Sunday, May 08, 2005

Monks and Martinis.

On Saturday I drove down to Big Sur with a couple other Jesuits and a Jesuit-to-be. Getting there via Highway offered what may well be the most incredible scenic drive I’ve ever undertaken; the combination of majestic mountains, ancient redwoods and brilliant blue ocean is truly breathtaking, becoming more and more beautiful the further south one goes. Our first stop was at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, a community of Camaldolese Benedictine monks perched on a thousand-foot high promontory overlooking the Pacific. The monks gave us a very gracious welcome; after Mass we joined the community for lunch and enjoyed a tour of the cloister. Though I’ve visited a number of monasteries, this was my first encounter with the Camaldolese, a community that has taken an interesting approach to balancing the different values that jostle for attention in any religious life. Balancing community and solitude, the monks gather for common prayer and meals but also spend much of their time alone in individual hermitages – not separate cells within the same building, but cottages set apart from one another by well-kept gardens. Balancing engagement with the world and separation from it, the monks maintain a small monastery in Berkeley in addition to their rural hermitage at Big Sur. The Camaldolese are also committed to the life of the mind, counting a number of monastic scholars in their midst – including some who teach from time to time at GTU while residing at their Berkeley monastery.

After spending some quality time with the Camaldolese, our Jesuit group took a swing by the Post Ranch Inn, a posh oceanfront resort where those with the means pay in excess of $1000 a night for peace and quiet (two things they could get for a lot less money – and with a lot fewer amenities – up the street at the Hermitage). The Sierra Mar Restaurant at the Post Ranch is open to the public, so we dropped in for drinks and dessert. Though the desserts at the Sierra Mar were excellent (I had a chocolate custard creation served with orange raspberries), the best thing about the place is probably the view; one could easily find a more extensive and higher quality menu elsewhere, and at a much lower price. To be fair, I might have offered a more superlative review of the Sierra Mar had I sampled one of their martini, which is rumored to be among the best around. If I make a retreat someday at the New Camaldoli Hermitage – something I’d very much like to do – perhaps I’ll stop by the Sierra Mar again afterward and give the martini a try. AMDG.


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