Gingko

When you travel, you have to take a lot of care where you eat. A bad choice could end the party! Its not that I did not know this, but I was so cold, with soaking wet clothes and wind hitting my back that I thought I would not survive much longer under the freezing rain. I therefore entered the first place that was open.

As soon as I entered I noticed that the only thing that this place had in common with any other restaurant across the world was the luminous sign that read: "Chinese Restaurant".

In the historic center of Heidelberg, in the German state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, all that surrounds the visitor instills an irresistible charm. The alleys, the facades, the roofs form a tangle between Gothic and Renaissance that consumes you. Romantic and idyllic even in full winter, the city encloses unexpected surprises, such as the one that was on the verge of finding me.

In the interior of the restaurant there was only a great central table, prepared for some 15 or 20 members of a family. A smiling, thin Chinese man, offered to take my coat and invited me to sit down. At the table there were four more people. They did not seem to know each other, as they all ate in silence without raising their view beyond their smoldering bowls. They were all Orientals.

When the waiter returned, he brought another similar bowl, which he placed with care on the table telling me to drink it immediately if I did not want to get ill. The cold had frozen my common sense so I obeyed without complaining. It was a fish soup or something similar, which was very good. Little by little I began to warm up. Recovering the feeling in my hands and feet was a truly pleasant sensation, which made me feel a lot better. I took my time drinking it, as it was very hot. Meanwhile, my companions who shared the table had gone. It was strange, as none of them had paid before leaving. As soon as I had finished, the waiter asked me if I had liked the soup.

"It contains bulbs of lily, dates, veal, ginger and the special ingredient of the house: nuts of gingko-biloba, to stimulate the circulation. Gingko is a unique tree, a living fossil, said to be the oldest on Earth."

"Yes I know... but I have never eaten it!"

"It has formed part of our gastronomy for centuries. Even if cooking has changed considerably, the tradition has lasted, as has the species! You know there is an example in Hiroshima that survived the nuclear bombs? Even in prehistoric times, the gingko survived through the ice age... In a way, this has a lot in common with this city. As you know, it was destroyed in both World Wars, and was rebuilt stone by stone."

It was a pleasure listening to him, but I wanted to take advantage of the rest of the day to visit the Heidelberg Palace, and so I asked him for the bill.

"You do not owe me anything: I served you the soup without you asking me. If you want to discuss this, you can come back tomorrow, either yourself or another client on your behalf. Or you could buy our steamed bread. Any of these three options would be most welcome."

The marketing methods are inscrutable! I opted for the bread. He sold me the largest, clear one delicately wrapped in red tissue paper, which was tied with a golden ribbon attached to a card. The writing was in Chinese. He said that in order to understand it, I would have to understand some Chinese, or return there another day. What a kind man. He got to know his clients well.

When I left the restaurant, the rain had stopped. I walked towards the castle. Its ruins are the symbol of the German Romanticism. Overlooking the city, their silhouettes dominate the landscape of the Neckar Valley. Even today its remainders evoke a splendor that the most beautiful gardens still enjoy. At the beginning from the 17th century, the couple that inhabited the then palace entrusted a famous landscape painter called Salomon of Caus, with the most pompous garden imaginable, the Hortus Palatinus. A garden so magical, with flowers, fruit-bearing aromatic plants, labyrinths, flowerbeds and caverns decorated with seashells and coral. The geometric terraces were so amazing that they were considered the eight wonder of the world.

It's easy to understand how I left there with my head making mental drawings that wouldn't stop. Upon return to the centre, I sat down for a picnic with my Chinese bread in a quiet park, next to the Neckar river. I sat there for a while looking at the card with the text in Chinese, trying in vain to work out the meaning of the Chinese text. Later I crossed the "Old Bridge" to the other side. The view was exceptional. Although it continued being cold, the sun shone through the clouds and reflected on the wet city.

When it got dark I returned to the restaurant with the excuse to buy more bread and hoping to figure out the meaning of the text... I was in luck.

"How was the castle? Did one like the gardens? Their mysterious beauty has attracted artists of all the ages. and you look like an artist. The very same Goth once collected Gingko leaves there, in order to send them to a beloved one with a poem entitled - "Gingko Biloba". Do you want to know why the Goth did this? Because the double leaves of the gingko (this is where "biloba" is derived from), and the fact that in the species there are male and female trees, means they are the symbol of the eternal unit of the opposite, representations of the most sacred duality: the Yin and the Yang. Tremendous, eh? Coincidences do not exist, and less so in poetry".

"I'm curious to know what the label said."

"It states that the moment chosen by chance is always worth more than the moment chosen by ourselves."