Bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming-of-age story.
My first trip to Philadelphia was a sort of bildungsroman. It was spring break of 2014. I was a sophomore among seniors. It was a trip free of parents or grown-ups (actually, we were the grown-ups – which is the same as saying there were no grown-ups) – just a bunch of college kids borrowing a mom’s van and getting up at the crack of dawn to go north. We ate good food and had deep life talks and listened to trendy music and explored historical sights.
But the the most enlightening and memorable moment of that trip was the part where I tried goat cheese for the first time. We went to a pub for lunch after church on Sunday. I ordered from the cheaper end of the menu and ended up with a sheep salad, which seemed fairly non-life-changing. I read that goat cheese came on it and I thought nothing of it.
And then my salad was in front of me. It was richly green with white dairy chunks on it. I said to someone near me, “what’s this?” and they said, “probably feta.” So no big deal. I took a bold bite.
Let me just say, this was no feta.
The best way I know how to describe the first taste of goat cheese is this: it was beautiful. It was a beautiful taste. I was awestruck. I was not prepared for it. It was creamy. It was lovely. It was magical – not like in a sparks-flying kind of way, but in a steady and calm “wow” kind of way. With every bite I wanted to close my eyes and say, “mmmmmm.” It was love at first bite.
Because I had ordered a small, cheap sheep salad, it was gone pretty quickly. My stomach was still hungry, but that seemed irrelevant, because I was so blown away by goat cheese. It sounds like the silliest thing, but it was such a happy, unexpected surprise that I just wanted to laugh and say, “thank you.”
I was so surprised by goat cheese. (CS Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy – maybe mine would be Surprised by Goat Cheese. Haha.) I was a little perplexed – how could this have existed for longer than I had, yet I had never heard of or experience it? I had spent my whole life up until this one day eating cheddars and slices of American and Swisses and occasionally, when I was feeling a little zesty, some feta. But this changed the whole game. I was at a loss for words.
I felt thankful to this food for existing and I felt thankful to Philadelphia for introducing me (even though goat cheese does exist in Clemson, too, Philly is where I found it. Philly helped to culture me).
At the end of Anne of Green Gables (also a bildungsroman), Anne says, “I’m not a bit changed – not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real me – back here – is just the same. It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.”
However, the Anne saying this is a changed Anne. She is a lady. She’s not the same twelve-year-old who smacked a slate across Gilbert’s head. Her hair has turned from orange to auburn – an outward sign of her maturity.
Walking out of the pub on that chilly Sunday in Philly, I felt like Anne at the end of the first book. I felt like maybe my hair had turned from orange to auburn. I felt dignified. I felt grown-up.
There’s probably a bit of blasphemy in proclaiming my own story as a bildungsroman (especially a story about cheese), but that’s what I’m doing. I came out of the experience thinking of life in terms of before and after.
Like a good cheese, I left the experience just a little bit more matured.