Friday, June 17, 2005

The Mr. Bear Call-Out!

I'll say it, Cornelius has picked up a trick or two in his years, one of which is the art of conciliation. I guess all those weeks he was tucked away in his upholstered wingback, contemplating our situation in the company of leather-bound volumes while simultaneously avoiding me, finally paid off. He surprised me in the kitchen this afternoon while I was trying out a new Stilton/chive soufflé technique, and asked me into his room for a "bit of a chat." I got kind of uncomfortable, because I didn't want to sit and hear a stuffy lecture about respect, but I hit the oven timer and went in anyway. We couldn't avoid each other forever. This house is only like 1100 square feet.

He had two sets of five little glasses set up on either side of his desk, and asked me to sit down. To the side I noticed five dusty old bottles. He started off with an apology that things had been awkward around the house lately, that "two strong heads rutted where harmony should have prevailed." Then he described a ritual that the Frenchmen in Calvados use to settle arguments.

I took a closer look at all the bottles and saw that they were all Calvados, an apple brandy, from a wide range of years, one dating to '61. He had collected them on his various travels in the region and nipped on them only sparingly, he said, watching them improve with age.

The first step was to fill both sets of five glasses with maybe a half-shot of each of the five liquors. That done, we admired their color and differences, and he told me a story about the first glass which involved porking (my term) a farmer's daughter in a hayloft and nearly crushing the bottle when the farmer showed up with a pitchfork and he jumped to the ground below. This was the oldest liquor, which is where we started.

The idea was to toast, and then after draining the stuff and contemplating it a moment the host of the ritual would say one thing he regretted about the problem at hand. The guest would then reply with his regret. "Let us never be that way again," both would say, and then turn the glass upside down where it had originally sat. He taught me the French phrase for "Let us never be that way again" but I've forgotten it by now.

By the fifth glass , the youngest, we were both pretty lit, singing each other's praises and promising to try a book project once my show had taken off. He said his agent would love to see some new work from him, and then the soufflé timer went off, so we went off to enjoy some hot food with a nice Châteauneuf-du-Pape he pulled off the shelf when we were leaving. I can safely say it's all behind us now, and I've never felt better about the cooking show. He was pretty effusive when it came to flattering me, 50% of which I'll chalk up to the liquor.