Saturday 28 March 2015

Closed for Holy Week

In mundo erat, et mundus per ipsum factus est, et mundus eum non cognovit.

Deprivation or Freedom?

I have got to the part of The Artist's Way  where it insists the reader give up reading for a week. Julia Cameron means reading anything.  Like her first students, I thought of a million reasons why that was just impossible--Polish class for a start. But then I remembered the Polish class has ended for the term and many people give up Facebook, for example, for Lent.

So I thought, Great! I'll quit reading anything, including the internet, for Holy Week.

And do I feel frightened? No! I feel excited. A whole week of no internet. With God's help, I will not obsessively check for email, the latest news, the latest comment on one of my articles, the latest blog-post  Mad, Sad or Glad Trads are excited about today. None. Zip. With the grace of God, I will say good-bye to my dear friend.

Of course, I will have to scramble to get done those things due to me emailed during Holy Week, but it's still morning.

I am grateful to the internet, which has changed the course of my life, leading me to friends outside Canada and to my husband. It has given me new and bigger audiences and ample opportunities to fulfill my vocation as a writer. It has also, if a laywoman of traddy inclinations may use this word, given me a way to minister to those who need my ministry most, women who are Single and worried about it. As a writing tool, it is the best encyclopedia in the history of the world.

But it isn't God, and it is not right that someone not God should be so much of a focus of my life. The internet is a created thing, and as such should only be my servant or my friend, not my master. Thus, what better time than Holy Week to say "See you later! I'm off to sketch bluebells in the woods."

If only giving up a worry were so easy. Maybe it is. My memory of being a Single woman is fading away, an occurrence common to Married women, although I suspect the younger you marry, the sooner you forget! I got married old enough to think that you might reject this suggestion, but it is to assume--for a week--in the very marrow of your bones, that you are going to marry or join a convent in 2022, seven years from now.

Yes, I know I always tell you to be rooted in reality, and here I am telling you to believe that you will, for certain sure, be a happy wife or nun (whichever you prefer) in 2022.  But it is a way to give you a holiday from worrying that you will always be Single when you most earnestly don't want to be. Whenever you feel a "Single" woe or worry, say to yourself "Ah, can't wait until I get married/consecrated in 2022!"

Meanwhile, when you get up in the morning, grab a notebook and write three pages about what you like and dislike about your life as a Single. First, write out all the things you really dislike. Be honest. (You're going to destroy your notes on Holy Saturday anyway, so as to be born anew on Easter Sunday morning.) Then write out all the things you really like. Then end, "All the same, I can't wait until I get married/consecrated in 2022!" Then hide your pages under your seat cushion (or wherever) and get on with your day.  If you do this program with a fellow Single, perhaps your sister or a room-mate, make sure you say "2022!" to each other as a sort of code word.

"I'll be wearing Vera Wang."

"Awesome! I'm going vintage Chanel."


"I'm marrying a fireman."

"Really, a fireman?"

"Yes. You?"

"An accountant who showers me with gold bangles."

"An accountant?"

"He plays in an indie rock band at night."

"Oh, cool."

"He will say the bangles are a good investment."

"Wow, a practical rock-and-roller."

"Yes, I like a man to be balanced."

On the night of Holy Saturday, read them all (don't read them until then) and rip them up! Burn them if you can. They aren't for anyone to READ; they are just for you to VENT and, hopefully, giggle over.

Above all things, I wish I could have known that Benedict Ambrose was waiting for me in the future. God knew he was, as God has known everything always, but I did not. If I had, I think I would have made much better choices in life! What I regret most, though, is that I didn't have a stubborn and abiding trust in God's love for me.

And that is the last thing I have here to say before Holy Week begins. I'll turn the comments off at 2300 hours Greenwich Mean Time, and then its a very happy text-free Holy Week for me! I hope it is a very happy angst-free Holy Week for you.

Friday 27 March 2015

Something Else About Mary Wagner

I see that my interview with Mary Wagner for Catholic World Report is online. Great!

Visiting Mary in prison was one of the highlights of my trip home to Canada.

Hopefully I will have time over Holy Week to write a Polish version.

BY THE WAY: I am going on a total internet fast for Holy Week. Just so you know. I will not be blogging, reading email, checking Facebook or doing anything online at all. Although the internet is a great gift, I want to put it aside for a week as B.A. and I prepare for Easter.

Dom Zły and Stan

Dzień dobry! (Pron: Jane DOE-brrrih!)

Today is Polski Piątek, Polish Friday, somewhat complicated by my new computer. Polish Pretend Son set up my old computer with Polish letters, and to get Polish letters on this computer, I have to switch to Polish keyboard mode. Y and Z change places, etc. It is a pain in the dupa, a word Polish Pretend Son says ladies are not supposed to use.

Interestingly, the shock value of Polish swear words is totally lost on English-speakers. I can quite cheerfully say words that make great strapping young Polish men blush and cry, "WHERE did you learn THAT?" And I generally say, "It's in the dictionary" or "Rafał said I could say it," Rafał being an astrophysicist from Gdańsk. Of course, what Rafał thinks is okay in English would fry your eyebrows.

Dom Zły

Polish bad words turn up a lot in contemporary Polish films. My university Polish teacher has been lending films to the 3rd+ year students as supplementary homework, and yesterday I watched an extremely depressing film called Dom Zły. Everyone in this film who isn't utterly corrupt is murdered, and some of the utterly corrupt are murdered too. It is a film awash with blood, soup,   vodka, rain and drifts of snow. It is set in 1982, during martial law, and the point of the film seems to be that, thanks to Communism,  everyone in Poland in 1982 was barbaric, hypocritical and drunk.

I was pretty sure my teacher told me that this was a comedy. Of course, the whole concept of comedy changes from country to country. The scene where someone's beloved wife drops dead in a pool of barszczu czerwonego (clear borscht) was probably supposed to be funny, but I was traumatized.

Anyway, Dom Zły is not for the sensitive, and so as to be able to continue with life, I called up Benedict Ambrose, who is not only civilized, consistent and sober, he has very little interest in Polish culture at all. During the Second World War, he would have not been so thrilled by the sudden wave of handsome Polish soldiers washing over Edinburgh, although that is partly because he would have been taken prisoner at Dunkirk and thought it hard cheese that the Poles got to be in Edinburgh when he had to be in a camp.

"Why am I learning this language?" I wailed.

"I don't know, darling. Why are you?"

The answer is much too complicated to explain today, but its roots stretch back, back into the reign of Paul VI, when I met a Polish boy named Paweł. It is a highly romantic tale, and also extremely tragic, despite the protagonists being only six years old. But this is a subject for another blogpost.


I used to keep a Polish blog in which I wrote about Polish class but put off writing in Polish as long as possible. Finally I got the courage to write something, and  it was corrected by a nice young Pole named Piotr. Incidentally he is highly eligible, and it is a mystery to me why such a big, handsome, industrious and church-going chap isn't yet married. Probably it is because he is too busy working to go looking for a wife. But surely some enterprising girl could snaffle him in the supermarket.

Here is my Polish composition about a dream involving Stan, my childhood bus driver, who, given his name, was probably Polish himself. It has  a vocabulary list so you can puzzle it out. Cutting and pasting to Google Translate is cheating. Puzzling it out will be good for your brain. Do it out of love for Saint John Paul II.

Sen ("The Dream")

Dzisiaj rano śniło mi się, że jadę Warszawy autobusem. Kierowcą autobusu był Stan. Stan pewnie ma już ze sto lat, ale kierowcą był Stan moich szkolnych lat. 

Poprosiłam Stana by zatrzymać autobus. A więc go zatrzymał. Więc wysiadłam z autobusu-- nie wiem dlaczego - - i beze mnie autobus kontynuował swoją podróż do Warszawy. Byłam bardzo zaskoczona.

Byłam bez mojej torebki, walizki i paszportu.  Nie wiedziałam gdzie jestem. Ale znaki były w romańskim języku. Zapytałam po angielsku pana gdzie byłam i powiedział "R-ia."

Moja bratowa ma rodzinę w R-ii, więc cieszyłam się. Znalazłam automat telefoniczny i zadzwoniłam do moich rodziców. Przystojny kuzyn [A] niedługo przybył i powiedział, że znajdzie mi inny autobus. To byłoby bardzo drogie.

28 VII 2012

Paragraph 1

Dzisiaj rano--this morning
śniło mi się--I dreamed
że jadę Warszawy autobusem--that I was going to Warsaw by bus
Kierowcą--the driver (instrumental case)
autobusu--of the bus (genitive case)
był Stan--was Stan
pewnie--certainly, for sure
ma już ze sto lat--is a hundred years old by now
moich szkolnych lat--of my school days.

Paragraph 2

Poprosiłam Stana--I asked Stan (accusative case)
by zatrzymać--to stop
A więc go zatrzyma--and so he stopped him (i.e. the bus, which is masculine)
Więc--and so
wysiadłam z- I alighted from, I got off 
nie wiem dlaczego--I don't know why
beze mnie--without me 
kontynuował swoją podróż do--he (i.e. the bus) continued his journey to
Byłam--I was  
zaskoczona--surprised (feminine)

Paragraph 3
bez mojej torebki--without my handbag (genitive case)
walizki i paszportu--suitcase and passport (genitive case) 
Nie wiedziałam--I did not know
gdzie-- where 
jestem--here, I was (literally, am)
były--(they, feminine) were
w romańskim języku--in a Romance language
Zapytałam--I asked
po angielsku--in English
pana--a gentleman (accusative case)
powiedział--he said
R-ia--R-ia (a place name)

Paragraph 4
Moja bratowa--my "brother's wife"
ma rodzinę--has family (accusative case)
cieszyłam się--I rejoiced
Znalazłam--I found
automat telefoniczny--payphone
zadzwoniłam do--I rung up
moich rodziców--my parents (genitive case)
Przystojny kuzyn A.--A's handsome cousin
przybył--(he) arrived
że znajdzie mi--that he was finding me
To byłoby--it would be
drogie--expensive (neuter)

VII -- July

Did you do it without cheating? If so, congratulations!  They say it is more difficult for native anglophones to learn Polish than to learn Russian.  

Thursday 26 March 2015

Dating the Divorced

Where the rubber hits the road.
This is simply THE most difficult Single topic I can think of. It is full of landmines--personal and theological. I hate having to think about it, but my conscience says that I must think about it. So here I am thinking.

It would be easy to write off the divorced as complete untouchables. And life would be easier for Single Catholic women if, upon hearing that a man we've met is divorced, we would smile sweetly and have absolutely nothing to do with him ever again.

Believe me, I know how taboo divorced people are, for I have been a divorced person myself, and when I was in marriage counselling, and the marriage counsellor asked me how I felt about getting divorced, I said that I felt I would be marked out as a Divorced Woman forever and my community would look at me askance for the rest of my days.

These were not unfounded fears although, thank heavens, the annulment papers took away some of the sting. And without the annulment papers, you can bet that European Catholic media would have had absolutely nothing to do with me and my thoughts on women and the Single Life. Although I find having to repeat again and again that I did have an annulment and I did write Seraphic Singles long after I got that annulment, I understand the fierceness of the European Catholic media on this point. I even appreciate their zeal to preserve the sanctity of marriage. I just wish the questions didn't hurt so much. However, I would have gone to the rack itself to get that divorce, so a few painful questions is not that big a deal.

As a Divorced Woman I should have practiced better self care, which would have included not dating. As I waited for my annulment, I dated up a storm, which was stupid, not only because I was counting my annulment chickens before they were hatched, but because recently divorced people are crazy and in serious danger of going out with the wrong kind of people.

I don't mean wicked, necessarily, I just mean wrong. One wrong type is the Rescuer, who is very attracted to crazy people who have been through a bad time, but loses interest as the crazy person regains sanity and strength. If I had been in the heart of a devout and brainy Catholic community such as y'all have in Washington D.C., I would have been a lot better off. But I was in Not-So-Catholic-Land, so I flailed about alone, or without the companionship of devout, orthodox and brainy Catholics. My soi-disant Catholic therapist, for example, was secretly dating a priest.


However, I struggled on and did my (then) best and eventually chased down the one Single Catholic guy I knew merely because he was cute and went to Mass, and when that all blew up in a spectacularly horrible way, I didn't date for a year. But after that year, I started flirting with this older guy from work, and we had a nice coffee date, in which I pretended not to notice he was rude to the waitress.  It wasn't until the second date that he told me that he was divorced.

Divorced! I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under my feet. He walked me home--I wished he hadn't--and as soon as I was alone in my bachelor flat, I fell on the floor and wept. I cried and cried and cried. The next morning I got a phone call and discovered that I had lost my temp job. I assumed at once it was because I had gone on a date with Management, which made me extremely indignant and How-Dare-You-Tell-Me-Who-I-Can-Date-ish.

So I went to my super-nice parish priest and asked him what I should do. I had met this nice guy, but he was divorced, and should I go out with him or not? And the parish priest said, "Don't cut good people out of your life." So I continued to date the divorced guy until shortly after he got an annulment, which was when I decided I did not want to marry another Protestant. So that was that, and he got another girlfriend almost right away, which somewhat assuaged my feelings of guilt.

But hark this: I should not have gone on another date with the divorced guy, even though he was, as my priest divined, a good person. For one thing, just finding out he was divorced had sent me into hysterics. I didn't need a boyfriend, I needed a prescription. 

And, although by then I had my annulment, before that I certainly should not have gone out with anyone until I had it. Divorced people are fragile, and fragility makes us needy and selfish, as well as vulnerable and weak. We have an unfortunate tendency to fall from one doomed relationship into another, which is why we need our old friends to stop us. And, unless the Church says we aren't, we're freaking married to somebody else. Which, naturally, few divorced people want to admit or discover.

So what do we do when we are Single and over thirty and haven't been on a date in a zillion years, and--mirabile dictu--a handsome man starts pursuing us and we discover that he is divorced? Do we run? Do we immediately think about all our friends whose spouses got annulments? Do we think of Pope Francis and his cryptic remarks about Cardinal Kasper, the divorced-and-remarried-outside-the Church-but-wants-Holy-Communion-Catholic's friend?

I'm asking you because I don't really know. Naturally, though, I have some ideas:

1. You establish at once how long ago that divorce was.  If the divorce was within the past year, you are out of there. Sorry, but you are out of there. You are vulnerable because you are female and Single, and he is vulnerable because he has just been through a divorce. RED ALERT! RED ALERT! HEAD FOR THE HILLS!

2. You make an appointment with your priest/spiritual director and tell him everything. Tell him about being Single and over 30 (25, 23) and not meeting anyone and feeling sad and lonely and wanting so much to have a husband and children and all your various attempts to find a husband, and now this divorced guy appearing out of the blue. Bring tissue.

3. You remember that the guy is still married, spiritually and very probably emotionally, to this other woman out there. If you continue to be friends--FRIENDS--with him, checking in periodically with your parish priest/spiritual director to stay honest, you will learn ALL about her. You may even discover, the horror, that you are somewhat like her. If you are a redhead, gosh darn it, but it may be that she is a redhead too. Tell your priest/spiritual director of such revelations.

4. Meanwhile, in the course of learning all about this other woman, you will discover if she was a baptized Christian or not, and if he is a baptized Christian. If she was a Roman Catholic who married outside the Church to marry your non-Catholic Christian admirer and never had the marriage ratified, the Church doesn't recognize it. But if she was a non-Catholic Christian who married another non-Catholic Christian, the Church recognizes the marriage unless there was some impediment a canon lawyer could find. Yes, that is all very complicated. Do not take my word for any detail, but consult your parish priest, who will probably need to consult someone else.

5. Do not settle. I do not care how old you are, or how plain-Jane, or how much you want children.  Unless you are so in love with this guy that you will do anything for him except commit mortal sins,  and he would do anything for you, don't think about marriage. When you are married, and the chips are down, and you are feeling extremely cross that you gave up this or that privilege of your Single Life and are now in this momentarily rotten situation because you got married, you should be able to reflect that if you hadn't been able to marry your husband, this husband, you would have gone insane.

6. Love presupposes knowledge. If you don't know him, you don't love him. Yes, B.A. asked me to marry me after ten days, but we had been reading each others blogs for a year. Meeting in person was just a confirmation of all the blog stuff, and in B.A.'s case he was relieved to discover that I wasn't an airhead. Apparently the relentless cheer of "Still Seraphic" gave him that impression.

7. You can't let him kiss you on the mouth, you can't hold his hand, and you can't call him your boyfriend because unless the Church says otherwise, he's a married man. I am trying to get my mind around how strict and unfair that may sound, but I can't. I'm a married woman who has a number of male friends and goes to dances and classes without my husband, so I know perfectly well what is okay and what is not and when in doubt I hide behind a potted plant. Of course, I actually love my spouse and the entire world agrees that I am married to him, so that is a heck a lot easier for ME then for divorced-without-an-annulment people out there, especially divorced non-Catholics who don't get what the deal is.

8. If he doesn't get what the deal is, get out of there. You know my motto: woman trumps every potential victim except baby/child.  Woman trumps race. Woman trumps handicap. Woman trumps addict. Woman trumps poor. Woman trumps divorced. Whenever it is a question of male physicality, woman is the more vulnerable and needs to protect herself.  You should not feel guilty for telling a divorced man that you, as a Roman Catholic, a follower of Jesus Christ, consider him a married man.

9. When I say get out of there, I mean it literally. Say that in that case there is no more to be said, and you must go now. Go home and call a sympathetic pal of unquestionable orthodoxy.  Email your priest. If you cannot think of anyone suitable, email me: And for sake of women's dignity semper et ubique, don't call, text or email him. 

After saying all that, you may be wondering why I don't simply throw in the towel and tell you to avoid divorced men like the plague. Well, it is because (A) I was divorced myself, drat it all, and I hate the idea of the divorced being treated like lepers and (B) Christians aren't supposed to treat even lepers like lepers. Meanwhile (C) hope springs eternal and (D) I honestly believe our two generations are the most immature in the history of the world and the very fact that our youthful marriages break down so quickly (when they do) could be evidence that they are not valid through reasons of immaturity. 

But please be careful.

Update: Lest I become a Divorced Catholic poster girl, I want to stress that making a bad marriage was the very worst thing that ever happened to me, and I would not wish it on anyone. Getting divorced does not make everything all okay. Getting an annulment does not make everything okay although it certainly gives you hope for the future. Even getting remarried does not make everything okay for it cannot give you back the years you lost or your children (if you had any) the tears they cried.

Nobody has to get married, and if you feel that you have to get married to someone when you'd rather be married to another kind of man entirely, you are not free enough to be married and are about to do something very wicked or at best very stupid. If the thought "At least he'll be happy" pops into your mind, call your priest, for you are in danger of making a mockery of the sacrament and your life. Valid or invalid, marriage of any kind has serious social, intellectual and moral consequences. 

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Our Literary Roots

Today is Artistic Wednesday, and yesterday I had a play date with the Inner Child. As our play date last week at the Museum of Childhood and Blackwell's was so successful, I thought this week we would go to Edinburgh Central Library and have a look for the book I suddenly remembered during our last play date. This book is called Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

I didn't realize how famous Ballet Shoes is when I began looking for it, but then I didn't remember what it was called or who it was by. I just remembered that it had three adopted sisters, one of whom became an actress and one of whom became a dancer. One was called Pauline and one was called, I thought, Petra. Happily, just remembering "Pauline" and "Petr--" and "ballet" was enough to find out the title on the internet.

The crucial thing I remembered was how very much I once loved this book. So after a long morning of housework and writing, I got on the bus to find it.

Julia Cameron of  The Artist's Way  says that one should write down items of clothing one wants and see if they magically appear,.Amusingly enough, one of my last thoughts leaving the house was that I really need a new pair of comfortable shoes, ideally navy blue loafers, and the moment I got off the bus, what did I see? A Scots shop selling shoes for ridiculously low prices, including navy blue loafers at £10.

I bought the loafers and walked to Edinburgh Central Library on the George IV Bridge. This library is almost beside The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It is across from the National Library of Scotland, where B.A. and I go to do grown-up research. When I went into the wonderful Georgian building, I saw no  children's books, but I did see a sign saying "Language Learning."

"Oh no, you don't," said a little voice at my elbow. "This time is for ME!"

"But I can't see the children's section."

"Well, ask someone. Ask the man at the desk."

So in a hushed voice I asked the man at the desk, and he gave me directions to the new children's wing. It had just opened, he said, which I thought was another fortuitous moment of Cameronian synchronicity. So the Inner Child and I went out into the grand foyer, and turned left and then made a right, and turned left  again and found ourselves in the children's wing. Happy screams pierced the air.

"They're louder than even me," observed the Inner Child.  "Oooh! Look a big circle cut into the wall big enough to sit in! It's padded! You're supposed to sit in it! I'd like to read there, for sure."

"Unfortunately, it's too small for your Outer Adult," I said, looking about. I was bewildered by the almost empty space. It was long on architectural cleverness, but short on books. I had to ask to find out where the "Ts" were, and then, when I made more detailed inquiries, was reminded that the author's name began with "S." Meanwhile, they didn't have Ballet Shoes at that location. The man offered to order in the copy from the one branch that had it in, but as one of the three toddlers in the joint screamed and toddled, I said I would have a look across the street at the National Library.

"Bor-ing," said the Inner Child, sulking along. "The National Library is for grown-ups. It's dull and grey and has no comfy chairs. It takes them half an hour to find something, and you're not allowed to look yourself. I don't want to go to the National Library. I want to go to Blackwell's and eat chocolate."

"That certainly did not work out as planned," I admitted, pausing in the enormous hall of the National Library. I wondered what we would do while we waited for the book to be fetched. Having a coffee while reading the papers wouldn't cut any ice with the Inner Child. "When we were the same age, was our children's section back home that noisy?"

"No," said the Inner Child positively. "There was a lady at the desk in front with glasses on a chain and she said Shhh a lot and parents were meaner and more embarrassed back then anyway. It was even bigger than that Children's Wing, and it had a LOT of books. And a fish tank in the wall. And in the second room there was a space down in the floor that you could sit in while a lady sat in front and read stories. It had millions and millions of books. It had Henry and the Purple Crayon and Harry the Dirty Dog and Choose Your Own Adventure novels. It was a totally awesome library. It sucks that they knocked it down. It was all 1960s-1970ish, but in a nice Canadian Owl magazine kind of way, with lots of windows and trees around and a windowed corridor, and it smelled good. Not good like food but good like library books. It had wall to wall orange carpets, and turnstyles that went KA-CHUNK. The new library back home sucks. Its children's section looks like Chernobyl."

"You haven't the slightest idea what Chernobyl looks like," I said, feeling very bored with the mature, practical character of the National Library. "Okay, let's go to Blackwell's."


"Yes, yes, pipe down."

"Are you actually going to BUY the book? Ooooooh! What will B.A. say?"

"If I buy the book, I will buy it from the Canadian account."

"But B.A. says it's ultimately all the same money, and the Canadian account is not like this extra magic money you can pretend is just yours."

"Do you want the book or not?"

"Oh, I do I do I do! Can we take it back to George IV bridge and eat something yummy at Café Valerie? It's so romantic and fluffy."

"No, my feet hurt too much from these stupid high heeled boots. We can go to the hipster café."

"No way," yodeled the Inner Child. "Too many beards. And beside that's where you do Poh-lish."

She ran ahead and did a weird wiggling walk that I presume was an imitation of my own noble tread.

"Ooooh look at ME, I am so hip, I write in Poh-lish. I am an in-tell-ECK-choo-al! I may be over forty but I am totally down with the hipster kids. I can swing dance, and I even have the glasses on today,  Na-PRRRRRRR-AHV-da?"

"Stop that. Okay, we won't go to the hipster café. We can get something at Blackwell's."

So we went to Blackwell's, and the Inner Child made a bee-line for the children's section which, although much smaller than the Central Library's new children's wing, was much better stocked. The Inner Child bounced around so much looking at things that in the end I had to ask a sales clerk for help. She found Ballet Shoes right away.

"YAY," shouted the Inner Child, only this time in a way this other adult could hear. She smiled and went back to her counter

And in the end I had a café au lait and the Inner Child had a gingerbread man, and we sat together in a red leather armchair in a corner of the bookstore café and read all about Paulina, Petrova, Posy, Garnian, Nana and Gum.

Which children's books did you like best? 

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Behold the Lilies of the Field

It is Traddy Tuesday, and I have had ample opportunity to consider the treasure that cannot be eaten by moths for, lo, the moths are back and have eaten a hole in the carpet underneath the armchair in the study. How cross am I? I discovered the bald patch--and one of the horrid little beasts--as I was hoovering today, and I have no-one to blame but myself. I should have hoovered under that chair last week.  Fortunately I still have anti-moth spray on hand, so spritz, spritz, spritz.

The study used to be the linen cupboard for the Historical House, and as the Historical House must be having another wee problem with wicked beasties, I am terribly glad it is not my lot to store altar linens and vestments.

Some people who love the Traditional Latin Mass and other ancient rites absolutely swoon over vestments. Benedict Ambrose was a liturgy nerd in his youth, and so knows all the names. He has slowly imparted them to me ("Darling, how can you not know what a cotta is?"), so that I don't look too dumb when dinner conversation turns, as it often does, to vestments.  Of course, we don't always used the proper Latin names. "If he wears that moss green piece of rubbish one more time, I'm not coming back," is one traddy icebreaker with which I am well familiar.

You may be wondering what vestments have to do with the Gospel, and so I will link at once to the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia which will tell you what St. Jerome said and about the symbolism of it all. I will add that there are some passages in Scripture about wearing appropriate clothing to celebrations.

Traditional vestments remind the priest (and us) that he is a priest, and not just "Joe" or "Bob" or "John" or "Mike", and he has various prayers he is supposed to say while he vests (puts his vestments on). The vestments also hide the priest's personality and even his physical shape. The most visually noticeable thing about him should be his chasuble, which usually has ornate orphreys, including large gold or silver sacred images, like a sacrificial lamb or a crucifixion. If your mind should wander during Mass, at least your eye is trained upon that holy picture.

Traditional vestments also remind the congregation of what day it is. If you should happen to pop into a Mass in the Extraordinary Form on a weekday, and the priest is wearing red, you know it is the feast day of a martyr. If he is wearing black, you know he is saying a Mass for the Dead. My Seminarian Pretend Son has an absolutely smashing black funeral chasuble embroidered with skeletons, and I want him to lend it to someone (or wear it himself, come to think of it) for MY funeral. No "celebration of life" for me! I want everyone to stare death in the eye and burst into tears.

Where was I? No, but actually, I enjoy thinking of my funeral, for it will be a proper traditional one, not the awful rushed ones performed by Father Land Speed Record or, now that Fr LSR has at last been allowed to retire, one of the jolly ones by Father Perpetual Cheer. Instead of listening to Father Whippersnapper tell them that I was a grand old girl and am now looking down at my all my loved ones from heaven,  Pirate, Peanut and Popcorn will be given the uncomfortable impression, thanks to the awesome spectacle of Father Pretend Son and his skeletons, that unless they pray their brains out, I will be poked by demonic forks and slow-roasted under a grill. No one is allowed to smile or laugh at my funeral; they must all weep. They can smile afterwards at the Funeral Tea and then laugh until they cry at the Funeral Supper.

Back to vestments. After Seminarian Pretend Son's skeletons, I like best our FSSP priest's rose-covered chasuble. It comes out only on Laetare Sunday and Gaudete Sunday, and it is terribly heavy, so it doesn't make it out in bad weather or on long trips. Thus, sadly, I did not see it in Dundee this Laetare Sunday.  Here is is:

One of the things about a rose ("Not pink!" shriek all liturgy nerds everywhere) vestment is that men tend not to like to wear rose-coloured things, and some priests actually refuse to wear them the day they are supposed to, robbing us of the lightening of heart rose vestments bring to Advent and Lent. But the very donning of rose underscores yet again that the priest is THE PRIEST during Mass, not "Bob", "Larry", "Dave", et alia. We are not usually his pals, we are not there for a one-on-one on him. His personality doesn't matter; in fact, sometimes it just gets in the way. Which is why vestments are so helpful, and also why I think, quite a lot of the time, the homily would be best at the END of Mass.  The Extraordinary Form of the Mass seems to have a natural flow from the Gospel to the Creed, as I've noticed when, for good reasons, there hasn't been a homily at all.

Update: Any further thoughts on vestments have been interrupted by the sudden delivery of three bottles of white wine.  Apparently a reader in Germany took to heart my Mothering Sunday- inspired wails for flowers, breakfast-in-bed and "more wine",  for he has sent me the wine. So thank you very much, Michael. That was a very kind thought.

Monday 23 March 2015

Dancing with Men

Here I am at last. I have been writing all day--mostly about Cardinal O'Brien, and that's hard to get right. On the one hand, men should not make advances at priests and seminarians, especially when they are bishops, priests or seminarians themselves. On the other hand, the outraged press once adored Cardinal O'Brien and his funny ways. Had there been no gay marriage debate, the press would not have been so excited by the accusations; Cardinal O'Brien actually stood up for gays back in 2005. When another Scottish priest blew the whistle on what happened to straight old him and other guys at the hands of gays in his seminary days, he got suspended, not umpteen Guardian articles in his defense.

Anyway, this is not a post about Scottish clerical gay sub-culture. Au contraire. This is a post about women encountering men in social situations and interacting with them in a pleasant fashion that 99.9% of the time will not end in marriage. I, for example, do not have the faintest hope or idea of marrying any of the men that I meet in social situations. Life is so much more restful for married women that way. 

I suppose most women learn to interact with men in a pleasant fashion by going to school with them although the very idea fills me with pity and fear. My ability to learn would have been greatly compromised by teenage boys, both the cute ones and the ones that bounced up and down hooting like monkeys, so I am rather glad I did not go to a co-ed school. I'm not sure I wouldn't have been better off in a women's college, come to think of it, although mostly I wish I had gone to Aberdeen and met B.A. right away. (Sigh.)

Well, never mind that. The point is that once you graduate from university, you discover that there are not so many Single men your age around anymore. For example, you are no longer in classrooms and lecture halls full of them. Maybe there are one or two at work, but there are no longer dozens. And at work you are not supposed to socialize with them, exactly. You are supposed to be professional and so are they. They aren't supposed to tell you, two months after appearing in your staffroom, that they have just left the seminary because they really want to get married to a nice Catholic girl, and you might fit the bill.

But where are you supposed to meet dozens and dozen of men with whom to socialize, you ask. And--lo! Because I love my little Singles so much, I have done serious reconnaissance work and can report that there are dozens and dozens of men involved in social dancing. In fact, some of the men love social dancing so much, they go to different types of social dancing. Amongst the Edinburgh Lindy Hoppers are Edinburgh Ceidhli Dancers and Edinburgh Tangueros. Naturally some of them have girlfriends, but that does not stop them from dancing with other women and socializing in a pleasant fashion.

If you go to a proper dance class run by a society of amateurs, not money-grubbing professionals who spend half their time on sales, you do not need a partner at all. If you are learning to be a "follower", you are made to dance with all those learning to become "leads." As men almost never (in my short experience) volunteer to be followers, this means you dance with every man in the room. In the process, you learn something about all of them, and all of them learn something about you.

As a follower who spent the weekend working on the Lindy Hop, I realize that this is one of the most effective training in paying attention to men there is.  After dancing with 15 men for two days, I know who is nervous, who is funny, who blames his partner for his own shortcomings, who is flirtatious, who is despairing, who really cares about the comfort of his dance partner, who is dangerously attractive and who is a bit of a bully. (I also know that some of the best and most thoughtful Lindy Hop leads are women, so the next time a woman asks me to dance, I am not going to think "Oh well, better than no-one", I am going to think "GREAT!")

My report should not dissuade nervous young men from taking up social dancing, for I had nothing but sympathy for the ones who kept forgetting the steps, having forgotten them so often myself. I would certainly ask Mr Never Changes Pattern to dance before asking Mr Know It All Bully. Of course, normally I would never ask anyone to dance. Instead I sit on a chair and look happily at the dance floor like a dog contemplating a bone. That is, that's how I looked yesterday after the workshop-training miracle.

The way for a follower to get better at dancing, which I very much wish to do, for I have caught the bug, is to be asked to dance over and over again by leads. This puts me back in the deplorable position of wanting men to like me, or at least to like dancing with me. Fortunately, for this I do not have to be a raving beauty, but merely a good follower. For insights on how to be the world's best follower, I shall have to consult my friend Alisha Ruiss. I suspected saying, "Don't worry; we got through" and "Thanks, that was great!" is pretty essential, so I said those things a lot. I hope I have impressed upon fifteen men that I am kindhearted and acceptably nimble.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Good Mental Habits

It's Seraphic Singles Saturday, and I have just read a wonderful email from a long-term reader who has met the Perfect Man for Her. She gives me part of the credit, which is really nice of her. One of the great comforts of my nulliparous life  is contemplating the number of marriages and babies I helped to bring about just by blogging from my home.

Here are the things I recommended that helped her find the Perfect Man for Her:

1. Giving a man a second or third chance even if initially there are no great fireworks. When I met X, I was not looking for someone to date and although he seemed nice, very friendly, and a happy person, I thought he was (superficial, I know!) too Y for me. On the first date, our conversation was okay, but nothing very special, I went out a second time and his kindness and gentlemanly behaviour entranced me, and by the third date I was smitten! Now I never think of Y. 

2. Listening to men when they talk about themselves. This probably applies more to filtering the bad men out, which is a skill I really had to learn - I used to believe all sorts of stories and not heed certain communiques from men. Once I actually started listening to what they were saying instead of building romantic stories in my head (usually ones where I would rescue them from something), I very quickly realized they often DO mean what they say, particularly when they say "I'm really not looking for a relationship".

3. Appreciating the good men around me. For a while I didn't think they existed or that they all had to be boring, and then I started trying to note in my gratitude journal instances when a man was nice/good (even if it was just a kind cashier or bus driver) and I realized there were so many! I told X that I wouldn't have appreciated his solid character a few years ago, and it's true, I was generally falling for the bad guys with complicated stories. But the daily exercise in appreciating character and goodness helped me quickly realize his true worth!
To be honest, I don't remember anything about a gratitude journal, although I have recommended writing down all your cynical thoughts about men and then writing the exact opposite. Therefore, I will not take credit for that. But I think it is a GENIUS idea. GENIUS! I would recommend it to Single men, too, to keep about women who are nice/good--even if she is just a kind cashier or a bus driver!

When I was a teenager, I was sometimes tempted by a book advertised in the back of Seventeen magazine that was all about "How to Make Boys Like You." I never ordered it, but I always wondered what it said. If I were to write such a book, number one would be that to "make" boys like you, you must LIKE boys. And when I say "like", I don't mean finding them sexually attractive. The vast majority of you girls will find at least a few boys sexually attractive; that's a given. But in order to be attractive to normal, healthy, happy men, you must actually be the kind of woman who likes men as people.

You have to get over being frightened of them, and so give the well-behaved of the friendly ones--i.e. the ones actually interested in beautiful you--the benefit of a second date. You have to listen to them with as much attention as you listen to women, so as to learn who they really are. And sometimes you have to learn to appreciate the good ones for their good, human qualities, not think "Argh, boring, I deserve a man with a motorcycle and a dangerous past."

As for men, I am suddenly reminded of the Health Club Killer who kept a diary in which he obsessively complained about women. He got himself into such a welter of hate that when he finally met a woman who was kind to him, he blocked her out. It is possible that he drove himself insane with his negative thoughts, and it is also possible that he could have become a decent, normal man had he kept a "gratitude journal" instead.

What a wonderful world if, instead of complaining about all the social slings and arrows, young men and women jotted down every time a member of the opposite sex, from age 3 to 93, said or did something kind for them. This would help them appreciate and attract KIND people instead of getting trapped in their own fantasies about external stuff.

The biggest revolution in my own life was training myself to appreciate men for being, not intelligent or well-educated, but KIND. And once I did that, someone I began to attract kind men who were ALSO intelligent and well-educated, and now I am married to B.A., the kindest man I know.  

Friday 20 March 2015

Dramatic Polish Gloom

 Model Pretend Daughter-in-Law
It's Polski Piątek here on "Edinburgh Housewife", and our subject today is the Polish tango because Julia, a half-Pole in Australia, has never heard of it. Down in London Polish Pretend Son probably choked on his cigarette smoke when he read that.

Incidentally Polish Pretend Son is Single but picky (as should you all be), so if you are Polish-positive and greatly resemble Pola Negri, please send me an email with a personal photo attached. Fiery temper encouraged. Denim-wearing right out. 

Here is a link to a post on Polish tango, and now I shall make some characteristic observations.

First, Poland finally regained its independence in 1918, only to be blotted from the face of the earth by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in September of 1939. Thus the Polish tango craze coincided with, and was the soundtrack to, the entire existence of the Second Polish Republic.

Having done nothing but keep the flame of Polishness alive for 150 years, the Poles gave themselves permission to relax and check out foreign stuff. And the foreign stuff they apparently liked best was Argentina's tango. Why?

Just so I am not the only one to make outrageous generalizations, here is another, even more fanciful, post on that subject. And to put my biases on the table in plain sight, the first things I ever heard about the Poles as a child was that 1. they were suicidally brave, 2. my Polish courtesy uncle was said to be a lady-killer: "a very devil with women", 3. they were living in utter poverty under Soviet oppression.  In short, courageous, dangerously attractive, poor and oppressed.

Because Uncle Lady-Killer never set foot in church, I did not know that the majority of Poles were, despite all the Marxism around, devout Catholics. However, I know now that in 1919, if you were not Jewish, Ukrainian or a German living in the Second Republic, you were a Latin Catholic. And if there was one thing that all Latin Catholics could agree on in 1919, it was that sexual attraction was delightful but dangerous and could get you into all kinds of trouble, ultimately sending you straight to hell. And this is what tango is all about.

Here follows Seraphician Rant Against Tango Dancing:

Having a romantic and fatalistic disposition, I greatly enjoy reading Polish tango lyrics, which are all about suicide, fog, break-ups, petty crime, defeat by rivals and emotional anguish. However, I do not like the dance because I was once seriously involved with a very good tango dancer who was also a control freak. Tango as an expression of male dominance in intimate relationships is not attractive to me, a woman who has suffered abuse in a male-dominated intimate relationship.

If you have been surrounded by milquetoasts your whole life, or merely by men who are so awed by you that they give you little presents and obey your every command, then--okay--being pushed and pulled firmly around a dance floor by a man you are nestled up against might be rather thrilling. Certainly I have met enough tango fanatics to know that there is something about it all--perhaps the music, perhaps the sexual ideal they are chasing--that inspires and consoles them. But the idea makes me want to kick something. My super-romantic role at a tango gathering would be to wear a lot of black eye-liner, drink vodka and brood amidst the ruins of my youth.

"Come and dance, Pani Anielska."

"Nie! Już nidgy! Never again..."

"You have been hurt, then, by some horrible tango dancer of your youth?"

"Ah, my friend, I could tell you such a tale it would make a statue weep. Give me your palm, and I will read your future. O Boże! What do I see?!"

End of Rant.

Tango, it occurs to me, is the ultimate rebellion against feminism, political correctness and the pious cheer of the Theology of the Body, which brings me to Saint John Paul II and back to the Catholic-dominated Poland of 1919-1939.  And I think it is enormously funny that large numbers of Catholic Poles danced the tango on Saturday nights, thrilling to dark romantic fantasies about suicide, drug addiction, crime and betrayal and then went to Mass on Sunday morning and sincerely prayed their hearts out. It shows the contrariness of human nature and also the devotion to emotional sensation  a Slovene acquaintance of mine called "the Slavic Soul."

"This next piece," he said, hands poised over his piano, "expresses the Slavic Soul."

He opened his eyes wide as he said "the Slavic Soul", and  his face took on an expression of intolerable mental anguish.  He then plunged into something complicated and Russian. I first fell in love with him when I was fourteen, and later when I was twenty-six. Fortunately he never noticed, and so we are still friends.

I suppose the nice thing about tango, from a traditional Catholic perspective, is that it is incredibly sexual without actually being a sin. Arguably. I knew a old lady, raised in a Portuguese convent, who was forbidden by the nuns to play tangos on the piano. And as Sister Faustina ran away from a dance in 1924, I suspect that the band was playing a tango. In our day, traditionalist Catholics have had kittens over tango masses, and I am positive Polish tango aficionados wouldn't like them either. The Poles of 1938 would be scandalized.  Mixing up tangos with church takes the fun out of one and honest piety out of the other.

So tango, I argue, appealed to the religious and cultural sensibilities of the Second Polish Republic, including those of the Jewish minority, whence came a large number of the composers, lyricists and musicians. 

Now, of course, Polish tango epitomizes the mostly vanished Second Republic and the whole interwar period, with its good manners, piety, national pride, smart fashions, beach resorts, inexpensive servants, etc, etc. I say "mostly" for it still flames in the hearts of Polish Young Fogeys like Polish Pretend Son, who sported a waxed-pointed moustache until it caught on with hipsters, and then he shaved it off.

"He prefers to behave as if it were perpetually 1938," I explained to a  trio of Polish young ladies when he had left the table for a smoke. These were very young and modern Polish young ladies, and yet they all fell silent at the thought of 1938. The most Pola Negri-looking one had tattoos, but for a moment they seemed to fade away.

At last she broke the silence.

"If that were true, Poland would be very rich," she said.

"Yeah," said her blonde hipster roommate, nodding vigorously.

We all sighed.

Take it away, Sława:

(That's Pola Negri again in the photo.)

A Dragon is Eating the Sun!

Picture a little  bespectacled married couple in the front courtyard of a Palladian villa holding a piece of cardboard. The husband is also holding a piece of paper with a round hole in it. The wife is looking at a disc of sunlight on the cardboard. It looks like a tiny sun cookie with a dragon-bite taken out of the bottom. The husband is looking at the sun.

Wife: Stop looking at the sun!

Husband: It's not dangerous. There's a cloud over it. Look!

Wife: Stop looking! You'll go blind! I'll have to lead you to work in the morning!

Husband: Look! Look! Wow!

Wife: Stop telling me to look! I'll go blind!

Husband: You won't go blind! There's a big dark cloud over---Wow....

Wife (looks): Wow.....! ....And now I can't see. Ahh! Ahh! The spots, the spots!

Husband: Oh shoosh.

Wife (takes off glasses): My glasses are dirty.  But still, you're not supposed to look at the sun.

Husband: I'm really glad I saw this on telly last night, so I knew how to make this [pin-hole eclipse viewer].

Wife: Then look at it and not at the...Stop looking at the sun!  STOP IT! STOP IT!

Husband: I'm looking at you, darling. Oh, look at it now !

UPDATE: If you are reading this in Europe before GMT 10 AM, don't look at the sun. Watch the eclipse over television/internet instead.

UPDATE 2: It did noticeably get colder although I am not sure the dragon had anything to do with that.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Patricia and the State Religion

I've been asked to say something about the Catholic school teacher Patrica Januzzi. There's an article in First Things about her here.

What can I add?

First, I think teachers should think twice before having a public access Facebook page. Doing so is tantamount to leaving a notebook entitled My Deep Thoughts on a school desk beside a photocopy card. Prudence is a virtue, particularly for teachers. I was a night school teacher for three years, and although I may seem to be out-there now, it was a different story then.

Second, Catholic schools are as Catholic as the parents who send their students to them. If only 30% of the parents of children in a soi-disant Catholic school go to Mass, it's not a Catholic school. Sorry. I would bet today's bus fare to Polish class that parents do not send their children to Immaculata because it is Catholic but because it is not a public school. When I lived in Boston, only a tiny percentage of white children there went to public school. Yeah.

Up north in Canada, my home province of Ontario has a fully funded Catholic school system. The only school in it I would suspect of really being a Catholic Catholic school, with all the students, most of the teachers,  and above average numbers of parents going to Mass on Sunday is this one, and only because the whole point of the school is to train boys to sing at the Cathedral. Note that, alone of the Toronto Catholic Board schools, it has a small tuition.

Third, Sexual Choice has become the state religion in Canada, the USA, Britain and who knows where else. As a teen pro-lifer in Toronto, I watched in amazement once as pro-choice activists at a rally chanted "Choice! Choice! Choice!" with tears running down their faces. As a lot of them were also wearing gay power badges, it struck me that there was something more about this Choice obsession than offing unborn babies. At the time, I thought it had to do with being Mommy's Little Girl no matter what. These chicks didn't want abortion rights--they had them already--they wanted Mommy's Approval for whatever dumb thing they did. Now I am considering whether or not it might have been a kind of religious ecstasy. Choice, choice, great god choice!

Personally, I am beyond needing anyone's approval for any of the decisions of my private life*, and I also know perfectly well that if I came out of the closet for this or that, various friends and family would be uncomfortable and wish I had kept my mouth shut. Fair enough. Meanwhile, I do my very best not to let my fallen-creation sexual inclinations run all over the place, reading this, watching that, pinching this person, hitting on....Oh, mouth shut. Right.

And indeed, I am above sulking and complaining because my dear friend Calvinist Cath does not accept that the Roman Catholic faith is the One True Faith and that Catholics are right and Calvinists are wrong, and  when she wrote that stern post telling Pope Benedict he wasn't welcome in Scotland, we agreed to stop quarreling almost as soon as we started. I don't take it personally that Calvinist Cath belongs to a faith tradition that historically and actually dislikes my own historical faith tradition (how far back I am not sure) intensely.

How nice it would be if those of the Sexual Choice faith tradition were as tolerant of my faith tradition, which looks askance at many sexual choices, as I am of Cath's faith tradition, which makes pointed remarks about the so-called Errors of Rome.

Fourth, Christians died horrible deaths rather an burn a pinch of incense to Rome's god-du-jour. Woe to those Christians  who burn pinches of incense to bitch goddess Sexual Choice and demand that other Christians do the same.

*Marriage as a public relationship is not private, so naturally I wanted all kinds of approval for that: the state to recognize it, the Church to bless it, my family to weigh in on whether they wanted to be related to B.A. or not, and my friends to prevent it if they thought I was nuts.  

To be in England

Do or did your mothers come out with random exclamations? My mother used to sudden declaim, "Oh to be in England, now that April's there." I see now that this is from a poem by Robert Browning. In the 1950s Canada still considered itself a loyal daughter of Empire, so I bet Mum was made to memorize it in primary school.

The second verse is about England in May.  It's very pretty.

And after April, when May follows
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover        10
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That ’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could re-capture
The first fine careless rapture!
And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew,        15
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

The "gaudy melon-flower" suggests that he is in Italy, and thus he is just being a drama king. I cannot imagine sighing for England during an Italian April  although I can well imagine it in Italy's cruelly hot August. Browning should see Toronto in April: night frosts, torrential rain, daffodils half-drowned in the mud.

Anyway, I am thinking a lot about England, for I will be going there in mid-May for my friend Sister Mechtilde's First Vows at Saint Cecilia's on the Isle of Wight.  I hope to stay in the Guest House, for Benedict Ambrose won't be going, and how depressing it would be to stay in an English hotel without B.A. Then I hope to go to Kent to see my dear Calvinist Cath, and from there to glorious London for two days. I have to go to London; I have ready paid my train fare from King's X back to Edinburgh.

I am quite excited about it all, though it would be more fun with B.A.  However, B.A. doesn't like London, or says he doesn't like London, which is quite another thing. He seemed to like it when we were there last June, and why shouldn't he? It is a paradise of art galleries and museums.

"It's too big," he says, like some Ontario hillbilly complaining about Toronto. "It's too expensive."

Being from Toronto, I don't understand the concept of "too big."  A big city is like a country of its own; nobody expects you to cross it on foot in a day. You pick your neighbourhoods, and you stay in them. You are magically whisked from one desirable spot to the next by bus or train. A quick check of the internet tells you which neighbourhoods to avoid. There are many cafés in which, for £2 or 3, you can sit and rest your weary feet.

But of course it is too expensive. London is obscenely expensive. In fact, I may be underestimating the cost of that foot-soothing sojourn in the café. And thus the very best preparation for a trip to London is to arrange to have friends move there and buy you a sofa to sleep on. Unfortunately, though, if all your London friends are graduate students, or just under 32, they all live sixteen to a room with no space left over for you. In this situation, you have to find a long-lost cousin in Sussex and talk your way in.

So why go to London? Well, personally I get a chemical high just thinking about London. Synapses are zipping and popping about in my brain shouting about 50% of the novels and biographies I have ever read. Shaw was there and wrote Pygmalion. Woolf was there and wrote Mrs Dalloway. Waugh was there and wrote Brideshead Revisited. J.M. Barrie (a Scot) was there and wrote Peter Pan. Muriel Spark (another Scot) raced there ASAP and wrote A Far Cry From Kensington.  Mordechai Richler (a Canadian) went there and wrote Duddy Kravitz. Georgette Heyer was there and recreated 1804 on paper over and over again.  Indeed, the importance of London for English-language Literature is unparalleled. Just walking around looking at street signs brings back dozens of happy memories. (I must remember to reread The Napoleon of  Notting Hill before I go.)

Then there are the famous squares of glorious architecture and the beautiful gardens. And there are art galleries and museums and shop windows of unparalleled expense.  There are cemeteries and church floors full of the famous dead.

Above all, London is the centre of Empire, if only in the imaginations of overly romantic Colonials like my mother, whose parents bought a television before the Coronation. Naturally, Benedict Ambrose, born and bred in Dundee, does not get that. For him the epitome of romance is Edinburgh, and I admit that Edinburgh is pretty great. But Edinburgh, at the end of the day, is the capital of a small if honourable nation. London is London.

Anyway, I will be in London on May 15 and May 16.  If readers would like to meet up for a £3 coffee, let me know. I shall mostly be living on Co-op sandwiches in a cardboard box outside Saint Pancras Railway Station.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Enjoying Dancing

Today is Artistic Wednesday, and I am inspired to write about the Art of Dancing because I actually enjoyed last week's Lindy Hop class.

To recap, a friend and I decided to expand our social circle by taking up social dancing. Social dancing is a big thing among Generation Y. There are lots of people in their twenties and thirties tripping the light fantastic in Edinburgh. My friend is already an accomplished Scottish country dancer, so she looked forward to learning something new. And although we know very nice people in the local tango community, we thought tango was a bit too dashing.  Besides, although I adore Polish tango music, Latin music is not my cup of tea. And as I have tried and discarded both salsa and flamenco in my long, dance-class plagued life, I know whereof I speak.

In fact, your scribe has an extremely low pain threshold for Other People's Music. I have a long list of musical hates and a sadly short list of musical loves.  Occasionally a musical love gets shunted over into the musical hate list. I well remember the day I got fed up with "80's Night." I'm not saying I would turn off "Rock Me, Amadeus".... Wait, yes I would.


Auntie Seraphic likes the following: Trance, Techno, Polish tango songs, traditional Polish hymns, Canada's Catholic Book of Worship III, Gregorian Chant, liturgical polyphony, all Bach, all Mozart, all Beethoven, all Chopin, some Verdi, Victorian drawing-room ballads, The Killers, the football anthem "Three Lions",  the intro to "Baba O'Reilly", bagpipe rock and liturgical organ music in general.
Auntie Seraphic hates almost all forms of Latin, African and African-American music and almost all the Western folk music she has ever heard, including Irish and Scottish, except in very small doses. Naturally she would fight tooth and nail for the survival of Scottish bagpipes, but that doesn't mean she wants to hear them all the darn time.

Auntie Seraphic has a surprising tolerance for the music of India and Pakistan, for klezmer, for ABBA, for German Death Metal, for jazz and for Big Band music of the 1940s.
Above all music, Auntie Seraphic loves silence.  
This might amaze South Asian readers, but I once did a very credible dance routine to a song made famous by Monsoon Wedding. My Goan pal almost despaired of teaching me to move my hips properly, but I practiced wiggling up and down my parents' upstairs hallway (where there is a mirror) until I mastered it. Performing a Bollywood dance before a room of cheering Jesuits was, looking back on it, one of the highlights of my life.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Social dancing in Edinburgh. In the end, we decided on swing dancing, in part because jazz and Big Band are two of the musical forms I can stand. And it wasn't until I felt the arm of a complete stranger snake around my waist that I remembered how much I really, really hate being embraced by strangers. I am a woman of many hates, I see.

It's odd. You are told your whole life never to get into cars with strangers, and then you hop into a cab. And you are also told your whole life that allowing yourself to be physically touched and pushed about by strange men is a sin against your dignity, and then you go to dance class. BLAH!

However, you can get used to anything, and a good teacher makes the difference. Last Wednesday I went to a dance class held by two excellent teachers, a husband-and-wife team, and I loved it.

I would not be surprised to hear that everyone loved it, for the excitement in the air was palpable. Not only do the teachers dance amazingly well together, they TEACH amazingly well together. In fact, their teaching routines are like dance routines; one follows the other and "makes it all look nice."  This is in total contrast to the kind of "follower" (so far always female) teacher who bosses around the "lead" teacher (so far always male).  If there is anything more stupid in dance than the woman who is suppose to teach women how to follow dominating the guy who is supposed to teach men how to lead, I'd like to know what it is.

By the end of class, I realized that I was at long last "getting it". I had also noticed that a chap who had started around the time I did was now a  much, MUCH better dancer than he was in October.  He was really good, and the thought occurred to me that even I might be have been that good had I gone to class every week instead of hiding at home at the slightest excuse of a sniffle.

So now I officially like the Beginners' Class. However, I still do not like the Socials. The Socials are the two hours of dancing that follow the classes, the opportunity for the real Lindy Hop fanatics to take charge. I am torn between fright that nobody will ask me to dance and between fright that someone will ask me to dance. Either way, fright.

And this is why I am going to a Beginners' Dance Workshop this weekend. I think if I can work my way up from the beginning steps to a Social all in one weekend, I will not be terrified of  being asked to dance. It would seem that practice might make perfect.

Here's Fred and Ginger to inspire us all.

Singles Mentioned at Synod?

From reader Catherine comes this Tablet article about the French bishops. They don't think Single Life should be left to such as I! :-D

The Family and Society Council of the French bishops conference is preparing a theological analysis of the situation of adult Catholics who are neither married nor in religious life, a group it said has been overlooked by the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Many adults live as singles, not always willingly, and the Church should address their problems in its discussion of the family, it said.

“The single life is a significant social fact in our societies and it's surprising they didn't give it a single line in its exhaustive summary of family issues,” said Bishop Luc Ravel, founder of a network for single Catholics called Notre Dame de l’Ecoute (Our Lady of Listening). “The singles question must not be left to shrinks and Internet sites,” he told the daily La Croix.
A minor quibble: the article refers to Catholics who want a family but do not  succeed in "founding" one.  I will take this opportunity to point out yet again that most people already HAVE families, and in that case they are not "founding" a family by having or adopting children , but merely adding members to existing ones.

N.B. This link is not an endorsement of the Tablet.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

The Restoration Reaches Dundee

Good morning! It is Traddy Tuesday, the day I trumpet the beauties of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and other traditional Catholic liturgies and devotions. I do this not as a "liturgy nerd" but as an ordinary Ordinary Form Catholic who married a liturgy nerd.

Of course, I am delighted to have "married into" the Traditional Latin Mass, for my advanced theological education--I read a lot of Aquinas--left me impatient with the average English-language Sunday Novus Ordo. Before I met Benedict Ambrose, I was bouncing between German Mass (consolation of no English), my university church (consolation of a good organist) and the "Praise and Worship" service at the Newman (guilty pleasure in drums and joyous caterwauling).  But now I have the Mass of Ages, plus Polish Mass if I can't get to it.

Benedict Ambrose is from Dundee, and I rejoiced when I heard our FSSP priest say "Let us go to the House of the Lord" in Dundee. Actually, that's not what he said, but I couldn't resist. And I can't think of a better Sunday for Father to have said the EF in Dundee than Laetare Sunday, for Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday, the British Mother's Day. For centuries, Mothering Sunday was the day people in the British Isles went back to their home dioceses and brought their mothers a present, traditionally a simnel cake. This is why the third Sunday of Lent is our Mother's Day.  B.A.'s Scottish mother still lives in Dundee, so for the first time we could visit her and still get to the TLM afterwards.

Photo Eddie Mahoney
The Mass was held at 4 PM at Saint Joseph's Convent Chapel. It is a half hour walk uphill from the centre of Dundee. And when B.A. and I got there at about 3:50 PM, a wonderful sight met our eyes: full pews. We had to sit in the little stalls along the side. More and more people arrived, and afterwards B.A. and friends agreed that over 100 people had filled the chapel: perhaps as many as 120 or more.

The chapel itself was very suited to traditional worship, for it is cruciform and the old altar was still there, looking very beautiful.  B.A. says the carpet deadened everything, but I thought the big congregation positively raised the roof with our responses.

Bishop Robson presided at Mass from his throne in choir to the left side of the altar (from my point of view), accompanied by two youngish priests in proper choir dress, black pompoms on their birettas and all.  Our FSSP priest processed in behind three university-age altar servers and our grizzled MC. In the very back there was an organist, and a singing pair of newlyweds: a male Gregorian Chant enthusiast and his wife, a supremely talented soprano. She sang Franck's "Panis Angelicus" during the Communion of the Faithful.

There were two African nuns on hand to keep an eye on us all.

Bishop Robson gave a very good homily on the Gospel and Laetare Sunday before addressing the whole subject of the Traditional Mass, which I thought was meet and right.  And when Mass was over, and we were at our private prayers of thanksgiving, Bishop Robson went back up to the sanctuary to address us from the steps and admire us all for coming.  I waited with bated breath for applause, but there was none, so well-trained are we against applause in church. (I feel that we need some way to respond, however. Perhaps we could wave handkerchiefs?)

Bishop Robson observed that we were not all oldies, but in a diplomatic way that would not have hurt an oldy's feeling, and this was quite true. The congregation was of all ages, ranging from toddler to elderly, with a good solid representation of twenty-somethings among the middle-aged. A naughty young curly-headed miss whined quite audibly, but not incessantly, during Mass, and a number of children and teenagers could be seen playing up on the lawn while their parents chatted outside the chapel.

I could say that for an hour and half, it looked as if the old Catholic world had returned to Dundee: a church packed with the Catholic faithful, the ancient Mass sung by a priest while a bishop and two other priests watched from the choir, young men as altar servers, only one toddler permitted to yell,  nuns in habit, ladies in lace (or not--and women's covered heads at Mass in 1962 was not as universal as you might think ), Gregorian Chant, "Panis Angelicus", etc.

However, that would be looking backwards at a Dundee I never actually knew. I was born in the 1970s, and never set foot in Scotland until 1975.  Instead I will say that it looked as if a new chapter in the Church in Dundee had opened. I don't want to be too dramatic about this; after all, a fair number of people had come from outside Dundee. But many were from St Andrews, where there is a TLM only once a month, so it is safe to assume that many of them will continue to attend a once-a-month TLM in Dundee.

It was such a great joy to listen to a bishop who so took to heart what Benedict XVI said in "Summorum Pontificum." I am sure my gratitude was shared by many, many people there, especially the elderly ones who almost despaired of seeing a bishop preside over the "Old Mass" again. We are very lucky or, I suppose I should say, very blessed in Scotland to have Bishop Robson.