Monday, 31 July 2017

Roger Scruton on the Tyranny of Pop Music

I am sure I should understand this a lot better than I do. Some people can listen to music the way most people can read books. B.A. can. My brothers can. I can't. Alas!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Language By Osmosis

I have a newish toy. Polish Pretend Son was going to sell his iPhone 4 on eBay, but hearing that I was in the market for a new phone, he gave it to me instead. Like all computer devices these days, I have to figure it out "intuitively"--although maybe in this case it's because I don't have the owner's manual.

PPS was a model language learner in that when he heard an English word he didn't understand at a party, he would fish this very phone out of some inner pocket (PPS was invariably dressed in multiple layers)  and look up the word in an electronic dictionary. Then he would snort "Hmph" or merely raise his eyebrows, and the phone would disappear again.

I wished for this magical bilingual phone many times while on trips to Poland, and now I have it, but the dictionary is gone. PPS took the chip out, and Vodaphone gave me another to replace it, so all PPS's telephonic secrets are safe with PPS.

Naturally they include PPS's extensive music collection, which was probably highly tasteful, if eclectic, as twenty-somethings seem to be very knowledgeable about music. Well, some twenty-somethings. When I was a twenty-something, I could listen to Weezer's "Teenage Dirtbag" on repeat for hours.

But I also had eclectic tastes, and having heard an 883 song on my Conkini Italian tour bus in 1998, I hunted down an 883 CD called "Gli Anni", and that became one of my favourite albums. And now that I am trying to take my Italian skills to the next level, I bought the electronic version for my new-to-me phone.

I was very proud of my technological prowess and bragged to my young Italian tutor that my first iTunes album was "Gli Anni." Sadly, instead of feeling patriotic and flattered, my tutor groaned and giggled. I am not sure, but my little show-and-tell was possibly the equivalent of your Korean ESL student proudly exhibiting her Back Street Boys album.  Or maybe it is even worse and 883 is the Italian equivalent of some now very uncool 1960s band. Oh! Oh dear. I hope 883 isn't the equivalent of the Monkees: how embarrassing.

My Italian tutor, by the way, is a young man of scrupulous honesty who never represses a smile when I trot out some linguistic archaism.

"That's from the Nineties," he chortles.

"I'm from the Nineties," I protest.

I forgive my tutor for making me feel old, however, for he is both good-tempered and strict and therefore effective. He quite won my heart by saying he couldn't at first place my accent (in Italian, as I refused to speak to him in English for as long as possible), but thought the vowels sounded Polish.

My second Apple album is, unsurprisingly for long-term readers, Polish Popular Hits 1930-1940, Vol 1.  This is full of what Reader Julia would call "Polish Old People Music," and I know some of the songs already from long study.  Polish Old People think these songs are the epitome of nostalgia  and, sad irony, since I first heard them in happier days, they fill me with nostalgia, too. A few more years of studying Polish, and I will be impulse-canning supermarket fruit and swapping homemade cold remedies with Polish Pretend Daughter.

I also have two songs of the Disco Polo variety, such that if I lost my phone and a young Polish hacker cracked the password, he would assume that I have very bad taste in music, which I probably do. But there's a method in my music madness, and it's trying to learn non-English the way most of the world learns English: hearing pop songs day in and day out.

My walks to the supermarket and the railway station are now enlivened by Max Pezzali telling me (in 1998) that he'll be with me ("Io Ci Saro") and Zula Pogorzelska explaining to a suitor (in 1931) that her material needs are few ("To Wystarczy Mi"). Neither album is quite the thing for my vigorous  rowing-machine sessions,  though, so I shall splash out and get entire albums of bad-taste Polish dance music.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Trip and After

I love summer mornings. If I could sustain the practice, I'd get up every spring or summer morning at 5 AM. Even the sunshine seems quieter at 5 AM.

My trip to DC and Virginia was both pleasant and interesting. I had an hour's stopover in Dublin, which was more interesting than pleasant. The USA has commandeered a chunk of Dublin airport as a de facto "border", so travellers to the USA through Dublin go through a series of technologically complex checks overseen by young American officials.

I found this confusing and unnerving, so hopefully America's enemies find it confusing and unnerving, too. For example, I was asked if that was my checked luggage in front of my interrogator's workstation.  I was bewildered, for surely my checked luggage was, you know, checked in and in transit. My interrogator--a highly professional-sounding Asian-American--kept repeating the same question until I noticed the screen on the front of her podium showing a televised image of my big backpack--or two thirds of it anyway, since it wasn't completely in shot.

Going through the American Sector of Dublin Airport meant that I didn't have to go through customs when I got to Dulles Airport, so all I had to do was wait for my famous checked luggage and the complementary drive to the Hilton.  It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit by the pick-up point.

The big event at the Hilton was the LifeSiteNews 20th Anniversary Gala, and I enjoyed meeting all the other LSN people very much. I speak to many of these people every work day, so it was neat to see them in person. And for the next three days, it was great to see them again at meetings and meals. As usual I had extreme jet lag, so I got up at 5 AM and found a sunny outdoor spot in which to drink coffee and work on Polish grammar exercises.

My mother usually spends July in Scotland, so while I was away, she kept my husband company and opened the door to the parade of friends who brought meals. Despite the warnings of nurses not to do this, B.A. has spent most of his time lying flat in bed for three and a half weeks, getting up to have supper in the dining-room.

Now here is my terrible confession: since I spend eight hours a day wrestling with news stories--contacting people for quotes, trying to use online information without plagiarising online sources--it has been easier just to leave B.A. in bed where he wants to be anyway. How much personal autonomy B.A. actually has is an open question. His vocabulary is fine, and he has no trouble arguing. Doctors speak to him as if he were completely compos mentis, respecting his wishes even to the point of asking him if he minds if I am there while they talk to him. Clearly he is not a 12 year old boy to be ordered around.  If B.A. wants to lie in bed all day hugging a radio, who am I to judge, eh?

And meanwhile--worse confession--if I have spare time before I start work, I want to spend it (preferably in a cafe) with a coffee studying languages, not talking to B.A., whose conversational range is extremely limited right now.

I was home on Monday, horribly jet-lagged. I was up early on Tuesday, putting my mother on the train to Glasgow as she made her way back to Canada. I wrote all Tuesday. Then I was up early on Wednesday: another day of news writing. Then on Thursday all my efforts to work conscientiously from 11 to 7 (or thereabouts) came to a crashing halt when B.A. turned his head on his pillow and I saw he had a bedsore on his ear.

It has been a long time since I cried. I cried. Apparently he started the sore on Thursday, the day I left. It took me three days to see it. THREE DAYS.

"Don't cry, darling," said B.A. "I get them there all the time."

Apparently B.A. has super-sensitive ear lobes that chafe against any old harder pillow, let alone an ergonomic one. But that wasn't much consolation as I pawed through papers looking for his surgeon's phone number. The surgeon is on holiday (the number one obsession of every working person in the UK: holidays), but I did talk to a GP and to my sister-in-law in Canada, who is a medical doctor herself. That was more or less it for my work output that day.

Perhaps it was the shock of my shock that made B.A. less resistant to having a bath. He doesn't like baths because the porcelein tub hurts his bones, and he is afraid that the shower will wash away the dressing on his head wound. This time I put a bath towel down in the tub so he could sit on that, and before he got in, I checked him all over for any other bedsores. Thank heavens, he didn't have any.

But I also put him on the scale, which I hadn't done for at least a week, and was horrified yet again. B.A. now weighs less than the average British 14 year old.  On Friday morning, a GP from the local medical centre arrived and suggested B.A. take only half of the rather aggressive drug he's been taking for a month.

Then there was an Illustrative Incident. After seeing that B.A's bedsore was (as I feared) infected, the doctor began to write a prescription for penicillin.  Worried--since if B.A. loses any more weight he will have to go on a drip--I asked if penicillin wouldn't make B.A. feel too sick to eat. The doctor thought about that and then wrote a prescription for a topical cream instead. So no disrespect meant to our GPs (who are very kindly people), but even they are not infallible, and clearly I have take more responsibility for my husband's recovery myself.

That was it for Friday's journalism day. I spent most of it talking to B.A., cajoling him out of bed, taking him for a walk (more cajoling necessary), settling him in a CHAIR to watch documentaries, and watching him eat his meals.

And that was quite okay with LSN, because-as you might hope in a leading pro-life, pro-family organisation--LSN puts family first.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Marriage Advice for the Young Ones

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 July 2017

Polski Piątek Returns!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Che Gioia!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

While Waiting for the Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Small Town Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

I Return to the World of Blogging

Hello there, my little chickadees!

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

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

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

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

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