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December 1998
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The Sausage Makers of Philadelphia

It is my good fortune that I am naturally blessed by having a sound mind, a hale constitution and am possessed of those masculine attributes which are seemly. In view of these favourable endowments I was advised by my Father and friends to further improve my position in life by entering into the state of matrimony. This advice seemed sound to me and I forthwith decided to do so. I selected a comely maid of good mind and character who had a wealthy father and forthwith wooed and wedded her.

At first I was enraptured by the delights of domestic bliss and the comforts of having my needs attended to by a loving wife. In due course, however, I discovered that there inhere certain disadvantages in matrimony. In short, I found that my wife chattered endlessly and to no great purpose. I enquired of my father whether I had chosen poorly and he replied that it was not so, that such is the nature of women who are so constituted that they needs must talk at all times and upon all occasions. The mouth of the fair sex, he said, is not an organ for the expression of thought as it is in the ruder sex. Rather it is an organ for the expression of emotion with which the fair sex is so copiously endowed that they needs must express it at all times.

Being discontented with this unexpected discovery, I arranged to become a commercial traveler so that I might thereby have respite from the ceaseless chatter of her charming but overactive mouth. It was a good arrangement. For periods of some weeks or even months I would travel abroad. During the course of these travels I would forget all that I had complained of and would recall fondly the delights of domesticity. In turn, the occasions of my returns to the domestic hearth would be marked by those sweet reunions which are the reward of marital congress.

In the course of my mercantile endeavours I traveled to many strange and curious places and learned of many strange and curious practices undertaken by the diversity of Mankind, thereby improving my mind. The tale I now recount is an accounting of my observations during a trip to the City of the Sausage Makers.

I had been advised that the ascertainment of a reliable source of premier sausages was in the interest of the firm with which I was associated and that I should, therefore, travel to the ancient city of Philadelphia wherein I would find the finest sausage makers in the world. This Philadelphia, you should understand, is not that rude metropolis to be found in America. Rather, it is one of the ancient cities bearing that admirable name.

Travelling to that ancient and fair city is fraught with difficulties, the principal one being that the so called Royal Road is no such thing, being ancient and poorly maintained. The account of my difficulties of travel are of interest in their own right but are not to the present purpose and I shall omit them.

After said sundry difficulties I arrived at the city of Philadelphia which had charm in the native style but which was a scene of noise and confusion. Being an experienced traveller I did not attempt to navigate the city on my own but instead engaged the services of a native guide. I did not, of course, succumb to the blandishments of the noisiest and most forward of the many persons offering their services. Instead I chose an older gentleman whose lineaments and bearing bore evidence of his possession of wit and wisdom.

I was not disappointed in my choice. My guide, V__, was knowledgeable in the ways of the city and of its principal trade. He was, withal, a man of learning, wit, and charm, and well spoken. I enquired of him how it was that he, who was so obviously a person of considerable competence, should be a guide. He explained that he was a retired poet and that he found that performing as a guide kept both his mind and body active.

I expressed some surprise and explained that in my part of the world one did not commonly find the writing of poetry to be a profession that paid. He said that such was not the case in Philadelphia where the hiring of poets to laud the merits of fine sausages was commonplace. The best establishments, he said, were famed as much for their celebratory verse as they were for their sausages. I reflected to myself how remarkable it was that even such barbarous places as this might have civilized customs.

As we walked along V__ explained to me that the art of sausage making in Philadelphia was quite ancient, extending back some thousands of years. The particular excellence, he said, of the sausages of Philadelphia lay in the use of a sausage making machine, perfected long ago, and peculiar to the city. For the making of sausage this machine required only a bit of sausage as a starter. Given that one might put anything into the hopper (old parchments and chicken entrails were popular) and out would come sausage just as the maker desired it, irrespective of what went in.

I desired V__ to show me about the city and the establishments wherein sausages were made and sold and so he did. He took me first to the Athenian Shoppe. This, he explained, was the oldest establishment in the city. It was here that the sausage making machine was first used and where the first sausages were made. Indeed, he said, the sausages of the Athenian Shoppe were principally responsible for the fame of the city.

I was not impressed with the Athenian Shoppe. It was a large, rather untidy establishment staffed by quarrelsome old men. There were a number of young men who evidently acted as porters and such. From the demeanour of the senior staff I suspected them of an improper relationship with the younger men of a sort not countenanced in civilized society. I said nothing of this but instead enquired of V__ where this establishment, by far the oldest in the city, obtained its starter sausage. V__ said that that this was a great and ancient mystery that was the subject of much speculation but that little was definitely known. I made no further comment; however I did remark that there was a goat pen at the rear of the building.

From the Athenian Shoppe V__ led me next to a row of neighbouring shops which he called Greek Row. These shops, he explained, all used sausage from the Athenian Shoppe for starting their own sausage. The proprietors of the shops on Greek Row were engaged in a small riot, screaming and shouting at each other. I enquired of V__ as to the nature of the disturbance. He said that this disturbance was normal; they were, each of them, convinced that their own sausage was the only true sausage and that all other sausages were fraudulent imitations. The argument, he said, dated back to antiquity and showed no sign of abating in the near future. V__ warned me that such quarrels were not confined to Greek Row; rather they were a general circumstance in the city.

Greek Row led into another street called Roman Way. It was here, V__ said, that he worked as a youth. He admitted that although the architecture of the buildings on Roman Way was quite fine, the sausages to be found within were but inferior imitations of the sausages to be found on Greek Row.

As we walked along Roman Way I saw that halfway down the street there was a great ditch which lay directly across the street so that normal passage was impossible. The ditch, however, was traversed by numerous makeshift bridges made of planks. Porters bearing baskets of sausages ran back and forth across these rude bridges which were, I observed, quite unsafe. Indeed, as we watched, several porters fell into the ditch and in one instance an entire bridge collapsed under the porters traversing it.

I enquired of V__ why the ditch was not filled as it represented a considerable hazard to life and limb. He replied that many attempts had been made to do so but that all had failed. The ditch was not peculiar to Roman Way. It was, he said, but part of a great divide that stretched across the entire city. Indeed, the topography of the city was quite irregular, there being many such separations in its geography.

With the aid of my good guide we made our way across the ditch and strolled through the upper reach of Roman Way. I sampled some of the sausages and remarked to V__ that the flavour was quite different from that of sausages sold in the lower half. He explained that the sausage makers of the lower half strove for a classical sausage whereas the sausage makers of the upper half relied heavily on Middle Eastern condiments.

The upper half of Roman Way opened up on a vast, long square which was, I observed, heavily populated by churches amidst the shops. Indeed, many of the buildings combined both shop and church so that worshippers had to pass through the stalls of sausage vendors on their way to services. I noted that the proprietors here were fully as quarrelsome as those on Greek Row, indeed more so, and I feared that we might get caught up in one of the riots that ever threatened to break out. My fears were allayed when I saw that there were squads of mounted police sweeping the square, said police liberally applying truncheons to the more enthusiastic combatants. V__ explained that such quarrels about the proper taste of sausages were an ever present feature of the city but that the quarrels were particularly vigorous in the square.

It must be said that the buildings in the lower part of the square were quite rude; the sausages, however, were quite spicy. As we walked along I observed that the style of the buildings became more ornate whilst the sausages became less spicy. The quarrels, however, did not abate. Presently we came to a great wall which ran down the middle of street, separating the two sides. The wall was broken by great arches through which people on each side of the street threw sausages and brickbats at people on the other side. Here, I noticed, the police participated in the general riot along with the rest of the populace.

Towards the upper end of the square there was a great concourse. Into it led a broad avenue which, V__ informed me, was simply known as the New Way. We determined to follow the square to its end and so we did but it was quite disappointing. Immediately after the concourse the buildings became squalid and dingy. The shops were few and far between and the proprietors discouraged in demeanour. I tasted some of the sausages and found them to be quite inferior, grainy and with a discordant taste. V__ explained that business was poor here and that the proprietors had taken to seasoning their sausages with starters from the New Way.

Having seen all that there was see in the Great Square we turned back and proceeded down the New Way. It was decorated with great strings of lights, many of which had gone out. The foot of the New Way, V__ said, had been quite spectacular when it was new, beinbg brilliantly illuminated and quite fashionable. Over time, he lamented, it had decayed and was no longer what it had been. I observed a patina of dust and grime everywhere.

I sampled some of the local sausages and was struck by the flavour; they tasted quite unlike any I had tasted so far. V__ informed me of the history of the place. It seems that some few hundred years ago a group of scholars had determined to create a great encyclopedia of sausage making wherein would be found the recipes for all extant varieties of sausage. The encyclopediasts were more enthusiastic than accurate and were wont to invent new recipes in lieu of determining the recipes for old ones. In the course of so doing, quite by chance, they happened on a new way of making sausages that won immediate acclaim. All of the sausages made along New Way traced back, he said, to the sausages first made here.

As we strolled along New Way, sampling sausages here and there, I observed that the street gradually widened and that a field of weeds sprang up in the middle of the street. From time to time sausage makers from each side of the street would gather in the field of weeds in the middle of the street and shout imprecations at each other.

V__ told me that the left side of the street was known as the Continental side and the right side of the street was known as the English side. Each side claimed that the only proper way to make sausage in the New Style was to be found on their side. Speaking for myself, I found the two styles to be quite different, but equal in flavour, both being somewhat heavy and indigestible.

We walked to the end of the New Way which had, by then, totally separated into two streets. At the end of the English side they had given up making sausage entirely; the proprietors were selling little plastic replicas instead. The Continental side ended in a swamp. Vendors in boats in the middle of the swamp hawked sausage pate spread on French bread. Most of the would-be customers drowned in the swamp as they attempted to make their way to the boats. I asked V__ about this and he said only that sausage pate was rumoured to be quite tasty.

Being quite tired of sausage and sausage makers I resolved to return home. A good wife is worth more than all of the sausage in Philadelphia.


This page was last updated December 1, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 by Richard Harter

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December 1998
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