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 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.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Learning Language with TV

Oh the spongy, fresh, language-learning brains of children. When I was a child, new children from foreign countries occasionally appeared in my classroom. One was intensely secretive about where she came from, which may have been habitual to kids who had escaped from behind the Iron Curtain. She was from what was still called Yugoslavia. There was also a boy who came from Romania. Both of these children showed up speaking fluent English.

I don't know how the Serbian girl learned English so quickly, but I do know the secret of the Romanian boy. He sat before the television set  all summer and binged on "Happy Days." He literally learned English from the Fonz. Well, we all know  (or anyone over 40 knows) what the Fonz would say to that.


Learning language from television shows is now recommended by various pop polyglots including Paul Noble and Gabriel Werner. Their suggestion is to watch shows you already know and loved--wildly successful shows including 50 or, better yet, 100 episodes--dubbed into the language you are learning.  Noble, whose super-easy Italian materials I am reading, suggested Friends.

I never watched Friends.  Squinting into the past, I see that the only shows I watched even semi-regularly were X-Files and Babylon Five.  From 1996 to 2009 I didn't own a television, and when at my parents' I deplored my mother's love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other gorefests, shutting my bedroom door firmly upon the shrieks and moans of horror and pain coming from the living room TV.

But in the 1980s, my show of shows was Scarecrow and Mrs King, and to my joy, I have found it dubbed into Italian on youtube. I haven't found it for sale as yet, but Youtube fits the bill.

Polish is more complicated because the Poles do not dub foreign-to-them shows. Traditionally they have a reader (or lektor) reading a Polish translation over the original dialogue. Meanwhile, unlike the Italians and the Germans, they never developed a love for Scarecrow and Mrs King. This is without doubt because of timing: a show in which the baddies are usually Soviet spies was never going to be shown in the People's Republic of Poland.

The Wall came down in time for the Poles to see Friends, however. Here is a lektor reading along to Friends.

You may perceive the problem. It's even worse here with Big Bang Theory:

Thus I am as yet unsure as how to best improve my Polish by binging on television shows. It is all their fault for loving lektors so much and turning up their noses at the wonderful art of dubbing, which was perfected, I'm told, by the Germans.

Update: I have been reminded that Disney films for children are dubbed into Polish. This may be the way forward. There may be a Polish Disney Princess binge-viewing in my future.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Trads Squabble Over Numbers

England's Dr. Shaw appears incensed here over America's Monsignor Pope's article there. For the life of me, I don't understand why Dr. Shaw sounds so thunderous. Clearly Monsignor is just feeling a bit down.

I think the old belief that if all Catholics saw how beautiful the Traditional Rite was, they would flock in their thousands, was utterly naive.

First of all, most Catholics don't go to Mass at all. If they go, they go for C&E and are out the door before the last notes of the final hymn have faded away. Duty done (or so they think)--toodle-oo!

Second, those who do go to Mass are stuck in their ways and really do enjoy the rhythm of the three hymn sandwich. They enjoy seeing the same faces in the parking lot and in the hall afterwards for coffee (if applicable). A number of  White Anglo-Saxon Catholics in my native Toronto are post-1969 converts from Protestantism, and so the Novus Ordo may remind them comfortably of the male-led Protestant services of their youth. If they're like my mother, they enjoy belting out the hymns, many of which they belted back in their Protestant days.


DA DA DA DA  DA diddee DA-AH DA DA !!!!

After twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years in ye olde parish church, these Catholics are not budging. It would take a catastrophe of pastor-going-to-jail-for-you-know-what proportions to inspire them to leave, and sadly when Catholics are utterly fed up, they don't usually make the switch to the TLM: they stop going to Mass at all.  For fifty years, they've been told the SSPX are a dangerous pack of weirdos, and so anyone who also loves the Mass of Ages must also be a weirdo. Never mind that the priests who told them that were later discovered to be (A) homosexual (B) robbing the till (C) living in a mobile home with a skinny divorcée  or (D) now celebrating the Mass of Ages themselves.

However, there are thousands of  people who get curious about religion, so there are all kinds of ways to promote the TLM, if you feel called. I do it myself in my own little way by subverting the Angry Trad stereotype. But, of course, there is:

1. The Appeal to the Real.  "If you want to know what Catholicism REALLY is," you can say to the curious out religion-shopping, "you should come to the Traditional Latin Mass because it does not water down the Catholicism unlike the priest at Saint Moping who gets his sermons out  of Chicken Soup for the Soul, " etc., etc.

Be careful how you phrase this argument, however, or you may come across as someone not imbued with the love of Christ. Perhaps it might be best to say that traditional Catholics have a very strong devotion to Christ Present on the Altar, and our liturgy reflects this. Our Mass is more about God than about community; the community part happens afterwards when we all get smashed on G &Ts.

2. The Appeal to the Snobbery. "If you like Evelyn Waugh, you'll LOVE the TLM," you could say, although I'd rather you didn't. There's quite enough  lower-middle-class-boys-feeling-bad-about-it hanging out at the TLM just to feel posh. What they think of the honest skilled tradesmen and horny-handed sons of toil also at the TLM is a question I don't want answered. What the honest skilled tradesmen and horny-handed sons of toil think of all the red corduroy trousers I shudder to think. On the other hand, they are probably too holy to notice the trousers at all.

3. The Appeal to the Senses.  Suddenly I remember an Anglican suitor who was tempted to cross the Tiber as as to win my then-fair hand. I warned him that he ought to come to my (ugly, modernist) parish church and hear the (ghastly) cantor first.

People who really care about music and art will prefer the TLM to the NO unless they have jobs providing the music and art at the NO.  BTW, I'd love to see some statistics on what percentage of church musicians go to the NO when they are not actually performing at it.

4. The Appeal to the Feminine. It may be tricky to win women away from all their fun activities at Saint Moping. Let's face it. Women run the NO, and men are happy to let them do it. The NO can be pretty boring, so NO-goers jazz it up for themselves by volunteering to DO stuff. I've sat in the important chair for lay-led worship, and let me tell you, the hour just whizzes by when you're the lady in charge. What can be done to overcome the temptations of busy-ness and lady priesting?

It may sound trivial, but I think ye olde lace mantilla is a step forward, especially now that we're being bombarded with propaganda for the hijab. I cannot get my mind around the role of the hair-hating hijab in modern life, but westerners associate lace veils with brides and widows, who are (or once were) semi-sacred. Imagine you could assert your feminine genius just by putting on a lace veil and looking restful. And imagine that just by doing this, you could inspire the men to do all the work they currently aren't doing, like going to the seminary and becoming priests.

Men (thinking): Goodness gracious, Mrs. McLean looks so beautiful and restful in her black lace mantilla that I am hopelessly in love with her. What can I do? I know: I shall sublimate this forbidden passion in my studies for the priesthood. Off to Wiegratzbad I go.

By the way, the TLM is the one place I can think of where young women can silently and modestly indicate that they are Single, and the married (or convent-bound) can subtly indicate that they aren't available. One of the quieter dynamics of the TLM is the bachelors checking out the white mantillas. Oh, the sweet! 

5. The Appeal to the Masculine: As girls becoming altar servers lead to an exodus of the boys, keep your ears sharp for stories of disappointed mothers at St Moping. No doubt the NO was less dull when they could watch their little sons going to and fro. "Maybe he would feel more comfortable at Sacred Trad," you could say. "Only boys serve there."

The same goes for mothers at the end of their rope with teenage sons who refuse to go to Mass at all. "Maybe he would feel more comfortable at Sacred Trad," you could say again. "Men outnumber women 2:1 there. And they don't feel pressured to sing."

6. The Appeal to the Non-Singers: Protestants and ex-Protestants love to sing, which is no doubt why we have so much congregational singing in the Novus Ordo. But many people simply to not like to sing, or would rather listen to good singing than to their own sad speaking-voice efforts.

 (It is not true, by the way, that everyone can sing. It has to be taught.  I realized this when I listened to the contrast between Scottish children of yore singing the old school song and their replacements singing the new school song, which includes the phrase "Assallaam-u-aleikum." The Scottish children of yore sang like soprano angels. The Scottish children of today sang with their speaking voices--as they no doubt do at the Novus Ordo, when they are at the Novus Ordo, which is but rarely, not only because only 16% of Scots are Catholics but because only 25% of Scottish Catholics go to church.)

Non-singers--which certainly must include most Cradle-Catholic men--are relieved of pressure to sing at the TLM, especially when there are paid professionals to do it for them.

Working on the Rehab

Benedict Ambrose's life was saved by a big pain in the neck: the big pain in his neck. He read how AAGill, a restaurant critic who had died from "the full English of cancers," had complained of a pain in the neck, so it was his neck pain even more than the ache behind his eye that sent B.A. to his GP.

As history relates, the GP sent him to Specsavers. Specsavers sent him to the Eye Pavilion. The Eye Pavilion sent him to the Royal Infirmary. The Royal Infirmary sent him to Western General, and he stopped at the FSSP house for Last Rites on the way.  A surgeon at the Western General drilled a hole in his head the next day, saving his life and his eye.

However, B.A. still has a big pain in his neck--and means that I have a big pain in his neck. We're at the "in sickness" part of the wedding vows. The easy part is that when I make suggestions, he embraces them without arguing, which suggests how bad the pain is, poor chap.

That said, we still quarrel over the painkiller dose. For some reason, doctors like to write him prescriptions for highly addictive tranquilizers. B.A. is supposed to take these in tiny doses, 3 times a day, but he doesn't. He takes just two or one or half a tiny dose after asking me if he thinks he ought to take any dose at all.

This makes me wild. Whereas the names of the drugs alarm me, I am not a doctor. I don't have society's religious faith in doctors, but I am sure they know more about drugs than B.A. and I do.

But then there is the massage therapist. I went to a massage therapist when stress had left my shoulders in aching knots, and she was brilliant. So I brought B.A. to the therapist to work and sat through the introductory conversation, which was a good idea as Dundee-born B.A. might have otherwise run away. However, the massage was so helpful, B.A. would like one every day. Unfortunately, our brilliant massage therapist doesn't give massages every day. So guess who does it?

"But necks are delicate," I wail. "I don't know what I'm doing! I might do damage!"

 "Right there," says B.A. "Ouch! Don't use your fingernails!"

The Pilates class is great, and shopping for gym kit for B.A. was fun. When I saw how much men's yoga pants (or whatever the British call them) cost at Lulu Lemon, I rushed straight to TK Maxx, but at least I had an excuse to go into Lulu Lemon. £80 for men's sweatpants--I ask you! A snazzy name brand was £15 at TK Maxx.  As sweatpants are a class indicator--often paired with a dangerous dog--B.A. wears them with affectionate irony and his best shoes.

Pilates class is meant to improve B.A.'s posture because the brilliant massage therapist suggested that this is the cause of the pain, banishing the frightening spectre of arthritis conjured up by our GP.  I told the GP about the Pilates, and he said B.A.'s head must never hang down, so the Pilates instructor gives B.A. special modifications for various Pilates moves.

 Possibly because he is the least sporty man alive, Pilates class gives B.A. runner's high, and then we have a euphoric dinner out in the New Town. During our most recent Pilates class, however, we were introduced to the spiky massage ball. Having played with the spiky massage ball, we had to have one. I ran all over town yesterday morning looking for the exact model before finding it in a dance supply shop.

Then there is the wedge-pillow. The massage therapist recommended we visit a custom-cut foam shop to get a triangular wedge for B.A. to use as a neck-supporting pillow. I hiked down there after the spiky massage ball search and encountered a father & son team of foam salesmen, who charged me £20 while saying it ought to be £27. Twenty quid for a piece of foam sounded depressingly high, but not as high as the price of a Tempur ergonomic pillow, so I coughed up the money and lugged the object home. When I got there, I spiky-massaged my feet.

Meanwhile, B.A, stuffed the foam wedge into a pillow case with a feather pillow and lay down with it on the sitting-room floor. He lay very, very still. He looked beatific. He was out of his pain.

"We should take this to Italy," he murmured--for, oh yes! The best part of B.A.'s rehab is to come: we are going to Tuscany for the first week of June, and I can hardly wait. I will sit in the sun sniffing bougainvillea, anticipating lunch and listening to our hostess fuss maternally over B.A.  His rehabilitation features a growing number of women fussing over him, and the more the better, say I.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Eight Years!

In all my righteous huffing and puffing over France's First Couple, I forgot that today is Benedict Ambrose's and my wedding anniversary. Special greetings to all readers who remember when and where we first met--in the combox of my original Seraphic Singles blog.

Incidentally, I forgot to mark my 10th Blogiversary, too. I think it was in last November.

And what an eight years it has been! I think we spent every night the first year totally drunk, thanks to treating every supper as if it were a dinner party for two. To this day my parents assume we always drink Gin-and-Tonics before dinner, and thus when they come to stay I must always rush out and buy a big bottle of Gordon's.

We love when family and friends come to stay: these are highlights of our married life. Other highlights have included a holiday in Barcelona with Nulli, Notre Belle Soeur and their children, holidays in and around Rome, holidays in Norcia, and holidays in the Scottish countryside. Sadly, these highlights have also included snappy arguments, as we didn't mention when we were reminiscing about our holidays just after B.A. was diagnosed with a brain tumour

Clearly B.A.'s surprise brain surgery was not a highlight. It is funny, though, that when we were utterly terrified, we didn't talk about such deeply noble subjects as faith, family, wonderful liturgies or even the time we saw Pope Benedict saying Mass outside Saint John Lateran. No, it was all "The next time we're in Italy..." and "When we are in Paris..."

Other highlights: our 5th anniversary supper, celebrated in the stable-block of the Historical House; our other anniversary suppers, which are always on Thistle Street in the New Town; our dinner parties--especially the summer Sunday Lunches on the front lawn; oh, and drinking a dozen flavoured vodkas with Polish Pretend Son at his parent's place, even thought they made B.A. snore all night and I was so sleepless I was deathly ill the next morning.

Then there are B.A.'s public lectures, which I enjoy attending, and celebrations of my books when someone wants to publish them,  Family, friends, travel, dinner parties, restaurant celebrations, lectures and books. That's what its been about--on the surface, of course. Under the surface there's a whole lot of spiritual work going on--plus the plain cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, etc., etc.

When I was still Single and writing the original Seraphic Singles, I wrote about how marriage was about soap. I assumed that marriage would involve a lot of washing things: dishes, clothes, windows, counters, floors, bathrooms. Since marriage is about real life, not the photos in wedding magazines, I meditated upon blood, sweat and tears (and a lot of other, less pleasant sounding bodily substances). However, mine has turned out to be rather more fun then I imagined. Of course it is sad that we couldn't have children, but this is a cross we already had before we met, if you see what I meant.

This Was Not Okay

In the course of my long life, I have met at least one man whose life was deeply impoverished, when he was too young to know what was going on, by the lust of a much older married mother of children. She wasn't in a paid position of trust, this lady, but the effect was the same: a young life blighted, youthful potential wasted.

Thus, I am not overwhelmed with sympathy for female teachers who "fall in love with" or take advantage of the barely-in-control sex drive of adolescent students. Depending on the case in the papers, I may feel a thrill of pity and fear, of course. This increases when the teacher is single and only in her twenties. However, the married women in their thirties... What do they think they are doing? And what do they think will be the long-term effect on their students and their students' families?

Therefore, I am incensed at the idea being offered in this article that the public is disturbed by the relationship between the 39 year old new president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and the 64 year old grandmother who was his drama teacher because of "deeply ingrained" MISOGYNY.

The most poignant part of the article for me was the reaction of the boy Macron's mother:

Realising the affair would not be a passing phase,[Macron's mother] is said to have told the teacher: “Don’t you see? You’ve had your life. But he won’t have children with you.”

Well, no. And I find it curious how a growing number of political  leaders have  no children. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland--none. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives--none. (RD is openly lesbian, however.)  Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom--none. Alec Salmond, the former First Minister of Scotland--none, But then he is married to a woman 17 years older than himself: she had been his boss at work.

The Salmond case--although considered a tad weird by the electorate, and we did not see the 70-something Mrs S on the campaign trail--is different from the Macron scandal, however, as Alec was in his twenties when they met at the office, not 15 years old. Nevertheless, I can imagine libidinous female bosses contemplating the success of the Salmonds' marriage when checking out the handsome new twenty-somethings who have walked into their fiefdoms.

"He's 6 foot 4, blue-eyed, and I wish we had ten of him," said a female manager at my then-workplace over the phone about my male colleague when he was just outside the door. She treated me like crap; she was the kind of older woman I have sworn I never shall be.

Macron's parents divorced in 2010, apparently. Happily, however, they have two other adult children, so presumably their hopes for grandchildren did not rest in their eldest son.

Teachers should not have affairs with their students. That should go without saying, and I hope the Macron case is far, far from the minds of any other teacher who finds herself pursued by a crushed-out teenager, no matter how brilliant he or she may be. Meanwhile, here's a cheerful little article about the birthrate in France. Macron's mother was clearly worried about the impoverishment of Macron's life; she would have been correct to worry also about the increasing impoverishment of France.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Thriller in Mantilla

After bragging about going to the TLM in a coin-sized fascinator, I felt guilty.

My mini-hat is a lovely wee object, but I'm worried it makes me look like the proverbial organ-grinder's monkey and, besides, nobody else in my local TLM community wears a fascinator to Mass. One dashing young matron wears a smart pillbox, and there is a beret or two, and the Frenchwomen go bareheaded, but mostly the women and girls wear mantillas. The girls and maiden aunts wear white mantillas, and the married women wear black. Well, one married woman wears blue because she's Italian and doesn't want to look like the proverbial Italian widow. Me, I don't want to stick out as the one woman at Mass wearing a fascinator, just as when at the NO, I don't want to stick out as the one woman in a manilla.

The Sunday after my bragging, I noticed how pretty many of the mantillas are, but most of all, I was haunted by the private revelation of some girl on the FSSP Supporters Facebook page that her veil had found favour with the Lord. Yes, this was a complete stranger writing on the internet about a personal and private locution, but it made me think all the same.

 Is Our Lord and Saviour pleased when, out of respect for His presence in the monstrance or tabernacle, we women wear veils? I don't know, but so far nobody has claimed it makes Him mad. Saint Paul, naturally, was all for them and, if this is the sort of thing saints think about in heaven, perhaps he still is. For a contemporary point of view, here's what Raymond Cardinal Burke had to say on the matter. 

I am not sure my husband would care one way or the other what I wore on my head to Mass although he might find it odd if I deliberately stopped wearing anything on my head. And he did not kick up a fuss when I presented him with a bill and asked him to write a cheque for £30 to a mantilla maker.

For, lo, I looked online and discovered Zélie's Roses. A Mrs D. of  Oxfordshire, England blogs there when she is not making "modest clothing, First Holy Communion wear, Wedding Dress, Mantillas and Veils"--and gorgeous altar frontals, too, it seems!  Here are some of her laces and designs. Oh, the pretty!

Making mantillas is not as easy as one might suppose, which I guessed thanks to attempts at making wedding veils. UGH. Not a good project for an indifferent seamstress. Therefore, I did not make the mistake of thinking I could do a mantilla on the cheap. No, no! I wrote to Mrs D about her current stock, and now I have a lovely  mantilla that looks rather like this, only black:

For some reason, I find the tiny label identifying the mantilla as the production of "Zélie's Roses" rather thrilling. Perhaps it's the thought of a Roman Catholic woman having her own little business making beautiful church-appropriate garments for whichever women care to wear them.

I love the idea of women running little businesses from their homes, and I very much admire the women who have the patience, talent and eyesight for fine sewing.

By the way, I wore my new mantilla on Saturday to confessions at the Cathedral, and afterwards I thought I perceived people staring at me although maybe this was because I was looking at them. Or because I looked incredibly beautiful and the women all suddenly wanted one of their own!

Update: The baby bonnets. THE BONNETS!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Another Argument for Catholic Homeschooling

This is not an edifying story, but I find it both funny and important. It's funny and important for the same reasons.

After being found guilty of misconduct for putting her legs behind her head in front of her students, [the ex-teacher] stands in a coffee shop the next day and lifts her floral skirt. 
“It was a yoga exercise,” Brown says, revealing to a reporter that she has aqua yoga tights under her skirt, just like the day she proved how flexible she is to her students. “You stretch until you’re aligned. That’s what I showed them. I’m not ashamed.”
Brown, a fit 65-year-old, was recorded by a student when she laid down on the floor and swung her legs upward until they were behind her head. The video, along with the statements of more than 10 students and one educational assistant were the primary evidence used against her during an Ontario College of Teachers tribunal hearing on Tuesday. Some said her actions made them feel embarrassed.
“Why would the children be embarrassed,” Brown asks, noting she performed the exercise during lunch hour. “They have sex in the hallway and they smoke.”
 It's funny because we do not expect teachers, let alone Catholic religion teachers, to illustrate how flexible they are by doing feet-behind-head yoga moves, or talk glibly about their mothers' sex-lives, or make jaw-dropping claims about the students' sexual behaviour.  Something tells me Humanae Vitae  and the thought of Saint John Paul II weren't pondered too deeply in this woman's classes. 
But it's important because it is dangerous to assume that  teachers are thoughtful, prudent, moral, respectful people just because they are have been hired to teach at Catholic schools, especially government-funded Catholic schools. Teachers at publicly funded Catholic schools in Toronto are very well paid. If I had had any financial sense when I went to university... But, on the other hand, if you're not called to it, and you do it just for the money, teaching high school can be miserable. 
This woman claims to have taught at a number of Toronto Catholic high schools since 1987--when I was in high school, my dears--including my own high school. I don't recognize her, so I don't think she was there (if she ever really was there) in my day.  However, I can remember one other teacher giving a very good impression of being bat-guano insane. Others, of course, were great and their more quirky pronouncements--"Mankind is doomed, girls. We're doomed. Have a good afternoon"--didn't do me any harm. 
Now that I teach teenagers instead of adults, I worry about being overly lighthearted and saying the wrong things or The Wrong Thing that will stick in a student's head for years after I have forgotten it. (I worry about this regarding my niece and nephews, too.) The teacher in this story doesn't seem so bothered. 
Happily, I am not given to outrageous remarks about (A) Adult Stuff or (B) my students' ethnic backgrounds. I imagine Filipina-Canadian girls who attend or have attended one of this woman's schools (and their parents) must be feeling pretty shaken by this woman's dismissal of them all. It is hands-down worse than anything I ever heard anyone in Toronto--student, teacher, boss--say about pasty "mangiacakes "like me, and I am still mad that 30 years ago Mrs Such-and-Such said that Anglo-Saxons won't do construction jobs because we don't like to get callouses on our hands. I was too stunned to raise my hand and volunteer that my mother's (White, Anglo-Saxon and even Protestant) cousins worked summers in Toronto's construction industry until their inability to speak Italian became a problem. 
(Let it go, Dorothy. Let it gooooooo. Daj spokój. Non fa niente.
Perhaps the most disturbing feature of the story is that this ex-teacher was hauled up before a tribunal only in 2015. Okay, it could be that she was an exemplary teacher from 1987 until then. But if not, what were her colleagues doing to protect their students from this woman's insanely imprudent and immoral remarks?  
For the sake of fairness, I should also observe that this teacher was the victim of quite a serious fraud at the hands of a friend in 2014, so it very well may be that she snapped afterwards. That said, I really do think it important that all parents who entrust their children to a system check that system regularly. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Finding the Fun Again

Not to be confused with Anne of Green Gables
Of late I have been thinking that Polish class is not much fun. We of the Third Level have been reading graphic novels about a Polish girl named Marzi who was about 10 when the Berlin Wall came down. Marzi complains a lot as she reflects on her life in Poland during the 1980s and early 90s, and I find her attitudes and point of view incredibly alien. In the darkest recesses of my mind an Ontario WASP sniffs, "They're not like us, dear"-- an attitude that, by the way, inhibits foreign language learning.

The drawings of the adults in Marzi's life make them look, at best, dumpy and, at worst, utterly frightening. (For some unknown reason, all Marzi's male relations look like ax murderers.) The real-life Marzi fled to France ASAP and told her stories to her new French boyfriend, who drew them into cartoons. (The books were first published in French.) Does Marzi love Poland or hate Poland? Probably both. I would be very much afraid to meet Marzi at a cocktail party. (Imagine cartoon of your poor correspondent in a mad frock, face a sort of white pudding with two tiny raisins for eyes.)

Besides Marzi comicswe read a lot about Polish politics, and as our professor does not like the New Guard, there is a lot of doom and gloom in the handouts. We also discuss Brexit as if it were a sort of philosophical genocide of local Poles. Where, I ask myself, is the gleeful spirit of Polish weddings? Of Polish joy? Of--dare I mention it--Disco Polo? 

Add to this denunciations of my lamb-based bigos as Polish-American (not properly Polish), and Polish class just did not seem fun anymore.

Then I opened the file attached to the email about last week's class (which I missed, due to one of B.A.'s appointments. The star of the week's non-Marzi reading was me. 

Lesson 62
Problem with eye

Dorota: Excuse me, where is the Eye Department?
Nurse: You must go outside, go around the building and turn left.

It was the tale of my Warsaw Eye Terror, which I had sent (in English) to my professor as an  example of a conversation her students might really have in a dire Polish emergency. 

As I read, I began to laugh. Later a fellow student confessed that she had also laughed. And, indeed, as I read out my own part in class, the other students laughed too. 

Second Nurse to Third Nurse: I don't think that she has proper insurance.
Third Nurse: Well, then she will have to pay! 

Given that I had temporarily lost 80-90 percent of the sight in my left eye and was in terrible pain and fear, you would not think that this was very funny. But I got my sight back, and seeing the doctor cost only 120 Polish zloty (i.e. £25), so all's well that ends well. Besides, the nurses were funny in their grim, unsmiling way, and I suppose it was funny that I longed for Polish Pretend Son's real mother to appear (if humanly possible, which it wasn't), just so a mother (any mother) would hold my hand.  

For once I had given myself plenty of time to do all the reading and homework exercises. And although there were some references to Trumpa, Brexit and Kaczyński, class was fun. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

What I Learned Today

This is GENIUS! Japanese GENIUS!

Teaching Attic

Good coffee with useful packaging
When I was asked to teach  Attic Greek to Catholic home-schoolers, my first thought
was to text a recent Classics grad from Edinburgh Uni to see if she would like the job. However, she had not done any Greek; her specialization began and ended with Latin. I cast about in my mind for someone else among my Edinburgh friends and acquaintances, but I could not think of anyone who had studied Ancient Greek within the past 25 years save my unworthy self.

As I passed Ancient Greek 101 and 102 only by the skin of my teeth, my conscience would have cut up rougher had I not sat down eight years later and worked through the bally stuff. That was the year I lived alone in a bachelor flat and spent my evenings reviewing Italian, French, Latin and Attic Greek. Eventually French and Greek fell by the wayside as I concentrated on Italian and Latin. My Italian was in super shape by 2000, and I actually used it at work----but let us return to Attic Greek.

Although I have little "natural talent" for foreign languages, I know a lot about learning them, thanks to a steady reading diet of popular works on language acquisition and years of grappling with Tym Pięknym Językiem.  I also know something about teaching, which I have been doing off-and-on since the year 2000. A three year stint under the Ignatian Pedagogical Method taught me some great teaching tricks, including repetition and getting students to really "ENGAGE" with the material. All that stuff about marking your "consolations" and "desolations" in the margins of photocopies and writing "questions for reflection" turn out to be key to memory work.

"Revel in your chagrin," I yell at my students when they perceive their errors. "Feel the pain of your errors! Or feel the joy of your successes! Joy or pain! Whichever! Feel it!"

I am all about pedagogical method. When my first Attic Greek pupils were sent away to be educated by a proper teaching order on the Continent, I asked them to discern the sisters' pedagogical method. They're still not sure what it is, but I hope it has lots of sneakily useful teaching tricks. Meanwhile, I have been engaged to continue teaching them Ancient Greek by correspondence as the girls their age are already reading Homer, Herodotus and the gang. Fortunately, we have a brilliant textbook.

My first and favourite Greek teaching trick is to make pupils cut out, bake and eat the Greek Alphabet. Subsequent testing has led me to believe that this step should never be skipped. Apparently Jews taught their children the Hebrew alphabet with cookies for centuries, and it makes complete sense. Children love cookies, so their love for cookies becomes linked to the alphabet being consumed. If the children are made to cut out the stencils and then the dough themselves, this engages their eyes, ears and hands. In fact, since they eventually bake and eat the alphabet cookies, all their senses work together.

My most recent Greek teaching trick was to make up Leitner boxes for my senior students. A Leitner Box is a classic Spaced Repetition System. In short, one has vocabulary cards which one reviews according to a fixed schedule, moving them closer to the back of the box as one's memory for them strengthens. As per the instructions in Fluent Forever, I left the backs of the cards blank so that my students could draw pictures or symbols denoting the Greek word (or word pair) on the front. English is not allowed.

The amusing thing about my Leitner Boxes is that the actual boxes are made from cardboard Union Coffee coffee bag supports, and as my favourite brew has this vigorous name, my students are returning to their consecrated preceptress from their Jesuit-trained, Easter-holidays tutor with boxes marked Liberacion. No pun was intended, and I rather wish I preferred "Bobolink", whose name is surely more in keeping with Traditional Catholicism, homeschooling and convent schools. But there it is.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Own Croissants

Dear me, it really is the Year of Food. Last year was the Year of Wilderness Camping.  Last spring I loved to read guides to surviving in the wild, and now I am surrounded by cookbooks. I even have a cookbook geared to surviving in the wild--or, rather, in poverty in rural Greece.

Not being in poverty in rural Greece, on Saturday I had a pound coin with which to buy 250g of unsalted butter. Therefore, on Saturday night I made raw croissants and left them to prove in the fridge overnight. I awoke in a panic at 5 AM and moved them to the kitchen counter. At a more reasonable 7 AM, I woke up again and had a look. They had indeed doubled in size although I must admit they were not (and had not started) at uniform sizes. Getting a 20 cm x 65 cm rectangle of dough to the same thickness throughout was a challenge I met but imperfectly.

Into the oven they went for 25 minutes. I did them too brown (as Georgette Heyer would metaphorically write), so next time I will have a look after 20.

Even when overly brown, there is nothing like a  hot, freshly baked croissant straight from the oven, as I now know. The outer layers snap and flake, and the inner layers cling softly together until you pull them apart to apply the jam. You do not need to add butter. They are butter.

Various online wags say that after making your own croissants, you understand why there are bakeries. I wonder where the online wags live; it can't be suburban Scotland. It is a 30 minute bus ride to the nearest French bakery, and we consider ourselves lucky. Moreover, it costs less to make your own croissants (approx 10p each) than to buy even a bad, bready one from Tesco (approx £1).

Meanwhile, making croissants is not that difficult, especially if you add the butter in one-inch cubes instead of pounding it into a flat slab, as did Julia Child. The important thing is not to lose your nerve when the greasy dough sticks to your rolling pin. To avoid this problem, roll the dough between lightly floured sheets of baking paper. It will still stick, but don't panic.

Besides butter, flour, yeast, sugar, salt, milk, water, baking paper and a cool head, you need a refrigerator and time. The butter-studded dough needs about an hour to rise. The twice-turned dough-envelope needs about that (see recipe) to rest in the fridge, and then another hour for its second rest in the fridge. The crescent shapes need two hours (perhaps)  to double--unless you put them in the fridge overnight, as I recommend.  If you want croissants for breakfast, you have to start the night before, perhaps right after supper.

The long-term goal is to have croissants for breakfast, so the short-term goal should be to have the crescent-shapes in the fridge before you go to bed at your normal time. In the morning, you pop them on a counter/table, wait an hour for them to finish doubling, and then bake and eat them. This may mean getting up earlier than usual. As a morning person, I love the blissful solitude of being awake and busy before anyone else.

A problem I did not foresee is that 12 -14 croissants are too many for a middle-aged married couple, even over two days. (This morning's day-olds tasted great after being warmed in the oven.) Next time I will either freeze half of the proved-but-unbaked crescent shapes or I will wait until there are overnight visitors in the house. Of course, there is always the option of halving the recipe and making just six.  Rolling the dough to just 32.5 cm must surely be easier!

By the way, I didn't have plastic wrap to cover the dough, so I used a large white linen napkin throughout. French bakers thrived for at least three centuries without plastic wrap. I wonder how they coped without refrigerators, but presumably they had cellars.