Friday, 28 January 2022
Thursday, 27 January 2022
It was my birthday recently, and we made up for last year's rather locked-in occasion by going to one of Edinburgh's most celebrated restaurants, The Kitchin in Leith.
Incidentally, it occurs to me that some of my readers may still be locked in themselves. One of the wonders of the internet is that all of us with access to a computer can see what is going on all around the world. Obviously something things are by design harder to find out about, for example, underground Masses, but if there is anything that should be obvious, it is that different countries are handling the COVID emergency differently.
In Scotland we are free to go to restaurants without having to disclose our medical history at the door. The public pressure to continue wearing masks on public transit and in shops is still strong here, however. Fortunately, there is no directive to buy single-use plastic masks made in China, so I wore one of the 3-layer denim masks my mother made us almost two years ago.
The Kitchin has a number of menus, including the lunch menus, which are very good deals for people on a budget. There is a carnivore lunch menu, and a vegetarian lunch menu, and a wine menu, all of which we pursued online before we even got to the restaurant. Benedict Ambrose was enamoured of the thought of cod, but I was strongly attracted to the idea of black truffle grated all over cauliflower done two ways. Thus, he went for the carnivore menu, and I went for the veggie, and we were both very happy.
There were a number of amusing surprises. The first was that there were special chairs for handbags, covered in faux-sheepskin. Presumably this is very nice for the ladies with the status bags, and I thought this high honour for my humble little saddlebag from Leatherworks rather funny. The next one was amuse-bouches: a haddock tartlet with very crispy pastry, cheese, cream, and tiny cubed potatoes, followed by a little pot of cold beetroot veloute with horseradish, apple, and dill. The first was like a delicious summing up of daily Scottish cooking, whereas the second was delightfully Polish. We were also brought a small loaf of hot bread and a quenelle of butter: delicious.
Then came our actual starters--oysters for B.A. and cauliflower with truffles for me--after which I was feeling rather full. Fortunately there was a pause (too long, B.A. thinks) before our main dishes arrived, the cod and octopus mousse in squid-ink tortellini for B.A. and pumpkin veloute with cheese tortellini for me. All splendid. Then there was pudding: we both had rhubarb crisp souffles.
Later young friends joked at B.A.'s supposed parsimony in ordering only half a bottle of wine, but actually I was pleased, for he picked one that was under my mental budget. (The young friends did not seem to consider the cheapskate might be I.) This meant I felt perfectly free to call for coffee, and when coffee came (served in the bar area), it came with two little French almond cakes called financiers. So that was a final nice surprise. Well, not totally final: with tip the whole bill came under budget, and thus I rolled out of The Kitchin feeling both full of delicious things and wonderfully responsible.
Another exciting event of the day was the Synod on Synodality gathering at the Catholic Cathedral's church hall/cafe. We knew that a number of young Catholics we see every Sunday would be there, but we went there, too, to add to their numbers and lend them support. I certainly thought it was going to be open warfare between white-haired 68ers and 20-something traddies, but I was wrong. The situation was very well organised and managed, with everyone encouraged to join tables of people from different parishes, a heavy emphasis on listening, sheets to fill in, and minutes of silence for prayer.
By the way, there was a rather scolding prayer to begin with in which we all admitted we were sinners, promised not to be disruptive, and professed (rather dodgy) that we had only the Holy Spirit to guide us. (It occurred to me that hitherto we have also received much guidance from the Word made Flesh, and that the Holy Spirit, about Whom there is a whole field of study called Pneumatology, is Someone rather more than the deeply cherished hopes of the current pontiff's favourite advisors.) I recognised the style of the prayer, so I acquit anyone in this archdiocese of having written it.
I confess that I was too much of a coward to leave B.A. and join a table dominated by the elderly, and instead found myself at a table with under-50s, including two tradition-friendly young things and three Poles. (B.A., for his part, avoided catching the eye of a famous left-wing octogenarian he knows.) We all got along very well, and I was surprised that the biggest issue for everyone at the table was the atheism/agnosticism of children in local Catholic schools, which we thought could be ameliorated by better catechesis, less dumbing down of the faith, more cooperation between Catholic parents in modelling the faith to their children, and better modelling in general.
The other question we were to discuss was welcoming back lapsed Catholics, and there was more surprisingly frank and truthful talk, for example, that people who have left the Church don't consider themselves Catholics (or Christians) any more and resent being told that they are. We agreed that we should take what they say about their relationship to the Church at face value, listen to their complaints--or very real pain--without feeling responsible for having the "right answers," not lie about what the Church teaches, but do apologise for the scandals and abuses, making it clear that believers, too, are ashamed and angry about what has happened.
Interestingly, someone brought up the scandal caused to non-believers when even the Catholic churches shut down during the pandemic. A non-believer husband exhorted his wife on the subject, saying there must be underground Masses somewhere. Alas, she did not know if or where they were.
Afterwards some of our friends met at a pub to compare notes, and we all had had a good time--it was even "heart-lifting," B.A. said--- and none of us was at the table from which one of us overheard the elderly saying things like "The Church is mean to LGBT people."
By the way, Benedict Ambrose took what I wanted for my birthday at face value and bought me Made-in-Scotland boot socks. If you are in Scotland and feel, as I do, that supporting local industries is important for the well-being of both your own communities and the environment, check out Moggans for your sock needs. If not in Scotland, why not check out what things you can buy made from your own local factories and workshops?
Saturday, 22 January 2022
A Very Late Response to an Interesting Question
These days, whenever I'm doing something, it's because I'm not doing something else. It's a bit depressing. If I'm reading an Italian poem, it means I'm not reading a Polish story. If I'm typing this, it means I'm not at the gym. And therefore I wasn't that surprised when I saw I hadn't published a reader comment from this summer, let alone answered it. Here it is, from long-time reader Tiny Therese:
You've talked about being aware of how men truly are not how we want them to be. You say not to brag or compete with men outside of work and school. Don't talk about how you graduated from an Ivy League school unless asked about it.
What if you strive for your dreams and what you're called to do, are humble, interested in what's going on in your man's life, and prioritize time with him, but he still resents your achievements? He scowls at you making more money than him, running for office, publishing a book, etc. He's stuck at a dead-end job and feels emasculated. Apart from saying, "I'm sorry you're going through that, dear. I want you to be happy and thrive," what could you do?
My gut says to share in your partner's victories instead of being envious, but maybe there's something more I'm missing when it comes to male psychology.
Friday, 21 January 2022
My grandmother Gladys would have been 107 today, which would have been too much to ask for, really, as she was a heavy smoker until she quit in her sixties. She made it to 87.
Of my extended family, she was the relative I knew best, probably because, after the death of my grandfather, she was the only one who lived in our neighbourhood, let alone our town. She came to visit on Sundays, walking from her own little house, striding along in chunky heels and a belted coat, beret on her head, and vinyl shopping bag in her hand. She brought us children cookies wrapped in kitchen paper, and they had a very faint flavour of cigarette smoke.
It is amusing to think about European friends and acquaintances who remember fondly (and loudly and effusively) their grandmothers' cooking, when really, the only foodstuff I associate with my own Scottish-Canadian gran is those cookies, weak milky tea and Tang. Tang was an orange drink made from chemicals, and that is what Gladys would serve her grandchildren on the rare occasions we were at her house.
My grandmother was also not one for sparkling conversations. She enjoyed listening to the radio, smoking and staring off into space. When at our house, she would wash the dishes, and now that I am closer grandmother age, I realise it gave her something to do.
And needless to say, my grandmother was not a model of piety. She went to weddings and funerals, and that was about it for her church attendance. She identified as an Orangeman, which rather shocked the heck out of the eldest of her Catholic grandchildren.
Meanwhile, she was slightly ambivalent about her grandmother role and resisted being recruited into babysitting the whole lot of us at once, as it was too much for her Nerves.
Thus, my grandmother rather blew up the grandmother stereotype. Nevertheless, I love her to death (and, obviously, beyond). I talk to her soul every Christmas Eve in the kitchen while I'm cooking, and I remember her on her birthday. Of course I pray for her every day. She once came to me in a dream to say that she was fine but missing us all. However, there is that Orange stuff so ... praying.
Wednesday, 19 January 2022
Saturday, 15 January 2022
A Life Well Lived
Today I had a Polish class over Skype. My tutor is in Kraków, and I am not. I know how to say "I miss Kraków" in Polish, so I said it. I also know how to ask if there is any snow there, so I asked that. (There isn't.)
But what I really wanted to talk about was a book my tutor recommended. In Polish it is called Początek, and in English it is called The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman. The author is Andrzej Szczypiorski, and the translator is Klara Glowczeska. And as I teach my students to do, I began to read the book from the very first page, which in this case contains the author's electric biography:
Andrzej Szczypiorski was born in Warsaw in 1924. He was captured during the uprising against the Germans in 1944 and was sent to a concentration camp. After the war he became one of Poland's leading writers, with eighteen widely translated novels to his credit. Increasingly engaged in opposition to the Communist regime, he was arrested along with other Solidarity leaders upon the imposition of martial law in December 1981 and kept in confinement until the following spring. In June 1989 he was elected to the Polish Senate. He was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1988. The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman, a bestseller throughout Europe, has been translated into fifteen languages.
I thought all this was wonderful and told my tutor so. He listened to me politely, and then said what I dreaded he would say, which was, "Okay, so you know, he is really disliked by the Polish right wing because..."
Then followed Szczypiorski's disqualifications from a slap on the back from the Polish right wing: he fought with the Communists during the Uprising, he mentioned pre-war Polish anti-Semitism in his books, he became a Calvinist, there are documents suggesting he denounced people in the 1950s... All the usual stuff that makes Polish Pretend Son yell, "You read [Konwicki, Dehnel, Szczypiorski]!?!? Who told you to read [Konwicki, Dehnel, Szczypiorski]?!?!?!
Naturally, this is part of the rich, colourful woven tapestry of internecine Polish struggles, and although it is distressing, the hatred of Poles for Poles with different politics is awe-inspiring in that they care enough to hate them. I simply cannot imagine shouting at a non-Canadian for reading, for example, Timothy Findlay's Not Wanted on the Voyage or Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale or even (snork, snork)
Madeleine L'Engel's Marian Engel's Bear. Indeed, the one and only Canadian writer I have ever actually hated is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose only writing I know of is his tasteless eulogy for his father, and that is because le petit Justin is destroying my country with his stupid COVID measures and corrupting my fellow Canadians with his diatribes against so-called "anti-vaxxers."
I have just erased a passage about the perfidy of le petit Justin as I don't want to get off topic.
To remain on topic, The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman is about Warsaw during the last German Occupation but also follows the lives of the characters who survive this Occupation into the communist era, the youngest of them up to 1981 or so. It tells a lot of hard truths, some that the Polish right don't like mentioned, like the anti-Semitism of ONR, and some that Americans would find embarrassing and even incredible, like the Jews who survived (for a time) by turning in other Jews.
It also looks at very different characters who were (or could have been) in Occupied Warsaw in 1943: a bright Jewish student; a village girl-turned-prostitute; a poor Catholic tailor suddenly rich because his Jewish boss left everything in his care; an anti-Semitic nun who risks death rescuing Jewish children; a crook who robs Jews fleeing the Ghetto; a crook who rescues Jews, and maybe not just for the money; an ethnic German working for the Polish Underground; the local German commandant; a suddenly impoverished Polish aristocrat; a mathematics professor... and, of course, the beautiful Mrs Seidenman and her youthful admirer Paweł.
"Every Canadian schoolchild should read this book," I told my tutor. "When we learned about the war, we learned it only from the Canadian, American, and British points of view."
I could be wrong, of course. In Grade 8 there may have been at least a mention of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, the German-speakers in Romania, Czech and everywhere else east of the Oder running like hell for the west, and the over 20 million Soviets who died before that. However, what I remember is VE Day-Hiroshima-Nagasaki-VJ Day-there-will-be-a-test-on-Friday. And I suppose there were things they just really didn't want to tell us because we were just kids. Could anything be worse than Auschwitz? Sadly, yes.
Incidentally, the curriculum was strong on how badly Japanese-Canadians were treated by the Canadian government (and they certainly were) and on how awful it was not to be killed immediately in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which was true), but it was weak on talking about the treatment of Canadian soldiers (like my Uncle Sandy) in the Japanese death camps, possibly because they thought we couldn't cope with the complexity of all that.
But, you know, this brings me back to thoughts of le petit Justin and his ludicrous painting of Canadians who are reluctant to get the swiftly-developed-COVID-jabs as racists and misogynists who endanger him and his children. He's my age, he's had roughly the same education: he knows better than that. But meanwhile I encourage you to read The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman (or, if you can, Początek) to find out what it might have been like for you to have been in Warsaw in 1943.
Update: A small rant. Every anglophone Canadian my age read The Diary of Anne Frank in school. And naturally many of us bragged we would have hid Anne ourselves. Some of us may even have wondered aloud--not knowing that this could mean an instant death sentence for Poles and their entire families (if not for the blonde-and-blue-eyed Dutch)--why more people didn't hide the Jews from the Nazis. Well, ask yourselves this: if your unvaccinated-with-COVID-vaccine nurse friend is fired from her job (as is happening everywhere), robbed of her savings through fines on so-called "anti-vaxxers" (as are being introduced in Quebec), and has nowhere to go, would you take her in or are you too scared of dying?
Update 2: Sincere apologies to the memories of Madeleine L'Engle and Marian Engel for getting their names mixed up!
Tuesday, 11 January 2022
The Locked Door
Sunday, 9 January 2022
A Faith that Does Justice
When Pope Francis and/or his advisors wrote Traditionis Custodes and its ancillary "Responses," I don't think they were thinking of the tens or hundreds of thousands of Catholics who would be expelled from parish churches--in some cases their own parish churches--and sent to less accessible buildings. I don't know what they were thinking of, actually, and I have begun to make discreet inquiries. Suffice it to say for now, the idea that TC is a response to a few noisy American social media stars is treated as risible in Rome.
This week it was brought home to me how difficult this transition is likely to be--and how little thought given to the most vulnerable members of our community--and I burst into tears. The part of me that was so upset was not the Over-40 TLM-goer who reads Dr. Kwasniewski's books and tells him in print to put in indices. The part of me that cried was the under-35 M.Div. student at a Canadian Jesuit college that proclaimed a "Faith that Does Justice." I don't expect all Catholics to appreciate the TLM, but I do expect Catholics to consider the needs of disabled people, babies and children.
A Polish-American pal who thinks of himself as a moderate crypto-trad contacted me on Facebook to tell me that Catholics are supposed to suffer and Catholics who are deprived of what they had before should welcome their suffering. I described the suffering of one vulnerable member of our community and suggested that she had quite a lot of suffering to be getting on with without being robbed of her opportunity to go to the Mass she has loved all her life. My Polish-American pal had no response to that.
Once again I feel rather hampered in my attempt to underscore that Catholics who love the Traditional Latin Mass are all real, live, flesh-and-blood people and not an amorphous, slightly unpleasant mass. The problem is that every one of these real, flesh-and-blood people deserve their privacy, and not every Catholic, let alone Catholics who love the TLM, enjoys sharing his or her life in print.
But I think I can say (again) that most of the Catholics I know who love the Traditional Latin Mass in my diocese also take part in the wider life of the Church in Edinburgh. We are not exclusive. We are not a cult. Many of us go to confession to diocesan priests. Most of us go to other Masses in the diocese when we can't get to the TLM, or for some other reason. Some of us get involved in social justice initiatives. Some go to lectures. Some go to youth groups or the university chaplaincy.
In fact, some of us aren't actually even Catholics (yet): I can think of at least two members of our community who belong to the Lutheran/Calvinist tradition.They don't seem to be "taking instruction," but they come nevertheless.
Meanwhile, before the pandemic, there were about 142,000 Catholics who went to Sunday Mass in Scotland. (If you're wondering where I got that figure, about 15% of Scotland is Catholic, so that's 750,000. Then before 2010, there was a report that about 19% of those Scottish Catholics went to Mass regularly. So that's 142,000--BEFORE the pandemic. Goodness knows how many have returned.) Apparently 12% of the City of Edinburgh is Catholic (thank you, Ireland, thank you, Poland), so that's 60,000, and 19% of that is 11,400.
That puts the 110 people who came to our TLM today in some perspective. Sure, a drop in the bucket in the Church worldwide. Maybe a bigger drop in the City of Edinburgh, though.
Today I looked around at the large group of laity at coffee hour and only three--at most--were over 60. No-one there today was over 70. This is quite a change from when I first came to Edinburgh as a 30-something. Back then, there were not so many children running around and scarfing up cookies almost as fast as the tea ladies put them out. Why our community has grown and changed might interest a sociologist of religion. Myself, I'm mainly interested in ensuring no-one is left behind.
Monday, 3 January 2022
I join the gym
Today Benedict Ambrose and I walked to our nearest gym, where I filled in some paperwork, and he didn't. B.A. toddled off to run a couple of errands, and I rowed on the rowing machine for 5 minutes before braving the weight room.
I noted my reps on a grocery store receipt, and now I have ordered a proper weightlifting notebook.
So begins my Year of Getting Back Into Shape.