Little things save Call of Duty: WW2 when the big things fail to make an impact

This piece contains major spoilers for Call of Duty: WW2’s campaign.

Mitterrand’s last meal sounds like a riot – an ugly, vengeful riot conducted, if riots are a class of thing that can be conducted, against life itself. There were oysters, then there was foie gras, and then there was capon. Michael Paterniti, restaging this grim feast several years after the president’s death, while writing a gloriously dark and searching piece titled The Last Meal, reveals that it was the work of four hours just to get through all that – through the oysters, the foie gras, the capon, the wine.

But the best was still to come – and the worst. The final course of Mitterrand’s final dinner was ortolan, a tiny songbird that it is intermittently illegal to eat in France where, according to Paterniti, it “supposedly represent[s] the French soul.” In preparation for dinner, the ortolans are “drowned in Armagnac and then plucked of their feathers.” They are peppered and roasted in their own fat. You eat them whole.

And the taste? Well even before that there’s the sound, for starters, “the crunch and pop of bone and tendon.” Then there’s the heat. And only then is there the “exploding juices – liver, kidneys, lungs. Chestnut, corn, salt”. It is a small thing, an ortolan. But it seems that it is a big thing to eat one. Diners traditionally place a white cloth over their heads so that God will not see them at it.

No ortolans were consumed in the making of Call of Duty: WW2, I suspect, but one is certainly invoked at a crucial moment. A tense scene: night in occupied Paris, and I am staring into the eyes of the high-ranking Nazi who killed my family. I am trying to work out whether my cover has been blown, whether he knows that I am here to finish him off and kickstart the liberation of the city. He is being sent back to the Fatherland, he tells me. He’s happy about it – the French deserve each other. But he’ll miss the cuisine, of course. Ha ha! He’ll miss those ortolans, wink-wink. And I know what he means. The crunch and the pop. The heat. The exploding juices. What a monster!