… I returned to discover that the hottest news during my absence was a peahen getting loose in a California liquor store and wrecking the place.
Or maybe it was some story about
one political liar lying about another political liar Comey and Trump. Or North Korea testing more missiles. But the peahen story was definitely more relevant. (Though will somebody please tell the “journalist” who covered that one that even in this day of trans-anything, “female peacock” is still not an actual thing?)
In other vital news of the day, J.R.R. Tolkein has just come out with another new book, despite being dead these many years. And it has a very touching backstory for hardcore Tolkein fans and hopeless romantics, of which I am neither.
I also found a pair of amusing knitting links awaiting me upon my return. Not girly sort of knitting links, either. But one about WWII spies communicating through knitted knots. And another about an Australian man making funny hats. (Yes, he’s crocheting his funny hats, not knitting them, but if we can have “female peacocks,” then surely we can have knitted crocheted hats.)
Anyhow, H/T to male knitter JB for those two.
Are you getting the idea that I’m returning to the real world (or from the real world; I’m not sure) somewhat reluctantly?
Maybe so, maybe so. I did have a wonderful time at the monastery and its iconography workshop, although oddly enough the biggest drawback for me was too much socializing — something you probably tend not to associate with monasteries. My hermity self took a while to adjust to communal meals three times a day. But I liked the nuns very much. They were a small group, nearly all of whom had raised families, had careers, or owned businesses before joining (or founding) the monastery in the last 20 years. They were bright, educated, and highly aware of doings in the outside world despite being officially “enclosed.” The abbess — as well as the priest who shared a number of meals with us — had a dry, barbed sense of humor. Mother Abbess had a surprisingly cynical worldview for a nun, at the same time she and all the rest were kind, caring, and accommodating.
A few days before heading to the monastery, I had run across reviews for a new book, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World. This was interesting to me because Dreher is basically advocating gulching — just an explicitly Christian form, based loosely on the monastic principles established by St. Benedict. Intriguing idea.
I have a library hold on it. But when the subject of intentional communities arose during one of those chatty meals and I mentioned the book, it turned out the monastery already had a copy, and Mother Abbess loaned it to me. (I spent a few hours skimming it and posted my first impressions this morning at Claire’s Cabal. I expect to have more later after getting the library copy and giving it a more thorough read.)
I also enjoyed the meals for another reason: the foooooooooood. Oh my goodness. Although the nuns call it “simple fare” — and it is — I’ve never so much enjoyed simple meals in my life. I found myself scarfing down normally boring foods like fruit salads, chilled asparagus, and mixed vegetables as if they were gourmet delights. Which to my mind, they were. The mother (they were all mothers, not sisters; something about how things work in the eastern monastic tradition) in charge of the kitchen was an absolute whiz with seasonings and unusual flavor combos. The fare included large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, some meats, and a very modest inclusion of carbs. I ate and ate and ate and found myself feeling healthier and more energetic as the week went on.
Icon painting was hungry work, as others in the class agreed. We student iconographers arrived at lunch famished and ready to attack the buffet table in full force.
I’ll try to have another post later on the specifics of icon painting (with pictures). But basically it required about 32 class-hours for each of us to produce a completed work, only about 9″x12″ small. We didn’t get into some of the deeper aspects of icon creation. For instance we didn’t (alas) get to mix our own egg tempera. The teacher only showed us how the mixing was done after a couple of us prodded him. (There’s very good reason for beginning students with limited time not to mix their own tempera; it was still a disappointment.)
In fact, I’d almost say that this first foray was a lot like paint-by-the-numbers.
Or would be if paint-by-the-numbers involved building up multiple paint layers, applying gold leaf (my favorite part), sealing with egg emulsion, using a ruling pen and a scribing stylus, writing in Greek, learning the theological meaning of each step of the work, and hand varnishing with a mix of beeswax and lavender oil. (Literally hand varnishing, too. We rubbed the varnish on with our fingertips. I thought I’d never get that sticky stuff off my skin, but it sure did smell nice. Thirty hours later, my icon is still redolent of lavender.)
Parts of the work were fun, fast, and relatively easy; about two days of the four and a half were OTOH hard. Really hard. But we learned a lot.
‘Nuff for now. More later.