Thursday, 31 December 2015

Too Much Dorothy

UPDATE: Here's the new blog, in which I will make experiments in eschewing the first person singular. I will be updating it sporadically, so do drop in once in a while. Thanks to all my regular readers and fans, especially those two who sent me gifts via Amazon, and those who donated to my various causes.

When I as a fledgling writer, I received two pieces of advice that I completely ignored.

The second, from the late, great Canadian poet Margaret Avison, was not to write in the first person (i.e. "me, myself and I") for ten years. That was over ten years ago, and behold. 

The first, from the late, great Canadian professor of prose, Harvey Kerpnik*, was the remark, scrawled on one of my more lighthearted compositions in the mid-90s, "Too much Dorothy."


Before I went on our Christmas holiday, I had a think about my dependence on the internet and my perhaps unwise habit of "giving [almost all of] it all [i.e. my deathless prose] away for free". I also had a think about how much I am encouraging, through my own work, the regrettable North American tendency to "let it all hang out." It left me feeling rather depressed, but as St. Ignatius of Loyola said, one shouldn't make decisions while in a state of desolation. 

So B.A. and I went to Italy, and I turned my face to the beautiful southern sun, waiting to be placed in a state of consolation. And what I have decided--B.A. assuring me that entirely giving up writing in the first person is impractical--is to start a new blog, in which I write rather less about myself .  For example, I will stop writing sentences like "I think Sienkiewicz was a genius" and write "Sienkiewicz was a genius" instead. Stay tuned for the link to the new blog.

Meanwhile, I have pledged to write more often for pay than for blog, so insofar as I can, I will publish links to my paid work. (If you want to read regularly my biweekly column in the Toronto Catholic Register, please subscribe to the online edition.)

Incidentally, after ten days without the internet, the only important news I discovered I had missed was rampant flooding in the United Kingdom, the country in which I live. Naturally I already knew about the wretched circumstances of Christians in the Middle East--and the indifference of the world to their particular plight-- and so I encourage you to send the right Christian agencies money, in the hope that it will be used to help at least some Christians.

*I may have misspelled his name . Alas, Harvey died before any mention of him was recorded on the internet. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Off to Italy

I hope all readers have a blessed and holy final week of Advent and a merry Christmas! B.A. and I are taking a very early morning flight to Rome tomorrow, and I'll be offline for several days.

Take care!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Faithful

If you get annoyed by traddies grumbling about the Novus Ordo, this would be a good time to click away (or skip to the bottom). Or, if you're curious, keep on reading. I shall strive for a pleasant tone. Minimal snark.

On Sunday Benedict Ambrose and I took the the train north to visit his mother. We were under the impression that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass would be available in her town that day, but we were wrong. Alas. We took the train back south and debated how to fulfill our obligation. And yes, "how to fulfill our obligation" is a wretched way to think about Mass.

"Polish Mass," I said as B.A examined our options via train wifi.  "Polish Mass."

B.A. did not look too happy at the thought of Polish Mass.

"You won't understand the homily, but I have it on good authority it's usually kind of boring. You could play a [mental] drinking game to it. Every time the priest says "miłosz" (love), you get a sip."

B.A. did not look amused. Tappity tappity.

"There," he said, pleased, and I looked to see an English-speaking Mass at a church not too far from the railway station.

"But will we get there on time?" I asked.

"Chalice veils," said Benedict Ambrose, which refers to his belief that the absolute bare minimum to Sunday Obligation is being at Mass between the Offertory, when the chalice is (or was) unveiled and when the chalice is covered up again after the Communion of the Faithful.

I was not happy. I would rather have gone to Polish Mass than show up late for English Mass, but I admit that Polish Mass can be rough going if you don't understand Polish or aren't moved by the traditional hymns. The English Mass started before the train pulled into the station, and I wondered if we could still get to Polish Mass on time if we missed the bare-minimum moment. I hoped there would be a long homily, even if the long homily was about how rotten the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is and how silly the people who want us all to go back to it.

We got off the train and scurried through the station and ran through the dark, wet streets to the handsome old church, which glowed in the night, and found ourselves among 160 or so people saying the Nicene Creed. Great was my relief. We scurried to the very back, and I hoped we didn't stick out too much in the half-empty church. We could have taken a pew of course but like most people who go to the EF week after week, we're allergic to the Sign of Peace.

This is not because we are jerks but because we take Mass seriously. If we really were jerks, we would really yuk it up during the Novus Ordo, crossing the aisle to shake hands, kissing the prettier people, blessing the babies, singing twice as loudly as everyone else, in a spirit of angry irony. Oh dear, how wicked that would be.

Anyway, we stood at the back, behind the last pew, in which two cherubic moppets played a slapping game, which we found very distracting, but hey--their parents may have picked the back pew for a reason. And I noticed two things that shocked me although mentioning the first one is an old traddie cliché.

1. The priest prayed at the congregation.

First of all, I know this was not his fault. Once I had a look at the "how to say liturgy properly" book that came out in 1971 or so, and it was adamant that priests really had to put their back into presenting the prayers with emotion, expression and volume. And this priest obediently did that. He was miked, and so although he was purportedly praying to God, he was obviously speaking to/for/at us, the congregation. In his defense, his delivery was not all about him. He didn't show off, mug, make jokes, chat wittily or do any of those populist-priest things that some people love, and I loved myself until I went to BC.

2. The priest sang to the congregation.

The congregation did not sing, but a pleasant male voice sang the offertory and communion hymns through a microphone to the organ accompaniment. I looked in vain for the excellent cantor before realizing he was the priest. The congregation sat in silence while the priest sang verse after verse. I looked over at another man standing at the back, and although he was reading the hymn paperback, he wasn't singing either. Afterwards, B.A. explained to me that these were difficult hymns for a congregation to sing, and he thought the priest should have picked hymns the congregation would know.

It was Gaudete Sunday--the priest was not wearing rose vestments but sad old purple--but I didn't feel very happy. I looked at the singing  priest and the sparse congregation, and wondered how long this state of liturgy can continue. It was a big church, but in the 1950s it would have been packed to the door with Scottish Catholics whose faith too often meant social marginalization  but was strong nonetheless.

Those Catholics, though, had the solemnity, grandeur, silences, music, rhythms and certainties of the Old Mass. These faithful 160 do not--or don't know they do--but still they came to Mass on a wet Sunday evening. Still they fulfilled their obligation. Many received communion from either the (surely redundant) Extraordinary Minister or the priest. Some brought their children. "It's a miracle," I told B.A.

When I didn't recognize the recessional hymn, I nudged B.A. and off we went into glistening night. I have been to Sunday Mass almost every Sunday of my life, and missing Mass feels like a minor trauma. "Chalice veils" is really not enough. However, my husband has been a trained liturgist since he was a child in a fine Anglican choir, and public worship is very important to him. Witnessing a shift in the focus of worship from God to the community hurts him, just as bad singing hurts my musician brother, who has perfect pitch.

But as for me, if others can be bi-ritual, surely I can be bi-form. I never knew anything but the Novus Ordo from birth to the age of 37, and I do believe it can be done well, can be made a true child of the Mass of Ages, and I think merely turning the focus of the priest from the congregation back towards God, facing the same way as the congregation, is the best place to begin. Will the faithful accept it? Thinking of those faithful 160, I would hazard that the remaining faithful of Scotland will accept just about anything.

The O Antiphons. I was going to write about the O Antiphons today, but I was moved to write about  our experience at Sunday Mass instead. Here is an article about the O Antiphons by our friend Gregory DiPippo

Update: I've been reading through the Father Z comments on Sunday obligation, and I was struck by a comment about a woman who came to Mass for the barest of the bare minimum, lit a candle before the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was on her way. It occurred to me that this woman's trip to church might be longer than the time she spent in church. The journey itself was less tedious to her than an extra minute spent in church. Why? The commentator assumes the woman was caring for the sick; I wonder if she wasn't a brokenhearted trad.

Monday, 14 December 2015


Today I was late in writing up my Christmas column for the CR for I was entertaining two little Edinburgh girls and their mother. Now I feel very Christmassy indeed, even though by family standards I cheated by having a tin of Cadbury's chocolate cookies to hand instead of proper home-baked cookies. Family pride was saved by the presence of Chocolate Piernik (gingerbread), which I thought the girls might not like, as it is stuffed with chopped prunes and candied ginger. The youngest loved it, however.

This may sound fatuous, but I do like children, especially tiny ones. The youngest are rarely self-conscious and just wriggle about doing their own version of Pilates or suddenly decide to take naps in the middle of the carpet, which I often want to do at parties. They are not at all shocked or disapproving if you join them on the floor, as I did, for I wanted to see if I too could tuck my feet behind my head. You can't really get away with this sort of thing when all your guests are adults.

I was a bit worried that the children would be bored, for we have no proper toys. However, we have a large collection of toy owls--owl cushions, owl doorstops, woolly owls, brass owls, wooden owls--plus my old, immensely long-suffering teddy bear and a hedgehog cushion. I assembled them all together in the sitting-room, and I think my small guests were a bit awed that one grown-up could own so many owls. They consumed milk, chocolate biscuits and cake, played with the owls and made them a nest, and I felt our "elevenses" was as successful as a dinner party.

"Elevenses" is a meal you will know if you read the Paddington Bear books as a child. Although Paddington is himself Peruvian,the Paddington Bear books are as English as English can be. Paddington has a mid-morning snack with his friend Mr Gruber, a very English Hungarian who keeps an antique shop in London's Portobello Road. Mr Gruber calls this snack "Elevenses," and it generally involves a cup of cocoa.

Afterwards I walked my guests through the woods to the bus stop, but despite the rain, the children were in no hurry. The youngest was fascinated by the stream and stood about staring at it, looking like an illustration in a classic English (or Scotttish) children's book. When I was three and four, I lived in England, and I have very fond memories of being three and four and playing in woods. In fact, I like everything and everyone that reminds me of that time which is yet another reason why I fell for B.A.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

St Lucy's Eve Supper

Crisps (Tesco)

Barszcz Czerwony (clear red borscht) with
Uszki ("little ears" mushroom dumplings, Sugared Orange) &

Garlic & Goat's Cheese Tart (Plenty, Ottolenghi) with
Boiled Potatoes and
Fennel Salad &

Chocolate Gingerbread (Sugared Orange) with]
Sweetened Whipped Cream with Orange juice &
Elderflower champagne (2015)

Chocolate eyeballs & Coffee


Friday, 11 December 2015

Humility the Path to Linguistic Glory

Today is Polski Piątek, and the last day before Christmas I will think about Polish stuff. B.A. and I are going to Umbria for Christmas, so I must pack up all the Polish in my brain and shove it into a mental closet to make room for the Italian I am going to spend the next week reviewing.

If you take Polish classes, it is very helpful to have Polish friends around to help you with your homework. All over Edinburgh there are Poles of every class and condition hunched over the assignments of their "foreign" friends, lovers or spouses. "The girls at work translated it for me," one chap would say of the Polish songs he presented to class. His songs were always Polish Praise & Worship hymns, and as a matter of fact, the number of Catholics in the top grade is now so high, our teacher has started sending her fictional characters in our readings to Mass on Sundays.

Usually I do my assignments on my own but take or send any extraordinarily long passage to Polish friends to correct. The Principal Authority, however, is Polish Pretend Son, who is rather like the stern priest who shouts his homilies but then is very kind in the confessional. The most important thing about PPS, as an arbiter of Polish, is that he does not let any error slide. So it was with mingled joy and trepidation that I brought my most recent assignment to him on Monday and sat beside him on the couch.

"This is very lazy," said PPS (or words to that effect). "It is all in the nominative case!"

"Whoops," said Seraphic who, when PPS was busily being born, was either dancing with super-cute guys at the Brebeuf College School Christmas Dance or writing all about them in her journal.  "I suppose some of it should be in the genitive."

"HMMph", uttered PPS, which is PPSski for "Yes."

I busily worked that section , and then inquired about the next. PPS looked at it for a long time.

"This is all wrong," declared PPS.

"Oh dear."

For the entertainment of Polish readers and learners, I will now present two versions of my essay, the first draft and the final, so you can see how pathetic my first draft was and I can relive once again my errors, for this is the path to linguistic glory.  (The most egregious errors will be underscored.)

Before I do that I should mention there is a bit of biographical exaggeration, as what counts in Polish class is not factual truth but getting whatever Polish you know onto paper or into ears. I will fix this for the translation.

First draft (exceedingly terrible)

Jestem pisarką i niezależną dziennikarką od ośmiu lat. Najbardziej mi podoba się pisanie noweli ale muszę też pisać artykły wstępne i rownież wiadomość, żeby zarobić pieniądze.

Piszę dla "Catholic Register", tygodnik w Toronto, i dla "Catholic World Report" dziennik w siecię, który jest czasopismo mojego wydawnictwa w USA, które opublikowało moją pierwszą powieść.

Kiedy pracuję dla "CR", opiniuję delikatnie o jakąś sprawie życie, n.p. jak mam tym roku gotować dla bożonarodzeniowego. A kiedy piszę dla "CWR", mam nagrać wywiady, n.p. z księdzem ukraińskim o wojnie, albo przeczytać kziążki, n.p. "Bóg albo nic" przez Kardynała Sarah, albo tłumaczyć jakiś artykły na Polski.

Mnóstwo artykłow w CWR należą do USA--ja zamuję się wiadomościmi z Kanady i z Europy też. Podoba mi się napisać o nowinych w Kosciele Polksi. Mam tłumaczyć, a to jest zabawa....

Final draft 

Jestem pisarką i niezależną dziennikarką od ośmiu lat. Najbardziej podoba mi się pisanie noweli, ale żeby zarobić pieniądze, muszę też pisać felietony i reportaże.

Piszę dla Catholic Register, tygodnika w Toronto i dla Catholic World Report, dziennika internetów, który jest czasopismem mojego wydawnictwa w USA, które opublikowało moją powieść.

Kiedy pracuję dla CR, piszę o przyziemnych sprawach, np. co mam ugotować na Boże Narodzenie. Natomiast, kiedy piszę dla CWR muszę nagrywać wywiady, np. z księdzem ukraińskim o wojnie, albo czytać książki, np. Bóg albo nic kardynała Sarah, albo tłumaczyć artykły z Polski.

Mnóstwo artykłów w CWR dotyczy USA; ja zamuję się wiadomościmi z Kanady i z Europy. Lubię pisać o nowinach dotzczących polskiego Kościoła. Muszę robić tłumaczenia; co jest dla mnie dobrą zabawą.

I hope that is all right. My corrected draft was rather a mess. I showed it to my teacher yesterday, so she could correct anything I missed, and it was mostly the punctuation.


"I have been a writer and freelance journalist for eight years. I like writing stories best, but in order to make money, I must also write opinion pieces and news.

"I write for the Catholic Register, a weekly paper in Toronto, and for Catholic World Report, an internet daily, which is the magazine of my publisher in the USA, who published my novel. [And very tired my classmates must be of hearing about it, too.]

"When I work for the CR, I write about everyday things, e.g. what I must cook for Christmas. However, when I write for CWR, I must conduct interviews, e.g. with a Ukrainian priest about the war, or read books, e.g. God or Nothing by Cardinal Sarah, or translate articles from Poland. [Not to republish but for myself, to understand the story and to get quotes.]

"Most of the articles in CWR are about the USA; I [concern myself] with news from Canada and Europe. I love to write news about the Polish Church. I have to translate; I think this is great fun..."

Meanwhile, here is my latest article for Catholic World Report. Some readers will probably be shocked, and other readers will probably be impressed. Just remember that this Polish story has nothing to do with a North American or British context and everything to do with A) Polish history and B) contemporary events in continental Europe.

P.S. I know perfectly well that Gazeta Wyborcza is a left-wing, liberal newspaper highly critical of the Church. It is, however, a mainstream, national daily paper with a large (albeit rapidly falling) readership. It's not the Morning Star.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Travelling on Business

I have a sad tale from a reader who travelled on business to a traditionally macho nation. She was there for some weeks, long enough to get to know some of the men there, also employees of her multinational employer. I shall call the two principal men Hans and Franz although this was not a German-speaking country.

Hans was a cheerful chap with a steady girlfriend, but also apparently the sort of man who complains that other guys get all the girls.

Franz was charming, handsome and, according to Hans, was one of those guys who gets all the girls.

To make a long story short, Franz began to flirt with our heroine, whom I will call Sally, in a way that shocked her. To paraphrase, "Do you always talk to female colleagues that way?" she demanded. "Only when I like them," quoth he.

This carried on for a bit, Franz oozing charm and handsomeness, and Sally trying to figure out if he was at all serious when he said he wanted to kiss her. One day she and Hans spotted Franz with another girl. "Something's brewing there," said Hans, and Franz and the other girl disappeared. Who knows where?

But Franz continued to make his flirtatious remarks, including that he did not want to talk, he wanted to kiss, and when Sally was preparing to go home to her English-speaking country, even though they have never really had a serious conversation, he asked her if she would like to be his girlfriend.

Sally was shocked, doubtful, thrilled. No-one had ever asked her to be his girlfriend before. But being a practical woman, she asked how that would be possible, as they live so far away. He suggested sexting. I'm not sure what Sally said to that--I suspect she let it slide. At any rate, Franz gives sexting the old college try when Sally gets home, she tells him off, and that is that.

Except that Sally really misses him and wonders if she should contact him to apologize and explain, and if she made a terrible mistake in not agreeing to be his girlfriend.

And my head fell into my hands, for I had got Franz's number when I read the part of the story in which he said that he wasn't interested in talking. But to be frank, I had half Franz's number, thanks to Hans' subtle English-is-his-second-language warnings.

Talk about a culture clash. I wonder if innocent Sally confused player Franz as much as he confused her.

I think women from English-speaking nations should be taken aside and warned about men from non-English speaking nations before business trips.* It should be banged into our heads that not all countries have the same codes of office conduct, and not all men take them as seriously as the men in our offices.**  A Single woman travelling alone who is leaving in a few weeks is still a Single woman travelling alone who is leaving in a few weeks.  If that Single woman is travelling to a country where having sex with as many pretty women as possible is a national past-time, she is more likely to be hit on by male colleagues than she would be at home.

Manager: Franz, I hear from head office in London that you made sexual overtures to Sally.

Franz: Ah, Sally. So sexy, so foreign.

Manager: Did you score?

Franz: (long pause). Alas, no.

There are useful little books for business travellers, and I highly recommend that everyone who works with people from other countries read them. For example, the behaviour of one of my foreign colleagues in the theologate seemed to me so odd that I read a business travel guide to his country, and much was made clear.

The fact is that although all people belong to one great family called the human race, and we all share a lot in common, we also have significant cultural differences, and some of them--a lot of them--pertain to sexuality. One piece of evidence is the national indicator for virginity loss by age 15. In Canada, roughly the same number of boys (24.1%) and girls (23.9%) have had their first "sexual experience" by the age of 15.  In Israel, however, it's 31% of boys, and 8.2% of girls. Could there perhaps be a stronger sexual double standard in Israel than there is in Canada? Hmm....

Grandmothers fearlessly used to warn their granddaughters about men from other countries, and my own grandmother warned me against Italian men before I went to Italy, predicting that my bottom would be pinched black and blue. Well, maybe that was true in the 1950s, but nobody pinched my bottom in Italy in 1998, 1999, 2010 or anytime since. I suspect Grandma was seriously out of date.

But that said, the whole world is not London or New York or Toronto and so we shouldn't be caught off guard when men do not act like most men born in London, New York or Toronto. When the elevator boy at your resort in Egypt (France, Italy, Greece, Brazil, Turkey, Poland) tells you that he has fallen in love with you at first sight, he is lying 99% of the time.

The older I get, the more amused I am at the idea of foreign elevator boys, foreign seminarians, foreign owners of grocery stores telling me that they are in love with me, but then I'm happily married.

It's not so funny for women who are lonely and wish they did have a boyfriend, let alone a husband. The battle between good sense and wishful thinking must be very bloody when an American/English/Canadian woman is suddenly romanced by a handsome man from a macho country where constantly hitting on women is just what men do there.  And unless marriage is a ticket out of poverty, marriage to Foreign Woman is almost never on their minds. The goal here is not marriage. The goal here, if it is not just flirtation for flirtation's sake, is sexy fun bedtime with as few complications as possible. Thus your ticket home makes you even more attractive.

Update: There are two heroes in this story. The first is Sally, who strove to remain professional. The second, of course, is Hans, who tried to balance loyalty to his pal Franz with warnings to Sally.

*That said, the most devastating film about bad workplace behaviour I ever saw, The Company of Men, was set in the USA. That though was about men who were vicious woman-haters, not men who think women are like fine wine and other valued comestibles.

**That said, not all the men in our workplaces are so good about that, either. I've heard some eyebrow raising stories about British workplaces.

Not the Authorial Intent

I was reading a British tabloid about conditions for refugees (and villagers) in eastern Germany, and I thought, "Even a  foreigner like myself--who spent one summer in Germany nine years ago--would know what a really bad idea it would be to send hundreds of (legal? illegal?) immigrants to a small town in eastern Germany."

And I wondered how a Catholic South Asian girl I knew in western Germany, Darli, was doing, and whether German resentment for a million new "southern" neighbours is affecting her. Once when we went out for dinner at a restaurant, the waitress addressed her in English and then me in German. Darli upbraided her for this in German, for she had actually grown up in Germany. The waitress had assumed that I, being white, spoke German, and Darli, being brown, didn't. 

Frankfurt-am-Main is a cosmopolitan city, and I saw quite a non-Germans (or New Germans) while I was there, beginning when I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror in the mornings. I really liked the Germans (Old and New) I met. In general the quiet, solemn people on the trams or in the seminary reminded me of my parents, especially my father, who has German roots. They weren't much for striking up conversations with strangers at tram stops, although I do remember a silver-haired gent exclaiming to me over the news that George W. Bush had tried to give Angela Merkel a shoulder massage. "This is not how he should treat a German Woman!" he exclaimed.

As a Foreign Woman I attracted some attention. A young man of "southerly appearance" insisted on following me as long as possible on my journey back to the seminary, speaking sweet English words of love which scared the living daylights out of me. But a few dead-drunk teenagers of Germanic appearance actually tried to mug me just before dawn on the tram back from a night club. Well, one of them did. He came lurching up to my seat and demanded money in schoolboy English. I forget what I said, but it was along the lines of "No. Buzz off, kid" and he wobbled back to his friends. 

All this reminiscence is just to remind you that in order to understand the Germany the migrants have walked to, you could do worse than to buy my lovely novel Ceremony of Innocence (Ignatius Press, 2013),  in which I seem to have predicted Pegida, clashes between Pegida and AntiFa and "Nazi villages". That said, I see that the latest Amazon comment says the events are "somewhat dated", which makes me laugh as the novel's events are fictional, but also because I know exactly what he or she means. 

The background is a snapshot of Germany as it was in 2006-2008, and of course it is no longer the same place seven years later. For one thing, there is no way Dennis would stick earbuds in his ears: definitely he would have those nice cushioned headphones. Also he would be on his smartphone all the time, and Catriona would have been in constant touch with her young friends by text instead of emails.      

Ah well, I shall just have to write something else. I would love to link Benedict's abdication to something to do with Dennis and his cardinal great-uncle, but I feel about shy writing fiction about a living pope, er, emeritus. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Fiat Lux: the Light Show

Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is an important Marian feast day, so I thought I should go to Mass. It was at 6:15 PM, so naturally it was very dark outside. (The sun set on Edinburgh at 3:39 PM.)  The well-lit wooden church was a beacon in the night. It was also nice to see extra candles around the statue of Our Lady.

December 8 also marked the beginning of the Year of Mercy. Our archbishop wrote a splendid pastoral letter about the Year of Mercy, encouraging the faithful to go to confession often this year, returning to the practice of frequent confession. It was not at all a license for license, as some people fear the Year of Mercy may be. It was very much a message to seek actively the mercy of God.

But both the Feast day and the inauguration of the Year of Mercy were overshadowed by some strange lights. St. Peter's Basilica was plunged into darkness and a show was projected onto it. I am of two minds about this.

First of all, worse things have happened to Christian churches. Any frank history of the Spanish Civil War will reveal unspeakable horrors. But even Christians have done awful things to Christian churches: sold them to developers, sold them for non-Christian worship, opened them to non-Christian worship, hosted profane concerts, hosted frankly indecent liturgical dances, destroyed their interiors, introduced new decorations expressing theological dodginess... A few gigantic photos of monkeys, lions and tigers projected onto the front seem pretty mild in comparison.

However, this was the front of St. Peter's Basilica, the most widely recognized Christian church on earth.

But then it could be argued that "the world is charged with the grandeur of God" and that the beauty of the creation reflects the beauty of God. Why not on the front of St. Peter's Basilica? Many old churches have ornate carvings of animals, ordinary people--and even demons!

However, among the images, I understand, were photos of overcrowded city centres, suggesting that you can have too much of a good thing when the good thing is people. There was also a photo of a woman, on her knees, in suffocating, servile bondage gear, e.g. a burka. Why? As part of a celebration of the world's cultures?* Part of contemporary British culture is binge drinking; I hope there was no photo of that.

But then it could be argued that these were not advertisements for Coca-Cola and Pizza-Pizza. The spectacle was far a good cause--helping to inspire delight in and care for the health of the planet we live on. It was, one almost imagines, the illustrated version of Laudato Si'.

However, one of the show's primary financial backers was the World Bank, which funds pro-abortion and contraception schemes in developing countries, acting under the belief that you can have too many people. (How well that belief worked out for China.) Also, the artist was not a Christian artist; the art was not Christian art.

St Peter's was built to give glory to God, not to give glory to creation. Like all churches, it thus has a certain dignity, but it can lose dignity, too. When I first walked into St Peter's--in 1998--I was impressed by its size but disappointed by its atmosphere. All around me tourists were talking and taking photos, and it felt as though the cameras had sucked the holiness right out of the building. I saw a tourist paddle his hand in a holy water font and flick the water at his giggling friend. It wasn't until I saw a team of paramedics hurrying to the aid of a woman who had fainted that I could feel Christ's presence in the building.

Since then I have become rather fond of St. Peter's and more tuned in to its holiness. Any ire has shifted from tourists who don't know better to security guards who should know better, e.g. the one who requested that I take my hat off before I approached the tomb of  then-Bl. John Paul 2 ("Ma sono una DONNA!" was answered only with a smug smile, shake of the head and a gesture indicating the removal of a hat. As far as I can tell, mantillas and headscarves still pass muster.)

After thinking out all the potential arguments, I am sorry that St. Peter's was used as a film screen and wish it hadn't been. Nobody goes into a cinema to look at a film screen, and rarely does anyone go into a cinema to worship God. St. Peter's is supposed to show the light of Christ to the world, not dim the steady light of Christ so that the flickering lights of the world may be seen more clearly.

The image of the film screen is very important to me, for I know that men and women often use each other as film screens on which to project their own fond imaginings, getting upset when the reality of the supposed film screen interferes with the film. No man or woman should be reduced to a film screen, and neither should a Christian church. The only truly appropriate show I can imagine projected onto St. Peter's would be live news footage of  the Second Coming.

One last thing. My friend Hilary used to work late in Rome, and no matter how late she worked, she could walk through St. Peter's Square and look up at the Papal Apartments. A light within would almost always be on, and she imagined Pope Benedict working away at his desk for all our benefit ; the light betokened a father caring for his children. And before the abdication, I too had a chance to cross the Piazza after dark and look up at the Papal Apartments. A light was on; Papa Ratzi was working.

*BA says they could make her a cardinal, and then she would be Cardinal Burka

Update: It may be that the woman is begging in the photo. If so, her misery is certainly not due to climate change, nor to capitalism, but to cultural horrors that Christians resolutely oppose.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Ember Days

Good morning! It is Traddy Tuesday, the day I enthuse about traditional Catholic worship, belief and devotions. I have it on good authority that the Trads in Edinburgh manage to talk about all these delightful things in a way that is interesting and amusing, so let's hope I can live up to that reputation.

Time is very important to Trads, who preserve the Old Calendar, fasting (or abstaining) on fast days and feasting on feast days. We are also capable of honouring two feasts falling on the same day, so on December 6, we celebrated both the Second Sunday of Advent and the Feast of Saint Nicholas, whom we (now being adults) revere not so much for the Santa Claus stuff but for slapping the heretical Arius (or an Arian bishop), apparently at the Council of Nicaea.

Personally I think the Synod on the Family would have been greatly improved if the bishops had slapped each other although perhaps they remembered that in the story of St Nicholas, St. Nick was thrown in jail for it. (Naturally I do not think anyone but a bishop has the right to slap another bishop unless she is his mother.)

Anyway, I was at two suppers honouring Saint Nicholas, and since I am trying to have a strict Advent between the big feast days, I feasted both times with great jollity. I was sitting at the head of the beautifully-laden table at the second, the lone woman at a table of Trads, when I remembered a mystery in my missal said "By the way, what are Ember Days?"

"What!" the men shouted. "You don't know what Ember Days are? You ask such a question when you write posts on traditionalism!?! Oh, shame!", etc, etc., itp.

This did not answer my question about Ember Days although it certainly made clear why men hate asking other men for directions.

Eventually they settled down long enough for the ex-Anglicans to explain they were for fasting and that Anglicans still observe them, which no doubt led to much reminiscing about the Good Old Days, to which I did not listen. Instead I later checked the Catholic Encyclopedia,  the Old Calendar and the Missal and learned some interesting things.

First, Ember Days is an English-language corruption of "Quattuor Tempora", which means four seasons. They have nothing to do with embers.

Second, they are a way of marking the change of seasons with fasting and prayer. It was one of those steal-it-from-the-pagans-and-Christianize it deals. But it is also a way to thank God for good harvests and to pray for the next one and to think about using the gifts of the earth well--moderation for self, gifts to the needy.

Third, Pope Saint Gregory VII (1073-1085) "arranged and proscribed" the dates of the four Ember Weeks, but three of them date back at least to the 3rd century, but may be even older. St. Leo the Great thought they were apostolic. St Augustine of Canterbury brought them to England in the 6th century.

Fourth, they are not really a week but three days in the appointed week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Fifth, according to the Old Calendar (not the Catholic Encyclopedia) they fall after St. Lucy's Day (Dec 13), after the First Sunday in Lent, after Whitsunday (Pentecost), and (this year, anyway) after St.Matthew's Day (September 21).

Looking at my Papa Stronsay Calendar (whose advert is below because it is cool), I see that this December's Ember Days are marked in as Ember Wednesday (Dec. 16), Ember Friday (Dec. 18) and Ember Saturday (Dec.19).

Meanwhile, my missal shows that the readings for St. Lucy's Ember Week are very Adventish. The "Secret" Prayer for Ember Wednesday mentions fasting; on Ember Friday. it mentions "our prayers and offerings." Mass on Ember Saturday has a gazillion readings, graduals, a canticle and a tract as well as the Gospel. I shall have to figure out a way of asking my FSSP priest if he includes all these readings and prayers in his Ember Saturday Mass without giving him the false hope that I might be there. I will be in Italy that day, finding out if the nearby traditional Benedictine monks include them.

So that solves the mystery of what "Ember Days" are, and as they are fasting days, I imagine there is no complicated traddy thing to bake. Or fun things to drink. I see that "Ember Days" are called "Suche Dnie" (Dry Days) in Polish.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Pretend Mothering

I have not looked at my blog in days for, lo, Polish Pretend Son appeared in Edinburgh on Friday. Thus I have been practising conversational Polish, cooking and baking. Alas, Ann Applebaum's gingerbread cake recipe was pronounced "VERY sweet", so I shall try the gingerbread recipe in Sugared Orange next.

Yesterday I went to a St. Nicholas' Day supper and had a delightful time. I even had a cigar, which I have not done in two years. (I think an annual cigar is relatively low risk.) Along with the cigar I had brandy, so now I understand why rich men in books sit around looking pompous while consuming brandy and cigars: complementarity of the substances. By then we were rocking out to Tchaikovsky.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Advent!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Oh, Brain, Hurry Up!

Today is Polski Piątek, so if you're interested neither in language learning nor in Polish culture, click away now. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I am still working on Polish in 4 Weeks Level 2, and I am now in "Week 4", having this morning begun to memorize the opening dialogue to Chapter 23: Może powinniśmy wykorzystać twój pobyt w Polsce i pojechać do spa? ("Maybe we should take advantage of your stay in Poland and go to a spa?)  Every day I try to memorize 10 - 12 lines of dialogue. This daily habit is, I think, helping me with my spoken Polish. I noticed
yesterday that all these memorized words and phrases came in helpful in doing my homework, which was to write a passage about my job.

The biggest problem with Polish night school, I now realize, is that there are no exams to study for. Honestly, it isn't enough to go to a language night school course and just hope that repetition does the trick. You really have to memorize, test yourself, correct yourself, and memorize some more. It's hard work and it's almost painful, but it is necessary to get results

The biggest problem with learning Polish--outside Poland, anyway--is that improvement seems glacially slow. And I keep picking the wrong books to read. That is, I keep choosing children's books and then discovering that the language therein is at least slightly archaic. I put down W Pustyni i w puszczy when, at my friend's Polish wedding, a Pole told me that he too needed a dictionary to read Sienkiewicz. Sigh.

In contrast, I picked up an Italian easy-read book yesterday in the bookshop and read the first page easily despite not having reviewed Italian for a year. Had I been getting my Italian up to speed for four years, I would be fluent by now. Speaking as someone who is not good at languages, Italian is a snap compared to Polish.

But there is hope. I write in Polish now more often than I did before--usually by email--and if I make mistakes, at least my emails are legible.  Meanwhile, I'm just going to go ahead and try to read Antoni Libera's Madame. I adored it in English, reading it two or three times. The translation was written in excellent colloquial English, so it won't "match up exactly" with the Polish, but what the heck. I had might as well try. And, besides, if I want to learn to write like a Pole, I will have to learn to do it the way I learned to write like an English-speaker: by reading as much as possible.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Brave New Worlds

For an interesting--if depressing--reflection on how Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, seems to have been something of a prophet, have a read of Emily Watson's article in Quadrapheme. Because Nineteen-Eighty-Four is sooooo 1989, n'est-ce pas? I mean, now that we're moved on from Stalinism to kindergarten sex-ed, it ain't your grandparents' dystopia no more.

I was having a chat with a Fellow Foreign Wife yesterday, and I remembered my first Christmas in Edinburgh, the one in which I couldn't for the life of me remember how to make the Sacred Christmas Bun and ended up crying hysterically on the kitchen floor.

Sadly, too many of our Christmas holidays involve me crying hysterically on the kitchen floor, which is one reason why B.A. is so keen for us to go to Italy this year. I have made a private oath to do as little Christmas baking as possible during Advent, so the cooky-baking madness will not begin until our return.

Yesterday I pondered my need to cook and bake like a maniac in the last few days before Christmas, and of course I am trying to recreate the wonders of family Christmas. I am pretty sure when B.A. and I were courting he promised we would always go "home for Christmas"--and we never have. I was heartbroken about the first missed Christmas, but after six years, I am used to it. Little by little, I get used to my new life in Scotland and the drawbacks bother me less and less.

As I grew up in a town that saw wave after wave of immigrants, I looked forward (as an engaged lady) to discovering what it is like to be oneself an immigrant, and of course I was brought up with a bump against the realities immigrants to Canada often complain about.

The number one issue, since I immigrated for love, is work. Those delightful jobs in Catholic media that would have been my second choice after academia are none so many in Scotland, where Catholics make up only 15% of the population and of those maybe 30% go to Mass on Sunday. And, since I immigrated into my husband's Catholic traditionalism, I am not keen to become a lay chaplain, which is what my M.Div. qualifies me to do. Finally, the two sectors in Edinburgh in which workers are most needed are 1. minimum wage "carers" and 2. retail sales.

How I cope: Freelance for Catholic media and education in communities with more Catholics. Yay, internet!

What complicates all this is  (2.) the persistent British class system, which used to put working-class people at a hideous disadvantage, but now puts middle-class outsiders at a disadvantage. If you are deemed to "talk posh" or you obviously aren't "one of us", that stop-gap job can make you miserable. The do-as-little-as-possible-but-look-busy ethos of the latter union era which still persists in places is quite shocking to foreigners, as is the casually sexist and sex-obsessive "banter" that deeply shocked another foreign wife friend of mine.

How I cope: I channel my Scottish-Canadian grandmother, who, like many Scots, loved to chat with bus-drivers and other near strangers. If a Scot in a queue makes some remark about the weather, I agree that it is terrible. If a Scot mentions it is dark for 3 PM, I agree that the nights are fair' drawing in. If my shopping bill is strangely low, I joke about it with the cashier. And I almost always chat with cab drivers, who are fonts of information about a side of Scottish society I rarely see. At the same time, I hang out with the minority within the minority of my religious minority, which fortunately does not mean ISIS-sympathizers, but Latin Mass fans.

Then, of course, (3.) I sound foreign.  Thanks to the red hair, pink skin and charity shop wardrobe, I don't look foreign. But naturally as soon as I open my mouth, I can be pegged as foreign. Because the number one non-English group of foreigners in Edinburgh are Polish, I was asked if I were Polish even before I began to learn Polish. Occasionally I am asked if I am American, which can be a bit tricky, as Americans are not universally loved in the UK.

How I cope: Generations of Canadians before me have lost it on Scots assuming that they are Americans, as so in my experience Scots are careful about this. If they ask if I'm American, and I reveal that I am a Canadian, they apologize profusely. After all, if there's anything a Scot hates, it's being mistaken for English.

Meanwhile I am gradually changing my vocabulary and responses to match those around me, being careful, however, not to use any expression my husband does not use. "Ah dinnae mind" ("I don't remember) is right out. I have tried to say "I must go home and make my man's tea" but it sounded false to my ears. We don't have tea, we have dinner. Or supper. And usually after 8 PM, so that is not any kind of "tea" my great-grandfather would have recognized.

I live a pretty quiet life, though, so "Where-are-you-from" does not crop up all that often.

And indeed (4.) I am foreign. Sort of.  As my mother is a Scottish-Canadian, with a lot of east-coast Scottish assumptions about saving money, Christian decency, social dynamics, and that the Scots are the SALT of the EARTH, the Scots do not drive me crazy. They seem pretty normal to me, except for the class chippiness and, before the Referendum, any Scottish republicanism. (Horror!) However the Scots are generally too busy to hang out with under-employed foreigners. If I lived in Toronto, I would probably be too busy with work, family and old friends to go about making new foreign friends myself.

How I Cope: Polska! Polska! Polska! The Poles are foreign; I'm foreign. What better way to find togetherness in voluntary exile than hanging out with other exiles? As a matter of fact, though, my list of fellow foreigner friends and acquaintances also includes English, Americans, Italians, and an Australian. Meanwhile, I have gradually stopped celebrating Canadian holidays. As I have no Canadian friends here, it makes no sense to cook up a huge dinner whose special significance was lost on everyone but me. I needed them at first--Thanksgiving and Hallowe'en--but now I don't.

My Polish class has a fair number of other foreigners, and swing-dancing is incredibly pan-European.

IN CONCLUSION: Marrying a Scot and then whisking off to his flat in the Scottish Historical House for which he works takes some adjustment. My adjustment was relatively easy because my mother is a Scottish-Canadian whose Scots Protestant grandparents came from roughly the same culture I now live in. It's easy to like people who remind you of your beloved grandmother, and it's reasonably easy to channel your own grandmother. The biggest headaches are the job market and sounding foreign--although this latter problem is less of a problem now that I have started automatically making the appropriate responses to  Scottish questions. (e.g. "What do you think of X town?" "Weeeeellllll......")

That said, 21st century Scots are a lot different from 20th century Scottish-Canadians, so many contemporary realities confuse or trouble me, from public female drunkenness to sudden outbreaks of street violence to Scottish republicanism, for in my view it undercuts the unity inherent in being British. However, all places have their ups and downs. The important thing for me is that B.A., who does not have a migrant nature, is happy in his home and that I, who do have a migrant nature, get to leave Scotland from time to time, especially to return to Canada to see my family and old friends.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Dusting Off the Shoes

Today is Artistic Wednesday, and I must praise the committee of the Edinburgh swing-dance society I fled earlier this autumn. Depressed by the snobbishness of the society, particularly the evil LEADS, I decided not to spend another penny of household income in lessons and workshops. As regular readers will recall, I was late in dropping out of the last workshop, so I got a nasty phone call from a male stranger.

Now, this next part is genius. This is how you win friends and influence people.

Feeling irate, I emailed the committee to tell them that I had had an angry phone call from a member of their team and please take me off their list.

The committee emailed back to say they were really sorry and the individual responsible would no longer be on the team. They hoped I would come back as I was a valued member of the society. I recognized two of the three names signed to the bottom of this email, and I remembered that they are friendly women, one particularly cheerful and kind.

I was a bit taken aback that the chap was leaving the team (surely not because of my email?), and I giggled at the idea that I was a valued member of the society. Although if I have learned anything from the Leads, it is that I am not a valued member of the society, I felt flattered all the same.

So I wrote back to thank the committee for their email and to explain why I was not coming back. I had met many great women, and a few nice men, but the power imbalance between the Leads and the Followers, exacerbated by the local habit of women asking men to dance, was just too much. Also nothing marginalizes Beginners more than group dances like the Shim Sham, which are never taught, for we have to stand back looking on wistfully while the Advanced folk take to the floor.

(I learned all the power imbalance and marginalization lingo at theology school, and it is very useful for talking to university students.)

I expected nothing but a cold silence, for who was I to tell them how to run their society, eh? But to my amazement, I received ANOTHER email from the society telling me that I was right about the power imbalance, and how they had come up with a Code of Etiquette in which to train up new Leads, and as there would be a workshop on the group dances this coming week, they were inviting me to attend for free.

At this point I thought, Holy guacamole. Maybe I am a valued member of the society! 

So I wrote back to tell them that  I would take them up on their invitation and, what's more, throw in the £3 for the social dance. There are, after all, two or three chaps there that I enjoy dancing with, and sometimes a fellow Canadian turns up who is happy to talk to anyone.

Of course, I am not convinced that I want to go back to spending my Wednesday nights smiling away and saying "Oh, good job" to a pack of male dance snobs. However, I must admit that the committee really care about winning and keeping new members in their society. And that you really do catch more disgruntled flies with honey than with vinegar.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

A Glad Trad

Good day! It is Traddy Tuesday, the day in which I usually poke a bit of fun at the liturgies, priest and parishes that disappoint would-be converts unaware that Catholic culture has changed a lot since Flannery O'Connor died. However, I see that it is time to put that to a rest, as I have had ample opportunity to reflect that, though funny (to me at least), it was not helpful.

There is a lot of anger in the opinions section of the Catholic blogosphere, and many people enjoy it. I enjoy it, too, when it's clever, funny and well-written, but last week I discovered that Someone had drawn a line into how much lyrical anger I could take.  It made me wonder how much I myself have been adding to a hermeneutic of the "mad trad."

I think the path best taken is to eliminate all my little jibes against the novelties adopted since the beginning of the Second Vatican Council and just talk about why I love traditional devotions, particularly the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I might even add a list of the novelties I actually like. (Or that my mother likes. My mother very much likes the protracted congregational singing, and the jollier and more the hymns make her feel like dancing, the better she likes them.) I could even point out where the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, so long in developing, may further develop: e.g. the sermon returned to the end, before the announcements. Those who want to hear the announcements will have to hear the sermon.

One of the lovely things about traditional theology, the Extraordinary Mass and traditional devotions is that there is so much to learn. Once you get hooked on the traditions of the Church, and how they foster devotion to the Blessed Trinity, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the Saints, you never run out of wonderful books to read or helpful ideas on the internet.

Another lovely thing is how they all match up. The more I read the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the less satisfied I felt at ordinary English-language Mass. I wasn't really satisfied until I began to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass regularly. It astonishes me that I have been going to the same parish--only once feeling dissatisfied (tremendous confusion of self re: Triduum as had wrong missal that year)--for almost seven years.

Because everything matches up, everything is treated with great importance. I am not sure how ministers of music usually pick the hymns for the Ordinary Form, but the singing in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is inextricable from the (Traditional) Calendar. For example, every Sunday has its proper-to-it Introit and the Master of our Schola carefully considers what day it is before he chooses any extra music or decides the congregation should sing an English-language recessional hymn instead of our usual, seasonal Marian anthem.

Even if he were blind, a Catholic time traveller would have known it was Advent had he stepped into our little borrowed wooden church, for after the Communion antiphon, the schola sang Conditor Alme Siderum.  (Video link not to schola!)

A thought came to me of a tapestry. You can add to the end of a tapestry and you can freshen up its colours if it becomes faded, but you can't start messing around with, and picking out, its threads without making a massive confusion.

Traditional Catholicism is like that tapestry. You can add things--for example, the Master of the Schola composes new music suitable for Mass--but if you start taking things away, other parts become confusing. They cease to make as much sense, especially when you are reading what all saints who died before 1962 have to say about the Mass.

When I was a child, I began to notice that many aspects of Catholicism writers of old (or reprinted) books took for granted did not feature at Mass, at school, or even in my Catholic youth group. When I asked a teacher at my Catholic school to tell me what the Mass was like before Vatican II, he couldn't tell me. (In exchange for full governmental funding, the school board had agreed to hire non-Catholic teachers.) Therefore, I never really understood what the old writers all took for granted until I was in my late 30s and stumbled upon the Extraordinary Form. And now I'm very glad I did.