Saturday, 28 June 2014

Off to the Cottage

We're off to the cottage, so I won't be around for a bit. The cottage does not have internet access, but B.A. is already anticipating wi-fi in village cafés. Not really sure that's in the spirit of "getting away from it all", but never mind.

I feel like leaving you with a list of random instructions. So here you are:

A. If you take care of your skin now, you will be pleased with yourself later.

B. Appreciate whatever it is that you have today while honouring your hopes for tomorrow.

C. Everyone is born Single, and most--especially teenage Cradle Catholics--are is called to live to live the Single Life as Christians on their Confirmation day. Christians are called out of ordinary Single Life to marriage, religious life and/or the priesthood.

I think I will have to write a lot more about that in future. Kudos to the Polish reader who gave me the idea that Confirmation is the "event" in which you are called to Christian Single Life. This is really an awesome idea, for it underscores to teens that whatever they might be called to LATER, right now they are called to the SINGLE way of life, which has its own responsibilities, challenges and graces.

D. Men who believe in casual sex will lie to get it. The ability of many men to lie about really very important and personal things is really quite breathtaking.

E. Men tend to talk too much on the first date and tell you all their bad habits, weak spots an obsessions. Listen closely. Discuss your doubts with a hard-headed, relatively closed-mouthed female friend.

F. Women tend to talk too much on the first date because we are nervous or because we are used to making friends with women by sharing personal stuff. We shouldn't do that on first dates. Men are not women.

G. All women are called to motherhood, spiritual if not physical. And nature made us to outlive our fertility by decades so that, if necessary, we could help raise other women's children.

H. You will one day be too old to give birth, but you will never be too old to be married.

I. Think very hard before you go into debt for a second Arts degree. Research your job prospects and be rooted in reality, not wishful thinking.

J. God has a plan.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Cherry Vodka, Bardzo Słodka

That rhyme only works in Pol-Eng, which is my personal mix of Polish and Polish. Bardzo słodka means very sweet, and I have stuffed 500 g of cherries in a big jar and poured 700 mL of vodka on top. In a few weeks, I will see how they are doing, and then decide upon a sweetening method. I don't want my cherry vodka tincture to become TOO sweet.

I really love this store, but I don't love their prices, so I shall begin my own line of tinctures for home consumption and Christmas presents.

When I was Single I never, ever drank alone because I had heard too many stories of elderly widows and widowers becoming alcoholics in their old age by drinking alone. And, really, alcohol is not really a thing in my family, drinkers of milk, except when they are on holiday--at least, when they are on holiday in Britain. Then they drink enough wine and gin to float a boat, and the Master of the Men's Schola loves to remind me of my claim that that my family drinks one measly bottles of wine together a year (Christmas).

I have never really seen the point of drinking alone, or being tipsy alone. It's one of those activities (and states) best with friends and family. When alone, I prefer a nice cup of tea, or a coffee, or even a nice steaming cup of broth.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Young Marriage vs Old Marriage

When I announced my engagement on Facebook almost six years ago, an old friend who had been married since he/she was in his/her early twenties congratulated me and said that I'd be spared a lot of suffering, getting married so late.

I am sure he/she also said something like "It's been great, but..." because he/she has a lot of kids, all of whom are wonderful and gifts from God, but...

The longer you are not in a fully sexual relationship, the fewer kids you are likely to conceive. That's just how it is. Any Christian who is really, really certain she does not have what it takes to raise children should not get married until she does. Natural Family Planning is a great tool for actually implementing some kind of family creation plan, but a good rule of thumb is that if you are under thirty and having frequent sexual relations, without contraception, you are going to get pregnant.

I'm not sure, though, why a Christian woman would be so sure she does not have what it takes to raise children. I suppose that if she has NO experience of caring for children, or pets, or plants or anything, then the idea of being a body slave to an extremely intelligent yet vulnerable human being must indeed be scary. However, women--most of us dirt poor--have always had and cared for babies. The vast majority of women in history have not worried about their babies' second language acquisition or whatever worry is the current obsession these days. The vast majority of women simply hoped (and hope) to keep their babies alive. If you can keep a baby alive and as comfortable and clean as possible, then you are good mother material.

But although babies and how many you might have, and how closely together, is uppermost on the minds of young Catholic women who hope to marry one day (and do boys think about the baby question quite so much?), there are the less pleasant spectres of abuse and divorce. When I was 21, I taught Latin to a class of twelve and thirteen year olds, and one day they were fascinated by the concept of annulments. This school, incidentally, was so anti-divorce that it asked me during my job interview (totally against the law, by the way), if I were divorced. It simply loathed divorce. And so my little moppets were fascinated by the topic of annulments which, I believe, they saw as a get-out-of-jail free card they would keep JUST IN CASE. Little did they or I know at the time that one day I would seek and receive an annulment myself.

Abuse is a tricky one, and all I can say is that an abusive 19 year old boyfriend is not going to stop being abusive once he's married, and neither is the abusive 19 year old girlfriend. The fastest and most effective way not to be abused by a spouse is to not marry an abusive person. In Canada we say (or used to say) as first date advice, "Watch how he treats the waitress, 'cause that's how he'll treat you." I have found a lot of truth in this, although there is almost so much an abusive man can do to a waitress compared to what he can do to his girlfriend, wife, sister or mother. Incidentally, any man who hates his sister or mother with a passion needs a therapist, not a wife. Even if his mother IS a real witch, unless he has made peace with that, he's going to pelt you with his mother issues.

Another way to avoid abuse is to put off marriage until you are old enough to handle carnaptious and aggressive young men. There are 19 year olds who can stop a rampaging rapscallion at ten paces, and there are 27 year olds who can't. Knowing how to look a loved one in the eye and say "Hey, you can't get away with that" is something that, for me, came with age. And I'm still not great at it, so it's just as well I married sweet-tempered man whose motto is "Anything for a quiet life."

Really, nobody should get married until she or he is a mature adult, and maturity comes at different ages. It would be better for the mature Single of thirty-plus to date a mature Single of twenty-five than an immature Single her own age. A mature 25 year old can handle marriage-and-babies, an immature thirty-something can't. He'd rather wait until he is 40, and then at 40 he may very well say he feels too old now.

The greatest disadvantage of old marriage is the risk of not having ANY children, but one advantage--if you feel this is an advantage--is that you will almost be guaranteed a smaller family than you might have had, had you married at 22. But the far greater advantage, if you have always been a late bloomer, is that you will have more confidence and maturity. You will now know who you are, and what you can and can't put up with, and the humility to change what ever it is that you do that drives your loved ones nuts. Having had many of your illusions shattered, you will be much more rooted in reality than you were when you were a wee sprog of 25.

And now I must rush off and do my Polish homework.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Cath's Review of "Ceremony of Innocence"

Aw. I knew Cath really likes my Ceremony of Innocence because she keeps giving copies to family and friends. In fact, I would not be surprised if it got a cult following among old school Scottish Presbyterians, thanks to Cath's championship. (But you would certainly not find it appropriate for Sunday reading, dear neighbours!) Here Cath voices her approval in blog form. And, yes, it does make a good summer read. The events happen in summer, after all! Imagine a hot and sultry day, sky darkening, storm on the horizon, but relief never coming... That's the atmosphere of my book.

Must ask Cath if I can put of photos from her wedding.... Old school Scottish Presbyterians are not really fond of publicizing their personal lives, though.

Family Branch

My mother has come over to Scotland on holiday, bringing a tin of homemade cookies, vegetable shortening, Tim Horton's coffee and my best red suit, which I fit into once again. Today she has a refresher driving lesson, so as to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road. This is a brilliant idea.

Yesterday we dressed in our best Ladies Who Lunch outfits and went to the Caledonian Hotel (officially now the Waldorf Astoria, as it is called by nobody in Edinburgh) for afternoon tea. My mother loves hotel teas. But it's not the tea or the food as much as the ambiance, really, that is so romantic to my mum. And "Peacock Alley" is certainly an impressively grand space. (I suppose it could be described as romantic, only this time I was there with my mother, and the one time B.A. and I sat there we were with Polish Pretend Son, and PPS looked like he was about to stab the tardy waiter with his pen knife, which is romantic only in songs.)

Tea, you should be warned, is 25 squid per person. But you do get some very yummy things: sandwiches with the crusts cut off, two kinds of scones with clotted cream and two kinds of jam, slices of chocolate jelly roll, several petites fours, and an extra plate of cookies and lemon loaf, plus multiple cups of your chosen tea. My mother and I munched our way through the plates of goodies discussing family news.

I had the vaguest sense of being a British colonist somewhere in Africa in the 1950s, hearing about home. Canada seemed very far away, and yet the snazzy afternoon tea ritual is as familiar to Canadian hotels as it is to Scottish ones. The King Edward in Toronto, for example, has an absolutely splendid tea and an equally grand hall to consume it in. And I asked eager questions of sisters, brothers, nephews and niece.

Peacock Alley was mostly populated by women, mostly slender, with excellent hair and expensive business suits. A few women had a man (and at one table a child) with them, but more often than not the tables were woman-only spaces. Afternoon Tea is a more feminine meal in Edinburgh than it is in Toronto--which I first discovered when Benedict Ambrose baulked at attending my own tea parties at home. I offer the idea of Afternoon Tea to single female readers as an excellent social activity for women, single and otherwise.

On Sunday night, B.A. and I went to the birthday dinner of a dear friend, and as usual we were the only married couple there. There were eight lifelong Singles and us--ten childless people. It was all great fun, with piano duets and singing in the sitting-room afterwards. And naturally I would have rather have been home with children because, whatever anyone says, the crown and fulfillment of married life is children.

I know that there are women with children who, being very bored and lonely, would have swapped places for me for an evening to go to a party with a lot of Single people and listen to piano duets. However, I also know that they would hasten home to their children feeling terribly glad that they had them.

Fortunately for me, one of my brothers and one of my sisters HAVE had children, so I don't have a totally "child-free" existence. I have three childish personalities to ponder, especially in the run-up to their birthdays and Christmas. And I look forward to the day when they are ready to be dumped on their Edinburgh uncle and aunt for a month in the summers while their parents see what a holiday from parenting is like.

When in Poland this year I talked about being married-but-childless, a lady asked "What about adoption?" "What about adoption" is a very painful question to the childless, particularly now that adoption is so expensive and wound with red tape. It is also wrought with bad feeling as Catholic parents lose battles to place their children with other Catholics, or even with a traditional married couple. Personally, I would have taken the Slovak Roma children in a heartbeat--although in the next heartbeat I would have remembered that I should have asked B.A. first.

I mentioned to highly politically-active friends that I would quite happily take in Christian Syrian refugee children, just as the British took in refugee children during and after the First and Second World Wars, and that I was rather surprised nobody has asked me to do this. This led my neighbour to decry the racism of the UK government and the fact that only 24 Syrian refugees have been allowed in--something like that. This confused me as Syrians are white and Christians are, er, Christians, so I don't know what racism has to do with it--other than that "race" is a highly social construct and changes from society to society.

And so this post, which begins with a delicious and expensive afternoon tea at a prestigious Edinburgh hotel. ends with the reminder that hundreds of thousands of fellow Christians are suffering horrible privations, massacres and homelessness. And I with my cash-poor but certainly circumstance-rich lifestyle am vaguely wondering why nobody has asked me to help take care of them. Oh, sure, I do get emails from a Catholic relief agency asking for money, but I don't have money: I have time, a love of hospitality and a desire to help fellow Christians. During the Second World War, I wouldn't have had to go looking for children to help; they would have been billeted on us already. What has changed?

Monday, 23 June 2014

My Day in Victory Rolls

Oh, poppets. I have discovered what makes you look weirder than a punk rocker or a Goth, and it is a 1940s hairdo, especially if you have long hair. As I looked at myself in the hairdresser's mirror, my little heart sank. I sported modified 1940s hairdos in elementary school, when rollers fixed my fuzzy hair into smooth waves for Picture Days, but this was much, much worse. Instead of two balanced victory rolls, I had one huge victory roll and two pin curls on either side. I crept out of the salon half-expecting to be accosted by school bullies. Taxi!

However, I am not in school but a grown-up and I spent the day inside grown-up Summerhall listening to very grown-up topics as part of the Polish Scottish Heritage Festival.

The first lecture was Scottish Nationalist Party propaganda disguised with a thin veneer of history. The lecture was supposed to be about Scottish migration in the 16th to early 18th centuries to Poland, i.e. between the early days of the Scottish Reformation and the Union of Scotland and England. What economic factors sent the Protestant Scots to Poland, you might ask. Terrible restrictions because pre-union Scotland was in direct competition with powerhouse England? And what economic factors following upon the Union stopped Scots from going there, you might also ask. Astonishing Scottish economic growth? And although what I wanted to do was pass unnoticed (if such a thing was possible, given the size of my victory roll), I did ask these questions. AND DID NOT BL**DY WELL GET STRAIGHT ANSWERS. Because the whole point of the lecture was not to discuss historical realities but to exploit Polish sympathies for nationalism to get more "Yes" votes for the separatist referendum.

I asked the only questions because the other "questions" were actually just other Scotsmen listening to themselves talk, and I do not recall which one it was who tried to draw parallels between Scotland's role in the United Kingdom with the three partitions of Poland, but the speaker certainly did not say that was a stretch. Seven of Britain's Prime Ministers have been born in Scotland; pretending Scots have been groaning under foreign domination since 1707 is ahistorical, an insult and a lie. Not only is it an insult to generations of Scots in Britain, and to Britain in general, but an insult to generations of Poles who suffered in ways the vast majority of Scots born since 1707 could not possibly imagine. How interesting that Poles continue to be exploited, this time by Scottish pseudo-intellectuals prostituting history for their "Yes" votes.*

The speaker was wearing a "YES" button--believe me, it was THAT obvious. I was so angry, I thought the rest of the day would be ruined for me. First I had mad hair, and second the Scots Nats seemed to have hijacked the Scottish Polish Heritage Festival. However, I then heard two excellent testimonies from Scots about Polish experiences in the Second World War and after, in Poland and Scotland. One Scot had a Polish father, and the other had aided Polish displaced persons in Germany in the 1950s and become a Polonophile. The latter wrote a series of short stories, and I was so impressed by her reading that I bought her book. The former's book sounded interesting, too, but he hogged the question period as the woman sat there quietly, so he lost my buyer's sympathy.

Next was an American film called "The Officer's Wife", about the Katyn massacre and the deportation of two million Poles to Siberia. It was very good although natually very depressing. I was curious about the voice given to the actress reading the memoirs of filmmaker's Polish-Chicago grandmother; it sounded neither Polish nor Chicago. It was also political, but at least it wasn't a cheap ploy to get the Poles living in Scotland to vote against the Union (which is not, IMHO) in their economic or political interests AT ALL. No, the film is 100% anti-Soviet and 99.99% anti-current Russian regime, which--given the events described by the film--is fair enough.

Then there was a concert in the main hall by Polish folk singers, which was very loud and reminded me that, although I am a huge fan of Polish pop music of the interwar--and war--period, and have a soft spot for the 1950s stuff (condemned by Polish Pretend Son as Stalinist forced cheer), and enjoy Disco Polo and other modern Polish stuff (and Chopin), I do not like village stuff. I really do not like Polish village stuff. I dislike it so much, I wrote a note to remind myself because every time I think I will like it this time, I do not. And as the room was very crowded with enthusiastic Polish folk music lovers, and I already stuck out like a sore victory roll, I couldn't escape. Oh dear. But at least that wasn't anti-British either. And when it was done, I tied a scarf around my head, like your great-grandmothers, and went out into the outside world for coffee.

My self-confidence improved drastically an hour or so later when I put on my 1940s gear in the Summerhall toilet reserved for the disabled. I had proper 1940s corsetry (squeeeeeze) and tights with lines down the back. I had a long black dress that could have been from the 1940s, black gloves and shoes of a rather 1940s-looking design. I had chunky rhinestone jewellery. Above all, I had brown eyeshadow with which to 1940sfy my eyebrows and super-dark red lipstick. And so I no longer looked simply peculiar but like a 40-something woman in 1940.

The reason many of us all think we look young for our age is because nothing was as aging to our grandmothers and great-grandmothers as the great divide between Maidens' Clothes and Matrons' Clothes. Once upon a time, once you were of a certain age, you HAD to stop dressing like a young woman. And, lo, if you were over thirty in 1940 you might have looked like this:

My mother says I looked magnificent and my hair is just like that of my grandmother in a photo my mother keeps on her mirror, but she has not offered it to my view as proof. Frankly, I thought I was not going to make a very good wingwoman for my Single pal after all, for surely the male reaction to my hair would be to fall about laughing.

But no. After supper and the Katy Carr concert, there was a swing dance, and at this dance I was suddenly SEIZED by a Polish Pretend Pilot (out of uniform) of about 60 and made to swing-dance all over the floor. He had a huge grey moustache and was delicately scented with tobacco and was reluctant to speak in either Polish or English, but I thought I would introduced him to my Single pal anyway. At first she did not look happy with this, for although our saviour from wallflowerdom was an excellent dancer, he was also familiarly affectionate, as if we were his long-lost grand-daughters.

Personally, I expect to be squeezed just a little too much and kissed soundly on the cheek or forehead by slightly tipsy cigarette smokers I have never met before on the dance floor. It is the price one pays for partner dancing. Indeed, I bet generations of women would agree with me, although nobody would admit it. However, my pal is a little more fastidious, so she looked rather irked, but she is also endlessly forgiving, so she may have forgotten about the over-squeezing and face-kissing already.

So after we had both been rescued from wallflowerdom, we went to the bar fashioned out of a room across the hall. The Scots barman had three bottles of vodka behind him, but he literally thought I was joking when I asked for mine straight. He even laughed. "They told me this one goes with apple juice," he said, so I had my zubrowka with apple juice, and it was actually very good. It also gave me the courage for my next wingwoman manoeuvre, so pay attention.

"We must dance with younger men," said I to my Single Pal. She agreed and bewailed the new male tendency not to ask women they don't know to dance. Primed with vodka, I looked around the room for anyone I knew, even slightly. But the only person I knew was Kasia, who looked great, by the way. However, I did recognize one of the men as someone who goes to various of Kasia's Polish poetry events, so I carted my Single Pal along to where he was talking to another youngish man, and I said, "Hey! I know you! You're a friend of Kasia's!"

This of course flies in the face of "The Rules", but I did not care because, being married, I am not interested in male strangers at parties as anyone other than men who might ask my Single Pals to dance. If great cosmic punishment falls upon those who talk to strange men at parties, it will fall on me, not on my innocent Single Pals. Perhaps this is one reason why Single Girls should have Married Pal friends. The caveat is that the Married Pal shouldn't look too obviously married and as if she were merely trying to marry off her Single friend. No, no, no. The Married Pal must look interested in whomever for himself, so that if he shrinks from her brazenness, her friend will look better by comparison. If he recoils with maidenly disgust, the really Single friend can roll her eyes in sympathy and apology and thus create a BOND of shared feeling with the cute stranger.

"Which Kasia?" asked the Polish guy, smirking. "I have two friends here named Kasia."

Oooh. Polish surnames. You know, I see them on Facebook, but it is years before I actually sound them out to myself, let alone memorize them. Faking your way through them is not really an option but...

"Kasia Kokosanka", I claimed.

The Polish guy laughed and well he might, for kokosanka, I have since discovered, means coconut cake.

"That's not her name," he said, chortling away.

"So what is it?" I asked, and as he could not remember, I said he had a lot of nerve laughing at me in that case. I then introduced him to my Single Pal, and eventually he asked her to dance. Ta-dah! (Victory roll.)

I then talked to his non-Polish pal, and eventually asked him to dance, as I cannot resist Irving Berlin songs, and had a marvelous time. My Single Pal may have helpfully corrected any potential misunderstandings by mentioning, when the non-Polish pal made inquiries, that I was married. I think I was back in the arms of Mr Squeezy Moustache at the time.

At 11:15 or so, the crowd had thinned out a bit, and my Single Pal and I rushed off to our respective buses which, conveniently, came to the same stop almost simultaneously. And so I was safely home by midnight, and instead of facing dismay that his wife had run about town with attention-getting hair, Benedict Ambrose took a lot of photos.

"Did that really only cost forty pounds?" he asked, which as you may discover, is one of the nicest things a husband can say, combining flattery about your looks with the assertion that they didn't cost you that much. (Second victory roll!)

*Poles resident in Scotland can vote for or against the Union in September's Scottish so-called "independence" referendum. No-one living in any other part of the UK, including those born in Scotland of Scottish parentage, can vote. Four million people, including 16 year olds and people not born anywhere in the UK (including me), get to make a decision that will potentially worsen the lives of sixty-two million people. Nice, eh? Before the SNP got into power, "independence", never mind Scottish republicanism, was a fringe interest. IMHO this whole stramash is a vanity project for Scottish politicians without the talent or clout to get anywhere in the Union as a whole. As I said, at least seven Scots have been Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, a major first world power. Why we're going to chuck this in... Oh well. If the economy collapes, B.A. and I can always go to Canada, and the Poles can always go back to Poland or to England, which I hope would weather the storm.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Friday, 20 June 2014

A Certain Precedence

When Saint Edith Stein says that men seem to have a "certain precedence", she is not saying that men are better than women. She is not saying that men's lives mean more. (And when you consider men's lives during wartime, you swiftly realize that they certainly don't to other men.) Indeed, as I mention in my speech, Saint Edith stresses that it has been a woman's "No" and a woman's "Yes" that have determined the fate of all mankind. St. Edith believes that men and women are different and equal--breaking the impasse between the traditionalists and the feminists of her time.

I didn't mention it this year, but Saint Edith took a very dim view of some of the ideas of her fellow Christian Jew Saint Paul. Her work was edited and translated before the Second Vatican Council, and in at least one early English translation, you can see mollifying footnotes intended for (or insisted upon by) ecclesiastical censors. But it is easy to guess why Saint Edith takes Saint Paul's injunction against women teaching so personally: even before the rise of Nazism in Germany, women could not join German faculties of philosophy.

So it would be unfair to ignore Saint Edith's ground-breaking and highly influential work just because she looks squarely at Genesis and the Incarnation and observes, "Adam was made first; he came before Eve. And our Lord chose to live His humanity as a male human being. What does the Lord God mean by this? It seems men have a certain precedence. I wonder why?" Although Saint Edith has no problem hissing at the Epistles of Saint Paul, the Incarnation and the intentions of the Holy Spirit in Genesis are another story. She doesn't pick the easiest answer, the answer that most flatters her as a woman. And she certainly wasn't being a wimp; as the ascending Nazis preached that women should stick to church, children and chopping vegetables, Saint Edith travelled around Germany contradicting them.

Part of the reason our shoulders may hunch up around our ears at the phrase "certain precedence" is that it doesn't appear in Mulieris Dignitatem. I hope you all sit down and read or reread Mulieris Dignitatem at some point. I don't think Saint John Paul II was always right--I have a problem with his approach to other religions, for example--but his thoughts on women are truly luminous. If Saint Edith had survived the war, she and her most famous disciple might have argued over whether or not he distorts Genesis. It is interesting to speculate. However, those who are scandalized by Saint Edith, may take some comfort in John Paul's development of her thought.

Here is the "John Paul II" section of my Krakow speech. It was adapted from an article I wrote two years ago for the Toronto Catholic Register.


The major sources for Jan Paweł II’s theology of women are Love and Responsibility, Mulieris Dignitatem (“On the Dignity of Women”) and his 1993 “Letter to Women.” Love and Responsibility is associated more with sex and marriage and, of course, has touched off a huge “Theology of the Body” industry. As such, it does not interest me as much as Mulieris Dignitatem and “Letter to Women,” which are more about women in ourselves.

The key to Jan Paweł II’s theology of woman can be found in his devotion to the Mother of God. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows that his motto “Totus Tuus” (“All Yours”) refers to her. And it is not a surprise, either, that someone who lost his earthly mother at the age of eight might adopt the Mother of God so totally as his mother and guide. And it is significant, of course, that Mulieris Dignitatem was published on the Feast of the Assumption during a Marian year. The importance he places on Mary he would have found also in the work of Saint Edith Stein, whom he himself canonized in 1998.

Jan Paweł II begins his reflections with a meditation on the Annunciation. A woman was asked to be the means through which God would send his Son to redeem the world—but not just as means, but as a mother. And thus, of all the human race, it is a woman who “attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit.” As a human being, Mary represents the humanity that belongs to all human beings, men and women. And she is a model for both men and women because she said “Yes” to God. As her Son would later identify himself as a servant, so Mary during the Annunciation also calls herself the “maidservant of the Lord.” It is the dignity of both women and men to serve.

Service to God and others is fundamental to Jan Paweł II’s theology of what it means to be a human being in union with God. And he notes, both in Mulieris Dignitatem and in his “Letter to Women”, that women seem to have both a special genius for receiving the Word of the Lord and in serving others. Following the work of Saint Edith Stein, he asserts that all women, not just women with children, are called to be mothers. It involves “a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activity.” It involves being open to each and every person. And this is not proscriptive, incidentally, but descriptive.

Jan Paweł II is well aware of the many ways in which women have always poured ourselves out for others, ways that have not always been as respected as we should be. In his “Letter to Women”, he wrote: “Women have contributed as much to history as men have, what is more, women did it in far harder circumstances, for they were excluded from education, not taken seriously, underestimated and ignored. Yet in spite of all this, their influence—a sort of feminine tradition—has survived right up to today. And yet, how many women are still valued far more for their physical appearance than for their skills, intelligence, sensitivity or professionalism.”

And that’s where his theology advances. Moving beyond St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Edith Stein, who both believed that woman was made for man, to be the companion of man, Jan Paweł II asserts that woman was made for herself, as the human being—male and female--was the only creature made for himself. Woman is called to be the companion of man, but man is also called to be the companion of woman. All humanity is thus “a unity in two.” Again and again Jan Paweł II repeats that men and women are equal in dignity. Masculinity is no more important than femininity. He lists and deplores the way in which discrimination has hurt women since the Fall. He interprets Saint Paul’s thoughts about married life as a call, not for wives to be subjugated to their husbands, but for “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ.”

Jan Paweł II offers our Lord Jesus Christ as a model for how men should treat women. He notes that our Lord behaved in a counter-cultural way by how he spoke with women, healed women, included women amongst his followers and friends. The Gospels are full of stories of women of age and condition, all of whom our Lord treated with kindness and respect. Men who do not treat women with kindness and respect sin against both women’s dignity and their own.

Finally, he asserts again the great importance of women as givers of life to children. His emphasis that women who do not give birth are still called to be spiritual mothers does not lessen the importance of physical mothers. Indeed, against a contemporary tendency to despise motherhood as just “a lifestyle choice”, Saint Jan Paweł II defends it as married women’s highest calling.

Between them Saint Edith Stein and Saint Jan Paweł II represent both the beginning and the end of the best 20th century theology of Woman, Saint Edith beginning her intellectual work about women before German women were granted the vote in 1919, and Saint Jan Paweł II being a world famous example of love for “the feminine genius” until his death in 2005. It was he who promulgated the work of Saint Edith Stein, giving it the highest stamp of approval and bringing it to the attention of the whole world. In a time where the very notion of “male and female” is being attacked by gender theory, their writings on women are a great gift which we can study to regain our confidence in our uniqueness and value as women.

---from "A Speech about the Theology of Women of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and St. John Paul II to the Dzielne Niewiasty in Kraków, Poland on May 4, 2014 " by Dorothy Cummings McLean.

As one way of understanding "precedence", consider how Jesus said that the Father was greater than Himself (John 14:28), although we understand the Father and Son (and Holy Ghost) to be equal. The answer to that is that the Son eternally proceeds from the Father, and thus the Father is, mysteriously, First. And the Author of Genesis wrote that Adam was first, and of course we Christians know that Jesus of Nazareth was the first born from the dead. I don't know if this is a satisfactory solution to St. Edith's hypothesis of male precedence, but it is an example of equality allowing for precedence.

Update: I believe it was Saint Edith who likened the Blessed Trinity to a family: Father, Mother and Child. God is, of course, beyond human limitations of sex, and the Son--before His Incarnation--was not so limited: He deliberately chose the limitations of humanity when He assumed humanity and, for whatever reason best known to Himself, chose to live his human life as a man (vir). But when we understand how limited language is for entering into the Mystery of God--and personally I prefer attending those Masses whose literal meanings I imperfectly understand--then we are free to develop whatever imagery helps us to do that. We are not free, however, to impose our own pet ideas on others. We are called to baptize in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti and jettisoning any of those names on any pretext is simply wrong.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Waffle Recipe Request

This morning as a special Corpus Christi treat, I fired up the waffle maker left in Edinburgh by an American friend. Unfortunately, I used an English (Jamie Oliver) recipe and his waffles did not taste like proper American waffles as made by my proper American dad (b. Chicago). Yarg. I came across a similar problem in Poland, where waffles are called gofry but are toooooo crispy.

Dear American readers, please share your waffle recipes!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Stein Speech (Abridged)

The Edith Stein sections of my May speech about "The Theology of Woman: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and John Paul II" have appeared in their entirety on the Dzielne Niewiasty blog. Twenty-four paragraphs strikes me as a lot for one blog post. I will skip the biographical stuff and just post the theological overview.

All direct quotations from Saint Edith Stein come from "Essays on Woman," Volume 2 of The Collected Works of Edith Stein, translated by Freda Mary Oben. As this was a speech, I didn't create the ordinary scholarly apparatus. And let me tell you, I regretted this later when I was translating the quotes into Polish. (Had I written the citations, I could potentially have found the official Polish version of St. Edith Stein's writings and swiftly looked them up.)

By the way, I am putting up a new tip jar because we are in serious need of a new vacuum cleaner in our battle with the common British clothes moth. B.A. would also like you to know that I have been known to proofread and edit the English style of academic essays for $40/hr. I accept work only from people who are recommended by their professors, however, so this is not an ad to the students, but to any professors who would prefer that someone fix up their keen but illegible foreign students' essays before the professors have to read them. Theology a specialty.

St. Edith Stein's Theology of Woman

It is a miracle that Saint Edith’s manuscripts and notebooks survived the war. When, after her arrest, a bomb fell on her monastery in the Netherlands, the nuns and villagers ran around rescuing her papers from the wind and the rain. Her writings on women were eventually gathered into a volume called “Die Frau: Ihre Aufgabe nach Natur und Gnade”, which translated means “Woman: Her task according to nature and Grace.” This book has been translated into several languages including Polish, and I think that everyone with university-level reading comprehension should read it. The essays are challenging, but deeply helpful for men and women to understand woman’s nature and what she is called to do in the modern world.

Saint Edith examined the reality of what it is to be a woman from two sources: Scripture and her experience of living as a woman among women as a teacher of girls and women. Her philosophical training under Husserl taught her to subject everything she was told about women to the light of lived experience. (It is a failure to do this which led Aristotle, most dramatically, to make severe errors about women, which subsequent generations merely parroted, without examining lived realities.)

Saint Edith identified a woman as human, first of all, called to the same overall human project as men: to be the image of God, bring forth children and be masters over the earth. Men and women are in the image of God because they have reason. They bring forth physical or spiritual children. They are masters over the created earth in several ways: they are “to fight and conquer it; to understand it and by knowledge to make it [their] own, to possess and enjoy it, and finally, and to make it in a sense [their] own creation through purposeful activity.” But Saint Edith sees that men and women differ in the ways they use their reason, have children, and exercise their rule over their earth. For example, men have a tendency to concentrate on only one subject or aspect at a time, whereas women have a tendency to multi-task and see “the whole picture”. In this they compliment and correct each other.

Saint Edith also observes that women are much more interested in people and in helping others with their work than men are; men literally prefer to mind their own business. Unless economic necessity directs otherwise, most men gravitate towards subjects and professions involving physical strength, independence or abstract thought, whereas women gravitate towards professions that focus on helping people: medicine, teaching, social work, translation. However, she sees no profession to which women are not suited: she observes that women have unique gifts to bring to what have been male-dominated professions. There is no need for women to become like men in order to enter a profession: what is needful is that a woman enter the profession for which her own unique personal talents most suit her and in such a way that this profession does not interfere with her primary vocation which is, whether or not she literally gives birth, a mother.

Motherhood is key to Saint Edith Stein’s theology of woman, and her great model for motherhood is Mary, Mother of God. Just as Our Lord Jesus Christ is the “New Adam” who frees humanity from the sin of Adam, so the Mother of God is the “New Eve” by whom Our Lord Jesus Christ enters the world. Eve was tempted by the serpent and sinned; Mary did not sin and gave birth to the Son who defeated the serpent.

Because the New Adam and the New Eve are mother and child, Saint Edith infers that woman’s most important role towards humanity is not her role as a wife, but her role as mother. Indeed, even a married woman’s role as a human wife is subordinate to her call to be a mother, which is to say, motherly. Edith talks of a spiritual motherhood, not just a physical motherhood; many women who do not have children, like female religious or other unmarried women, have a vast capacity for maternal love than can and should be used for the whole community. It is, in fact, a feminine gift which can help women become more like the Mother of God.

Jednakże w badaniach Księgi Rodzaju... Just kidding!

But in her studies of Genesis, Edith Stein notes two things in particular: that Adam was made before Eve and that Eve was made as a helper and a companion for Adam. She reflects that by having been created first, Adam seems to have a certain precedence over Eve. This masculine precedence is echoed in the fact that Our Lord Jesus Christ chose to live His humanity as a man. Thus, Saint Edith does not depart from the belief that woman was made for man, to be a helper and a companion for the man. And she sees in women around her an earnest desire to be helpful and to be companions for men. However, she notes that before the Fall, the relationship between man and woman was not the relationship of domination and submission it became after the Fall. Man’s tyranny over women is a result of Original Sin and should have no part of the redemption brought by Our Lord Jesus Christ. She notes that Adam showed what a bad master he was going to be when he immediately blamed Eve for giving him the apple.

Saint Edith has a keen sense that we still live under the effects of Original Sin and whenever she talks about humanity, femininity or masculinity, she always notes that we have a fallen humanity, a fallen femininity and a fallen masculinity. (She notes, too, that certain men have more developed feminine characteristics, and certain women have more developed masculine characteristics). Men have to strive against the fallen aspects of masculinity just as women have to strive against the fallen aspects of femininity. For example, men are more likely to become very narrow in their attitude towards the world: striving only for one thing or one goal, to the neglect of other needful things, including the feelings of other people. Women, however, with our interest in other people are more likely to become involved in other people’s business in a meddlesome way. And Stein also warns that if women become narrow in our approach to the world, we become narrow in a particularly dangerous way, abandoning abstract thought and creative action to focus solely on the possession and enjoyment of a good life. Our “reverent joy in the things of this world degenerates into greed” leading us to hoard things we don’t need, or to lapse “into a mindless, idle life of sensuality. “ We can well imagine what she means — ultimately to live for food, romance, entertainment and shopping.

Our primary model for overcoming the fallenness of our female nature is, for Saint Edith, the Mother of God. Not only is the Mother of God a model of obedience and openness to God, of marriage and of motherhood, but of how we should do our paid work. She writes, “Mary at the wedding of Cana in her quiet, observing look surveys everything and discovers what is lacking. Before anything is noticed, even before embarrassment sets in, she had procured the remedy. She finds ways and means, she gives necessary directives, doing all quietly. She draws no attention to herself. Let her be the prototype of women in professional life. Wherever situated, let her always perform her work quietly and dutifully, without claiming attention and appreciation. And at the same time, she should survey the conditions with vigilant eye. Let her be conscious of where there is a want and where help is needed, intervening and regulating as far as it is possible in her power in a discreet way. Then she will like a good spirit spread blessing everywhere.”

What Saint Edith was proposing was a radical departure from the arguments around the Woman Question. Instead of asserting with the feminists that women were the same as men, and therefore equal, or with the traditionalists that women were different from men, and therefore unequal, she asserted that women were both different from men and equal to men, with just one caveat: that men had some kind of precedence shown by the fact that Adam was created first and by the fact that Our Blessed Saviour chose to live His human life as a man. This precedence, however, does not mean that female life is any less important. Indeed, Stein points out that a woman’s assent — Eve’s to the serpent and then Mary’s to God — “determined the destiny of humanity as a whole.” And while Saint Edith affirmed that men, whose primary vocation seems to leadership, and fatherhood a secondary part of this leadership, are the heads of their families, she notes that a good leader knows when to deputize. She writes that “the husband will find that [the wife] will give him invaluable advice in guiding the lives of their children as well as themselves; indeed, often he would fulfil his duties as a leader best if he would yield to her and permit himself to be led by her.”

Meanwhile, Saint Edith put the good of the man and woman’s family life before any professional consideration. She is deeply concerned for the happiness of women who, through no choice of their own, find that their professional work conflicts with their responsibilities to their families. She notes that such a conflict is a heavier burden on mothers than it is on fathers. She asserts that “Any social condition is an unhealthy one which compels [my emphasis] married women to seek gainful employment and makes it impossible for them to manage their home. And we should accept as normal that the married woman is restricted to domestic life at a time when her household duties exact her total energies.” I think Saint Edith Stein would support a movement to grant Polish mothers more than just 20 weeks of maternity leave.

Saint Edith’s theology of woman is also the source for the notion of the complementarity of men and women: the idea that men and women, working together, combining masculine and feminine characteristics, create a balanced whole, not only in family life, but in professional and national life, as well. Saint Edith’s work is so well known today because of her most famous disciple, who never met her, and was in Kraków when Saint Edith was murdered with her sister in Auschwitz. I speak, of course, of Saint Jan Paweł II.

---from "A Speech about the Theology of Women of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and St. John Paul II to the Dzielne Niewiasty in Kraków, Poland on May 4, 2014 " by Dorothy Cummings McLean.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

1940s Fashion

Although I admit there is a galaxy of difference between the point of view of a married woman and a Single woman when it comes to social life, I have to say that I make an excellent wing-woman. For example, when I attracted various men at an Edinburgh party with my admitted trampy (because double-sided tape doesn't work on me, apparently) dress and can of pre-made G&T, I chatted with them briefly and when I got to the being married part, introduced them to my Single Pal. It turns out it is soooo easy to meet men when you are married and no longer care. Oh, I suppose this does not apply to married women with children and therefore no time or inclination to stand around at parties having wardrobe malfunctions.

I probably should explain that B.A. and I don't always go to the same parties. For example, he is not coming to the Polish Scottish Heritage Festival dance on Saturday night, even though it is called the "Swinging Allies 1940s Dance Party." Guests are supposed to wear 1940s clothing. How much cooler could a party BE? And I am quite sure I will be able to use my wing-woman skills get again, if only because my companion for the evening will be Casimir the Fox Fur Stole. Everyone will want to meet Casimir.

1940 was the best time to be a Single Catholic girl in Edinburgh in the post-Reformation history of Scotland because overnight 30.000 Polish soldiers turned up. Can you imagine having only Michael this and Patrick that to choose from (actually, I'm sure you can, especially if you are a trad) and then suddenly your parish church is packed to bursting with handsome foreigners in uniform paying as much attention to the women as to the solemn gestures of the parish priest? You, the Single Catholic Girl in Edinburgh, have the advantage over all your Presbyterian and Pixie neighbours for the first time in your life, for you get first pick of the invading, er, liberating, er, helpful Polish army.

This thought was floating through my head when, having secured one female friend to join me at the Swinging Allies 1940s Dance Party", I tried to convince another. "Swing dancing," I said. "1940s outfits. Homesick Polish soldiers!"

Actually, I didn't get that carried away. For one thing, this was after a Requiem Mass and the Schola was in earshot. And for another, although there may be homesick Polish soldiers there, they will have been from among those who turned up in 1940, and therefore too old to swing dance. (I suppose if asked to tango by a 90 year old Polish veteran, it would be very impolite to refuse, but regarding swing, it would probably be kinder, yes?) Presumably, though, there may be some cute new Poles. I tried to beam the message "Cute new Poles" to her with with thought waves while she wailed some nonsense about deadlines. Swing dancing! 1940s outfits! Homesick Polish pretend soldiers!

Today I went shopping for 1940s gear. Obviously I am taking this party very seriously. I have already booked an appointment to get 1940s hair, strongly regretting that my mother isn't here to set my hair in curlers for free. Benedict Ambrose drew the line at my plan to paint my legs with self-tan and have him draw a line up the backs (too ruinous to the sofa, he feared), so I bought seamed stockings. I MAY have a dress already but I am not SURE. (You know how it is.) I saw a brown dress, clearly 1940s, in a vintage shop that I really liked, but it was 32 quid, and I never pay more than 15 for a garment if I can possible help it.

While travelling about trying to find an outfit while spending as little money as possible, I came across this passage in The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War. It is the first cheerful story in 221 pages, so I will share it with you.:

When the battle of Britain officially ended on 31 October 1940, the Poles were acknowledged as having made a contribution that belied their small numbers. They lost 33 pilots but 34 had become aces - men who had scored five or more kills. 303 Squadron had downed three times the RAF average. The Poles received enormous publicity and gratitude for their daring deeds in the sky. After visiting a Polish squadron in in August 1940, the king was heard to remark: "One cannot help feeling that if all our Allies had been Poles, the course of the war, up until now, would have been very different." The head of Fighter Command, Sir Hugh Dowding, told Churchill, "the Poles in our Fighter Squadrons were very dashing but totally undisciplined." Churchill in response said, "one Pole was worth three Frenchmen, Gort and Dowding said nearer ten!" Having a Polish fighter pilot on one's arm became the height of fashion for young women in Britain in the summer of 1940, and jealous RAF piots sometimes adopted phoney Polish accents to attract girls. The headmistress of a girls' school ended her speech to the school leavers with the warning: "And remember, keep away from gin and Polish airmen."

--Halik Kochanski, The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (London: Penguin, 2013), 221.

Gin! Polish pretend airmen---for my friends! And now I shall decide if I want to look more like Ginger Rogers or Veronica Lake. The thing about long hair is that Victory Rolls may be difficult. When I proposed the idea to a chap at the local (and cheaper) shop, he all but threw me out. "Ooh nae, hen, ah couldnae dae it, ah couldnae, not with yoor lang hairrr. Try next doooor. She's verra guid."

Monday, 16 June 2014

Father Kenneth Walker, Pray for Us

I do not usually do prayer requests as this is not a devotional blog, but this time I have made an exception because it is regarding the late Father Kenneth Walker, FSSP, the young priest murdered in Phoenix, Arizona last week.

I am a supporter of the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter), and supporters of the FSSP across the world are in mourning for Father Walker and praying for the full recovery of his pastor Father Terra. There will be an FSSP Requiem Mass for the repose of Father Walker's soul in Edinburgh this evening at 6:15. (For the address, email me.) It is, however, the opinion of my FSSP chaplain that Father Walker is probably in heaven already. And as tradition-loving FSSP priests aren't fans of assuming everyone nice skips Purgatory, that is food for thought.

It occurs to me that it might be helpful to ask Father Walker's intercession in times of great need. Although his priestly ministry on earth was cut tragically short, it may be even more effective now that it has changed location.

The quality that is attributed again and again to Father Walker is innocence, and that seems very saintly to me. However, if he is in Purgatory, it will not help him very much if we all assume he is in heaven, so probably we should pray for him, along with the recovery of Father Terra, just in case. I, however, will also now pester him with my usual request, as St. Margaret of York has not come up with the goods. It might count as a miracle at this point, as a doctor has said (in short) "Still not interested in IVF?" and I have said (in short) "Are you an anti-Catholic bigot or something? For the 45th time, no."

Here is the youtube video of Father Walker's one recorded homily. My FSSP told his own flock to see it, so you can watch it along with me. Apparently it's excellent. You can see how very young Father Walker was, too. Oh dear. It's so sad when a young priest dies. However, a powerful new intercessor in heaven is a consoling thought.

Update: You know what, I should have known, but I was shocked that internet trolls are suggesting this murder and attempted murder have something to do with historical child abuse. The level of ignorance and hatred that still exist in the United States for Roman Catholic priests shocks me to the core. An innocent 28 year old, whose life has been extensively reported on in the press, has been murdered. Being murdered is not in any way, shape or form a suggestion that the victim did something wrong. I am now really very angry. Must calm down. Must remember that most people are by definition of average intelligence...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Cold Summer Soup

It's been a long time since I posted a recipe, and this time I want to post it so I have a record of what I made yesterday afternoon. In short, after reading three contradictory recipes for chłodnik, I just made my own.

Chłodnik (HWOD-neek) is a cold Polish beet soup, which I first tasted last Saturday in Ognisko, a Polish restaurant in London. If you think you don't like cold soups because you don't like starchy, cloying old vichyssoise, give chłodnik a try.

Seraphic's Chłodnik (Anielski Chłodnik)

for four, suitable for Fridays and vegetarians

You need two biggish bowls, and one is the serving bowl.

4 cooked beets
one cup veggie broth
half a lemon
half an English cucumber, diced very small
3 little radishes (or more, if you love radishes), diced very small.
a package of fresh dill (about 3/4 cup), chopped
a handful of fresh chives, chopped
500 mL (around 1 pint) of plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup (or half a small Tesco container) sour cream
3-4 cold hard boiled eggs, quartered

I suppose you could add salt, but I'd wait until the end because the veggie broth might be plenty salty. I used Marigold Swiss.

1.Into the big serving bowl, grate the cooked beets.
2. Pour into beets the veggie broth and the juice of half a lemon.
3. Into the second bowl, combine cucumber, radishes, dill and chives. Then toss them into the serving bowl and gently mix into the beets and broth.
4.Into the emptied second bowl, mix yogurt and sour cream. Gently fold into the veggie mixture in the serving bowl. It will become pink.
5. Taste to adjust seasonings. Gradually throw in more dill or chives or salt, as you like. Mix.
6. Add the quarters of hard boiled egg as a decoration on top or gently mixed in
7. Cover the serving bowl (my Polish one, which looks just like the photo, has a lid) and put it in the fridge to chill for at least three hours.

This is so good I rudely served myself seconds before offering seconds to guests. This was very bad behaviour, but the soup was soooo good. It doesn't need saltines or bread, really, although I served it with Polish brown bread.

If you don't have guests, I suggest making it for yourself and then eating it all weekend. Delicious!

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Age Thing

I discovered yesterday that the wife of Scotland's Nationalist First Minister Alec Salmond is 17 years older than he is, i.e. 76. They married when he was 26, and she was 43. Such is the Scots Nats' faith in the Scottish people's tolerance of other people's relationships that we never, ever see her at his side.

Although this may seem startling, it's not the first marriage I've heard about like that. Okay, seventeen years is a big difference, but presumably Alec was just THAT into Moira. I assume it was Alec courting Moira, as I cannot quite imagine a woman in her early forties initiating a serious relationship with a boy in his mid-20s. "Don't you want children?" would be my first question, once the shock of the marriage proposal wore off. However, strange as this may sound to many women, many men seem to want the women they fall in love with even more than they want children.

Which goes to show that the story of the aging New York bachelor who suddenly decides he wants kids and starts madly dating women in their late 20s in the hope of begetting kids is not the only one.

I had an email the other day from a 29 year old who looks 24 and worries that this will hurt her chances of attracting men her own age. In a nutshell, my answer was that there is no need to worry. If she were 29 but, because of illness, looked 50, I would say yes, she might want to do something about that, if she could. Tired and ill is not a good look. But again, I know women who look older than they are and STILL attract men, including younger men.

How? Well, as much as I bang on about the importance of being (and appearing) happy and confident, it really has more to do with men themselves. When they want something, they go after what they want. Even a completely laid-back, peace-loving, change-resisting man like B.A. will make a tremendous effort to get something he really wants. When I appeared on the scene, there was this frenzied period of activity, and then he settled back down to his job, his research, his friends and the growing pile of back issues of the London Review of Books. Sort of like a desert spider who sleeps all day and then rushes out to eat some poor unsuspecting creature before returning underground to snooze.

The central problem is what (or whom) men want. If a man is incapable of having a good relationship with a woman--if the only woman he is at all comfortable talking to is his mother, for example--then he is not going to want any woman. Not a real woman, anyway. He might project a fantasy onto some girl his age, whose personality he doesn't know and is not much interested in, and begin annoying her. Or he might figure out a way to watch porn without getting caught. Or he might, like the last two Psycho Singles, wallow in his addictive hate-lust for women. Or he might just shelve the whole interest-in-women part of his personality. Many do.

If you're surrounded by men like that, you're out of luck. But I don't think this is a fair description of the majority of men. I think the majority of men like women who are happy and confident, who listen to their (the men's) stories and appreciate their (the men's) jokes and are genuinely interested in their (the men's) conversation. I have very attractive young male friends, presumably for these reasons, plus Mr and Mrs McAmbrose's love of hospitality.

But the great dividing line, of course, is what their psyches consider pretty. B.A. thinks red-heads (including strawberry blondes) are pretty, and the Great Lady of his imagination is/was (of course) strawberry blonde Dame Emma Kirby. This was a stroke of psychical good luck for me because, in my experience, the sorts of men to whom I am attracted aren't usually drawn to small women with masses of fuzzy red hair. I don't take it personally; it's just the way it is. So you can be happy, confident, a good listener and a sincere fan of men's jokes, but only the men who have your rough outline (buxom blonde, slim brunette, Asian beauty or whatever) tattooed on their unconscious are likely to fall for you. Age matters less.

I'm older than B.A. Hee hee!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Political Blogpost

I wrote an extensive post, but then I realized:

1. Separatist movements (e.g. in Canada, Spain, Yugoslavia, Iraq) often involve violence, and

2. I may be living in Scotland for many, many years.

So instead, please read novelist/philanthropist J.K. Rowling on the Scottish Independence debate.

And then read the response.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Untold London Story

"But I didn't tell them about you and the London bobby," I assured B.A.

"You should," said B.A. "It's a good story."

So now I'm going to tell you the story about Benedict Ambrose and the London Bobby, not only because it's a good story but because it is illustrative of one of the great realities of married life, which is that sometimes your spouse will drive you nuts.

Naturally, though, I will have to preface this with a hymn to the greatness of B.A. so you don't get the idea that I'm oppressed or downtrodden. When I calculated that our London jaunt cost us approximately 678 squid, he didn't get mad or huffy. He just said, "That's all right, darling. It was a WONDERFUL fortnight."

"Ha, ha, ha," I said sourly as he snickered away, but I was vastly comforted that he thought the high price of our weekend amusing and not some horrific fault that I will never, ever atone for and that I will have to hear about it until Kingdom Come. Some husbands are like that. Not mine, thank heavens.

Whenever possible, B.A. will choose to joke rather than complain. The one exception is when some real injustice has been done by one person to another. However, when it comes to the weather, economic circumstance, airport layovers, illness, etc., they are just more fodder for jokes. And puns. B.A. loves puns. If he ever falls silent, it is because he is working out a pun, and no matter how bad it is, he will lob it at all hearers.

Female hearers are wont to say, "Oh, that's terrible. How can you stand it, Seraphic?" And I smile in a pale, long-suffering way although sometimes the puns are so good I write them down and embarrass B.A. with them years later. And if I make a pun, everyone around says it's on account of being married to B.A., so he gets the blame.

The loud and frequent throat-clearing is much more annoying, but I reflect that if I am ever a widow, I would give my remaining teeth to hear that characteristic khhhhhhuuuuhhhh again.

And then there is the television commentary, which reaches fever pitch when we watch "Master Chef". B.A., who taught philosophy at the university level for many years, sits before the television making positive statements for which he has no evidence whatsoever.

Contestant (presents dish to Greg, quivers): I hope you enjoy it.

B.A.: Oh, it's going to be awful. It's tough. It's stringy. It's completely under seasoned.

Greg (tastes dish): Cor blimey, mate. That is absolutely DELICIOUS! It's tender. It's juicy. And the seasoning! Perfection!

In short, B.A. makes a lot of noise. The noise increases according to emotional circumstances, but particularly when B.A. is excited and happy. And this is why--revelation!--I get so cranky when we travel together. When I am in a new place, especially where English is not the first language, I need quiet to adjust, think, locate the exits, summon the remnants of my foreign languages, and write down any instructions I have managed to wring from officials in my pidgin French/Italian/Polish.

B.A., on the other hand, needs to talk. "We need to go there! Oh! No, we don't. And we need to buy this ticket! Wait! No, we don't." What makes it worse is that after making two incorrect statements, thus dashing my faith in his judgement, he is right the third time, which makes me feel like a disloyal, unreasonable ass.

B.A. will also read me the inscriptions on plinths. The English inscriptions. I believe many husbands do this, and surely it is not because they believe their wives have suddenly been struck illiterate. It could be their joy and excitement. As when watching "Master Chef."

I suppose there have been times (Italy) when I have wished a policeman to rescue me from B.A.'s torrent of happy, instructive chatter, but Saturday afternoon was not one of them. We had just had a splendid meal at Ognisko (my choice) and we were on our way to sell my book (my childhood dream). The sun was shining; it was delightfully warm; Hyde Park was to our left; stately embassies were to our right. B.A. may have been talking; I do not recall. I was wrapped in a blissful post-prandial cardigan of joy.

Then we spotted a crowd of demonstrators, mostly of Middle Eastern appearance, to our left, across the street. And we noted a number of policemen on our side of the street. The demonstrators were apparently aiming their protest at one of the embassies to our right.

"They're protesting Iraq," said B.A. "No, Lebanon. Syria."

We squinted at the plaque beside the door of the embassy as we passed.

"Syria!" shouted B.A., oblivious to my contradictory murmurs. "That's it! That must be the Syrian embassy!"

"Excuse me, sir," said a London bobby, turning. "That's the Libyan embassy."

B.A. was momentarily struck dumb.

"Oh," he managed to say. "Thank you very much, officer."

Afterwards, B.A. told Polish Pretend Son this story three times, and Polish Pretend Son enjoyed each telling.

B.A. loves jokes so much, he relishes even the ones against himself. Which is why, thank heavens, I will get away with this post.

Update: "No!" said B.A., at home to get lunch. "I keel you! I keel you!"

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The London Trip Report

This is one of those mornings when I say to myself, "Self, it is time to shut down your Singles blog because in the seven and a half years you've been blogging, you've been married for five. There are good Christian Single gals, like the Orthogals and the Dzielne Niewiasty (Brave Women), who have already taken up the cause of Single dignity. Time to do something else. Start another blog, one in which you report on the actual work you've done that day."

"But I want a million hits for Seraphic Singles," said Self. "So far I have only 800,000."

"That," I said, "is a trivial concern."

I had this conversation with myself because instead of posting the letter from the Single reader who is worried because she looks 24 when she is really 29, I want to write about going to wonderful LONDON. And the story of going to London is inextricable from the fact that I am married because travelling when married is so different from travelling when Single.

For starters, there is less panic and, if you are happily married, no loneliness, although, paradoxically, more temptations to bite the person next to you. Groups of tipsy young men are less likely to invite you to join in their sprees, and you can walk back to your hotel through darkened European streets at 1 AM without worrying about your personal safety. If anything you snatch alone time where you can so as to write in your journal.

Of course, married women with small children probably have no idea what I am talking about because travel for married women with small children is just one more obstacle course in their exhausting lives. Fortunately, if they live to see those kids out of the house, then they are free to travel, like my globetrotting mother of five.

So my trip to London is totally from the perspective of a married woman with no kids and a genial husband who enjoys chatting and art galleries. Be warned.


On Friday B.A. and I triumphantly claimed our seats in the First Class carriage because I had booked months in advance, when they were actually affordable. Train fares in the UK are so expensive that if you're going to go by train at all, you might as well go First Class. First Class entails leg room, a meal, constant offers of hot and cold drinks, crisps and biscuits and protection from any soccer riots and drunken sprees breaking out in the carriages behind.

And there's wi-fi. I felt tremendously sophisticated as I booked us a table for Saturday lunch in South Kensington on my tablet while beside me B.A. attempted to reserve tickets for the William Kent exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Four and three-quarters of an hour flashed by as I exulted in First Classness, read a Polish novel (in English), obediently looked at the Great Cathedrals of Northern England as we passed them and napped. And then we were in King's Cross station, which now has a modern glass canopy through which the rich warm southern English sun shone. It was about 5 PM, and the station and streets around were full of happy Londoners sunning themselves and thinking gleeful weekend thoughts.

B.A. made loud Scottish remarks about this being a terrible area and to hang onto my bag, but if anything the area around King's Cross looked cleaner, wealthier and jollier than I remembered London being. I vaguely seem to recall that King's Cross-Pancras used to be full of grunge and vice, but those days are clearly over. We walked down a busy street to our hotel which, though itself modern, was inside a smart Art Deco building.

Our room was weeny and windowless, immaculately clean and with excellent fittings. It cost us 90 quid a night which is an amazing bargain for London. We dumped our stuff, answered a text from Andrew Cusack, brushed our hair and rushed out into the glorious sunshine to walk to Bloomsbury and the British Museum.

Very weird things have been done to the British Museum since I was there in the mid-90s, but it still has a great collection, including the history of Scotland written by the late Lord X, most celebrated owner of the Historical House, whom B.A. and I fancifully consider our landlord. We were tremendously excited to find it there. Oh, and there was the Sutton Hoo treasure trove too, of course, although what most impressed me were the wooden Roman British implements found in a bog. Two thousand year old WOOD--how miraculous! And I drooled over various objects produced by Mr Wedgwood.

Next we had a very long search for supper hampered by mistakes in my research. In the end, we ordered supper in the same pub in St Pancras Station where we had arranged to meet Mr Cusack. Mr Cusack fetched up at 9:30 PM, rather tired out from his extensive social life which, the night before, had included a book launch at Ralph Lauren.

I felt rather jealous and envious about this book launch at Ralph Lauren. I don't get to have book launches at Ralph Lauren. But Andrew explained that his friend had produced a coffee table book on rowing blazers, which explained its significance for Ralph Lauren. How very Andrew, I thought, to have a friend who cares that much about rowing blazers. The pub meal, incidentally, was much better than I expected, based on my experiences of the mid-1990s.


I woke up an hour before B.A. and so sat in the teeny but perfect loo with my tablet so as not to disturb him. When he awoke and we were ready to go, I led him across the street to an amazing little French bakery I had read about. There we ordered the most delicious pains aux chocolats et amandes in history and B.A. exchanged pleasantries in French with the bearded Frenchman behind the counter. We gobbled these pastries in the sunny street outside, making noises of pleasure and greed. And then we took the Tube to South Kensington.

In South Kensington we went to a French cafe, choosing seats outside, and when rain exploded over London, B.A. rushed off to the V&A to buy our William Kent tickets. I happily remained behind to pay the server and write in my journal. Then I crossed the street, passed the Ismaili Centre, and joined B.A. in the V&A, which is so much more lovely than the British Museum, I don't know where to start. I wish we could have spent all day in the V&A, but all the same at 12:45, I dragged B.A. away from the Melville Bed, so as to be on time for lunch.

Lunch was in the (wait for it) Polish club, which is to say, in its restaurant Ognisko. I don't know how the Poles got their hands on the elegant building, but at any rate it has been the Polish clubhouse since 1940, when the Free Poles escaped to Britain from newly occupied France. Apparently the restaurant had been sliding from faded grandeur into squalor when it was rescued by a smart modern Polish restauranteur, who had the walls painted white and turned it into a neo-classical jewel with slender waitresses in black shift dresses. When we arrived, the bar was full of Polish Londoners between the ages of 30 and 80, the men in ties--often club ties-- and jackets and the ladies in day dresses or skirt suits. They were seated after us, and were great fun to watch as we ate. B.A. was very glad he had worn a jacket.

The food was amazing. First we had pork cracklings, and if I wanted to commit slow suicide the nicest way possible, I would eat them non-stop, between gulps of vodka, until my arteries closed and I died of heart failure. (Good retirement plan?) Then I had chlodnik, which is cold beet soup with dill. And then we both had potato pancakes, I with goulash and B.A. with black sausage. Too full for pudding, B.A. just had a second beer and I ordered a shot of pear vodka. It was so cold there were shards of ice in it.

And then we went to Westminster Cathedral and St Paul's Book Shop, where, after greeting Fiorella de Maria, B.A. abandoned me to see the inside of Westminster Cathedral. I do not recommend the loo in St Paul's Book Shop, which is all I can decently say about that. Let's just say it rather ruined my prep time and any chance of coordinating with book shop staff. At any rate, we had a respectable turnout of friends and blog readers (hello Mary and Simca!) and various shoppers were attracted to the strains of Cecilia de Maria's beautiful harp and Fiorella's and my readings.

Naturally I began with the dancing-with-Krishna-at-Mass scene, which out of context could be considered terrifically offensive, and sure enough I soon felt the glare of an East Asian girl who suddenly disappeared and returned with her South Asian boyfriend or husband. By then, however, it was Fiorella's turn to read, and nobody could have found anything offensive in her selection. My next reading, however, was also controversial, as it was the scene where Suzy meet Dennis, Silke says something anti-Semitic and Anna Maria attempts to clear the air by talking about sex. Out of the tail of my eye, I saw Polish Pretend Son disappear. He hasn't read the book, so he had no idea.

"Only Jesuits," he boomed later, "would publish such an INDECENT book!"

As a matter of fact, as I read, I found myself leaving out the indelicacies that are so much of a part of authentic modern-day speech and yet are so inappropriate to Catholic bookshops. There were, like, a hundred covers featuring Pope Francis staring at my back, which made it rather difficult to channel jaded old Silke and coked-up Anna Maria.

Then we had a break, and then we had the last go of readings and harp playings, but by this time the bookshoppers had lost all interest and the most loyal of our friends were shifting from weary foot to weary foot or sitting on the floor. Bless them. From now on, I will stick to a bookshop-MUST-provide-chairs policy. And then we went off for drinks.

When the De Maria and Cummings McLean factions went their separate ways, B.A. and I followed Polish Pretend Son through the streets of London to supper in Chinatown, visiting Jermyn Street--spiritual home of the Dandy branch of Young Fogies since 1700--and Piccadilly Circus on the way. Polish Pretend Son said the former was usually full of Spaniards, but I heard a lot of Polish. I was terribly surprised to hear a girl clad only in black underwear address a gaggle of prostitutes as "Dziewczyny" until I realized that they were not prostitutes but "regular girls" on their way to have a fun night on the town. B.A. observed that the girl who wore least was also the least pretty. Compensation?

We ate in a dark and atmospheric Taiwanese restaurant, splashing out on a bottle of plum wine, and then set off on a long and bantering search for Bar Polski. Alas, by the time we found it, it had closed. And so we went to the nearby "Shakespeare's Head" instead and drank ale. Then Polish Pretend Son went to look for bus or (failing a bus) a "Boris bike", and B.A. and I walked back to our hotel. There were certainly a lot of cars on the road at 1 AM!


B.A. and I dragged ourselves from bed at 9, so as to check out by 10 and go to the 11 o'clock Mass at Brompton Oratory . We left B.A.'s rucksack in the hotel's storage room (2.50 quid) and went to King's Cross station for breakfast. The fantastic French bakery was shut for Sunday morning, which only increased our reverence and awe. And after we ate our not-as-good-but-perfectly-adequate pastries, we took the Tube back to South Kensington.

The 11 o'clock at Brompton Oratory is a Latin language, High Mass, Novus Ordo, if you can get your minds around that. It features an absolutely splendid choir, and our Catholic friends always go to that Mass when living or staying in London. And, lo, we spotted two people we knew as soon as we got there and chose a spot with a good view of the sanctuary. And then, to my great spiritually maternal joy, Seminarian Pretend Son arrived from Oxford and sat down beside B.A. Hooray! Polish Pretend Son lurked, I believe, somewhere near the back.

It was a very bright, warm morning, and the sun sparkled on our friends after Mass. And after various greetings and chattings, Seminarian Pretend Son led Polish Pretend Son, B.A. and me through Westminster to a gentlemen's club (now open to ladies, btw)in Pall Mall. There we had Sunday lunch in the grandest, most intimidating circumstances possible to an almost empty room, and then decamped, with drinks, to the rooftop terrace, where the Pretend Sons smoked cigars. Big Ben rang four, and we turned to see the spires of Westminster Abbey over the buildings and trees. That was tremendously awesome, as was ringing a bell for a club servant to come and bring the Pretend Sons more sherry. But then--alas--B.A. and I had to rush off and get his rucksack before catching our 5:30 PM train.

All the way home, I thought of delicious pork cracklings and vodka, while B.A. explained why we will never be able to afford to live in London. Ah, London. Sigh, sigh.

Edinburgh was damp and cold.

Update: On further reflection, some thanks are in order. So many thanks to Fiorella for approaching the book shop, and to Andrew Cusack, Anthony, Adela, PPS, Mary and Simca for coming to our event. Adela gets super-special thanks for buying the book! And thanks also to Rafal, who could not come but sent others. And naturally I thank B.A. for heavily subsidizing this glamorous jaunt.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Hilary White is a Good Reporter

Hilary White of LifeSite News is a friend of mine. A good friend of mine, I'd say, since we have holidayed together and sat together waiting for cancer doctors to see her. She's a good writer, a dedicated reporter (not a columnist--a reporter), and in private and on her blog, a passionate defender of the Catholic faith, the Catholic faith as John XXIII would have recognized it, if not the "Catholic faith" as the lady at RCIA taught it to you.

As a reporter, Hilary gets the story and reports the story. Reporting is not the same thing as writing an opinion column. Reporting is a harder job than writing opinion/editorials. I know this very well because I write op/ed for the Toronto Catholic Register, and have for almost seven years. I don't have to bust my butt the way Hilary does and did even when she was diagnosed with cancer. Even in the aftermath of chemo, Hilary was on the phone to Irish pro-lifers, for example, getting the story, getting her two stories a working day. And to my knowledge, Hilary was only once the story before now--when she organized her "Rebel Blognic" in response to the official Vatican blognic. This, significantly, was during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. And Hilary organized her blognic to make sure that bloggers who were not "safe" bloggers handpicked from diocesan websites got to meet and talk. Meanwhile, the controversy ensured that the official Vatican blognic got TONS of publicity. So not only did Hilary's "rebellion" create a fun event for any Catholic blogger who wanted to go, it brought about much good for the official Vatican event, whose organizers promptly invited Hilary.

Unfortunately, Hilary is the story again, because she reported on Pope Francis' meeting with a priest who openly condones homosexual behaviour.

That was a big story. It was a story that made people uncomfortable. It made "The Anchoress", Elizabeth Scalia of Patheos (which pays its bloggers per click) so uncomfortable she denigrated it as “Oh-my-gawd-the-pope-concelebrated-mass-and-kissed-the-hand-of-a-93-year-old-dissenting-priest-who-defends-homosexual-love-and-homosexual-and-isn’t-this-horrible-about-the-dissenting-homosexual-and-awful-Francis-and-homosexualists-and-homosexual!” But that is not in fact what Hilary said. Hilary wrote the facts and got the quotes. She is a reporter. She reported.

Hilary also has a blog, and on that blog Hilary speaks her mind on everything that comes into it, including how much she can't stand the work of Thomas Kincaid. She posts videos and her drawings and waxes nostalgic for Victoria, B.C. She insults and chases away people whose comments she doesn't like. Her blog, her rules. Sadly, people have been mining Hilary's blog for evidence that she might dislike Pope Francis and thus must be a bad reporter.

You know what? You can dislike anybody and still be a good reporter, as long as you love the truth. And I know Hilary White. She loves the truth, and she does not lie. She certainly doesn't lie to be nice, believe me. She would happily tell anyone she can't stand my blog. She can't--too girly. She does feminine, but not GIRLY.

I think things are going to start getting bad for Catholic reporters and columnists--the ones who get paid, the ones whose livelihoods depend on Catholic newspapers and magazines, paper or online. I think our right to say what we think on our blogs is going to be curtailed by our fears of losing our jobs. And I think this is going to be because of a tendency my mother warned me against when I was a child, and that is the growing tendency to mistake the currently reigning pontiff for the Catholic Faith.

About Patheos, source of attacks on Hilary's integrity.* When you are paid for every click on your blog post, it must be very tempting to write controversial pieces or to sound off against well-known Catholic writers to get the hits. It might even feel good to defend the pontiff at the same time, if that is what one is doing by objecting that someone else has dared to report that the pontiff raised eyebrows by kissing the hands of an infamous dissenter from the Catholic Faith, accepting his dissenting book, wooden chalice and paten (chalice and paten being in violation of church norms concerning the Blessed Sacrament) and concelebrating Mass with him. However, there is something more important here at stake than the idea that Pope Francis is practically perfect in every way--the truth.

My faith as a Catholic has never depended on any pontiff, and I was born before the death of Paul VI. Growing up, no pope loomed largely in my life, though I remember the funeral of Paul VI or John Paul I (whoever it was who died in the summer, 'cause I saw the funeral over the TV in my American granny's house) and was troubled when John Paul II was shot. John Paul II came to visit my city in 1985, and I was shocked by how very badly he spoke English--how bizarrely he pronounced it. It never occurred to me that a pope could speak English so badly. (Duh. He improved over the years, though.) However, this didn't trouble my faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Church a whit. And although I was shocked and appalled when Benedict XVI, of whose writings I am rather fond, abdicated, I just reverted back to what I learned at my mother's knee: Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega and by comparison the pope does not much matter.

The Roman Catholic faith in its entirety, passed from one generation to the next, matters. Telling the truth matters. And so does friendship. Hilary is a very clever woman, an excellent writer and an honest reporter who does not, in her private life, suffer fools gladly. And thus my husband and I are proud to be numbered among her friends, and look forward to her exoneration by Life Site News.

*The pay-for-click policy means, of course, that every time someone clicks on Patheos, either to defend or support the attack on Hilary's integrity, the bloggers who called it into question turn a profit. So naturally I do not click, and I humbly ask you not to, either. Update: It turns out Jam (see combox) was quite right. The Patheos bloggers' attacks on Hilary began on Facebook, so the "shooting the messenger" had absolutely most likely nothing to do with any temptation to create profitable controversy. I apologize for the suggestion.

Update 2: Sigh. My most recent qualification is because I just discovered that one of the instigators did indeed post about it on Patheos. And was very rude indeed.

Update 3: LifeSite defends Hilary. About darned time, too.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The London Trip

"We're going to London tomorrow," enthused B.A., and my heart is glad that he is glad because like many Scots, he is wont to say, "I don't care for London. It is too big."

This, incidentally, is what non-Toronto people say about Toronto. What non-Warsaw people say about Warsaw I will not repeat. Objecting to the biggest, most important city of one's nation seems to be a widespread phenomenon. At any rate, due to this reluctance of B.A. to care for London, plus the inordinate expense of travel within the UK, I have not set foot in it since the Megabus took me from Victoria station to Edinburgh in 2008.

When I was a child, London seemed to me the most glamorous city in the world, not that I had been there since I was four years old. And my understanding of it was not rooted in reality, for my primary sources of information were Miroslav Sasek's This is London (1959) and Ronald Searle's Looking at London (1953). My surprise when I finally returned in the 1990s: men with Cockney accents and briefcases loudly discussing the stock market; a similarly accented Chinese bus driver; Africans sweeping the ticket-strewn Tube stations; the rapid pace of Londoners of all colours and their palpable impatience with lost tourists lugging suitcases. The 2008 morning I travelled from airport to Megabus, the grey dawn revealed endless stretches of vernacular English buildings apparently occupied entirely by South Asians, and Victoria Station had, for some inexplicable reason, complicated signs in some crazy-looking Slavic language. London is more a city of surprises than of childhood dreams come true, but all the richer for that. Graham Greene's novels make it sound like it is forever grey and rainy, a city of ghastly food and forgotten umbrellas.

So I do not know what to expect of London, other than that the train really will take us to King's Cross and that the hotel really exists and has our reservation. I assume the British Museum will still be there, and that there exists the Victoria and Albert Museum, too. Presumably there really is a Westminster Cathedral and a Brompton Oratory. I have believed for some weeks that Polish Pretend Son lives there, and Seminarian Pretend Son assured me over Facebook that he will join us all on Sunday after Mass, so I am expecting some jollity. And, since I have spoken to Fiorella de Maria over the phone at some length, I believe in the existence of the Saint Paul's Book Shop, which purports to be right near the alleged Westminster Cathedral.

As far as London goes, I think one can safely believe that the buildings stay more or less the.... Oh, I suppose not. There's that gherkin thing. Never mind. The important thing is that when we arrive at Saint Paul's Book Shop, it will really be there for Fiorella and me to read in.

The Saint Paul's Book Shop reading will involve Fiorella reading from Poor Banished Children, and then me reading from Ceremony of Innocence, and then Cecilia will play the harp. Then we will wait expectantly while customers rush to buy our books. This done, Fiorella will read from Do No Harm, and I will read from Ceremony again, and Cecilia will play another evocative piece on the harp. Then there will be another happy moment of unbridled capitalism again. Repeat.

And now I see that it is time for Pilates class, so I must fly.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Is It Mansplaining if He's Right?

Extra post today because I am annoyed. I went to the "Mansplaining" tumblr for fun stories of men making asses of themselves, but unfortunately the good times were ruined by my contrarian
brain, which said stuff like, "He was only trying to flirt with her, poor guy" and "But he was right."

Men love to teach women stuff, which can be annoying, but also has its bright side. If you want to know a guy better, you can ask him to explain something to you. And this goes for all men, ages 4 to 94. "Tell me about your collection of trucks" will win the heart of a four year old so quickly that he'll burst into tears when you leave. You can get the most shy and retiring man seated next to you at dinner to chat gaily if you find out what he knows about and ask him to explain it to you.

Men also love to argue ideas. And this is why I think the Hemingway story really doesn't belong (that and the fact that, yes, American literary style has indeed been universally influenced by Hemingway). When a guy doesn't agree with your literary opinions and says so in an academic context, that's not mansplaining. That's free speech. Let's not go crazy here.