I’ve been back stateside for ten days after a three-country, six-flight tour of Europe. Christina and I have seen the sun set on rivers in Lisbon and Paris; we’re sated like it’s our birthright.
When I reminisce about the trip, thoughts of Brussels humidity, Roquefort Carles, and ceramic tiles are accompanied as much by a palette of flavors as they are by clear, consistent melodies.
On our way to the gate, quotes from Icelandic writers were printed on circular windows, over views of the runways and hills in the far distance. Next to our gate, Björk. I took a picture of Christina with that window:
We were in Brussels only for Ky Vinh’s wedding, barely enough time to see the Grand Place at night and have a cone of frites from a stand near the tourist quarter (waffles and mussels next time).
At the reception, a table of Ky Vinh’s boorish old friends, matched in red satin ties, punctuated the evening with rowdy chants. Sometimes they cheered the Red Devils. Mostly, they just sang – with pronounced Belgian accents – the end of this song:
Tonight. Is gonna be. Your night! Everything is gonna be. All right!
It stuck in our heads. I kept thinking Heavy D. But he was sampling Kool and the Gang.
The temperature and humidity in Brussels that Saturday both reached the high 80s; the air conditioning in the dining room at Kasteel Gravenhof couldn’t cool the room of 150 guests. The reception capped a day that started at 7:30 am and comprised three ceremonies (Vietnamese, Belgian, and Filipino). I’d had a few drinks.
Christina and I retreated to our air-conditioned room upstairs in the castle after dinner, and we took naps while friends and family of the couple lauded them in French.
The next afternoon at the flat in Brussels – while everyone packed for Lisbon and recovered from the previous night’s revelry – Ky Vinh’s mother put a half-finished magnum of champagne back on ice. When the bottle cooled, she offered it around to us: Christina first. She accepted. I raised an eyebrow.
The wedding was followed by a trip with the newlyweds and two other couples to Lisbon for a “pre-honeymoon.” We shared an architect’s house.
On our first night in Lisbon, we barbecued. The kitchen was bare so we went to Pingo Doce immediately after landing to buy meats, batatas fritas, olive oil, charcoal briquets, red wine, Super Bock, and this unspeakably amazing condiment I’ve taken to calling Portuguese sriracha that apparently should only be used in small doses because it’s really salty but we didn’t heed this advice because we translated this page only after we got back to New York and sought out what the hell it was we bought that night and put several spoonfuls of on all our food.
Anyhow. We bought too much food.
On our last night in Lisbon, we aimed to finish as much of our leftovers as we could. Christina and I wrote our postcards in the living room.
We opened a bottle of red wine and ate large bowls of mango sorbet. I did laundry. Ky Vinh perused the CDs in the living room and found Getz/Gilberto. We played that album three times that night.
We spent 3 days in Paris. Booked an apartment in Montmartre, found a solid fromagerie and boulangerie on Rue des Abbesses a short walk away.
Compared Pierre Hermé and Ladurée macarons on the Champ du Mars. Bought books at Shakespeare & Company and had them stamped. Visited the catacombs.
Jonathan Richman songs played in the store. “I’m a Little Dinosaur” captured our attention immediately, but “That Summer Feeling” lingered for me.
At the shop, Christina bought me a book on radishes.
Afterwards, we tried to catch the Metro at Republique only to find it closed by the gendarmerie.
We wanted to get to Lafayette Gourmet. We walked through the Marais to another Metro station. In the diversion, we passed another half-dozen blocks we wanted to explore further if only we had another day (next time: perhaps a coffee at Slow Galerie, a pastry and caramels at Jacques Genin). With each footfall, we watched near-dusk light reflect on Lutetian limestone façades.
At Lafayette Gourmet, we bought pasalubong and supplies for our last dinner in Paris, a picnic on the Île de la Cité, on the bank of the Seine.
I can say with certainty I’ll remember that slice of four-cheese quiche. It was a slice of a quiche that was maybe a couple feet in diameter. We bought it at a counter at Lafayette Gourmet after exchanges of pidgin French and pidgin English and lots of euros.
When it was time to eat, the quiche was lukewarm. Our only utensil was a plastic fork we picked up with lunch at Monoprix earlier, so we took turns eating the quiche.
What I learned that night is that when the French say “four-cheese quiche,” they mean four fucking cheeses. (Also, they probably actually say “quiche aux quatre fromages.”) It’s possible that there were several smaller wheels of cheese in that massive, eggy disc. What chevres and gruyeres and comtés and whateverelses made that quiche their final resting place can take pride in their demise.
The quiche was too rich to finish there, so we took some of it back to New York. It was even better warm.