Alle paar Wochen hier bei Spreeblick: Die Gastkolumne von Charles, direkt aus dem Land der unbegrenzten Unmöglichkeiten. Bring your english. Diesmal: Vergiftet in Frankreich.
„Do dogs sweat? No! Horses sweat, but dogs pant!“
„Oh, I see. Wow..“
„And that“™s not all!“
I was talking with a techie from California, gamely trying to hold up my end of a conversation about vegetarianism while I was shoveling bacon into my mouth. We were at the Royal Casino hotel in Mandelieu, France, just outside of Cannes. That“™s the same Cannes where Madonna has her summer home and the Palme D“™Or is annually bequeathed. Apparently they’re not above having a web standards conference as well. Outside, waves lapped against the sculpted coastline, and rippled into a shallow cove doubtlessly perfect for frolicking in warmer months. In March, not so much.
„Our digestive system is more like a herbivore“™s, too. Carnivore digestive tracts are much shorter than ours. They have to be short because meat goes bad in there very quickly.“
I finished my bacon anyway, and excused myself to find Riviera Room 2, where the multimodal group was meeting. I had given my presentation the day before, so I was just sitting in to see what else the group was doing. By mid-afternoon it was beginning to blur together, one slide of cryptic acronyms after another, until a Japanese professor presented a slide of dense, indecipherable Kanji with vivid anime illustrations. Finally, I thought, something absurd right on the face of it.
That evening, a small group of us gathered for dinner at a restaurant in Cannes, led there by one of my co-workers: a Scotsman with a taste for genuine local cuisine. Outside were icy bins piled with mussels and clams and whatever else they had dredged up from the Mediterranean that day. Inside, there were huge ice- and crustacean-filled saucers at every table, with plastic wine buckets for the Cote du Provence. Locals of every age filled the restaurant to capacity, sitting in groups of twos and fours and sixes.
Our seafood saucer was almost as big as the table, piled with heavily-armored shrimp and whiskered crustaceans that had probably been around to greet the Romans. Taking the lead, our Scotsman initiated us into a technique for testing the freshness of shellfish by squeezing a lemon into the shell. If the catch is fresh, the shellfish will contract away from the acidic juice because, you see, they’re not just raw: they’re still alive.
The first time I tried this, I watched closely for any miniscule contraction of the hairy edge of the oyster. It slowly bulged and then practically crawled out of it’s craggy half-shell. So did the mussels. They were very fresh. Eating the snails didn“™t require this test since they were cooked, but it did require some finesse to spear them with a tiny needle-like implement and drag them from their homes. Me and my fellow diners chewed up our semi-living prey and collected piles of empty shells, shrimp claws, and snail feet. At the end of the meal, a lone mussel remained. Unable to eat any more, we squeezed lemon on it just to watch it squirm.
„You realize,“ I drawled sleepily, „we’re all going to Hell for this.“
The next morning, as quickly as I got out of bed I had to lie back down again. Something wasn’t right here. I let my queasiness subside and tried again. Queasy and dizzy. Should I get ready to throw up? I decided to lie down again instead.
My substance abuse experience took over and I focused on breathing, reveling in every moment that passed without vomit. Occasionally, I tried the „getting out of bed“ exercise again, with no success. Six hours later, covered in sweat, I made it to the bathroom. I had to get myself together. It was almost time for the afternoon break at the conference, and I hadn’t come all the way to France to sit in a hotel room watching the room spin. I came here to schmooze. I came to shake hands and chat about multi-modal architectures and try like hell to get myself onto a committee so I’d get lots of free trips to Europe and maybe my name on some international standard. Momma didn’t raise a quitter.
Twenty minutes later I stumbled onto the beach terrace in a nice jacket and dark glasses. I carefully considered my chances of keeping some coffee down. Nearby, I spotted the chairwoman of the group I was sitting in on chatting with a couple of other members; all very important to my mission. I mingled over to them and asked how the morning went.
„Wow, funny you should come by just now, Charles, we were just talking about you. No, it was all good: we were just discussing the talk you gave. Do you have some time?“
About an hour later, I got back to my room and fell in bed, after putting the „Ne pas deranger“ sign out and glancing in the mirror. I stared at the ceiling thinking about my reflection: a pale green face under debauched shaggy hair. Charming.
My last night in Mandelieu was a sleepless, semi-conscious haze of foreign language television; Russian action films, French softcore, Japanese game shows. I imagined a foul little clam cadaver making it’s way through my long herbivore intestines. Around 2:00 AM, when the spinning stopped, I ordered up a 12 euro bowl of vegetable soup and grazed on it until the airport shuttle came around at dawn. The clams and crayfish of Mandelieu could rest easy now. I would not be troubling them again.
„Scruples, human dignity, pity, thought were nothing but a monstrous fake, the bird-calls of a sinister power whose mocking laughter would ring in one“™s ears in one“™s last instant of life.“
–André Malraux, The Walnut Trees of Altenburg