cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chicklets from Señor Oscar

Riddle me this: what do you get when you stuff a family from Barcelona, a Portuguese speaking East Timorian, and a French speaking American on a train in Paris without the luxury of English? Answer: Happy hour.

Paris is well known for the reliability of its metro and public transportation, as in most western European Urban areas, the grand majority of population leave the cars to taxi drivers and trips out of the city. The metro only goes as far as the Paris city limits though, therefore to travel outside to the suburbs and neighboring towns one must take the much slower RER train. Therefore, to get to the Palace of Versailles, the RER it was. The Palace was breathtaking to say the least. It was almost too much to comprehend physically being in a location saturated with so much history. Although I did not actually go in the palace it was satisfying enough the stroll the gardens and gaze at the Sun Palace that drained France of nearly every franc. Louis the 14th may have sent his kingdom spiraling towards ruin, but he knew how to commission beauty beyond comprehension. Leaving the gardens it began to rain, pas un problem as the RER station was but 7 minutes by foot. Once on the train, though, American patterns in transportation began to materialize: delays, I nearly felt as though I were back home in Seattle.

The term "overcrowded" harbors connotations of discontent; emotions that here have no place. For while the train was well overcrowded, "cozy" would be a more appropriate term. Next to my friend G who was lucky enough to get a seat, I sat on a stair step in one of the cars squeezed in beside a brightly beaming garandmama. across from us (about a foot) were the rest of her family--7 traveling Spaniards chirping in Espagnol rapidly enough so as to create a melodious illusion of song. The only one not singing was teenage son, no doubt embarrased by loud traveling family, the teenage trait that traverses all borders. G, a fellow student from Gonzaga, has an affinity for conversation--reserve is not often found in her vocabulary. G's hyper excitement for life is endearing; a foreign student at Gonzaga, G comes from East Timor, a small Island north of Australia with a chronic history of political and social strife. G's primary tongue is Portuguese, as the Portuguese were the first colonizers of the Indonesian Island, however she also speaks the local language Dili, English, minimal Spanish, and is learning French. As such G loves to talk to anyone, no matter what language.

On the train with the Spaniards G relentlessly tried them on Portuguese, they understood and replied in Spanish, she understood and replied in Portuguese. Incredible. Soon they were all bubbling about this or that--turned out to be football--I sat there grimacing until one of them looked at me and I piped in laughingly "Je ne comprends rien!" "Ah tu es Francais" he replied, to which I admitteded in a bout of honestly, "Actuellement, Je suis Americaine, mais je parle francaise." To this their eyes lit up. Americaine and you speak French? French is hard for Americans is it not? Are you from New Orleans? And so forth. Of course this conversation was in French, as not a single one spoke English, the 16 year old son being the only one who could "my English good not". Refreshing I must say. From then on we were the loud and infectious bunch drawing looks from every direction. Espagnol, Portugaise, et Francaise all mixed into the conversation. Senor Henrique Bug and his son Junior, Amigo Oskar, Grandpa, Grandma, and the others. Bug loved the makeup of the group; "strange mix strange mix" he would laugh. Seattle Seattle hmmmm, I have a friend in Chicago! Then Oscar brought out the gum. Chicklets are chicklets in every language and every culture. Gracias! The family came from Barcelona, visiting Paris 3 days for the Padres business adventures. Whatever the conversation started with, it would end with football. Bug Junior's only English was "I want be Football player." Ah yes. G wondered how it was they did not know Portuguese as the nation shares a border. Our Amigos explained that Barcelona lies far to the East in Catalonia, and no one speaks Portugaise. "What is Catalonia?" She asked, I replied with my limited knowledge of "its an autonomous region in Spain, like the Basque region." Hmm, no cigar for G. But the topic deserves further inquiry.

Catalonia is the eastern most autonomous region in Spain, sharing a border only with Southern France and the Mediterranean (the others being the Spanish regions of Aragon and Valencia). There are 8 "autonomous" constituents in Spain; Catalonia, Basque Country, Galacia, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Aragon, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. These 8 regions are guaranteed statutes for self government while still belonging to the nation of Spain. 1469 is well regarded as the birth year of the Kingdom of Spain with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. As part of the Kingdom of Aragon, Catalonia began to lose its sovereignty over the proceeding centuries which eventually led to a centralized Spanish Empire. Catalonia's attempt to regain sovereignty came with the war of Spanish Succession in the early seventeenth century when the former kingdoms of Aragon sided with the losing Habsburgs against the French Bourbons. Needless to say Spain fell to centralized rule under the Bourbon dynasty beginning with King Filipe V. Catalonia remained part of the Spanish empire until the early twentieth century when it bounded between bouts of autonomy several times, gaining autonomy in 1932 only to be crushed by the Spanish Civil War seven years later. Under General Franco not only was Catalonian autonomy destroyed, but Catalonian culture and language as well. However, life brightened for the Catalonians with the death of Franco and the adoption of the Spanish Democratic Constitution in 1978, Catalonia was finally granted autonomy with recognition as a nationality or nation in Spain. Catalonians are as proud and distinct a Spanish culture as the politically raucous Basques. The capital province, Barcelona, is a thriving metropolis of history, culture, beauty, and passion. Something tells me Catalonian cuisine is something to be discovered.

Each passing day in Europe presents me with a change of plans. A chance encounter with a traveling family from Barcelona has instilled in me the need to add the region to my travel list. This, I am beginning to discover, is the excitement of my year abroad. Each experience, each encounter changes my views and instills me with new ones. Chicklets on the hot stuffy train; safe from the rain washing the city around us. I did not curse the hour delay, but for once relished in the time it provided us to just be happy, and well live. Getting off the train was a chorus of "chiao" as I forgot Spanish for goodbye (Dora I have failed you). G and I waved through the rain distorted window as the train pulled away with our new amigos. Though I will never see them again, I have no reserve in indeed calling them friends.

*gastronomic side note: raisin flavored yogurt--find me that in the United States.

A bientôt


Ryan said...

WOW!!!!! Versailles looks amazing.
Maybe you'll run into Buster on your travels!

jeena said...

Hi there you have a great blog,lovely recipes. Feel free to visit my blog too :)

by the way your link from the foodie blog roll is broken, please tell left over queen to fix it for you.

Jeena xx

click here for food recipes

Jeena said...

Hi Mallory Elise, thankyou so much for visiting my blog and leaving such a lovely comment. I think your blog is great I would love to exchange links with you, I have already added your link to my blog :) could you add me to yours? Can't wait to see more of your recipes. :)

Jeena xx

(Jeena's Kitchen)