I recently got back from a 5-week trip to Spain. It was an intense time, spent teaching (mostly here but also here), doing research (for this and this) and, in between, squeezing in as much time as possible with my dear friends in Spain.
As soon as I landed in Barcelona, it felt like home. And yet when I returned to the Bay area a few weeks ago, I was so happy to be home! It's funny how that works; once you have lived a long time in different places, home is a moveable feast, and yet you can never truly go home again. These thoughts were on my mind all the time as I walked the streets of Barcelona, streets I know so well and yet, there have been changes (both external and internal ones) in the 3 years I've been gone.
Friendships also evolve with distance: some grow stronger, others can fade. I am extremely proud to count a lively handful of healthy, strong friends in Barcelona (Ariane! Shilpa! Chiara! Cruz! Magda!). When we get together, it's almost as if time had not passed; and yet, I love them all the more after confirming face to face that our bonds are still solid and growing.
This trip, I spent a lot of time with my dear friend Cruz, who will soon be moving away from Barcelona, back to her native Asturias in the north of Spain, to be closer to nature and her family. Our friendship is one of the ones that has grown since I moved to California; Cruz and I had just started to get to know each other and then I left. We share many things, most important, our love of tea (in fact that's how we met). We spent hours during my time in Barcelona just sitting with tea (sometimes in silence, sometimes chatting away), and roaming the streets (once in one of the fiercest rainstorm I've ever witnessed in the city), scouting out local potters, vintage and antique shops. Cruz came to one of my culinary classes, made me lunch and dinner, and wrapped me in an electric blanket and left me to relax on her sofa when she intuitively figured out that that was the most soothing way to calm down the enormous surge of energy Barcelona was giving me. We shared a couple of very special meals out at some amazing places, and talked about our plans, insights about ourselves, each other and life, dreams, satisfactions and fears. I learned from her. Since I got back, we have been sending each other photos of our individual tea sessions, as if we were still sharing them. I hope we make it to Taiwan together someday for tea. Basically, we lingered.
As soon as I got back to Berkeley, I was rushed into ten days of an overloaded schedule of workshops, events, and classes, which left me no time to settle in gently or reflect on my time abroad. On the first free day I had, with my kids out of school, I dragged them to all my favorite Berkeley places, the ones I had missed while I was away. We hiked in Tilden Park, with a picnic (and a ride on the Merry-go-round!), and visited the south Berkeley farmers market. In the afternoon, as the light was just starting to change (so early this time of year!) we went to our local library to get some reading material for the kids' time off from school. I by chance came across this lovely book, whose author, a Zen priest, happens to be local. I sat reading by the fire, out of the corner of my eye I could see Olivia and Bruno reading close by. I glanced up at the vaulted ceiling and out through a skylight into a clear sky of winter late afternoon light. We lingered. I felt complete.
I have tried to explain the concept of sobremesa here and here, and I repeat it at all my workshops. I always say there is no equivalent word for it in English. Yet Dana Velden has written the best description of sobremesa in English I have encountered so far. I will transcribe the quote below for your pleasure and perusal.
I wish you all more lingering for 2017.
"One of life's greatest pleasures is lingering at the table with folks you care about long after the main part of the meal is over. People are usually satiated and mellow at this point, perhaps even a little tipsy but not necessarily so. The table has become an ark of sorts, a kind of refuge. It glows with good humor and ease, the candles sputtering in their holders, the mess in the kitchen most thoroughly ignored. This is a good time to bring out a nice bar of chocolate to pass around, a final shared pleasure as each person breaks off a square or two and hands the bar on to their neighbor.
Lingering can also happen over a weekend breakfast, perhaps in bed with the kids, perhaps on the couch with a good book, perhaps at the kitchen table with a new love and the coffeepot close at hand. Try it at a long lunch with an old friend, or a Sunday lunch with the family, or a backyard picnic as the sun travels across the sky and the shadows deepen. Even the ordinary weeknight dinner table can be worthy of hanging around now and again.
Try to instill the habit of lingering in your life. Leave behind the urge to hurry on to the next thing and replace it with a hankering for the more settled, deeper conversations that develop when people commit to spending time together. Give someone the gift of saying "I have nowhere else I'd rather be than here with you." Shed the armor of busyness and distraction and see what happens when you choose to stay in one place for a while. Dawdle. Let the conversation meander. Enjoy the long, lingering present moment with good company and something delicious to share."
D. Velden, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen, pp. 191-192.