Thursday, 18 March 2010


This week's sentence was taken from E.M. Forster's 'A Room With A View'.

It was:
'It tasted partly of the paper in which it was wrapped, partly of hair oil, partly of the great unknown.'


It was a small room and very dark after the dazzling sunshine. The intense blues and greens of the square outside were replaced by smoky browns, massive dark-wood dressers leaving only squeeze-room around the big family table, spread with a dull orange plastic tablecloth. I saw why Ana's parents had chosen to greet me outside; there was no room in here for their ubiquitous and effusive Lusitanian hugs and kisses.
We sat. Rosalinda, painfully Portuguese; small, fat, black-shawled, grey-haired and very likely the image of her tall, slim, beautiful daughter twenty years hence. José, his English worse than my Portuguese, dashed into the kitchen, returning with a small parcel wrapped in newspaper.
Ana conspiratorial: 'Don't act grossed-out! It's pig's ear in jelly. Pãe makes it himself.'
The old man leaned forward, urging me with gestures to open the package and devour its contents. I decided to play along; the foolish foreigner falling for José’s favourite joke. After all, I like pork; what could be so bad?
With a display of reverence, I unwrapped the parcel. There on a bed of sodden grey newsprint, glistening in a coating of gelatinous ooze that looked suspiciously like semen but which I hoped was merely pork jelly, nestled what was unmistakably a whole pig's ear, mercifully sliced into bite-sized pieces. Anticipating José’s laughter I picked up a piece and put it in my mouth.
If it was a joke, he was playing it to the hilt. His expression was one of genuine concern as to the quality of his gross offering.
Not wishing to give offence, I felt compelled to eat the damned thing. It tasted partly of the paper in which it was wrapped, partly of hair oil, partly of the great unknown. In texture it was not unlike tough raw squid, if ever a squid harboured such a disgusting quantity of gristle, but I fought back a wave of nausea and chewed doggedly on, nodding and smiling in such a way as to hopefully satisfy my host's expectant expression as to the incomparable deliciousness of this most rare and delicate morsel.
Saved by the old man raising a glass, I eagerly joined him, the lubrication allowing me finally to force down the revolting gobbet.
I grinned widely and nodded my thanks, praying that my demonstration of enthusiasm would not produce a whole barrel of pork gristle from the kitchen.
I need not have worried. The ice broken, great bowls of avocado salad and piri-piri prawns materialised on the table, accompanied by José's home-grown pink olives, marinaded in orange and herbs and a small mountain of the fabulous local bread, chilled vinho verde and (with a cackle from José) a bottle of throat-stripping aguardente.
Lunch over, Rosalinda beamed at her daughter and dragged her into the kitchen. José slammed a carved box down on the table, opening it with great ceremony to reveal his personal, home-made set of dominoes: teak with inset brass dots.
He grinned. I had become part of the family.

This is a deliberate mis-remembering of two separate meals, one in Cascais and one in Sintra.
My first meeting with Ana’s parents (Mãe and Pãe: Rosalinda and José) involved José sacrificing one of his scrawny chickens, which he grilled on a workman’s brazier in the road outside. It was one of the best pieces of chicken I had ever tasted.
Even though I was vegetarian back then the Portuguese had no understanding of the concept (we’re talking late 1980s) and so chicken, pork and fish were on all the vegetarian menus and I didn’t want to abuse their hospitality.
The pig’s ear was part of a feast laid on by João and Carla. They presented us with Feijoada, which is a traditional festival dish including (heaped on a gigantic platter) black beans, bacon, smoked ribs, trotters, tail, various sausages made from the more adventurous parts of the pig, and of course the ears. It was fabulous apart from the ears, which were pretty much as I described them in the story.

I still have Pãe’s infamous dominoes, which he presented me as a gift. I soon figured out the reason he was unbeatable: the handmade teak dominoes are beautifully grained and all slightly irregular in shape and he had simply learned what each one looked like from the back so always picked the pieces he needed to win, the sly old fox.


Scout said...

I SO love feijoada. My inlaws served it to us in Sao Paulo, and it was amazing. And we had it in NY just last week.

What a gross story, though!

MmeBenaut said...

Actually I loved the story, more so now since I know that so much of it was based on truth. My knowledge of Spanish has increased many-fold too which means that it was an educational piece; I know to steer clear of any pig's ears that may be offered.

Beautifully written of course Dive dear - thank you.

dive said...

Yay for feijoada, Robyn. I think it is some kind of national dish in Brazil. Apart from the ears it is delicious.

Mme: Yes, eat the rest of the pig but give the ears to the cats. I'm sure Snuffly at least would enjoy them. Thank you again.