Miracle of the quesadillas

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:57

    You should probably know that as I write this I’m smiling a huge smile. I know, creepy. But I can’t help it. I’ve got this permanent, or at least semi-permanent, grin plastered on my face, thanks to a couple of tortillas, a little cheese, a dash of salsa and a lot of compassion. Think of it as the Miracle of the Quesadillas?…?hold the jalapeño. The miracle has been more than a week in the making. Anita and I have been traveling in Spain, her ancestral homeland, a trip for which she has been preparing for years. We’ve been taking in the sights with members of her family and immersing ourselves in the local culture. We’ve seen every cathedral between Madrid and the Rock of Gibraltar, which means I’ve spent more time in church during the past seven days than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Combined. One of the critical elements of this baptism by cultural immersion is food. We decided before we came here that we were going to do this right. That meant we would try to avoid the McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Pizza Huts that dot the Spanish landscape, and focus instead on local cuisine. And for the most part, we’ve done pretty well. Oh, sure, I had a Big Mac meltdown a couple of days ago, and today we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant (it was the only place we could find open because it was “mediodia,” during which the entire country pretty much shuts down for the traditional mid-day meal and siesta). You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Chinese server speak Spanish to a bunch of Americans. Marco Polo would be proud. Other than that, we’ve stayed pretty close to a traditional Spanish diet. Chocolate and churros for breakfast. Fried potatoes and chorizo sausage for lunch. Spanish bread (“pan”), fruit and cheese for dinner. And an occasional box of conguitos for a snack. I’ve enjoyed most of it, although the “paella” took some getting used to. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that consists of rice, saffron, vegetables, meats and fishes, all mixed together and baked in a big pan. The saffron flavor is strong, and I’ve never been a big fan of fish that tastes really?…?you know?…?fishy. But this was good. It would have been better with ketchup, I think, but I didn’t dare ask. The server was wearing a little sword, and the Spanish can be a little crazy when it comes to matters of honor, especially with regards to paella. With all of the interesting foods here, the one thing I’ve found myself missing is Mexican food. I don’t know why, but for some reason I expected Spanish food to bear some resemblance to the tacos, burritos and enchiladas that I love. It doesn’t. Not a whit. I have yet to have melted cheese on anything here, let alone guacamole. There are no refried beans, and a Spanish tortilla is a quiche-like dish made of potatoes and eggs?…?tasty, but not what I was hoping for. I’ve tried not to whine, although I did tear up a little when someone mentioned Taco Bell the other day. And I think Anita noticed, because this evening when she came home from shopping with her mother, she opened her bags and with great flourish pulled out Mexican tortillas, shredded cheese and salsa that she had found at the supermercado. Then she went down to the hotel kitchen and prepared some quesadillas for me and the rest of our party. We devoured them with relish. And salsa. And we’ve all been smiling ever since. All night long I’ve been thinking about how great those quesadillas tasted, and how wonderful they made me feel. When I thanked Anita, she scoffed at what a little thing it was. No big deal. But to me it was a big thing. And it occurred to me that that is often the case. It usually doesn’t take much effort to say “I care.” Just a smile, a kind word, a gentle touch, a simple gesture. It’s no big deal, except to the person who receives it. And to them, it’s huge. Especially in the “smiles” department.