The hostel in Barcelona wants a group photo before we head out on the tapas crawl. The photographer, a girl from Argentina on a gap year, says, “Tag yourself on Facebook, vale? Ready? One, two, three…” “Cheese!” “Queso!” “Fromage!” “Kaas!” “Ost!”
In the 1980s, my grandparents qualified for social security food benefits. I loved opening the refrigerator, seeing the slab of government cheese, and knowing I could eat as much as I wanted. Every time I ran away from home, I ran to Nana’s, where we played gin rummy, drank weak tea, and ate cheese & crackers.
Toledo’s Museo del Queso sits in the shadow of the cathedral, near a shop selling historical and movie replica swords. Entry to the museum is free, but the tasting plate of three kinds of manchego cheese and a glass of wine is €4.
On December 30, we went to Goodwill and bought every crock pot under $6. We rang in the New Year with cheese and chocolate fondues, and cheap champagne. With no one to kiss, I sang “Auld Lang Syne” into my fork. On January 2, we donated a bunch of crock pots to the thrift store.
Next to the Mezquita in Córdoba, there’s a cafe, one of the only restaurants open at 8:30 am. I order a café con leche. While making my order, the waitress tells me about Bar Santos, the place next door, famous for its tortilla de patatas, “que son cinco kilos, como un queso.” I repeat, “Cinco kilos de tortilla?” She replies, “Here’s your coffee. Are you American?” Later that day, I go to Bar Santos, where the tortillas are indeed sliced from wheels that are five kilos, like a cheese.
The refrigerator died in July. It took my slummy landlord three weeks to replace it. I was eating constant takeout. Finally, after a call to the Somerville Housing Authority, he bought a new fridge. I immediately took the bus to Formaggio Kitchen and spent over $100 on cheese.
I accidentally-on-purpose follow a private tour through La Casa Andalusí, a small house museum decorated in Caliphate style. Listening to the guide, I surprise myself with how much Arabic I remember, 20 years away from verb drills and noun declensions. I learn that the shabby pillar supporting a potted fern comes from an old mosque, and the display case holds 13th century Qur’ans. In the tiled courtyard, the guide takes a photo of his clients. “١,٢,٣…Cheese!”
Catherine Fahey is a poet and librarian from Salem, Massachusetts. When she’s not reading and writing, she’s knitting or dancing. Her chapbook The Roses that Bloom at the End of the World is available from Boston Accent Lit. You can read more of her work at http://www.magpiepoems.com.