Monday, July 20, 2009

Day Eight – A Relative Day of Rest

Since today is Sunday, we had not scheduled any major “work” for ourselves. Nevertheless, there were things that needed doing in terms of the equipment, the processing of digital files, some filming, and picking up Br. Gerard at the airport.

In the morning, Roch and I joined the Brothers for their morning prayer in the Parmenie chapel. Once again, the singing was done very well and without any apparent effort – the evidence of years of practice and familiarity. Although I understood few of the words, the sentiments were communicated quite well in the music and the united voices.

Afterwards, we had breakfast in their dining room. I’m beginning to like strong coffee in a big bowl with lots of milk. It certainly wakes me up. I also found out that dunking hard crusts of bread in the coffee au lait has some distinctive benefits; like saving your teeth. During the meal, the Brothers gave us lots of advice as to where to go to Mass on our way to the Abbey of the Grande Chartreuse, a place we had decided to visit. De La Salle had been on retreat there, but it’s also famous as the founding monastery for the Carthusian monks whose founder in the year 1084, St. Bruno, was a canon of the Reims cathedral just as De La Salle was.

We drove to the Mass that was held in a nearby town, in a typically old-style French church that, to my eyes, looked better on the outside than on the inside, where they had “modernized” it, mixing loud colors and non-descript “art” with the older statues and stations of the cross. It struck me as a good example of promiscuous eclecticism. Neither the old or the new style came out as the winner.

After Mass, we made our way to the Grande Chartreuse museum. You can’t actually visit the monastery itself. But they’ve converted the old Brothers building into an excellent museum that had videos, displays, re-creations of rooms, and an atmosphere that gave a good flavor of the life of the monks. We spent quite a while wandering around the rooms with our audio-guides glued to our heads, punching in whatever number we saw displayed on the walls as we walked from room to room. I was fascinated by the almost everything that I saw, and the videos were very insightful, featuring two monks candidly speaking about their lives, their motivations, their experiences, and their joys. It was clear that they were as alive, if not more so, than most people you’d ever want to meet. Clearly something was going on in their lives that brought them to a place both deep and challenging, both calm and adverturesome, both fulfilling and probing. And they had a great sense of humor, which lent vast credibility to all that they were trying to relate, to my way of thinking. There's nothing like depth wedded to humility and an appreciation of mystery, and flavored with a genuine sense of humor.

Along the way, we saw a typical monk’s cell, thesmall wall passageway through which daily food was brought, the individual gardens in which the monks recreate each day, and the cell doors on which each monk had a unique quotation from scripture. The order seems to be doing pretty well, with a new “Chapterhouse” created every 10 or 20 years somewhere in the world. The movie, Into Great Silence, was a popular documentary on life here, and it was especially appealing to young people – whom I believe would see it as something both strange, fascinating, powerful in a quiet way, and strangely appealing in contrast to their own worlds of technology, mass communication, hyper-activity, and instant everything. Maybe that’s not all that there is, these monks seem to say with their lives?

At the conclusion of the self-guided tour, we stopped at the gift shop of course and saw displays of books, rosaries, trinkets, and the famous Chartreuse liqueur. The recipe goes back to the 1700’s and only three of the monks know it. It was created as a medicine and has been popular for a number of centuries - something you can't generally say about most things. When you have a sip of it, you know why it was so popular. The green stuff is 66% alcohol, and the yellow one is 47% alcohol. It’s all for medicinal reasons, of course. Some 130 herbs go into the formula, or so we're told. Sounds like a very good combination of ingredients to me – taken in moderation.

Now we were a bit hungry, and so we stopped by a small Swiss-style restaurant along the road back to Grenoble. It fit the bill completely, with great food and plenty of it. The place was surrounded with some of the finest views that you might want to find; high craggy mountains covered with evergreen trees and steep trails of rock and grass. We could even see people hiking up those trails and mountain-climbing on the rocks.

By now we were running low on diesel fuel for the van, so we spent an hour looking for a station in the area. We trusted our GPS, which took us through towns and tiny roads that defy description, all moving towards a station it insisted was somewhere down there. Once we had found it, we also found that it wouldn’t take our credit cards. So with the gauge getting lower and lower, we tried for another station and finally came to a Shell station that would take the VISA card. By this time, our time was getting tight. We returned right away to Parmenie, cleaned up the car a bit and took out much of the major equipment, and then Roch and I took off for Saint Exupery airport to pick up Br. Gerard.

At the aiport, it took a while to figure out where the terminals were located and how to park the car; the parking lot looked like it was made for kindergarden cars. Then it took quite a while to wait for his plane to unload. About an hour later, Gerard finally emerged from the customs door. He said that the wait for his luggage almost took longer than the flight from London. But Roch and I were relieved, because we were busily imagining possible alternative plans if Gerard did not appear through those doors, either because of having missed the flight or for some other reason.

Back at Parmenie around 8:15 PM, we all took a 20-minute break and then met together in one of the large rooms there in order to work our our strategy for the next week and determine the details for our time of filming tomorrow in Grenoble and at Parmenie. That took a couple of hours, but it was all quite worthwhilem and we are now ready to proceed.

On to tomorrow and the filming.

(Note: Click on pictures to enlarge them.)