Friday 30 November 2018

Dreher's Advice for a Weary Ghost

Rod Dreher's columns in The American Conservative are my new must-reads, and I was moved this morning when I got caught up with his latest and found "Advice for a Weary Ghost." That was one self-serving agony aunt, I have to say, speaking as a former agony aunt myself.

Instead of yammering on about refusing to be blinded by shame and advertising her latest book, the agony aunt could have told "Haunted" to stop mourning the past and obsessing about the future but to take stock of what she has today and ask herself what she can do now to make tomorrow better.

I felt for "Haunted" because I felt that I had "blown it" in some cosmic way when I was 35, too. I also had credit card debt, which I paid off gradually, partly with the help of a family member, me paying back the family member before my father found out and just paid him/her the rest.

(If you don't have generous and solvent family members, apply for a low-interest bank loan, and pay off the credit card that way. Then buy nothing but food, rent, and utilities until the bank loan is paid off.)

There is no point telling a 35 year old American woman that moving around the country and creating different groups of friends to whom you eventually bid farewell and may never see again is not a recipe for lasting happiness. It MAY do some good to tell 20 year olds this. However, there is no guarantee that getting married to your most determined suitor at 25 is a recipe for lasting happiness either.

It is for quite a lot of women, however. I will say that. Anyone who thinks that becoming a published author is a comparable path to happiness hasn't read many biographies of writers--or their children's memoirs. Many of us book-loving girls got our expectations of what life brings from the Anne books, so it's salutary to know that Lucy Maud Montgomery committed suicide in the end. Sad but true.

By the way, Little Women is a very dangerous book, I now realise, for it is the first place we are likely to read about a girl who hates being a girl and wants to be a boy. It would have been nice if Jo March Bhaer had voiced remorse for this later and emphasised how wonderful it was to be a woman, for womanhood meant she could be a wife and mother, as well as the foster mother for the dozens of boys and girls at the school she ran with her husband. She might have observed that her I-should-have-been-a-boy fantasies had been silly. Tall girls are no less feminine than short girls, Jo March. Don't be an ass. But yes. Life for middle-class women in the 1860s was indeed rather more restrictive than it was for men. On the plus side, fewer women than men lay dead on the battlefields of the American Civil War.

But to get back to credit card debt, which is a truly horrible thing, it is SO easy to see how so many people get sucked into it because A. the minimum payments are so small and B. when you want to hang out with a gang of people, restaurants beckon. Single people are often lonely people, and lonely people long for companionship, and when single people live in cramped rented accommodations flung out across a big city, it seems easier just to meet at a restaurant and split the bill, even or especially when you can't afford it. When you don't make very much money, or you don't like your job (I'm looking at you Statistics Canada), the temptation to "treat yourself"  can be overwhelming.

The impulse to heal a hurt with a treat dies hard. A couple of hours after discovering that ONCE AGAIN I can not go home for Christmas, I was in a snazzy bar drinking a badly made Cosmopolitan beside B.A., and the bill was £15.90. Had I not been reading books about Stoicism, I would have had a second cocktail, too.

The solution to this problem is to find free medicine, which for me comes from the library. We're a generation addicted to entertainment, so thank God for the public library system--and the internet, although that isn't free at home.

Meanwhile, my advice for writer-wannabe "Haunted" (Dreher asked readers to supply advice) was to start a blog about finding meaning in her life with an eye to helping other women in the same boat. That's what I did when I was 35, and it worked out very well for me.

UPDATE: One incurable regret is the age-related loss of fertility. Although I am still adamantly against women settling at 25 or 30 or at whatever age, I recognise that  unintentional childlessness is crushing and the fear of remaining childlessness is worthy of honour. The only solution I can see to this is accelerating your character so that you are as wise about yourself and others at 20 as you would have been at 40. I haven't the slightest idea how a teenager could be expected to do that though.

UPDATE 2: Doing art is fun. Writing things is fun. Writing can even make you money although writing fiction rarely, or only after writing fiction for almost nothing for a very long time. But "being an artist/writer" in itself does not make you happy. It does not necessarily bring you into contact with great friends because artists and writers do not necessarily make great friends.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Won't Be Home for Christmas but...

"Normally the patient sits in that seat," said the doctor, or words to that effect, to me.

Yes, Benedict Ambrose and I were back at the hospital. This time we were there to hear the results of his most recent scan, the one that followed six weeks of radiotherapy to stop the resurgent tumour which, to add insult to injury, had brought along two friends. 

Fortunately it was my "retreat day" from work, so I simply brought along Peter Kwasniewski's Tradition & Sanity with me to the waiting room. I was at Mass dark and early at 8 AM, and afterwards our priest loaned me Michael Davies' Liturgical Revolution Volume II, so B.A. read that. 

I always go the hospital with B.A. to hear medical pronouncements because too often he doesn't come home afterwards: it's back to the ward with him. The news is usually bad although, come to think of it, this is better than whichever doctor saying B.A. is fine when I know he is NOT fine.

When B.A.'s name was called, we gathered our coats and books and sped off to the consulting room, where I chose the seat closest to the oncologist's desk as it was pushed farther back. However, it turned out to be the wrong choice, and I had a sense that the doctor was faintly surprised that I was in the office at all, which shows that she does not appreciate the implications of the Catholic marriage bond--or she is unaware that B.A. spent months of his cancer adventure delirious, increasingly blind and unable to remember much or ask important questions.

The news was good. The "tumour buds", which had rapidly doubled in size after being detected, have stopped growing. This is a great mercy, for apparently the radiotherapy was so aggressive, the doctor would not have done it a second time.  One of the tumour buds looks like it is "necrotising," too--a word doctors use instead of dying. Die, tumour buds, die--but without taking my husband with you, thanks. 

We looked at the latest interesting high-tech x-rays of the inside of B.A.'s head, which are almost amusing because some show his tongue, teeth and jaw, too. B.A. says he doesn't identify with these images; they seem completely apart from him. On one x-ray/computer image was a dark horseshoe shape representing where the oncologists had radiated B.A.'s brain, as close to his brain stem as possible without actually touching it. 

B.A.'s tumours, by the way, are technically "benign" even though, left untreated, they would kill him. The problem is that they are basically on the worst, trickiest and most sensitive part of his brain. Normally this kind of brain tumour doesn't appear there. And normally this kind of brain tumour appears in five-year-olds. The probability of B.A. ever being in this situation was low, but here he is. 

Slightly off-setting this misfortune is the fact that his neurosurgeon is a paediatrics neurosurgeon and so was probably one of the few people in the world who could have done the operation he did without leaving B.A. badly damaged---although famously I think the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima had something to do with that, too. And although the subsequent radiotherapy robbed B.A. of the ability to hear music properly, that turned out to be only temporary. Thank God for that. 

After making an appointment for B.A. to come in for another scan in a few months, the doctor asked if we had any more questions. B.A. politely said "No," thus proving the importance of my being there. 

"Can he go to Canada in [four] weeks?" I asked. "For Christmas? It's an eight hour flight." 

Actually, it's more of a seven hour flight, but I was thinking of snowstorms and airplanes circling around Lester B. Pearson airport for ages, waiting for their turn to land.

The doctor looked perturbed.

"Have you booked your flights already?" she asked. 

"No," we said. "We were waiting until we spoke to you."

That had been a good thing to do. To make a long consultation short, she thought it a very bad idea for B.A. to be on a long flight although if we had insisted she would have given him some sort of steroid to help him through it.

"No, no, no," I said, thinking of a disastrous flight to Pisa last year, so we don't know what this steroid would do, or why exactly it is a bad idea for B.A. to fly---quite apart from the cost of medical insurance for a cancer patient travelling to Canada, which is apparently astronomical. 

Then B.A. remembered that we have already bought and paid for tickets to Poland in late January, but then the oncologist perked up and said that it was a good idea to start with a short flight.  Therefore, we are still going to Poland although I am a bit frightened about it. If anything like what happened after we flew to Pisa happens in Poland, we are taking the train to Berlin in July. And now the Berlin trip is now even more about seeing family than it was about museums. 

The oncologist advised us to go to the cancer patients' clubhouse for travelling insurance information for our European travels, so off we went to find it. We were met at the door by a kindly lady who showed us seats and offered tea and coffee and brought us cookies, a list of companies that insure cancer patients, and a schedule of cancer clubhouse activities. B.A. observed that it's my clubhouse, too, because I'm a Caregiver, to which I thought, "Dear God. I'm a Caregiver again." 

A Caregiver (or "Carer") is the United Kingdom expression for a person--sometimes paid by the state--who does most of the in-home caring for a sick or disabled person. I think the expression is meant to encompass the vast variety of people who may fill this role. As a concept, it has positive and negative implications. 

The positive aspect is that Caregivers are seen as a group of their own, and have their own clubs and advisers, who recognise how difficult being a Caregiver can be and that Caregivers need help and support. The negative aspect is that this reflects a breakdown in marriage and family. Once upon a time it was assumed that a wife took care of her sick husband, and vice versa, and parents took care of their disabled children, or children took care of their sick or disabled parents, and now it isn't. 

But the implications regarding Broken Britain aside, I am grateful for the identity label and the  resources available to Caregivers because, although obviously being the one with brain tumours is much worse, caring for a cancer patient can be frightfully annoying and difficult.  

The most annoying part is being treated by hospital staff as if you don't belong beside your sick person. Believe me, just offering the sick person's spouse/'partner'/Caregiver a glass of water is an unusual act of kindness. Possibly the nurses don't do it very often because they're embarrassed when the spouse/'partner'/Caregiver bursts into tears of gratitude. 

The most difficult parts are 1. second-guessing doctors and nurses--and I will never forget how starving  B.A. was fasted a day longer than necessary because a nurse made a mistake, and I thought she had made a mistake, but she didn't--and 2. not knowing what to do when something goes wrong. 

So although I am sad that we are not going to Canada for Christmas, I am glad that we are not going on a seven-hour flight. When we went to Italy in May 2017, we expected a relaxing holiday in which both of us would recover from the horrors of B.A.'s March diagnosis. The doctors had assured us that post-operative B.A. was fine. Fine to travel. Good to go. All was well. Nightmare over. Cheap flight to Pisa. Cheap train to Florence ... 

And then when B.A. got off the train, he fell and could not get up. Somehow I carried him and all our luggage to a seat, but after that, I did not know what to do or what was going on and, God love us, we both preferred to believe the doctors couldn't possibly have been wrong and he just had "low blood sugar". Neither of us knew, then, what delirium looked like. Hint: not just someone raving on their pillow about a lost love. Most of the time B.A. was delirious, he spoke with complete conviction in an ordinary tone of voice. He passed basic cognitive damage tests with flying colours. He wandered off to central Edinburgh because he fancied a doughnut.   

Well, anyway. No Toronto Christmas, but just remembering what happened in Florence (and then everything afterwards) has cheered me up a little. Better safe than that kind of sorry.

Update: I will say this again and again, but it is very shortsighted of the National Health Service not to recognise appropriately the role the sick person's primary caregiver plays in the healing of the patient. First of all, the caregiver has only ONE sick person in her care and so is an incredible resource. Second, the caregiver may be under so much stress, she is in danger of herself falling ill. If the caregiver falls ill, that can have a deleterious effect on the original patient. It will also add to the work of the NHS. Therefore, it is in everyone's interest to spend a half-minute a day acknowledging the primary caregiver, smiling at her or even offering her a glass of water.

Update 2: Given my readership, should acknowledge that our financial situation would be terrible if we were Americans or we lived in the United States without adequate health insurance. Speaking as a Canadian who lives in the UK and travels often to the Continent, I firmly believe in so-called "socialised medicine." There are a lot of things taxes shouldn't support, but cancer treatment is high on the list of things it should. 

Sunday 25 November 2018

The Berlin Project

My brother has invited Benedict Ambrose and me to stay with his family when they do a two-week house swap with a family in Berlin. There may also be a weekend across the border and south to Zakopane, to which I said, "Yes, please."

But as we will be spending most of the holiday in Berlin, I am going to brush up my German, which was never that advanced to begin with. I went to Germany in 2006 to learn enough German to read Karl Rahner's theology, but instead I took conversational German courses, watched a dozen 2006 World Cup games, partied with seminarians, and wrote down much descriptive detail that ended up in Ceremony of Innocence. The nun-professor who graded my subsequent Theological German exam back in Boston was underwhelmed. Also, women are no longer allowed to live in that seminary. Fact.

Anyway, I am now collecting useful German-learning websites like The German Project although first I will start with Pimsleur's German, as Pimsleur's Polish was so good.

Because I need both Polish and Italian for work, I am not going to spend too much time on German: just half an hour a day. Also I am not going to spend a penny on German lessons because I am already spending many pennies on Polish. Besides, one of my brothers and both my parents are German-speakers. To practise speaking, all I'll have to do is call up my parents on Skype.

Of course, I may never be in a situation in Berlin where I'll actually HAVE to speak German, for I imagine we'll all be in either museums or restaurants during our waking hours. (I will, however, have to go to  club one night for as a child I was possessed by a great desire to go to a punk rock club in Berlin, and this will be my first opportunity to do so. The closest I have come was a Goth bar in Frankfurt-am-Main; I went there with a Mexican classmate whose flat I awarded to my fictional Catriona, and it was an awesome adventure. On the other hand, I can imagine neither B.A. nor my brother nor my sister-in-law in any kind of nightclub in Berlin. Hmm....)

That said, it is polite to know at least a little of the language of any country one inflicts one's touristy self on, and it will be fun to speak to my parents and brother in German. My father is a keen advanced German learner and recommends "Rocket German", so I have signed up for the free sample lessons.

So far I have done Pimsleur Units 1-4, and I am curious to see how much I can learn after seven months of only half an hour of German study a day. That's almost 200 hours, about a third of the time (allegedly) one needs to become fluent. Hopefully that is enough to recall what I learned in 2006 ("Tor!!!"), plus "Six tickets to Kraków, bitte."

The Berlin Project Resources

1. All the Pimsleur.
2. Free online stuff.
3. Self-made cards for everything in my Berlitz German Phrase Book and Dictionary.
4.  "Teach Yourself German" kit from Edinburgh library system.
5. School of Mum & Dad

Update: Current tally of family languages: Anglo-Saxon; English; French; German; Italian; Latin (reading and/or Church); Classical Greek (reading); Japanese (beginner); Polish; Spanish; Romanian; Russian (basic 1960s). Both my parents, both my sisters and one of my brothers is much better at language-learning than I am although I am catching up.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Hats vs Minimalism (+ Chocioły)

This week I read Goodbye, Things by a Japanese minimalist named Fumio Sasaki. It is an entertaining read, and I suspect it was cobbled together from his blog.  The photographs are inspiring, too: Saskaki shows what his bedroom looked like when he was a miserable materialist, then what it looked like when it was down to simple furniture, and finally what it looked like when he got rid of all furniture except a fold-away futon mattress and achieved tranquility.

I am somewhat envious of Sasaki--especially as his apartment has honey-coloured wood floors throughout. Our flat has wall-to-wall carpeting, and B.A. says it must stay for the sake of our downstairs neighbour. According to the internet, the noise of upstairs neighbours thumping around is one of the most niggling strains in British community life.

Nevertheless, I am doing what I can to rid ourselves of all unnecessary belongings. This week I made two trips on foot to a charity shop with bags of books, bedding and kitchen utensils. A suitcase of summer clothes now lives in the shed. The sitting-room is still, however, festooned with artificial owls: owl prints on the walls, owl cushions on the chairs, brass owls on the side table, ceramic salt-and-pepper shaker owls on the kitchen table, painted owl on the china coffee cup on the leather-topped side table I said we could keep after all.

That the leather-topped table survived the purge is evidence I love my husband more than minimalism. Meanwhile, he finally glued the pieces together so that the table would stop falling part every time I touched it, so I am feeling more friendly towards it.

I also seem to love hats more than minimalism although the fun of buying two new winter hats online (on special!) wore off almost as soon as the postwoman delivered the box this morning. Still, one must have winter hats, and I have a bad habit of losing at least one wool beret every year. For a less formal/old-lady look, I also bought an olive-coloured corduroy fisherman's/fiddler's cap. At 59 cm it is a bit snug, but "extra-large" (61 cm) was too big.

This morning I looked at the hats crowded in our bedroom closet with some dismay. They are as following:

1. pale-green and black bespoke mini-hat for cocktail parties and weddings;
2. large royal blue straw hat for weddings;
3. enormous brown "straw" (actually starched paper) hat for hot climes;
4. navy blue French Scout hat for hiking (at 60 cm just a touch too big), except it looks out of place everywhere except in France or at super-trad Girl Guide camp;
5. delightful confection of black straw, black net, and blue-and-green feathers for cocktail parties and weddings;


very posh-looking pink hat my youngest sister bought for a wedding in England and I am keeping for her in case there are other English weddings; and
white Panama hat I bought B.A. for hot climes

In addition, I have 6. an open-work crocheted beret which is totally unsuitable in wet or cold weather,  7. a blue beret my mother knitted and now 8. a new forest green beret and  9. this snazzy fiddler's cap.

B.A. has two green tweed caps, size 57 cm. I feel vaguely ashamed that my head is 2.75 cm larger than my husband's. My theory is that he was built along nimble Pict lines, whereas I am a lumbering (if short) Viking woman.

Meanwhile, it is very difficult to find women's hats that fit my large head, the principal reason why I am loath to get rid of any of my occasional-wear hats. I haven't been to a cocktail party in years, but there is a chance more of my friends and acquaintances will marry.

Come to think of it, I may rid myself of the bepoke mini-hat, for anyone with as big a head as I do, let alone the bizarrely thick hair, has no business wearing a mini-hat. The phrase "organ-grinder's monkey" comes to mind.

I am also reminded of the Chochoły from a Polish play called Wesele ("The Wedding Reception"*). Chocoły are either animated bushes wrapped in straw or living haystacks. I love the concept for they epitomise the strangeness of Poland and other countries east of the Oder: the unfamiliar kings and queens, the bizarre new monsters, Christmas trees hung upside-down, fearless mushroom-picking, etc. Wesele is pleasantly weird, too, as you will discover if you watch the film.

When Polish Pretend Son was planning his wedding, I asked if there would be a Chochoł to haunt the proceedings.

"You will be the Chochoł," said PPS, and so I was, only in blue, not straw.  

*This is usually translated as "The Wedding", but that is not strictly accurate.

Update (noted in hall cupboard): 10. Faux-fur winter hat for east of Oder--or west of Yonge Street--only.

Update 2: I have taken the mini-hat and enormous brown hat to a charity shop, along with a potato peeler, a silk Chinese blouse, a few owl figurines, and a large, rolled-up, deep-pile green rug. B.A. hated the rug, so he is delighted.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Dinner Party Reflections 2

I forgot, when I sat down at my keyboard this morning, that I meant to praise dinner parties as a great joy in life. Naturally I've done this before, but as it happens, the Stoics liked them, too. It wasn't for the food and drink, of course, that Stoics loved parties, but for the friendships.

The Anglo-Saxons thought of the after-life as an endless dinner in the celestial mead-hall, or so it seems in the Dream of the Rood.  There is quite a lot of feasting in the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but eating alone is frowned upon---even dangerous, if you recall what happened to Edmund after pigging out on Turkish delight.

(By the way, real Turkish delight is much, much better than that dreck you tried at your local candy store.)

Sometimes Benedict Ambrose fusses about the work involved in cooking dinner for six to eight people, and sometimes I respond by saying that my mother cooked dinner for six to eight people for over twenty years. When B.A. is on his game, he doubts that these were three-to-four course dinners, which is pretty accurate, except at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But my more profound point is that I  ate supper around a table with other people until my third year at university, when I moved downtown. Therefore, every dinner was, to a certain extent, a dinner party. And if (for various reasons) you don't have children in the house, the best substitute is a regular number of dinner parties with adults of varying ages but relatively uniform interests.

My last dinner party involved six adults aged between 18 and 50-something, and we were all interested in traditional Catholic and Orthodox liturgies and music to a certain degree. We had something fun and liturgical to watch on my computer after pudding, and occasionally someone burst into song, which was never allowed at my family dinner table, although G.K. Chesterton valued singing at the dinner table very highly. Two of the guests were Polish, so occasionally I was asked for the English word to some homely object (cooking pot, which I knew) or concept (being disabled, which I didn't). I asked them to name some ancient Slavic tunes.

Very often at our dinner parties I miss out on great slices of dinner party chat, for I'm away back in the kitchen, washing up the soup bowls and dinner plates between courses so that I'm not up too late afterwards. However, this time, I stuck around from soup to nuts (or, this time, soup to violet creams) and enjoyed the merriment wholeheartedly.

The joy of dinner parties occurred to me while reading A Guide to the Good Life, perhaps prompted by an invitation to ponder what I enjoy most in my ordinary life. I would have to include also visits to and from my family, and travel to and through Italy and Poland, and the Traditional Latin Mass. Then coffee, good books, and successful conversations in foreign languages. Letter-writing, sending presents to children, and conversations with unusually intelligent and/or personable children, too.

I prefer sending gifts to children to giving them in person, for children are terribly honest. If your present is a dud, they will not be able to hide their disappointment. But if you send a present, it is usually their parents who respond, and they are always politely enthusiastic.

Dinner Party Reflections

We had a belated Martinmass dinner last week (without the traditional goose, however, as they are raised hereabouts solely for Christmas) with four guests.  One  guest explained that he would not have seconds of soup because he followed Stoical practises, and I was delighted to have met a practising Stoic. I have been reading William B. Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, and I think a return to Christian Stoicism is the way to go.

I think this in part because I complain much too much lately, but also because I have been battling some sort of eczema for the first time in my life, and it makes me feel like Job. Poor old Job lost everything and everybody except (irony) his annoyed wife and a few judgmental friends and THEN was afflicted with boils.  

For the first time in my life, incidentally, it occurs to me that Job's wife lost everything and everybody, too. She wasn't afflicted with boils, but she probably had to wake up to the sound of Job scratching away at his boils. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Horrible. 

Fortunately we have bought two nice secondhand bookcases and have finished putting all our possessions away and have hung up our pictures, so I have less to complain about. Also, I have been following the Stoic advice to imagine the flat burning down, so as to feel more grateful for it. In order to appreciate what you have, it is a good practice to imagine how much worse life would be without it. When my eczema clears up, I will think about having had eczema, so as to even more enjoy not having it. 

This negative visualisation works with people, too. On my father's 40th birthday, I was suddenly seized with a terrible fear he might die of old age at any minute. He's still going strong in his late 70s, but for over 30 years I have not allowed myself to take this for granted. My mother had a stroke at 50, so for over 20 years I have also not taken my mother's life for granted, either.  I hadn't realised that this was considered a healthy Stoic practise, however. 

In the 1980s, we were occasionally reminded by priests that we could die at any minute, and indeed we were all still alarmed by the prospect of a nuclear holocaust. Middle-age should therefore taste sweet to the children of the 1970s and 1980s, for it was not certain then that we would ever attain it.  Meanwhile, one of the most stupendous moments of my life was sitting in a Catholic radio studio in Warsaw being interviewed about Seraphic Singles (or, actually, Anielskie Single) because such a thing would have been beyond my wildest Iron Curtain-era dreams.

Another Stoic discipline suggested by A Guide to the Good Life is to eschew luxury and to value poverty. At the same time, however, you have to work hard serving humanity in one form or another, doing the best you can and becoming the best you can be, which often translates into having enough money for at least a simple existence. 

The emphasis is therefore on what you have, rather than what you haven't, with a primary interest in one's character. So I am going to try to become more Stoical by giving up complaining--which will be easier if this new steroid cream works and the dust mites, which I am currently slaying, really are to blame for these horrible spots. Scratch, scratch. 

Friday 16 November 2018

Polish Pretend Son and Daughter-in-Law's Midnight Wedding Ritual

Polish Minimalism. 
After Polish Pretend Son's wedding service (ślub, pronounced shloop) and nuptial Mass, he drove off with his bride in the rented white Corvette they had arrived in and the rest of us followed to a charming 19th century palace-turned-hotel for the reception (wesele,  pronounced ves-SEL-eh).

The little hotel was for the "exclusive use" of the wedding, as adverts say, and it is very elegant indeed, having been lovingly restored by its Polish owners from the decrepit state the palace had fallen into after its former German occupants had fled westwards. There are lots of ruined little German palaces dotted all over western Poland, and as soon as B.A. and I win the lottery, we will buy and restore one ourselves. 

In keeping with the aristocratic nature of this dwelling/hotel, the wedding feast was a Polish-French hybrid, with a late afternoon, rather French, dinner served in the elegant dining rooms and a side room groaning with every Polish dish you can imagine in case anyone felt the slightest hint of a pang of hunger afterwards. 

What happened after dinner, however, was entirely Polish and very ancient, and even gave me goosebumps. First, the dining-rooms were invaded by Polish minstrels who bade us all perform the ancient Polish walking dance called the chodzony (pronounced hodZONE-ih). We walked out  into a field behind the palace where we were led in the various progressions of the dance as a violin scraped and a hurdy-gurdy groaned. It sounded and felt so ancient, we could have been in any era, were our clothes not so very, er, twentieth century.

Then we all processed back inside, and the bride and groom danced their first dance as wife and husband. As Polish Pretend Son is a tango fanatic and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law is very good at dances of all kinds, it was truly an impressive performance. 

At midnight, however, we were plunged back into the Middle Ages, or perhaps even further back, even before Christianity came to Poland, during the oczepiny (pronounced oh-chep-EE-nih). 

Nowadays, oczepiny are usually just a set of games that ritually humiliate the bride and groom in a mild and good-humoured fashion. They remind me of the dumb games American and Canadian women traditionally play at bridal and baby showers. At their worst they are as bad as garter-tossing and other stupid things we Anglos too often do at weddings. 

However the traditional oczepiny involve an elaborate ritual in which the bride is reminded that she is leaving the happiness of her youth and maiden fancy-free living behind and now has to knuckle down and be wifely. Everyone around sings cheerfully. 

Meanwhile, the bridal wreath is taken away from the poor girl and the traditional headscarf of the Polish married woman is forced on her head.  Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law seems to have second thoughts about this, for she threw her pretty scarf on the floor twice.  I believe rejecting the kerchief is traditional, but PPD-i-L said later that, swept up in the moment, she really meant it. 

The whole thing--including the climax---sent chills up my spine. It wasn't just the fact that the ritual was so otherworldly and ancient. It was also an unusually frank reminder that marriage, like life, is very hard and, in fact, a bit of a gamble, and that if she accepts the wrong man, a bride's life will be unhappy. 

Update: PPS doesn't want his wesele videos public, so I've put up a photo instead:

Update 2: There are no nice photos of me from the okay-for-public-consumption file. It's too bad, but  months of unrelenting stress does that to a woman my age. Now when I see a woman who's "let herself go", I realise that there may have been some inescapable reasons for that. One of the nice things about PPS's wedding, which happened shortly after we were told we couldn't go back to the Historic House, and they wanted their Historic Centre Flat back, thanks, was that we had three days' respite from worry.  

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Polish Pretend Son's Wedding Mass

Polish Pretend Son loves the Traditional Mass so much, he hopes this video of his and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law's wedding helps to spread devotion to the Rite.

If you watch carefully, you may even see me under an enormous blue hat. (Hint: I am not the pretty Welsh blonde who is also wearing a large blue hat.)

I will have more to post and much more to say about the wedding. Isn't the bride beautiful?

Caveat: There is not a word of English in this video. When it is not Latin, it is Polish. But it is so gorgeous, that shouldn't matter.

Caveat 2: The groom also has fond memories of his years in the UK, so there are some unusually British elements at this Mass. First, Polish women tend not to wear fancy hats to weddings; female guests were specifically asked to wear them. Second, the groom's attire is very Saville Row-ish, if not, as I fear it may be, actually from Saville Row. Third, the entrance antiphon sounds very British indeed.

The bride and groom arriving together to Mass is, however, the normal Polish custom.  The groom has already bribed the bridesmaids at the bride's door, and the bridal pair have been blessed by their parents.

Sunday 11 November 2018

A Sad Happy Anniversary or a Happy Sad Anniversary?

Great-grandmother Florence is why we're short.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and also the 100th anniversary of Polish independence. This makes it a happy day for the Poles, who can spend it marching, eating, and squabbling about what Poland should be, but a sad day for just about everyone else I know. (In case anyone resents the fact Poland's independence was the byproduct of a war that cost millions of foreign lives, I'll point out that the Poles had to fight the Russians to keep it five months later.)

The First World War was otherwise a civilisational catastrophe, destroying a large part of a generation of  young men from the British Empire and Western Europe, impoverishing millions, ending many ancient Catholic monarchies, and shaking the world's faith in a good God. It also led to the destruction of countless historic buildings, even in the United Kingdom, because here relentless "death duties" (super-tax) on the landed class led to the razing of priceless country homes bereaved families could no longer afford to pay tax on. 

(Say you are the 9th Duke of X, and you lead your regiment to battle. You die childless, so your brother, the 10th Duke, pays your death duties. But he's also in the regiment, so he dies too. His eldest son, the 16 year old 11th Duke, pays the death duties on his father, and then goes into battle two years later. And so on. Even if you do not care about the English and Scottish aristocracy, you might care about the houses. The reason the National Trust and then the National Trust for Scotland were founded was to preserve the nations' architectural patrimony. )   

In Canada, whole villages were depopulated of men. Per capita, the First World War did more damage to our nation than the Second World War.  And although we can agree we had to fight the Second World War, there was no authentically compelling reason to fight the First World War. The Belgians may disagree, of course. However, the First World War led inexorably to the Second World War, and the number of deaths of soldiers in both these wars, let alone the civilian casualties, is much more than the current population of Belgium. 

My Scottish-Canadian great-grandfather didn't have to fight. He was over 30 and had a wife and four children in 1914.  However, he was so sickened by stories of the German invasion of Belgium, that he signed up. His regiment was at Vimy Ridge, whose name, to a certain kind of Canadian, has all the power of Henry V's "St Crispin's Day" speech.

When I was in elementary school, the Canada-is-Multicultural mind-set hadn't quite entirely replaced the infant nationalism that was born (I was taught) of Vimy Ridge. Before that, Canadians were just happy to be fortunate members of the British Empire (went the narrative). But by September 11, 1918, we were much more CANADIAN and a lot less British (especially the millions of those monolingual French-speaking British). 

This sense of being CANADIAN fell apart in the 1960s, when the intelligentsia started asking "What is a Canadian?" and a sense that whatever it was, it could not exclude anyone or anything, began to take hold. But that is a different story about a different era. For now all I'll say is that my interest in Polish nationalism (for example) comes from the sense (or mythos) that for the fifty years following November 11, 1918, Canadians were a people--a weird bilingual people, but a people all the same.  Like the Belgians.

Saturday 10 November 2018

A Day Out in Edinburgh

At the end of another stressful week--albeit with the enjoyable company of my brother Quadrophonic--I decided to have a bit of a splurge. Originally my plan was to break down cardboard boxes, hoover and nail some pictures to the wall. Ah ha ha ha.

My alarm went at 6 AM, and at 6:16 AM, Quadrophonic and I hustled out into the darkness towards the train station. I bought a return ticket to Edinburgh (£3.30).

After a mad dash down Princes Street for the airport-bound tram, I said bon voyage to Quadrophonic and retraced my steps towards the railway station. What in Edinburgh is open at 6:50 AM, I wondered.

The Balmoral Hotel was the answer.  I toddled in, glad to be wearing a tweed skirt suit, and asked if the brasserie were open yet. It was indeed. There a charming Continental waiter informed me that breakfast was £29 and kindly agreed to bring me a cappuccino instead.

So I sat at a chic brasserie table as light dawned on Edinburgh, writing a letter to a friend. The cappuccino cost £5, but it came with two cookies and the hotel was safe and warm. Then, since I was already there, I popped down to the spa to see if I could get a massage today to cope with my stress-damage. I could.

My next stop was the Brew Lab for some Hipster's Ruin  (aka avocado toast). Feeling the urge to splurge I got the version with smoked salmon and dill (£6.95). To the barista's surprise, I did not order any coffee. I explained that I had already had two coffees this morning. She was surprised again, for I had entered the hallowed portals of the BL no later than 9 AM. (I made my first coffee this morning at 6:02 AM and drank it from a portable cup on the train.)

Then I went to the Central Library, where I spent a happy hour browsing and reading David Lodge's The Art of Fiction. Then I went next door to the Children's section, and spent half a happy hour reading Rosemary Sutcliffe's take on Beowulf (£0).

Next I thought I had better replace some opaque tights now riddles with holes so I went back to Princes Street and struggled against the crowds towards the House of Fraser department store.   I was distracted from. my purpose, however, by the sight of Waterstone's Bookstore, where I would have bought one or two books on Stoicism, had B.A. not called my mobile at the psychological moment. So, despite spending a happy hour looking at all the gorgeous books for sale in Waterstone's, I spend exactly £0 there.

To my surprise,  the House of Fraser was having a 50% off sale as it is closing. There didn't seem to be any tights for sale, so I went out again. Thoughts of Beowulf lingering in my mind, I went to Oddbins around the corner to see if they had any mead. They didn't. (£0.)

I directed my steps through Charlotte Square and down Rose Street to Debenham's department store, and the route to opaque tights was so complicated, the limited selection of colours was a great disappointment. So again I spent £0, and ended up on Princes Street instead of  back on Rose Street, so I never passed my favourite shoe shop Rogerson's Fine Footwear, where I probably would have bought new black loafers. This means I continued to spend £0.

When I got to Frederick Street I resisted Hotel Chocolat because I have come down for the first time in my life with eczema, and sugar may be to blame. But I did end up back on Rose Street. Although they do have coloured tights, I scurried past Primark. I hate Primark.

I do not hate TK Maxx, however, so I zipped across the street to have a look for tempting discounts. I almost bought £3 worth of pumpkin-spice coloured ribbed tights, but they were for women of heights up to 5'10" and I am but a wee shrimpie.

So I went to the MAC counter of Harvey Nichols and bought my annual tube of Russian Red lipstick and a matching lip pencil. If I have not learned the lessons of history, I will forget them in various pockets and lose and find them again for the next 8 months before irrevocable losing the pencil and then two months later losing the stick (£31.50, the humanity).

And then I toddle back to Princes Street and returned to the Balmoral Hotel where I had a £60 Swedish massage in the Spa, which included all the water and tea I could drink, the opportunity to lounge by the pool reading the Financial Times (truly), plus the comfy slippers to take home if I chose, and I did. Although £60 seems like a lot of money to spend all at once, I don't begrudge it, for I am a firm believer in the power of massage to cure stress-related ills, and if I got a raise, I would have one a month.

So if you have ever wondered what an actual resident of Scotland does on a day off in the beautiful and very well touristed city of Edinburgh, that's my answer. I point out, however, that this is not Edinburgh on £10 a day. For that I recommend having your coffee at Brew Lab with the Hipster's Ruin and then spending  the afternoon in the library, the free art galleries, and window-shopping. But if you turn up at 6:50 AM, there is no hope for it: you either have to find a hospitable hotel or freeze in the railway station waiting room.  

Monday 5 November 2018

Lake Awe and other sights

We are back from a weekend in the Highlands, grateful that there was no rain yesterday.  Three people in a tin-roofed shack for three rainy days would not have been much of a getaway.

We were my brother Quadrophonic (so-called because he is a fourth child), my husband Benedict Ambrose and myself. B.A. and I had reserved all train tickets and a minute bothy we found on the AirB&B website. The bothy (hut) is the village of Taynuilt, which actually has a village Catholic church and a weekly Sunday Mass. This is never a guarantee in Scotland, so B.A. and I were stoked.

On Friday morning, carrying backpacks of descending sizes (mine was biggest), we walked to our local railway station, changed trains at Edinburgh, got to Glasgow ten minutes late for the Oban train, and so went to one of the Starbuckses on Glasgow's Buchanan Street and then to M&S to get some sandwiches. We caught the next Oban train and alighted two hours or so later in Taynuilt.

Taynuilt has a village hall, a post office, a grocery story (open until 10 PM!), a butcher's shop, a hairdresser, a teashop that is closed until November 22, a primary school, a Church of Scotland church and cemetery, the preserved remains of an 18th century ironworks, and a Catholic Church. That's about it---besides Loch Etive and some amazing views of mist-wreathed orange-and-green hills.

Once we had some biscuits and coffee in our new-to-us two room bothy (no shower), we went for a walk towards the surprisingly pretty Catholic Church and were amazed to discover there would be All Souls Mass at 7 PM. One forgets that Catholicism hung on in the Highlands even after the Lowlands went thoroughly Calvinist. Naturally we turned up again at 7PM, doubling the congregation. The priest had a lovely Scottish voice and a solid grasp of the doctrine of Purgatory, upon which he preached.

After that there was nothing whatsoever to do in Taynuilt except buy groceries, eat supper (made by B.A. on the two-burner hotplate), drink wine, warm ourselves by the wood stove and read our books or the internet. (B.A., who brought his computer, is officially addicted to Twitter.) My book was A Long Way Down by Nick Hornsby. I found it amongst the bothy's collection of paperbacks.

On Saturday we awoke to rain. The orange and green hills were sodden and the sky was the colour of putty. I put on my wellies and went for a scenic walk before turning towards the village, where I bought eggs, pork sausages and eggs from the butcher shop. Then I continued to read Nick Hornsby until we set off in the drizzle to the train station. A perusal of a guide to local restaurants revealed that  there was nothing within walking distance. Thus we traversed 11 miles by train to Oban and ate in a highly overrated pub--thanks for nothing, Trip Advisor--before trudging through the tireless rain to Oban Cathedral. We had ten minutes of Oban Cathedral with the lights on, but then a sacristan or priest turned the lights off, so then we sat in the dark and gloomy Cathedral, feeling rather too full of overrated pub grub--thanks for nothing, Trip Advisor.

Alas, that was it for Oban. Had it been sunny, I am sure we would have seen and done a lot more, but as the shops on the high street looked suspiciously like the shops in other Scottish towns, and as it was pouring, and as our bellies were none so happy, we got right back on the next train to Glasgow, alighting (naturally) at Taynuilt.

We had another evening by the wood stove with books and Twitter, and having finished A Long Way Down, I started Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. We had markedly less to eat for supper.

On Sunday we awoke to sun, which was nice. We had bacon and eggs and crumpets for breakfast and got it together soon enough to walk around the remains of the ironworks (mostly stone sheds) until the church bell summoned us to Mass. There were 30 or so people at Mass, which was rather heartening, and everyone but us sang the post-V2 hymns with edifying joy and devotion. The priest gave another solid homily, I thought, although upon what I cannot remember.

Then we bought some more groceries--the grocer is most definitely one of the world's workers--and got on a Glasgow-bound train to Loch Awe, where we were going to spend 2 hours looking at an amusing church built in all mediaeval periods, from Saxon to High Gothic, by an aristocratic Edwardian enthusiast. We ended up staying by Loch Awe until the 8:45 PM train, so beautiful was the loch, and so charming its hotels. As soon as B.A. and Quadrophonic laid eyes, not on the Victorian hotel right on the loch, but the modern glass-fronted inn down the road, they decided we would stay for supper.

Our Loch Awe visit can be divided into various sections: walking to the amusing St. Conan's Kirk; viewing the amusing St. Conan's Kirk (which is really great fun, and which of us would not build his or her own faux-mediaeval church if he or she could?); walking along the road looking for an off-road path; walking along an off-road path admiring the stupendous view of Loch Awe and its sublime hills and its ruined castle; clambering adventurously down the hill into a boggy back garden in which we inadvertently left   boot holes; continuing down the road to the Victorian hotel for drinks by the fire; and then supper in the modern glass-fronted inn. The food was very good and kept us happy until 8:30 PM when we crossed the dark and empty road to await the Oban-bound train back to Taynuilt.

It was a splendid day. Needless to say, I enjoyed best sitting in a Victorian hotel  (spacious oak panelled lounge, high ceilings, thick wall-to-wall tartan carpet) near the roaring fire reading Scottish Field while drinking coffee (and later Drambuie) after our hours in the open air and the inglorious squelch near the end. Benedict Ambrose and I were both in tweeds, so we matched the decor.

This morning we got up reluctantly between 7:40 (me, to make coffee) and 8 AM to pack, tidy up and catch the 9:20 AM train to Glasgow. We were home at about 2 PM, so the journey was shorter than the family trip from Montreal to Toronto, and less onerous, too, as it was enlivened by changes of train. Also, the view out the windows from Montreal to Toronto are very dull, and the view from Taynuilt to Glasgow involves some of the most glorious mountainsides and lakes in Britain. Between Glasgow and Edinburgh there are also some very pretty stretches of green hills and white sheep lolling about, and my father once said it was the most beautiful airport commute (there being few direct flights from Toronto to Edinburgh) he had ever seen.