Sunday, April 20, 2014

He is Risen and I am Moving

Beautiful lithograph drawing of Kutna Hora by Czech artist, Marie Brožová

A glorious Easter day today in Prague, sunny, crisp, clear and a little cool (ooops it just started to rain). Yesterday, I took a bus ride to one of my favorite spots  nearby, the historic town of Kutna Hora, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It's a one hour and forty minute bumpy ride on the local bus, free for me because of my 70+ age, and it stops at every little village on the 60 kilometer country road to what is (for myself at least) the most mystical town in the Czech Republic. The area around its grand cathedral, Jesuit college and silver mine breathes a spiritual atmosphere of profound peace and presence. It is a palpable presence that invades the soul, but only if you are receptive to receiving it. If you come in 'tourist mode,' determined to rush about and see this and that, checking off that and this on your list of must see sites, then most probably the mystical bride will not reveal her face to you.  But if you are in a romantic and contemplative mode, then most likely the mystery will reveal herself. Above all, she reveals her countenance at night, when the cathedral is illuminated and the ancient lamps on the crooked cobblestone lanes of Old Town are turned on - and one stops for an exoctic drink at the San Barbara Pub or a jazz concert at the local Blues Cafe down the street. I can't explain the powerful spiritual presence here, but others have been caught up in it's spell as well, so I'm not alone.



                                Cathedral of Santa Barbara, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic


Most of the tourists feel obligated to visit the famous Ossuary, with piles of bones arranged in bizarre formations and decorations, including a glimmering, goulish candelabra = testifying to the wacky sense of humor of some medieval monks. 

The Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora

But my advice is to skip it. While it's a bizarre and curious site, it gives off an aura of ancient dust and emptiness, and is not at all inspiring to the soul. Instead head for the cathedral, but at a quiet, leisurely pace, inhaling the deep peace and calm. Walk around the Cathedral, sit on one of the benches gazing at the wooded hill and park across the valley, listen to the hooting of the little train that scoots along the riverside down below, then take a quick look inside the church. Afterwards, take the meandering path behind the church walls down into the valley itself and walk along the stream to the stone bridge that crosses over into two lovely community parks. Turn around and gaze back at the cathedral on the hill and say a pray to St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners. 

Interior of St. Barbara's Cathedral, Kutna Hora


Construction on the great cathedral was begun in 1388, but because of many interruptions, among them war, pestilence, numerous changes of religion (sigh) and lack of money St. Barbara's wasn't actually completed until 1905. And even then, it wasn't really 'completed,' only half completed. The town folks decided they had had enough after 500 plus years of delay, so they stopped construction when the building was half its projected length, slapped on a superb organ in the loft, a final wall with a grand doorway and left the rest of the property as a park. This is why the building looks so weirdly truncated. But the peace of the place is undeniable and testifies to a spiritual presence capable of renewing the soul, a peace that transcends and ignores all the petty scandals of official Catholicism, leaving them far behind in the wake of its serenity. It was a perfect place for me to spend Easter Eve in the year 2014.

Famed Jesuit College, Kutna Hora

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a free organ and trumpet concert in the little nearby church of St. John Nepomok, the famous Czech martyr who (if you believe the legends, since the Protestants think he is a Jesuit made concoction without historical foundation), was drowned in the river Vltava by King Wenceslaus for refusing to divulge the secrets of the confessional of the Queen. The King was eager to hear any tales of infidelity. The concert was magnificent, trumpets and organ and vibrations ascending into the heavens. I floated out of the little church, wandered over to St. Barbara's, sat for a while on a bench gazing at the green wooded hill beyond, then said a rosary and took the return bus home. Holy Easter Eve.

St. John Nepomok's Church, Kutna Hora

Today, I've been looking (again) at properties in the San Francisco Bay Area, because I'm feeling the call of the spirit to make a return home at some point in the near future. This has been an ongoing call for some months now, and after many hours of prayer and reflection, I'm starting to take it seriously. However, it's coupled with a corresponding interior movement to Barcelona, leaving me to believe I will be traveling back and forth between both places - or three places, if we include Prague, or four places, if I included Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1770 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, one block from Van Ness

At the moment, I'm looking at a condo in the Pacific Heights area at 1770 Pacific Avenue, one block from my boyhood home, but probably not as a primary residence. Pacific Heights - further down the street - is the most exclusive area of  San Francisco, with mansions and estates and sweeping views of San Francisco Bay. But like all areas of the super rich, it has a certain stuffy, sterile, closed-in atmosphere, not at all like the colorful neighborhoods of Fillmore, the Haight or Union Street, which have a 'lived in' feel to them. As a boy, I always found the Heights to be terribly stilted and boring, whereas my own neighborhood right on the doorstep of the Heights was fun and interesting, as well as being a short walk to the very lively Polk Street and its two movie theaters, The Polk and the Alhambra. The property I'm looking at, however, is in the 'middle class' area of Pacific Avenue, one block from my boyhood home at 1855 Pacific Avenue. My parents rented a one bedroom apartment in this building, apartment 303 on the top floor. If memory serves me right, they first rented it before I was born at the outrageous rental price of $150 per month, or was it $300, I can't recall. Here is a photo of the building today, and it delights my soul to see that the little neighborhood market is still in operation, still with the same white and black tiles at the entrance way with the words, "Avenue Food Market." 

Boyhood Home 1855 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

My father was always so irritated when going into this market, because the lady owner was always shortchanging him. It became something of a contest between the two of them, and my mother and I had to listen to Father's rants time after time, over a few pennies. It was a bit funny all the same. And there is the market still in operation, where I used to run in after school to help myself to raspberry popsicles.



I attended St. Brigid's Grammar School two blocks away on the corner of Jackson and Broadway, adjoining St. Brigid's Parish Church. The Grammar School is  running to this day, still run by the wonderful BVM nuns, but without their classic boxcar wimples and habits.


I remember this schoolyard so well, and here it is as alive as always in 2014.


Friends of mine and myself would stand in the schoolyard in the mornings before school, starring mischievously up at the convent windows hoping for a glimpse of one of the nuns without her boxcar headdress. One morning we were rewarded by a quick shot of Sister Mary Bernadette with only a tight white cap of some sort around her head, completely hiding her hair. That was a shocking and scandalous moment for us. Oh, those Catholic grammar school days long ago.




















I had to search far and wide to find these images of the BVM  classic habit.



St. Brigid's Parish Church, alas, was closed some years ago in 1994 because of cutbacks by the Archdiocese, and just sits there on the corner of Broadway and Van Ness, like some grand neglected Empress Dowager. In 2005, the Archdiocese sold it to the Academy of Arts University. A spirited and committed group of parishioners, after failing to reverse the Archdiocese decision to close the church, did succeed in getting the Church designated as a protected city landmark. (I remembered the 'trashy' disco scene in the movie, Basic Instinct, held in a deconsecrated former Catholic Church, with all of its stain glass windows intact.) St, Brigid's Church witnessed the beginnings of my faith as a boy of ten, when my mother decided to return to her childhood faith and brought my Protestant father and myself along with her. I remember sitting in these pews as a small boy of six or seven, accompanying my mother to 'secret' Sunday Mass, without my father knowing, he assuming we had gone for a day at Aquatic Park near Fisherman's Wharf.






Now, here I am some sixty years later looking at property down the street, but not for myself alone. A long time gay friend from my Jesuit days might also occupy one of the bedrooms on his frequent trips in and out of the Bay Area from Thailand. He is currently a practicing psychotherapist in SF, but thinking of returning to Thailand for a teaching post. We will see. If my friend is unable to join me in the deal, then I will have to look for something very small and inexpensive, since I'm not one of the upper class with their pied-à-terre for weekend living. 

New Residence ? At 1770 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

Besides the condo in SF, however, I'm also feeling drawn to a condo in Tiburon on the water across the bay as a primary residence, but at the moment this is just wishful thinking. However, because of some recurrent problems with double vision (after a few glasses of wine, my vision goes a bit blurry), I'd be unable to drive back to Tiburon after an evening in SF with friends for dinner or a concert. Hence, I would need someplace in SF itself to stay. That means I would simply hop on the ferry from Tiburon and cross over, simple as pie. Of course, I have no idea how I would finance all of this, but the Lord provides and on this Easter Day it feels like he is about to do just that. None of this is of any interest to anyone but myself, of course, but this blog serves a useful purpose sometimes in helping me to clarify issues.

Shoreline Park, Tiburon, CA

Saving the best for last. I'm looking at apartments in Barcelona in the center of town, rentals, however, as I can't do everything and Barcelona definitely feels like the next stop on the journey of life for this old pensioner. Prague has been wonderful, full of grace, as attested to by yesterday's visit to Kutna Hora, but the Spirit breathes where she will - and the winds seem to be taking me to a city on the sea and/or possibly a township on the bay, water water everywhere. In time, the situation will be clarified. For the moment, I am carried in the peace and glow of Easter. Alleluia. 

Seashore in Barcelona
And finally -
The Ping River, Chiang Mai, seen from the terrace of the grand Chedi Hotel. 
(Thanks to John for this photo.)

Peace to everyone on this glorious Easter Day. 


2 comments:

William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, may your search for pieds-à-terre be fruitful and blessed and full of good serendipitous surprises. I loved the photos of the BVM sisters in full habit. Don't think I have ever encountered those particular nuns before. And I found your account of what's to see in Prague lively and informative. A happy Easter time to you.

Jayden Cameron said...

Thanks so much, Bill, and a blessed Easter time to you and Steve as well. Barcelona here I come (I think). I just don't know when. San Francisco? Don't know about that, but it's been fun looking. But Yee Gads the prices!!! And there are almost as many foreclosures in SF as there are regular houses for sale. What does that say about the state of the economy?