Monday, December 8, 2008

The Monastery

I drove a few minutes up the mountain yesterday to visit the local monastery. They were having their annual Christmas Fair.

The first snow of the year was falling (a little later than usual). Just enough to make it festive. It stuck to the ground, but not to the pavement. Which was good, since those narrow mountain roads are treacherous enough without snow. There are a lot of horse farms and Christmas tree farms in the area. Many cars had freshly-cut trees tied to their roofs.

The monks call it a Christmas Fair, but it's a really low-key event - more so than the name suggests. Basically, they support themselves by selling things they produce, and the Christmas Fair is when they open up a little shop at the monastery.

They could probably sell a lot more if they advertised more. The average garage sale has more advertising than the Christmas Fair. But that's not really what they're about. They have regular customers who know about the Fair, and they sell enough then that they don't need to advertise.

It's not easy to find the place if you don't know it's there. There are no signs by the main road. The monastery is marked by a gate off a winding, barely paved mountain road. The gate is open with a small sign when the Fair is on, and you drive up a narrow dirt road through the woods to the monastery. (The road is only wide enough for one car at a time. Luckily, I've never encountered a car going the other way.) Among the trees are scattered religious statues and some farm animals (sheep, goats, chickens).

There's no parking to speak of. The monks don't have cars. People park wherever they can, and no matter where you park, you pretty much block the road.

The "shop" is a tiny wooden shed. It's heated by a wood stove, with a couple of friendly cats in front of it. The shed is so small that it's hard to move if even three or four people are in it. Shelves built by students at local colleges hold items for sale: jams, salsas, tomato sauces, chutneys, soups, vinegars, soaps, dried spices, candles, and small craft items.

I don't really "do" Christmas any more, at least as far as gift-buying. However, I do buy small consumable items as gifts, if I know the recipient will actually use them. So I bought some aromatic vinegars and handmade soaps as gifts for friends and family members who like them.

There was an article in the local paper about the monastery. College students can work there and earn credits. One young woman said she enjoyed it so much she planned to keep working there, for no pay and no college credits. She said after graduation, she planned to take up subsistence farming.

That's great, but her college is one of the most expense in the country. Seems kind of a waste to spend over $200,000 on a degree if you want to be a subsistence farmer. But then, her family can probably afford it.

No comments: