Baker’s Chocolate before Departure

Carolina Weatherall Headshot
Carolina Weatherall
July 6, 2024

I recently read an essay by a friend, who is nearing the end of her year as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in the Balkans. In it, she articulates, in vivid, lyrical prose, the bittersweetness of leaving the home she’s created for herself in a year to the one she occupied the first two decades of her life. At risk of spoiling her writing, I will summarize it with the following metaphor: departure, the essay points out, is more akin to the chalk-like baker’s chocolate we melt on a skillet for rich, flourless cake. It is not, as the idiom suggests, like the sweet chocolate chips we pluck from the bowl and press into cookies. We’d like it to be like Robert McCloskey’s dreamlike closure to Time of Wonder: “A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going,” but it isn’t. Not always. 

I adore my seaside town of thirteen thousand. My college town, with only twice as many. The quad, on which students sit, sprawl, spike ball, study, or try to, and of whom I can greet almost half by name. I will be glad to return to these places, and the people that occupy them. And yet, leaving Freiburg tastes like baker’s chocolate, not Nestlé’s chocolate chips.

Germany, I am certain, will remain a pillar of my life. I’ll return to it, for a longer time next time. Whether I will be able to return to Freiburg, however, is less certain. 

I have one exam between my departure from Frankfurt airport and my here, now. Three weeks. That’s astonishingly little time, when each of them I plan to fill with walks along the Dreisam, tasting sweet gelato with my feet in the Bächle, watching the sun set over Seepark, haunting the shelves of my favorite bookshop, worrying about the contents of my wallet as I sit for hours in my favorite cafes…and, oh yes, studying. 

There have been challenges. Oh boy do I detest the process of “growing up” just as much as I love the prospect of being “grown up.” But this city, this green metropolis nestled in the forest, has been a reverie. To encapsulate it, I will describe a day in its life. My life, if you will—but pieced together, as if all the best things occurred at once. 

06:45 – Alarm. Snooze. Fifteen minutes. 

07:00 – Alarm. Sigh. Roll (literally) out of bed. The bed is small, the mattress low. I’m standing before I’d like to be. I consider what I should wear. Whether I want to look “German,” whether I have the energy. I do the uninteresting things. Brush teeth. Maquillage. Scald oatmeal on the stove. 

08:10 – I’m not thinking. I’m late. I speed on my bike that only has one speed. 

08:26 – I exchange my university ID for a key. I empty the contents of my backpack and leave the bag and my helmet in the locker. 

08:29Exilland Frankreich. Fascinating class as usual. I’m pleased, because I’ve participated in the discussion. 

10:15 – Café Auszeit with my Danish friend from class. We stay there for two hours, working on our essays and further uncoding the reading. It’s great, because she’s not American, so there’s zero temptation to switch to English (her first second language) or Danish (of which I could understand nothing). 

12:30 – We brave the line at the Mensa. Student cafeteria. We observe student life. Are almost recruited for a political party. Wish we had remembered to bring water. In Germany, water is expensive.  

13:30 – Danish friend meets other friends. I go to the library. 

14:30 – I meet my language partner at the Dreisam, the river, for a walk. We walk south in German and north in English. She tells me about her doctor thesis. Something about hearing implantations. Unsurprisingly, I don’t understand much of it, but I am eminently impressed.  

16:30 – Art History. This is a program class. We talk about Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee and the usual artists’ response to national socialism in Germany. Which is to flee to France and carry on being expressionists there. 

18:00 – Grocery stop. Fortunately, there’s one on my way home from the university and the IES building. The store closes in an hour, so the line by the check-out is long and the lettuce wilted. As usual, I don’t have a list. I get the usual items. 

18:45 – Fifteen minutes before “teatime.” When I told my roommate I was going to have tea with friends from my program she asked if they were British. I pick a few boxes of tea at random: Earl Grey I bought in Hradec Králové. Fruit tea from Aldi. On second thought, I take the tube of cookies I bought a few days ago. I’ve eaten about half of them already, but the gesture’s there. 

19:00 – StuSie. Student building complex by Seepark. My friend meets me at her building, and we ride the elevator to the sixth floor. A few other people arrive, and we drink tea and share tea and eat cake that someone generously baked themselves. It rains, and we watch the water pour down from the balcony, which smells like spring and cake and somebody’s cigarette from the floor below. 

21:00 – I walk home with the others from my building. We arrive damp and laughing, but also sad, because IES courses are ending, which means those who are not enrolled in the university are leaving in just a week. 

21:15 – I make pasta and cook zucchini and eggplant and chickpeas and praise myself for dicing garlic, like a real adult. 

21:45 – I don’t always have dinner this late, but it’s been a long day. A good day. I start watching the lectures for Einführung in die Literaturwissenschaft while I eat. 

23:00 – Reversal of the morning’s procedures, this time including a shower. 

23:30 – There was a brief period when I was very good about turning in early. This is not one of those times. I open my book Die Buchhändlerin von Paris, translated from English The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher, about Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier and publishing Ulysses and Paris in the interwar years. It’s a book I look forward all day to reading. 

Undisclosed time – I close my book and turn the flashlight off my phone. I fall asleep almost immediately. 


Until the next, C 

Carolina Weatherall Headshot

Carolina Weatherall

I like telling stories and writing long-winded essays about my cultural observations. I generally wind up where there are books, or people talking about them, or—better yet—people celebrating queer, feminist or minoritized voices in twenty-first literature.

2024 Spring
Home University:
Bowdoin College
German Language
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