Friday, 5 August 2016

...of Christmas Eve

One year on, the repair had held, and this was the first time that the boiler had shown signs of weakness. The Architect Jean-Pierre Martin Leaving the Management of his Business had been finished for some time and put into storage by Jed’s gallerist in anticipation of a personal exhibition that was taking a while to organise. Jean-Pierre Martin himself - to the surprise of his son, who he had long since given up talking to about it - had decided to leave the house in Raincy and move into a nursing home in Boulogne. Their annual meal would this time take place in a brasserie on the avenue Bosquet called Chez Papa. Jed had chosen it in Pariscope on the strength of an advert promising traditional quality, á la ancienne, and this promise was, on the whole, kept. Some Father Christmases and trees decorated with tinsel sprinkled the half-empty room, essentially occupied by small groups of old people, some very old, who chewed carefully, consciously and ferociously on dishes of traditional cuisine. There was wil boar, suckling pig and turkey; for dessert, of course, a patisserie yule log á la ancienne was proposed by the house, whose polite and discreet waiters operated in silence, as if in a burns unit. Jed was a bit stupid, he realised, to offer his father such a meal. This dry, serious man, with a long and austere face, never seemed to have been taken by the pleasures of the table, and the rare times Jed had dined out with him, when he had needed to see him near his place of work, his father had chosen a sushi restaurant - always the same one. It was pathetic and vain to want to establish a gastronomical conviviality that had no raison d’être, and which had not even conceivably ever had one - his wife, while she was alive, had always hated cooking. But it was Christmas, and what else could you do? His father didn’t seem interested in much anymore; he read less and less, and was utterly indifferent to questions of dress. He was, according to the director of the nursing home, ‘reasonably intergrated’, which probably meant that he hardly said a word to anyone. For the time being, he chewed laboriously on his suckling pig, with about the same expression as if it were a piece of rubber; nothing indicated that he wanted to break the lengthening silence, and Jed, being nervous (he should never have taken Gewürztraminer with the oysters - he realised that from the moment he had ordered, white wine always made his mind fuzzy), looked frenetically for some subject that might lend itself to conversation. If he had been married, or at least had a girlfriend, well, some kind of woman, things would have happened very differently. Women are generally more at ease at these family affairs, it’s sort of their basic speciality; even in the absence of real children, they are there, potentially, on the edge of the conversation, and it is a known fact that old people are interested in their grandchildren, whom they link to natural cycles or something. Well, there’s a sort of emotion that manages to be born in their old heads: the son is the death of the father; certainly, but for the grandfather the grandson is a sort of rebirth or revenge, and that can be largely sufficient, at least for the duration of a Christmas dinner. Jed sometimes thought he should hire an escort for these Christmas Eves, create a sort of mini-fiction; it would be enough to brief the girl a couple of hours beforehand; his father wasn’t very curious about the details of the lives of others, no more than men in general.

[The Map and The Territory, Houellebecq, M.]

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