The Paris of Oklahoma: A Remnant of Medieval Europe in the Foothills of the Ozarks

December 30, 2013

Catholic, Travel

The Abbey of Solesmes in Europe.

As some of you may recall, when I originally began blogging as the Catholic Nomad, my intention was to keep everyone updated with a collection of posts from my travels across the USA to different Latin Mass communities, as a way of promoting, and contributing to, a rebirth of the sacred.

It was my hope to share my experiences, write about what I discovered, take some classy images to post, and maybe even do a video or two about some of the places I encountered.

Well, we all know that didn’t pan out.

Not that I didn’t want it to.

I did, very much.

The problem is, it was me trying to do it.

You know, me – the girl who spends her time talking to statues, wandering through the woods on her own, falling like a klutz all over everything that she touches, until anything that could go wrong does and it just all plain goes…

Kaboom!

All over everything.

Jackson Pollock has nothing on me.

Messy art – meet my life.

Yes, people call that art - they should see my life!

Yes, the famous Jackson Pollock painted that, and people actually call it art – they should see my life!

Nothing stays sane around here for very long.

But as time passes, there are a few places from my travels that I know are ever evolving, and if I wait much longer, the images that I took will be so obsolete (if they are not already) that it will be almost pointless to try to share them.

So, I am going to make an exception.

Instead of doing things the way I originally planned (which is probably never going to happen, for reasons that I will not go into here), I am going to step outside the chronological journey idea and present one place from my travels that I think has the ability to stand on its own.

Tough Decisions

It was late in the afternoon, verging on the early evening, and I was standing in the midst of a vast, seemingly uncharted desert. (Well, save for the highways…and road signs…and oh yeah, the occasional car in the distance…and don’t forget the rare hiker passing me by…)

Tourists enjoy the view of Phoenix, Arizona from one of the many stunning locations that encircle the hot, desert city.

Tourists enjoy the view of Phoenix, Arizona from one of the many stunning locations that encircle the hot, desert city.

Ok, so it wasn’t that uncharted.

But it felt that way.

As I climbed to the top of a large, desolate rock formation, the Arizona sun setting far off to the west, I took in the phenomenal view that combined city with sky, cement with sand, the steel jungle with the cactus desert, and I knew that I was hooked.

“I don’t want to leave.”

“So stay,” came the voice at the other end of the phone, my sole companion on a lone evening hike.

“I can’t. I have to do this before winter, and the fall will be setting in fast.”

I set my eyes across the sweeping sand to Phoenix, the town that I had called home for such a short period of time, and felt as though I had found an oasis in the midst of a wonderland – a very dry, hot wonderland.

The western sky was turning bright, bold colors that would compliment a warm, glowing oven laden with dishes full of Mexican spices, and the desert wind was brushing across my face as if it could convince me not to leave.

But I had to.

There were things that needed to be done.

And so, it was goodbye, Arizona – hello, Oklahoma.

Seriously, I wondered – Oklahoma?

What was I thinking?

Life on a Prayer

The drive was long, but full of music and fun, as driving often is (at least, for me).

One of the last sites of desert cacti that I would see, before the landscape began to change.

One of the last sites of desert cacti that I would see, before the landscape began to change.

With my windows down and scattered forests of 20 foot cactuses flying by (seriously, those things can get BIG!), I waved goodbye to Arizona (with a tear threatening to streak down my face) as I cranked up the song that had almost become my motto during my chaotic, insane, tearful, joyful, adventurous, maddening – time out west.

It came on slowly – that long, tantalizing thrill that it is known for, where, as it aggressively drives itself into the words… “once upon a time, not so long ago…” I suddenly seem to find the urge to burst out of my skin, jump on a steel horse, smack my shades down over my eyes, rev my engine – and fly. (And I do not even like motorcycles!)

I think I scared a few drivers.

Banging out my air drums (yeah, that would be the part that scared people), I sang out my mixture of frustration at leaving, and hope for the future, until I had set every last ounce of emotion free:

“We gotta hold on to what we got. It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not…We got each other, and that’s a lot. For loooove…we’ll give it a shot!…Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear…oooooooh, ooh! LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER!”

Yeah, I know, it is Bon Jovi.

Loud, obnoxious, totally insane – Bon Jovi.

But somehow, at that point in my life, that song just made sense.

As the world of the cactus turned into the world of the painted desert – as mile after mile passed – as motorcyclists flew by, and time seemed to unravel – I truly felt like I was doing nothing more than living on a prayer.

Maybe I wouldn’t make it, and maybe all I had to hold onto was God, but it didn’t matter.

I had to try.

I had to keep trying.

And I had to get to my destination before winter arrived.

The Paris of Oklahoma

After a brief stay of several weeks in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, it was time for the city of dreams.

The land of possibility.

The one place that I had always set my sights upon.

You know – Tulsa.

Poor Tulsa.

It is like the underdog city of underdog cities.

I remember an episode from the sitcom Friends many years ago (morally bad show, by the way. But I was young and indoctrinated into my culture, so I watched it) where Monica’s husband, Chandler, was assigned by his company to Tulsa.

I never forgot that episode.

Chandler desperately tried, somewhat humorously, to do all that he could to make his new transfer sound intriguing and exciting to Monica, calling it everything from “the Paris of Oklahoma,” (“Who says that?” asks Monica. “People who have never been to Paris,” replies Chandler) to highlighting the fact that Monica could indulge herself in cooking classes – at a university completely unrelated to great French chefs, or great cuisine (save for the university name, which Chandler tries to very loosely compare to eating).

But just about the only reaction that he got from Monica was:

“TULSA, OKLAHOMA??!!!!”

Ok, so Monica was being a little bit of a narrow-minded New Yorker, but seriously, who plans their dream vacations to Tulsa?

Only this Catholic Nomad.

Tulsa actually had a few reasons that drew me there, and one of them, situated about an hour (if I remember correctly) outside the heart of the city, turned out to be the star of the show.

Tulsa may not be the “Paris of Oklahoma,” as Chandler so desperately tried to make it out to be, but for those with a spiritual bent, it is the future Paris of monasticism for the west.

A Slice of Europe in the Hills of Oklahoma

The Abbey of Solesmes in Europe.

The Abbey of Solesmes in Europe.

Yes, my travels had brought me to the Benedictine monastery of Clear Creak Abbey.

For those of you who do not already know, Clear Creek Abbey, besides being one of the only monasteries in this country that is “holding fast to the traditions” of our ancestors, truly does have French connections.

The official title for Clear Creek Abbey is Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, and this rather new foundation has sprouted directly from the French Abbey Notre Dame de Fontgombault.

Notre Dame de Fontgombault was a foundation formed by that of Saint Pierre de Solesmes, and thus Clear Creek Abbey is a verified, genuine, bonified member of the famous Benedictine Solesmes Congreation.

Plus, they do everything in…drumroll please…LATIN!

YES!

Do you mind if I rock out to a little Bon Jovi, or would that be completely inappropriate at this point?

Yep, they are a monastery of the Extraordinary Rite – which means they have chosen to live according to many of the ancient ways.

From monastic garb, to traditional music, to Latin chant, and of course – the Latin Mass! – Clear Creek Abbey truly is a slice of historic France in modern Oklahoma…as well as a slice of our sacred past.

Take that, Monica!

See? You shouldn’t have been so down on Tulsa.

You might have learned some really awesome, French monastic cooking…from a famous FRENCH congregation!

You know, as in – French cuisine?

Don’t chefs like that stuff?

Anyways…

I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for some time, and desperately wanted to make sure that I arrived in time to see it in all of its green, leafy, splendor. (They built this place as far out in the middle of nowhere as they could, so I had to have a chance to appreciate all of the natural “nowhereness” at its finest!)

If I could hang around for the symphony of the fall, that would be even better – two sights for the price of one – green and autumn!

As they say in French, “très jolie!”

I had barely dragged my luggage into my hotel room that was to be mine for the next five weeks or so, when I glanced at the clock, looked at the sun shining over head, and thought to myself, “what am I waiting for?”

The day is still young! I arrived with plenty of time to spare!

Clear Creek Abbey – a little remnant of Europe in Oklahoma – here I come!

To be continued…

~*~

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6 Comments on “The Paris of Oklahoma: A Remnant of Medieval Europe in the Foothills of the Ozarks”

  1. Marc Says:

    Bon?
    Jovi?

    I highly doubt he was singing about Clear Creek rather some violation of the 6th Commandment. :)

    I read this post this morning while waiting for my work computer to boot up. That song has resided in my head all day. Not nice :)

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      LOL! Sorry. :-)

      I don’t normally listen to that type of music – it just really matched that moment in my life for some reason. There is something about being on long, almost infinite stretches of desert road for hours at a time, the dry sand and scrubby brush at every turn, with looming rock formations in the distance…abandoned Indian shops mingled with the occasional open one…the trains whirring by alongside you…the strange looking, tacky, life-size dinosaur sculptures glaring out at the road, mixed with advertisements for rock sales…I don’t know why, but it just fit. It felt desolate, yet free – like life had become a life of just “livin’ on a prayer.”

      Maybe some Mozart will help clear the brainwaves? ;-)

      Reply

      • Marc Says:

        I used to listen to classic rock and stuff for a long time. Children enter the home and one realizes the vileness (is that a word) of the lyrics but also the rhythm messes with my soul. Makes any kind of contemplative prayer nearly impossible for me…as I am so easily distracted anyway.

        I’ve driven between LA and Vegas twice. I’ve had a few business trips to Phoenix as well. I can understand the desert driving to some extent.

        Reply

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