Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

29 May 2006

Nya nya nya

Many years ago, a brother, let's call him Brother Nicotinus, from Pennsylvania was appointed Pastor of the church in a small town in Kansas. For the guys from "back East", being sent to Kansas was akin to a death sentence. Often, a brother assigned to minister there was asked, "What did you do wrong?"
Brother Nicotinus was not happy about the assignment, but in those days you never questioned authority so off he went. To his chagrin, he found himself liking it after a while, although he would never have admitted it to his superiors. Every morning, however, he would go to the back porch of the cloister to smoke his first cigarette of the day while watching the sunrise. There he was heard to murmur to himself, "Another goddamn beautiful, sunshiny day in Kansas. Ahhhh shit."

I don't live in Kansas, but I could share his sentiments about the weather here. The tourism board boasts that we have 300 days of sun a year, and they would not be far off. Today was one of those gd beautiful sunshiny days here, and a bank holiday, as well. So take that you two-months-of-holidays-plus-100-bank-holidays-per-year Europeans. I went for a two-hour bike ride this morning. The sun was shining, the temperature was about 21° C, and there was little wind. In short, perfect cycling weather. And the girls were wearing their summer togs. I nearly swooned with delight.

So, how was work today?

28 May 2006

The next poet laureate

Working in the gardens yesterday, I came across a piece of pink paper that must have blown in from the elementary school next to us. I don't know why, but I liked what was written on it so I share it with you.

I smell old things in the museum. I heard a story of solders (sic). It was fun. I think you should have gone with us. I only touched a paper and a pencil.

I know what you're thinking: he must be pretty desparate for blogging material to be stealing from a schoolgirl. And you'd be right.

26 May 2006

O Death, where is thy calendar?

Why is it that people insist on dying when I am up to my eyeballs in work? And don't tell me that they were too preoccupied with being sick or comatose to notice that I was busy. That's hardly an excuse. Two people with whom I had a tenuous connection had funerals this week. Most people, I suspect, would not give a second thought to missing the funerals of such tenuously connected people. But I am not one of those. When you put on these robes, people expect you to attend such funerals, which rather annoys me at times. The fact that they would certainly attend my funeral if the tables were turned only slightly mitigates the annoyance. I don't wish to sound petulant, but these funerals are taking a bite out of my free time. Please, people, if you want me at your funeral, couldn't you at least die at a more convenient time?!

19 May 2006

The Empire Strikes Out

I regret to inform you that plans for the new Holy Roman Empire have been scrapped. Discussions broke down after I helpfully pointed out that the others were too stupid to run an empire. After I proclaimed myself emperor, one of the brothers volunteered to design my coat of arms, an offer which I graciously accepted. He returned with the following blazon:

Per pale sable and or, sinister a back on knife impaled argent, dexter south end of a horse passant north sable.

I, of course, ordered his immediate execution. For the sake of good order and the good of the citizenry, such mockery should not be tolerated. The discussions then descended into fisticuffs, at which point all plans were abandoned.

You will be even more upset when you learn that you were included in my plans. I had set aside important posts among my scullery staff for my faithful readers.

18 May 2006

How do I look in ermine?

I am writing today from an undisclosed location so remote that the sun has trouble finding it, where I am attending a top secret meeting. I was sworn to secrecy, but I know that I can trust all of you to keep this secret because I met you on the Internet, and you all seem like nice people. Here, a small, but determined group of brothers is planning to re-establish the Holy Roman Empire. I can almost hear you say, "Finally!", and I could not agree with you more.

This, of course, is a huge undertaking that requires a lot of planning. We have been meeting for over three hours, but hope to finish before tea. Our timetable calls for a commencement date sometime after our summer holidays. You would think that this would be a rather straight-forward endeavor, but there are some disagreements. A few brothers feel that starting right off with the Holy Roman Empire is a bit too ambitious. They prefer to start with something smaller, say the Holy Arkansas Empire. Some think even this is too ambitious and are proposing the Well-Behaved Arkansas Empire. As you see, there are still some details to be ironed out. Even the simple matter of who will be the first Emperor is proving to be not without controversy. I am sure that it is a matter of time, however, before they acknowledge that I am the only logical choice. After all, I have chosen the coolest name: Eleutherius the First.

I will keep you posted.

16 May 2006

Legenda Fratrum, IV

The art of diplomacy.

After Mass one Sunday, a parishioner presented one of her homemade cakes to the priest, who took it back to the cloister for the brothers to enjoy. Trouble was, the woman was a terrible cook. The reaction of the first brother to take a bite of the cake was enough to convince the others to fast from sweets that week, at least that particular sweet. A few days later, the now-stale cake was thrown away. After Mass the next Sunday, the baker woman found the priest:

Baker: Father, how was the cake?
Brother: You know, the brothers are still talking about that cake!

Baker woman was so pleased with herself that a few weeks later she baked another cake, and presented it to the priest after Mass. This one went straight to the dust bin. Next Sunday:

Baker: Did the brothers enjoy the cake, Father?
Brother: Let me tell you, you've never seen a cake disappear so fast in all your life!

15 May 2006

Meet the brothers, Part 2

Today, I'd like to introduce you to another member of my community. Brother Methuselah is the oldest member of the community. As such, he has earned the right to be crusty, of which he avails himself liberally. He was the community's provincial in the early seventies—a time of radical changes in the church and world, when brothers were leaving the community in droves, and those who remained were pushing boundaries, sometimes in unhealthy directions. The younger brothers accused him of being closed to the signs of the times and against change. The older brothers accused him of being too lenient with those who were not following the venerable traditions of the Order. Who could blame him for being bitter? Yet, he does not seem bitter, just a little crusty, as I said.

About five years ago, Brother M received two new heart valves and a coronary by-pass. For several months after the operation, he would pray for the poor little pig that gave its life for him (the valves were from a pig's heart). He would not eat pork, afraid that he might be eating his benefactor. Due to his heart condition and age, he spends much of his day either sleeping or sitting in front of the television. He often yells at the television. He likes, for instance, to correct the grammar of journalists ('IT WAS HE', NOT 'IT WAS HIM'. Gawd, don't these people know how to speak English!). His one-size-fits-half solution for criminals is: Cut his balls off!

Despite his age, he is surprisingly well-read and knowledgeable about politics and church matters. He has no time for pompous politicians and church leaders, reserving some of his choicest euphemisms for them. Unlike many of his peers, he has no sappy nostalgia for the way things were before the Second Vatican Council. Having lived through that period, he is keenly aware of the problems that existed even then. He is mostly liberal in his politics and theology, while managing to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church.

He is my model for the day I earn the right to be crusty.

14 May 2006

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day in the United States so I thought a tribute would be in order.

I don't remember when I started to realize that my mother was a person who had feelings, hopes, dreams and worries of her own. Like most children, I suppose, I saw her as a sort of prison warden while growing up. She made me do my homework when I didn't feel like it. Stopped me from doing exciting (and dangerous) things. Wouldn't let me spend "my" money on frivolities. Made me mow the lawn, wash the dishes and make my bed in the morning. Limited my access to sweets and soda pop. I have a vague recollection of seeing her cry in frustration once when we were being particularly unruly. I remember feeling somewhat awestruck that I had the power to make her cry. I might have felt a temporary twinge of remorse, but it never occurred to me that she might have been having a bad day, or suffering from a headache or some other such malady.

With all due respect to Dr. Freud and his contributions, I am quite sure I never saw myself as my father's rival for her affection. (In all fairness, I don't think psychology had developed the concept of projection yet. If it had, he may have thought twice before publishing that particular thought.) In fact, growing up I liked my father more than my mother. He punished us less often, and even when he did, I had the impression that his heart was not in it. Many times it seemed to me that he punished us only to appease my mother.

My impressions of my mother began to change sometime during my high school years. That's when I began to realize how privileged I was to have the mother I did. She grew up on a farm in a very rural, agricultural area of the U.S. The expectation among most of her peers was that they, too, would be farmers one day. Her mother, however, had the foresight to provide the best education possible for her daughters. Thus, my mother and her sisters attended a private high school in a "big city" hundreds of miles from home. My mother and her younger sister then went on to complete college, which was very rare for women of that time and place. She put her education to use by working in a bank when her kids were old enough to attend school. Her experience living away from home made her more cosmopolitan than most of her peers. She liked to travel and experience new things, which is one of her enduring contributions to my own personality.

At some point, I realized that all the nagging about homework and household chores was her attempt to give us the same advantages that she had received from her parents. She wanted her children to have the best education available so she made sure that we would be academically and mentally prepared for it. Although she enjoyed working at the bank, she didn't do it for herself, but to make sure that there was enough money to send her four children to private schools. The trips were likewise a part of our education. At some point, I was stunned to realize what long hours she had worked, not for her benefit, but for mine.

As I reflect on this now, I wonder how many times she worried whether she was raising her children right. Did she feel inadequate to the task? Did she ever think she deserved our lack of appreciation? It makes me feel really small, and a little guilty, in the face of the tremendous self-sacrifice of motherhood. And I am glad that I still have her around to thank.

12 May 2006

I hope I die before I get really old

As a long-time fan of The Who, I have often sung along with their signature song, "My Generation". I find myself singing it with less gusto in recent years. As of today, I think I'll just hum along. It's my birthday today, you see. Many thanks to those who have already wished me well, and to Waffle, who tipped you off. The fact that she mentioned it already last week clearly means she did not expect me to make it this far. With good reason. I won't tell you my age, but I will say that this is the last time in my life when my age will be the square of a prime number. Unless I live to be 121.

So, how will I celebrate? Just waking up will be a good start. The guardian* has dispensed us from our usual custom of abstaining from meat on Fridays so that our good brother cook can fix us a special porterhouse steak dinner. I may have a glass of wine, hopefully not Merlot. When I lived in Rome, the guardian would give a little tribute to each brother on his birthday. Invariably—from the most pleasant, hardworking brothers to the laziest SOBs—it would end with, "We thank you not only for what you do, but for who you are." Fortunately, we do not have that custom here because my gag resistance is not what it used to be.

Then, as the highlight of the celebration, Brother Porcinus will douse himself with gasoline and set himself on fire in the courtyard. That's not true, but can't a guy have his dreams? No, actually, after dinner the others will say that I don't have to help with the dishes, but of course, they won't mean it. Then everyone will shuffle off to do their usual evening routine. Maybe I'll watch "The Kids Are Alright", and have a good laugh when Roger Daltrey sings, "I hope I die before I get old."

* The head of the house

07 May 2006

Dirty hands

I spend most of my Saturday's, especially during warmer weather, working in the monastery's yard and garden. Yesterday, besides mowing all the grass, was spent planting. I planted one each of two varieties of eggplant (aubergine), two varieties of rosemary, some cinnamon basil and geraniums in various planters outside the house. These join the tomatoes, arugula and thyme that I planted earlier. Now, if the weather will only cooperate....

05 May 2006

Legenda Fratrum, Part III

In the late 1960's, times were a-changing in the Order. During his official visit to the novitiate, the Provincial* walked into the recreation room one evening and found one of the novices dressed in (gasp!) jeans and a tee shirt.

Provincial: Frater, wouldn't you be more comfortable in your habit?

Novice: I didn't join the Order to be comfortable, Father.

*The regional head honcho

03 May 2006

Tempus fugit

At a financial advisory board meeting yesterday:

Man 1: Would you buy 30-year bonds at 6%?

Man 2: No, I wouldn't, because I won't be alive in 30 years.

Man 1: Oh, that's right. You won't even buy green bananas.

02 May 2006

Second career

Inspired by Bobble, I am thinking about furthering my education by attending classes here.

01 May 2006

Our house

Today is the first mensiversary (?) of this blog. When I started it, I conceived of it as a place to write about all the insane things that go on at San Lorenzo Monastery. Turns out, there's not as much to write about as I thought. Anyway, I thinks its time to dish dirt on my confreres.

Allow me to start with Brother Porcinus. I believe that everyone was put on this earth for a purpose. Brother Porcinus' purpose, apparently, is to try my patience, "as gold is tested in fire," to use the biblical phrase. How so? Let me recount the ways.

First of all, he is a slob. His clothes are tattered and wrinkled. When he says the mass, his vestments are crooked, the collars are half turned up and the cincture uncinched. His eating habits are abominable. He loudly slurps his soup. He has been known to throw chicken bones onto the table after he has gnawed on them. He shoves food down his gullet so quickly that he usually starts choking at some point during the meal. Between meals, he snacks on peanuts and pretzels, abundant pieces of which can later be found on the chair where he sat as well as a five foot radius around the chair. I once gathered up twelve baskets of fragments! I won't even mention the state of his room.

Since I'm on the subject of his eating habits, I should mention his diet. He has been diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, incipient diabetes and imminent coronary heart disease. Much of this is self-inflicted through years of heavy smoking, snacking and a high fat diet. Now that the doctor has told him that these things could kill him (Duh!), he has become obsessed with his diet. The man knows no half measures. The doctor told him that he could eat shrimp so he would buy great bags of it every week. At one point, we had about 50 pounds of shrimp in the freezer, much of which we eventually had to toss out. The doctor said he could eat eggs twice a week, so twice a week for breakfast he will fry up 2 whole eggs together with 5 egg whites. I like to call the resulting soup, "Salmonella Roulette." He will pass on the fruits and vegetables in favor of "fat-free" meat and cheese. He drinks coffee by the gallon. And since he has ruined his taste buds, he makes the coffee stronger by the day. At this point, we have to be careful not to spill it on any metal surfaces.

The most annoying thing of all, is that people really like him. They think he is a saint. Granted, he is doing good work as chaplain of the local prisons, but a saint? I think not. People often say to me, "Oh, you live with Brother Porcinus? He is such a great brother!" To which I can only reply, "He is something else."