As I typically do at the end of each day, I walked down the hill last evening to find something for dinner at the market.
You would have thought I was trying to buy a condominium.
I stood at the meat counter and looked at every fleshy red slab of fresh meat. Although made inviting by lighting and sprigs of bulbous parsley, the meat itself seemed too spry for my state of being. Too free range, too reminiscent of happy little animals bouncing about the green Sonoma hillsides. It begged attention and careful preparation; my mind, by contrast, was sated with too much paying the rent.
Something simple, came the instruction. Keep it simple.
An adjacent glass case was filled with numerous selections of house-made sausages, pressed and filled by hand there on the butcher block, all of them lined up in enticing rows. They beckoned. Mild Italian. Hot Italian. Chicken mango. Andouille. Cilantro-onion-pepper…
“Does this one have meat?” I asked.
“We don’t have vegetarian sausage,” answered the surly little butcher in his perfectly white apron. I won’t mention his name or describe him further; he works with sharp knives for a living and is doubtless adept at slipping a weighted thumb upon the meat scale when you’re not looking.
Rogue little napoleonic butcher.
I tell him I’m not ready and he should move along, go help somebody else. I will wait for the butcher I like: the one who laughs at my jokes. The one who doesn’t have a relative buried in his backyard or a restraining order against him.
Adjacent to the sausages lie the pre-made goods: alimentation for the hurried. Pre-packaged, pre-sauteed, pre-herbified and tenderized chicken breasts…
Same for the meatballs doused in a flour-like substance. And the rolled fillet so stuffed to overwhelming with spinach and god knows what else that it wanted to belch on its own, never mind its unlucky ingestor.
Further down the line, opposite the fresh bread racks: Fish. It sounded a novel option, given that we’d had steak the night before. I stood before the case, my mouth agape to match the droll look on the faces of the whole fishes on ice. I muddled over my confusion regarding the pluralization of a certain fish: I always thought the name was Branzino, but here they rendered it Branzini. There were 4 of them – 4 individual branzino, in my book. Would they change the sign back to singular when there was only 1 left in the case? And what of the other fish – how come they were labeled in the singular and not as Cods, Halibuts, Salmons, Shrimps…?
When befuddled by indecision, and when inspiration has not so much fled as evaporated, one can often find guidance in the grape.
As a youth my preference was Chivas and cigarettes but I’ve since graduated – magna cum laude, mind you – to an appreciation for the liquid renderings of those tiny jewel-like beads of sweetness, their flesh a virgin green or virulent maroon – the timid one and the handsome abductor – their output the renderer of nighttime dreams. Long, languid, storytelling dreams.
Onward to Jesus Swede and the Junior Consultant from Cleveland.