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17.9.07

À mon chevet: Le flâneur des deux rives (pp. 44-45)

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M. Fernand Fleuret was a Norman. Once, in the course of a banquet celebrating the millennium of Normandy, a gigantic Norwegian, who was seated next to him, looked at him condescendingly and declared, "You little Viking; me big Viking." The little Viking, according to the observation of another Norman poet, looked like an archer in the Bayeux tapistry.

His determined tendency toward mystification led him one day, when he was still in middle school, to make his parents' cook believe that a certain type of sheath that once borrowed its name from the peaceful town of Condom was a new sort of change purse perfectly suited for big coins. At the butcher's this caused guffaws of laughter that spread throughout the town. The cook complained vividly, not at all hiding the name of the one who had deceived her. Ever since that day, the pious have regarded M. Fernand Fleuret with an evil eye.

-- Guillaume Apollinaire, Le flâneur des deux rives, "1, rue Bourbon-le-Château" (1918), trans. Charles T. Downey
In this book Apollinaire is essentially creating the literary equivalent of the photographs of Eugène Atget, a documentary account of a beloved Paris that was disappearing in the early 20th century (and in that sense related to Louis Aragon's Le paysan de Paris). He lovingly describes the streets, the buildings, the bookshops, and odd characters (especially writers) he knew there. This Promenade dans le Paris d'Apollinaire is an excellent interactive map of the sites the poet describes.

This book is part of the Paris Reading Project.

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