On a recent visit to Paris, I stayed a few nights with a very hospitable French friend who we will call Céline. The first evening we went to the cinema, and then had a light dinner with C's boyfriend, Martin, in C's bedsit. Her bedsit, incidentally, is so small that many Australians would have trouble imagining any human being living in it; it is furnished with a convertible sofa-bed, a convertible armchair-bed, an improvised table and someone's grandmother's dressing-table, used to stock the cutlery and plates. Other than that it is square, in an uncompromising, 1970s sort of way. In other words, this is not Paris the way you dream of it.
M uncorked a bottle of red wine (please note that this is the man's job). C prepared a salad, rinsing and drying lettuce (one of the first errors committed by English-speakers in France is to call lettuce "laitue". What we were about to eat was not "laitue" but "batavia", one of an indeterminate number of more-or-less green, leafy vegetables that an ignorant tourist would call lettuce), and of course making the vinaigrette, selecting a fine-grained mustard from one of at least three pots of various kinds and mixing the ingredients in the salad bowl before adding and tossing the lettuce (sorry, batavia). I set the table, and C produced some white-wrapped packages and opened them: a divine smell filled the room...
"Oh dear!" said C, honestly distraught, "I forgot to take them out of
the fridge before the film!"
"They should breathe at least two hours", said M disapprovingly.
Momentarily, we considered waiting an hour before eating, but it was almost 11 o'clock already and we were hungry. C cut the top off the vacherin and produced a spoon to ladle it out onto our plates. We toasted some bread for the contrast between its crispness and the runny cheese. Along with the vacherin there was a camembert and some goat's cheese.
"Which fromagerie did you buy them in?" asked M.
"The one opposite the metro."
"Good, that is the best one."
For a moment we concentrated on the tastes before us. M said something about the wine, but I am not competent enough to tell you what it was. C, who was brought up in a dairy region, discussed the vacherin in some technical detail; M compared this particular type of camembert with another that they had eaten recently. After a fair assault on the vacherin, alternating with the salad: "Which olive oil did you use for the dressing?" M asked. "The Italian one." "Hhmmn."
By the time we had finished most of the vacherin (and most of the bottle),
and were settling down to the other, less spectacular cheeses, the feeling
of well-being that had been rising in me took a definite hold and I ventured
to say that I really appreciated sharing cheeses with them, especially
as my partner didn't like this sort of cheese.
"What!" said M, shocked: "he doesn't like cheese?!"
I said that he did like cheese, just not smelly cheese.
"You mean he doesn't like cheese, it boils down to the same thing", retorted M with no attempt at disguising his scorn.
In that context, with the odors of the vacherin and the chèvre firmly installed in my nasal passages, I wasn't going to argue. And after another sip of wine, M, still unable to get over the shock of what I had just told him, said: "I don't see how you can live with a man who doesn't like cheese."
C felt this was going too far, but M explained his puzzlement with a theory: liking cheese (smelly cheese) is equivalent to liking sex. If neither of the partners in a couple like cheese, that is OK, but since I like cheese (smelly cheese) and my partner doesn't, I must be living in a state of terrible frustration. I admitted that I myself didn't eat meat, and that this could equally be interpreted as a rejection of the flesh. That, M pronounced, was a different matter: the cheese question was specifically to do with oral sex. When pushed, he admitted that only French cheeses were authentic cheeses according to his criteria. This obviously means that the French (along with some privileged visitors like myself) are the only people in the world to appreciate oral sex correctly, I deduced. At this point C burst out laughing, but M appeared to give the statement a moment's serious consideration. "Perhaps", he said.
The question evidently remains open to debate.Jennifer Yee