When I first lived in St-Germain des Pres in 1998 I started buying roast chickens at Boucherie Claude.
This establishment consists of an old fashioned butcher shop in the building and a large outside in the street display case from which chickens, potato gallettes and various other delicacies are sold, and a large outside in front roaster where the chickens are roasted in volume and the hot fat from them drops down on to masses of petit potatoes in the bottom of the roaster cooking them to a luscious turn.
The first chicken I bought there was a “poulet”. One size served all. It cost trentes francs which was five dollars.
I still buy my chickens there after brief flirtations with other chicken roasters because the ones at Boucherie Claude are the best I know of anywhere close.
Today, if one doesn’t count the Poulet Fermier, which costs fifteen euros a kilogram, there are three sizes on offer at Boucherie Claude.
There is the coquelet for six euros or almost eight dollars, the petit poulet for nine euros and the gross poulet for eleven.
I have eaten a lot of Boucherie Claude’s chickens over the years but until this trip I have never bought any fresh meat from the actual boucherie.
When I was first here in the years surrounding 1998 the Marché Champion (which was the small store marketing format with which the hypermart company Carrefour did business as in cities. French law requires the huge – beyond big box – French retailers to remain outside the dense urban areas) had a perfectly acceptable in-store boucherie and I did business there for fresh meat.
In those days Champion also had a full scale in-store fromagerie.
And on Fridays a chef came and spent the afternoon making a giant kettle of paella that went on sale in portions to take home at 16h00 and was gone by 18h00.
But things change.
Champion is no more. It has various names, depending upon where it is in the City and what its intended purpose is: Carrefour Cité, Carrefour Express etc.
The old Champion that I still go to is simply Carrefour.
And the boucherie is gone from the now Carrefour.
And so also is the fromagerie.
And if one were to ask for Friday afternoon paella one would be confronted with gales of Gallic laughter.
So when I decided to make côte de porc moutard avec capres in my first couple of weeks here I went to Claude.
And I got a great côte de porc.
As long as I was there inside for the first time I decided to walk around and look at all the refrigerated display cases to see what they had. Having been in other boucheries, just not this one, I could see that it was typically well supplied with choices.
There were big chickens with the feet still in place and with the neck hackles still on the neck.
There were quail that had been mostly plucked but with some esthetically pleasing vestigial feathers left.
There were partially skinned rabbits.
And there were pheasants done up in a manner similar to the chickens.
And there was bacon.
It was a large slab that looked like the best bacon that I had ever seen anywhere and in front of the slab, as a sort of illustration of what it was and why one would want it, there were four thick slices of the best looking bacon I had ever seen.
I immediately was glad that I had ready use of the word “tranche”, having been using it on saumon for several years, and knew that it was feminine.
But the real bonus was that it had a place card saying what it was.
“Poitrine Fumé” it said.
“Of course” I said. Then I said “Bien sur".
To myself I said these things.
I have a rich interior life.
And this little story would have been about all there was to tell about a sort of Steinfeldian “nothing happened” series of vignettes from my life if I had not been harboring in the back of my mind a T-shirt that I was going to design.
I have drawers full of T-shirts that I have designed and ordered on line so another one in the hopper wasn’t any surprise.
The difference this time was that I had a graphic that screamed out that, if put on a T-shirt, it should have some sort of snappy tag line associated with it.
“What could be more natural”, I said to myself, “than for that smiling pig to be saying “ma poitrine est fumé”?
I consulted my iPhone French dictionary app and found that poitrine meant something like pork belly when used with a pig and something like brisket when used with a cow.
That seemed reasonable.
So I decided that the pig T-shirt project would go forward under the banner of “Ma Poitrine est Fumé”.
I thought it was lighthearted T-shirt humor.
Unfortunately I had forgotten how to spell poitrine and Boucherie Claude had removed the placard with its name by the time I had decided all of this.
So Google entered the picture.
And I was amazed.
When the various guesses that I had about what the word I was looking for was spelled like had finally been winnowed down by Google to poitrine I couldn’t believe what it brought up.
The word seemed to mean “bosom “ and a number of synonyms.
And those answers were all supplied with ample image support.
“What about bacon?” I said to myself.
There was no answer.
Luckily I scrolled down through all that voluptuousness and finally found bacon and beef brisket.
But I had a permanently altered view of my tag line.
What had started out to be – I had hoped – a whimsically clever little thing was now a fairly significant double entendre.
I can’t banish from my mind the constant barrage that I have experienced on American television of an ad by some weight loss company that features a young woman who epitomizes the fantasies of generations of men, endorsing whatever the weight loss program or product that she is being paid to hype, saying something about “my smokin’ hot body”.
“Ma poitrine est fumé” I heard someone say.
“This is going to be fun” I heard myself say.