Le butin

by jemma margaret

Traveling back to Paris from Brooklyn, I brought along a borrowed suitcase of lacinato kale, maple syrup, peanut butter, almonds, walnuts, mate, chipotlé peppers, and the smelliest Thai chili-onion-garlic mixture ever (packed in three plastic bags it still perfumed my clothes mightily. I meant to buy coffee, but I ran out of time. My airport meal was half an everything bagel with schmear.

While French customs are virtually non-existent, I will be much more limited in my returning home to Brooklyn booty in June. Possibly a couple bottles of very cheap wine, maybe a box of very expensive chocolate, and perhaps a bag of moderately priced tea. My greatest Parisian love–butter–will have to stay on this side of the Atlantic.

Moving back and forth and up and down, it is amusing the things I wind up missing from place to place. In London, I stockpiled a can of Lyle’s Golden Syrup with fond memories of oatmeal in Scotland (one of the very few fond Scottish food memories). Part of this strange hoarding is due to being too aware of the price of things because, yes, you can buy Lyle’s Golden Syrup in France and also in the United States, but it’s about three times as much. On my list of imports, the only thing that I have definitely never seen for sale in Paris is lacinato kale.

Certainly, I am not alone in amassing nostalgic and not very necessary food loot. My roommate in Vancouver from Montreal kept bags of bagels in the freezer. My cousin now in Switzerland exclaimed that when she moved back to the states she would buy cheddar cheese by the brick.

Knowing how absence makes the heart grow fonder, when this year is up I’ll probably forgo the IPAs and salsas of New York in favor of laboriously scrounging up the ingredients for boullabaise, cassoulet, or stewed rabbit (none of which I have eaten here, yet).

And now I turn the post over to the much more capable hands of Alexandre Dumas, Pere.


“What are the two fish?” asked Danglars.

“M. Chateau-Renaud, who has lived in Russia, will tell you the name of one, and Major Cavalcanti, who is an Italian, will tell you the name of the other.”

“This one is, I think, a sterlet,” said Chateau-Renaud.

“And that one, if I mistake not, a lamprey.”

“Just so. Now, M. Danglars, ask these gentlemen where they are caught.”

“Sterlets,” said Chateau-Renaud, “are only found in the Volga.”

“And,” said Cavalcanti, “I know that Lake Fusaro alone supplies lampreys of that size.”

“Exactly; one comes from the Volga, and the other from Lake Fusaro.”

“Impossible!” cried all the guests simultaneously.

“Well, this is just what amuses me,” said Monte Cristo. “I am like Nero—cupitor impossibilium; and that is what is amusing you at this moment. This fish, which seems so exquisite to you, is very likely no better than perch or salmon; but it seemed impossible to procure it, and here it is.”

“But how could you have these fish brought to France?”

“Oh, nothing more easy. Each fish was brought over in a cask—one filled with river herbs and weeds, the other with rushes and lake plants; they were placed in a wagon built on purpose, and thus the sterlet lived twelve days, the lamprey eight, and both were alive when my cook seized them, killing one with milk and the other with wine. You do not believe me, M. Danglars!”

“I cannot help doubting,” answered Danglars with his stupid smile.

“Baptistin,” said the count, “have the other fish brought in—the sterlet and the lamprey which came in the other casks, and which are yet alive.” Danglars opened his bewildered eyes; the company clapped their hands. Four servants carried in two casks covered with aquatic plants, and in each of which was breathing a fish similar to those on the table.

“But why have two of each sort?” asked Danglars.

“Merely because one might have died,” carelessly answered Monte Cristo.

“You are certainly an extraordinary man,” said Danglars; “and philosophers may well say it is a fine thing to be rich.”