A younger man who is a foodie alerted me a few years ago to a local guy – also young – who was making “charcuteries.” The word designates pork preparations in general or preparations where pork enters. Foie gras is a noble kind of charcuterie: One pig, one goose liver . (OK, that was an old French joke.) In the singular, the word means “pork butcher,” in the plural, it designates the plurality of such products. “Charcutier” is the craftsman that makes the stuff. It’s a high skilled occupation, at least in France.
Even after fifty years in the US, I was skeptical. It would be like announcing the arrival on the baseball scene of a killer French pitcher: possible, not likely. I was intrigued nevertheless. I made myself go to the Farmers’ Market – the kind of place I normally dislike – which was the only venue for the guy’s talent. He gave me a sample of his rabbit pâté. It was simply second to none. Wisely, in a masterful show of cultural sensitivity, I refrained from thinking of the provenance of the rabbit meat he used. I shut my mind to the thought that it was right after Easter. I decided it was just a coincidence.
I know what you are thinking: An old man’s failing memory made him confuse what he was tasting with the age-old glory of French charcuterie. Not so, not so. My gustatory memory is perfect, I believe. It’s true that I have trouble recalling names though. Two evenings ago, I even called my wife “Marie” ( with French inflexion). Her name is “Krishna” and she is from India. The evening ended badly. The narrow mindedness of women never ceases to amaze me!
A few years later, the same guy has a busy kitchen and shop with several permanent employes in an up-and-coming location on the outskirts of Santa Cruz. He sells a wide variety of wildly inventive sausages and pâtés, with a twist. His pork rillettes, a French classic, incorporate Indian flavors. At first taste, I was nonplussed and disappointed because my brain was stupidly seeking the ancestral flavors. I persisted. Now, French rillettes made in France would seem bland to me. The Santa Cruz charcuterie is a stellar success in the midst of what is otherwise mostly a local entrepreneurial desert.
Here is another bastard who is contributing to growing income inequality even in the heart of this Green People’s Socialist Republic! I mean that it looks like his business is making money while most of the charcutier’s high school classmates who stayed home are still earning $9/hour in presumptuous retail boutiques downtown. The charcutier made one mistake, though. He should have consulted me. (Of course, he did not know me in time for this.) He calls his shop “El Salchichero” like a vulgar Mexican chorizo maker. If there ever was a business that cried out for a pretentious French name, it was his. Not his fault. When he began he probably did not know how successful he would be with the local yuppies. Anyway, bless his heart and I am sure he does not mind the advertising. By the way, for my birthday, El Salchichero gave me some sweetbread pâté. I bet you can’t figure out what it is, even with Google’s help. I didn’t even know it existed. It was delicious.
It’s an ordinary late morning on a weekday. The sun is just breaking out through the coastal fog. I am walking to the gym. Moving across the street in the opposite direction, I spot an unusually shaped vehicle or contraption. It’s a young man on a bicycle. His shirt is off. He is playing the guitar and singing while pedaling. If the girls aren’t crazy about him, they must be crazy!
I am at the beach (as usual). My granddaughter is learning to boogie-board in the shallow waves. (She is not even six, what do you expect, Olympics-level surfing?) I watch vaguely a bunch of older kids in the higher breaking waves. One, a tall, athletic boy of about twelve seems a vigorous swimmer but there is something wrong with his boogieing style. He is not catching as many waves as the others and he gets shorter rides. I focus on his boogie-board. Well, the truth is that he does not have one. He is surfing with the help of something much smaller, something flat and a solid dull red. I wade in to see better. That boy is boogie-boarding on a regular, rectangular, plastic cafeteria tray. Astonishing, exhilarating! The kid is wearing a full wetsuit, a fairly expensive item. It’s not necessity that guides him but a sheer instinct of inventiveness not emasculated by vetoes, or admonitions, or advice. This kind of stuff does not happen in France, or in Germany, or in Japan, or in India. This is a great country and a great state. No wonder almost everything is invented here (not necessarily by the California-born though).
There is an older guy I often meet for coffee at Lulu Carpenter’s, downtown. We talk about books. He is a voracious reader who has proscribed television from his house. Out tastes overlap but not too much, making the conversation worth it. For years he has been a firm supporter of my writing endeavors, including my latest book, I Used to Be French…. (See below). My literary friend, X, is an astute investor who never made the mistake of leaving California and its increasingly pricey real estate. He made it a life-long practice to buy low and not sell. He is also a crafty handyman. He restores and repairs his properties himself. What costs another landlord $500, will set him back $78. He has prospered. One of his skills is plumbing.
My plumber reading buddy is having an interesting problem, as he ages and his joints begin to bother him, what he could easily charge for a plumbing intervention has become almost insignificant in context. So, he refuses most plumbing jobs except those that are exceptionally well paid. But he has not been able to keep the knowledge of his skills from his many friends, including me. The bank, my wife and I (in this order) own a beautiful but hundred-year-old, small Victorian. When something goes wrong there, we automatically call our friend X.
It’s not that we have not tried to leave him alone. We called on others in the past. One of our past plumbers was OK but he was afraid of cramped, dark spaces. The guy who installed new plumbing in our current house was OK too but his hands were trembling and he was openly leering at my then-teen-aged daughter. The last plumber we called was an eager Brazilian immigrant with a freshly painted truck who showed himself unable to diagnose a faulty brand new faucet. He assured us that the finger-thin flow of water it delivered was “normal nowadays.”
At the first alert then, we call X. He comes quickly with his toolbox and fixes the problem or advises on how to fix it easily and cheaply. He wants no payment. He does the same for his other close friends, for some of his friends’friends, and for some poor old people, I suspect. He is much less interested in a little more money than he is in the bragging rights inherent in calling himself a “charity plumber.”
California guys, salt of the Earth, inimitable though everyone is the world tries to imitate them!
El Salchichero is located on Swift Street, in Santa Cruz, California.
My latest book:
Jacques Delacroix: I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography
is available from me by email at:
or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please, send me $17 so I can buy fishing bait. Please, add $1.60 for taxes and $4 to help support the US Post Office. Total: $22.60
I will be glad to deliver myself around Santa Cruz , California, free of postal charge. (Two copies minimum, please, unless you are house-bound or exhausted by love.)
The book is also at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, California
The print copy is also available through Amazon for $17-plus. Just search for: Jacques Delacroix within Amazon. Make sure it’s on or click “All departments.” Here you go!
Here is the impossibly complicated hyperlink just in case. You should not need it.
This is cheap for much entertainment and even a little bit of enlightenment. The book contains many items of esoteric high-brow trivia you will be able to use to make yourself sound brilliant and humiliate your pretentious rivals at cocktail parties (Marin County) and at barbecues (elsewhere).
The electronic version is also available in the Kindle Store at:
(You don’t need to have a Kindle to read it. It works on other devices.)
The electronic version costs only $7. ($4 for me. Every time you buy one I can afford another cappuccino.)
Other unimportant news: My slim collection of stories and essays in French will be on Amazon (electronic only) soon. It’s entitled: Les Pumas de grande-banlieue.