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A Valentine Cheer in Europe

I decided on a solo Europe trip because I wanted to do what I CAN’T call Eat Pray Love BECAUSE I still have yet to watch this movie. However, after the senseless murder of my niece on Valentine’s Day a couple years prior and my mom’s lost to a battle with cancer a year after, I figured V-Day needed some coloring.

I decided on a flight to Istanbul that would transfer to Milan and then EasyJet from Milan to Paris and then to Barcelona and back to Milan and jump back on Turkish airlines to Istanbul and finally home to Dulles.

When I told my family I was heading to Europe alone, they asked if I didn’t see the movie Taken. I told them no one is taking a big boned black girl. What I was really saying is no one will stop me from traveling solo in search of a valentine cheer.

My niece was stabbed over 20 times. The guy got 60 to life. But how do I look at Valentine’s Day the same? My mom cried. The next year she died. She chose not to do the 50 to 50 chance surgery. I wrestled with that. Why did she choose to die and not to fight? But I realized now she wanted to go on HER terms. Death is something that the living has to deal with. We are left to grieve and miss and yearn.

My trip was to live like they had not. Do things that they couldn’t…

I arrived in Istanbul on a six-hour layover. When I touched down on the tarmac, I remember thinking it looks just like the hallmark card my friend had given me for my birthday in January. I started my EAT’ing. Opened faced smoked salmon sandwich with eggs sunny side up. Delectable for airport food. I pictured my niece Tiana and my mom Valeria sitting across from me. Enjoying. Complaining about the runny eggs. Laughing and ready to explore our first leg of the trip.


The Coconut Curry Chicken (or Shrimp).
INGREDIENTS: Organic Chicken from Whole Foods or bag of shrimp from Trader Joes. Trio pepper, red onions, scallion, thyme, habanero skin, garlic, turmeric, paprika, ground cayenne (optional, but good for spicing up your life), black pepper, sea salt (or salt), Basil (fresh or dry), one canned Trader Joe’s organic coconut milk, olive oil, one small sweet potato or Irish (russet) potato. Add olive oil to pan with fresh and dry seasonings. Stir on high heat and add canned coconut milk. Add peeled and cut (tiny pieces) of potato to pot. Let it boil on medium for 30-45 minutes until desired taste. If using shrimp, add shrimp at end and let cook for 15-30 mins until desired taste of shrimp and sauce. If using chicken, add chicken to beginning prior to adding coconut milk. Once cooked, enjoy over bed of Whole Foods basmati or Trader Joe’s jasmine rice OR with some fresh naan.

The Rice.
INGREDIENTS: Basmati white or brown rice OR jasmine white or brown rice. Irish / Icelandic butter or olive oil. Sea Salt. Place rice in pot with one-inch water above rice level (use finger tips to judge), stir in salt and butter or olive oil. Cover rice and let come to a boil on high fire setting. As soon as it boils over, turn fire on lowest setting and let sit for 30 minutes then turn stove off.

My mom probably made curry differently. But I added my twist. Let the EAT’ing begin.

ENJOY.


I people watched in that Istanbul airport until I cracked myself up. A couple smooching, others rushing. I wonder where they are heading. Maybe they are off to someplace romantic. To celebrate. An engagement or an anniversary or maybe it’s new love or young love. Perhaps the Maldives or Fiji. I made up stories about strangers and laughed with my mom and Tiana until it was my turn to head someplace. Milan in particular.

Industrial and not what I expected. I used to read my sister’s romance magazines. Soap opera in a book. Lancio published them. Those cute Italian boys were in Milan. I figured I would find cheer there. But instead I found the Duomo. When I walked inside, a feeling came over me. Like God had reached out and grabbed my soul, telling me it’s okay. I know you lost your sister, Brenda years earlier to a routine knee surgery. I know Kenneth, Nicole and Dwight are gone too and I know you lost mama (grandma) and Lattie and more recently, your sister, Luna, niece Tiana and mommy, Valeria. But I’m here now. It was either that or a memory of a Catholic Church in Morant Bay, Jamaica. Either way, something inside the Duomo moved me. I felt it and I sat on the church bench, PRAYed and made the sign of the cross against my chest. A sign you couldn’t forget even if you left the church behind.

I could hear Ave Maria in my head. Maria Ferrante singing by Franz Shubert. I have it on my playlist. “Ave maria, äiti maan lapsien, taas meihin katsoo suojellen, kun poika syntymäpäivä on…” I sat in the church and quietly recited, “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” I used to hear my dad praying this prayer often. How many Hail Marys do you need to cleanse your soul of its sins? I didn’t want to imagine the sins of my father.

I walked out of the Duomo and took a long trek back to my hotel room. Quietly. I felt my mom and Tiana on the walk back. It wasn’t creepy. It was all LOVE.

Prior to the Duomo I took some photos of the church from the Museo Del Novecento. Museums give me a sense of peace. Perhaps because it’s a quiet observance. No need to discuss in the moment. Just observe and soak it in.

I felt snow on me and knew something was brewing. Later, I was stuck at the airport. EasyJet put us up near the airport with food vouchers and free hotel. I almost got rerouted to Germany. I didn’t take it. I stayed in Milan. Stuck in the hotel room and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with complete strangers. I had to walk a scary dark walk for dinner. I chatted with some of the strangers so I didn’t have to walk the dinner walk alone. No dinner was served in my hotel. When I couldn’t find a stranger, I said a few Hail Marys and walked the walk to have decent Italian food and frizzante. Every time I tried to have a croissant it was filled with something. I don’t like fillings, but Europeans do. I do; however, like cappuccinos and I had good coffee there. I decided to write and think while waiting for the snow to clear. Two days later I ended up at Charles de Gaulle and got to my hotel a few minutes before midnight. My flight for Barcelona was leaving the next morning.

I arrived at the Le Meridien bummed that I wouldn’t see Paris. But my friend, Jessica from Scotland had been there waiting for me. She had already gotten a chance to see it and decided to give me the midnight tour. I tucked mommy and Tiana away and me and Jessica walked the streets. On our walk I saw a prostitute on the side of the street down on her knees with a client. Paris is gangsta. I watched the Eiffel tower’s lights go dim and I took pictures at the Arc de Triomphe.

I wanted to be up close and personal but not on this trip. The chef opened the kitchen to serve me creme brûlée. I talked with Jess and ate the best creme brûlée I’d ever tasted. If only I had gotten to go out and about, I’m sure there’s better crème brûlée in a small Parisian bakery. We decided to forego sleep. I hadn’t seen Jessica in years. It was good to see her and touch her and talk with her. We had so much to talk about. We didn’t let the sleep in our eyes stop us. We talked and talked and talked and talked. I grabbed a quick breakfast and hugged Jess goodbye. I was going back to solo’ing in Barcelona.

No plane issues this time. I waited for my flight and met two Parisian girls who thought it was cool I was on a solo trip and from America. We chatted and laughed and swapped stories. I thought Parisians were snobby. Not these two. Friendly and sweet. We took pictures and said a proper goodbye.

I arrived in Barcelona and in LOVE. I couldn’t stop staring out the window of my transport on the way to the hotel. Another Le Meridien hotel. Thanks to my sister Colleen’s discounts. I was on a budget in a fantastic Starwood hotel. It was in the midst of La Rambla. I didn’t waste a minute in Barcelona. I took to the streets and spoke as much Spanish as I could remember. I ate a burger and fries and drank local beer in a small friendly bar. After beer two I packed up and went to an art museum where the guard asked for my hand in marriage. I laughed and continued my quiet observance of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.

That night I watched a Spanish jazz singer over dinner. I had a chance to meet and chat with her. She flirted and I blushed. I told her I’m straight and kissed her on the cheek. My valentine cheer was coming in little packages. I imagined Tiana in full Spanish mode. Her mom, Kathy is Puerto Rican. She was enjoying Barcelona. Swinging her hips and trying to teach me salsa and mommy laughing. When she was younger her favorite thing from grandma was Jamaican fried dumplings. My mom made it so good. I wasn’t yet there in America. But when I came, she was older. I met her and she still wanted fried dumplings from grandma. Had there been fried dumplings in Barcelona I would have had some just for her.

My best friend Misha loves this soup. She had been asking for the recipe for years. I told her I didn’t know how to write recipes. But this one, you can EAT with LOVE. Just don’t forget to PRAY before you eat. Wait don’t we drink soup. Yeah, but don’t mess with my EAT, PRAY, LOVE vibe. I think that was Tiana correcting me. I’m sure it was actually.

One canned coconut milk. More coconut milk. It reminds me of the million ways my mom used coconut. Curry Rundown: made from freshly grated and squeezed coconut juice (milk). Rendered down to base of almost oil with Saltfish inside (boiled and strained of all salt). Serve with fried or boiled dumplings. Coconut Cake: made from the coconut trash (grated) with sugar and fit for a dessert. OR coconut diced into tiny pieces, again with sugar. Another dessert, same name. Wait that’s not the soup.


Soup With No Name:
INGREDIENTS: one canned Organic Trader Joe’s coconut milk. If you have time on your hands, go to the Asian market, buy a coconut, grate, squeeze and make fresh coconut milk. Sweet potatoes, bok Choy, spinach, white beans, Grace Cock Soup packet (best to put it in at the end, not sure why, this is just what Jamaicans do. Cho, stop yuh noise mek mi cook nuh). Trio pepper, red onions, scallion, thyme, habanero skin (the seeds are too hot), garlic, turmeric, paprika, cayenne (NOT optional, spice up your life), black pepper, sea salt (or salt), Basil (fresh or dry). Add water to a big pot and coconut milk and all dry seasonings. Go light on turmeric. It’s just cause I love the yellow color for this soup. Add scallion, garlic, onion and thyme along with trio pepper and habanero. Boil for 30-45 minutes. Add chopped bok choy, whole spinach (nuh chop it up mahn) and sweet potatoes (cut up in cubes). Add seafood mix and Grace Cock Soup. If using chicken add in the beginning with coconut milk. Taste. Add sea salt if additional is needed. Serve hot. PRAY.

ENJOY.


There was an ice cream truck outside the hotel. I had Nutella and vanilla swirl and chatted with the ice-cream guy. I can’t remember his name. He was sweet. Super nice and the ice-cream was great. Europe loves Nutella.

The next day I spotted a robbery as I was about to jump on the metro. I stood and watched. Three men with sheets over their shoulders running. Filled with clothes from a nearby department store. The cops showed up and jumped out the car and ran after them. Why oh why didn’t they drive after them? They didn’t catch them. Barcelona is also gangsta. My sister Michelle would worry if I told her about the gangsta shit. She was the one who asked me if I didn’t watch Taken. I bought little gifts from different places. I was on some street I can’t remember. I wondered if anyone noticed I was alone or could they see mommy and Tiana?

I arrived in Milan on my last leg. I had taken risks and seen things that made me realize solo travel is better. You get to notice every stranger. You meet people from all over and you really connect without distractions. I wrote, I thought, I laughed, I cried and I imagined I had my eat, pray, love moments. I still have to watch that movie.

On my way back to the airport I decided to ride the train from Milan. I lugged my heavy ass suitcase and got confused about which train to take and how to buy my ticket when a stranger rescued me. Though I didn’t need rescuing, this man was seeing me as a damsel in distress. His name eludes me, but he was from Georgia. No not Georgia USofA but the country. He showed me how to buy my ticket, lugged my suitcase on the train and sat next to me. Maybe for protection. He shared stories of his childhood in Georgia. And I equally of Jamaica. We laughed and talked and parted ways in Malpensa. I felt a little guilt that I forgot about mommy and Tiana.

I made my way to Istanbul and then touched down on the tarmac in Dulles. As I rode the transport back to Rockville, I couldn’t stop thinking about my trip. All the details, the quiet moments, the conversations. But mainly I felt I got just what I went looking for. I see now that today – on V-day, there’s more to remember. Not the tragedy of loss, but great memories and positive light. Not the blackness the man doing 60 years to life tried to give us. But the light that was left behind to shine.

A moment of silence for our dear Tiana. Love always. ♥ – Marceen A. Burgher

“Alvin, I know today is a tough day but Tiana was very brave even though she knew she wouldn’t make it, she made sure the Devil got caught… so Live, Love and Laugh on her memories. Happy Tiana Notice Day.” – Colleen Burgher.

“To my family, each and every Valentine’s day my heart is torn apart. However, I have to come to the fact that life must go on and Tiana’s memories will forever live on. With that said, tonight at 9:42 pm please stop what you are doing and give a moment of silence to Tiana Angelique Notice. Tiana’s work will never be done, may her soul R.I.P.” – Alvin Notice (father of Tiana and my brother).

para mi madre y mi querida sobrina dulce – from Barcelona with love.

per mia madre e mia cara dolce nipote – from Milan with love.

pour ma mère et ma chère douce nièce – from Paris with love.

annem ve sevgili yeğenim için – from Istanbul with love.

…for my mother and my dear sweet niece – from Dulles with love.

 

–          Marceen A. Burgher