Tuesday, January 22, 2019

the last book I ever read (Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Delight) by Émile Zola, excerpt fourteen)

from Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Delight) by Émile Zola:

Around two o’clock, a police picket had to get the crowd moving and supervise the parking of carriages. The palace was built, the temple raised to the extravagant follies of Fashion. It dominated the neighbourhood, covering it with its shadow. Already, the scar left on its side by the demolition of Bourras’ shack had healed so well that one could search in van for the site of this vanished wart; the four façades extended along the four streets without a gap, in magnificent isolation. On the other side, since Baudu had gone into a retirement home, the Vieil Elbeuf was shut and walled up like a tomb behind the shutters that were never raised. Little by little, the wheels of passing cabs spattered them, posters buried them and stuck them together in a rising tide of advertising, which was like the last shovel of earth on the coffin of old-fashioned trade. And, in the midst of this dead shopfront, dirtied by the splashes from the street and blotched like the rags of the Parisian mob, hung an immense yellow notice, brand new, like a flag planted over a conquered empire, announcing in letters two feet high the great sale at Au Bonheur des Dames. It was as though the colossus, after its successive expansions, seized by shame and repugnance for the dingy district in which it had its humble birth – and which it subsequently slaughtered – had just turned its back, leaving behind the mud of these narrow streets, and offering its parvenu’s face to the noisy, sunlit avenue of the New Paris. Now, as the print on the advertisements depicted it, it had grown fat like the ogre in the fairy tale whose shoulders threatened to break the clouds. First of all, in the foreground of this print, the Rue du Dix-Décembre, the Rue de la Michodière and the Rue Monsigny, full of little black figures, were unnaturally widened, as though to make room for all the customers of the world. Then there were the buildings themselves, of exaggerated size, seen from a bird’s-eye view with their roofs showing the positions of the covered galleries and their glass-roofed courtyards suggesting the halls beneath – the whole infinity of that lake of glass and zinc shining in the sun. Beyond that, Paris – but a Paris reduced, eaten up by the monster: the house near by were like mean little cottages, while beyond that they were scattered about in a vague dusting of chimney pots; the monuments seemed to melt away: on the left, two lines for Notre-Dame, on the right, a circumflex accent for the Invalides, in the background, the Pantheon, shamefaced and lost, no larger than a lentil. The horizon crumbled away, reduced to no more than an insignificant frame for the picture, as far as the heights of Châtillon and into the vast countryside with blurred distances suggesting its inferior status.

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