So. I went to Paris this summer, as previously noted, and have astonishingly less to report than literally all odds¹ would suggest. Part of this owes to the fact that it was July, and who knew (the answer: everyone. everyone else knew) that in Paris in July it is too hot to fucking eat and no one has air conditioning and one’s grand plans of plumbing the depths of the weird and wonderful of French food and wine must be mitigated by the more immediate necessity of using an infinity of miniature Kronenbourgs to keep one from expiring in a boneless pile on the floor?
In preparation for the visit I had made a point of sussing out those (luckily) various caves à manger in the vicinity of our apartment well-regarded for their food and wine both, particularly those that give a certain amount of attention to vin nature (more on this later), and I organized my dining out accordingly (I also ate a lot of kebab, obvs). The most successful of these, or at least most instructive, was a little place in the 9e called Le Vin au Vert (a proper review here, which charmingly distinguishes them from another cave‘s “comically pretentious team of radish-fetish nitwits”). I rolled by on a weekday afternoon, grabbed a glass of a red about which I remember absolutely nothing, and faced with a limited selection of hot meals, I opted for the andouillette.
I was considering opening this piece with the line “This summer in France I was defeated by a sausage.” And let me just say, I had some idea, when ordering, what I was in for. I know what andouillette is. I know what andouillette is made of, and didn’t -think- I would like it. The Larousse Gastronomique entry reads “a type of sausage made from pork intestines (chaudins), often with the addition of pork stomach and calf’s mesentery, precooked in stock or milk and packed into a skin.” What this description leaves out is extent to which andouillette is defined by the use of lower intestine, and consequently the extent to which it smells like shit; on account of it being, yes, basically just a cooked bag of assholes.
This is for what andouillette is known, maligned, and loved by diverse parties. It is pungent and aggressive and all up in one’s face, and I, for all that I am drawn to things that taste bad and gross and great (bretty beers, peaty medicinal scotches, dry sherries, amari, weird natural wine – all booze, it dawns on me), I am nonetheless not a great fan of strong cheeses and charcuterie, or the more organy and elect of the offal family. Truly there was no reason for me to like the andouillette. However, I had heard good things about the andouillette at this particular establishment; that it was rustic and expressive and fidèle (whether to Lyon or Troyes or wherever, to some Platonic ideal, I don’t know), and my train of thought was this: in spite of my trepidation and reasonable prediction that it would not be to my tastes, I was curious, and when better to try the thing than faced with a specimen of agreed-upon quality? I was in France for god’s sake. I hadn’t come for the too-familiar State racism alone, that’s for sure.
And I couldn’t hack it. Oh Boy, could I not hack it. I mean, I tried, in what fashion passes for “valiantly” in the wasteland of moral fibre that is my interior mental landscape. Which is to say that having ordered it I had to -try- to eat it, even though upon splitting the casing of the quite substantial sausage I was treated to the euuhhhhh… robust aroma for which andouillette is so prized. Which is butts, btw. Fully, totally, butts. But like, living butts, if that means anything. Not shit per se, but like a butt that you are nonetheless fully occupied with. And so, taking grateful advantage of the almost equally pungent (oh, if only it had been more pungent still) mustard with which the sausage was served, I consumed something like 1/3rd (i would flatter myself to say 1/2) of the generously provided length. Then, as befitting any self-respecting gastronome, I feigned getting an important phone call and asked for the remains to be wrapped up to go. For this is what “pride” means, in the life that I apparently have constructed for myself: sitting at a table in a casual wine-shop-cum-resto in Paris, France, fully (if discretely; I am not a primadonna) miming a nonexistent phone conversation, for the sake of the NO ONE who is in the room with me, on the off chance that the peripheral vision of the chef or proprietor is sufficiently acute to register my bland North American shame at not being unable to appreciate this sausage that so notoriously tastes of butts. Not, for the record, that it tasted -bad-, for it actually tasted very good (and I have touched on this seeming paradox elsewhere), but it tasted like something good that had also been in a butt. Like, a pig’s butt, I guess. And in that respect I am sure it was an exemplary and well-crafted andouillette.
This is what it’s like to be defeated by a sausage.
* * *
Of course, it’s not defeat, truly, because as vulnerable is my account to this interpretation, it is not about -proving- something. It is about above all the attempt to make the space for new pleasure in one’s life; not only for one’s own satisfaction, but as a gesture of faith in the possibility of intersubjective understanding: Based on what I know, I won’t like this, I don’t like this. But someone likes this, they know how to like this. It is not a competition, although it is a challenge; it is a call to understanding and to enjoyment both – others love me (the sausage cries) why don’t you? One need not love everything of course (duh), but there is something gross in the too easy repair to the refuge of ‘personal taste’. I don’t want to get into the sociological / historical shit-show of the adage “there’s no accounting for taste”, but what makes me uneasy with the idea of the unassailable subjectivity of taste is the presumption that the subject is stable and desire / enjoyment transparent. “I know what I like” is easy to affirm and impossible to argue against, but what happens when it turns out we’re wrong? When it turns out we don’t know what we like? What is the implication when the ultimate in subjective authority is (regularly, perhaps perpetually) eroded? It happens all the time. However, it would be too strong, I think, to claim that one necessarily comes to understand others (or The Other) better by appreciating their culinary pleasures (a well-worn cliché of even the better food writing), but there is certainly some merit in trying to understand their appreciation, if only to destabilize the solipsism of pleasure. Think I could leave you . . . or I could love you, if I tried. And I could. And left to my own devices I probably would. One never knows, but how often otherwise has one the opportunity to declare if fate had it that I was to be defeated by a bag of assholes, I am happy it was thus?
¹ Literally all odds? Well, maybe not, if one insists on considering how good I am at being Bad At Travelling, my indefatigable capacity for malcontentment, and my carefully maligned and disavowed yearning for culinary/cultural epiphany, à la the Jonathan Richman song “Those Conga Drums”. Against all of which what chance, I suppose, has 200 years of restaurant culture?