If you’re my Facebook friend, you may recognize this picture. It’s a photo of some pintxos we enjoyed in Bilbao. The potato dish is patatas bravas, which is what we’d call home fries covered in a thick, spicy tomato sauce. In the foreground is guacamole criss-crossed with anchovies. We devoured these delicious dishes in person, but the reception on Facebook wasn’t so positive. In fact, I gather that most people thought both dishes were, let’s say, objectionable. I get it; anchovies I’ve tried before have been gross, and ketchup, not tomato sauce, belonged on fries. But guess what happened? After trying both dishes, I loved them.
In all fairness, anchovies in Spain are fresh and not nearly as overpowering in taste as the ones I’d had before. Likewise, the brava sauce is delicious and ubiquitous; you buy it at the grocery store in squeeze bottles, like mustard or ketchup. But I still totally get why people would say yuch. I didn’t expect to love these dishes, but I did. In fact, it turns out I love a lot of things I didn’t expect to.
Take Mark as an example. We were set up by a mutual friend, a woman I worked with who knew one of Mark’s college buddies. Knowing men and women well, she mentioned casually to him that she had a friend (me) that she thought he’d have a lot of fun with. To me, she announced dramatically the next day, “I’ve met the man you should marry!” I admit that I was curious, so I asked what he was like. She looked me in the eye and stated firmly, “He’s a Republican Baptist from Baytown,” whereupon I asked her what she’d been smoking. “Just go out with him once,” she implored, and I did. Mark and I got married a few months later. I did not expect to love this man, but I did and do, although more now with the passage of time and the fact that he’s no longer Republican or Baptist. He’s still from Baytown, though.
More recently, I’ve discovered that I love sitting and watching the sea. Beaches have never been my thing; after about 20 minutes, I’m red as the proverbial lobster and have sand in places that sand was never intended to be. But lounging in a chair on our terrace and watching the Mediterranean roll by is now one of my favorite pastimes. I love watching the gorgeous, mild waves and appreciating the splendid hues of blue that change from moment to moment. (Admittedly, it does not hurt if wine is involved.) Enjoying Mare Nostrum seems to have increased my capacity for other sights as well. Hanging out in Madrid’s answer to Central Park, El Buen Retiro, was an absolute delight yesterday. Mark and I walked its shady paths and settled on a bench to watch a fountain spray into the sun and light glint off the tile and glass Crystal Palace in the park’s center. Our visit was lovely, and we only left because we needed to catch the train home.
I did not expect to love the sea, Mark, or anchovies. But I do. And I did not expect to love red wine with lemonade (tinto verano, which tastes a lot like sangria and comes in two-liter bottles at the grocery store now that summer is here), living in an apartment that’s a third the size of our old house in Austin, or not owning a car. But I do. That’s the nature of love, I suppose: it comes to you in things and people and experiences that you don’t expect. And you know what? I love that.