Tuesday, September 18, 2018


I was eating a baked Cornish hen today, and the scent of it caused a Proustian event — the smell tugged at my memory of another poultry event I experienced while sojourning in Iran back when… My reminiscence involved Isabel, a tiny Portuguese woman who lived next door to me in Melli Rah subdivision — a woman who helped me overcome the first stages of culture shock. Her remedy for all forms of culture shock: paint walls. Five layers of white paint appeared over sickly green walls that an Iranian decorator had thought would please U.S. expatriates suffering from culture shock.

Isabel, the Portuguese neighbor, helped me paint away this condition of culture shock, and when I told her I wanted to repay the favor, she just shook her head and said in her enchanting  voice: “By George, just bring me the chicken soup if I ever get sick.”

A few weeks later, Isabel began to suffer from symptoms similar to a flu bug traveling through Melli Rah subdivision and telephoned me: “Go to the Ahwaz Super and bring back a big chicken,” she instructed. 

I hadn’t learned how to drive a shift auto and had to borrow my daughter’s six-speed bicycle to make the necessary trip to the grocery. I had no idea about the speed at which the bike should be set, but it must have been “quick, the chicken soup,” because I didn’t have a chance to pedal. The super speeder flung me down the pock-marked street in 120-degree weather, and I came to an ungraceful halt, over the handlebars, and into the jube near the supermarket. Fortunately, I was unharmed and went in the market to claim a chicken.

I remember that earlier that morning I had gone to my tin desk facing the street and penned a column entitled “Persian Poultry Pretty Paltry” for the Daily Iberian, the newspaper of note in my hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana. I’d been writing an “In A Persian Market” column for several months, and when I looked in the freezer at the market, I knew why I had written the column about Iranian poultry. Chicken Little appeared to be a shriveled version of the chickens raised in America, and worse still, she was frozen solid and would take some thawing before I could cook a pot of soup and bring it to Isabel.

When I returned on the super speeder bike and delivered the bird, Isabel took one look and burst into laughter. “I might have known not to send a Louisiana Cajun to the store for a chicken,” she said. “You Cajuns think that the only kind of fowl is a duck.  That is a duck — an Iranian duck — but still a duck, you rotten neighbor.”

No, I didn’t die of embarrassment. I hired a taxi that took me to the bazaar and found a real chicken, (still a bit undersized), then made soup. By early afternoon I was able to take the requested "cure for all ills" in a large pot to Isabel’s bedside. The following day, Larry, her husband, washed and returned the pot. A week later, I became sick with a flu-like illness, and Larry asked to borrow the pot, “perfect for making chicken soup,” he said. Evidently, Isabel had no trouble finding a chicken and boiling it — she brought me a steaming pot of soup. She also returned my large, American-made vessel. However, after I recouped, Isabel fell ill again, and I made another pot of soup for her. 

In desperation, Larry cleaned and returned the pot and complained. “I know you girls have the greatest intentions to cure one another,” he said, “but I think you’re passing the germ back and forth in the pot of chicken soup. Maybe you all are really cooking sick ducks, but for good health’s sake, please don’t try to doctor one another.” 

So, Isabel and I turned off the stove and, voila, we regained good health. And I haven’t had homemade a la Iranian/Cajun, Chicken/Duck soup since we returned to the States. Maybe we just needed a genuine Louisiana fowl from Gueydan, Louisiana — Duck Capitol of the World. 

Drawings by Diane Moore

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