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.

My Photo
Location: Rome, Italy

30 January 2010

A day in the life - breakfast

You’ve seen those cookie jars shaped like fat monks? Well, they’re not far from the truth. We generally eat pretty well in the monastery. Up until a few years ago, our own brothers did the cooking. As the number of lay brothers dwindled in Italy, they started bringing them in from other parts of the world and teaching them how to cook Italian food. Of course, if a monastery in another part of the world had a really good cook, they kept him for themselves and sent us a second-stringer. It was not uncommon to get brothers who had no interest in cooking. Not unsurprisingly, their inner frustrations were outwardly manifested in the quality of the food. Eventually, the leaders of our monastery gave up trying to convince others to send us a good cook and hired someone to prepare our meals. He and his staff are excellent, and the brothers could not happier.

Breakfast is eaten after mass each morning. It is simple fare, consisting of coffee or tea, warm milk, fresh bread (delivered every morning right from the bakery), butter, jam, various cheeses, fruit, yoghurt and cereal. Actually, the cereal was a recent introduction, requested by the Anglo-Saxon brothers and begrudgingly allowed by the Italians. Initially, two kinds were available: Corn Flakes and All Bran, which the Italians called “stecchini” or “little sticks”. Lately, the Corn Flakes have been dropped in favor of Special K (cf fat, monkish cookie jars), and granola has also become available. Coffee is drunk in the traditional way—in a bowl with two-thirds hot milk and one third coffee. It is an almost sinfully sensual pleasure to wrap your hands around a warm bowl on a cold winter morning and smell the aroma of dark roasted Arabica!

In the past, breakfast for many of the Italians would be bite-size chunks of bread thrown into the bowl with the milk and coffee, eaten while standing up. As near as I can tell, the act of standing while eating announced, “This is not really a meal,” thus allowing the brother an illusion of austerity. It wasn’t just the Italians, however, who made breakfast into a penitential act. I heard stories of an American brother who made breakfast every day as follows: he melted a little butter in a large, cast iron skillet, then added some leftover meat or fish from the night before, plus corn flakes, coffee and milk. Finally, he would break an egg or two into the mix, stir it well over medium heat, then eat. Hearty? Yes. Revolting? You betcha! Frankly, I’ll stick to a nice slice of oily, salty focaccia with some Bel Paese or Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The penance will come later in the form of high blood pressure and heart disease.


22 January 2010

Legenda Fratrum, Pars XXI

A brother from an American monastery was visiting England. He was not particularly impressed, and didn't mind sharing his opinion.

American brother: I think London must be the asshole of the world.

English brother: I take it you're just passing through?