I live to eat and I tend to do a lot of it when I’m traveling — there are so many new flavors to explore, and new moments to fill with food.
When I lived in Italy I learned that people don’t really eat on the go as they do in America. In New York it’s perfectly acceptable to grab a slice of pizza and enjoy while walking through the city, and nobody gives you a second glance, unless they want a slice as well. In Italy, however, it’s the opposite — if it’s not gelato, people look at you like you’re either crazy or a tourist ..which, actually, might be the same look.
When I lived in Paris I had a lot of time to myself. I took language classes in the morning and, after an internship fell through, I used my afternoons to practice my photography. Since my French was still rather shy, and didn’t like to interact with strangers, I used my passion for food as a stepping stone to getting more comfortable with speaking to people.
Every morning I made it a point to get up early and head to the patisserie. There I would mumble-point-sort-of-explain what I wanted to the very kind woman, who had the patience of a saint once she realized I was foreign and trying my very best. Every morning I would stop and get a pain aux raisin and something new to try — asking her which she liked, what this was, how to say that, etc. It was a mini lesson that I forced myself to do, regardless of how silly or inept I felt. But it paid off, and slowly I was more comfortable speaking.
Now, I started my mornings off pretty easy with my pastries, but come lunch time there was a bakery across the street from school that had the most phenomenal sandwiches, and the most delicious looking blueberry tart I’ve ever seen. The baker, however, had no time for my fumbling for words, bless his heart. His gruff demeanor did little to dissuade me, however, and bit by bit I built up my confidence, pointing and smiling while I asked for my tarte aux myrtilles. I learned to be quick, to be direct, and how to point like a Parisian, naturally. And while I still cannot pronounce myrtilles without getting a bit of anxiety, I learned that it really doesn’t matter as long as I do my best to say it.
On one afternoon I managed to grab the last piece of that heavenly blueberry tart, and as luck would have it, Paris was treating me to an unusually warm and sunny February day. Sweet splendor in the City of Lights! So I made my way to a nearby park, and found the closest open bench.
And as I sat there, eating my blueberry tart, I watched as people walked by looking at the weirdo eating cake in a park. Some tourists looked at me with envy, old women with reserved judgment, and more than a few simply looked right on past. But in the end that cake was more than just an afternoon dessert — it was the culmination of a million different things. Travel, language, life, confidence, nerves, and passion.