It starts with breakfast. Breakfast in a hostel. A hostel in Paris. Paris in the summer.
We had been traveling for five or six days, give or take a town. We would travel for five or six more, my brother and I following the EuroRail map from Annecy to Nice to the Cinque Terre and back.
But that’s a story for a different time. This is a story about breakfast. And you probably know that breakfast in a Paris hostel consists of about three things. Bread and cheese and… and maybe water. That’s it. This particular hostel had a tiny room for the travelers to eat. It had faded wallpaper, and frilly curtains on the windows, and white table cloths from 1981. My brother and I sat down at the table and surveyed the spread.
During our 17 days on the road, we would engage in approximately 34 or 35 arguments. Mostly passive-aggressive stuff with lots of groans and scowls and sideways glances. And every argument sprouted from one topic: Food.
When you’re walking around foreign countries for four weeks, hunger can overtake your existence when you least expect it. It’s not unlike the mold that arrives on raspberries after what seems like two days in the fridge.
On that morning in Paris, we were looking for something, anything, to tide us over until lunch. Something cheap. It would need to have substance, but what could that be? We’d burn off the carbs from those croissants after 30 minutes of walking to our next destination. The cheese added a little bit of hope. But the hope faded when we realized that the plate of sliced brie and mimolette had been sitting out in the air-condition-less hotel since daybreak. It was past 9 a.m. And it looked, well… questionable.
And then… I saw the packets. A basket full. Little white pieces of plastic with a name I’d never seen before: Nutella.
“What’s this,” I asked my brother.
I opened and began my primary inspection. Hmm.
It looks kind of like peanut butter, I thought. But not quite. It’s chocolate.
Chocolate peanut butter? Deece.
These days, I hear about Nutella quite a bit. It’s in grocery stores. And hipsters post about it on Facebook. (Non-hipsters, too, I guess.) And some folks swear by it.
I guess it’s a mainstay in the United States now. Maybe it always was. Although it certainly doesn’t seem that way. For me, Nutella was always some sort of European fantasy, complete with faded wallpaper and French accents and sweating cheese.
Chocolate peanut butter? This will NEVER fly back where I come from.
I still haven’t had a single ounce of Nutella since that summer day in France, back in 2004. I thought about buying some the other day when I went to the store. But it didn’t feel right. What kind of person, exactly, buys Nutella? A chocolate/hazelnut spread? Well… I’m not that kind of person, I thought. Couldn’t be. I was sure of it…
It started with breakfast. Breakfast in a hostel. A hostel in Paris. Paris in the summer.
And it ended with a sunny walk to a museum. That, and a full stomach.