cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This Ham Story--Cette Histoire du Jambon

The enchaînements in life
Is it coincidence or fate that pushes us in repetitive directions? I allude to subject matters of either great importance or of trivial yet pertinent importance that seem to follow in one's shadow as either analogous to a loyal loving terrier or a pustulant tic. For example, a question is answered incorrectly under the crucifying stares of the entire class; consequently said question appears around every bend in the dejected students life henceforth, tormenting him with its now ubiquitous presence. Or the appearance at every turn of a certain place, language, or fish that prior to a singular event had little or no presence in your life. How does this happen? Subconsciously pulled around by Freudian strings? Luck and fate? Or have they always been there and are just now catching the eye from what has been a lifetime of unconscious overpassing? The later, though the least fanciful and romantic, is the most practical. And we are practical humans, are we not? Either way--life is a chain of events, nothing occurs without a cause. Aiya! A cause procures an event? In all serious matters, I have many haunts. However, i must inform you that this time--this time I have been followed by a ham.

Nothing new under the sun. It is truly at random moments that these sententiae antiquae come back to me, though unfortunately accompanied by images of Father K and pastel clerical collars. If you follow, on my recent trip to Barcelona I visited a ham shop as a sort of "quest" to give a small yet purposeful structure to my otherwise laissez-faire trip. The ham was quite good, and after chronicling my exploits in this very blog, it was the ham and ridiculous story that accompanied it that received the most attention from you my beloved public. Mallory, I didn't know you liked ham so much...I want some ham too... Lets have a ham for you when you come back to the US. Ham. It's what's for dinner. This morning I picked up this months special mode supplement of Le Monde, a French evening Newspaper, and freshly returned from Spain, I was excited to see the editions title: Audaces Espagnoles. Quel coincidence eh! leafing through the edition at what apparently is Spanish Haute Couture, the grand majority of the issue was on the Catalunian region. Wow, that's nice. Then it happened: I flipped the page to an article on Iberian Ham. What? Are you kidding me?

The piece centered around the Spanish tradition of tapas (snack), and the history of ham as its habitual focal point. As the article is not available online, and the majority of you neither live in France to pick it up or can read French, I will summarize. The Legend: We are introduced to Alfonso XIII, King of Spain from 1886-1931 ('86 also happened to be his birth year.) As the legend of the tapas has it, Alfonso was on a visit to Cádiz (southwestern province of Spain, Cadix to ye Frenchies) where a very poignant server placed a piece of ham on top of the king's wine glass to protect it from contamination. He covered the glass, Spanish verb tapar; thus the tapas was born. Thin slices of lard, ham, or chorizo forevermore became "edible films" to protect the aroma of wine. The article suggests to take a fino (very dry sherry) or manzanilla (a sherry wine made in Jerez province that tastes like chamomile tea) with an olive from Seville, a slice of ham, and a potato omelet (I actually had a potato omelet in Barcelona, so good) but only in the strictness of leisure time and with friends. They mean everyday. The article further suggests to tapear (go out for a few drinks, and eat tapas.) Thus, Spain created the plus, muito, most chouette act of snacking and drinking: C'est l'art de manger debout--standing up. The article was quick to mention the utter lack of the tapas tradition in the Pyranees region, aka Basque land. Ok then.

How did that fall into my lap? The article finished with the address of where to find the best menu of traditional Spanish tapas, ham, and wines in Paris--Fogon, owned by Cuenca native Alberto Herraiz, as well as the address for the boucherie where one can purchase the best Spanish hams in Paris--Bellota Bellota where the Produit de luxe is 266euros le kilo! --Nuria, c'est pour toi!

Wednesdays I work, no class. But no work today: my children are on a ski holiday in the alps. so now my day is planned--hunt these hams. Of course, to solely take a look, no touching. The two are in easy walking distance of each other--Bellota Bellota is merely a 10 minute walk from l'ecole militaire, and Fogon is situated on the quai and around the corner from la fontaine st Michel. Be warned, these joints are a slightly (ehem) on the incline of the euro board, however, if you are poor, just look through the window--and whisper (to yourself as you are on the outside of the building) that Mallory sent you. I will return and eat some day, perhaps with you.

What is the likelihood of luck and coincidence, of being in the right place at the right time, maybe things are just supposed to happen. You've spent a near 5 minutes reading this what should be stoutly simple story on going to two ham stores, though spun adjectively into an Odyssey. You, perhaps have a new appreciation for good ham, and not that watery rectangular shaped sliced product that produces its own gasoline-like rainbow gleam. What if I were to say you were meant to read this article? You would say I'm silly. But then, what isn't silly. After the ham shop crusade I sat in starbucks (yes I sometimes do that, did you read the "I am from Seattle" part? savvy then?) with an espresso and my [cough] Portuguese grammar book written in French. In truth it helps with both languages--no Ingles involved. Having finally come to the chapter on verbs--naturally I was confused, and ready to throw in the towel and ask myself why I ever thought I would be able try and make sense a foreign language through another foreign language. But then--what's the likelihood that I was approached by the woman sitting with her family at the table next to me: [in French, and pointing at my books and Francais to Portugais dictionary] we're on holiday from Portugal, if you need any help with your homework, we'd love to help!

I stared at her [took me a few moments to think, i felt like i was in a coma, how does that happen, what the hell is going on!] I finally blinked, then smiled. In my frenchiest French: Actually how, no why do you have two verbs for etre? And avoir? When do you know when to drop the personal pronoun and let the verb stand alone--same as when conjugating a verb in Latin then? And is Amarante worth a visit? Wow your accent does sound a lot different than Brazilian. yadda yadda. I resisted asking if she liked cod, and I didn't tell her I preferred the nasally accent. Keep it up she said when I told her sheepishly that I wasn't in a class and that I just liked the language, and that actually I was American and not French with a funny accent she thought was northern. I stayed and worked for another hour. Thank you ham quest. I used to think you just a "filler meat" and a silly idea for a costume that only Scout could pull off. Coincidences, nah. It's an enchaînement, what happens is supposed to happen.

"Eternity is a ham and two people." Dorothy Parker

Bellota Bellota-18, rue Jean-Nicot, Paris 7e.
Fogon-45, quai des Grands-Augustins, Paris 6e.


Unknown said...

While reading this I was dining on chicken strips from the student union. Yes, blaaaaah.
...But I was left with the image of dancing hams running through my mind!

I wish some kind Spanish speaking person would help me. I get weird looks when I say I'm learning Spanish.. for fun. I got even a weirder look today when a girl asked why I was reading that Alexander Hamilton book.

Núria said...

Hola Mallory!!! Now there's only one thing left for you... You should see Bigas Luna's Film with Javier Bardem (just got one oscar) and Penélope Cruz. They did this film together called: JAMON JAMON. He, he, he!

Love the way you write about things and, yes it's amazing how sometimes this things happen. Hope you win the loto and get inside those shops and buy all hams you want :D
Hasta la vista, sweetheart!