Every so often, a moment comes along that one knows is going to linger in the mind. Such as some years ago when I took my teenage kids to Hawaii in a last-minute late-December holiday, and a catamaran diving trip to Molokini turned for home with a deck-side barbecue and a blast of Alana’s Morisette’s “Isn’t it Ironic” – a song so ridiculously over the top that happiness exploded.
Today was another one that I’m sure will make for memory node in my mind. I spent the morning meandering through Venice’s back lanes with a charming and knowledgeable guide, then popped back up the Grand Canal on a vaporetto to San Marco. Afterward, uncharacteristically, I plunged into the seething mass of polyglot tourists that cover every square foot of the Piazza to take lunch at Caffé Florian, the world’s oldest café (1720). Over its nearly three hundred years, its tables have played host to customers as varied as Goethe and Dickens, Byron and Hemingway. There’s a band that plays Hit Tunes from the Forties, and winged bandits hovering overhead on the watch for abandoned sandwich crusts. White-clad waiters cruise the tables, dodging clueless tourists with their heavy-laden trays, speaking (apparently) every language under the sun.
It was Mother’s Day. The sun was shining. The pile of gilded architectural frou-frou that is the San Marco basilica was smiling its enigmatic presence at the end of the square. The coffee was good. And as several thousand lives were taking place all around me, my mind was spinning around the ideas that the morning’s outing had planted: that unmistakable sensation of a book burrowing down and taking root, down there beneath where I could see.
Then I placed one of the Florian macarons into my mouth.
Proust might better have written about one of those than about his near-flavorless madeleine. A perfect balance between crisp outside and moist interior. The perfume of pistachios, or coconut, or raspberry. A cappuccino with exactly the right amount of crema on top, and (so civilized!) a flask of water to go with it.
Ten minutes of perfection: sun, a busy mind, a happy mouth.
At the end of it, I was forced to tell my waiter that I was sorry I had ordered his macarons…because they were so perfect, I could never order macarons from any place other than Florian’s, ever again. He had spoiled me for macarons.
And yes, his English was good enough that he laughed.