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.