„It’s Pronounced like ‚Yash,‘ actually,“ chapter 10: Closer to Home
Pure blue sky and hills still coated in sparkling white snow made the perfect background for the monastery, quiet and regal at the top of the hill.
Monica and I stopped for pictures at the entrance (and so I could pet a chatty monastery cat) and marveled at the beauty of the pale stone. The most noticeable feature, to me, was the thick rope carved into the stone that twined around the outside of the building. I had seen another such decoration, on one of the small churches in the center of Iasi, and it was supposedly a symbol for eternity. Inside the church, squinting at the aged but still remarkable paintings that covered every inch of the walls, I could see how one would feel that eternity were possible here.
“This is so beautiful,” breathed Monica. I agreed, still turning in small circles to try to take in all the details of the paintings. Like other Orthodox churches that I had visited, the paintings told stories from religious texts and featured Jesus prominently. An altar for Mary was set up on one side towards the front of the church, in front of the ornately decorated back wall that was the general direction of the ceremonies. I knew very little about the details of Orthodoxic practice, but the stillness and reverence of their churches reminded me very much of the holy feeling in the air around holy sites that I had visited in Palestine over the summer. It was a place of peace and respect for something greater than ourselves, whatever an individual thought that may be.
Monica and I wove our way around the courtyard, admiring the walls that had originally been built for this fortress-monastery to protect it from invaders. This was monastery number one of three that we would visit in Iasi today in an attempt to get to know our home city better and see something new, and in my opinion it was already very much word the cold. The pale walls around me recalled images from the favorite books of my childhood, the Redwall series and their tales of a rose-red abbey and honest-hearted warriors defending their way of life. These walls were tall, hewn from large stones, and while they were white rather than red, I could easily picture the serious, dedicated lives of the monks who had lived here, as well as the handful those who continued the monastery’s way of life. They were carriers of a slice of history from hundreds of years ago that left itself open to exploration in the modern age.
Talk of jobs and our hunt to know where we would land after our time in Romania consumed our walk back down the hill, replacing the feeling of eternity with an urgent buzz of “here and now.” Thankfully, that too was dispelled as we stopped to laugh at the site of children sledding on old-style wooden sleds. The picture was made even more perfect by the fact that they were playing in the snow next to teenagers firing up a grill, cold be damned!
The next church struck an impressive sight against the sky, which by now had faded from bright blue to a milky white background. Somewhere nearby, bells were tolling, and yet more children were sledding in the shadow of the courtyard walls. While Monica and I soaked in the majestic atmosphere, a black-clad nun walked by, proving that even in quiet times outside of service, the devoted life was present and well.
In the third and final church of the day, we stopped in the courtyard to admire the spire that rose into the sky. The walls inside of this last one were bare, not covered in beautiful old-school Orthodox paintings like every other church I had visited in Eastern Europe, and I wondered how many times the congregation here had rebuilt that they eventually left the walls as simple bricks instead of repainting. The lack of colors and figures gave the room an eerie feeling, as if it were somehow more sacred for its sacrifices than the others, although I knew that was not true. Still, it gave a great impression of warning those of us in the present from fighting against the tides of time and history—everything will end up the way it should be, whether that mean painted or bare. Instead of seeing it as an omen of doom, I decided to take it as a symbol that things would work out one or another in the upcoming months.
We ended our day eating tasty chicken in creamy mushroom sauce, washed down with smooth Czech ale at the punily-named “Czech It Out!” restaurant on the side of the Palas Mall complex. Our approaching food-coma was completed by decadent slices of chocolate cake from the nearby bakery, and Monica and I would bid each other goodnight with tired eyes but warm smiles and full stomachs. I crashed into bed, deciding that the work I had planned on tackling before midnight could wait until the morning.
I fell asleep with the echo of church bells tolling in snow-misted depths of my mind and the feeling of being safely enveloped in Iasi following me into dreams.