Friday, 28 June 2019

In Honour of Our Patriarchs

A rough morning today: I turned up at the gym and discovered that I had come 20 minutes late for my scheduled class. Without thinking, I agreed to take the 7:30 AM and then realised that I schedule a 7:00 AM class on second Fridays because of an unmissable second Friday 9 AM appointment. Then I discovered that I couldn't hear the 7:30 AM  instructor over the music. By the end of class, I was a frazzled mess, dropped my phone, which now doesn't work correctly, and it was all a nightmare.

However, I learned three things:

1. As a beginner, I will have to endure the humiliation of looking like someone who doesn't know she shouldn't be in front of the class because I have to be in front of the class in hear the teacher. 

2. I'm trying to cram too much into my day. 

3. I'm stressed beyond belief. 

That said, my nose isn't bleeding. The last time my nose bled from stress was during an argument about whether or not to add a friend's boyfriend to my spouses-and-fiances-only wedding guest list. Curiously it was that, not B.A. almost, you know, dying. Interesting.  

Anyway, the reason why I didn't check the time of my scheduled class last night was that I was wiped out from going to a friend's book launch during work hours and trying to write and send emails on the bus there, in the bookshop before the meeting started, etc. Should I have just asked B.A. to represent the both of us? In hindsight, yes. 

But the event made me think about one of the most oppressed and unhappy groups in Scotland because one of the female contributors talked a lot about how "patriarchal" Scotland was 20 years ago: that reminded me that suicide among young Scottish men is at a ten year high. 

The contributor works with victims of domestic abuse, who are mostly women, so I understand why women's issues were at the forefront of her mind. However, I was unconvinced by her reference to the Scottish women's national football team and the increase in the number of female MPs and MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) as proof that women's lives are so much better. Possibly the female footballers and MPs feel great about life, but the mothers of the 581 men who died last year probably don't.

I was also a bit taken aback when the contributor spoke in a disparaging tone about Scottish soldiers--not in themselves, which would have been unkind, but as a symbol of Scotland, I think. Not to get all Jordan Peterson here, but scrubbing Scotland of its myths and legends is no way to prevent young Scots from killing themselves.  

No doubt there have been unpleasant kinds of masculinity involved in Scottish politics. Not too long about some male MSP got caught slavering over a young woman in Holyrood's spectator gallery. However, there have been men in Scottish politics since there has been a Scotland, and insinuating that they were all rubbish because they weren't turned on to "gender equality" makes for depression. 

(I won't get into how another contributor thinks the belief 20 years ago that "homosexual families" were not "equal" was from the "Dark Ages". This belief, held long before and after the so-called Dark Ages, is still held by hundreds of millions of people, but what interests me the most is that he used the word "families" as a touchstone of goodness.)

After the disparagement of "Scotland the Brave" as being too macho and soldierly, I thought at once of George MacDonald Fraser and his McAuslan stories, which I have so much enjoyed, and then I thought of two Scottish-Canadian soldiers, the first born in Scotland and the second born in Canada. These were my great-grandfather and grandfather, and in times of distress or a real need to push myself, I have thought about them and what they must have gone through during the World Wars. 

Despite the horrors of war, neither of them committed suicide--although my grandfather did smoke like a chimney and died relatively young, aged 65. My grandmother (another chimney) was crushed. As far as I know, neither my grandfather nor his father ever raised a hand to their wives, just as my father never raised a hand to my mother and B.A. certainly has never raised a hand to me. 

Possibly it is easier to love and honour one's patriarchs if they have been, by and large, good to their wives and children. And I think it is necessary to find patriarchs to love and respect so as to feel connected to the greater human family and feel that you have some stake in both the history and the future of your country. I also think this is probably even more true for men than for women.  

Anyway, I'm not interested in throwing away Scotland's myths and legends just to feel super-woke. There's got to be a better way to stop domestic violence, and I am absolutely sure it will do nothing to stop Scottish suicide.  

Thursday, 27 June 2019

My First Communion was my Second

It isn't even 8 AM, but I am having a meltdown over a story that Irish parents are paying up to €900 on their children's First Communions.

Let the parents spend their money as they like, I say! 

I'll tell you what is worse than parents overspending on their child's First Communion: forcing weird and unsightly innovations on children about to make their First Communion. 

One is forbidding little girls from wearing their traditional white dress and veil--their BIRTHRIGHT as tiny female members of Christendom--and forcing them and the boys into ugly off-white, heavy, polyester albs.

Another is coming up with dumb experiments like telling the children to make their "First Communion" informally with their family before their official "First Communion," which is what I was told in the 1970s. Thus I had a kind of bifurcated "First Communion", called "First Family Communion" and "First Communion", and it felt very strange.  

How can you have TWO First Communions? But I did, and I felt uneasy about it even then. In fact, my feeling about my real First Communion (with my family and a church full of strangers without fanfare) is negative whereas I have much happier memories of my Second Communion, which the priest may have thought was my First Communion. (I forget if the parish priests were in on the whole "First FAMILY Communion" deal.)

My mother made my lace dress and veil. They were (and the dress still is) very sweet. The veil was cut up ten years ago and used for my wedding veil. So romantic! I cry. And I carried a little rose from the garden, I believe. 

When you give a little girl a super-special dress, you are telling her she is super-special to you. Possibly, when it's a First Communion dress, you are also telling her she is super-special to God. You are definitely signalling that the Blessed Sacrament is super-special. 

Naturally I envied the Italian, Polish and other European kids the tremendous fuss their families made of their First Communion. (I remember them jostling behind the closed grille in the church basement as the professional photographer took our group photo.) The Polish boy's mother asked me to stand beside him so she could take my photo, too. (I think she loved the dress.) Well, my parents took photos too, but we didn't have a feast. (Sigh.) It is very possible that I asked my mother why not, and if so, she definitely said "We're not Italian," which was her answer to several of my "how come we don't" questions. 
I had a Protestant grandmother who lived near us and a Catholic grandmother who didn't. My Catholic grandmother marked the occasion by sending a wonderful gift: a gold cross on a chain. At the time I would have liked a proper crucifix with a corpus (like the Italian, Polish and other European girls wore), but now I would give a lot not to have lost it. 

These memories are over forty years old, which goes to show you how very deep and abiding a Catholic woman's memories of her First (and Second) Communion are. Therefore, let the Irish Catholics spend as much money as they want on their children's First Communions and let it not be an excuse to force ugly albs on them. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2019


I wrenched my back in the gym last Thursday while attempting a rather acrobatic bend and learned a lesson in humility.

This morning I read Steve Skojec's blogpost about needing to take more time for his health and his family, and I felt for him because Steve's in the same gritty line of work I am: slogging through the sewers of the Eternal City, exposing the spiritual fatbergs so that they can be cleaned out.

Steve is on an intermittent fasting diet, which is a very good idea for spiritual sewer-workers, I think, because of the temptations of grief-eating.  I grief-eat as I write stories about incredibly sad or horrible problems or events, abandoning my desk several times a day to get something out of the kitchen. When I remember, I stop myself and drink a glass of water instead. This really takes intention, though.
The one good thing about developing stress-induced belly fat is that it has made me more compassionate towards other woman carrying extra weight. There's an obesity epidemic in the UK, and only God knows how much pain is buried in the belly fat.

To face whatever it is that is wrecking our health and to do our jobs without allowing them to hurt us takes intentionality.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Bad Auntie

I have letters to write, cheques to sign, and belated birthday cards to get in the post. Oh, woe. I am a bad auntie.

The thing is, at the end of a long day of writing, the last thing I want to do is write more.

Yes, I notice I am blogging. But blogging is just sign-language, really. It's what I do instead of talking. I was a real chatterbox before the invention of blogs.

Meanwhile this morning I checked the news, went to the gym, went to Italian class, fried up brunch, and rushed to my desk to get going.

One thing about being underemployed--back when I was underemployed--I always had time to get to the post office.

Monday, 17 June 2019

The French were Lovely: Last Words on the 2019 Chartres Pilgrimage

I was surprised to discover, after Mass, that my writings about the 2019 Chartres Pilgrimage gave someone the impression that I thought the Foreigners (literally,   "Étrangers") were treated badly when, as a matter of fact, I thought the French organisers had pulled off an organisational miracle for everyone. As far as I know, they got 14,000 pilgrims from Saint-Sulpice to Notre-Dame-de-Chartres, including me, in one piece.

Meanwhile, the French Chartres organisers seemed to be proud of their Foreigners because we got a mention before the Sunday Mass: apparently we have increased by 50% over the past five years. Although the president mentioned this made planning more difficult every year, he seemed satisfied. And I suppose there's nothing like a thousand-plus foreigners to make Pentecost more Pentecosty.

The fact that I am terrified of Lyme disease is not anyone's fault although, yes, had I known I might be bitten by a tick, I would have thought more carefully about A) how to prevent this and B) going at all. Never mind debilitating illnesses: even a bad cold is no joke when there's cancer in the family. Ask me how many times I have been in A&E in the past 27 months. Go on.

Trick question. I lost count.

One of the reasons for going on the Chartres Pilgrimage could be learning about yourself, and three years ago I learned that after a long hard day of hiking, I crave solitude. In fact, if there really are such things as introverts and extroverts, I am an introvert. Mystery solved.

This year I learned that although I can take pain in my feet (you just walk through it), I am less brave about noise, and also that people don't like it when you complain during the Pilgrimage about the noise (or anything else), so I shouldn't have mentioned it.

It was pointed out to me that Scouts and others playing "O Susanna" and any other innocent song were merely engaging in good, clean fun, and that is true. If I had a son, I would rather he strummed his guitar and sang "Elle descende  de la montagne" at 11 o'clock at night in a campground north of the Loire than smoke dope and harass strangers outside the Gare de Nord or some random Hauptbanhof.

All the same, I was glad I was with the Scottish Chapter by day, for the Scottish Chapter maintained a meditative prayerful environment as we walked along, and I don't think we sang anything louder or more secular than "Waltzing Matilda" or "Flower of Scotland," both of which are patriotic songs.  "Loch Lomond" sounds cheerful, but actually it is appropriately dour, for me and my true love will never meet again by the bonnie bonnie banks of etc.

Mind you, three years ago I was perfectly happy singing "500 Miles," a rather more raucous and contemporary Scottish song, but I perhaps it was because I was a young thing who hadn't the slightest idea her husband was soon to be in danger of death.

Perhaps some years you are a noisy song sort of person, and some years you aren't.

There is plenty of temptation towards bad temper on the Chartres pilgrimage, and the best thing to do is nip it in the bud.

When you are flapped away when reaching for a snack because the snacks are just for priests, ponder that the priests are all on the job and have to say their daily Mass before 6 AM.

When you walk past endless miles of French tents to reach the Foreign tents, reflect that (whatever Michael Matt might say about a worldwide movement) this is a French traditional pilgrimage for French traditionalists, and it is sporting of them to open it up to so many people who don't speak French.

When you absolutely hate the (possibly fake) posh accent shouting through the megaphone right behind your ear, consider that actually it might really be his own accent, he can't help it, you're no judge, and since when did you become that sort of reverse "Ah-kent-yer-father "snob?

When you crawl into your tent and discover there is really no room for your mat, your luggage, your sleeping bag, or you ... Well, I suppose you must be brave like one Australian pilgrim I'm thinking of and go from women's tent to women's tent (if you're a woman) begging a place. That said, I strongly recommend finding some sort of waterproof sleeping bag cover/bivvy bag* as, honestly, shelter is one of those UN Convention of Human Rights kind of things.

*This one looks economical, weighs less than a jar of coconut oil, and does not violate the Chartres no-foreign-tent rule. I'm a genius. Stay tuned next Lent for the Chartres Pilgrimage Advice Guide I hope to publish in LSN.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Food for the Chartres Pilgrimage

It's a funny thing about hiking over 20 miles a day: you don't much feel like eating while you're doing it. However, eat you must, even if only on breaks, because without food, you can't go on.

Before I left for France, I consulted the internet for hiking advice. Given my weight, the probable weight of my day knapsack, the milage and the speed, I calculated that I needed to eat about 5.5 lbs of food between Saturday morning and Monday night. I briefly factored in the traditional first day apple and the possibility of soup and rolls, but I knew from three years ago that if the food tables were far from the Foreigners' campground, I wasn't going to get food from them.

The most important element of my diet to be considered was caffeine. Happily, I came upon this recipe for "The Barista" bars, which a review said didn't exactly work, so I added 2 Tablespoons of almond butter. Half a cup would have been even better. I also substituted instant coffee for coarse ground coffee, and that worked well. Each bar had about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

I also made "The Elvis" because on the Chartres Pilgrimage, breakfast has to have the least amount of fuss. When you are scrambling to get up, dress, roll up your sleeping bag and matt, pack and get on the road when your  chapter is ordered back onto it, you need something you can shove in your pocket. Every morning I had 2 Barista bars and 2 Elvis bars. The nice bit of the dry Barista bars was the chocolate chips (so-called: I chopped up some dark chocolate) and the treat of the stodgy Elvis bars was the bits of crispy bacon.

I had a bag of peanuts and dried fruit, too, but I soon tired of them, so I didn't miss them on Sunday or Monday. (In future, three separate bags of salted mixed nuts would be better, hold the shredded coconut.)

Lunch breaks involved a little pots of tuna which I emptied on sheets of nori  (the daily vegetable) on top of two small soft tortillas. On Monday the tuna turned out to be "teriyaki salmon," and it was the best ever. I followed  this fish course with kabanosy, thin dry Polish sausage, and small easy-to-peel oranges. I washed it all down with 2 teaspoons of "Bioglam Superfoods Superberries Nourishing Superfoods Power Blend" mixed with 300 mL of water in my steel cup.

During late afternoon break, I ate another Barista bar, for the caffeine, and drank more Superberries because it really was energising.

Dinner was more kabanosy and another orange, and on Saturday a cup of yellow lentil soup because I passed the food table while looking for the Foreigners' baggage truck. On Sunday night I also scarfed another Elvis bar, exulting in the bacon bits.

My Chapter captain gave me some miniature Snicker bars on Sunday, but I discovered that they made me feel very slightly ill. Sugar in the forms of fruit and bread served me better. Meanwhile, I didn't eat the dark chocolate I brought along. Snacking while hiking just wasn't much fun, and I was just too tired to bother eating more than I absolutely thought I had to at night. The one time I enjoyed eating was at lunchtime, which was just as well.

Naturally the crucial nourishment of the Chartres Pilgrimage is water, but  I learned that I should just keep my water bottle topped up and carry not excess water, i.e. the litre bottles volunteers handed out every five miles or so. I am surprised now to see that those containers of liquid led weigh only a kilogram, i.e. 2.2 lbs. Still, when you are walking 70 miles (I really don't believe the reports saying it was 62 or whatever), every ounce matters.

Nourishment for the feet, mind you, could be a whole other post. In short, you need strapping tape and scissors, medicated blister pads, and possibly band-aids. Compeed plasters are expensive, but I used all five in the little pack. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are also helpful, only I didn't use mine because of muscle soreness but because of headaches. Possibly I didn't drink enough water, but for sure the noise of happy French youth singing "Elle Descend de la Montagne" (apparently a French version of "She'll be coming around the mountain") at the top of their lungs had something to do with it.

Incidentally, inwardly massacring various pilgrims around you becomes a strong temptation, especially if they are shouting through a megaphone loud enough for two other chapters to hear, so it is a good thing there are dozens and dozens of priests around, all eager to hear your confession before you get to the Cathedral.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Spiritual Side

Here's what I had to say about the Chartres Pilgrimage of Christendom 2019 in LSN. Later I'll return and tell you about the food because this year I packed the right things. Of course, there's always room for improvement. The trouble with walking to exhaustion is that you don't really feel like eating afterwards. That said, I passed the famous soup table on Saturday night and, as my steel mug never left my person, I got some. Technically, it was yellow lentils in chicken broth  but it tasted like manna in the desert.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

More Cheerful about Chartres

A doctor has poked my tick bite and made a cheerful prognosis, so I will not worry for now and meanwhile just put her prescribed cream on my rashy ankles. This means I am mentally free to write my LSN article about the actual Chartres Pilgrimage, not about the tick.

However, I will leave some extra baggage here because one of the best things I did for myself three years ago was write a blogpost of advice for people going on future Chartres Pilgrimages.

My caveat is that les Etrangers (foreigners) are NOT supposed to bring personal tents anymore. There is simply not enough space in the foreigners' section for those who rebel against sleeping in the communal tents, packed like pickled onions. If you cannot steel yourself to sleeping 2 inches away from people you've just met (women with women, men with men), then the Chartres Pilgrimage is not currently for you. (Perhaps in future there will be more space in the communal tents.)

Three Years On: Additional Advice 

1. There are ticks. Bring and apply insect repellant as soon as you reach the first park on the outskirts of Paris. Pack a super-light groundsheet as well as your sit-upon and shake it before putting it back on your bag. Every night take 5 minutes before you go to sleep every night of the pilgrimage to examine your body thoroughly with a flashlight. Bring tweezers as well as antiseptic wipes.

2. You have no time in the morning for coffee, so prepare.  Happily, I knew this and so made instant coffee-laced breakfast bars on Friday morning. Yes, I planned to literally rub coffee into my gums. I ate these coffee bars during the beginning of each day's march (6 AM) and at about coffee time (4 PM). No caffeine withdrawal: it was awesome.

3. There is bottled water at every campsite. I mention this because on Saturday, I carried a litre of water all afternoon so I was assured of cooling my feet in the evening. This was stupid, but for some reason I could not let go of that heavy bottle. When you are walking 20+ miles, every ounce of weight drags you down. On Sunday I did not make this mistake.

4. You can buy collapsible washtubs. Because large suitcases are really horrible to drag through Paris, Chartres and the campsites, I took a backpack this time. My ordinary washtub didn't fit, so I found a collapsible one online. It is totally worth the money and any trouble.

5. Assume that anything that can leak will leak. When I arrived at my Paris hotel room shortly before 11 PM (flight delayed 1.5 hours, couchemar), I discovered that my little bottle of liquid soap had emptied over everything in my first aid kit bag. I also discovered that my talcum powder had similarly opened itself in the side pocket of my backpack. After rinsing and drying everything of soap (I didn't mind the talcum powder that leaked onto my tent bag), I took the two flat packets of liquid soap conveniently offered by the hotel. I used these to wash my feet on Saturday and Sunday. I dealt with the rest of me with biodegradable wipes from the privacy of my clandestine tent. (I didn't discover it was banned until Saturday.)  Therefore:

6. Save and bring 2 hotel liquid soap sachets for your collapsible washtub.

7. Really, really ponder if you should bring a computer. I meant to write about the Pilgrimage on Tuesday morning, which was overly optimistic. You will be too tired on Tuesday to use your brain for anything much. You get max 6 hours of sleep a night every night of the Pilgrimage, and even if you get 8 or 9 on Monday night, you still will not be fully functioning. Therefore, it is best not to bring the computer, and to inform your workplace that you will not be checking in until Wednesday.

(My computer, by the way, was kindly driven to Chartres by a very busy French official, whom I wasted a great deal of time trying to find in Chartres, and who finally left it at my hotel.)

8. Never assume anyone French, even a young person, speaks English. As a matter of fact, I did not do so badly with my French, even though really it is appalling for a Canadian and someone who has five family members who are completely fluent in la belle langue. Were I to go on the Chartres Pentecost Pilgrimage again (which is not certain, as there is the 'communal tents only' issue), I would not only start practising walking long distances sometime during Lent, I would start doing some French review.  

9. If you decide to go last minute to the Chartres Pilgrimage, you will suffer more than if you decide in advance. "Only Christians would deliberately make themselves suffer," I thought in a somewhat exasperated fashion. "This is not a yoga retreat." If you'd rather suffer less than more, you need to prepare well in advance: practice walking long distances well in advance so you do less damage to yourself. The Knights of Malta first aiders (bless them!) refuse to treat blisters because EVERYBODY gets blisters. Another problem with signing up at the last minute is that there might not be enough room for your foreign self in the communal tent assigned to your chapter. The president of the Pilgrimage said, I think on Sunday before Mass, that the Pilgrimage was more and more difficult to plan every year, in part because of the huge increase in foreign pilgrims. Your humble correspondent won smiles from other women in our Chapter when I gave up my space in the communal tent, erected my illegal 2-man shelter, and said, "Good news, girls, you're getting a tent mate who is a lot thinner than me!"

This was a beautifully elegant Australian who decided to come almost at the last minute and walked for two days in flat leather sandals, a straight knee-length skirt and a very French-looking scarf around her head. On the third day I noticed she had trainers (runners) instead, and no wonder. At any rate, I admired her ability to look so amazing for two days of the Chartres Pilgrimage and I was proud to give her my place in the communal tent. That said, on Sunday night there was no longer any room in the communal tent, and she had to go and sleep in one of the North American tents.

10. When your feet are wet, contemplate the feet of the others around you. My interior life was not fabulous for the first two days of the Pilgrimage, but I made a breakthrough on Whitmonday. Part of this was meditating on the feet of those around me. Because I thought about how wet and painful their feet were, my feet bore me more easily. Also pain, like hunger, comes in waves when you are on a forced march. You just walk through it.

11. Always carry dry socks in your day bag. Not doing so is quite the rookie error.

12. Do not put your cute Chartres dinner outfit in your computer bag, if you bring your computer and a French official drives it to Chartres for you. Because my computer bag and I were not reunited until after 11 PM,  I went to dinner in the black long-sleeved T-shirt I used as my inner pyjamas and my now very dirty Indestructible Blue Denim Maxi-skirt of Feminine Traddery. I wished very much that I had just squished it into my main backpack, which was driven to campsite to campsite and then to Chartres by truck and left in a specific place.

13. 60€-70€ is about right for carrying-around money. I brought 50€. I left a 10€ tip at each hotel (Paris and Chartres) and spent 30€ on Monday supper. However, I did need a little extra for Tuesday, and so had to walk a bit to find a bank machine. A simple breakfast at Le Serpente (coffee, juice, croissant, bread, butter, jam) costs 9 €.

14. Don't let your sunglasses fall out of your pocket and pile your baggage/sleep on top of them or they will break.

15. The Pilgrimage now provides hand sanitiser, but either make sure you use one that does not dry out your cuticles, or put balm on them at night. My fingers are still sore, alas, and it seemed like an age before I could get home to my friendly bathroom jar of coconut oil. 

16. If you have a clandestine tent, make sure you dry it ASAP, which might be overnight in your Chartres hotel room (if you remember), but will probably be the night of your return home.

Now to write my piece for LSN.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Tick Terror!

I'm preparing to write about the Chartres Pilgimage for work, but I'm exhausted and had the most frightful scare this morning: a great fat black tick clinging to the pale flesh under my ribcage.

I am absolutely terrified of contracting Lyme disease, and when I heard on Day 2 of the Pilgrimage that there were ticks in the woods and the field we were sitting to lunch in, I whimpered in horror, examined my ankles and reapplied insect repellant to my legs. However, the terror of the fields and woods somehow found its way through my long-sleeved shirt and T-shirt to my non-toxic belly. 

Goodness knows how long it was there because one of the privations of the Chartres pilgrimage is lack of washing facilities for foreigners. Technically there are showers somewhere, but they are located so far from the foreigners' campground, and pilgrims have so little time to dress and pack up, that washing is not feasible. Although I was able to wash my feet at night, thanks to my handy collapsible wash tub, I gave the rest of me only a cursory wipe with biodegradable towelettes. It just never occurred to me to sit under the light of my tent lamp and stare at every inch of my body. 

That said, I had a quick shower last night and didn't notice anything, so it could be that Mr. Tick crawled in amongst my discarded clothes at night and lay in wait inside the T-shirt I used as pyjamas. On the other hand, I wasn't actually looking. I was mostly worried about what I was going to wear to dinner, my clean outfit being in my computer bag which was in the possession of a Pilgrimage official I hadn't yet been able to find. 

At any rate, very tired and very frightened of long-term disease (which is never nice but even worse when your spouse is in remission from cancer), I am having a hard time thinking about what uplifting things to write about the Chartres Pilgrimage. The Mass in Chartres Cathedral was really very beautiful, but I did not sign up for Lyme disease. 

On the one hand, I want to support the Chartres Pilgrimage. On the other, I am a bit horrified at the risks pilgrims are expected to undertake and, as I said, I was not warned about ticks until Sunday at lunchtime. One expects to be tired, unwashed, blistered, sore, grumpy with fellow pilgrims, and perhaps unedified by noisy young Europeans who play their guitars and sing comic songs late into the night, but one does NOT expect to risk contracting a serious disease. 

No, I do not have the telltale "bullseye rash." But I've had headaches off and on since late Sunday afternoon, when I really just could not stand the noise of rousing French camping songs anymore. I thought it was the sun and the din, and I pray it is the sun and the din, but headaches are a symptom of Lyme disease, so hopefully our NHS clinic will see me tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, I don't suppose I should write an entire article for LSN about how terrified I am having been bitten by a tick, so I will have to pull it together somehow for the sake of traditionalism. That said, I would not be the first person to point out that traditionalism, like any other movement, has its drawbacks.    

Update: I felt better after talking to another trad pilgrim about his life and Australia, and he very kindly paid for my breakfast. But I won't be writing my "Chartres" article until tomorrow morning after I've had a good rest and (I sincerely hope) have seen or arranged to see a doctor ASAP.   

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Training for Chartres

I am sitting at my desk rolling a massage ball under my foot.  This morning I woke up at 7:30 AM and decided not to walk 18 miles. Having walked 15 miles yesterday and 12 miles on Monday (9 on Sunday and 6 on Saturday), I'm going to take two days of rest. Besides, I know that lugging my pack  to the train at Charles de Gaulle airport and then up the Paris Metro stairs on Friday night is going to be a challenge.

There are two big difficulties in walking 18 miles when you live in a city and have a full-time job. First, walking long distances takes a lot of time. I'm a fast walker, but 6 hours (including breaks) is a big chunk out of my day. Second, finding safe places and times to walk is tricky.

Having grown up in a big city, the phrase "in a wooded area" frightens me to death, and most of Edinburgh cycling trails are in wooded areas, skirting depressed neighbourhoods. Fortunately, they are popular between the hours of 7 AM and 9 AM - although I still got a fright yesterday after 8 when I got a hard and lingering stare from a large man with a shaved head who then contemplated the schoolboy walking ahead of me and shook his head.  

That said, I also got a fright from the driver of a car with the license plate KINO SYU, who almost ran me down on the street sometime after noon.  I think given a choice between the trail and the road, I'd stick with the trail. Oh happy day when we get a dog. Can dogs walk 14 miles at a stretch?

As I worried about the issue of where to walk for 6+ hours, I solved the whole problem by deciding for two days of rest. Today will be active rest, though. I wish I had begun training for Chartres months ago, but I didn't know I was going to Chartres. Fortunately, I went on a few long walks in mid-May and have been going to exercise classes since early April.

Exercise class, like my firm decision that we were getting a dog, followed a major meltdown I had at my desk, yelling words along the lines of "Something must change!" And even though I am 100% behind the Anti-Leggings Notre Dame Mom, I bought two pairs of leggings at Tesco to wear to exercise class. My classes are mostly in a ballet studio among thinner, taller, younger women also wearing leggings or on an exercise cycle in the dark at the back of the room behind thinner, taller, younger women also wearing leggings. Like swimsuits being okay at the beach, leggings are okay in the gym --- although when I found out my friend had died, I was on my way to the gym, so when I was praying in the atrium of the Cathedral, I was Wearing Leggings in Church.

I was also wearing a raincoat, but I think I took it off.  I must have looked quite a sight in my gym clothes, kneeling on the floor of the atrium praying and crying in the direction of the Lady Chapel in the locked nave. Nobody else was around, but if someone had come up to me then and said, "Excuse me, but you shouldn't wear leggings in church," I am not sure what would have happened.

I am willing to concede that maybe I should buy a black skirt to wear over my leggings in case some emergency befalls me on the way to or from the gym. (I really am short on clothes--long, boring story.) However, accidents happen - like deciding to go on a gruelling 70 mile pilgrimage 3 weeks before - and from now on I will think nicer thoughts about women who wear leggings in church.

This, by the way, is interior training for Chartres because I noticed last time that physical pain made me extremely misanthropic. Take every possible physical comfort away from Mrs McLean, and what do you get? A smelly enemy of humanity, that's what. So this time I hope not only to complete the pilgrimage on my own two feet--and to put together some decent articles about it for LSN--but to become a more loving, accepting person.

This does not mean I think anyone, male or female, should make it a habit to wear gym clothes to Mass, mind you, and I think Sunday hikers should at least clean the mud off their boots before they enter a church. However, I also think there should be a general rule that whereas you should take pains to dress appropriately for Mass, you should not be afraid to dash into church between times, no matter what you are wearing.


Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Last Dinner Party

My sick friend died yesterday morning.

I found the message on my phone on my way to a class. I got there three minutes late and was not permitted to enter. After composing my frazzled feelings, I walked to the Cathedral, which was shut, but the adjoining hall was open, and a young priest helping tidy it let me in. The nave was locked, but I was permitted to hunker down in the atrium in front of the doors and under a statue of the Madonna and Child.

So my friend was 73 which surprised one of my healthy friend because my reaction when I found out she was coming home to die seemed to suggest she was a younger woman.  However, 73 is not long innings these days, and my friend was not a religious or even spiritual woman. She was wonderfully kind, liberal-minded, cultured, well-travelled, politically active and worldly.

In the nine years of our friendship, I never knew how to approach the God Question, which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy topic for discussion in the United Kingdom. My friend grew up knowing many Catholics, including of the nun and priest type, but at the worst time in the Church's history. She was very fond of the sisters whose school she attended, who, as far as I could make out, never made the least effort to invite her to become a Catholic, and she had at least one colleague who was a Catholic priest, a man who, if I remember this correctly, did not live a chaste life.

My late friend also had an ex-Catholic friend, a loud one, who had second thoughts about being ex when he thought he was dying. When he spoke about seeing a priest, my agnostic friend called up my TLM priest and asked him to say a Mass for the frightened sinner. Then the Catholic got better and went back to his noisy "recovering Catholic" schtick.

During my friend's last weeks, I was haunted by the thought of all the bad Catholics she had known.

She, however, was lovely: a sort of female Petronius living far, far away from Nero (and with a lot less money and with much more of a social conscience).  She enjoyed life very much, and she showed remarkable fortitude during all her bouts of cancer. Even when she was in agonising pain, the strongest expressions she used were "Cor" and once or twice "Blimey." This may have been because I was in the room, and she had exquisite English manners. When she complained, the complaints were always of some social injustice--like not getting credit for her pioneering work in the arts--never about pain.

For many years, she worked on her memoirs, which stretched from her post-war childhood though her 1960s university education in London and hitchhiking across Europe through her political activities in the 1970s where she met her husband. She wasn't able to finish them, but I enjoyed hearing her stories about the 1960s and about all her travels and work for the arts.

She also had splendid dinner parties during which I met a goodly number of people in the British arts and media I am very unlikely to have met any other way. When I say she was liberal-minded, I mean that she was able to be friends--a very affectionate, loving friend, too--with as raging a reactionary as myself. She had other friends who refer to Catholics as "them" ... Well, I won't get into that. At any rate, I was able to meet one of my great journalist heroes, and I somehow always missed the chap who late in life decided he was a woman.

The last dinner party occurred about a week and a half ago when my friend's husband called and asked if we would stay with her while he kept an appointment. Benedict Ambrose went at the end of his work day, and I joined him about an hour and a half later. My friend's husband had made an asparagus risotto. My friend was lying in a hospital bed in the ground floor sitting room. I'm a bit hazy on what happened when, to say nothing of our conversation, but at a certain point B.A. heated up the risotto, and we all ate it together. We drank wine, too.

The last important thing I remember my friend saying, after finishing what may have been the last book she ever read (and she read simply thousands and thousands), "I do love a story that ends with redemption."

I suppose this is where I could have subtly taken up the God Question, even just pointing out that the hallmark of a Christian culture is one whose literature celebrates redemption. However, I just said that I did, too.  And I do.

Update (June 14) : My friend's funeral service was today. Afterwards most of those who attended went back to her house for the funeral tea. Her obituary was in four national papers, and I was pleased to see that her beloved convent school got a mention.

"Oh, look," I said, buried in the most important paper. "St [X] Convent School!"

"Och, puir [Departed]," said a member of her political party, a man I had never met, with relish. "What we know about convents now-oo!"

"[The Departed] LOVED THE NUNS," I said and was backed up in this by the Departed's Muslim best friend.

The funeral tea was otherwise a splendid, if sad, occasion. And, let's face it, it would not have been an authentic gathering of the Departed's diverse friends, acquaintances and party apparatchiks had someone Scottish or Northern Irish not made an anti-Catholic remark. The Departed, I will swiftly add, did not have an anti-Catholic bone in her body.