Sunday, 26 March 2017

Laetare, Ierusalem!

Hooray! It is Laetare Sunday--a Rose Sunday--and that means Lent is drawing to a close. At least, we are two-thirds of the way through, and tradition calls for a celebration. In days of yore Benedict Ambrose and I went to (or hosted) a dinner party featuring pink foods (like barszcz, ham and strawberry fool) and pink alcohol of varying quality. Since then we have become more abstemious and more prone to going to bed unsociably early, so today we had just had a late lunch at Edinburgh's Bar Napoli.

Another reason for celebration and thanksgiving: yesterday was Edinburgh's first warm day in weeks and weeks or months and months. B.A. and I carried folding chairs to the top of the Historical House's rather grand porch and basked in the sun. (I basked under my giant green straw hat.) The sky was as blue and cloudless as Our Lady's mantel, which was apt as yesterday was Lady Day.

But back to Bar Napoli, where B.A. and I shared a plate of calamari before B.A. tucked into a bowl of spaghetti carbonara and I chowed down on scallopini con limone. I also ordered a Big Glass of House Red, which was wild and crazy for me these days whereas B.A. made do with the bottle of sparkling mineral water. We were prepared to go without vegetables, but to our surprise, the waiter brought a side dish of green beans and cooked potato halves.

I was happy to see the green beans, but dubious about the potatoes as I have not eaten a potato since long before Ash Wednesday. However, I forked up an experimental piece of potato, and it was heavenly. Simply heavenly. We think it was roasted in garlic butter. Although we looked at the dessert menu, I decided that I would rather have another piece of buttery, garlicky potato instead.

Since it is Laetare Sunday and we may be frivolous, I shall reveal that I have lost 13 pounds since I weighed myself at my parents' house in Toronto circa February 15. I know this because I finally went out and bought a new bathroom scale, not only to how much weight I was losing, but to make sure B.A. wasn't losing too much. I am also--as you see--still alive after five weeks of eating approximately 800 calories a day--although I put this down to the fact that the most exercise I do is walk to the supermarket and back (2.4 miles, 1.2 miles with a knapsack full of groceries). Do not attempt this if you live in an agrarian society, work in a factory or find yourself in the gulag.

Five weeks of living on such a ridiculously low number of calories has its lessons. I should write them all up and sell them to a magazine. But here are some freebee observations:

1. When you have not eaten a potato or anything made of potatoes for five weeks (or more), a potato roasted in garlic butter is like CANDY. It is CANDY.

2. Real candy seems rather pointless and disgusting. The thought of a box of chocolates--even high-end ones like, say, Godiva--leaves me cold. THE most amazing sweetmeats in existence--as you can be sure I have told B.A.--are soft DATES stuffed with WALNUT HALVES. There was a day a week or two ago in which I went over ye olde 800 calorie limit because I kept filling the dates I bought for B.A. with walnut halves and then guiltily eating them.

When Easter comes, I hope B.A. painstakingly replaces the stones of dates with walnut halves, sticks the dates in ruffles, puts them in a fancy box and presents them to me as a gift. I recommend this also for our wedding anniversary, Christmas, my birthday and Valentine's Day. (He can reuse the fancy box.)

3. When on the Blood Sugar Diet, keep dates out of the house.

4. After a while, you do get used to the following:

a) eating breakfast very late
b) having only coffee for breakfast
c) never snacking
d) never eating bread, potatoes or rice or any prepared food
e) going for hours and hours without food

You never get used to eating only 800 calories a day, however.

5. The higher in cocoa dark chocolate is, the higher in calories it is. Cocoa fat is higher in calories than sugar. However, sugar is STILL worse for you than cocoa fat. Ponder the mystery and eat only one square at a sitting, preferably as part of your incomplete supper.

6.  There is absolutely nothing like eating when you are actually hungry, not to mention hungry and tired. When you eat lunch and feel like it has actually made a new woman out of you--that's a great feeling. Those Eastern Christians sure know what they're doing when they fast like it's 999.

Update: I have been reading up on dates. Apparently they are 60% fructrose or something ridiculous like that, so perhaps it would be a bad idea to eat more than one or two of my Date-Walnut Sweetmeats a day. Interestingly, they would be about 34 calories each; a square of 85% dark chocolate is about 52.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

My Only Story for Now

The tale of B.A.'s brush with death (with B.A's real name) can now be read in Catholic World Report. The limitations of the original 800 word cut-off have been remarked upon in the combox. It's a fair cop.

I am not having the most life-opening Lent, I must say. My world has shrunk to the Historical House, B.A's activities and my shopping paths. However, it is a mercy I am on the Blood Sugar Diet because the way I usually deal with stress is to stuff my little face with comforting food. I can't make up my mind if dieting is a more or less self-absorbed activity than indulging in eating whatever one wants whenever one wants to eat it. It's a good lesson in short-term pain for (hopefully) long-term gain. But it sad that my most enthusiastic Lenten reading is about food.

Here are my current thoughts:

1. How is Benedict Ambrose today?
2. What household task needs to be done first?
3. Can I get away without doing any household task?
4. Why did I leave the household tasks until now? AAAAARGH!
5. I do like the new bed. Stylish and comfortable.
6. Will this dress do for E's wedding?
7. Is it too soon to have another coffee?
8. Does one use the Polish instrumental case in this context? (Answer to B.A's "What are you thinking about?")
9. Have I written for money recently? I really need to write something not about myself or B.A. soon.
10. Do I need to buy a jacket for E's wedding?
11. Will I be the only woman besides the bride in a floor-length gown? Oh dear...
12. Maybe I gave Sir Arthur Evans too much credit in my last Ancient Greek class and ought to say something about Henrich Schliemann, too.
13. Why can't I find the score for the Greek Orthodox "Phos Hilaron" anywhere?
14. Are we going to get to the bottom rung of the Edinburgh property market before it's too late and we can never, ever save enough for a deposit?
15. What kind of hat can one wear with a strapless floor-length gown?
16. Why must the British always wear hats to weddings?
17. How shocked will Benedict Ambrose be if I don't wear a hat to this wedding?
18. Oh good. I weigh 3/4 of a pound less today than yesterday.
19. Goodness me, the Westminster Terrorist's daughter wears a face veil.
20. Why am I more stressed out by B.A.'s medical appointments than he is?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Edinburgh's Precocious Children

Short lapse from Lenten discipline for this sad tale of Edinburgh life.

*Warning: Statutory rape discussion ahead.*

I first saw this story in a Scottish newspaper two days ago and was inspired by the shocking headline to read further. What I read made me feel extremely sorry for the Polish boy who--as I remarked to B.A.--was nevertheless in a state of mortal sin. Hopefully his parents have dragged him over the coals and sent him to confession.

It is interesting hat the judge did not mention "cultural issues", as is occasionally done. The sexual dissolution has made inroads in Poland, but I would be surprised to hear that parents there allow their twelve year old daughters to traipse about at night, talk to boys at taxi stands, and feel free enough to go with strangers to parties. Thus, I can well understand why, when these Edinburgh 12 and 13 year olds told a 19 year old Polish stranger that they were 16 and 17, he believed them.

The observations I can bring to the discussion is that I see any number of (I think--it's hard to tell) pre-teen girls on the Rough Bus wearing skin-tight leggings over their round bottoms and occasionally I shudder at a child's thick make-up. The make-up bothers me much more than their cheerful call-outs to strangers since this is Scotland and chatting happily with strangers is a time-honoured Scottish custom. However, it is a total contrast to life in Poland, where people do not smile at strangers, let alone strike up friendly conversations with them on the bus. In my experience, if an adult woman like me looks at a male stranger, he will know at once and stare back, thinking goodness knows what.

Hopefully this very sad story is at very least a warning to young men who come to Scotland that sometimes girls who act and look like and claim to be older girls are actually only 10 or 12. A commentator asked if boys should be expected to ask for ID, and my answer is "Yes."  Other commentators have echoed my grim thoughts about the girl's parents, but not only parents are to blame for the behaviour of twelve year olds. Pop culture has been selling sex to children for decades now, and local children eat up pop culture like ice-cream. When B.A. shushed a pair of noisy girls who were harassing two quiet girls on the Rough Bus, they began to sing some pop song they had down word-perfect.

I am not sure what this says about me, but the part of the story that had me tight-lipped with anger was the twelve-year-old's worrying to others that she might be pregnant. It was not enough that she had had a one night stand with a "fit" guy she met in a taxi queue---no, she had to have some DRA-MA. This, I tell myself, is unfair. She is, after all, only twelve. And presumably pregnancy worries are a natural and unpleasant part of pre-teen sex lives.

On the other hand, considering that her lust (but for what?) and lies led to a young man's name and photo being splashed across Britain's national newspapers, I do wonder how much slack we should cut a girl just because she's twelve. He's named; she's not. She lied. He didn't. She may have known what they were doing was against the law in Scotland. He didn't knowingly consent to having sex with a girl her age. (When he found out she was only 12, he burst into tears.) Nevertheless, headlines call him a rapist. She isn't called anything. So far any public anger I've seen is directed towards her (unnamed) parents.*

*Update: Well, Poles have something to say, (Roughly) e.g. " To zepsuta moralnie dziewczyna jest winna." (Roughly, "It [her behaviour] is morally wrong; the girl is guilty.") They are also fighting among each other about Queen Jadwiga and telling lurid stories about the behaviour of modern day teenage Polish girls. "World has gone to dogs," says one grumpy chap.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Saint Patrick's Day Gratitude

Not that we confuse football with religion
Benedict Ambrose was discharged from the hospital last Friday, and here it is Friday again. That's a week we might not have had together, but we did, thanks to Providence and a handful of Edinburgh doctors who were on the ball.

Life is returning to normal. Yesterday morning I waved good-bye to my brother from the platform of the local railway station, and yesterday evening I went to Polish class. In the break I was invited to tell everyone where I had been for the past several weeks, and my narrative went (in Polish): I was in Canada, and then I had jet lag, and then I was angry because I hadn't done any homework, and then I was sick, and then my husband was VERY sick in the hospital. "Benign tumour" in Polish is  nowotwór łagodny. You're welcome. (Interestingly, "monster" is  potwór.)

The general opinion of my Polish class was that we were unusually lucky that the gears of the Edinburgh medical establishment moved so quickly for us, and when I suggested it might be because B.A. is relatively young, there was general agreement.

The past week has been full of gifts for which to be grateful. First, Benedict Ambrose was at home and cheerful, if tired. Second, Nulli arrived on Thursday--how glad I was to see him!--and was a comforting, dinner-making, dish-washing presence. Some afternoons we did a little sightseeing, which got me out of the house and left B.A. to a cozy, quiet afternoon of reading, and in the evenings we watched episodes of Season One from "Scarecrow and Mrs King" on Nulli's snazzy Mac laptop.

"It's very cute how you two giggle together," said B.A., who had heard us from his scholarly bed, and his curiosity was piqued enough to join us for subsequent viewings of "SMK".  Nulli and I watched it when it aired in the mid-eighties, and I marvel now that all the "adult humour" went over our young heads. Neither did I notice that every episode involves Scarecrow getting beaten up and Mrs King being kidnapped. I had quite the crush on Bruce Boxleitner although my preteen brain understood he belonged mystically to Kate Jackson. Now I would happily steal Scarecrow from her if it were 1983, and I wasn't married to B.A., and I was over 18, and it weren't all fiction.

All four seasons of SMK cost £37 on, and I am thinking about it. I am only thinking, not buying, because (third great gift of the week) we all went to the local mall on Wednesday and bought a King-sized mattress and then a King-sized bed. The mattress was the gift of B.A.'s mother, who seized on my remark that we had thought B.A.'s sore neck was down to needing a new mattress and stuffed mattress-money into our bank account. The bed came from the change and our savings, so I am not in a terribly spendthrift mood. There are also King-sized linens and duvet to buy, and I am frog-marching B.A. to Pilates class after Easter, so he finally gets some muscle-building exercise. However, I must say that I very much enjoyed watching "Scarecrow and Mrs King" en famille as if it were the Eighties again.

This post is not particularly Lenten, but it is Saint Patrick's Day, which I still keep, if in a very minor way now. (SPD is not such a big deal in Edinburgh.)  My friends over at Laodicea have posted a rousing version of Saint Patrick's Breastplate, which is one of the most powerful prayers I have ever encountered. When I dress, I shall don my rhinestone-studded green Edinburgh Hibernians T-shirt. My father's food traditions are German, not Irish, however, so I think we'll just be eating our usual (and, in Edinburgh, ubiquitous) salmon for supper.

Having embraced life in Scotland, I ask myself annually if I should bother wearing green for Saint Patrick, but then I think about my father's fathers (and his mother's mothers) and acknowledge that his Catholicism, and my Toronto Catholicism, is of a what used to be a very Irish order. So I'm wearing green for my fathers and the faith of my fathers. My convert mother's people were actual Orangemen. Hee hee hee!

Blood Sugar Diet Update: Still plodding away on about 800 - 900 calories a day.  No bread, no potatoes, no rice, very little sugar. I eat tons of veg, particularly dark leafy greens--but I keep catching colds. Four weeks to go!

Polish Arts Update: Thoughtful Polish response to the beauty of the pear-shaped :

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Carer Crashes and Burns with Resentment

Resentful Canadian 
Hey, guess what? Writing your biweekly paid column on your husband's brush with death is incredibly emotionally exhausting! Who knew?

I figured it out when I got my brother and myself completely lost on our way to chic and scenic Stockbridge yesterday. As there wasn't much for Nulli to do yesterday afternoon, I thought I'd show him some of the sights. First, though, I had to get completely confused, lost, called out of the path of a homicidal double-decker bus, etc. Don't even ask about my total meltdown when my plans to bring B.A. back some Chinese takeaway were brought up short by the realization I had no idea where there was a decent Chinese takeaway on that side of the University.

"I think I'm crashing," I said shortly before the bus incident and didn't really feel quite myself until I had demolished a bun-less hamburger and cider vinegar-laden sweet potato fries in Holyrood 9A aka "the best hamburger joint in Edinburgh", as I promised Nulli. (Unsurprisingly, I have not been adhering as stringently to the LBS Diet Cookbook this week.) Feeling myself only lasted until the finding-a-Chinese-takeaway incident. There are some really, really, really terrible Chinese/Thai takeaways in this town, including the nadir, the one by the Historical House. Fortunately, Nulli has a sophisticated Sat-Nav on his phone. We found a little hole in the wall Chinese joint where two fat, lonely-looking Chinese students sat slurping noodles. Aces.

On Sunday afternoon I went with Nulli to my favourite hipster café to buy some coffee and, failing to find the kind I like, ordered cappuccinos instead. The place was packed---mostly with students on their laptops. It was quite a contrast to weekday mid-afternoons. But I found a space on a bench and directed Nulli to a stool by the counter across from me, and as we chatted the English girl beside me shifted impatiently, directed me annoyed looks, sighed, offered nastily to switch places with Nulli and then disappeared, looking huffy and resentful.

I was seriously offended because I knew exactly what her problem was: Canadian, like American, accents cut through the quiet Scottish air like knives, and since the average Brit can't tell the difference, lime-sucking resentment for Uncle Sam comes to the fore.

Normally I don't talk in the café, or on the bus, or to anyone in public spaces, much, except to a Scot or a Pole, so I had forgotten how loud (and American) Canadians sound in Edinburgh and how decades of anti-racism training has not stopped non-Americans from being bloody rude to Yanks. On the Rough Bus it was the same deal with the wee bearded guy in front of us: shift, shift, sigh, sigh, glare, glare. We switched to French.

Switching to French is easier for Nulli than for me. I seem to be incapable of saying "Oui" for yes. It keeps coming out Polish. And I don't ever remember seeing and hearing "Shift, Shift, Sigh, Sigh, Glare, Glare" directed at Poles. Outright hostility from the "Socially Excluded", yes.  Prissy, passive-aggressive humph-ing, no.

I have been here just long enough not to say loudly, "Does my AX-cent bother you?"  Naturally the last thing I want to do is start a rumpus on the Rough Bus.  (And the obvious retort is that it's not the accent, it's the ***** volume.) But I am coming thisss closssse to starting a rumpus anywhere else, tabernoosh, ostine.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Bach and Elizabeth David

Ours is also a first edition but the dust-jacket is gone.
Benedict Ambrose is across from me in a sitting-room chair, reading the London Review of Books. Nulli is on the sofa, programming. Earlier today I prevailed upon the latter to play a lot of Bach on the piano for the entertainment  of the former. (still in bed). Bach is one of B.A.'s favourite composers (if not THE favourite), and he loves live music above most things. Thus, although my judgement is not all that splendid at the moment--I think I am in post-shock shock or something--I am congratulating myself on my cleverness in asking Nulli to come.

Originally I was thinking moral support for me, and then I was thinking a man to help with carting B.A. about, but now I am thinking about live Bach for B.A.

As B.A. seems perfectly alright--save for that small white square on his head---I shall return to Lenten discipline regarding the internet. However, I did want to recommend any of the works of Elizabeth David (but especially French Provincial Cooking) for anyone who expects to spend any time in a hospital or clinic waiting room.

Elizabeth David is wonderfully entertaining and authoritative and--in French Provincial Cooking for example--writing about a France that has largely disappeared but is the France foreigners dream about: a France of farmers, roadside café/petrol stations worthy of Michelin stars, bourgeois Catholic households in Paris obsessed with food (but eating plain boiled fish on Fridays) and catered to by their cook, a hardworking girl up from the country.

If you like food--and I do--reading about amazing French dishes will distract you from the unpleasantnesses of an urban hospital waiting room and also forgive your wandering attention. When you lose your place in "Eggs", you can read a few observations and recipes in "Sweets".

Over 36 hours, I read, I think, all of French Provincial Cooking, first in the Eye Pavilion (between bouts of letter-writing), then in the Royal Infirmary A&E (and very cold it was in there), and then in various rooms in the Western General Hospital. The chapel had a large Bible, thank heaven: if my memory does not betray me, it was the Revised Standard English Version (Anglican).

B.A. was gratified I spent the duration of his operation and regaining consciousness praying in this chapel. He was even quite excited for a moment.

"Do they have the Blessed Sacrament reserved?" he yipped.

"Are you kidding?" I demanded. "This is Edinburgh. We LOST the Reformation, remember?"

Thereupon B.A. lost all interest in this chapel although I must say it will always be special to me. I hope and pray there will always be hospital chapels open for Christians to pray in (with a Bible within easy reach), so this is something to think about in the ongoing war on several fronts against the Christian faith. The chapel had signs posted in both the Christian and Muslim corners of the chapel stating very firmly that the chapel was for use of people of ALL faiths, and I must say I was glad of them.

Friday, 10 March 2017

How Family Should Work

The older of my two brothers is asleep in the bed in our dining-room enclave, the space B.A. and I call the "Polish Corridor" as the guests who sleep there tend to be Polish students. It's amazing what a difference it makes to have another person with me in the Historical House. On the rare occasions B.A. is away out very late at a Men Only Supper, I sense Something at the Bottom Of the Central Staircase. On Wednesday night, I thought I could sense this terrible, surely fictional, monster. Last night I did not.

(Incidentally, when you live in a Historical House, never ask if there are any ghost stories associated with it. There are ghost stories associated with the H.H. that are kept from tourists out of respect for the departed family. The worst one involves a ... Never mind.)

When my brother arrived at Edinburgh's Waverley railway station, we checked his bags into the baggage office and went for a "Full Scottish" breakfast at the nearby Cockburn Café. It was a lovely, sunny morning: just the thing for jetlag. When we got to the café, Nulli called home and discovered that his mother-in-law had cancelled her trip to Paris and her birth country so as to help his wife (her daughter) with their children while he was in Scotland with B.A. and me.

I am really touched by that. Meanwhile, my mother told her 90-something pal at the hospital where they volunteer the whole story, and Ina said something like, "My, you have a close-knit family." When my mother related this to me, I said, "Yes, we do, thank God" although actually this "close-knit" family lives in at least seven separate domiciles, none of which houses three generations, and most shelter only one. There is no iron-clad pilgrimage to senior members' home (or homes) for Sunday Dinner, although my single brother and sisters do often drop by our parents' house on Sunday evenings. The siblings can go for weeks or even months without phoning, emailing or texting each other.

Nevertheless, the bonds are strong, as this week's emergency has proved. After I got off the phone with my father (4:15 AM for me; 11:15 PM for him), my mother phoned Nulli and Ma Belle Soeur, and as Ma Belle Soeur is a doctor, she knew better than any of us what could happen and said to Nulli, "You may have to go."

As I have taken away B.A.'s computer and he can't read this, I will say that Ma Belle Soeur was thinking about the funeral arrangements. The "tiny chance" B.A. and I were told about every time he signed consent forms was apparently really 10%. After Ma Belle Soeur told my brother this Worse News, she rolled over and, exhausted from an endless day of doctoring, went to sleep while our poor Nulli stared sleeplessly at the ceiling.

But "what a difference a day makes" as the song goes. From 4 PM Wednesday, everything has been much, much happier. All the same, I would be going quietly out of my mind when at home alone, so I am SO grateful my brother is here---and SO grateful he doesn't have to worry about his kids driving his wife around the bend, thanks to his mother-in-law's wonderful decision to cancel her Paris trip.

The doctors are discussing what to do with B.A.'s brain when they have their weekly meeting today, so I ask your prayers again. I asked Polish Pretend Son to pray that it wasn't cancer, and so far it isn't cancer, so PPS's prayers seem to be efficacious. The lead surgeon, by the way, wasn't a Pole but a Czech.

Funny, by the way, how a  married couple of 40-somethings decides whom to tell when one of them is in danger of death. In our case it was:

1. Kindly neighbour-friend with car. (Transportation/grown-up of parents' generation.)*
2. FSSP priest. (Last Rites and priestly prayers.)
3. Four devoutly Roman Catholic friends by telephone text message. (Prayer warring by those who would be properly concerned and pray fervently but not feel personally devastated.)
4. My parents. (3:45 AM loneliness overcoming daughterly wish to spare parents perhaps needless worry.)
5. B.A.'s mother. (Natural Justice.)

*Invaluable, by the way. She made me take a shower when she drove me home on Wednesday evening so I could rush about backing a very late bag of overnight things for B.A.

"Have a shower," she said.

"I don't have time!" I yipped.

"Make time," she said.

My mother found this story true evidence of the neighbour's excellence.  The neighbour is sort of genteel Marxist, Guardian-reading agnostic, which I only mention to point out the deep goodness of many lefties. Sometimes the right-of-center forget.