Thursday, November 03, 2011


"A nun is not a person who wishes or desires."

-Audrey Hepburn, as Sister Luke in A Nun's Story

I recently caught this 1959 film by accident on Channel 11, and was spellbound.

Based on the 1956 novel by Kathryn Hulme, it's about a young Belgian nurse who in 1900 decided to leave her family to become a nun and work in the Belgian Congo.

The burning away of her lower nature through such pre-Vatican II tapas (austerities) as avoiding useless speech and relationships, writing down her faults, constantly negating her self-will, attempting perfect obedience, getting up at 4am, etc. reminded me so much of yoga, I kept inadvertently substituting the word "yogi" for "nun" as I watched this excellent film.

At one point, Sister Luke is standing across the operating table from the brilliant atheist doctor, performing a surgery.

She starts to blink and turn green, and then begins to faint.

The doctor asks if it's the long hours and lack of food that are making her lightheaded.

No, she says.

"It's all the garlic you ate last night."

* * *

(Garlic fumes make this yogi feel ill, too).

(In fact, when I was in Mysore the students used to avoid garlic and onions so that they wouldn't offend Pattabhi Jois. That is, until Friday night - when they could eat whatever they wanted, since there was no practice on Saturday. More often than not, they went for the pungent, deep-fried, garlic-and-onion-laden Gobi Machuri at Mahesh Prasad).

(If only the students here would do the same).


"Tension is a sign of intense internal struggle."

-Dr. Fortunati


  1. You know, I planted enough gourmet garlic last fall to harvest about 100 bulbs (not cloves!) of it. I'm guessing you won't be wanting any of the surplus? ;)

    I did not replant this year. My kids hate onions and garlic, which means I can't use very much of it anyhow.

  2. I'm procrastinating on editing a document, so I looked it up. Garlic and onions are both rich in compounds that contain sulfur and that seems to cause the odor. In onions, the offending compound is 3,4-dimethyl-2,5-dioxo-2,5-dihydrothiophene, which chemists describe as smelling like rotten eggs. People who eat lots of garlic sweat out allyl methyl sulfide.

    I did sulfur chemistry for two years as a postdoc, and sulfur compounds do smell pretty heinous (And the smell really lingers, too. I was lucky to already have a tolerant boyfriend, because sulfur chemists are highly undatable.).

  3. That last sentence made me laugh. Thank you.

    I think that your kids are yogis. I wonder what else they know....

  4. Well good, I'm glad I made you laugh.

    I don't know any kids who like garlic and onions. "Can I have extra garlic on my cheese pizza?" is not something I'd expect a 4-year-old to say. They must be an acquired taste.