15 January 2010

— Photograph by flikr user luckydolls09111988.

When I was at boarding school in California, the appearance of flan for dessert at the dinner table was universally dreaded — the texture, somehow at once soggy & spongy, the too-sweet caramel, the endless size of the rectangular pans. We would bet each other in order to finish it off. I was promised once by a Spanish teacher that someday I’d like flan, if I ever had good flan.

I arrived in Andalucía, walked through grocery stores & marveled, like you do in a foreign country, at the strange packaging, the unfamiliar names, the oddities (crustless bread!) — and among the things pronounced, in those first weeks, as incomprehensible were the mass-produced prepackaged flans. Disgusting — little foil cups sold in three-packs like pudding. Why would anybody eat these? What was the appeal?

Here’s the thing: After a year in Jaén, after finally enjoying flan casero in a dozen forms & going back to the States & returning again & finding myself presented with that little foil cup of flan, I ate it with pleasure — not because I hadn’t had better, or because it was particularly good flan, but because it reminded me of something I had enjoyed. It was like a shadow of flan casero, of something I’d had already, something that I had grown accustomed to liking, and so I could enjoy it as bad flan in spite of itself, as flan, as a reminder of flan.

I knew what it should have tasted like;  I knew it was an insufficient substitution; I could fill in the missing places with memory.

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