Les Fruits de Mer de la Toilette
I have no picture for you but that which can be painted by words. The primaries of my palette: toilets, turds and lobsters. To be more precise, crayfish; or, the rock lobster. The type indigenous to the Southern Regions of Africa. It’s a tastier crustacean than its lewd and large-clawed cousin of the north and I like it much better but for one of its chief habitats: the toilet.
I suppose by this point you are both disgusted and suitably intrigued.
In case, oh beloved readers, any of you feel the urge to surfeit my lips with amour, I shall have it known that I have been fortunate enough to have seen, or by proxy of a very close family member, have been assured that the habitat of any and all crayfish whose meat has passed my lips was, and always was, that of the ocean, pulled hence under watchful eye. Unless of course, by some malignant and baleful ruse, a scallywag of appreciable dedication found it a fitting use of his time to catch some crays, ripen them in his toilet, bring them back to the ocean and pretend to pull them fresh from the traps. A genius, a trickster just the same.
The story goes like this. My grandfather, a hero, was also somewhat of a dithering hobbyist dedicated more to being caught up in the idea of something rather than in its execution. So I gather from the very many stories that circulate the ranks of my kin. Each of these hobbies had something to do with the production of food and a token misadventure: exploding homemade wine, beekeeper suits with open flies, vegetable gardens unknowingly usurped for malfeasance and etcetera. The man was a veritable hobby-grenade. But where his hobbies met with calamity his professional life more than made up for it in glory. But that is a different story.
Those with even a cursory knowledge of Africa know that just about the entire continent, in one way or another, is the poster child for poverty. South Africa, despite having its fair share of wealth, is, and was no exception to this rule. Two things, among many atrocities, always seem to come out of poverty: desperation followed by ingenuity.
Confronted with a country full of such desperation and the chore of procuring dinner, my grandfather thought to produce a fine meal by helping some impoverished locals whom had shown up at the door selling large, live crayfish. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the chance. I suppose this is less of a hobby and simply a one-time misadventure but the idea strikes me as the same.
I’m not sure how far along with the process he got but, my grandfather certainly had purchased a nice set of dinner crays with a glow in his heart before someone made him aware of the very crude way in which the poor locals kept their crays fresh and live.
The gruesome details were this: fishermen had to sell their fresh fish pretty quickly. However, crays turned out to be considerably more hardy. Apparently they could stand up to a thorough dousing of fresh water and, when confronted with a fierce current, would happily swim against it. Instinctual self-preservation I suppose it was. Some poor fisherman must have caught a load of crayfish one day and had been unable to sell them all. Having no aquatic repository other than his loo, I imagine he tossed a cray in the bowl and gave it a flush to see what would happen. Well, the results have already been made clear. It wasn’t a far cry from noting that a cray could hold his own against a churning downward current to expecting that he could amply dodge a rollicking turd. And so, the native storage standard and newfangled habitat for the South African crayfish became that of the thunder box, the thinking throne, the bloody loo!
And back we come to my grandfather. What utter vexation must he have felt when someone took him aside and explained to him that his march of dinner crays were not so shining an achievement as they had seemed.
I will tell you this: my family never ceased to find sidesplitting amusement from the recount of this tale. My grandfather told it, my father told it and, now I tell it.
The moral here: certified organic food be damned, I’m happy enough to know my food didn’t come from the can.