Archive for the Desert culture Category

Merry Christmas to All and to All A Goodnight…The Final Smoke Ring.

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, Cold War, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information, perfume, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2009 by blackincense

BPI and more specifically, Columbina, would like to wish all of her many friends, both in the world, and those who are not of it, a very Merry Christmas.  This blog has been closed for a while, but I wanted to end it on a positive note, at the close of this season.  It’s been a joyous ride, and I continue to blog about many other interests, life experiences, and art over at Tales From the Golden Ghetto.

But all good things must come to an end, and Smoke Rings has finally “dissipated”.

I am truly grateful to the following people who taught me how to blog, how to be a better writer, and frankly, how to be a better person.  Many of them are shy, and therefore, I will only use links to their blogs to name them. As I’ve said before, this isn’t some annoying, self absorbed “good-bye” or anything.  (First, I’d like to thank God for this award….LOL)

But I want to say to these lovely people:  All of you made 2009 bearable, and a wonderful journey of learning from mistakes, learning from suffering and learning about myself.  All of you helped to give me my greatest gift for Christmas:  my identity.  Through exploring so many subjects, topics and discussions with you, I finally came “home” in my heart and found out who I really am.  I will always be grateful to you and my hands will always find a way to help you, my lips a way to pray for you, my heart a way to love you, my head a way to bless you, my feet a way to direct you.

Kyrie Eleison, a voice of truth and beauty in the wilds of Montreal — a true sister on the Way.

Juvenaly, “Misha” Martinka of Theophany Designs – my beloved webmaster and friend, Mesa, Arizona

Uncle Clem – the distinguished, dignified, and truly humble Professor of Theology in Asheville, NC

Breaking Babylon — the son I never had.

The Desert Seeker —fellow TCK/global nomad, and truly humble teacher of many things arcane and Orthodox.

Sergius-Bob –wherever he may be, may he be blessed and know he always has a home.

Orthodox Monk — we’ve never met, but someday, God willing.  You helped me to learn how to quit being a victim, stand up for myself, for others and for the Faith, when necessary.  I’ll still be “stalking” you in cyber space, learning from your excellent example.

Justinian:  you defended me when I needed it, and you encouraged me when I was truly despairing.  You also taught me to stop using fragmented sentences and to be more precise!  LOL

Iconblogographer — Matthew Garrett:  inspiration, and gentleness.  As well as battling cosmic evil as Batman, you are da man.

I close this blog permanently, and with great gratitude to all of you and these words from Tolkien’s , “The Hobbit”, the ultimate TCK poem.

Roads Go Ever On — (c) JRR Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

(C) Ted Naismith

Leaving the Shire by Artist (c) Ted Naismith


There is a River…

Posted in Desert culture, Orthodox Christianity, religion on August 11, 2009 by blackincense

Lyrics:

There is a river, and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain, that frees the soul from sin
Come to this water; there is a vast supply
There is a river, that never shall run dry.

There was a thirsty woman,
Who was drawing from a well
You see her life was ruined and wasted
And her soul was bound for hell
Oh but then she met the Master
And He told about her sin
And he said “if you drink this water,
You’ll never thirst again.’

There is a river, and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain, that frees the soul from sin
Come to this water; there is a vast supply
There is a river, that never shall run dry.

I walked on the river today outside the apartments  and I remembered this song from childhood.  There was this woman who sang it in my church when we lived in Africa.  She was the wife of an ambassador (I cannot remember who) and she was a dedicated Christian.  She was the first person to tell me I was not stupid, I was not mentally retarded, and I was not “deaf”.  She taught me the names of all the Gospel writers and she taught me a song to memrize the books of the Bible.  Her name was in French, Amelie.

Now I am an adult and from my memory, she was a better singer than Aretha Franklin.  Truly!   I think if Aretha heard her sing, she would bow to her.

She was so dark, her skin was ebony and I thought she was the most beautful woman I had ever seen.  She wore her hair in long dread locks that dragged on the floor and she always wore these flowing African robes.  She was from Sierre Leone  and her French was better than mine.

When I first heard her sing this song, I saw her crying.  I asked her why she shed her tears and she said, “My name in Krio (native language in Sierre Leone) means Woman Who Stands At the Water. I am just like her.”

I don’t know why I remembered this today but I want to share a picture of the chapel where I first heard her sing in 1973.  Maybe it was just because I was walking along the river.  Or maybe she is prayiing for me somewhere.  I hope so.

The chapel is gone now.  And I suspect she may be dead .  Memory Eternal!

sierrleonechapel

The Road to Gorgon

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by blackincense

Gorgon lies in northern Iran, forgotten by most people I know.  But I canot forget and I must never forget.  Gorgon for me, will always be a holy place.  I knew Haik Hovsepian.  I was very young but I knew him and his family.  On the road to Gorgon in 1964,  his first son was killed in an accident, along with three other children from the Bliss family. also good friends of ours.  This was before my time, and I came to know them much later, before the Shah fell, and before the true Persia was wiped off the maps forever.

Safi Abad, where I lived....not in this big palace silly!  Behind it, up on the mountain in a small house.

Safi Abad, where I lived....not in this big palace silly! Behind it, up on the mountain in a small house. Haik came to visit us and to minister to us as Christians...we had no one else.

But still, his wife Takoosh and Haik pursued Christ.  They became missionaries for a Protestant church inside Iran, at a time when Christ’s name was reviled among Iranians.  If you were to ask Haik and Takoosh, they would tell you that they were “Persian”, not Iranian.  The distinction is important although I doubt that many westerners know this.

For Takoosh, to be Persian meant to be a free woman.  For Haik, it meant to be free of the Savaak, the Iranian political police.  For both of them, to be Persian, meant to be Christian.  Haik was martyred for Christ in 1994.  He was stabbed to death in a forgotten alley in Tehran by Muslims faithful to Ayatollah Khomeini.   His death was a severre blow to my family.  I will always remember the courtyard of their home.

They lived in a poor suburb of Tehran, and yet, their house had the only penny wishing well within maybe 15,000 square miles.  Because only a Christian household would tolerate such a fanciful thing.  And they were the only Persian Christians who dared to speak Christ’s name within the same radius.  Haik gave me pennies of every kind to throw in his fountain:  American, British, and Canadian.  Haik saved his pennies from western nations so that he could give them to children of every colour, every ethnic background.  Our family carries his little tradition by keeping our coins from all over the world in our Persian alabaster bowl.  But we are too poor of spirit to build a wishing well.

Takoosh made baklava, from scratch.  Patiently, she laid each parchment thin sheet of handrolled pastry onto the baking pan.  I wanted to scream for instant satisfaction, but I said nothing.  As she spread the fresh almond marzipan onto the sheets, I thought I would die from Pavlov’s disease. Then she would go and ruin it by pouring boiled saffron onto my rice and say “Eat up.  No baklava until you eat the kabab.”  Tender, spiced lamb that falls off the stick.  Then she would take me shopping and tell me to go and see if I can find the rials stuck in the ice on the streets.  Every time I brought back rials, that were not really “found treasures” but more like stray bullets for the beggars, she would put it in a special jar for the poor.

In the Shah’s time, there were ice skating rinks, and roller skating rinks in Tehran, which meant for me, the only real reason to go there.  We would stay in an apartment, paid for by the Americans, and Ali, a “superintendent” of the building, would always have a gift for me.  He was a convert to Christianity from Islam, but nobody ever talked of this.  To do that was to invite disaster on him, but not because of the Savaak or the Shah.  Because of the Islamic extremests who were gaining power even in 1976.

That was the year we got a special invitation from the Shah’s wife to come and see the Crown Jewels on a private tour.  I got to hold the golden globe, made by the best jewelers in the souk.  It had sapphires for the oceans, and emeralds for land masses. Diamonds were for the polar caps and rubies were for anything south of the equator.  I held it in my hands.  Princessa Farahnaz, older than me by a few years,  took it from my hands and said, “You are a good friend to us. Would you like to see my Nancy Drew books?”  She wore a jasmine perfume I have never been able to create.  We played on a terrace overlooking Safi Abad and she wondered out loud if my hair was really “that” black, because I wasn’t Persian.  I wondered if her eyeliner was tattooed on.  Later in my life, I discovered that this was the very latest thing:  to tattoo your “eyeliner”.

“See?  See the flaw???”  Haik taught me to study the kilim, the traditional Persian carpets.  The best come from Nain or Bukhaara, and are made of silk. Each one is made from hand looms, and flaws are intentionally placed in the design. Because only Allah is perfect.  “See it????”  He would point to it, to make sure I saw what he saw.  “Yes I see it!”  I would jump up off my chair and haik would pat my head.  “Good girl.  You are a good girl.”  I still have the small silk Bukhaara bedside  carpet that he gave me for my very own, grownup girl room.  I used to sit on it and pretend to be flying across the world.  It still smells like almonds, baklava, and saffron to me.

Anyone who says that Christ cannot work outside of Orthodoxy never met Takoosh or Haik. And people who don’t say that, but who are just a bit too strong in their defensiveness against Protestants, have never been outside their comfortable, free, and indulgent western country.   And they also deny the whole of the Old Testament.

A  Cry From Iran

The road to Gorgon is lonely.  They say it is the loneliest place God ever built.  The scents of Gorgon rise up to meet my memory as saffron, mixed with dust and shoes that have been worn for too long and don’t quite fit rightly.  But it is the place that Christ will walk someday, to call up the bones of his tiny martyr, Haik’s son.  And then our Lord will walk all the way back to Tehran, and call up the bones of Haik, his beloved friend, and martyr for the Truth, a Person!  And our Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Road to Gorgon.

Road to Gorgon.

New Inspiration

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, religion with tags on February 9, 2009 by blackincense

I have been making cones for a week now, long into the night, every night.  They will be ready for soaking by next week when they are finally completely dry.

Many hopes and dreams were rolled into these new fragrances and cones, and I just wanted to share with you the inspiration for each of them.  I only pray that my hands and my nose are worthy.   My hands are very sore after making all these cones!  I can hardly type.  My arthritis is my reminder of how imperfect I am.

The following are how the labels for each will read, but they are the sayings of holy men that I have held captive in my heart for a long while now.  I hope these sayings will bless your life too.

Caspian Caravan

Isaiah 60:6

“The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the camels of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.”

“ The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he
who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.” St. Isaac the Syrian

Bedu Balm

Bedu means “one who lives in the desert”. The desert is not about geography. It is about the uncharted landscape in our own hearts, that keeps us from God.–BPI

“As a pilot calls on winds and a storm-tossed mariner looks
homeward, so the times call on you to win your way to God. As
God’s athlete, be sober; the stake is immortality and eternal
life.”  St. Ignatius the God-bearer

Cedars of Lebanon

Ps. 92″The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12).

“At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by
their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not
by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true
attitude.”  Holy New Hieromartyr Barlaam

African Rivers:

“In Africa, I saw how true the Gospel of Christ is! Everything that He said about the possession of men by the demons, I saw first hand. However, the Living and True God is more powerful than Satan and all his servants. Let it be understood, however, that true missionary-apostolic work cannot be carried out in Africa if one does not decide to leave his bones there.”

Blessed Cosmas of Grigoriu

The Oasis....our Lord Jesus Christ, who is everywhere present and fills all things

The Oasis....our Lord Jesus Christ, who is everywhere present and fills all things

The Bahkhoor Review ….The Sergius-Bob Reviews Part 2,

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2009 by blackincense

As I said in my last posting, my good friend and brother in Christ, “Sergius-Bob” (who is linked on my blog roll and all of you should visit him and read his stuff) sent me some beautiful bahkhoors that he had picked up on his travels.  He sent these to me, as a fellow incense lover, because he knew I would very much love to see them and try them.  What a glorious gift!!!!

True, desert bahkhoors, are the original scents of the desert:  amber, frankicense, myrrh, and oppoponax, blended with pure floral oils.  But in the middle east today, these scents have been forgotten, for the most part, by Islamic perfumers who have wanted to keep up with the west.  You have to search the bazaar very hard, to find true desert bahkhoor.

Now, to set you up for this, you should know that in Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt, the bahkhoor ceremony is a very deep gift of friendship.  Leaving aside all arguments about religion and theology, let us appreciate the deep reverence that Islamic people have for others they consider a true friend.

When I was a little girl, I lived in Behshahr, Iran.  This is the far north of Persia, in the mountains, about an hour from the Caspian Sea.  I wanted to go every weekend to the Caspian in hopes I would see the wild Caspian ponies because i loved horses.  In my mind, they were the same thing as the going to Isfahan, and seeing the horse races.  And if my parents took me to the horse races, I could go to the bazaar where I was sure to go into the gold souk which was filled with magical smells.

So for me, the smell of wild ponies is mixed with bahkhoor — there is no separating them in my mind.

My brother and I played in this ruin on the shore of the Caspian...no disclaimers were posted...

My brother and I played in this ruin on the shore of the Caspian...no disclaimers were posted...

When you approach the souk, you have to get through the crowds of people and the merchants crying out for a bargain on silk.  Then come the tailors and the smell of preserved cottons, and knits.  These are laid out on tables all in a row, piled high, and you cannot tell one color from another because you are dizzy from looking at them.  Moving through the fabric merchants, you come to the luxury sellers, (yes, there is order in chaos), and they sell all the goods for the home, and “jelly shoes” and net bags that smell like garlic, and noone bread.  Someone presses a piece of noon into your hand, and it’s still warm from the “oven” and has a layer of dirt on it.  Someone’s grandmother cooked it in her backyard where her son dug a hole, and lit a fire.  The fire is lit by cedar and pine pitch, flavoring the bread and maybe your eyes burn  a bit, but it’s a small thing to deal with.

A man in rags brings his horse and cart into the souk and starts selling bolts of fabric off the back.  You think it must be stolen but you don’t care, and mind your own business.  The horse is covered in stiff leather—it’s so stiff you think it might break from age.  This same horse, in the same old leather, will “compete” in the horse race later in the week.

Now you are suddenly recognized as a westerner and you are escorted (against your will) to the doorway that no one else is allowed to pass.  Outside this doorway is a leper, with open sores, and you want to die and shrink in his place.  But your escort throws coins at him and he is silent so you pass through the door into a world that is made entirely of gold.

Someone in white robes comes to you and begins swirling a smoking mubhkahr around you, above you and just below the hem of your dress (because you wouldn’t wear anything else in a Muslim country) and you feel a bit “high” not because of what the mubhkahr contains but because you are overwhelmed by this ritual.  And it is a ritual, because all the time this person is bowing before you with this mysterious smoking bowl, they are praying over you, to “Allah” to have a long life, and many children to comfort you, and all the good things that only “Allah” can bestow upon you.  It never occurs to you to tell them they are “wrong” and that Islam isn’t the real faith, because at that time, in that moment, it doesn’t matter- they are being very kind to you in the best way they know how.

John 12: Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said,”Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.

Your mother walks confidently over to the counter and the jeweler bows very low because the depth of his bow is the depth of his respect for you.  You watch and listen as your mother describes to the jeweler what she wants and every time she finishes a sentence he bows deeply again.  You smell the horse and merchant in the street, and when someone sees your nose wrinkling from that experiment, they bring the mubhkhar over again to “cover” the scent.  You wish they wouldn’t, but it’s so pleasant and you allow yourself to get a little carried away on the scent that you know is a copy of a French perfume, but you would never say so.

Your mother settles the bargain on a clear topaz, the clearest that has ever been found by a human being, and it will be set in a 22 karat gold setting, swirled, to “cradle” the gem.  It is not an expensive bargain, and your mother is very pleased with herself.  She will have her “diamond” and only she and the jeweler will know the difference at a glance.  As you leave the souk, you are censed again, with the mubhkhar, and the jeweler b0ws so long his forehead touches the floor.

During the ride home, your mother decides to stop off at your maid’s house, to give her a paycheck and to drop off some food and other items.  You arrive at a mud covered house, about the size of a “studio apartment”.  12 people live there, all together with no bathroom.  Your mother is shocked at the conditions and later hires a contractor to build a proper 3 bedroom house.  But here and now, your nose is assaulted by the smell of human poverty and yet, they too, bring a mubhkahr filled with the same mysterious scent, copied from the grand house of Yves St. Laurent.  You recognize the scent.  It’s Rive Gauche and you know that because your mother wears it all the time.

Aldehydes, mettalic and heavy oakmoss, sprinkled with notes of rose geranium and jarring notes of amber.  An aluminum can spray, banded in black and blue, and Rive Gauche, Yves St. Laurent in long-hand script on the side.  The scent came out in 1970 so actually your mother is a bit behind in the fashionable department.

An old woman, older than you have ever imagined a person could be, comes shuffling to you with the mubhkhar and suddenly you are covered in smoke:  Rive Gauche.  Yves St. Laurent.  In the poorest home in all of Behshahr.Your chador (yes, you wear one.  When in Behshahr, do as the Behsharans do and do your best to be polite about it.)  is scented for days with the bahkhoor of Rive Gauche.  And you think that everyone lives this way.

And you begin to take the Islamic hospitality ritual for granted.  Until some dear friend sends you a gift of bahkhoor in the mail.  And then, you are transported back…back to being a little girl in Behshahr.  An hour from he Caspian.  An hour from freedom.

The bazaar in Tehran - 1975

The bazaar in Tehran - 1975

With God, All Things Are Possible

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2009 by blackincense

The challenge I face in creating these new bakhoors is not the “how”, as I know the mechanics and the chemistry very well.  It’s capturing the mystery of the reverence the early Christians had for their faith, for our Lord, for the Saints and for each other through scent.  The challenge of re-creating a lost time is something that most perfumers are not willing to do, because it’s just a lot easier to give people what they want and what they want is usually the result of modern marketing.

With this new project, I am breaking away from everything that people have associated with my art up to now, and I run the very serious risk of rejection.  That would spell the end of BPI as a “business” but I never really saw it as a money-making endeavor anyway.  I want to get back to being an artist, and less of a merchant.  If that means “loss of business”, I guess that’s what that means and I can live with that, as long as what I am doing brings honor to our Lord.

Plans for Perfume Elixirs:

I’m going to drop one perfume and make a new one.  “Antigua” will no longer be available after January 30 so I will put the last 2 bottles on sale and that will be that.  It’s not a scent I want to keep, simply because it doesn’t fit with my current interests, and the others just over-shadow it anyway.  “Antigua” was a fun scent that I created for little girls at faire, and for secular women who wanted a Caribbean perfume.   It doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication (either in simple smell, or in chemical composition) to the other three.  Madagascar has always been my best seller, and the main reason for this is:  it’s a “dark”, heavy perfume, loaded with the richness of Oriental spice, and overlaid with florals.  There are 27 distinct “notes”  in Madagascar alone.

“Silk Road” and “Mykonos” will soon be joined by ” Cyprus” and I am renaming “Madagascar” into “Saida”.  Madagascar will remain largely the same except for an infusion of carnation and a couple other notes I think will make it a more powerful, “signature”  fragrance as my personal trademark.  That will round out my Byzantine perfume series and maybe this summer I will start on the Arabian elixirs.

The Bahkhoors

As for the bahkhoors I am planning, I have been working on four formulas and have been inspired by four particular desert monastics.  These four bahkhoors, will be named after a particular desert father or mother.  The four I have chosen to focus on are:

Abba Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Antony of Egypt

Amma Sarah

Amma Theodora

Too often, the desert mothers get pushed aside, especially in intellectual conversations; they are hardly ever mentioned.  I do not want anyone to think that I am on some sort of “feminist kick” but I think this is really insulting to these brilliant and lovely women, and I think their feelings must be a little hurt that we ignore them so much.  So I am going to pay attention to them if no one else will, and maybe if people try the bahkhoors I make for them and like them, this will inspire them to read more about them.

This series of incense is an intense study in experimenting with native flavors and aromatics (al-Khindi would at least be impressed that I’m trying, if I am not always successfull. <laugh!>).  I have not stretched my nose this far before and although I am not unhappy about it, I still feel I may be missing something and that I haven’t gotten it quite perfect yet.

But I want to preserve the sayings that I have been reading, while I work.  I have them printed out and taped above my work table, so that I can read a sentence or two, and then keep working on the formula.  It helps to keep me focused on what I am trying to achieve.  With these two women, these desert mothers, I am trying to create the scent of the white (no doubt silk) robes our Lord has given them in Heaven.  Naturally, this is really impossible, because we don’t know what scents there are in Heaven…and of course, everything I do, think and am, stinks in comparison…but still, my work is mainly about if it were possible, what would it smell like?  And Our Lord says that with Him, all things are possible!

Here’s some of the sayings from these extraordinary women, and after reading them, maybe you will see where I am going with this.

Amma Theodora

She also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. There was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, ‘What makes you go away? Is it fasting?’ They replied, ‘We do not eat or drink.’ ‘Is it vigils?’ They replied, ‘We do not sleep.’ ‘Is it separation from the world?’ ‘We live in the deserts.’ ‘What power sends you away then?’ They said, ‘Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.’ ‘Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?’

Amma Theodora also said, ‘There was a monk, who, because of the great number of his temptations said, “I will go away from here.” As he was putting on his sandals, he saw another man who was also putting on his sandals and this other monk said to him, “Is it on my account that you are going away? Because I go before you wherever you are going.”

The same Amma was asked about the conversations one hears; ‘If one is habitually listening to secular speech, how can one yet live for God alone, as you suggest?’ She said, ‘Just as when you are sitting at table and there are many courses, you take some but without pleasure, so when secular conversations come your way, have your heart turned towards God, and thanks to this disposition, you will hear them without pleasure, and they will not do you any harm.’

Amma Sarah

Once the same spirit of fornication attacked her more insistently, reminding her of the vanities of the world. But she gave herself up to the fear of God and to asceticism and went up onto her little terrace to pray. Then the spirit of fornication appeared corporally to her and said, ‘Sarah, you have overcome me.’ But she said, ‘It is not I who have overcome you, but my master, Christ.’

It was said concerning her that for sixty years she lived beside a river and never lifted her eyes to look at it.

Another time, two old men, great anchorites, came to the district of Pelusia to visit her. When they arrived one said to the other, ‘Let us humiliate this old woman.’ So they said to her, ‘Be careful not to become conceited thinking to yourself: “Look how anchorites are coming to see me, a mere woman.” ‘But Amma Sarah said to them, ‘According to nature I am a woman, but not according to my thoughts.’

Amma Sarah said, ‘If I prayed God that all men should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure towards all.’

She also said, ‘I put out my foot to ascend the ladder, and I place death before my eyes before going up it.’

She also said, ‘It is good to give alms for men’s sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.’

Some monks of Scetis came one day to visit Amma Sarah. She offered them a small basket of fruit. They left the good fruit and ate the bad. So she said to them, ‘You are true monks of Scetis.’

She also said to the brothers, ‘It is I who am a man, you who are women.’

This Coptic nun was photographed in 1936.  She lived to be 115 years old and was martyred for Christ in 1976.

This Coptic nun was photographed in 1936. She lived to be 115 years old and was martyred for Christ in 1976.

Zagol of Reno – Tastes of Ethiopia

Posted in Desert culture, Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity with tags , , on January 18, 2009 by blackincense

Last week I took my mother to lunch in the city, at Reno’s very first, and only Ethiopian restaurant, Zagol.  If you are planning a visit to Reno, or have friends who are, you must schedule a stop (or ten!) at Zagol.

http://zagolofreno.com

As you walk in, you immediately know that you are in a special place, prepared just for you, by very special people.  You are a guest of honor, and from the moment your eyes adjust to the interior, you feel right away, the power of the Ethiopian people, their culture, and the impact they have had on the world.  You may think you are there, just for lunch, or dinner, but what you get is an experience that will change your heart for all time.

The interior is decorated in traditional, warm colors of the earth, and you cannot help but notice the scarves that adorn the tables.  They declare, without embarrassment, “The Lion of Judah!”  My eyes misted over when I saw the framed photograph of the Emperor’s palace and I knew that His Imperial Majesty, Haile Salassie would be so proud of these women and their hard work.

There is a stage, and it is clearly the “throne seat” reserved for Someone.  It is furnished with the traditional tables and stools of Ethiopia, the land of kings, and indeed the Lion of Judah.  I felt like He just might walk in at any second.

For our lunch, we chose the Abesha Salata and the Bozena Shiro and Gored Gored.  It was served, traditional style, on the injerah (flatbread) which means you eat communally with your hands.  This was how human beings were meant to eat.  When people share, they become gentler with each other.  When everything is “mine” or “yours”, the lines of war are clearly drawn, even over a lunch table.   World leaders should not be allowed to “go to lunch”, unless it’s to an Ethiopian restaurant.

The dishes were exquisitely prepared, and the beef was so tender, it fell apart when we just looked at it.  The Gored Gored is a little spicier, and so required a little more injerah for me, but the salata was so fantastically fresh, that it “fed” the spices in the entree in a way that doesn’t happen very often.  Bozena Shiro is a cubed beef dish that is mild and yet somehow sweet, through the spices.  You can taste the beef as a delicacy and not as “meat”.  Suddenly, you’re eating something special and not just “beef”.  It tastes like it belongs in a palace, and perhaps you are not quite good enough for it.

Injera is a gluten free flat bread, and it is so airy, so light, you don’t realize how much you eat.  My mother and I polished off a whole bowl and our lovely server raced off to get another, smiling the whole way.  And that’s another thing you notice:  the people at Zagol really care about YOU.  They know you’re going to spend money, but their genuine concern is for YOU as a human being,  and YOUR comfort is more important to them.  You can feel that and though the world may be full of cynics, Zagol might just make believers in humanity out of them.

As always, Ethiopian coffee is the finest in the world, and the ladies of Zagol serve it elegantly and beautifully.  They do have the traditional coffee ceremony and nothing makes it more complete than Zagol’s home-made, handcrafted baklava.  I think they use real homemade almond spice and almond marzipan!

I gave the owner a packet of my Beloved Bob Marley incense.  I hope she did not think it was anything other than a gift to a beautiful lady, as extra gratitude (on top of a big tip of course.) for a beautiful afternoon.

An incredible experience and one that I can’t wait to have again, and again, and again.  I will have to list all my friends and take them there in turns.  That should fill up at least the next two weeks of lunches.  😉

Traditional Ethiopian table at Zagol in Reno

Traditional Ethiopian table at Zagol in Reno - This photo is copyrighted by Zagol of Reno. This is a combination of vegetarian and meat dishes served on injerah which means: You can even eat the plate!