Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A short study in duality: two partings/greetings

Less than a week before I left the States to go live in Buenos Aires, Argentina for an undetermined period of time, I had two very memorable partings with two people who had been, for a long time a long time ago, my closest friends. I use the word "partings" because these visits were effectively brought about because of my great move, my big goodbye. In actuality, though, I hadn't seen either of these two people in such a long time, that the visits felt like more of a welcome home than a sending-off.

I give you, then, two brief pictures of two good people, great women, best friends. Through food, of course, as it always has been and always shall be.


I can't remember if I told Liz directly about my move to Argentina, or if she found out through her mother. Liz's mom, Honi, and mine have been close ever since they met as working middle-aged, middle-class moms, sending their nine-year-old daughters to a daycare off of one of Pennsylvania's saddest excuses of a main street. Though growing apart once college rolled around, Liz and I have managed to stay more or less connected through our mothers' mutual hobbies of daughter-pride and familial gossip. Either way, when I left Liz a voice mail about Buenos Aires, she called back within hours to say, "I can come up tomorrow. Is that okay?"

Because she knows (Pleasant Valley High School Anatomy Honors aside) my heart is buried deep somewhere in my stomach, Liz came bearing a giant bag of soft pretzels from the factory in Philadelphia. For those of you souls unfortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the Philly pretzel, I give the following as a somewhat inadequate description. The Philly pretzel is a perfect street food, inexpensive and deceptively filling. The Philly pretzel is different from, say, the classic New York variety primarily in shape: instead of a stand-alone twist, the Philly version is smooshed up along a long line of neighbors. This makes it extra fun to pull apart, releasing hot steam -- gustatory experiences so often start with other senses. The pretzel is great plain, or, even better, doused with a fat line of tangy yellow mustard, the perfect contrast to the soft, slightly sweet dough. I also find the Philly pretzel to be a bit softer than street pretzels in other cities; its crust, somehow, is less crusty, its dough more doughnut than bagel.

When I opened the door to Liz, she had a big brown bag in her hand. "Chris and I visited the pretzel factory this morning," she told me, and I knew, just like she must have, it was going to be a good day.

We spent hours on my parents' living room couch, catching up, in between mouthfuls of pretzel and mustard. She told me the company she worked for was moving from Philadelphia to Atlanta, and so she was looking for other places to work. We discussed the merits of New York, of Boston. Of traveling for work, of traveling for pleasure. Of marathons and yoga. (I learned Liz is at, maybe even beyond, the stand-on-your-head stage! And I can barely stretch to reach my toes.) We talked about boyfriends, and about books. Later, we played cards with my parents, eating cookies my mother had made, the Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker ready-made dough kind, with the colorful shapes in the middle, which get squished as the knife slices down.

Liz left me with: a few good book recommendations, a present in the workings, and a big bag of pretzels I hid out in our garage, from which I would sneak snacks throughout the rest of the week, a treat I relished because I knew, dough and thought alike, there would be none of its kind where I was going.


It's hard for me to think of a time when I haven't eaten when I've been with Courtney. We're either on our way to get food, or in the middle of stuffing our faces, or resting on our stomachs to help heal the bloated-stomach pain (and help hurry along the next round of feasting). My memories of Courtney always seem to involve laughing with my mouth full, or spilling food on myself as I try to describe something with my hands, or spitting out a giant gulp of Coke when she says, well, almost anything.

So it was only appropriate that on my drive down to Courtney's apartment in Pennsylvania, just three days before I left the country, I got a phone call: "I'm at Dunkin' Donuts. You want anything?"

I showed up at her door with a bottle of Malbec, in celebration of my moving to Argentina. She in turn greeted me with a giant bag of Tostitos and a big jar of spicy salsa, in celebration of my arrival in Allentown. We tried, as best as two old friends could, to cram a few years into a few hours. We spoke quickly, leaving out certain details that may have been more important to those less in tune with one another, mortaring our broken pieces with hand gestures, and facial cues, and "ya know?"s -- laying a solid foundation, really, as any.

I drove away from Courtney's place very late, but much earlier than I'd wanted. Time, of course, nagging me all the while -- for what little time I had left, driving home a few hours in the dark, I spent thinking about how much time I had lost.

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