City Of Light

“Would you push five for me?” asks the woman. “I’m having trouble with my hands today.”

I poke the black button next to the cutout number and my knees plié at the jerk of the taut cables. I stare at the numbered panel of the elevator, waiting for the digits to light and extinguish, but eventually my eyes shift to the woman next to me.

I notice her crutches right away. They’re not the type you buy at the drugstore after a twisted ankle then toss into the attic after a weekend of use. These have no padded ledges beneath her armpits on which to rest. Instead there are two rigid, four-inch cuffs, each locked on the long black sleeves covering her slight arms. Her hands, I presume, normally clench the foam grips that protrude from the metal sticks and hit her at the hips. Now, however, they fumble with the zipper of a brown saddle-shaped purse slung across her chest. Ignoring her is an option; avoiding her is impossible.

Not much bigger than a wine barrel, the elevator we’re squeezed into is one of those cage-style carriages embellished on three sides with delicate gold swirls and flourishes, and an industrial crisscross gate for a door that collapses and expands in graceless clacks. The space is barely big enough for one, romantic for a couple, but for two sets of unfamiliar eyes, awkward. The elevator ascends sluggishly, as if being hand-heaved by two men in the basement. It would have been faster to take the stairs the six flights up to my room, which I did yesterday.

“Can I help you with that?” I ask, nodding toward the woman’s purse.

“Yes, thank you,” she says.

I reach over and slide the zipper open.

She interlaces her fingers and caresses the length of each, then says again, “I’m having so much trouble with my hands.”

Her statement is an inverted invitation, the equivalent of “I had the best meal last night” – only I get the feeling her answer won’t lead me to a new bistro in the seventh arrondisement. I stare at my feet, the carpet, the rubber tips of her crutches. Out of the corner of my eye I see the number two button light up.

Asking the question was no problem in high school, when my friend Cyndi appeared on crutches one morning in a cast that stretched from her ankle to upper thigh. By the time the afternoon dismissal bell rang, her white plaster canvas had been transformed into a purple-penned, heart-dotted “I” masterpiece. Cyndi made swinging like a pendulum on one foot appear flirtatious, and for the next six weeks girls carried her books, and football players carried her crutches – and her – up the stairs to her second-floor classroom. I laughed until my cheeks hurt when she dropped a pencil between the cast and her skin while trying to scratch an itch, and when she was finally cast-free, Cyndi ceremoniously chucked her crutches, and the rogue pencil, into the school dumpster to the cheers of about a dozen classmates. To this day, I don’t remember the answer to the question of how she actually broke her leg; all I know is that Cyndi grew more popular because of her defect. She had somehow made it seem cool to be impaired, and at the time, I too desired that kind of attention, even if it meant splintering a limb to get it.

But for this woman the crutches aren’t about popularity. Nor are they temporary scaffolding to protect the underlying anatomy while it heals. They’re permanent buttresses that prop her erect and tether her feet to steady ground.

Truth be told, I’ve never stood this close to a disabled person. Even with our backs against the farthest edges of the elevator, we are close enough to touch. I’m ignorantly uneasy, as if the crutches will infect me with the malady if I look her in the eye. Pity and curiosity swirl in my head, along with the crass assumption that nothing I say will make a difference. I don’t like the word disabled, but don’t know if handicapped is politically correct. Saying nothing doesn’t feel right either, but is it okay to ask her what’s wrong with her hands, or is it wrong to use the word wrong?

“So, what’s going on there?” I ask, adding a quick jerk of my chin.

“I’ve been diagnosed with A.L.S.,” she says.

I’m surprised by her candor. I’ve heard of A.L.S. but don’t know enough to respond, so I just shake my head.

“Lou Gehrig’s disease?” she prompts.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s okay,” she says. “I guess I’ve been talking about it for so long I expect everyone to know.”

With academic succinctness she explains that A.L.S. is the acronym for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease that attacks and degrades muscles and motor skills, like those in her hands and legs, until they atrophy and die.

The word “die” is the one I’m afraid of, and it lingers in the air next to the hum of the elevator motor that has now lifted us past the fourth floor. A lump clogs my throat. I grapple with what to say next.

“How long ago were you diagnosed?” I ask.

“Nine months,” she says.

Nine months. The time it takes to grow a life, I think; the time it took me to grow my daughter.

“And you’ve had a second opinion?” I murmur.

She gives a half laugh. “A second. A third. A fourth.”

A weighty silence caws between us.

“Is this your first trip to Paris?” I finally ask.

She nods.

#####

I think about the first time I saw Paris, nearly 20 years ago. It was covered in snow. Along the cement banks of the steely river; on the branches of squat, leafless trees; in the curves and crevices of filigreed balconies; and on the stone wings of angels, winter had dressed Paris in gray and white. It was nothing like the poster tacked to my wall at home depicting pink sunset swirls on the Seine. Nor was it like the movies I saw in French class with canoodling lovers clinking wine glasses beneath the Eiffel Tower while a nearby accordion played Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.”

For the first few days, I wandered the numbered neighborhoods and checked off the clichés. I traced the steps of former denizens and imagined them waltzing in taffeta gowns with gents who plucked gold coins from velvet pouches. I loitered in cafés where legendary writers once scribbled novels as cigarette smoke circled their heads. But the unexpected boon of being alone in the city of lights was the self-scrutiny and liberation that anonymity brought. In a place rife with foreign tongues, where no one knew who I was, I could be whatever I wanted. From the grand boulevards that shot across the city like arrows aimed at distant compass points, to the couples who strolled the avenues arm-in-arm and kissed openly on park benches, to the performers who rendered hopeful opuses in the windowless underbelly, Paris was my patron of endless possibility.

#####

“I remember my first visit,” I say, smiling.

“I’ve always dreamed of coming here,” she says. “And I wanted to see it before I couldn’t.”

Tears sting and well in my eyes. For the first time in the few minutes we’ve been together, I really look at her. Under the halo of a small overhead light, and with the golden elevator trimming the backdrop, she looks posed like a portrait in a gilded frame. She’s older than me by about ten years, 50-ish. Her black hair parts in the middle and ripples against cheekbones that chisel sharp edges below her brown eyes, and shade the hollows of her cheeks. Her skin gathers like a cinched sack at the outline of her rose-tinted lips, which hint at both a smile and something else I can’t quite decipher. Perhaps it’s sadness, or acceptance, or surrender.

Instinctively, I introduce myself and stretch out my right hand. She squeezes it harder than I expect and says her name is Leigh.

A cellphone rings from inside her purse. She maneuvers around the bag’s small opening and I offer to help, this time without pondering proper etiquette. I flip the phone open and place it against her open palm. It’s her mother; she has accompanied Leigh on the trip and is waiting in their room.

“She’s always so worried about me now,” Leigh tells me when she hangs up. “I just wanted to be by myself for a while.”

I nod. As a mother, I empathize with the fear of losing a child, whether to the fever of a foreign city or to a fated malady. As a daughter, I understand the desire to find yourself by veering off a path that was planned for you and following the one that is meant for you.

#####

I’d chosen to take my first trip to Paris for reasons spawned by idealistic books and a poster of the Eiffel Tower pinned to the closet door of my childhood bedroom. But my journey was also about breaking off a path I could have easily followed. For years I’d listened to my mother dream aloud of going to Hawaii, Maine, Greece, other far-flung places. When the foggy June mornings arrived in southern California each year, she’d tell me it was her favorite time to be at the beach. But she never went. Not to Hawaii, or Maine, or Greece, or to the beach that was 20 miles from our house. Her dreams were checked behind pretexts of time, money and fear. “Maybe someday,” was her response whenever I asked why she didn’t just take the easy drive to the shore.

The shrug of her shoulders told me “someday” would never become today. As a kid, I was disappointed that we never took these grand trips. But as a young adult, disappointment turned to determination; I found the idea of wishing one’s life instead of living it sad, and without a moment’s hesitation, I seized my first opportunity to go abroad.

A decade later, when I became a mother, I vowed to myself that I would encourage all reasonable whims. And thanks to Ludwig Bemelmans’ Parisian-themed Madeline books, it didn’t take long to fulfill the promise; my daughter Chloé, who read each Madeline book until the pages creased, asked me to someday show her the Eiffel Tower. When she turned 6 I took her to Paris, and as we rounded a corner and crossed the Pont d’Alma, the celebrated landmark came into view. It was night and the lights quivered like a million fireflies. She gasped. I could see the curiosity and wonder in her eyes as she tried to reconcile the cartoonish sketches from her bedtime stories with the shimmering, larger-than-life monument she’d wanted to see.

“It’s so big!” she said.

I hoped that somehow I had made her world a little bigger, too – and that I’d planted a seed of wanderlust. But mostly, in the flickering light, I wanted Chloé to recognize a wish fulfilled and see her mother as the devoted granter.

#####

When Leigh and I finally reach the fifth floor, the gate bangs open and I hold it while she shuffles toward her mother, whose smiling face and halo of white hair beckon her into outstretched arms. I step out behind her and let the elevator gate slam shut behind me.

Though I’ve spent only a few minutes and five floors with Leigh, the intimate details she’s shared make me feel more like a trusted friend than an outsider, and I ask them if they’d like to have dinner one night. They say no; they only have a few nights left, and they’d prefer it be just the two of them. I say goodbye and watch as Leigh’s mother places a steady hand on the small of her back and cups the other over the rigid cuff clamped on her daughter’s arm.

“I can do it, Mom,” Leigh says, shuffling forward.

But her mom doesn’t waver, instead pulling her daughter a little closer. Leigh lets her.

This mother’s strength overwhelms me. It’s something I both revere and hope never to have to summon. Watching them, I understand the only way they can conceivably bear their grief is by doing it together.

Before she enters her room, Leigh turns back toward me.

“What’s your favorite place in Paris?”

I’d just spent the morning revisiting the familiar cobblestone streets that had awakened me years ago. Paris is my favorite place in Paris.

But Leigh’s searching eyes tell me that’s not the answer she’s looking for.

I suggest Notre Dame Cathedral – admired for its hovering demons and flying buttresses. “There’s a bronze star in front, set in the cobblestones,” I say. “It’s from there that all road distances in France are measured. The star is point zero, the starting point.”

As I say the words aloud to Leigh they sound cruel barely off my tongue. I’d stood there first as an expectant young adult, and then decades later had returned to place my daughter’s feet on the same spot. Paris had been my genesis, and I’d hoped Chloé’s too – the beginning of a life unlimited by time and fate.

The door of Leigh’s room shuts, and I climb the final steps up to the sixth floor. Outside my window I see the peaks of ancient rooftops pierced by attic rooms, where lights flick on and off and occupants ebb and flow. And I see the crown of Notre Dame, below which I picture Leigh’s mother placing her daughter’s feet on a star, fulfilling a child’s wish at the starting point of a different kind of road.

[Photo Credits: Kimberley Lovato]

Discovering the king of baristas in Croatia’s caffeinated capital, Zagreb

Coffee is an obsession in Croatia, and in its capital, Zagreb, the coffee culture is as strong and prevalent as the locally prepared žižule grappa. And the coffee itself? It would knock the non-fat foam off a Starbucks latte any day.

But it’s not just about the flavor. Here, having coffee is as much of a social ritual as an essential kick-start to the day, and hours and hours are spent over a cup and saucer. It’s not surprising that locals have eschewed the “to-go” cardboard coffee cup and sleeve trend, opting instead to revere coffee as a destination in itself.

To understand this, you need only spend Saturday morning at the intersection of Bogoviceva and Gajeva Streets, near Zagreb’s Flower Square. The outdoor cafés stack up on these pedestrian-only passageways, and the well- and high-heeled patrons sit elbow to diamond earring and watch the world, and each other, catwalk by. The most coveted spot is a perch at Charlie (Gajeva, 4), once owned by the late footballer Mirku Bruan, who used his nickname as the bar’s moniker. Celebrities, models, actors, singers and femme fatales descend on this area of central Zagreb to see and be seen, and presumably drink coffee, in a phenomenon known locally as Spica. I’ve heard many translations for this word – pinnacle, point, and striker (the soccer/football position) among them — but ask a Zagreber and you’ll be told that Spica means only one thing: Saturday morning coffee.

In search of something a little more down to earth, and with lower heels, for my own Spica, I strolled along Ilica Street, Zagreb’s main thoroughfare. A few cafés appeared but none appealed to me — too smoky; too over-lit; too many laptops. Dodging an endless hustle of bikers and walkers, I stopped to lick the windows (as my French friends say) of pastry shops like the family-run Vincek, whose cakes and cookies looked too perfect to eat. Then one of the always-stuffed blue trams of Zagreb whirred down Ilica Street and startled me, and as I was recovering I noticed a crowd gathered beneath an awning printed with the words “simply luxury coffee.”

From the moment I entered the minuscule Eli’s Caffé, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary coffee experience, and that owner Nik Orosi was not going to be an ordinary barista.

***
Dober dan! (Good morning!),” Orosi yells when I walk in. Eli’s Caffé is all white, from the hollowed-out cubes displaying coffee cups hanging in the front window, to the walls, ceilings and streamlined furniture in the espresso-sized room. There is only space for a few high-top tables for two, and they are occupied, and the patrons lounging on the couch in the front of the room look as if they’re staying a while. I zero in on the 5-foot red-lacquered bar in front of Orosi.

The room is jammed, wool coats diminishing the scant space between bodies, and the guttural din of Croatian is my soundtrack as I do the shimmy, duck and pardon-me dance toward the only empty stool. For a few minutes I just watch Orosi. His hands pound and twist and wipe and push out coffee, orders for which dart through the heated air like fruit flies. Each time the door opens, about every 30 seconds, Orosi looks up to greet a new wave of caffeinerati, many of whom he knows by name. I can’t help but think of “Cheers.” Eventually Orosi asks me where I’m from. When I tell him San Francisco, he asks me if I know Blue Bottle Coffee. Of course I do. It’s good coffee, I say.

“They do make very good coffee, but their baristas are too stuffy,” Orosi responds. He faults most baristas for using big words, similar to wine experts and sommeliers. “Why would they do this? People don’t understand. It’s elitist and scares people away.”

Orosi knows a thing or two about barista-ing. He was the Croatian national champion three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has several other titles that include the word “best” in them. But Orosi doesn’t brag. He opened Eli’s, named after his son, in 2005 because of a dream he had had — and “to bring coffee closer to people.”

I order a strong coffee with milk and Orosi’s hands and arms know what to do without consulting his mouth or eyes. The barista king effortlessly toggles between English and his native tongue, and simultaneously manages to collect money, make coffee, chitchat, and wipe down his spotless La Marzocco coffee machine that he dotes on like a prized Ferrari. Before he serves the fresh brew, Orosi puts his nose in the cup and takes a sniff, swirls it, then sucks a small amount in his mouth. “No. Too watery,” he says, dumping it. He starts over.

Like everything in the café, Orosi’s set up behind the bar is uncluttered. No CDs for sale. No mug-lined shelves or cookies or breath mints. Just stacks of white coffee cups and saucers, the espresso machine, a sink, and the white on white relief of his café name and again the words “simply luxury coffee.”

Orosi sets down a thick-rimmed white saucer on the bar and turns it a few centimeters clockwise. He then places a small silver spoon on the saucer, followed by the cup, which he turns so the handle faces right to expose his logo, which is really an anti-logo. He pours in the coffee, and then pours in the hot, slightly aerated milk. With a flick of the wrist, he conjures a heart pattern in the foam, then slides the concoction toward me.

I ask him about the writing on the cup that reads “No logo/ just taste.”

“I just want to make good coffee,” he says. “I don’t want people to think it’s good because it’s a certain brand.”

Orosi tells me that he also removed the menu that once hung behind the bar so that people would talk to him directly about his product. He also says the walls of the room used to be charcoal grey — the antithesis of the café’s current unpigmented interior.

“I don’t want people to come in and order #5. I want it to feel open, and for people to focus on coffee and learn something about coffee,” he says. “Just because you drink it every day doesn’t mean you know about it. I eat every day but I’m not going to call myself a chef.”

As if on cue, two women walk in, wave, and yell out something in Croatian. “See, that’s what I’m talking about,” smiles Orosi. I ask him what they said.

“They just asked for two of my best coffees,” he smiles, and wipes down his coffee machine again.

I take a sip and the coffee’s taste is full-bodied, not at all acrid like a lot of the coffee I have tried on my Croatian trip so far. It also contains just the right amount of heated milk. I close my eyes.

“Look at this,” Orosi says. He opens his hands to reveal a palm full of coffee beans: dry, brown, aromatic. Eli’s Caffé, for now, is the only establishment in Zagreb that roasts its own beans. Orosi takes a whiff and identifies the beans as Tanzanian and the ones he is using today. In the few moments we’ve been talking seven other orders have landed on his ears, and he grows silent to catch up.

“I love being busy but it keeps me from talking to people,” he says, not looking up.

I sip, watch and listen. Every now and again Orosi sings a few bars of the national anthem, the American national anthem, which I assume is for my benefit. I ask him if I can take his picture and he smiles sheepishly, lowering his eyes. His list of awards and accolades is long, and I know I’m not the first to ask for a photo, but he keeps moving, avoiding the lens and my request. I drain my last drop and begin to leave, but Orosi insists I stay for a second cup.

“After two glasses of Champagne, you’ll do something wrong. After two cups of coffee, it’s all right.”

For another 20 minutes, I am content to remain in Orosi’s caffeinated world, a world I serendipitously fell into and one I tell him I’ll return to in a week.

“Come on Monday,” he yells as I open the door to leave. “The Ethiopian beans will be perfect by then.”

When I return the coffee is indeed perfect, again. And Orosi still won’t look directly at the camera. Next time.

Eli’s Caffé
Ilica 63, Zagreb
+385 (0)91 4555 608
www.eliscaffe.com

Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. See her full bio at www.kimberleylovato.com.

[image by Kimberley Lovato]

Lost and Liberated in the Dordogne

“I’m lost. I’m late. I’m sorry,” I blurted into the phone, in French.

Silence.

“So, Monsieur Manouvrier, if it’s OK I would still like to meet you today.”

“You are an hour late. Do you think I have nothing better to do? You Americans think you are so important?” he bellowed, barely breathing between salvos. “Do you think we are so honored to speak to an American that we will stop everything else in our lives?”

I wanted to shout, “You know nothing about me!” But since it was my last day in the Dordogne, and since I wanted to meet this man before I left, I pleaded, “Please, may I still come?”

“Fine,” he replied. The slam of the receiver reverberated in my ear before I could ask him for more directions.

As an American who had spent many years traveling in France, I sometimes felt like the honorary town piñata, enduring swing upon jab about my accent, my nationality, and the political leanings of our President who, I had constantly to remind people, was not a personal friend of mine. But despite the occasional bashing, I had also become a defender of the French, charmed by the generosity of those who had welcomed me, a stranger, into their homes, and seduced by their pervasive and earnest joie de vivre.

So, alone in a three-chimney village somewhere in southwestern France, at a crossroads, literally and figuratively, I had two choices: I could abandon this meeting altogether or I could exemplify American perseverance. Though the first thought soothed me for a solid five minutes, I folded up my map and set out, knowing that the long road ahead was more than just the one I was lost on.

***

In France, as in many parts of the world, the best information arrives by word of mouth, or de bouche à l’oreille as they say, from mouth to ear. This is how I had learned of Roland Manouvrier, an artisanal ice cream maker — and the source of my navigational woes.

I had been in the Dordogne for nearly a month researching a culinary travel book. Having amassed a stockpile of classic recipes from local chefs and home cooks, I was in search of something, and someone, a little different. One of these people was Chef Nicolas DeVisch, who had taken over his parents’ restaurant in the medieval village of Issigeac, and whose menu did not include a single serving of duck or foie gras—two mainstays of the regional cuisine. Nicolas had invited me to dinner and after several courses of his non-conventional cooking, had plunked a tub of ice cream down on the table, handed me an espresso spoon, and invited me to dig into the white creamy contents. Preparing my taste buds for vanilla or coconut, or some other sweet savor, I closed my lips around the mouthful. The cold burned my tongue then melted down the back of my throat. Nicolas’s eyebrows arched in question.

“Goat cheese?” I guessed.

“Yes, from the village of Racamadour,” he confirmed. “And you should really meet this guy before you go.”

***

After crisscrossing the Dordogne countryside for nearly two hours, I had pulled off the road to make that call to Roland. The prowess of the GPS had been no match for rural French addresses that delight in omitting street names and numbers, replacing them with titles like The Sheep Barn and The Old Mill. Finally, thanks to a helpful barista, I zeroed in on Roland’s address, given simply as The Industrial Zone in the village of Saint-Geniès.

When I arrived 20 minutes later, Roland met me at his office door wearing a white lab coat, a plastic hair net set askew atop his wavy brown hair, and a scowl. The archetypal mad scientist, I thought. For a second the story of Hansel and Gretel popped into my head. I wondered if anyone would hear me scream as Roland shoved me into a cauldron over a hot fire. Would I be his next flavor—Glace à l’Américaine?

“How much time do you need?” he barked, bursting my reverie.

“As much as you’ll give me,” I answered. Roland corrected my French.

“Because you’re late, I’m late, and I must make deliveries.”

“How about I help you? We can talk on the road,” I offered.

“Pppffff…” Roland produced the classic French noise made by blowing air through one’s relaxed lips, often done to dismiss something just said.

I followed him through his stainless steel kitchen and helped him load frozen cases of ice cream into his delivery van. As I moved them into place, I noticed the flavors penned in black ink on the lid of each container: Tomato-Basil; Szechwan; Rose; Violet; Calvados. I asked Roland if I could include one of his unusual recipes in my book.

“What do you think? I have a formula like at McDonalds? I don’t write my recipes down. They are not exact, and depend on many influences.”

“Pppfff…” he added.

We coursed the serpentine Dordogne roads, past fields of sunbathing flowers and over oak-encrusted hills, delivering the frozen parcels every 15-20 minutes. Each time Roland got back in the car, he shelled me with questions. Do you like Andy Warhol? Have you ever been to New York? Have you ever seen a real cowboy? How about a real Indian? What is the point of baseball? Each time I answered, he corrected my French, which became irksome.

I finally took a sarcastic swing back at him. “If you prefer, we could speak in English. Would that be easier for you?”

“Why would I speak in English? I am in France and French is my language!” he yelled.

My face flushed and jaw tightened. Short-fused from the incessant corrections and aching from the smile I had been faking for the last hour, I was ready to abandon this day and this ill-mannered ice cream man. I blew up.

“It’s people like YOU who give the French a bad reputation in my country. And in case YOU haven’t noticed, I am in YOUR country speaking YOUR language because YOU can’t speak mine.”

I braced myself for retaliation. Roland stared straight ahead, his hands clenching the steering wheel. After a tense ten-second interlude, he asked me about the reputation the French have in America. I told him that, though generalizing, we found them rude, arrogant, and hateful toward Americans. Roland’s belly-bouncing chuckle filled the air, but he said nothing more, not even to correct me.

We crossed a bridge and puttered down the main two-lane street of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, our final stop for the day. The sun was low in the summer sky and cast an ochre glow on the stone buildings. Garlands of yellow and orange paper flowers strung between the steeply pitched rooftops swayed overhead, remnants of a recent festival. We parked and found a table in the sun at the town’s only café. Roland ordered me to wait while he delivered ice cream to his brother down the street. I watched him shake hands and kiss-kiss the cheeks of a few people along the way before disappearing into a doorway. When I saw him again, he was back on the street, handing out ice cream cones from the back of his van to lucky passersby. He waved me over.

I asked him if he lived in Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère.

“No. This is where I was born,” he said.

Roland pulled out another familiar white container and scooped the bright orange ice cream into two cones and handed me one. The mandarin orange flavor couldn’t have tasted better if I had plucked it from a tree.

We drifted through the cobblestone streets of the riverside village and as I lapped up the frozen treat, Roland unlatched his memories. He pointed out the window he’d broken while trying to master a yo-yo; the home of a girl he once had a crush on; the church where he got married. We stopped in front of the brown wooden door of a village house and Roland told me the lady who had once lived there had found a rusted American G.I. helmet in her garden.

“She gave the helmet to my father and we kept it displayed on top of an armoire in our house for many years,” Roland said.

“Why? What interest did your father have in it?” I asked.

“We didn’t know anything about the soldier. Did he come from Oklahoma? Wyoming? Did he have a family?” Roland said. Then he raised his finger in the air. “The only thing we knew for certain was that this anonymous American came here to liberate France. For that we are grateful.”

Tears pricked my eyes, in part because of the unexpected provenance of this story, and in part because of the image it conjured up inside my head: a black and white photo of my 19-year-old grandfather in his G.I. helmet.

We sat wordless atop a low rock wall for several minutes, feet dangling over the Vézère River.

“Thank you for sharing that story,” I eventually said.

“Thank you for coming today,” Roland replied, in English.

A handwritten recipe for his Tomato-Basil sorbet showed up in my mailbox a month later.

Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Afar, Delta Sky Magazine, Executive Travel Magazine and in other print and online media. Her culinary travel book, Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves, was published in 2010 and includes the recipe for Roland’s Tomato-Basil sorbet. For more information about her travels and work, visit www.kimberleylovato.com