April 13, 2005
Dinner with a Stranger
After Amsterdam I stopped by Brussels for a day and caught glimpse of none other than Manneken-Pis, a small and fenced off statue of a boy whose rock-penis sprays water perpetually.
On Monday I met a woman named Marie on the Metro in Brussels. At Central Station she enthusiastically helped me make my seat reservation on the Eurail to Paris. "I love traveling," she would say. While waiting for the train, she introduced me to a backpacker she had never met. His name was Israel, and the three of us sat together on the way to Paris.
Guidebooks and common sense tell you to watch out for instantaneous buddies like Marie, but her presence was simultaneously crazy and warm. Plus I could have kicked her ass.
Between my broken French and their broken English (Israel was from Tijuana, Mexico), we all managed to talk the whole way to Paris. Marie invited Israel and me to dinner at her place, and when we accepted the offer, she gave us her address, directions, and her door code. When Israel ate the chocolate she gave us on the train, I told him I'd pick him up at the hospital, mostly joking.
Israel left for Madrid Tuesday night, but after three hours of walking around the area I found Marie's apartment myself. I presented macaroons and Marie presented her brother, Maurice, and others: Frida, Bertrand, and Dominique. We ate pasta and salad for dinner and pear-almond pie (and macaroons) for dessert.
The conversation consisted of my saying something in English, repeating it in a language similar to French, and then Frida hearing me in English and translating my words to French for the others.
During dinner, Marie said it was the kindness in my eyes that led her trust me. I was flattered and pleased to have an answer for a question I didn't ask aloud, but I almost wanted her to be less trusting for her own safety. She's 54 and widowed. Actually, with a few kitchen utensils, her brother and friends could have kicked my ass.