A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sept. 1.



Bordeaux, Part One - It was going to be a tense day, that much we knew. The only train Vince and I could take from Valencia was leaving at one and arriving in Norbonne at ten-fifteen. We would then have only thirteen minutes to transfer to the train heading to Bordeaux. Once we got there at midnight (if we got there), we would have to find a way from the train station to the city center a half hour away. Then if we accomplished all that, there was still the very real possibility that we would find our hostel closed for the night.

But whatever, I thought, there'd be plenty of time to worry. First, we needed to pay a last visit to the Mercado Central in Valencia and stock up on everything we'd be eating that day. Trying to keep it as cheap as possible, I went with a hundred grams of a generic-looking ham and a hundred grams of mortadela, a kind of bologna that's almost always the least expensive meat the vendors sell. I also got a whole wheat baguette and, just to keep things educational, two paraguayos. The fruits, also called doughnut peaches in the UK, intruiged me ever since I saw them. Still, I figured they couldn't be very good. They looked like squashed peaches, with the same fuzzy, faded coloring but also a flattened, depressed shape. However, all the signs at the fruterias promised they'd be "muy dulce," or very sweet, as if the ugly paraguayos needed to be defended.

I started the trip by making a mortadela sandwich. I probably haven't eaten bologna in about ten years, so I was kind of taken aback by how much I enjoyed the meat. It wasn't elegant, it wasn't subtle, it wasn't refined, but it was rich, fatty and filling, a hat trick of deliciousness as far as I was concerned. I also ate my first paraguayo and was very pleasantly surprised. Once I got past the off-putting outside, I was rewarded with a sweet, juicy white inside, similar to a white peach. I didn't even try to ration my second one, eating it right away.

Around six, when we were inching out of Spain's northernmost towns where people were still lounging on beautifully isolated beaches, hunger struck again. I had the second half of the baguette and the ham. It tasted better than it looked, but was still nothing special. I went back to reading my Murakami novel and wondering if we'd make our connection. Thankfully, the train was extremely punctual and delivered us to Norbonne with time to spare. We had completed the first iffy part of our trip successfully.

By eleven-fifty, we had reached Gare St. Jean in Bourdeaux. I was so happy and excited to be in France, in the land where vins and fromages were elevated to art, that I started to assume that everything would turn out all right. I was so enchanted by the fluid turns of French girls' tongues around hard R's and soft N's that I started to forget I had acquired a fever and a runny nose over the course of the day. Then we found the town's bus still running and rode it all the way to the stop we needed. By now, I was feeling really rough and I had run out of tissues, but at least we had reached the centre ville smoothly.

All we had left to do was get into our hostel. We'd e-mailed thel the day before to let them know of our late arrival, hoping that would prove enough. With our backpacks weighing on us, we trudged down the Rue Hugurie and saw the front office of the hostel dark. We rang the bell and knocked loudly. There was no answer. We tried again and again with the same result. It started to occur to us that we had been locked out. In my worst case scenario, I figured we could always find another hostel or at least a cheap hotel. So we went north, we went south, east, then finally west. All the lodgings were dark. Most were also full. Even the few bistros and cafes that were still open were closing. My forehead felt like a can left in the sun when it became painfully clear: we were stranded in Bordeaux with nowhere to go.

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