Sunday, 24 March 2013

Hey . . . d'you wanna cabbage?

I was just walking the dogs back from the school amble a couple of days ago and this guy popped out from behind a tall gate and said the above,(in French). I wondered if 'chou' was also used as local word for indulging in something deviant as he was looking a bit shifty. Then I realised it was one of our neigbours from over the train tracks. I've only spoken to him a couple of times, not because either of us are unfriendly, but we just don't cross paths very often.

I followed him into the garden and he pointed to a row of magnificent cabbages, growing in dark rich loamy soil.
I was immediately wildly envious as our garden will not grow such things. You put in a baby cabbage plant and it sits there growing in a sort of arrested state, perhaps a nano-milimetre every month, not actually dying off, just not really getting any bigger. Eventually you pluck it out of the crusty soil about a year later having poured a bath-worths of water onto it, and cook it. Nice folk say things like — Mmm, so fresh, such a condensed cabbage taste, you can always tell when something's organic by the number of slug holes in it. In this case more hole than vegetable.
Anyway, Monsieur vanished to a shed, came back with a large knife and proceeded to remove one of the cabbages (here pictured with a key to show its monster proportions). He put it in a bin liner and presented it to me: "Voila, madame."
       "Merci bien, Monsieur!"
       "It is my pleasure, madame . . . we never eat cabbage.
What, you grow these things, well just toss a few seeds about — they grow into Women's institute vegetable show specimens, without a single word of encouragement from you . . . and you don't eat them! Merde alors. "Vraiment . . . really, how strange sir," Grrrr.
He then told me many interesting stories of the various roads of that part of town, who's donkey lived where in 1933, what Madame Dupont sold in her shop on the corner, and how there used to be a fabulously beautiful stone arch and ramparts at the end of the road before the hideous fire station was constructed in the 1980s. It was all really fascinating. I would like to go back and write some of the history down. He had been born in the house behind us, his parents and grandparents had lived there and had no doubt always grown magnificent cabbages, which in another era they certainly would have eaten.
I walked back clutching the bag and shouting at the dogs as they wandered off in search of unspeakable things to consume.
How wonderful I thought, (as we passed our own sorry looking weed-strewn veg patch), it would be to look back in time at that garden when his grandparents were using it as their main food source, chickens, pigs, fruit . . . and cabbages.

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