I recently avoided all responsibilities relating to being a contributing member of the working class by jetting out of my office in Los Angeles and heading to Madrid to visit a roommate of mine with whom I lived while studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. She is one of the most dynamic humans I’ve ever met and over the past five years, we have been apart from each other far more than a part of each other’s lives, like we’d much prefer. I am her favorite Jewish friend. She is my favorite half-Colombian, half-British, raised-in-France tri-lingual friend. It’s about even.
As females do, we Carrie Bradshawed (I made that a verb) and she told me of her current relationships and past loves over tapas and wine, an order which she translated. Living in Los Angeles, I know billboard Spanish and solely billboard Spanish. I can recognize the words for sale (la venta), accidents (accidentes) and “i’m lovin’ it” (me encanta), but that’s about it. After I met her, I asked for a French Rosetta Stone from my parents to enhance my terrible high school fluency, but I guess life got a bit busy or I got a bit lazy and it’s been in the box for a few years, leaving me merely pretty great at English. It’s impossible to detect time advancing and life changing until you bring up all the things that have happened between the ages of 20 and 25, in which case the entire world immediately feels almost over and entirely lost to hangovers and heartbreak and blissful, stressful happiness. I told her about the end of college and she told me about her world travels. I told her about a boy from Pittsburgh and she questioned why any place would be named “Pittsburgh”—a fair question when you grow up in romanticized Lyon. The only thing we don’t see eye to eye on is the name for eggplant—she prefers “aubergine.” Her most recent love is one with a Colombian boy living and more notably, a Colombian boy who only speaks Spanish. She had concerns about being in a relationship where she couldn’t speak to her boyfriend in the language in which she spoke to her own mother. Most disconcerting of all, he had no idea what a bagel was.
“I was talking about breakfast and I mentioned a bagel and he looked at me. I had to describe a bagel. I had to translate what a bagel was. How can you love someone who doesn’t know about bagels?”
There I was, sitting in Madrid talking about bagels with a girl who five years earlier thought I celebrated Heineken. It was a moment of clarity and confusion because it was just about a bagel and possibly a champagne problem of being trilingual, but it wasn’t just about a bagel. It was about a lifestyle and a relationship and a future that could be lost in translation without the excuse of not knowing the language. Except that the bagel was a language all itself.
I thought about my history and relationship with bagels and my history and relationships because of bagels. My favorite part of fasting was breaking fast with lox and bagels—creating towers of tomatoes and salmon, perfecting my deli Jenga one ingredient at a time. My childhood Sunday mornings would start with an inconspicuous brown paper bag left on the kitchen island filled with an assorted dozen by my father who had left to play golf. Hangovers in college were cured with egg sandwiches on sub-par bagels smushed in a sub-par bagel guillotine but they were bagels and memories nonetheless. My LA office serves and entire table of bagels and spreads everyday for breakfast and even though everyone has gained a significant amount of weight, no one seems to be complaining because it is impossible to hate a bagel and even more impossible to hate a free one. All of my carbless diets have ended with the sight of a bagel accompanied usually by my family whom I love and cherish sitting around the table gorging themselves as well. I remember my grandparents telling me the story of how my grandfather preferred the hard outside of a bagel and would scoop out the inside just for my grandmother who preferred the soft inside. It’s how I defined and knew they were in love. Love was finding someone to eat a bagel with.
Each bready circle of life was a milestone or at least merely a memory of something enjoyable. I’ve never cried while having a bagel although I don’t put it past myself since a lot of outdoor movies let you bring your own food now. LIke the rings of a tree determining its age, I’m sure that my bisection would reveal my happiness was directly proportional to the amount of bagels I had consumed. All of a sudden this “You say ‘potato,’ I say ‘bagel, schmear, lox, and tomatoes,” moment evolved from “Just tell him what a bagel is,” to “You should join Match.com and make your only pre-requisite ‘Bagel Lover.’” I couldn’t imagine settling for a life without bagels, physical or metaphorical, even though when I did I was much thinner and less bloated. They signified comfort and family just like English meant speaking to your mother and telling her you love her.
After a weekend of realizations and sunshine we drove to the airport. Both with jealousy in our eyes, mine for wanting her life of gallivanting around Europe without boundaries, hers for my life between New York and Los Angeles surrounded by people who know about bagels, we said goodbye… in English. She would see her boyfriend after she got back home and whether she educated him about bagels or not, I do not know.
Sometimes a bagel is just a bagel. And sometimes a bagel is everything.
(Image via Shutterstock).