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main index © Jeff Matthews entry July 2015
MORE HEAVENLY TALES
It really was sudden. Dangerous heat and humidity came over us, so we went back up to the Camaldoli convent a week or so ago. Late in the evening of the first day I asked two nuns for an electric fan for my wife. They hemmed and hawed: "—maybe tomorrow morning—we're busy with our prayers right now." So I did my best to look pathetic (imagine that!) and turned to trudge off. I started to say "Is this how you answer our Lord's call to clothe the poor, eat the hungry and fan the fanless? By sending me away?! Is this what Jesus would do? O woe to you, scribes and Pharisees..." but I didn't. I simply looked at the elder of the two and said, "Say, didn't I see you in The Bells of St. Mary's with Bing Crosby?"
Now that I have that out of my system it occurs to me to mention that the Camaldoli hill is of great geological interest. It is what is left of the northeastern rim of the immense Achiflegrean caldera collapse, alias the Campanian Ignimbrite explosion of 40,000 years ago, which created the Fiery Fields (Campi Flegrei—everything in the photo between the camera and the island of Ischia in the far background); that is, it created all of the western side of the entire bay of Naples. You can stand at the convent and look across the 20 km diameter (!) of the ancient volcano and see what is left of the southwestern rim, the hill above Baia and Cape Miseno, the strip of land in front of the island of Ischia. (This is a larger image.) That strip is the end of the Bay of Pozzuoli and the Gulf of Naples. It is where, in Greek mythology, Aeneas' conch-horn player, Misenus, would one day trade choruses with Triton, lose and pay dearly. Consider that the entire distance you are staring across was a single volcanic crater! Do the math on how big the caldera was: it's roughly a circle. From the convent (the point where the picture was taken, straight across to the other rim, Cape Miseno and the Baia ridge is about 20 km. So the radius is 10 km. The area of a circle is pi (use 3.1416) times the radius2. Big volcano, huh? It certainly was.
Also, not to leave the impression that I am only out for a bit of levity at the expense of nuns and convents, there is something serious—indeed, even more serious than geology—going on in all of this. The current (since 1979) Abbess General of the Bridgettine Order is Mother Tecla (also Tekla) Famiglietti (image, with Fidel Castro). She has been called the most powerful woman in Rome and was a close friend of Pope John Paul II. In an era when Western religious orders are shrinking, the Bridgettines have 800 members and a growth rate of 4 percent, adding 30 women a year. Many—most—of them are Indian and Asian. (There is, for example, only one Italian sister at Camaldoli—elderly, born nearby.) Famiglietti presides over a network of religious homes around the world (in Cuba, the USA, various places in Europe, India, Israel, the Philippines) that double as hotels and guest houses (The headquarters is now at Piazza Farnese in Rome.) Friend Larry writes, "I loved the flap in Cuba when Mother Tekla blew off the Catholic Chain of Command, by-passed the parochial Bishop, and went right to Fidel to get the old, centrally located building in Havana. And it was not acquired using eminent domain, but perhaps by Eminence domain!"
The Main Church at the Camaldoli Convent
The Mother Superior here at Camaldoli is from India. She looks taller than she is; maybe it's her bearing—stately, poised, a "handsome woman." Their habit is the usual black Bat-Man getup, but the headgear is unusual—a white band at the forehead crossed by two over-the-top strips, one front to back, the other side to side, pinned at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock by metal studs plus a fifth stud on top to join the crossed strips (note image, above, right). The five studs are supposed to represent the wounds of Christ. I can't count anymore. I only get four—three nails and a lance. What's number 5? [Ah, I found out. What Catholics call the Sacred Wounds of Christ are called the Five Sacred Wounds of Christ in the Eastern Orthodox faith because their representations of the Crucifixion show Christ's feet side by side and pierced by two separate nails. This, as opposed to western depictions, which typically show the feet overlapped and pierced by a single nail. I don't know why a western religious order would use an eastern form.]
In totally unrelated news, on Day 2 I couldn't find my wallet. You know the feeling—credit cards, money. I searched the room, moved furniture—full-fledged panic. I often leave my bag untended; this is a convent, right? (The sisters don't rifle your belongings unless they're looking for smokes.) Some creep guest had probably robbed me blind while I was meditating. I went running out and apoplectically asked the first nun I saw, "Did you find a wallet!?"
I also report sadly that a sweet Polish nun, the Leader of the Pack of black denim habits and motorcycle boots, is no more! No, she has not gone to "be with Jesus" nor (in more Sicilian terms) does she sleep wit' da fishes). Much worse...she was transferred... shipped out...got her marching orders...to SWEDEN! I guess that makes sense—it is the Order of Santa Brigida, a Swedish order, after all—and she was from Poland, which is up there someplace.
Missed the frisfans this year.
So, on day three I found myself wondering if religious orders will ever start taking LGBT nuns. I always thought that stood for Lettuce, Ground Beef and Tomato. Helluva sandwich. I have so much to learn.
On the other hand, a normally reliable source, who always knows someone who knows someone [sic] says,
A friend who lives in the area (admittedly, you may need a grain of salt with some of the things he tells you) says that when he was a little boy he got into that quarry from an entrance in the woods and then through a trap-door [ed. note: a trap door?! Aw, come on!] right into the kitchen of the monastery and always helped himself to ham, salami, cheese, wine...
If all that (or even some of it) is true, then it must have been well before the current residents, nuns of the order of Santa Brigida, took over in the 1990s. I am trying to think if I recall semi-transparent glass blocks or panels anywhere along the walkways of the premises. Can't remember. I don't know about any trap-door, but I'd go back just for that! I know there's a well (image, above). You mean all I had to do was move the flowers?
Also Missed the Rock Concert
At least so far. Last year, at the open-air amphitheater in the woods adjacent to the premises, obnoxious music started at 11 pm. At one o'clock it stopped. Peace & Quiet. Suspicious. Some minutes later I heard a thump-thump-thump and a creaking noise. How cool, I thought, that's either a demon-possessed sprinkler system or a Tell-Tale Heart plus a coffin opening in the cellar of the convent! Golly, I bet there's a 16th-century murder mystery going on down there right now! The thumping then turned into a boom-boom-boom rhythm section, and the creaking turned into croaking and then into a tone-deaf human voice. The concert cranked up again and ended at three. We couldn't keep the windows open because of the noise, and it was too warm to sleep with the windows and shutters closed. Actually, even without the racket you couldn't have the windows and shutters open because our room was on the side of the main building that faces directly east over the city. The building is illuminated nicely and stands out at night when you view it from Naples (or the moon) because that side is flooded by light thrown up onto the façade by a row of heavy-duty JFK-runway lights that line the pathway below the building. With the window open for the cool night-time temperatures, the inside of our room was as bright as Hollywood on Oscar night.
I can't believe my wife swipes those little packets of sugar that come with the coffee at the convent.