The Red Carpet of Livestock
Imagine yourself jetting over to Paris for the biggest gala of the year. No doubt you picture red carpets and movie stars galore. In my case, we’re talking 4,000 live farm animals, French President François Hollande and a cadre of baby (cow) kissing politicians.
Parisians take an immense amount of pride in their regional roots. And what better way to get in touch with your heritage than having it delivered to you once a year. Welcome to Paris’s annual Salon de l’Agriculture! After all, no one truly French is from the La Ville des Lumieres.
It was Hemmingway who said that Paris is a very old city where nothing is simple, not poverty nor sudden money nor right and wrong nor young love in the moonlight. (Source – Poorly paraphrased from Pg. 57 Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway.) And since 1870 a love of cattle, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, dogs and horses from every part of France have brought them to the Parisian Salon. To put this in context, when Abraham Lincoln was watching “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s theater, our French cousins were throwing a big party with livestock, wine, raw cheese and tons and tons of merde. Today the Salon generates over 600,000 pounds of feces each year.
This expo is broken down into eight halls, with all thirteen regions of Le France being represented. There used to be 22 regions. But like a crappy magic trick, some French bureaucrat waved a pen et voila. The country now has 13.
As I enter the Salon, an older Frenchman wearing a necklace of dried genitals walks by. One of the people traveling with me, Matt Kevill (V.P. of Marketing at Epicure) points out this testicular Heart of Darkness moment. Why Matt recognizes a rosary of reproductive organs, I neglect to ask. He is a cheese expert but God only knows what goes on in his hometown of Preston, England.
A metal trolley filled with trays of yogurt hurtles right at me. “Excusez moi mesdames et messieurs” bellows a middle-aged father with sandy haired son in tow. I dodge to the right. I end up in a stand of cowbells. Their thick, brown leather straps are still musty with that new car smell.
I have now completely lost sight of my group in the dense crowd. Suddenly three freckled teenage girls appear. Giggling, they push an even larger metal trolley filled to the top with hay. As it barrels through the innocent crowd, I remember that the French lack America’s love of lawsuits. Next to me, a small five-year-old girl in pig tails pops yellow and green balloons. She is methodical, piercing them one at a time right behind the pink udder of a 2,000 lb brown cow. Francophones might not believe in the laws of man. But the laws of evolution still believe in them. I move on before the conclusion of this gene pool’s story.
Famous zoologist Jack Hanna once said “We know animals have the power to touch our hearts.” I think of this as I watch an Aquitane boucherie (butcher) set up his culinary stand. A few feet away Ms. Joye Red, a frisky 1,500 lb white Prim Holstein with black patches, has a puzzled look on her face. She munches on some dry hay, staring at the boucherie laying out his wares. The French may have misunderstood how exactly Mr. Hanna meant for animals to be touched.