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Maybe you know more about duck than I do, since “Peking,” “Donald,” “crispy,” “Ugly,” “Odd,” or “Cold” is about the extent of “Duck” for me. Maybe I could stretch the definition to include the idea of bread crumbs on an idyllic pond but for me that’s as far as it’s gone. Until yesterday.

Those of you with better memory than sense–or those with nothing better to do than pore over the El Otro WA archives may recall my first real encounter with the French community here in Las Galeras. This occurred one evening a number of years ago when I accepted the invitation of Fan-Fan and Martine to join a group at their home for a pig roast (Seventeen Frenchmen and a Pig). Both Martine and Fan-Fan have figured in my life here and elsewhere since –I looked him up for a drink when in Toulouse s few years ago.

But now they’re leaving Las Galeras. They’ve sold their house and are pulling up stakes and so it is time to say “Happy Trails,” which is easier to translate than you might think.

Nuris threw a farewell dinner for the two of them and invited me to join her and her family for the meal. This I was happy to do. She’s a pretty good cook and–as you now know, she is swell company also. She had butchered and prepared a small goose, a chicken, and–as a special treat for Fan-Fan, a duck. All grilled over an open flame. Yum, right?

As the plates passed around the table and we helped ourselves to rice and eggplant, to coconut bread and homemade tamarind juice,I eyed the fowl. Fan-Fan snapped up a good portion of the duck as the plate passed by. I took note of a particularly juicy-looking and easy-to-manipulate chicken breast and a similarly-endowed drumstick. When the platter reached me I was suddenly and unexpectedly the object of much attention as the conversation focussed on the remaining duck. This sort of thing happens frequently enough in Las Galeras that I am no longer particularly taken aback when it does and am often rewarded in some wonderful and unanticipated way if I can but be open to whatever strangeness is to follow. It seemed that I would be honored to have duck for supper. And so, somewhat stupidly, I forked the remaining pieces of duck onto my plate and watched the chicken pass along around the table. OK; so duck it was.

I thought that the selection of a portion of duck might perhaps somehow be culturally important. Maybe to the French eating duck is symbolic of the end of an era, of departure. Or maybe eating duck is a harbinger of transition, a prelude to travel or of some other unfathomable French or Dominican tradition. I sure hope so because I can’t imagine any other reason we might have wanted to eat that bird.

I looked to Fan-Fan for guidance in approaching this part of the meal. Looking across the table I saw right away that his molars were at work, but they weren’t doing the usual grinding work of molars.

He had a chunk of that bird wedged into his cheek and firmly clamped in his back teeth while at the same time pulling energetically away from his face with both hands. Evidently he was trying to separate meat from bone. I soon realized that this was not an affectation. The knife and fork were all but useless. Addressing the bird required two hands and a powerful set of choppers.

The dinner festivities must have presented a pretty picture: a Dominican family and one French woman politely eating and chatting away with two full-faced and frenzied savages vigorously addressing the remains of a small bird with both hands. Our effort was prodigious and the results not so very impressive. Occasional involuntary grunts from our end of the table punctuated the hubbub of French and Spanish conversation. I surrendered any pretense of decorum and worked diligently, occasionally being rewarded with a fleck of flesh. “Yum” was a distant and fantastic idea, in no way part of this particular duck experience.

I learned that the duck in hand was an old duck. It once had a name. I don’t recall the name, but it was of the male gender. This duck apparently had a reputation also. I got the impression that the other animals might not miss him. I’ve no idea what he did to warrant the recent change in his circumstance but am pretty sure that the change was prompted by something he’d done, or failed to do. He had evidently enjoyed a lean but vigorous existence up to the point of his execution, beyond which he retained sufficient vital force to punish Fan-Fan and me from a new vantage beyond one veil or another. I’m thinking here that this was the duck from hell.

In further conversation I gleaned the useful information that duck is best consumed as “duckling.” After about six months a duck apparently becomes something else, something less edible. I share this information with you in the hope that you will never need to experience a tough old drake in just this way. Trust me. If the circumstance ever presents itself, you are very grateful.

You’re very welcome.

Come to think of it, “tough old drake” pretty much describes Fan-Fan. Intentional, or not, the symbolic parallel is beautiful and worthy of this last supper with my friends. I see now that the duck looks much better in hindsight. Farewell, Martine and Fan-Fan–and bon voyage!

And as for you, my mostly American readers, I hope that you are planning to share turkey with friends and family next month on Thanksgiving and that your bird–of whatever provence, is succulent such that your molars are used only for grinding.

Walk good.

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