My streets are quiet again. It is September, even in the last week of August I walked out of the Beguinnage over the bridge, off to lace school. Where are they? Where are the tourists? I do not have to dodge, head down, to pick my way across the bridge. The bridge is empty…well one or two groups of 3 or 4 but not groups of 20 and 30 with cameras and selfies and umbrellas held high in the air by the guide. The tourists are gone! School opens and calls for the families, books to be bought, new backpacks to be purchased… we definitely could not do with last year’s! The vacationers are home to rake leaves and bed the garden for the coming winter and head back to work. I walk on…..on the sidewalk, no more having to step into the street to actually make forward progress. The benches are open devoid of tourists I do not have to hunt one in an out of the way street for a place to eat my picnic lunch before heading on to lace school.
The air is brisk and cooler in the mornings and evenings as I cross the courtyard; sun still lights the middle of the days.The leaves are beginning to fall, floating to the ground in the gentle so far breeze; the giant, protective trees reflect each season of God’s creation. The quiet and stillness soothes my soul as I too prepare for more quiet, more cold and more peace. There is joy to every season. We have only to look for it.
Pelegrina is the tortoise who lives in the cloister and today I had one of those simple and lovely things that happen in the monastery. I clambered down the stairs and out the door to the cloister to photograph the wisteria that had been cut down along the wall for another blog. On my way back to the door, the tortoise, Pelegrina appeared. “No,” he said. Now fine he does not speak Dutch or English but I knew he was speaking to me. Pelegrina headed right for me at what must have been speed for tortoises
accosting me with a pleading look. He intended to ‘cut me off at the pass’ as they say. Pelegrina wished some Sunday dinner. Probably, weekend dinners and lunches are not so sumptuous for Pelegrina as far as the kitchen sister is concerned. So I headed to the kitchen only to discover kitchen sister and normal Pelegrina lover and feeder was already at rest time. I pleaded my case to another sister who retrieved an apple from the compost bucket, sliced it and out we went. Sure enough Pelegrina was decidedly interested in this treat, eating out of our lace-making sister’s hand. She fed Pelegrina and I snapped photos. I frankly think he would have followed us into the cloister had I not closed the door. He was heading determinedly our way. Perhaps an apple was not quite enough and dessert would have been welcome.
Every Sunday, one family faithfully attends our church; two of the sons are acolytes and and then three girls. (The majority of the church attendees are the aged variety.) Often, during the week, the mother and one or two of the girls are at daily Mass. The Martins, Zelie and Louis, were parents of five girls: one was St. Therese of Lisieux or the Little Flower, and four other girls also became nuns, three Carmelites and one Visitation. One daughter was a Carmelite for 64 years, that is a long time! Wisely this couple is up for canonization by the Catholic Church. In a book I read, the neighbors of the Martins scoffed and laughed, “Oh, there they go taking those children to Mass again.” It matters…. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he shall not depart from it.” Hmmm…..the Martins must have done something right; I do not remember any of the neighbors. Last week, there was a young nun with this family in church from which order I do not know. There are many new orders of young people with fresh vigor and devotion springing up. One I visited: Tiberiade in the French section of Belgium with a group of young men, and 5 kilometers away (a discreet distance) a group of young women. Then there is the Fraternité of Jerusalem in Florence and Paris and other cities in Europe. God has his faithful and those willing to sacrifice and He has His families who faithfully follow Him and raise their children to the faith.
The gardener and the handyman came again recently, this time to the pool in the cloister to catch the fish — yes, catch these very elusive and rather large goldfish. They were not for being caught! Perhaps the destination of the local fish chop or shop, pun very much intended, was not appealing and they somehow knew this might be the end of their days. Turns out the pool has a leak and the water is busily and speedily emptying out each day. It does seem the stress of this has brought some of the fish already to their demise. Four remaining goldfish have already been verhuised (a great Dutch word meaning moved to another home). The gardener cannot be refilling the pool everyday. I worried about the bull frog who also made his home in the cloister pool, but in fact he too moved out to the canal and perhaps is happier with the enlarged quarters. Even the lovely pink waterlilies which opened each morning in the sun and closed each evening are now drooping in pails of thick rich dirt. The lilies also have verhuised to the canal. All is not well in the cloister pool! The water which I heard regularly and steadily each day and night speaks no more. I am told running water has a calming effect — witness all the home and civil garden fountains and flowing water — but the flowing water in the pool is no longer. It is now strangely silent if I lay down a nap in the afternoon. We shall pray there is renewal in store for the fish pond, resurrection and new life, if you will, a symbol of permanence and hope.
John the Baptist’s feast day was this week. I frankly do not know if John the Baptist was patron saint of birds or anything of the like…. The day began as normal: Lauds at 7:15, and after a short 10 minute break for private prayer in the church or your room, breakfast in the refectory. On entering, I heard a bird chirping so very close by; I looked up at the stained glass transom near the ceiling expecting to catch a glimpse of the soloist on the roof outside. No…. I turned back to making my breakfast, a smear cheese and confiture sandwich. I heard more bird chirping, looked up again and decided there was a choir outside so close to almost be unnerving. Meanwhile, an older sister was chuckling to herself, smiling smugly and then pointed to the CD player in the cabinet. Now…. The CDs only get played on Sundays or feast days and not at breakfast for sure. What a good laugh!! Sisters are really quite fun; although some of us might be old, we are not boring. Both here and at my home convent, lots of skits and laughs have been done over the years poking fun at ourselves and the reality and exactitude of our lives. With a smile on my face, I sat down to enjoy my specially baked individual croissants, special for a feast day and grinned across the table at my other sisters who were also smiling over this little gaf. Now…..the last sister comes in to breakfast, does exactly the same as I did, looks to the stained glass window looks down to get her bread and coffee and up again as the chirping varies and continues. She shook her head not knowing what to make of it; I took pity on her and pointed to the CD player discreetly hiding its secret behind the cupboard door. Ho Ho Ho, she laughed and smiled. We all did celebrate John the Baptist’s feast day whether he was patron saint of birds or not.
The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine is actually the name of this treasured Begijnhof painting. I cannot for the life of me figure out why, something lacking in my theological or mystical background I guess. For me the painting is simply Mary in my convent chapel. I tend to think of the chapel as mine although I share it with the Begijnhof sisters who come to pray and goodness knows how many from other centuries. At least…when I go there, I am alone with the prayer plant who seems to happily and secretly be developing maturity and steadfastness in the corner. He seems quite healthy and strong. Now I love my quiet times there with my Lord whether over some concern of mine or just a quiet time of praise and thanksgiving before I start my day. The lovely painting of the Madonna and Child on the wall watches over me. We sisters turn and sing Weesgegroet Maria or Salve Regina when our Gregorian is sung in our homey convent Chapel instead of the public church. Turns out the portrait of Mary and Saint Catherine is famous and worth lots of money. Now of course she is valuable in our sight as she is the Mother of God and an intercessor for us in heaven but this painting is valuable in earthly dollars and euros. The Catalog/book of the paintings in the Begijnhof which found its way to my hands is where I learned of this fact. The Mystic Marriage is also a desirable painting for Brugge’s city museum should the Begijnhof be ever willing to part with it. I do not think so any time soon.
Anyone who has lived overseas or in a different culture or country will attest to the fact that there are customs especially eating habits and foods which in your own country are unheard of or often prepared in entirely different ways. Adjustment to some (willing or unwilling) is necessary; however, there were a few times where I never did quite adjust! In Europe drinking your soup from a bowl is quite polite; this has disappeared from the US as accepted behavior. A complete fish, eyes, head, tail, and fins, served as regular lunchtime fare has also disappeared except perhaps at a catfish house in the south of the US. It has been a long time since a complete fish, bones and all has appeared on my plate, and thus a Face- Off was created. Who was going to win this contest, me or the fish? Now as some of you readers know, I spent a year in Paris with a French family in my youth and did encounter fish on my plate and definitely not in fillet or fish stick form. But…it has been a long time and no fish knife was in evidence so I readied myself for the charge. I could do this…and not rocket the fish or its head across the table or worse yet onto the floor in the center of the refectory. I took my table knife and off I went opening him up and searching for the central bone which if cooked right and pulled right will come out in its entirety and not leave lurking small bones to catch in your throat that you have to indelicately remove from your mouth and place on your plate. This was a crucial moment. Aha success!! Probably a few lurking bones near his head which at least delicacy does not demand that I devour. Save it for the cat or for fish stock! I did in fact eat my fish but we all rose from lunch 10 minutes later evidencing that more time to duel with your fish if you were going to eat him was required by all. The real satisfaction though was in having triumphed over the process!!