Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's Just Not Enough to Have the Best Bacon in Town

     I love butchers. I love their cold cases with the ground beef and steaks and chops and roasts tidily arrayed and glistening redly under glass. I love asking for 3/4 of a pound of ground chuck and getting it in the little red-checked paper boat wrapped up in white butcher paper. I love their knives and cleavers and sharpening steels. I love asking them could they bone a leg of lamb for me and then watching while they do it, in less time than it would take me to undo the butcher-paper wrapping.
     A good butcher is a joy forever. His loveliness increases, even in a blood-stained apron.
     And yet, if K wants a little of the best bacon in town for his breakfast, I will not go to the butcher shop where one goes to get the best bacon in town, no sir; if K wants that bacon he has to go to the butcher shop himself and purchase the bacon and I will not go with him, even to ride in the car.
     Because the butchers at that shop are grumpy. They get all testy with you when you ask for a type of sausage they are not familiar with. They would prefer not to sell you the pound of brisket you requested. They believe your desire to obtain a chuck roast is a violation of all that is Good and True in this world. They wouldn't sell you the best ham in town even if you paid them.
          I have had brusque butchers, and quiet butchers, and shy butchers, and not a few cheerful butchers, none of whom have ever been reluctant to sell me what they possessed and even feel slightly sorrowful if they had no Kalberwurst, but I have never had a grumpy butcher till Kansas City. Is it the humidity?
          My Parisian butcher was kindly. My butcher in Tours was cheerful. My Princeton butcher was busy but cheerful. My San Jose butcher was flirtatious. My Madison butcher was brusque, but he would bone anything you asked him to, or butterfly it, or split it, without making you feel that you were Not Good Enough for his meat.
          I have even negotiated, both happily and successfully, for steak with a busy butcher in a very busy shop in Copenhagen who had no reason to treat me well, since my entire fund of Danish consists of "tak," ("thank you"), which is perfectly useless when you need to specify which kind of steak you want and the shop is jammed with impatient customers who are actually capable of saying exactly what they want in a language the butcher understands, but which did bring a big smile from him when we had finally concluded the negotiation and he handed me the package of steak.
           So I fail to understand how an entire butcher shop could make a cult of grumpiness and still survive financially. Although their bacon really is excellent.      

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