The Art of Travel 12/31/2021
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June 2nd, 2020 at 2:29pm
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In the fall of 2018, we took our son to France.
We began in Strasbourg, a magnificent city in Alsace. I decided it was a good time to introduce Francis to the Tally Machine. The Deposit Fountain. The Four-Pointer.
Neither your gender nor your partner's matters: everyone loves this move.
For the unaware, the Four-Pointer is so simple and effective that you will probably never not do it again. Relationship points will flood your account before your very eyes. Neither your gender nor your partner's matters: everyone loves this move.
I'm talking, of course, about fetching pastries. It's exactly what it sounds like:
- Get your ass out of bed twenty minutes earlier than you normally would
- Go buy pastries at the best place you can find (within reason)
- Buy one or two extra, different pastries so your partner can choose
- Have a one- or two-line story about your pastries (something that happened, what the baker said, what you thought about when you saw a particular one in the window, etc)
- If decent coffee or hot tea is available to go, get that, too; if not, put a kettle on as soon as you get back to the apartment or hotel
- Don't get flowers; you won't be able to carry everything—especially if you have coffee—and besides, it's overkill
But, you might be thinking, so many hotels have breakfast buffets. If those thoughts are running through your head, you are exactly the person who needs to make this effort.
Pistachio and Pink
Francis probably wouldn't remember it, but since good habits are built over time, we woke early and set out for a bakery.
It was a cool autumn morning and, because we were in Europe, I smelled diesel exhaust and cigarettes as soon as we stepped outside. We dodged groups of people on the place de la Cathédrale, then found ourselves negotiating the tight confines of the rue des Orfèvres. Still in his pajamas, Francis marveled at the crests dangling overhead.
A moment later we came across a small shop. We admired chocolates, pastries, and macaroons the color of Alsatian homes—purple, orange, pistachio, brown, pink.
Tu veux entrer? I asked.
Oui, he nodded, staring at the purple cookies.
We were the only customers, which gave the salesperson time to fawn over Francis. We purchased macaroons, chaussons aux pommes, a pain aux raisins, and a few Kugelhöpfe.
We admired chocolates, pastries, and macaroons the color of Alsatian homes—purple, orange, pistachio, brown, pink.
Back at the apartment, we set out plates and napkins. We opened the windows and heard the hum of tourists below.
Gina was awake and had already put on water for coffee. We sat at the table and ate kugelhopf and apple turnovers. I described how the lady at the store loved Francis, how he pointed at the macaroons and said the correct color in French. He also paid and said merci—but didn't know to wait for change.
It was a simple moment, sweet without being corny. Francis and I did it twice more in Strasbourg and tried a different bakery or pastry shop each time.
We continued on to Dijon, Lyon, and Paris. It was a fantastic trip. Two weeks after our return home, however, someone ended five lives, terrorized a city, and poisoned our memories.
On December 11, 2018, a man attacked tourists, journalists, and locals with a knife and gun at the Strasbourg Christmas Market. (A few days later police killed him in his hideout.)
I saw photographs of the scene of the first attack and immediately recognized the window display. It was a few doors down from the pastry shop where I had begun teaching my son that small gestures can make big statements.
We were five storefronts and a month away from the attack, but, sadly, I will forever see the rue des Orfèvres and think of shooting and stabbing as much as the morning we bought macaroons.
My heart goes out to the victims and their families.
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