I don't care for the great centuries.
All I care about is life, struggle, intensity. Of all deeds she fertilizes the world most. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman. Four years later, in , his father died, leaving his mother on a meager pension. Zola started to write in the romantic style. Before his breakthrough as a writer, Zola worked as a clerk in a shipping firm, and then in the sales department for a publisher Hachette. He also wrote literary and art reviews for newspapers. With the publication of his sordid autobiographical novel La Confession de Claude attracting police attention, Hachette fired him. Literary output More than half of Zola's novels were part of this set of 20 collectively known as Les Rougon-Macquart.
Set in France's Second Empire, the series traces the "environmental" influences of violence, alcohol, and prostitution which became more prevalent during the second wave of the Industrial Revolution. The series examines two branches of a single family: the respectable that is, legitimate Rougons and the disreputable illegitimate Macquarts, for five generations.
As he described his plans for the series, "I want to portray, at the outset of a century of liberty and truth, a family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good things that progress is making available and is derailed by its own momentum, the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new world. He became a figurehead among the literary bourgeoisie and organized cultural dinners with Guy de Maupassant, Joris-Karl Huysmans and other writers at his luxurious villa in Medan near Paris after Germinal in , then the three 'cities', Lourdes in , Rome in and Paris in , established Zola as a successful author.
The self-proclaimed leader of French naturalism, Zola's works inspired operas such as those of Gustave Charpentier, notably Louise in the s. His works, inspired by the concepts of heredity Claude Bernard , social manichaeism and idealistic socialism, resonate with those of Nadar, Manet and subsequently Flaubert.
When the French intelligence found information about someone giving the German embassy military secrets, anti-semitism seems to have caused senior officers to suspect Dreyfus, though there was no direct evidence of any wrongdoing. Dreyfus was court-martialled, convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island in French Guiana. LL Col. Georges Picquart, though, came across evidence that implicated another officer, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, and informed his superiors.
Rather than move to clear Dreyfus, the decision was made to protect Esterhazy and ensure the original verdict was not overturned. Major Hubert-Joseph Henry forged documents that made it seem that Dreyfus was guilty and then had Picquart assigned duty in Africa. Before leaving, Picquart told some of Dreyfus's supporters what he knew. The right-wing government refused new evidence to be allowed and Esterhazy was tried and acquitted. Picquart was then sentenced to 60 days in prison.
Zola declared that Dreyfus' conviction came after a false accusation of espionage and was a miscarriage of justice. The case, known as the Dreyfus affair, divided France deeply between the reactionary army and church, and the more liberal commercial society. The ramifications continued for many years; on the th anniversary of Zola's article, France's Roman Catholic daily paper, La Croix , apologized for its antisemitic editorials during the Dreyfus Affair.
As Zola was a leading French thinker, his letter formed a major turning-point in the affair. Zola was brought to trial for criminal libel on 7 February , and was convicted on 23 February, sentenced, and removed from the Legion of Honor. Rather than go to jail, Zola fled to England. Without even having had the time to pack a few clothes, he arrived at Victoria Station on 19 July. After his brief and unhappy residence in London, from October to June , he was allowed to return in time to see the government fall.
The government offered Dreyfus a pardon rather than exoneration , which he could accept and go free and so effectively admit that he was guilty, or face a re-trial in which he was sure to be convicted again. Although he was clearly not guilty, he chose to accept the pardon. Emile Zola said, "The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it. He was 62 years old. His enemies were blamed because of previous attempts on his life, but nothing could be proven. Decades later, a Parisian roofer claimed on his deathbed to have closed the chimney for political reasons.
Addresses of sympathy arrived from all parts of France; for an entire week the vestibule of his house was crowded with notable writers, scientists, artist and politics, who came to inscribe their names in the registers. On the other hand, Zola's enemies used the opportunity to celebrate in malicious glee. Thus, Henri Rochefort wrote a piece in "L'Intransigeant", claiming Zola had committed suicide, having discovered Dreyfus to be in fact guilty. They are the story of a particular family, its branches and descendants, principally between the years and These 20 novels contain over major characters, who descend from the two family lines of the Rougons and Macquarts and who are therefore, in one way or another, interrelated.
Almost all of the Rougon-Macquart novels were written during the French Third Republic and, to some extent, attitudes and value judgments may have been superimposed on to that picture with the wisdom of hindsight. Nowhere is the doom laden image of the Second Empire so clearly seen as in Nana , which itself culminates in echoes of the Franco-Prussian War and hence, by implication, of the French defeat.
Only in his picture of rural working-class life in La Terre , and in the corresponding picture of industrial working-class life in Germinal , does Zola convincingly escape from Paris into the provinces. Balzac, Zola claimed, had already investigated the psychology of lechery in an experimental manner in the figure of Hector Hulot in La Cousine Bette. It seemed so light and airy, even transparent, yet offered the strength of metal construction. Soon more train stations, the new phenomenon of department stores,and exhibition halls copied the idea.
It became fashionable for buildings to have iron-and- glass roofs. It became the leading design for markets around the world. In , thegovernment, after years of debate about the grubby market clogging traffic with trucks in the center of Paris, built a market in the southern suburbs of Rungis and La Villette.
By the late s only the meat market remained. It used tosmell of horses. Les Halles and its market people were replaced by a shopping mall and the surrounding neighborhoods were rebuilt to be expensive and fashionable and stripped of their charm. One of Baltards pavilions, completed in , was classified as a historic monument and moved up the Seine to Nogent-sur-Marne, where it is now known as the Pavillon Baltard. This period of the empire, from the uprising to the uprising, is the setting of the Rougon-Macquart saga. The Belly of Paris takes place over one year from to and, like most of the other books, has a very strong sense of the political issues of the time.
So it is not surprising that the lead character is a bagnard, a convict from the newly established penal colony of French Guiana. France has never known what to do with its possession on the northeast shoulder of South America. There was a widely circulated legend in sixteenth-century Europe that somewhere in the continent of South America was a huge city holding astounding quantities of gold and other mineral riches. The Spanish called this never-seen city El Dorado.
Bonheur Dames by Emile Zola
This created considerable interest in the area. The French, the British, and the Dutch ended up with slices of the region, and although some gold could be panned in the rivers—and still is—no one has found anything comparable to the legend of El Dorado. Every attempt to settle French Guiana has failed. A seventeenth-century effort was led by a man who appears to have gone mad and ruled with arbitrary brutality.
The original colony of Cayenne, on the coast, was taken over by indigenous warriors, who, according to contemporary reports, ate the settlers. Slaves were imported from Africa for plantations, but they constantly rebelled and ran away to the interior. In the eighteenth century, Louis XV sent 14, settlers. Ten thousand of them died of disease so rapidly that their bodies were dumped into the sea because there was no longer manpower available for burial.
The remaining settlers fled to threeoffshore islands, which they called the Iles du Salut, the healthy islands, because they had less malaria and other diseases. Slavery, which had never worked well in Guiana,was abolished in all French territories in So he sent several boatloads of indentured Chinese laborers to work the land.
They were not farmers, and they moved to Cayenne and set up shops. Their descendants still operate shops in Cayenne. Once their labor had fled, many plantation owners, recognizing a good idea, abandoned their land, and they too moved to Cayenne. Then the emperor had an idea: instead of spending a fortune having the navy maintain prison ships—the ships in which the prisoners provided oar power were outmoded anyway—why not ship convicts to Guiana and force them to develop the land?
They would stay there and marry local women—or maybe female convicts could be sent—and they would settle Guiana. The government even sent prostitutes to marry the first prisoners released, but the women refused to marry any of the convicts and the angry officialsshipped them off to labor in a prison camp. Some coupling did take place, but most of the children born of these pairings died in infancy, and many of the female convicts proved to be barren. A fertility expert, Dr. After a five-year study, he concluded in that white people could notreproduce in the tropics.
Convicts were required to spend their terms in hard labor chainedto another convict or to an iron ball. If caught trying to escape, they were sentenced to an additional two to five years; if they were serving a life sentence, the penalty was two to five years with double chains. But most prisoners tried to escape because the alternative was to labor in such misery that half would die of either fever or suicide.
The prisonsystem never was able to operate in the interior. The center of the prison was at the mouth of the Maroni River, and the rest of the prisoners were held in either Cayenne or the Ilesdu Salut. There were a few jungle camps where convicts were forced to work naked, their bodies eaten by insects and slashed by razor grass and thorny bushes. Only the convictssingled out for the harshest treatment, or those most likely to attempt escape, were sent to the islands.
Florent, being a political prisoner, was one of them. Zola, as always, did But his story of Florent escaping and returning to France was extremely improbable. Of the 70, men and women sent to Guiana between and , only a handful finished their sentences and returned to France. Almost no escapees made it back. Only 18, prisoners survived their sentences. Some did not even survive the initial voyage from France.
But there were no Cayenne boys in Paris. In The Belly of Paris the gabby Les Halles shopkeepers who would have Florent and other characters sent to Guiana were thoughtlesslydelivering them to a life sentence that many regarded as worse than death. Cayenne was a growing French human rights scandal.
Finally the prisons were closed in , the prisoners released to sleep on the streets of the few coastal towns of French Guiana. The interior to this day is inhabited only by the descendants of runaway slaves and indigenous tribes. For outsiders it is almost impossible to survive in this dense jungle that the French have named lenfer vert, the green hell.
The prisons are slowly being reclaimed by jungle growth and humidity. The only use France has found for French Guiana is for the European Space Agencys Europes Spaceport, from which a handful of technicians and a great many military guards send rockets to outer space because Guiana has the logistical advantage of being near the equator.
It seems fated that Zola wrote about Guiana early in his career, because it turned up again toward the end of his life at the center of the Dreyfus Affair. Dreyfus was sent to Devils Island, making it famous, so that many Americans referred to the whole penal colony as Devils Island, just as the French, with equal inaccuracy, called it Cayenne. Devils Island is a tiny island that can be crossed from shore to shore on foot in a matter of minutes. There were never more than thirty convicts on the island at a time.
Fewer than a hundred prisoners ever served on Devils Island, so named because the waters around it are so wild and forbidding that it was said that the Devil lived there. Food and supplies were sent over in a basket by a cable from the mainland when the seas were too rough for boats.
Devils Island was a place where political prisoners were sent, not to work but simply to be abandoned. In Zolas novel, it was where Florent was sent. In , somethirteen years after Zola wrote about Florent, a real-life political prisoner, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was sent there. A twelve-square-yard stone house was built for him, where he was constantly watched by guards who were under orders not to talk to him.
But apparently they did and even played chess with him. Today the island is abandoned. In , I visited it. There was no place to land a boat, and I persuaded a gendarme to take me up to the rocks in his rubber Zodiac. I rolled onto the rocks, and he accelerated out to The island was overgrown with coconut palms. Thats what happens. Coconuts are seeds. They drop and take root and are split up the middle by a palm tree.
One of the few signs of human life on the island was Dreyfuss stone house. The metal roof was gone, and the room was empty except for a few of the encroaching coconuts and palm fronds that had made their way inside. I stood in Dreyfuss prison anxiously peering through the windows with theirremnants of iron bars past the palm trees of the tiny island to the sea, looking for signs of the Zodiac. I was equipped for survival with a pen, a notebook, a sketch pad, and a small set of watercolors.
I painted a watercolor of the room and then walked out to the rocks, hoping to see the gendarme in the distance. But I remained calm until the hour was up. Four very long minutes later the smiling gendarme arrived. Politics, as Zola wrote of Florent, was Zolas destiny. The Dreyfus case was the climax of that destiny.
Zola said of himself that he was a dull conversationalist and found a voice only when championing a cause. The French Revolution launched almost two centuries ofsomething close to civil war. One side supported the Bonapartes, while the other opposedthem. One side was monarchist, militarist, Catholic, antidemocratic, and anti-Semitic; the other was socialist, anti-imperial, antimilitary pro-women. They were the two sides thatclashed over the Dreyfus Affair, and a lifetime of political stances seemed to lead Zola to the showdown. The split endured even after the Dreyfus Affair, with World War II collaborators and resisters and in the fight over decolonization in the s and 60s.
Zola was always clear about where he stood.
In The Belly of Paris this divide is between the fat people and the thin people. In Zolas youth and in many of his novels, the split was between supporters of Napoleon IIIs empire and its opponents. By the time Zola was in his twenties, the repression had loosened and dozens of new anti-Napoleon journals had emerged in Paris. Zola launched his career in these journals, showing such a flair for controversy, whether in a politicalessay or a theater review, that he was sometimes accused of deliberately being contrary to get attention. In literature and the arts he was always a champion of modernism, one of the early supporters of the much-criticized Impressionism of Edouard Manet.
Zolas timing was off.
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While he was in Paris writing reviews, Hugo was in political exile. When he left Paris to avoid starvation under the German siege, Hugo was there eating zoo animals. Zola Manet stayed and manned artillery on a starvation diet, and many of Zolas artist and writer friends were there. Then, in , Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish army officer from the German-speaking part of Alsace that had been taken by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War, was falsely accused of passing secrets to the German command.
A wave of anti-Semitism was unleashed in France. Zola did not so much befriend Jews as loathe anti-Semitism. He regarded it as a backward affliction of the mind that, if left unchecked, would eventually destroy France. Dreyfus was convicted and sent to Devils Island, and Zola became one of his most conspicuous defenders. It explained how Dreyfus had been framed by a fellow officer and accused the army command of covering it up. It began to change public opinion and put Zola at the center of a historic conflict.
He refused to take payment for any of the articles he wrote on the Dreyfus case, and when in exile in England he turned down sizable sums because he considered the case a purely French affair and would not write about it abroad. Althoughhe had long embraced the working class, it had always shown great misgivings about him. Only with the Dreyfus case was he finally embraced by workers and trade unions. But helost many readers over Dreyfus and never regained his popularity.
On September 28, ,Zola died in his home outside Paris of carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning chimney. In , a stove fitter made a deathbed confession that he and other anti- Dreyfusards, while repairing a neighbors roof, had deliberately blocked Zolas chimney to kill him. The story which did not surface until , has never been confirmed but is most certainly the version of his death that Zola would have preferred. The few real writers, the ones who stand up and use their voices for what they believe, understand that being a writer is not without risks.
At the pont de Neuilly a cart The horses, their heads bent low, led themselves with their lazy,steady pace, a bit slowed by the slight uphill climb. Up on the carts, lying on theirstomachs in the vegetables, wrapped in their black-and-gray-striped wool coats, thedrivers slept with the reins in their fists. Occasionally the light from a gas lamp wouldgrope its way through the shadows and brighten the hobnail of a boot, the blue sleeve of ablouse, or the tip of a hat poking from the bright bloom of vegetables—red bouquets ofcarrots, white bouquets of turnips, or the bursting greenery of peas and cabbages.
All along the road and all the nearby routes, up ahead and farther back, the distantrumbling of carts told of other huge wagons, all pushing on through the darkness andslumber of two in the morning, the sound of passing food lulling the darkened town tostay asleep. Hedawdled on, half asleep, flicking his ears until, at rue de Longchamp, his legs weresuddenly frozen by fear.
The other animals bumped their heads into the stalled carts infront of them, and the column halted with the clanking of metal and the cursing of driverswho had been yanked from their sleep. It was a man sprawled across the road, his arms stretched out, facedown in thedust. He seemed extraordinarily long and as thin as a dry branch. It was a miracle thatBalthazar had not stepped on him and snapped him in two.
But the drivers were growing impatient. The son of a bitch is plastered. Shove him inthe gutter. She too thought that he must be drunk. Underneath a hatof coarse black cloth that he had pulled down as though afraid of being recognized, twolarge brown eyes of a rare gentleness could be seen on a hard and tormented face.
He didnt answer right away. This cross-examination was worrying him. Get up in my wagon! No more trouble fromyou. Youre beginning to annoy me, my friend. Didnt I tell you that Im headed to themarket anyway? Go to sleep up there. He started up sleepily, twitching his ears. The other carts followed. Thecolumn resumed its slow march in the dark, the sound of wheels on the paving stonesagain thudding against the sleeping housefronts.
The wagoneers, wrapped in their coats,returned to their snoozing. You are something, lady. With weary outstretched arms he seemed to hug his bed of vegetables for He watched the two endlesscolumns of gaslights ahead of him, which vanished in the distance into a confusion ofother lights. A large white cloud nuzzled the horizon, so that Paris appeared to besleeping in a glowing mist illuminated by all the lamps. And you? In the meantime, Florent, staring at the broadening sparkle of Paris in the distance,contemplated the story that he had decided not to tell the woman.
Sentenced to Cayenne1for his involvement in the events of December,2 he had escaped to Dutch Guiana, wherehe had drifted for two years, filled with a passion to return to France but also afraid of theimperial police. He was about to enter the great city that he had so deeply missed andlonged for. He told himself that he would hide there, returning to the peaceful existencehe had once lived. The police knew nothing. Everyone would assume that he had diedover there.
He thought about his arrival at Le Havre, where he had landed with onlyfifteen francs hidden in the corner of a handkerchief.
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It had been enough for a coach toRouen, but from there he had had to make his way on foot, having only thirty sous left. At Vernon he had spent his last two sous on bread. After that he couldnt rememberanything. He thought he had slept in a ditch for several hours, and he might have shown apoliceman the papers with which he had supplied himself.
But these images dancedvaguely in his head. He had come all the way from Vernon with nothing to eat,accompanied by fits of anger and sudden despondency that had made him chew theleaves on the hedges he passed along the way. He had kept walking despite stomachcramps, his belly knotted, his vision blurred, his feet advancing, unconsciously drawn bythe image of Paris, so far away, beyond the horizon, calling to him, waiting for him.
On a very dark night, he finally reached Courbevoie. Paris looked like a patch ofstarry sky that had fallen onto a blackened corner of the earth. It had a stern look, asthough angered by Florents return. Then he felt faint, his wobbly legs almost collapsingas he walked down the hill. While crossing the pont de Neuilly he supported himself,clinging to the stone railings, and leaned over to look at the inky waves of the rollingSeine between the thickly grown banks.
A red signal lantern on the water followed himwith its bloodshot eye. Now he had to pull himself up to climb to Paris at the top of the But the boulevard seemed endless. The hundreds of leagues he had already traveledseemed as nothing compared to this. In this last stretch he was losing faith that he wouldever reach the top of the hill with its crown of lights. The flat boulevard stretched before him with its lines of tall trees and squat houses. Its wide grayish sidewalks were blotchy with the shadows of branches.
The darkenedgaps where the boulevard met the side streets were all in silence and shade. Only thestumpy little yellow flames of the gas lamps standing straight at regular intervals gavesome life to this desolate wasteland. And Florent seemed to be making no progress, theboulevard growing longer and longer and carrying Paris away into the depths of the night. In time he began hallucinating that the gas lamps on both sides of him were running away,carrying the road off with them, until, completely losing his bearings, he fell on a pile ofpaving stones.
And now he was gently tossing and turning on his bed of vegetables, which feltmore like a soft feather bed. He raised his head a little to watch the incandescent mistspread over the black silhouettes of the rooftops just visible along the horizon. He wasapproaching his destination, being carried there with nothing more to do than absorb theslow-motion bumps of the wagon, and, freed from the pain of fatigue, he now sufferedonly hunger.
But his hunger was reawakened and becoming unbearable. His limbs hadfallen asleep, and he could feel only his stomach, cramped and twisted as though by ared-hot iron. The ripe smell of vegetables that surrounded him, the piercing freshness ofthe carrots, made him almost faint. With all his might he pushed his chest into this deep bed of food, trying to pull inhis stomach as tightly as he could to suppress its loud rumblings.
Behind him, the nineother wagons piled high with cabbages, mountains of peas, heaps of artichokes, lettuce,celery, and leeks, seemed to be slowly gaining on him as though to overtake him as hewas racked with starvation and bury him in an avalanche of food. They came to a stop, and deep voices could be heard. It was customs inspectorsexamining the wagons. And so Florent, his teeth clenched, at last entered Paris, passedout on a pile of carrots. Florent propped himself up. As he had slept, the hunger painshad stopped, but he was disoriented.
A heavyset man with a walking stick and a felt hat, with a badge on the left lapel How many meters do you have there? He moved on to vent his anger and tap the tip of his stick farther down the line. Themarket woman took Balthazar by the bridle and backed him up until the wagon wheelswere against the curb. Then she opened the back of the wagon, marked off her fourmeters of curb with pieces of straw, and asked Florent to start passing the vegetablesdown. She arranged them in her alotted space with an artistic flair, so that the tops formeda green wreath around the bunches.
She arranged the display with dazzling speed in thedank morning light that made it resemble a tapestry with geometric splashes of color. Its very close, at the Compas dOr onrue Montorgueil. In truth, he was happy to sit there because movingaround had started to revive his hunger. He told himself that he would be just fine sittingthere, waiting and not moving. His mind was a void, and he could not even say exactlywhere he was. In the beginning of September the early morning was already remainingdark.
The lanterns around him flickered in the dusky shadows. He was sitting by the sideof a major street, which he did not recognize. It vanished into the nights blackness. Hecould see hardly anything except the produce he had been entrusted to watch. Down themarket lanes he could make out only the outline of other heaps like a flock of sheep. Inthe middle of the route, blocking the street, he could see the outline of carts. From oneend to the other, he could smell what he could not exactly see, a line of horses breathingin the dark. Shouts, a piece of wood or an iron chain hitting the pavement, the thumpingof vegetables unloaded from wagons, and wheels scraping as carts were backed againstthe curb—these sounds loaded the still air with the exciting promise of dawn awakening.
Turning his head, Florent noticed, on the other side of the cabbage, a snoring manwrapped like a package in his overcoat, his head resting on a basket of plums. A littlecloser on the left side, he could see a ten-year-old child with an angels smile fast asleepbetween two stacks of endive. Looking down the pavement, he could see nothing thatseemed awake except maybe the lanterns hanging from invisible arms, their lightbouncing over all the sleeping vegetables and people spread out in piles, awaitingdaybreak.
What was surprising was the glimpse of two enormous pavilions on either side ofthe street, with grand roofs that seemed to rise out of sight amid a flurry of lights. In his Betweenslender pillars, ladders of light rose into the shadow of the lower roof and then soaredabove it to a higher roof, giving the outline of large square halls where gray, slumberingheaps gathered under the glare of brilliant gaslight. Florent turned away, enraged that he could not grasp where he was, disturbed bythis fragile but gigantic specter, and as he looked up he glimpsed the luminous clock dialof the massive gray Church of Saint Eustache.
He was suddenly jolted by the realizationthat he was near Saint Eustache—he was at pointe Saint-Eustache!
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Let him go look for carrots at a sou a bunch. Its only been atmost five years since they were built. Over there, you see, the pavilion next to us, thatsfor fruit and flowers. Further down is the fish market and poultry, and behind us, there,vegetables, then butter and cheese. There are six pavilions on this side and over on theopposite side, another four: the meat market, tripe and organs. Its huge, but the problemis that its freezing in the winter.
I heard theyre going to tear down the buildings aroundthe grain market and build another two pavilions. Did you know about all this? It starts at the Seine and goes all theway to rue Montmartre and rue Montorgueil. You could have figured it out in daylight. Florent looked down to the foot of rue Montorgueil. It was there that a group ofsergents de ville had grabbed him on the night of December 4. He had been strollingboulevard Montmartre at about two in the afternoon, slowly ambling with the crowd,smiling at all the soldiers the government had posted in the streets so that it would betaken seriously, when suddenly the military had started making a sweep of the boulevard.
It had gone on for a good quarter of an hour. Then someone had pushed him and he had He wasnt sure what hadhappened after that because gunshots had rung out and the crowd had panicked andtrampled him. When he heard no more noise, he tried to get up but realized that a young womanin a pink bonnet was lying on top of him. Her shawl had slipped off her shoulders, and hecould see her undergarment, a bodice tucked in little pleats.
Just above her breasts weretwo holes where bullets had entered, and when he tried to move her gently to free his legs,two dribbles of blood had leaked out of the holes and over his hands. He had leapt to hisfeet and bolted, without a hat, blood moist on his hands. He had wandered around,delirious, until evening fell, constantly seeing the woman who had lain across his legs,her face so pale, her eyes so blue and large, her lips grimacing at the shock of being there,dead so soon.
At the age of thirty, he was a bashful young man who could barely bring himselfto look a woman in the face, and now he would be seeing her face, carrying it in his heartand memory, for the rest of his life. It was as though she had been his beloved wife. In the evening, his mind still blurred by the afternoons horror, he had somehow,not really knowing how, found himself in a wine shop on the rue Montorgueil, wheremen were drinking and threatening to throw up barricades. He had gone with them,helping them pull up a few paving stones.
He had sat on the barricade, worn out fromwandering the streets, and he had vowed to himself that when the soldiers came he wouldfight. He wasnt even carrying a knife, and his head was still hatless. Around elevenoclock, he nodded off, and in his sleep he saw the two holes in the white bodice staringat him like two bloodshot, tearstained eyes. When he woke up, he was being taken byfour sergents de ville, who were beating him with their fists. The men at the barricade hadall fled. The sergents had become enraged and almost strangled him when they found thathe had blood on his hands.
It was the young womans blood. Florent, lost in all these memories, looked up at Saint Eustache without noticingthe hands of the clock. It was almost four oclock. Les Halles was still asleep. Florent was remembering how he had almost been executed right there, against awall of Saint Eustache.
Five bodies had been piled on thesidewalk at a spot where he now saw what seemed to be a heap of bright pink radishes. He had avoided being shot only because sergents de ville carried only swords. They hadtaken him to the nearest police station and left him with the precinct chief, who was givena note written in pencil on a scrap of paper. Very dangerous. He had been dragged from station to station until morning.
Everywhere he wastaken, the scrap of paper had accompanied him. He had been handcuffed and guarded asthough he were a raving lunatic. On rue de la Lingerie, some drunken soldiers hadwanted to shoot him and had already lit a lantern in preparation when the order had cometo take him to the prison at police headquarters.
He had been suffering from hunger ever since. The pangs of hunger that hadvisited him in that dungeon had never left. He had been one of a hundred men at the bottom of that cellar, where there wasbarely air enough to breathe, scrambling like captive animals for the few pieces of breadthrown to them. When he had been brought before the judge without any witnesses andwith no opportunity to defend himself, he had been accused of belonging to anunderground group, and when he swore that it was not true, the judge had pulled thescrap of paper from a file.
He had been sentenced to deportation to the penal colony. On a January night six weeks later, a guard had awakened him and taken him to acourtyard with about four hundred other prisoners.
An hour later this first convoy hadbeen marched in handcuffs between two columns of gendarmes with loaded rifles, to beshipped into exile. They had crossed the Austerlitz bridge and followed the boulevards tothe Gare du Havre. It was a festive carnival night. The windows of the restaurants along theboulevards were open.
Someone had forgotten to distribute rations before they left. Forthirty-six hours they had had nothing to eat, until they were packed into the hold of thefrigate Canada. The hunger had never left him. Florent searched through his past and could notrecall a moment of plenty. He had become dry and emaciated, with a shrunken stomachand skin that drooped from his bones. And now that he was back in Paris, it seemed tohim to be fat, haughty, and overloaded with food, while surrounded by sadness.
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He hadreturned on a bed of vegetables, rolling into town on a huge wave of food that troubledhim. Had that festive carnival night continued all these seven years? Again he saw theopen windows of the boulevard restaurants, laughing women, the city of gluttony he hadleft on that January day long ago.
It seemed to him that everything had expanded and She gatheredthem up in her apron, pressing them to her midriff, which made her look even plumperthan usual, and she stayed on to chat some more in her drawling voice. Iremember when I was a kid, her buying turnips from my father.
And she has no family,only some little waif that she picked up God knows where, who gives her nothing butgrief. But she gets by, selling a little and making a couple of francs profit a day. If itwere me, I could never spend all my days on the streets of Paris. She doesnt even haverelatives. His old mistrust returned. His mind was swirling withold tales of police, their undercover agents on every street corner, and women selling thesecrets they had pried loose from sad souls they took in.
She seemed about thirty-five, sturdy, with handsome good looksfrom her outdoor life. Her masculine bearing was softened by kind, soft dark eyes. Shewas a bit nosy, but it was a good-natured curiosity. I suppose your parents will besurprised to see you. Then too, she guessed that there was a gentlemansomewhere inside that tattered black overcoat, which was why she did not dare press asilver coin into his palm. Its slow, regular notes seemed to awaken the market little by little.
The carts kept The wagons, unableto move forward except in sudden jolts, lined up and slowly faded into the distant gray. All along rue du Pont-Neuf the carts unloaded, pulled close to the sidewalk, where thehorses stood motionless in a line as though at a horse fair. Florent examined a cart filled with magnificent cabbages. It had been backed upto the sidewalk with great care and effort, and its leafy pile rose above a gas lamp whoselight fell on the large leaves, making them look like crimped pieces of green velvet.
Ayoung farm girl of about sixteen, wearing a blue linen coat and cap, climbed up on thecart and was up to her shoulders in cabbages. She began tossing them one by one tosomeone hidden in shadow below. Every now and then the girl would slip and disappearin a cabbage avalanche. Then her pink nose would be seen sticking out of the green andshe would be heard laughing as the cabbages were tossed between Florent and thegaslight.
He counted them automatically until the cart was empty, which left him feelingsomehow disappointed. The piles of vegetables were now spilling into the road, with narrow pathsbetween them so that people could pass. The sidewalk was covered end to end with thedark vegetable mounds. But in the flicker of lantern light, you could barely make out thelush fullness of a bouquet of artichokes, the delicate green of the lettuce, the flush coralof carrots, the soft ivory finish of turnips.
Flashes of the bright colors skipped across themounds with the flickering of the light. A crowd had awakened, and people were starting to fill up the sidewalk,scrambling among the vegetables, sometimes stopping, at times chattering, occasionallyshouting.
These baskets were seen darting in and outbetween the road and the pavilion, bumping into the heads of bystanders in the thickcrowds, the bystanders expressing their displeasure with coarse complaints that were lostin the growing clamor of increasingly hoarse voices. They could spend a quarter of an hour fighting over one sou. Florent wassurprised at the calm of the marketers with their plaid clothing and tanned faces in themiddle of the long-winded haggling of the market. Behind him on the sidewalk of the rue Rambuteau, fruit was being sold. Hampersand smaller baskets were lined up, covered with canvas or straw giving off a strong odorof overripe mirabelle plums.
After listening for some time to a soft, slow voice, Florent He saw a charming woman, small and dark, sitting on theground and bargaining. After about five very long minutes the woman went back on the attack. Thatllmake nine francs I owe you. And what have youdone with your Jules this morning, La Sarriette?
He claims that menare not made for work. Les Halles was still wrapped in artfully lit dankness, with thousands of stripes fromjalousies beneath the awnings of the long covered street already heavily trafficked withpedestrians, while the distant pavilions were still deserted. At the pointe Saint-Eustachethe bakers and wine merchants were busy taking down their shutters; their red shops,gaslights aglow, were brilliant against the grayness that still covered the other buildings. Florent looked at a boulangerie4 on the left-hand side of rue Montorgueil, all full andgolden with a fresh batch of bread, and he thought he could smell the fragrance of warmbread.
It was in the morning. When Lacaillereappeared with his bag, only a few carrot bunches were left. Take the rest. There are seventeen bunches. The old bastard drifts around the market. Sometimes he waits till the Oh these Parisians!