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Les Merlufleaux


The Dictate of Amboise

Claude d'Esplas

Cosi fan Tutte or Maria Aparatchika in Bohemia

Illustration of the Prologue that appears in book 1 of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais published in The Works of Rabelais, translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty and Peter Antony Motteux. Published in 1894.


             “I love the rainy summer of the south of Bohemia, a cold region where the forest, black and dense, harbours little pearls of Renaissance architecture. Perfectly unconstrained, a real danger to any Frenchman lost in Apulia - not a joke ! - I play my little spontaneous comedy. I find that it is enough to reflect and to leave romanticism to the men. I enjoyed myself in a little affair with the attaché-case who arrived here a fortnight ago, but that was only trying out keyholes. The said young man, thirty-six years old, a parisian, certainly has good qualities, among them that of being very much in love, but he does not really have the profile : I shall cut him to pieces within a short time. In addition, it is not my problem, if he has problems with his virility (there, I cannot find a less stupid word). In addition, I recently came to know, thanks to friends, another individual who seems to me very positive and, what is more, I like him very much. He works five streets away from where I live.

             I would truly be an idiot to let him slip by, he is enthusiastic. He is about thirty, has a lot of charm (my must : brown, intelligent and cunning - but do they not say regarding me that I have a reputation of being wily), nice, attractive, etc... very parisian and rather “classy”, working in Bohemia this last six months, without friends, disorientated (he told me so) in a teeming and scheming city, wishing to spend his holidays in my dear southern Bohemia. Very well. All my ambition is reborn, which also consists in loving ambitious men. I would be bored with a dreamer and I love doing “representation”. I shall therefore persevere with my discreetness, for I have met envy too often for tending to display possible successes, now. For example I was very pleased to see again a former friend from the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Agnes, passing through Bohemia, who last year, at the age of twenty-seven, got hold of a boy not at all bad (let us say that she actively collaborated). Our meeting was like a reunion of conspirers or of witches (if they knew !).

             And Prospero, you will ask me ? You know that he is working in our country. Here, then, in two words the story, since I have already told you so much about him. Well, with him everything goes very well, but I have to note that as far as the essential is concerned, the situation is quite comical. There is a moment when things looked promising in the most grandiose light, true, profound, in a romantic and pathetic atmosphere and when he told me tenderly that soon he would have more liberties and that in any case he saw no one. Two months later, at my wit’s end, I succeeded in making him come out of his shell and learnt that he has another relationship, a most logical affair, since they share the same office, his colleague and he. Seven days a week they really take themselves as missionaries spreading the grand and unique Culture of their Land among the pigmies of Bohemia,. The girl is at least seven years older than he, with very long and red hair ; not ugly, rather special, looking like a stranded siren or a pythia in need of oracles, tiny, sinister, not knowing how to smile, tragic femininity, she mothers him, and as for him, he thus lives doubly married to his work and admits that he considers this relationship as most practical ; and when they go up to the seventh floor, where the fitted carpet smells of musty softness, I think inevitably of our historical formula : five hundred years before the monkeys ! ...

François Rabelais (1483–1559) - Anonyme - Huile sur toile - Musée national du château et des Trianons, Château de Versailles

Tuesday 9 June, 6 p.m.

             Outside the gare de l’Est, departure of the coach for Bohemia. The driver controls the arrivals whose names figure on a typed sheet of paper and indicates to them their seats in this bus which reminds me of the wobbling coaches of the Languedoc in the France of 1939. Miss Maria Aparatchika, who has bought herself a “body” for 500 F (at School, with her friend, the boys treated them as “badly dressed”), who got up every morning between 11 o’clock and midday, who chain-smoked fags, who drank beer from the barrel, who stuffed herself like Gargamelle, who went for lunch at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Fontenay-aux Eglantines (“because there, one is served !”), who tells of her beautiful, wild love with the graduate in Political Economy Z, of the Institut Français of Bohemia, (for want of the “shitty” Prince whom the latter reproaches her with ?), who, for his part, plays at the beast with two backs with the slovaco-albanese wife of an ottoman poet who royally composes in Paris ; Maria, who is twenty-six and who only thinks about getting married and who started off at a cheese-maker’s at seventeen after selling her virginity at sixteen with the excuse that this was merchandise which loses its lustre through non-use , Miss Aparatchika, then, presses me to accompany her into a café - not in order to stand me a small black one - but indeed to cordially return to France part of the true substance so freely dispensed by Her.

Claude d’Esplas (Les Merlufleaux)
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