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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Die Unbefleckte Empfängnis (The Immaculate Conception) 1767-1768
" … faunching to go out shopping again, like a genuine Parisian …"

The phrase sounds so seventies to my ear, as if I hadn't heard it in decades, but back in those days, some would actually say that such-and-such (often a cheesecake or a particularly well-marbled steak) was, "ToDieFor." I was sure then that I couldn't quite unwrap the meaning. "Do you really intend to say that tasting this slice of cheesecake would have been worth risking your life for, and that had you not successfully waded through the surrounding mine field, or if a sniper had pegged you on the way in tonight, you would have gladly gone to your maker because you would have died pursuing this perfection? Really?" I never actually engaged in this sort of cross examination, though my mind always raised one skeptical eyebrow whenever subjected to this phrase. ToDieFor? Really?

These days, the phrase's taken on another connotation for me. Under orders to stay at home, my relationship to larder stocking's changing.
Once upon a time, I shopped like a Parisian: daily and in small batches. I maintained a well-stocked larder, but I'd usually go searching for something fresh that day to accompany whatever else we ate; fresh fish, veg, or bread. The Governor encourages me to limit my food sourcing to once per week, a seemingly impossible if otherwise perfectly reasonable injunction. Of course I cannot yet comply, feeling as though I might die should I deny myself my usual finishing touches, even though I recognize that each excursion increases the possibility of my exposure to The Virus. It makes sense to focus the effort and simply stay at home. While I'm not quite yet complying, I catch myself more carefully scrutinizing my shopping list, wondering which items on it might actually be worth dying for.

I know that mere infection does not necessarily translate into certain death, yet even the younger and healthier have fallen prey to this particular strain, so it's not completely insane to wonder. Filene's department store in Boston used to host infamous basement sales where a few housewives would inevitably get trampled by a sale-frenzied crowd. I imagine an otherwise rational hausfrau performing the calculus and deciding that fifty percent off might well be worth risking her life for, a decision made with true dedication to saving a few scarce dollars. I perform a similar calculation now, carefully considering whether I really, really, really need what I would formerly just casually drop into a supermarket for. Do I really need to head for the store or am I simply repeating a mindlessly habitual chore? The pandemic has, in this way, rendered me more mindful. Dammit!

Fish does indeed turn into an unwanted guest in three days. The Muse noted its overpowering aroma as I prepped supper last night. I was making codfish cakes, a more or less perfect application for any almost unwelcome supper guest. Paired with par-boiled potato, parsnip, and fennel top, with a couple of generous spoonfuls of capers, a couple of eggs, and finely-chopped fresh red onion, the aromatic fish, subdued by a Court Bouillon steam bath, lost its edge and proved a popular entree. Even in the good old days, when I could daily and care-freely acquire fresh fish, a filet or two might migrate toward the dark side before I got around to prepping them. I'd only very rarely choose to discard those offending filets, finding some way to make them eatable if not precisely choice, even though I suppose they might have sickened or even killed us in return. I never learned how to guiltlessly waste fresh food, but I'm lately learning how to guiltily acquire it. I ask myself, "Do you really need a fresh fish urgently enough to risk dying for it?" Neither The Muse nor The Otter proclaimed that their codfish cakes, smothered in The Muse's famous blood orange tarter sauce, was "ToDieFor!", though I'd wondered almost exactly that when I'd snuck out to the supermarket several days before.

Entering a supermarket now feels like a clandestine activity. I sense myself a spy entering enemy territory. I eye my fellow shoppers as if each might be wearing a terrorist's explosive vest. I slink through the produce, imagining myself invisible. I look down at my shoes in humble embarrassment. I dutifully perform my mission, never once distracted to idly shop or stroll. I order my fish with a certain confidence, grateful that I've arrived before the monger's even turned on his lights. We're alone there, just me and him separated by a decent gap. Everyone else in the store seems to ignore us. He weighs out my order in shadowless twilight and I quietly slip away to surreptitiously check my shopping list a second time to ensure that I won't feel a need to return very soon. I leave feeling curiously liberated, as if I'd slipped The Reaper again, though I well understand that I won't know for a couple of weeks or so. I arrive back home as if I'd successfully wended my way through an invisible mine field, then start faunching to go out shopping again, like a genuine Parisian, though nothing on my list really seems ToDieFor necessary.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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