Tuesday 30 September 2014

Reader Tess Meets....

Well, well, well! How that girl gets around.
Here's a personal account on her blog!

New Undergrads--Hoorah!

Hello, my little cherubs! Sorry to have missed you yesterday, but it was Michaelmas by the Old Calendar and I was insanely busy. Behold my schedule of yesterday:

6:40: Roll about of bed. Make coffee. Get seduced by internet.

7:29-8:45: Study Polish. Read second chapter of Harry Potter i Kamień Filosoficzny while listening along to the audiobook. Flashcard drill.

9:00-9:15: Run about collecting laundry for first wash of week. Throw it in washer.

9:15-12:29: Write fierce column about +Bishop Conry for Catholic Register, aiming to be fair but stern. Who am I to judge? The laity, that's who.  We should riot more. I'm quite sure we used to riot in the Byzantine days.

12:29-1:40: Wash self, run about, get dressed, run about, cross fields to absent neighbours to feed, clean up after, and be sat on by their cats.

1:40-4:20: Cat-sitting. While trapped under cats, read an Agatha Christie novel.

4:20-8:29: Train to Mass. Early, so make Polish flashcards. Mass.  (Mass very beautiful.) Bus home. Meet husband at back gate and make last minute decision to buy prawn toasties from the Thai takeaway.

8:29-9:29:  Take wash out of washer. Eat prawn toasties and drink red wine in front of telly until can stand no more telly. Hang up wash in ex-linen-closet-now-library.

9:29--10:00: Make Polish flashcards wearing headphones until exhausted from squinting in sitting-room gloom. Go to bed.

10:20 (approx): Fall asleep. ZZZZZZZ.

Oh how exciting is adult life. That reminds me: Sunday was particularly exciting because a whole crop of NEW UNDERGRADS turned up at Edinburgh's one and only permitted public Sunday Missa Cantata, aka the TLM. There was a Historian, a Mathematician, an International Relations Chap and a Theologian. Naturally we will have to share them all with the uni's Catholic Student Union, and the Mathematician with the Cathedral's Polish Mass to boot, but that's okay. In fact, that is advisable. Although naturally we are the coolest Catholics in all Edinburgh, we can be a teeny weeny bit....

Actually, I do not really know how to describe us. But at any rate if there were a parish full of childless, literary married Catholic women of traditional tendency, I would go there from time to time, be the Ordo antiquor or be the Ordo novus. It does get a bit dull be in a worship community so strongly dominated by men that there is nothing for the women to do but make the tea, sweep the floor and take away the babies when they yell.

Before the Second Vatican Council, there were various ladies' guilds and the Mother's Union and all kinds of feminine things to balance out the red-bloodedly masculine Mass. You can still find those societies in Edinburgh, but only in the utterly woman-dominated Novus Ordo parishes.  What is lacking is balance.  That said, I do hope we can somehow convince new female undergrads to keep coming to our Mass. Keeping the male undergrads is, naturally, not a problem. There is lots for them to do. For example, they are needed to replace the altar servers who have gone away, either to seminary or to do PhDs in distant climes.

All undergraduates are needed to entertain us oldies at Tea and at Gin and at Sunday Lunches, for not only are undergraduates learning interesting things, they are up to date. Naturally we live in the past, but to live in the past most enjoyably, we must keep up to date on the latest ways to do it, e.g. subscribing to The Chap magazine, attending the latest swing dance venue, buying reliquaries on eBay.

In exchange, we oldies offer the undergrads our wealth of experience, including the names of excellent little restaurants in Rome, letters of introduction to like-minded folk, and dinner parties free from restrictions determined by roommates. I am sorry now that, as an undergraduate, I did not spend more time with engaging, letter-writing, dinner-cooking oldies, but I grew up in North America, where the young are usually quite disgustingly ageist and shortsighted.

That said, I suppose oldies have a tendency to grow boring and set in our ways or, worse, to consciously set out to pretend that we are younger than we are and wear contemporary teenage clothes and speak contemporary teenage slang instead of being charming period pieces from the 1980s or whenever.

On Sunday I was walking to church with an elderly parishioner, and I was going to take a detour through the pretty cemetery when he said, "I went up to school in nineteen-thirty-eight, but of course we were all evacuated the next year." Heavens! Living history! First person account of the Second World War! I stuck to him like glue. Perhaps one day I will be able to weld the Younger Generation to my side by saying, "I was in school when the Berlin Wall fell..." or even "Oddly enough, I was first in Scotland the week Saigon fell to the Viet Cong."

Apparently women are supposed to pretend they don't remember the 1980s, let alone the Fall of Saigon, as there is a convention that we must all pretend to be 29 or under, come what may. I have always found this very silly, however. I was terribly unhappy when I was 29, and I am delightfully happy now (except when thinking about Islamic atrocities and fornicating bishops, naturally). I am not sure, but I am possibly even better-looking now than I was when I was 29, for I smile a lot more and have better taste in clothing. Anyway, I was never a  beauty, unlike the Master of the Men's Schola, who at 20 was really quite staggeringly handsome.

Meanwhile, some of our new young men are very handsome, so I have some hope that their good looks will attract more young ladies to our TLM. It's all very well chatting about men's clothing and where to buy the best pipe tobacco and who-said-what-to-whom, but at the end of the day a woman wants a good serious chat with another woman about mathematics or neuroscience.

Friday 26 September 2014

Islamic State Horror

I woke up shortly before six, having suffered from nightmares reminiscent of the film of Never Let Me Go. Watching the news before bed is a terrible mistake. It's a nightly dose of thinking about the hideous situation of a thousand young Yazidi women---and that of the young Christian women the BBC never mentions---stolen, raped, trafficked and who-knows-what-else by the Islamic State fighters. Assuming that the Islamic State fighters will burn in hell everlasting  is not actually much of a comfort.

It feels like such a cop out to assume I can't do anything "but pray." God is immutable, so our prayers don't change His mind on anything. Praying is good for our souls because we charitably participate in God's will by praying for the good of others (and the defeat of His enemies, as the Islamic State soldiers and supporters certainly are). But surely in this matter action must go with contemplation. All Britain--all the British Empire--civilian and soldier alike--came together to defeat the Nazis. So why are we allowing ourselves to go about our daily business while Islamists run amok?

The BBC reports "rape and torture." Rape is torture, incidentally, especially  (but not only) of virgins. And I cannot get my mind around how these men can treat women--young women--as if they were mere animals to be sold and abused, sexually used like sheep by the  most venal of shepherds. How can they do that? Isn't it written on their hearts by God that this is wrong? Or have they been told by their religion again and again that women are less than them, and non-Muslim women are less than beasts? (I would say culture, but some of the scum were born in Canada and the UK.)

I have a friend whose answer to the problem of Islamism is to spread the Gospel throughout the so-called "Islamic World", including London's East End. He knows someone who runs a Catholic bookshop in an British "Muslim neighbourhood" and local women come in by the back door to sneak peeks at his books. And no wonder. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who never hurt a woman in His life, not in any way, and loved us all, is the great model of how men should treat women. And nowhere in the Gospel is there the slightest hint that women are stupider than men, or that our word means less than that of a man, or that we are more akin to beasts than angels. And from the earliest times Christianity freed men and women from the socially-enforced shackles of marriage-sex-and-reproduction, telling us not only are we whole and valuable as perpetual virgins and celibates, but that such perpetual virginity and celibacy is a sign of the Kingdom of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was kind even to women everyone else around thought were less than beasts because of their sexual behaviour or situations, e.g. the woman caught in adultery, the woman with seven husbands, the prostitute who poured perfume on His feet, the woman who bled menstrual fluid all the time and touched him. He never advocated their sins (if they had sinned), but he was an advocate for THEM. He saw and sees the humanity in EVERYONE.

I hope the poor Christian girls hang onto Him in their suffering and that the Yazidi girls hear about Him, the one man around guaranteed not to regard them as less than beasts because they are non-Muslim and as less than garbage because men have raped them. And I hope everyone who hears of their plight thinks very seriously about what he or she can do to help them. If I were a young man, I would join the army. If I were a billionaire, I would fund one. But as I am a writer, all I can think to do right now is write. And pray.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Single-hearted Swing

New discovery. Being married has indeed changed my experience of dance class. For one thing I could see the men for who they were as opposed to who they might be in relation to me (e.g. too this, too that). And I did not take it personally that there were about 17 of them to about 29 of us women. (That is always how it is in a beginner's social dance class, as I recall from the last time I took swing dance class.)

Meanwhile, Big Band is the only social dance music I can take in big doses, so I enjoyed hearing it, and the instructors were fantastic dancers, so I enjoyed watching them. And I did not resent being pushed and pulled around the room by awkward young men because this time I felt only deep compassion and a sincere wish to put them at ease.  That probably is the follower's "job," come to think of it: to make things as easy and pleasant for the leader as possible. 

To inspire us all, here's an old clip of my pal Alisha Ruiss dancing at a swing championship 

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Gin, Soup, Pierogi, Swing

While other Unionists partied, Benedict Ambrose and I had a quiet evening at home Friday. We didn't feel like partying at the news that Scotland seems to be divided in two unequal halves, even though we ourselves are in the bigger half. We are too fond of Scotland for that.

Also we were expecting Polish Pretend Son, who shall henceforth be known as Czesław (pronounced CHES-waf), until I finally checked my phone and discovered that he had been scooped for the evening by another hostess, bogatsza i lepsza ode mnie. I looked sadly at the four dozen pierogi I had made, but reflected that they would keep for another day.

Czesław rolled in around five on Saturday afternoon, and it was just as well that he had stayed at Rival Hostess's place, for she had had a big party. Czesław did not describe this party, so I am free to imagine that it featured ice-cold vodka, caviar, a Gypsy violinist, women with dark flashing eyes and daggers in the tops of their stockings and men seeking revenge upon the false lovers of their sisters. This would have been in direct contrast to my Saturday dinner party, which consisted of B.A., Czesław, me and our parish priest. But Czesław, like most men, loves to compartmentalize, so I think he enjoyed our Saturday party just as much as the Anarcho-Bohemian sinfest. At least, I hope so.

Czesław is less easy-going than his Pretend Brother Alban, so I was long ago forbidden to post his photo. He looks different all the time anyway. Sometimes he looks like a younger version of this:  

Sometimes he looks like a demented cherub dressed to play the lead in a 1930's version of Don Giovanni.

And sometimes he looks like Laurie Lawrence from Little Women. (Not one of movie Lauries--Christian Bale, et al--but the proper Laurie in your head, only Polish. That said, Louisa May Alcott's real life model for Laurie was, in fact, Polish.)  

Possibly I would get into a lot less trouble if I had just posted his photo.

Anyway, I fed Czesław on gin, wine, pierogis, proper Polish bread, barszcz ukraiński, roast pork, cabbage, banana bread and cream and the next day on leftover Polish white cheese, bread and blueberry waffles with maple syrup. And then we took him to Mass, where he joined the small throng of altar servers. 

After Mass there was a Sunday Lunch near Haymarket railway station to which the Historical House party was invited. So off we went. This Sunday Lunch was rather a contrast to the Sunday Lunch last week in Rome, for everyone but me was a man. Also, we talked of Scottish politics instead of Vatican politics, and there were many very rude and manly jokes of the sort that fell rather flat when B.A., in his first trip out, told them to American and Canadian men in Rome. But the food, of the British comfort variety, was also very good, and I laughed even more than I did in Rome (although, being Canadian, occasionally I thought it best to stick my fingers in my ears). 

Naturally, I fell asleep on a handy sofa after pudding, and naturally Czesław left early to go to a dance,  i.e. where there were girls.  At nine, I dragged my husband away, and went home to make flashcards.

Oh, I suppose I should explain about my flashcards. I have bought a new book that promises me that I will become fluent in Polish and in any other language in mere months if I build myself a Leitner box.  So I am busily building myself a Leitner box. Unfortunately, this has increased my hour of daily Polish study to three hours, but that will stop once I have finished drawing  illustrations on my first 625 English-free flashcards. 

Anyway, when Czesław returned from his dance (looking like a cherub who has not only been a hit in Don Giovanni but caused a riot afterwards), he ranted at me about something or other while I held up flashcards and asked, "How do you pronounce this?"

The next day Czesław sat about waiting for his train while I drew up more flashcards and asked him to pronounce them. He also listened to me read in Polish. This was all a sad substitute for my vow to myself that I really really would talk to Czesław in Polish this time, but as always I chickened out--not because Czesław would be mean, for indeed he is always very kind when I attempt Polish, but because my mind went blank. Still, I got in some practice, so that was something.

Then he packed, and I put on an apron and heated leftover barszcz which he ate (for lunch) while calling housewifely me a feminist (for entertainment), and then I stuffed his small suitcase onto the Rough Bus while he dragged on the much larger one containing most of his worldly goods, and that was that. Just as I lost Alban to glamorous Hertfordshire, now I have lost Czesław to wicked London.  Woe.

But now I must stop as I am going with my friend E to swing dancing lessons. Yes, I know I always said I hate dancing lessons, but I think they will be better now that I am going to to learn how to dance and not to meet men. 

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Freedom from Whom? Freedom to What?

Just thinking about the Scottish independence referendum makes me feel sick, so I will try to keep this brief.

In short, when people remark that I have given up everything for love, I have always pointed out that for a Scots-Canadian to move to Scotland is not that big of a cultural jump. Thanks to the internet, I have not have had to start at the very bottom of the career ladder, and I am fluent in the local language and am perfectly satisfied with both parliamentary democracy and the Queen. Like everyone else in the UK alive in 1981 and not actually lining the streets or in St. Paul's Cathedral, I watched the Royal Wedding live on TV.

However, once my social circle in Edinburgh widened, I discovered that, despite the architecture and crowds of elderly ladies who greatly resemble her, Scotland is not as my grandmother knew it. I won't list everything that makes Scotland of 2014 much different from Scotland of 1920 (for good and ill), but one of the most gut-wrenching things is separatism-and-republicanism. I imagine there have always been chippy Scots who tell Scots who sound too English (like B.A.) to keep their "bluidy offensive English voices doon" on the train. However, there hasn't always been a movement to break off from the United Kingdom---in which Scots, despite their small numbers, have always been very influential---or to scrap parliament and the Queen for a French or American-style republic.

That was what was coming next, by the way.

I felt very sick about the whole thing, for as a Canadian I lived through two Quebec separatist referendums and vicariously (through my brother) through the recent regime of the deplorably anti-anglo Pauline Marois.  Although the separatists lost both (or all three, if we count the Marois regime ) times,  the damage to Montreal, once Canada's leading financial centre, was obvious and severe. In short, once the separatist movement got going, the banks, national businesses, and some very nervous Jews and other anglophones fled to Toronto.* This was great for Toronto, but not so great for Montreal which, incidentally, is punished by the provincial parliament in Quebec City to this day for voting "No".

Fortunately for Edinburgh, Scottish Parliament is IN Edinburgh.  Also fortunately for Edinburgh--and all Scotland--although there was some intimidation of "No" voters, one or two attacks and some voter fraud---the violence and bad feeling that plagued the Quebec referendums did not happen here. Nobody blamed the Jews or the ethnic voters (e.g. me) although naturally the losing Yes side blamed big business and the banks.

People told me for almost three years that the violence, hatred and exploding mailboxes that seem to accompany separatist movements could not happen here. B.A. was very firm on this point, being the sort of man who would always stay in his endangered village, staunchly saying he trusts his neighbours because although they think white is black, they all grew up together, etc. And certainly I have a lot of friends and neighbours (and even, it turns out, fellow parishioners) who voted "Yes". So I thought I should go to an authority and asked the Master of the Men's Schola what X thought.

X is a Top Barrister, as Bridget Jones would say, who knows all about High Finance but/and is also a bona fide born-in-Scotland,  actually Presbyterian, obviously Edinburgh, Lowland Scot. This means that X is the kind of Scot from whom Canadian Scots and the stable Canadian banking system sprang: a canny, hardheaded man who cuts to the chase.

"X," said the Master of the Men's Schola, "is very worried."

That was good enough for me.  I voted "NO" with all my head.

I voted "NO" with all my heart, too, because of an old Scotswoman crying on the news. She was just a random "woman on the street" being interviewed by reporters as part of the lead up coverage. She told them that she was both Scottish and British and could NOT see herself as anything else. She tried to hold back the tears, in the good old fashioned way, but her voice cracked. God bless her. I bet she generated a thousand NOs.

When her voice cracked, I solved the great conundrum of trying to be "Just a Canadian" in multicultural Toronto. My mother banged it into my head all while I was growing up that we did not belong to any European culture--not Scotland, not Ireland (particularly not her, not a drop, etc), not German, not English. We were CANADIAN, and her family had been Canadian since all her people emigrated from Scotland before WWI. But, I realize, to be CANADIAN, in the way my mother meant the word--i.e. deeply invested in Canada's history before 1947---was also to be BRITISH. Everybody born in Canada before 1947, and all  other Canadian citizens naturalized by 1947, was by definition British. Our Britishness--the history we shared with Britain--keeps us from being Americans. Canadians, though living in North America, are not, and never will be, Americans.

British is a wonderful word because it covers everyone in the United Kingdom who was born somewhere in the British Commonwealth (as was I) or who was born in the UK of non-UK heritage. English, like it or not, denotes a white Briton,** whereas anyone of any colour with one of many British or British Commonwealth accents (my personal identiy criterion) can be British.

As long as Scotland is in the UK, therefore, I feel like I belong. But if Scotland every leaves the UK, well, I might as well be in Scandinavia, frankly. And I don't know anything about Scandinavia, except the high prices, heavy taxation and rape-by-immigrant statistics.

Here is the somewhat more measured piece I wrote for Catholic World Report. My stomach was in knots all morning, and when it was done, I went out to vote. I felt very frightened when I saw the Yes and No supporters standing right outside the polling station. Such last-minute influencing/intimidation is illegal in Canada, so I was very surprised to see it here.

*Anti-Jewish hatred, though a scandalous ribbon running through Quebec's history, does not seem to be a problem in Scotland.

**Actually, I might be out of date on this one. Lorraine Pascale strikes me as being very English indeed.

Monday 22 September 2014

Home from Rome

Home again, home again, jiggity jog, and at last I have got Blogger to work. It has been slow and cranky today---unlike me.  I did not get to my Monday dusting and hoovering regime, butI had plenty of work to get on with.

It has been a week and a half of incident. First, Benedict Ambrose and I went on our annual Roman holiday. Second, we returned home to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum. Third, Polish Pretend Son, not to be confused with Seminarian Pretend Son, arrived for a visit. And fourth, yesterday B.A., P.P.S. and I all went to a boozy luncheon party.  Between engagements,  I wrote two paid articles on the Scottish referendum and edited something for somebody, thus generating personal wealth.

Today I shall tell you about Rome. I have here my travel journal, and if my tablet were not on the fritz, I would take photos of my travel sketches and post them here. But, alas, my tablet is on the fritz, so I will have to find photos of things online.

We arrived in Rome on Wednesday around noon, and I almost went mad trying to find someone in the main railway station who would sell us weekly train tickets. Sales of the weekly regional train tickets have been devolved upon the tobacconists and magazine kiosks, so I dragged poor B.A. all over Roma Termini as I closely questioned apologetic tobacconists and ticket-sellers. But at last I found a Termini tobacconist who really did have weekly train tickets, and I forced our 84 euros upon him. Still dragging B.A., I validated the tickets (always validate your tickets!), and we got on a train to our chosen beach town.

Happily for us, our two-room (upstairs and downstairs) flat was in a beautiful, peach-painted palazzo quite close to the railway station. We paid the rent to our freckled landlady and rushed across the street to Il Bettolino, a restaurant popular with our expat friends, to stuff ourselves with pasta al limone, seafood and wine wine. Yum, yum!

Our next stop was the sea, where B.A. snorkled about and I, despite my swim shoes, was prickled by a sea urchin. Hilary was with us, and we went to her place afterwards to perform surgery on my sea urchin slivered toe. Hilary said if I didn't get all the little black bits of urchin spine out, my toe would go septic, so I poked around with tweezers and a pin and bled in a murmuring, lady-like fashion.  Once all the spines were out, Hilary gave me a drawing lesson, unfortunately stabbing me in the finger with her pencil in the process. It was a sad and dangerous day for digits.

On Thursday we got up early, had coffee at the bar around the corner and rushed off to Rome by train. Interestingly, it was warm, but not hot, and it even began to rain. However, we had planned to spend our morning near the Piazza Navona in the Museo di Roma, so we didn't mind. B.A. wandered happily through the galleries as I sat down in front of this painting and began to sketch Saint Charles carrying a young invalid to safety.

Then B.A. came to get me and off we went to lunch at our very favourite Roman eating spot, Cul de Sac. We had pate, the cheese-stuffed ravioli with citrus, and almond torte with candied orange for lunch, all washed down with Frascati. As I almost do every year, I almost cried with joy. Yum, yum, yum. We took a short stroll afterwards, so as to burn a few calories, and then we went back to the Museo di Roma. Finally we got on our train and went back to our beach town, where we swam and gave a light supper to friends.

On Friday B.A. and I took our early train to Rome and went straight to the Galleria Doria Pamphilj to look at the princely rooms and huge collection of paintings. I very much liked the rooms, especially the ballroom, which could have fit perhaps 400 (rather crowed) people, and a few of the paintings. I was impressed to see the famous Velasquez painting of Innocent X, a lovely Fra Angelico depiction of the Annunciation and a number of Caravaggios. I sat down in front of the Caravaggio I liked best and sketched it until lunchtime:

"Cul de Sac?" I asked B.A. when he approached, and he agreed. So off we went once again to Cul de Sac, where I had a minor squabble with the owner about whether or not I had ordered B.A. babaganoush. I said I hadn't; he said I had; I was mortified; I recovered when I ate my delicious lunch, and B.A. and I stayed for an extra HOUR to fill in our postcards.

Then we bought some fancy biscuits and toddled around until it was time to meet Vatican City friends and their children for a pizza supper.

On Saturday I got up early and began to sketch one of my favourites among the beautiful palazzos of our beach town. It is bright yellow with romantic wrought-iron balconies and lanterns. I sat on a concrete utility box, stuck in the pavement like a milestone, and sketched away. The town's principal church was behind me to my right. And then B.A. came along and we took the train to Rome. Our plan was to tour the churches of Trastevere, but the Romans needed them for weddings that day. So we peeked in on weddings for a bit, and then went for lunch at our dear little Hosteria Farnese.  And then we met a READER, this one a professor of theology named Oana, and she took us for gelato at the famous Teatro. That was really great fun. And then we went back to our beach town and had supper with Hilary at a lovely restaurant with a view of a garden leading down to the sea. Well, apparently it has this view in the daytime. By the time we got there, it was too dark to see it.

On Sunday I continued to sketch the bright yellow house, and when B.A. met me, we went together to Rome to have coffee outside the Caffe Farnese before Mass at Sanctissima Trinita.
Fraternity of the Priests of St. Peter in Rome.
Friends came along, so we all sat together chatting, drinking coffee, and enjoying the sun shining on the piazza until it was almost time for Mass. Off we went to Mass. Mass was especially glorious, as it was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Mass was Solemn, Sung and High, with a choir and red vestments and general gorgeousness. And then a THRONG of expats went off to lunch in Trastevere together, and it was all very jolly. After gelato at Teatro (the Tiberside outlet), B.A. and I went home and to the big sandy beach, where we met another friend. Ah, the seaside social scene!

On Monday, when there were bus strikes in Rome, we stayed in our seaside town. First I wrote an article for the Catholic Register in a cafe-bar with free wi-fi, and then we went to lunch with a friend. Another friend came by and then, before I quite registered what was happening, we were all whisked away to a glamorous seaside terrace behind a hotel drinking a variety of delicious and potent things. B.A. swam afterwards, but I just lay about in our rental flat eating crisps to sop up the booze.

On Tuesday, after I had a good sketch, we went back to Rome to eat lunch at Cul de Sac, where we were met by still another friend. Afterwards we had a lovely long walk through the Campus Martius area to see the Ars Pacis. And then we went all the way to the splendid Piazza del Popolo, which we had never visited before, and up the hill to the glades and gardens of the Pincio. B.A. and I found a nice bench by a fountain, and I went to sleep. And then we hurried a little down the Spanish Steps and down the Via Condotti and through various piazzas to get to evening mass at S.ss.a Trinita.  After Mass we went with friends to a flat near the Colosseum and had a glorious expat supper, awash with booze of every description and with gossip. We caught a late train back to our little beach town and were in bed by 1 AM.

This meant a rather panicked packing session early on Wednesday morning, for we had 11:05 AM flight back to Edinburgh. However, we got everything packed, and the flat tidied, and all the rubbish in the right receptacles, and we were on time for everything. So we flew home with light hearts although probably heavier bodies, thanks to all the lunching and dining.

I felt rather calmer during this holiday than in years previous, in part because I took a short refresher Italian course in August, in part because our flat was so nice, and in part because I am dealing very firmly with my seratonin issues. Come what may, I get up at 7 (or earlier) every day and take my bee-oo-tee-ful pills. When we got home, I found a pre-trip note B.A. had written to remind himself of a travel essential. It read, "PILLS."  B.A. doesn't take pills, but naturally he has a vested interest in mine.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Andiamo in Italia

Cherubs! What a day. It isn't yet 9:40 in the evening, but I am truly exhausted. My hands are suspiciously dry and are starting to smart around ye old fingernails. It has been a day of  accelerated and widespread dusting, vacuuming, tidying, washing, taking out the recycling, spraying anti-moth poison hither and thither, buying last minute items, etc., for tomorrow very early, we are going to Italy for a week.

Thus I cannot guaranteed blogging until next Wednesday at the earliest. I hope you all have a very pleasant week, and that my hands have ample opportunity to recover.

Monday 8 September 2014

Men Cooking Mushrooms

I have kissed Alban the Seminarian Pretend Son goodbye, weep weep, and done a lot of washing, dusting and hoovering. It is time for lunch, and I am pondering whether or not the pasta in the fridge leftover from Thursday night is still good. Hmm, hmm.

The pasta dish was made by Alban. He said that he can't cook and give dinner parties at the seminary, so I suggested he cook dinner for us. So on Thursday Alban kindly went down to his old haunt Real Foods and rummaged around for organic whole wheat pasta and exotic mushrooms. Then he came back and made a sort of pasta carbonara, only with streaky (strip) bacon instead of pig's cheeks.

The mushrooms were hedgehog mushrooms, and they were so delicious, I wondered why B.A. and I don't eat different varieties of mushrooms more often. The proposed answers are 1. they are more expensive than button/chestnut/portobello 2. there isn't a wide variety of them at Tesco, 3. we are scared of them. That is to say, I am scared of them. Which is silly. It's not like people just gather any old mushroom and sell them to Real Foods, right?

But ordinary button mushrooms are terribly good themselves. On Friday, we were all three invited to a dinner cooked by the Master of the Men's Schola, and he began with delicious mushroom soup involving button mushrooms and a delicious consommé.  I was delighted because I feared a cream soup would make me bilious and pass out at the table. And there was caviar, too, and a fresh, sharp and delicious sauce to go with the main course's pasta, and the option of custard (instead of cream) to pour on the hedgerow (apples and wild berries) crumble for pudding. And thus I never got a tummy ache, but---THUMP! I fell asleep at the table again. 

Again I hope there is no photographic evidence. At least I fall asleep face down. The other habitual dinner party sleeper falls asleep head back and his snores evoke mirth. As far as I am aware, my collapse engenders, at most, mild concern in the particularly tender-hearted.

My current theory is that this particular dining room is akin to some comfortable dining room of my extreme youth, i.e. when I lived near Cambridge University, and the comfortable male chatter about subjects and people of which I know nothing makes me fall asleep as quickly now as I may have fallen asleep then. When you are three, you tend to be asleep by 9:30, especially when taken to British adult parties. I must ask my mother if I was taken to any.   

Some traditionalists may think it is odd for men to cook, but most of the trad men I know cook. This may be in part because they are unmarried, but I think it is mostly that cooking is fun. It's creative. It involves shopping and tasting things and having ultimate control over what you and your loved ones eat for supper. The part that is not fun is cleaning up afterwards. This is why there is still a point in getting married or, less conveniently, hiring a housekeeper. Pragmatic women know that men really prefer not to do housework, to the extent of financially and emotionally supporting a woman who will do it for them, and so just get on with it and scrub the pots. 

Personally, I do not think it fair for a woman to have to work outside the house all day AND scrub the awful pots, so a "career woman" is perfectly justified in hiring a charwoman or, as she is called today, a cleaner, and the poor working woman is perfectly justified in working only part time. If a poor married woman's working day is half house, and half job, she is less likely to resent her husband when he zones out in front of the telly after work. It's much easier to think, "Ah, he works a whole eight hours away from home, so it's fair."

No doubt there are zillions of feminist and patriarchal ("Nay! You must bring me a sack of money AND scrub my dirty pots!")  arguments against this, but it works for me. But let's not pretend home cooking for friends or a spouse is hard work. It can be tremendously fun. (I find making waffles great fun.) It can even be a hobby. Cooking day in and day out for children, on the other hand, is not so fun. Of course, at a certain point you can get the children to do the dishes. One ambitious child could even offer to do a sibling's share for a price, which would be a good lesson in economics. 

Thursday 4 September 2014

The Joy of Sleep

I slept here in AD 2014.
Yesterday I was feeling under the weather, so I didn't go any farther that the Aldi at the far end of the Historical Wall.  I didn't go to the Missa Cantata to celebrate the Feast of Saint Pius X, who remains a beloved saint among FSSP types for obvious reasons. And I didn't go to a dinner party held afterwards in an end terrace*** near the Zoo. I wasn't feeling up to the hour long trip to Mass, so you can bet I wasn't up to a dinner party, especially one which all the other guests would be male, mostly ex-Pixies and very reluctant to go home after eating.

My afternoon was wretched, but I felt better by the evening and could do all sorts of thing I could not have done if B.A. were at home. For example, I could skip a proper dinner and just nibble some cheese and biscuits. And instead of watching television right away, I could have another session of memorizing Polish vocabulary. I could decide not to watch The Great British Bake-off and watch my beloved Lewis instead. I could memorize Polish vocabulary during Lewis, which, had he been there, would have driven B.A. nuts.

But even better than these solitary privileges was being able to go to bed at 11, which I would not have have been able to do had I gone to the dinner party.

I don't want to give the impression that the dinner party would have been a drag. For one thing, the host is an excellent cook and had I been feeling more foodish, I would have avidly looked forward  all day to sampling his latest menu. Alban says it included French onion soup, boeuf bourguignon and tiramisú, with homemade parmesan crackers to go with the soup and a very good brie before the tiramisú. Nom nom nom.

But there is one thing I love even more than delicious, well-cooked food, and it is sleep. You young things out there (she shakes her finger) probably take sleep for granted and possibly even intentionally go without it, for reasons of work, play or study. You may even go to bed at 2 AM and wake up at 10 AM on Saturday morning feeling as fresh as a daisy on an April day.Every night you climb into bed trustingly, believing that sleep will come when you call. Well, ha, I say. Ha!

First of all, men snore. I read somewhere that men snore less when they are young, so you could marry a non-snorer, only for him to become a champion snorer later. I am told that women snore, too, but my pyjama party friends never did. My cat--male--did, but not as loudly as B.A.  But that is one of those things we simply cannot blame men for, for they really can't help it.

Second, all kinds of weird things start happening to you in your mid-to-late thirties, and sleep deprivation is one of them. (Naturally, sleep deprivation is also a problem for parents of babies, too.)

Third, late meals and alcohol can lead to insomnia.

Fourth, sleep is problematic for people with seratonin issues, like me. Usually I have to wake up by 7 AM, or I drag myself around like an Ikea bag of bricks in mourning.

The alien spaceship was, however, alarming.
When I was last in Poland, one of my greatest experiences there was falling asleep and waking up in a very comfortable bed in a very pretty room in a 19th century palace. The bathroom had a very scary bath-shower arrangement that looked like an alien spaceship (with an alien instruction manual to go with it), but that bed was heaven. I woke up as if I were twelve years old and all my dreams had come true. I had slept more deeply than I had slept in years. If I am ever there again, I will hunt for the mattress label, so as to order the same one for home.

There are all kinds of tips to make it easier to get a refreshing sleep. Here are my favourites:

1. Have fresh bedding as often as you can; change the sheets and pillowcases at least once a week.
2. The bedroom should be dusted, vacuumed and tidy, too. Air it for at least an hour a day.
3. Don't use the bedroom for anything except bed. Reading before bed is okay as long as your reading material isn't too exciting.
4. Eat an early dinner and don't drink alcohol after 8 PM.
5. Never take naps.
6. Don't let light sneak into your bedroom.
7. Don't drink caffeine after 5 PM unless (A) you have a night school class or (B) you are at a dinner party, and if you don't get some coffee, you will fall asleep with your head on the table.

I frequently fall asleep with my head on the table although only at trad Catholic dinner parties.*So far I have not seen photographs of my unfortunate tendency, but I am sure they must exist. There is one home in which I almost always fall asleep on the table, which is embarrassing. It may be the host's generous use of cream. On the other hand, it may be the candlelit gloom. It is certainly not the softness of the chair. At any rate, sometime around nine-thirty or ten--clunk!

You would think that at this stage of the evening someone would call me a cab but no. For Benedict Ambrose is a night owl. The entire Men's Schola is composed of night owls. I would not be surprised if every man in Edinburgh is a night owl, for--lo!--they drink, eat, drink, play the piano, drink, drink and sing late into the night. Last night B.A. and Alban got home around three. Three.

"I was glad to find you here," said B.A this morning, which was very sweet although I think he would have been rather surprised if he hadn't. The only affordable direct flight to Toronto is on Thursday morning; running away on a Wednesday night is not an option.

He got up at nine-thirty, whereas I was up at six-thirty, checking my email and making coffee and settling in for an hour of Polish study. The poor man will be a rag by ten--but, on the other hand, so will I be. All the better excuse to go to bed early.

*At other Edinburgh dinner parties, I keep a stiff upper lip and a stiffer back and manage not to nod off until I am on a proper sofa, at which point all the women around wail sympathetically and tell B.A. to take me home.

Italian Qualification: Naturally these are tips for Scotland. In Italy the best thing to do, if you can, is to get up early, drink espresso, do morning things, eat a huge lunch at 1 PM, nap, go for a brisk walk,  do afternoon things, and have a late, but light, supper, going to bed soon afterwards.  Italians drink less than Scots. You wouldn't think so, as Italy produces wine, but it is true. It is too hot in Italy to drink that much alcohol, and there drunkenness is frowned upon, not the state of the nation after 8 PM.

Update: Now the real story comes out: they didn't get home until three-forty.  And the pensioner they were with was furious to discover that his free bus pass didn't entitle him to the Night Bus. (Possibly the state thinks pensioners ought not to be running around free at Night Bus hours.) So he had to shell out three whole pounds.

***Update 2 (Friday): In my barbaric colonial savagery, I misidentified"three storey townhouse"  as an end terrace. Apparently this was a gross social solecism. Apologies to the owner of the three storey townhouse and BOO to Dame Edna Everage who in her Farewell Tour gave me the distinct impression that the expression "an end terrace" was tremendously posh.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Antiques and Sushi

Ambulatory Sushi
Today I am a bit under the weather, but yesterday I had a glamorous trip around town with Alban, my Seminarian Pretend Son. First we took a bus to an antique shop and looked at beautiful desks I cannot afford. Then we walked along the crest of the hill below Calton Terrace and above Holyrood Palace to the New Town, where we visited other antique shops.

I was tempted by a set of six Denby soup cups and saucers which, at thirty squid, were a fair price, judged Alban. However, B.A. and I are saving for our Italian trip next week, so I let them pass me by. I also squashed an impulse to buy a big orange Le Creuset casserole dish for 45 pounds, although I am still of two minds about that. We really do need a big heavy casserole dish, and as my mother has two, I feel I ought to have one.

The easiest way to prevent myself from buying anything in the UK is to multiply the UK price by two. At its very worst exchange rate, the Canadian dollar is worth about 50 pence. It usually isn't that bad, but once you factor in taxes, which in Canada are added at the till,, my "ponder this in Canadian dollars" technique is reasonable. When I consider that a 45 pound dish means 90 dollars in Canada, which means a big chunk of my fee for the last CR column I wrote, the excitement of having found a "bargain" rather ebbs. The U.K. is an expensive country; Edinburgh is an expensive city.

And there are few shops as expensive in Edinburgh as Harvey Nichols, perhaps Britain's most glamorous chain of department stores, which I very rarely enter, for I am afraid some cunning saleslady will grab me and trick me into buying a $1,000 pound (and therefore $2,000) dress. When I do enter, I confine myself to the MAC cosmetics counter by the door.

However, this month they are having a sale at their sushi bar on the top floor, said Alban, so after we browsed the antiques, curios and casseroles, we headed for Harvey Nicks and took the escalator north. We joined the queue for the sushi bar behind two tightly clothed girls with slum hair* and then took our place behind the tin conveyor belts of plates.

Essentially, every plate trundling by on the conveyor belt costs diners two pounds fifty. A plate containing three to four pieces of salmon sashimi costs the same as a plate of edamame beans. Had I been thinking, I would have had just two or three plates of sashimi--a steal at 5-7.50. However, I wasn't thinking, and went for the sushi rolls and edamame beans, too. The little blue plates piled up beside me. In my defense, it is hard to be practical when  plates of food are sailing past your nose, and all you have to do to get one is to stretch out your hand and get.

Harvey Nicks has a chocolate bar, too, set up with the same conveyor belt principle. It must be tremendously fun for children, and I recommend it for parents who want to give their children a truly eye-opening treat.

*Despite various half-hearted attempts to create a class-free society, Britons can still reveal their class origins or loyalties through clothing and hairstyles. As a five year veteran of the Rough Bus, I am delighted to report that the girls of the local council housing no longer matt random chunks of hair to their heads with gobs of goo (a style I never understood) and have for some time been creating messy buns on top of their heads or, more recently, going for a straight-with-heavy-hairspray-and-two-kirby-grips look.

Incidentally it is considered very bad form to notice these things at all, and I only get away with it because I am a foreigner, and British readers find my taboo-smashing savagery a bit thrilling. Meanwhile,  I was reading about endemic sexual exploitation of little boys in Pakistan today, and if I were Pakistani, I would be a communist. (Okay, yes, I was reading about it in the Daily Mail., which is taking advantage of the fact its readers are all a bit concerned about the sexual habits of Pakistani men recently.)  I think if Pakistani bus drivers in Pakistan knew how much any bus driver makes in Britain (let alone Edinburgh), they would RISE UP and OVERTHROW their capitalist oppressors. Forget the Muslim Brotherhood!  The people's flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead...

Tuesday 2 September 2014

First Day of High School

Pictorial metaphor for my 14 year old self.
I have been learning Polish for just over three years now. According to my notes, I could say "Jestem tutaj na służbowo" (I am here on business) by September 2011. Currently I can write 500+ word passages about daily life with the help of a dictionary; apparently I have a good grasp of grammar but not of style. Meanwhile I  am stuck on Chapter 11 of Polish in 4 Weeks: Level 2. My brain doesn't seem to want to absorb either the vocabulary or the rapid fire mock radio broadcast.

It is not yet the thirtieth anniversary of my first day of high school, but we are nearer to it now than we are to the twentieth.  This year I thought it would be fun to give Toronto teens beginning high school the benefit of my sage advice in the Catholic Register. To get an idea of what they might want to know, I got out my diary to see what I said about my first day of high school.

Oh dear. What a shock. This is why so many other people destroy their high school diaries. It is only recently that I admitted to not being an intellectual in high school. Calvinist Cath says she was, but I certainly was not. I would LOVE to look back on myself as a fourteen year old who read Simone de Beauvoir, Das Kapital, the Confessions of Saint Augustine and the poetry of Leonard Cohen between trips to the record shop to purchase the experimental music of Kraftwerk, but NO. Impossible. Behold:

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 198-

Yesterday was totally freaky. Of course I was nervous. I remember getting up and checking in the mirror to see how my hair had turned out--I had washed it the night before. It was okay. My bed I made first and then into my uniform. I was hurrying--I wanted to meet Renée at the Garfield [newsagent's] at Sheppard [subway] Sta. at 8.30. During breakfast she 'phoned to say that her mother was going to pick me up at 8 and take both of us from [sic] school.  I agreed but was bothered because I had planned on The First Train ride to High School. We were the first at the school. We waited for S.F., Renée's best friend by the mailbox on the edge of the school's front grounds and introduced ourselves to a girl named Julie who's great and a slight Chinese girl (Note--she's not Chinese) named Marion or Marian as we usually say it. The five of us went to auditorium [sic] where all the niners were supposed to be. There I met JM, S and TH. S was mostly ignoring me (fine with me!) I freaked was surp. when I saw J because the night before Elizabeth

Sadly the account ends there. I do not know why I found J's presence surp.ing or what Elizabeth had said or done the night before. History does not relate.

This passage reveals much about the chaotic, inchoate nature of my fourteen year old brain.

First, I used words like "freaky" but did know that I ought not to write I "freaked" when really I was just "surp."

Second, self-consciousness about my unusual hair still ruled my life. At fourteen my way of coping was having it cut short in a horrible 1980s style instead. My yearbook photos are simply awful. AWFUL.

Third, the awkwardness of "My bed I made first" was probably due to not wanting to scratch it out and begin the sentence anew, which would have messed up the page.

Fourth, Renée was my best friend then, and I felt very lucky we were going together to the same school. However, I see that I allowed her mother to override my own wishes. It would never have occurred to me at the age at 14 that I could say "No" to the plans made for me by friends' mothers, especially Renée's.

Fifth, that apostrophe before "phoned" was a total affectation, and I bet I got it from a Dorothy L. Sayers novel or some other upper-classy British novel of the pre-World War II era. I thought Lord Peter Wimsey was the epitome of what a man should be like; I don't think I quite understood that he had mistresses. (I was also very hazy on the relationship between Charles and Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited.)

Sixth, I had romantic ideas about high school to the extent that I thought just taking the train there on the first day would be super-special. I was not at all rooted in reality, as my mother liked to shout.

Seventh, although Renée was MY best friend, HER best friend was S.F., which made me second banana. I felt second banana all through high school, as Renée and my two subsequent best friends were all prettier than me. They had best friends who weren't me, too. Sigh.

Eighth, I'm delighted I mentioned Garfield and the mailbox. The chain of newsagents in the Toronto subway system is no longer called Garfield, so that is an important historical detail. The mailbox anchors the important event in a small, traceable location, and I can now see it in my mind's eye.

Ninth, although I haven't seen Renée in over twenty years, I am still in touch with Julie. And Julie remembers that she hadn't know anyone before she arrived, so she was extremely thankful to have met Renee and me right away. I can't remember who Marion/Marian was but am too tired to check my yearbook. T.H. is now a Facebook friend, and I met up with her for a drink two or so years ago.

Tenth, good for 14 year old me for correcting myself regarding the ethnicity of Marian/Marion. Details like that are important, especially if you are going to grow up to write Op/Ed.

Eleventh, oh the drama of S ignoring me and my not caring. Despite being open and friendly to new girls, I could be shockingly callous. And that's part of a story that bothers my kinder adult self to this day.

Twelfth, I'm glad I mentioned Elizabeth, which whom I am still in touch and whose mother is still a great friend of MY mother. Elizabeth went to another (or THE other, for our neighbourhood) Catholic girls' school, which reminds me that, even in Grade 9, my high school social life was not confined to MY high school. (It was, however, largely confined to those who went to Catholic schools.)

Social life was the most important part of my life. I had been so lonely, unhappy and resentful in my elementary school, Grade 9 was like heaven.  The part-time female fellowship of Girl Guides and Catholic fellowship of the parish youth group (both with Renée) became full-time. Thank God.

I didn't say any of this in my Catholic Register article. Instead I confessed that when I was fourteen my mind wasn't fully formed yet, and that mind-forming is the whole point of high school.

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Aged P informed me that she couldn't comment, so I have had a look at the "permissions" and adjusted them. So comment away, dear readers.

Monday 1 September 2014

Sunscreen Habit Vindicated Once Again

So Alban--my Seminarian Pretend Son, remember--and I were walking past the Grassmarket towards the West Port to browse the used bookstores. Alban was wearing his usual Young Fogey clothes, and I was wearing my hair in a braid crown  and a  vintage 1950s jacket in that very 1950s green colour Alban says is called "eau de nil."  (Alban knows his colours.) And along came a rockabilly, hipster-looking chap who beamed at us. presumably believing that we, too, were rockabilly hipsters.

"You two look very sharp together," he said.
Not my husband Benedict Ambrose, Alban is into blood sports.

"Thank you," we said.

"Together," I thought. "Hee hee hee!"

I was 17 when Alban was born.

Sunscreen! Yes!

As a matter of fact,  I was wearing SPF 15 today, in my MAC moisturizing foundation. (At my august age, I have decided that, lifelong habit of sunscreen or no, it is time for foundation.)  Yesterday I rushed inside for a big straw hat, sunglasses and my bottle of SPF 50 waterproof sunscreen when I got home from Mass, for Benedict Ambrose and I had a Sunday Lunch in front of the Historical House, and the sun poured down as if to make up hysterically for its poor behaviour all August.

Sadly, we had planned for Sunday Lunch to be rainy and cold, so we had made cold-weather food: hot dill soup, hot pork roast, hot peas, hot potatoes, hot gravy and choice of hot apricot crumble or hot rhubarb crumble to be followed by hot coffee and chocolates. But nobody complained at the autumn fare. I think we were all stunned by our atmospheric good fortune.

All the same, I was relieved when the sun calmed down a bit and I could remove my hat and sunglasses. Going up and down three flights of sandstone stairs repeatedly in a big floppy hat is no picnic.