Into Great Silence

07 Apr

It was a Monday, when I stood witness to the Carthusian monks of the Chartreuse coming down from the monastery, to take a break from making their famous and curiously strong green liqueur. They walked right past my balcony window in their sturdy, handmade white robs, heading for the bus stop to go back to the place they now call home (I wish I had caught a picture of them). I marveled at them speaking and enjoying a day in town like the rest of us. Even considering the size of their group, they still spoke to one another in hushed, yet joyful tones. In watching them pass, I pondered, what on earth (literally) could any of us have in common with these monks? They seem to live an impossible life: painful, monotonous, bizarre and probably most of all, lonely. I was fascinated by them but also in awe of them for the life they’ve chosen.

After seeing them go by that day, I went to the monastery, hoping to get another glimpse of them. I know it sounds strange, but seeing them was like seeing three dimensional ghosts, something of legend or a figment of the imagination. In those brief moments of observation, I felt as if I were reading a fascinating story, which had the last chapter ripped out. I longed to know more about them. I took pictures in an effort to peer into their mysterious lives, to get closer to them somehow. Even though I am not Catholic, to see them evoked a sense of peace that is difficult to describe and illusive to recapture.

What is their curiosity? Is it that they are the antithesis of modern society? That they sacrifice more than any of us can imagine and do so, willingly? Whatever the reason, they do seem to make a huge impact in this region of France. It’s hard to say, but somehow, here…in the Chartreuse, I think the mountains are even more special. Could it be the influence of the Chartreuse monks? I only know how they make me feel: relaxed, happy and hopeful that there is still good in the world despite the news and what modern society would have us believe.

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Although I still don’t have an answer as to what we have in common with the monks, I do think this is one reason why we travel: to experience life-changing moments that give us peace, regardless of the reason. These images help me reconnect to that peace that I would imagine, also enables them to endure a life of silence.


Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Daily life in France


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11 responses to “Into Great Silence

  1. pys72

    April 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    A good way to understand more the life of a Chartreux Monk is to visit the museum they have near the Grande Chartreuse. I went there a while back and yes, it is a lifestyle that few could live with. It does have a certain fascination though as, sometimes, when you think the world is going mad.
    I think their symbol, the globe with the cross on top and their moto of the cross, stays firm while the world spin or something in these lines summarise this appeal.
    Hats off to you for watching all of the program. I couldn’t.

    • expatriotgames

      April 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

      Hello and thank you, PYS. Yes, still need to visit the museum, an excellent idea. As for the program, you’re right, it is a bit difficult to watch, especially since it is for the most part, a silent movie. But it did give me a chance to understand their world in a way that put you in their shoes of silence, if even as a bistander. As you say, you couldn’t get through it. That may be exactly how that live would affect us, we couldn’t get through. They are gifted to do what they do, that is evident. Thanks for your great insights, as always!

  2. Joan Wolckenhauer

    April 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Lovely blog entry and beautiful photos!

    • expatriotgames

      April 8, 2011 at 9:05 am

      Thank you Joan! You are just too kind! Do they look anything like the Alps in Switzerland? I hope they [the photos] take you to a happy place 🙂

  3. wherewander

    April 9, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    you know, I wish I could spend a month with those monks in silence and hearing silence … I do wish.

    • expatriotgames

      April 11, 2011 at 6:19 am

      It would be life-changing, that is certain. I think we are social creatures by nature. To what degree, is the difference. Your month would be my week. Not so sure I could manage that long. Thanks for responding, Ms. Ellen!

      • wherewander

        April 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm

        Maybe it is because I´m sick of the noise. BA is a large city. From my apartment I hear the traffic, the noise from the Avenue, my neighbors are loud, TVs are on from 7 in the morning to midnight. I have two neighbors that are deaf and they shout instead of talking. Then my place of work is loud too, the guys I work with talk all the time and play videos and radios and I go to the park and there are bands playing and there is nowhere to hide. Sometimes my ears actually hurt and I just wish I could find a spot of silence in this city !! I just moved in here, I cannot afford to move again but I am counting the days. Maybe that´s why, if you asked me today, I would say a year of silence!! just because I´m sick at the moment …

      • expatriotgames

        April 11, 2011 at 1:33 pm

        Whoah Ellen, you do need a break for sure! I guess I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum. I am in a place where there is minimal noise. On the weekend, the Chartreuse area is where many come from the valley (Grenoble), Paris, Lyon and other large cities, to ‘get away’ from the noise. I love it here, but the quiet can actually become disquieting sometimes. During the week, I can sit on my balcony and hear cow bells, the wind and birds. On the weekend, you can hear the light noise of the tourists in the square, but mostly the stir of coffee spoons and laughter, as they enjoy a lovely pain chocolat (chocolate puff pastry) or croissant at the boulangerie downstairs. Which to me, is ‘good noise’ at that. But, to have complete silence, I have to have in moderation or I will go nuts (hence, the blog, ha!). I’m sorry you are in contant noise, that alone fosters a generalized anxiety. I feel for you! I hope you can get out of town soon, you need a refuge. Ear plugs may be the cheaper, short term solution, but if you can get away, the Chartreuse is a great one [refuge]! I will be thinking of you!

  4. wherewander

    April 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Can I go visit you? LOL The Chartreuse sounds like the place I needed to be in right now. I do need a break. This Saturday I couldn´t get off bed. I couldn´t move. I went to the nearest clinic to learn that I had a severe inflamation near the cervical area and now I´m wearing a very sexy collar for the whole week. The doctor asked me if I was going through excesive stress and I said no, I mean, my problems are just everybody else´s, no big dramas in my life, so I said no. But it occurred to me that maybe the stress comes from the little annoyances of the every day life, that these things do affect me more than I think they do. I´m having two weeks off starting next weekend and I´m going to the jungle. Maybe I can recharge my batteries there. Or I may go to France LOL
    I have ear plugs but they are not helping much 😦 I guess that I´ll have to look for a quieter place to live, where I can have a few hours of silence during the day. It´s not too much to ask!!!

    • expatriotgames

      April 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      Wow, the jungle? Hope you’ll be blogging on that! That sounds like the solution. The Chartreuse will be here, take your time ;0). Please take care of yourself! 🙂

      • wherewander

        April 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

        I´m leaving this Saturday to the Bolivian Amazonia, I´m not sure if I´ll have Internet there but I´ll blog when I´m back in BA, that´s for sure.
        I´ll take care, promise!!
        Thank you!!!!


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