Friday, March 11, 2011

International Women's Day

Not only had I nothing special planned, but the day was not even marked in my diary, nor did it feature on any of my many 'to do' lists, as something to be celebrated. I not feel a need to plan anything special; in fact I didn’t really want anything, special or otherwise, in my diary. I always have too much to do, and all I desperately wanted was to stay at home and get back to some serious writing after what felt like a time of blackness, some kind of hideous block, when all my ideas seemed to dry up.

It was as if my head had emptied itself of all useful thoughts. Any writing I had attempted seemed to me to be dull and tedious, lacking authenticity. It read mechanical, I felt mechanical. As well as getting back to putting words down, I had the idea of painting again; I longed to hold a brush or a palate knife. Also, I had a list of books I intended to read this year and I had already made a good start by buying them. Complete with endless notes lying about on every surface in my little office, I felt I would, any day soon, be ready to re-start creativity.

How clever. In order to kick start creativity, I had done the absolute worst thing possible, by becoming far too much immersed, indeed obsessed, with my own life and my wish to be on my own, my need for an empty diary. When exactly, had I and my wants become so important?

Then, out of the blue, a telephone call. From an enchanting and inviting, vibrantly decorated, converted barn high up in the hills, so high that the Pyrenees are practically in the garden, an extraordinary woman was inviting me to a lunch to celebrate Women’s Day.

Nan Ping was born in China, appears to have travelled the world, and spent long periods of time living in various countries. Equally at home in California where she lived for years, or here in the high Pyrenees, she is truly a citizen of the world. There were seven nationalities at her lunch table, and a memorable occasion it was, one of the highlights the first quarter of the year for me. I renewed friendships with women I already knew and met others for the first time.

The peculiar ease with which women meet and greet each other, settle in at a table to share and enjoy food together, is an elevating experience. The effortless swapping of views and life stories, the ability to encourage each other to continue with a chosen path, be it to write that novel or finally make the journey and trek off to India, has been one of the chief delights of my life.


Along with the talking, the laughing, ease of communication, connections with possible new friends, there was the food. Nan Ping is a top class cook and with her vast knowledge of Chinese ingredients and her international background, lunch was quite simply stunning. She gets her authentic ingredients from our nearest city, Toulouse, a ninety minute drive away. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she sometimes has specialities sent down from the Chinese quarter in Paris, remarking that some of the Chinese restaurants there do food as good as Beijing.

That fabulous, uplifting lunch jumped me out of myself and made me realise how wrong I was not to have planned something to mark this important day. But if I had planned something, I would not have been available for that five hour lunch. Perhaps the Universe had left me alone to wallow for those few weeks, knowing that this meeting of women would kick start me more than all my lists, all my notes, all the 'me' thoughts. It seems to me that when the focus is turned in on ourselves, we are full of melancholy and despair. Throw it off, open out to others and life lights up.

I can see this light in the face of Nan Ping, who has a definite radiance about her. Is it because she gives, all the time, to others? Yet in her busy world, there seems to be time to create. Her home, her personal style, her amazing food; it all happens and comes together in a seemingly effortless, natural way. Up in the mountains that day, some spark that had eluded me for a while seemed to resurface. I don’t think it is too far fetched to use the words of Pablo Neruda, 'and something ignited in my soul, fever or forgotten wings, and I went my own way.'

At that most uplifting of lunches, some spark ignited and when I came down from the high mountains that evening I knew I had found something of my old spirit. Could it have been the Feng Shui in the air, the exquisite feast, the green tea? Whatever it was, I’m going back for more.