Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
May 24, 2004
"You must be Dave and Karen. Welcome," said Grazyna Perl, her smile melting some of the strain of 32 hours of travel from Australia.
Grazyna and her husband Jacob owned and lived in the six apartment house and meditation centre.
"I’m sure you’re weary. Take off your shoes, leave them here, and we’ll get you settled."
Grazyna pointed to a cupboard by the door littered with foot clobber. We shed our shoes, relieved and embarrassed, hurrying to the stairs before the toxic odour spread.
The world outsideTwo large windows overlooked the courtyard from our spacious upstairs apartment, flooding the room with light. I collapsed on the bed, declaring the mattress to be as good as ours at home while Karen surveyed the small kitchen and attached bathroom.
Cooking facilities meant we could be self sufficient and central heating would keep us toasty on those cool, romantic Paris evenings.
Neutral, warm tones dominated a room furnished with modern, functional pieces. Decorated by Grazyna herself, the apartments reflected taste and style, many of them showcasing examples of her artwork – a hobby with a genesis 20 years previous when she was a designer in the fashion industry.
Over the next week the Maison Zen became our relaxation zone, a welcoming sanctuary after a busy day’s sightseeing. Shielded from the noise and pace of the city, the walled courtyard provided all the peace, comfort and familiarity of home to its residents.
The story withinOne morning I shared a herbal tea with Grazyna and Jacob in the courtyard, and we chatted about the history of the meditation centre and their life together.
"We met in Poland many years ago," said Grazyna. "Jacob was a visiting teacher with the Kwan Um School of Zen representing the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism and protesting with the anti-war movement. We instantly fell in love." Grazyna smiled at Jacob, the twinkle in her eye confirming their deep commitment.
Jacob, a long time Zen Master, has been a teacher since 1984 and in 1993 achieved transmission, allowing him to establish his own school. In 1995 they moved to Paris from America with the plan of establishing a centre where students could live onsite while practicing. And so the Paris Zen Centre was born. Apartments are rented to travellers when not being used by live-in students.
"We support ourselves and we support the centre. It’s like two families," said Jacob.
And it’s that feeling of harmony that defined our experience at the Maison Zen. It was like coming home every day – a rare experience indeed when you’re a traveller in a new city.
From journal Zen and the art of discovering Paris