Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Brussels Mussels

Moules frites has long been a favourite of mine, and one of the bonuses of living in Belgium is the regular supply of fresh mussels that you can order from almost every restaurant. Especially recommended are a few select venues in the old port of St Catherine and one or two of the dining places that can be found in the tourist trap of rue des bouchers. I always felt bad for my mum, another mussels fan who ate a bad one, one unforgettable summer in her twenties and spent the night throwing up on a darkened beach, the poison from the mussel twisting up her insides for twenty four hours of misery.

Through our childhood, when we were on family holidays, we would tuck into our glistening mounds of black shells, scooping out the bodies and slurping the white wine they were cooked in. Mum would have some other fish, hopefully glad that we were at least enjoying what she could not. A couple of times, after that initial violent reaction, she tried again to eat mussels, just a couple to begin with. Each ended in the same day-long suffering and in the end she decided it wasn't worth it. No more mussels.

Last weekend we went with friends to our regular mussels chomping ground. A good night was had by all, and we left stuffed and satisfied. When I woke up at 5am, stomach growling and queasiness making my head light, I didn't know what was happening straight away. I went into the bathroom and mentally went over the previous meal, the careful sorting through and rejecting the closed and broken-shelled mussels, the happy fullness I felt once my plate was clear, the blissful ignorance of the poison that was already working its way into my system. I was soon bent over the toilet bowl, last night's dinner being ejected from my body, the violence of the sickness actually making me black out at the worst point and crack my head against the bathroom wall.

Marek was standing over me as I came to, panic marking his face and uncertainty over what to do evident in his questioning. I reassured him and curled up by the radiator, waiting for the end to come.

After a couple more uncomfortable hours, my stomach had calmed down enough to sleep. When I woke, the sickness had subsided into a general background nausea and I gave in again to my sleepiness, vaguely considering the possibility of concussion and dismissing it as an abstract concern. By the evening I no longer felt the need to retch at every thought of food, and I began to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to die.

I thought of mum, and how we alway joked about her friends' comments that I was more like her than she was. I'm doing my bit to get there.

Edited to add: The night after I wrote this, on a plane to Vienna, I had a dream that I found a white hair, in among the regular brown ones, and that it stretched longer than any others. As I pulled on it, I saw the ones surrounding it were white too; that in fact I had a thick stripe of white hair, high on my head. I showed my mum, but as I showed her it became not a white stripe on my dark head, but a white stretch of spider's web, just above my jaw line. Mum pulled at it, and it came away to reveal an angry red boil, where I knew the web's spider had buried her eggs. I asked mum what I should do, resisted the urge to scratch at the boil, in case it made it worse, and waited for advice. Mum said nothing but brushed the boil away as if it was a loose hair. It fell off, leaving clean bare skin, and I felt the immense relief of knowing I would not absent-mindedly scratch my face and pull my hand away to find it covered with tens of tiny scrambling baby spiders. Analysts? I say the spider is the mussel, invading my body; the baby spiders are the potential impact of the poison and my mum features as herself, telling me to get a grip, and stop being silly and pretending its more disgusting than it really is.

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