You think there's nothing new. Then on a stormy night, or in an early morning airport, as Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities, you meet a stranger...
Two weeks ago I was on a layover in Paris on route to Genova. and I met a man on the bus that carried travelers between terminals. I was reading the Life of Pi and he loved the book and we began chatting. It turns out that he was a salvage diver on his way to the Tuscan coast to work on the Corsa Concordia, the ill-fated cruise ship. We both had about four hours on our hands. He was anxious to get a smoke and I wanted to have some coffee and relax. If he felt like some company, I told him he'd find me in a cafe.
A little while later he found me. He got himself a double espresso (he looked like he needed it) and we started talking. I asked him about his salvage business. He told me that he spent all of his working hours under water. And I asked why he did this as a profession. "Fear." He told me. "Fear? You mean like you're conquering your fears?" No, he explained. He was afraid of his father. His father was a very gruff, stern man, and Paul, I believe that was his name, was too afraid to do anything else in his life except join the family business..
We laughed over this for a bit. At least he laughed over it. He went on, telling me what it was like to work underwater. How everything was dark and you couldn't see anything. When he was doing underwater construction or salvage work, it was all by touch. "You have to feel everything as you go."
I found him rather fascinating and, though he asked nothing about me, he seemed content to be interviewed. I found myself plying him with more and more questions. Then he told me that though he lived in Australia he had grown up in the Solomon Islands - one of no more than twenty white people there when he was a child. "They were headhunters, you know."
I didn't know. I actually knew little or nothing about the Solomon Islands. He told me that cannibalism came from a deep belief about the need to literally incorporate the other. You take on his power when you devour him. "I've never done this myself, of course, but I understand why they do it. Or did it." He seemed a little unsure if this was really entirely in the past.
That was when he told me that he knew a recipe for cooking humans. You know they call them "long pig."
I was munching on croissant, sipping cafe au lait, as he mentioned this. "So," I asked, unable to let it pass, "how do you cook a human?"
Paul smiled. He had bright shiny blue eyes, the color of the sea, and now they were sparkling. "First you throw the head away. You don't eat the head." (The rest that follows isn't for the fainthearted). "Then you dig a pit, line it in a hot stones and banana leaves. You take the limbs of the person you are cooking and wrap them in banana leaves. I'm not sure about the torso but you definitely cook the butt. Pile more leaves on, more hot stones. Bury the whole thing for about twelve hours. Then uncover it." He waited for my reaction. Essentially slow cooking," he said.
I nodded. Slow cooking made sense.
I know as I'm sitting there that this is one of those things that comes from traveling alone. I'm sure I'd never be having this conversation if I had a traveling companion. If I didn't, then I wouldn't need Paul's company and I wouldn't now have this new recipe for my files.
As we were finishing our breakfast, his flight was called. He was heading to Pisa to do his salvaging. I was going a few moments later to Genova. Paul shook my hand and bid me good-bye. I watched as he disappeared into the boarding area. I went on to Genova.