The bazaar of Leiden is a constant marvel for me, every Saturday. For an Arab fruttivendolo who, being asked by a Dutch woman how much for a little branch of ginger root, answers: It is a gift from me, with such a caliphal smile as if he was just offering her the Queen of Sheba's very best necklace. For the happiness of an elderly Guinean buying fish for nearly 30 euro. He picks his sardines one by one from the container, till his bag is full to burst. And other fishes as well. I imagine what a Guinean soup of apocalyptic proportions he will cook. Cut off the heads?, the fisherman asks. No, of course not. If one thing I remember from West African usages, eating the meat of fish heads is considered the privilege dos mais velhos.
I buy my two kilos of rode poon, and, with the proud gesture of a white woman who of hanger in Africa knows from books, I ask for the heads to be removed, as well as the skins. I also buy grapes, and Lebanese pita bread, the authentic. As always, the florist's bank is a big puzzle. Lilies stand as tall and proud as Christian martyrs. But perhaps I don't have a suitable jar to keep them. Finally, I buy those big, thick roses. This is one of the last varieties that still conserve the subtle aroma proper to their kind. The French sometimes make them come by air from Mt Kenya. But I hope these ones I bough are local, splendid as they are with the pearls of a sudden shower that caught me on my way.
With a tall flute of white wine, as if taken from an old Dutch painting, I choke with beauty and happiness and blessing of this place. God, I thank Thy for the provisions of my life, and that I am not the head of any Portuguese & Lusophone Studies department at the hour of demise, but Thy refugee in this swamp, as Thou brought Thy righteous out of Sodom.
*Kanfurbat, also spelled kanfúrbat (Kriol) or kanfúrbate (Portuguese), is a Guinean soup, seasoned with lemon and piri-piri, cooked either with fish or, alternatively, with any other source of proteins available, such as lungs or even sheep's or goat's head and eyes. In an article that is currently submitted to "Teksty Drugie", I discuss to what degree this expression, originating from an unidentified West African vernacular, can be treated as a cultural key word brought into the shared thesaurus of global literary expression. In my reading, it is supposed to be connotative of humble food obtained at the time of scarcity, the very frontier of hunger, just as it is frequently experienced by the peoples of Guinea-Bissau. Here, I re-employ the word to connote the complex, bitter-sweet taste of a modest, yet so prodigious abundance in the mouth of a refugee. That is something to choke with happiness, just as I choke with my European wine right now.