Normandy’s favourite stinker in all its glory. Photo: Shutterstock

Leaky pens and gourmet fromage don’t always make good bagfellows, as Theadora discovers…

Surrounded by whispers, giggles and baby whimpers, I am eyeballing the handbags showcased in tall LED-lit cubbyholes, deep down in the basement accessories department at Printemps. I am searching for not just a replacement bag, but also the exact make and model if possible. How in the world did I get here? Let me unpack it for you. Earlier in the week, I’d been preparing for an important rendezvous and my friend Catherine persuaded me to borrow her lucky canvas tote.

Mesmerised by its shiny hand-sewn sequins, how could I say no?

Sure enough, feeling the sparkle, the meeting was a triumph. So I celebrated with a quick zip through the Grande Épicerie de Paris, where I got wooed by a sample glass of Brut Rosé Impérial. When I finished, the bored sales associate happily refilled it, then did it again. By now turned into a glutton for everything lavish – but on sale – I hoofed it to the cheese section, where I splurged like a dairy queen while neglecting to think about the weight. I had Cat’s jumbo-sized tote, so in no time I made it home, though perspiring and still flying high.

But as I giddily unpacked more than a dozen cheese treats, I spotted some not-so-tiny ink stains. Sometime during my market romp, my ballpoint had lost its cap. The horror!

HOT MESS

Though I tried, there was no stopping the bleeding where the pen had leaked. After searching online for help, I bolted to Monoprix to gather the recommended supplies: lemons, bleach, and L’Oréal Extra Strong Hold Hairspray – it’s only the best for my messes and I needed a miracle. Praying, I raced back to the flat and got to work on the bag. Tears hadn’t fallen, but only because the toxic cocktail of cleaning supplies made it hard to breathe. An hour of diligent spraying and scrubbing later, I left it to dry.

As I tossed and turned, I tried to take comfort in the thought that I was not the first to destroy a bag for the profound love of gourmet fromage. Far from it!

Back in 1879 Le Rat Mort café in Pigalle was jumping when a man walked in, ordered a drink, and asked to stash his bag behind the counter. The bartender agreed. After a few drinks, the man headed off, forgetting his bag. The evening advanced as usual until a strange stink began hitting the ceiling fan. Soon mutters became complaints, loud and clear.

The Rat Mort’s Livarot to-do has gone down in history

According to newspaper accounts, a “diligent search follows, and by the process of following their noses, the hunters come upon the respectable person’s black bag. At once a horrible suspicion seizes every mind. No doubt the bag contains human remains in an advanced stage of decomposition, and one and all refuse to touch it!”

The gendarmes called to the scene arrive with gigantic axes and breaching tools. “Holding their noses, all gather around the pièce d’accusation. The fastenings are quickly undone, and the eager hands of the superintendent expose to view… a somewhat ancient Livarot cheese!”

Of course, the cheese was destroyed right on the spot. By being consumed, that is. Though it’s barnyard smelly, Livarot is also pretty tasty. Peace was restored. Searching for some inner peace of my own, I crept back to the kitchen to inspect Cat’s lucky bag. The ink spots were gone, but now replaced by gaping holes, caused by bleach and scrubbing. Horrified, I thought about stitching on a funny patch – or else fleeing to the countryside.

Now, here, under the skylight at Printemps, it was time to face my lemons, and either buy Cat a replica sac or make a confession. In the end, I do both. Picking an apple green tote, this little piggy gilded the lily with a return trip to the market to stuff Cat’s new sac with her favourites: herb-encrusted Brin d’Amour, a tastes-like-butter Brillat-Savarin, and a thick and gooey Saint-Nectaire.

After all, moderation is always key when it comes to cheese – said absolutely no one. And that goes double for sparkly discount totes.

From France Today magazine

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