Friday, January 27, 2012

A hike up Mt. Burdell

Since this blog is entitled “Jordanville Journal,” and not “San Francisco Vacationer,” it behooves me to end my series on San Francisco with this post.

The second week of vacation went by quickly. For three days of it I was in church for Theophany services. I was also concerned with the tying up of loose ends—writing postcards and the like. But on Monday—a federal holiday—I got a day off.

On Monday morning four of us Conquering Time creative types, including Pafnuty and I, drove up to Mount Burdell in Marin County. There, we met up with I. and her monk friend. The six of us then started up the slope. Despite its name, Mt. Burdell is actually a 1500-foot hill. It’s a short climb. Our plan was to go to the top, rest for an hour and do some writing, and go back down. We went up a gently-rising path, and came to a fork. One path went straight up the mount, and another wound gradually around it to the summit.

“That path looks dangerous and steep,” said one of us hikers. “Let’s take it.”

Tougher than it looks.

We proceeded slowly, but it didn’t take too long to reach the top. The key thing was making sure our center of gravity was towards the hill, lest we end up taking a tumble like Wesley and Buttercup in “The Princess Bride.”

“All those prostrations must have kept me in shape,” I said to a fellow hiker.

“If I bend over any more, I’m going to be making a prostration,” he said.

We finally reached the top. Since we had an ambling pace, it took us an hour and a half to get there. Some searching about revealed a path to a shady, somewhat rocky area, surrounded by trees. There were traces of human presence: ashes from a fire, scratchings on rocks, a carved face. We each took a rock and sat down for an hour, letting the creative impulses do their work.

Certainly inspiring something.

We started writing. Some wrote poetry, others songs. I, whose creativity was probably stunted by television, wrote silly haiku*:

Sitting down at last.
Oh, she said, my dog’s got ticks.
I stand up quickly.

Haiku need to have
Oblique references to nature
Like rocks, birds, and stuff

Silent and serious
We all have to write something
Do bad haiku count?

I also wrote down some character ideas for a continuation of Sense and Seminarians, which have absolutely no reflection on real people. At least, that’s what my lawyer will probably say.

After the hour or so was complete, we packed up and went down the windier path, which was no less difficult than the steep path due to all the loose rocks on the ground. I nearly fell two or three times. “It won’t just be your cassock that ends up purple,” I. said to me.

At the end of our hike, before parting ways, we sat down and had a nice little picnic, which included gourmet cheese left over from the Old New Year’s party. I don’t consider myself the outdoorsy type, but I’m very happy to have been able to spend the day hiking with friends. It was strenuous and invigorating!

UPDATE: An ardent Reader told me that I needed to wrap up my trip to San Francisco in a tidy concluding sentence, like this: “… and then I flew back to Jordanville. My arms are barely strong enough now to type this blog post.”

*Or, to be more exact, senryu, since though they have the 5-7-5 syllabic form, there’s no reference to nature, and they have a somewhat ironic tone.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Happy Old New Year!

After the Christmas party, my first week of vacation was pretty quiet. Pafnuty worked during the week, so I spent my days by myself wandering the streets of San Francisco. For the most part I stayed in my familiar haunts in the Richmond district near the cathedral. Usually my day would consist of waking up late, saying my prayers, talking with Pafnuty before he went to work, and going out and walking around. I would have cheap dim sum on Clement Street and check my e-mail at the library on 9th. During my time in San Francisco, I ended up checking out a few movies from the library, including three Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. Watching Fred and Ginger dancing created in me a sense of wonder which I have not experienced in a long time (at least, while watching a movie).

On Wednesday, I had dinner with my friend Erin, who apparently had hatched a nefarious plan to steal my purple cassock. “I wasn’t going to steal it,” she clarified. “I was just going to take it away from you and never give it back.” We managed to put aside our differences in sartorial taste and had sushi (with donuts for dessert) on Polk Street.

We were on a roll. Or two or three or four…

That Friday, several members of the Orthodox artistic group Conquering Time (plus me) had a Julian New Year’s Party at Erin’s. Several of us contributed to the feast, which was made up of five courses. Nicky Kotar was of course present, but he did not have anything due to his going to St. Tikhon’s to precent at the New Year midnight liturgy.

He missed out on the delicious salad, the creamy bisque, and the absolutely superlative duck and brussels sprouts.


We then had some fruit and cheese and then dessert, which consisted of a cake and a layered French thing with a yogurty filling. Everything was excellent!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Very Busy Christmas

We last left off, dear readers, with Nicholas Kotar and I catching a plane to San Francisco. Although we had purchased tickets separately, we coincidentally ended up on the same flights. All was well at Syracuse Airport: the place wasn’t crowded and the plane was on time. Meanwhile, Nicky was excited to get some meat after the long Nativity Fast.

“I’m getting Beef Jerky from the vending machine!” he said.
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea…”

Nicky took the risk and purchased the 1 oz. package of beefy goodness. He took a bite. “This is the worst beef jerky I’ve ever had,” he said.

I tried some. It truly captured the quiddity of vending machine beef jerky.

Still, we finished the whole thing.

We flew out on JetBlue, with a layover in JFK. I took advantage of the audiovisual amenities of the flight to watch hardy men mine for little yellow rocks under the Alaskan permafrost, among other things. By the time we got into SFO, it was quite late. We got picked up by Nicky’s dad, Fr. Serge. I got dropped off at my temporary dwellings at my friend Pafnuty’s* place.

The next day I attended the early liturgy at the Holy Virgin Cathedral. After the liturgy, I joined some friends to breakfast at one of the priestly homes. A certain P.K. had made some idiosyncratic cookies for the occasion, including the pièce de résistance:

Holy incense smoke, Batman!

In the afternoon, I went to the St. John’s Academy annual Christmas Yolka, which went very well. This year, the kids put on a little play interspersed with holiday singing.

The main event came that night with the Kotar Christmas party. Although the Kotar home is pretty average-sized (i.e. small) as far as San Francisco houses go, it seems to fit an extraordinary number of people during special occasions. I dare say that it seems “bigger on the inside.” There was good food, good company, and a great deal of singing of Christmas carols from multiple centuries. I finally returned to Pafnuty’s, looking forward the rest of the Christmas vacation.

*not his real name, of course.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Jordanville Christmas

Happy Old New Civil Year!

I’m writing from a surprisingly sunny San Francisco. My internet connectivity is limited to visits at the library. I haven’t been online much, but before I sign off I figured that I might as well give an update on what happened during Yuletide at the monastery.

The days approaching Christmas were intense. In the Orthodox world, the week before Christmas is described as a second Holy Week. Indeed, fasting becomes a little stricter, and the hymnography takes on a more anticipatory tone. It is time to prepare both body and soul for the Advent of the Lord.

My week started with cleaning on Monday and Tuesday. This year’s assignment was to clean the corridors and walls of the new section of the monastic building, including the interior of the bookstore. I was paired up with Pete and a fifth-year. Our superior, one of the hieromonks, was known for his meticulousness. Over two days, we had to thoroughly scrub, sweep, mop and dust every inch of the new section. We also had to take out the stains of the tile floor, which involved scraping them out with knives. At first I complained to myself as I scrubbed the walls that this level of attention was excessive; after all, the walls looked perfectly fine. But then, as I glanced at my bucket between scrubs, I noticed it become gradually murkier.

After going over the floors with a knife, we took a little break. I talked with Pete about the clean-up, saying: “We’ve only scratched the surface!”

He answered with something between a chuckle and a groan.

Finally, late in the night of the second day of cleaning, we mopped the floor and waxed with with floor polish. The first half of our preparation period was over.

Sometime around (or perhaps before) this period, two distinguished gentlemen from Ipswich, the Brothers Kasarda (Nick and John) came over and stayed at the monastery, along with a few others. It was a fun time and a good break from all the cleaning. I remember a few of them sitting in the lounge room. John called out to me: “Hey John Martin! Bring out everything FUN from your room.”

I obliged, and brought out, among other things, my ukulele and purple cassock. A good time was had by all.

Our dorm’s Christmas tree.

We attended evening services (Vespers, Compline and Matins) on Thursday night, and went to the Christmas Eve vesperal liturgy on Friday morning.

On Christmas Eve, we didn’t have any food until the evening, in accordance with the ancient tradition of not fasting until nightfall. With hunger as our sauce, the evening meal was very delicious. There were mashed potatoes (decadently topped with loads of dill), mushroom gravy (one of the best gravies I’ve ever had, vegetarian or otherwise), peas, soup, and a warming compote. I ate my fill, but after a whole day of fasting, my stomach took a while to decide whether it was full or not.

Then it was time for the Christmas vigil. Although the tension between Advent and Christmas is not nearly as sharp as between Great Lent and Easter, I still felt a sense of festivity, the feeling that everything was new and young again. The snow, which kept teasing us, finally stuck around a bit.

Christmas day was as it always is: joyous and crowded. After the liturgy, we had a festive trapeza featuring kholodets (aspic) made with swordfish.

It tastes better each time I have it.

Right afterwards, we had a reception in Father Luke’s office. A friend of mine gave me Hawaiian coffee (natch), and there was cake. Soon, however, I had to high-tail it out of Jordanville with Nicky Kotar, because we both had a plane to catch to San Francisco!

Non Sequitur UPDATE: I’m very happy to report the return to the blogging world of Aaron Taylor (Logismoi). I hope that Mr Taylor will update his excellent blog on a regular basis.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Merry Christmas!

To all my readers I wish a most joyous and blessed Feast of the Nativity of Christ. An update on Christmas (and more) at Jordanville will be up shortly.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!