In the aftermath, I leaned against the door frame with my eyes closed.
“Do you need a moment?” my boss, Terry, asked.
“Yes.” I whispered.
Never in my life had I tasted anything so creamy. So complex. So incredibly wonderful.
And the funny thing was, I didn’t like chocolate.
On the morning of December 7, 1998, I walked across the puddled tarmac at Heathrow. I’d been an anglophile for twenty of my 27 years and this was my first walk on English soil. It took all of two rainy minutes, but I relished it. Ahead of me was a week of work in my company’s Belgium office. At the end of the week, I would return to London for an impoverished literary nerd’s dream weekend.
I floated on my own importance. I was travelling internationally on business. It was all I could do to climb the flight’s stairs sedately. I found my seat on the plane and stashed my brand new brief case under the seat. My boss took the seat beside me and in his presence, I suppressed the urge to bounce with glee.
The plane lifted off and I wistfully watched London fall behind. I was looking forward to Belgium, which to me meant Bruegel, beer and the European Union. Interesting for sure. A new adventure to explore and enjoy. But what could Belgium possibly hold that could stand up to Shakespeare, Baker Street, and poet’s corner?
Our plane soared over the English Channel and was soon over land. What scenery I could see was green and pastoral. Less than an hour later, we gathered our luggage in Brussels and struggled with directional signs in French and Flemish. Outside the airport, the landscape was very different from what I’d seen on the plane. The street, the sky, the weather, the buildings—everything was dreary, drizzly and gray.
We went straight from airport to office in a taxi whose armrest still bears indents from my fingernails. We were graciously welcomed with large quantities of strong coffee and fresh pastries. We worked all day, leaving at dinner to finally check in at our hotel. I didn’t unpack. I didn’t shower. I didn’t even eat. I kicked my wet shoes to a corner and collapsed into bed.
The second day was much the same, though I did venture out with my Belgian co-workers for a lunch of sandwiches and beer. The third day, Terry took pity and promised a chance to sight-see. I had my guidebook ready and spouted recently learned facts during another hair-raising taxi ride to the Grand-Place.
The Grand-Place is a market square surrounded by the 15th Century City Hall and later guild houses. It’s been called the most beautiful square in Europe. As I stood gaping at City Hall’s fairy tale spires, I believed it.
Terry and I walked down the Rue de l’Etuve to see the Mannekin-Pis, a famous statue of a small boy peeing into a fountain. On our way, Terry ducked into a small chocolate shop to buy a gift for his wife. While he browsed, I stood at the counter surveying chocolates: white chocolate, truffles, dark chocolate filled with liqueur, photographs of chocolate works of art. The grandmotherly shopkeeper spoke only Flemish and, as her cat wound its way around my legs, she pantomimed that I should try a piece. I’m more of a jelly bean girl, but realized it was ridiculous to be in Belgium without tasting some chocolate. In a flurry of gesticulations, I managed to communicate to the shopkeeper that she should choose one for me.
She chose a round bit of milk chocolate slightly larger than a quarter with a delicate swirl on its top. The moment I popped it into my mouth, I knew I was a long way from the Whitman’s samplers my mother gave us for Valentine’s Day. I leaned against the door jam and closed my eyes.
At the end of the week, I took the Euro-rail through the Channel Tunnel and my literary London weekend was all I imagined it would be. But when it was over, the suitcase I lugged home was heavy with chocolate.
Amy Carr is a writer from Annapolis, Maryland. She’s published two short essays in Baltimore’s Urbanite and writes a blog about local kid-friendly day trips and activities. Amy is working on her master’s thesis in creative nonfiction at Johns Hopkins University and is the mother/ringleader/zoo keeper of two raucous boys, one of whom loves chocolate.