Ok, so you can do three things now.
- Watch the video.
- Read my text.
- Do both. (recommended, which is why the video is at the bottom of the text).
Here’s the story.
I met Didier two years ago at a friend’s birthday celebration. He was sitting to my right, at the head of the table and holding fort. First impressions were he seemed to be the sort of person you would want to cross the street to avoid getting in his way. Gruff is the best way to describe him. But during the course of the evening, I learned while he was rough on the exterior; the interior was a little more accepting.
At this particular party, he and my friend mentioned eating the heart of an ox. So emphatic was the recommendation I agreed to give it a go.
For one year, nothing happened. It was last November when the exact scene repeated itself. We sat in the same places. What had changed was that he recognised me and associated me with eating ox heart. We continued talking. It seemed as if he was sizing me up to accept the challenge.
I also observed, when Didier arrived, there was an instant flurry of discrete activity. Several women adroitly placed a couple of beers and a pile of food in front of him. How to keep a slightly volatile man at peace? Feed him.
By now, I was beginning to realise that it wasn’t so much “if” the invitation would come but rather “when” it would come. The French like to do things at their own, leisurely pace. I signalled via my friend that I was definitely in on this one.
That said, I was very much out on a limb because eating offal or anything like that would send me running. My first encounter with kidneys was deeply unpleasant, the second better. The first time was at the parent’s house of my girlfriend at the time, the second, over 20 years later, at a restaurant in Strasbourg. When I was a child, my mother cooked liver, which I ate as if I was heading for the guillotine.
But so good was the description of the ox heart, so sincerely was it being transmitted to me, saying no was not really an option. The power of language can influence expectations.
By now, with November on the doorstep, I was expecting to go into year three of this trip. It seemed like renewing a subscription. But in early October, the invitation arrived. October 29, 6.30 pm. His house, about 20 km away.
Sylvie, Didier’s wife, did suggest that if my wife didn’t want to try ox heart, she would gladly cook something a little extra. No, totally out of the question. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The closer Saturday got, the more uneasy I was becoming.
“What do you think it will taste like?”, I asked Mary.
“Like offal,” she said, with learned bluffing. (Mary is a professional bluffer, aka hotel inspector).
Finally, the fatal moment arrived. Sylvie walked in with a shallow bowl and in it, a mountain of meat cubes. She plonked it on the middle of the table. It was a greyish-brown colour but smelled pleasant. Next came a huge bowl of mashed potatoes (personally mashed by Didier) and finally a smaller bowl of gravy. Without much ceremony, Sylvie shovelled a pile of food on my plate and told me to get on with it. Didier had filled my glass with a heavy Bordeaux. Battle tools in hand, my fork slowly circled a piece of meat and stabbed it. The point of no return had arrived……
It would probably be safe to say that everybody within a 1 km radius could have heard my “wow”, an expression of genuine surprise, relief and appreciation because what I was eating was soooooo delicious. The rest, they would say is history. Didier was content, Sylvie very happy as I had morphed from a guest to an appreciative eater.
The clichés about French, eating and food are mostly all true. In the first draft of this article, I wrote something about it, but it’s gone now. No need to repeat what is already common knowledge. But speak to any French person, he or she will swear that one of the most important things one should have to lead a happy life is good food, good wine and good company. On Saturday, this combination was pretty evident, which is why dinner lasted about 5 hours.
I leave the rest to Bobby McFerrin. And with it the lingering thought and question, what makes us happy and why? And with both Julia and Igor coaxing a discussion on mental health into life, I can’t help wondering if going back to basics might be the answer.
See you on Tuesday, 6pm UTC, 7pm CET, 9pm Antalya, 3pm in Curitiba, 2pm in Campo Grande and Manaus.