Rule Number 4: Obey your whims because you never know what you might find at the end of an impulse.
She had written a book, Julia Child Rules. Lessons on Savoring Life. The challenge was to pick a rule and live it.
Rule Number 4 stood out for me - obey your whims. Mostly because it's a thing that I do. And just after she had put her idea out there in the world, a whim was offered up ... a whimsical invitation, or two really.
I'm a New Zealander who lives in Belgium and I left home 10 years ago. I had two superb years living in Istanbul before meeting and marrying a Belgian bloke and moving to Antwerp.
In August, 2013, I was over in Italy running a photography workshop for women. My cousin joined me and returned to Belgium with me. After just a few days, that cousin called Julie invited me to go with her on one of those road trips ... the kind that are born out of a few red wines perhaps.
So, how about, she proposed ... flying to Milan, stopping in Verona, heading into Croatia, driving on into Hungary for 2 nights in Budapest? Then Vienna 'because of The Sound of Music', she said. Back into Trieste in Italy, then into Venice (an impulsive whimsical stop as it turned out) before continuing on to Lake Como.
I said, Okay, as you do.
And we did. 8 days of whirlwind roadtripping. I loved Budapest best of all probably but was impressed by Croatia as well. I have loved Italy for such a long time that it doesn't need stated really.
Budapest won the best food award. There was this dish called Sztrapacska (which may not actually be Hungarian but who cares. I tasted it there for the first time and it was divine). Or perhaps it was first equal with a stunning mushroom pasta I devoured in Trieste. It still haunts me. Al Barattolo is the restaurant if you find yourself there.
But wait ... there's more, as so many of those old tv advertisements used to promise.
My Belgian friend, Ruth, had emailed me weeks before the roadtrip was dreamt up ... describing a man called Jim Haynes. Based in Paris, he held weekly dinners in Paris. Did I want to go with her?
Who could resist these words taken direct from his website: Every week for the past 30 years, I've hosted a Sunday dinner in my home in Paris. People, including total strangers, call or e-mail to book a spot. I hold the salon in my atelier, which used to be a sculpture studio. The first 50 or 60 people who call may come, and twice that many when the weather is nice and we can overflow into the garden.
Every Sunday a different friend prepares a feast. Last week it was a philosophy student from Lisbon, and next week a dear friend from London will cook.
People from all corners of the world come to break bread together, to meet, to talk, connect and often become friends. All ages, nationalities, races, professions gather here, and since there is no organized seating, the opportunity for mingling couldn't be better. I love the randomness.
I believe in introducing people to people.
I have a good memory, so each week I make a point to remember everyone's name on the guest list and where they're from and what they do, so I can introduce them to each other, effortlessly. If I had my way, I would introduce everyone in the whole world to each other.
Did I feel like a short jaunt to Paris, she wrote. 3 hours by car, we would just stay the night?
It was a whim, an adventure. How could I say no?
Of course I didn't. Ruth and I set off at 8am on Sunday, 13 October, 2013. We crossed the border into France and out came the sun ... on a day when torrential rain ruled back in Antwerp.
We arrived, we wandered Parisian streets. We were lost, we were found. We stopped to drink wine. And we called in at one of my holy of holies ... Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop ... another Parisian legend, one you must also visit if you pass through.
And then to the dinner that evening. Jim's Dinner. We were welcomed, as were so many others, and we began with a bowl of Borscht, and followed on with some kind of divine meatloaf and vegetables. Pure comfort food on that cool Autumn night there in Paris.
Best of all, I met Jim ... and so many beautiful souls from all over the world. They came from San Francisco and Scotland, NYC and London, from Australia and Ireland ... from Germany, Italy, and France too. And we ate, and we opened our souls some, there in that space that Jim Haynes has created.
Dessert was some kind of fruit-filled chocolate cake. There was wine and water and all kinds of other drinks too. But mostly, in spite of ... or perhaps due to the food there on offer, people talked. And talked. And laughed. And circulated.
I met the truly lovely Rachel, from 60 Postcards.com. and her friend, Caroline. I met women running a workshop that brought joy back into the lives of women burned out by life. I met a lawyer who had recently moved from Manhatten to London, and an Irish man who claimed he fled Ireland in fear of his life. But I could tell, he had kissed that Blarney Stone on his way out. He was delightful. There was an Australian who said he would never go back, a German woman who had moved to the States many years earlier, and a lovely couple from San Francisco.
There was the Italian actress/yoga teacher, the one who was following her dreams and had just moved to Paris, and the beautiful group of Scottish women. The mother, her two daughters, spending time in the city before separating again, one bound for Canada, the rest going home.
The spirit, the soul of the gathering was an outpouring, it seemed, of being yourself in a place where it was permitted ... demanded even. It was magical 3 hours that both invigorated and drained me. It was an energy surge like nothing I had ever experienced.
I didn't take as many photographs as I had hoped to take but I had a most marvelous time talking with those people there at Jim's Place.
A glimpse, just a glimpse below ... Lake Bled, in Slovenia.