Please read the exciting prequel if you haven’t yet. This is the conclusion.
It seems like only yesterday that I climbed aboard the fastest train in the world to leave my monastic refuge. But it was two days ago, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. First of all, I learned that five years of monastic practice isn’t enough to transform my distaste for loud, sloppy eaters. There was a guy behind me on the train, and honestly I don’t even want to know what was happening back there. It sounded like a couple of carp slurping on a soggy baguette. Incidentally it’s a sound I know well, as we feed the fish in the lotus pond with only the finest pain au cereales from the local boulangerie.
Five uneventful hours later, I was boarding the train for the final leg of my journey and dying of thirst. In France, there’s a great train robbery that takes place every time some sorry soul has to sustain himself with food from the dining car. I was a mere six minutes from my destination when I finally cracked, buying a bottle of bubbly water that probably cost me a euro an ounce. I huddled as close as monastically possible with a girl from Basque country who had suffered the same fate. Disgraced, we stepped off the train.
Two of my beloved monastic sisters awaited us at the top of the escalator. I was briefly afraid they might get the wrong idea about me and my new friend. “Back, single woman!” said I, “The Awakened One is my betrothed. Your womanly wiles hold no sway here!” Smiles of love and understanding were exchanged all around, and I hopped in the car for my ride to the monastery.
That magical night at Maison de l’Inspir was a revelation. Those sisters really know how to cook a potato. I had seconds, and then thirds, and I would have had more if it weren’t for the splitting stomach pains. And they serve potatoes almost every day! For me, it will forevermore be The House of the Potato. But I digress, because more than culinary perfection was revealed to me there.
Before I could get out my notepad and begin questioning, Chua Xua lapsed into revery about a day nearly one year ago. It was a story of love (for the Dharma), loss (of a brother), and most importantly, a well-cooked meal. Phap Nguong had arrived in Maison de l’Inspir for his last night in France. He had decided, as you’ll no doubt remember from last time, to return to Vietnam. Upon seeing this well-meaning and diligent monk straying from his path, Chua Xua experienced an upwelling of compassion that shook the very roots of the earth. “In the name of the Three Jewels, I will cook Phap Nguong a meal that will change his destiny,” she presumably said. She put all of her brotherhood and sisterhood, and as much love as allowed by the precepts, into a traditional Vietnamese sendoff dinner that he would never forget. I wouldn’t be surprised if she snuck some of those delicious potatoes in there too. Lo and behold, less than one year later Phap Nguong was back in Plum Village. Only two days after beginning my six-month expedition, and without making any particular effort, I solved the mystery that had so long boggled my mind.
But now I was in the lion’s den, because Sister Chua Xua took me on as her annual monastic-life salvation project. She candidly shared her plans with me, Sister Hai Nghiem, and anyone else who would listen. I think she didn’t have the same confidence in her western cooking, because she never mentioned a life-changing meal. Instead, she proposed to give me a weatherproof capsule with a five euro bill inside. In the event of a monastic emergency, I’m to break open the capsule and buy an ice cream right away. With tears in my eyes, I bowed down before her in gratitude for her great compassion, and casually mentioned that pancakes are my favorite breakfast food.
Twelve hours and one pancake breakfast later, I was on the road again with a belly full of gratitude. Those sisters sure know how to cook a potato. I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to Maison de l’Inspir, as my pancakes didn’t come with real butter or maple syrup, but I’ll always remember those potatoes. And there’s still an ice cream waiting for me somewhere out there along my path.
Until next time, take care everybody.