It is a tawdry tale. A tale of woe. Of unrequited lust. Of temptations to be seen but not touched or tasted.
Sometimes stories don’t travel the trajectory we expect. Oftentimes, in fact. In this story, the Stinking Bishop is not a sinister church cleric–although that would be the beginning of a great tale. No, in this case, the Stinking Bishop is simply a British cheese named after a sinister church cleric. A singular cheese of considerable stench.
Let me preface this story by saying that I am no fan of stinky cheese. On a visit with us in England, my father-in-law once mused, “How can something that smells so bad taste so good?” My answer: it can’t! Nature throws out certain warning signs that we shouldn’t ignore: the glaring red hourglass on the belly of a Black Widow Spider, the earth-shaking roar of an angry lion. These are nature’s way of telling us to run–run fast and run far– we are in mortal danger! And then there is the smell of very stinky cheese–same principle, folks. Why would you want to eat the stuff? But, I digress. I did have a story to tell.
My husband likes a stinky cheese. If it smells rotten and has veins of mold (blue, black, green–he has no prejudice), then he’s in! My basic policy is that any mouth that eats that stuff will not be allowed near my mouth for 24 hours. Sometimes this policy keeps him out of trouble, but other times the cheese is too powerful a mistress.
And so, when he heard of Stinking Bishop–the ultimate bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe of stinky cheeses–he was, sight unseen, smitten. But the stuff turned out to be elusive. To the point that he nearly believed it was a fable, a mirage, a Fata Morgana.
He had nearly given up his quest for the fabled cheese, when we found ourselves at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, England. (Read this aloud in a dramatic voice, and channel all the best scenes from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and you’ll understand the great and rediculous heart swell that overtook my husband as the following events unfolded.)
After a day spent touring the estate and playing with our children in the gardens, we visited the shop–a sort of European farm market. And there it was in the case of cheeses, shining as if an aura surrounded it and emitting a sound only perceptible to the true of heart–a siren song to draw in weary travelers. Stinking Bishop cheese.
STINKING BISHOP CHEESE read the sign before the humble wheel. You wouldn’t have known you were in the presence of greatness if not for that sign–it was like that scene in Indiana Jones where he has to pick the true Holy Grail from a room full of faux grails. THE Grail is humble, unassuming. As was my husband’s beloved cheese. Or, at least, it looked that way.
As James approached the counter, the shop girl was handing samples of cheeses to prospective buyers. I think James was drooling a little. When his time came, he said, “I’d like to sample the Stinking Bishop, please.” The shop girl recoiled from his advances. Then she leaned over the counter and half-whispered, “Sir, we don’t open that cheese in the store.” My husband’s whole countenance dropped.
He looked at me. “No,” I said. “But,” he said. “No,” I said. Then I leaned, as the shop girl had done a moment earlier, and said “We can’t carry that cheese in the car.”
He understood that I was right. There are some things that are too powerful to be schlepped around in the profane world. And WAY too powerful to sit, enclosed in the tight space of a warm car.
The day did come when he was able to possess the object of his desire. I can’t tell you much about that moment. I was not in the room at the time. I was, purposefully, not in the room at the time. What’s more, we simply don’t speak of it. It’s his private moment: an obsession that I can’t understand, but a conquest that I would not want to sully. Some things are just too powerful.