Wednesday, November 27, 2013

End the Tyranny of the Turkey

My Chinese-American friend Mary, a foodie in her own right, was complaining that this year yet again, it is the season to perform mass slaughtering of Big Bird. Not that she cares for animals that much. She simply laments having to eat it.

With her eyes full of lust and envy, she sibilated "Ah! You, French people. You know better. You don't eat turkey". And she's right, at least partially. We, French people, don't eat turkey for Thanksgiving, for the simple reason that we don't celebrate Thanksgiving. I proceeded on doing a little unscientific survey and I found that more than 100% of my American friends believe that the French don't eat turkey. Ever!

My aforementioned Chinese-American friend then proceeded to telling me about this guy, Jean-Francois. "He pretends that he's French, but he's not! He claims that the French eat turkey". As I said, more than 100% of my friends believe the French don't eat turkey, and as majority rules,  Jean-Francois must be wrong. Therefore he can't be French. Jean-Francois should be guillotined for making such allegations, along with the 46 millions turkeys.

So why do you eat turkey? My little survey showed that most of you don't really like turkey that much. I suspect that some of you might have become vegan to be excused. My friend M, who required anonymity given the gravity of the topic said "I think turkey is like the Satanic Verses of meat. As with that iconic book which everyone bought but no one actually read, turkey is a must on Thanksgiving, but not something anyone ever eats other than on that day." I would venture to say that turkey is a satanic meat. No redeeming virtue to be found in this obese animal engineered to pollute our ovens at the end of November. Yet, it's the tradition.
The "first Thanksgiving" likely included 
wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison

Historians know that turkey was not the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving feasts. Duck and goose were the pièce de resistance, together with venison. And yet today 88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

The beast is everywhere, in miles and miles of supermarkets meat counters, on TV, in ads, at a movie theater near you. Every cooking show, every food magazine is talking about it, trying to make it sound like a gourmet affair. Recipe writers offer advice such as "Ask your butcher to reserve this, chop that, add those..." which is wishful thinking, infuriating advice, because the 88% of Americans who eat turkey for Thanksgiving don't have a butcher. The recipes make it sound like you have a butcher as you have a family doctor. Butchers are not covered under Obamacare, and we don't buy our turkeys from "our butcher". Turkey is an object sold under plastic wrap in supermarkets and turned into food by overcooking.   

Yet, I feel I have to come clean. I confess. I'm not exactly proud. But we, French people, recipients of good taste, wardens of brilliance, vestals of food mastery, rulers of bon goût, we do eat turkey. And we can't even blame it on Thanksgiving! We don't celebrate Thanksgiving, because we are mostly not a thankful people.

We eat turkey for Christmas. La dinde de Noël is as traditionally French as a Gitanes cigarette, and probably as lethal. Turkey is disgusting. In French, even its metaphorical meaning is derogatory. "Ah, quelle dinde" is a very offensive way to describe a woman, conjuring thoughts of stupidity, clumsiness and a fat ass.

How do we prepare a French turkey, you're begging to ask! No bread stuffing. No cranberry accoutrement. We stuff our dinde with chair à saucisse (chair is not a piece of furniture you sit on, chair - pronounce shehr - means meat in French), chestnuts, foie gras. We also waste an inordinate amount of black truffles and Armagnac brandy on it. We try to improve it. And we fail.

Mon dieu! Why is turkey on French Christmas menus? One cynical explanation would be that we are eating the Thanksgiving leftovers from our American cousins. But it's not even the case. There's actually an embargo on American turkeys. We are just closeted turkey eaters. It is a tradition that no one confesses to following, except very unfrench Jean-Francois.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When in doubt, blame it on Napoléon

If everybody loves Raymond, who does everybody hate? No, not Ted Cruz. Napoléon!
The French emperor and dictator has long been the subject of hatred and ridicule.
As he should be - this great man of diminutive size is exactly the type people love to hate. Even after all these years.
(I should mention that I personally love and adore Popoleon, as we affectionately call our great Emperor in France.)

Why exactly do you hate Napoléon? At this point, for anything and everything. But let me be more specific. I can tell you that Napoléon is responsible for all the affliction, torment and suffering of today's world.

 When in doubt, blame it on Napoléon.

- Why do we drive on the right and the Brits drive on the left?
Blame it on Napoléon. During the Napoleonic conquests, Napoléon, who was a lefty, forced his entire army to lead charges on their horses from the right, holding their weapon in their left hand. As he conquered most of Europe, the whole continent adopted his horse-riding  style, with the exception of the Brits. 200 years later, we still hold on to this schism.

- Why do men think they are superior to women?
Blame it on Napoléon. As you know, Napoléon was an emperor, a warrior. But he is also the man who promulgated the Napoleonic Civil Code, the civil code that still today is used in the majority of countries throughout the world. Article 212 of the Code Napoléon legislates the rights and duties of spouses. Right before the code was proclaimed, Napoléon insisted that a line be added. In 1804, the new Code Napoléon proclaimed the legal inability for married women. The Emperor famously said at a State Council meeting: "What is unfrench, is to give authority to women." Which is slightly ironic when you know that Napoléon's own sister, Elisa Bonaparte was a bona fide ruler, Princess of Piombino from 1805 to 1814 and Grand-Duchess of Tuscany from 1809 to 1814.  

- Why do Arab Muslims hate us?
Blame it on Napoléon. First, Arab Muslims don't hate us. But, if we're trying to understand the complex relationships between Arab Muslims and the Western Christian world, here's to Napoléon: in 1798, Napoléon realized that the French Navy was not quite ready to face off the Brits in the English Channel. Instead, with his Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, he decided to launch a little stroll through Egypt. His goal was to forge alliances in Egypt and Syria to reach India and get in the way of England in their possession. Nothing worked the way it was planned but nevertheless, Murad, the Egyptian ruler who led the Mameluks, engaged in a series of battles with the rigorously trained troops of Napoléon.
Murad suffered a terrible and bloody defeat at the battle of Abukir, under the pyramids. The loss was crushing and humiliating. The Mameluks, who had expressed the greatest contempt for Napoléon when he arrived, realized the extent of their own weakness and their ignorance of 'modern' European military capabilities. They developed immense resentment for that humiliation, which historians credit as the root of today's hostility.

- Why do you have your Facebook timeline polluted by ads for Rosetta Stone, which makes you feel like a cretinous moron because you have not yet mastered Swahili and Pashto during your last summer vacation.
Blame it on Napoléon. See paragraph above. Napoléon invaded and conquered Egypt. While at it, on his way to Cairo from Alexandria, he discovered the Rosetta Stone!

- Why do you suffer heartaches and believe that you should marry someone you love?
Blame it on Napoléon. You might think it's a progress to marry for love, but actually, it causes so much heartache that some argue it is cruelty. In any case, before Napoléon, people married to forge alliances and to protect patrimonial assets. But our great Emperor met a lovely lady, a widow with bad teeth. And he fell for her - his large- head over his heels, which was not too bad because he was short. He fell in love and he decided to pursue the object of his love. Breaking with French monarchs before him, he married Josephine despite her less than perfect pedigree, sending a message that marrying for love was utterly acceptable, even commendable. If you can't find a man, if your heart is bleeding because she left you, just blame it on Napoléon.

- Why do you read about scandals in magazines at the nail parlor or at the barbershop?
Blame it on Napoléon. Napoléon invented the scandal. Let's say more accurately that he was the victim of the first full-fledged tabloid scandal. While trying to conquer Italy, his heart was aching from being so far from Josephine. He begged her to join him in Milan but she was reluctant. Many rumors arose that Josy was having fun while her man was fighting for the grandeur of La France. He became suspicious and jealous. To get her pissed off, he took a mistress (or two), then decided he did not love her anymore. He wrote a letter to his brother confessing to his change of heart. The letter was intercepted by the Brits and published on the front page of the newspaper. If you don't like tabloids, don't blame Murdoch. Blame it on Napoléon.

- Baldness
Blame it on Napoléon. Previous French kings were wearing wigs. Napoléon abolished this practice, revealing his calvicie. Without Napoléon, Phil Collins would never have achieved rock star status! If you're a fan of Phil Collins, you probably don't mind. But for all of you who do like men with a full crop of hair...

- Hemorrhoids
Blame it on Napoléon. Or more exactly, Napoléon should blame hemorrhoids. He did not invent them. But he suffered a very bad case of the disgrace. Some historians go around spreading the word that he lost the battle of Waterloo because of a bad case of piles.

- Finally, you could have been elegant, refined, smart and superbly arrogant French, rather than being rough around the edges, unsophisticated, stodgy and superbly arrogant Americans.
Blame it on Napoléon, who sold Louisiana in 1803. Sly Jefferson went ahead with the transaction, although it was probably unconstitutional. Pause for a second and imagine: Bobby Jindal as a frogs-leg eater.