The Belly of Paris

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola Page A

Book: The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola Read Free Book Online
Authors: Émile Zola
Tags: France, 19th century, European Literature
longer enough. He had to take on two night students. For eight years now he had been wearing the same worn-out coat.
    But the two brothers had made a friend. The building they livedin had a side on rue Saint-Jacques, where there was a shop that roasted chickens run by a respectable man named Gavard whose wife was dying of lung disease caused by the constant smell of chicken grease. On evenings when Florent came home too late to cook a bit of meat, he got into the habit of spending a dozen sous at the rotisserie for a piece of turkey or goose. Such an evening was like a feast day. Gavard became interested in the skinny young man and learned his story. He invited Quenu into the shop and soon the youth spent all his time there. As soon as his brother went to work, Quenu went downstairs and installed himself in the back of the shop, infatuated with the four giant skewers that turned with a soft noise in front of the high bright flames.
    The large copper pots at the fireplace glistened, the birds smoked, the fat sang as it dripped in the pan. The spits seemed to chat with one another and eventually threw a few kind words toward Quenu, who, with a long-stemmed ladle, lovingly basted the golden breasts of huge turkeys and plump geese. He passed hours this way, his face turning red in the dancing flames, looking a bit stupid as he snickered at the large animals getting cooked. He didn't move until they were taken off the spits. The birds fell on the platters, the skewers slid from their stomachs, the stomachs emptied all steaming, with the juice running from the holes behind and at the throat, drenching the shop in the strong scent of roasted meat. Then the youth, who had stood up to follow the operation with his eyes, started clapping his hands and talking to the birds, telling them how nice they were and how they would be eaten up and there would be only bones left for the cats. And he jumped up if Gavard gave him a piece of crusty bread that he would put in the drip pan, leaving it there to stew for a half hour.
    It was no doubt there that Quenu found his love of cooking. Later on, after trying out every other trade, he returned, as though it were his destiny, to the skewered animals whose juice made you lick your fingers. At first he was worried about irritating his brother, a man of little appetite who spoke of tasty things with the disdain of a man who has not tasted. But then, watching Florent listen to him as Quenu explained some very complicated dish, he decaredit to be his true vocation and started working for a large restaurant. From that time on, a new pattern was established for the two brothers. They continued to live in the room on rue Royer-Collard, where they returned every evening—the one with a face lit by the heat of the ovens, the other with the beaten face of a mud-spattered teacher. Florent kept his old black coat, losing himself in his students' homework, while Quenu, to make himself comfortable, tied on his apron, put on his white coat and white chef's hat, and stood over the stove rattling the skillet and entertaining himself by cooking some delicacy.
    Sometimes they smiled at the way they looked, the one all in black and the other all in white. The two contrasting outfits, one cheerful and one morose, seemed to make the big room half festive and half somber, in between merry and mournful. Still, never was a household marked by such disparity so harmonious. The elder brother grew ever thinner, consumed by the intensity he had inherited from his Provençal father, while the younger one grew ever fatter, like a true son of Normandy. But they loved each other with a brotherhood that came from their mother, a woman who had been nothing but love.
    A relative in Paris, their mother's brother, Gradelle, had a charcuterie in the Les Halles neighborhood, on rue Pirouette. He was a fat, cheap, heartless man, who received his nephews as starving street waifs when they first introduced themselves, and they had rarely

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