cause. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester Bombing

Everything about it is appalling except the love of the parents for their children.

I wish I had found out about this Grande person in happier circumstances, so I could just have made snide remarks about a woman wearing "Honeymoon Tour" lingerie and leather masks being a role model for eight year old girls.

Apparently she is a very talented singer like Mariah Carey, et alia, and I am trying to remind myself of what it was like to be 12 and a big Cyndi Lauper fan. I would have loved to have gone to a Cyndi Lauper concert. My mother would never, ever have allowed me to go to a rock concert at 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16. I can't remember why, as back then the West was funding Islamic terrorists in their struggle against the wicked Soviets. And as bad as they were, the Soviets drew the line at blowing up little girls at rock concerts in the decadent West.

My first rock concert ever was U2's Zooropa. It was too loud. Bono and the gang were, if I recall correctly, fully clothed.  My last rock concert was the Sisters of Mercy's Holy Guacamole We Goths Are Totally Old and Fat Now tour.  It wasn't too loud. The Sisters of Mercy were also, if I recall correctly, fully clothed.

I am rather peeved at this Grande person for tweeting that she is "broken." She's not broken. The limbless corpses in the morgues and the mangled people fighting for survival are broken.

Anyway, everything about the Manchester attack was appalling except the love of the parents for their children.

Update: I was going to post  the Polish protest song "Janek Wiśniewski", but thought it inappropriate as it is about a guy killed by the State. We could argue that those kids killed in Manchester were indirectly killed by the State, but there's a more immediate killer, isn't there?

One of the appalling aspects of Islamic attacks in Europe is sad, sad people bursting into "Imagine" and "All You Need Is Love." This must make those ISIS dirtbags laugh like drains. What we need is our own protest song, something along the lines of "Break Stuff" by Limp Bizkit. To this day military bands break into "Colonel Bogey" whenever Japanese dignitaries set foot so surely we have the guts for to sing an angry song *

*Okay, that was once. In 1980. In Canada. And speaking as someone whose great-uncle survived a Japanese POW camp, I bet they did it on purpose.

Update 2: For the time being, here's Manchester band Oasis's "Bring it On Down."

Monday, 22 May 2017

Not Just British Orphans

A friend of mine won't buy from the Bernardo's charity shops because, early in its history, the children's charity was one of the organizations that sent poor British children to farms in Australia and Canada, where they were treated as slaves. Literal slaves.

"White slavery" used to be a euphemism for prostitution, but throughout history white people have suffered literal slavery. I'm not even talking about the Russian serfs. I'm talking about the people the history books called "indentured servants." Indentured servitude meant working for someone else exclusively, without pay, until a debt was paid off. Or it meant being a little British kid sent to the Colonies to work on a farm, or in a kitchen, often neglected and often abused.

Anne of Green Gables, set in late 19th century Prince Edward Island, is full of examples. (Look for references to "Home child" or "Home children".) Anne herself was adopted into slavery when she was a very small girl, and when Marilla and Matthew applied for a boy, it was not because they wanted a child to liven up their lives: they wanted an 11 year old farm hand.

I once met a former slave--or indentured servant, to be less dramatic. His "employer" had brought him and his mother from Austria after the end of the Second World War and set them to work. The idea was that they were paying him back for bringing them to Canada.

Anyway, here's the staggering story of a slave brought to the USA from the Philippines by the Filipino family who "owned" her. God only knows how many slaves are currently living in Canada, the USA and the UK, and how many former slaves, born in Britain, are still living with sad memories of hard work, neglect and abuse.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

No Man Left Behind

When Benedict Ambrose forgot to add the fish to the fish dish he made last night, the penny finally dropped.

Not at once, however. It wasn't until I typed "cognitive impairment after brain surgery" that all was made clear.

What a relief! The reason he has been acting like he has brain damage is he has brain damage. Finally--an answer!

The stress was just killing me. B.A. would come home from work sad and frustrated abut this or that task he had found challenging, and at one point I shouted, "Am I the only adult around who can see that there is something wrong?!"

Poor B.A. is such a mess physically--muscles aching, weight plummeting--that I have been focusing on that and not on why he can't remember anything and needs me to go with him to the doctor and so on and so forth.

This last week---boy, it was tough. First, I started my full-time job for Life Site News, and I was completely confused by all the new technology: their systems and my ergonomic stuff.

Then my column at the Catholic Register was cancelled. Gurgle, swish! Down the drain. Good-bye, column! Good-bye!

Then I realized I can't lead the Polish-learners Club this summer, that I wouldn't be able to make it to Polish class that night, and that I may never be able to make it to Polish class from now on. Skonczyło się.

Then there was another complication from the time zone factor: one interviewee didn't get back to me until 11 PM my time; great for him in his time zone, not so great for me.

Then last night B.A. made dinner serenely unaware that the chopped fried chorizo was not the main event but the topping for the cod. Which, not remembering why he had put it on the counter, he had put back in the fridge.

What makes it particularly stressful is that we have no family in town. No family. None. Living far away in romantic Scotland sounds all very wonderful--until something goes very wrong, and it is all up to two little people to get through it somehow.

This morning I decided that I would learn to stop walking so quickly. I'm naturally a fast walker. However, if I am walking with B.A., who was always a slow walker but now moves along like a wounded snail, I try to match him, step by step. Before today it was incredibly frustrating. Maddening. But now that I know--really know--that B.A. isn't being lazy or just isn't trying---it was okay.

I also decided that he is going to get the help he needs to get his sharpness back. The fact that no doctor warned us that this would or could happen---I'll let that go. Maybe they did tell us, but we were just so scared he would die, we blanked that part out. That's in the past. We are going to focus on the now and work towards the tomorrow he is healed.

We were introduced to six children after Mass this morning. On the way home I quizzed him on their names. He worked really, really hard to remember. I told him the names and quizzed him again. We played this game on and off all the way home.

"This must be very boring for you," said B.A. as we crept like wounded snails towards the Historical House.

"No," I said. "It's quite interesting, actually."

And now that I know what it's all about, it is.

Update: Here is a guide to caring for real wounded snails.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Seraphic instead of Sologamist

Here's something on and for Singles I wrote for LSN.   

Takeaway point: marriage is about service. To train for (and perhaps attract) marriage, find a way to serve.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Italian Magic

Cherubs, the stress. All I do is write and telephone strangers and eat lunch at my desk and occasionally remember to get up and walk around a bit and do bits of housework at odd moments. I haven't been this busy since theology school.

Today I did an hour's work before rushing off to my new Italian tutor. He greeted me in English.  I greeted him in Italian. He switched to Italian and got me a coffee. We spoke Italian for an hour--about Italian-Canadians in Toronto when I was growing up (and when he was there), about Norcia, about  my new job, about where in Italy I have been. It was like being on holiday in Italy. I was suffused with sunny, on-holiday feelings. When my hour was up, I felt high on language and sunshine. I could almost smell the bougainvillea in Lazio.

"Italian literally makes me happy," I thought.

Sadly, I had to work late tonight and so couldn't get to Polish class. But eventually I will get my work-language balance sorted out.

Here's my latest news article, improved by my editor. It's on-the-job training, and I have a lot to learn! Gone are the days I could lackadaisically work on just one piece, taking my time but getting it all done in one uninterrupted sitting. However, when I consider the circumstances in which I have sometimes filed--e.g. in an underground internet bar in Warsaw--I realize that I am no stranger to journalistic challenges.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Time Zone Edge

As I generally wake up at 7, which is 2 AM Toronto time, and am plugged into UK news, I was the first LSN journo to see this story. The MSM didn't note that this was Gerard Manley Hopkins' school.

I note that girls were first admitted in 2004. Now it seems that the school anticipates that some boys there will want to be girls. But I can't mock co-education: at St Paul's Girls School, some girls want to be boys. On the other hand, that makes St Paul's co-ed, doesn't it?

I foresee more UK homeschooling in future,

First Day at Work

Cherubs, what a nightmare.

I was tired from clearing out my husband's home office on Sunday (and it's not done yet because of all the mattresses piled in the corner, the mountain of shoe boxes to be taken to recycling, etc.), and when I tried to connect the snazzy ergonomic monitor and the snazzy ergonomic keyboard to my ol' lemon of a laptop, the cables didn't fit.  So I got out my beloved if retired old cherry laptop (whose keys now stick) and fit them into that. But then I discovered that I couldn't type very well on the ergonomic keyboard, and setting up my work email account etc. was just agony.

In the end I ended up back in the linen cupboard/library in the big library with my ol' lemon. And I was working so hard, I forgot a conference call and then when I got summoned to another conference call, I couldn't figure out how to get into it and then when I did, my computer sound was off and I had to shut everything down and reboot. I missed the whole meeting.

My assignment--which I chose--apparently involves an ounce of poison buried in a ton of sugar, but I still haven't found the poison, and so I spent the day reading and reading and reading and trying not to freak out.

When poor B.A. got home and slooooooooowly started finding his gym clothes and slooooooooooooowly putting them on and sloooooooowly explaining to someone on the phone why he couldn't do something on June 1, I went totally nuts and ran off to the train and Pilates without him.

Halfway to the railway station, I stopped and asked myself what I was doing. Pilates is to help B.A. recover from all his muscle pain--which has got worse, not better, since his operation, so there was no point to my running off to Pilates without him. But on the other hand, my muscles were hurting now, and I needed Pilates. So I continued onto the train and hoped that B.A. wasn't too doolally to figure out how to get to Pilates on his own. I was so relieved when I saw him through the studio's glass door.

So we both had our Pilates class, and then we had a dinner at the one bistro we know of in the New Town open on Mondays, and that was great. The day ended well, but oh my gosh. The stress of the MESS and the TECHNOLOGY.

Normally journalism is so easy. I do the reading, talk to the people, make the notes, sit down and write the story up. But yesterday for some reason it was just hell.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Benedict Option

.....is a fascinating book. I read it in great gulps. There was my life, there on the page! Well, sort of. There was a lot about the Monks of Norcia, some stuff on homeschooling and lots of stuff about the difficulty of getting ahead in academia when you don't toe the party line.

Anyway Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option is DEFINITELY worth a read, and the buzz will continue in the conservative and traditionalist Catholic media for some time. Hopefully the trads will say a lot more than "We've been saying this for twenty years, where has he been, etc, etc., grumble."

No link, for you really should buy it from a Catholic bookshop, not Amazon. That said, I bought mine over Amazon. There is no Catholic bookshop in Edinburgh. Isn't that CRAZY? But we really are a tiny minority here.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Grumpy Childless Women Unite!

This is just a way to open a combox to any childless woman who wants to vent about not having been blessed with children and how unhappy that makes her feel. If you hate children and are glad you don't have any, we don't want to hear from you, Baba Yaga. Children are awesome.

Once again a reminder not to attack mothers-in-general, as they will read this post and defend themselves, making us feel bad and ruining all our venting fun.

Here again are some tips for surviving Mother's Day:

1. Go to whichever Mass you feel relatively sure won't do the "Mothers, stand so all the men and the  women whose pain I am ignoring can applaud you" routine. The very early, music-free, 35 minute Mass for the elderly sounds like a safe bet.

2. Make the day about YOUR mothers: visit your mother and your grandmothers, or their graves, and pray for them. If you can't visit the living for whatever reason (e.g. distance, volcanic personality clash), send flowers.*  I have sent flowers to my mother, and at Mass I will pray a bit longer than usual for my grandmothers and the one great-grandmother I got to meet. She was born and raised in Edinburgh, bless her.

3. Think about the children who are already in your life and how grateful you are to be allowed to share in their lives. I have at least eleven--three family, three best-friend's-children, three pupils, and two grown-ups who tolerate my maternal craziness presumably because it comes with food and shelter attached.

4. Think about and contact women who have been motherly to you in some way and would appreciate hearing from you. I shall now send a text to my mother in art. Trish has no children, but thanks to her I had an entrée to the world of Spoken Word. She is only four months older than me, but whatever.

*If you hate Mother's Day (and found this post because you Googled "I hate Mother's Day Catholic") because you have (or had) a terrible relationship with your mother, I say send the flowers (if you know where she is) but go to a spa, if there are spas open on Sunday. At any rate, be gentle with yourself on this highly emotional day.

If you hate Mother's Day because your children have disappointed you terribly or have been taken from you, I don't know what to say except that I'm sorry. That must really, really hurt. I'll pray for you, too.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Surviving Mother's Day

Bitter? You want bitter?
Tomorrow is Mother's Day in various countries in the world, and I must go to some website or another and send flowers to my mother. "Mothering Sunday" in the UK is the Third Sunday in Lent, and I duly sent my mother-in-law a card---after getting B.A. to sign it, of course.

Not only will the UK be largely unaware that tomorrow is Mother's Day in Canada, the USA and various other places, I will be at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, so applauding for the mothers was never going to happen.

You, and I am addressing the Childless-Not-By-Choice here, may not be so lucky. First, you probably live in a Mother's Day country. Second, you probably won't be at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Therefore, your chances of  being ordered to applaud for your more obviously blessed sisters while your hearts crack and throb with anguish are high. And I'm sorry about that. If it's any consolation, if this happens in the Archdiocese of Toronto, everyone who has already read my recent article (in this Sunday's Catholic Register, on sale now!) condemning this sheep-from-the-goats practice will think about it and wonder if Father Clapping has read the article himself.

Since it IS Mother's Day and everyone will be thinking about it, especially the Childless-Not-By-Choice,  the best scenario is that the homily will be about the universal motherhood of women and how all women who share their feminine genius with others are spiritual mothers. This is a no-brainer.  Start off with the physical mums, and give equal time to the spiritual mums. All the priest has to do is read big chunks of Mulieris Dignitatem.  Saint John Paul II has already done the work!

If there must be clapping--and very possibly every time someone claps at Mass an angel loses his wings--then let there be clapping for all the adult women. All.   

Suddenly I am reminded of Shakespeare's Shylock, insisting on his humanity, only Shylock in this case is a woman who has never been able to have a baby--for whatever reason--or to adopt one, either: "I am nulliparous. Hath not a nulliparous woman hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a mother is? When that time of the month comes around, do we not bleed....?

This last reminds me of what a rough row to hoe women have, quite apart from all the stuff feminists complain about, yadda yadda. Our embodied lives involve so much pain and mess---currently from the age of 12! You can retain your virginity your whole life long and be completely dedicated to a life of chastity and celibacy and yet from 12 to 50 (or whenever) you will bleed for up to a week or more every month and, out of modesty, local taboo, practicality, or whatever else, have to hide it to the point of polite lies. Also, it takes us forever to build muscle mass, which I, for one, find incredibly annoying.

Of course, that's the downside. There's a lot of upside, including the fact that when God wanted to co-operate with humanity to bring about the Incarnation, He sent His messenger to a woman first. To be truly edified by this thought, see Mulieris Dignitatem.  (In case you are wondering, He later sent His messenger to Saint Joseph, which a pal of mine finds extremely significant for the dignity of husbands and the nation of Canada, whose patron saint Saint Joseph is.)

When I think about how much it hurts not to have been given Baby McLean (poor non-existent Baby McLean: can you love an imaginary creature? Well, I suppose Frodo and Sam--maybe especially Sam--proves that you can.)---I have to admit that it must  hurt more to lose a child to death, which is what Our Lady did, no matter how briefly. Whatever privileged information she may have had, she was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and a sword DID pierce her heart.

As I have written many times before, the mother of a famously murdered girl turned up at the office when I worked for a government department that doled out tax money and humiliation to the chronically ill.  I looked down at her paperwork and I looked up at her, and I knew who she was--or who she had been, as currently she was a shell of a human being. The murderer--who was the sort of evildoer who murders random women just 'cause--had somehow killed the mother as well as the daughter.

That's what mothers risk by having children at all. I am not sure how I would be able to cope the first time Baby McLean disappeared from my sight, had I been blessed with a Baby McLean. That's a lot of vulnerability. Still, I can't see applauding what must be absolutely terrifying.

I am all for mothers, and I am deeply grateful to women who are open to life for enriching the world with their children and their generous attitude. I think having a nice prayer at the end of mass to pray for mothers is lovely, and I don't mind that at all----as long as they are not made to STAND while everyone else SITS and that women in anguish over not being mothers get a token mention somewhere.  Just a tiny token acknowledgement of what is for many women a very heavy cross. That would be a big improvement.

Meanwhile, my advice to my fellow barren-nesses (see what I did there?), which only a fellow barren-ness can give, is to focus on YOUR OWN MOTHERS on Mother's Day, including whichever women have been spiritual mothers to you. After phoning your physical mother and grandmothers or praying for their souls, phone up or email your female mentors or older women who have been a great help or inspiration to you in your life and thank them. Say, "Well, it's Mother's Day, so I just wanted to thank you for being a kind of mother to me."

Speaking for myself, I would love that. In fact, I do love that. But it isn't essential. What I find essential is being allowed to share my gifts--the kind you wrap up and the kind you don't--with my siblings' children and my friends' children and the Pretend Children I borrow from random women living in Poland. It is such a gift to ME to be part of those young lives. So--no, I'm not a mother. But, yes, I AM a mother!

UPDATE: The combox will be open and available for those who are Childless-Not-By-Choice to vent and find fellowship among their fellow barren-nesses all Sunday. Try not to offend physical mothers, however, as despite my warnings not to, they WILL read the combox on Venting About Mother's Day Day.  And heaven knows how much anguish physical mothers who read my blog have in their lives, quite apart from dread that someone will steal their babies!


100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima

Today would be a good day to say your Rosary!

Me, I got up at 6:47 AM to get myself to the Extraordinary Form of  the Mass, only to discover when I got to the chapel that Mass had been shifted to another town today! I had been told--but I forgot.

So I went to 9 AM Polish Mass at the Cathedral, and that was all right.

But as the 100th Anniversary  of the Apparitions at Fatima--now is as good a time as any to tell you that I have a new job: full-time "Culture of Life" reporter for Life Site News.

If there was ever a time I needed a full-time job, this is it! My heart broke when I found out how fervently Benedict Ambrose was praying that I got this job. It's not that we're in trouble; it's just that there's a lot of uncertainty in our lives, and an extra full-time income will  do something to ease the pressure. Our GP told B.A. the most important thing for him to recover from is operation was to rest, but he's back at work and his mind has not been at rest.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to going out into the wider world and collecting stories on a daily basis. It's a different craft from blogging and column-writing, certainly, but I look forward to the mind-sharpening it involves.