Saturday morning. It is a sunny, mild day, everything you might demand from early June. We walk into Les Halles, into the bustling farmers’ market section of the building and the first thing that grabs my attention is a man selling watermelons. He has about 10 left – the deep green kind, round and reminiscent of bowling balls. I am thrilled – the first watermelon of the summer.
As they are heavy we decide to do our other fruit and vegetable shopping first and circle back to buy watermelon on our way home. When we return to the stand there is just one whole watermelon and one half remaining. I feel lucky that we got there in time.
A middle-aged woman with an early tan, wearing sunglasses and a grim look articulated through the slight jowls formed between her closed mouth and her decisively extended chin, is arguing with the watermelon man. She points to the remaining half-watermelon insistently, and he repeats that it is not possible to sell her that half, as it has already been sold to someone else. She says that she wants that half, as it will be sweeter than the large, uncut watermelon still remaining. She looks absolutely sure of herself. There is no doubt, no possibility that the remaining whole watermelon will be “sucré” like THAT half is “sucré,” the half the man is denying her. She has a look that says she knows watermelons, and the man can’t fool her into buying an inferior one.
We interrupt the standoff and ask to buy half of the whole remaining watermelon.
The man deftly slices through it and weaves his hand slightly in the process, removing a delicate tranche from the center. He hands it to the woman to sample. He smiles easily, warmly, confidently, as though saying she need only try it to understand.
Her face remains impassive, her eyes hidden behind her reflective sunglasses. She grasps the green rim of the translucent slice and brings it to her mouth.
Time freezes for me in that moment. In my childishness I expect the watermelon to work magic. I expect the age, the weariness, the depression, the dissatisfaction – her constant nagging sense that nothing is quite right or quite good enough, to melt from her face as the pink flesh hits her taste buds and she remembers it is summertime, and everything is really alright after all. Watermelon!
She bites down.
She purses her lips tightly and makes a slight frown. Then she shrugs simultaneously with her mouth and with her shoulders. Bof. One of the most French of all gestures.
And then she turns her back on the marvelous fruit and walks away, looking triumphantly unimpressed.
We carry our half watermelon home, the very watermelon the woman has just scorned. I think – well even if it isn’t really sweet, I’m happy to have it. How can I complain, after not having had ANY watermelon since last fall? I’m excited anyway, even if it isn’t as sucré as it could be. It marks the beginning of summer. Watermelon season!
We get home and cut the piece in half, putting one section in the fridge and splitting the other half between us. David takes a knife and fork and I take a spoon and we each cut into our pieces and begin to eat. After seeing the French woman’s complete repudiation of the quality of this melon, I almost expect it to be flavorless or squishy – subpar somehow.
But the flesh is bright and juicy, tangy and delicious. It is not at all mealy but firm and cool. It has both crunch and tenderness.
And it is one of the sweetest watermelons I have ever tasted.
Maybe I was overcome by the concept of the re-arrival of watermelon, and was unable to recognize the grim reality – that the watermelon was not perfect. It could be that after having not tasted watermelon all year, I no longer was able to compare it accurately to all the sweet watermelons that have come before it, and know how it ranked. It’s possible that it COULD have been slightly better somehow. All I know is that it was no challenge at all to enjoy.
But perhaps my senses are not refined enough to really know watermelons, like the woman who found within her first bite of watermelon of the summer, not sweetness, but the taste of dissatisfaction (with the watermelon, with the weather, with her husband, her children, her life, and with the present and future of the French nation) and a hint of the unmistakably bitter flavor of the futility of existence.
I thought it was delicious.
Note: I am starting a new blogging project in addition to the Annotated Zoetrope, where I will be posting much shorter ideas. It’s a different concept, which is intended to be complementary to this blog. Please check it out and follow it if you are interested: The Gesture Hunter: http://thegesturehunter.wordpress.com