25 December 2009

It has been a happy Christmas indeed. After decorating the tree with the little ones on Christmas Eve, we bundled them up in their Christmas best, then let them fall asleep beneath the lit tree. A little before midnight, we awoke, gathered the still-sleepy ones into the car, and all of us went out into the howling, windswept night toward the cathedral. If we were tired before, the trumpet blasts from the overhead choir singing O Come All Ye Faithful during the processional shocked us into life. The bishop offered a homily, short and sweet, after which he would drive north to a prison and preside over Christmas Mass the next day.

Arriving back home a little after one, my daughter was charmed to finally see the ChristChild in His crib, and off they went back to bed, while Mr. and Mrs. quietly laid out the Christmas presents and set up the electric train tracks around the base of the tree. After far too little sleep, dawn came, the children awoke, and the groggy adults shuffled into the living room to pass out gifts and watch them being torn open. Lots of clothes and googaws for the little ones, and the brass wet shaving kit (from the Mrs.) was a hit with the husband, and the freshwater pearls (a set of white and a set of pink), naturally, delighted the wife.

The rest of the morning was spent hovering over simmering stocks, orange rinds, ports, and Grand Marnier as I attempted, for the first time, Canard à l'orange, à Julia Child. We were fortunate to find fresh (unfrozen) duckling. (It came with an orange sauce packet, which we threw away.) Ducks don't require basting, as they are fatty and juicy all on their own (though it helps to prick the skin all over to get to that subcutaneous layer of fat), but they do need to be turned over every 15 minutes to be evenly cooked--and that is not as easy as it sounds, particularly when the beast is hissing and spitting in the scorching oven, and the only tools you've got are a spatula and a slotted spoon. In any case, I managed. The final result? Let's just say the husband is still hovering over the crisp, evenly browned duck on the table hours later. As for me,having had my fill of duck and wine, I'll now be tucking into a slice of pumpkin roll with a pot of steaming hot Assam tea and cream...

Cheers, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all good things!

Happy Christmas to All!

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight,
in Bethlehem,
in the piercing cold.

18 December 2009

The Return of the Gentleman?

If only.

This New York Times article claims a resurgence in traditional menswear as a result of the hit show Mad Men.
The trend reaches from Madison Avenue to the shopping mall. At Paul Stuart, most of the store’s growth is in its trim-tailored, dandified (and expensive) Phineas Cole line, courtesy of customers in their 20’s and 30’s, said Michael Ostrove, the store’s executive vice president.

Brooks Brothers, which has struggled since the 1980s to recapture the all-American style mantle that Ralph Lauren made off with, has received quite a bump from “Mad Men.” The company made the suits the main characters wear, to the specs of the costume designer, Janie Bryant.

And at Topman, the men’s branch of the popular Topshop, the category it calls “smart” clothing — dressier togs that straddle work and play — has been one of the best performers in its new New York store.
Although I personally prefer 40s fashions to that of the late 50s, I am always delighted to see any return of the classically well-dressed man, especially among our youth. Dress shirts to replace tees, and bucks to replace the crocs and flip-flops? Fedoras instead of baseball caps? Yes, please.

17 December 2009

Wear the Pants

Dockers' new ad campaign.

Do you hear that? It's the sound of weeping and gnashing of feminists' teeth.

12 December 2009

The Flimsies

Only recently did I rent the film Julie & Julia, on the life of Julia Child and the modern day New Yorker (Julie Powell) who attempted all of Child's recipes in 365 days, and blogged about the experience. I agree with other reviewers that Child's life deserved a film unto itself, rather than sharing time with a pseudo-comical account of Mrs. Powell's cooking/blogging experiment. Meryl Streep did a marvelous job capturing Child's effervescent personality and infectious warmth, and Stanley Tucci's understated performance as her dapper and artistic husband Paul charmed.

As infatuated with Child as Julie Powell was, Child did not return the affection. Her editor and close friend, the woman responsible for acquainting America with the force of nature that was Julia Child, Judith Jones, remarked that Child did not like Powell's blog, nor her experiment.
She didn't want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn't like what she called 'the flimsies.' She didn't suffer fools, if you know what I mean.
Powell exhibited the annoying modern (sometimes very American) tendency against restraint, choosing rather to "let it all hang out" on her blog, whether it be liberally strewing every post with four-letter words or talking about her meltdowns in her personal or professional life. She also didn't seem to be, in Child's opinion, "a serious cook," turning high art into a crass domestic project. On describing the trauma of preparing Lobster Thermidor, she wrote:
[W]e wound up facing the killing of the crustaceans alone. I didn’t cut their spinal cords. I didn’t put them in the freezer. I just dumped them out of the paper bag into a pot with some boiling water and vermouth and vegetable. And then freaked the fuck out.
Elsewhere, she quips,
In the last three days, three individuals have found my site by doing a google search for “Nigella Lawson ass.” I am as much in favor of auto-stimulation with a culinary element as the next joe, but guys – it’s Thanksgiving. Go eat some turkey.
Further on, she waxes eloquent on politics:
But have you ever noticed how Republicans never get called hypocritical when they indulge in pettiness and selfishness? That’s because they’re totally upfront about not giving a shit about anyone else. No one would call folks out on Hilton Head hypocrites in the same situation – they’d just being acting like the assholes we all know they are.
Or on married bliss:
Eric is, in all frankness, a lazy bastard of the first stripe. I mean, seriously. Let’s just say that when he’s here, he’s not exactly egging me on to domestic greatness.
And her descriptions of the results of a successfully rendered Child recipe range from "damned good" to "goddamned good." Otherwise she did a lot of complaining--about how this sauce tasted exactly like that sauce, or how eating the ham was like "licking a salt dome," or how veal scallops are "boring" and "unsubstantial." One almost wonders whether she'd be just as happy eating a McDonald's hamburger?

Sometimes she wouldn't bother to mention the results at all, good or bad, of her cooking experiments and simply drifted off on a tangent about irrelevant Powell-centered trivia.

Julia Child was no prude, but I can certainly understand why she wouldn't want to endorse this raffishness, nor find it in any way a compliment. According to the film, though, the poor blogger couldn't figure out why for the life of her her icon couldn't stomach her blog, and probably does not understand to this day. But back to the film--the parts about Child are delightful. I only wish there had been more, because she deserves an entire film devoted to her life and art, but with the success of Julie & Julia, it's probably likely we are forever foreclosed from the possibility.

10 December 2009

42 St. Giles, Oxford

That would be the new location of St. Bede's Hall, a small Catholic college rooted in the vision of Cardinal Newman. It was announced on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that this college would be relocating to the city of Oxford, since Greyfriars, a longtime Catholic College that was part of the University, sadly closed its doors in 2008. St. Bede's is affiliated with the Oxford Oratory, part of the congregation founded by St. Philip Neri, and maintains a relationship with the Birmingham Oratory (the other Oratory obviously being the one in London). An interesting tidbit: the building housing St. Bede's was the location of C.S. Lewis's marriage to divorcée Joy Davidson (which was the main reason for the later falling out with friend J.R.R. Tolkien).

Although St. Bede's is an independent college, it delivers Oxford tutorials, just as any other University college, with weekly individual or small-group meetings with tutors, as well as attendance at lectures. Daily Mass and devotions are available only a few doors down at St. Aloysius (the Oxford Oratory), where such notables as Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, Msgr. Ronald Knox, and others worshipped.

In other welcome news on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Most Reverend Bernard Longley was enthroned as the ninth Archbishop of Birmingham at St. Chad's Cathedral. A choral scholar at New College, he is rather familiar with Oxford, and will be paying a visit to the city next year.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster presents his successor with the crozier of Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne, OSB, first Bishop of Birmingham, 1850-1888.

Archbishop Longley is closely involved with preparations for the beatification ceremony of Cardinal Newman, which will take place next year, and in his homily held the Cardinal up as an example of faithful witness to the search for truth, which he ultimately found in the Catholic Church. He also added,
I only arrived in my new home last Wednesday (2 December) and on the next day I saw posters and banners advertising the Nativity Trail at the City's Museum and Art Gallery. I felt so encouraged to see this prominent institution, with the support of the City Council, enabling the story at the heart of Christian faith to be experienced and appreciated through the beauty and the message of great works of art in public ownership.
Would that our own civic leaders had the same courage and integrity. Instead, we get holiday displays of the Loch Ness Monster and whales on our courthouse lawns because the City Commissioner fears "offending" the non-religious. Bah! Humbug!

07 December 2009

Democracy: The God that Failed

06 December 2009

Bonne Fête de Saint Nicolas!

Voici l'hiver tout-à-fait et Saint Nicolas qui marche entre les sapins,
Avec ses deux sacs sur son âne pleins de joujoux pour les petits Lorrains.
C'est fini de cet automne pourri. Voici la neige pour de bon.
C'est fini de l'automne et de l'été et de toutes les saisons.
(O tout cela qui n’était pas fini, et ce noir chemin macéré, hier, encore,
Sous le bouleau déguenillé dans la brume et le grand chêne qui sent fort!)

--Coronal, Paul CLAUDEL

Gordon Parks, Paris, 1951

Dedicated to Fans of Dan Brown

Heretics all, whoever you may be,
In Tarbes or Nimes, or over the sea,
You never shall have good words from me.
Caritas non conturbat me.

But Catholic men that live upon wine
Are deep in the water, and frank, and fine;
Wherever I travel I find it so,
Benedicamus Domino.

On childing women that are forelorn,
And men that sweat in nothing but scorn:
That is on all that ever were born,
Miserere Domine.

To my poor self on my deathbed,
And all my dear companions dead,
Because of the love that I bore them,
Dona Eis Requiem.

--Hilaire Belloc

04 December 2009

Mmmm, Pashmina...

Yes, dear readers, you have come upon Christine's weakness. I'm no hoarder, but in the case of the soft, woolen warmth that is the pashmina, I succumb. Nevermind that I already have two shades of pink cashmere hanging gently in the closet; I wouldn't mind another. They're lovely in summer or winter, and go with just about anything (they also work well slung loosely around the pregant frame!). Wear them any way you like: as shawl, wrap, or scarf, the only rule being that the colors don't clash with what you wear beneath (ahem, mixed prints). If you're wondering about gift ideas for the ladies this Christmas... Or, at least, gift ideas for this particular lady...

03 December 2009

Bars Galore

Habitually Chic has amassed some attractive beverage displays over at her place for our viewing pleasure.

01 December 2009

Christmas at St. Michael's Abbey: Chants for the Three Masses of Christmas

The chants sung by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael's Abbey can be sampled here. Order in time for Christmas!

Trianon: A Novel of Royal France

I've just finished Elena Maria Vidal's historical novel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Elegantly written, it is, quite simply, a heartwrenching account of the trials and martyrdom of the king and queen of France, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. One is struck by how much their sufferings mirrored the passions of Jesus and Mary--the calumny, the circus trials, the witness to the maltreatment of their son (in the Queen's case, having her 7-year-old forcibly taken from her and subjected to horrible abuses only a few doors down, his cries heard by his helpless mother), the final humiliations, the execution--and all these atrocities committed not against those of common blood, but against the very King and Queen of France. The mind boggles at the evil of the Jacobins thirsty for blood and for power, and how low the nation could sink during this time of national rebellion. The lies of the Revolution continue to this day, in modern depictions of a frivolous, uncaring, licentious Queen and her weak-willed husband. This historically accurate novel sets things right by telling of their fidelity to each other, to the people of France, whose burdens they tried to ease through law and personal sacrifice, and to the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, in whose light they lived and died. (The King, physically, mentally, emotionally resolute, would never have needed any counsel on how to be manly.) Both King and Queen, in their last letters, urged their children never to avenge their deaths, and they both died forgiving wholeheartedly their executioners.

From the Queen's last letter to her sister:
I sincerely beg pardon of God for all the faults I have committed during my life. I ask pardon of all those I know, and of you, my sister in particular, for all the distress I may, without wishing it, have caused them. I forgive all my enemies the harm they have done me. I say farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being separated for ever from them and their troubles forms one of my greatest regrets in dying...

Think of me always. I embrace you with all my heart, together with those poor, dear children. My God! What agony it is to leave them forever! Adieu! Adieu! I shall henceforth pay attention to nothing but my spiritual duties.
Trianon is a must-read. You can buy the novel (and its sequel) here.

The Art of Manliness

Five products no man's bathroom should be without.

Wet shaving kits... hmm... I've just got an idea for a Christmas gift for the hubby... Male readers, any particular shaving lotion you like? Please do dish in the comments box...