I had the fortune to be in Clarksdale, Mississippi
a few year ago. Home of the blues
. Bessie Smith
died here, when a "white" hospital refused to treat her. I had a wonderful time, except for a minor quibble. The catfish tasted too clean. Obviously raised in a commercial pond.
A young bluesy band followed a group whose elder bass player was missing various obvious body parts. Good European folk lose gall bladders, breasts, a rare testicle, small patches of skin--nothing obvious. The peasants among us, however, insist on losing limbs, vision, and sanity. I have yet to meet a white Methodist missing a calf.
The bass player may have been blind, too.
I can't play for shit, much as I try (though I can bend a harmonica), but I know good music when I hear it And in Clarksdale, I heard it.
I was with a contingent of docs. We get pampered. I love catfish. An hour earlier, I had passed bales upon bales of cotton, still sitting in the fields. Under the circumstances, the catfish, well, sucked.
"Um, the cats. Where they from?"
"Commercial ponds. Aren't they great?"
Robert Johnson disappeared for a year, and came back a blues player. If you are looking for a black hole in the States, it's in Clarksdale. Bessie died here, Johnson was born here. Blues isn't about race. That sounds like lip service until you come here. Clarksdale is real. Realer than the Beatles at Shea Stadium, realer than Abba. Realer than the ducks at the Peabody Hotel, and that's more real than most icons in our culture.
Geosmin means, literally, "earth smell." Tastes like dirt. I expect my catfish to taste like, well, mud.
One of the perks of my profession is that others presume what I will like, and go out of their way to make that happen. Enough reason to find another profession.
What is geosmin? Two linked benzene rings, a couple of methyl groups, a hydroxyl group--mud. The taste matters not, mostly. Water suppliers fret, vintners worry. Me? I love mud. And I miss it when I eat a farm-raised cat.
In spring, the actinomycetes awaken. Remember the smell of a good rainfall when you were a child, the muddy smell of life? Geosmins. The smell of the earth.
Our answer? Chlorine. Chlorine kills actinomycetes. Chlorine masks the mudy taste of actinomycetes. Chlorine can kill you.
Mud? Well, if you fall into a mudpit deeper than your nostrils, you have a problem. Tarzan movies thrived on the perceived dangers of quicksand.
I'll take my chances with mud. The prokaryotes survived when dinosaurs did not. I like the blues, and I bet even a Tyrannosaurus rex could be mollified by Ms. Bessie. She died because of ignorance of the dominant culture. I'd like to avoid the same fate.
I like my cats to taste like life, full of geosmin. I can go to Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey, and catch me a mess of catfish. Despite the accumulated toxins of an urban pond, should I ever catch my cat, it will taste delicious.