Death By Almond Flakes An almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola

I will have it in my clutches. Maybe not in the next hour, maybe not in the next two hours, but sometime within the next three hours I’ll have an almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola, Lima’s most pituco cafe, in my grime-covered hands.

Though at first I won’t even hold it in my hands. I’ll just let it sit on the plate — which isn’t even a plate but a rustic wooden baker’s tray since plates would be lame — and observe it much like you might observe a baby bird being born. Hatching. You watch as it first nudges its way through the shell and think, Wow, I’ve never seen a baby bird being born. And then, This is exactly like Jurassic Park, and for a moment you wonder if it is exactly like Jurassic Park and if in the next year this baby bird will grow into a velociraptor and devour you and your family.

But it’s not a velociraptor. It’s a pastry.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

After observing the almond croissant I’ll take a fork and knife and cut into its succulent skin. I’ll carve off the perfect, chewy chunk and let it linger on my fork before putting it into my mouth. I’ll savor the moment. It will be over all too soon, of course. And while I’m chewing the first bite I’ll be trying to focus on the texture, the taste, the glory, but what I’ll really be doing is thinking about the next bite. Because you see I’m never satisfied. And even though I’m actively chewing a piece of the the best almond croissant in Lima, Peru — the best almond croissant in South America — I’ll be thinking more about the next bite than the bite that’s in my mouth. And this isn’t very Zen. But when you’re eating an almond croissant, it’s hard to be zen.

After the the first bite it will all be over. My heart rate will dip into the 30’s and if this was an Olympic sport I’d be accused of doping. I’ll have the heart rate of a blue whale. My eyelids will flutter closed and I’ll sit writhing on my chair, groaning, as if Lucifer himself had taken up residence in my sternum. One bites, two bites, three bites, four. My hands ferry pastry back and forth between the tray and my mouth. And then, inexplicably, it’s gone. My eyes open wide now, my pupils dilate. Where once was a croissant are now ashes, almond flecks and powdered sugar. The almond croissant will be gone, and I won’t know what to do. Get another one? Weep? I’ll look over at the waitress and flash a look as if to say, “See what I just did to that croissant? Now imagine how good I am at bowling.” And she’ll smile back as if to say, “I bet you pick up spares all the time.” And then I’ll exit the bakery into the chaos of the non-almond flaked world outside.

 

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Set in Chocolate Stone

pan regio guadalajara

We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever. – Carl Sagan

This morning I went back to Pan Regio, the bakery near my house, and since there was no budín and also because I felt inclined to mix it up, I got a piedra, a chocolate biscuit type thing whose name in Spanish means “stone.” It cost five pesos.

I’m not crazy about starting my day with so much sugar. I would rather gnaw on a handful of raw spinach, or fill my cheeks with salted avocado. But I’m trying to keep things cheap, and also I’m a little bit in love with this bakery. The woman made a joke to me today but I didn’t understand , and when I said, “What was that?” she said, “Have a nice day.” In Pan Regio you get one chance to understand jokes. If you don’t get it the first time, you’re toast (or other baked good).

The piedra is aptly named, though I’ve ever seen any chocolate-covered stones in the natural world. It’s not as hard as I would’ve thought, though it is brittle. The piedra of the pastry world, then, might be something like the shale of the geologic world. If climbing legend Alex Honnold was free-soloing a beautiful wall in Yosemite and came upon a patch of piedras, he would probably be disgusted and/or in great danger (and/or sated). But if the only thing you have to do is walk through the streets of Guadalajara and enjoy the mercifully cool morning temperatures, the muted light on the buildings, the smell that for some reason reminds me of Bakersfield, California, a piedra is not a bad companion.

I’m not sure what this day holds for me, and I like that. I woke up this morning and meditated to a 15-minute long video of Alan Watts, the famed British pop philosopher, telling me not to judge the sounds I was hearing, to not control my breathing, to simply observe the thoughts that came into my head the same way I observed the hum of the refrigerator, without judgement. At one point during the meditation my neighbor walked into her courtyard, i.e. directly next to my window, and I wondered if she was watching me. She might’ve been. I wouldn’t have judged.

What would I like this day to hold for me? Well, I was supposed to teach Spanish classes from 10am-12pm, and then an English class from 12:30pm-1:20pm. All of these classes have been cancelled, but I’ll still be paid. To celebrate, I may go to my favorite cafe, El Terrible Juan, and get a green or black tea. I’ll talk to one of the waitresses, who always seems happy to see me, and be earnest yet polite with the other waitress, who seems to regard me the way you might regard an insect that’s just collided with your windshield and is still somehow alive. And then afterward, of course, I’ll get a lonche from Doña Marta.

Today is all about being centered, which should be easy given the contents of my stomach. Yesterday it was a compact object, today it’s a chocolate-covered stone.

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The Compact Object of the Pastry World

pan regio guadalajara

One of my English students via Skype is an astrophysicist. She’s taught me a lot about “compact objects,” which are things like black holes, dwarf stars, and neutron stars. Today I decided I would give her a presentation on astrophysics, because she was feeling a bit tired and might’ve had a headache and didn’t feel like talking that much. This worked out perfectly, because I love talking, and love making stuff up. I gave her a short presentation on High Mass X-Ray Binary Systems, and explained about things like accretion, compact objects, coherent pulsation, supergiants, quiescence, flares, etc. And the interesting part was that, on  some of the stuff, I wasn’t that far off. In fact, at one point she asked, “How did you know what that was?” and explained that I didn’t, that I was guessing.

Of course, for most of the stuff I was completely wrong and had no idea what I was talking about. One of the graphs had a jagged blue line with a spike in it, for example, and a bunch of red dots, and I said that the red dots were plankton and that the blue line represented whales’ hunger before and after eating the plankton. The best part was she wanted to participate, and she forgot she was speaking English. Whenever I asked if she had questions she played the part of the skeptical student perfectly, unmasking my spurious knowledge. It made me realize I need to strive for this more as a teacher. Forget about grammar, or correcting, or anything like that for at least 15 minutes a class, and just focus on getting the student as engrossed in a topic as possible. So much so that which language they’re speaking becomes secondary, and the focus is on communication.

After giving the class I headed out into the fresh Guadalajara morning. It’s getting hotter here. Yesterday the high was in the mid 80’s. I come home from teaching, strip down, put on my board shorts, and hang out barefoot in the cool inner sanctum that is the living room and kitchen of my house. It’s only bad for a few hours. And even during those few hours it’s not that bad. When evening comes the temperature is perfect again. Twilight is my favorite time of day Guadalajara.

As I did yesterday, today I got a bread pudding from Pan Regio for six pesos ($0.32). It was the last one left. On the way back I took a picture of it, because I knew I would want one for this blog. Also on the way back I remarked on the density of the bread pudding. It’s only about the size of a large brownie, but weighs about 30 times as much. How do they make bread pudding so dense? Is it filled with lead? But then I realized it must just have properties similar to those of a compact object. When the bread pudding (called “budin” in Spanish) sits on the shelf in the bakery, it attracts other objects towards it, slowly at first, but then they gain speed rapidly until they slam into the bread pudding, resulting in accretion. Some of the matter from the original object becomes assimilated into the bread pudding, and some of it is spewed into the atmosphere, in this case in the form of particles called “crumbs.” This process continues, croissants and buns and rolls and danishes slowly sliding toward the bread pudding when the shop employee isn’t looking, slamming into it, leaving their mark (and their mass).

And now this compact object is in my stomach. I have a neutron star in my stomach, a dwarf star, a black hole. Which finally explains my eating habits.

A very special thanks to Stefan Peter-Contesse for his (second!) contribution to this “bweeg.” 

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