Monday 31 July 2023

The Work of the Liturgy

Behold me, in your mind's eye, in blue T-shirt and grey leggings, a furry pink sleep-mask clinging above my hairline, sitting in my green armchair of illness. I look every year of my age and then some. Poor me, full of the cold. The only stickers I have been earning for my diary are for flossing. 

I had so much I wanted to do yesterday. I knew the gym was out, but I needed to buy coffee and milk for After-Mass Coffee and Tea, arrive at Mass itself on time, hand out dance party invitations and inform the community that tickets for a Real Dance go on sale next week. I didn't get as far as the bus stop before I burst into tears, handed Benedict Ambrose a sheaf of printed materials and the parish hall key, and went home. 

It's interesting. Even after COVID, online priests opine on the question "Am I sick enough to stay home from Mass?", not "Am I too sick to go to Mass?" It implies that people would rather not go to Mass and are just looking for an excuse. However, there are people who love Mass so much that they would be tempted to risk giving their fellow worshippers smallpox, let alone a merely abysmal summer cold. Possibly the man who coughed so hard behind me on the bus on Thursday was on his way to Mass. How could I continue to blame him for my pain if I my germy self took public transportation? And how was I going to make the coffee in that tiny kitchen without infecting the flower-like youth of the par---? Waaaah!

To assuage my pain, I got involved in an online dispute with mothers who habitually carried their infants to the front pews of churches for Mass. 

This was not my intent. Someone had posted a link to a document by a young father understandably furious that an Eastern Rite priest had halted Mass and refused to continue until he (the young father) and his wife removed their crying 10-month-old baby from the church. I felt very sorry for them until the story turned into an apologia for always sitting at the very front.  I still felt sorry for them, but I was unconvinced that a 10-month-old baby's "brief intervals" of watching the priest outweighed the needs and wants of everyone else in the church. So I weighed in to agree that people who glare at young parents are mean and that a church that isn't cryin' is dyin' and to suggest that the laity should voluntarily give up [the highly coveted] back pews to parents so that they can slip out easily when fussing turns into full-throated screaming.

Well, faster than you can say "Rosa Parks," a mother of many objected to the idea that her children should have ever had to have sit at the back of the church. She and another mother declared that they had always sat in the front rows with their children so that they could see what was going on. When the children scream-cried (my phrase), the first mother took them out. I wrote that this showed great love of neighbour, which it does. And who am I to have online fights with mothers-of-many?  

But one of the mothers did say something fascinating, which was that it had never occurred to her to doubt the priest's ability to say Mass such that "the normal sounds a toddler might make would be the deciding factor in whether the mass is validly celebrated."

"After all, they do have the words in black and white in front of them."

Now, I hadn't brought up validity, and I was talking about scream-crying, not toddlers demanding Cheerios or announcing their boredom. But had I not already known we were talking about the Novus Ordo,  the legalistic mention of validity would have tipped me off. Nobody who goes to a TLM thinks "validity" is the be-all and end-all of the liturgy. It's so basic and assumed, we don't even think about it. It never occurs to us that a priestly slip might render the whole deal invalid. ("Gosh darn it, I guess now we'll have to try to make it to the Cathedral Mass on time!") 

We also don't think of what the priest does being as simple as reading the black, doing the red like an ecclesiastical plumber looking at the boiler manual. We assume the work of the liturgy is actual real work, even if the priest makes it look easy. (TLM altar servers are most definitely working.) But, you know, that's the TLM. Maybe having three front pews of noisy children makes absolutely no difference to priests saying the Novus Ordo. Being able to entertain the thought that I am wrong is my online super-power. 

Therefore, I shot off a couple of messages to priests, and one immediately got back to me to say--adding that I could quote him--that when he says Mass--the Ordinary Form as well as the Extraordinary Form--he never looks directly at the congregation. 

"Zero idea what's happening two feet beyond my altar," he typed.

"They could be on fire, and it's not my problem." 

I laughed so hard it almost cured my cold. 

One thing about not being a mother-of-many---and, by the way, apart from the cloister I cannot think of a more meaningful and valuable life for a woman than being a mother--is that I do not have overwhelming demands on my attention. At Mass, I am (if not in the front pew) free to direct it on all kinds of people. (I try to use this for good, not evil.) Back before Pope Francis, when we were an "old" community with a 3-or-4 voice Men's Schola, and not the men-and-women's choir youthquake we are now, I used to sit in the back choir stalls and meditate prayerfully on everybody.

As we were (and still are, relatively) a small community, I recognized almost every regular parishioner and knew most of the names. I noticed when the thurifer gained weight, and I noted which university student had joined the ranks of the candle bearers. I noticed that one of my Head Tea Lady predecessor chose to leave Mass to set up during the Communion of the Faithful. I could see that one of the few (then) young mothers was frantic with embarrassment whenever her baby cried. When a loud ker-THUNK indicated that someone had fainted, I instinctively knew where to look for the doctor.  In community disputes, I can simultaneously see all sides and mentally side with and (less nobly) against all parties.

And this, I think, could be a super-power all Catholics should cultivate: the ability to see Mass-related disputes, like co-existence with crying babies, or what women should wear, or what men should wear, for that matter, from everyone's perspective. Of course, this takes some imagination, and ultimately, of course, it demands some research.  

Friday 28 July 2023

The Misleading Glamour of Artifice

I have caught a cold from my poor immunocompromised husband, and so I am not going to the gym. Instead I am going to bewail online my misspent youth. 

Well, not really. However, I am going to approve the choice of a young Catholic lady I know who said she didn't want to go to a dance club, thus causing a flutter amongst her peers. 

I heard this story at the sink of the tiny galley kitchen in the parish hall, the one place all week where I congregate with other women. It is also a locus for Real Trad Life, quite distinct from the bizarre impressions we get from Twitter (or, as we are presumably now supposed to call it, X). This slice of Real Trad Life was about, in short, partying, and one girl's reluctance to join the other girls in going to The Hive or whatever Edinburgh hellhole nightspot they had in mind. 

It will very much surprise my mother--to say nothing of friends who saw me dance many nights away on Toronto's Queen Street West--to hear that I came down firmly against le clubbing.

"Just because we misspent our youth doesn't mean [she] has to," I harrumphed at the other married lady around, which was a bit thoughtless. First, I out-age her by over 20 years and, second, instead of misspending her youth, she married young.* Frankly, the only person in that kitchen who no longer had youth to misspend and had thoroughly misspent it was me. But I digress. 

As a young teenager, I longed to go to dance clubs, and I didn't understand why my parents didn't go to such glamorous places, especially given my mother's growing collection of ABBA records. Now I can't understand my teenage thought process. I recall that I thought night clubs were full of excitement and adventure and very likely chaste and handsome young men with whom I might fall in love. If they weren't already chaste, I would surely inspire them to virtue with my virginal ways. Clearly, what I knew about real life as a teenager was almost nothing. 

Fortunately for me, the first time I went to a nightclub (in fear and trembling lest my mother find out), it was late one afternoon with my church youth group, and it was quite empty and although there was a glitter ball and loud music, it was boring. Later visits to other nightclubs were less boring, as they were downtown and involved the risk of being turned away at the door for being under-age. Also they were dark and crowded and shot through with the energy of dozens of people packed together dancing and sometimes singing away. They provided an excellent opportunity for my then-favourite hobby--daydreaming about love and adventure. The clubs were black velvet jewel boxes containing sparkling, leaping diamonds ... until the lights were snapped on.

In harsh electric light, dance clubs are unfinished rooms with wires hanging from the ceiling, holes gaping in the walls, and indescribably dirty floors. The WCs, never attractive, are unspeakable. The people still lingering about are tired and drunk--and often sad--with slack, pale faces. Clubs after closing time are the visual representation of the maternal proverb "Nothing good happens after midnight." 

In justice to my teenage self, the idea that I might find chaste and undying love with a complete stranger met at a dance club was imparted to the wider culture by Rodgers and Hammerstein, whose musical South Pacific promises: 

Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger

You may see a stranger across a crowded room,

And somehow you know, you know even then,

That somehow you'll see her again and again

Never mind that South Pacific debuted in 1949, and society is rather different now. (For one thing, you can't see anyone across a crowded dance club.) The idea remains, and now it is sad to think about all the primping at mirrors my friends and I did before going out to dark bars and clubs where we were just more woman-shapes. 

At the end of the day, if you want to meet marriageable and marriage-minded men, you need to go where that sparse brotherhood spends its few hours of sociability, and for Catholics that means church, Church events, Church-positive events, university/college Catholic clubs, Catholic singles conferences, Catholic dating websites (although they are a form--however mild--of human trafficking, if you ask me), and the smaller, friendlier pilgrimages.  

Alternatively, you could befriend Catholic men with no romantic interest in you (the vast majority of men you will meet at the above) and say, "Who among your friends ya got for me, pal?" This is how I first heard about the existence of Benedict Ambrose, so don't knock it. 

Meanwhile, I hold my waltzing parties not to marry off young traditionalists but as a form of rational amusement. They hold no dark glamour. They are firmly rooted in reality. The parish hall is never more nor less than a parish hall. The only artifice to be seen is my overly red last tube of lipstick--which brings me to my next theme.

Nailed it

As I mentioned, last week I went to the nail shop frequented by my blonde sister. I got the works: manicure, pedicure and OPI gel polish on fingers and toes. The polish is now peeling off in plastic-like slices, which inspired me to ask the internet if it IS plastic. 

And yes, of course it is. This kind of nail polish (like almost all nail polish) contains toxic ingredients and, although it falls apart on your fingers, it is ultimately not biodegradable. Thus, it creates microplastics. 

This is a bit tragic. At one point during my work event, I gazed at a number of sandalled female feet, and they all had perfectly polished toes. I felt pleased at the time that I had made the professionally- and (for North America) culturally-correct decision to "get my toes done" before displaying them to my colleagues. Now, of course, I think about four (perhaps five?) generations of women covering part of their epidermis with toxic chemicals that end up in the earth and drinking water. And for what? 

Thus, to continue my adult life project of becoming rooted in reality, I am going to give up even the occasional shellacking. The next time I go to a manicurist, it will be for a manicure or pedicure, but that's it: no polish. And I look forward to the time when young women are astonished that their ancestresses used such stuff, just as we are amazed that 18th century people covered their faces with lead paint.

*Of course, not marrying young does not mean you have misspent your youth. I shall have to write something about a "youth well spent." At the moment, I think a youth well spent could include marriage, but also (naturally) religious life, priesthood, child-rearing, learning and working at a useful trade, learning and working at a noble profession, evangelizing, volunteering, developing skills, developing athletic ability, and generally rooting oneself in reality. 

Saturday 22 July 2023

The Past is a Foreign Country

Ye werken womman c. 1387
I was going to call this post "Hotel Living," but I spent some of my flight back to Scotland and most of today reading L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, whence cometh the famous remark.

The Go-Between, written in 1952 about 1900, is absolutely stunning and near the end made me think of Wuthering Heights. (I discovered afterwards, while reading the Penguin Modern Classics' introduction, that I was right to do so.) As good novels do, it both debunks and promotes myths, here of a "golden age." 

I am glad of the promotion, for civilizational health relies on myth. When Americans stop weeping over "The Star-Spangled Banner" and thanking veterans for their service, the USA is toast. But fortunately for my American readers, the USA is likely to survive Old Canada, which will die with the last Canadians to learn "The Maple Leaf Forever" at school. L.M. Montgomery's Avonlea may have been fiction, but I'd rather be a Canadian with Avonlea in her heart than a corrosive hatred for her ancestors. 

Interestingly, on my flight back to Canada I read Johann Strauss: Father and Son and Their Era by Hans Fantel (1971), which is also very good and also debunks and promotes the myth of a golden age. It also speaks in the same accent as the traditionalist Catholic Austrians I know, who both rejoice in Vienna's glorious past and seethe over what has happened to it since. 

I read the latter to try to understand the waltz. My poor parents plunked down up to $15  a week for me to take piano lessons for years and years without succeeding in making me musical. I much prefer silence to music, but I have committed to the waltz, so I should like to know more about it. It is also a "traditional" ballroom dance--although of course it was at one point considered revolutionary and immoral--and I am as interested in living traditions as in healthy myths.   

Incidentally, the idea that women didn't work for money before Ms. magazine rolled off the presses on July 1, 1972 is not a healthy myth. For one thing, there have been female paid domestic servants and farmers for millennia. As for the lettered, English-speaking women have openly written for money since 1688. Unmarried women survived as paid governesses from the 17th century into the 20th century, and as schoolteachers from the late 19th century. My Canadian grandmother was a teacher until she married; my American grandmother (born 1904) was a bookkeeper. 

There have also been, probably since the beginning of commerce, women in trades that don't rely on brute strength or in family businesses. The New Testament records that (in Acts 13) a certain Lydia of Thyatira was a dye saleswoman. Over 1300 years later, Chaucer characterized the Wife of Bath as a wealthy woman in the textile industry. 

That large numbers of European and North American women of quite humble origins did not go out to work in the19th and 20th centuries--not even in fields--strikes me not as "traditional" but as a historical anomaly. And as we have seen, it has proved to be unsustainable for all but the rich or the very determined. It is very difficult for men today to command the kind of wages commensurate with running a middle-class household according to the expectations of 1900.

And so I work and try to get along with men who think I shouldn't. When, at my work event this week, a man recommended that I read Mrs. Timothy Gordon's Ask your Husband: A Wife's Guide to True Femininity, I affably promised to do so because I want to see what she brings to the debate. 

One of the perks of this work event was staying in a business-class hotel with a a splendid gym; there I did bicep curls and other activities I do not expect to find in Mrs. Tim's opus. I very much enjoyed looking at the Canadian sky while running on the treadmill and travelling from this gym to my suite without having to go outdoors. There were lots of fluffy white towels that renewed themselves daily and apparently the bed remade itself. The breakfast buffet was bounteous and delicious.  It crossed my mind that it might be nice to live permanently in a hotel, if one could afford to do so. However, now it escapes my mind how I thought I would get a whole post out of that fanciful notion.  

UPDATE: Benedict Ambrose says he's going to write a book, too. He will call it either Make Me A Sandwich or How Interesting. Where's My Dinner? He's currently in the kitchen washing the dishes, so I am not taking this pronouncement very seriously. 

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Toronto on Business

I arrived in Toronto on Thursday afternoon with a cloth bag of books and a small suitcase. For the first time ever, my parents were nowhere to be seen. I spent a few unhappy minutes looking for both my father and a payphone. The fortunate two quarters in my change purse were weirdly light. There is more heft to British coins in more ways than one. 

Fortunately, my father and I found each other soon after, and--I think also for the first time ever--I paid for the parking. We drove from unfamiliar Terminal One, special to Air Canada, missing one turn but recognizing another route home. The air was hot--"Italy hot," I said, meaning Italy in May, not Italy in the jaws of Cerberus. My mother and a tin of my favourite cookies welcomed me in.

I flew Air Canada, not Air Transat, because a travel agent organized all the flights for overseas staff. Months ago I petitioned to be allowed to arrive four days before my colleagues because I suffer from extended jet lag. Past work events have seen me longing for my bed by 9 PM and creeping away unsociably at 10 PM. 

My mother always tells me it's worse West to East, but that's not how it is for me. On Friday morning I first awoke at 2 AM, on Saturday at 4, on Sunday at 5, on Monday at 5, and at last this morning (after remaining awake until around 11:30 PM), 6:30. Yesterday I thought I was teetering on the edge of a sleep disorder, but this morning I think I have finally acclimatized to Eastern Daylight Time. I will be able to comport myself at tonight's Gala like the sane woman I know myself to be. 

Incredibly, I spent my first afternoon in Toronto correcting the English translation of Polish liner notes for a friend's frantic musician sister. But I also called my best Catholic Toronto friend, and we made a Saturday brunch date. One of my sisters dropped by with her son. We sat on the deck over the garage with coffee and cookies and discussed her Latin American travel plans: Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina. She is now taking a Spanish course in Colombia; the computer test placed her at C1 and C2. I felt torn between pride and envy. In Polish I careen from B1 to A2 to oblivion. In Italian, I'm probably a solid B2. I'll find out for sure next month.


The following morning, I had a 6:30 AM Italian lesson. My tutor, visiting family in Italy, was having a respite from Cerberus but expected its return later that afternoon. My brain was mush; really, there is nothing so bad for my language skills as actually travelling. (This is, as you can guess, inopportune.) And then I did a full day's work, texting "Could you...?" and "Would you...?" to reporters and publishing their submissions.


On Saturday my Best Catholic Toronto friend (MBCT), accompanied by my Canadian goddaughter, bore me away in the family van to Cora's for brunch. MBCT and I agree on practically everything despite living almost complete different ways of life. She married in her mid-twenties, a few months before I met Benedict Ambrose in person, and now has five children. She is almost always with at least one of these children; she remembers our last pre-COVID brunch as a rare outing in which she was entirely "child-free." 

"What do you usually get here?" I asked as I turned the heavy colourful pages of the Cora menu.

"I don't," said MBCT in the firm tone of a felon unexpectedly released on parole. 

My Canadian goddaughter sat quietly listening to the adult talk and ate her brunch without fuss. This is not something I can imagine my Polish goddaughter doing, but to be fair, the former is almost 6. Neither of them is permitted smartphones, tablets, computers or any other screen except on the rare occasions the Canadian is allowed an (old) Disney film and the Pole a ballet. I know demanding it is for both MBCT and Pretend Polish Daughter-in-Law to have to tend their attention-greedy children almost ALL the time, but it makes such an enormous difference. 

Meanwhile, when MBCT got a call that her youngest was inconsolably crying for her, she took me home. When we pulled into the driveway, I felt like bursting into tears myself. Happily, we have tentative plans to meet after my work retreat. In fact, she and the children are likely to drive me back to the airport. 


On Sunday I went to the Oratory for the 11 AM TLM, finding a Pride flag wound around a flagpole and lying wedged in a corner by the front doors. It made me think of the unamiable habit of Toronto's Orange Order of marching past St. Michael's Cathedral. The laypeople socializing by the religious articles counter were interested but not concerned. Only one lady voiced my private suspicion that it may have been left there for a later protest, and I wondered if she were a regular reader of my news outlet.

The choir and organist, as always, were incredibly good.  

Afterwards I met my Chicago-Polish friend (CPF), whom B.A. and I met through Polish Pretend Son, in the narthex. He is also in Toronto on business and, as he is fascinated by everything Polish, showed me phone photos of Toronto's Polish Combatants Association (SPK 20).  

We went for brunch, walking along King Street West to the Katyń memorial at the foot of Roncesvalles, where CPF took more photos. We then walked up "Marszałkowska" towards such remnants of the vanishing Polish-Canadian community as St. Casimir's Catholic Church, the statue of St. John Paul II, and "Polonez," where CPF spoke C2 Polish--and I oblivion Polish--to the waitresses. We consumed traditional fruit punch, cold soup, cabbage rolls, pierogi, a pork cutlet, potatoes and several salads, and then we resumed our walk. The Polish-Canadian highlight of this stretch was, of course, Chicago, where I once hid from an irate blog-reader who had verbally attacked me after Mass at nearby St. Vincent de Paul. 

The outing was capped off by cappuccino and tea at Coffee & All That Jazz, and then CPF went back down Roncey for eventual Vespers at Holy Family. I loaded money onto my Presto Card and took various trains and a bus home. I was joined soon after by my youngest brother, youngest sister, and oldest nephew, the young man once known to these pages (and, come to think of it, to Seraphic Singles) as Pirate. 

We had what seemed to be a normal Sunday dinner. I told them the staggering price CPF pays to rent his Manhattan apartment, and they told me it wasn't staggering at all, as he could expect to pay that in Toronto, too. There followed a conversation about real estate, house prices, house taxes, and the interest rate, pet obsessions of the British middle-classes and very likely that of their Canadian counterparts, too.


On Monday morning I began work at 7:30AM, annoyed at Elon Musk for taking Archbishop Viganò out of Twitter jail on a Sunday. But we got the news of his release published before 9 AM, so I was happy. 

I stopped work just shy of 3:30 PM and walked to the mall to get a mani-pedi at the salon my C1-C2 level sister frequents. Like nail shops all over, this one is run and staffed by Vietnamese-speaking women, and I was pleased when I was approached by "the chatty one." I was less pleased when she put the ultraviolet nail dryer on the edge of the foot basin. I asked her if I would die if it fell in.

"You make fun of me," said the chatty one genially and, as you see, the machine did not fall in. My toes are now a rakish dark blue-red and my fingernails a safe toasty pink because I am British now, ye ken, and even if the Princess of Wales got away with it.... 

Anyway, I paid up and walked to another part of the mall to meet my Poet Convert Friend (PCF) for a drink. Years before she was baptized, I admired her as the least egotistical career poet I knew. She ran a poetry event for years before I realized it was her show. This was heroically unassuming for the Toronto Poetry Scene, in which--incidentally--the Catholic Church was constantly the butt of jokes and the target of diatribes. However, for some art-loving non-Catholics Catholicism holds still holds some stale Brideshead glamour, so when PCF told me one winter-visit night that she was thinking of converting, I was suspicious.    

"Oh," I said. "Is it the art, or is it (ahem, ahem) Jesus?"

"Jesus," said PCF fervently. "I want Jesus." 

When I heard why, I gave her the Prayer to St. Michael and sent her to the Oratorians. The rest is salvation history. 


I am now going to take myself off and study some Polish. I brought my daily planner and some stickers, which have created the necessary psychological bribes needed to study. Then I will act against all normal routine and iron a load of laundry. I am, after all, in Toronto on business and should turn up uncreased.  

Saturday 8 July 2023

Will thank-you notes save the West?

I was quite startled, the other day, to read this column by one of my youngest colleagues. 

Myles argues that the problems of his generation, Gen Z (or Zoomers), can be blamed on a lack of silence in their lives. He contrasted the study habits of the Boomers--who looked for books in silent libraries--with those of the Zoomers, who have a constant stream of music filling their ears as they click around on the internet. It was if he were describing two different cultures. Meanwhile, he suggested that the reason so many twenty-something Catholics are choosing the Old Mass over the New is that they find there the silence they so desperately crave. 

"What else does your generation need?" I asked a Zoomer friend as we walked along a sunny Edinburgh street. 

She thought this over and said, "Challenge." 

In her view, Gen Z is given everything on a plate, and nobody challenges it to do difficult things. I thought this very interesting. It occurred to me that this may be more of an age problem than a generation problem, since the kind of young people who go to university have been throughly coddled since the end of the Second World War or (in the UK) since the end of National Service.*

On the other hand, I was made to do many things I disliked (for example, walk two long blocks between home and Brownies all my 7-year-old self), got regularly bruised playing ice hockey, rode my bicycle all over the neighbourhood, had reasonably restricted TV viewing, was bribed into silence with chocolate on 10 hour car journeys to Indiana, almost drowned in the municipal pool, had to call adults on the (rotary) phone, took coffee shop jobs, and rocked infant siblings back to sleep. Apart from the multiple infant siblings, I think these experiences were pretty typical of Gen X. 

One thing that I suspect may be typical of Gen Z is that it doesn't answer RSVPs or write thank-you notes. And here is where I get anxious because the primary directive of a hostess is to set her guests at ease. Do I want to embarrass my guests by publishing reminders that they should send me emails to announce their intended presence or absence at my tea dances, let alone a demand for thank-you notes? Decidedly not. And do I want to give the impression that I am a queen of etiquette? I'm afraid Benedict Ambrose, who has been known to flinch at my colonial lapses in taste, would object most strenuously to any such pretence. (This reminds me, my bread-and-butter note to Mrs. Polish Pretend Son is shockingly late.) 

"But if you don't tell them, who will?"asked my Zoomer friend, and suddenly I recall that one of the charges against Gen X (from which God has hitherto spared me by not sending babies of my own) is that we want to be friends or, to channel Hilary White, "fwends" with our children instead of parenting them properly. 

So I have gloomily concluded that I should lead a small seminar on Traditional Social Manners on behalf of The Youth on the grounds that this will challenge and therefore help them. And indeed I think it will help them because, like it or not, they are now in Grown-Up Land, and grown-ups like other grown-ups who respond to the acronym RSVP and are charmed by the ones who send thank-you notes, particularly the kind that come by post, after parties. In this electronic age, social media messages are perfectly acceptable, but the little cards are more tangible, make a greater impression, and linger in the memory. 

"So-and-so," I think as peruse the back of the envelope, "was very well brought up." 

Another challenge I would like to offer, since I am out on a social limb anyway, is a script for graciously saying No to a gentleman's invitation to dance and what to say if you are the gentleman receiving the No. Bear with me while I think out loud here:

Gentleman: Would you like to dance?
Lady: No, thank you. That last waltz tired me right out.
Gentleman: In that case, may I bring you a cup of coffee? 
Lady: No, but I'd love a glass of our TLM watered-down squash. Thank you!
Gentleman: I will be right back!
Off he goes.
Gentleman 2: Would you like to dance?
Lady: No, thank you. [Gentleman 1] has just gone to get me a squash. 
Gentleman 2: Yes, it is quite hot in here, isn't it? I wonder if [Lady 2] would like to dance?
Lady: Ask her, by all means!

In short, if you don't want to dance with someone, give him a polite excuse. And if your invitation to dance is turned down on the grounds of tiredness/heat, ask the lady if you can get her something to drink. If the excuse is that she is in anxiety about some no-show, offer to look for him/her. But, to be on the safe side, don't ask her to dance for the very next tune. Wait until later. 

(This scenario, by the way, presumes that everyone is acquainted and standing in a respectable parish hall or ballroom, not Club Super-Sexy in the Cowgate.)

The virtue underlying the RSVP, the thank-you note, the gracious negation and acceptance of negation is thoughtfulness. This is a quality for which I myself was not famed as a 20-something. Poacher turned gamekeeper, eh? But later in life I noticed that the secret to popularity was neither a fashionable wardrobe nor compliant parents--nor even the ability to speak Italian--but being known as a thoughtful person.

A thoughtful person someone who strives always to put people at their ease, who says please and thank you, who says how much they appreciate this or that, who brings the culturally-correct offering to dinner parties, who gives up his or her seat on the bus to the person who clearly need it (for example, not any lady but the old lady or the lady carrying bags or leading children, and not any old man, but the old man who looks past caring).  

This reminds me that the answer to the horrible woman who snaps at you for holding the door for her is "I apologize for having offended you, ma'am." That should take the wind right out of her ill-bred sails while leaving your dignity unimpaired. Normally, your good manners should never cause anyone discomfort. I once knew a man who practically had a seizure every time I touched a door. This was very unpleasant. 

To paraphrase the late Father Bernard Lonergan, the lovely old rules governing social life in the West have  torn to pieces, and it is up to young men and women of good will to put them together again. It would be absolutely lovely if, alongside silence, Zoomers who flock to the TLM also learned the social skills that would set them apart from--or, even better, edify--their generation. These are neither affections or the entree to a clique but manifestations of the thoughtfulness that fosters peace and friendship between men and women and even--dare I hope--between Boomers and Zoomers. 

*Or, in Poland, since post-communist prosperity.

Monday 3 July 2023

Strauss at last!

Confirmation classes are over for the summer, so I can rent the technically-no-longer-a-parish parish hall for as long as I like on Sunday afternoons. 

This month I decided to shell out for three whole hours, so my Waltzing Party guests would have ample time to review the Polonaise/Polonez/Chodzony [pron. HOD-zon-ih] and the various turns of the waltz, drink a leisurely cup of coffee, and get back to the dance floor for "free dance." This did not mean, of course, bursting from the constraints of ballroom dancing but being free to... 

Well, in the end it meant being free to say "No" to a dance, which various belles did, leaving the askers to tell others that they had been "rejected." 

"It's all part of it," said I and made horrible faces at one rejectee and jerked my head in the direction of a young lady I knew longed to dance. He got the hint. Hashtag Doyenne

The real problem, I suspect, was that there was too little time between Mass and the Waltzing Party for lunch, and some of my poor guests were very tired by the time the "free dance" came along. Clearly I must think about what to do to spare them. I may have to smuggle them sandwiches to eat during the After-Mass Tea-and-Coffee-Hour, for B.A. and I cannot at this juncture afford to buy a flat in the West End. 

As always, I felt some anxiety about the male:female ratio because there are simply more young men than young women interested in the Traditional Latin Mass in our corner of Christendom, and the mother-chaperones always have to make up the numbers. Yesterday I was the only mother-chaperone, as it were, and we ended up with only 9 women to 10 men, which wasn't too bad. Come to think of it, it does create an impetus for the men to hurry up and ask the women to dance. 

However, there was no real impetus for them to ask anyone to dance during the "free dance," even when I, being spun around the room by a 14-year-old, wailed "Gentlemen, the ladies can't ask you; we're Trads."

The 14-year-old assured me that he much preferred having the whole room to dance in, which I could well understand, as he travelled all over the floor as if we were actually at a Viennese ball, and my sticker came off afterwards.

Yes, I have followed through on my sticker idea, and it has worked beautifully. Last month I bought two packages of rectangular neon green stickers, and my female guests have all worn them on their left shoulder blades. 

"Why don't the men have to wear stickers?" demanded one of the yesterday's female guests.

"Because the top of the shoulder is rather more obvious," rumbled the dance instructor. 

"Because men don't care if your hand accidentally slides any which way," thought the hostess. Hashtag Safeguarding Officer.

The one problem with the stickers is that they fall off after a particularly vigorous waltz, and I ended the afternoon wearing a plaster (band-aid) instead. However, I watched the 8 other couples carefully during the first waltz, and the hands remained firmly clamped to the shoulder blades, where they belonged. Am pedagogical genius.

Meanwhile, the waltzing instructor decided that we were all enough advanced to have real classical music, and not Whitney Houston or whatever horrors he has inflicted upon us unworthy non-Austrians in the past. Thus, we danced to Dmitri Shostakovich's "Waltz No. 2" and later--hooray!--real Strauss, including "Wiener Blut."  

When the waltzing instructor disappeared to entertain his visiting parents, he took much of the energy in the room (and one of the ladies) with him. However, Polish Pretend Son arrived soon after, having paid a visit to his old Edinburgh pastor and then supplemented his drawing room gin-and-tonic with a pint at a nearby pub. 

PPS had been shocked to hear that there is no alcohol at my Waltzing Parties and amused when I forbade him from turning up drunk, as he had been known to do at Edinburgh tango evenings. He wanted to know how I knew this, and I knew because it is a very small world and at least two women have told me. He certainly had returned intoxicated from tango parties to the Historical House, while staying with us, eyes horribly bloodshot. Nevertheless, he is also known to be an excellent dancer. Women have told me that, too. I certainly have chosen an interesting Pretend Son. 

Anyway, PPS turned up perfectly sober, held a civilized conversation with the young men to whom I introduced him, and then asked me to dance. 

"I cannot dance your slow English waltzes," he said, sounding rather like the waltzing instructor, and so we danced in the fast Polish (or Viennese) fashion. 

Incidentally, you may be wondering where Benedict Ambrose was, for one or two of my dancing partners asked that, too. The answer is that he was at home working on his diploma course, but he will come to the Waltzing Party next month.