Lyon

57 – Walnuts

My dinner on Sunday evening consisted of wild roasted walnuts and chestnuts accompanied by sautéed wild porcini mushrooms followed by wild fig, apple and quince pudding. Not a meal for a carnivore and not normally enough for me. But all of the above was provided by nature during my walk through le Bois de St. Clair last Sunday.

I’d never even seen a walnut tree up to then. And there I was staring down at a carpet of walnuts on the woodland floor. I was somewhat surprised I admit to actually find a nut inside the shell. As though I’d only ever expected to see them in foil packets on supermarket shelves.

And for a second I wasn’t quite sure whether I should even eat it. Was it safe? It didn’t even come with a safety warning saying ‘contains nuts.’ What if I should choke. I felt sickened with myself. Too much soft-shitty-city living. Existing where everything is sterilised three times over. Everything tasting of paper. A4 white bleached. 500 grams. Xeroxed over and over again until you can’t tell the difference between an egg and an orange.

I held up my nut to the sun. An offering. ‘This is probably the purist thing I’ve ever eaten,’ I muttered and wolfed it down, followed by a forty-a-day smoker-like coughing fit like I’ve never had. Wrong hole. But what a taste! Like eating good white chocolate: soft, creamy and nutty without any bitter aftertaste or painful grinding at the roof of the mouth like you’re sucking on sandpaper.

I pocketed ten more for later and then crashed into a pile of sweet chestnuts about a kilometre further down the track. Within the next hour or so I’d a sackful of walnuts, chestnuts, quinces, apples, figs and porcini mushrooms. I’d picked blackberries, apples and elderberries before, plus perhaps the odd handful of hallucinogenic mushrooms over the years, but I’d never collected an entire meal. A trip through the murky unmarked boundaries of my consciousness yes, but never a free lunch.

Moreover, it meant I wouldn’t have to rush to the Carrefour City on Rue Saxe to buy a pre-cooked barbequed chicken off the hot tray and speak English to the checkout guy who had lived in Hay-on-Wye in the sixties.

After my meal though, I was hungry. Or least my mind was telling me I was hungry.

‘Go and buy one of those antibody-pumped chickens off the rotisserie. You know you want to, Oggers!’

And in truth I’d have gone if it wasn’t for the rain and the fact that I’d have had to wander to the cash machine. Plus, it’s always rammed with people like me filling up their baskets with 4-euro poultry creating queues that stream down the high street for miles. I instead dabbed up the remaining mushroom juice with an ancient piece of baguette and went to bed.

That night I was awoken by severe abdominal cramp. I remembered my friend Richard’s mushroom book that I’d read over the summer describing Death Cap Poisoning: severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice, seizures, delirium, haemorrhaging, kidney failure, coma, death.

I had a class in the morning as well. I should text my boss before I fall into a coma and cancel it. At least I’d die knowing I hadn’t let anybody down. Oh, and next time Oggers, stick to chicken.

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