The early 19th century French aristocrat the Marquis de Sade once said, “Sex is as important as eating or drinking and we ought to allow the one appetite to be satisfied with as little restraint or false modesty as the other.”
A libertine at heart, this “Good Samaritan” was an advocate of extreme freedom, bound by no moral compass, religion, or law, a fact which kept him for the most part in prison. Jail. Why?
He would be a man after my own heart and libido today, if I were still so inclined. I can’t say why the “Sade” popped into my head at this particular moment, as a delicate trickle of blood, like a crimson river, flowed gently down my butchered finger, around my knuckle, and dripped onto the summer squash I was preparing for dinner. “Hypocrites,” I thought to myself. “Damnit!” I shouted as I stood there watching red mix with yellow and wondering why there was no orange.
Sex and food. I have a history with it, carnal knowledge, if you will, of intimate delicacies, succulent desires, tasty treats, and forbidden dishes. It is no surprise to anyone, least of all to me, that the Sade figured this out centuries ago. It is also no surprise that the French word for “ass,” “cul” spelled C-U-L, finds its way into the word culinary. C-U-L inary. The two are inseparable. I have equally and permissively fallen in love with women and fresh-baked cookies, their plump round asses baking under a summer sun. Sade understood perfectly the “five senses” of l’être humain; he exploited them to their fullest climactic potential. Those who deny themselves these pleasures, yet say so while seated at your table, will not know what to do when the shucked oysters arrive. See for yourself.
How do I know this to be true? I’ve had a lesson or two.
My grandmother on my dad’s side was Portuguese. My grandma Cosmina, not much taller than I was as a kid, couldn’t speak a lick of English but she could make a mean dish of “favish.” It was a sort of poor man’s stew made with fava beans, potatoes, beef, turnips, carrots, onions, and several special ingredients that had everyone clamoring for more. Portuguese comfort food if you will. My mom tried making it a couple of times to please my dad but it usually ended up in the garbage disposal. Her family was from Quebec. Anyway, the story goes that my grandfather, whom I’ve been told I resemble, was a bit of a philanderer. A womanizer.
Cosmina used to keep a small glass Mason jar on the kitchen table filled with dried fava beans next to a carafe of cheap wine that my mom almost spit up one day – mistaking the cool red liquid for Kool-aid – in a moment of un-relinquishing thirst and heat. But Cosmina had made a promise to herself. She vowed that every time my grandfather would saunter in late at night or not come home at all, she’d take a bean from the jar. The level of beans didn’t seem to change very much over time – until one day the jar was empty. And so was their love. My grandfather never asked about the beans, but I’m sure he understood as I did later. Cosmina would just smile at him and remove a shriveled bean from the jar while sitting alone in her kitchen, adding to the collection already tucked away tightly in her apron pocket.
I see this story now, as I did hearing it growing up, as some sort of undefined or ill-perceived punishment that was surely going to come my way if I didn’t behave. I never met my grandfather; he passed away long before my sister and I were born. But the lesson of the disappearing fava beans stuck in my head. It was a subtle but effective way of keeping score, establishing boundaries, and discovering the tipping point. I guess it might have been a little about patience and understanding as well, perhaps even forgiveness. The latter I learned with great difficulty. I carried that “bean-counter” mentality into the future, nurturing every petty grievance wrought against me until I too had no more beans left. Those beans were my judge and jury. My defense. My witness.
Yep, I counted beans – kidney though, that way you could fit more into a jar. It was a form of extended tolerance I guess, an extended warranty against major break-ups and difficult realities. I kept mine in the sock drawer, tucked in back, under a pile of tighty-whiteys. Had a bad day at work, a fight with my girl – any minutiae or injustice would do. I felt vindicated. A thorn lifted from my side. The thing was the beans started to disappear at an alarming rate. No returned voice mail, hap, a bean removed; missed dinner date, hap, another one gone; too many bills to pay, hap, hap, hap, three more tossed. I was on a roll. It felt good – ineffective, but satisfying nonetheless. Then it happened, as it did to Cosmina: my jar was empty. I had even less to commit to as yet another plate of unrequited love was served up and rejected, sent back, as my front door closed awkwardly behind me. Oh well.
I scooped up the now pinkish squash and threw it into the sink. I reached for a towel to stop the bleeding. There was only so much more of this I could take.
“To enlighten mankind and improve its morals is the only lesson which we offer in this story. In reading it, may the world discover how great is the peril which follows the footsteps of those who will stop at nothing to satisfy their desires.” – Marquis de Sade
The summer was just beginning and already over.