How did we end up at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich sharing a table with strangers for lunch? Remarkably one can trace it back to sharing a table with strangers for lunch back in the old US of A many years earlier. Sitting down to eat with strangers is not a frequent occurrence in American society. Unfortunately, since chance encounters that bring people together who ordinarily wouldn't meet can make all the difference in life. Like the chance encounter in Castel Gandolfo waiting for the train to Rome that opened up bob to a whole world of wonderful people including rita's mom's daughter's family and the famous lasagna lesson that never was. Or the later chance encounter on a seven minute stretch of U-bahn in Munich from Marienplatz (Hofbräuhaus central) with Michele and her case of mineral water from the Army base canteen at work when they were both still twenty-something. Michele lived at the stop after bob's but not wanting to press for a phone number after only a few minutes of conversation, bob got up to step out of her life forever. And she followed with her case of mineral water which bob offered to carry the kilometer to her place (next stop, remember?), starting a lifelong friendship that ended up putting a Vitamix superblender into the dr bob kitchen many years later following a chance encounter at a home show. (Michele was in her juicing phase, and had dragged her Vitamix there from Kansas. A sort of culinary Toto.) And then there was the chance encounter with Elfriede on the night train back to Munich from Rome at about the same time that has resulted in many wonderfully artistic photos over the years in her annual christmas note (see the dr bob annual christmas card department). The unsung joys of public transportation, woefully under appreciated here in the states.
We now flash back to about the time of the first edition of this lifelong "What, ME Cook?" project when early thirtysomething dr bob finally became professor bob and therefore qualified for lunch at the faculty dining lounge, also open to the grad students in the various master's programs at the university. One department, chemistry, had a doctoral program as well, boosting the number of already acquainted grad students who needed to do lunch, and so did it together. They were regulars at one of the big tables, which usually had a few extra places left.
Although memories of those early days are hazy, bob is a people guy and somehow he naturally gravitated towards this big friendly group of slightly younger academics. Sat down at a table with strangers for lunch. Made friends. Attended their occasional evening grad social parties (food, drink, dancing). For some reason once explained to bob but apparently stored in RAM rather than permanent memory, a pipeline had existed from some Turkish university that regularly pumped Turkish students into this chemistry crowd. bob befriended Ediz, an identical twin, whose sister Deniz came for a long visit from Istanbul. Coincidentally at the same time a couple of bob friends and grad students from Rome came visiting for an extended period nearby. Jürgen (German) and Adrian (Swiss-German), oddly studying physics together in Rome, following their sabbatical taking advisor to the states. Turkey and Germany are sort of an odd couple pair of nations, somehow thrown together by history. The twins had attended a German school so it was natural to introduce all these twenty-something German speaking friends. This was bob's "bringing people together" phase of life. Adrian and Deniz stuck and lasted a few years but long distance relationships are hard (see the dedication to this project). Italy being next door, he ended up with an Italian wife instead, as did Jürgen (whose wedding reception dinner in northern Italy is another incredible food tale), both importing their ladies back to their respective German speaking homelands.
Well, another odd couple of nations are Turkey and Armenia. Whose peoples share some bad blood that still lingers in their collective relationships. Fortunately individuals can be stronger than history. Ironically it was Ediz who introduced bob to ms_ani in her ms_degree chemistry days. Just the two of them at lunch sitting at a small table alone. Who knows where the gang was. And bob came along and sat down and the rest is history. It took a while for the relationship to reach the cooking partner stage, but it was worth the wait. Which included lots of Armenian and middle eastern food as a bonus, some of which we can share with you.
Well, with modern communication starting from the last known academic employer, a combination of voice mail, fax, and e-mail sending took place over a three week period. Since searching for a woman in the United States is a tricky business, considering the not insignificant numbers of women who are tracked down and murdered by former significant others (men), the dr bob detective department was not sure about what kind of cooperation would result. Privacy issues must be weighed first against any possible unforeseen circumstances. He did not press, but let the system grind along. In fact the system worked correctly by finding Janice and putting her into contact with dr bob through her husband (the family technogeek) by e-mail, and bob provided the final connection with e-mail/fax/tel/cellular contact info for Hortense, who again cried with happiness. dr bob felt pretty good too.