“Maintenant,” one of the movers said to me, “on attend le camion.” He watched the last load of rental furniture and furnishings descend on the crane, then he popped a cigarette in his mouth, and walked out the door.
Sam and Alex were in the mini-England of St. George's School; Madeline was in the full-size version, working. I was sitting on the floor of the empty apartment, on the cheap Ikea rug that sheds like a sickly cat, spewing red tubleweeds all over the place (up a flight of stairs, then down a hallway, then around a corner, and under the bathroom vanity, I find red fur). It was just a month earlier that I was sitting on the floor in TriBeCa, watching the last of our furniture go out that door. I am spending a lot of time alone, on the floor of my empty apartments; it's a melancholy pastime.
Then after school, the orange container arrived. It had been released in the late morning from customs at the port of Antwerp, which (1) I didn't even know was on water, and (2) has an oddly compelling website (www.portofantwerp.com) complete with broad, unattributed pull-quotes ("The Chinese know that Antwerp is also accessible for big ships" [which at first glance makes sense, and then really just doesn't]). The movers discovered that the container was locked. "Avez-vous le clef?" one of them asked me. I tried to smile, probably unsuccessfully, and put my hands in the "what are you kidding?" gesture combined with a beseeching "please don't tell me you can't open this goddamned thing, because I have two children and NO furniture here" look on my face. He shrugged.
That's why the police showed up. Because at that point, the four movers started taking turns beating on the thing with wrenches, hammers, and pry-bars. They were making an unbearable racket--and possibly committing a crime--right beside the grand duke's palace (those trees in the picture? In the palace's yard). Alex needed to cover his ears (the other picture). The motorcycle cop--a woman, unexpectedly--showed up, and started asking questions without much conviction. Then she lit a cigarette and watched, half-amused.
The lock finally fell apart, the container pulled open, the crane restarted; the furniture began coming through the window at 4:30. The movers left at 5:59 and 59 seconds. Everything was inside the apartment, but nothing--NOTHING--was unpacked. Couches were standing on end; boxes were piled to the ceiling. It was anarchic and dark, and horrible.
It was three weeks ago. Then this Monday, after a daily, unremitting, thoroughly tedious effort of unpacking, and moving furniture around, and buying/carrying/unpacking/assembling crap from Ikea, and the endless shopping for everything, and the constant toting of packing materials to the poubelles room in S3 and of luggage and useless belongings to our storage in S2, it was done: for the first time since we moved, I didn't have to go buy a piece of furniture or hardware, or open a cardboard carton or suitcase.
So I grabbed a notebook, and walked the eight minutes it takes to cross to the other side of the centre ville, and climbed to the first floor. "Bonjour," I said to the receptionist. "Je commence mes cours aujourd'hui." I was back at Berlitz, restarting French classes for the first time since all the packing began, back in late July. I've finally come out the other side of it.
a recipe: escalopes a la marsala
At the market, about 25% of the refrigerated meat case is devoted to veal, roughly 0% to chopped beef. Veal is the thing to have. And for a quick weeknight dinner, the escalopes cry out with their promiscuous promises of being edible after just 5 minutes of heat. It's tough to walk away from that, so I don't.
On our preview trip to Luxembourg, when we found ourselves in the Zurich airport, Madeline was disappointed to not find schnitzel. This, I believe, is related to her penchant for muttering in the wrong language when flustered: if you confound her in German, she will mumble at you in Spanish; if you ask her a question in Spanish, she will respond in Italian. And if you make her hang around in a Swiss airport, she will expect Austrian food. But here in Luxembourg, I will serve her an Italian version.
This dish is typically made with button mushrooms. But although Sam and Alex actually like the meat and sauce, they don't care for mushrooms: you may remember that in Babar, the king of the elephants died from eating a mushroom. Even if you don't remember it, the boys do, and it scarred them. I will not sacrifice a kids-and-grown-ups-eating-the-same-thing meal for the sake of culinary integrity, so I omit the mushrooms. And I don't tell them that it's wine that makes the sauce so sweet. They wouldn't go for that either.
Veal scaloppine, the thinner the better, pounded to an even svelteness
Salt and pepper
Beef or chicken broth, or just water
Season the veal slices with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick pan, then melt a tablespoon of butter in a tablespoon of oil. Add the veal, but don't crowd the pan--you want to brown quickly, then flip and brown the other side, in 5 or 6 minutes; don't overcook veal scaloppine.
Remove the browned meat to a plate. Add 1/2 cup each of Marsala and broth (or water), and cook over high heat, scraping up the brown bits, until reduced and thickened; this should take a mere minute or two. If you're in the mood for extra-richness, stir in some butter. Taste for seasoning. Return the veal and any accumulated juices to the pan, and let each side cook in the sauce for a few seconds, just to coat. Slide the veal directly onto plates and serve while there's still steam rising.