The Count of Monte Cristo, A Fried Sandwich and Hashish

The Monte Cristo, a fried and golden thing; glorious is its taste, this egg battered ham sandwich, this melty Gruyère cheese christened and jam preserve garnished trifle; tis’ savoury and sweet with richness that only by counting its calories can tell …Ah, bliss be the ambrosia sent from gleaming rays into our crackling frying pans!
Pardieu!
I was carried away- right into the kitchen again! Let me put down the whisk and the egg, place the ham hock back in the fridge and start afresh. (Though, I shall be returning to this sandwich in a later post!)
The Count of Monte Cristo, first published in 1844, by the author, Alexandre Dumas, a man-made famous for his daring and politics but also by the creation of the d’Artagnan romance novels, (Three Musketeers being the first) is a tail of tragedy and betrayal that turns into a plundering, romp of riches, extravagance and harrowing acts of honor and valour.
As I am not finished with this tomb of over 800 exciting pages, I cannot concluded a synopsis. Instead of this, I will give to you some exciting excerpts and quotes I’ve dredged up from these daring depths: Dumas supposed feelings and advocacies of the illicit recreational drug hashish, synthesized marijuana.
(Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. Ware [England: Wordsworth Editions, 1997. Print.)

p.226 as spoken by the Count of Monte Cristo disguised under the appellation, Sinbad the Sailor:

“…-judge but do not confine yourself to one trial. Like everything else, we must habituate the sense to a fresh impression, gentle or violent, sad or joyous.”

“There is a struggle in nature against this divine substance- in nature which is not made for joy and clings to pain. Nature subdued must yield in the combat, this dream must succeed to reality, and then the dream reigns supreme, then the dream becomes life, and life becomes the dream. But what changes occur! It is only by comparing the pains of actual being with the joys of the assumed existence, that you would desire to live no longer, but to dream thus forever. When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter- to quit paradise for Earth- heaven for hell! Taste the hashish guest of mine- taste the hashish.”

“A grateful world to the dealer in happiness”

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

Part 2 to come! Till next time and adieu!

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Food in French Romanticism; Émile Zola, The Belly of Paris (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 to the comfort of an armchair:

Les Halles, Paris 1880 by Victor Gilbert

Les Halles, Paris 1880 by 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, and he does,”…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.”

Zola, what a large appetite you have!

Zola, what a large appetite you have!

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.

Alexandre Dumas, Twenty Years After (conclusion)

The previous month I posted a note mentioning the current classic I was enganged in. I’d like to finish the note with its conclusion and some after thoughts for you to chew on:

Swashbuckling!

Swashbuckling!

What is there to say about these cavaliers of Dumas’ sweeping romance, Twenty Years After? Perhaps too much. All I can manage of honest sincerity after closing the last chapter is a deep sigh of contentment. I put the book to my lap and rested my palm on it like a faithful companion. I looked to the wall and past it, my head was swimming in these latest extraordinary adventures. I had found myself in a Dumas induced stupor.

To think that just a month ago,(During my reading of the previous and first installment, The Three Musketeers) these gang of heroes were all just around 20 years of age, excluding Athos of course. In Twenty Years After, they are middle aged men. Upon learning this my first feeling towards this novel was dismay. The quick passing of so many years between the last novel and this novel made me feel nostalgia saddened by want; In my sentiment I perceived that I had missed out on the grandest adventures of their charming youths; My newly acquired dear friends grew up too soon.

But I had the book in my hand and was thumbing through the introduction and that is were I was planted; This reality where our heroes are all men and seasoned veterans of their trade. I pressed on with a slight reluctance but I simply had to see what news the years have brought my French comrades. This expanse of time had a great effect on my mindset too that Dumas was quick to take advantage of. He sew the books together grandly and he knew too, that the reader would be anticipating the reunion of the musketeers, including me. This is where I believed the book would start and take off for they all had parted ways at the closing of the previous. But pardieu, it was not so!

“’Ah, My friend,” said D’Artagnan, “’it is not civil wars which disunite us; it is that we are all twenty years older. The loyal outburst of youth have gone, and given place to the din of interests, the breath of ambition, and the counsels of egotism.’” The twisting intrigue found within made me truly grasp the popular phrase, “The plot thickens.” I heartened to plumb the depths of their adventures as soon as I began the first several pages.

(Warning: The following is not a plot spoiler but it illuminates some facts that you may wish to discover on your own)

Here we are brought: Athos as it turns out, has not become a tragic drunk as believed by our Heroes but a noble heart-of-gold with a new responsibility at his hands; a young man name Raoul. Athos lives quietly as an authentic gentleman living in a country manor that is dotted with hills, flowers and a babbling stream.

D’Artagnan, poor gentleman of supreme Gascon wit, he lay forgotten in the mind of Queen Anne of Austria whom he had saved. D’Artagnan, still scrapes by as a lieutenant under a new Cardinal, Mazarin. His heroism and daring passed and faded by way of years in the service as a soldier-automaton. He has since relieved Planchet, his quick, sturdy lackey who, in this installment, has taken fortune and became a pseudo sergeant-confectioner.

Porthos, the giant, who’s fists still can fell an ox, had the most fortune of the lot in most respects, he acquired the properties of a royal family from his deceased wife. With all his excess and vanity, he is crushed by his own blood-it is the respect of his neighbors he seeks and no money can win royal prestige and the distinction that comes with it. He is at loss with so much and we find that it is a barony he seeks so as to establish himself among the landed gentry. His tender and loyal lackey, muskatoon has grown fat and supremely content with his masters new wealth- and a bit disturbed at the new adventures that lay ahead!

Aramis, the beloved of the ladies, the sensual and determined sought a higher religious ground and in his quest, he had found it. He achieved what he was searching for 20 years previous, he has become an abbot. But alas, in his religious devotedness and new garments of devotion he has become restless; In his position he has grown, ironically, more swashbuckling and more implacable than ever. His lackey, Basin, is of the opposite feeling and has, on the contrary, grown pious. As Aramis has said himself among a royal crowd, “’My cassock only holds by one button, and I am quite ready to become a Musketeer again.” Athos may have the been the best to put it thus, “There is an abbe who is giving a blow to a man and a bow to a woman. That’s Aramis.”

Now, I am not aiming to give a synopsis but a feel and a taste for this fitting and honorable sequel. Here are some snippets I’ve collected throughout my journey in Alexandre Dumas’, Twenty Years After, in no particular order except that of preference.(Oxford World’s Classic 2008 edition, Translated by David Coward):

P.375 line 27 , Athos to Aramis: What is offered nobly ought to be accepted nobly”

p. 489 line 36-39, Sound Advice from D’Artagnan: “Learn, M. Olivian, that people such as we are don’t allow themselves to be served by cowards. Rob your master, eat his sweetmeats, and drink his wine, but cap de Diou! Don’t be a coward, or I will cut off your ears.

P.579 line 38-39, A Disguised Aramis to a detained King Charles I: Meanwhile, do not close your eyes tonight; don’t be astonished at anything and await everything.

P.359 line 12-13, “Athos was happy; happy as he had never been.”

P.271 line 15-28, Athos’ s speech to D’Artagnan and Porthos: “Never, I swear before god, who sees and hears us in the solemnity of this night, shall my sword touch yours never shall my eye have for you a look of anger never shall my heart have a pulsation of hatred. We have lived together, hated and loved together, have spilt blood, and perhaps, I will add also, there is between us a tie more powerful than that of friendship-the compact of crime; for we have condemned, judged and executed a human being whom we had not perhaps the right of sending out of the world, although she seemed to belong to hell rather than this world. D’Artagan, I have always loved you as my son. Porthos we have slept ten years side by side; Aramis is your brother as he is mine-for Aramis has loved you as I love you still, As I shall love you always.”

P. 605 line 7-9, An image of London after the execution of Charles I: The gloom had grown deeper; the snow continued falling and looked like a vast winding-sheet stretched out over the regicide city.

P. 533 line 32-33, Porthos to the company of Musketeers: “It seems to me that in the most critical of situations in our life we have always dined.”  

P. 611 line 16-18, Oliver Cromwell to his adviser Mordaunt: There is no idea sublime in politics except one which bears its fruits. Every abortive idea is foolish and barren.

P. 726 line 31-39, D’artagnan explaining to Athos a chef’s life:

D’artagnan: My dear fellow, do you know why master cooks never work with their own hands? Porthos: No; but I should be glad to know. D’artagnan: Because they would be afraid of making, before their pupils, tarts to much baked or creams that have turned. Porthos: Well? D’Artagnan: Well, they get laughed at, and master cooks must not allow themselves to be laughed at. Porthos: and why are master cooks at all like us? D’Artagnan:Because, we ought, in our adventures, never to suffer any check, nor give occasion for people to laugh at us.

P. 353 lines 25-27, Princess Henrietta to Lord de Winter regarding her father, Charles I: Tell my father that whether he is a king or a fugitive, conquerer or conquered, powerful or poor, he has in me me a most obedient and affectionate daughter.”

P. 357 lines 8-13, Mordaunt to his Uncle, Lord de Winter: Listen to these words, and let them sink into your memory, so that you may never forget them: this murder, which has deprived me of everything, and taken away my name, has made me corrupt , wicked and implacable; I demand expiation for it, from you first, and then from your accomplices when I know them.”

P. 776 line 36-38, Athos to the Duchess Chevreuse: “Alas! Excuse my weakness, Madame; there comes a moment when a man lives and grows young again in his children.”

(FIN)

…Stay tuned for more greatness in the next romp, “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”

A Dashing Vicomte!

A Dashing Vicomte!

Twenty Years After, Alexandre, Dumas

The next installation Romances that follows, The Three Musketeers, is, Twenty Years After. Alexandre Dumas does not fall short of simply swashbuckling in this novel. As you’d expect from this great novelist, general and gourmand, the contents of this book are rich with timeless wit, burning friendship, adventure, savory food spreads and fine french wine. (some Spanish too.)

This month, I encourage you to find yourself a copy and read along with me and share your thoughts. Don’t worry, if you have not read, The Three Musketeers, it is not necessary for understanding this book. I recommend that you do read it though as it fills in nuances and beautiful subtleties in the following series.

If you need further convincing, please allow yourself the privilege of skimming some quotes to whet your appetite.

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Athos to his Raoul viscomte de Bragelonne: “I see your future as through a cloud. It will be better than ours. We have had a minister without a king; you, on the contrary, will have a king without a minister. You will be able then to serve, love and honor the king. If he prove a tyrant-for power in its giddiness often becomes tyranny-serve, love and honor the royalty; that is the infallible principle.”

 “There is no figure so expressive as that of a real gourmand before a good table…”

D’artagnan: “’Should that diamond ever fall again into my hands,’ he was saying, ‘I should turn it at once into money, I should purchase certain properties around my father’s Château -a pretty residence, but which has for all its dependencies only a garden scarcely as large as the Cimetière des Innocents -and there I would await in my majesty, until some rich heiress, attracted by my good looks, came to spouse me. Then I would have three sons; I would make of the first a great nobleman like Athos; of the second, a handsome soldier like Porthos; and of the third, a pretty Abbé like Aramis.’”

To his lacky Bazin: Because you always have your beadle’s costume on your shoulders,’ interupted Aramis, ‘and pass all your time reading breviary. But I forwarn you that if by dint of polishing the things in the chapels you forget how to clean my sword, I will make a great fire of all your holy images and roast you in it.’”

“Bazin, scandalized, made the sign of the cross with a bottle…”