Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I think the lovliest time of the year is the spring

..it 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, so...you 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.


Wow! check this out.

I was a kid when computers started being used in making animated films. In those days, though, it was a much more limited thing and the animation was still done by artists using cells. Nelvana was a great innovator in the field, and started making films that were of interest to adults as well as children.

Now, of course, they are simply astonishing, and they are producing films ostensibly for children that adults can really love. Some of my happiest movie experiences lately have been Up, Despicable Me and The Incredibles. I also quite enjoyed Ice Age (though less so the sequels) and that Hedge movie with Shatner. Looking on YouTube under "short animated films" will reveal some absolutely astounding and wondrous work. These movies are probably some of the best film making, including in the script writing, character and stories, going on right now. So much that it seems a whole new genre of high-quality movies has been created.

This thing, Epic, looks to be following that trend. I have one reservation though. A story made by modern people about fairies and their interactions with the human world seems wide open to be a vehicle for some very evil ideas. I don't know anything about it other than the trailer above, but I've got a suspicious feeling about it. I fear it could be what a friend of mine calls an "ambush movie" where the beauty of the work is concealing and slyly selling some terrifyingly evil political or philosophical message. Like that Avatar thing, that made everyone so depressed. I wanted to see the Philip Pullman movies for that reason, they looked so visually amazing. But the reviews were rather bad.


Saturday, October 20, 2012


Sometimes my brain gets so clogged up with things to think about that I don't sleep. It's OK, as long as I can get caught up later. But as a result, I've become quite familiar with the sounds and habits of the night hunting animals, particularly the bats. It's just about six thirty, and the birds have just this minute started twittering, but I noticed that just a couple of minutes before they did, I was hearing quite a different sound. A chirping noise that was quite unbirdlike.

It was the bats who live in the pine trees. The noise was exactly the same as in the video.

They have just this moment stopped, as if there is some kind of Nature Rule that the birds have to have their turn now. It had been quite quiet out there for several hours, no chirping bats, not even cicadas. But really just moments before the birds started, there was quite a loud flurry of chirps. As if the bats were telling each other that their shift is over and it's time to go to bed before it gets light out.

Time to put the tea on and start getting ready for class. Day 2 of Bozetti portrait painting class.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Chilly the other night

It's still pretty warm here. I went for a swim yesterday and it was fantastic, but certainly not as warm as it was a couple of weeks ago. Getting closer to BC sea temperatures. Which is fine by me. There's something faintly repulsive about getting into sea water as warm as a bath.

Nonetheless, the day is still pretty far down the road when I have to think about taking the winter stuff out of the closet. Still making do with summer skirts and the lighter cardies.

But when that day comes, I'm going to do one thing I've been meaning to do for ages. I've told you about Mercatino, this amazingly amazing place that sells all the old stuff that the Italians think they're too cool and modern to like any more. One of the best places to get vintage clothes, and they sell lots of fox fur stoles, and mink coats and collars and wonderful politically incorrect things. There was a gorgeous one there the last time for 40 Euros and I'm still kicking myself for not buying it.

Despite the absurd weather (18 degrees on Christmas day! Gah!) Italians are BIG into furs, and they like to keep up with the styles. So it means they get rid of a lot of them and you can pick them up cheap. I'm building up quite a nice collection of fur collars. A friend gave me a lovely mink-dyed rabbit fur scarf the other day. It was a pretty chilly night and I was coming home from the City and because it had been a warm day, I'd had nothing on but a cotton sun dress and flimsy cardie, and it was great to have it.

I'm gonna get me a fox stole to wear with my filmy flowered dresses. I've got this great long black flowered silk skirt that goes fabulous with a white ruffled blouse and cashmere cardigan that a fox stole would make perfect.

And they go rather fabulously with tweed suits



It's Fringe Night!!


(Only ten episodes left... boooo!)

This just in from a friend in Vancouver:

8 October

Joshua Jackson came into the shop today and I sold him a lot of tea! He was totes dreamy n'stuff and was wearing a lovely sweater.


Did you tell him your friend in Italy totally has a crush on him?

10 October

no, sadly i just told him about tea.

It's just occurred to me that I like my men at least slightly dangerous.

Dear me! How embarrassingly ordinary! I guess I've still got a few demons left of my own. It's what I have you guys for, I suppose; to keep me from getting too far ahead of myself.

So listen, if any of the rest of you have any batty ideas about going into strictly cloistered convents, just you stop and think for a minute about your responsibilities as O's Picnickers.



Saturday, October 13, 2012

Good bye,



I painted!!!

Yes! I painted! Me! I'm a painter!

I kinda sucked. But I'm doing it!

Classes started again today for the autumn session. Two months of Bozetti and figure drawing classes. And today I used oil paints for the first time. It was new, exciting and difficult. It's going to be great.

Also, many thanks to the kind souls who send me books from the wishlist. The two most recent ones have duly arrived and they are beautiful, inspirational and instructional. One of the first things they have made me want to do is haul my sorry self over to the

...wait for it...

Natural History Museums!

I've discovered today that there are no fewer than three museums of natural history in Rome. The big one with the mammoth bones and dinosaurs and dioramas in the Borghese Gardens, and two more doing smaller stuff at Sapienza.

And they're double-plus cheap to get into. 7.50 E a day, and unexpectedly easy to get to on the transit. I had fully expected them to be in some suburb served by one bus a month, but I forgot for a moment how into education Italians are.

The list of people who can get discounts or get in free is amazing. Of course, I don't qualify as any of them, but that's OK, it just makes it seem like they actually want people to go to it.

Anyway, the books I've got are full of the most wonderful botanical and anatomical drawings of all manner of creatures, green, feathery, scaly and fluffy, and it has made me want to go do likewise.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

For your viewing pleasure

Time for a Trek Break

Two of their best ones...

Bad! Woot!

Norman! Coordinate!
Kirk vs. the Dumbest Robots in the Galaxy.


Monday, October 08, 2012

Drawing tip of the day

Draw the shadows.

A lot of people approach drawing the same way they did as kids. Our first instinct is to draw "outlines" of objects, and fill in the "shading" later, as more or less an afterthought and a nod to "making it look real".

A great deal of the work of developing drawing skill, as I've banged on about endlessly, is overcoming your instincts. We unthinkingly assume that a head, for example, is done by drawing a big oval shape, eyes are almonds, a nose is a kind of inverted triangle. A cat is two connected oblongs, one big and one little, with a tail at the bottom, all topped with a pair of triangles for ears. Trees are bulbous green blobs atop a brown stick for a trunk (or in my case, having grown up in a coniferous rainforest, flounced green triangles with a little stub of trunk at the bottom). Seagulls are represented by flying Ms...etc.

But the quick little demonstration above will surprise people stuck in the outline mode of thinking. She didn't draw anything but the shadows. Particularly, she didn't draw anything of the nose except the tiny bit of shading under the end of it. And she tells you straight out not to draw the lower lip, but only the dark place under the lip where the shadow falls. And the thing she ended up with, in that fifteen seconds of drawing with the watercolour, is something that looks much more like a real human face than an outline and iconic symbols we habitually use.

This is because, in truth, everything we see is actually just shadows. Darks and lights in juxtaposition with colour added. There aren't any outlines. Look at a photo of a human face up close. Click on the Page Tab at the top of the blog and the first photo will be of my friend Anna whose portrait I've been working on. Where is the outline of her face? Of her nose? Where are the edges? There aren't any. Edges and lines are optical illusions, landmarks filled in by our brains to try to interpret what we are looking at. The illusion is created by transitions, sometimes abrupt transitions, from dark to light. The "edge" of Anna's jaw isn't an edge. It's a fast transition.

As an experiment, a good way to teach yourself, or to teach your brain to notice that you're seeing this, sit down some day with a photo of a statue and draw only the shadows. A marble statue will eliminate for you the extra complication of colour, leaving only darks and lights. So you would look at this Bernini statue of St. Teresa and approach it by looking only at first the darkest forms. The broad dark shadow under her chin, the darkest shadow shapes under her nose, the shadow under her eyebrow ridge that defines the ocular cavity.

When you draw something, you are asking, Where are the three darkests parts? How are they placed in relation to each other? Where do the very darkest parts end and the middle darks begin? Where is the lightest part?

Go ahead and give it a try right now. Get a piece of paper and an ordinary HB pencil and draw St. Teresa's face. The one on the left. Start by drawing outlines of the dark and light shapes around her eyes. Focus on them carefully, noting where they start, how they connect together. Entirely ignore the outline of the face and features. Tell yourself that you are not drawing a face and features or drapery. You are drawing only the darks and lights in relation to each other.

You might be surprised that your assumption that you "can't draw a straight line" has been incorrect all along. Your problem is not that you cannot draw, but that you haven't been taught to see.

One of the things I find myself doing now, even when I'm not drawing with a pencil, is to look at objects, scenes, people, buildings, etc, and mentally draw them. I pinpoint where the darkest shadows are, how they connect each object together with the shadows next to them. Where the differences between darks and lights, the transitions, create the illusion of lines and edges.

Even if you don't learn to draw, you will find it amazingly different if you really concentrate on what you are looking at, how you identify objects, their edges, their depth, their size and weight, by automatically interpreting these juxtapositions into meanings. Right now I'm looking at Winnie sleeping on the armchair opposite the sofa. I can look at it in the regular way, and it's Winnie sleeping on the armchair, with a bunch of cushions. Then I turn on the Drawing Brain, and I can see it in terms of a little corner of shadow under the pillow, that reaches up the side of the arm of the chair in a curve to articulate the curve of the chair's upholstery. I can see all the little regimented lattice of shadows that create the pattern of the crocheted pillow cover that then creates a darker shadow on the chair back. Winnie herself, being conveniently a black, white and grey cat, is a series of dark markings on top of white fur, with a few fainter shadows indicating the curve of her muscles where she is curled up.

Try it right now with some object in the room. Don't draw the thing itself. Draw it's shadows.

We all love cartooning, of course, and I will write at some point about the huge influence of children's book illustration that uses cartoony and iconic/symbolic approach to help us create indelible images in our minds at very early ages that forever shape our inner imaginary landscapes.

There's no question that these simplified forms hold a greatly underrated place in western art. But the people who do this know how to draw. They don't come to this ability to create timeless images without great facility with these principles of value, tone, line etc.

It's a bit like my mother's Good Grammar Rule: you can break any grammar rule you like in your writing, but in order to do so judiciously and to good effect, you have to know what they all are.


Now we're cookin'

Re: Benedictines

The Evil Vicar
Hilary White
Message flagged Sunday, October 7, 2012 11:22:45 AM
Dear Hilary,


I've been keeping up by periodically looking in on your blog, which (if I may say: I will, anyway) has achieved a breathtakingly-admirable poise in its present form, melding the confessional and the reflective modes.

Ah, affirmation...


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Ducks rescued from abuse discover water's pretty great

OK you ingrates! I go pouring out my heart here, and all I get is a measly three comments. I know what y'all want.
So, fine...

More funny duck videos!


Friday, October 05, 2012


I've talked a bit about my Japanese phase. I took two years of "intensive" Japanese language study and did rather well. Toward the end of the course, as a final project, I presented a paper on late, Meiji period woodcuts.

Once, I got a chance to see the entire collection of Hiroshige's 53 Views of the Tokaido. It was doing a travelling exhibition around the world, one of the few times the whole thing left Japan, and it came to the Halifax Art Gallery. I was entranced. It was terribly hard to tear myself away.

Hokusai's name was as big in my childhood art lexicon as Leonardo's, thanks to my mum and her Japanophile ways.

It's funny. Just the other day, I wrote in my notebook how cool it would be if someone were to take Leonardo's drawings and animate them. Or Durer's. Never thought of Hokusai's.


Thursday, October 04, 2012


This is driving me up the freaking wall.

You all know that there are a bunch of random things you can't get in Italy. They're the odd little things that we take completely for granted in the 1st world, without which life is made, not necessarily less comfortable, but just a bit less convenient. Things we're just used to having around, without which we have to get all creative and innovative to think of other ways to solve the problems these things were invented to solve.

Did you know, for example, that you can't get zip-lock freezer bags? Yeah. Stuff like that.

Another one of the things is artificial vanilla extract. For two years, I've been trying to get someone coming over from the 1st World to bring me a large bottle of artificial vanilla flavouring. And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. the person I've asked has thought, "But this is Hilary, she can't possibly want the artificial kind instead of the real thing..." Two of the five people I've asked have brought me tiny little bottles of insanely expensive vanilla extract, one of which was organic (for Pete sake!) all the way across the ocean.

Another one discovered that there was only the artificial kind in the shop, in giant bottles, and, thinking the same thing, and not finding any of the real kind, decided not to bring me any.

Now two more people, whom I have asked specifically for artificial vanilla, who are coming over from the non-crazy world, have both sent me messages asking, "But, you can't possibly want the artificial kind can you? I can easily get you the real thing..."


No, I was not in a fugue state or possessed when I asked, specifically, for the artificial kind.

Why can't I convince anyone I ask that when I ask for artificial vanilla flavouring, what I really, actually, really, really want, is a bottle of artificial vanilla flavouring?

People, there's nothing in vanilla flavouring except the vanilla flavour. You only need it to make things taste like vanilla. That's it. There's no secret vanilla vitamin that you can only get from the 50-dollar-per-ounce extract. Dow Chemical is good at this by now. The tiny drop of it you need to flavour ice cream or cake will not add ANYthing except vanilla flavour, which is exACtly the same in the artificial as the real. Trust me on this. I was a pastry chef.

I am asking people, with increasing frustration, to bring me some of the artificial kind because you can't buy it here. You can only buy vanilla extract in, literally, two-teaspoon glass vials. Not kidding. They're about an inch and a half long and come in little card packages. The Italians, probably the least practical people on earth, think this is the sensible way of selling it, and I'm sure they think that there is some magic, mystical quality to the real extract that is lost in the artificial kind.

There isn't. OK? Really. It's just flavour.

On the other hand, all I want it for is to make my ice cream taste like vanilla. It's all I want. And I want to be able to do this for next to no money and for ten years from one bottle. If I thought it was practical, I would ask for it in a fricking 5-gallon jug suitable for an industrial pastry factory, and have enough to last til retirement.

Can someone, please, PLEASE, bring me from the 1st world, a LARGE bottle of artificial. vanilla. flavouring?

It really is what I actually, really, want.



Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Act two

For some years now, I've been aware of a growing fear of getting older. I realise that it's quite an embarrassingly ordinary fear, but I think I understand why it's there. I've felt for most of my life as if I had been interrupted, that the "natural" course of my life was derailed when I was fifteen and suddenly found myself alone in the world, a ward of the state. I was, simply, unable to recover anything resembling a normal life and ended up spending the next 17 years drifting rather aimlessly, occupied, mainly, with just trying to figure out how to survive, how to live in a world that had suddenly become unutterably hostile, cold and dangerous, and what I was supposed to do next.

The feeling of being unsafe, of having no one to turn to and having to struggle just to survive, perhaps greatly exacerbated by living in one of the most notoriously difficult places in the world, has become habitual after many years of constant use. After I left home, I simply never felt safe, and though it is objectively not true, that feeling of nameless dread has stayed with me, and contributed mightily to my ongoing struggle with clinical depression and anxiety.

I also think that the presumption of being perpetually in danger, apart from believing I was essentially alone, was also a product of my time. I grew up in a time when we were told every day by the nearly hysterical leftists who ruled the culture in that part of the world, that any given 15-minute period could be our last. I have written about this before several times, but I think it is greatly underestimated how much psychological damage it did to the children of that period to be raised with this terrifying, nihilistic outlook. We were being told this by all the adults in our lives, by teachers, movies, television news reports and in many cases by our parents and their whole social milleu. In other words, by every authority figure we knew. But because we were children, we had no perspective.

We simply took it as the truth that the world was liable to come to an end at any moment, a prospect precisely calculated to undercut any feeling of security our parents might have otherwise been able to give us. To this day, I still have terrifying nightmares about natural catastrophes, nuclear wars and unspecified world-shattering cataclysms. (It's funny that my favourite genre of films is disaster movies). I think this fear is going to remain with me for the rest of my life, in one form or another. If you grow up fearful, which we all did, you will remain fearful, but neurotically, without a real cause.

Before leaving home, I had been quite sheltered, and though we were more or less at the bottom of the economic classes, I was never worried about it, or even noticed it much. I was always too busy in my own little world of books and beach exploration. But, although she was brilliant, and she did manage to keep us above water one way or another, my mother also never really learned how to thrive in the world. She had managed to survive, but it always felt as if she was barely hanging on, always on the edge of some kind of irrecoverable disaster, which I'm certain is how she felt about it. She also left home very young, at 18, and also really never managed to pick herself up again. Certainly financial stability and security was something that she was totally incapable of creating, so it was a skill she couldn't pass on to me.

I know now, however, with the front, rational, thinky part of my brain, that most of my fears are ungrounded. However close it feels, the time in my life of floundering helplessly around, of being terrified at the appearance of every electricity bill, of having to look for a new "shared accom" in the newspaper every eight months, is long gone for me. The objective fact is that I've managed somehow to learn how to run my life perfectly adequately. I've held the same job (or variations on the same job) for 13 years and have no fear of losing it. And if the outfit folded tomorrow, which it certainly isn't going to do, I get offers quite regularly which I've turned down because I like my life the way it is.

I have a nice flat, and nice things in it, nice friends, nice hobbies and even a few nice hats. I've even managed to keep the same cat alive for five years. Indeed, I've managed to keep myself alive, despite having had a cancer diagnosis in a weird and often frightening foreign country. Looked at objectively, I'm doing fine, and have learned to handle crises and difficulties pretty well, and a great deal better than my mother ever did. I'm never going to be rich, but mostly because it seems like too much effort for too little return. Trying to get "rich" seems a little pointless when you already have most of what you want in life.

But whatever my level of acquired material competence, it will never offset the deep and undisturbed layer of anxiety my life was founded on and most of which is unconscious. And that tangled mass of fear is inextricably caught up with the thought that my life went the wrong way 31 years ago and can now never be recovered. The things that were supposed to happen, the things I think of, rightly or not, as "normal" will never happen. I will never be able to turn it around and get things back to the way they were supposed to be. The result of my parents rejecting me, and leaving me to raise myself, has been that I will forever believe I have done it wrong and irreparably damaged myself. And that whatever I accomplish now in any field, it will still necessarily be the wrong things. I doubt I will ever be able to shake the feeling that I am living a kind of consolation prize life.

And of course, this feeling is cemented stronger and stronger with every year that passes. There was still, somewhere lurking in the shadowy regions of my half-conscious mind, the idea that I could still, somehow, turn things around, fix the mistakes, and make things go the way they were supposed to. The fear of getting older is less about wrinkles and white hair (which I think will look pretty good, actually) and more about those doors closing forever behind me, shutting off the way back home, and I will be lost out here alone in the awful wasteland of the world forever. I told someone recently that the one thing I've wanted that I can't ever have is simply to go home.

Everyone has their own struggle, and this is mine. Of course, the thing to ask is what are you doing to fight these unreal things? A person consciously dedicated to The Real cannot allow such a destructive Fantasy to undermine that dedication. I think that sorting out what is Real and what is Fantasy, is the basis of the psychotherapeutic technique called Cognitive Therapy. You have learned a set of habitual beliefs, thoughts that come so automatically that you can't distinguish them from reality, but which tell you things about yourself and your life that are simply untrue. To force these thoughts into your conscious mind, to bring them into the light of scrutiny, is the work of the therapy. When you semi-consciously think, "Everything's a disaster" you have to bring that thought into the open and challenge it consciously, don't let the whispers and insinuations continue to dominate the discussion. Respond clearly, "OK, exactly how is it a disaster?"

Coincidentally, it is also the basis for spiritual growth, according to all the great spiritual writers. Being crippled and paralysed by unnamed existential terrors is exactly the state of mind in which sin comes to look like a sensible option, a solution to problems. So a great deal of the work of the spiritual life is learning to be totally dedicated to what is objectively Real, and rejecting Fantasy. It makes sense, of course, that spiritual wellbeing and psychological health would come about the same way, and be achievable solely through a total, radical dedication to Truth at any cost.

All this is why I like this website. It is clear proof that the things I think, the frightening semi-conscious beliefs about how life goes, are just untrue. It is simply untrue that the "natural course" of things is to have your life stagnate and deteriorate after 45, whatever the anti-culture tells us. It's not even true that there is a logical, natural progression to life, that one figures out what to do by one's mid-20s and then gets on with doing it in an orderly way from then on. Life is simply never that tidy. Things happen, often out of any logical sequence. And here's a little secret that I'm just beginning to understand; life gets easier and less frightening as you get older. You get happier, you get less self-critical, you get more relaxed and less critical of others. You just plain get happier.

The cancer thing shook me badly, and the treatment, particularly the surgery, hit me like an asteroid right in the middle of those fears. It seemed as if it was the slamming of every door to happiness, the closing off of my future and any chance of happiness. The day I went in, I experienced an agonising moment of panic in the hospital when I very nearly packed up and went home, declaring that I didn't want the life I would be left with after the surgery. I didn't want to be the person it would force me to be. These were thoughts that might seem irrational from the outside, but had been stamped into my mind from an early age. It was, in truth, a confrontation between two totally opposed and irreconcilable worldviews, the one I had been raised with, and the one I had consciously adopted. One that said that some kinds of life aren't worth living and that we can decide which, and the other that says life is always its own end. And now I understand that these two systems of thought are at war, and always will be. (Well, I've always known that I was in a constant internal struggle, at war, but now I can pinpoint exactly what the war is about.)

It's notable that it wasn't thoughts of my own life or possible future that held me to the course. It wasn't even thoughts of God and His preferences; such things are too remote for me. It was the thought of my friends and what they needed from me, what I owed them. I can't put this down to any virtue of my own. It was not a religious decision that made me go forward, nor courage. Just the knowledge, that I could not deny, that there are people in the world who love me. Vicky was with me that day, and I found I couldn't abandon her.

I have a lot of sympathy for the people who have been frightened into supporting the euthanasia movement, something that is very popular among the aging Boomer generation, particularly in Britain. I understand that they have learned that life is supposed to go in a particular way, and that if it does not, that life itself is un-acceptable, literally, and that they have never had any other way of thinking proposed to them. In fact, the "pro-life" way of thought is so different from the way the world thinks that unless one is raised in it from early childhood, it will be constantly at war in each of us. We aren't used to thinking correctly about The Real, and making decisions based on our dedication to it. But that dedication is the only way out of the wasteland.