Saturday 23 February 2019

Knee-deep 2

Took down the last post after prudential considerations! I'm a bit famous this evening, and I don't believe in that sort of thing, so that's it for blogging by me for a bit.

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.

Saturday 16 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 Muminków, 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.

Friday 15 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.

Thursday 14 February 2019

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.

Thursday 7 February 2019

Music Festivals and the Power of Parents

I once had a dream in which I discovered I had given birth to two daughters in my 20s and completely forgotten about them.  

As far as I know, I've never even been pregnant, but apparently I can have lost-child dreams anyway. The two girls--who looked nothing like me--were now at university, doing very un-me degrees like Mathematics. They were very unhappy to meet their long-lost fictional mother. 

"Where were you? Why did you leave us?" they demanded as I desperately tried to remember giving birth to them. 

I woke up next to B.A. crying my eyes out.  Poor B.A. We were on holiday in either Rome or Barcelona at the time. Probably Barcelona. It was very hot. 

The moral of that story is that never having children is sad and can haunt you for years afterwards, but it doesn't kill you, of course, and you just go on with your life.* You might even think about parenting decisions in a dispassionate sort of way and say, "If we had kids, I wouldn't let them...." to your husband. If you're smart you don't share these thoughts with actual, you know, parents.

But if I had kids, I wouldn't let them go to music festivals (with one exception). While pondering the horrible death of a Scottish TV star's daughter at "Bestival", I considered the great discomfort of British music festivals. Our soggy island has several mass concert events held in fields, and naturally it rains a lot here, so thousands of (predominantly urban) young people are forced to camp cheek-by-jowl in the mud. 

"It sounds very uncomfortable," I said.

"That's why everybody there drinks and take drugs," said B.A. 

"If we had kids, I wouldn't let them go to music festivals," I said. "Except one. 'You want to go to a music festival? Fine. You can go to Bayreuth and listen to Wagner for three days. Have fun.'"

Thinking about my friends who really do have children, I was quite heartened by the power and influence parents actually have. The children I know in traditional Catholic circles, including the teenagers, seem to be on the obedient side and go along with their parents' rules about the World. I'm never really sure they get my pop culture references as they don't watch television, surf the internet, or read Harry Potter. Instead they read gazillions of books published before 1963, draw, paint, camp, sing, play piano, play outdoors, compose and perform plays, go uncomplainingly (and in some cases enthusiastically) to Mass, make home films and, above all, do their schoolwork. 

I assume these incredibly healthy, intelligent and personable (if sometimes naughty) children are the way they are because THE authorities in their lives are their mothers and fathers, with some carefully chosen teachers and scout leaders as the parents' loyal auxiliaries. The parents, being very well educated as well as loving and clever, refuse to cede their authority to the television, radio, internet, celebrities, or super-cool priests who "love kids". Having all the money on their side, they refuse to buy electronic babysitters. They also keep a sharp eye on whose children their children play with.  

A quick survey of my trad friends-with-kids turns up at least two lawyers and some university professors/lecturers, incidentally. They are smart, smart like the Silicon Valley millionaires who don't let their kids use the internet either. 

I say all this not to judge parents whose children drink and drug at music festivals, for I do not know their circumstances, and they themselves may have been abandoned by their parents to the television, newspapers and stupid magazines. They may have also been told so many times that they have little power (and should have little power) in the lives of their children that they believe it.  

No, I am writing all this out to proclaim that modern parents have an enormous amount of power as long as they are vigilant and don't cede it to someone else. The maxim that teenagers always rebel against their parents is untrue. When a teenage friend told me that an adult at school once asked her how she rebelled against her parents, she was confused. She loved and respected her parents, whom she rightly believed strove for her best interests. Why would she rebel against them? 

Meanwhile, I doubt this girl knows a quarter of what I have to know, thanks to my job, about the insanity of modern society. She would shocked and horrified to discover that an increasing number of girls her age want to take hormones and get surgery to "become boys". She would be mystified that a driving engine behind this trend is the so-called "transgender Youtube stars" PMS-bloated girls obsessively watch. Does she even know what Youtube is? (Hmm...) Does she have a mobile phone? (Scratches head.)

As a matter of fact, I am not myself a Wagner fan, so I would be open to some musical festival other than Bayreuth, as long as it was not characterised by sex, drugs, or rock-and-roll. Apparently there is a Monteverdi festival in Cremona every May. 

(Oooh...and a Bach festival in Leipzig in June.)

You may point out that the girl who died at Bestival was a day short of her 25th birthday. To that I reply that nobody gets to the age of 25 in a cultural vacuum. The child is mother to the woman, and a child brought up to despise decadence will probably still despise it at 24. 

*Another moral to the story: don't name children before they're even conceived. The imaginary girls in my dream had names I had picked out in case they came into existence one day.  How disturbing was that? I'll tell you: extremely. 

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Boyfriends aren't Fiances or Husbands

This morning I came across a variation on this headline. As I stared at it, I dimly recalled the story when it first came out. A super-famous Scottish actor's daughter had died at a music festival.  I felt a bit sad because B.A. and I have seen the actor dozens of times in reruns of Taggart and that created the illusion of familiarity.

What I didn't know was that the girl was 24 and died screaming from a drug overdose she allegedly got from her boyfriend, who filmed her as she died.

If you want more lurid details, here's the Daily Mail.

I've lived in Scotland for almost ten years, and I've seen some disadvantaged Scottish girls. If this girl had come from any number of poor areas I know, I would have put down her terrible death to cultural and economic deprivations caused by historical factors (e.g. the collapse of heavy industry in Scotland) beyond her control. But this girl's dad is one of Scotland's biggest stars.

However, there is a historical factor that must have seemed beyond her control, and it is the ongoing and incredibly stupid Sexual Revolution. In fact, the casualness with which a young man treats his "best girl" must be getting worse. Even the moronic "Hey, baby, relaaaax" of my own morally unserious generation has been replaced by "Sort yourself out, bro, battle through the ting."

I realise that there must be husbands and wives who drop acid or smoke hash together or whatever, but I really can't imagine a young husband not going for medical help for his desperately ill young wife.

From the Independent: "Defending Broughton, Stephen Kamlish QC said he and Michie 'were in love with each other.'

Yeah, sure. Nothing says love like (allegedly) giving a girl dangerous drugs, recording her as she screams in agony, and not getting help.

What a sad story.

Update: The bereaved father would agree with me on the "he didn't love her" front.

Dixit and Buka

Polish Pretend Son playing Dixit
Today is the feast day of my patron saint, and so I got up early to catch the 7:13 AM train to Edinburgh and go to morning traditional Latin Mass. When I checked which vestments were being laid out for Father (white for St. Titus or red for my girl), the altar server promised Father would at least say the Collect for St. D.  What a delightful surprise when Father appeared fully decked out in red. Happy Saint's Day to me!

For a Saint's Day treat, I will blog instead of doing yet another load of laundry. I still have the Spa Day story to tell.

I do not go to Poland to relax. It is probably possible to relax in Poland.  If you are with Polish friends, and they do all the talking to necessary strangers--beautiful, 100% accurate Polish falling effortlessly from their lips--then you can sit back and float on a gentle wave of Polish hospitality. If you are with me, however, you have to put up with my cat-like leaps upon the valiant beast of the Polish language, my smugness when I bring you a treat (the cappuccino, the train ticket, the RyanAir printout), and my despair when the beast proves too slippery for me.

However, it is nice to take a day off from linguistic striving, and B.A. and I very much enjoyed a glorious day in a rural Polish spa hotel. We woke up in a spacious, modern, somewhat Danish-looking suite under the eaves of the restored Prussian palace. We ate cold meats and cheese in one of the palace's elegant dining rooms. We admired Polish Pretend Son and Polish Pretend-Daughter-in-Law when they finally came downstairs themselves, and we drank a lot of coffee.

We all had massage treatments scheduled for the early afternoon, so we whiled away the time by going for a walk in the post-Soviet countryside. As it was January, there wasn't much to see except the village shop, the village hall, a roadside shrine, a few dogs, a good many backyard chickens and a few roosters. As we approached a frozen field edged by a distant forest, we saw some deer emerge.

"What do the hotel guests do when they want to leave the hotel?" I asked.

"They don't," said Polish Pretend Son.

Once I was wrapped in towels in the spa in the palace's extensive cellars, I didn't want to leave the hotel either. First I had a massage, and then I sent B.A. to the masseur and sat in a salt air chamber until I was cold. Then I sat in an infra -red sauna. Then I had a shower. Then I sat in the super-hot-rocks sauna. Then I went back to the salt air chamber until I was cold again. Repeat. This went on for a couple of hours.  (PPS mostly sat in the salt air chamber reading articles about Jordan Peterson on his phone and drinking champagne.)

Afterwards PPS drove us all to the nearest town for an early supper. PPS brought white wine along for us to drink, and we ate the best pierogis in history. They were stuffed with duck meat and daubed with quince jelly, and I would order them for my last meal. It might be worthwhile spending a whole week in that town, just to eat in that restaurant every day. One could look at churches in the surrounding villages in between meals, if one could drive. (Bicycle?)

Afterwards we went back to the hotel spa to have beer baths. We sat in large beer barrels filled with hot beer with hops floating very obviously in it. This is apparently very good for one's health, and it was also good fun. We drank mead left over from the PPS&PPDL wedding as we sat in the hot beer in our bathing suits, quarrelling amiably and getting sleepy.

However, there was one last task to accomplish, and it was a board game called Dixit. PPDL was very excited by the prospect of playing Dixit, for she thought it a good way into delving into the psychology of your friends and loved ones. B.A. was not excited at the prospect, and went to bed at 10. However, the remaining three met again in a dining room to play this psychological game.

The rules weren't too difficult. To sum up, everyone has cards with surreal drawings on them. Whoever is "Storyteller" for that round, chooses one of his own cards, pronounces a verbal clue to what it means to him  (like "Act of Contrition" or "Minimal State"). Then the other players look at their cards, determine which cards might conceivably inspire that concept, and hand them over to the Storyteller.  The Storyteller looks at them and places all the chosen cards face-up on the table. Then the others have to guess which card was the Storyteller's card. Players get points if they chose correctly, and the Storyteller gets points if only one player chose correctly. If all the players guessed, the Storyteller gets no points.

"This is a stupid game," said PPS because he was losing. "This is a game for women."

Eventually PPS figured out a strategy based on trying to think of verbal clues that PPDL would understand and I wouldn't. Sometimes I was able to thwart this, and so I was ahead and winning until PPS looked at his cards and pronounced "Muminek."

Muminek is the Polish for Moomin, as in the Moomin Trolls. For some reason, I never read the Moomin Troll books, but all Polish children all read about the Muminki. Thus, when we all put down our cards, and PPDL saw a sort of gobbling ghost figure on one of them, she divined that PPS saw it as Buka, a terrible monster from the Muminki books. Expecting something more troll-like, I didn't.

"Buka is my favourite of all the Muminki characters," said PPS smugly and eventually won the game.

When B.A. and I went back to Poznań I bought two Muminki books from the cool bookshop in the Imperial Palace. Clearly I have to fill in the Muminki gap in my Polish studies.

This reminds me of spies, by the way. I often wonder how British and American spies in Cold War Poland perfected their cover. I think they would haven been easy to catch because, even it their accent was perfect, all you would have to do is ask them about a children's book every Polish child would have read at school. Maybe, though, MI5 and the CIA were well aware of this and so grilled their spies on the funny poems of Elementarz and the monsters in Muminki.

Tuesday 5 February 2019

A Brief Appearance

Tonight I'll be giving a talk about St. Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) at St. Mary's R.C. Cathedral in Edinburgh. The Young Professionals' Adults'  meeting begins at 7 PM, and I'll take the podium at 7:10 PM.

It's been a long time since I have been asked to speak anywhere, and I feel greatly honoured. It's funny to think now that once a week I used to take a bus to another town once a week to give night classes in writing.

Update: The talk went very well. Despite the rain, about 35 young adults turned up for their weekly gathering, and nobody asked me a difficult question. It was the same room in which I heard George Weigel's talk, but so far no karmic punishment for my waspish review! :-D

I really love Saint Edith Stein, and now that I trudge into culture war battle every day, I am even surer  of the importance of her writings on women for women today. Mulieris Dignitatem is also crucial. However, I do wish Saint John Paul II had also written a Dignitatem Virorum  because it is badly needed now.

As I found it difficult to read the new faces and was a bit nervous of how my decidedly non-mainstream-feminist was going down with the Young, I was very grateful that B.A. was there, beaming in a back row.

Monday 4 February 2019


Ah, the stuff of nightmares. Imagine that you are in a hotel dining room in Poland, surrounded by the friends and family of a Polish friend who has recently passed his PhD dissertation defence.

"Speech," you call out cheerfully.

"YOU make a speech," says your friend.

"Sprobuję" ("I'll try"), you say, and then go absolutely blank. Seven years of Polish studies vanish from your brain.

Naturally you fall back on English because it is easier and everyone in the room under 40 has a very good grasp of English anyway. Fortunately I have no anxiety about speaking English to groups.

That happened to me last week, and instead of beating myself up or deciding that Polish Pretend Daughter was right and I will never speak Polish because it is too hard, I am attempting to find out why I blanked.

For the record I also blanked when I was upbraided by a security guard in the Stary Browar mall and, most humiliatingly, when a young man asked me at a bus stop when the last airport bus had left. (Both times, however, I fell back on "Przepraszam" [I beg your pardon]."

Also for the record, before we travelled I promised B.A. I would not freak out if I couldn't speak Polish correctly or if people insisted on speaking to me in English. I broke this promise at least three times, most flagrantly in Sołacz Park after losing my glove and being attacked by the self-cleaning coin-operating loo. At that point I decided I was really too stupid and clumsy to live, and my mother was right thirty years ago when she said I wasn't very good at languages.

At this point you may be thinking that my money would be better spent on cognitive behavioural therapy, not Polish lessons, and you may be right. This is why I am now reading about panic and anxiety and their relationship to speaking foreign languages.

So far this article is quite interesting and more relevant than a book I got from the library which seems to be for people who are anxious almost all the time. The insight that what bedevils many language learners is performance anxiety rings true.  I also like the advice to memorise situations. The most important thing I have to say in Polish is literally, "My husband cannot go through the x-ray because he has a shunt in his brain" and so I memorised that and have trotted it out with great success twice now.

The cheerful side of my broken Polish-speaking is that, even though I often murdered case endings, I always got the job done and my mistakes made Polish strangers smile--which is in itself an accomplishment, as Poles are not given to the shallow simpering the Anglo-Saxon peoples deem common politeness.

"I cannot get this stamp to stick," said the lady in the post office, attending to my postcard to France.

"It doesn't matter," I said, illogically, and the post office lady fought back a giggle.

"Embrace sloppiness," says Donovan Nagle, who is working on Arabic, probably the trickiest major language for native English speakers, so massive respect to him. I embrace the smiles--which are always nice smiles, by the way, the smile of people who are trying not to laugh and hurt my feelings.

Another thing to remember is that English is now the world language, and anyone born in Europe who wants to get ahead in academia or business has to learn it. Therefore, European children start learning English when they are quite small and thus have something like ten years of lessons before they are unleashed, at 16 or 18, say, on an English-speaking country for further studies. That gives them quite an advantage over the 40-something native English-speaker who has been studying a less "practical" language for only seven years.

But Donovan Nagle is quite right: if you want to learn to speak (not listen, not read, not write), you have to speak. And as he says elsewhere, improvement takes time.

Saturday 2 February 2019

Home From a Week in Poland

We were in Poznań for a week.
Last night I returned to Saint Benedict Over the Apple Tree after a week's holiday in Poland. It was the first time I came home to the new place after a week away, and it didn't feel like home yet. Maybe this will come after we put in the work and time to do it up.

The flat was absolutely freezing. I had much ado to get the boiler up and running and the heat to come on.

Benedict Ambrose had gone to a dinner party. We had a rushed and funny farewell when we alighted from the airport bus just short of the Caledonian Hotel. B.A. ran for one bus, and I trudged through the unexpected snow to a stop for our usual bus. B.A. had  texted his host from the tarmac to say he didn't think he'd make it to his (men-only) party at a decent hour, but his host, the Master of the Men's Schola, texted back to ask him to come anyway.  So off B.A. went, and I went home alone to wrestle with the boiler and have a hot bath.

B.A, and I spent five nights in Poznań and two nights in a country spa hotel with Polish Pretend Son and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law. Our mood was celebratory as PPS had on Friday passed his PhD dissertation defence and Saturday was my birthday.

It snowed in Poznań on Saturday morning, but after that the weather was fine: either sunny with a dry cold or cloudy with a damp cold. B.A. and I stayed in a bachelor flat on ulica Kopernika  (Copernicus St.), which is inside the limits of the Stare Miasto (Old Town). The bed was too small for an old married couple, and our boots tracked rock salt into the room, but the shower was powerful and there was a kitchen sink, a fridge and a coffee machine. There was also a fancy hot plate, but in the end we didn't cook: we ate heartily in restaurants, usually cafes and milk bars.
"The Watcher" is a frequent graffiti sight in Poznań,

We did go to a supermarket, though. We were a ten minute walk from the famous Stary Browar (Old Brewery), possibly Europe's largest and most beautiful shopping mall. If all shopping malls were created out of old brick industrial buildings, our cities would be prettier places. Anyway, the Stary Browar had a supermarket called Piotr i Paweł  (Peter and Paul), where we bought bread, cheese, ham, buns and coffee.

We went for many walks in the bitter cold, braving the bus only on the way to the airport and the tram, never. We went to the Stary Rynek (Old Market) and watched clockwork goats butt heads at noon while a live trumpeter stood high in the tower of the Town Hall and played the Hejnał. (I was much more impressed by the trumpeter than by the goats.) We visited the baroque Franciscan church nearby and returned there with PPS and PPDL on Sunday for the 2 PM Traditional Latin Mass. Afterwards PPS drove us all to the spa hotel, about which more anon.

We returned to Poznań by train late on Tuesday afternoon and bought rogale świętomarcinskie (St. Martin croissants) from Piotr i Paweł on our way back to our AirBnB bachelor flat. I consumed one--heavy with ground white poppy seeds and sugar--with coffee from the machine whereas BA fasted in anticipation of an evening pierogi feast. After this supper, we went for a long walk around the frosty city.

On Wednesday we sightsaw in earnest, visiting the ancient cathedral island where both Poland and Polish Catholicism were born. First we had a look at the much-renovated (after various destructions, the latest occurring during World War II) cathedral, and then we went to the Archdiocesan museum. (I think a visitor can safely skip the Archdiocesan museum and go to the archeological museum instead.)  Afterwards we walked back to the Stary Rynek area and had a delicious and cheap pork schnitzel lunch at Od Dziadka at ul. Szkolna 7.
Archdiocesan Museum

Stuffed to the gills, we went went to the Narodowe Muzeum (National Gallery) to look at Art, but unfortunately the Muzeum was closing in 15 minutes, so instead we went to the famous Raczyński Library across the street. Our guide book had assured us that no building in Poznań was like it. This was true, insofar as the handsome Renaissance-inspired front part was not very deep, used principally for offices, and attached to a very modern-looking library. Here B.A. was prodded by a security guard when he fell asleep over a copy of the Spectator, and I read a few things, just because we were there. My limited vocabulary oppressed me, as did the cold and hyper-contemporary architecture.

We had a much better time in the Imperial Castle, which was Kaiser Wilhelm's last palace, and too useful for the Poles to knock down once we and they had rid themselves of Kaiser Wilhelm. The wing currently in use is a cultural centre, with stages and a cinema, a bookshop and a snazzy cafe-bar.    Here B.A. and I had coffee (and later beer and lemonade), bought books, and saw an American film with Polish subtitles. I read B.A. placards about the carvings of animals around the front of the castle, and we were both impressed that I could do that. I hasten to say that my spoken Polish was pretty rubbishy all week although it always got the job done. I suspect that after a week or two in a Polish city, my speaking skills would be as good as they are when I am speaking to my Edinburgh tutor and the case endings would automatically fall into place.

On Thursday morning around 8 AM I got into trouble with an elderly lady and a security guard in the Stary Browar when I pushed the automatically revolving revolving door. "I'm sorry, I didn't understand," I said (in Polish) and rushed off to Piotr i Paweł for buns. B.A. and I spent the post-bun morning in the National Museum where we very much enjoyed looking at 19th century Polish art and the very earliest of the 20th century art.

The 3-D painting in Sródka
Afterwards we ate a pierogi lunch in the Stary Rynek, and then B.A. went back to the flat to do some work. I walked to the cathedral island and then over it to the other side, where I had a look at the 3-D mural in the Sródka district.  It was pretty cool--worth the icy walk.  After visiting the outsides of the Poznań Museum and the Archeological Museum (and looking at the cold, cold Warta River from the safety of a glass-covered walkway), I went back to the flat to fetch B.A. and go with him to the nearby Sowa (Owl) cafe for coffee and cake.

In the evening we went to the commie-throwback Pyra (stuffed potato) Bar and then to the "Multikino"  (multiplex) in the Stary Browar where we watched Glass (subtitles, no dubbing) in unusual comfort--in enormous padded seats with oodles of legroom. We aren't normally superhero film people, but English-language pickings were a little slim and B.A. refused to see A Star is Born.

Friday was our last day, and after we stashed our enormous suitcase in a locker in the bus station, we went for a very cold walk in the Jeżyce district, where we had lunch in a rather grimmer bar mleczny (canteen)  than we were used to, and then hit upon the inspired notion of going for a walk around Sołacz Park. The Sołacz district is full of "villas" built by then-rich people, and so is worth going to see if you are, as we are, big fans of domestic architecture.

I lost one of my gloves on the way to Sołacz, as I discovered only when I was in the coin-operated and self-cleaning loo in Sołacz Park. While looking around the loo for this glove, I hit a wrong button and was attacked from below by great jets of water and a good deal of noise which made me scream. The loss and the fright made me rather irritable, and as usual I sinned terribly against all the Stoic principles I keep reading about. However, B.A. prayed fervently (and I prayed briefly and grumpily) to St. Anthony of Padua, and on the way back from Sołacz the saint threw the glove under my feet.

The Watcher jogging in Sołacz Park.
It was quite mystifying, really. We retraced our steps carefully to find the glove, eyes on the pavement, and we didn't see it.  B.A., who was ahead of me, didn't see it at all. I didn't see it until I found myself tripping on it. At first I thought its mate had fallen from my bag, but no. It was the glove, suddenly appearing between my ankles. Thus our trip to Poland seemed to end with a mini-miracle and we gave short thanks outside the Church of St. Florian as we walked the long walk to the bus station.

After we came home, we concluded that Poznań was well worth a week's visit and that there was much more to see and do then one Polish friend in Edinburgh alleged. Some parts were, of course, rather grim, and even the lovely historical buildings appeared rather battered, but that is not unusual for Poland, to say nothing of any city (besides super-rich London) that suffered massive destruction in two World Wars.