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••• The International Writers Magazine:Italian Memories

The Certosa di Calci
• Brian Appleton

Once when I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to know what it was like to be a monk. Somehow my mother arranged for me and my brother to spend two weeks in the Carthusian monestary near Pisa, the Certosa di Calci.

Calci Monestary

Now the Carthusians have taken the vow of silence except during mass. They are a working order and we worked in their garden harvesting egg plants. We also worked with the bees and harvested honey. I remember, Father Anthony got stung many times despite his veil and gloves and smoke and all the usual protections. I think the bees felt betrayed by the presence of strangers. Poor Fr. Anthony. There was a fountain in the center courtyard inside the loggia where the thirsty bees lined up to drink from a spillway of a basin.

There were 60 kilo crocks of honey which we had to transfer into little labelled jars to sell at the farmers market. My poor brother, I can still see him struggling with the wheelbarrow containing one of these large ceramic crocks down the stairs to the basement where we were preparing the jars for sale. He tripped and then a giant slow motion wave of honey formed and crested and silently slowly crashed onto the floor eventually creating a layer of honey three inches thick on the cement floor. Undaunted the monks scooped it off the floor into the jars.
Fr. Bruno was the cook and he was delighted when we gave him a ready mix box of chocolate angel food cake along with the mold to cook it in which we brought from the commissary in Camp Darby. He baked it for us rather than for the monks.

Calci Monestary When Saturday came Fr. Bruno took pity on me and loaded up my pockets with little bottles of chartreuse which they also made at the monastery which was about 180 proof and loaned me his bicycle and told me to go into the village and meet the young ladies. The village was way down at the bottom of the hill and as I peddled along, I drank one little bottle after another, I think there were ten in all but I lost count...I also started veering my way down the hill making S curves bouncing off the parked cars on either side of the road... don't remember how I made it back to the monastery....Chartreuse hangover is not good.

Next day Fr. Anthony asked me with sign language if I wanted to ring the bell for matins.... I got so excited despite my hangover ringing the bell... I was pulling the rope in the bell tower and once the big bell got to swinging it lifted me way off the ground.... the poor monks were quite confused because even for Christmas mass the bell was never rung that many times.

They also had a large Molosso Napolitano, a breed of mastiff named Massimo. He was the watch dog. I loved that dog and he loved me but while we were there a visting monk walked past Massimo and he bit him in the ass. It turns out the old monk used to be at this monastery in his youth and when Massimo used to jump up on him in his excitement to greet him, the monk would beat him off with a stick. Apparently this stuck in the dog's memory and he got his revenge. After this incident they put Massimo up for adoption and a farmer took him on. I am sure he was happier running about in the fields than guarding the monestary.

Speaking of dogs, in the loggia there was a fresco of a corridor in 3D that was so life like, a tromp d'oeil making a flat dead end look like it went on for quite an additional distance. There was a large smudge right in the middle of that wall. The monks explained to me in a written note that a dog had run into the wall with it's nose leaving the smudge. That proves dogs can see perspective I guess.

There was also a Fr. David who painted large oil painting still lifes of flower bouquets from the garden. They were quite good and my good hearted mother bought about 30 of them which 50 years later I am paying storage on. I think I will try to interest the buyer for Marshall Fields in them. I will never have the wall space nor are still lifes of flowers my thing.
Needless to say I decided the life of a monk was not for me.

© Brian Appleton October 2017

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