Mince Meat and Pigs’ Liver by Mary Mae Lewis
One of the things I don’t like about living in Spain is that one always seems to be waiting in a queue. There is an inherent Spanish inability to keep to an appointed time – and it doesn’t matter who one has an appointment with, from hairdresser to lawyer, there is usually a queue comprised of very late people.
Notably annoying is having to queue for bread at the bakers or meat at the butchers. And, the lines of customers appear to be longer in supermarkets, where folk queue for fresh fish, cheese and cold meats. No matter where I shop for meat, there’s always at least two people in front of me waiting to be served.
Turns for being served are usually dealt with by a ticketing system; on arriving at the counter, a numbered ticket is dispensed from a machine. In due course, that number is flashed up on a digital screen behind the butcher’s head.
Normally, I am so rattled by this queuing that I avoid such outlets and buy my meat and other perishables, already weighed and packed, from the cold storage shelves. However, there are times when one has to concede; some things just can’t be bought this way. Mince meat for example (in some supermarkets) is always sold from the butchers’ section. You have to choose your piece of beef from the display and then it is put through the mincer and bagged up for you.
On this day, and wanting to make a Shepherd’s pie, I spotted only one lady in the butcher’s queue, so I tore a number from the machine and waited. I’ll have a bit of that pigs’ liver too, I mused, as I took my place next to a buxom, raven-haired, senora. She had already ordered a couple of things, which sat in white plastic bags on the counter in front of us, ready for the check out.
She can’t be long now, I mused.
“Algo mas?” (Anything else?) the young butcher’s assistant asked.
“Three kilos of chicken wings.” The woman shot back. Then, as they were being weighed out, she instructed, “Cut the skin off before you bag them up, please.”
The boy did as he was asked and laboriously snipped at the wings until La Dona was satisfied.
“Algo mas?” the lad repeated, as he plonked the white plastic bag of wings next to the woman’s other purchases.
“Five kilos of pigs’ trotters!” she exclaimed.
No sooner had he scooped them up and slapped them on the scales, than the woman ordered they be chopped up into one-inch-long sections. I watched as the chopper struck and felt guilty that I was buying meat. I imagined the lively little pigs running around… and my heart sunk. Looking at my watch, to divert my feelings, I sighed at the length of time I had already been waiting. I involuntarily moved forward as the trotters were finally relegated to a bag, expecting this to be the last item on the lady’s list.
Making sure that I still had my ticket, Number 41, I checked on the screen and 40 was showing. I was definitely the next to be served. Then, to my chagrin, the woman bellowed, “Weigh that piece of pork for me!” I watched as the scales registered four and a half kilos. “And… slice it up,” she said. “Fino, muy fino” (very thin) she stressed, indicating adeptly with her thumbs and forefingers just how fine she wanted the pork steaks to be.
I stepped back and my shoulders slumped in despair; I had been waiting for over twenty minutes by now.
“Do you perhaps work in a restaurant?” I asked the annoying woman as she waddled up and down by the counter licking her lips at the array of sausages on offer. She heard me, I am sure, but just shrugged, before picking out a string of large chorizo salchichas (spicy sausages).
“Five kilos,” the butcher responded.
“Yes, I want all of them - snip them from the string first and prick them before you pack them up.”
“Of course, senora,” the chap acquiesced, never once glancing my way. Didn’t he realise that my patience was wearing thin?
The woman clearly knew how to get what she wanted and didn’t care who she inconvenienced to get it. I pondered on what sort of husband would tolerate this woman. What kind of harridan wants the butcher pricking her sausages? I nearly laughed aloud. The cheek of it! I was tempted to give up, walk off and never come back… but I didn’t. I prayed instead. Surely this would be it – she would call it a day at five kilos of sausages? But, no.
The woman next asked for a piece of beef, which must have weighed over three kilos, to be turned into mincemeat. I watched as the sirloin was cut up, then fed through the machine and stuffed into three plastic bags.
When finally, she said, “That’s all” and gathered up her haul, I heard a ping and saw my Number 41, flash up in red. I nearly fainted! I was too slow though and another woman, brandishing her own precious ticket pushed in front of me, shouting, Me…. Me. She had Number 39.
I rallied. “But you have Number 39. I am Number 40. You have missed your turn, so I am next. Take another number from the machine.”
“No! I will not,” she ranted. “I have only missed my turn by one. So… it’s still my turn.” Me…. Me, she continued shouting at the young butcher. “It is my turn, isn’t it?” She almost elbowed me out of the way. “I was delayed at the bakery…” she fluttered her eyelashes at the man.
“No madam,” I interjected. “I am next. I have been waiting for over half an hour…” and I am an idiot for doing so, I scolded myself. But, it was too late to give up now, not when Shepherd’s pie was at stake.
“Senor, please – she missed her turn. Please serve me next!” I pleaded across the meat counter. “I have been waiting so very long – you’ve seen me here waiting, haven’t you?”
The boy was clearly distressed at having to arbitrate between an English woman and a fiery senora. Could she even be his relative? She was cheeky enough to cut in front of me in the queue. His eyes flickered in indecision. His lips went dry. He sniffed the air, buying time.
“But you must decide, senor,” I said, as I glanced at the woman, whilst moving nearer to the counter. She avoided my eye and looked at the young man, pleadingly.
“So… is it me or her first?”
Whilst he paused for thought, his colleague from the cheese counter had realised that something unsavoury was going on, and was striding over gallantly to help. I took the opportunity to wave my Number 41 ticket in the air, hoping it would soon turn into a triumphant wave.
All eyes were on me – but I was determined to stand my ground and hold out for fair play.
“And what would you like, Madam?” the cheese section youngster asked, just as the butcher’s boy was enquiring the very same thing of the woman by my side. The lads smiled briefly at each other; the dilemma being resolved amicably.
I took my minced meat and pigs’ liver and nodded peacefully at the woman still being served. She looked across at me and smirked, but her smugness didn’t last long. She watched as I breezed through check-out after swiftly paying for my meats – as she became stuck behind one family with four trolleys piled high with small plastic bags.
With a bit of luck, I thought to myself – she might be there all afternoon. “Viva la Justicia…” (Long live Justice) – that thought was warming.