MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL

 

 

BALZAC, ZOLA, DICKENS

COULD NOT HAVE INVENTED HIM!

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL WAS A CHARACTER INDEED,

BUT A REAL LIFE CHARACTER

AND THIS IS HOW IT GOES...

 

I WAS ABOUT 7 YEARS OLD,

MY SISTER REBECCA WAS NOT YET BORN,

AND EVERY FRIDAY, MY MOTHER INVITED MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL FOR LUNCH.

 

I WAS IN SHOCK, DISGUSTED,

I WANTED TO VOMIT AT HIS SIGHT.

YET... I WAS TOTALLY MESMERIZED...

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL WAS A NEAR HOMELESS MAN IN HIS 50s

WHO LOOKED MORE LIKE IN HIS 100s.

 

HIS UPPER FRONT TEETH WERE MISSING,

AND HIS OTHER TEETH WERE YELLOW BLACK ABOUT TO SAY GOOD BYE TOO.

 

HE WORE THICK FOGGED IN GLASSES.

ONE LENS WAS BROKEN.

 

 

A WHOLE COLONY OF WOBBLING WARTS

WAS GROWING DANGLING

UNDERNEATH HIS RIGHT EYELID

LIKE JELLO STALAGTITES.

 

HIS FACE WAS YELLOWISH,

WITH RAZOR BLADE CUTS HERE AND THERE.

 

 

A BLACK FOREST WAS SPROUTING SPURTING

OUT OF HIS EARS AND NOSTRILS. 

 

BUT HIS HEAD HAIR WERE THIN,

AND SLIKLY GREASY SHINY

WITH TOO MUCH BRILLANTINE.

 

HIS HANDS WERE EVER SO ELEGANT THOUGH,

WITH LONG LONG FINGERS,

BUT THE SKIN LOOKED LIKE

OLD PARCHED TIRED LEATHER.

 

HIS NAILS AND FINGERTIPS…

ORANGY YELLOW WITH NICOTINE.

 

HIS KAKI GREEN TRENCH COAT WAS SO FILTHY THAT IT COULD HAVE STOOD UPRIGHT ON ITS OWN!

HIS BROWN CORDUROYS THE SAME.

THE COLLAR AND CUFFS OF HIS SHIRT WERE STAINED STIFF.

AND HIS THICK RUBBER SOLED LEATHER SHOES WERE...WELL...IN DIRE NEED OF REPAIR.

 

THE WHOLE PERSONNAGE SEEMED TO ME

LIKE A GRUESOME FRIGHTENING WIZZARD

OUT OF A BROTHER GRIMM DARK FAIRY TALE.

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL WAS INDEED LOSING HIS HUMAN APPEARANCE…

 

 

 

DURING THE WEEK,

HE SURVIVED ON DOG AND CAT FOOD,

SARDINES TOO.

 

BUT ON FRIDAYS,

MY MOTHER WOULD PREPARE FOR HIM

HIS FAVORITE DISHES,

WHICH,

DUE TO HIS DENTAL HEALTH,

OR LACK OF,

CONSISTED OF

MASHED POTATOES WITH CREAM,

BOUDIN GRILLÉ,

(THAT IS GRILLED PIG BLOOD PUDDING)

AND QUENELLES DE BROCHET SAUCE NANTUA,

PIKE FISH SOUFFLÉS IN CREAMY SPICY TOMATOE SAUCE,

 

GOSH! HE FELT LIKE A KING!

 

AND SOMETIMES UTTERED

IN A MOST SURREALISTIC WAY

AND MOST POETICAL FRENCH

THAT

 

THE MASHED POTATOES WERE

"IN DESIRE OF MORE CREAM"

 

OR THAT

THE QUENELLES COULD HAVE STAYED A LITTLE LONGER IN THE OVEN

"TO FULFILL THEIR FLUFFY LIGHT DESTINY."

 

 

AND EVERY FRIDAY MY MOTHER FORCED ME TO MAKE HIM FEEL WELCOME AND HUMAN AGAIN.

 

I HAD TO SERVE HIM IN OUR BEST CHINA AND SILVER.

I HAD TO SIT IN FRONT OF HIM.

 

IT WAS HORRID.

 

AND THE STENCH!

OH! THE STENCH!

YOU CANNOT BEGIN TO IMAGINE!

 

 

 

WITHOUT REALIZING IT,

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL EXUDED

A SMELL OF TAR, COLD TOBACCO, DIRT, URINE AND PETROL… PETROL DUE TO THE POELE À MAZOUT HE USED TO FIGHT AWAY THE COLD.

 

I WAS PULLING FACES, TRYING NOT TO BREATHE,

AND MY MOTHER WOULD KICK ME GENTLY UNDER THE TABLE....

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL HARBORED

QUITE AN ARISTOCRATIC STANCE WHILE EATING,

 

USING THE CORNER OF HIS NAPKIN TO DELICATELY REMOVE BITS OF THE FOOD

THAT HAD ESCAPED

FROM HIS ALMOST TOOTHLESS MOUTH.

 

 

QUITE A DANDY!

HE HAD AN IVORY CIGARETTE HOLDER

AND SMOKED DURING LUNCH.

MAMAN ALWAYS PUT NEXT TO HIS PLATE

A WHITE PORCELAINE ASHTRAY FROM THE 19TH CENTURY ORNATED WITH GOLD LEAF BIRDS.

 

 

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL WAS VERY WELL READ,

PHILOSOPHY, POETRY, LITERATURE,

FROM ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

 

HE COULD TALK FOR HOURS ABOUT

LAO TSE, MONTAIGNE AND PROUST.

 

(MAYBE...WHEN I THINK OF IT...

 IT IS THANKS TO HIM THAT I SPENT MY LIFE READING RE-READING MONTAIGNE, PROUST AND GOT MY PHD IN PHILOSOPHY)

 

 

 

HE ABHORRED RELIGIONS, SAYING THAT

 

"ALL THESE SANCTIMONIOUS TWADDLES

WERE IN THE WAY OF TRUE SPIRITUALITY"

 

MY MOTHER GAVE HIM METRO TICKETS

SO HE COULD COME EVERY FRIDAY

 

IN ALL HIS POVERTY

HE WAS SUCH A GENTLEMAN

EVER SO ENLIGHTENED

YOU COULD ASK HIM ABOUT ANYTHING

COSMIC, EARTHLY, EXTRA TERRESTRIAL OR OTHER.

WHAT AN ODD EXTRA-ORDINARY PERSONNAGE...

 

 

MY MOTHER HAD MET HIM IN THE STREET

ON A BENCH,

IN HIS GREENISH TRENCH COAT AND BLACK FRAYED CASHEMERE SCARF,

HOLDING A BOOK ON FULCANELLI IN HIS PATINED VEINED HANDS

 

 

THE STORY GOES THAT MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL WAS NOT A HOBOE, A BEGGAR, NOR A HOMELESS.

 

HE WAS A MAN WHO HAD ONCE LIVED

A VERY COMFORTABLE LIFE,

OWNED A BOOKSHOP IN LYON,

A BOOKSHOP SPECIALIZING IN PHILOSOPHY AND ESOTERISM.

 

HE BELONGED TO WHAT WE CALL IN FRANCE

"LA HAUTE BOURGEOISIE"

AND WAS THE BLACK SHEEP OF HIS FAMILY,

THE ONE WHO DID NOT FIT

WHO WOULD NEVER FIT…

 

WHAT HAD HAPPENED?

HOW DID HE BECOME THIS LOST DIRTY FOUL SMELLING CREATURE?

 

 

MY MOTHER TALKED TO HIM ON THE BENCH

AND INVITED HIM FOR LUNCH.

AND THIS IS HOW IT ALL BEGUN.

 

IT WENT ON FOR ALMOST 5 YEARS

THE SAME TRENCH COAT, THE SAME SCARF,

THE SAME SHIRT

EVERY FRIDAY

A MITZVAH MY MOTHER SAID

 

A GOOD ACTION THAT DID NOT NEED TO, SHOULD NOT BE PUBLICIZED.

 

TO GIVE DIGNITY BACK TO A HUMAN BEING WHOSE FATE HAD TAKEN IT AWAY FROM HIM.

 

 

HE HAD FALLEN IN LOVE IN LYON

YOU SEE

 

WITH A WOMAN WHO WAS INTERESTED IN KABBALAH, IN THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE AND THE CREATION.

 

HE HAD FALLEN IN LOVE.

 

AND FALLING IS THE RIGHT WORD,

 

AS THIS WOMAN BROKE HIS HEART

LEAVING HIM AFTER TWO YEARS OF INTELLECTUAL, SPIRITUAL AND PLATONICAL INTIMACY.

 

AND HE HAD FALLEN HARD.

HIS HEART AND SOUL RUINED, SHATTERED TO A MYRIAD OF MORSELS THAT COULD NEVER BE PUT TOGETHER AGAIN.

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL DID NOT RECOVER...

 

HE SOLD HIS BOOK SHOP, LEFT LYON,

AND CAME TO PARIS.

 

 

FOR A FEW YEARS,

HE WAS ABLE TO RAVISH HIS PALATE WITH THE GOURMET DELICACIES PARIS OFFERED,

AND PAY FOR A "GARNIS, "

ONE OF THESE OLD PARISIAN FURNISHED ROOMS,

THE FAVORITE HAUNTS OF BAUDELAIRE,

 

BUT WHEN THE MONEY DISAPPEARED...

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL HAD TO SQUAT

A GARRET WITH BROKEN WINDOW PANES,

NO BATHROOM, NO KITCHEN, NOTHING.

 

A GARRETT OF SUCH SQUALOR

THAT HE NEVER LET MY MOTHER IN,

EVEN THOUGH SHE HAD ASKED MANY TIMES

TO ACOMPANY HIM AND SEE

WHAT SHE COULD DO TO HELP,

 

BESIDES NEW CLOTHES AND SHOES,

WHICH HE NEVER WORE,

AS HE GAVE THEM AWAY TO HOMELESS

POORER THAN HIM.

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL DID NOT DRINK.

 

HE THOUGHT… HE DREAMED…

AND GOT DRUNK ON HIS THOUGHTS AND DREAMS,

EVENTUALLY LOOSING TRACK OF EXTERIOR REALITY.

HE JUST COULD NOT ADAPT TO THE MODERN WORLD... A LOST SOUL…

 

AND EVERY FRIDAY FOR 5 YEARS

HE WAS PART OF MY LIFE.

 

 

AT FIRST, I WAS EVER SO RELUCTANT TO SHAKE HIS HAND, TO TAKE OFF HIS SMELLY STIFF COAT

(I QUICKLY WENT TO THE BATHROOM TO WASH MY HANDS!)

 

I HAD TO USHER HIM IN OUR LIVING ROOM

WHERE HE SAT ON OUR CRUSHED RASPBERRY RED VELVET SOFA.

 

 

HE LOVED TO IMPROVIZE ON MY PIANO, ABSTRACT MUSICAL IMPROMPTUS,

WORTHY OF A MORTON FELDMAN!

 

AFTER HE LEFT,

I OPENED ALL THE WINDOWS, EVEN IN WINTER,

SO THE FRESH AIR COULD CLEAN AWAY THE REEKING ATMOSPHERE HE HAD LEFT BEHIND.

I COULD NOT SIT NOR PLAY THE PIANO

WITHOUT SPENDING TWO GOOD HOURS SPRAYING LAVENDER ON THE FURNITURE,

BRUSHING AND BRUSHING,

SCOURING THE KEYS OF MY PIANO

WITH WHITE VINEGAR.

 

ANY TRACE OF MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL'S SCENT

HAD TO DISAPPEAR!

MY MOTHER WAS SMILING...

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL WAS A CLAIRVOYANT.

 

HE COULD TELL BY HOLDING YOUR WATCH,

TOUCHING IT, FEELING IT, MANIPULATING IT,

HE COULD TELL YOUR PAST, YOUR PRESENT AND YOUR FUTURE.

HE READ TAROT CARDS TOO

 

HE WAS A REAL MEDIUM

HE SAW DEAD PEOPLE, CONVERSED WITH THEM.

 

HE TOLD ME THINGS

I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND THEN,

ABOUT MY LIFE…

 

THAT I WOULD BE AN ARTIST, A TEACHER,

A WRITER, AN ACTRESS.

IT ALL SEEMED TOO FANTASTIC,

NOT CREDIBLE AT ALL.

 

HE TOLD ME ABOUT MY DIVORCE,

ABOUT MY ONLY CHILD WHO WOULD NEARLY DIE AT BIRTH,

THAT I WOULD TRAVEL A LOT,

AND THAT HE SAW ME LIVING

IN SUNNY COUNTRIES.

 

IT ALL CAME TRUE…

 

I DID NOT UNDERSTAND THEN.

 

BUT NOW?

I UNDERSTAND ONLY TOO WELL.

 

 

THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE WHO DO NOT BELONG TO OUR PRESENT,

THEY COME FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE,

"SOMEWHEN ELSE"

THEY KNOW...

 

 

THIS IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE GREATEST LESSONS OF LIFE BOTH MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL AND MY MOTHER COULD HAVE EVER GIVEN ME.

 

IT SEEMS SO LONG AGO…

 

I WAS 7,

I AM 61

THE LITLE GIRL IS STILL ALIVE INSIDE OF ME.

 

WHAT'S TIME ANYWAY?

IT STRETCHES ALONG EMOTIONS AND EXPERIENCES…

TIME DOES NOT PASS,

WE PASS...

 

AND...

WE REMEMBER...

 

 

 

ONE FRIDAY,

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL DID NOT COME,

AND THE NEXT FRIDAY NEITHER.

 

 

 

 

 

MY MOTHER GOT WORRIED AND ASKED THE POLICE TO GO AND SEE IF HE WAS ALRIGHT IN HIS GARRET,

NEAR PLACE CLICHY,

A POOR NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE NORTHERN PART OF PARIS.

 

I DID NOT GO,

BUT MY MOTHER WENT.

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL HAD DIED OF COLD, AND RATS HAD STARTED TO NIBBLE AT HIS BODY.

 

 

MAMAN PAID FOR THE BURRIAL.

SHE WAS THE ONLY ONE AT THE FUNERAL.

 

 

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL

I BEG FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS,

 

FOR NOT HAVING BEEN WARM TOWARD YOU,

 

FOR NOT HAVING HUGGED YOU.

 

 

 

 

PLEASE FORGIVE ME

FOR NOT HAVING GIVEN YOU THE SPONTANEOUS RESPECT AND LOVE

YOU DESERVED AND NEEDED SO MUCH.

 

 

I DID NOT KNOW.

I WAS TOO YOUNG.

 

 

MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL

YOU DID NOT BELONG TO THIS WORLD

OF CRASS MATERIALISM.

 

THERE WAS NO ROOM

FOR YOUR ENLIGHTENED SPIRIT.

MAYBE...

IF YOU COULD HAVE MET

A FELLOW SOUL MATE,

YOU COULD HAVE WRITTEN,

YOU COULD HAVE HELPED OTHER LOST SOULS.

 

 

I ASK OF YOU

 

HERE AND NOW

 

AT THE END OF THIS STORY

 

 

 

TO PAY HOMMAGE TO A MAN

WHOSE BROKEN HEART LED HIM TO LIVE THE DERELICT LIFE OF A DESTITUTE.

 

TO PAY HOMMAGE TO A MAN WHO KNEW

TOO MUCH ABOUT THE FUTURE

AND COULD NOT ADAPT TO THE PRESENT.

 

I SAY THANK YOU MONSIEUR CHASSAGNOL

THANK YOU MAMAN

 

 

HUMAN DIGNITY OUGHT TO BE A BIRTH RIGHT!

 

ALAS....

 

JUST LOOK AROUND YOU....