My French is not so good and she spoke carefully and clearly to me, avoiding idiom. When I asked her to repeat a word or a sentence, she was patient. In general, though, I preferred to feign understanding rather than keep interrupting.
The word melange was my most serious sticking point. But with the help of some inspired guesswork, and by paying close attention to her body language, I eventually got it. And I'm glad she told me. Knowing this about boars made me feel more at ease in the world, and I was grateful to her for her persistence. I lifted my fine to her and toasted our success.
(Because they are called fines and not "hair of the dog", one doesn't feel nearly so guilty about drinking neat spirits at 10 o' clock in the morning. It makes a big difference.)
The cafe was small and sparsely furnished. Looking down on us, with a certain amount of contempt, I thought, was an enormous stuffed boar's head. On one of the walls was an enlarged colour photograph of this boar before its dismemberment. It was hanging upside-down from a gibbet and surrounded by the men of the village, an ugly crowd, all beaming from ear to ear. "250 kilos," said the patron's daughter when she saw me looking at it.
It was still early. Sylvanes is a tiny village - more of a hamlet really - and no one was about yet. I got the impression that if I wasn't in the cafe, the patron's daughter would be out the back killing chickens or something.
I contemplated the boar's head. Then I contemplated the patron's daughter's head. Both were very striking in their own way. Seeing me looking at her, and my glass nearly empty, she picked up the bottle of grappa and tilted it temptingly towards me.
Then she started to tell me how to tell the difference between a pure wild boar and a melange.
Apart from doing blood tests, she said, injecting herself in the forearm like a junky, the only way to tell the difference was to take out the boar's eyeball, remove the lens, and weigh this on a set of very sensitive scales. A pure boar's lens will weigh slightly more than that of a melange.
Up to and including the removal of the eyeball I was on the case. No problem. She had put the tips of her fingers and thumb into her own eye socket, pretended to unscrew it like a light bulb, then laid this imaginary eye on the counter between us. We looked down at it as if it was actually there.
But the business about the lens threw me completely. Not knowing the French word for lens was my main downfall, I suppose. It did briefly cross my mind that a lens was what she was talking about, but I discarded this interpretation as being too fantastic.
But the patron's daughter was a stayer. Over and over again she took out an eye, made a delicate, imaginary incision in it, then removed something from inside it with a magician's flourish. Finally, I suggested she drew a diagram in my reporter's notebook. So she did that instead, drawing long eyelashes on the eye, and showing in considerable detail how an image becomes inverted on the back of a lens. I got it straight away.
By now, though, we had both begun to lose confidence in each other's intelligence, and further conversation was confined to unscientific matters. One of these was whether I would like to buy a raffle ticket. First prize: one dead boar. Second prize: half a dead boar. Raffle to be drawn at the village's annual Pig's Trotter Banquet.
Two please, I said.Reuse content