Has the expat life ever given you surprises you most likely wouldn’t have had if you’d stayed home? Of course you have. I had plenty, like almost ending up in a bush jail in Africa. Most recently I found myself surprised again, but fortunately in a more congenial setting with no threat to my physical being, but possibly to my spiritual convictions.
Now, I grew up in Holland in the sober Protestant tradition. So to find myself dining and drinking holy wine at an Orthodox Catholic monastery probably wasn’t on the books had I stayed in Holland.
This happened a couple of weeks ago while on a freebie cultural, food and wine tour through Romania and Moldova (where I now live). Perhaps after visiting Dracula’s birth town in Transylvania and eating and dancing at the home of a Gypsy family, something of a more spiritual nature was in order. Such as dinner at the 15th Century Neamt Monastery, prepared by the monks from organic food and accompanied by mentioned holy wine, which had been blessed by . . . I’m not sure who had blessed it.
The dinner was delicious. The holy wine not so much. Apparently the blessing had not transformed it into divine elixir, but you can’t have everything. The menu included meat and vegetables, artfully presented. Accompanying them was a luscious and potent garlic sauce that was enjoyed in copious amounts by all ten of us and was sure to stay with us for a day or two. We hoped that when we arrived at the Moldovan border in a cloud of garlic fumes, they’d let us into the country.
While we enjoyed our food, we were serenaded by a group of young talented students from the Music Conservatory in the town of Lasi which added to the spiritual ambiance. We spent the night at a hostel belonging to the monastery. It was a modest place with non-posturepedic mattresses, which was good to keep us humble after having spent several nights in 4 and 5 star hotels. Some of us (I, Miss Footloose included) were also humbled by not having hot water coming out of the taps. This resulted in my not taking a shower, but resorting to more modest ablutions, for which I hoped I’d be forgiven by God and tour mates.
Next morning after a healthy organic breakfast, we had a tour of the monastery. It is an impressive place with an impressive history, but I shall not elaborate here. You can find it all on the Internet if you are interested.
Along with a lot of art, gold and glitter, the Neamt Monastery also contains a large ossuary displaying the bones and skulls of countless numbers of monks. Strolling around in this place was not a spiritual experience for me.
Some of the skulls are engraved with names and dates. I must admit to finding this a tad creepy, as well as not very polite toward the people who had once walked the earth with the bones and skulls now on display for all and sundry to gawk at. But then I’m a lapsed Protestant, so I probably don’t get it.
There’s a lot I don’t get in this life, but I’ll keep working at it.
* * *
Now it’s your turn: Tell me about a surprising experience you had, possibly involving holy wine, skulls or things religious.