Cheesed Off

Comets Story 20

Like the proverbial lion with a thorn in its paw, I was feeling irritable and out of sorts. My departure from Comets had left me in a foul mood. I swore at the apple trees, kicked the stone troughs in front of our house and sulked over dinner. All of which put Petie in a foul mood, too.

“I’ve just about had it with you,” she said. “You’re acting like a teenager who’s been grounded. What the Hades is wrong with you?”

“I want to play baseball,” I said, sounding like a thwarted toddler.

“Well, it’s your own fault, you and that micro-wave mentality of yours. You always act first and think later. As far as I’m concerned, you can just sit here and stew. It’s Thursday and I’m going to the market.”

“Wait,” I said, grabbing the car keys and a basket by the door. “I might as well come along. I’ve got nothing else to do.”

Market day was the day of the week when our sleepy little village of Livarot came alive, just as it had ever since the early 20th century when this picture was taken.

Although shopping was the goal, socializing was also part of the scene as people greeted each other and gossiped in the spaces between stalls of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Even in bad weather, the market was lively as farmers unloaded poultry and eggs and the fish monger laid out the daily catch on an ice-covered stand. This was a village market, however, and some of the stands were no bigger than a card table and held no more than a few jars of homemade jam or a basket of freshly-dug potatoes.

Or cheese, especially cheese. When we first arrived in France, we had no idea how important cheese was to the country’s culture and history. President Charles de Gaulle once groused how difficult it was to govern a country that made more than 400 cheeses.

Our village, in fact, was famous for making the stinkiest cheese of all: the Livarot. “If you put my cheese next to someone else’s,” one maker bragged, “the flies will always come to mine first.” Here in cheese country, that’s high praise indeed.

But I digress. Petie was still royally pissed at me. “Quit pouting and make yourself useful,” she said. “Go get a cheese. And not a Livarot, not in this hot weather. We’d never get the smell out of the car.”

I decided on a Camembert, arguably the world’s most famous cheese. The most famous producer was the Fromagerie Durand so I went looking for them.

The Durands were known as the last makers of “real Camembert,” that is, cheese made from the milk of cows who graze only in the official delineated Camembert area. Madame Durand was sitting on a fold-up stool behind a tiny table.

In front of her were eight or ten cheeses and a few pots of crème fraiche, the cultured cream of France.

She stood up when I approached and asked what I wanted. “One of your Camemberts,” I said.

“When do you plan to eat it?”

Huh? Her question caught me be surprise. “Today, I suppose, maybe for lunch.” I smiled.

“Then I haven’t got anything for you,” she said.

“What do you mean? You’ve got a stack of cheeses right here.”

“They aren’t ready to eat. They won’t be ripe before the weekend.”

“That’s okay, I’ll take one anyway.”

“No,” she said, and sat back down.

“No? Are you saying I can’t buy one?” I was totally perplexed and growing annoyed. “Give me a break! Look, just sell me one of your Camemberts and I promise to wait till the weekend before eating it.”

“Ha! Forget it,” Madame Durand said. “I know your type. You’ll eat it today anyway, and my cheese won’t be ready, so I’m not going to sell you one. Now go away.”

I stormed back to the car where Petie was loading up her purchases. “Good heavens, what happened?” she asked. “You look more disgruntled than ever.”

“That old coot wouldn’t sell me a cheese. She said she knows my ‘type,’ whatever that is, and that she didn’t trust me to wait until it was ready and all ripe and gooey.”

A camembert ready to eat

Petie burst into laughter. “See what I mean? Even she could sense your micro-wave mentality.”

Back home, I felt more dispirited than ever. “Seems I can’t get along with anyone, doesn’t it,” I said to Petie. She realized it wasn’t just about cheese, that I was thinking about baseball and the Comets and regretting everything that had happened.

Petie softened. “Okay, look Klad, if you promise me you’ll try to control yourself, I’ll help you find another team.”

Now, feeling sad about the Comets, I suddenly wasn’t sure if that was the good news or the bad.

— Don

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