Friday, December 21, 2012

Toulet in Algiers, Part 3

In the latter years of the 19th century the theatre was already the path to fame and fortune for those who wanted to live by the pen. Toulet already smitten by the “divine odeur des coulisses” since his days pursuing actresses in Mauritius, and he relished the idea of a dramatic career. When he suggested a verse play for Molière’s birthday to the the Fautrier regulars the idea was enthusiastically adopted by Louis Martin and Antoine Cotoni. (This collaboration foreshadowed another, longer-lasting partnership with Maurice Sailland in Paris 15 years later.) In order to have it ready in time they agree to share the work. They knocked off the Servante de Molière in 11 days. This hastily constructed piece inevitably suffered from its haste, and from the unequal talents of its three collaborators. Martin admits that only Toulet’s lines displayed anything of real talent; “ours” (he and Cotoni) he says “were but poor glass beads compared with Toulet’s pure crystal.” In fact, it is to Martin’s memory that we owe what few lines exist of the piece (26 in all), the manuscript being long lost. The Vigie Algérienne announced it for the 16th of the month, along with Molière’s Le malade imaginaire.
It was played on Wednesday January 16th 1889, directed by Gaston Coste,  with enough acclaim to have it re-staged on Friday 18th and Sunday 27th January. The piece was well received and the three authors had to take a curtain call at the end of the evening. This did not stop Toulet noting in his Journal that his scene was poorly articulated, like verse in a foreign language. “That offended me. I criticised the piece in the Moniteur, “(he took a whole column to do it) “and I praised it apart from my scene, the which I took a gleeful pleasure of savaging and rubbishing.” The theatre critic of the Vigie wrote, on January 21st, that the three authors deserved equal credit for braving the boards for the first time with the Servante de Molière. Only Cotoni and Martin were accredited on the publicity, allegedly because the youthful authors did not want it trumpeted that it took three people to compose so minor a piece.
Martin recalled that although the original manuscript disappeared, Cotoni took a copy with him when he departed for Lyon to continue his medical studies, where apparently he managed to stage it again in the théâtre des Célestins, with an actor named Duquesne playing the part of Molière. This manuscript disappeared on Cotoni’s unexpected death in 1890, a death that considerably upset Toulet. When he heard of it he wrote to Martin from Caresse (in 1891): « …Mais enfin, t’expliques-tu qu’une quantité  considérable de vieillards imbéciles continuent à vivre, et que celui-là, jeune et brillant, s’en soit allé ? C’est la qui donne une haute idée de la Providence ! Pauvre Coto ! »
Their initial success encouraged the budding playwrights to try again and in mid-March Toulet and Cotoni presented Martin with a new one-act piece called Madame Joseph Prudhomme. (This time Toulet and Cotoni shared the credits). It did not match the standard of the first, and was in prose. It was published in the Revue Algérienne on April 1st, and dedicated by the authors to Louis Martin, who incidentally thought it a meagre piece. The théâtre des Nouveautés put it on on Friday April 5th, 1889, after l’Oeil  crevé, an operetta by Hervé, in a benefit for an Algerian actor called M. Hyacinthe. On this occasion, the plaudits were reserved for the actors. It was repeated on April 6th, then disappeared forever from the programme. This time the Vigie critic was silent on the piece. Soon after Toulet was no longer welcome in the Nouveautés . His ill temper was already closing doors to him. On April 16th he had quarrelled with one Alfred Coste, the brother of the Gaston Coste, the director. Toulet went as far as to strike him, hoping thereby to provoke a duel. But, as he related, “Cet ignoble capon ne veut rien savoir de duel”.
These two short works were to be Toulet’s only dramatic ventures until Le Souper Interrompu, published posthumously by Le Divan in 1922.
We know little of Antoine Cotoni, although Toulet dedicated a sonnet on the subject of Don Juan to him. (Vers inédits: J’ai vu Don Juan vieillard, mais touours amoureux...).
Joseph Casanova too was studying law in Algiers. However, literature attracted him more and he settled in Paris around 1890, where he remained till his death on 26th August 1947.  He contributed to many journals and if I give special mention to the Chroniquer de Paris, that appeared weekly for a dozen years before the Great War, it is not so much to point up the abundance of his production as to note that it was he who brought Toulet on board.
With time and age, a different aesthetic gradually separated Toulet and Casanova. Their Algerian intimacy, maintained by their correspondence, was easily re-established in Paris. But the exigencies of existence, not to mention the clash of personalities, gradually eroded this relationship – Toulet was quick to take offense, to Casanova’s surprised resignation. The latter never ceased to speak of Toulet with other than admiration and respect. Toulet, on the other hand, was able to write to his friend thus to Casanova (8th December 1910) : “ Mon pauvre Casanova, je n’ai pas à disputer de votre mégalomanie, mais à vous rappeler seulement que, parmi d’autres choses que vous m’avez empruntées, sinon rendues, il y a une nouvelle qui devait, m’aviez-vous dit (mais il n’en fut rien) passer sous votre signature  au « Paris-Journal » et vous rapporter quelque argent. Vous aviez ajouté que vous ne vous sentiez pas capable d’en faire une, ce que j’avais aisément cru.  Je le voudrais encore quand vous m’affirmez, en votre français, qu’elle est à ma disposition.  Il ne vous reste, dans ce cas, qu’à me le faire tenir, et cesser de m’écrire.”
Casanova was responsible for the A.B.C. du soldat français, described by Martineau as a “vibrant manuel d’édification patriotique,” and for La Tournée du Grand-Duc, (1920), that echoes the title of La Tournée du Petit-Duc, a light frothy libertinous novel that Toulet wrote in collaboration with Willy (only Willy’s name appeared as author.) Casanova’s work adopted a far more moralistic tone. A decade after Toulet’s death Casanova, in L’Etrange Confidence (1929),  put some of Toulet’s verse into the mouth of one of his characters.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Toulet in Algiers, Part 2

Apart from skirt-chasing, Toulet spent his time, with his companions, at coffee-concerts and musicals or at the theatre. He left little enough evidence, but we know that he saw the Tales of Hoffman, Carmen, and the second act (at least) of l’Africaine. He also saw Sarah Bernhardt in Froufrou – he thought her famous voice had Creole and Russian overtones  - a little like describing a fine wine.
He wrote on the ballet, where it is necessary to suspend belief. He remained an avid reader, a literary glutton who, once sated, attached himself only to the better stuff. However the most remarkable fact of his haphazard existence in this new settlement was his entry into literary life. Apart from a piece on an exhibition in Saintes, where he stood in for the regular critic, and an oddity on electric light when in Mauritius, nothing of Toulet’s had appeared in print up to now.
His literary efforts were published under a variety of pseudonyms, most commonly Jemand, Juan, and Jean de Maurice. These were attached to numerous verses and prose pieces, and sketches of visits to Madagascar and the African coast, in La Revue Algérienne, Le Charivari Oranais, and especially in La Vigie Algérienne, a political daily. 
From May 6th to September 1st he published 57 articles on the French Revolution, on the occasion of its centenary. Toulet attempted to follow day by day the unfolding of the drama, a sort of “on this day” type of account, with a strong leaning towards the minor players of the revolution. He leavened his account with quotations from contemporary accounts and revolutionary biographies (especially those of little-remembered players such as Jean Joseph Mounier, baron Malouet or the unfortunate Rabaut-Saint-Etienne) because he could not produce for his readers the action and excitement of a Bastille Day for every issue. His prodigious reading, even in the idleness of Mauritius, served him well. He had read, and still had to hand, Michelet,  Blanc, Lamartine, Sorel, Renan, and other contemporary documents. (An idea that one finds in Lamartine or in Renan  - “L’homme est comme un ouvrier des Gobelins qui tisse une tapisserie don’t il ne voit pas le dessin” - is an image that Toulet uses in his piece of 17th May, and recycled years later in Contrerime X.) The budding historian had also consumed Taine, Prudhomme, Tocqueville, le Marquis de Ferrières, and Goethe.
One could not expect too much originality on such a specialised subject from an amateur historian of twenty-two in these pieces, but he wrote intelligently and descriptively of Mirabeau, and Sieyès (the two strongest minds of the Revolution, according to Talleyrand, who knew both of them well). “Rarely has the conflict which is at the heart of the Revolution been defined so clearly as by the contrast and the struggle between Mirabeau and Sieyès, politics versus ideology”.
Sieyès was a political theorist; he was called the brain. Toulet describes him as living in his system as in a diving bell, working for humanity as a sum of equal parts, neither hating nor loving it. Mirabeau, on the other hand, was passionate and disorganized, as scornful of mankind as much as he loved it. Toulet continues: “If muddy, fertile waters could beat against pure and sterile glaciers, that would resemble Mirabeau meeting Sieyès. (Mirabeau was an omnivorous reader, always with pen in hand, made innumerable excerpts from all sorts of books, and drew upon them with no scruples about plagiarism when he wrote – much like Toulet, without the plagiarism.)
Apart from these more-or-less serious historical pieces, Toulet revealed a truer image in the Petites Chroniques that appeared between April and October 1888. In these he gives free rein to his humour – the subjects are for the most part unexpected and might have been more suited to an undergraduate review than to a serious daily. Martin remembers: “Il montrait un goût très vif, poussé parfois jusqu’au macabre, pour ce que, à défaut d’un terme plus adéquat, j’appellerai volontiers la « plaisanterie contrastée ». Il avait coutume d’affirmer les choses les plus énormes … avec un sérieux déconcertant, et son pince-sans-ririsme dépassait quelquefois, il faut l’avouer, cette mesure qui était au fond un des traits essentiels de son caractère.”
As an example of this fantastical style, Toulet discusses the introduction of the electric chair in the USA as a means of execution in a manner that recalls Swift’s “Modest Proposal”:
“Here’s the thing: to start with you sit the invalid down in an insulated chair – already an advance in politeness…Then comes the cap, insulated also. “Put it on, I pray”, exclaims the electrician. All the civilities, and the epilogue in equally good taste: two bell-pulls that the invalid takes in his hand, a button pressed and voila, he’s healed, i.e. dead.
Dead is not enough. Mr Edison proposes turning him into coal; for two pins he would go for diamonds. Isn’t it magic? In a few minutes you would be Mr Pickwick or Mr Jonathan: ffsss…and there you are, a blackened morsel to be distributed to the poor so that they can warm themselves. Unless your will does not circumvent it it: “I leave to Ketty my carbonised body, so that she can stuff her stove with it, and that I may burn for her dead, as I did living!”
He seemed to find advances in technology a perennial fascination. He had written about Edison before, and of the only two pieces that he published before he arrived in Algiers, one, as noted above, was on the subject of electric light.
In September Toulet was presented with the opportunity to take on a column in the Charivari Oranais et Algérien, an illustrated weekly, while the regular columnist, Pierre Gavault, went to Paris for the Universal Exhibition. When Gavault returned in late November he resumed his column and Toulet was preparing to leave for France. Gavault, born in Paris in 1864, had come to Algiers to pursue his architectural studies, and like all Toulet’s student friends, was interested in literature, to the extent that he too contributed stories and verse to the Algerian journals. He wrote in the Revue Algérienne under the pen-name Pierre Loÿs (not to be confused with Pierre Louys). Toulet and he struck up a friendship soundly based on their mutual fascination with art, literature, music and architecture. After Toulet’s departure, the two friends continued to correspond regularly, and met again in Paris in 1892. Gavault died young in Vals, the Ardèche, in 1895.
Gavault was no mere dilettante. He contributed the illustrations to a book on Algerian archaeology by Stéphane Gsell, who married the dual disciplines of archaeologist and historian. He himself authored another book Étude sur les Ruines romaines de Tigzirt that was published posthumously by E. Leroux, 1897 with a foreword by Gsell.  I have also come across mention of a book of poems published by H.Simonis Empis in 1900 that cites the author as Pierre Gavault and the editor as Paul Gavault - surely Pierre’s brother. Toulet’s first book, Monsieur de Paur, was published by H. Simonis Empis in 1898, and it is not too great a leap to think that he might have been acquainted with Pierre’s work.

Footnote Paul Gavault was born in Algiers, in 1867. It is worth remarking that both he and Pierre seemed so share an interest in museums. Pierre’s diploma piece was a design for a provincial museum in the Midi. Paul. as a member of La Concordia, the artistic association of Algeria, submitted a report, Notice sur la Bibliothèque-Musée d’Alger, to the Revue Africaine in 1894 on the state of the municipal museum in Algiers. The same museum attracted the caustic comment of René de la Blanchère that “the museum is in a fine palace, but one can hardly see it. It is on the ground floor, and although the courtyard is pretty, the rooms are dark and the antiquities heaped up anyhow. It is, to my knowledge, the only museum that you visit with a candle in your hand…)  Paul Gavault trained as a lawyer, turned up in Paris in the 1890s as a  playwright and screenwriter (yet another who abandoned law for litterature), was appointed directeur of the Odéon in 1914, mayor of Yport from 1914 to 1919 (although effectively absent since he was called up), chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, and died in Paris on Christmas Day 1951.

BibliographyRecherches archéologiques en Algérie ... Avec des planches exécutées par P. Gavault by Stéphane Gsell and Pierre Gavault.  Publisher E. Leroux, 1893. Gavault is described on the cover as an « architect diplomé par le Gouvernament »
Les Usages du Patrimoine: Monuments, musées et politique coloniale en Algérie, 1830-1930. Nabila Oulebsir. Editions de la maison de science de l’homme, Paris 2004

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Toulet in Algiers, Part 1

Coples XLV
Alger, ville d’amour, où tant de nuits passées
M’ont fait voir le henné de tes roses talons,
Tu nourrissais pour moi, d’une vierge aux doigts longs,
L’orgueil, et esclavage, et les fureurs glacées.

Toulet stepped off the gangplank of the steamer Languedoc on a gloomy December day in 1888 to find Algiers wet and muddy, driving rain alternating with brief clear spells, the Mediterranean not quite as blue as anticipated. He straightaway set out on the perennial student quest for lodging. He was advised as to the whereabouts of the student quarters, and after a weary climb up the interminable lanes and flights of steps of old Algiers, arrived at last at the tranquil aerie of Rue Dubuch. At No 15. Madame Ritter informed him in her thick Sicilian accent that she had no vacancies. She did in fact have a number of French students lodging with her. As she was turning Toulet away, a young man passed by, tipping his hat. Toulet sought an introduction and some minutes later Louis Martin heard a knock at his door and opened to Mme. Ritter, who excused herself for disturbing him, and presented Toulet, hat in hand, correct and cold. Toulet had calculated that a fellow countryman could point him in the right direction.
Martin described his first encounter with the poet some forty years later. He had been appointed a judge at Philippeville and had met Toulet again in Paris when he (Toulet) was forty two. He wrote up his brief memoir as Une page de la vie de P.-J. Toulet, 1887-1889 in Mercure de France, 1er février 1927.
 Toulet, said Martin, spoke in short phrases, punctuated by silences, very precise and personal; he confided that he had come to Algiers for a year or two on “doctor’s orders”, his old Béarnais doctor who had treated him since childhood, having stated that only the climate of the Algerian coast could combat a natural weakness which should not be aggravated. In a low voice he mentioned his “affected lungs.” On these words he burst into laughter, unusual for him, a clear dry laugh like a clash of blades. Toulet, consumptive? He didn’t believe it, then or ever.
The good doctor was mistaken. In fact, it is not clear where or when the suggestion was made that Toulet should take advantage of the Algerian climate, as he barely touched at France, and then only at Marseilles, on his return from Mauritius. He hadn’t returned to Béarn to see his family, and he probably had not consulted his doctor. But he certainly took advantage of the diagnostic error, and arrived in Algiers full of confidence, hope and mischief, following his penchant for exotic locations, and exotic women. And whatever about the climate, the narrow winding alleys of Algiers, hilly and steep, would try his lungs soon enough.
No. 15, Rue Dubuch, sheltered not only Louis Martin, but another student of law, Joseph Casanova, a medical student, and a powerful Belgian opera singer, Madame de Garden, of ripe age and formidable talent, who, it was said, had come straight from the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, and who had been entertaining the citizens of Algiers for two winter seasons.
Toulet found lodging at 50, Rue Rovigo. In a letter to his sister Jane, he describes his new abode. “Rue Rovigo is very high up. In order to avoid the interminable winding lanes, I take a series of staircases from the lower town that comprise about 230 steps. Add to that the 120 steps in the house and you will see that my apartment would be suitable for a gym teacher.”
The 120 steps lead to a garret on the 6th floor, “directly beneath the stars” that are his “only neighbours overhead…All is this reminds me of the Great Pyramid that I had the misfortune to climb.”  But when he finally arrives panting on the 6th floor, it’s only to have the view take what’s left of his breath away.
“Though the terrace has only one aspect, it’s a view to die for. Immediately in front I have the harbour, all the bend of the bay, all Djurdjura, and to the left Algiers with its white house piled up on each other like a flock of sheep.”
He recycles this description later in Béhanzigue: “As I climb to the heights where I live – as it becomes a poet – I see Algiers unrolling itself like a carpet at my feet and the curve of the murmuring gulf.”
The view is too distracting for studying law. Toulet is 21. The Civil Code is certainly not bedside reading. At the end of a month the erstwhile law student throws in the towel and writes to Jane: “As for my studies, would you believe that I have given up on law. I am following a literature course that interests me. What will Papa say about this decision?”
Papa doesn’t have much to say, evidently. Toulet takes advantage of his silence and his absence by forgetting the way to the faculty entirely. He prefers to enrol in the school of life that delivers its lessons by night.
In January Toulet had removed to 18, rue Dubuch, just across from his friends in No. 15.  He still enjoyed a view, but the steps were fewer. In March he was to be found at 15 rue St. Augustin, where he exchanged a view for an extra room. On the 27th of June he wrote to Jane to say that he was now in his sixth apartment, overlooking the arcades of Babazoum and the Square; in the city centre he no longer needed to climb interminable steps, and he watched the world go by from his window.
Toulet’s presence in Algiers was not spontaneous. His Mauritius journal makes reference to his intent, and it was almost certainly agreed with his father. Since it was apparent that he could not continue to fritter away his time in Mauritius, the idea of taking up his study of the law, and possibly aiming for a career in the diplomatic service, became a live issue. The only thing was where, and which faculty, and Algiers was picked because its climate suited his supposed weak constitution.
Toulet ate with the other students in the lively ambiance of the pension Fautrier, rue de Tanger, where the wine was the colour of “ink and mulberry juice”. Then after supper it became his custom to install himself at the Café du Ballon, where Martin and Casanova would find him at a table “happy and agreeable, a cigarette and a pun in his mouth, bowing his head as if administering a sacrament, to offer us in a whisper, the delicious foretaste of a sonnet or an epigram.”
Toulet and company knock back some glasses, then it’s a tour of the Casbah, with its brothels and dancing girls. Martin makes it sound innocent enough:
“We all had a weakness for easy pleasures. Toulet was a libertine, but not debauched. It was rather as a dilettante arrested by new sensations that he tarried sometimes in out company in some lost house by the old Casbah, where the tiny patios and the anaemic fountains and the shady corners held his surprised glances, whilst we, greedy and frisky young colts, stared straight at those Zohrads and Meriems too heavily painted, sumptuous and sophisticated, who made us quiver with first desires.”
Years later Toulet wrote to Debussy of a “little house in the heights of the Casbah, where tawny young girls, pretty and grubby, danced seductively on the tables."
“I had the opportunity to see the Kasbah several times and at night and is truly remarkable. It is well lit, but all its rising, twisting, streets with their houses touching at the roof, their staircases, destroy all sense of perspective such that we think to walk in a dream. Add the oddly shaped apertures, the monotonous muffled sounds of a native orchestra, a Moorish figure framed in a door, and it all becomes pleasantly mysterious.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Contrerime XIII

I missed this in sequence, as I had not considered how best to translate this fantastical trilogy. I have tried to follow an a-b-b-a rhyme scheme, as appropriate to the contrerime format, and I have tried to treat the subject with as much whimsy as Toulet. The three princes are, of course, mythical, as is Badoure, although she has an echo of Badur of the 1001 Nights.

                                               Princes de la Chine

a. Les trois princes Pou, Lou et You,
          Ornement de la Chine,
   Voyagent. Deux vont à machine,
          Mais You, c' est en youyou.

   Il va voir l'Alboche au crin jaune
          Qui lui dit : " I love you. "
   - Elle est F
rançaise ! Assure You. 
          Mais non, royal béjaune.

   Si tu savais ce que c' est, You,
          Qu' une Française, et tendre ;
   Douce à la main, douce à l' entendre : 
          Du feu... comme un caillou.


The three princes, Pou, Lou and You,
each one their nation’s star,
travel. Two go by motor-car
but You goes by youyou.

He’s going to see a blonde Hun
who tells him “I love you”.
she is French, I guarantee you!
yes she is, royal dunce. 

If only, You, you could have known,
what makes a French bint;
soft to touch, sexy tone:
sparking like flint.

b. Mgr Pou n' aime ici-bas
          Que le sçavoir antique,
   Ses aïeux, et la politique
          Du Journal des Débats

   Elle qui naquit sous le feutre 
          Des chevaliers mandchoux,
   Sa femme a le coeur dans les choux ;
          Dieu punisse le neutre !

   Mgr Pou, mauvais époux,
          Tu cogites sans cesse.
   Pas tant de g. pour la princesse : 
          Fais-lui des petits Pous.


Mr Pou cordially hates
everything but knowledge
forebears, electoral college,
and the Journal of Debates.

Born under felt, inside a yurt
of cavaliers Manchu,
his wife is feeling rather blue.
God punish the inert!

Mr Pou, you lousy groom
You’re always fit for play.
less of the p. for Mrs P. 
and sow her willing womb.

c. Sous les pampres de pourpre et d' or,
          Dans l' ombre parfumée,
   Ivre de songe et de fumée,
          Le prince Lou s' endort.

   Tandis que l' opium efface
          Badoure à son côté,
   Il rêve à la jeune beauté
          Qui brilla sur sa face. 

   Ainsi se meurt, d' un beau semblant,
          Lou, l' ivoire à la bouche.
   Badoure en crispant sa babouche
          Pense à son deuil en blanc.


Under the purple and gold vines
in the scented gloom
drugged with dreams and fumes
Prince Lou reclines.

While the poppy fumes erase,
though at his side, Badoure,
he dreams of the young pure
beauty in her face.

So passes Lou, a charming veneer,
the ivory on his lip.
Badoure, her mule tightly gripped
ponders her white mourning gear.

There is a naughty joke by Toulet in the last quatrain of b. where he writes Tu cogites sans cesse/ Pas tant de g. pour la princesse :
An explanation can be found on
La lettre, désignée en tant que telle, se trouve investie d'un sens hermétique dont elle offre en même temps la clef : la soustraction du g de cogites, sans autre changement, révèle coït :
I have suggested that the letter p be subtracted from "play" to express the same idea. I have, in the same vein, provided an alternative, more robust translation:

Mr Pou, you lousy prick
you think about and count it,
take out the o and mount it, 
give Mrs P her chick.

Youyou : petit canot chinois servant dans les rizières. Petite embarcation pour aller du navire à quai et vice versa
Bec-jaune, béjaune. Ignorance, inexpérience; novice, nigaud. Montrer à qqn son béjaune
Babouche: Pantoufle orientale sans contrefort ni talon
un caillou : le silex, pierre à feu (flint)
Journal des Débats. Fondé 29 aout 1789 par Baudoin, imprimeur de l’Assembléé Nationale afin de rendre compte des discussions de celle-ci. Dix ans plus tard, les frères Bertin en firent un véritable journal politique, défenseur sous Charles X du régime parlementaire, sous Louis-Philippe de la politique ministérielle, hostile au second Empire et rallié à la République conservatrice après 1870.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Contrerime V

Dans le lit vaste et dévasté
      J' ouvre les yeux près d' elle ;
Je l' effleure : un songe infidèle
      L' embrasse à mon côté.

Une lueur tranchante et mince
      Échancre mon plafond.
Très loin, sur le pavé profond,
      J' entends un seau qui grince...


We lightly touch as I awake
      in the wide, untidy bed; 
what faithless dream is in her head
      that has her tremble, shake?

A sharp, thin ray of sunlight burns
      the ceiling like a shard.
Outside, down in the yard 
      I hear the scrape of churns.

Encore un éléphant

The opening poem in La Verdure Dorée by Tristan Derème (1889-1941) is the following delightful, fantastical piece about an elephant. La Verdure Dorée appeared in 1924, with this impish preface by Philippe Huc, who was of course the author writing under his real name.
Monsieur Derème au cœur trop tendre
Par ses propos nous fait dormir.
Ah! que de grâces à lui rendre
Il nous épargne de l’ouïr.
He also quotes a from fellow fantaisistes Francis Carco, Jean-Marc Bernard and Jean Pellerin before he gets to his opening piece. 

I love the image of blue elephants munching on lilac in the light of the moon. And the daring rhyme between cornac and n'as qu'

Allez et que l’amour vous serve de cornac,
           Doux éléphants de mes pensées.
                   O poète, tu n’as qu’
À suivre allégrement leurs croupes balancées,
Cependant que l’espoir te tresse un blanc hamac.

Tu as voulu guider ton troupeau vers les cimes,
Vers le glacier que nul vivant n’avait foulé;
Les éléphants tremblaient sur le bord des abîmes,
Où, tandis qu’ils tondaient un maigre serpolet,
               Tu prenais des poses sublimes.

Va! Redescends avec tes monstres affamés
              Vers la douceur des terres grasses.
              C’est le vallon que tu aimais,
              La maison aux volets fermés,
La flûte au bord du fleuve et les vieilles terrasses.

Voici la plaine herbeuse où tu reposeras
Dans le hamac consolateur des infortunes;
L’air nocturne caressera tes membres las,
Et les bleus éléphants brouteront des lilas,
           Sous la clarté tiède des lunes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Contrerime XXIV

This blog is a winter's pastime, with long dark nights available for reading and musing.
This contrerime is subtitled Eléphant de Paris. The episode is humorous, one can imagine Toulet and Curnonsky emerging from their "bain de cuir" as Toulet liked to call the comfortable Weber bar he frequented for most of the night, into the Paris dawn, and stumbling upon an unmissable pachyderm, which, none too sober, they tried to take home....

Ah, Curnonsky, non plus que l' aube,
N' était bien rigolo.
Il regardait le fil de l' eau.
C' était avant les Taube.

Et moi j' apercevais - pourtant
Qu' on fût loin de Cythère -
Un objet singulier. Mystère :
C' était un éléphant.

Notre maison étant tout proche,
On le prit avec nous.
Il mettait, pour chercher des sous
Sa trompe dans ma poche.

Hélas, rue-de-Villersexel,
La porte était trop basse.
On a beau dire que tout passe.
Non - ni le riche au ciel.

Curnonsky, as sober
as the nascent dawn
was watching the Seine.
This was before the Taubes.

When I, more observant -
though a long way from Cythera –
saw a curious enigma,
a veritable elephant.

The house where we bunk
was near. So we took it
as it rifled my pocket
with its mendiant trunk.

Alas, Villersexel street,
where the door was too low.
‘Tis said all will go through - 
not the rich nor replete.

Notes: The Taube was a fast  German plane monoplane of the 1914-1918 was (taube=pigeon).
Cythères : The Greek island, no doubt an allusion to Baudelaire's poem : Un voyage à Cythères:- 

Cythère n'était plus qu'un terrain des plus maigres,
Un désert rocailleux troublé par des cris aigres.
J'entrevoyais pourtant un objet singulier!
Ce n'était pas un temple aux ombres bocagères,
Où la jeune prêtresse, amoureuse des fleurs,
Allait, le corps brûlé de secrètes chaleurs,
Entrebâillant sa robe aux brises passagères;
Mais voilà qu'en rasant la côte d'assez près

Pour troubler les oiseaux avec nos voiles blanches,
Nous vîmes que c'était un gibet à trois branches,
Du ciel se détachant en noir, comme un cyprès.

On a beau dire que tout passe. Allusion to an old medieval expression : "tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse". And of course the camel and the eye of the needle.

Curnonsky was  of course the pseudonym of Maurice Sailland de la Daguenière (1873-1956) . Toulet and he shared a lodging in Paris*, and together lived the bohemian life of the Right Bank. Also shared a trip to the Far East. At the time a contributor to periodicals, and co-author with Toulet of some meretricious wrote novels, Curnonsky eventually became a renowned French gastronome. He left many books on food, including the famous Vins et cuisine de la France. Their friendship did not survive Toulet’s departure from Paris. Mind you, Toulet. is said to have owed Curnonsky a considerable sum of money, into 6 figures in today’s terms – €400,000 according to Martinez. Toulet gets scant mention in Curnonsky's memoirs. 

He died by falling from a window in his house in Paris.

*Léon  Daudet noted in his Salons et Journaux, that "Curnonsky et Toulet habitaient ensemble... Quand on tombait chez eux vers midi, ils étaient encore couchés dans deux chambres voisines,également pleine de bouquins et chacun d'eux lisait le Dictionnaire de Bayle. Il est vrai qu'à la fermature du Weber ils avaient gagné le bar du café de la Paix, jusque vers les trois heures du matin"

Toulet himself, as recorded by Jacques Dyssord, said :"Nous habitions dans cette rue de Villersexel où j’ai passé mes plus belles années de Paris – les moins sinistres du moins – une rue pour chanoines et dames patronnesses qui donnait sur le Boulevard Saint-Germain. La concierge fut longtemps à se faire à nos habitudes de noctambulisme. Nous la forcions à se lever une heure environ plus tôt qu’elle ne l’eût souhaité… Léon Daudet venait nous sortir du lit vers quatres heures de l’après-midi…."