Street of the Seven Angelsby John Howard Griffin
A social satire set in Paris, this previously unpublished novel is based in part on the U.S. Supreme Court's censorship trial regarding the author's first novel.
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A social satire set in Paris, this previously unpublished novel is based in part on the U.S. Supreme Court's censorship trial regarding the author's first novel.
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Street of the Seven Angels
By John Howard Griffin, Robert Bonazzi
Wings PressCopyright © 2003 Susan Griffin-Campbell, John H. Griffin, Jr. Gregory Parker Griffin and Amanda Griffin-Fenton
All rights reserved.
"It's almost five." Claudine called from the rear of Mademoiselle Mailleferre's Religious Arts Shop. "May I go now, Mademoiselle?"
"Did you hang the new scapulars on the rack?" Mademoiselle Mailleferre asked.
"Yes, Mademoiselle ..."
The proprietress bent her tall figure slightly forward and peered through the cluttered gloom toward her helper.
"Did you arrange Father Trissotin's pamphlets on the display stand?"
Claudine's work-rough hand flew to her mouth.
"Where's your mind, child?" Mademoiselle sighed. She rubbed her fingertips into her temples. "Well, run fix them, and then you can go."
Dear God, there were still a thousand things to do before tonight's meeting.
"Arrange them neatly," she called to Claudine. "Put them on top of the other booklets. Father Trissotin will be here tonight and I don't want him to think I'm not pushing his ..."
"I am, Mademoiselle," the girl sang out.
The proprietress turned toward the front display window and glanced out into the narrow rain-slicked street. Behind her she heard the rapid shuffle of pamphlets and snatches of that popular song Claudine frequently hummed.
Now what? She would have to build a little fire in the furnace so the ladies would have some heat when they met in her upstairs salon. And tea for them. And she'd have to go out in the vile weather and buy butter cookies and tarts. Impossible to trust Claudine with such a mission. She started past the shoulder of a life-size plaster statue of St. Joseph. Through her rain-stippled window she watched men in berets carry long loaves of unwrapped bread under their arms as they hurried to get their aperitifs before going home to supper. The Cafe Zeus around the corner on Boulevard St. Jacques would be rushed for the next hour. By the same token, the green metal public urinal down on the corner, in the center promenade of the boulevard, would have a constant stream of men.
A gray draft horse, its back slick with rain, strained to pull a coal cart up the steep incline past her shop. The rattle of metal-rimmed wheels on cobblestones overwhelmed the tinkle of her entry bell when the door beside her opened.
Her eyes dulled. She nodded briefly to old Flamart, the stone mason.
"The little one is still here?" he asked, shoving his beret back respectfully.
"In the back."
"Grandpapa!" Claudine cried with an enthusiasm that Mademoiselle found almost unendurable. The girl ran forward between counters of rosaries, missals and ceramic statues of the Sacred Heart. She hugged the old man and then stood back to admire him.
"How handsome you are!"
Mademoiselle heard Flamart laugh with embarrassment.
"You've been to the baths?"
"No," he snorted as though the question were somehow insulting.
"But you smell so ..."
"I just went over to the Breville Museum. I washed and changed clothes there."
"In the men's room. It's nice there."
Mademoiselle turned back to the window and tried to ignore their gigglings and mutterings.
Honestly, she thought, wasn't that something to get excited about? An old man washes and changes clothes. It was said around the neighborhood that, despite his great age, he frequented Madame Culuhac's girls once a week. Mademoiselle had little doubt this was the night. She shut out the hint of tenderness for him and forced herself to be revolted. Anyway, was it not slightly unethical to bathe in the men's room of a public art museum? She craned to look up the street where the gray façade of the Breville Museum flaunted its Roman columns. She had only been inside once, seventeen years ago. And then she had not got past the foyer where a gigantic statue of Michelangelo's David rose naked in all its marble warmth beside the equally life-size figure of a Greek obscenity called The Reclining Diana. Her confessor, in view of her violently disturbed reaction — she had actually vomited — had suggested that she avoid the place for a while. Occasionally, in unguarded moments, the entire scene would appear before her eyes, as vivid now as it had been seventeen years ago when she first viewed it as a girl of twenty. She would recall with wonder the extraordinary manner in which the artist had made the veins in the marble match nature's veins in David's buttocks. She shook her head to rid herself of the uncomfortable vision.
"Take my work clothes home when you go this evening, eh petite?" she heard Flamart say.
"All right, Grandpapa — you sure smell good."
Mademoiselle Mailleferre closed out another image, this time of the old man standing in front of one of the basins in the Museum's men's room, grandly soaping himself with tax-purchased castile. Certainly it was meant for hand washing, not for cleansing the whole body. And what if some dignitary — a person like de Gaulle, or a Cardinal, or a venerable conductor — were to walk into the men's room and be confronted by such a sight? Would he reach past Flamart's wet nakedness and say "Pardon me, may I use the soap?" Not likely. It might not bother Flamart, but it would certainly give the dignitary a poor impression of the district.
Three small boys in heavy jackets and short pants attracted her attention back to the narrow street directly in front of her shop. They chalked MERDE on the soaked brick wall of the Dominican Novitiate. And you could be sure, Mademoiselle told herself, they would be right there at the altar rail next Sunday to take Christ Jesus into their little bodies.
With the exception of her shop and, to a lesser extent, those Dominicans across the street, the quarter was inhabited by this type. Most of them were earth-bound humans of the most vulgar stamp, natural beings who worked all day and then purchased their bread and went home to their animal existence every evening. Had she not only last week noticed an article in the Figaro Litteraire which said it was not unusual for French couples to make love three times a day?
Not much depth in any of them.
Flamart loomed beside her, his hand on the door knob. He lifted the forefinger of his free hand to his white eyebrow in respectful salute. The typically peasant gesture touched Mademoiselle and she acknowledged it with a show of warmth in her smile.
The fresh rain-fragrance of ozone, mingled with castile surrounded Mademoiselle for a moment as Flamart opened the door, stepped out and closed it. She watched him hunch his shoulders against the drizzle and start away.
"Flamart!" someone called. The stone mason turned and peered up the narrow sidewalk. Almost immediately Mademoiselle saw Durand, the book shop owner, as fat and pink-cheeked as ever, stride into view beneath his black umbrella.
"You going to the cafe?" she heard Flamart ask as the two shook hands there only a few inches in front of her window.
"Yes, but I've got to piss first," Durand announced affably.
Mademoiselle, though invisible behind the rain-pocked glass, instinctively moved further behind the statue of St. Joseph. Honestly, that Durand. He didn't care how he talked. You'd think, Mademoiselle told herself, that dealing in books would exert a refining influence on a man. But not Durand. Gossip had it he was gross in his dealings with women.
Absently she watched the two men angle across the street to the public urinal.
Let's see, there would be six women at the meeting, counting herself, plus Father Trissotin. (The leaves were almost gone from the trees on the boulevard, she observed sadly, as she watched Durand hand Flamart his umbrella, glance up at the dripping trees and start unbuttoning even before he stepped into the urinal.) A couple of dozen cookies and tarts would be enough. But still that lard-tub of a Madame Ponneger was one more glutton — a sure sign of fanaticism, she observed. But no, it wasn't her responsibility to fill that cavern. Two dozen cookies would have to do.
"May I go now, Mademoiselle? I've finished," Claudine called from the shadows.
"Yes, but first run downstairs and put one bucket of coal in the furnace. Then turn on the radiator upstairs in my salon."
Across the street, the milkman's two-wheeled cart, pulled by a wolf-like dog, stopped in front of the Dominican house.
Her gaze shifted back to the hazed figure of Flamart who waited patiently for his friend. She saw something pathetic, almost desolate in the scene. Yes, one couldn't help feeling some passion for Flamart, despite the weakness of his flesh.
Now Durand joined him. The bookseller waddled in an awkward semi-crouch as he worked with both hands to button his fly. Why they did not button up before appearing back in public was something Mademoiselle could not understand. Always it was the same. The only men who left such places with any sem-blance of dignity were clergymen and foreigners. This was so pronounced that whenever Mademoiselle saw a man leave without assuming that baboon stance she wondered what country he was from.
She thought of the Lenten Masses the Dominicans would soon be chanting, and a phrase came to her: "Adhaesit in terra venter noster — our bellies are as glued to the earth." It had always seemed to her such a coarse and unliturgical sort of phrase, but she saw it now as a remarkably apt description of the whole tenor of the quarter.
"Just one bucket, Claudine," she called down into the cellar.
"It won't give much heat, Mademoiselle."
"Just one. God's love, I'm not running a Turkish bath."
"Yes, Mademoiselle."CHAPTER 2
Montausier adjusted his fleshless over-long legs to some semblance of comfort beneath his chair. He glared at his mortal enemy and best friend, if one could call such a compromised character as Durand a friend, Lord.
"You're as disgusting as the rest," he snapped. "And I don't mind ..."
"Please ... please ..." Durand said pleasantly.
The waiter placed two glasses of beer and one of red wine on the round metal table and then stepped back into the gloom to become part of the elbows and newspapers and chess games and chatter of the Cafe Zeus.
"Let's stop, just for once, denouncing the morals of this age," Durand resumed amiably. He relaxed his bulk back into the wire chair, nudged his gold-rimmed glasses up to the bridge of his nose and lifted his glass.
Someone opened the door, and the sudden racket of rain pouring against cobblestones made Montausier wait. Beyond the immediate splashing, they heard the deep-toned bell from the tower of the Palais de Justice. It sent its reverberating metallic tones slowly over the quarter, tolling five o'clock.
Montausier caught Flamart's eye, and nodded toward Durand. There he sat, guzzling his beer, his eyes smiling over the rim of his demi-glass in that speculative and affectionate way of his toward a nice-looking girl across the room.
The bell's final echo was muffled by the closing door. Durand turned his attention back to Montausier's dark face, noticed that his elderly companion's moustache was not twitching yet, and resumed his goading.
"Really — such a rage against the morality of this age makes a man look slightly ridiculous. Don't you agree, old Flamart?"
Flamart's face congested with a blush and he shrugged his shoulders, embarrassed the way very simple men are with ideas — a silliness he had not concerned himself with in over forty years.
"Makes me look ridiculous, eh?" Montausier said. "By whose standards? By mankind's standards?" He stretched his head forward on his skinny neck and spread out his hands expansively. "But that's all I ask. Mankind is so stupid I should consider myself gravely at fault to be seen as wise in its eyes."
"Such a hatred for mankind," Durand sighed. He signaled the waiter again.
"Hatred no," Montausier specified. "Contempt yes. I have a general contempt for all mankind."
Flamart's blue eyes rolled to one side as if to say that this, just the same, was a bit exaggerated.
"All mankind?" Durand asked.
"All mankind," Montausier nodded. "The ones because they have no principles. And the others, like you, because you are complacent with them. To think that we could arrive at an age where one retains amicable relations with, even shows respect for, vice."
"Messieurs?" the waiter interrupted.
"What? Oh, another beer, please," Montausier said. "I tell you," he went on leaning across the table toward Flamart and Durand, "there are times when I want to flee into the desert at the sight of my fellow man."
"Another beer, please," Durand said. He smiled at the waiter and then at Montausier, as though to explain that they must be indulgent with the old fool.
Montausier's knuckles blanched with the tight clasp of his hands. Durand was daring to apologize for him, one of the most distinguished lawyers of the district before his retirement. It was too admirable really. Too admirable.
Few men would go that far without quailing.
Flamart indicated a repeat on the red wine he usually took on Tuesday nights in preference to his customary beer. It was an innocent affirmation to all who knew him that he intended going for his regular weekly visit to Madame Culuhac's establishment later in the evening. Wine, he contended, was a help in such things.
Durand smiled up at two gentlemen who bowed and begged "a thousand pardons" as they squeezed through the narrow space toward a table further along the wall. He saw Flamart flick his forefinger to his eyebrow in a salute.
"The older one there, that's my boss, a nice fellow," the stone mason explained.
Durand nodded and then turned to press the debate with Montausier.
"Why don't we try to be more optimistic about human nature? Let's stop examining it so strictly and look on its faults with more indulgence."
"Indulgence," Montausier snorted through a smile he sought to repress. "Indulgence, ha! Indulgent Durand — the perfect description of our friend. And before you beam, it's no compliment."
"But in the world of today," Durand continued unruffled, "it is necessary to have a certain elasticity of virtue. Take your cherished virtue of wisdom, for example. It has to have the ... the nice balance," he said, emphasizing his words with a gesture of his chunky hands. "Perfect reason, you know," he began the phrase from Molière that every schoolboy of his generation had learned, and went on to recite it almost as a jingle: "Perfect reason flees all extremity. It wishes one wise but with sobriety ..."
"That's cheating and you know it." Montausier snapped, despising the adversary who would use catch phrases or invoke reverence for authority rather than argue the intrinsic merits of the question.
Flamart winced and glanced apologetically at his boss who viewed the argument from a nearby table.
"The great stiffness of the morality of the past is against the grain of our century and our usages," Durand persisted. "It demands too much perfection from mortals like us. And is there any greater folly than to stick one's nose into the business of correcting the world? Oh, I see, just as you do ..."
"God," Montausier groaned with regret that Molière had ever been taught in that wretched lycée Durand once attended.
"No — me and Flamart here — we take mankind as it is, accustoming our souls to suffer what it does. And certainly our phlegm is as philosophic as your bile." Durand folded his hands over his paunch and watched Montausier reel under that blow. Let him find an answer to that. That, for example, was a coup to have made Aristotle proud.
"Well said," Flamart interjected solemnly, feeling that he should somehow join the conversation now that it included him.
"You add one fallacy to another," Montausier gasped. "Your reasoning is impertinent and dishonest. I won't discuss it further."
"Who won?" Durand asked, smiling at Flamart.
"I think you did."
"I'd rather lose than sink to that kind of reasoning." Montausier answered.
"Well, let's forget it," Durand said. He tactfully avoided Montausier's eyes and pretended to study posters advertising DUBONNET and MONTBAZILLAC and bus tours to Chartres.
Excerpted from Street of the Seven Angels by John Howard Griffin, Robert Bonazzi. Copyright © 2003 Susan Griffin-Campbell, John H. Griffin, Jr. Gregory Parker Griffin and Amanda Griffin-Fenton. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
John Howard Griffin was a critically-acclaimed novelist and essayist, and a dynamic lecturer and teacher. Internationally respected as a human rights activist, Griffin worked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Dick Gregory during the Civil Rights era.
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