Learning to Swim

Monday, March 2, 2015 8 No tags Permalink 1

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. – Pablo Picasso

It’s astonishing how quickly one can become acclimated to something new: a new life, new schedule, new job, even a new profession. I have been feeling lately that starting over in life is like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool or off of the dock into the lake; remember when your dad did that to you, explaining that this was the way he learned to swim and so you would, too? He tossed you in, the water icy cold, and you were expected to swim. Your head goes under, you splutter for those first few breaths, then, gasping, legs kicking, arms flailing, you try and push yourself up towards the surface. You have to try and figure out the movements, and, out of necessity (and a bit of desperation), you quickly understand what is needed. Finally, the body adjusts to the new rhythm and you take off. Maybe a bit inelegantly at first, splashing around like a dog, but you move ahead. And you don’t drown, and soon find yourself in your dad’s arms, safe, ready to plunge again.

I think of this analogy often these days as I move into the rhythm of the hotel, day in, day out. Day 1 and I had to be ready; before that I wasn’t, it’s as simple as that. I didn’t know the hotel trade, I had never been the boss of a team, and the only experience I had had that was in any way remotely similar was when I worked as a culinary guide many moons ago. What could I answer before Day 1 when people asked me “are you ready?” How could I be when I had no idea what to expect; how could I be when I had no idea if I was capable of doing the job and living up to my responsibilities?

My own resilience amazes me.

Three weeks in and I am more comfortable chatting with the clients, small talk at breakfast, asking them how they slept, recommending a restaurant; three weeks in and I forget the occasional bread basket or glass of apple juice for a client at breakfast; three weeks in and I may have missed verifying the rooms after the cleaning team had gone through and before the clients showed up once or twice; three weeks in and I still don’t have the reflex to double check that the order has been placed with the baker before going to bed. I am just getting over my shyness with the wonderful women who work for us, less uncomfortable with giving orders, starting to feel like the boss. Boss Lady.

Three weeks in and here I am. Do I feel any differently than I did three weeks or even three months ago? Actually, no. I still feel like me. But I am starting, just barely starting to feel at home here. To feel like I can really, truly swim on my own, without my dad’s guiding arms or a float around my waist, without checking all the notes that I scribbled down during my training period with the former owners or asking my husband for confirmation. I am growing into this new life, this new job, this new profession.


They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. – Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

 So how do our days go? Quickly. In a flash. Up by 6:00 am, downstairs and ready to go half an hour later, after one of us walks an excited Marty! Jean-Pierre opens up the hotel and builds the fire in the diningroom while I prepare and set up for breakfast. The baker delivers fresh bread, baguettes and croissants at 7:00 am and I hit the button to start fresh coffee brewing. Then breakfast, in company with one of our team, until half past ten, unless a client or two takes a long, leisurely breakfast (they always feel so at home here). Then clean up which often takes me through until noon. Jean-Pierre checks out the clients after having spent the breakfast hours answering emails and booking reservations. A quick lunch then off I go to check all the rooms that have been cleaned as well as those expecting guests, a dash to the market if it is a Thursday or Sunday. After lunch? Down time. Jean-Pierre rests while I write.

Evenings? Laundry, preparations for tomorrow’s breakfast, meeting the coffee man or ordering fruit for jam. And jam making. Lots and lots of jam making (how many jars of jam have I made so far, in three weeks?).

The reward, the motivation comes in the form of kind words, compliments and enthusiasm from the clients: “Your’s is the rare hotel that I have ever been in that has a soul, a heart.” “I travel a lot and stay in a lot of hotels and have gotten into the habit of looking at the photos of the rooms, bathrooms, breakfast room online before my stay and have consistently been disappointed to the point where I now lower my expectations before arriving. Yours is the exception to the rule where reality is better than the photos!”; “I’ve stayed in two other hotels in Chinon and will never ever return to either. I discovered your hotel by accident and love it. I’ll be coming back!” The guests linger at breakfast, spend time chatting with us in reception, ask for a card so they can reserve again and share the address with friends… it all makes this adventure so worth it, the learning curve easier. That and the staff; I already love my girls.

Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast. ~ Martin Chuzzlewit

I once had a university professor, leader in his field of psychology learning. Standing in front of the auditorium full of students, he looked at us and said “many people say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But I say they are wrong. You can indeed teach an old dog new tricks!” Well, this old dog has proven him right. I cannot believe that I am here. But I am.

  • Jill Colonna
    March 2, 2015

    You amaze me, Jamie! Your ability to cope with all this change and do it so quickly and even have the time to fill us in on how it’s going is a sign that you, indeed, have a gift. I love the sound of that “routine”, too. Well done, you!

  • Louise
    March 2, 2015

    Love this post and your beautiful sharing of learning and falling in love with your new life. I’m delighted for you! Enjoy!

  • Wendy Read
    March 2, 2015

    Beautifully written, so very excited and happy for you and your new adventure. I hope our destinies will once again entwine. It is amazing that you are making jams which you know is so close to my heart 🙂 All the best to you!!!

  • Paula h
    March 2, 2015

    Wonderful and inspiring! Congratulations!

  • Nuts about food
    March 3, 2015

    It sounds like a lot of hard work but also a dream come true. It sounds like you are both enjoying your new life and I wish you all the best!

  • Monique
    March 3, 2015

    For some reason your posts are not getting to me..But here I am..It’s lovely to peek into your new life..
    You’re a star:)
    How busy you are Jamie..I know your guests must adore being with you.

  • Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen
    March 3, 2015

    You are truly amazing Jamie. I am so pleased and happy for your both. I knew you would take to this like a fish to water.

  • Barbara @ Barbara Bakes
    March 4, 2015

    I’m so glad things are going along swimmingly 🙂