Dumas, The Vicomte De Bragelonne (Conclusion)

Well, it begun quite sharp and lulled-off near the end- That is to say, that this first book in the cluster of installments in the Vicomte De Bragelonne. It is the longest segment in the Dumas’ D’Artagnan series and it encompasses 3 to 4 books. (Depending on the publisher.) The Oxford World’s Classics editions are split into 3; The Vicomte De Bragelonne, which is the one I have finished is then followed by Louise De Vallière and lastly, dramatically, the official D’Artagnan romances closes with the most recognizable, The Man in the Iron Mask. Let me count them all out for you in case my words have tempted you to follow along in this literary quest: Three Musketeers, Twenty-Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise De Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask. (The adventure does not have to stop there; you may also wish to pick up Paul Mahalin’s, D’Artagnan King Maker, and The Son of Porthos; no promises on how they match up with the actual writtings of Dumas.)

Let me continue my thoughts previously about the sharpness and equally the lull of, The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Surprisingly, the main actor which the title attributes is seldom seen in the first half; if our dear Raoul does appear it is usually in tears flying about Athos in some sensitive angst or in level-headed noble debate with his peers.  But what makes the first half remarkable is that the action presents itself to you immediately. D’Artagnan is fed-up with the empty promises of royalty. (His Captaincy, “the flower of chivalry”, has been his aim since the very first pages of, The Three Musketeers and has been unjustly denied or ignored outright.) At the ripe age of 50 or so, D’Artagnan asserts his resignation from the ranks of the Musketeers to Louis XIV and thus begins plotting as a soldier of fortune in his usual Gascony manner. Athos on the other hand is to begin a quest for another; the exiled king of England, Charles II and his fortune. Athos is honor bound to restore this fledgling monarch at the behest of his father, the executed Charles I. “Remember!” It is a dashing race against General Monk and Lambert- the figure heads of England whom are vying for the vacant throne of the king. Between the two adventures running in parallel with each other, the pages simply melt away. But then almost too suddenly, their two adventures are complete.

We are then introduced, more intimately to a new host of characters, (Surely to play apart in the next chapters and books) Manicamp, Malicorne, Montalais, Louise De Vallière and the affluent son of M. De Buckingham. Between these characters the second half of the book picks up. They are the courtiers of Phillip, Duc de Orléans (With the exception of Buckingham) and are all wrapped up and equally entangled in Monsieur’s marriage to Charles I sister, the jewel, Princess Henrietta.* Here we find the youths caught up in the intrigue of a royal court and its politics; the main focus here being the love interests of M. De Buckingham and Raoul, The Vicomte. And this is where the book ends.

It’s not mixed feelings about this book that I began with the words sharp and lull but simply to explain the contrasting plots found therein. I enjoyed this book, certainly, for its written well and follows well with the others. What it is missing, that I have found in each D’Artagnan book previous is that distinctive flavor that each contributes to the whole. For me, Twenty-Years After had the same flavor of the first half of, The Vicomte De Bragelonne, that is the romp and intrigue that follows a good mission. However, As I moved along in the pages, I felt some sort of reluctance to meet these new rather foppish, unseasoned characters and a slight dismay at the drop in excitment and the second half of the book’s journey into drama. I have faith, however, that Dumas will affect some grand purpose for these youngsters in the upcoming adventure:

Louise De Valliere

*The Charm of Princess Henrietta, a royal Stuart: “…and from her well-stored arsenal issued glances, kindly recognitions, and a thousand other little charming attentions which were intended to strike at long range the gentlemen who formed the escort, the townspeople, the officers…it was wholesale slaughter…By the time she had reached Paris, she had reduced to slavery about a hundred thousand lovers…”

Food in French Romanticism (Part 1)

Today, I’d like to share with you a taste of yesterday but in a perhaps, unconventional way; to highlight the mentioned foodstuffs in one of Zola’s most popular works, The Belly of Paris. If you love to eat and love a bit of gluttony (literary and otherwise), follow me as a make a brief interlude between the heat of the kitchen, the daring of D’Artagnan to the comfort of a brief, Flânerie through old Parisian streets:

Les Halles, 1880 Paris, Victor Gilbert

Les Halles, 1880 Paris, Victor Gilbert

The first strong presence of food comes to you right from the beginning. The protagonist is riding atop  a vegetable wagons bounty, on a pile of cabbages; Winding along a darkened way in a caravan of nine that snaked behind and in-front. “…With their mountains of cabbages and peas, their piles of artichokes, lettuces, celery and leaks seamed to be rolling over him as if to bury him beneath an avalanche of food.

Our protagonist has been sorely abused by the Emperors might and has just returned from 8 years of harsh exile. He is starved to delirium. As he arrives and the carts are unloaded, he finds himself in the legendary Les Halles open air market of Paris. 

But, he finds himself, with a stolen carrot in his belly, and a cup of hot wine, but also at arrival managed to find, out of coincidence, his now fortune-favored step brother and wife. They own an exquisite charcuterie, that, Florent is brought to. It is named Quenu-Gradelle. (Simply by the joining of their families name) Now, Zola begins an almost intimate description of the contents of this savory eat-house. I’ll tell you a bit of a summary, highlighting the picturesqueness of hanging sausages and smoked meats.

This is the first sight, Zola describes about the Charcuterie; it’s sign. Let this give you an idea of what lay in store for you: “…chubby little cupids in the midst of boars’, heads, pork chops and string of sausages;…” Then, as if Zola was incredibly hungry when he came to this point, “There were vast quantities of rich, succulent things, things that melted in the mouth.” Personally, I can’t find a fault in the man; have you tasted the delicate, savory taste of a proscuitto or a great bunch of sage-seasoned pork sausages? In the viewing window we are taken to paradise.

At the first tier, there are jars of rilletes; potted meats of goose or pork, matched with sweet and mild pots of mustard. The viewers eyes are brought to the next tier which holds Sundays-best dressed hams with golden crust and ribbons about the knuckles. Here is a bit of the old Parisian, the next delicacy described are the stuffed  Strasbourg tongues, pigs’ trotters; specially seasoned pigs feet, and the house specialty, Black pudding seasoned with lard, pepper salt and onions.  I get the impression that the eye of this starving wretched man is absolutely crushed by the sight, like a man drowning in the sea, a sweet, sweet sea. ”

Lets talk about sausage then Zola, but Emile needs no further coaxing,“…andouilles piled up in twos and bursting with health…“Saucissons in little silver copes that made them look like choristers.” (Saucissons are typical french dry sausages then come in many varieties.) But look on and past the display!

There are hot meat-pies, great cuts of veal and ham, pots of fois gras, snails stuffed with butter and parsley, hanging saveloys; like a modern equivalent of the Coney Island hotdog, red with saltpeter, and sometimes fried, “…like cords and tassels of an opulent tapestry.” The viewers eyes digest one thing after another, “…large tureens in which the meats and minces lay asleep in lakes of solidified fat.”

The gourmand, Zola

The gourmand, Zola

Between the truffled Dishes, lardons, Petit Salé; Salted and brined pork slices, I am wanting a Quenu-Gradelle Charcuterie on my block. If you like all things smoked, salted, cured and stuffed, here’s my shout-out; Visit http://www.reddit.com/r/charcuterie for all your gluttonous delights and fancies. 

The term flâneur comes from the French noun flâneur—which has the basic meanings of "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", "loafer""

The term flâneur comes from the French noun flâneur—which has the basic meanings of “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, “loafer””

(Cross-post from my food blog, foreignsojourn.wordpress.com)