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.