My mother suspects, I think, that all I did in Germany was eat ice cream. Showing her photos of our daily post-workshop retreat to the biergarten would not dispel her suspicion that I’d gone to Europe for the food.
It’s unfair to say that my mother is the only one to note that I’ve been tagged on Facebook in more than a handful of photos of American writers eating ice cream in foreign countries. I could claim that we did not even notice the ice cream until the second week of our writing workshop, when temperatures crawled into the triple digits. I could claim that the ice cream in Germany, France and Switzerland is superior to what we can get here. But I live two blocks from a place that specializes in artisan gelato. If I wanted good frozen treats, I could have just stayed home.
In Basel, our little band of writers wandered to the cathedral, where there happened to be a gelato truck set up in preparation for an evening arts event. In the midst of indecision about which winding street to explore next, one of my classmates decided he wanted ice cream. The Famous Writer in our group admitted he wanted ice cream, too. I am easily swayed and was by then also completely charmed by The Famous Writer, so off I went to get ice cream with my fellow student and my teacher for the week. Walking back with our cones, the two men decided we should re-enact the Mod Squad saunter and so suddenly we were crossing the square and I was literally rubbing elbows with Real Writers (famous or not) and I thought, This is why I’m here. And I was thankful to have the ice cream to mask the sheer joy of the moment.
In Colmar, the day before our program ended, we made our way slowly through the streets, peering in shops and taking photographs and discussing how lifechanging the two writing program had been and processing the last two weeks of adventure and critical thinking. It was hot and we were tired and we stopped for ice cream at the first place we saw. The proprietors were patient, though obviously anxious for us to make our selections and keep moving. A couple of us got raspberry ice cream, but a few in our group didn’t have their ice cream itch scratched. We moved on and, Colmar being overrun with tourists in the summer time, soon came to another ice cream stand, where the two French owners touted their handmade artisan gelato. The lady waved the Monoprix circular at me, the only francophone in the group and one of the silly Americans to have bought her ice cream cone from the place down the street that just got their ice cream from tubs at the mainstream grocery store. The message was clear: I’d wasted my money on crappy ice cream, instead of buying her good stuff. Lady, I wanted to say, if this were just about eating good ice cream, I’d have stayed home.