Last week I scoffed at the village wisewoman who foretold disaster after a brick-red moon. What a fool I was, what a mutton-headed fool, what an addle-pated dolt. Her cackling kin, riding their storm clouds at midnight across the streaming welkin, sent an ague down to torment me. It settled onto the sinuses and at the back of the throat and I woke up with what doctors call “a cold.”
“So what?” you may ask. Ah, but bear in mind my profession. For the foodslashwine writer, a cold is a disaster. One feels like a deaf musician or a sculptor struck blind who can feel the texture of the clay, the cool smoothness of the marble, but cannot see it. Reduced to the primary receptors of the tongue, but without any of the subtle nuances of the olfactory system, food and wine changes radically. Wine simply vanishes—registering as a slightly acidic liquid with a faint alcoholic heat. A shaved truffle might as well be paper (proving truffles are all aroma, quite flavour free). A good oyster tastes exactly like a bad oyster—which is a bit worrying. Close your eyes and the thing you’re putting into your mouth might be toast and marmalade or young rat in crystal rainbow fold.
My response to a cold begins with remorse. I’m tempted to see it as a punitive visitation for months of self-indulgence so there is much hand-wringing and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Partly to atone, but mostly because food has lost its lustre, I take advantage of the moment to go on a diet. Not the salami-sandwich-and-riesling diet that sustained me for 18 months when I was a struggling choreen, but a real diet where I eat wan vegetables and chastened bouillon. I fall back on my mother’s remedies for sore throats— gargling with salt water and making drinks of scalding hot water with honey and lemon juice. I can’t taste it—but I can feel it doing me good. Meanwhile I exist in the shadow land of the gastronazgul, neither living nor dead, as hypersensitive to the texture of food as any Cantonese aesthete but quite oblivious to its flavour.
By day two, I’m beginning to wonder whether I will ever be able to taste food again. I am gnawed by the knowledge that my career is certainly over.
On day three (last Friday, to be more precise), I was eating a fruit-flavoured yogurt when a hint of peach flitted like a ghost across my dormant brain. By evening, all systems were fully restored and my wife and I celebrated with rabbit stifatho and a bottle of gorgeous, juicy-fruity, velvet smooth Quinta Sardonia 2003 from Villabañez, Spain. If you can find a bottle, open it.
Tomorrow we begin the journey back to Toronto. Wah. But I’m very much looking forward to tasting the ribs at Cluck, Grunt and Low, the new rib shack on Bloor Street soon to be opened by Paul Boehmer and Marc Thuet. Providing I don’t catch another cold.