Short Story Of the Day – Pickled Herring Snacks (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“We are decent,” Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.
—–John Updike, A&P

Photo for Writing Prompt


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#57) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


This is from a photo writing prompt – see above.

What is on this guy’s mind?

Is he a spy watching his subject?

a detective shadowing a tail?

a hitman waiting on a victim?

Expecting an illicit lover?

These would all be good – but I wanted something a little different – something mundane that I could then kick up a notch. I think he is simply some guy sneaking in a smoke.

 

Pickled Herring Snacks

 

 

The first thing Walter Neff did when he was  down the dark steps along the old stone wall and invisible from the house was to yank the loose rock out. He pulled his cigarettes and matches from the space he had hollowed out behind. He felt for the glass jar he knew was in there too, but left it for now. He pulled his Fedora down over his forehead and lifted the collar of his coat to hold back the wind and spitting drizzle. Only after a quick look around did he allow himself a contented sigh and lit the bright match. He loved watching the flame course around the end of the cigarette, knowing that the first satisfying puff would not be very far behind.

Walter had met his wife, Phyllis, when she had called him to inquire about a life insurance policy on her husband. They had hit it off immediately, and Walter sold her a hefty policy to boot. There was a nasty bit of business, a thorough inquiry, when her husband had died – fallen off the rear observation platform of a train – the insurance paid off on the double indemnity clause because it was an accident – but they were able to ride it out and were married once it all blew over.

But now, Walter was having second thoughts. And thirds. Phyllis turned out o be a real piece of work. And she absolutely forbade him to smoke, which he had enjoyed since he was ten.

Finally, the familiar nicotine-soaked cloud was coursing into his lungs and he relaxed.

The misery that his wife could inflict almost made it not worth the trouble to sneak off for a smoke.

Almost.

The biggest joy in Walter’s life was in manipulating his wife so that he could get to his cigarettes without her knowledge. Tonight was a double pleasure in that he was not only getting a smoke break, but he was escaping one of her dreadful dinner parties.

He had no idea where she met these people, but was shocked at how many criminal low-life useless dolts she could conjure up on short notice. Tonight was especially bad in that he disliked the two couples that came over. Ralph and Harriet Brisbane were repugnant. Not only were Cecil Ramirez and his incumbent stripper girlfriend What’s-Her-Name repulsive – but he was scary. At the last get-together, after a dozen too many cocktails, Cecil Ramirez blubbered out to Walter that he thought Ralph Brisbane was running around with the stripper, Cecil’s stripper, behind his back.

“Ah swear there Walter,” Ramirez said, “If I catch that scumbucket Brisbane even givin’ her a look crossways I’ll pop a cap in his ass so fast it’ll make yure head spin.”

Walter thought about Brisbane’s sports car, the luxurious boat he kept down at the marina, and the antique pewter snuffbox full of cocaine that was always at hand. Walter knew that these were all things no stripper could resist. He had warned Phyllis about the danger in having both couples over for dinner and drinks, but she has simply flashed her bright-eyed look that always meant trouble and told him he was full of shit.

“Don’t be such a scaredy-cat. You don’t ever want me to have any fun,” She said.

He didn’t understand how a fight between dangerous men in your own house could be considered “fun” – but he was going to lose that argument.

So now his cigarette was about halfway done and he took a particularly deep inhalation before reaching back into the secret opening and pulling out a jar of Nathan’s brand of Pickled Herring Snacks. He turned the glass over in his hand and watched the streetlight bounce off the silver fish scales contained within.

Earlier, that afternoon, Phyllis had given him a detailed list of items to pick up at the grocery and on the way back, Walter had stopped at this spot for a smoke, selected the Pickled Herring Snacks from the bag and hidden them in the hole behind the rock.

Tonight, after a couple rounds of cocktails and an increasing level of tension, Phyllis had gone into the kitchen to put together the appetizer tray.

“Walter, you bastard! Get your ass in here!”

The other two men looked on sympathetically, but Walter smiled a little. His plan was working.

“You forgot the jar of Goddammed Nathan’s Picked Herring Snacks.”

“I’m sorry dear; it must have slipped my mind.”

“That’s why I write it down for you. Now get your ass out that door and get me those Herrings! Right now!”

“But dear… our guests?”

“Don’t ‘but dear’ me you worthless pile of sheep shit. You get me what I want and pronto!”

“All right dear.”

And it was all right. Since the jar was hidden only a few steps from the house, he had the free time it would have taken him to walk to the corner market and back. About the time of a leisurely cigarette.

Suddenly, he glanced up. There was a sharp sound out of the darkness in the direction of his house. He climbed a few steps so that he could get a glimpse. There was the glint of broken glass in the front yard and the curtains looked surreal as the cold wind blew them out of the shattered opening, fluttering in the hissing rain.

With the window busted out, he could hear yelling. Two voices, one low and guttural and the other high pitched and desperate. Then a loud, shrill woman’s scream and a series of popping gunshots complete with muzzle flashes reflecting out across his front yard. Then silence.

For a second, Walter had a desire to rush back, run up the stone stairs and across his yard – to see what horror had occurred during Phyllis’s dinner party. But he stood still. There were three, maybe four good puffs left on his cigarette. So he stepped back down, leaned against the stone wall, and looked at the can of Pickled Herring Snacks as he inhaled another deep languid breath of precious smoke.

He slid what remained of his pack back into the hole and replaced the stone that hid the opening.

There would be plenty of time to find out.

 

 

Short Story Of the Day, Devil’s Claws by Bill Chance

“ They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.”

—-Bill Chance, Devil’s Claws

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#14). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Devil’s Claws

 

In the city, Sam Monaghan had been an elite baseball player – the offensive star of a select team, The Bombers. Not too bad of a pitcher either. He had to give up the sport in Coldgrove. That left a frustrating gap in his life, like a missing tooth in his jaw. The attackers had used his Bombers’ bat on his mother and he could not bear to hold one in his hands again.

They had lived in a brownstone in the old meatpacking district – they felt like urban pioneers. Until the one afternoon when Sam’s mother, Paula, came home from work to find the two tweakers that Sam’s father had hired to paint his little sister Brenda’s nursery waiting. After the attack on his wife that left her in a wheelchair, Sam’s father had moved the family out to the tiny rural hamlet of Coldgrove.

“Sam, I wish you would make some friends in the school here,” his mother said to him as he pushed her chair out onto the porch so she could watch the sun set.

“I know mom, I’ll try. I just don’t have anything in common with these kids.”

“What about Duane, dear? He lives on the next farm over, you can walk there whenever you want. He is only a grade below you.”

“I’ll see mom. I’ll see.”

“His mom says he plays baseball.”

Sam turned away.

She was talking about Duane Clankman, who was a year older than Sam was, even though Duane was a grade below. To Sam the whole Clankman clan existed somewhere out of time, as if they had been away from civilization for ages. Coldgrove itself felt out of whack for him.

Duane’s brothers and sisters were scattered all up and down the grades and you could pick them out of a crowd easy; the same thin, limp, blondish hair, homedone haircuts, clothes handed down from one to another, the same pale watery eyes, long faces, and the same blank, lost look.

Still, his mother protested and Sam could not resist her requests. Soon he was walking across the cow pasture, along the green algae-choked slough, to the Clankman’s farmhouse. They called the noon meal dinner and it was the best fried chicken he had ever tasted. He asked Mrs. Clankman for her secret.

“Oh honey, you just dip ‘em in milk, dredge in flour, salt and pepper, and fry ‘em in the ‘lectric skillet,” she said

“Then why is your chicken so good?”

“Oh honey, ‘cause an hour before you ate it that bird was runnin’ around in the front yard, eatin’ bugs.”

Duane’s mother wrapped a few pieces up and put them in a paper bag. A bit of grease made the bag translucent in places.

“You give this chicken to your mother, now,” she said, with a sad smile and a nod.

After dinner, Sam and Duane went for a long walk in the old west pasture. Sam’s mother had asked them to look for Devil’s Claws. The dry dark gray seedpods were scattered all over the pasture, hung up in among the prickly pears and clumps of sawgrass. She wanted to take a mess of claws, spray paint them gold and silver, and glue little plastic googly eyes on… decorate them up for a craft show the women were putting on down at the new library in town.

Along with the paper bag of chicken, they carried blue plastic bags from Wal-Mart to stuff the claws in. They were hard to carry even though they weighed almost nothing; the hooks tore at the cheap thin plastic until the claws would tumble out if you did not hold the bag exactly right.

They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.

“Look at how the meadow grows here,” Duane said.

The thin brown grass of the old spent pasture was lush and green around the bones. Nourished by death, the body of the lamb.

Sam thought about why the grass was so thick and healthy around where the lamb had died. He thought about how the lamb had eaten the grass while it lived and now that it was gone, it gave everything back to the ground and to the grass that had nourished it.

“Duane?” Sam said, “You’re on the Coldgrove school baseball team, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, though I’m not so good. Just another body.”

“Do you think I could get on the team?”

“Yup, easy. Coach is always looking for players. Sometimes we barely put together a whole team.”

“Ok, then. I’ll need a new bat though.”

Short Story Of the Day, the descent by Bill Chance

“ As he collapsed into deep slumber he felt himself still plummeting through the earth.”

—-Bill Chance, the descent

Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, Texas

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#13). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

the descent

Lucien stood in front of the refrigerator and scooped a large spoonfull of chicken salad into a small white bowl. He added a handful of curved shaved shards of Parmesan cheese and ate it standing there.

He was struck by such exhaustion he barely made it to his bedroom before tumbling over into the tangle of sheets, pillows, and quilts in a sudden torpidity. As he collapsed into deep slumber he felt himself still plummeting through the earth, falling into a jagged opening dream-chasm,  falling faster and faster into the darkness of sleep. Eventually, at the bottom of the opaque void he found himself wandering blindly, stumbling into and between the jagged remains of his lost hopes and broken dreams.

 

Sunday Snippet, Tubers by Bill Chance

Alvin York was a man that knew what he liked and what he liked was roasted potatoes.

—-Bill Chance, Tubers

No Fried Egg Today

 

Tubers

by Bill Chance

 

Alvin York was a man that knew what he liked and what he liked was roasted potatoes. He had meticulously arranged his schedule so that he had a half-hour between the time the bus arrived at the station and the time the train left for his office in the city. He would buy a cardboard container of tiny round roasted taters from a squat man in a beret that had a cart next to the newsstand. He would also pick up that day’s newspaper from the stand and then read the editorial and sports pages while he ate his potatoes.

They were small and immature, the kind his mother had always referred to as new. Each one was bite-sized, tender, and sweet – a perfect morning snack. They were warm, but not so hot that you couldn’t pick them up with your fingers and eat them with ease.

The container was a sort of flat-bottomed cone, an ingenious folded design that the man in the beret would slide from a stack on top of his cart, open the lid, and then silently scoop out a serving of steaming spuds. Alvin even had a favorite table and chair, near the newsstand and facing the train platform, with the big art Deco clock in view also, so he could relax without fear of missing his ride. Some mornings, somebody else would be sitting at his table and that would put a frown on Alvin’s face, a frown slightly deeper than usual, as he was forced to search around for a different, inferior, perch.

Today, the station was very busy and crowded. Alvin worried about finding a proper spot. But as he stood outside the newsstand, next to the cart and the man with a beret, with his briefcase in one hand, his brand new newspaper under his arm, and his container of potatoes in the other, he saw a stranger rise from his favorite table and stride toward the platform.

“My lucky day,” Alvin said to himself as he moved in quickly, before anyone else could snag his seat.

The table was already covered in newspapers; obviously the previous sitter was an irresponsible litterer. Alvin sighed as he placed his food container on the table and arranged the bulky folded pages of newsprint in some sort of order, extracting his favorite sections in the battle.

When he finally brought the sports section below his eye level, Alvin jumped a bit when he saw that another man was occupying the chair opposite him… at his own table. He was bothered by the nerve of this person, obviously no more than another working commuter like himself, in his damp trench coat and briefcase, and his audacity at taking the chair without asking. There was no understanding the coarse effrontery of the population in these new days. Taking a seat without asking permission was a coarse and crude action of great brass, no matter how crowded the station or how occupied Alvin was arranging his paper.

Looking at the man, Alvin saw his container of roasted potatoes in the center of the table and that helped him feel a little better. He eagerly reached out and snatched a savory sphere off the top of the pile and popped it into his mouth.

He was surprised to see the man opposite not ignoring him as he ate and read, but staring at him with narrowed eyes – it was as if he took the potato eating as a personal affront. The man seemed suddenly silently angry. The man continued to stare at Alvin as he slowly reached out himself and ate one of the potatoes.

Alvin felt a strong sudden wave of heat course across his face. He was shocked, what kind of man steals another’s food? Alvin was not a greedy man, he considered himself benevolent and unselfish – but this was beyond the pale. Someone’s property is sacred, especially his food, especially his food during his morning commute. He did not know what to do. Looking at the other man’s eyes, he saw raw emotion but couldn’t really understand… was the man angry? But why should he be angry at Alvin? It was he who was the thief.

Should he say something? But what? His mind a buzzing hive Alvin decided against speaking up, he didn’t want to start a scene and had no idea how the stranger would react to such a provocation. There was really only one possible course of action.

Alvin ate another potato.

He stared at the man, wondering what he would do next. His eyes narrowed even further, his mouth set in a tense rictus, the skin on his face tight. Alvin gasped as the man reached out again for a potato and then seemed to have to use a great deal of willpower to relax his set jaw enough to get the food in past his teeth.

This continued, each man staring at the other, silent anger increasing, as they worked their way back and forth through the entire order of potatoes.

Finally, the man snatched the last one out, and with a wordless but audible irate grunt yanked the empty cardboard up and crumpled it in his fist. He stood quickly, spun on his heels, and marched stiffly to the nearest exit, disappearing into the street. He threw the crumpled container in a trash can as he left.

“Well I never!” Alvin finally shouted the moment he was sure the man was out of earshot. “The nerve! What is this world coming to?”

Looking up at the clock he saw it was only a few minutes until his train left. Still upset, he stood on shaking legs as he gathered the pile of newspapers together off the top of the table, arranging them so he could dump them in the recycle bin on the way to the train.

“Never was able to read my paper,” he whined out loud to nobody in particular, “My morning break ruined!”

Then, as he picked up the last section of newspaper, he looked down at the now bare table to see his container of potatoes, still resting where he had left it before sifting through the double set of newspapers. He had lost track. He must have covered them with the unused pile of newspaper. The container of potatoes that he had been eating had belonged to the other man.


Later that afternoon, as he was preparing for the trip home, he called his wife.

“I was going to heat up some chicken,” she said.

“Dear, I was thinking, why don’t we go out to that new Italian place down the block? I know you’ve wanted to try it out.”

“On a Wednesday?” his wife asked. She sounded incredulous.

“What the hell,” he said. “Let’s live a little.”

His wife was even more surprised when Alvin ordered a bottle of wine to go with the meal. They each had a glass and, over their salads Alvin spoke.

“I have a story to tell you, dear. It’s a good one.”

And he told her about the stranger and the potatoes. He had been thinking about it all day and looking forward to getting it off of his chest. He laughed at the end, and his wife let out a little chuckle, but then she suddenly looked thoughtful.

“What’s the matter?” Alvin asked.

“Well, I was thinking?”

“About what?”

“Right now, in another part of town somewhere, I’ll bet that man is telling the same story to his wife -the story about a stranger eating his potatoes.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“But it will be a different… he doesn’t know. He thinks you were stealing his potatoes. His story isn’t funny; I imagine he was terrified.”

“Yes, I guess he was.”

Short Story (flash fiction) Of the Day, SALT, SPICES, FAT, HONEY by N. R. M. Roshak

Shelley steers me to an antiseptic alcove and talks at me while I contemplate the bags of dinner cooling at my feet. She monologues about obesity, codependence, enabling, mortality. Finally, she asks if we have an agreement. I tell her we do not and head back to his room to feed him, clean him, oil him, turn him.

—- N. R. M. Roshak, SALT, SPICES, FAT, HONEY

This woman was waving a turkey leg out of her food trailer. When someone came up to buy one, she said, “Let me get you a fresh one hon, this is my demo model, I’ve been waving it out this window for hours.”

Is there anything more frightening than toxic codependency? Today’s story is harrowing and depicts toxic codependency that has decended to Munchhausen by Proxy territory.

For a while I watched the television show Intervention – stopping when it became repetitive for me. There were two things that fascinated me especially – both of which are condensed into today’s flash fiction.

One was that the drug addicts (heroin, cocaine, crack, pills, booze, you name it) had a long, tough road – but there was hope. A good number of them got better. But the people with non-drug addictions (food, eating, not-eating, puking, exercise, gambling, shopping) were out of luck. I don’t remember any of them being successful at getting over their addiction.

What I really found interesting were the enablers. The addicts were ill, they were overcome with a sickness that most of them didn’t want. But every addict had someone that was keeping them sick. These were the people, the loved ones, that for their own (usually selfish or lazy or based on guilt) reasons gave in and allowed the downhill spiral to continue. And none of them even knew or could understand what they were doing and how evil and dangerous it was. The Interventionist would always zero in on these people and make sure they understood and would commit to ending their support for the illness. They were rarely successful in this.

But, in the story, there is horror, but there is love. Maybe that is the ultimate toxicity.

Read it here:

SALT, SPICES, FAT, HONEY by N. R. M. Roshak

from Flash Fiction Online

I’m Just Here For The Stories – N. R. M. Roshak’s blog

N. R. M. (Natalka) ROSHAK on Twitter

You Take Meals In Crowded Joints

“You live by yourself for a stretch of time and you get to staring at different objects. Sometimes you talk to yourself. You take meals in crowded joints. You develop an intimate relationship with your used Subaru. You slowly but surely become a has-been.”
Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

I have ridden my bike past this chicken joint many, many times… but have never tried to eat there. I want to – though I am a little worried that I won’t be able to decide whether to order chicken… or things.

The Belly of Paris

“Respectable people… What bastards!”
Émile Zola, The Belly of Paris

Cover of The Belly of Paris, by Emile Zola, translated by Mark Kurlansky

I am now a good chunk (have been reading for about a year) into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Belly of Paris.

One reason I am reading this long series is that the books are available in ebook form for free from project Gutenberg. This is a good thing… a fantastic thing actually, but there is only one catch. The free, public-domain English Zola texts from Gutenberg are all contemporaneous translations by Henry Vizetelly (and his son Ernest Alfred Vizetelly). Now Vizetelly was a hero – he believed in the Zola books and paid a huge price for translating them and publishing them in England, however, the translations aren’t really all that good. They are written in an anachronistic language, hard on the modern eye, and, worst of all, are censored. The original French stories can be pretty racy and he had to cut the best parts out to get the books published in England. Still, he was prosecuted twice and imprisoned  for obscene libel because of his translations of Zola’s work.

Before reading The Belly of Paris (also know as Une Page d’amour, The Fat and the Thin, Savage Paris, The Markets of Paris) I discovered that there was a modern translation by Mark Kurlansky. I have read two of his non-fiction books, Salt and Cod and really liked them. Salt in particular was very interesting to me, my first job out of college was working as a chemist at a salt mine and evaporation plant in Hutchinson, Kansas (the plant is gone now – but the mine is still working and you can take a tour).

So, I bought a copy of the Kurlansky translation and it was very good.

There is a plot arc to The Belly of Paris – Florent escapes from Devil’s Island (similar to the more famous modern story of Papillon)  and returns to Paris. He spends the book trying to reestablish his life and struggling with his radical political leanings. This story is really a framing device to enable Zola to immerse the reader in the eponymous Belly of Paris. The Belly of Paris is the immense food market at Les Halles.

The vast food market at Les Halles in Paris, the setting of The Belly of Paris

Design of Les Halles in 1863, By Victor Baltard – Image from Wikimedia

Constructed in the 1850’s, Les Halles was a series of gigantic sheds full of stalls where every kind of food was sold – and Zola uses every excuse to tour every nook and cranny of the market – from vegetables to poultry, meat to fish, bread to spices, candy to charcuterie, the movement, preparation, and sale of every imaginable foodstuff is set down in detail. The people involved are hard working and full of human foibles – gossipy, jealous, and headstrong. These complex relationships form the real heart of the story and the conflict of the novel.

Imagine a huge city, a Paris of millions of (French, and food-obsessed) inhabitants that have to be fed, every day, in a world without gasoline, trucks, electricity or refrigeration. It starts in the dead of night with horse-drawn carts drawn to the city in caravans carrying the bounty of the countryside. The vegetables are prepared, the animals are slaughtered, the fish are cleaned, the salted meat is salted, the charcuterie is cured, the bread is baked – then everything is set out for sale as the population of Paris descends to buy their daily meals. Zola lays it all out in a fantastic kaleidoscope of food – sights, sounds, smells, and taste – and the characters that handle it.

The book is full of contrasts – the Fat and the Thin, Beautiful Lisa and The Beautiful Norman, political radical Florent and his comfortable brother. The Belly of Paris isn’t known as one of the series’ best – but I found it fascinating. Like The Ladies Paradise and modern retail I can’t help but compare the market at Les Halles with a modern Whole Foods or other mega grocery store.

Interesting stuff. And now on to La Joie de Vivre.

 

Lawrence of Arabia

The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

—-Lawrence of Arabia

One thing that I like is Fathom Events. It’s a company that shows special screenings on modern theaters. I usually go to their opera events – they stream the New York Metropolitan Opera to movie theaters everywhere.

Upcoming Fathom Events come to me in my email and one caught my eye. They were going to show Lawrence of Arabia. I have seen the film on television now and then – but I’m not sure I had ever watched it start to finish in one setting. I’m quite sure I had never seen it in a theater – especially not in a large modern screen with comfortable seats and food delivered to your seat… and beer.

“I’ve always wanted to see Lawrence of Arabia in a theater,” I told Candy.

“I’ve never heard anyone say that,” was her reply.

So I bought a ticket. I was worried that it would sell out so I bought it a week ahead, and chose a good seat.

On the day I settled in, ordered some chicken wings and a beer. Two guys came in, they had the two seats to the left of me. Another couple was behind us a few rows and a group of four off to the side.

That was it. I can’t believe more people didn’t want to see such a classic film in such a setting. The guy right next to me said, “Um, I’m going to move, nothing personal, but we might as well have some room.” He moved down a few seats on the other side of his friend. I wasn’t offended, of course, but it wrecked havoc with the waiters and the food and the bills and such.

The movie was great, of course. The desert scenes were the real heart of the film, spread out in glorious color across the vast curved screen. The movie is so unique, too. There are no female parts in the movie at all. It doesn’t have the usual epic arc – it’s really a personal story told across an enormous canvas. Key parts of the film are mysterious – it’s hard to say exactly what happened – and that’s another part of the genius.

All in all, a nice afternoon.

A Cloud Flower

“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world, because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.”

― Margaret Atwood,  The Year of the Flood

Mushrooms along the creek in back of my house.

When I was a little kid, my parents had a friend that knew what eatable mushrooms looked like, in contrast with poisonous ones. We lived next to a golf course and I remember him coming over with some others, they woke me up at four in the morning and we headed out to the golf course with flashlights and little plastic buckets. I’m not sure why (or even if I remember this accurately) but there were mushrooms everywhere. I didn’t even need my flashlight – it was if they glowed in the moonlight. We filled up our buckets and headed home. The expert examined the pile… one by one, to insure we all had “good” mushrooms.

What an odd memory. Maybe it never even happened… but I hope it did. I don’t remember eating the mushrooms… but back in those days the adults kept the delicacies for themselves.

A Thin Layer Of Icing

“I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”
Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Modern Pastry, Boston

Modern Pastry, Boston

There is nothing as beautiful as the display cases in an Italian pastry shop. They may even… especially en masse… look better than they taste.

These photos are of the cases in Modern Pastry, in Boston’s North End. We bought Napoleons and Carrot Cakes – both visible in the second photo. We ate them walking in the street – which isn’t ideal.

We had gone to Mike’s Pastry, which is very famous, first – but the place was packed with a line down the street, so we walked down another block to the Modern, which was full, but without too long of a wait.

The funny thing is, sixteen or so years ago, in 2003, Candy and I had gone to Mike’s for a pastry, and an older gentleman came up to her on the street and told her to go somewhere else, other than Mike’s…. I think he said that Mike’s was, in his word, “A tourist trap!” I can’t remember where he recommended… I don’t think it was the Modern. Candy is from Texas, and he… well, he was not – so I had to translate, they couldn’t understand each other.

Candy and the older man in front of Mike’s Pastry in Boston’s North End. This was in 2003 – it still looks exactly like this today.