Monday, August 23, 2010

Another cool rainy day. Thought of you this afternoon as I placed a slice of brie (from France) between the halved and toasted end of a French baguette. I cupped the tiny sandwich in my palms and pressed. The steamy inner crumb melted the refrigerated cheese, releasing its elixir, and the hot crust warmed my hands - chilly enough inside the house that the sensation was very pleasurable. The simplest snack, yet so complex and satisfying: the gift of a good baguette - this one from Great Barrington, I believe, a cheese shop there, that I had pulled out of the freezer; the cheese from so, so far away, from cows that once stood (probably still do) in a pasture in the French countryside. D bought the cheese for me the other day. I had stopped by the supermarket and in pointless hope picked up a piece of brie that turned out - as usual, no surprise - to be as insipid and gummy as every other supermarket wedge I've ever gotten. Plus I had bought a variety that was larded with ill-advised herbs that made the cheese taste of, if anything, freezer burn. Later I expressed my frustration to D - "I have half a mind to return it to ShopRite" except that I'd already had about a quarter of it, bad as it was. (I was hungry - in terms of fortification on the fly, is bad brie to me what a stale donut is to you, my darling?) These days my Holy Grail of cheeses is a certain absolutely perfect runny camembert that I've gone out of my way for to score at the Grand Central Terminal market. Everything else falls short of it, including lately the Old Chatham sheep's milk camembert that is delicious - and yet I've lost my taste for it. It simply isn't Le Châtelain. Anyway, D went into town to work that afternoon and on his return presented me with a little crumpled brown bag - a piece of brie, from France, from a gourmet shop on Warren Street. Very sweet of him. It was far better than the ShopRite, but fell short of Le Châtelain. I think pasteurization - or lack thereof - must be the key. I love beautiful, strongly flavored unpasteurized cheeses. I don't mean to take away from D's thoughtful gesture. It just wasn't the Holy Grail - he understood that.

You know, I've been trying to write about hummingbirds, back myself sideways into them, and I just can't seem to. I would love to see one here one of these days - best yet, snap a photo with my wonderful new camera - but I haven't seen one this summer. I am, on some level, bursting with hummingbirds - and yet it's not happening.

Instead I wish to go back to cheese! Or as Quentin Tarantino (is that who I mean?) - no, John Travolta - would say, drawing out the word lewdly and lasciviously, fromage. Back when D & I lived in Carroll Gardens there was a wonderful little French-inspired deli, owned & operated by a charming and exuberant Frenchman, at the corner of Cobble Hill Park.

(The hundreds of times I've personally walked up and down Clinton Street - what do I think of now? That I've glimpsed the cheerful red-painted deli and pocket park on Law & Order or some other movie scenes that were filmed there. As with the matinée I saw yesterday, Eat Pray Love - what piqued my attention? I didn't stay for the credits but I am quite sure that one of the scenes was filmed at BookCourt, an independent book shop in Cobble Hill, a place I'd frequented countless times.  In years past I might have seen the movie at the Cobble Hill Cinema, but instead here I was some 100 or 120 miles north, in an indifferent strip mall triplex, viewing it - and yet could say under my breath - "Oh, BookCourt!" and feel smug as any Brooklyn insider, as if I'd been sitting in the Cobble Hill...)

Right - so back to fromage. The French deli owner had a marvelous selection of perfectly ripe cheeses, very unusual (to me) types - one, Morbier, with a grey vein of ash running through it that, as he explained to me, divided the morning milk from the afternoon, several varieties of medallion-sized encrusted goat cheeses - oh my - the selection exquisite - not encyclopedic - beautifully edited, well chosen.  And there was one that I just fell in love with - Pérac - runny, fragrant, flavorful, and unpasteurized (the cheese equivalent of bootleg at the time, a bit on the down-low given some wacky, trumped-up attack on unpasteurized cheeses going on at the time).

I adored this cheese and now and again over the course of several years treated myself to it, a little, hardly palm-sized round hovering around $8-10. Then 9/11 happened, except that on 9/10 I'd switched jobs and as of that date commuted from Brooklyn to Fordham Plaza in the Bronx (nightmare). The following summer I was still commuting to the Bronx, and the office acquired a summer intern from France, the charming, game and slightly clueless Anne-Lise. My office-friend Xio'a took her under her maternal wing, and the three of us became good friends. One day Anne-Lise and I got to talking about cheese, I mentioned Pérac and she about blanched and swooned and declared it her favorite. So the following day or the day after, I walked up leafy brownstoned Clinton Street to this beautiful little French deli and was delighted to order the cheese from the French proprietor. And - now I don't know why I did this, I bought crackers instead of a baguette - but you know, sometimes a Really Good Baguette is Hard to Find - so instead I bought a box of good crackers, probably those ubiquitous table-water ones.

I made a bit of a spread in the conference room on the 5th floor of the wretched Fordham Plaza office - not many people in the office, and f'em anyway, really the show was for the French intern Anne-Lise and co-conspirator Xio'a -- well, and whoever else was friendly to us. Anne-Lise loved the Pérac but sniffed - in France we would never have cheese with crackers - with bread only.

Ah, well. I tried. And so, my dearest darling, I warmed my hands with a really beautiful baguette today, and thought of you, and melted brie, and devoured it,

and the rain is pouring down, and at quarter-to-six it's so dark I need my desk lamp, and Penelope is asleep on a ruby-colored cushion by my feet

(and I'm thinking it wasn't a Peter Gabriel concert I had seen all those many years ago at Carnegie Hall - now I'm thinking it was Phil Collins)

darling, so much love and very many kisses

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