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Lions Roar : March 2014
FTER TWO DAYS IN PARIS, still jet-lagged, we rent a car to drive down to the retreat center where I will teach. The esti- mated travel time is two and a half hours. But at the Orléans exit an hour south of Paris, I veer off the highway. I want to see the town whose name is referred to so often in Paris, as in: Porte d’Orléans, a subway stop; Velodrome d’Orléans, for cycling races; the clock at the Musée d’Orsey inscribed Paris-Orléans; and the dock called Quai d’Orléans. I and my assistant, Saundra, who is a longtime student, the wife of a rabbi, and a Ph.D. in art history, will have some fun. I keep repeat- ing that word, strange to a Jew, but I consider it important. This is it. This one great life. Let’s take some pleasure, even when we dis- cover that this Orléans turns out not to be much of anything—bland streets, one cathedral, and a nasty tea shop, the only one open at 3 p.m. But we make the most of it: we go to their one musée des beaux-arts that has a Gauguin, a slab of raw animal meat painted by Soutine, and a quiet Corot we forget as soon as we pass it. But still, name a town in North Dakota that has anything equal. And there are fresh peaches in the market, not to be seen till August at home in New Mexico. The problem is that we can’t manage to drive out of the town. Around and around we go with no map. Forget the GPS on Saundra’s iPhone. You are here, a metallic female voice repeats when we face a dead-end street at the edge of a river bluff. You have arrived. Very Zen of her but not helpful. At least I am relieved of the burden of planning—this retreat has been in the works for almost two years. Justine, a longtime student, has a French grandmother who has a retreat center, which her uncle, a conductor in Paris, developed for musicians. They’ve taken a barn and made it acoustically perfect for concerts. We will use it as a zendo. Justine’s father was a serious Zen practitioner under the famous teacher Taisen Deshimaru, and he is delighted this is happening on his mother’s farm. Saundra and I manage to arrive at Villefavard twelve hours late, just before the nearby Protestant church clangs out twelve midnight gongs. The lights are out and we tramp up the steps, dropping into a sleep disconnected from country or the twirling Earth. Two nights later, about to begin the course, I am met at the bottom of the steps by a burly, ponytailed man who has studied with me before. His name is Steve and he’s the nephew of a dear friend of mine, Katherine Thanas. The twilight is casting a yellow glow on his face and on everything around us. Losing Katherine Fearlessly direct and endlessly curious, Katherine was the sort of person who might suddenly ask, “How do you know love?” NATALIE GOLDBERG recounts what she learned from loving and losing this special friend. Natalie Goldberg is the author of Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing. In 2014, she will be leading two writing retreats in France. PHOTOCOURTESYOFTHEAUTHOR A SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 25