The Dream (Le Reve) by Zola

Le Reve, by Emile Zola

“The vision that had emerged from the invisible was returning to the invisible. It was no more an appearance that was fading away, having created an illusion. All is but a dream. And, at the peak of happiness, Angélique had vanished, in the faint breath of a kiss.”
― Émile Zola, The Dream

Ok, for awhile now I’ve been working my way through Zola’s Rougon-Marquat 20 novel series of French life in the Second Empire – Reading them not in the order that they were written, but in the recommended reading order.

Next is Le Rêve (The Dream). It is a complete departure from the other books in the Rougon-Marquat series. Instead of complex, realistic stories – it is the simple, yet fantastic, romantic tale of an orphan girl Angélique, that falls in love with a wealthy nobleman. She is a descendant of the Rougon family – providing the tenuous connection with the rest of the books. Angélique does suffer from the mental instability of her kin, which provides a window into her obsession with the saints and the idea of a perfect romance.

I have to admit, though, I didn’t like the book very much. It starts out with a lot of promise, the young girl abandoned in the snow near a great cathedral in rural France – it’s a powerful image. But the story spends too many words in cataloging a parade of saints and the stories of The Golden Legend. It become tedious and not very interesting to a modern reader.

In doing research about the book, I did find something I really liked. There are a series of amazing illustrations for the novel by Carlos Schwabe. I was not familiar with the artist and looking around the web there are some really interesting stuff he’s done. I especially like the drawings he did for Baudelaire’s book of poetry, Les Fleurs du mal. Have to look into these some more.

Illustration for Zola’s Le Reve, by Carlos Schwabe

 

 

Carlos Schwabe, Spleen et Idéal (1896)
from Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

Carlos Schwabe, from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal

 

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Money (L’Argent) by Zola

Money (L’Argent) by Emile Zola

“In love as as in speculation there is much filth; in love also, people think only of their own gratification; yet without love there would be no life, and the world would come to an end.”
― Émile Zola, L’Argent

 

Ok, for awhile now I’ve been working my way through Zola’s Rougon-Marquat 20 novel series of French life in the Second Empire – Reading them not in the order that they were written, but in the recommended reading order.

Money (L’Argent) is the eighteenth book written, but it is a sequel to La Curée, the 3rd book in the recommended order, so I read Money as the fourth. It has the same cast of characters – a little older but definitely no wiser.

I really enjoyed the book. It is a tale of rivers of money, oceans of gold, all stolen, gambled, speculated on. It is, of course, more relevant today than it was when it was written. I couldn’t help but do some re-research into the latest financial crisis and how similar the disaster was to the greed and insanity described in the novel.

In La Curée Aristide Saccard (he changed his last name from Rougon to avoid embarrassment to his powerful politician brother) rose and fell on naked ambition and audacious financial manipulations. In the sequel he finds himself broke, but with the same greed, reckless daring, and collection of equally devious connections. He sets out to turn the world on its head. The story of speculation and deceit is fascinating and engrossing and worth the careful reading it takes.

The whole adventure comes down to a final cataclysmic battle between Saccard’s bulls and the bears that oppose him. I still don’t completely understand how the bears make money – other than the destruction of Saccard and his allies – I didn’t read much about how they went about short selling for example – but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

So now it’s on the the next, The Dream (Le Rêve). I have already taken a look, started it, and it seems to be completely different in style and theme from the rest of the series. We’ll see.

 

La Curée

“This was the time when the rush for the spoils filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of hounds, the cracking of whips, the flaring of torches. The appetites let loose were satisfied at last, shamelessly, amid the sound of crumbling neighbourhoods and fortunes made in six months. The city had become an orgy of gold and women.”
― Émile Zola, La Curée

La Curée (The Kill), Emile Zola

La Curée (The Kill), Emile Zola

A couple days ago I finished the next book in Zola’s Rougon Macquart series,  La Curée – or The Kill in English. It was the 2nd book written but the 3rd in the suggested reading order, which I am following.

The Kill in the title refers to the way the hunting dogs fall upon the remains after a hunt. It’s a good description of a book that describes the corrosive damage of unbridled and unprincipled greed, lust, and decadence set free in a city like Paris. During this time of France’s Second Empire Paris is being torn up and rebuilt with an unlimited opportunity for corruption and graft.

The story concerns the “career” of Aristide Saccard, the brother of Eugene Rougon who was the protagonist of the book before this, Son Excellence Eugène RougonSaccard changed his name from Rougon to avoid dragging his powerful brother down into his own scandals and to disguise the relationship between the two ambitious kinsmen.

It is a story of a certain sort of wealth – wealth born of speculation and borrowing, where the appearance of decadent affluence is more important than actual prosperity. The people in this story live in incredible luxury while having to scramble constantly to maintain the illusion, never sure where the next sous is coming from or when their creditors are going to call their debts in and ruin them.

It is also a story of promiscuity and sex – of debauchery and incest. Surprisingly racy for something written a century and a half ago. It is not pornographic in the modern sense – the actually moment is never described exactly, but there is no doubt about what is going on. It contains pages of description that skirt a little bit around… and that makes it even more effective.

“Endless love and voluptuous appetite pervaded this stifling nave in which settled the ardent sap of the tropics. Renée was wrapped in the powerful bridals of the earth that gave birth to these dark growths, these colossal stamina; and the acrid birth-throes of this hotbed, of this forest growth, of this mass of vegetation aglow with the entrails that nourished it, surrounded her with disturbing odours. At her feet was the steaming tank, its tepid water thickened by the sap from the floating roots, enveloping her shoulders with a mantle of heavy vapours, forming a mist that warmed her skin like the touch of a hand moist with desire. Overhead she could smell the palm trees, whose tall leaves shook down their aroma. And more than the stifling heat, more than the brilliant light, more than the great dazzling flowers, like faces laughing or grimacing between the leaves, it was the odours that overwhelmed her. An indescribable perfume, potent, exciting, composed of a thousand different perfumes, hung about her; human exudation, the breath of women, the scent of hair; and breezes sweet and swooningly faint were blended with breezes coarse and pestilential, laden with poison. But amid this strange music of odours, the dominant melody that constantly returned, stifling the sweetness of the vanilla and the orchids’ pungency, was the penetrating, sensual smell of flesh, the smell of lovemaking escaping in the early morning from the bedroom of newlyweds.”
― Émile Zola, La Curée

Strong stuff. A portrait of a time not unlike our own. Despite the fact there is no character in the book that could be described as sympathetic and the downfall of poor Renée is obvious from the start (though she does have a lot of wicked fun along the way) the book is still worth the read.

I was able to find a modern translation and I wonder how much different the bowdlerized contemporaneous English version was (the English weren’t as open to salacious and shocking prose as the French) – but I still have a lot of books to go in the series.

So next it is on to  L’Argent (Money) – one of the last books in the series written, but the next in the recommended order as it is a direct sequel to La Curée.

 

Eat it Off

“The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week–yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

When you are on vacation in a city with as varied and variable opportunities as New Orleans there is always a struggle between new experiences and going with what you have known and enjoyed in the past. A balance between the two is best.

I drove from Dallas to New Orleans to stay with my son and attend the 2018 New Orleans Writing Marathon. He lives in a downtown high rise and parking is horribly expensive, so I stashed my car a couple miles away on a side street in the Lower Garden District. It sat there untouched for a week. I took my Xootr Swift folding bike out of the back to ride back to his place on Poydras.

I drive a tiny car – a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks). I’m always surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folds down. I’m able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.

It was hot and I was thirsty and I was hungry so I decided on a stop at one of my favorite and familiar places in the Big EasyThe Avenue Pub.

My folding bike locked up outside of the Avenue Pub in New Orleans

The big black thing on the back of my bike is a Bushwhacker Omaha grocery pannier mounted on a Xootr Crossrack. Very ugly and even more handy.

The beer selection at The Avenue Pub is second to none. It was a hot day and I wanted something cold and lighter and selected an excellent French Saison – Cuvée des Jonquilles from The Baron and Baileux brewery. Really nice on a summer afternoon.

They have a good kitchen in the bar and I ordered something I had before, and will certainly have again – Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade. Delicious.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade

New Orleans is actually a good city to ride bikes around in. It’s flat and the ancient streets slow the traffic down. Once I finished it only took me seven minutes to ride from The Avenue Pub to my son’s place.

I don’t think I could have driven it in that time.

Flippin’ Out

The other afternoon we were trying to figure out what to do for dinner. Candy asked if there were any places in Dallas that sold crepes. We go to Cafe Brazil all the time, and they have the thin pancakes on the menu, but she meant someplace new. Luckily, there is that internet thingy and a quick search turned up a place in Addison called Flippin’ Out. It was on Beltline Road (isn’t everything?) and a bit of a drive… but it looked different and interesting so we headed out.

It is a tiny place tucked in the parking lot of a strip center… a little to the West of the hopping heart of the Addison Strip. It advertises Crepes and Coffee, so it couldn’t be bad. There is no seating inside, only a tiny room crammed with menu boards and equipment for cooking an brewing.

Out back there is a neat covered patio and someday I’d like to go back there and sit outside, but this day was too damn hot so we ordered our crepes – I had a Gulf coast (Sauteed shrimp, lump crab, roasted Pasilla peppers & Pontchartrain cream sauce)… Candy had a Cuban (Slow roasted pork, pickles & onion topped with Dijon mustard & Swiss cheese) and she also ordered a dessert… I think it was the Honey Badger (Handpicked strawberries, bananas & blueberries topped with honey, yogurt & granola).

We took the food home and it was good. I was impressed with the idea even more, though. Crepes are easy to make, very thin and don’t have a lot of calories, and very versatile. So on a whim, we ordered a Cucina Pro cordless crepe maker off of that internet thing again.

A couple days and there was a box on the doorstep. On Saturday I made up a blender full of crepe batter and stood there cranking out a couple dozen thin little pancakes. We ate a couple and put the rest in the fridge in a bag.

I’m surprised, but it looks like this is going to work out. A bit of fruit, or some leftovers… really anything… and you can roll it up in one of those things and there’s a meal. It’s like a big, thin tortilla… only Frenchier.

Flippin’ Out – it’s not very big, but it’s hard to miss.

The main menu.

Drinks menu… the coffee looks good, but “Treats from the Teat!” – I don’t know if that’s as catchy or as appetizing as they think it is.

Not a lot of room to spare inside.