The Taste of Winter

I just stepped out of a hot shower on a chilly Victoria morning, and it made me feel like Christmas. Suddenly I realize it’s the cold air that makes the difference. My back is scorched from the temperature I slowly turned up while standing under the tap, and warm water covers me from head to toe, but along my ankles and my arms are pricks where the cold is getting through. Then I get it. Temperature is a flavor.

Our tongues apparently have four taste zones: bitter, salt, sweet, and sour. Recently scientists have added a fifth whose name escapes me, but which more-or-less corresponds to MSG. From this handful, and from smell, and from the texture of food in our mouths, we build up all the complexity of flavor. We don’t always take advantage of the whole range: Cindy says in North America there are only two flavors (at least of snacks), salt and sweet. The French have a deeper understanding; even their McDonalds categorize breakfast as sucre or sale.

But taste is only one of the senses. We feel also: texture, and also temperature and humidity and (I believe) the burn of ultraviolet on the skin. If four tastes are enough, then these are also. Weather and climate are like cuisines. It is one of the things I miss here in Vancouver: the soft sifting of snow on a chilly evening, and the warm embrace of a cafe afterwards. They say there are people who live to eat, and people who eat to live. I eat to live. When the weather is right, I live to feel.

I’m posting a couple of days late. I really was just out of the shower in Victoria when I wrote this.

2004-10-12

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