My friend, Hnoi and I planned to visit Plum Village, Thich Naht Hanh’s monastery in France. We talked about it when we were on a program together in New York and somehow made our plans happen. She’s a chef, originally from Thailand and manages a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta called Daiquiri Dick’s. We’ve worked together on the same program in many parts of the world for years. Our love for food and fun is shared so we knew we would make great traveling companions. I was afraid of leaving the dogs for so long, but Kris was going to be checking in at home and a good friend from high school was going to spend a month taking care of Murphy and Maddy.
Plum Village has a week long program for visitors – from Friday to Friday. You can stay longer, but if you don’t follow their arrive/depart on Friday schedule, you need to find your own transportation from the train station at Sainte Foy La Grande to Plum Village.
The program we were working on ended on Tuesday so we were able to spend three leisurely days walking around Paris. Hnoi stayed with friends in Paris and I stayed in a small hotel in Montparnasse. We met every morning for café and croissants before beginning our exploration. It was great…we had no plans and we just wandered following our noses. We visited shops, cafés, whatever…mostly on foot and sometimes on the subway. One of our discoveries was the Montparnasse Cemetery where there were beautiful flowering trees and a slew of famous people laid to rest there. Man Ray, great photographer in the 20’s, is buried there.
Georges Francois was one of our favorite places. Stepping into this wonderful florist was like a trip back in time. It looks like a setting from long ago, but the fresh flowers everywhere made it apparent that this was not so. Everything was placed with great care…vintage mirrors, vases and bottles among the roses and hydrangea. We spoke with the ower who told us that the previous owner is a famous floral designer who still teaches classes. I looked up the place on the internet to learn more about Georges Francois(http://divinefloreal.blogspot.fr/2012/08/georges-francois-class-and-paris.html?m=1). Two days later, I saw him in the front of the shop. Like a rock star groupie, I ran up to him and told him how much I loved his shop. He seemed pleased and willingly let us photograph him.
Another wonderful find was a restaurant called Qualité Restaurant near the Sorbonne. It looked like a deli, but it was a restaurant and wine bar – the food and wine were fabulous. I’m not even sure what made us go in to check the place out…Hnoi and I have good noses. The dishes were simple and inventive and delicious. I’m having a difficult time describing them and giving them the credit they deserve…like a filet of fish with skin on on a pea purée. See what I mean – hard to describe? But it was delish!
On Friday morning we headed for the train station near my hotel. We travelled lightly…each with just a small rolling bag. The scenery was beautiful…many farms, green pasture, yellow flowering mustard, and adorable farm homes.
The nuns met us in a van at the Sainte Foy La Grande train station. They were so welcoming and brought some pastries to share. Smooth paved roads took us through farmland. Beautiful green fields with splashes of red orange – poppy season was beginning. The ride was around 40 minutes to Plum Village New Hamlet through the countryside was lovely in muted shades.
The hamlet was a compound of old stone buildings. Our simple room on the second floor had a little window that overlooked a courtyard. The room was furnished with two twin beds that were thick mats on wooden frames and a small shelf.
We meditated each morning, had a work practice session, walking meditation and and evening meditation. I had a picture of Plum Village with Thay (Thich Naht Hanh) walking…holding hands with children…followed by nuns and lay practitioners. He was away this week, but his presence is strongly felt. Walking meditation is slow and silent. It is so beautiful to remember to notice all the things wonderful things you forget to notice in your busy life. This week was the perfect thing for me.
Food there was fabulous. It was white asparagus season and bamboo shoots were also in abundance. The neighbor gave the nuns asparagus and they harvested bamboo shoots from the property. I never knew that vegan food could be so delicious.
There were a few other visitors staying in New Hamlet – Peter and Corradina, Lukasz and Aneta, Noortje, Rachel, Beatrice, Jude and Teresa. We got to know each other – we dined together, walked together, meditated together, and talked. In the short week that we were there we bonded in a very deep way.
Living with the nuns and our new friends, practicing joy and gratitude made being here a profound experience. They showed us kindness, patience and love. In the short week, we learned to slow down and notice. I am so grateful for the friends I made and for all I learned.
Here’s a link to my Flickr gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hiphotog/sets/72157634612279300/
I took all the photos with my iPhone 5.