This morning I went to the 13th century palace at the center of Perpignan. I don't think the people who lived in that palace had toilet paper, but aside from that it was a good life. The palace was built for the king and queen of a country that doesn't exist anymore (I think). Since then, like Perpignan, it had changed hands a number of times between the French and the Spanish and was for 500 consecutive years, until WWII, a military base.
I walked into the palace only to be stopped in front of the gift office because I needed to go in and pay. I parted with the two Euro reluctantly, but in the end was very pleased that I did. It was my first time in a palace, and it was worth every penny (200!).
In the palace there was a modern art exhibit that consisted of paintings of women in bikinis at the beach. I can't say I connected with the art in any deep emotional way.
After the palace I walked some more around the old city. I walked by a chocolate shop (42.698578,2.893181). I wouldn't buy any chocolate, but I would go in to take a look.
Inside I was overwhelmed with the smell of chocolaty goodness. My mouth watered. I would just watch the woman behind the counter make the chocolate that was all around me and overrunning my senses. My mouth continued to water. The woman explained to me that she was making orange flavored chocolate. She had made almost all of the chocolate in the shop.
“What would you recommend?” I heard myself say after I had swallowed the pool of saliva that had collected in my mouth.
“What do you like?”
“Dark. Bitter. Chocolatey.”
No animal fat in anything, the idea was absurd. Probably kosher.
“How about this one.” She broke off a piece from one of the large tablets on the shelves.
“I can try it?” I asked stupidly. It was too good to be true.
“Yes, of course.”
I tried it. It was as good as I imagined. Chocolate ran through mouth and nearly blew my already overloaded senses. It was made from a bean that had known the rain and sun and the rich soil of some far away exotic place. And those ingredients had turned into the chocolate that was in my mouth and releasing to my pallete the secrets of the best things in the world.
I might have told the woman a little bit about myself, but I left that store with only one thing on my mind and that was the clump of chocolate that was making its way, one very little bit at a time, onto my tongue.
Later, I realized that I had left my nalgene bottle there. I would have to go back for it since I was using it regularly for all sorts of great purposes. It's the swiss army knife of water bottles. I had found the chocolate shop by wandering randomly through the maze-like corridors of the old city and I was not excited at the prospect of retracing my steps. I went back to the palace and asked myself “Where would I go if I were me?” And so, one intersection at a time, I went after the most colorful or interesting things I could see, until I found the chocolate shop.
“You left your water here!” The woman told me as soon as she saw me.
“I know. Thanks for keeping it. I guess I should get something else in appreciation.” I really appreciated her looking after my water bottle for me.
Again chocolatey goodness. This time the flavor was a little less harsh with a pleasant note that spoke of soft dew drops coming off of the jungle plants above. I know, it sounds dorky, but you try that chocolate and talk like an adult about it afterwards.
The woman told me that hers is the best chocolate in the world. Sure, why not.
I went to a post office armed with my package’s number. I found out that it had not moved beyond the airport in Paris. The post office couldn't help me more then that.
I tried what I thought was a carob from a tree. I had to jump to grab a branch that I shook to free the alleged carob. I ate about half of it, there was definitely a sweet flavor to it, but also something not quite right so I threw the rest away. And then the aftertaste hit. Bahh, it was awful, horrendous, terrible, bad, nasty. As though a week earlier a rat had crawled into my mouth and died. I bought some bread at a local bakery to try to get rid of the taste. Now it was like I had that same rat in my mouth, just in a sandwich. Ewwww.
After talking to my parents who had spoken to, of all places, the French consulate in Washington, they told me to seek out an office of tourism here in Perpignan and ask for help with my missing package.
I did. The pretty young lady at the counter set out to help me. First we called the USPS, and they told us to call US customs with our questions about foreign customs offices. US customs had a message on their machine saying they don't help people with questions about foreign customs offices and that we should call the French consulate. My parents already had called the consulate and they were told that I should go to the local office of tourism in Perpignan. And then I was back to square one. Except that by now, me and the pretty young lady had exchanged a number of smiles.
She did some hunting on the Internet and tried some numbers here in France. Most of them she would hang up on after she was put on hold, which discouraged me. There was one though that she stuck with for about 20 minutes while we talked of shoes and ships and sealing wax.
And then somebody on the other end answered. And they were in the know. And they helped, giving clear and concise instructions on what I needed to do. The problem was solved and the package should arrive here in Perpignan in two or three days. It had been held up for security concerns.
It was six o’clock, closing time at the tourist office.
“So what are you going to do this evening?” I asked the woman who had helped me.
“I'll probably go get some coffee.” She told me.
“Can I treat you?” I asked.
“Sure.” she answered happily.
I then got introduced to the other two people who were coming. The conversation dynamic for the next hour was odd to say the least, the most intimate part of my evening was the few smiles that were already behind me. I didn't pay for her, having been confused about what had happened and what may have been lost in translation.
Tomorrow I hope to paddle away from this place and on to new things.