Sunday, March 20, 2016

Europe 2015 - Paris and Barcelona: Leaving the comforts of home

The devil may well be in the details, but sometimes angels are in the detalles – the Spanish word for thoughtful gestures or small expressions of affection. Those small slices of kindness stay with us forever.

For all the allure of chasing the exotic and experiencing the unexpected while traveling, occasionally finding comfort and safety in the familiar can be a welcome break. I’m not talking about running into the first McDonald’s you see and inhaling a Big Mac as if it were oxygen. I’m talking about a place you feel welcome, where you can put your feet up, throw in some laundry, and raid the fridge – a place you feel at home.

After Brussels, where family took us in, three college friends hosted us in their homes. In Saint Denis, outside of Paris, Deniz’s former classmate and our mutual friend Delphine accommodated us. In Cerdanyola del Vallés, outside of Barcelona, our former housemates Dulce and Dimichell, along with their boys Roger and Manu, welcomed us.

We met them all back in 1999 at the University of South Carolina, where I suppose it makes complete sense for a Turkish American girl and Ecuadorian American boy to fall in love and be surrounded by friends from France (Delphine), Spain (Dulce) and Puerto Rico (Dimichell).

Delphine is far left:

Dulce is far left and Dimichell is sitting on the right:

Beyond their generosity in taking us in, they all had their own beautiful detalles that will be permanently etched in our memories.

Apart from helping us make the most of sprawling Paris in record time, Delphine received us with homemade, authentic ratatouille – a healthy, classic French vegetarian plate of sautéed eggplant, squash, zucchini and various other chopped vegetables, garnishes and spices. We all had seconds and the kids gobbled it up each time. On our second night, she put out a fantastic selection of caviar, salmon tartare, various cheeses – perfect with our Chardonnay from the nearby Burgundy region, where Chardonnay originated.

Dulce – sweet in Spanish – has always lived up to her name as far back as we’ve known her. Apart from laying out a table full of tapas just about every night we stayed with them, she made our visit particularly awesome by surprising us with cake and champagne on our anniversary.

Dimichell, a wine connoisseur who did his very best to make me a little less wine illiterate, picked up on a quick anecdote I shared over dinner. When I mentioned to him that my dad had scored a bottle of Barón de Oña (Baron from Oña) in Spain many years ago and declared he would uncork it at the birth of his first grandson – the first “varon de Oña” or boy from Oña, Dimichell secretly went on the hunt. My dad popped open his bottle following Emilio’s birth. Dimichell popped his on our last full day in Barcelona.

Not to be outdone, their boys Roger and Manu were quite gracious hosts to Aylin and Emilio. Boys their age don’t tend to be exactly maternal, but it was clear their upbringing had much to do with their thoughtfulness. Both boys were smitten by Aylin and Emilio’s antics, and they constantly helped us look after them, play with them, and give them the occasional high five.

The younger Manu put a little lump in our throats by presenting Emilio with a this drawing of a tiger. Emilio was clinging on one of the boys’ tiger toys. We insisted he return it because we knew he’d quickly turn to something else – Emilio and his “expansive” attention span. Even so, Manu picked up on this and within a few minutes came running out to the car, as we were saying our final goodbyes. Out of breath, he said, ”Here, I drew this tiger so Emilio can take it with him.”

Emilio loved it so much, he took a little bite:

Sometimes, the details are – indeed – in the angels. Our next stop – Nice – will be our first without family or friends showing us the way. We’ll see how it goes.

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