Chocolate chip cookies are quintessentially American. Every country’s American embassy handbook lists where chocolate chips can be obtained whether in Managua, Cairo or Taipei. Often, perhaps more than often, this is difficult; every American expat wants to find chocolate chips and make chocolate chip cookies. In Taiwan, it was a garage door on a certain street that was open only once a week. The chocolate chips were in a three foot tall sack, like grains or flour in an organic food store in the US, but…. there they were …..the desired item…chocolate chips! I baked the scrumptious cookies, six at a time, in a Chinese/American microwave but there they were…. the delicious mouthwatering cookies. The cookies were gobbled and relished in front of an American movie on TV…..a taste of home many thousands of miles away. Chocolate chips are sometimes shipped overseas in suitcases – an item with the value of gold – the taste of home in a foreign country.
At the small Italian villa of my home convent, there are of course chocolate chip cookies. I am told they are a great hit with the local populace and hence are the American offering at local parish and community events/even before any Italian was spoken.The cookies also serve as thank you gifts for locals eg. electricians and postmen who have been especially helpful. Chocolate chip cookies even make what otherwise might be slippery international introductions a welcome format. The cookies open doors….not the least of which has been a local family owned vineyard and winery and a factory of one of a kind Crèche figures. Buon Appetito e Bueno Natale.
Swans…. I thought I had left my beautiful swans behind floating serenely on the canals of my Brugge home. I often peek out the Begijnhof doors to watch the Swans…sleeping, their heads tucked under their wings or gracefully swimming avoiding the tourist boats. They preen, nibble, and forage on the grass outside the Begijnhof walls. But no…. American swans, their cousins, must have known I was coming and would miss my lovely white birds. Swans are lovelier in looks than in temperament but no matter. I take care of an older woman whose home is on one of the Cape Cod’s many fresh water kettle ponds lying between the coastlines of the Atlantic ocean and the Cape Cod Bay. The home has a spectacular view and a pair of swans make their home on the scrub pine covered shoreline somewhat protected by the dense tree cover along the shore of the pond. The lady loves to watch the swans and every year there remain two swans, whether the babies stay and Mom and Dad move away or vice versa, but the population is stable at two. This lady has a grandchild who thought playing with the swans was an amusement until one day the swans had had enough and chased the boy up the dirt path in determined search of protection from his mother. The glimpse of the American swans on the sun-sparkled water comforted my Brugge memories.
Politics was from my thoughts this day as I scooted out the side Begijnhof door to meet my 18-year-old Muslim friend. We were going for coffee, an outing we periodically made every few months since we met two years ago in our very first Nederlands class Level one. We studied the first four levels together then she whizzed onward being bright and young, searching a completed level of Nederlands necessary to continue her education in pursuit of her dream of becoming an architect. She was good; I saw some of her drawings. My educational pace slowed to allow for other activities, but we had bonded; she wearing her headscarf and me my veil. On this day, she was free from studies and we were off to a nearby tearoom for a catch up chat and coffee. We found a table and settled in to animated conversation not thinking at all of the tables around. Well…we were a political statement, living harmony, Christian and Muslim. The tearoom was full of Flemish people having coffee and pannekoken or waffles. One lady got up, came over to our table and in excellent English told us how much seeing us together having such a wonderful time blessed her. We were quite surprised and taken aback; we were just friends having coffee. But as we glanced around, all the people at the other tables were smiling and nodding. It was a bit overwhelming to both of us…we had made a political statement and gathered attention of which we were totally unaware. We both smiled (we hoped) graciously. We were just being us and God made a divine statement to the hearts of others.
Dishes are ubiquitous, waiting to be attended, whether in Belgium or America, for 8 or 60, a sisterhood or a guesthouse. Of course in your homes, my readers, dishes await you. My primary help at the Begijnhof is dishes. I anchor the dish line for both us sisters and our guests at the guesthouse from as few as 8 to as many as 30 depending on the day and the meal, which possibly includes soup dishes, plates, dessert dishes, cups and saucers and glasses, and an assortment of serving dishes, pots, and pans. Dishes in America of course consist of the same assortment of items and are for 60 sisters. The machines are the same, the one in the US a bit heavier commensurate with its larger regular loads but basically the same. I was allowed to name the new dish machine in Belgium when our old one went to ‘dish machine heaven’. Julianna is her name I hope she misses me…all of us like to have a little nest to call our own and the dish line was my nest! It is very busy in America at the moment, all preparing for the opera Pilgrim’s Progress so there is no assigned dish crew and anyone and everyone is welcome. I gravitate to the dish machine either catching the clean dishes or pushing the dirty ones. I have found my nest again. Hopefully God is pleased.
Adoration is once a month at the Begijnhof, instead of Compline. We and whomever would like to join us, adore the host in quiet and silence with a hymn to begin and end. For me, it is one of the most centering things I do, since I do not have to pay attention to my Nederlands pronunciation or try to sing on key. I only have to fight stray thoughts and ideas from entering upon my quiet and contemplation. now that can be a hefty job but….I can just sit and adore and be with God. At the Sacre Coeur guesthouse in Paris, I discovered there is a whole community of sisters called to perpetual adoration 24/7, the calling of the sisters there. Sacre Coeur on Montmartre is a monumental and colossal sized church, nearly everyone has seen a photograph. I remember from my early days as a young student in Paris that Sacre Coeur was what you first saw from the airplane window, coming in for a landing in Paris, on those ooh so slow early propeller flights. The host is also monumental in a glorious silver and gold monstrance, displayed continually except during mass. A sister is always adoring and of course a gazillion pilgrims come and go. The tourists go around on the outside aisle. The night adoration is done by young people or some of the time. The Protestants also have a form of adoration or centering, Quakerism is an example and of course the meditation of the Buddhists all attest to the healthful blessing of centering. I always walk more softly and more peacefully after adoration as I cross the courtyard and climb to bed. I look forward to adoration each month.
The time has come as it does every year for home leave. I will leave the Begijnhof for 6 weeks in America at my home convent and return again in time for Advent and Christmas. Mornings are dark now as we slip out to Lauds and cross the very darkened and quiet courtyard. Even the birds and doves are not up yet poking in the grass. Every night we cross again to church and Compline also now under darkened sky and we return by night. The glowing spire of Onze Lieve Vrouw, the grand Bruges church of Our Lady, is alight arching over us. Onze Lieve Vrouw is not quite completely visible as the autumn leaves cling tenaciously to the trees but we know she is there, her silhouette glowing behind the tangle of leaves. Yes, there are things I will miss on Home Leave, the quiet, the contemplation, the time for reflection and thought, important at my age in life. I return to a convent in the prime of its life, filled with energy, life and outreach by young and old alike. The Reformation Symposium has moved to America for two very busy weeks, welcoming the French and Italians, hosting European theologians and artists, just one of the many outreaches of my home community. The swirl of the community life will both enliven and tire me, again a symptom of my age in life. God is Good.
The subtext here is I do not know how many blogs I will get written in the next 6 weeks! The muse as poets and writers will testify, visits capriciously and then I must write. For those of you who read these blogs faithfully and there are some of you, more than I would have thought from stray revealing comments, thank you and God bless you until we meet again.
“Study in Black and White” is a lace design that caught my interest in a Bruges Flower Lace book. As an aside, this book was the first lace book I bought; I had not the slightest idea how to do the lace. I simply liked the designs! The book stayed many years on my shelf until I came to Bruges. When asked to mount a small display of lace (for which of course varieties of lace must be made) I choose one design from this book. It pleased me making it, as all lace does. If you look closely, the patterns as well as the colors are inverted. Continuing my study in Black and White, I turn to pussy cats. Now, it seems the newly elected White Arch cat of the courtyard has a twin in contrast, a Black cat. A recent misty Sunday morning, I stopped before heading determinedly for my coffee to take in the wonderful quiet and the bucolic view from our monastery courtyard door. Silence reigned and the giant trees were covered with autumn leaves wet with dew from the early morning rain. It was early and there I spied one of the ladies in the courtyard calling among the bushes what I thought would be the white cat, but No…. an all black cat appeared! Apparently, one White cat and one Black cat live in this courtyard home. Now the black one had a mind of his own wanting to sniff wonderful flowers and bushes in the tiny Banneux (a chapel to honor the apparitions of Mary in Banneux Belgium) garden next to his or her home. Who knows what bugs and small insects and even a mouse or two might have been straying there, only a cat would know for sure. Maybe even an early morning bird, but our birds are too big for cat catching. The bird might eat the cat! At last the cat was coaxed into his home garden for hopefully a safer breakfast and his mistress also as she was out in her bathrobe cat chasing. A wonderful homey start to the morning and I was off for coffee.