A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
At one in the morning, the conspirators took their seats. On the table before them were a single candle, a loaf of bread, a bottle of rosé, and three bowls of bouillabaisse.
After exchanging a glance, the three men dipped their spoons into the stew in unison, but for Emile, the gesture was a sleight of hand. For when Andrey and the Count raised their spoons to their mouths, Emile let his hover above his bowl—intent upon studying his friends’ expressions at the very first taste.
Fully aware that he was being watched, the Count closed his eyes to attend more closely to his impressions.
How to describe it? One first tastes the broth—that simmered distillation of fish bones, fennel, and tomatoes, with their hearty suggestions of Provence. One then savors the tender flakes of haddock and the briny resilience of the mussels, which have been purchased on the docks from the fisherman. One marvels at the boldness of the oranges arriving from Spain and the absinthe poured in the taverns. And all of these various impressions are somehow collected, composed, and brightened by the saffron—that essence of summer sun which, having been harvested in the hills of Greece and packed by mule to Athens, has been sailed across the Mediterranean in a felucca. In other words, with the very first spoonful one finds oneself transported to the port of Marseille—where the streets teem with sailors, thieves, and madonnas, with sunlight and summer, with languages and life.
The Count opened his eyes.
“Magnifique,” he said.