Sunday, 17 February 2019

Screens are Bad, Friends are Good

Two article that I wrote last week created a stir, and I was up late on both Friday night and Saturday night watching developments on social media. As a result, I slept very badly both nights, leading to a decidedly unfunny comedy of errors this morning as I attempted to get both to Mass and the late morning train to Montreal.

My parents were quiet but very helpful and possibly reflected that I need more sleep and less coffee. On the other hand, they might have been thinking, "Why is she so often like this?"

At least they couldn't have blamed my going out at night because I didn't go out on Friday or Saturday night because I was working late--ha!

Saturday was nevertheless lovely because I went to an RCIA ceremony at one of the Oratorian parishes, and then to brunch, and then visited my best-friend-with-four-children, and then, as the children were usually sedate and her father and husband were both as home, I stole her away.

"Where are you going?" demanded the boys.

"To do secret woman stuff," replied their father and I both at the same time.

The boys hated this answer, but we grown-ups just laughed cruelly.

Those children aren't allowed the internet, so I will reveal that we walked down a now-fashionable street, looking for somewhere to have a mid-afternoon alcoholic beverage.

"Where do you usually go on [this street]?" I asked my friend-with-four-children.

"Nowhere," she said.

My friend rarely leaves home now. When she does, it is only after a monumental struggle with coats or snowsuits, bags, toys, strollers or prams, and an increasing number of small but wriggly people.  I must say, though, that she was very well put together for a prison break. She wore jeans, a striped black-and-white French top and a red cardigan. She is one of those tall, slim women who still looks good in jeans after 30, even after giving birth four times. If I didn't love her so much, I would be eating my liver with envy.

We had our secret-woman-stuff drink in a Polish-Canadian bar--the bartender said it was "very Polish and very Canadian," so who am I to say it wasn't? (Besides, I seem to recall eating pierogis there on one of my visits. Also, it serves Zywiec and Tyskie. Okay, I'm convinced.)  I ordered a Bloody Caesar on the grounds that there is no more Canadian a drink than vodka adulterated with clam juice. It came with greenery sprouting out of it.

"Is that a bean?" I demanded.

"Good Lord," said my friend. "I think it is  a bean."

It was a bean. It was green string bean. Craziness!

When we had finished our drinks and our serious discussion, I walked my friend home and then took the subway train home myself. Then I sat down and, as I promised my editor, worked away at another  important story.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Out Every Night

"I'm not going out!" I yelled at my mother just now.

She had headphones on and, I suspect, Netflix on at full blast.

The Aged P has gone rather deaf. Her father was rather deaf, too. His family thought it was from shooting down the Luftwaffe. However, after a few years of the 40-something Aged P telling her children not to mumble, she began to suspect genes, not the Luftwaffe, were to blame for her father's early onset deafness.

When Aged P took off her headphones, and I repeated that I was staying in, she gave a sardonic but friendly cheer.  I think it a good idea to stay in from time to time--even though my parents will surely watch television instead of engaging me in board games--to prevent accusations that I am treating my parents' house like a hotel.

Let me think. Where have I been going? Saturday night--stayed in to battle jet-lag. Sunday night--family dinner with sisters and nephew. Monday night--in Koreatown North with literary pal. Tuesday night--V&A pub with kindergarten chum. Wednesday night...

Wednesday night I went out in fear and trembling to an inter religious dialogue event at my beloved theologate. I found out after I graduated that my dear old college was considered rather liberal.  Meanwhile, while I was there I was rather indignant that some students thought I was rather conservative.

"I'm centre-left," I wailed at the time.

"I'm centre-left," I wailed at Boston College.

The amusing thing about Lonerganian-- and I was trained by Lonerganians to be a Lonerganian--is that, be we Marxists or be we free market anarchists, we all think we're in Lonergan's "not-so-numerous center." (Lonergan, a Canadian, used American spelling, which irks me.) Anyway, I'm clearly no longer centre-left or even in Lonergan's not-so-numerous centre. No, I am clearly a bloodthirsty TRAD, so I was a bit worried about my reception.

However, the wonderful thing about my theologate was always its hospitality, and I was welcomed back with smiles, hugs, news and gossip.

One of my favourite former professors gave a paper about Catholic-Native Spirituality syncretism.  I was so moved by his description of the dire poverty of the Plains Indians in the early 20th century, that I felt rather bad about having described my mangiacake self as marginalised. As marginalisation goes, being taunted by classroom nitwits for three years is not that serious, I admit.

After the lecture I took the subway north with my very favourite former professor, and our conversation was moving too.

Then on Thursday, Valentine's Day, I hastily donned some clean clothes after work and went to my youngest brother's for dinner. When he answered the door, I discovered that he had turned into a Toronto Russian. That is, he now has Toronto Russian-style facial hair and a gold chain. He revealed that Pirate is also intentionally dressing a la Russe. This interested me very much, for being mistaken for a Russian surely prevents one from being reviled as a mangiacake.

Naturally I approved the imposture, and wondered aloud if either brother or nephew might be interested in learning Russian. Naturally I had read Winter of the Moomins in Polish on the way there. I prefer to read Polish on the TTC, not only because its a great opportunity, but because the vast majority of people around me are also thinking in at least two languages. It makes me feel like a real Torontonian instead of a born Torontonian.  There's a sociological paper in there somewhere.

Meanwhile my brother eyed my fake bear skin hat askance. Apparently it looks too real and might get me attacked with paint. I think I would be much more likely to be attacked for this hat in Edinburgh, and that in Toronto it's too cold for paint-attacks.  Besides, Toronto vegans probably think it's not nice to throw paint on foreigners, and given my hat, my tweed coat, and Zima Mumink√≥w, I look very foreign, let's face it.

After a very delicious dinner and a bottle of wine, we went woozily into the cold and snowy streets for dessert.  My brother lives in a spacious (for Toronto) apartment in a now-fashionable district, so I enjoyed looking at all the snazzy shops and inviting bars on the way to the ice-cream parlour. There, despite tentative plans to become each other's fitness accountability buddies, we shared a banana split.

It was past midnight when I got home, and I felt a bit guilty. However, I consoled myself that my mother was unlikely to sniff at me for getting back so late on a work night when I had been out with my own brother.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Valentine's Day

I went out for dinner with my littlest brother! :-D

Okay, I am married so it's not the same thing as not having a sweetheart on Valentine's Day. However,   it was yet another Valentine's Day far from my sweetheart.

B.A. did give me a card to pack and open today. And he sent me a photo of snowdrops.

Post removed--moved to LSN

I wrote vociferously this morning about a probable attempt to blacken Poland's record during World War 2. The article has now been modified and submitted to LSN.

Update: And here it is.

MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell has apologised on Twitter although not on television yet, as far as I know.

To boil the controversy down: Mitchell wrongly said the "Polin" Museum is a museum dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It isn't.  It's dedicated to the entire history of the Jewish community in Poland.

But to add insult to inaccuracy, Mitchell also said that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was against the "Polish and Nazi regime."

Poland was occupied by the Germans and the Russians in 1939, then by the Germans alone soon after Hitler turned on Stalin in 1941, and then by the Russians alone when the Second World War ended in 1945.

There was no "Polish regime" in existence during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This revolt took place from April 19 to May 16, 1943. It was against the Germans. The Warsaw Uprising, which lasted from  August 1 until October 2, 1944, was also against the Germans. 

I am of German descent, and I have not problem admitting those facts. So what was Mitchell's problem? 

For more information about what the Polish Christian experience of the German occupation was like, please see my LSN article. It's short but to the point.

Meanwhile it astonishes me that a 72 year old American journalist could is so ignorant of basic facts from the Second World War. It worries me, too.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Snow on the Victoria and Albert

There was a snowstorm in Toronto yesterday, and I was surprised at the Facebook reaction.  Schools closing, workplaces closing, employees furious that they were made to take a "vacation day" instead of just working remotely from home. I looked out my window to see this meteorological Grendel  and instead perceived good clean snow drifting down and dancing about. Beautiful.

"Since when did everyone get so worried about snow?" I asked after my evening adventure. "Has everyone gone soft?"

"We had many years of mild winters," said my parents, enthroned on either side of the leather-top table. "Then we had two hard ones."  

I did not share in the city-wide reluctance to go  outside. At 5:06 PM I bolted for the bus stop, intent on meeting a girl woman I haven't seen since we were both 18. We had met when we were four. We were in the same class at primary school, right from Junior Kindergarten.  Then we were two of the three girls who went to the all-girls' high school south of us instead of the all-girls' school north. 

At high school we went our own ways. I hung out with nerds, and she became a rocker. She grew long, feathered hair. I always remembered her as the one member of the elementary school Popular Girls who was nice, by which I mean friendly and kind-hearted. She seemed to be on the edges of a quasi-Popular crowd in high school, too, although by then I had lost all interest in becoming Popular myself and no longer believed in reigning cliques.  

"I wish I were Popular," I told this girl when we were both 13 or 14. 

I remember very distinctly that we walking south down Yonge Street across from the Victoria and Albert pub.

"It's not always good being Popular," she said to my astonishment. "You don't know who your real friends are from one day to the next." 

Or words to that effect. It was one of the most important conversations of my life, and so there was no way I was going to miss meeting up with this oracle, snowstorm or no snowstorm. 

We met at the Victoria and Albert, which has a new, irrelevant name. I watched as she walked past the plate glass window to the door, and although she was decades older and had a hood pulled over her face agains the snow, I recognised her.

We hugged--for possibly the first time ever.  (Social hugging was not a thing when we were kids.) She was once the tallest girl in class, and now she is barely taller than me. That was a bit disconcerting. Then we sat, she ordered wine, and we started catching up. 

I had meant to go home after an hour, to eat my dinner, but after we had covered the 90s and 00s and Teens, we delved into the 1970s and 1980s. I cried out for another half-pint; she called for more wine.  This, to me, was the juicy stuff: the distant past,  the shared memories, the buried questions, the roots of who we were. 

One of my roots, going back to the Italian World Cup Victory of 1982, is the experience of being mocked and marginalised for my ethnic origins. The most popular of the Popular Girls, which is to say, the nastiest ones, were very proud of being Italian and very dismissive of those they called Mangiacakes. There are many derogatory terms in Toronto for white Anglo-Saxons, and that is the one I grew up hearing. I had at least three years of it: mangiacake, mangiacake, Cake, Caker, English-Canadians-don't-care-about-family-like-we-do, we-call-you-mangia-cake-because-you-eat-cake-for-breakfast-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

And just like other people from marginalised groups, I get mad when my experience of marginalisation is denied. In elementary school, we were taught that racism was horrible and unfair, and that everyone in Toronto (save the First Nations) had immigrant backgrounds that we should share and celebrate, usually through folk dances and homemade dishes at International Night. I believed this with all my innocent child's heart and still do today, without exception.  

Naturally, since my background is (mostly) white Anglo Saxon, my early experience of marginalisation is denied all the time. This could have led me to some very nasty places. Indeed, my initial reaction was to loathe Italian-Canadian culture. Fortunately, I signed up for Italian class in Grade 10 to get out of Art class, and thus ended my ressentiment against Italian-Canadians. But I still growl when I read or hear slights to Toronto's oldest community of European origin (most recently from the late TV chef Anthony Bourdain).

It turns out that my friend, the Popular Girl, was likewise marginalised by the Popular Girls for being a Caker, only in her case there was a bait-and-switch: she was invited home and made much of and then dropped flat. 

"Blue eyes," she said. "Not Italian."

"Ooh, that b*tch," I said, smug at being 40+ and psychologically able to use such words. Not long ago, I saw a former (and Italian) Popular Girl sigh over Facebook that the long-disappeared  b*tch had been "beautiful inside and out." I think not. 

We drank deeply of the wheat and grape.

"I really loved you," said my friend eventually, which surprised me very much. "In high school, too."

"That calls for a hug," I said in a jokey way, so as not to break down and cry, or say "Did you really? Why didn't you tell me?," or think about what a difference that would have made to my often lonely teenage life. 

Instead we went out into the snow. She trudged north to Mr Sub, and I trudged south to Mr Subway Station. My weekly pass wouldn't let me in the near side, so I went around to the other side, where I was stopped by a subway man.

"You can't come in here," he said. 

"But I couldn't get in at Harlandale," I said. "I have a weekly pass."

"There's been a bomb threat," he said. "You can't come in."

"A bomb threat?" I scoffed, having drunk two half-pints of beer on an empty stomach. "Who calls in a bomb threat during a snowstorm?"

I woozily made my way back to the street, thinking that if my parents still lived a few blocks south of Sheppard, I'd be home in a jiffy. Alternatively, I could have walked the five blocks down Sheppard Avenue to my grandma's. However, sure as a homing pigeon, I trudged to the nearest bus stop to await the appropriate bus. It was a very long time in coming, and I had do more trudging to actually get on it. But when at last the bus had dropped me off near my street, I enjoyed the dark, quiet and snowy walk home. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Seaweed Salad

Last night after dinner I met a friend in Koreatown North, formerly known as my childhood neighbourhood. Sort of. Neighbourhoods were rather smaller and more localised when I was a kid. What is now called Koreatown North was the northernmost edge of anywhere I might go, but in fact I did go to a school there once a week for Gifted Program.

Gifted Program seems, in hindsight, to have been an experimental education laboratory, and it was bad for my character, to say nothing of my social standing in my primary class. I was a special snowflake a generation before we talked of special snowflakes, and my primary classmates didn't like special snowflakes, as you can imagine.

I wrongly told my friend last night that the school where I went to GP was gone; I just looked it up and it is still there, albeit hidden from Yonge Street by a massive condominium complex. The hobby shop where I bought dollhouse furniture with my weekly allowance is indeed gone. I had   social anxiety as a child, so going across the street after GP to brave the shopkeeper was an adventure.  Yes, a special snowflake with social anxiety. It's a miracle I survived to adulthood.

But to return to the 21st century neighbourhood that is Koreatown North, I very much enjoyed my first excursion there. East Asian bars, restaurants and karaoke joints now line Yonge Street from Finch Avenue to Park Home Avenue and beyond.  My pal and I met in Hashi Izakaya, which appeared to be a Korean-Japanese fusion place. It wasn't busy but eventually it filled up with young Koreans and a couple of  other under-40s who might have been Persian. (There are a gazillion Persian businesses on Yonge Street north of Finch Avenue.) If not for the fact that the waitress had a standard Toronto accent, we might have been in a Korean university town.

Having had dinner already, I ordered a small seaweed salad while my pal had sushi. Her meal came with some unusual sides, like kimchi. Sushi and kimchi? Well, why not. It's Koreatown.

After a serious 90 minute catch-up, we went for a walk in the freezing air to find a bakery or sweet shop. (Had we walked north instead of south we would have eventually reached an excellent Persian patisserie, but it was not to be.) We crossed Yonge Street when we saw a still-open bakery but were disappointed by its lack of tables and chairs. So instead we went into a brightly-lit place that advertised waffles. Unfortunately, the waffles and all the other Korean desserts were outrageously expensive, so we just had cold green tea-fruit juice drinks. They were delicious.

Around us young Koreans ate elaborate suppers and chatted, and I pondered once again the ability of young people to energise their elders just by being around.  I also contrasted the familiarity of the stretch of Yonge Street I have known all my life with the utter novelty of the restauarant.

As all the travel guides say, Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods. Practically this usually means ethnic enclaves, since most people prefer to live with people who eat the same food, speak the same language, have the same values, and even look vaguely the same. Being a Torontonian, though, I suspect it also has a lot to do with what neighbourhoods are affordable when whichever ethnic group begins to arrive in significant numbers.

Or where people were allowed to live. For a good chunk of the 19th century, only members of the Anglican Church were allowed to own property in Toronto, so Scots Presbyterians and other Non-Conformist  types owned parts of what is now North York--and Koreatown North.

After ten years of being an expat, I can finally say that I rather enjoy the fact that my childhood neighbourhood has been largely razed to the ground* and replaced by something else, its people dead or dispersed and replaced by other people. Truth is what is, and there's no time like the present.

That said, I do miss my grandmother.

If I were 20 years younger, and lived south of Finch, I might start learning Korean. If I lived north of Finch, I might start learning Persian. After all, when I was more than 30 years younger, I started learning Italian, then the neighbourhood's (distantly) second language. As it is, the second language of my parents' neighbourhood is Russian, so if I still lived here, I might start learning that. I might try anyway, as it's simpler than Polish. (Yay!)

*Actually, it occurs to me that one of the brilliant things about north-of-Park Home is that the streetscape of shops largely still exists. The shops are Korean or Persian, but they have the same shape they have always had. When those are replaced by condos, as so many shops have been, that will truly be the end of the neighbourhood as I knew it.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Postcard from Toronto

I landed in Toronto on Saturday afternoon, having read furiously for seven hours. Beside me sat an old white-haired hippy, who may not have attempted a chat because I read Standpoint from cover to cover. On the other hand, his accent was Canadian, so perhaps he was too polite to try.

This is not foolproof. An elderly hippy with a north-of-Toronto accent on the Bathurst 7C yesterday attempted to chat up a young Russian-looking woman with a small child, and I shut my eyes in local horror as I ramped up the volume on my mobile phone.

I was listening to Assimil Deutsch. The easiest way to cope with the Babel that is Toronto, I find, is to  think in not-English, also. That way I am in solidarity with the majority of Torontonians who grew up speaking not-English. Monolingualism is just not cool.

It was snowing when the plane landed, and my father warned me at once that all the snow on the ground was covered with ice. It's cold, but it's a dry cold: a sentence as Canadian as "Let's get a coffee at Timmie's."

My teenage nephew, known to readers as Pirate, is now taller than me. I brought him a new Celtic football jersey from Glasgow Airport. He still has the one I gave him last year or the year before. I couldn't remember when I gave it to him. At any rate, he still wears it. However, he didn't mind getting a new one. He thinks his fellow high school students think it shows allegiance to the Boston Celtics basketball team.

Pirate harrowed up the souls of his elders at the Sunday dinner table by bragging about how little he and his classmates study. He did mention, with a note of reproof, that he had been surprised that his new teachers don't quell classroom noise. I was unsure as to whether Pirate was teasing us or making a general confession. He says his friends are Russians and they don't do drugs. I said I was very glad to hear this. I had given him the "Marijuana is dangerous if you're under 25" speech.

Note to self: try to get Pirate interested in learning Russian.

I spent Sunday morning with dear friends and their adorable children, including my Goddaughter.

"You have no respect," I told my Goddaughter. "You don't call me Godmother, you don't kiss my hand."

Goddaughter isn't yet two, so presumably she'll learn.

We all went to the TLM together in a minivan. The three boys sat in the back, and Goddaughter and I sat in the two seats in the middle. Goddaughter stared at me in an interested fashion. I told her that she was very lucky to have such excellent brothers. I suspect the boys enjoyed this. I asked the eldest of the boys how he would arrange the family hockey team, and there was much animated discussion of who would play goal, who would be forwards, who defence. Their father has built them a back yard hockey rink.

"Greater love hath no father than this, that he would build a back yard rink for his children," said I.

"It's bumpy," said one of the boys.

"Shhhh," said their mother.

"All natural ice is bumpy," I said.

The children are permitted screens on very very limited occasions, just DVDs at a grandparental house. As a result (I suspect) the boys bounce off the walls, draw lots of pictures, collect hockey cards and develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Canadian hockey. They play floor hockey at their super-orthodox Catholic private school.

The new-to-me organist and choir director seems to be on a mission to educate the congregation. After well-rendered chants and Benedictus Appenzeller, the congregation was suddenly startled during the Offertory by the cacophonic shrieking at the beginning of Judith Weir's Ave Regina Coelorum. Oh, how moderne. Ultimately, as the celebrant began to pronounce the Last Gospel, we were plunged headlong into the postlude, a (the?) Maurice Durufle Toccata. Gorgeous, but it drew attention not to the Last Gospel but to its thunderous self. Speaking as a person-in-the-pews, a quiet Marian anthem until the altar party had left would have been more apropos. Then the organist could rock our socks and send shivers up and down our spines.

The Toccata was beautifully played, I must admit.

After Mass I went to the Hudson's Bay Company, inter alia, to buy some suitably Canadian clothing. The taxes were added at the end--I hate that, and I always forget. I was also annoyed that the Hudson's Bay T-shirt I bought was not included in the 40% off sale, but I bought it anyway because it says "Canada" is emblazoned with a canoe and has the HBC stripes on it. Despite minimalism, I have inadvertently begun a Canadian T-shirt collection.