November 21, 2008

Return to the Chateau

. . . and probably even if he did manage to locate the house which had served as the prototype for the notorious chateau of Histoire d’O it would turn out to be some monstrosity that the French heritage industry had subcontracted to Disneyworld France and it was now The Story of O World, after paying for tickets you stood in a long queue to be herded onto miniature shuttle-buses which looped on tracks through a series of animatronic tableaux reenacting the travails of O, which if he remembered correctly had more to do with clothing and fabrics than sex, the novel was really just a high-end adult clothing catalog for haberdashers and outfit-fetishists, excruciatingly tiresome and moreover excruciatingly Catholic, O like a nun with her wrists chained to her collar at night to keep her in an attitude of prayer and the chateau run according to the most restrictive rules that even the men of the secret society had to obey, to his mind it didn’t sound like much fun for the men any more than the women, so many rules and timetables like some sort of monastic order, it was a religious tract enjoining service and submission, sex the last refuge of the sacred in a secular age blah blah blah, the Catholic Church in France had given the Disney corporation its blessing and even sent out a priest to the Story of O World to bless it with holy water and censers of incense at the grand opening, with plenty of politicians from the conservative and Gaullist and so-called socialist parties and the National Front on hand to have their pictures taken and speak of the French tradition of art and commerce.  He was just about to quit and return to the hotel-zone when he saw a man ahead, from around the corner an actual person of the public walking in his direction on the same public sidewalk about thirty paces ahead, he was surprised to see an actual live person, there were so few other persons on the streets of this so-called village of Roissy that this one had to be an official of the Charles de Gaulle airport or a representative of Air France out on official business, unless he was just another addled tourist who had been overbooked and bumped, although as the stranger approached he gave off distinctly the air of a French person, somehow it was clear right away that the stranger approaching him was French, perhaps because his attire looked stylish in that subdued way of the French who as a people love stylish vestments more than sex, including Italian shoes, to be a properly dressed French person requires Italian shoes, but more especially because of his prominent nose, a truly impressive Gallic honker worn no doubt in honor and emulation of the victorious commander of the Free French forces and later President of the Fourth or is it the Fifth French Republic the late General Charles de Gaulle.  And he worried that he would be in trouble with this distinctly French person wearing Italian shoes and a nose in honor of Charles de Gaulle because his own appearance inspired suspicion and maybe he had strayed into some kind of forbidden zone, unwittingly he had strayed into a zone that was off limits at certain times of the day, or off limits at least to suspicious-looking characters such as he had always suspected himself to be.  He and the approaching French stranger shared the trait of wearing large noses but the French stranger wore the large nose of a Gallic person and whereas he wore the large nose of a Semitic person, or so the mirrors had always communicated to him, mirrors and other reflective surfaces which he gazed into anxiously had communicated to him this idea that he wore a nose of the Semitic type, even the convexities of spoons and the surface of his watch in the right light could communicate to him this idea that he wore a Semitic-type nose, to say nothing of his wife’s sunglasses, he wore the nose of a Jew or an Arab in spite of the fact that to his knowledge he was neither Arab nor Jew, the old problem of appearance versus essence.  To his mind neither Jews nor Arabs were especially popular in France right then but he thought that on the whole the Arabs were less popular than the Jews, which was unfortunate because he believed that on balance he looked more like an Arab than a Jew, in the context of his complexion and hair and five o’clock shadow and the je ne sais quoi of his overall demeanor his Semitic-type nose came off more like an Arab’s than a Jew‘s, at least to people in the United States and Europe, in the United States and Europe everyone took him automatically for an Arab, in fact everyone everywhere took him for an Arab except for the Arabs who took him for a Jew.  He did not wish to be classed as an Arab by this French person, possibly an official of some kind although in no uniform save that of the well-attired French person, in principle his sympathies were all with the Arabs but at that particular moment he did not wish to be classed among things such as rabbits, frogs, snails, and Arabs, things which the French people and Western Europeans in general fear are going to overrun their tarmacs in hordes and thus need at regular intervals to be exterminated en masse, he and the French stranger were heading right towards each other but it would have looked even more suspicious for him as a suspicious possibly Arab-looking person to cross to the other side of the street even definitively suspicious an open and shut case of suspiciousness, he wished his wife were at his side she had blond hair and an open face, he needed to get the Frenchman’s mind off his appearance right away, now that they had drawn near to each other he would speak first in such a way as to demonstrate the harmlessness of his presence in the zone—   Excusez-moi, monsieur, et bonjour, eh . . . je suis ein tourist, eh, er . . . un tourist Canadien, oui, et je suis tres interessant dans le literature, n’est-ce-pas?  Et je . . . je . . . et, to, to look for, I’m looking for . . . um, parlez-vous anglais?  As he spoke the French stranger lifted his nose, throughout this demonstration of his harmlessness the French stranger slowly but steadily lifted his nose, pausing only at the interrogative to roll its Gallic impressiveness from side to side like the dorsal fin of a sea mammal and expel from the opening beneath it a brief non.  Oh, that’s alright, I mean, c’est ca, oui, mais . . . je, je voudrais aller a la musée, oui, je voudrais aller a la musée de la chateau de le roman Histoire d’O, oui,?  Eh, eh, le roman de Pauline Reage, n’est-ce-pas?  To make his meaning perfectly clear he supplemented his speech with gestures, indicating first himself, then making walking fingers in the air, then pointing to the nearest house, then making a waving motion as if to erase the house and bringing his hands together and apart as if opening a book, and finally lifting and lowering his fist in the air to suggest flogging.  Yet the French person only continued to lift his great Gallic nose skyward by worrisome increments as if sampling the air in order to determine if there might be an Arab on the tarmac, or else he was farsighted and had to rear back his head in order to bring the importuning questioner’s nose into focus in order to determine if it was a nose belonging to an Arab.  And so the questioner found himself steadily lowering his chin, dipping his chin downwards in increments in the hope of foreshortening his nose in the French person’s perspective, the French person lifted his nose while the questioner dipped his chin until at last it was difficult for him to question let alone breathe, with his chin tucked into his breastbone his last question came out in a wheeze while the French person’s nose had positively taken off and now soared like the Concorde over the Pays de France.  At last in exasperation S’il vous plais, monsieur, le chateau! he cried, raising his chin again but making up for this insolence by cringing deeply and flailing his arms in several directions, Le chateau, s’il vous plais!  Ou est le chateau, n’est ce pas, le chateau?  Ou est le chateau? at which point the Concorde returned to earth and the light of a successful communication circuit came on in the French person’s control panel.  Ah, le chateau! cried the French person.  Oui, le chateau! the questioner cried.  Suddenly they were friends.  The French person turned and pointed.  Le chateau est la!  All the questioner had to do, it turned out, was to continue in the direction he had been traveling and he would without question find himself at the chateau.  He and the French person parted in high spirits and each bore their noses buoyantly in opposite directions.  Buoyantly he bore his after all perhaps not so Semitic-looking nose in the direction he had originally been traveling through the village of Roissy, for the moment no longer the “so-called” village, it might not be so bad a village as all that with such a literary point of interest as the prototype of the notorious chateau of Pauline Réage’s notorious novel Histoire d’O, a serious literary investigation into erotic clothing as the last refuge of the sacred in a secular age . . . 

(an excerpt from “Return to the Chateau,” a chapter of the novel ENEMY COMBATANT)

4 comments:

Steven Augustine said...

Where's the rest of this, good fellow?

Edmond Caldwell said...

The MS of the whole novel is at a couple of contests, plus I still harbor foolish hopes of getting the chapter published somewhere separately. This is just a teaser (or groaner, or whatever).

Steven Augustine said...

You could make a film of this passage-within-the-passage alone:

"To make his meaning perfectly clear he supplemented his speech with gestures, indicating first himself, then making walking fingers in the air, then pointing to the nearest house, then making a waving motion as if to erase the house and bringing his hands together and apart as if opening a book, and finally lifting and lowering his fist in the air to suggest flogging. Yet the French person only continued to lift his great Gallic nose skyward by worrisome increments as if sampling the air in order to determine if there might be an Arab on the tarmac, or else he was farsighted and had to rear back his head in order to bring the importuning questioner’s nose into focus in order to determine if it was a nose belonging to an Arab. And so the questioner found himself steadily lowering his chin, dipping his chin downwards in increments in the hope of foreshortening his nose in the French person’s perspective, the French person lifted his nose while the questioner dipped his chin until at last it was difficult for him to question let alone breathe, with his chin tucked into his breastbone his last question came out in a wheeze while the French person’s nose had positively taken off and now soared like the Concorde over the Pays de France."

Luvly stuff! It does its part to help in correcting somewhat the 1000/1 imbalance of decent criticism online versus decent fiction online (whereas the ratio of shite critique to shite fiction is in healthy balance, of course).

Edmond Caldwell said...

Thanks for the kind words, Augustine. I had a good time writing it. I’m afraid I don’t spend a lot of time reading online fiction – your blog is an exception – and I’m not sure why, maybe just my experience of the shite-to-notshite ratio, plus the fact that in my fiction-reading I’m usually “on the scent” of this or that particular author or vague intuition about writing or whatever it is that leads me from one book to the next. Oh, and I read so few short stories compared to novels, that’s another factor . . .