Monday, 30 November 2015

Happy Holidays!

I am, of course, referring to Saint Andrew's Day (today), Saint Nicholas' Day (usually December 6) and Saint Lucy's Day (usually December 13). Poor old Nick and Lucy have been bumped by the Second and Third Sundays of Advent, so B.A. and I are celebrating them on the Saturday evening before.

I spent some time yesterday scraping candle wax from the toes of Saint Joseph in the Great Parish Clean-up, and it gave me opportunity time to ponder the righteous anger of the Catholic blogs I read or write for.  I was rather shaken by the depths to which Roman Catholics could go when duking it out online. In fact, I was so disgusted by the occasion for sin that is Twitter that soon after I got home, I deactivated my account.

At Boston College I wrote a lot about righteous anger as a response to blasphemy because I was fascinated by the Mohammad Cartoon Crisis. As a university student, I was pretty tired of all the blasphemous images of Our Lord and Our Lady that appeared in undergrad newspapers (although not at BC), wink, elbow, snigger, and it blew my mind when such newspapers, with all other such non-family newspapers, categorically refused to republish the Mohammad Cartoons. The Boston Phoenix was at least honest about it. To paraphrase a lot of swearing, it said the staff was too scared of potential violence.

"Can we learn from the Muslims on this?" I read out from my paper in a Thomistic ethics seminar, and my classmates shifted uneasily. And no wonder. Not only was I acknowledging that a large enough number of Muslims get their way by screaming, committing arson and killing people, I seemed to be suggesting we do that too. Mutual mediation, bruv.

There was palpable relief when I concluded, despite St. Thomas Aquinas' heartening ruling that blasphemers should be executed, that as Christians we may not scream, commit arson or kill anybody as a response to blasphemy. We first should contact the person who has so badly offended us and give them the opportunity to apologize and pledge that he will strive not to do it again. I think my ultimate punishment was sanctions. "Stop doing X or we won't buy your product." Yeah, that sounds pretty weak when people are now so scared of Muslims that they tweet "I love my Muslim neighbours" before Islamist terrorists have even stopped firing.*

It's sad to think that the sure fire way to stop blasphemy against our Lord would be such brutal and sustained violence that world leaders united in their assurances that "This has nothing to do with belief in Christ" while arresting the blasphemers. But, guess what, I discovered that the only thing that got George IV to sign the Catholic Emancipation Act was the solemn assurance that if he didn't, all Catholic Ireland would rise up and slaughter all the Protestants. This was a big fat lie, but that's how Catholicism became mainstream in the UK again.

So yelling-and-screaming is pretty tempting stuff. Traditional blogs metaphorically yelled and screamed all through the Synod (and I helped) and cries to the Cardinals to WALK OUT OF THE SYNOD actually seemed to shake them up. Naturally if our grandparents and great-grandparents had literally yelled and screamed at their parish priests before said priests started smashing up altars with sledgehammers, traditionalists would not be metaphorically screaming so much now.

Meanwhile, I believe that there is a time for yelling and screaming. For example, this Indian bishop sexually coerced a young married woman in front of her English parish, and the very English response was to send her and her fuming husband home. If I had been there, I would have given that bishop a lecture he would take to his grave.

Father Blake's post is actually about worthy reception of the Eucharist, and all the comments except mine reflect that. But one thing that occurs to me is the Impassibility of God. God doesn't literally suffer. Jesus suffered on the cross, but does not literally suffer any more. Our Lady doesn't literally suffer. The Saints don't suffer. We will not suffer either when we attain (God willing) the Beatific Vision. Blasphemers can do terrible things to Eucharistic hosts, but "they can't hurt Jesus", in the words of a priest I know. Those who are hurt by blasphemy are the same people who are hurt when a bishop insists we lick the cake off his fingers: we ourselves. We can't literally hurt God, but we can certainly hurt each other in all kinds of ways: blasphemy, detraction, libel, quarrelsomeness, chambering...

Yes, there is a time to shout, but that time is not ALL the time. And that is why I am starting my own small campaign to keep Christ in Christmas by merely saying "Thank you" when anyone wishes me a "Happy Holidays."  I am going to keep my righteous anger to a minimum, particularly as the madness on Edinburgh's major shopping streets have almost nothing to do with Christian Christmas and everything to do with Secular Christmas. Secular Christmas is the post-Christians' big holiday, so they can keep it, I hope they are successful in their pursuit of fun, and I will go to their parties, if invited.  Christian Christmas begins--for Latin Catholics--on the evening of 24 December. A number of important holy days fall between the First Sunday of Advent and New Year's Day, so anyone who wishes anyone else "Happy Holidays" is not merely being friendly, they are also accurate.

*To be honest, though, I am more inclined to think that "I love you, complete strangers!" and "I'll ride with you" is more about white people comforting ourselves that we are still in charge, still keeping outsiders oppressed/contained, and it's up to Us Nice Ones to protect "minorities" from the Bad Ones among our White Demi-God, Climate-Changing Selves. In short, "I'll ride with you" is paternalist, patronizing and probably racist. It is most definitely about expressing power---in a very weird, counter-intuitive way.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Short Homily on Blasphemy...

...for which only a few readers will divine the reasons. Sorry.

Say a chap sends a tweet he means to be cheeky (not blasphemous) to a friend over Twitter. He is referring to a theological post he wrote, and he copies in the guy he's being cheeky about, so that the guy might read the post.

Then say the mocked guy goes nuts because he assumes--not without cause--that the tweet is blasphemous.

The mocked guy then publishes the tweet he thinks is blasphemous on his blog to disgrace the mocker and bring his workplace into disrepute.

The mocked guy's readers rage in the combox about the mocker, demand that he be fired, offer conspiracy theories that he's not a Catholic but "a Jew", etc., because the stupid tweet does look blasphemous, especially after the mocked guy's side of the story.


The mocker didn't intend his tweet to be blasphemous. He published it on Twitter for two people to see.

The mocked believed the tweet to be blasphemous. He published it on his blog for as many people as possible to see.

Who has blasphemed? One, both or neither?

Single Over 50

Princess Diana's Mother, 1989
A woman in the Telegraph writes about what it is like to be "Single" (she's divorced with children) in her 50s. There's a lot of sadness in her article. She advises discontented married friends not to get divorced.  At the same time, though, she notes that there is a lot of unhappiness in middle-aged marriage.

Well, you know, there is a lot of unhappiness in middle age although, to be frank, in the west these are what might be called First World Problems: oh wah, it's harder to stay thin, one is not as attractive as one was at 27, one does not have so much potential, one is less likely than ever to become a millionaire, one's spouse has not given up that annoying habit after umpteen years, one's dear same-age friend has been diagnosed with cancer, one's knees ache half an hour into a dance (if one even goes to a dance), one sometimes feels a shooting pain in one's hand--is it early on-set arthritis?!

Frankly I feel very lucky to have met B.A. a few scant years before I turned forty because he is the right sort of person I need to have around when I am mooching about feeling middle-aged. First World Problem Story: I took out two beautiful young things for dinner and a concert as a sort of chaperone, and--no word of a lie--on my way to the power-room I glanced in a mirror and was instantly reminded of Princess Diana's mother. When, after an evening of accompanying blooming youth, I found B.A. asleep in bed, and I was enormously comforted because he looked as old as I did.

But to go back to dating at 50, good heavens. Surely at 50 it is really time to stop thinking in terms of dating and more in terms of making friends--or keeping--friends? Not only is one too old to have children (or more children), which is what sex is primarily for, SORRY,  but one is too old to adopt babies. (Many countries won't let you adopt babies after you turn 40.) If at 50 one decides to marry a friend, old or new, then that's lovely. But surely one of the joys of being in late middle-age is that it really doesn't matter as much?

My grandmother Gladys was widowed at 60, and although terrifically popular with elderly men, she never showed the slightest interest in romance, dating or marriage. She went on holiday with her old pals, she carried on volunteering with her pals (they had a band), she went to seniors events, playing cards and doing aerobics and whatnot, she listened to the radio, she smoked until double-pneumonia told her to stop, she read bodice-rippers and "sagas" late into the night and on Sundays she visited family, i.e. us.

The author of the Telegraph article says that it seems to her better to have been married with children and then divorced than to be single-never-married at 50, but then I suspect she is horrified by the very idea that her children might not have existed. There are many 50-something nuns who are quite content to go on being nuns, and I imagine (indeed, I hope) there are many 50-something women who have passed through their sorrow at never having married and had children and realized that not only are they at peace with it, they wouldn't have it differently now. (I'm still going through BA-and-I-can't-have-children grief myself.)

What is cheerful about her article is that she points out the personal freedom Single women have. The Single woman who is financially independent of a husband or family does get to make all the decisions. She doesn't have to ask permission to go on this trip or that trip or to take early retirement to go back to university or to sell all that she has and give it to the poor.

One thing that interested me most in the article was the cheeky questions the author gets as a "Single" woman over 50. I think she is too optimistic when she says no-one asks young blondes about their sex life, as everyone just assumes they have one. Maybe they didn't when she was a young blonde, but I can assure her that older married people (like male bosses) started asking me such questions when I was 17

As for remarks about married life, I agree that in general in the UK married women are considered sacrosanct and you just do not ask them such questions. An American once did make a salty remark about my marriage at a dinner party, and I hit him with my handbag, right there and then. Were I a widow, I imagine I would level a cold stare at the impertinent person through the top halves of my bifocals (which I am beginning to need) and say that I am devoted to the memory of my late husband. It seems to me that dozens of generations of over-50 British women had something to teach us about dignity.

Update: Someone who married older that I did written in to suggest I am too dismissive of later marriage. I apologize for that. Although the subject of being a Searching Single after the menopause is indeed very important, it is something of which I have no firsthand experience. The best I can say is that I think it must be much different to be a widow, looking back fondly (or not) on one's married days, than to be a Single-never-married. However, I hold out the hope that being Single might matter less, not more, the older we get.

Friday, 27 November 2015


I suspect most of my readers who played the Thanksgiving Survival Game of yore have gotten married or moved onto other blogs, which leaves me free to indulge once again in a Polski Piątek!

Polish night school is becoming more exciting because the teacher is now introducing Real Polish Literature. Yesterday we read a poem by Juliusz Słowacki, for whom the Słowacki Theatre (i.e. Teatr Słowackiego) in Kraków was named. Poor old Słowacki was not much appreciated in life, but now he is considered one of the most important Polish poets. 

We have been studying "diminutives" (zdrobienia) in class, and there are a fair number in the poem:

W pamiętniku Zofii Bobrówny
In the diary* of Sofia Bobrówna

Niechaj na Zośka o wiersze nie prosi
Let not Sophie ask me for a poem
Bo kiedy Zośka do ojczyzny** wróci
for when Sophie returns to Poland
Każda jej gwiazdka piosenkę zanuci.
every star will hum her a song.
Nim kwiat przekwitnie, nim gwiazdeczka zleci
For her a blossom will drop, a little star will fall
Sluchaj--bo to są najlepsi poeci.
Listen, for they are the best poets. 

Gwiazdy błękitne, kwiateczki czerwone
The sea-blue stars, the little red flowers
Będą ci całe poemata składać.
will assemble for you whole poems.
Ja bym to samo powiedział, co one,
I would say the same thing as they
Bo ja się od nich nauczyłem gadać
for I learned to talk from them.
Bo tam, gdzie Ikwy srebrne fale płyną,
For there, where flows the silver waves of the Ikwa,
Byłem ja niegdyś, jak Zośka, dzieciną
I once was, like Sophie, a little child.

Dzisiaj daleko pojechałem w gości
Today I have gone far away, an emigré
I dalej mię los nieszczęśliwy goni.
and further an unhappy fate me chases.
Przywież mi, Zośko, od tych gwiadz światłości,
Bring me, wee Soph, from those stars light,
Pryzwież mi, Zośko, z tamtych kwiatów woni.
bring me, wee Soph, from those flowers scent,
Bo mi zaprawdę odmłodnieć potrzeba
for I needs must become young again.
Wróć mi więc z kraju taką jakby z nieba.
And so return to me from that land--as if from heaven.

*Engagement calendar

**Do ojcyzny  literally means "to the fatherland",  but that is too many syllables for my taste.  

English doesn't really have diminutives, although you could argue it does, for we add --ie or --y to things like "the kitty" and "the little mousey".  Archaic English has --kins, as in "Odds bodkins", which means "God's little bodies", i.e. the Blessed Sacrament. (So don't use it.) The Scots put wee in front of everything, e.g. "Let's have a wee dram", which can mean either small or sweet, as in "What a nice wee elephant."

Thursday, 26 November 2015

American Thanksgiving Dinner Survival Game

Thanksgiving in Canada (October) is important but not as important as Thanksgiving in the USA
seems to be. To the best of my knowledge, we don't have films showing Canadians jetting from one side of the country to the other just to partake of turkey and pumpkin pie.

No doubt the internet is full today of Americans anticipating the horrors of having to eat with their own extended family. One might argue that this is an example of pop culture attacking the family so as to break it up into individuals who are more easily exploited by Madison Avenue and the government.

That said, not all families are delightful, and sometimes the agony of family life is prolonged by a woman who wants people to say at her funeral that it was she who managed to keep the [self-devouring] family together. My perennial advice is that if you have been miserable at every family Thanksgiving dinner for the past ten years, you will almost certainly be miserable at this one too, so you shouldn't go. Either have a wonderful pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner with friends or volunteer to serve Thanksgiving supper to the homeless.

Your no-show may make your mother cry, but this might be the "hit bottom" moment she needs to finally admit that not all is well in Dodge.  On the other hand, if the problem for the past ten years was you, your absence will be the removal of a cloud for everyone else. Let us humbly consider the possibility.

If you have a pretty-good family, with a bearable level of grumbling and carping and throwing things across the table, then naturally I hope my American readers go to their traditional family Thanksgiving Dinner. Of course, if relations come from afar, there may be a fair bit of catching-up and questions about how everyone is and, as people enjoy relationship gossip, if you are in one.

If you are Single, this puts Thanksgiving in the same category as Mother's Day, when your parish tortures you for being Single-and-Childless, and Valentine's Day, when you torture you for being Single-and-Childless. This time it's your family's turn--and it's a sit-down dinner so you can't escape!

The only thing to do is to turn the dross of remarks about your Single status into the gold of POINTS for the annual Seraphic Singles/Edinburgh Housewife American Thanksgiving Dinner Survival Game. Please pay strict attention to whatever your relations say concerning your Single status, including queries as to when you're going to marry your boyfriend, and give yourself a point for each remark. (Nota Bene: If you are actually engaged you are not eligible for this game. You can give your sisters a point each by shoving your ring in their faces in and saying "LA!" in an exaggerated Lucy-Steele voice.)

Please report your score in the combox below, regaling us with the comments you remember. Naturally I myself am in Britain and so will be in bed before the west coast sits down to eat. However, I will hang out with the computer when I get back from Polish class this evening, so if you need to vent, I will be here until 4 PM San Francisco time, which is 7 PM in Buffalo, is it not?

Have the happiest Thanksgiving you can manage, and be as kindly as possible to your relations, especially the ones in the kitchen who might need you.  Above all, remember that you are not alone, and that from sea to sea your fellow Singles are being asked if they've found a fella yet and when are they getting married.

And a point from Cousin John....

Update: The M.Div. is now IN for anyone who might need to vent.

Update 2: All quiet on the western front this year. The M.Div. is going to bed!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Chocolate Covered Orange Peel

This is not the answer to life but my only project this week that could be at all considered artistic. It is based on the recipe for sugared orange peel I found in Sugared Orange by Beata Zatorska.  Basically I made the recipe and thought, Hey, what if I dipped some of these in chocolate? Would they be as good as the chocolate covered orange peel in Krakowski Kredens? And lo, they were better.

(In case you are wondering, Krakowski Kredens is a boutique grocery store that sells old-fashioned Polish edibles. It's where Poles with a bit of money buy gifts for their friends back in the UK. I am cross with Krakowski Kredens because they do not sell my favourite flavoured vodkas in 100 mL bottles, and thus I cannot bring them back in my carry-on luggage.)

So with no further ado, here is my recipe for chocolate covered orange peel, based on the recipe in Sugared Orange.

Seraphic's Culturally Appropriated Chocolate Orange Peels

You need:

2 orange
330 g/1.75 cups/three-quarter pound fine sugar (e.g. caster)
2.5 cups of cold water
100 g/bar good quality dark chocolate
small sharp knife
2 saucepans (or saucepan and a double boiler)
wooden spoon
tongs/slotted spoon
wire rack
baking paper/wax paper
tin/plastic storage container with lid


1. Wash oranges to remove any wax.

2. Carefully cut through the oranges so that you cut only the skins and not the fruit. Make four cuts lengthwise on each and then gently peel off the four pieces from each orange. Put skinned oranges aside.

3. Laying each peel flat, carefully cut or scrape off as much of the white pith as possible with the knife.

4. Cut each quarter lengthwise into four strips. You should have 32 equal pieces, but don't sweat it if you tore the quarters while scraping them and so this turns out to be impossible. It's all good.

5. Put the sugar in a saucepan, pour in the water, and stir the sugar constantly over low heat until it is completely dissolved. You'll know this has happened when miraculously the water is clear again. Turn up the heat and keep stirring until the sugar-water starts to boil. Put the strips of orange peel into the sugar-water and turn the heat to low.

6. Leave peels simmering there for two hours. Come back after an hour and half to check up on them. Obviously you do not want the pot to boil dry, but really that shouldn't happen within two hours on low.

7. Turn off the heat. Lift each strip of sweet orangey goodness out of the pot with the tongs or slotted spoon and carefully drop it on the wire rack to cool. (Put something under the wire rack to catch the drips.) Pour what is now orange-flavoured simple syrup into a jug to use or discard when it cools and wash the pot, utensils, counter, stove top at ONCE with hot water. If you don't you will have a very sad time trying to get the sugar off later. (I rinse them with boiling water from the kettle.)

8. With double boiler or one pot on top of another, bring water to boil. Break up 100 g/bar of dark chocolate and put into the top pot. Watch like hawk.

9. Holding onto the end of each now cool but sticky orange peel strip, dip into the melted chocolate until it is covered.  Place on wax/baking paper to set.

10. If there is melted chocolate left over, section the orange and chuck pieces into the chocolate pot. Poke them around until they are covered. Put them on the wax paper to set.

11. When set, put the chocolate orange peels in a wax/baking paper lined tin or plastic container and hide it. Eat the chocolate covered orange sections as a reward for your hard work.

12. Serve the orange peels with coffee or tea (e.g. after a dinner party) as an elegant treat for the deserving.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Have Yourselves a Gloomy Little Advent

Good morning! It is Traddy Tuesday,the day I rekindle the flame in the hearts of would-be converts to Catholicism who have been misled entranced by Catholic books written before 1960, only to be shocked by their local RCIA class/parish liturgy/obscenity-dropping parish priest. Oh dear, I see your astonished faces in my mind's eye: "B-b-b-b-but Chesterton!" Yeah, I know.

But despair not! There a gazillion Roman Catholics who believe as (and what) Chesterton did and thousands who do their best to worship as he did, too. Our world is considerably worse than his was, so we are much crankier than he, however. Sorry about that. I apologize on behalf of the old lady who turned around at the Extraordinary Form of Mass and snarled at your friend's noisy baby. In her defense, she either traveled two hours to get to this Mass or she sold her house to live within walking distance. Try to forgive her--and offer to take the baby out.

So today's theme is ADVENT and the challenge of keeping it a penitential season when most of the English-speaking world thinks that Christmas begins the day after American Thanksgiving (at latest) and ends at midnight on Christmas Day. If I still have any Eastern Orthodox readers or Byzantine Catholic readers, please reveal in the combox how you manage to keep your fasts when all around you are having Christmas parties.

My dear friend Calvinist Cath does not believe in Christmas at all, so avoiding the December-long celebration of Christmas is a challenge for her too. Amusingly, the challenges of not observing Christmas before Christmas could unite the Orthodox, the Greek Catholics, the Latin Catholics and, amazingly, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.* (This last avoids it completely , of course, but never mind that for now.)

I read somewhere that one of the reasons why the Latin Church doesn't fast like the Greek Church or the Eastern Orthodox Churches is the large number of important feast days during Advent. Just now I looked them up on the trad calendar on the front hall (from the monastery of Papa Stronsay), and the only one that leapt to the eye is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), for both the Feast of Saint Nicholas (December 6) and the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13) fall on Sundays this year. That said, for Latins Sunday is always a Feast Day, and never a Fast Day, except for the Eucharistic fast, of course.

Feasting and fasting are hallmarks of traditional Catholicism, and B.A. and I can't have a dinner party with Catholics without B.A. leaping up to see whose feast day it is. He flips the pages in his missal looking for the right Collect (prayer of the day) while the soup gets cold. Drives me nuts. However, B.A. has the right attitude, and the solution is for me to mark the place beforehand. My church friends take feasting very seriously and are wont to chide those who refuse to partake of wine on Sundays, which I think is taking feasting a bit too far.

Rather less fun is fasting, although fasting is the good servant of feasting. As two nice Byzantine Catholic girls explained to B.A. and me recently, if you don't fast, you can't really feast. And it is certainly true that food, wine and coffee all taste amazingly better if you have done without them for a bit.

However, we are Christians, not Epicureans, so fasting is also supposed to make us feel physically uncomfortable, a discomfort we willingly embrace so as to do penance for our sins and the sins of others. Meanwhile we have to look cheerful when we do it, and not tell others we are fasting so that they will think well of us (Matt 5: 16-18).  It's supposed to be between us and God, which I remember when Toronto Greeks get too noisy about how much better they keep Lent than us rotten Roman Catholics. (Admittedly, they do.) However, I suppose "I'm sorry, it's against my religion" is okay when well-meaning people tempt us into Advent gluttony. It has the added bonus of making us socially uncomfortable, too--yay!

Occasionally I get emails from women from traditional Catholic backgrounds who have developed eating disorders from fasting. It is dreadful when this happens, and it really shouldn't. A good spiritual director will not let this happen, and in the absence of a good spiritual director, the fasting Catholic should just use her head. If you don't eat at all on Friday, you had better have a good nutritious breakfast on Saturday. If you fast on Wednesdays, don't fast on Thursdays. Meanwhile, contemporary eating is such that if you merely eschew anything made with refined sugar, that's a painstaking fast. Especially if you try to eschew refined sugar in Advent, aka secular Christmas.

I'm kidding about having a gloomy Advent. However, the fact is the Advent is a penitential season, traditionally involving fasts, abstinence, prayers, special masses and almsgiving. But, also traditionally, there are Feast Days to break it up a bit, like St. Nicholas' Day, and every Sunday.

One of the tricky things about re-establishing traditional fasting and abstinence procedures in a Roman Catholic household is that all the other healthy adults have to agree to it. If the Church doesn't impose fasting-and-abstinence, who is the lady of the house to do it, eh? (My mother didn't bring back Friday abstinence until John Paul II said he thought it a good idea. "Right," said Mum and fed us the orange sawdust fish triangles of doom ever after.) So I have consulted with my Liege Lord (i.e. B.A.) and we have come up with our own private Advent plans.

Because, really, it's not cricket to embrace all the fun things about traditional Catholicism without cheerfully taking on its disciplines, too. One helpful community penance would be to help dust and clean the church, any fellow Edinburgh traddies who are reading this (Saturday 2-4).

But to end on a celebratory note, we rejoice in the establishment of the Fraternity of the Priests of Saint Peter's first proper parish church in the United Kingdom. (The rest of us piggyback, like the Maronites who shared my childhood church.) The archdiocese of Liverpool gave the FSSP a BEAUTIFUL church first owned by the Benedictines, and you can see photographs of the inaugural Mass here.  Naturally we EF-loving Catholics are still praying for a church of our very own. I like the pretty wooden one we steal borrow share, but the choir wants one with better acoustics.

*Leaving aside the age-old Dec 25/Jan 6 issue, naturally.

Update: Note the complete lack of women in the sanctuary, o-the-humanity #weeping #wailing. There's some in the choir. Presumably they made up at least a third of the congregation.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Dating in Light of Matthew 5:37

Inspired by Cardinal Sarah's wonderful book, God or Nothing, I have been slowly reading the Book of Matthew, and one of the verses came back to me when I was thinking of some basic dating advice. The context is swearing oaths, but the simplicity of the teaching strikes me as pertinent to conversations between men and women: "Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No': anything more than this comes from the evil one."(Matt 5:37).

When someone asks you out on a date, it is better not to obsess on what it all could mean, or why he asked you by text and not in person, by letter or by homing pigeon. If the invitation is, "Would you like to meet me for coffee?" instead of having a brain-freeze, you must ask yourself, "Would I like to meet him for coffee?"  If you answer is "Yes," then say "Yes". If your answer is "No," then say "No." Unless there is a very good reason you should NOT be meeting this person for coffee (e.g. he is a flirtatious married man you secretly fancy), say what you want and don't feel guilty about it. Meanwhile, no man on earth--even the one you are thinking right now is exceptionally sensitive--is going to fall over and die because you said "No."

If the guy shows up for the date in blue jeans and a T-shirt, and you think he should have shown up in a suit, to show proper respect for you or the venue (e.g. the opera), then this may weigh upon your decision about a next date--although frankly I think a man is a man and is going to wear what he's going to wear. If you don't want to go out with a man again just because he wears the uniform of his generation, then obviously you're just not that into him. Personally I think you should give a guy a chance, but that's me. Can you imagine a guy never calling again just because you wore jeans on a date? But anyway, it's up to you, so if he asks you out again, you should ask yourself, "Would I like to go out with him again?" If "Yes" say "Yes" and get used to the blue jeans because you have no right to tell a man what to wear unless you're having a formal dinner party.  If "No", say "No", and if pressed, say you feel no spark. Or you can throw caution to the wind and say you're looking for a Cary Grant type. Please e-mail me what he says. 

I think a lot of contemporary unhappiness could be averted if women just took the time to ask ourselves what we want when we are asked directly if we would like something. Do I? I do, so "Yes." I don't, so "No." Men at swing-dancing, who take what used to be the women's privilege of accepting or rejecting dances, say "No, I'm too tired" or "No, it's too fast" without being the least bit apologetic. (They are not entirely to blame for this appropriation. If women ceased to ask them to dance, we would get our privilege back.) Although I don't like being told "no", I envy the men guilt-free decisiveness. 

There is something to be said for openness, of course. When I went to swing-dancing, I wanted to dance with the men there. Now that I don't want to dance with the men there, I don't go to swing-dancing. (Actually, there are three regulars I'd happily dance with, but you know, it's a long way to go on a cold night, it would cost at least £3, I'd have to look at the smug faces of the other guys and watch beautiful, talented women throw themselves at them.) If you despise all the men in your social circle, then maybe you need to change your social circle.

But even if you like all the guys around, there is no reason for you to have a coffee with one, or have supper with one, or go to a concert with one, if you really object--for whatever reason--to the proposed plan. Maybe you don't like coffee, supper or concerts. Maybe the idea of being alone with him for 1-3 hours makes you cringe. In which case, if he asks you if you would like to have coffee with him, you will probably say "No"--and that's okay.  However, if you like the idea of having coffee or supper with the guy, or going to a concert with him, you will probably say "Yes", and that's okay too. "Yes" to coffee, supper or a concert is not "Yes" to anything else, and if he assumes it is, ask yourself the question again. Do you want to go out with this presumptive chap? If Yes, say "Yes." If No, say "No." If pressed for an explanation, say "You're too presumptive." That'll larn him.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

American Thanksgiving Survival for Singles

I have been married for six years now, so I am growing foggy on domestic developments in North America. Is it still awful to be over 25 and unmarried at big family gatherings, or are married uncles and aunts too cowed by the new possibilities to ask about your love lives?

Uncle Herb: So, you got a fella yet?

Auntie May: Now, Herbert, these are modern times. You can't assume Mary Beth has a fella. She could have a female friend. Or female friends. Or a female friend who used to be a fella.

Uncle Herb: So, Patrick, whadaya think about the Lions' chances?

Goodness, that does not sound much better. What we really want from relations is reticence, or at least questions about things from our public lives, like "Anything interesting in your work this year, darling?" If your aunts and uncles dearly want to know if you have a fella yet--and do uncles really want to know?--surely they can ask your mother when you're out of earshot.

Every American Thanksgiving I sponsor a little competition for Single readers. In short, every participant gets a point for every reference made to her Singleness by her relations during Thanksgiving Dinner. Basically the time-frame is from the arrival of the first guest to bed-time. This is particularly fun when all the Single sisters in one family play together. (They all get a point if the remark is addressed to all of them together.) If it were me, I would carry around a little notebook and pencil and secretly mark each dinnertime comment under cover of the table.

After dinner, when you are safe in what I hope is the sanctuary of your room, see if you can recall the pertinent remarks or questions made, and give examples with your score here in the Thursday combox. I am five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, but I will enjoy reading them all on Friday morning. Meanwhile, when I get home from Polish class (that's about 4 PM EST), I will be monitoring the combox so as to provide a listening ear to anyone who flees the kitchen long enough to pour their annoyance into the blog.  Obviously I can't live-blog readers' Thanksgivings, but I will be on hand until about 7 PM EST.

Remember that you are not alone, and all over the USA, Single women will be put in the spotlight by their nearest and dearest.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Rose Petals, Orange Peels

I have finally cashed in the Mother's Day present Julia of Australia gave me via Amazon. Thank you very much, Julia.

After dithering between Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland and Sugared Orange: Recipes & Stories from a Winter in Poland, I bought the latter. I had already read the former clandestinely in Waterstone's, actually getting teary over the ex-pat Pole's nostalgia.  I would have bought Rose Petal Jam on the spot were it not £25 ($35 Canadian being a bargain, as £25 is $50). 

I will probably buy it eventually, but meanwhile I have Sugared Orange, and although I don't like it as much as Rose Petal Jam--too many pictures this time---I am eager to try out the recipes. Incidentally, either book would make a good Christmas gift to a Polish immigrant over 40 or a second, third, etc., generation Polish-Canadian/American/Australian interested in her ancestral heritage. 

As you can see, it is Polski Piątek. I have nothing to say about boys today. Well, here's another photo of "the Polish James Dean, Zbigniew Cybulski. My friend Dorota says she was crazy about him when she was a teenager, and she watched every single one of his films. If you want to be all sophisticated-n-stuff, have a beatnik party and rent (or order or whatever you do now regarding films) Ashes and Diamonds because it is awesome and about Polish Catholic reactionaries assassinating Polish Communist big-wigs. The reactionaries are supposed to be the bad guys, ah ha ha ha ha ha. The Communist censor board must have been as dumb as stumps. 

To return to cookbooks, I also have From a Polish Country House Kitchen by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden. Applebaum is an American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist married to a well-known Polish politician. I am told she speaks Polish beautifully, and so there is hope for me. Danielle Crittenden, also a journalist (and novelist), is from Toronto, who converted to Judaism before she married David Frum, the famous son of one of Canada's most beloved journalists, Barbara Frum. Thus, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of specifically Jewish recipes and some stories about  Barbara that Canadians who remember her would enjoy. 

Writing a Polish cookbook when you are not yourself Polish must be rather daunting. Of course, Britons occasionally ask me if I don't find cooking Polish food for Poles rather daunting. To be honest, I never thought about it. I've been making potato latkes (called placki zimniaczane by Catholic Poles) since I was eleven. North Americans are less embarrassed by culinary cultural appropriation than Britons, I suspect.* Meanwhile, I can attest to the excellence of Applebaum & Crittenden's recipe for plum cake. It is super-easy, delicious and exotic enough to impress at dinner parties. My one concern is that it might be too sweet for the Polish palate, as the book was written for an Anglosphere audience. 

Finally, I have Benedyktyńskie smaki i smaczki: Sekrety kuchni opactwa w Tyńcu ("Benedictine tastes and flavours:  Culinary Secrets of the Tynieć Monastery "). I bought it at the actual monastery, so my copy is a souvenir. So far I have only glanced at a few of the recipes, to see if I understand them. Flipping through now, I see that I have partially translated its recipe for plum (pear or cranberry) vodka. Goodness, that looks good. 

*That said, one must not depend on British ingredients for foreign results. Finding (and preparing) the proper ingredients for either Canadian or American Thanksgiving Dinner, for example, is quite, quite tricky.

Thursday, 19 November 2015


Cherubs, I have been too cranky and controversial of late, so I will see what I can do to rectify that on this blog. That and my internet dependence problem. Today was going to be a day I was off the internet entirely---ah ha ha ha ha!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Spoiled Fruit of the Revolution

I'm on a earn-more-spend-less kick, so I have stopped going to swing-dancing. It's a pity, as that was my guaranteed weekly exercise, and there are two guys there who are afraid of most of the other women, so they always danced with me. I like them: they were refreshingly humble, modest and clumsy. They knew they were clumsy, and they knew I didn't care. To say with with no irony whatsoever, who am I to judge?

Yesterday, after sitting around all day writing my brains out and growing fat, I got a phone call--I think from a mobile, as the reception was so bad. I muted the TV, and the caller became audible. He had phoned about the weekend "Balboa" workshop I had signed up for, as I hadn't paid yet. I apologized for not having contacted the society earlier to ask them to take my name off the list, saying something like, "I'm sorry I should have mentioned this earlier." "Yes,  you should have," snarled the stranger. "But I usually get an email," I stammered. "I sent you an email," he snapped. "What's your name again?" I asked, so ladies, Balboa-dancing M. is not the guy you want to take home to your mother.

M. had sent me the email the day before, and I had not seen it, as I had been busy writing, shopping, cleaning, cooking, entertaining, and then sitting in bed most of the next day writing some more. So I thought M. was right out of line snarling and snapping at me over the phone, and when I found the email from the "team" I told them a member of their "team" had made an angry phone call and please take me off their mailing list.

This is where I start judging, just so you know.

As I've mentioned (and as my mother will confirm), I know not how to suffer in silence, so I mentioned the event on Facebook and soon got a mention from a  local swing-dancer--one of the best, perhaps the best, followers in the club. She is kind, beautiful, hip, graceful, talented and in her mid-twenties. I would introduce her to Polish Pretend Son if she were not also an atheist. She wanted to know what had happened, and I ranted about swing being a "young woman's game" and how to be asked to dance one has to be either an advanced dancer already, or young and attractive.

And this truly charming, objectively pretty, unusually graceful girl wrote that she isn't asked to dance all that often herself. She usually asks men to dance, and they often turn her down. Some always turn her down--she doesn't know why.

"What!?" I inwardly screeched.  "What the h--- is wrong with those guys?!"

My hypotheses are two-fold:

1. Local men who swing-dance are spoiled rotten by the female attention.
2. Some men resent women asking them to dance and so won't dance with women who do, even if they are young and pretty and guaranteed not to miss a cue.

My kindly advanced-dancer Facebook friend is not from Edinburgh and noted that "girls-asking-guys" is the culture here. (Presumably this isn't the culture where she's from, and guess where that is? One guess.) And because she is so kind, I don't have the heart to tell her I think she is helping to perpetuate the problem.

M. might have just been having a bad day, but even then  I am not sure why M. thought that a good reason enough to snap and snarl at a woman on the phone, one who could identify him over Facebook in two clicks. Martyn must have thought it didn't matter a damn, and in a way he's right. Women at swing-dance want to dance with men, and M. is a man, and women probably ask him to dance all the time. I could denounce M. from the housetops, and still the eager young ladies of the Edinburgh swing scene will want to dance the Balboa with him.

Back when convention dictated that women didn't ask men to dance, dance organizers made sure there were indeed men who would ask wallflowers to dance. Hotels hired male as well as female professional dancers to dance with guests. Mothers poked their sons (and sisters poked their brothers) and hissed, "Dance with Samantha. She's been sitting there for fifteen minutes." Men asked women for dances in advance and women wrote their names down in a charming little notebook. Everyone knew that women couldn't ask men, and so there was a lot of social pressure on men to ask women. Now "of course women can ask men" is treated like a massive advance, but in practice it turns men into Scarlett O'Hara.

I am always annoyed when I read men saying they started a rock band to meet girls or had fantasies of girls throwing themselves at them. That's nice, but why don't they just march up to girls at parties and say "Hi! I'm [the host]'s friend from school/work/club/church. How do you know him?" If they like the girl, they can bring her a drink or something afterwards and have another conversation. How hard is that?

Believe it or not, this is a serious question, for when I think of the attractive young Catholic twenty-something men that I know, not-spoiled, not-snarling, not-rude, I wonder why so many of them don't have girlfriends. As a twenty-something, I would have hit on any of them, and not because I was this incredibly deep twenty-something. I would have gone out with them for intensely shallow reasons, protected from my folly by their own sterling characters. (Rather like I was protected from any fallout from my infatuated marriage-in-haste by the fact that B.A. actually is the perfect man for me.) So why do they not have girlfriends? They're tall! They're smart! Two have proper jobs! One has a car! I don't understaaaaaaaaaand!

It's such a waste of twenty-something Catholic bachelor that it makes me cross. And meanwhile those spoiled wretches at swing-dancing have women chasing after them for dances. What a world. I cry.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Traditional Servantless Entertaining

It's Traddy Tuesday,  the day I usually write about some aspect of traditional Catholic practice and belief. However, today I have behaved like a traditional lady-of-the-Historical-House and spent the morning in bed. As this bed is in our attic flat, once the servants' quarters, I am sure the original occupants of this room would stare at me in disbelief and disgust. But too bad for them. If I want to behave like Lady X (or Miss Y) after a party, I may. Besides, I did a lot more work than Lady X (or Miss Y) ever did for a dinner party. I'd like to see Lady X lug my shopping up three flights of stairs.

B.A. and I rarely go to the cinema, theatre, concert hall, pub or any other of the public entertainments on offer, mostly because they are too expensive. For entertainment, we like to entertain, which in our case means having dinner parties. We don't have as many as we used to, for various reasons, but I always enjoy getting in touch with my inner Mrs Dalloway. If I could, I would colonize the glorious public rooms of the Historical House and have wonderful dinners for 25 every week, but then B.A. would lose his job, and where would we be? Thus, I have to keep the guest list small, and seven is really the limit, unless we put two tables down the length of our sitting-room and invite thirteen.

Having a dinner party is simple . You think up some theme-excuse, you invite people to a meal, you clean your home, you buy food, you cook it, you greet your guests and give them a drink, you eat the food while everyone chats companionably, you wash the dishes (either in snatches during or afterwards), and you send your friends on their way at a mutually agreeable time. If our guests come from central Edinburgh via the bus, that time is 11:30 PM, for the last bus to town rumbles past the gates at 11:41. This is ideal, for it means that B.A. can be in bed by midnight and be fresh for work in the morning.

The most important thing is not to panic. B.A. hates it when I panic and always gives me a lecture beforehand on not panicking, which makes me so extremely anxious that I shout. However, once I get all the shouting out of my system, I am better able to relax afterwards. There is no reason to panic over a dinner party, as my mother has cooked dinner for up to eight people almost every night for forty-five years.

The next most important thing is flexibility. You must be able to change your menu on a moment's notice. Then simplicity. A dinner party for nine is a bad time to try anything new or particularly complicated. Four people, okay, but the more guests you have, the more sense apple crumble for pudding makes. If you begin to panic, simplify your chosen menu further.

Here is the schedule for my supper.

Two weeks before
1. Hearing of unrest among Youth of the Parish, I decide to have a Youth Supper.
2. I consult representatives of Youth about guest list and dates over Facebook and in one face-to-face meeting.
3. I inform husband, who says I should have told him first, which is true.
4. Representatives of Youth tell guests they're invited.

One week before
1. Husband makes inquiries about ultimate guest list, adds a guest over mobile phone.
2. I hoover whole flat, which was lucky, as I had no time to do it yesterday.
3. Continuing Facebook conversations re: guest list. I tell representative "Young Fogey wear", so as to ensure relative elegance.

Yesterday before 7:30 PM:
1. Husband washes dishes before work, as is saint.
2. Final guest list confirmed by representatives of Youth over Facebook.
3. At 2 PM, I call up taxicab companies trying to book a taxicab from Tesco in advance. Fail.
4. I determine menu: żurek (white kielbasa soup), roast, chocolate meringue pie.
5. I walk to the polski sklep for zakwas (essential ingredient for the żurek), and there is none. I look high, I look low. I consult the shopkeeper po polsku. "In bottles?" she asks in that ancient tongue. "Tak," I affirm. "If you can't find them, they're not there," she says. "We'll have them on Wednesday."  I stop myself from panicking by thinking up Menu Plan B.
6. I walk to Tesco. No zakwas. I change to Menu Plan B . Now we are having barszcz ukrainski, roast and Polish plum cake because chocolate meringue pie is difficult and I can make plum cake with my eyes shut.
7. I collect gin, tonic water, white wine, red wine, a pork roast, 2 punnets of plums, single cream, a family size bag of frozen peas, 2 Kg Maris Piper potatoes, two carrots, garlic, a leek, a white cabbage, beets, fresh dill, sour cream, beef stock, a bag of ground coffee, chocolates and 2 bags of potato chips.
8. I call various cab companies. The second one deigns to send me a cab in ten minutes. Yay!
9. I lug grocs up three flights of stairs. Husband is in. Husband seizes roast, does magical things, and puts it in an oven to slow-roast for three hours. Husband goes back to work.
10. I make soup.
11. I make two plum cakes. (We have a double oven, thank heavens.)
12. I wash dishes. Husband sets table and tidies sitting-room. Husband is a genius both at roasts and at setting the table.
13. I tidy up guest-room and library/office.
14. I put on party dress, cover my face with slap, etc.
15. I test the cakes. They're done. Upper oven off. B.A. puts on party tie, etc.
16. I completely relax for a crucial five relaxing minutes.

1. Take wine and flower offerings from guests, who obviously were all well brought up.
2. Send girls to guest-room to de-coat. Send boys to office to de-coat.
3. Ask them if they want gin-and-tonics. They do.
4. Send guests to sitting-room
5. Husband makes gin-and-tonics.
6. Chat with guests.
7. Reheat soup.
8. Announce dinner. Husband offers seating suggestions. Guests arrange themselves around the table.

1. It's the Feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland, so she gets a mention in Grace.
2. Soup. Seconds of soup as B.A. tends the potatoes.
3. Main. Dishes of mashed potatoes and peas brought out for passing around, then pork and gravy.
4. Much eating of pork, potatoes, peas and gravy.
5. Pudding. Two cakes, so enough for seconds.
6. Coffee and chocolates.

And everyone is happy, especially me, as I had the time and energy between courses to wash the dishes. The only truly challenging part of a traditional sit-down dinner party, besides making sure no one person dominates the conversation to the boredom of others, is facing the greasy army of crockery the next morning. I avoid this as much as possible by doing the washing up right away.

I hope you noticed that one thing you most definitely do not need for a proper, traditional sit-down dinner is paper invitations. Paper invitations are all very elegant, but as God has given us technological advances in communication, let us enjoy them.

Buzy bakson

Darlingses, I was busy all day. I spent the entire morning trying to write about multiculturalism, migration and the Paris attack in such a way that Development & Peace and Romero House don't call up my editor and scream in his ear. Then I went to the supermarket and bought all the ingredients for a dinner party. Next I took a cab home and made barszcz ukrainski and plum cakes. (B.A. put the roast in the oven.) Soon after the plum cakes were done, the seven guests arrived. (It was a Youth Supper, so they were all exceedingly young.) Finally, I washed the dishes.

Dear me, I am sleepy.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

As I Was Saying

So it turns out at least one (but I've read elsewhere two) of the suicide bomber/murderers in Paris had a passport that indicated a young man who had arrived in Greece with a party of refugees/migrants.

And meanwhile I am thanking God that my Polish friend--whose wedding in Poland I was at last month--and her French husband, who are now living in Paris, are safe.  (The husband used that new gizmo on Facebook to say so, too.) They were not able to go to the cinema or join any kind of crowd today, and when they tried to go for a walk in the park, the police shooed them out. So last I heard they were sitting in a flat with nothing to do. How all very 1944. 

So if any more American readers want to send me emails saying I'm not a Christian because I observe that Poland doesn't want to be a stop on the Islamic migrant highway, today would not be a good day to do that.

Update (November 18): Apparently men are travelling around Europe with Syrian passports that turn out to be fake. Naturally nobody thinks real, honest-to-God refugees are themselves terrorists. It's just that there are terrorists (and economic migrants) travelling with the honest-to-God refugees, and it's hard to tell them apart, especially when they're carrying fake Syrian passports. 

My own position, if you care, is that refugees should be carefully screened, monitored and divided up among disparate towns so as not to add to the parallel societies springing up in European cities. Tight security and then integration, that's the ticket. Make it clear that integration does not mean dressing like a Kardashian or even having to read about them.

Multiculturalism works in Toronto because no one or two migrant group dominates all the others. (The two top groups, "English" and "Chinese", do not throw stones at others who walk into "their" neighbourhoods. My own neighbourhood back home has Babel-like diversity, but nobody punches women in the street for being attractive, which is a definite plus.)

Pray for Europe

Friday, 13 November 2015

A Catholic Country

Yes, it's Polski Piątek, and an opportunity for me to ponder in public all kinds of old-fashioned ideas like social cohesion. To give you an example of social cohesion, I will begin with an edited conversation I had in a shop in a small town in the Scottish Borders this week.

Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: Do you have any cheesecloth?
Scottish lady: Cheesecloth?
Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: For wrapping my Christmas cakes.
Scottish lady: Ah, muslin squares! I think we have two packages left. I'm making my cakes this week. What do you soak yours in?
Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: Brandy.
Scottish lady: Oh, I find brandy too bitter. I use port.
Scottish husband of Canadian lady: I like port.

The conversation had a slightly rocky start as I asked for the Canadian "cheesecloth" instead of the local "muslin squares." However, you will notice that the woman knew at once what I meant by wrapping my Christmas cakes, and that she herself was making them. It was all very chatty because Scots are chatty and obviously we had something in common. We have something in common with thousands of women all over Scotland in that we were making a traditional British Christmas treat that has to sit around in booze for weeks on end. Also, of course, we speak English, celebrate Christmas, are open to small talk about our domestic baking, wear ordinary western dress and had our faces uncovered in public. Our discourse was--despite my colonial diction--friendly, easy and celebrated sameness even more than diversity. I use brandy; she uses port. But the fact is, we both make Christmas cake.

[Update: Thanks to an email from a reader, I realize I should explain that what I find so amazing in this is that it is increasingly unlikely I would have such a conversation with a woman in a shop back home. I imagine a third-generation Lebanese-Canadian in my parents' intensely diverse neighbourhood would have a similar feeling of epiphany and connection in Lebanon. When I write about these issues, I am doing it from the point of view of a person whose home neighbourhood is in constant cultural flux and who is now an ethnic minority in that neighbourhood..]

Of course, I was educated in extraordinarily diverse Toronto, so I do value diversity. I think that it is okay to have highly multicultural towns and countries as long as there are also relatively monocultural towns and countries. How boring--and non-diverse--it would be if all towns and countries were as multicultural as Toronto and Canada--although possibly boring is not the word I want.

For example, despite the fact that it is over 90% Catholic is due to a hideous catastrophe wrought upon the country by invading foreigners, I think it is very interesting--and diverse--that Poland is such a Catholic country. (I have never been to a country so wedded to Catholicism as Poland, unless you count Vatican City.) There is a diversity to Poland's Catholicity, too. I will give two examples just from the past two days.

Example One

My Polish teacher writes monologues and dialogues about a Polish family of four, and the father is having some sort of mid-life crisis. In the monologue we were assigned for last night's class, the father reflects on a homily he has heard at Mass about how real love--love of family, love of Christ--is not like "Hollywood" love. After four years of class, this is the first time I have seen Chrystusa in a lesson, so I was quite thrilled. There are two Catholics-who-are-Catholics in Polish class, another Trad Mass-goer and I, and our classmates look somewhat blank as we answer the question "What do you do this weekend?" with "I went to church" or "We went to see our friends, who are nuns, in their abbey in the Isle of Wight." I can reassure the secular powers of Edinburgh Uni that our teacher is not evangelizing her post-Protestant and indifferent-Catholic students.

So I was thrilled again when our teacher played this song, whose title means "Be not afraid"--a phrase that should make any adult Catholic-who-is-a-Catholic think at once of Sw. Jan Paweł II:
The refrain goes, "Be not afraid, be not afraid/I am by you every day./Be not afraid, be not afraid/I am by you, don't be scared." Obviously "Arka Noego" (Noah's Ark) is a children's choir, and the song is--despite the punk rock riffs--rather sweet.

Example Two

So yesterday I mentioned the Polish Independence Day March in Warsaw, and it turns out I had friends among the 50,000 there. This was not a surprise. What was a surprise is that a young priest there gave a homily about preserving the Catholic nature of Poland and the Polishness of Poland with great noisy vigour, leading the crowd in such religio-patriotic slogans as "God, Honour, Fatherland." I've never heard a priest--let alone a young priest in a cassock--shout like that before. Here is a video of him:

"The Gospel, and not the Koran!"

Here is the Church coming to the aid of the state, that is, to the aid of the wishes of the people (or at least 50,000 of them), to preserve the integrity of their borders, borders--let me  remind you--that have been erased or dismantled dozens of times, leading to the deaths of millions of people.

Depending on how you feel about priests shouting and large crowds holding the same flag, you may find that video unnerving. Personally I am impressed that people care that much about their social cohesion, their ordinary life, and their freedom from the challenges of Islam. What shocks me so much about the "migrant crisis" is that what started as acute anguish and anxiety for the Christians and other religious minorities persecuted (e.g. robbed, raped, tortured, killed) by Islamists has become a flood of Islamic migrants into what remains of Christian Europe.

This is a scary The-Emperor-has-no-clothes thing to say, but the Poles are not afraid to say it. [Update: Okay, maybe I went too far there. But one thing commentators do point out is that most of the rich neighbouring Muslim countries have closed their borders to refugees. Saudi Arabia has offered to build 200 mosques for them in Germany, though!]

Update: I have just received an outraged how-dare-you-you-are-not-a-Christian email from, I think, an American not up-to-date on the migrant crisis Europe is embroiled in. For one thing, she doesn't seem to realize that the migrants aren't all refugees. (I have linked to the most sympathetic-to-the-migrants article I've found so far.) Just a reminder that I usually publish comments of people who disagree with me, as long as the language is suitable and you all don't call me names.

Update 2: Incidentally, I am sympathetic if you are shocked to your marrow at the idea of a country not wanting to take in people very much different from themselves. The majority of my readers are in Canada and the United States, and so most of us come from immigrant stock. We're used to the "Here comes everybody" approach to nation-building; at least, we're used to it in Toronto. What we're not so used to, of course, is open provocation and challenge of what turns out to be bedrock values shared by almost--but only almost--all the other ethnic/religious groups. And that said, what has hitherto worked for Canada and the USA will not necessarily work for European or Asian or African countries.

Update 3: Also, I will point out that there is a difference between a refugee who has the good fortune to get to a safe (if not ideal) place like peacetime Turkey or even Greece or Italy, and the one who leaves the safe space to seek his fortune elsewhere. Once you cross from safe country to safe country to safe country, you're not usually a refugee anymore. This is why I have donated to charities working in the Middle East but not, for example, in Calais.

Update 4: Speaking of France, a terrorist attack is taking place in Paris right now.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Fast Before the Feast

This is not binding on Latin Catholics, but I thought fellow Latins might be interested in the spiritual athleticism of our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters during the 40 days before Christmas.

I had a very interesting conversation with two Byzantine Catholics yesterday about the spiritual benefits of fasting. In short, if you can train yourself in self-denial in one way, you may more easily practise self-denial in other ways. They mentioned, too, that unless you learn to fast, you cannot really learn to feast.

Multiculturalism supposes Monocultures...Yes?

I am not at all surprised by this news story as I know strongly anti-EU young Poles. Knowing that in the past 300 years their country has been divided between three European super-powers and then wiped off the map by Germany and Russia for the duration of the Second World War, and then had its borders indelibly altered by the Soviet Union, Poles are not really very happy when foreigners--let alone the Germans--tell them what to do. Why they joined the EU in the first place is as yet a mystery to me.

I see that the marchers carried banners reading "Poland for the Poles"; if 50,000 Englishmen marched with banners reading "England for the English" the rest of England would faint with horror. However, there are a lot more non-English in England than there are non-Poles in Poland. There are, as yet, very few non-Poles in Poland, and at least 50,000 Poles want to keep it that way.

What does it mean to be Polish? But what does it mean to be Scottish? And this is a more pertinent question for me, not only because I live in Scotland, but because I grew up in multicultural Toronto and was taught a mild form of multicultural ideology at school. I resented having to pretend I was something I was not--Irish or Scottish or German--or to rack my brains for some dish sufficiently ethnic and interesting to bring to Multicultural Day. ("Bannock!" my mother would unhelpfully yodel.) However, multiculturalism before massive Islamic migration was mostly about food and national dress brought out on special occasions, not gross violations of non-Islamic belief about women fully participating in social life by daring to show their faces. Et cetera.

The mild food-and-clothing multiculturalism of my childhood presupposed actual, definable, and usually stereotyped monocultures. To put it bluntly, to be Scottish meant to be white and porridge-eating. Your national pastry was shortbread. Your music involved bagpipes. To be Irish meant to be white and potato-eating. Your national pastry was soda bread. Your music involved flutes. (Deedle-deedle.) To be Polish meant to be white and cabbage-roll eating. Your national pastry was pierogi. Your music involved accordians. To be Italian meant to be white and pasta-eating. Your national pastry was cannoli. Your music involved "That's Amore".  And so on.

Great was the dismay of my college's Italian Club circa 2000 when a pair of Italian-speaking South Asian siblings turned up. Unlike the vast majority of the members of the Italian Club, they had been brought up in Italy. They were Catholics. They identified as Italian and so sought admittance to the Italian club. But they were brown, browner than Italians usually are, and their arrival shocked the third-generation Italian-Canadian members brought up in Canada by second-generation Italian-Canadians. Sadly their discomfort made the siblings uncomfortable, and so they moved on--unlike the Italian Club.*

When I was in my second-generation Italian-Canadian-dominated high school, it was not exactly a secret that a large number of their parents would have fallen down and died had they brought black boys home to meet the family. When I am in Rome, I hear black children speaking Italian and see dozens of Africans in the area around the main train station. Africans sell fake designer bags on Rome's bridges, and South Asians work in its restaurants. While the Italian birthrate continues to be dismally low, Italy is becoming increasingly multicultural. As Italy becomes multicultural, how will "Italian" be defined ?And if "Italian" identity is up in the air, what will become of Italian-Canadian identity? Will Canada's multiculturalism be entirely based on nostalgia for the past?

In terms of European immigrants to Canada and their descendants, I would say so--unless millions of of European immigrants abandon Europe to live in Canada: white flight on an unprecedented scale. However, in terms of more recent immigrants--Somalis and Pakistanis, for example--it is now possible--thanks to cheap airfare and telecommunications--to live in two countries at the same time. The Italian-Canadians of my generation were cut off from daily contact with Italy until, roughly, the year 2000. (Personally I did not have daily internet access until 2002.) The most recent mass-migration of Italians to Canada was in 1950, so fifty years created an Italian-Canadian culture incredibly old-fashioned by 2000's standards.

In the 1980s, it was fashionable to cudgel one's brains and demand "Just what is a 'Canadian' anyway?"  Multiculturalism was the answer. I was brought up to believe that whereas the United States was "a melting pot", Canada was a bright mosaic of different, but distinct and definable, cultures. However, as Europe becomes less European, the European bits of the Canadian mosaic may become meaningless, based in a vanished past. Canada is going to have to assert something a little more forceful than "multiculturalism" if it is going to successfully resist the challenges and tensions brought by Islamism.

Meanwhile those stubborn Poles are determined to stay white, Christian and Polish, and the Eastern Europeans are also refusing to go into that good European melting pot-mosaic. I am curious to see if they succeed. Of course, if they don't bother to have children, they're just as doomed as the other European ethnic groups. Whoever has the most children wins.

*B.A. and I have been watching a cooking/travel show hosted by an Italian gay guy. He tells us that the most important part of Italian culture is food, and I shriek at the TV that it is family. In my Italian-Canadian dominated youth, the most important part of Italian culture was LA FAMIGLIA. Saying it was not family but food would have been an unthinkable and shameful cultural heresy. Of course, that was in Toronto. Come to think of it, two of my best pals have married Italian-Canadians, and family there is STILL more important than food.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Don't be a Snob

"It's not about race, it's about class," I am wont to repeat when I think about the woes of the USA. A pecking order based on where you get accepted to college is incredibly stupid. It's arguably another form of consumerism, and this spills over into friendship and dating. It creates a nasty form of snobbery which punishes women in particular.

Read the following article.

It is true that I married a university graduate, like my father. My husband got his degree in the humanities. He works in the charity sector. Fortunately I grew up with a mother who thinks consumerism is sinful and that the love of money is the root of all evil. We are very happy.

A friend of mine from university married a skilled tradesman, like her father. He didn't go to uni at all. He is foreman for some company or other. When they got married, he already had a house. My friend still has her teaching job, but she also has a house, garden, chickens, a car, etc., etc. They are very happy.

A friend of mine who went to different universities married a farmer--not like her late father, actually. I think he was in telecommunications. Anyway the farmer had dropped out of uni. He works for his older brother, who owns the farm. They live in their own farmhouse and have a glorious view. This friend also has a teaching job, but also a farmhouse and guaranteed work for her husband, two children, an extended farming family, a pick-up truck, etc., etc. They are all very happy.

I don't think anyone should feel she should HAVE to date a guy with whom she has little in common, but making friends from all ages and walks of life is a good idea. It's also a good idea to meet as many guys at college or uni as possible, so as to realize that not all guys at college or uni are as smart as some of the tradesmen and self-employed businessmen you have met. Also, not all of them are suited for college or uni life and drop out sooner rather than later to take up some trade they discover they would really prefer to white-collar work.

Mostly I think it is important to make friends, real buddies, guys who respect you and whom you respect. They don't have to be just like you, and you don't have to be just like them. Naturally, it's a good plan to share core values with anyone thinking you might be a good girlfriend or marriage prospect. But core values must have some kind of objective value. "Love of family" is objectively valuable. "Wears Ralph Lauren" is not. "Is a critical thinker" is objectively valuable. "Went to Harvard" is not.

I really honestly don't think "has university education" should be anyone's criteria for befriending men. If you have a university education, great. Hopefully that opens the career/job doors for you you want opened and hasn't crippled you with debt. University is a great place to make friends, friends you may have all your life. But it's supposed to make you a broad-minded person, confident in speaking with all kinds of people and figuring how best to communicate ideas to different audiences (e.g. if you study math, how you would teach it to a five year old), not closing you off to other people, as if uni had inducted you into a sacred priesthood. I'm not saying you should go on a date with a real slacker; I'm just saying, stop rejecting 90% of humanity before they've even said "Hi."

Meanwhile, although your husband's way of life would have an enormous impact on your life--so you need to be really sure before you sign on--women are no longer defined socially by their marriages. Okay, here at the Historical House, I am definitely Mrs B.A. But to a segment of the Catholic reading public, I am definitely DCM.  Over the sea, Mrs Tradesman is still Professor Herself, and Mrs Farmer is still Professional Mezzo-soprano.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Domestic Priestess

Hello, it's Traddy Tuesday, the day set aside for discussion of traditional Catholic liturgy and belief, and I am later than usual because I have been making the Christmas Cake. I am sure you don't want to think about Christmas already but Pentecost is speeding to a close, and Christmas Cake must sit in its brandy-soaked swaddling cloths for a minimum of five weeks, preferably more.

I was going to write about how beautiful Requiem Masses are--how solemn, how sober, how appropriate for everyone. A few years ago a very popular English priest was, around the time of his death, accused of historical child abuse. Victims were very bitter about the five-ring "celebration of life" held for him weeks after his death; if only he had had a trad funeral, black and gold, accompanied by stern chanting of the Dies Irae, and sacerdotal hinting that without serious prayer the departed would sizzle under Purgatory's grill like a toasted cheese sandwich, and it was left at that, those he had hurt would not have been so upset.

But my thoughts have turned kitchenward, as you can see, and so I would like to write about women and Christmas, which falls under the category of women/religion/food, for it is an example of how women stress religious observance through food preparation. Traditionally, observant Jewish women keep a kosher kitchen. Traditionally, observant Muslim women prepare the sun-down meals for the Ramadan fast. And traditionally, Eastern Christian women cope with a complex fasting-and-feasting-schedule while we lightweight Westerners sigh over our Friday tuna casseroles. (Full disclosure: I never make tuna casserole, actually. Fresh fish is cheap and plentiful in our island nation.)

I posit that Anglo-Saxons are not particularly talented at fasting foods-- when it comes to fasting we could most definitely learn from the Greeks--but we are absolute geniuses at Christmas. At Christmas old-fashioned rituals suddenly become very important. Millions of people in the British Commonwealth even tune in for the Queen's Christmas Message, and thousands who don't make a habit of it actually go to church.  Christmas trees--completely unheard of in the UK before Queen Victoria married a German--are bought despite the mess they make of the carpet. And then there's the food. The food. The food.

"Dear Lord," I prayed at Mass the other day, "I've never had Christmas without Mum's Chelsea Bun, and this year we are going to Italy and I may not be able to make the Bun. Will it still be Christmas without the Bun? Please help me be less emotionally attached to the Bun."

I didn't bother asking to be less emotionally attached to the Christmas Cake. Like a bird sensing it was time to go South for the winter, I walked to Tesco and bought half a pound of candied peel and half a pound of candied cherries. For lo, such is the custom of my tribe. My mother has made an enormous Christmas Cake every year of my life, and now that I can't eat hers, I make my own, and if it doesn't taste exactly the same as hers does I feel I have failed as a woman, etc.

Actually, my Christmas baking obsession, this unbridled feminine business with butter, sugar, eggs and flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and candied cherries, unnerves my only-child husband so much that he eagerly embraced the idea of going to Italy for Christmas, thinking that this would make us more relaxed. I wouldn't say that he is actually frightened when suddenly I turn into a Christmas-cooking-and-baking-automaton, but as he comes from a Scots Protestant background (and Christmas was all but illegal in Scotland before 1950), it's not what he's used to. I explain that I can't really help it, which he did not believe until my mother came for Christmas last year and make several million cookies. Great was her wrath when she returned this summer and found a dozen chocolate-mint pinwheels still in their tin. (I explained that, being only two middle-aged people, not five adolescent carpet beetles, we could not eat them all.)

I must say that it was awesome having my mother come and do her baking instead of me doing her baking while she also did her baking, if you see what I mean. Of course I had to do the Christmas Cake myself, as it has to be done in November. But I did not complain or flinch or even think about it all that much. I just went about mindlessly buying ingredients, washing the raisins, mixing the batter in our biggest bowl with my right arm and buttering brown paper.

"What is the point of all this mad seasonal baking?" you may very well ask. "Your mother had five children and three of them are still within comfortable driving distance of the cookie tins. There is also a grandchild within cooky-stealing range. Her enormous fruitcake will not outlast Epiphany. You will have to give large chunks away. Why bother?"

And I keep falling back into faux-Biblical sentence structures, for lo, I must make the Christmas Cake, yea, unto the rolling out of the marzipan between two sheets of wax paper dusted with icing sugar, for such is the custom of my tribe. To eat exactly the same foods as my family in my youth is to continue to celebrate Christmas with the family of my youth, be they living or dead. To taste the Christmas Cake in 2015 is to taste it in 1985, 1995, 2005, and perhaps 2025. To eat the Chelsea Bun with B.A. is to eat it with my grandmothers, who have died. To make the Chelsea Bun is to honour my mother, yea, she who got up every Christmas morning to bake the risen dough.

Tradition is a form of time-travel. Or, better, tradition is a way of escaping mundane time and the demands of time. Tradition creates a sacred space in which we can honour our ancestors and even, in a mysterious way, be in communion with them. And that is why I used such a click-bait title as "Domestic Priestess." Silly people wail that women have been robbed of sacral roles in the Church. How ridiculous. At Christmas time, especially, home becomes another church, and traditionally the women are in charge of the kitchen. We create the smells and tastes of Christmas that our men and children will remember for the rest of their lives and will help them slip the surly bonds of time.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Boaz's Cold Feet

Yesterday I read the charming Book of Ruth in the Old Testament and decided I really must have a look at how one or two of the Early Church Fathers read the story. Sadly I haven't managed to do that yet, but I was struck by the pitiable circumstances of women without husbands or sons in Naomi's day.

If you remember, Naomi is a married woman with two sons and two daughters-in-law. Her husband dies and  her sons die, and she tells her daughters-in-law to leave her and go back to their kinsmen back home. (In short, "Save yourselves!") One takes her advice, but Ruth stubbornly sticks with her, which seems to have been truly heroic. Instead of fleeing to the protection of her own family, Ruth adds her small strength to that of Naomi and goes out to work on her behalf. 

Working in the fields seems to have been dangerous for women, who were in constant danger of sexual assault, and the owner of the field where Ruth gleans away gives special orders that she not be harassed and even that grain from the official harvest be left for her. Hearing that Ruth has been singled out for special protection, Naomi tells Ruth to go out and snaffle the owner. (I paraphrase, naturally.) She is to find Boaz when he is asleep after some harvesting party, uncover his feet and lie down at them. 

I recall reading some nonsense about how "feet" is a euphemism, blah, blah, blah, but speaking as a middle-aged person who does not sleep as well as she did in her youth, alas, I know exactly what Naomi was up to. She wanted to make sure Boaz woke up and noticed Naomi's superlative humility. How to wake a middle-aged person up without incurring his or her wrath? Remove the blanket from over their feet and wait. When the poor middle-aged feet get cold, the poor middle-ager will wake up, as did Boaz. 

Someone or other has tried to justify chasing after men with Ruth's pursuit of Boaz. However, I would posit that Boaz "made the first move", as the saying is, by singling out Ruth for special protection and alms-in-the-form-of-grain. Naomi, who was an older woman and very realistic, had enough evidence to guess that Boaz might like to marry pretty, much-younger Ruth. Trusting to Boaz's reputation as a good man,  and not wanting Ruth and herself to live in unprotected poverty, she sent Ruth into a potentially dangerous situation. This was not about romantic love; it was about economics and safety. But it was also about good people recognizing other good people. Instead of being cross, Boaz was impressed that Ruth had made herself vulnerable to him, not to some handsome young guy--as young women generally do, sometimes for shallow reasons, sometimes not. 

Still that was then. Women in the west don't usually have to depend on their male relations for economic support, and good luck to you if you try to convince them that they owe you your living. Not only are all kinds of jobs and professions open to us, it is against the law for people to sexually harass us while we work at them. If you're good at your job--and you're not in some incredibly sexist-agist business like television--you can look like a monkey puzzle and you won't starve to death. 

Obviously the Book of Ruth is not a sacred version of The Rules, but the aspect of the Ruth-Boaz relationship that really speaks to me is that Ruth may have "gone after" Boaz, after an older, perhaps wiser, woman who sincerely loved her judged this to be a good idea, but he was significantly older than herself. 

I don't want twenty-somethings to cry into their morning coffee, but it does seem to me that the older are flattered by the attention and loyalty of the younger, and young people seem quite beautiful to the older, just for being young. If all the 20-something boys around you seem oblivious to your inner beauty, the 30-something men are probably not. However, this does not make them any less dangerous to your happiness, if they are jerks. A jerky 20-something wants a supermodel; a jerky 30-something wants a young thing to dominated. But at good 30-something man, if he isn't married already, will be equally surprised and delighted if a 20-something gives him the time of day.

Yes, I know you are probably sick of being hit on by "creepy older men" but not all older men are creepy, and nobody is creepy just for being five years or more older than you. It is worth it to strike up conversations with older guys in your social groups, just to be friendly. I do not, however, recommend finding the most attractive and attentive one where he is asleep after a party and uncovering his feet. You're not an impoverished widowed Moabite with a mother-in-law to feed. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Where is that Child's Mother?

Oh. It turns out the child doesn't have a mother.

He has two daddies, and they think it is fine if he dresses like this for Hallowe'en.

The article talks a lot about how "fierce" the nine-year-old child is and how  it was his "attitude" that really "sold" the costume.

It wails that one woman actually had the nerve to say on Facebook that it was inappropriate, she couldn't believe a parent would do that to a child. She's sorry if she offends the father(s) or their "friends" but she thinks its wrong.

O what a "bigot."

Frankly, the nine-year-old in full vamp make-up doesn't remind me as much of Cruella de Ville as he does of Brooke Shields in (don't link if you're sensitive) "Pretty Baby." 

Isn't it amazing those photos are 100% legal? And that his dad has (or dads have) given permission to have them, not only on Facebook, but on the internet? With his name attached?

Chinese Singles' Day?

November 11 means different things in different countries. In the British Commonwealth and the United States, it marks the end of the First World War, and Canadians now call it Remembrance Day. In Poland it marks the beginning of 20th century Polish independence, and so for them it is Independence Day. But in China, it is Singles' Day, and Chinese Singles celebrate it in fine communist style--by buying themselves stuff. 

Personally I am all for Singles buying themselves little treats to reward themselves for emotionally heavy obligations, like going to weddings, or smiling through Thanksgiving Day dinners as the only unmarried niece, or remaining conscious in the USA during Valentine's Day. In the case of Valentine's Day, I have always thought that it is just as good for a Single to give to another as to receive from another. I would say it was better, were it not for the memory of the surprise chocolate my dad left on my desk one year. I don't know why, but that was one of the best surprise gifts of my life.

There's something hollow about giving yourself a present for a day celebrating your non-status as a Single person. If I go to the beautician on my birthday, I'm celebrating the fact that I'm alive and taking the pressure off my husband to give me a happy birthday. (Many men just do not get why celebrating birthdays is important.) On Valentine's Day I meet with female friends and any Single readers who happen to be in town that day. For B.A's and my wedding anniversary, I call up a favourite restaurant and reserve a table for lunch.

As a Single, I did once send myself a valentine. I thought it would be cool to get something in the post, even if it was just from myself. It wasn't. Reading the message I had written only a few days before felt pretty pathetic. It would have been a much better use of the price of the card and the stamp if I had sent them to a fellow Single--or to my mother or grandmother.

I suppose after the deprivations of Communism, the Chinese think the answer to life is consumer goods--one thinks of the girlfriends of Russian gangsters rolling around in Chanel lipsticks and Prada bags--but I really think the best way to cope with the privations of Singledom is to reach out and do something for others. I honestly have never heard of a holiday in which the point is to buy yourself something, and it seems just as sad as the valentine I sent myself.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Wolno, Szybko (Slowly, Quickly)

In pondering the difficulties and rewards of language learning, I have turned to one of my favourite essays by the philosopher Simone Weil, "Reflection on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God."  I wish there had been a picture book edition for me as a child, for it might have provided me with a much needed kick in the pants:

"The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention...

"Of course school exercises only develop a lower kind of attention. Nevertheless, they are extremely effective in increasing the power of attention that will be available at the time of prayer, on condition that they are carried out with a view to this purpose, and this purpose alone."

Read the whole thing. (The translation I have--and I suspect has been borrowed by the site I link to--is by Emma Craufurd.)  It is genius. And although I make no claims for the improvement of my spiritual life, I have to say that it is almost painful concentration that has improved my grasp of Polish. (Oh yes, it's Polski Piątek today.) As I try to write out whole textbook dialogues from memory, I comfort myself with the knowledge that what matters even more than remembering the vocabulary is TRYING to remember the vocabulary. Because for some reason, the more I fail and try again, the easier it is to understand the Poles on the bus, to say nothing of coming up with complex (if quirky) sentences in Polish class.

Some people are naturally gifted by God with a facility for learning foreign languages, and some have to work like a slave, and I belong to the slave class. A Polish friend sent me a link to a man-on-the-street interview he participated in, and the first time I heard it all I could make out was "change" and "finally." So I listened to it again and again and again and again, and eventually I made out that one of his sentences was: " live and study." No, bo tutaj mieszkam i studiuję--super-easy first year stuff. What this tells me is that I really have to listen to more Polish without the handy script of Polish in Four Weeks Intermediate. And listen and listen and listen.

The staggering fact of the matter, when one is seriously trying to learn one language as an adult, is that the language learner has to learn four different languages. In my case, these language are Polish for reading, Polish for writing, Polish for hearing and Polish for speaking.

Polish for reading is the easiest, believe it or not. But it's a bit like code-breaking when you have the cipher right beside you. If you know the fundamentals of Polish grammar and vocabulary, and you can look things up in the dictionary in a painstaking way, you can read Polish. The more you do it, the easier it gets. A summer of painfully reading Sienkiewicz, feeling almost overwhelmed almost all the time--wolno-- meant a pretty good grasp of articles in Polish news magazines in October--szybko.

Polish for writing is next, on the same principles. I am lucky in that I have generous Polish friends who occasionally correct what I write and add helpful comments. I started writing my own compositions in the summer of 2012 and what a slog it still is. My first task is always to peer through the fog of panic. I recommend always starting with a happy thought, e.g. My favourite X is (Mój ulubiony X jest...)

Polish for listening is very, very hard for me, especially if it is A) recorded B) spoken very quickly by Poles C) spoken very badly by my classmates. This is where I really must force myself to concentrate. It doesn't help that I have trouble catching even the lyrics of recorded songs sung in English; I'm not sure if this is unusual or not. Both my brother Nulli and my husband B.A. have incredibly quick and accurate hearing. B.A.--the fiend!--is a natural mimic and can reproduce an authentic Polish accent without having a clue what the words mean.

Oddly, despite this deficiency, I understand more and more of what Poles say on the bus.* Minor improvement, minor improvement, minor improvement....sudden vast improvement.

Polish for speaking is usually the hardest. I think. Actually, to tell you the truth, it may have switched places with "Polish for listening" because I am now at the stage where I can just say stuff without worrying too much about how wrong or stupid I sound. This is probably thanks to my friend's October wedding in Kielce, where I spoke and sang more Polish in 24 hours than I had for the past twelfth-month all together. It is also thanks to my night school Polish class where we all sound stupid or wrong. The most important thing about "Polish for speaking" is constant sacrifice of one's dignity. Again and again, one must take one's sense of oneself as an articulate, literate adult human being, lay it on the altar of Polish and stab it to death. ("What has happened if Mama will not have enough sugar?" was last night's linguistic masterpiece. Mad props for attempting the conditional, however.)

Of course what I want is the magic of the "flipped switch"--the sudden realization ("insight", Lonergan would call it) that I understand spoken Polish and that I automatically respond in good Polish. I am honestly not sure how long this is going to take. But I am sure it will take me much more work. As I wish I had known about learning when I was 14, it's not about "brains" when it comes to rewiring the brain. It's about work.


*And also what Poles say in phone conversations in my sitting-room. Uwaga! Proszę iść na pole.