From Turkistan to the Caucasus, the fortunes of a patch of land are gauged by the quality of its melons. It is a subject of debate, pride and prestige. Throats are cut over melons, and respected men would willingly undertake a week’s journey to taste the famous white melons of Bokhara.
~ Nicolas Bouvier, The Way of the World
In a misty corner of our family history there was a bachelor uncle named Charlie who had lost his sense of taste as the result of an accident. This was in the 1930s, in Iowa. I don’t know how it happened, whether it had started with a car crash, an illness, a mishap with farm equipment, or a knock to the head during a fight. But uncle Charlie was a high liver. Nights out with his pals he would strut into the diner and order up gastronomic blasphemies never printed on any respectable menu. Things like vanilla ice cream with mustard and dill pickles and horseradish, mashed together in a bowl and glazed in Dantean rivers of hot sauce. Surrounded by onlookers, he’d take bets from anyone that dared him, and proceed to eat the whole mess with a show of perverse relish. Then he’d laugh and collect his five or ten or twenty bucks before leaving. Hearing this story as a kid I took Uncle Charlie’s disability for a super power, and his hooting cash-fisted march back into the night for a vision of triumph. Now I can’t help but imagine his private moments: crouched in the dirt behind an outbuilding, weeping into a slice of summer watermelon and cursing God.