Abbey Trip, #1, @ St. Clairvaux…

Warning – long post ahead – you’ve been warned… :)

We’re at Starbucks in Vina (with a long “I” sound, so its VI-nah.) Found a place to boost the net for free – no paying Howard Schultz & his empire for me…

Enjoy! I am.

4/14 p.m.
The drive from Reno to Vina took about 3 ½ hours, including the stop in Oroville for a Taco Bell run… walking into a Taco Bell in Oroville is like walking into a Taco Bell in any town – yay franchising…

The access road to the monastery, actually the “Abbey of New Clairvaux” was a single lane road with a blind curve that had to be navigated at about 3 mph. To my surprise – the road around the was covered in water. When I say “covered” I mean that it was deep enough that I stopped. Couldn’t see the road under the water. Didn’t know if it would be safe to take my valiant & trusty Jetta, the car that will soon be turned out to pasture as its lease expires, through the turbulent & rushing stream.

Turns out that the ag-creek had been rising, & the workers in the vineyard/olive/walnut grove had pumped the water to aid in their irrigation, as its been something of a dry spring… we entered the water & it got no higher than 6 inches. Fortunately for us, an obstacle navigated.

When we arrived at the Abbey, we stopped at the “Guest Masters” quarters – more of a “Welcome Hut” or a ‘lobby’ than an actual quarters – there was no one around – no one to be seen anywhere on the grounds. So we got out of the car & walked, slowly of course (we’re at a monastery for retreat, Hello?) looking for any signs of life. About ¼ mile down the road, Ben pipes in with how this actually reminds him of a scene in a particular “Twilight Zone” episode. I know what he’s talking about, but I don’t want to go there right now – esp. to the end of that episode.

Finally, I see a guy on a golf cart heading for a maintenance shack – I head in his direction – he heads to the shack, not really avoiding me, but definitely not making himself available. He’s a dead ringer for the Amish meets car mechanic look that I became familiar with in a trip to Philadelphia – I explained to him our situation: we just arrived. No one was in the Guest Masters qtrs to meet us, we’re looking for help. He replied: “Ok. Well go back to the Guest Masters qtrs & wait. Someone will be there eventually.” He smiled & went into his work shack.

We all had a good laugh – of course we wait. That’s part of the point to this place with no ‘useful’ point – time functions on a different clock here, & the waiting is a part of the process. So we walked, (Slowly. Of Course) back to the Guest Master’s, & eventually we were met by a man, probably in his late 70s or early 80s who introduced himself to us as the Guest Master, Brother John. He wore tattered blue jeans & a college sweatshirt pullover – a little bit of an absent minded guy, he gave us a tour of the grounds via a map in the office, & as they came to his mind, offered up a stream-of-consciousness commentary on various topics:
• The origin of the Abbey – came from Leland Stanford’s family
• The building project, started in the old days by William Randolph Hearst, & picked up again by his Order (the crew he rolls with) – with a timeline of 50-75 years for completion.
• The chapel, the meditation room – two places for retreat-ants (that’s what we’re called) to go & hang out if we need a building to do that sort of thing. He called the meditation room a “Zen sort of thing” – which means a sand pit, a couple of candles, no chairs, & a cassette player with a collection of Zamfir’s greatest hits.

We toured the kitchen – its more of a community kitchen with no staff – the food from the Abbey kitchen, all vegetarian, is delivered a couple of times a day for all of us to eat & enjoy – lots of saltines & peanut butter to go with homemade jam. Looks like plum jam. A loaf of bread. Swiss cheese. Some tofu-based minestrone type soup. With tomatoes & mushrooms.

We arrived at the guest rooms – two ‘wings” of about 4-6 rooms each – (Matty, we’re in the West Wing. Woohoo!) each very cozy with a cement floor, 2 ½ x 3 ½ throw rug, a single simple bed with Spartan bedclothes (don’t think “The 300” here – think we don’t need much Spartan…) a little built in desk (ala small hotel rooms everywhere,) & a small, personal bathroom. Walls made from cinder block, vaulted ceilings. And plenty of quiet to go around.

Each of the rooms we were assigned has a placard next to its number – with a corresponding “Room Name” or “blessing” over each room – I’m in #2 – Joy. Ben’s in #3 – Peace. Moe is is #4 – Patience.

We spent a good portion of the evening talking & laughing, & internally wrestling ourselves about the appropriateness of the room names that we were assigned to – with me desperately needing Joy. Bean & I had talked on Sunday about this very topic – & her prayer, her hope for me is that I would be joyful – & happy. And en-joy my life – because when I’m having a difficult time, when I can’t find my joy, it’s a tough one for all who get to be around me. So joy it is. That transcends circumstance – that goes beyond difficulties. That is based in contentment. That is my strength, regardless what else is going on.

Later, we congregated in the Peace room, & talked deep talks about life & death, hopes & fears, hiding behind facades, & other joyous things like that. We headed for bed about 11 –

I had forgotten that there are 5 prayer times a day, the Divine Office, that happen in the Abbey church – & that the call to prayer for all who want to come happens with the clanging of the church bell 5x/day. So I was woken up a few times. At these times.

Prayer Schedule:
• 3:30 a.m. Vigils
• 6 a.m. Lauds & Mass
• 8:55 a.m. Terce
• 12:15 p.m. Sext
• 1:55 p.m. None (prounounced Noin”)
• 5:45 p.m. Vespers
• 7:35 p.m Compline –

The Compline is followed by “the Grand Silence” where all retreat-ants are asked to go along with the monks practice of being silent – or at least providing a place where the rest of the people at the Abbey grounds can be quiet if they want to. Which means that Ben, Moe & I sound like 3 jr high girls whispering & giggling on the grounds. In our room. In the field next to the “West Wing”

4/15 a.m.
So now it’s the morning, & I’m debating what to eat – I think it will be crackers with peanut butter & jam again. I love that, & haven’t had it since… I can’t remember. Since my kids were small & I’d eat their left overs? Perhaps?

At noon, we have a wine tasting for the 3 of us set up in the New Clairvaux Vineyard.

We’re back from the tasting – we had a full tour of the facilities too – very cool to see the barrels of wine, the press, the ‘crusher’, & the filling station – all of which are manned by the priests from the abbey – they do all of the work under the supervision of Amy the Vintner…

They took one grape, a Zinfandel, & planted it in two different sections of the vineyard, the “Poor Souls” block & the “St James” block – this gives them a ‘control’ wine to be able to tell what’s happening in the soil in each block. It was amazing how different the same wines in different blocks 300 yards apart smell, taste, & feel. (No, we didn’t have a freak wine tasting accident…)

Very enjoyable – & pasta for lunch, w/homemade pudding for dessert – fruit cocktail (by Sysco!) mixed with Vanilla Pudding (by Sysco!) Hooray!

9 thoughts on “Abbey Trip, #1, @ St. Clairvaux…

  1. Who are your trying to convince that you’re having fun – you or me, friendo?

    Hanging out is something I love to do, but not in the area of creepy vegetarian monks.

    Why not just rent a cabin at Lake Tahoe and bring your own food?

    Glad you think you’re enjoying yourselves.

  2. That’s cool about the Joy room . . .

    I must say, this doesn’t sound like any Day Spa I’ve ever been to . . .

    I tried to schedule Sue in for a Grand Silence once, but it didn’t work out very well . . .

  3. I read the entire thing, but had to GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING to remember what I was going to say. As soon as I got there, I remembered: Do you find saying VINA as funny as I do? It reminds me of my friend telling me and her 11 year old son the name of her home town: Regina, also with a long I. Really? We were both fitfully giggly.
    In addition to all that, I am glad you are finding time to giggle and vegetarian it up. Healthy for the soul and digestive system. Thanks for the details as well.

  4. 1) I really could have done without the 300 reference. I would never have thought of ya’ll as any type of Spartan other than what you intended had you not suggested it. Now I am scarred. :) And then to compare yourselves to junior high girls– I am completely traumatized!

    2) It sound like you should have a peaceful and relaxing time. I hope you are able to find some joy on your retreat, even if only in the small things (such as above references and Starbucks!)

    3) I am glad to hear that there was no freak wine tasting accident. Also, be sure to avoid freak gasoline fighting accidents! :)


  5. Laura- yes. It’s the simple things.

    David – I am enjoying myself, friendo. Driving the 3 1/2 hours is a part of the experience – & the food we’re eating is totally different than we’d do on our own. And because of it, I’ve rediscovered Saltines with Peanut Butter & Jelly. Prunes. Homemade Bread. And the stuff. I drinka your milkshake.

    TPT- you’re right. Though I might come home with a manicure.

    Shontell- Yes. Did you like my explanation of how to say VY-nah? We all had a good belly laugh as well.

    Jeni – so what are you saying? We’re not tough? Ok, we’re not tough. But thanks for reminding me. And we’ll watch out for gas.

  6. Opie – Not everyone enjoys themselves in the same way. I drink your milkshake!

    Shontell – it might be easier if you starting telling us when something doesn’t remind you of regina . . .

    Tim – i’m pretty sure you started this whole thing of replying to every responder in this manner. thanks, friendo.

    Lou – glad you’re enjoying yourself. i, like opie, find the whole notion a little creepier than fun, but to each their own. i would need to stay in all three rooms to significantly improve my disposition, though. and trying to be three places at once is one of my larger problems to begin with . . .

  7. Brintus- thanks for your insightful & witty input – it brightens my day. You may be right on the Tim starting the replying – I like it & will ride that train to glory.

    I could have used all 3 rooms too – but I’ll start with Joy.

  8. This is great. I love the part about the slow pace of life there….That’s one thing I really love about Europe.

    Clairvaux sounds very “vogue” or like clairvoyance or something. Did this trip give you the ability to make use of things beyond your normal sensory skills?

    Joy, Peace, Patience. How fitting. Hmmm.

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