Time travel gives me whiplash. As I walk through Colmar, I ricochet between this lukewarm afternoon and a deep-fried July day two years ago. It was the only day I have ever felt too melted to eat ice cream.
Colmar itself is an ice cream parlor: the half-timbered homes come in every flavor: from apricot to pistachio, from chamomile to rosewater, from custard to candied violet, from pumpkin pie to plantain, from cherry-brandy to blueberry, from lemon chiffon to champagne, from poppy-seed to pomegranate. Plaster, creamy and cool, is heaped upon the façades in generous scoops. Dark as double hot fudge and burnt caramel drizzle, wood panels lattice the plaster. Like sablé biscuits, the window shutters have been stamped with cookie-cutter hearts and clover. A confetti of lobelia and geranium sprinkle the window-boxes. Each roof comes with a cherry-red chimney on top, and some of the homes are capped with turrets like waffled ice cream cones. Though whipped clouds are dolloped across the sky, the roofs are so steeply peaked they seem to be melting. Walls slope at molten angles and the crooked windows look as if they might slide off and into the river.
Oozing along the treacle river are flimsy boats that look as if they have been tacked together from licorice and graham crackers. As they leave the Old Town, they drift beneath a canopy of trees all ablossom with cotton candy and Necco wafers.
The roof of the Ancienne Douane (the old customhouse) is shingled with mint and cinnamon chips—they’ve lost their gloss but still look scrumptious. Another roof is tiled in nonpareils, in chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. You could snap off a slab and tuck it in your pocket for second-dessert.
Brûléed to a dangerous hue, the sunbaked cathedral looms over a square garnished with bistros and sweet-shops. In one shop, the slate counters show off overgrown stumps of nougat and spice cake. These confections wouldn’t be out of place on a list of murder weapons. “Walloped over the head with a brick of nougat and sent to Saint Peter’s candy factory in the sky,” the obituary would read.
A summer Saturday without ice cream is only half-lived, so to make up for that flambéed July day two years ago, I have a sorbet: pineapple-saffron and raspberry-rose. Yet sweeter than sorbet is the French in my mouth. For years I have savored the aftertaste of French lessons devoured in high school, but the flavor wanes. I have been craving the taste of this language.