It's the last day of February. There is blossom in my garden. It feels like spring is here - although it doesn't officially start until 20th May - so I felt like a fresh beginning on my blog, something new. Starting today, each month will see a new writing exercise appear on this site. I won't be marking papers. These exercises are for you to do with as you please, for personal, private work or to share, if you wish. That's up to you.
This month's exercise is about food. Or rather it begins with food. Take one of your favourite foods and write a short piece on where you first ate it.
For me, the food is bagels, and the place was Venice in Italy. It was my second short visit there. I planned to go with a friend but at the last minute, she cancelled. I had paid for the whole trip, expecting her to pay me back, so I now had two plane tickets and two hotel bookings. None of my other friends wanted to go. I was single at the time and, in my very early twenties, the thought of going on my own was terrifying. In the end, my mum rescued me. We had a girly long weekend. We became friends on that trip, rather than simply mother and daughter.
The bakery was on the corner of an alleyway that fed onto St Mark's Square. Swept along with a crowd of tourists and locals, we almost missed the shop front. Mum was always a foodie and the brightly coloured pastries caught her eye first. I could almost hear my Father saying, "Dolly, don't drool." Inside, the bakery was small but expertly arranged with pristinely kept glass cases. My mother chose a selection of sweet things but my eye was drawn by something I'd never seen before - a selection of multi-coloured bagels, expertly displayed under glass. The man behind the counter, speaking in fluid, lyrical tones of English, asked what I wanted in my bagel. When I didn't answer, he smiled and took one of the bagels to the back counter. I watched as he deftly sliced the bagel and began to add ingredients. What he handed me, a few minutes later, was a cream cheese and pastrami bagel wrapped in paper. I had never experienced that combination, or a bagel, but my mother paid before I had a chance to doubt his choice.
We ate as we wandered around the square, stopping outside the Doges Palace, taking a photo of the Campanile, chatting about our new finds. The coolness of the cream cheese tamed the salty meatiness of the pastrami, and enveloping both was the chewy texture of the bagel itself. At that moment, it was the best sandwich I had ever tasted and a large part of that 'best' was the company, the place and the newness of it all.
So there you have it, my first taste of a bagel. What about you? What was your food? What made it special?