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  • I got a chance to live and write a month in France. My friend heard about a trip and made a proposition: “Could I come with you? I would be a French chef. I would take care of all cooking.”

    It felt like an excellent deal.

    In Maintenon, little village 60 kilometres southwest of Paris, we visited local stores. I blinked my eyes in front of local boucherie. A proud butcher had placed the brains of veal on a honorary podium in the middle of vitrine like those were the brains of olympic gold metalist.

    “I want to taste that”, I immediately said.

    “Cervelle au beurre noir, brains in black butter, classic French recipe”, my friend nodded. “You can’t get that in restaurants of Kotka.” First he however wanted to give a tour to the depths of other French haute cuisine which included lot of internal organs, intestines and slimy animals.

    He carried a bag full of kidneys to our house. "First class stuff", he said enthusiastically. "These don't smell like piss." Later in the evening he walked with a pan from a kitchen, switched lights off, poured cognac over sliced kidneys and set a pan on fire. As blue, vibrating flames enlightened dark room I corked a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Joie de vivre.

    Next morning my friend stopped me and Kirsi at the threshold of kitchen when we tried to enter to make coffee. Non non, he was the chef, and nobody else would enter the kitchen. Only over his dead body. He ordered us to sit at the different ends of 10 person dining table. We weren’t allowed to take even sugar container by ourselves, he stood besides table and moved croissants and creamer from one end of the table to another end.

    “It’s time you bloody bohemians learn some discreet charm of bourgeoisie”, he said.

    Time after time he disappeared to make phone calls. Later we learned that his relationship with long-time love was in deep crisis. But in Maintenon we didn’t know that, my friend hold his tongue about the matter and focused all his attention into total cooking. Day by day he stayed longer and longer in locked up kitchen. Me and Kirsi sat in the large dining room between the two of us, accompanied only by silent snails in red wine.

    One day my friend announced that he would exceptionally serve us vegetarian food today. Asparagus with hollandaise sauce for dinner, he absolutely must not be disturbed. He would concentrate to give all his love to hollandaise sauce. As night fell I took a glimpse into kitchen. My friend was staring blankly at saucepan. I harrumphed and said that our stomachs growled. My friend shouted: “Järvelä, you concentrate on your alphabets, let me deal with stuff I’m expert in.”

    After six hours stirring he brought hollandaise to dining table and growled at me something about insulting the sauce’s delicate feelings and delivering babies prematurely with forceps.

    After that came an episode with frog legs. Chef announced that he would make a relaxing trip to Versailles before evening’s tour de force in kitchen. He didn’t want to take a train and share a wagon compartment with all the people with crushed dreams stinking of defeat, instead he wanted to breathe some fresh air alone. I said that it’s 50 kilometres to Versailles. My friend answered that it’s not a problem, he would make an early start.

    I woke up at four o’clock at night when I heard some rattling noise from front yard. It was very foggy and dark outside, chef tried to find gate in pea souper and collided against iron fence with bike. Clang. Twice. Clang. Thrice.

    We didn’t hear anything of him during the day. We visited Paris by train. When we returned at nightfall, the house was dark. We looked for him everywhere inside and outside the house, from cellar to attic. Only during second search round I smelled faint smoke coming under the bathroom door.

    My friend was laying dead tired in darkness, in the bath tub, with tobacco in his mouth, hugging a yellow rubber duck. He had lost his way soon after leaving the house and after several hours of cycling he had ended up in the middle of biking race. “Jesus, they rode fast”, he still panted. "I tried to keep abreast."

    I made a mistake by mentioning a dinner. My friend jumped from bath tub and marched to the kitchen naked, leaving water puddles after him.

    He ordered us to sit at dining table and threw frozen frog legs on two plates. “S’il vous plaît, bourgeois swines! Revolution!”

    During following days chef didn’t rise anymore from dining room couch. He complained about his stomach, apparently foie gras he had taken to cycling trip as provision had been très passé. Occasionally he stared at phone, occasionally at television. He sighed a lot. In television the same ad recurred again and again, in it French chef tried to flambé a dish in restaurant and ignited accidentally himself. My friend clicked his tongue every time the cook in the ad ran flaming around restaurant. “I know exactly how you feel, brother”, he said.

    In the end I lost my nerve, gathered speed from the other side of the dining room and kicked a couch under my friend with all my force. And with three consequences.

    1) I broke my toe.

    2) I never got my cervelle au beurre noir.

    3) 15 years later naked chef is still with his darling.
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