The Fêtes, With Aah-mazing Chewy Gingerbread

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So Christmas happened. Happy Christmas, y’all! (And late Chanukah and Solstice and other meaningful winter happenings).

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I did the road to Bordeaux with friends and a lunch stop at their family home. So many creches from so many countries! Guatemala or possibly Peru above. There was an old-fashioned American pinball machine too…we may have played a couple rounds, and I may have done not horribly. All those years of pizzeria pinball and early computer game versions apparently paid off.

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I did Bordeaux with the sis. We stayed at one of Dhagpo’s sister centers, Dhagpo Bordeaux and got the best welcome ever. Warm beds, homemade bread, and sole meunière with good humor. All of these families that aren’t actually my family somehow made me feel like it’s family Christmas after all. It doesn’t made me any less nostalgic for my actual family, but it makes me appreciate them even more for how they have taught me to love and to share.

There’s a sweet old cemetery by the center and we went to visit the departed. Could seem creepy, but it was more peaceful than anything. The wrought iron alone merited the visit.

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Things got pretty real too, as far as actual family goes. I realized it’s been a year since I’ve seen my sister, the longest we’ve ever gone. We know each other less well than we used to and we have less things in common than we’re used to. But we still know each other better than any one else in the world (except maybe our parents) and there’s a commitment in that. To promise to keep track of someone, to follow their story, to face their disappointment, to own up to what we could do better and what we simply cannot yet do for the love of them.

My sister makes me appreciate how often the best relationships are the ones where you don’t agree on everything, but you care enough to figure out why and understand what the other believes.

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We visited some gardens. Saw some lollipop trees and spiral hedges, the odd castle in the mist.

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History, people. I think it matters. To understand where we come from, how we came to where we are now.

Tomorrow, the year end course at Dhagpo begins. Jigme Rinpoche will talk to us about meditation, and we’ll try to listen and get wiser. Another year is passing, has passed. Time is precious. This is good to remember. To cherish and to share it.

This is obvious perhaps, but it strikes now as the time comes for resolutions and reflection: I want my heart open. I want to love with all I have and embrace the whole of the world. Forget the smallness of my self and remember the vastness of connectedness. We are causes and conditions, and we depend upon each other. All we can do is look after one another.

Happy New Year people; I’m thinking of you.

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And um, cake, because apparently I’m on a cake roll again. This picture is terrible and usually I try not to post recipes with truly deplorable photos, but I’m doing it mostly for myself. Because this cake is so good that I need to have the recipe recorded somewhere easily accessible. You don’t have to make it or be convinced; this is a simple, humble cake. But if you’re curious, I’ll tell you: it’s like a hug from some one you have been missing a long time. You feel their arms around you and it’s like plugging in a light; the current runs down the line and the connection is direct. You know you’re in the right place and you are grounded.

This cake is all molasses and spices. It’s chewy like a brownie with a deep, enveloping flavor. For me, it’s comfort and it’s definitely the taste that goes with the hearth at wintertime. Also happens to be friendly for gluten and dairy sensitive people because I’m on that kick too.

Recipe…

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Pictures Of Places.

IMG_1343Periodically people ask me if I’ve been to the restaurant down the street from Dhagpo, or if I’ve visited such-and-such center, or if I know this or that part of France. Generally the answer is no, and generally my response is, “Um. I don’t leave Dhagpo much. Like, almost ever.” I meeean, I go to the movies every couple months. I think I ate out once last fall and a couple times in the summer. I’ve visited one out of the three or four other nearby Tibetan Buddhist centers. But that’s about it.

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Until now.

My dad came to visit for a week, and now I can officially say that I have been places. And I have pictures to prove it. You know you’re in France when everywhere you go seems to include at least one building with a vaulted ceiling and a sensually ambiguous copper-tinged fountain. Bordeaux is a clear win for these.

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And you know you’re in the Dordogne when every corner you turn seems to reveal yet another magic castle or sickeningly charming secret garden.

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There may or may not be briar roses and eighteenth century chandeliers. If you’re in St. Léon-sur-Vézère or Chateau de Hautefort, well, there are. I didn’t run into Sleeping Beauty, but it’s possible she had a run-in with a spindle and was passed out in a tower somewhere.

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She wasn’t in this particular tower. However, the coolest hand-crafted beam-and-strut wooden roof strucure was. My dad’s an architect. We geek out on good engineering.

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And good design. Which is easy to do if you stay at Les Garachons while you’re in Auvergne. The owners of this totally adorable B&B are former caterers and write a food blog (which is normally in Dutch, but which I Google-translated with reasonable success) about their current endeavors. Every detail is well-placed and makes you feel like life could, perhaps, be as tidy and nourishing as an issue of Martha Stewart Living.

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Which I quickly realized was not the case upon arriving in St. Etienne. It’s an industrial city that has been reimagined as a center of design. Despite hosting a major biennial design fair and being home, in its surrounding environs, to the second largest concentration of Le Corbusier buildings in the world, the city is rough around the edges. It’s a working class melting pot that reminds me that bucolic comfort is for one thing a luxury and for another not everyone’s ideal.

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Le Corbusier designed his buildings in response to a need to house large numbers of impoverished people. But his vision of buildings was a humanist one; constructed spaces are meant to be egalitarian and elevating. He developed engineering to allow for walls shaped by imagination rather than structural constraints. He melded geometric and organic forms, blended color and arithmetic. He dreamed of ways to build cities that would facilitate human life rather than simply contain it.

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He was a visionary. My dad tells me he’s known as the most influential architect of the twentieth century. He changed the way that buildings are conceptualized, the way that humans create our own space. It’s a pretty big legacy.

I haven’t seen any of his other work up close, but I was surprised by these. They are concrete blurs of line and form with dabs of color. To me they look more like abstract paintings superimposed on a landscape than like buildings. I found them ambitious, but a little sad. The concrete is heavy, maybe a reflection of the weighty times. After all, these buildings were designed to respond to post-war poverty in the mid 1900s. Le Corbusier designed whole cities. In some ways, the buildings that exist are prototypes of a great dream that was never realized.

I wonder if he didn’t quite believe the dream himself, though. The roof of St. Pierre Chruch is speckled with glass tubes that illuminate a man-made constellation within the somber interior. You can see the stars he’s wishing on, and the central space rises hopefully from the roof toward the sky, but in the end, the resignation of dense concrete remains. The space is dark and grounded and only the artificial stars remind us of what could be.

IMG_1457But this is what life is like, isn’t it? A balance between beauty and disappointment. Extravagance and actuality. For every castle, there was a whole region’s worth of peasants. For every perfectly baked cake, there is a slew of unsightly experiments. Despite the best attempts of engineering and artistry, the only cure for the human condition is living, and doing so consciously.

To see other places is useful. I’ve concluded that whevever we are, the work is the same. I’m grateful to be good where I am, grateful to be reminded of that, and grateful to be free to experience contrast and draw my own conclusions. Autonomy is for sure a liberty. Now it’s back to the home that I choose and the business at hand.