When I was a university student, I frequently dropped into my friend Elaine’s house for some homecooking. We have known each other since 12 and both studied in London, she as a medical student at Guys’ and St. Thomas’ Hospital, and I at the London School of Economics.
I camped out at her place rather than the other way round for 2 simple reasons. She/her family owned a house and she was a patient and excellent cook – both obviously trumped my rental flat and same old same old live-to-eat meals.
One thing I never understood though was her insistence on decorating the dishes properly. I mean, we were care free students and old friends, we were alone at her place. A a gourmet dining experience did not seem important. I remember teasing her about her fuzziness which extended to other “feel good” things that she deemed necessary in her life.
It was not until 15 years later, when we repeated the same experience in a different country, that I began to understand the smartness of it all.
By then, our situations were reversed. I was all settled in Toronto, Canada, whereas she took up a limited-time job in organ transplants at the Sick Children’s hospital. Like many other visiting doctors, she was living in the residence next door, a rather depressing-looking building (see below) of which the only advantage is its proximity to the downtown hospital.
Before I had a chance to visit, she already decorated (on a sound budget, let me add) her little apartment. Nothing outrageous or glamorous, not even a coat of new paint, just carefully selected new furnitures and floor lighting. And as always, the evening was spent on catching up with each other after a scrumptious home cooked meal.
I thought back to the many places I had rented while in England, both as a student and a young professional. It was all about being functional, being livable, and not investing any beauties in a temporary home. Elaine, on the other hand, took a different approach regardless of where she lived – she MADE it her home by infusing objects of delights. Maybe a cool floor lamp, or a nicely decorated dinner table for her friends. Back home in London, she also allowed herself one weekly indulgence – a fresh bouquet of flowers.
Finally, I understand that is Elaine’s way of Joie de Vivre. Living in the moment, incorporating little delights in her daily life, wherever she is, whatever she is doing.
I may have her at the back of the mind when I decided to bring out one of our many sets of “nice China” for daily use. It has taken me more than a decade to learn that being practical should not prevent one from infusing beauties into one’s daily life.