Flaubert’s Hare

by Gheorghe Recheşan [Romania]

translation from Romanian by Dorina Burcea [MTTLC student]

 pentru versiunea română click aici 

Flaubert had a hare. Actually, she was a nubile doe with downy fur resembling the hue of a genuine Ceylonese cinnamon.

Maturin, the gardener’s son who’s  weeding out the carrot field, had nicknamed her Emma – with two M’s. He would give her a craving look together with the fresh cabbage stalks he was shoving under her pink little snout:

“What a tasty terrine one could make out of her pluck…”

Gustave was angry. He was assiduously working on his novel about madam Bovary, oozing out heavily, his receding hairline surrounded by strands of soft curly hair being bedewed with little pearls of sweat.  

“Emma c’est moi” he sighted dipping his pen in the heavy inkpot made of patinated bronze and decorated with antique motifs depicting “Ciprys’ bush”. He was writing one word a night, polishing up his story with great difficulty. He would have liked to write about corsairs, perverted women dressed in silk corsages, odalisques and balladeers or, with his pen, majestically wave stories about orgies, rapes, horrors, incestuous affairs, to have the shamelessness of a rural Casanova or at least a bold nose and a beard of a rapacious conquistador. Like smoke, all these thoughts were swirling in his head while he was contemplating  Emma who was producing little brown shiny balls of dung gracefully spread on the floor of her spinster cage. Keeping his manuscripts under lock and key, protected from indiscreet eyes was useless since the impenetrable mystery of his imagination had been shattered by a redheaded, crude, semiliterate young boy.  Revengeful, he planned to repudiate the doe or compromise his heroine.

When escaping her cage, Emma would chew on his greenish molleton slippers. In vain did the housekeeper, madam Cruchard, shooed her away with the broom from the kitchen to the lobby, from the lobby to the study, from the study back to the lobby. Lickerish, Emma managed to chew Flaubert’s personal things: his galoshes, his favorite suspenders, his umbrella, the bamboo walking cane with silver handle, the pipe case, the band of the ecru silk dressing gown and even the gray flannel long johns that he used to wear on chilly summer nights. Had she chewed his Carthaginian tarboosh with red tassel too, he would have ordered madam Cruchard to prepare for dinner some “a la midi” hare stake seasoned with plenty of thyme and Béarnaise garlic sauce. For now, he was satisfied to take care of her sentimental education and sentence her to forced chastity, notions that she, the languishing brazen rodent did not understand at all.

One late evening in August, some time after the harvesting of the currants, a morose Flaubert is sitting in his study in front of the desk decorated with reddish jacaranda flesh intarsia… He is not in the mood for Emma Bovary’s unhealthy melancholy. He is rereading different pages from his travel journals.

“Friday, the 2nd of March, Latfeh,

Mud houses, moors, clusters of palm trees. In front of us a vivid green field adorned with black furrows, lands that just came out of the water, that separate themselves and like stains of China ink oppose the homogeneous green. I bow to you dark soil of Egypt, I conjure you Isis….

Saturday the 3rd, Giza

Abu-el-Hul, the father of fear, The Sphinx. The sand. Pyramids. Everything is gray and shrouded in an intense pink; the sky is spotless and blue, the vultures float gently circling the top of the Pyramids…

Thursday the 14th, Fayum

Monastery. “Favorisca” Coffee House. Two German men in frock coats smelling of plum brandy. A Janissary, Saba-Rahil, a lively little fellow, brings us glasses with lollipops. In the evening we talk about Saint Augustine, about Arius and Athanasius. Very gracefully, the Janissary’s son brings us chibouks. To repent their sins, the monks would order him as penitence to sweap the floor of their cells with his tongue.

I spend my night scratching and listening to the dogs’ howl.

Wednesday the 21st, Manfault

The bazaars smell of coffee and sandalwood. The street turns unexpectedly and in front of us lays the district of the almehs. The street bends slightly; gray mud houses no taller than four feet. On the left, as one walks down towards the Nile, a palm tree. Blue sky. Women are sitting on mats in front of the doors… Light color clothes worn in layers waving in the warm wind; black women in dresses of blue, bright yellow, rosaceous, red in contrast with the color of their skin; strings of piasters hang down to the ground, the cheeks cut lengthwise with a red hot knife, usually three cuts on every cheek…

Friday 14th, Seik-Abadeh

Marble ruins, an Arabian bath. Some Bedouins offer us little nothings. A redheaded little girl with large forehead, beautiful eyes, a slightly flat nose and palpitating nostrils. Another small girl, dark, with a straight profile, wonderful eyebrows, thin lips. What a magnificent fantasy, what a charming picture but where is the painter to capture it on canvas!

Sunday the 16th, Menieh

Sand, ruins, copt monks come to ask us for baksheesh…”

Gustave falls asleep in the armchair with its plush bottom pillow, all damp with sweat.

Emma scrunches diligently the pages in which madam Bovary abandons herself in the hands of her first lover.

Saffron-winged butterflies hit the glass of the lamp.

Madam Crunchard snores on a stool in the kitchen. She is dreaming about a soufflé of sweet turnips simmered in a lot of butter, a little saliva dribbles down her chubby chin and drops thick on her starched Hollandais collar. When she is awake her breath stinks and she chews on musk pills to freshen it. Before her, the mistress was Toinetta, a fat talkative girl with fire-red cheeks. Flaubert, who was sensitive to smell, feared draft and colds, so he fired her because her underarms always smelled like rotten cabbage.

In the attic, on a swishing straw mattress, Maturin masturbates franticly with the image of Ema Pointu in the back of his mind. She is the rector’s maid, a beauteous young girl whom he caught praying naked, enshrouded only by the sweet breath of the night.

Past the Croisset pavilion, on the bough of a platane tree, a barn owl cries languidly and mournfully.  

Emma died in different autumn, at the age of five, following a case of indigestion with musk pills or fresh anise stems. At least, that was what madam Cruchard suspected when barely touching it with a fork she conscientiously tasted a bit of the strongly flavoured meat. She roasted and flambéed it and served it with a garnish of truffles and asparagus in Dutch sauce but the meat was uneatable. Doctor Achille had come to dinner as Gustave was complaining of having a sore tonsil or dengue fever. It was during the time he had finished proofreading Salammbo.

Flaubert had had a hare, more precisely a doe.

Before starting to wear pants, Aurore Dudevant had a very playful lovely white poodle with curled hair. She did not call it Chopin or Alfred or Eugéne or Prosper. In fact nobody was calling it but maybe she would have liked to call it Honoré. Later, when she became George Sand she received a Barzoi as a gift. She did not dare to call it Gustave, since Flaubert was unusually chaste, very suspicious and he feared draft even during hot summer days.  

Picasso was fond of an Afghan hound named Kazbeh who had a long life and was buried with great honors.

Wherever he went, Dali had with him an anteater in a leash.

Evlya Celebi used to ride an African camel the color of salt that could get from Edirne to Timisoara in a week without the slightest sign of tiredness.

In her dressing room, Sarah Bernhardt kept a little white mouse that tirelessly ran on his wheel although it was lame. In her portrait by Nadar she resembles a young and mysterious Berber girl.

Camille Claudel had a gray-bluish cat.

Isabelle Adjani has blue eyes.

I have no company pet.

* Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt, 1849-1850

5 Comments

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