If I close my eyes, I can see Rouen.The old town square, the cathedral that stretches towards the sky. I feel the awkwardness of my host father, whose little mustache makes me uncomfortable, whose eyes dart this way and that. I try to pretend I'm not allergic to the family cat. One day, I'm given a plate of meat so unusual I cry.
But discrete moments of tenderness during that summer of my sixteenth year stick with me. On the day my belly aches, my host mom brings me mint tea; she sits with me as I take small, tentative sips. Fourteen-year-old Babette brings out her radio, and we sing into fake microphones like sisters. At night, I sleep upstairs, in a room with an angled ceiling, a fact that, while I can't explain why, makes me feel very grown up.
A few weeks later, the family drives me to the train station. We say our goodbyes. We keep in touch for a little while after -- a year? maybe two? -- but soon these ties unravel, like a piece of frayed burlap that sports more holes than fabric. Do they ever think of me?
Apple products -- hard cider, Calvados, and flaky apple pastries -- are big in Normandy, the region where Rouen sits. It's also probably the first place I ever had a buckwheat crêpe, with slightly crisp edges and a dark, mysterious flavor my American palate hadn't encountered before.
I've tried making buckwheat crêpes at home -- I made these ones last week from a recipe I found in The Gourmet Cookbook -- but they only get me so far. I sauté the apples with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon until they warm and start to collapse. I make the crêpes as directed, and they are lacy and "successful" and fine. But I'm not in Rouen. I'm not sixteen. I'm not a foreign girl in a magical land with a cathedral just outside my door. I'm not on the precipice of something I can't see.
They're good, but they're not the same.