Monday, December 31, 2012

Man's dignity

Am I the only one to have noticed that the Vatican's schedule of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council has been somewhat ...ah... low key? Nothing much going on in the Piazza about it. No big papal Masses or speeches, and no one but the Catholic commentariat paying the slightest attention, and that mostly with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Here's my buddy Chris Ferrara, talking about why that might be. Why, despite Benedict's dogged (and frankly embarrassing and tiresome) persistence on the subject, The Council's star is inevitably waning.

Do we have to say it again? Really? We have to? (Sigh)

Because it was stupid!

OK? Are we clear now? Can we please stop talking about it?

Its documents show an absolutely incredible blindness, a disconnect from reality and an eagerness to embrace all of Modernia's worst self-delusions which alone should be sufficient (and never mind the total collapse of the Faith that followed it) to have a veil drawn politely over the whole disaster. Every time I hear a bishop or a Vatican official talking about "The Council," every time I hear them say, " the Second Vatican Council taught us..." it doesn't make me angry, it makes me ashamed at the stupidity and gullibility of our leaders.

As Chris points out, Dignitatis Humanae's premise, lionizing the enlightened moral lucidity of modern men is a perfect example: “A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man…”

No it hasn’t! The crisis of “the modern world” is precisely that “contemporary man” has completely lost sight of his infinite dignity as a being created in the image and likeness of God, with an eternal destiny that should inform all earthly relations and the laws and institutions of civil society.

DH was published in 1965. Two years later, Britain started slaughtering children in the womb and created a law that made it legal. Two years after that, Canada followed suit, and three years after that, the US. It took until 1975 for Modernia's idea of the "Dignity of the Human Person" to reach Pope Paul's back yard.

Today I read that the incidence of violent rape has increased in India while the percentage of criminal convictions for rape and other violent crimes against women has fallen from 46% in the 1970s to 26% this year just past. This writer thinks it is because there are now only 916 baby girls born in India for every 1000 boys.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Creamy apples

On my constant search for a replacement for the English Fry-up, I've discovered multiple ways to combine fruit and cream. Lately, in the depths of "winter," one of my favourites has been Creamy Apples. Even in Italy, the fruit choices start getting a little monotonous at this time of year. Must try to make the best of what we've got, hey?

Creamy apples: simplest thing in the world, and OH baby! so nice!


1 large or two medium apples,
250 ml whipping cream
teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup water

Peel, core and chop the apples into spoon-size pieces and stew them in a bit of water, (just to cover the pieces) on a low heat in a heavy-bottom pot (my favourite is my enameled cast-iron saucepan I got from the 50p shop in Cheshire). Cook the apples until they are soft but not mushy. Add about 1/2 the cream and continue simmering, stirring constantly, until the cream starts thickening. Add the cinnamon. When it looks all nice and cooked, add a little more cream. Pour into a bowl and eat. Great with tea in the morning.


Thursday, December 27, 2012


is tiring.

Where I found the milk on Monday morning, after making tea. I looked in the fridge and thought, "I was sure I had some left..."

First Christmas tree in five years...bought in Rome,

stuffed into a tiny Roman cab, heaved onto the train and brought safely home by our friend Kevin. Tree decorating party on Sunday, mulled wine, cake...

My nativity set, a gift from a friend last year.

Shopping for tree decorations and presents on Saturday afternoon; this man was sitting playing this lovely instrument. It looked like a combination of lute and lyre.


Signage in Venice: encapsulates everything about Italy one needs to know. Never ask an Italian for directions.

Tea in a tea room on the Rio Maren in Venice. Coziest place I've ever been in this country. Run by a nice Venetian couple who had lived many years abroad. (Note Willow Pattern plate).

The husband was a painter and liked to paint animals, and clearly did so in North America. Not a lot of raccoons and Canada geese around here.

Mass for the third Sunday in Advent at the FSSP parish in Venice, on the Grand Canal.

Novusordoism everywhere in Venice...
That little glowing point of light at the back where the altar used to be is from a CD player that was running an endless loop of some kind of neo-Catholic New-movementy music... to lend a 'religious' air to this ancient, Byzantine church.


For some reason, I could not resist the urge to go around Venice taking photos of all the People's Trestle Tables that had been set up in the wake of the Asteroid in the sanctuaries of these old churches. And the Presiders' Chairs and Holy Microphones placed exactly to send the clearest possible message; right in front of the Tabernacle with the priest's face to The World, and his back to Christ.

Venice, early in the winter morning.

Setting off for Mass and then home on Sunday morning.

Fancy shops near St. Mark's

Live like a Venetian prince... shops near San Zaccharia


Found Religion at San Zaccharia... got there just in time for the parish Holy Hour.

The organist had to come out and ask the six chattering old ladies to be silent. I was the only one with a mantilla.

Giovanni Bellini: my new favourite Italian painter.

Favourite crucifix in Venice.

"Gondola ride, Madame?"
"No, grazie. Questo e troppo caro, per me."


Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Several years ago now (!) I spent a couple of years teaching the Confirmation catechism class at the Toronto Oratory's North Parish, St. Vincent de Paul. It was a blast, really, and I helped develop a meaningful curriculum that helped overcome a little problem they were having. (Most of the kids came from an Oratory-associated private Catholic school founded by a bunch of homeschooling parents so they more or less knew the stuff backwards. The other half came from a publicly funded "official" parochial school of the AD of Toronto and the kids had to be taught the entire business from the ground up. So the curriculum took the whole thing step by step from the catechism of St. Pius X. Don't know if they're still using it.)

One of the problems I had at first was discipline. Of course, the kids reacted to it the same way they would to a school class, which is to say, they worked at getting away with whatever they could. I remember one particularly amusing incident when three of the lead troublemakers were sitting together in the front row about four feet in front of me, talking and giggling together. I stopped talking for a moment to watch them at it while the rest of the class watched me watching them. After about a minute, they realised they were the centre of attention and stopped. I smiled and said, "What puzzles me is that you think that by putting your hand in front of your mouth I'm not going to notice that you're talking...

"Hello! I'm three feet away!"

This got a pretty big laugh.

It wasn't really a big problem and they knew that I liked them and actually had something interesting to say, so we mostly all got along pretty well. I was gratified once a couple of years after I had stopped teaching it when one of my former students told me he had given up a weekend trip because he knew he had to be in the Saturday afternoon class.

There was only one time when I had to speak privately to one kid in it who was consistently being disruptive. Monica was very bright and had a little cadre of followers whom she led in chatting and giggling during class. I cured this by taking her aside and giving her my superpowers speech.

"So, you've probably noticed that you're generally smarter than most of the other kids in your class in school, right?"

"Yeah..." smirking...

"And you probably find yourself ahead of some of your teachers once in a while, right?"

Looking a little worried now: "Well yeah, sometimes..."

"Have you ever read superhero comics?" No. "Well, I did when I was your age, and there is one thing that all superhero comics have in common. In every one of them, the hero has superpowers and at some point someone tells him that he has to make a decision whether to use his powers for good or for evil.

"Well, you, Monica, have a kind of superpower. You're really smart and the other kids can tell this. You also have an even stronger power that makes the other kids want to follow you and do what you say and do.

"So you have to decide whether you are going to use your powers for good or for evil. in this class we are doing something that will have an impact on these kids for the rest of their lives. You study algebra in school and have probably said that you can't think of where in real life you're going to use it, and you're right. I have never used algebra in my life. But this stuff is of cosmic significance, and this is going to be your last chance to get any formal instruction in it.

"In my class right now, 'the good' is being quiet and paying attention and handing in your assignments.

"Now, that is simple to say, but actually in reality pretty difficult to do, and it gets more difficult when the kid you're interested in following isn't doing it and is being distracting.

"So the decision you have to make is whether you are going to use those superpowers of yours to lead the kids to the good or the evil. Are you going to be my ally and help me get this information into their heads in the time we have? Or are you going to keep leading them into The Bad?"

I never heard another peep out of her posse for the rest of the year.

I first consciously realised I had superpowers when I took a job as a telemarketer, for one day, for a charity that raised money for liver disease research. I went to the orientation and they gave us the script and I took it home and memorised it. In the first hour, I tried a few calls and got nowhere. Then it dawned on me that this was a matter of making people do what I wanted. Suddenly, I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. I just turned on that thing I knew had been there all my life and started making them do what I wanted. By the end of the day, I'd brought in more money in direct payments (not pledges) than they'd ever had a newbie bring in.

It was just something to do with modulating my voice and knowing how to tell them what I knew they wanted to hear. To this day, I'm not entirely sure how to articulate what, exactly, I did, but it was a lesson I never forgot. And there have been more than a few tight moments that I've, frankly, been able to weasel out of trouble by using this latent gift for evil manipulation.

Many, many years later, I had an unusually frank conversation over drinks with a priest-friend about this, having noticed what he was doing and how. He was very, VERY popular in the diocese and knew how to use his good looks and charisma to get what he wanted. "It can be scary, can't it," I said, "knowing you can make people do what you want." After that, though we remained friends, he was more cautious what he said and did in front of me.

Mind powers. Once you know you've got them, it can be pretty frightening.

One of the reasons I've been enjoying Fringe is that I identify with the character of Peter Bishop. He was orphaned by circumstances at an early age, and being smart and needing to survive, developed his mind control powers to the point of being a professional and fairly successful conman. With the all-American boyish good looks of Joshua Jackson attached to his face, Peter Bishop's charm can sometimes be a little frightening. And though he is unquestionably the Good Guy in the series, there are some pretty dark conflicts going on most of the time that I think I understand. He had to be wooed over to the side of the angels, against the instincts created by his survival skills.

The writers handle this extremely well, depicting a man who is slowly won over but who retains a reserve about Doing Good, as though he has remained unconvinced that the moral path is ever going to be the most effective. The periods where Peter simply abandons the by-the-book methods and takes matters into his own hands, are probably the most interesting parts of the series. And the moments where he is shown brazenly lying to those he loves most, using their trust to his advantage without batting an eye, well, frankly, I melt.


One of the disadvantages of being brought out of The World's madness and being shown The Real and how to live in it, is that we can't ever again deny that we know what we are doing. And those of us who have spent a long time over there, been formed and trained by it, have a job of work to avoid the temptation to go back, bit by little bit.

We live with the dark side.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Hey! Let's play a game!

The Sharing Game.

It's our very favourite.

Share the closest you've ever come to dying.

Mine's easy. And not what you might expect.

It was April in Halifax and it had been a really snowy winter but it had been thawing and re-freezing a lot in the previous couple of weeks, as it does in early spring, and there was still a LOT of ice and snow around. A lot of the roofs had huge overhangs of ice, hundreds of pounds, some of them. And of course, it was all pretty unstable and when it warmed up in the afternoon on sunny days, sometimes the whole enormous pile of it would come sliding off the roof and crash onto the ground. The city was supposed to make people knock the ice and snow off their roofs, but people often didn't bother.

I was walking down Barrington Street, heading over to the Trident cafe for a tea and a read one sunny afternoon. Close to St. Patrick's church I had just passed under one of the really big ice overhangs, one of the kind that was produced by a really big pile of snow that no one had knocked off all winter, that had thawed and re-frozen a couple of times, so it was as big and heavy as a load of cinderblocks.

The crash sounded loud enough to be a car accident, and I froze, realising that a good 2 or 3 hundred pounds of solid ice, with lots of pointy jaggedy bits, had just crashed down onto the sidewalk about five feet behind me. A few seconds slower and I'd have been a bit of a jaggedy mess myself.

And people say that a belief in guardian angels is dumb.

OK, now you.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

What kind of woman are you?

In my ongoing considerations of the meaning of sexuality, call it Hilary's Gender Theory, I am often minded to wonder what kind of woman I am.

When I see something like this

and think, "I'd like to try that..."

...when I find that I despise the kind of simpering, murderous manipulativeness that has become the hallmark of modern femininity,

I wonder what is wrong with me.

I used to wonder, with much pain, in school why I never fit in. In the early to late 1970s, I thought it was because my parents were divorced, which at that time was still unusual.

It was years, decades really, before I started understanding the difference between me and the other kids. I simply never lived in the same world they did. I lived in a world that had been abolished by the time I was in school. And they lived in a new world defined, principally, by a totally new paradigm of being male and female, and which I had unconsciously rejected by the time I was ten.

I remember having a discussion about feminism with a woman I lived with when I was fifteen, telling her that she was wrong about feminism, that it was destructive and was warping her and her two young daughters and the whole world. I didn't have a vocabulary to describe what I knew, but I knew that her liberal/feminist interpretation of the universe was not just wrong, but evil.

Feminism remains the most vile and insidious creed, the most evil ideology I've ever examined. And it rules the world. The whole world. It creates monsters out of men and women, people who would rather eat their own children than give up their petty, passing pleasures.

Why don't men hunt? Why don't they farm? Why don't they marry and have children and teach their children to hunt and farm and fish? Why aren't they the heads of their homes? Why won't they stand up and teach their women to be women? Why won't they reassert the natural order of things for everyone's benefit?

I've spent my whole life feeling lost in this new world. At 23 I started roaming around the world trying to find a corner of it that was not corrupted by this thing that I had learned to hate and fear. But it is everywhere in the western world. Every place that Christianity created, it now rules.

I haven't been to Malta yet.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The other day I was overjoyed to see that the wonderful Fibonacci broccoli is back in the shops.

Italy's food production is determinedly cyclical. In the wrong season, you cannot, for love or money, get anything that isn't coming out of the ground or off the tree right now. It makes grocery shopping a little more fun. You have to learn what things are available when and what things to look forward to, and when to stop buying something because, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Italians are usually right. Food that is getting to the end of its season is really not as nice. And every time you get used to something (I've been eating the huge yellow peaches at a rate of about a pound a day) you have to learn to let it go when it's at its end. But it's OK, because it just means that the next nice thing is coming along.

The Fibonacci broccoli, properly called Romanesco, is much, much nicer than the "regular" kind we're used to in Britain and N. America. Apart from its delightful shape, and interesting mathematical/cosmological implications, it's taste is much milder and somewhat sweeter. It comes in heads like a cauliflower, only smaller, and you can cook and eat every bit, stems and leaves too, which are also very good. I usually steam it lightly, drizzle in a little olive oil or fresh butter and grate some peccorino over it.

But when I was very small, I was not such a broccoli enthusiast.

I don't know whether this memory is one of those real ones, or one of the kind your brain makes up later and convinces you is real, but one way or another I do remember it.

My dad used to take me for weekends when I was small, and on one of these occasions, I recall that we were to have dinner at his house and then go to the park to play on the slides and swings, at that time, my all-time favourite thing to do.

I asked him what was for dinner and he said, something, something... "and broccoli".

I said that I didn't like broccoli.

My father, being a guy and therefore having a rather more practical turn of mind than a woman would have, promptly responded, "OK, will you eat it if I give you five dollars?"

I agreed to this sensible transaction, believing that I was definitely coming out the winner. ("Five bucks!! Woot!"... I'm five, remember).

Well, it turned out that broccoli was actually wonderful, and I've had a lifelong love of the stuff ever since. But Fibonacci broccoli is an entirely different matter, a stage of evolution better. If you see it in some N. American yuppie specialty food store, get some immediately. You won't be sorry.


Mystical Poetry prize

Who knew there was such a thing? And it's worth some pretty big money too! €7000 Euros is nothing to sneeze at.
XXXII World Prize for Mystical Poetry Fernando Rielo in Rome

The proclamation of the XXXII Fernando Rielo World Prize for Mystical Poetry, which includes €7000, publication of the work and commemorative medal, will take place in Rome, on December 13th, at the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The event will be presided over by the Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. In addition, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will be present in a message that will be read by his representative, Monsignor José Manuel Del Río Carrasco.

I'll be going to see the Hobbit, but anyone else who's around, I'm sure there'll be really great snacks.


You can't kill people to solve your problems

because it makes you go insane.

"...Webster traipsing around the complex in a devil costume dung Webster spread along his property line to deter pro-lifers, and ... this one of Webster’s friend verbally assaulting a black pro-lifer and yelling out at a mom entering the mill to abort, 'You’re doing the right thing, and God will honor you! I believe in you, Mom'."


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brits freak out

I have scant memories of the lower middle class life I lived with my family in Manchester c. 1972, but I do recall that it wasn't pretty. It really, really didn't look anything like Downton Abbey. One of the things I appreciate about YouTube is its ability to show us television from other periods.


kind of shows what life was like then in a middle class suburb of an English conurbation in the 70s/80s. And how they really felt about it.

Is it any wonder that the English are kind of freaking out right now? The only thing holding them together at all since the Anglican takeover and the forcible suppression of The Real, has been the social rules.

Well, we got rid of those, didn't we?


A fitting tribute

...and I agree, it's a pity we don't make music this big any more for TV.
The theme music is unmistakable: Four mysterious, tentative notes descend in pings, building to a fanfare that heralds the slowly approaching vessel. As the brasses gather excitement, the giant ship gathers speed, cruising past the starry backdrop, an exhortation to venture on to strange new worlds. And then the voice-over: "Space, the final frontier…"

It is, of course, the opening of the original "Star Trek," the most famously cultish TV series of all time. When it debuted in 1966, it was unlike anything previously seen on the small screen, and the music was no exception. In fact, on a show that had an average per-episode budget of less than $200,000, music was often essential to evoking the necessary sense of wonder.

H/T to our longtime bloggie friend Six-Bells John

BTW: regular readers may find it shocking, shocking! that I own only Season 1 of TOS...(Jingle bells...jingle bells...)


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Weird, removed from reality and spooky; indeed, slightly creepy

I've figured it out: Venice is Miss Havisham.

Indeed, if there ever were a place hiding a mad old woman living in a crumbling palace, dressed in motheaten finery, waiting in bitterness for her long lost grandeur to return,

you'd find her in Venice.

I'm home. Somewhat the worse for wear. I spent 12 hours stomping around the weird old place in my big tall black winter boots in the freezing cold on Saturday. My legs, not used to that much punishment (all stone streets, up the bridge stairs, down the bridge stairs, stomp, stomp stomp...) have entirely seized up. Am applying the ancient Grandma solution of a hot-water bottle under the knees.

I can see why people get obsessed with that creepy old place, and can't stop themselves from going back again and again. It's out of my system for now, but I suspect I'll be seized with the urge again at some point. But I can't tell you how good that strangely sterile and crumbling old city makes Rome and Santa Marinella look.

Rome is vibrantly alive. Venice is a ghost.

More later. I'm tired.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Happy Punching-Heretics Day!

St. Nicholas of Myra,
pugilist and patron of the fighty,

ora pro nobis.

During the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (AD 325) there was a big argument over the divinity of Christ. Arius — a heretic — was of the idea that Christ was not divine, but rather a mere creature. The Council gave him leave to speak, to defend his claims, and he did, yammering on — I have no doubt — in a relentless flood of sophistry.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas — oh yes, he was a bishop — wasn’t having any of it. He tried to listen patiently, he really did, but Arius’ speech was just so wrong, that he was compelled to get up in the midst of it and, yep, punch him in the face.


I hold that this is the image of Santa Claus we need to reclaim. Because when you think about it, this was the original campaign to Put the Christ Back in Christmas. Arius would have made the nativity a non-event (woop-de-freakin-doo everyone, God made something else). He, majestically prefiguring the various sects of Happy-Holiday-ers, Winter Solstice-ers, and it’s-actually-a-pagan-holiday-ers (that’s the point, you muppets!) denied that Christmas need be a celebration of substance at all. So when the modern world promotes the consumerist image of Santa Claus over the image of Christ, it is not so much the wrath of Christ they should fear as it is the wrath of Santa Claus. He may very well climb down the chimney and wup yo ass.

Christmas is about this singular, terrible reality: That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the spirit of St. Nick; accept no substitute.

All of which leads me to the belief that our Christmas carols need to be rewritten in light of the Grand Punch of St. Nicholas. It wouldn’t be too hard, we could sing: “Jolly Old St. Nicholas/Lend your fist this way,” ”I saw Dawkins rocked by Santa Claus/flying from the podium last niiighht,” and of course, ”He sees when you’re dissenting/he knows when you’ve blasphemed/he knows your schismatic doctrines/and so he’s gonna punch your face/Oh, you better not doubt/You better not divide/You better not bring scandal to the Holy Roman Catholic Church/I’m telling you why/Saaaanta Claus is smacking you down,” etc. etc.

So thank you St. Nicholas, for your inspired punch. Oh I almost forgot the end of the story. I’ll let Taylor Marshall, who writes over at Cantebury Tales tell it:

Now if that were the end of the story, we probably wouldn’t know about Saint Nicholas, and our children wouldn’t be asking him for presents. However, after Nicholas was deposed, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Nicholas who was being held in a prison cell for his fist-fight with the heretic.

Our Lord Jesus Christ asked Saint Nicholas, “Why are you here?” Nicholas responded, “Because I love you, my Lord and my God.”

Christ then presented Nicholas with his copy of the Gospels. Next, the Blessed Virgin vested Nicholas with his episcopal pallium, thus restoring him to his rank as a bishop.


Unrequited Love

It's a sad thing, but sometimes no matter how much you admire someone from afar, they're just gonna hate-cha. It's not fair, and it's not nice, but there you are. That's life on planet earth. Sigh. It's tough being a mean, nasty hater.

These two, Kate Stone and David Gluck, are doing some of the best Classical Realist painting of anyone I've found so far on the net.

They've got a show at the M Gallery of Fine Art in Charleston SC., though they live in lovely old Duncan, BC. the same town as my Dad, in fact.

Oh well.

(I wonder if I'll get another nasty note from the irony-challenged guardians of tolerance and diversity.)

Check it out.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I'm having a "Yay, I didn't die of cancer!" celebratory holiday in Venice.

When I was too sick to move off the sofa without help, I vowed I would go to Venice the first moment I was strong enough. This week, I've managed to get my medication down to a quarter of what I was on at the start, and I can consistently do two articles a day and ride my bike all over Rome and go to class after work, so the time has come.

There's an el-cheapo train ticket for the slow train from Termini up the Adriatic side of the Boot. Six hours from Rome and lots of sights.

Going up for Immaculate Conception at the FSSP parish there and will spend Friday and Saturday nights camped out at a convent and walk all over the weirdest city in the world.

Got my Blue Guide (thanks Greg!) and a map, and my sketchbook and my rubber walkin' boots and I'm all excited!

Maybe even get an Acqua Alta!

Wouldn't that be cool!

Last trip in July 2010

More more more!

And here's a video for you from a band I was crazy about when I was 27


Friday, November 30, 2012

Laughing at the dead

"When the power went out one time for hours and we were all explicitly instructed NOT to open the freezer where all of the medical waste was stored (read: dead baby parts in bio-hazard bags) but inevitably, someone did open that freezer and I will never, ever forget the stench of decaying human flesh for as long as I live—but we all laughed as we gagged and joked how at least 'they' had it better in that non-functioning freezer because at least they couldn’t smell it."

When you spend every working day reading and dealing with this reality, anything Trent Reznor can produce just looks like the Teddy Bear's Picnic...

I think I have mentioned that the book that finally got me moving in the pro-life movement was this one, which I read cover to cover in 1998. In it, there is an interesting description of what happened to the minds of the people who were killing children in hospitals as part of the T-4 programme.

The records showed they all developed psychiatric conditions of various kinds, not limited to alcohol and drug abuse. It described a bizarre mock-religious ceremony, conducted in the crematorium of one hospital, in which the drunk and hysterically laughing staff, dressed in flower wreaths, lobbed the children's emaciated bodies into the fire.

One of the reasons you can't kill people to solve your problems is that it makes you go insane.


Narcissistic Cannibals

Sometimes it takes industrial metal

to call the kettle black.

The media has revealed that the UK's abortion facilities, both those private organisations funded through contracts with the NHS and the directly public NHS hospitals, regard the legal requirements of informed consent for women as a joke. Pre-signed consent forms from doctors stacked up on the receptionists' desks, women having abortions without a medical examination, doctors lying on the forms regarding the legal criteria to cover up sex-selection.

There's a petition just put up to demand that the government enforce standard NHS informed consent practices on abortionists who have demonstrated their eagerness to ignore what laws there are to kill as many as possible.

As a friend of mine put it in my FB commbox:

"Leave it to the f***ing government to make F***ing Peter 'just-cut-their-throats-and-put-them-out-of-their-misery' Singer look sane, rational and compassionate by comparison."

It makes you want to go over to the Dark Side just to be able to kick their asses.


Catholic Commando

So, I've been amusing myself by going up and down today's FB feed and leaving little Catholic commando notes on the St. Andrew's Day posts of people like David Cameron and Ed Milliband:

...And remember, the reason we observe St. Andrew's Day is because Scotland used to be a great Catholic nation...

Just to annoy...


For Gregory

I'm gonna get you hooked on this show,

then I'm gonna withhold the next dose.

Payback for making me read Twilight.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

"... after that everything changed."

"This went on until the middle of the 1970s, after that everything changed."

The damage to the world caused by the abandonment of the Holy Faith by the Catholic Church institution might never be completely calculated by history, nor may its causes ever be completely understood. There is little in human history to compare to it, and there is probably not one area of life anywhere in the world that has not been affected by it, even in those far countries where there is nearly no Christian presence.

It is hard to imagine what could possibly restore it,

apart from the Parousia.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A blast from the past

108 minutes of KYYX Radio, c. 1983

gone, but not forgotten...

Gads, I was what, 17? Is it even possible to be that young?

And by that time, I'd already been living out in the world by myself for two years. I'd already started my long journey through my own personal Sinai desert, a solitary wander that was going to last another... good God!... 30 years! And wouldn't stop until I'd entirely left that world of sex, drugs and New Wave Pop - and the whole Left Coastthink Bubble Universe -

and ended up in the last place I could possibly have imagined. Is it really possible to change that much?

This is probably the weirdest, most surreal, Twilight-Zoney thing about the internet. It brings back the past.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I first detected the existence of Leonardo di Caprio in a little film called What's Eating Gilbert Grape, starring Johnny Depp. LdC played Gilbert Grape's autistic kid brother who required constant care. So convincing was his performance that people, since no one had ever heard of the kid, thought the movie makers had hired a real autistic kid to play the role.

People are now saying that LdC is "turning into" a decent actor, but I remember when he suddenly turned into that annoying pretty-boy and recall being disappointed that Hollywood had ruined another good character actor by turning him into a "star". Glad to see he's back.



I'm such a geek!

Quick, what's the first thing you think when you look at this article about NASA maybe getting ready to invent the first FTL engine?

Was it, "But wait, that's a Vulcan ship..." ?

Then you're not a real nerd.


It's not a modernist pseudoliturgy without

Creepy Giant Puppets!!

Novusordoism... turning men away from the Church since 1965!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Been thinking today, again, about what the 60s Revolution did to us.

One of the main things the 60s Revolution (for want of a better encompassing term) has brought us is the erasure of our history. History now consists only of what a particular person remembers, or thinks he remembers.

Here is an old post in the commbox from Karen:

"When literate people raise an illiterate generation, they are communicting their terror of the judgement of posterity. I think this is also related to the tendency of people like this to bear only-children, who grow into adults without siblings to check their memories against. Divorce and multiple households also destroy the continuity needed to construct a narrative about one's own early life."

My mother, who admittedly was unusually bright, studied French, German and Latin from the start of elementary school, could draw, sight read music and do calculus they way I do crosswords. And this was fairly normal for an ordinary middle class education in Britain in her time. By the time I went to school, her generation had all but abolished language and art education in schools. And the erosion continues with my young English cousin's generation not being taught basic historical facts or elementary maths. My cousin, who is every bit as bright as I was at her age, had no idea when the second world war started or why.


Monday, November 19, 2012

A nice man

I've written before on the subject of "nice evil". I can't take credit for the expression, which I think I remember having picked up from Peter Kreeft. But just today I've been writing a bit again about our old friend Peter Singer and the odd effect he seems to have on the academic mind and it came to mind again.

Here is Dr. Charles Camosy, a "theologian" from Fordham University, describing himself as a "pro-life Christian ethicist" who met for a vegan lunch with Singer:
"I have come to like Peter Singer...I have found Singer to be friendly and compassionate. He is willing to listen to an argument from almost anyone, and is unburdened by any sort of academic pretension is so doing. He is motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals, and an equally admirable willingness to logically follow his arguments wherever they lead."

Do modern theologians ever read real theology? Have any of them ever run across the notion that evil is most successful when disguising itself as good?

The Bible mentions it a few times, if I'm not mistaken...


Real nuns!

Doing real nun-work! Who knew?

I suspect there are actually quite a few real nuns left in Italy, quietly and un-glamorously doing the Master's work

and not appearing at all on Oprah.


Friday, November 16, 2012

...but I digress

In a post, below, about learning to do things "the hard way," I mention:

In general, I think I've come to accept that the best way to do nearly anything is the hard way. For one thing, learning, for example, to sew and draft patterns by hand, or bake "from scratch" or cook from whole-food ingredients, means you will always have the skills and knowledge at your disposal and will just be generally better equipped to handle life. If you go through life only buying clothes read-made, cooking only opening packages, your choices in life are forever limited and your experience and enjoyment of life are narrowed.

... you will also be a sissified wuss who can't do anything for yourself in life and will be the first, as Douglas Adams used to say, up against the wall when the revolution comes.

Or, more to the point for those of us who are conscious of the imminentisation of the eschaton,

the first to be eaten in the Zombie Apocalypse.

Also, get off the sofa and learn to walk places.

Like Venice.

Which is a good place to be in the Z.A., BTW.

Which is more or less the reason they built the place to start with, now that I think of it... Only it was the Lombard barbarians, not zombies.

Venice makes you happy.

See? This is me in Venice, happy.

~ * ~

Also, here's an idea for those of us life-long wanderers who have left behind us across the globe a trail of bewildered friends who wonder if they will ever get to hang out with you again. Read a book together long distance. My friend Vicky and I used to do this when I first moved away from Vancouver.

Pick a book you will both enjoy, and buy a copy or get it out of the library and start on the same day, then talk to each other on FB or Skype or, [gasp!] in letters...written in pen... about what you think about it. It helps if you and your friend read at more or less the same pace, but it's not necessary.

Try it. It's really surprisingly fun.


Thursday, November 15, 2012


love is just a pain in the ass. Joan Jett for when you're in a mood...


Everybody pray

I don't think the Tiber has ever broken over the big banks (put up in the 19th century to stop the annual flooding,) but it was looking pretty worrisome yesterday when I walked over one of the bridges in the Centro Storico. The water level almost looked high enough to reach over and touch (it wasn't but it sure seemed that way,) and I thought if anyone fell in he'd be toast. Soggy toast.

This is what the Tiber at Ponte Sisto, the bridge closest to our parish and one of the oldest bridges in Rome, looks like normally

And this is what it looks like a few days ago a couple of hundred yards downriver at Tiber Island.

I you go through the neighbourhood of the parish of Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini, between the Campo di Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto and the Theatre of Marcellus, you will see a lot of medieval houses built on top of a kind of colonnade of Roman columns, salvaged from the old temples. The spaces between the columns these days are often bricked up and turned into living spaces, but in the old days, before the banks were built, that part of the city flooded so often that you built houses that way, on stilts, to avoid getting flooded out. Most of the year you could stable your horses or house your servants there, but it was a good idea to be up as high as possible.

In Venice, of course, it's been flooded for a while, but everyone is pretty used to it...

This is how you get your morning coffee in Venice during flood season

This video must have been taken a few days ago, because it's risen at least another 8 feet since.

One guy interviewed by the BBC said as long as it doesn't go above the level of the bridge arches we'll be ok. Of course, we're only a few feet away and if it does rise over the top of the arches, the bridges will be in danger of being just pushed over and into the water. That's a hell of a lot of water pressure pouring through those arches.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Christian woman combats crypto-feminism in the Church

The Woman and the Dragon.

Quite a lot of sound advice in there about how hidden feminism is destroying relations between men and women. Men, please, please, please, stop apologising for being men.


Monday, November 12, 2012

For Isabelle in Alaska: how to teach yourself to draw

I was just noticing that some time ago Isabella, who lives in Alaska, asked for advice on how to study drawing formally while living far from a classical atelier. So here is the first of a series of posts that attempts to answer how you can learn to draw when you live too far away from a good teacher. We know it is possible, since some of the great artists of the past were self-taught, at least for the most part.

Having never graduated from anything, and having thrown away a stupid amount of money on pointless college courses, I've learned to be a champion of autodidacts. Ray Bradbury, my first literary love, graduated from high school, but having been raised in the Depression, could not go to university:

"Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."

Even though I've learned to draw by direct professional instruction, I know it is possible to learn nearly anything by yourself given enough interest and drive. For many years, I believed that anything I really wanted to know I could learn from a book in the library, and for the most part this is true (with the possible exception of learning to play an instrument). With drawing you have taken on a considerable challenge in teaching yourself, but I do believe it is possible. The trick is to be motivated enough. And to remember that books are going to be of limited value.

You are indeed in a difficult spot, but it's still not impossible. The most important thing to know is that you teach yourself to draw mainly by drawing.

The trick with drawing is learning to see, and to draw what is actually there in front of your eyes. This is harder than it sounds as you have spent your whole life from infancy up learning to create interpretations of the world with your brain. This is a good and useful thing, without which you would not be able to function in the world at at all. But for drawing you will have to learn the skill of turning that process off at will. Close observation of nature, that is, of the real world, is the best training and indeed is pretty much the only way to learn to draw "realistically". As with everything else in life, "Only the Real counts" and for your drawings to be convincing they have to be about the Real World. I have written about this here and here.

When I was looking around for somewhere to study, I was aware that teaching myself was going to be very difficult. I had bought books but didn't know enough to know how to begin. I had done some of the exercises in Betty Edwards' book, but had found that the tricks of observation, while it was useful to begin to understand how your brain can fool your eyes, was not enough to bring me any further along. I also knew that I lacked the necessary self-discipline to do the enormous amount of focused work that would be required to bring myself up to a professional standard. Now it is much easier that I have developed a few skills, not only in drawing but in learning how to draw. I can make myself practice and have a great deal more courage in trying new things.

But when I was just starting, my own fury at my inability was a big stumbling block, and the poor quality of the work I was able to produce made it very hard to keep trying. The incredible leaps and bounds I made while receiving instruction has given me the confidence to do a lot of extra work at home that I would never have had the courage to try otherwise. I have written before that the real reason most people think they can't draw is that they have learned a set of iconic symbols for various objects and have not learned to use their eyes instead of their symbolic visual vocabulary when they are drawing. Learning to trust what your eyes are really seeing is a huge step. (Betty Edwards' book is quite good at helping to overcome this initial stumbling block.)

If I were to break down my advice into point form, I think I would say:

- First learn to see. Spend a lot of time looking at art. Go to galleries, buy books. Muscle memory develops motor skills by repetition. Repetitive looking will also develop seeing skills in ways you can't understand until you have them. Look at art. Spend hours poring over art books. Stare at the pictures. Waste a ton of time on it. Eventually, you will feel the first glimmers of inspiration, and will start wanting to copy them.

- When you start drawing, whatever you want to draw, forget about what the thing is. Forget about it being an armchair. It's not an armchair, it's a connected series of lights and shadows. Begin by mentally flattening it into 2 dimensions. This is something you can learn without picking up a pencil. Try it right now. Look at a distinct object in the room. Now close one eye and run your eye all around the edge of what you see. Note how the arm of the chair connects to the back right there and which direction the angle goes. Break the object down into masses. Biggest shapes first, then smaller and don't forget to look at the shapes created by negative space.

- Divide the shapes into lights and darks, and draw the shadows. Avoid drawing things as outlines around an object. Draw the shadows.

- like this.

- Try making and carrying a viewfinder around with you for a while and use it train your brain to look at things in a two-dimensional way. This is basically just a rectangular piece of heavy card that makes a frame you can look at things through. This two-dimensional view is called the Picture Plane. A viewfinder will help you to create a mental image of whatever object or scene you are looking at as though it is already a picture. Use your viewfinder to look at something, like the armchair, and break down mentally where the angles and masses are in relation to each other and to the negative space. Using this, try just looking at things and mentally working out how you would draw it. Pretty soon you will want to put this mental exercise into practice. When you start drawing, keep the viewfinder with you and use it to frame your picture, then just copy everything you see inside the frame.

- Keep scrubbing at it. People often give up too soon on a drawing that "doesn't look right". But persist on a drawing even when it's not going right. No artist ever gets the lines in the right place the first time. Looking closely at good reproductions of Leonardo's and Michelangelo's drawings will reveal that even these great masters, trained from childhood by other great masters, would lay down lines and then erase or draw over their first lines to get it right. If you don't get a drawing right at first, don't throw it away and start again, and don't erase too much. Just draw over top of what you have and keep scrubbing away at it. You will find that as you are drawing it, the object or person or whatever, will become more and more clear to your eyes as you correct the drawing. The more time you spend on a drawing, as a rule, the better it will be. Patience is hard to learn at first because as an adult you are probably overly concerned with being bad at drawing and you are going to be almost eager to be discouraged at first. Keep drawing over top of your mistakes.

- Copy the masters. Buy yourself a book or several books of large reproductions of the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Bernini to start with. These guys were the best of the best for the human figure, and learning to accurately copy their drawings (paintings are way harder, start with the drawings) and their sculptures is going to teach you things you can't even imagine knowing right now.

- Draw from largest, simplest shapes to smaller and more detailed. Don't get bogged down starting with little details in a drawing. The simpler the better at first.

- Draw a subject in the round. Don't start at the top left hand corner and work your way around the outer edge of a subject. If you are drawing a human, don't start with the head and work your way down to the feet. Start by mapping out the full figure, the extremes in all four directions, top, bottom, left and right. Then add things all around, working now here, now over there. If you feel like you are getting frustrated with a particular thing, getting the ear in the right place, or both eyes to match up, leave it and go work on something else.

- If you are getting stuck on a particular thing, "sneak up on it". Forget about drawing the eye, if you find it is stumping you. Draw all the stuff around it. Draw the eye socket, the zygomatic arch, the hair, the background. After you have drawn everything but the eye, all that will be left in the drawing is a space exactly where the eye should be.

- Isolate one area where you need to improve - maybe accuracy, or value or composition - and focus on developing that for a few weeks. If you have a decent book of instruction, you will see right away that you need to learn various specific things: line, value, form, perspective, and what to look for and how to pursue it. Then go doggedly after it for a set period of time. You will find that your improvement becomes quite noticeable, and this will boost your confidence to move on to the next thing on the list.

- Draw lots of ordinary, everyday objects. These things you have lying around the house with which you are very familiar. Everyone has a go at drawing their left hand (or whatever hand you're not using for drawing) because you are familiar with how it looks and can tell when you've got it right. Kitchen things are really good, often quite interesting and we've all got a lot of them. Draw the old hand egg beater. Draw your favourite tea cup. Draw a stack of pots. Draw your mobile phone. Draw your feet. Draw anything you can make sit still for more than ten minutes.

- Learn anatomy by copying the greats. I got quite a kick out of going through all my art books and copying noses for a week. Just page after page of noses. Do the same for the hard stuff like hands and feet. Get one good anatomy for artists book (there are probably hundreds) with good clear drawings and photos, and copy the pictures, including labels.

- Obviously, you will need a sketchbook and pencil set. I like medium size ones that are small enough to fit in my larger bags but not so small as to make drawing on them awkward or cramped. Buy a pencil kit that is rigid so the pencil leads won't break after you have gone to the trouble of getting a needle point. Keep a kit with you all the time made up of the following: 2H, HB and 2B pencils (that's hard, medium and soft); a soft gum eraser that you can buy at any art supply store and most stationers; a craft knife for sharpening, and an emery board wrapped in a tissue for bringing your pencil up to a very fine point. Carry these around with you all the time. You can start drawing in your book from postcards you keep tucked in the front flap. Once you have developed some skills, you can draw office chairs, cars, buildings or anything else that won't move. This will really build up your confidence. (You will be amazed what will impress onlookers too. I was doing a terrible, hashed up job of a sketch of a milk jug in a coffee shop where I was having tea. The waitress stopped and asked me where I learned to draw so well. People will love to watch you no matter how much you suck, which can be fun sometimes.)

- Funnily enough, one of the more useful things I've found is YouTube videos. There are a lot of videos of speeded up drawings. Skip all the stupid trashy nonsense of people drawing pictures of celebrities from magazine photos. As with books, also skip anything that tells you "how to draw ____". You want to learn to see and how to transfer what you are seeing to the page, for which the "technique" is always the same. Once you have learned this, it will apply to anything and everything. Apart from the volumes of rubbish, however, there are really quite a few serious artists out there making videos like this, and this. Watching videos can be surprisingly helpful. Slow them down, go back over and over the bits you think might be hard.

- Since the thing you have set yourself to learn is very difficult, and doing it without instruction is going to take longer than otherwise, get excited about the process. I have learned that the special joy of drawing is not in the creation of the finished object. In fact, I often don't care at all about the thing itself once I am done. But the doing of it, the actual drawing process, is such a huge joy, such a thrilling pleasure, that I would recommend it to anyone at any stage and for a lot of reasons. It is an activity that takes you out of yourself, out of time even, and allows your brain to work on a level that is, perhaps, related to that of spiritual ecstasy. It is an otherworldly state of mind that makes the doing of it a goal in itself. A way to escape your troubles, soothe and calm your mind that involves no drugs and won't put weight on you. I have said to Andrea many times while working in the studio that drawing (and now painting) is the thing I've done that has made me happier than any other activity.

Art instructors I trust: Kimon Nicolaides, his famous Natural Way to Draw has been in print for decades and is still a standard work. Juliette Aristides has produced a series of excellent books giving an outline of the Atelier method; and Harold Speed's Science and Practice of Drawing is also thought to be a classic.

But mostly you learn by doing it. Be brave enough to endure being bad at it for a while and you will get better. You don't have to show anyone.

More later...


Yet another painter

Charles Weed

I said below what I have said before, that all too often, Catholics trying consciously to do art for the Greater Glory of God become so self-consciously Catholic that their work simply comes across as, well, trying too hard. Preachy art is dull art.

As is often the case, a still life of a peeled lemon, or a landscape of birch trees or a portrait of an old man can bring across greater depth of spirituality than all the flash and laboured religiosity of many (most) of the deliberately religious contemporary art out there.

Here, I think, is another case of unconsciously spiritual art.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Not forgotten

From my own family, the men who served in both the great wars

Herbert Edward Burkett, my mother's father, William Doloughan, my mother's grandfather, and Norman Hucknell White, my father's father.


Friday, November 09, 2012

This just in... still no cancer

ADEGUATEZZA DEL CAMPIONE: Soddisfacente per la valutazione.
Non si evidenziano lesioni intraepiteliali maligne, Presenza di normale flora microbica vaginale. Non sl evidenz-iano significative alterazioni celfulari su base infiammatoria.
Ripetizione de11'esame: a giudlzio del ginecologo.

So, that's three sets of three months. Four years and two months left to go.

I sort of wish I were better at maths, because then I'd be able to figure out the ratio of time recurrence-free to the statistical chance of recurrence. I thought it would be fun to put a counter on the blog and watch the statistical chance of me dying horribly of cancer go down by increments, like one of those "____ days accident-free" you see on construction sites.

Maybe that would be slightly creepy though...


Thursday, November 08, 2012

New painter

Someone consciously Catholic and doing the whole, Art-for-the-glory-of-God thing...

Don't really have a lot of confidence in the ability of Catholics these days to produce decent religious art. But some of this isn't bad.


Blast from the past

Oh! you pretty things!

Cheer up, Yankees, we all knew the world was ending...

I remember the first time I heard this album in the cool attic bedroom of my friend Brigid Skelton when we were both 17. That year, I was listening one night to the great (and much lamented) KYYX radio station down in Seattle and they were giving away free tickets to the upcoming Serious Mooonlight Bowie tour. The skill-testing question was "What was the name of David Bowie's first commercial album". A few minutes later some guy came on and said, "Uhhh was it Changes 1?"

What? What?!

What kind of a stupid answer was that? EVERYone knows it was Hunky Dory. I called and won the tickets. Then I told the radio guy that I lived in Victoria and could he mail them?

No. No he couldn't.

I didn't see Serious Moonlight, thought by many to be Bowie's greatest. I had to settle for Glass Spider...

All my friends went to Serious Moonlight...



Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The "New Mass" dies a little every time

This video was rather clever, in that a lot of the crowd shots and a few of the altar shots are actually not taken from the Big Mass at St. Peter's but at our own parish of Trinita Dei Pellegrini. It's funny for me to think that I know a great many people in this video. However did my life get this interesting?

Also, can we please stop pretending that we're surprised that the Traddie world is attracting vocations? Novusordoism has nothing to offer someone looking for somewhere to give himself to God. Only Catholicism (which is what we used to call "traditionalism") is going to fit that bill. How is it surprising that this nearly abandoned dead-end has failed to attract honest Catholics? It isn't.


In case you're wondering

I'm just going to carry on ignoring the US news. Except perhaps to remind everyone that we pretty much get the leaders we deserve.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012


Every year, people line up along the Tiber to watch this

Starlings, millions of them, winter in the plane trees that line the Lungotevere, the two roads along the banks of the river. It really is an arresting sight.

The trouble is that the birds are a little, as Wanted in Rome put it, "antisocial" in their habits. It makes walking along the Tiber an unpleasant prospect, and there are several other roosting sites around the City where it becomes unpleasant to walk.

Every year, the City administration tries to "do something" about it. No one wants to just get rid of the starlings, but, well, nature's kind of gross sometimes.


Anna's portrait

Up late last night finishing this charcoal portrait of my friend Anna.

There are still some things to fiddle with, as there always are, and there are a couple of outright errors, but overall I'm pretty pleased. Especially considering that I only had her here for two sittings.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

You'll go all misty

and if you don't you have no soul.

Peter and Walter bonding.



Get ON with it, you people!

I want one of these now worse than I ever wanted a flying jet car. I flatly refuse to go to my grave before flying in one, so on yer bikes!

And, a blast from the past,

the arrival of the Graf Zeppelin in New York in 1929.

Why didn't the 20th century work out better, dammit?

And this:

the Aeroscraft Cruiser. In fact, I think I just want to live on one. Never set foot on this crap planet again.


Oh China, you crazy nut!

It's a popcorn canon.

Yes, it's because they're weird.


Art + Science = Amazingly Cool

Recently got interested in a series of YouTube videos on the incredible intricacies of the chemistry and mechanics of sub-microscopic biological systems. There's a whole universe of stuff going on inside you right now.


Doing things the hard way

Well, I've finished my first painting class. It was incredibly difficult, and really was a matter of being thrown into something without knowing what I was doing. When you're learning something new, completely from scratch, as an adult, it can be tremendously frustrating and that frustration of course adds to one's difficulties. Adults are used to being good at things, and for the most part we've got to this stage in our lives pretty comfortably just with whatever set of skills we acquired in youth and it can be hard to convince our brains that the pain and trouble of learning something new is worthwhile. Especially in the midst of the pain and trouble.

I'm fairly pleased with the result. Not that the painting itself is worth looking at as a piece of work (no, you're not getting pics, sorry) but because it shows a clear progression from not-having-a-clew to starting-to-get-the-gist. It's painful, but really quite a satisfying experience to actually feel the new grooves being ground into your synapses. Though I was, at stages, ready to bang my head on the floor over it, I'm very happy I tried it and am ready to launch into the next one and take it to the next stage.

One of the things that I appreciate about it is learning colour mixing. I wouldn't know myself, having never studied art anywhere else, but apparently other teaching methods don't include this skill. One is simply expected to buy lots and lots of different tubes of colours and learn to put them together on the palette. But Andrea's method is called the Limited Palette, and involves starting with the same set of primary colours (not Primary Colours, which is a related but separate physics-thing) Lead or Flake White, Yellow Ochre, Red Oxide, Cobalt Blue, Alizerin Crimson and Black Ivory. These six are arranged along the top edge of the palette, and from them, a set of secondary colours, green, purple, the light shades of green, pink, lavender, light ochre and light blue that you use with the primaries to create the shades matched to the model.

I spent nearly a whole class doing nothing but mixing colours, trying to match them to the skin tones of our model, and hardly putting anything on the painting.

James Gurney (the Dinotopia guy) writes here an interesting blog post about the value of putting away all the tubes of secondary colours and learning to mix your own. It wasn't until recently that I realised how rare it is for an art course to take it for granted that you learn to mix your own. (Another sign of the cultural apocalypse, the result of the 20th century Asteroid.)

In general, I think I've come to accept that the best way to do nearly anything is the hard way. For one thing, learning, for example, to sew and draft patterns by hand, or bake "from scratch" or cook from whole-food ingredients, means you will always have the skills and knowledge at your disposal and will just be generally better equipped to handle life. If you go through life only buying clothes read-made, cooking only opening packages, your choices in life are forever limited and your experience and enjoyment of life are narrowed.

But the other great value of doing things the hard way, at least at the beginning, is that difficult things, time consuming things, stop being intimidating. Tasks in life seem less like obstacles and more like interesting journeys. It makes all of life into a vast, grand and fascinating experiment. If you've committed to making yourself a new blouse by first drafting the pattern from sketches, then creating a muslin sloper mock-up for fitting, then putting the blouse together by hand stitching without a machine, doing bound button holes, welt pockets or properly sealed french or flat-felled seams, or even a little embroidery around the cuffs and collar, really don't seem like that much extra trouble. You've committed to doing it the hard way anyway, so why not go the extra mile?

When you have been trained, or later in life trained yourself, to stop struggling against the threat of difficulties and attack them eagerly as challenges, life ceases to be a struggle or a slog. Fear of life was crippling to me for many years, and I can't tell you what a relief it is to no longer be afraid of things.

Or at least, to know concretely that when you are afraid, it can be handled, that troubles, though frightening, don't have to be crippling. Or at least-at least, if you ever are temporarily crippled by fears and insecurities, it becomes possible to bounce back and struggle forward and overcome. It gives you courage, in short. Particularly if you know that most of the time the difficulties you are facing are freely chosen, not imposed. It certainly makes the ones that are imposed against your will easier to handle.

I've read somewhere that the easy road leads to perdition, and that it is a hard and narrow way that leads to salvation. I can well believe this, since it seems to be verifiable in the natural realm as well.

I read a few books by a psychologist on human evil many years ago, and he applied a principle of mental health to the ancient conundrum. He says that progress in psychotherapy can only be made once the patient starts to accept the primary rule of life: that it is difficult. Problems can only become useful once one has lost the notion that everything in life ought by rights to be easy and smooth going all the time. People fight all their lives to try to make things as easy for themselves as possible, and this is perfectly natural and a good thing. But once comfort becomes the primary concern, cowardice becomes our only reaction to every difficulty.

It's another of the pervasive Fantasies of modern life, that it has to be easy and smooth all the time. One that will send us mad and make us into demons. But getting to the point of willingly or even eagerly embracing suffering is the work of a lifetime. Personally, my many temper tantrums when things don't go my way show clearly how much more life I will require to get there.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

What the Feast of All Souls is supposed to look like

Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini

If you don't know what that big thing is, you can thank Vatican II. Novusordoism: not Catholicism. (It's a catafalque.)


Friday, November 02, 2012

The secret's in the deglazing

Made Fegato alla Veneziana for lunch today. I've been ordering it in Roman restaurants lately and it's wonderful, and often the cheapest and most digestible thing on the menu.

Today, faced with a pound of beef liver, I was fed up with my unsuccessful attempts to do it the way my mother did it; floured in a pan with butter. It always seemed to turn out burnt on one side and the flouring stuck to the pan.

The Italian way is soooo good!


1 pound of beef or calves liver, very thinly sliced and cut into strips
1 large onion, sliced into strips
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 and apple, cored, peeled and sliced thin
about 2 tbs olive oil
1 cup or so of red or white wine
dash of aceto balsamico
1/2 tsp rice flour (optional)
knob of butter

Saute the onions, garlic and apple in a pan with olive oil until soft and fragrant. Pile onto a plate, cover and set aside. Add a little more olive oil to the pan and add the liver but don't cook it too hot. Sprinkle with balsamico, but not too much. Keep the temp low. The liver will release quite a bit of meat juice, let it cook in that at a low heat until it is tender and still slightly pink. Remove the liver while keeping the juices in the pan. Turn the heat up and get the pan and the juice very hot, then add the wine and deglaze the pan with the back of a fork (no teflon in my kitchen!). When the wine has reduced a bit, add the butter. If you want, you can sprinkle the sauce very gently and sparsely with rice flour to thicken. Stir fast. You won't need more than a 1/2 a teaspoon, if that. When the sauce is ready, pour the liver and onion mixture back into the pan, stirring it all round in the sauce until everything is nice and coated and hot.


You'll be amazed at how good it is. It will put a completely new idea about liver into your head.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I think the lovliest time of the year is the spring makes every Sunday a treat for me too...

Gerald Warner asks the question all the Trads are asking louder and louder every year...

How could clergy transgress so gravely against the doctrines of the Church? What doctrines? These offences took place in the wake of Vatican II, when doctrines were being thrown out like so much lumber. These offenders were the children of Paul VI and "aggiornamento". Once you have debauched the Mystical Body of Christ, defiling altar boys comes easily.

"So, how's that New Springtime working out for y'all?"

PS: I'm totally going to pinch "ecumaniac episcobabble" some time.


Scruton on Socialism

Some years ago, I realised the real nature of the threat of Socialism, which was one, I believe, not intended by its authors. It removes the onus of care from the individual to The State. It allows us to walk by on the other side without stopping because one can assume that a social worker, someone duly authorised by The State will come along and help the man left for dead in the ditch.

The next logical thought, of course, is that if the man is still lying in the ditch the next time you pass by on the other side, it must be because he refused the Official Help of The State, and therefore prefers the ditch.

In short, it destroys charity.

Roger Scruton seems also to have figured this out:

"All of us have social instincts which prompt us. When we see somebody in trouble, we help. And the great question is, when the state steps in, do they still go on doing this? And actually, they don't – and you find when you look to eastern Europe" ..."when the state took over everything, you find this great vacuum of charitable feeling, which is a huge loss of social capital. I think we still have social capital here because the state hasn't expropriated all these things … The question is how to release it and make it work."


Swish this around

it'll help you get the taste out of your mouth.


Gimme the old days when you could go to Mass and not think about a blessed thing

My latest piece for the Remnant is on "How to get thrown out of a church in Rome for praying too much". I blow away the fond fantasies of the rest of the Catholic world that somehow the Faith survived the Asteroid better in Italy, and in Rome, than elsewhere.

The New Mass always reminds me of 10th grade gym class...
"One of the things I find so offensive about the Novusordoist regime is the demand that we all do the same thing at the same time, in the same way. Sit, stand, kneel (briefly), up, down, up, down. And anyone not bouncing up and down with the rest of the class is quickly called out for failing to Actively Participate in the Catholic calisthenics. The demand is not so much for unity, since no two Catholics believe the same thing any more, but lockstep uniformity.

The traditional rites of the Church left you to actively participate in your own way. You could pray the Rosary, (and clank it on the back of the next pew if you liked); you could follow eagerly along in your book if you were a keener. Or you could do what I do and consider your having shown up on time to be adequately active and participatory, and spend your time blissfully daydreaming and looking at the frescoes and thinking vaguely holy thoughts."


Monday, October 29, 2012

Via Pulchritudinis: Art and Faith

Why do I love being Catholic? One of the reasons is that it is probably the only religion in the world, and certainly the only kind of Christianity that recognises the central place of Beauty in the search for the Ultimate Real. Nothing can be beautiful which is not true, as our friend John Ruskin said, and this hints at something more important, that the more a thing, particularly a person, approaches that Final Real the more beautiful and attractive it becomes. Catholicism knows what beauty is for, and how it points to God.

This year is the 500th anniversary of the completion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling decoration by Michelangelo, and the Vatican Museums have produced a film to commemorate it called the Art and Faith: Via Pulchritudinis, the "Way of Beauty".

The Pope attended the premier screening on Thursday (perhaps somewhat ironically held in the painfully ugly Paul VI Audience Hall that boasts what is probably the most hideous object of contemporary religious "art" anyone has ever seen.)

Here's what the Pope had to say about the film's premise:

It could be said that the artistic heritage of Vatican City is a sort of large "parable" by which the Pope speaks to men and women from all over the world, and therefore many cultural and religious affiliations, people who may never read a speech or a sermon. It makes you think about what Jesus said to his disciples, "To you the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are explained, and those outside everything is announced in parables (Mk 4,10-12)".

The language of art is a language of parables, with a special openness to the universal: the "Way of Beauty" is a way capable of leading the mind and heart to the Lord, to elevate them to the heights of God



Two small movies that really actually rocked.

Ordinary Decent Criminal


The Shipping News - slow start but built up, and very, very Canadian (despite the multi-national cast) and Gordon Pinsent!


Hey everybody, Free Stuff!

And the best kind of free stuff, free books! At the Open Library from Robart's library at the University of Toronto.

H/t to O's Picnicker Bill White


Friday, October 26, 2012

"Hearken, O my son, to the precept of your master...

...and incline the ear of your heart."

Be careful and attentive to all the matters God has committed to your care, but if possible do not be solicitous or worried; that is, do not burden yourself over them with uneasiness or anxiety. - St. Francis de Sales

I've picked up The Rule of St. Benedict again. I've got a wonderful commentary by Dom Paul Delatte translated at Ampleforth in 1917 and republished a few years ago. Until this edition it was quite rare to find it in English and it was mostly housed in the libraries of Benedictine monasteries, and so not very available. The only other one I'd ever seen was kindly lent to me by the Prioress of the Solesmes Benedictine house at Westfield Vermont. I'd forgotten how sublime Dom Delatte is, how much he makes you want to try to be more holy. Even more so than his great predecessor, Dom Gueranger.

It was doing, thinking and writing about Art that started the questions rolling forward again. What is The Real? Would I know it if I were looking straight at it?

The kind of art study I'm doing requires one to focus a very concentrated attention on what is actually in front of one's eyes. It is a study oriented towards the absolute concrete reality of the thing one is drawing or painting. Any deviation from that is a failure. It leaves no room whatever for personal preference to be inserted. Decisions about how to depict the thing in front of you, of course, but nothing gets made up.

It is giving other kinds of real things room to sneak into my mind again.


It's creeping back, sneakily

So you want to know the best time to serve the Lord? It is the present time, which is in your possession here and now. The past is no longer yours; the future has not come yet and is uncertain. The best time is really the present, which you should spend in serving God. - St. Francis de Sales


Thursday, October 25, 2012


I have invented a new Primal snack food to have with your tea. I call it "Bakies". It's kind of a combination cookie and cake, and you bake it, know... that's the name.

You make it with ground coconut, ground hazelnuts, about a tablespoon of rice flour, butter, honey, baking powder, a little cream of tartar.

I don't really have any measurements to give you. Just take a few tablespoons of each thing, gish it all together in a bowl (I use one of those big coffee bowls) lob it into a cake tin and into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. It's amazingly like cake/cookies, without being bad for you. Nothing but no-gluten, no-wheat, low-carb, high-proteiny goodness.

OK, I'll do a little guesstimating with the amounts. Preheat the oven to about 180C (350F)
2 oz ground coconut
2 oz ground hazelnuts
1 or 2 tablespoons rice flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp (or so) baking powder
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- maybe some ground nutmeg and cinnamon or even a 1/4 tsp of chai spice if you've got it lying about

Mix all the dry ingredients in a small bowl.

1 oz soft butter (if it's hard, just cut it up into little chunks and give it extra mixing with a fork)
1 tbs honey
1 egg

Nearly all these ingredients can be adjusted to taste. I just sort of threw it all together the first time. I've just done enough cakes over the years that I know what a batter is supposed to taste like and can recognise by taste when I've not got enough of something. It's just practice. Keep trying it and remember that half the fun is having it turn out slightly different every time.

Gish it all around very thoroughly until the mixture is more or less even.
Once you've got it the way you like it, put a sheet of greaseproof paper in the cake tin and slosh the dough/batter onto it, and smooth it about into a round patty like a big cookie.

The dough/batter shouldn't be so liquid it runs, and shouldn't be so doughy that you could knead it.

Oh I don't know, kind of like muffin batter I guess. Just figure it out. If it's too runny, throw in a little more coconut to absorb the liquid, but don't use the ground hazelnut which can make the Bakie slightly bitter.

Shove it into the oven for 20 minutes or so, or until it goes crispy around the edges.

Eat hot with tea. Makes a nice breakfast with a side of no-sugar fruit preserves.

Another variation which is really nice is to cut up some soft fruit like a plum (skin on) and mix it into the dough. When it bakes, the fruit is just softened and the tartness of the plum really heightens the nuttiness without adding any sugar.


Crispin Crispianus

Happy feast of Agincourt, everyone,

and here's a little reminder of how to respond to bullies.


Emo classics

If I'd had the least sense of style as a teenager, I'd have been into Bauhaus and worn a lot more black eyeliner.

Alas, it' just looks silly on a grown-up.

Still, there's so many more things I can get away with now than I could then and there's no question it's a hell of a lot more fun to be a cheerful misanthrope in one's 4-ties.

I've got Cardinals who want me dead, so I spose it balances out.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Square in the 60s

1968: the year the world ended.


See? I told you...

Doc's appt. today:

She said that there didn't seem to be anything wrong just from the looks of things, and the ultrasound showed nothing abnormal. Now I have to wait for the test results (a couple of days) and have to go have my annual CT scan, but on the whole she said the pain would probably be a mild infection in the surgeried area. She says this is very common and has given me a prescription and said to take it easy for a few days, more sleep, which is always nice, and to get the CT scan as soon as possible, with some blood tests.

The CT scan and cellular test will show definitively, but she said there are no visible signs of cancer.

Went down to St. Peter's after the appointment, (thinking I might go in for a bit, but being a Wednesday the line was incredible) and sat in the Piazza for a while at the foot of one of the columns, watching the kids playing, chasing the pigeons, and the Philippina nuns having lunch after the weekly audience, the crowds of tourists following along behind the tour guide ladies holding up their little umbrellas. They've still got the banners up from the canonisations on Sunday.

Rather peaceful, in a busy sort of way.

Here's a cool old-timey song for you to chill to.


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Regionals

Last night I was earnestly assured by two young American friends that there is really one "Canadian accent" and that was Southwestern Ontario.

Well, to that, I say,

This. Is. Canadian.


A Symbolic Dream of Purgatory

I went to bed last night very tired. We had a lovely day, (the new roommate and I; don't worry, I'm not using the Royal We just yet) went into the City for Mass and the baptism of the baby of some friends of ours here. Afterwards we all had a very nice lunch and went home on the three o'clock train-o, so got home at a reasonable time. It was quite hot in Rome yesterday, and we were all exhausted by the time we got home and had to have a sleep. As I said below, I'd been up all night the other night, and was still tired. Another friend is visiting for a few days and we were to have dinner together for his only free evening in Santa Marinella, so I needed a rest before going out again.

I'll let y'all in on a little secret, if you promise to be good and not freak out on me. I've been in quite a bit of pain lately, and of course, am worried that my little respite from cancer is at an end, and that we are about to launch into Round Two. It's been going on for a couple of weeks, and I've been trying to ignore it and explain it away. But it was pretty bad the other day, so I made the appointment to get it checked for Wednesday. So this, amongst other things, was what was keeping me up the other night, and has been interrupting my important Art Thoughts. (Work never gets interrupted by anything, since I tend to just tune out the rest of the universe when I'm on Working Hours.)

But before you all have sets of conniptions, I'm really not thinking that it's The Worst. I've been reading and have found that pain of this kind after (h-word) is not at all unusual, and is really just my body adjusting to the new situation. The doctors were all so very confident that things are going to be fine, that I'm still not very worried.

What was worrying me was the state of my soul. I know all about my sins, and I know what is always bubbling away under the surface, and it is - how shall I say this - cause for concern. Yes, yes, I know, Divine Grace and the sacraments and all that... yes. But still...

So I lay down and slept, and when I woke up, realised I had been told something quite specific in the following dream:

I was in a group of young women, a kind of school, being led by an older lady whose work was to teach us the feminine skills. We lived in a house by the side of a large lake and often swam and went on a boat out on the lake. We sewed and looked after the garden and learned to make lace. It was quite peaceful. But I soon learned that she was a woman of secrets. In her garden was a derelict and crumbling treehouse, that had obviously been built ingeniously for a loved child to play in. Living in the little treehouse, which you could see from the kitchen window, was a kind of creature, like a dwarf who was not a child but sometimes acted like one, and sometimes came into the house to steal things. The treehouse also had all kinds of wonderful other creatures living in it, both beautiful and fearsome: some kind of variety of praying mantis, black and covered in leaf-like camouflage; a furry predator, not like a cat but more like a mongoose, only larger with grey and white striped markings like a badger; a little white furred creature like a marmoset, with long fingers and huge eyes.

One day, the lady took us on a trip to visit her old home. It turned out that she had been married and had left her home when her husband died, exactly as it was with all their furniture and pictures and mementoes just abandoned. The house was almost impossible to live in. I went outside and discovered the reason. It was built on stilts or pylons in the middle of the lake, but it was terribly unstable, and swayed and rocked constantly with the waves, so it was impossible to walk around in and all the furnishings and china was in danger of smashing on the floor. We were politely going about the place and she was telling us about all her things and her life with her husband, but it was very difficult, and I couldn’t wait to leave the place. I was terribly frightened that the whole thing was about to crash into the water and sink to the bottom of the lake.

At one point, I wandered off by myself to look about, and opened a door to what had been the boathouse, though it was now very deteriorated. Suddenly, I felt a great lurch under my feet, and the boathouse sped off away from the rest of the house. I realised that it had been stolen and the thief didn’t know I was inside. I shouted and waved but the powerboat she was using to tow the boathouse was too loud and she didn’t hear me. I held on while we sped off across the lake. When we reached the other side, something had gone wrong with the thief’s plans and the boathouse crashed into the pier and kept going, racing along a road, and finally coming to a stop in the centre of a small town.

The old lady’s boathouse was in pieces, and I was surrounded by curious people, but unhurt. The little town was very beautiful, like an idealised New England village, and I knew somehow that all the people who lived here were artists. I wanted to stay but I knew I had to get back. I immediately asked the way back to the other side of the lake so I could rejoin my group. Someone offered to take me there, but when I got into his boat, he instead took me to this very strange place and dropped me off.

After this, the dream became very surreal. I was in a great palace built on the shore of this lake, and the people in it were all at war. They were nearly all ambassadors from the various kingdoms that surrounded the lake. They had all come to make petitions to the one great king who ruled the whole thing, and who was very difficult to get to see. You had to be very obsequious to the king’s servants, and even then they were pretty capricious and might take your flattery and your bribes and then betray you. I didn’t have any money and wasn’t an ambassador, and all I wanted was directions home, so I started wandering around the place looking for someone who might be able to direct me.

The palace was rather a horrible place. It was like a 1960s Le Cobusier or Arthur Erikson version of a fairytale palace. Huge, cold and empty, bare walls and very tall ceilings with very short doors one had to stoop to go through. Everyone there seemed miserable and angry and everyone was conspiring against everyone else. I started to want to go home very badly. Everyone was dressed in strange, cheap looking costumes, as if they were all cast in one of those Sinbad or Jason and the Argonaut movies from the 1960s. I was still in my school girl uniform.

The one thing I understood about it was that it had been for this place that I and the other girls were studying to come. We were being trained to be ladies-in-waiting to the court ladies here, which news seemed quite disappointing.

At one point, I met someone who said he would introduce me to the king. We went into a big hall that was sparsely populated with milling, badly dressed people. The king was a little middle aged man sitting on a folding chair instead of a throne, and quite short. He didn’t look directly at me when he talked. I bowed (no curtsey) and he asked me what I wanted. I said I needed to get back to my lessons and wanted to go home but was lost, and could he please direct me back to the other side of the lake.

Then someone in the room shouted that I was a spy and a harlot. I said I wasn’t a spy and would leave and just find my own way home. But the king became angry and ordered me clapped in irons and thown into a dungeon. So the clapping-in-irons courtier came along with a big wooden box on wheels, like a gardening box, and brought along some thin chains and put them on me, and took me over to a card table near the wall where another official took my name and gave me a paper number, like in a shop. He told me to go over there and someone would be along shortly to tell me what to do.

A young man came along with a large wooden case. In it was a huge pile of little trinkets, like the sort of thing you see on a girl’s charm bracelet (I’ve always disliked them). He told me to choose which one best represented my “burden”. I didn’t really know what he meant and said I didn’t have any burdens just then except wanting to go home (I begin to sound like Dorothy in Oz at this point). He said to look anyway because I had to have one. So I rummaged around and found a little seashell that was partly covered in silver.

Then he led me over to a line of people in front of a large set of double doors and left me. When I got to the doors, a man took my name and gave me a key to the chains and I went through carrying the shell. There was no one else around and the doors led to a rather bleak-looking very long hallway. I took off the chains and stared walking down the hall, that had a row of windows along the right side. Out the windows was a large city, looking very grey and industrial and lifeless, though the sun was shining very strongly. The hallway looked like the back corridors of the Gemelli, very stark and somewhat crumbling.

The hallway ended in a kind of foyer, painted institutional green, and a young blonde woman dressed very plainly in a pair of jeans and a plain top, sat at a table with a lot of papers. She looked up as I came in and asked me for my burden. I handed her the shell and she told me to follow her. She went over to a complicated looking board where I saw my name written. It was a huge bulletin board all covered in lists of names and places, maps of different islands on the lake, set out in hundreds of different kinds of coloured construction paper. She shifted some things around and wrote some things down in some kind of very complicated filing system, and then wrote on a clipboard and handed me the papers, all different colours and covered in a kind of pictogram writing that I couldn’t read.

She told me not to worry, that I was going to be just fine. She pushed a button somewhere and the next door opened. I went through and everything was quite different. The door closed behind me and I turned around and saw that there was no way to open it on this side. The room was like a changing room in a posh dress shop, all upholstered furniture and gold and pink wall paper, light fixtures had gilded curlicues and there was a large closet with hooks to hang things from. A voice told me to take off my school uniform, and hang it up neatly and put on the clothes I found. They were very simple, a black sleeveless t-shirt and loose black trousers. It looked vaguely like a servant’s uniform.

Then I was distracted by a bright light, and I turned around and saw to the right was a large window, a French door, really, and through the window was a beautiful sight. A garden, all hung with greenery and blooming with huge roses, with lovely marble statues. It was an Italian style garden, with a fountain in the centre, surrounded by a high wall, with tall trees hung with garlands of winding plants all blossoming. There were brightly coloured birds, like hummingbirds but larger, and butterflies. The light came down in golden streaks, and at the centre behind the fountain was a gigantic rose tree in full bloom ten times the height of a man, that was obviously magical. It nearly glowed with a light of its own. I was mesmerised by this perfect sight and I forgot all about trying to get back to school, and instantly knew that I would rather be in that garden and touch those roses than do anything else, ever.

As I looked, I saw a man dressed in some kind of livery, walk past the window, and I wanted to ask him where I was. I went towards the windows, and he appeared again, and stood in the way. He didn’t say anything, but he had a stern look, and he pointed to another door, opposite the one by which I had come in. I was terribly disappointed at this, because now I wanted so badly to get into the garden, but there didn’t seem any way to get past him, so I went through this last door.

On the other side, it was clear that I was in a large and beautiful Italian Baroque palazzo, in a covered open space with a lot of corridors of tall columns, all painted that lovely shade of Roman pinky-orange, leading off in different directions. I knew the garden was around here somewhere. There was no sign of the liveried servant. Then a nice looking young fellow, about 17 or 18, wearing the same sort of outfit I was in, came up to me and said I had to be fitted. He asked to see my papers, and I handed him the whole sheaf. He read them for a moment and gestured to a little alcove where there was a kind of sewing shop set up. He very quickly made me a kind of fancy dress out of yards of tulle covered in little rhinestones, some shiny silk and gold fabric draped around and bunches of silk flowers. He arranged all of these over my black outfit. He did my hair up in a huge bunch and put a lot of the flowers in it and a few little clips with pearls on. He stood back and said I looked fine and was ready.

I looked in the mirror, and saw that I was dressed up in a kind of little girl’s idea of a fairytale princess costume, the kind I would have loved when I was five. It was terribly impractical though, and I felt a bit silly, since he had put it together mostly with safety pins, it looked as if it was all about to fall apart at any moment.

He said I should go and have a nice time, and someone would be along soon to tell me what to do next. I didn’t know quite what to make of this, so I thought I would just explore and see what could be seen. I found the palace was enormous, and was a complex of huge airy rooms covered in baroque frescoes with scenes of people dancing and feasting and playing instruments, and all the windows looked out onto little gardens, none of which were so grand as the first one. There seemed to be no “outside” to this place that looked as if it would go on forever. There were a few broad marble staircases that went up to other levels, but I had an idea that I was not allowed to go up there.

I came finally to the end of a corridor that ended in another wide marble stair. This led down into a grassy valley where there were a lot of other people dressed similarly to me, dancing. I wanted to go join them because by this time I was completely lost and couldn’t find my way back to the main garden. But just at that moment, another girl came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I said I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me what to do, and that I wanted to get into the main garden but couldn’t find that either. She said she was also looking for it, and not to bother going and talking to the dancing people because they were as lost as I was and had given up looking.

We decided to go back to see if we could find the young man. We retraced our steps and found him at last, fitting someone else out the same way, doing quite a lazy job of it. At this point, the first liveried servant came along, and scolded the boy for being so bad at his job. He replied that he had never wanted to be a dress designer, but wanted to go work in the palace’s garage as a car mechanic instead. Then the head servant turned to me and asked if I could sew, and if I could did I want the job. The boy looked so hopeful that I thought I couldn’t let him down, since he had been so nice to me. I said I could actually sew pretty well, and had been trained for it. But that I might need some help, and asked if the girl I’d met could do it too. The servant agreed, and we started work.

Every few hours, another bewildered-looking person would come through the door, dressed in black, and it was our job to fit them out with proper clothes for serving in the palace. I knew that we were very close to the garden and knew somehow that if I just was patient and concentrated on my work, the owner of the palace, a great queen, would come home and take us into it.

Sometimes the person who came through the door was dressed in red instead of black, and we were not allowed to dress these people. They took their sheaf of papers, which looked like gold leaf instead of multicoloured paper, and went off instead with the liveried servant to some other part of the palace and we didn’t see them again.

Soon all the other people whom the boy had dressed so badly came to us to have their clothes redone, and we had quite a happy time, though there was a lot of work to do.

That’s it. And I’m really not making up one word of this. I woke up and lay in bed a long time thinking about it. I knew it was about Purgatory (well, durrrrr) and that I had gone to bed last night terribly worried about things, and felt a great deal better about it all today. I wanted to write it all down before it faded.