Arrived here last night in preparation for the first gathering of Art of Hosting practioners in Europe, the first Art of Hosting on the Art of Hosting. I’m staying with my friend Ria Baeck, in a small converted stable on an old farm in the countryside outside of Brussels. Tom Hurley joined us this morning from San Francisco (he’s sleeping right now) and Toke, Monica, George Por, Maria Scordialos and Sarah Whitely and others are all arriving this afternoon. Tomorrow we start in a learning centre about 15 minutes away from here called Heerlijckyt.
The flight from Vancouver, through Heathrow was a strange experience for me, It was in many ways a journey back through some personal time and landscapes that have formed me. In 1978, when I was almost exactly the same age as my daughter, I moved with my family to England, where we lived for the next three years. Since 1981, when we left I haven’t been back to Europe at all, so it was interesting landing at Heathrow again, almost 29 years to the day since I first landed there. There is nothing recognizable about the place to me, and I used to know it pretty well. I was an avid planespotter in my youth and I used to spend whole Saturdays with my friend Dominic Adams at Heathrow, watching the world come and go. Today I’m hard pressed to even guess where we used to watch planes from, if indeed that structure is even there anymore.
But this journey was also significant for other quick visits to personal landscapes. In flying from Vancouver to London, we travelled over almost all of the major homelands of my ancestry. First the fields of Saskatchewan, where my great grandmother’s family farmed, and then the Ojibway lands of Ontario, and much later, the homeland of my father’s family, the north of Ireland. We were within view of Moy, the town where my father’s family left from in the 1860s to come to Canada. A few minutes later our low earth orbit took me over the Isle of Man, where my some of my mom’s mother’s family came from. We sort of missed Scotland although it lay not far off our port wing, and that was it; the sum total of the landscapes in which my genes had travelled most recently. I covered in nine hours what it took my genetic material hundreds of years to do.
Ria met me at the Brussels airport and we drove east through southern Flanders to this little rural farmhouse, nestled in a beautifully tended garden. All I know about Flanders has been shaped by the Canadian narrative of the First World War, and so a lot of what I was seeing in this incredibly peaceful and pastoral land was some ancient grief of the wars that have raged over time in this place. I even pulled out a CA$10 bill when I got here and noticed for the first time that it has the first stanza of “In Flanders Fields” printed on it. (I’ve been travelling so much these days I currently have four currencies in my wallet, Canadian and American dollars, Euros and British pounds)
So here I am, happily ensconced in a Flanders fields and awaiting the arrival of some mates for what will prove to be a tasty gathering. More to come as we cook together.