What makes anchovies salty

Salted anchovies

She was dressed far too warm for the midsummer weather. While the other young women were lounging on the terraces of the restaurants at the port of La Cotinière with a beach towel around their hips, in bikinis or airy T-shirts, heavy denim trousers and a brown-gray woolen sweater clattered on their thin bodies. Even so, she didn't seem to be sweating - perhaps thanks to the careful movements with which she glided over to a table that was a little off the beaten track in the shade of an "orangina" parasol, just a few yards from my table on which the carcasses of suckled crabs lay , Oysters and whelks floated through a sea of ​​melted ice.

Without asking, the waiter put a carafe with water, a glass of white wine and two plates on the table in front of the young woman. She brushed her thin blond hair from her face, sat up straight, lifted half a baguette out of her pocket with great care, then a small tin of anchovies, and placed both of them on the white paper towel in front of her as accurately as if they were decorating the display a jewelry shop. Now she took a knife and, with calm concentration, cut twelve slices from the bread - all of them were undoubtedly exactly twelve millimeters thick. She laid out the cuts on the plates as two flowers and then with a decisive, short jerk of her index finger opened the tin with the fish - I heard the gases escape, I smelled the scent of the fermented anchovies, the slightly fermented, cheesy-salty taste, Fish gingerbread cookies. She pulled the metal strip completely from the can, plucked twelve fillets from the oil with her fingers and draped them in a ring on the panes. Now she trickled the remaining oil over the bread - I tried to count the drops, but the Gros Plant du Pays Nantais had put a certain gloom in my eyes. But now I noticed all the cats that had gathered around their table. I tried to count them, which I couldn't quite succeed because they kept moving - but I was sure there were twelve.

The young woman watched her bread and anchovy factory for long minutes. Then she took the plates and, without looking, placed them on the floor on either side of her white plastic chair. The cats came up quickly and positioned themselves around the plates in such a way that their bodies formed two flowers made of shiny, silky fur petals at the blonde's feet. Each took a little fish between her teeth, pulled it with slightly jerky movements into her throat, and then licked the spicy oil from the top of the bread. As if on command, they all released themselves from the flower formation at the same time - and crept away in all directions.

The woman put the plates back on the table - the anchovies had disappeared and the surfaces of the bread were shiny with the saliva of the animals, but the slices were in a completely unchanged position on the plates. Now the young woman raised the glass with the white wine to her lips for the first time and took a careful sip from it. Then she closed her eyes, grabbed one of the slices of bread from the plate and pushed it between her lips. I heard how her mouth pulled the moisture from the surface with a slight suction and then with a fine crack the crust between her teeth broke - and I thought I felt a touch of salt that wafted from her to me, as if she wanted something tell me. When she had finished eating the slice, she opened her eyes and suddenly looked at me. It seemed to me as if her pupils were slightly elongated, the iris seemed to me a watery light gray. Then she took another sip of wine, closed her eyes again and brought the next bread to her mouth. When she looked at me directly and almost curiously afterwards, the color of her eyes seemed emerald green, next time golden yellow, dark brown, ice blue, ocher, steel gray, sand brown, gray brown, mother-of-pearl, brown-red, honey-yellow and finally oyster-green.

I ordered another glass of Gros Plant from the waiter and hoped that he would give me the courage to speak to the young woman. Then I went to the bathroom for a moment to rub some cool water on my face and rinse my mouth. When I stepped out onto the terrace again, the young woman had disappeared, her table cleared. I went to the waiter, pointed to the «Orangina» screen: «La fille qui était assise là…» «Quelle fille», he asked - but then raised his eyebrows meaningfully: «Ah, Monsieur cherche une fille!». I paid quickly. When I left the terrace, I passed her table. I felt as if I saw traces of oil on the otherwise squeaky clean paper tablecloth - but above all there was a small brass plate with the number "12" embossed on it in black. Of course I was looking for the young woman at the port of La Cotinière - but I was probably too afraid to find her.

A few days later, back in Zurich, I tried to seduce my neighbors' cats with an anchovy sandwich. She sniffed it curiously, but then turned away, bored, and started scratching her paws behind her ears.

This text is part of the series «Mouthpieces» (??).