In a recent blog post I enumerated poems or parts of poems that have been amiably haunting me all my life. Yet there is one of them that, though frequently recurrent, I did not mention. It runs “Ce lourd secret que tu quemandes”—this heavy secret that you beg for.
It comes from a sequence of quatrains by Guillaume Apollinaire entitled “Vitam Impendere Amori’ (to overhang life with love,) an allusion to Rousseau’s “Vitam Impendere Vero,” to overhang life with truth. Apollinaire’s sequence was written about a troubled love affair with one of his several inamoratas, and its penultimate quatrain begins “Tu n’a pas surpris mon secret”—you did not apprehend my secret.
The entire concluding quatrain reads “La rose flotte au fil de l’eau/ Les masques ont passés par bandes/ Il tremble en moi comme un grelot/ Ce lourd secret que tu quemandes.” The rose floats along the water’s flow/ The masks have gone by in bands/ There trembles in me like sleigh bells/ This heavy secret that you beg for.”
I take this to mean that the romance of love is over, as are its disguises; what resonates inside the lover, is a deep-seated tremor, like unspoken sleighbells, which the beloved is reduced to seeking, probably in vain. I have no idea why that last single, solitary, out of context verse should so keep affecting me, perhaps because women could not find in me what they were craving, something very private that remained, however intense, uncommunicated. But perhaps it is just a verse that hangs on through sheer euphony, a musically modulated sound sequence.
So much for this matter; now for something entirely different. What about the presumptive birth places of various comestibles that they truthfully or falsely proclaim in their names, thus adding to their desirability? Take, for example, the so-called Belgian endives. Do they really all come from Belgium, and can they not take root for whatever reason elsewhere, say in our own USA? Is there something about the Belgian soil, climate, or cultivators that is so inimitably unique? Or is it just the exotic aura of foreignness?
Or what about Parma prosciutto? I am aware that in some markets it is available in a cheaper domestic version. But the imported kind from Italy, though quite a bit more expensive, is also tastier, At some outlets, in fact, there are numerous costlier versions, rising stepwise to real luxuries my kind cannot, and does not need to, afford. At the market where I shop, I have seen Prosciutto di Parma convincingly packaged and labeled in giant hunks. Wouldn’t it be nice to shlepp the whole thing home with me? And eating it, think affectionately of Parma’s favorite son in red and black? Similarly, I doubt if most Genoa salame has ever had a birthplace in Genoa.
Now what about the balsamic Modena vinegar, different even in its opulently dark hue from the colorless domestic kind? I trust that it really does come from Modena,
But couldn’t it be replicated here—or is that already done? I don’t think so, as I see the name Modena proudly displayed on all its varieties, as ladies and gentlemen prefer brunettes to blondes. I truly believe that it does come from Modena, and not just because that sounds so pretty or that Modena suggests a la mode.
And how about ham? Here we run into a plethora of possibilities. Though not so denominated, much of it comes from Poland—either because it really does or because one thinks of wild Polish woods propitious to savory porkers. But one also thinks of Black Forest Ham (Schwarzwalder Schinken), even though most of the real Black Forest, subject to commercial deforestation, is practically gone by now, and is alive only in swine.
In France, there is a delicious ham, called if I remember correctly, jambon de Bayonne (but I may have it wrong, confused by tapestries from Bayeux). This brings me to obviously fictitious origins, such as the tasty Virginia ham, which, I would bet, does not necessarily come from Virginia. I also used to buy a lot of Danish ham, which I think was authentic, though I have a hard time envisaging something Nordic as not made from reindeer.
Or think of Swiss cheese, Surely it originated, and still often does come, as Switzerland’s cheese, as if it had just skied down from an Alp. But it is a generic moniker and I have eaten Finnish Swiss cheese, just as good as any. And even in America. . . but let us not go there. I have also eaten Swedish meatballs in the heart of Manhattan.
Now what about salmon? Is it genuinely Scotch or Norwegian, or is it even, as honestly labeled, Scotch or Norwegian style? I would hate to think, though, that it might come from the Hudson or East River.
I am also puzzled by Turkish delight, which the musical “Kismet” correctly identifies as Rahat lokum. It is something that I would think can be persuasively fabricated (or whatever the word) nearer to us than Turkey. But, as I say, some of these titular attributes are fake. Have they even heard of hamburgers in Hamburg? Or in Moscow of a Moscow mule?
Ah, well, with potables there are as many nominally inauthentic as authentic ones. Burgundy, to be sure, comes from Burgundy, even as champaign (which the Times always capitalizes) comes from Champaign. Then again, most German and Austrian wines come with geographic names, like my current favorite, the Gruener Veltliner, where the green seems like a redundancy.
And now back to love, with which we began. Is music really, as Shakespeare’s Orlando would have it, “the food of love,” then what kind of food and what kind of love was he thinking of? If real food, no wonder opera divas, ostentatiously in love with themselves, are understandably of Wagnerian girth. Though, happily, recently not so much. And lovers of chocolate, Swiss or Belgian, should we not have to untighten our belts? By what miracle can I squeeze into 38 inch underwear and weigh usually something between 70 pounds and less? Luckily, though I am part Hungarian, I don’t drink Tokay, and though part Yugoslav, do not eat srpski sir, i.e., Serbian cheese. So it has become late, and I can go to bed lovingly thinking of two favorite cheeses, Humboldt Fog, which I can sometimes afford, and Vacherin Liegois, which I really can’t.