I first ate cous cous in a basement room on the university campus in Caen, Normandy in 1975. I don't remember how I met the guy who lived there and cooked for me, I could never recall his face. I could be sitting next to him anywhere and not know he was that young man.
He cooked the cous cous on a single electric ring we had in our rooms. Why do I have an image of looking down from the cobbled square, from a point towards the edge of the square, not far from the looming lecture blocks where I went for a course on cinema and never returned?
He belongs to the time of Michel, Patrice, the fire-eater and travelling circus. But he's in a basement with a bowl of buttery, crumbly grain, a sweet spicy sauce of potatoes, carrots and lamb with chick peas and red peppers.
It's a taste I'd go back to years later with Mark who had a thing about harissa, who made cous cous properly and who I bought a North African cookbook for, which I kept when we split up even though it was useless to me, a vegetarian by then.
The young man in that basement is fixed in the colours of a dim electric light - kind, generous, now utterly unknown to me, and I often think about him.
- WOMAN'S HEAD AS JUG
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