Eating Authors: Marie Bilodeau

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Marie Bilodeau

As November winds down, I find myself pushing harder than ever. Medical needs are looking like they’ll be eating between two and four months of my productivity starting somewhere in mid-January, and there’s so much I need/want/must get done before then. Some of these tasks have been part of the plan for a while now, others increased in urgency as a function of my recent trip to Las Vegas for the 20Books conference, but almost all of them are about putting more fiction out into the world. Keep watching this space to see how it goes.

More immediately, there’s the weekly posting of EATING AUTHORS, which thankfully requires much less mental acuity than writing a novel and so should not experience any real negative impact as the new year unfolds. And that’s both proof and as good a segue as you could ask for to this week’s guest, Marie Bilodeau.

Marie is Canadian. She lives in Ottawa, which I have never visited but have been assured is a magical land. Her fiction has won multiple awards and has seen translation into both French and Chinese. More than just an author, Marie self-describes as a storyteller and has captivated audiences across Canada in theaters and tea shops, at festivals and under disco balls.

She’s also co-host of the Archivos Podcast Network, co-chair of Ottawa’s speculative fiction literary convention CAN-CON, co-chair of Ottawa ChiSeries with Nicole Lavigne and Matt Moore, and can be found blogging for Black Gate Magazine.

Her latest novel is Hell Born, Book One of the Guild of Shadows, and it comes out on Friday!

LMS: Welcome, Marie. Please tell me the tale of your most memorable meal.

MB: SCENE — 2011. Tunisia lies in disrepair following its revolution. The United Nations is working with them to help rebuilding efforts even as carcasses or burned out cars still lie where they burned.

CUT SCENE — 2011. Canada is kinda chilly as it always is nearing November. A communications manager of a national non-profit association gets invited to share Canadian best practices on marketing the skilled trades as a desirable career path.

CUT SCENE — 2019. You’re on Lawrence M. Schoen’s blog just wanting to read about Eating Authors, and wondering if you’re in the wrong place. You are not. You are exactly where you’re meant to be.

Hell Born

TUNISIA

The invitation to come to Tunisia was sketchy at best. Canada had been selected as a lead example of creating awareness of skilled trades careers. Our organization was one of the creators of the national awareness campaign. I was the project manager. I spoke French, too, the second language in Tunisia.

I said yes. I received weird plane tickets. I boarded a flight they promised would get me to Europe, and then should get me to Tunisia depending on the stability of the nation. I was okay with that. Europe!

NOT EUROPE

Okay, I saw the inside of Charles de Gaulle airport. Then arrived in Tunisia. Despite my scene setting efforts on this blog, I had not actually prepared for my trip, aside from making sure I would be properly attired and culturally aware (to some degree). And so, dimly aware of the revolution, the machine guns, barbed wire, and tanks surprised me. I hired a reputable driver and tourist firm and did one day of amazing touristing. Carthage!

Then the new president could make the conference one day early, so we were all called in to a secluded and heavily defended resort. I gave a presentation, made friends, outdrank a Frenchman (French Canadians rule!), and ate lots of appetizers in a kitchy bar with a German UN representative.

But those weren’t my favourite meals. Oh no. Because, you see, my friends, I was on a mission.

MISSION PARAMETERS

See a camel. …that’s it. I was in Africa, and I wanted to see a camel. Except I was in Tunis, in northern Africa, against the Mediterranean Sea. Camels weren’t just wandering into our highly defended (so. many. guns.) “resort.” Still! The conference ended at noon. I intended to see me a camel that afternoon. Flight was off the next morning. There was limited time. I needed to focus.

Nigh

THE ALLY

I arrived on time for the closing ceremonies, and so was first and alone in the room (my cultural research had apparently been lacking). A middle-aged woman entered and came to sit right beside me (it’s what they do, both spies and Tunisians). She greeted me in Arabic. I greeted her in French. We barely spoke the other’s language, but she got that I wanted to see a camel.

“Follow me after this,” she said, this strange woman whose name I did not know, who spoke a language I did not understand, in a country I knew very little about. So, of course, I followed her.

THE ONE CAMEL

She brings me to the heart of Tunis in her blue Ford Focus. We head into a café, where I am informed lives the one camel in Tunis. A Café Camel, as it were.

There is a well in the middle of the open-air café, and I observe it as she speaks loudly in Arabic (I knew that one was cultural) with the owner. She reports back that the camel is on break. We would go look at the Sea while we wait, beautiful and sparkling below. I did not know camels took breaks, but it’s nice to know that, even in Tunis, they’re unionized.

THIS IS HOW YOU GET KIDNAPPED

Or so I think as she grabs my hand, shouts “CAMEL!” and tugs me in the market area. Like in Aladdin, with all those tents. And, like in Aladdin, we’re going through the tents, not in front of them. My polite Canadian self is mortified, my (small, mostly silent) smart self is worried.

She drags me all the way through with her frenzied grip, and then we arrive on the beach. There is the camel. It’s eating rotten veggies out of a box. It’s suspicious. I’m suspicious. My self-assigned host is grinning wildly. I have found my camel.

WAIT ISN’T THIS A POST ABOUT FOOD

I did not eat the veggies, no. They were gross and I did not want the camel to beat me up.

Now lost in Tunis and having no idea how to do anything or where my resort was, I follow the woman home (I know, I know, my personal brand is “how are you even still alive?”). Her visiting niece speaks perfect French and we hit it off. We laugh, share stories, look at pictures. And then, they say the magical words:

Destinty's Blood

HAVE YOU EVER HAD A PERFECT CUP OF ALMOND TEA?

I had not. I was certain I hadn’t had anything resembling what they referred to. All I knew then were cheap tea bags and slightly mouldy tea taste. Off to adventure again. They stuff me in the car. As the sun sets, we drive out of Tunis and up a nearby hill. For an hour the wild beauty of Tunis stretches around me, until we reach a small village, where they made the finest cup of almond tea.

TEA IS NOT A MEAL

Oh, but how wrong you are, my friend.

This cup fits perfectly in my hands, warming me against the cooling Tunisian night, the breeze flowing from the Mediterranean which shimmers below the mountains as the last rays of sunset vanish. I hold the tea near my mouth and the fumes enrobe me with calmness and the sweet fragrance of almonds. I close my eyes, bask in the scent, the only interruptions coming from the gentle nudge of sea and mountain air, stealing some of the fragrance for their own ancient rituals. Then I take a sip of the somewhat thick honey-like liquid, large clumps of almonds lazily waltzing along, demanding that I gently chew their softened exterior.

As the night cools and we silently watch the sea below, the noise of the nearby street, filled booming with laughter, like a background orchestra of joy, I eat more almonds than I ever had in one sitting, still not clear what honeyed tea I drank, but enjoying every gentle caress on my taste buds.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

I met a camel. I had the most perfect cup of tea ever. I made some friends. I did not get kidnapped. I did not get shot. I barely had a difficult time getting back to Canada.

And, somewhere in the hills near Tunis, in a village whose name I do not know, I imagine that you can still get the perfect cup of almond tea.

END SCENE

Thanks, Marie. I am reminded of the phrase “one lump or two” that I associate with adding sugar to tea, which transformed to a query about humps while reading your adventure. Was your cafe camel a dromedary or Bactrian?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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