Burial At Sea – Southern France, Part II

When I think about France, I’m reminded of my daughter, the consummate Francophile. It makes setting foot on French soil without Laura difficult, fostering, as it does, a bout of nostalgia. I visited her several times while she lived there, and we had many adventures, some that revolved around the wonderful cheeses of the Savoy – specifically, Reblochon. Our favorite.

Those of you who’ve been following my blog will recall Reblochon from an earlier post, and the adventures with that cheese continue here.

Laura loves France; in many ways it’s like home to her – and France has Reblochon, one of the best things France has going for it. It’s impossible to get state-side as it’s unpasteurized and forbidden entry into the U.S. because of its “unsanitized” state. So when we are in France, it’s the first thing we buy. That and French baguettes, chocolate, and croissants, of course, and let’s not forget French wine. Who could want for anything with these gracing one’s table?

Because Laura and France are inextricably linked in my mind, when I spotted a small wheel of Reblochon in a local French market last month, I had to have it.

One thing you need to know about Reblochon is that it smells. Most cheeses do, I know, but this is offensive to the max – trite but true. When you step into a small cheese shop there, the mingling of cheese smells can be overwhelming at first, but Reblochon engenders the same affect all by itself. Bill is genteel in his description of it, saying “It stinks!” But one taste erases that unpleasantness. Reblochon spread on a fresh baguette – there is nothing better.

So when I found some in the market, I snapped a picture of it on my iPhone for Laura, then purchased the whole wheel (maybe 6 inches in diameter). If Laura had been there, we likely would have consumed the whole thing at one sitting. Instead, Bill and I put it in the mini-fridge in our stateroom so we could share our cache with Joe and Mary Jane a little at a time. In the first two days, we’d eaten close to three-quarters of it and then, being off the ship more than on, forgot about it for a couple of days.

Who knew the mini-fridge in our room wasn’t working as well as it should have been?

When we remembered it and opened the fridge, the stench knocked Bill back on his heels and permeated everything in the room. It stank worse than ever. It was SO bad. I knew the bad smell that was good and the difference between that and the bad smell that was not good, and that’s what this was, bad to the bone. Even I was afraid to eat it. It had to go, no question about it. But where? How?

It’s safe to l say Laura would have been appalled at this waste of one of the finest cheeses France has to offer.

We considered unceremonious disposal in a public trash bin, but people might have wondered what had died in there. And the smell would creep all over the ship, something we couldn’t risk – couldn’t have people jumping overboard to escape the smell, could we? That would never do. If we put it in the wastebasket in our room, we’d have to sleep elsewhere – and it was too cold to curl up in a deck chair on the balcony or on the upper deck. I envisioned Stefan, our cabin attendant, refusing to clean our room; we didn’t want that either. We even considered asking Stefan to dispose of it for us, but we saw ourselves the talk of the Downton Abbey’s downstairs staff pointing at us in the hallways and whispering asides in the dining room. We’d be ostracized, singled out by crew and passengers alike. Perhaps even set ashore, bags in hand.

The only thing left was burial at sea. Bodies – Cheese: same thing, sort of. Quietly lowering our coveted cheese over the side of the balcony, sheathed in white, we would let it slip quietly into the water and sink to the bottom of the Rhone River. You see it in the movies all the time, with bodies, that is. So that’s what we did.

The mistake we made was this…

We had already tied it up in a plastic bag to cut down the smell before we’d decided on the more traditional, if not outmoded, sea burial idea. We’d twisted the bag around tying a knot near the middle thinking of that beloved cheese as garbage now. Garbage sitting in the bottom of a white plastic bag from which I’d not extruded all the residual air. It was still dark, so tying a second knot close to the top, I hung myself over the side as far as I could safely manage so it wouldn’t splash when it landed in the water. But we weren’t connecting the dots well. We didn’t think “plastic bag” and how one tied the way this one was would behave when lowered into the water.

It would float – as our own Reblochon did, adopting the statuesque pose of a swan moving just off the side of the ship on its way toward the Mediterranean Sea, its head held high and proud.

It failed to sink like I thought it would. In my haste to get it into the water unseen before dawn broke, I neglected to poke a hole or two in the plastic so it could fill with water. Instead of sinking, it sailed away silently like a symbolic lantern in the Japanese Lantern Festival guiding the souls of the dead to their homes and then back to their resting places – the floating paper lanterns creating a vision of peacefulness and harmony as they commemorate the dead.

It was a beacon unto itself.

Our ceremony for the dead Reblochon, cast as a singular, lost, plastic swan, was heading out in search of its family, too. A silent swan, set adrift alone on the high seas – the Rhone River substituting for the ocean. I doubt it knew the difference. No fanfare for a legendary cheese well-made. No salute to the Savoy. Bill noted: “We sent her off into the sunset (or rather, sunrise) masquerading as a swan.”

When we got home, I saw a brief article on the internet about the “10 Foods You Should Never Eat Overseas.” Guess what was on it.

According to the FDA, drinking unpasteurized milk or eating unpasteurized dairy products like cheese or ice cream is 150 times more likely to cause a food-borne illness than pasteurized dairy products, it said. Pasteurization (or irradiation, in some countries) kills a myriad of nasty little suckers like salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and other harmful bacteria that can be found in raw milk.

Though it was difficult to part with knowing I wouldn’t be having any for a long time to come, it was probably a good thing we didn’t try to eat it. On reflection, Laura would surely have agreed…maybe.

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