33 Jacques Yonnet Quotes on Madness, Historians and Paris - Quotes.pub

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And there, until 1884, it was possible to gaze on the remains of a generally neglected monument, so-called Dagobert’s Tower, which included a ninth-century staircase set into the masonry, of which the thirty-foot handrail was fashioned out of the trunk of a gigantic oak tree. Here, according to tradition, lived a barber and a pastry-cook, who in the year 1335 plied their trade next door to each other. The reputation of the pastry-cook, whose products were among the most delicious that could be found, grew day by day. Members of the high-ranking clergy in particular were very fond of the extraordinary meat pies that, on the grounds of keeping to himself the secret of how the meats were seasoned, our man made all on his own, with the sole assistance of an apprentice who was responsible for the pastry.His neighbor the barber had won favor with the public through his honesty, his skilled hairdressing and shaving, and the steam baths he offered. Now, thanks to a dog that insistently scratched at the ground in a certain place, the ghastly origins of the meat used by the pastry-cook became known, for the animal unearthed some human bones! It was established that every Saturday before shutting up shop the barber would offer to shave a foreign student for free. He would put the unsuspecting young man in a tip-back seat and then cut his throat. The victim was immediately rushed down to the cellar, where the pastry-cook took delivery of him, cut him up, and added the requisite seasoning. For which the pies were famed, ‘especially as human flesh is more delicate because of the diet,’ old Dubreuil comments facetiously.The two wretched fellows were burned with their pies, the house was ordered to be demolished, and in its place was built a kind of expiatory pyramid, with the figure of the dog on one of its faces. The pyramid was there until 1861.But this is where the story takes another turn and joins the very best of black comedy. For the considerable number of ecclesiastics who had unwittingly consumed human flesh were not only guilty before God of the very venial sin of greed; they were automatically excommunicated! A grand council was held under the aegis of several bishops and it was decided to send to Avignon, where Pope Clement VI resided, a delegation of prelates with a view to securing the rescindment if not of the Christian interdiction against cannibalism then at least of the torments of hell that faced the inadvertent cannibals. The delegation set off, with a tidy sum of money, bare-footed, bearing candles and singing psalms. But the roads of that time were not very safe and doubtless strewn with temptation. Anyway, the fact is that Clement VI never saw any sign of the penitents, and with good reason.
Yes, my friend, ship wreckage was once the wood of a tree, nothing special about it - just like any other kind of wood. Men cut down the tree. They sawed and worked and planed and shaped and polished and caulked and tarred it. They made a ship out it, and they celebrated the birth of that ship, they christened it like a child. And they entrusted themselves to it. But the men were no longer very much in charge. The ship too had its say. A ship’s a being in its own right, like a person, so to speak, that thinks, and breathes, and reacts. A ship has its own mission to accomplish. It has its own destiny. So it sinks, this vessel, it founders because it was meant to founder, on such a day at such a time, on account of this or that, and in such a place. Maybe it was already written in the stars. And then long afterwards, other men discover the wreck, they refloat it, they bring to the surface the bits of wood — and you should see with what respect they do this. And you think a piece of wreckage like that doesn’t know anything, doesn’t remember anything, isn’t capable of anything, that it’s as senseless as it is hard, that it’s. . . as thick as a plank? I’ll tell you something worth remembering, that sailors well know: wood from a shipwreck is “back-flash” wood. Whatever takes place under the auspices and under the sign of even the smallest fragment ot a shipwreck cuts more than just one way. One swinish deed is multiplied a thousandfold; one flower’, (he meant, a kindness),'will bring you a field full of flowers, an entire province, tulips, cyclamens, take your pick. For instance: there’s shipwreck wood in the base frame of the sign of the four sergeants. That’s something “the likes of us” know. Well, once that guy was through,’ (he meant, the man who’d been praying), ‘I guarantee, the judge, every member of the jury, the prosecutor, the warders, the hangman, his assistants, the whole damn lot of them are going to get their comeuppance, and how! From now on they’re jinxed. Seriously jinxed. And for a long time to come.
Old Hubert must have had a premonition of his squalid demise. In October he said to me, ‘Forty-two years I’ve had this place. I’d really like to go back home, but I ain’t got the energy since my old girl died. And I can’t sell it the way it is now. But anyway before I hang my hat up I’d be curious to know what’s in that third cellar of mine.’The third cellar has been walled up by order of the civil defence authorities after the floods of 1910. A double barrier of cemented bricks prevents the rising waters from invading the upper floors when flooding occurs. In the event of storms or blocked drains, the cellar acts as a regulatory overflow.The weather was fine: no risk of drowning or any sudden emergency. There were five of us: Hubert, Gerard the painter, two regulars and myself. Old Marteau, the local builder, was upstairs with his gear, ready to repair the damage. We made a hole.Our exploration took us sixty metres down a laboriously-faced vaulted corridor (it must have been an old thoroughfare). We were wading through a disgusting sludge. At the farend, an impassable barrier of iron bars. The corridor continued beyond it, plunging downwards. In short, it was a kind of drain-trap.That’s all. Nothing else. Disappointed, we retraced our steps. Old Hubert scanned the walls with his electric torch. Look! An opening. No, an alcove, with some wooden object that looks like a black statuette. I pick the thing up: it’s easily removable. I stick it under my arm. I told Hubert, ‘It’s of no interest. . .’ and kept this treasure for myself.I gazed at it for hours on end, in private. So my deductions, my hunches were not mistaken: the Bièvre-Seine confluence was once the site where sorcerers and satanists must surely have gathered. And this kind of primitive magic, which the blacks of Central Africa practise today, was known here several centuries ago. The statuette had miraculously survived the onslaught of time: the well-known virtues of the waters of the Bièvre, so rich in tannin, had protected the wood from rotting, actually hardened, almost fossilized it. The object answered a purpose that was anything but aesthetic. Crudely carved, probably from heart of oak. The legs were slightly set apart, the arms detached from the body. No indication of gender. Four nails set in a triangle were planted in its chest. Two of them, corroded with rust, broke off at the wood’s surface all on their own. There was a spike sunk in each eye. The skull, like a salt cellar, had twenty-four holes in which little tufts of brown hair had been planted, fixed in place with wax, of which there were still some vestiges. I’ve kept quiet about my find. I’m biding my time.
He insisted on clearing the table, and again devoted himself to his game of patience: piecing together the map of Paris, the bits of which he’d stuffed into the pocket of his raincoat, folded up any old how.I helped him.Then he asked me, straight out, ‘What would you say was the true centre of Paris?’I was taken aback, wrong-footed. I thought this knowledge was part of a whole body of very rarefied and secret lore. Playing for time, I said, ‘The starting point of France’s roads . . . the brass plate on the parvis of Notre-Dame.’He gave me a withering look.‘Do you take for me a sap?’The centre of Paris, a spiral with four centres, each completely self-contained, independent of the other three. But you don’t reveal this to just anybody. I suppose - I hope - it was in complete good faith that Alexandre Arnoux mentioned the lamp behind the apse of St-Germain-l’Auxerrois. I wouldn’t have created that precedent. My turn now to let the children play with the lock.‘The centre, as you must be thinking of it, is the well of St-Julien-le-Pauvre. The “Well of Truth” as it’s been known since the eleventh century.’He was delighted. I’d delivered. He said, ‘You know, you and I could do great things together. It’s a pity I’m already “beyond redemption”, even at this very moment.’His unhibited display of brotherly affection was of childlike spontaneity. But he was still pursuing his line of thought: he dashed out to the nearby stationery shop and came back with a little basic pair of compasses made of tin.‘Look. The Vieux-Chene, the Well. The Well, the Arbre-a-Liege On either side of the Seine, adhering closely to the line he’d drawn, the age-old tavern signs were at pretty much the same distance from the magic well.‘Well, now, you see, it’s always been the case that whenever something bad happens at the Vieux-Chene, a month later — a lunar month, that is, just twenty-eight days — the same thing happens at old La Frite’s place, but less serious. A kind of repeat performance. An echoThen he listed, and pointed out on the map, the most notable of those key sites whose power he or his friends had experienced.In conclusion he said, ‘I’m the biggest swindler there is, I’m prepared to be swindled myself, that’s fair enough. But not just anywhere. There are places where, if you lie, or think ill, it’s Paris you disrespect. And that upsets me. That’s when I lose my cool: I hit back. It’s as if that’s what I was there for.