Full Summer

IMG_1728Made it. The journey took me twenty-six hours, two planes, two trains, two cars, and a bus (let’s not count the elevators and staircases and pounds of baggage I was carrying), but I’m here. And I’m thrilled.

There’s not much in life that stands up to a warm welcome. And when you live in a community of forty or more people who all exclaim and say, “Ah, mais c’est bon de te revoir!“–“Oh, but it’s good to see you again!”–well, let’s just say I have a solid case of the warm-fuzzies.

IMG_1731I’m getting settled back into the kitchen here. I was lucky enough to return in time for the last day of a course with the venerable Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, a Tibetan master who teaches often in the West. I made this tart Sunday night for two of his attendants who stayed with us. Sorry, no recipe, as I just kind of threw it together. You can too if you’re in an off-the-cuff tart mood. It’s just sautéed bell peppers and onions layered with tomatoes and potatoes, all inside of a crumbly pâte brisée.

IMG_1735We are, as the French say, en plein été here. In full summer. It’s an apt term. There is a richness in the air that fills you up. Deep yellow sunshine, a Pantone array of flowers, and the whistle and whizz of things on wings living out their warm-season lives.

IMG_1746I am glad to be a part of it.

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To Go Onward

imageI’ve got my traveling shoes. I’ve got two bags Tetris-tucked full of all the objects for my life this next year, and perhaps, probably, more than that. I’ve got hugs goodbye, boarding passes, a passport con visa, a ride to the airport and a ride home (home! my home–in France!) from the train station. I’ve got a heart full of willingness, a mind full of questions, and a purse full of books to read on the plane. All this to carry me onward into what life comes. I am anxious. I am filled with anticipation. I am ready.

See you on the other side.

Chocolate Chip Cookies and

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Sometimes you move to France. And sometimes when you get there, the home you wanted waits for you. But sometimes also, you realize, home is many places, many people, experiences, histories, sounds, and flavors.

Sometimes, after years spent studying French pastry, the thing you most want to bake in France is chocolate chip cookies. And you’re proud to share them even when they come out different shapes and even if they seem a little pale on account of the French conception of “brown” sugar. Because sometimes the act of sharing is better than worrying so much about whether what you have to give is good enough. And sometimes you learn that when you give what feels natural to you, it feels natural to others too. Even the French like chocolate chip cookies.

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And apparently people also like the stories I have been spinning in this small corner of the interwebz. As with the cookies, they are made spur of the moment, out of memories and wishes and hands outstretched, a not small amount of sugar, a large amount of care, and a teeny bit of trepidation.

This is all to say that, last week, for the first time, purelysubjective got Freshly Pressed! And holy cow, the amount of support and excitement that has been sent my way is slightly overwhelming and also totally wonderful.

Welcome to all you new folks, and thank you ever so much for sharing your time and your thoughts and your presence. You are lovely and excellent, and I am so pleased to have you here. Though I have not had the chance to shake your hand or make you dinner, I can give you the recipe for my all-time favorite chocolate chip cookies, which have a vast following among chocolate chip cookie aficionados in the States and have also garnered the stamp of approval of the French, if my couple dozen compatriots may be allowed to represent their country. I’m gonna go with yes.

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These cookies pass the chewy middle, crispy edge test. They have the proper brown sugar/vanilla/butter flavor that defines a chocolate chip cookie – in my world, at least – and enough salt to balance the sweetness and punch up the whole eating experience without becoming a “salted” cookie. Also, they require no special flour or weird quantities as some of the currently popular “best” chocolate chip cookies do (I’m looking at you New York Times). They are easy, classic, and damn delicious. Thanks for being here; have a cookie.

Recipe after the jump…

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A Home for the Heart

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Whenever I leave the country, my mother says to me, “Don’t fall in love with a Frenchman,” or an Indian or a New Zealander – or wherever I am going – and move far away permanently. So far, so good.

But what does it mean, anyway, to fall in love? I’ve been seriously in love twice in my life and temporarily in love a few more times than that. Every time I fall there is the sense that I’ve found something that I’ve never found before, and yet which I’ve been looking for. Of course there’s all the usual suspects: joy, curiosity, the desire to be near. I’ve come to think of love as finding a home for the heart.

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The world is a rough place. Dreams are slow in the making. Disappointment frequently crashes in. Fear wheedles all along the way. Falling in love has the sense of finding a safe place, some one you can depend on. That when you feel weak, there is some one to remind you of your power. That when you are bereft, there is some one who remains by your side. That when you are overcome with doubt, there is some one whose faith in you does not waiver.

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And yet, the older I get – the more love I experience, and the more love I give – this notion begins to falter. What seems like a valid idea in theory doesn’t stand up in practice. What sadness I have is all my own, and no one else can ease it. My fear is fierce enough to take even the most well intended words of comfort and turn them into condescension. Who could cut through that but me?

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Lately, though, something is changing. I am falling in love, in a new way. This time, I have fallen not for a person, but for a place. Maybe it is France; maybe it is the Dordogne; maybe it is the few hundreds of square meters that make up Dhagpo Kagyu Ling. Whatever it is, the effect is this: I wake up in the morning feeling wonder, and I pass through the day feeling gratitude. The trees standing on the hillside remind me to be strong. The chickadees amidst the juniper remind me to be joyful. The quiet corridors of every building remind me to be patient, to be restful, and to take care with what I carry, my own bundle of desires and uncertainty.

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The difference, I think, between falling in love with a place and falling in love with a person is that, with a place, I have a better sense of what comes from outside and what comes from within. Home is not a place you inhabit; it’s a feeling you create. There is no home for my heart other than the one I build myself. From outside I can draw inspiration, but from inside must come strength and faith and the determination to rest with what is whilst working towards ever-greater understanding of what that means. Being in love with a place, I can see that my lover is a mirror in which to see myself and, through that reflection, grow, rather than thinking of it as a separate source of understanding or happiness, and then becoming dependent on it, which I am wont to do when the lover in question is a person.

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But, as with any love, there are pitfalls here too. I’ve become attached. My mother should have warned me against green woods, stone buildings, and places rife with curiosity and care, as well as their inhabitants. I’ve fallen hard for this place, and I want to stay. Sorry Mums. But, as with everything in life, impermanence is a factor. As a US citizen, I get three months in France until I need a lot of paperwork and, either a lot of money, or a fairly particular reason for being here, or I have no choice but to head home. I suppose this is the trouble with falling in love with a place rather than a person.

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Like Every Fairytale Ever

IMG_0988I have arrived in France. For the next three months, I am a resident volunteer at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, the European seat of HH Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje. What to say?

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For a few hours a day, I cook for and caretake Lama Pourtsela, our resident Tibetan monk who is getting on in years but as good-natured as ever. He likes to play pranks, such as taking me to the temple to recite mantras and then ditching me mid-syllable after having torn me away from washing the kitchen floors. Things like this. There are some other community chores, like cleaning the general kitchen after a meal or doing laundry, but it’s simple handwork, all underwritten by good intentions for supporting a community of learning and practice.

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In the morning, I wake in the woods in my leetle caravan, cozy, heated, permeated by early birdsong and the shadows of trees in dawn light. If a dozen good-looking Frenchmen could stand in for the seven dwarves, then I could be Snow White these days. This community, tucked amidst mossy hills, cached in countryside architecture, could be the setting for every fairy tale ever.

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At eight, there is pain de campagne or muesli for breakfast, and some one or other charming is forever offering me a hot coffee. At eight-thirty, we have an hour of class each day. I arrived at the perfect moment, as a new round of courses has just begun. I’m studying the fundamentals of meditation, The Way of the Bodhisattva, and The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Away from Cyclic Existence. In other words, the essentials. When I’m not working or studying, I’m free to practice in the temple or the study room, which both have beautiful shrines and shiny wood floors that lend themselves to prostration.

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Beyond that, there are woods to be wandered, friends to be made, stories to be read, and stories to be told. Bienvenue à Dhagpo.

 

Empowerment Days and Endings

IMG_0718Karmapa is teaching and giving empowerments (blessings related to specific deities) this week. Thus come the crowds. KIBI is hosting somewhere near three hundred people right now. The energy is giddy and exhausting. Each day has three sessions: morning teachings with Khenpo Tsering, the main teacher at KIBI, afternoon blessings, teachings, or ceremonies with Karmapa, and evening teachings with Professor Sempa Dorje, the president of the Institute. It’s a heady thing to have so much access to Dharma all at once.

IMG_0715In response to the addition of several hundred people to our midst, the community developing in the last couple months has pulled together. A loose group of friends has become a tight-knit band of gypsies. Irish James and Russian Katya pose beneath the archway erected for the celebration of the one-year anniversary of The Karmapa International Buddhist Society, the consolidated operating body of both the Institute and all of Karmapa’s cultural, educational, and philanthropic projects. Ten or so of us have naturally glommed together to have tea parties on the upstairs balcony, trundle into town for cake, and plan daydreamy reunions in sundry Europeans locations.

IMG_0714I got an e-mail from the center in France. Apparently I’ll be helping to cook and clean for the Lama House, the place where visiting teachers stay. I’m thrilled to get to spend time in a kitchen again, and I feel incredibly lucky to be working near to the teachers. It’s hard to believe that in two weeks I’ll be in France. I haven’t been back to France since I lived there when I was a teenager. I am both excited for new memories to be made and curious what specters of the past may raise their heads. Some of my gypsy friends will also be spending time nearby and there are new connections to be made. The loneliness of the Paris of my youth lingers in my mind, but I intend to discover a new France in the Dordogne. Until then, adventures remain to be lived in the East.