Tiny but Mighty

In France they are called Nosiettes, in Spain, Cortados, and in Portugal, Pingos. By whatever name you call them, I love them! Why? Because they are tasty, tiny, and they pack a wallop in the best possible way.

I first discovered the Noisette at Chez Janou, a Provençal restaurant in Paris. It is the perfect finish to a meal – a liquid dessert that happens to be caffeinated. One of its best features is the lovely dollop of steamed milk on top. Straight espresso is a bit too harsh for my taste, but a Noisette with hot milk and sugar – yum!

Soon after Paris, I discovered that a version of this delicious beverage also exists in Switzerland, and I had one after a delicious lunch with a dear friend in Zurich. Then we moved on to Provence, where Noisettes are sometimes served in tiny shot glasses, or sometimes in charming little cups. Anything miniaturized always catches my fancy, but combine it with the chance to caffeinate, and it is irresistible.

After a five-day stay in Provence we made a way too brief soujourn to Les Lavandou at the southern tip of the Riviera, where, once again I found Noisettes. Then we took the high speed TGV to Girona, a jewel of a small city in Catalonia. I inquired about this delicious beverage I had discovered in France and was told that the Spanish version was called a Cortado. Imagine my delight!

On top of that, there is a decaf version, so my cutoff for having a Cortado could now extend into the evening hours. I had Cortados in Girona, more Cortados in Barcelona, and there, discovered the Portuguese version called a Pingo. Portuguese espresso is slightly richer and nuttier than its French and Spanish cousins, and equally delicious.

There are an infinite variety of cups to contain this beverage, some glass, some ceramic. Typically, the ceramic version is white, but not always. Somewhere in Mallorca, I had a Cortado in a multicolored cup with a red handle. Wahoo!

Why do I wax rhapsodic about this beverage? For me, it symbolizes the cafe culture I have come to love, and which I already miss dreadfully. Most restaurants will not bring a Cortado or Noisette with dessert – it comes after. It is meant to be savored on its own.  And they most certainly will not bring you a check while you are drinking one. We had to beg for our bills after meals, and often waited up to 30 minutes to receive them.

No one in France or Spain rushes a meal, or even an afternoon snack. Eating and drinking with friends in cafes is sacred time. People think nothing of doing it for hours. What we Americans might consider wasting time, is elevated to an art form. The Noisette or Cortado or Pingo is the final brush stroke on a masterpiece. I heartily approve of this custom!

Moody, brooding, beautiful Girona

I’m jumping ahead, but for good reason. I’m here in Girona in Catalonia now, and it’s completely absorbing. Mind blowing, even. I’ll get back and tie up lose ends in Switzerland and France later. For now, I’m a complete fool for this city. Every time I vow to stop taking pictures, I turn a corner and fall into a new well of beauty. Each new sight makes me gasp and reach for the iPhone.

Girona is called the “Venice of Spain” and for good reason. Four rivers converge here. The Rio Onyar is the most visible to tourists. After two days walking this town, Mohammed and I have crossed and recrossed it several dozen times. Each bridge over the river has its own unique character, the most prominent being Pont de Pedra, but I love them all!

Taking architectural and historical center stage is the cathedral, not to be outdone by the mountains ringing the city.

Today, we walked the massive wall that surrounds the city – I mean on top of it – this wall is the High Line of Europe and has been beautifully reclaimed in key places where it had begun to crumble. Whoever is in charge of preserving historical monuments in Girona – and I suspect many people have been – should be given both an architectural and humanitarian award. The beauty of this place has the power to save souls. It is certainly saving mine from the insanity of this political moment.

Every time we thought we had reached the highest point of the wall, La Muralla as it is known, we found that no, there was more, and still more, each view more breathtaking than the last.

Wandering along the Rambla de Libertad, where most tourists congregate, is a mash up of cultures, languages, history and food. Our first night here, we were fortunate enough to find our way to Divinum, one of the city’s finest restaurants, which is tucked away in a small street away from the Rambla. Here the ambience and the service are top notch, and offer a refined and creative experience  of Catalan cuisine.

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It was a romantic, warm, and uniquely Catalan welcome to Girona, a dinner we won’t soon forget, including some amazing bon bons the staff gifted us with after dessert.

But it’s sometimes the ordinary moments in ordinary settings that stick. Or, even more, the overall tone of a place. And the tone here is very different from Provence, where we last were. Unlike the sunny, open skies of that beautiful region, in Girona the sky, the river, and the seemingly unending warren of beatiful streets creates a brooding, sensual atmosphere that is uniquely Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, I love France! But Spain has a special hold on my soul.

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