It is impossible, for me at least, to live in the Netherlands and not visit the Keukenhof gardens. First established in the 17th Century this 20- hectare site becomes aglow with fragrance and colour as it opens its doors to hundreds of thousands of visitors to its displays of spring flowers. We visited on Monday.
Having been in Malaysia for a few years it had been more than five years since my last visit and this time I noticed a change. Instead of swathes of block colour created from hyacinths, narcissi and tulips, they now had a joyful abundance of mixed beds. Beds with seven or more varieties in them, as varied in height and hue as an English country garden.
“Did you bring the SLR camera?” I asked Josh, half hoping he’d take a few photographs that would be better than mine and suitable for a blog.
“No,” he said. “I’m going to write word pictures instead.”
That’s my boy, I thought.
“I challenge you to a poem-off!” he declared.
And so, as the day went on we dueled with descriptions of the cherry trees, “with icy fingers stretching towards weak spring sunlight that turned its blossom into summer snowflakes,” and “the grass skirts” of the fritillaries among other things we failed to write down.
Then we were over by the lake, a favourite spot of mine.
Josh pointed at a deep pink hyacinth. “What colour is that one, Mum?” he asked.
“Pride!” I said and battle commenced.
Rich indigo was “pomp”, pale pink was “first love”, a peach one, “wedding day” and so on We had soon collected “pity” and “greed”, “shyness” and “obsequiousness” and with each appropriate word we were filled with an increasing sense of achievement and fun. Oh yes, that reminds me, a vibrant yellow was “glee”.
Yes, to me, this kind of exercise is simply fun. I made a mental note to add an exercise I shall call “A Flowering of Emotion” to all future Me-Treats. Join us in France (May) or Devon (July) to try it for yourself.
My second Writing Me-Treat ended just two weeks ago and though I have been teaching writing for more than 20 years now, I never ceased to be amazed by the positive feedback I receive at the end. Sure, I had planned it carefully, ensuring that we had a mix of lessons, excursions, free time, homework, feedback, writing in cafés, walks and healthy food. I had a hunch that visits to art galleries would inspire the Me-Treaters and was thrilled to see they loved the Panorama Mesdag and the Vermeer Centrum as much as I do. It was my first time running it in The Hague, where I live and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I admit that I was nervous.
Allow me to share here some of the surprises…
What surprised me at the last Me-Treat in November in Penang and surprised me just as much this time, is the way everyone seems to get along. Perhaps it is a given that people attending a writing event only come because they like words and thus, connected by a common passion, soon bond.
2. Brave writing
In a safe place, everyone gets braver about their writing, pushes their envelopes and embraces writing exercises that are designed to stretch them. During the five days we worked on poetry, mindful writing, metaphor, character, place, history and fiction. They gamely attempted new genres and dared to bare their souls at times too.
It was a small group. Frankly, I would never take more than eight people anyway and this time we had six. They were Canadian, Indian, British and American. They lived in India, Switzerland, Australia and The Hague. All were mothers. All had an open mind.
But what surprised me most of all was the laughter. The new friendships. The way words shared in this safe space are sacred, important.
We ate out at lunchtimes, but in the evenings I had planned a mix of dinners in restaurants or at my home. What surprised me here was that they preferred home-cooking, embraced the fact that the mealtime conversations could not be overheard by strangers. So, I cancelled the dinner reservation for the last night and worked on a third three-course menu with my son, Joshua, who was our cook and bottlewasher for the week.
I am so relieved that the retreats In France (May) and Devon (July) feature the same dining privacy and home-cooking.
6. To hotel or not to hotel
This time three Me-Treaters lived locally and three stayed in the wonderful Mozaic Hotel across the street from my home. I was surprised to learn that it was just as much of a retreat for the locals, despite the fact that they returned to real life between 10 pm and 10 am each day, as for those in the hotel.
We experienced a number of lessons and I learned that my Me-Treaters like lessons very much but that my creative ideas for venues don’t necessarily work. I taught inside at our dining table, sitting cozily by the fire, in a café (can be noisy), on a tram on the way to Delft (very noisy – note to self not to do this again!), at a gallery (hard to teach and be heard when you have to whisper) and in the street (no fun in the rain). I was surprised, when reading the feedback forms, that everyone rates lessons higher than food and excursions. Another note to self for next time – more learning.
And so, as I look forward to my third Writing Me-Treat, held at the glorious petit chateau of Chez Vallée, home to Amanda Graham and Praana Wellness, in Charente, France, I am relieved to know that it will be a safe space, with delicious home-cooked meals enjoyed on our own terrace, a private barn in which to take lessons, yoga morning and evening to ease us into the most creative mood and special places in which to bond, make friends, expand our writing envelopes, relax, share and laugh. Oh, and if you live locally to Amanda, in Jonzac, you can also join in the fun.
author, journalist, teacher and poet
'Sharing what I know to help others to grow.'
Jo Parfitt has published 31 books, helped more than 100 authors get into print and more than 1,000 to begin writing. She's an inspiring, compassionate and encouraging teacher.
Jo has run Summertime Publishing since 1997. She has lived abroad for almost 30 years – in France, Dubai, Oman, Norway, the Netherlands, Brunei and Malaysia. She specialises in inspiring others who write about expatriate issues.
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