20

About home cooking and a caviar lunch.

With the money I'd earned my first week at Ed's messenger agency I had bought a book entitled "The Literary Journalists - The New Art of Personal Reportage", an anthology. The first piece was "Travels in Georgia" by John McPhee. In it he recounted the daily life of a woman who worked for the Soil Conservation Service, a branch of the Department of Agriculture, in the Okefenokee Swamp region. The story opens with a scene on the road:

"At just about that moment, a snapping turtle was hit on the road a couple of miles ahead of us, who knows by what sort of vehicle, a car, a pickup; run over like a manhole cover, probably with much the same sound, and not crushed, but gravely wounded. It remained still. It appeared to be dead on the road. Sam, as we approached, was the first to see it. "D.O.R.'" he said."
The sheriff who's passing by stops and, upon the woman's request, shoots the turtle dead, after which the woman butchers the turtle:
"Carol placed the snapper upside down on the plank. Kneeling, she unsheathed her hunting knife and began, in a practiced and professional way, to slice around the crescents in the plas- tron, until the flesh of the legs-in thick steaks of red meat- came free. Her knife was very sharp. She put the steaks into a plastic bag."

Every time they find a roadkill they say "D.O.R." for "dead on the road" and stop to see what it is. If it's a fresh kill, the woman will collect the meat and eat it at home. She eats any kind of animal, even weasels.

"This practice of eating animals run over by vehicles, I found a bit disgusting but the lifestyle of the woman overall is fasci- nating," I'm saying to my mother on a mysterious impulse one morning as we're about to go to the city shopping for food. She makes no reply. I speak about literary journalism. I remem- ber how, when I started working as a bike messenger, I wanted to write about the experience, and I tell my mother that I would like to write my life story but as fiction, and all I'd have to do would be to change the names. She still doesn't say anything. So much for communication when, for once, I broach a topic of conversation.

She knows that I like traditional French cooking and I hoped that, during my stay, she would cook some of my favorite dishes, or offer me to cook them, but what we eat is depressing: the same soup from a can every night, shrimps so small that you can't peel them and they scratch your throat when you swallow them, taste- less baguettes from a factory, vacuum packed in plastic...

One day she asks me to cook some thin North-African pancakes to make the traditional "brick l'oeuf". She says that they have to be cooked on a high flame. The result is a disaster. The crepes are burnt and the eggs inside are undercooked. As I eat dejectedly what is not burnt, she eats and looks at me and creases her eye region in a fake smile, pretending to enjoy herself because she doesn't want to hurt my feelings.

At the beginning of my godfather's extra week's vacation, we have the visit of one of my father's cousins, Henry Q. and his wife. He lives in Roscoff, a fishing port in Brittany, where my godfather also lives. He says that he's on his way back from vacation and we were on his way. All these people going on vacation in October! He stays one or two hours and just before leaving he hands me a tin of caviar that's about five inches in diameter as if he was getting rid of it, saying "Here, take this." He also gives me a pack of blinis that's open but com- plete. One of the blinis is broken in two pieces but whole. I believe that he's giving us his leftover caviar so we can eat it before it goes bad, but since the pack of blinis is complete I'm not sure. He tells me that if I want to go to Brittany, I'm welcome to stay at his home. I say that I'll be there, I'll stay at my godfather's but I'll be happy to visit him.

The next day Mother informs me that she has invited a couple of friends to lunch for whom she has a lot of admiration because one of their sons committed suicide. It's Madame Oui-oui and her husband. We set the table in the dining room with a white table- cloth, the silverware and the stemmed crystal glasses. When her friends arrive we sit in the living room and Mother brings us glasses of kir but the wine is... lukewarm! I protest, I can't believe that she didn't do it on purpose, but her two friends act as if nothing was amiss and sip their kir with contented airs.

They start speaking about the bishop whose position on homo- sexuals makes a stir, and whose methods of ecumenism are contro- versial: he gave an interview in a girlie magazine, rationalizing that there is no wrong place to spread the word of God. Every time I say something, my mother and her two friends pretend that they didn't hear me. After the man has said three times that the bishop is "lisse" (smooth) I ask what he means but he ignores me.

In the kitchen I see that Mother invited her friends to eat the caviar because she's opening the tin and the tin is full after all, it is not a leftover as I had first thought. I ask Mother why Henry gave us a full tin of caviar but she pretends that she didn't hear me.

As we eat the caviar with the blinis and sour cream, Madame Oui-oui's husband asks me how my accident happened. I say that I was knocked down by a bus and he doesn't ask for any details. He asks if I was in a lot of pain. I say that the pain was dull and moderate right after I fell, not at all a sharp, stabbing pain. He looks disappointed. He asks what kind of anesthesia I had for my surgery. I say "epidural", he says "peridural". I say "peridu- ral" anesthesia is given women who are in the process of giving birth. He asks where was the site of injection and what part of my body was rendered numb, all this unpleasantness while eating caviar.

Mother asks if I was well treated at the hospital. I say I was well treated, I was pampered. She looks displeased. For once, Madame Oui-oui keeps mum.

When everybody seems to be done with the caviar, there is still a tidy mound left on the dish, and blinis and cream also, and I take seconds. The man says "Go ahead, I understand," as if he meant that caviar is a rarity for me but not for him. This was the only time someone asked me what happened to me and still, the questions were more about my medical treatment and hospital stay than about the incident itself. I had not wanted to speak about it without being asked first and now I had been asked, but not even by a member of my own family.


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