Monday, 21 August 2017

Sweatpants to Freeze the Blood

In the ongoing struggles of Amoris Laetitia, the blood-freezing spectre of your spouse's personality changing in a radical way was introduced by a priest telling the sad story of a Catholic woman whose Catholic husband was badly hurt in a traffic accident. The accident left him miserable, and he became addicted to painkillers, as people in pain frequently do. He became abusive and got involved in crime and eventually ended up in prison. His young wife, the mother of his children, divorced him, hooked up with a new chap, and sat with the new chap in church weeping while her children received their First Communion. They were weeping because they couldn't receive the Blessed Sacrament.

The priest wrote the story in a manner to make us feel really sorry for the irregularly remarried wife and not at all sorry for her awful, abusive, cop-killer husband languishing in prison. It is the first time in my life I have read an article by a Catholic priest tailored to make a human being seem like disposable rubbish--yet another reason to approach Amoris Laetitia with caution.   However skilfully the priest wrote the story  (and however sympathetic the marriage tribunal) there was no getting around the fact that all the misfortunes and personality changes that befell this young Catholic man happened AFTER the wedding. It was a terrible, TERRIBLE situation, but let's face it, it was worse on him, and he was--and is--somebody's husband.

In case you are wondering, Benedict Ambrose has not become addicted to painkillers. Au contraire. I can't get him to take a paracetamol because he thinks it will make him nauseous. But he is having a terrible struggle with his temper, which is a lot more painful for him than for me, poor chap.  I don't know how one makes peace with chronic pain; if a saint has written about it, I will buy the book.

Since moving hurts him, it is a struggle to get him up, washed, dressed, down the stairs and out the door for some exercise. Yesterday after Mass I ran like mad through Edinburgh's Waverley Station to catch the train back home, cutting in front of some youths who shouted "EXCUSE ME!" at my back. Friends were coming to visit B.A., and I had a lot to do beforehand.

I didn't notice what the youths were wearing as I popped in front of them because I was beyond caring. Normally part of social life in Edinburgh is judging books by the covers, which is to stay, looking out for potentially dangerous members of the Socially Excluded class. The Socially Excluded of Edinburgh are probably exclusively white-and-Scottish, so this is not an inter-racial concern unless of course you are a minority person which--come to think of it--I instantly become when a Scot hears my accent. When B.A. and I are confronted by a Socially Excluded person, I keep my mouth shut and B.A. delves into the patois of his working-class roots.

Incidentally "Socially Excluded" is the polite term for chav. The British class system is by no means gone; in fact, in some ways it is worse. Drunkenness and violence among the urban poor (who now have money instead of religion) are as much of a feature as they were in Queen Victoria's day. One learns to spot a chav at 100 yards, and one of the signs is that the chav wears sweatpants in public.

The one and only British person I know socially who wears sweatpants in public is the neighbourhood grump, a former enfant terrible of English letters, who instead of growing into an eminence grise remains an enfant terrible at 70. I assume he wears sweatpants because he can't be bothered not to. Being cornered by him at a party is a horror; when he found out I had no idea what his career had been, he was nastily sarcastic.

I gave B.A. his first pair of sweatpants in 25 years when he started Pilates class. Unfortunately, Pilates class is now completely impractical and the sweatpants have been downgraded to pyjama bottoms. Normally when B.A. goes out in public, I get out his jeans. Since he has lost about 40 lbs since  March, none of his trousers fit, so the jeans stay on only thanks to braces (suspenders). Yesterday, thanks to time constraints, I made a snap decision and reached for his newly washed sweatpants. To make up for them, I added a hand knitted green cable pullover to the ensemble.


I was not around the whole time our guests were talking to B.A.--for awhile I was flying about getting tea, coffee, biscuits--but apparently he was "crotchety." And when I heard this my heart sank to my feet because my formerly good-natured husband never ever ever exhibited irritation  in front of guests. He was truly the most easy-going, most amiable and cheerful chap alive. His company manners were perfection. He would never even describe the Socially Excluded as I have above for fear of hurting someone's feelings. Being judged as "crotchety" was new.

And then the coup-de-grace.

"Maybe he'll turn into [the Neighbourhood Grump]," said a guest cheerfully.

Dear God, let that not be so. Something new to worry about, and how I wish those words had remained unsaid. How my poor B.A. could be likened at all to the Neighbourhood Grump, quite apart from completely understandable pain-induced crotchetiness, can be down to only one thing: those terrible sweatpants.

Update in Defence of Scottish Chavs: Whenever I write about Socially Excluded Scots, I always try to remember that as scary as they can be, the chavs/neds are the victims of history. Not only did the post-war collapse in heavy industry hit Scotland particularly hard, the two hope-filled ideologies of working-class Scots--communism and Christianity--also largely disappeared by 2000. Thanks to the Sexual Revolution, the traditional family was terribly weakened. Then there was the heroin and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, so accurately depicted in Trainspotting. My Scottish great-grandparents missed all that.  Meanwhile, public drunkenness happens throughout British society. This isn't new. What is new (that is, post-1963) is that British women also get falling down drunk.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The New Life

I'd forgotten the importance of Saturdays to people with full-time jobs. Of course, not all full-timers have the luxury of Saturdays anymore, which is a doleful thought. However, speaking as a former freelancer, having a Monday to Friday job gives Saturday a golden glow.

Not that Saturdays are work-free. Saturdays are now for housework, but this has become easier since I began the Great Tidy, inspired by Marie Kondo. As usual, I have come late to a cultural sensation. Just as now I have a MacBook Pro and an iPhone, I have read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. That is, I skimmed half of it at the bookstore, and then listened to the audiobook on my new-to-me iPhone.

I am hoping for some life-changing magic, but so far I have only gone through my clothes and books and a fair number of papers. Miscellaneous stuff will be a challenge, but in the meantime, I pick things up and stuff them on the pile by the attic stairs (to go down and out; we live in an attic). Sometimes a kind friend with a car comes by and takes the stuff away to charity shops. This is wonderful, and worth the interruption of my work day, should the kind friend arrive mid-week.

My work day begins at 9, more or less. I had a lovely idea that I was going to work 11 - 7, which would reasonably overlap the editors' Eastern Standard time (a morning person, I drew the line at working 2 PM - 10 PM). I'm an early riser, so I looked forward to spending a few hours in the morning studying languages.

However, thanks to doctors' home visits, plumbers, electricians, medical emergencies, Holy Days of Obligation, and sheer exhaustion, I have finally worked out that it is better to start journalism at 9 AM and aim to finish around 7 PM, except on Wednesdays (Polish class 9 AM) and Thursdays (Italian class 9:30 AM). That way, it doesn't matter so much if there is an extensive mid-day interruption. (Language study has to be stuffed into odd corners of the day.)

"It's too late," said Benedict Ambrose yesterday when, at 7:30 PM, I rousted him out of bed for some exercise. An update on Joe Baklinski reveals that Joe, despite being in great pain, his muscles turned to mincemeat, gets out of bed constantly to see what his family is up to. Benedict Ambrose is the exact opposite. He would lie in bed all day long listening to BBC 4 in the dark if I didn't pop into the room at intervals to open the shutter; bring food; transmit news; bring the post; get him out of bed to exercise, to wash, to greet visitors. He responds to attempts to drag him from bed with complaints, then apologies and finally thanks. It's exhausting.

Exercise is usually walking around and around the front lawn, which is bounded by a big stone wall, a gateway delicately barred by a chain, and some woods. People walk their dogs in the woods and, if badly brought up, gawk at B.A. and me as we make our painful way around the quad. B.A. wears a thick white terrycloth bathrobe with a hood, so he looks rather like a Carthusian monk--to me, that is. I doubt the gawkers could pick a Carthusian monk out of a line-up.

B.A. hates being stared at, so the best time to go for walks is at 5 PM, which is when we know the House will be clear of staff and visitors, but the woods haven't yet filled up with dog-walkers. Naturally it is awful having to leave my desk when I am in the middle of an article I desperately want to finish, but that is the way it is--unless it is too cold. Yesterday afternoon was terribly cold, so after I went to the office in the Historical Stable Block for the post, my conscience allowed me to keep my head down until 7:30 PM, when I filed a piece about Cardinal Burke's proposed correction of Pope Francis, and went to see B.A.

B.A., a living skeleton, was curled up in bed under the duvet.

"It's too late," he protested when I told him it was time to get up.

"It's not too late," I said. "But you don't have to go outside. It's too cold. We are doing something else today."

"Something else" was a few very gentle warm-up exercises and the rowing machine. Complaining mildly and asserting that he couldn't even sit down in the rowing machine, B.A. sat down and, to our mutual amazement, rowed 20 strokes.  It turns out he has some strength in his arms (and back) after all, which is astonishing.

Having rowed, he then sat on the sofa wrapped up in a duvet and watching "Celebrity MasterChef" on BBC iPlayer while I went to the kitchen and made potato pancakes (aka latkes aka placki ziemniaczane). Then, as B.A. was still willing to eat, I made an almond flour cake and custard to pour over it. Finally, I washed the dishes and swept the kitchen floor. 

So yesterday worked out very nicely after all, and I was very moved to discover that more of you donated to the Joe Baklinski fund. I don't know why it is, but I am intensely sentimental about Catholic dads of eight who get hurt on the job. Maybe it's because my dad is a Catholic dad of five. If a wall had fallen on my dad, we kids would have been out of our minds with worry and fear---and he wasn't a self-employed stonemason. Until April, when he finally retired, he was a briefcase-carrying professor backed up by a fire-breathing union. 

Meanwhile, I have already taken out the trash and the recycling, so before I get back to my Saturday cleaning tasks, I will begin to memorise a beautiful list of Polish trees and flowers. Hitherto my tutor has given me useful "Catholic" words and phrases (objawienie, for example, means revelation) useful to my new job. Thus I am curious as to why she has prioritised trees and flowers. Still it's a nice treat, if impractical. 

Update: Although clearly married life has tremendous challenges when something goes terribly wrong--even when it is nobody's fault--it still feels better than being Single-and-unvowed-with-no-one-but-oneself-to-care-for because the point of Christian life is service, and when your spouse is chronically ill, it is almost impossible not to serve. Service is built right-in. 

Meanwhile, being too busy also feels better than not being busy enough. One thing that has fallen by the wayside since B.A.'s diagnosis is my anti-depressant pill. For whatever reason, my brain seems to be churning out serotonin like a luxury chemistry set. Although I occasionally feel lonely, I sleep like a baby. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

One Thing You Could Do

Hello, readers!

Thank you for your kind comments and the anonymous card that got to me today! It says "This too will pass"--you know who you are, even if I don't! :-D

Blogging will still be light for a while because I am essentially working two full time jobs--journalist and caregiver--and I have no idea how working mothers do it, to tell you the truth, especially if they work from home.

You can follow my writing (or reportage, not really the same thing) at LifeSiteNews for the time being. But also there is something very dear to my heart. We don't really need money, but back home in Ontario there's a Catholic father of eight (EIGHT!) who was hurt badly on the Feast of the Assumption and will be out of work for some time, probably all winter.

So if you would like to do something for Benedict Ambrose and me, for whatever reason, it would be really awesome if you would give to the fund for Joe Baklinski. If you do it, just leave an anonymous (if you like) "Done" in the combox, and then I will report it to B.A., who will be cheered and edified. I will say "Because people are sorry you are sick, they gave to a fund for a sick dad of 8."

As much as we mourn not having kids, at least we don't have to worry about feeding any kids--or providing them with a merry Christmas.

Thank you very much for your prayers and kind thoughts, and now I'm back to translating this interview by Przewodnik Katolicki with Cardinal Paglia.

Incidentally, it's true what that Google Memo guy said: 93% of workplace fatalities in the USA (and probably also Canada) happen to men. I looked it up after hearing about Joe Baklinski.

Monday, 14 August 2017

"What Can We Do?"

Yesterday kind people in my Latin Mass community asked what they could do. Someone asked if he or she could bring food, and I said we had food worked out. Really, the only kindness I have been able to think of is people with cars coming to take away bags of reusables to charity shops and boxes of rubbish to the local tip. Seeing our flat empty of useless stuff is one of my principal joys. I have very little time to clean, so the less there is to trip over, the better.

However, this morning I woke up deeply depressed after nightmares, and I have thought of something else. 

Greeting cards. 

Greeting cards are great because the feeling of being alone is really crushing right now. This is the dark side of moving across the ocean to start a "new life" (at the decidedly ripe old age of 38) in romantic Scotland: isolation. I have no family here, and B.A.'s family is... Well, it's complicated, but hasn't really been a problem until now.

(By the way, I think the day is coming--if it has not already come--when the British are astonished to discover that once upon a time people relied on their families and provided for their families, and it was assumed that family members both recognised and cared for each other materially--if need be--and emotionally instead of merely wishing each other well on their individual journeys towards self-fulfilment among "partners" and drinking buddies. At its very best, that's what the death of the British family looks like.)

Occasionally B.A. gets a greeting card from someone he knows through work, and I read it to him, and I feel that's really quite nice. But I don't know the person, so I don't get the lift that recognising a familiar name brings. 

Yesterday I got a wonderful email from Polish Pretend Daughter. She was in a lather of indignation at all B.A.'s doctors and wanted a list of all his drugs so she (bio-chemist) could check them out. She longs to cross-examine these doctors but feared they wouldn't talk to her because she wasn't family. 

I am so grateful she cares so much---and amused that she thinks British doctors, as a group, are that willing to talk to family.

Last week I got a letter from Polish Pretend Son (no relation to the above), in which he told me he was praying for B.A. every day. That meant so much, too. 

Then there was the email from our sister-in-law, informing us of a cash gift waiting to go into one of our bank accounts. Simply lovely---and repaired the financial damage of all the taxi rides to hospitals. 

The phone is mostly quiet, and I'm glad about that because from Monday to Friday, I am simply overwhelmed by work. But the brilliance of greeting cards from family and friends is that I can open them and read them when I am actually at leisure. 

Greeting cards--and letters--are also marvellous because they ask for nothing, e.g. a response. They are pure gift and a way of saying "Hey, you're not alone. We aren't avoiding you because we think your bad luck might be contagious." 

Now I know what to do when someone I know is long-term sick: send stuff: greeting cards, letters, flowers, whatever.  This will give the receivers (at least the one well enough) a little lift and help them not feel abandoned and alone.

(That said, when I had to be away for work, and therefore wasn't here to cook, it was absolutely fantastic that friends brought food.)

As for other things--like taking B.A. out for an hour--it's complicated because B.A. is in such rough shape that there are few people he actually wants to see: he's embarrassed by the way he looks, and he's in pain so often, he can't make the cheerful conversation he thinks guests deserve. (And grateful thanks here to Polish Pretend Daughter's husband, who is someone B.A. enjoy seeing, for his visits.)

I could hire a private nurse for an hour a day or a week, but B.A. is dead set against that. And actually the hour I take B.A. for slow walks around the front lawn--B.A. complaining bitterly half the time and very ill-bred members of the public staring at us--is incredibly important to me. 

"Thank you for doing this," says B.A. between groans and complaints.

"It's my job," I say, and it is. It really is. Nobody is allowed to take that part away from me. Same goes for the baths, and helping someone chemically stripped of body fat to take a bath is no picnic.

So I am very much the picture of "the dog in the manger" who won't let anyone (or almost anyone) help with B.A. himself while complaining inwardly about lack of help.

But it's not help I need. It's tangible greetings from friends and family I can touch and read and take to B.A.  Children's drawings would be nice, too. I once got a thank-you note from a courtesy nephew--it featured a drawing of a bush baby--and I still have it. It's so cute--rather like the artist!

So to friends wondering what they can do: that's what you can do. Thank you! 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Jestem Znowu Słynna w Polsce

Well. not as famous as Mary Wagner, obviously. But clearly someone in Poland reads LSN.

One nice commentator wants me to get honorary Polish citizenship. That might come in handy. Another commentator says that Poland's cultural strength is due not to Catholicism but to ancient Slavic customs that not even Catholicism could destroy. Yet another says that ...

Well, let's just say there seems to be a great diversity of opinion underneath the Polish report about my report about Poland. It reminds me of the Patriots' rally on Polish Independence Day (November 11), which ranged from ordinary patriotic families to a small number hardcore neo-pagan "white power" fanatics.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Poland and the Culture of Life

It's Friday night, and I am officially done for the week, although I didn't get much done yesterday after B.A.'s hospital visit, so I think I'll be working on a story or two tomorrow.

Here is one of two long pieces I worked on today. This is the Polish-comes-in-handy piece. The second piece (Update: now up) is the Italian-comes-in-handy piece. Toddle over to LSN and keep an eye out for it.

I read something very interesting the other day--an interview with Saint John Paul 2's great friend Cardinal Dziwisz. Cardinal Dziwisz observed that Poles send lots of money to charities helping refugees abroad (i.e. not in Poland), which is not something the Western press has thought fit to mention. Dziwisz was not in favour of Open Borders, which shows that he is sane. As we know, Poland's borders have been pretty vulnerable over the past 250 years.

The reason I didn't get much done after B.A.'s hospital visit is that we were both wiped out from the efforts of getting to the hospital and back again, especially as B.A. can't walk very much or see very well. At the hospital we were told that he wasn't going to lose the sight in his left eye after all. We didn't know his eye had been quite that bad, but apparently five weeks ago the back if it was a terrible mess of inflammation, haemorrhage and general nastiness.

Anyway, I think I was felled by the shock of the opthamologist's after-the-fact plain speaking. When we got home I whipped up a comforting pot of "stovies" (a kind of Scottish stew) made according to B.A.'s mother's recipe and cooked real custard and baked a real cake for a real strawberry trifle I assembled this morning for B.A.s' breakfast.

Marriage can be really hard. Have I mentioned? Marriage can be really hard because life can be really hard. Still, I am hoping we both come out of this brain-tumour misfortune better people.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Warsaw Uprising

August 1st marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1 August 1944 - 2 October 1944). This was the city-wide one, not the earlier, smaller Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (19 April 1943 - 16 May 1943), of which you may have already heard.

So, yes, there were two Uprisings, and the second would have worked had the Soviets taken advantage of the situation and come on in. However, they sat outside Warsaw and cooly waited for the Germans to kill all the leaders and raze the place. You can read all about that here. As usual, the Polish experience of the Second World War was even worse than I thought before I learned a little more.  In related news, my new Polish textbook informs me that "feeder of lice" is "karmiciel wszy" in Polish.

When I was in Warsaw last November, I stayed in a priests' residence very near the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (lit: Museum of the Warsaw Uprising)  and so not only did I visit it, it became one of my landmarks. For once jagged contemporary bunker-like architecture was totally appropriate.

Inside, however, it was incredibly noisy and jarring, in part because my arrival coincided with that of young teenagers on a school trip. I seem to remember panels in English, but as usual I tried to read the Polish first, and felt badly when I couldn't understand them--which was foolish as "The Boy Scouts risked execution by carrying messages through the sewer tunnels" is not everyday conversation. Naturally, everything I read was terribly sad, and I felt like I was intruding on a private sorrow.

There was a cinema section with films; that was a relief as I could sit invisibly in the dark. The films were surviving footage of the Uprising, created to hearten the Varsavians themselves. And there was a small exhibit in honour of a Home Army poet Kristina Krahelska codenamed "Danuta": her "Hey, Boys, fix bayonets" song had been my Polish study club's anthem for a few weeks, so she was a familiar sight in the noisy mechanical wilderness of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Don't get me wrong: the Museum is fantastic and an absolute must-see, but possibly not a mentally healthy excursion for the solitary traveller. Go with a guide or a Polish friend and be prepared to say "Gracious, how sad!" or "Goodness, how brave!" every five minutes. No Pole would resent a foreigner being there because one of their national missions is informing foreigners just how awful the Second World War was for all the Poles, not just the Jews.

Here's a little video put out by the Museum to make everyone cry:

The one with the nurse makes me cry, too.

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. 

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.