Some hosts say grace (Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts, for the traditionalists; Yeah, God, for the irreverent believers); some propose toasts to the occasion or to absent loved ones or to the erupted volcano; some send their compliments to the chef. The other night the host was the chef and he clanged his crystal goblet to warn us of all the things we could not or should not eat in the polenta and venison stew that steamed sweetly on the plates before us. These included small hard juniper berries, the woody stems of rosemary, the bones of the venison (no, not roadkill), and chicken mushrooms.
Technically, I think they are all edible, in the sense that none of them will kill us. Except that technically, anything can kill us. A berry can go down the windpipe. A woody stem can be lodged transversely in the esophagus. A bone splinter can pierce one’s intestines. You could, in theory, be allergic to chicken mushrooms. Or this chicken mushroom could have been gathered next to a healthy poison ivy vine, and if you are allergic enough to poison ivy and you ingest it, you could die from that as well. Painfully.
The possibilities are endless.
As the evening progressed we discussed the all-important question of where we wanted our ashes sprinkled. A recent case was mentioned in which the deceased requested that all his friends take small canisters of his ashes and distribute them around the world in places they think he would like to be. His friends are a well-traveled group, such that wherever his widow voyages with her new beau, her late husband’s ashes precede her. The merits of water and land sprinkling were debated. At least one diner planned to donate her body to science, which reminded me to wear nail polish if I ever do that, based on a story told by a recent medical student. (Regarding a cadaver and her color choice.) A good friend has been driving around for years with his father’s ashes right next to his surfboard in the back of his truck. They were recently joined by his mother’s ashes, prompting renewed questions as to their ultimate placement. Our chef expressed a desire to be pelletized and then fed to his beloved trout.
Just a day earlier we had been discussing the question of rest rooms for transgendered people. In high schools. Would a woman a becoming a man prefer to use the women’s or men’s room? What about a man becoming a woman? Is it necessary to have separate rest rooms for women → men, and men →women. These are thorny questions.
This was not an option for Hildegund of Schönau. (You were wondering where I was going with this? Wonder no more.) The most famous monk of the Cistercian monastery at Schönau was in fact a woman. She was born a girl in the unenlightened and pestilential 12th century. When she was 12, Hildegund’s father, a Knight of Neuss, decided to take her on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the protective garb of a boy, to be called Joseph. But her father died on their way home, though not before leaving ‘Joseph’ in the care of a Knight of Tyre, who promptly robbed and abandoned the child.
Somehow ‘Joseph’ made it back to Europe and became a servant to a canon in Cologne. She (always in drag) enjoyed many adventures and trials (including the ‘ordeal of red-hot iron’) in the canon’s employ, and ultimately joined the Cistercian monastery at Schönau. There to live a holy life, always as a man. Which leads me to believe that the monks were afforded private cells as well as private bathing arrangements.