Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Preparing for Plum Village

From June 1, 2012 to June 22, 2012 we will be attending the The Sciences of the Buddha, A 21-day retreat for Buddhists and Scientists, at Plum Village, in the south of France. We are very much looking forward to deepening our meditation practice, learning new information, meeting new people, seeing our friend who is joining us, and enjoying the all vegan meals. During the retreat I do not expect we will have access to internet.

From the Plum Village website; "In the beautiful setting of Plum Village, from the 1st until the 21st of June 2012, with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Sangha, scientists and Buddhists will practice sitting together, walking together, and sharing their experience and insight with each other. The practices of mindfulness and concentration can help scientists to be better scientists and in this way, Buddhism can act as a source of inspiration, suggesting directions for future investigation and discovery. Conversely, we will explore how insights from science can be useful, not only to develop technology and improve our material comfort, but to reduce the suffering of individuals, families, and society. This retreat will bring a lot of joy and confidence in both traditions as we find out that good science and good Buddhism can be much and do much for the wellbeing of the world."

Plum Village is led by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây). From the Plum Village website; "Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist. His life long efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. When not travelling the world to teach “The Art of Mindful Living”, he teaches, writes, and gardens in Plum Village, France, a Buddhist monastery for monks and nuns and a mindfulness practice center for lay people."

For some Buddhism is a very religious practice and for others, such as J and I, it is more of a philosophical practice. I was drawn to Buddhism as many of the foundational teachings fit with my own beliefs. If you are curious about Buddhism, check out the resources below.

To learn about The 4 noble truths, 5 main precepts, Eightfold path, and a basic overview of Buddhism see:

I have found great comfort and knowledge in meditation and several contemporary Buddhist books and magazines. I found the secular, Mindfulness Mediation course, taught by Dr Speca via the University of Calgary's continuing education Department to be extremely helpful. from the course website; "Based on an approach that is thousands of years old, mindfulness meditation is about being fully awake and present in every moment of our lives. Access powerful inner resources to cope with life's challenges, calm the mind, relax the body, and cultivate insight. Benefits, including improved mood and reduced stress, depend upon establishing a personal routine. Components include: meditation, gentle hatha yoga, relaxation, group discussion, imagery and breathing techniques. Topics covered include mind/body interdependence, balance in the autonomic nervous system, and effective coping strategies." If you are interested in learning more about secular mindfulness check out this terrific website: " is the leading website dedicated to giving voice, inspiration, guidance, and connection to all those who want to enjoy the proven benefits of mindfulness practices and to create a more mindful and caring society."

My favorite Buddhist magazine is Shambhala Sun.

These are some of my favorite books by Thich Nhat Hanh;
Being Peace
Peace Is Every Breathe: A Practice for Our Busy Lives
Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism

If you would like to learn more about the teachings in Plum Village, You can download free copies of Mindfulness Bell Magazine. From the magazine website "The Mindfulness Bell is a journal of the art of mindful living. To be mindful means to dwell deeply in the present moment, to be aware of what is going on within and around us. Practicing mindfulness cultivates understanding, love, compassion, and joy. This practice helps us to take care of and transform suffering in our lives and in our society. The Mindfulness Bell is an inspiration and teaching resource for those practicing mindfulness in daily life. Each issue features a recent teaching by our teacher, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh."

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bon Voyage Paris, Bonjour Bordeaux

Paris has been jam packed with site seeing, art, walks, movies, and terrific food.
We've been fortunate to have lovely vegan meals at the following places: the best falafel I have ever had from Maoz, delicious traditional style French food (and the best chocolate mousse) from Le Potager du Marais, great veggie burgers and desserts from Saveurs Veget Halles. The Paris Lovinghut, an all vegan international chain, remains my overall favorite. We met an absolutely lovely staff person and he is actually Canadian, from Quebec! They also have a small grocery section where we picked up some of the amazing, gourmet, award winning, vegan cheese made by Vegusto.

We have managed to do other things beside eat amazing food. We bought metro day passes and have been exploring the city. We visited The Catacombs of Paris. The Catacombs are an Ossuary, which is site to hold skeleton remains, often when burial space is limited. The catacombs were created in the 1700's after a large Paris cemetery was closed to do health concerns. Skeleton remains were transferred to the catacombs up to 1860. To gain entry to the catacombs you descend 20 meters down a narrow, curved, stone, stair case and arrive in dark tunnel system beneath the city. The stair case down is 130 steps, the length of the walk through the tunnels is 2 Kms and there is another narrow curved stair case, with 83 steps up at the end. The tunnels are dark, with minimal lighting, and a bit wet and slippery in areas. As water dripped from the ceiling I suddenly thought how yucky it would be to get hit in the face with water steeped in old bones. Of course at that moment a large drop fell on my lower lip. I scrubbed my face with the inside of my shirt for 10 minutes. Thankfully, due to the solemn nature of the space, I had my mouth shut. The tunnels lead to the ossuary area that hold the remains of about six million people. The bones and skulls are stacked neatly in piles lining the walls. I was disappointed when one tourist started moving the bones around, even though a sign in several languages, states it is forbidden to touch them. When he was confronted by a guard he actually started to argue! Such disrespect!

There is so much art in Paris! We have been to many museums. The extensive modern art collection at The Centre Pompidou is almost overwhelming. I saw great pieces by some artists I love including; Jackson Pollock, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, and Alexander Calder, to name a few! We also enjoyed the free exhibit of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art City. We were delighted to stumble across the The Museum of Art and Inventions. Amazing examples of technology through out the the years including bicycles, flying machines, cameras, and so on. We also explored Cité de l’Architecture Museum (architecture museum). I was most impressed by the recreation of one of Le Corbusier's mid century two story flats. The Le Corbusier living room very much reminded me of our own living room! Of course we also went to The Louvre, the largest museum I have ever been too. Its' collection of art is huge with a lot of religious examples. We glimpsed the Mona Lisa, as it is hard to see her through the crowds, the roped off area and bullet proof glass. It is interesting to see but I don't get all the fuss. I have seen many other works of art that I prefer more.

Speaking of art I prefer, we went to a terrific exhibit at The Grand Palais Museum called Animal Beauty, which explores images of animals in art. This article Animal Beauty at the Grand Palais in Paris, gives you a sneak peek of some of the work. I had no idea Van Gogh had a painting of a stuffed bat. There was also a toad by Picasso. The exhibit reminded me of the contemporary and very moving photography project Elderly Animals, by Isa Leshko. Check it out online.

To check out some of my recent photos see My Flickr stream.

Today we have just arrived by train for a weeks stay in the historic city of Bordeaux.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bonjour Paris!

Coincidentally I found this fun video of Paris today on Eco Salon.

Paris is lovely! We have a view of the Eiffel tower from our centrally located (& compact) hotel room. We opted for a five day metro pass so we can traverse the city with ease. We picked up sim cards for our iPhone and iPad, which will help in planning and navigating. (iPhone GPS is awesome when traveling). Today we happened upon a massive outdoor antique market and spent time browsing the stalls. Stunning items! We also visited a fun bicycle shop, where J picked up some new Levi's 511 commuter jeans, built for cycling! It's terrific to see cycling so integrated into Paris; bike lanes, multiple bicycle shops, bike share program etc. We also came across an electric vehicle charging station. (Hoping for more charging stations in Canada).

We also lucked out with finding great vegan food. We had a great lunch of vegan pho and kabobs at Loving Hut. We also had vegan cupcakes later from Vegan Folie's. The "John Lemmon" cupcake; lemon and ginger, was my favorite.

I've been reviewing all the outstanding museums and I think we will be in for a jam packed two weeks in Paris! Check out My Flickr stream for more photos of Paris.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Isle of Capri

We survived driving through Italy in our Fiat 590, which we nicknamed Tony. The car was great to drive, the roads and speeds were another story! The Italians sure love their traffic circles. At one point there was a giant, double traffic circle, in the shape of a figure 8. Who does that!? We almost exited out an entrance from it. The only other near miss was the red light we blew through on a rural road. We were on the road in the first place as I navigated us off the wrong exit from the highway and it takes a while to find your way back. (Many highways are toll roads so you can't just get back on them until you get to a toll entrance). As we blew through the light, to the surprise of the poor folks on the other side of the bridge (of course on one of those bridges where traffic can only cross one way at a time), I remarked that it was a red light. J said "I am aware!" In all fairness my noticing the red light as we are going through it, is more stating the obvious than it is any kind of helpful observation. The other issues with driving are the difficultly finding parking, parking fees, rental cost, tolls, gas prices, etc. Over all I prefer the train! We dropped off Tony and took the train from Lucca to Naples. Then we took a taxi to the dock, then a ferry to the the town of Capri on the Isle of Capri, then the Funicular (a cable train) up the hill and then a few blocks walk to arrive in our lovely hotel; La Tosca.

The Isle of Capri has been very relaxing. A highlight for me has been seeing and hearing my name everywhere. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted random items with my name on it, and I would search all over looking for a pen or something with Capri on it. Here it's everywhere! I picked up a necklace, back pack patch, shirt and of course some shirts for J.

We've spent hours wandering the narrow streets taking in the sights. We also did a lovely hilly hike to the Arco Naturale. "This bold Arch is what remains of a large grotto that once penetrated the cliffs. The waves of the sea extended its aperture and washed away its debris. After the uplifting of the island during the paleolithic era, the grotto was freed from the erosive action of the waves and the wind and the rain trasformed its surface. On returning from the Natural Arch, a flight of steps descending to the valley below leads to the Matermania Grotto, an impressive natural cavern trasformed during Roman times into a luxurious Nymphaeum. To-day few remains of the wall, which were originally lined with mosaic "tesserae" made of glass paste and decorated with multi-coloured plaster, shells and marine valves, have survived." source:

We visited the other island town; Anacapri and watched the sunset. We also took a boat trip around the entire island which gave us a great view of the amazing geological formations. We stopped off at the La Grotta Azzurra (blue grotto). Once you arrive there you transfer onto a row boat and are rowed through the the tiny grotto opening. You have to lay flat so you don't smash your face when the waves toss the boat up and down! Check out a video:

Two more nights on the Isle of Capri and then off to Paris!

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