~ Buona Pasqua ~
I was having coffee today with a friend of mine who is going to Italy in April and staying in a convent. I have stayed in convents in Italy before and they are a nice way to economically stay in many of Italy’s larger cities. I have stayed in two separate ones in Rome and my friend is going to stay at one in Florence.
Think of the convents as an “adult” version of a hostel (envision a positive hostel, not one filled with unshowered 19yos with no money!), where the rooms are simply appointed (think 1950s dormitory) and very clean. Usually there is an en suite bathroom in every room (I would definitely make sure of this when booking a stay) and the sisters are more than gracious and helpful. If you are a night owl, the only drawback can be that they have a curfew which is usually 11:30p.
Here is a website that I recommend for information about monastery stays in Italy: http://www.monasterystays.com/
While we were having coffee, I was reminded of a story from my first convent stay in Rome at the Convent Guest House of the Suore Mantellate Serve di Maria during the week of September 11, 2001. If you have heard me tell this story before, please forgive me, but I feel I must share it again from my Nov ’09 blog post —and somehow it seems appropriate on Easter weekend. I leave you to make whatever metaphorical and metaphysical connections you wish.
Sister Ada was a cheerful, older nun, in her 70s, who always greeted us with a warm smile and a caring nod of her head. The convent was always bustling with nuns and other guests, but over the course of our three-day stay we bumped into her the most.
Staying at a convent can be a challenge. There is a nightly curfew and the doors are promptly closed and locked—and not with a simple key, but with a large Frankenstein castle bar that swings down and fits into large steel brackets on the interior side of the door. A large mob carrying torches and using a large tree truck for a battering ram would have an almost impossible feat ahead of them in trying to get in.
In actuality, when the clock struck 11:30 p.m. and the large 14-foot-tall doors were closed, the bar lowered and secured, and the large skeleton key inserted and turned in the lock with a metallic “thud” of a clank , it felt more like we were being locked in rather than being protected from any outside harm.
Here, the rules were strict: if you weren’t back inside by 11:30 p.m. you were locked out of the convent until the doors were opened at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. And when they shut the doors at curfew, they shut them for the night. Period. You miss your curfew, there is NO getting in. The sisters take their curfews very seriously!
Well, the dungeon-like security of the convent was comforting, but it did pose a problem. We had a 6:45 a.m. flight on the morning of our departure, which means that I scheduled a car service to pick us up at 3:30 a.m.—in front of the convent. Are you ahead of me yet? We were going to need to be sprung from the nunnery during “lock down” hours. I didn’t really think of this when we checked in on that Friday, but on that Saturday, I woke up in a panic trying to figure out how we were going to get out to meet the driver early Monday morning.
After breakfast, I approached the sister who was working the reception desk and explained to her our early morning need to get out and my concern about it how to make it work. She assured me that all we had to do was “…come downstairs early Monday morning and call for Sister Ada and BOOM she will appear.” We all jumped a little when this sister said, “BOOM!” She was rather forceful in her tone and she made a large sweeping gesture with the sleeve of her habit, as if Sister Ada would spring up from some trap door concealed in the floor.
“Really? All we have to do is say, ‘Sister A…’” I started to say, but before I could complete her name—
“BOOM!” this nun replied, again sweeping her hand up in the air—more like pulling a rabbit out of a hat than the trap door her gesture implied the first time. We all laughed, but she shook her finger at us in complete confidence.
“BOOM!” she proclaimed and walked away.
Over the next two days, whenever we passed this nun in the hallway I would say, “Sister Ada?”
“BOOM!” and a flourish of the arm would be her enthusiastic response. Again, we laughed and her finger wagged.
That weekend in Roma with our mothers was truly special, but in the back of our minds loomed the insecurity of being on one of the first regularly scheduled flights back to the states after 9/11—and the insecurity of being let out of the convent Monday morning.
On that Monday morning, the four of us only had three hours of sleep before we woke up, showered, dressed, and quietly hauled our suitcases down two flights of stairs and into the foyer, stopping at the reception desk. All the while feeling like prisoners trying to make a secret escape. A convent is a solemn and somewhat serious place during the course of the day, but at 3:15 a.m. it is an absolutely silent and desolate building. It was now time to conjure up Sister Ada.
We all looked at each other, blurry-eyed and laden with luggage, before I took a deep breath and rather sheepishly said, “Sister Ada?”
There was no BOOM! Not even a boom.
“Sister Ada?” I said, louder this time but still not at full voice.
“Well, damn…where’s the ‘BOOM?’” Richard’s mother said in her Southern accent. Of course, that made us all burst out laughing, and immediately we hushed each other, covered our mouths, and tried to regain composure.
“Sistah Ada,” Richard’s mother said, full voiced, using a firm, Julia Sugarbaker Southern tone.
No turn of a knob, not even the chirp of a cloistered cricket.
Panic now set in. It was almost 3:30 a.m., the Frankenstein bar was down, and there was no Sister Ada. We each started looking for doors and began tapping on them and saying, “Sister Ada?”
“Okay, seriously, where’s the BOOM?!” my mom said with Yankee, Chicago determination.
Sister Ada was not behind the door to the hallway linen closest, nor in the chapel, or behind the several other doors that opened onto the foyer. We started branching out farther down the hallways and “Sister Ada?” was no longer a polite question whispered into the sleeping convent air. We were desperate and needed out.
“SISTER ADA!” I yelled, with the last syllable of her name “DA-DA-Da-Da-da-da-a-a-a” reverberating as it sonically rolled and disappeared down the marbled hallways and secluded niches.
“Sì, sì, sì. Un momento,” and from behind a door down a long dark hallway appeared our Sister Ada—wearing her habit on her head and a floor-length dressing robe. She greeted us with her usual smile, turned the key, raised the bar, and swung wide the large front door, revealing our waiting car running at the base of the convent’s front steps.
“Arrivederci. Buon viaggio!” And with that, Sister Ada waved us off and closed the door…with the sound of the heavy bar clanging closed and the skeleton key turning the lock’s tumblers—”thud,” still very audible from outside the door.
As you journey in the darkness, may your calling out be heard … and answered with a “BOOM!”—or, at least, with sweet, if not somewhat drowsy, “Sì, sì, sì, un momento…”
Buona Pasqua e Buon Appetito~