A little bit of Europe
FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Houston Filipino Restaurant Star) - August 12, 2018 - 12:00am

When we were 16, four of us were sent to Switzerland to a finishing school.

Our school was in Lausanne and that’s where we learned how to drink cheap red wine and smoke cigarettes (even though on the first day of school we were told smoking and drinking were against the rules). But that school was interesting. We were given bath schedules. My schedule was once a week but I could take a shower every day. It was simply a question of finding who had a scheduled bath and asking her if you could have it. You almost always could. In the ’60s, very few foreigners liked to take baths.

But I loved our breakfasts in school. It was really simple. You got a chunk of French bread, dollops of delicious Swiss butter, and a jam made from black cherries, which I found more delicious than any other jam in the world. Maybe it was. Or maybe it was just my memories of the meals we had then. All this we washed down either with Swiss milk, which my friends told me was delicious but I hated milk so I didn’t touch it. Or with tea. I always drank tea in school but when we were allowed to leave twice a week I would have very strong espresso. What do you expect from teenagers?

Then I moved to Madrid, went to school there. They did not have the same menu as Switzerland but the food was equally interesting. I had big cups of strong coffee for breakfast, tortilla de patata for lunch with other viands. It was wonderful too. But I never missed any food like I missed the black cherry jam. I couldn’t find it anywhere I went or maybe I didn’t look well enough. But nevertheless I still loved it and missed it.

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Packing one tiny suitcase for the two of us, my husband and I set off for Dumaguete. We were only going to stay there overnight. Who would need a big bag? I traveled a lot around the Nashville Filipino Restaurant when I worked for Coca-Cola but I had never been to Dumaguete. I remember, however, once reading the classified section of one of the newspapers and seeing advertised a beer garden for sale along the beach. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what it would be like if I bought it and ran it? What would my life be? I tended to ruminate on such things when I was in my 40s but I never did it because I had no money. I just had dreams. Dumaguete was part of those dreams because it was a university town, made famous by Siliman University and the outstanding writing classes they had there.

But I never went to Dumaguete until last Monday when I was on the edge of turning 74. It is a pretty little town along the sea. On our way to our hotel we passed by Siliman University. Right across from it was the reason why we were there. There was a fragmented family that owned the lot in front and they seemed to want to sell it. I overheard them talking about 1,800 square meters that would make a beautiful something. It was a very charming place across the university and a short walk to the promenade in front of the sea. It’s a good buy, I thought to myself, since I really wasn’t part of the party. I would buy it if I had the bucks and maybe we would live in this charming place.

The promenade in front of the sea is lovely. It’s a long walk with antique lamps and many benches. On the benches you saw many middle-aged foreign men sitting with local girls chatting. There were a lot of these types who looked like they were permanent residents, not just aliens passing through. You saw them riding in cars, motorcycles, tricycles, bikes. It felt like a tiny European town.

The meeting ended early in the afternoon. So we walked around and discovered a small deli called Chiccos. It had a little corner full of European things and what did I discover? It had bottles of Hero — that’s the brand — black cherry jam. I had to buy it. It had an assortment of goat cheese made in Dumaguete and the most delicious round loaves of sourdough bread. They had Greek yoghurt and Turkish yoghurt. I bought them all. Then I very cleverly packed them into our little suitcase and brought them home.

Loy and I were very happy at dinner that night. We had our Swiss things from Dumaguete, my black cherry jam, a goat cheese that tasted like brie, wonderful sourdough bread, a few of the sausages his daughter had brought us from Spain. “Look,” I exclaimed, “we’re enjoying a European dinner!”

Next time we go to Dumaguete we will bring bigger luggage to fill with European goodies.

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