Sunday, July 31, 2011


Gustave reached into his satchel and pulled out a much-stained notebook. He took another swallow of wine, then opened the notebook to a blank page. The poet began to rummage through his pockets while the alchemist looked on.

"I have a pencil here somewhere," he said as he continued to pat his clothing. At last he located the object in his breast pocket and looked at it with something akin to surprise.

Maggiormente pushed away his nearly empty glass. "I should leave you to your labours and get back to my own."

Gustave looked stricken. "No, mon ami! I need you here!"

The alchemist frowned. "Whatever for? I don't have a poetic bone in my body." He threw his arms wide as if to demonstrate the fact, nearly striking the passing waiter in so doing.

The poet threw up his hands. "Look how far you have taken me already. I would still be in the depths of despondency if it were not for you."

"But love," Maggiormente shrugged. "I know nothing of that art."

A desperate look lit his face. "But that is what I need! Your clear-eyed wisdom. Love as alchemy, a volatile compound."

The alchemist laughed. "I don't know any thing about love, my friend. If I can help somehow, I suppose I shall." He sat down once more and reached for the wine. If he had to assist the poet, surely more wine was a necessity. For a moment, Maggiormente thought with guilt of the Venetian lion back at the work room. Eduardo would be displeased to be longer neglected.

On the other hand, Eduardo tended to do as he pleased, so there was little to be done.
He would doubtless amuse himself.

"I suspect you will be very helpful as I try to compose. It helps to have someone to bounce the ideas off, as it were." The poet ran his fingers through his hair as if to stir up some thoughts.

"Well, how do you usually start?"

"I have a theme—"

"Well, you do."

"Yes, but," the poet paused. "It's not a visual theme."

"You need to see groveling?"

"I'm not groveling."

"You need to grovel." Maggiormente nodded sagely. "You need to grovel a lot."

"I need to show her why she is so important to me, why I had to ask her to seek perfection in her work."

"I think you ought to steer away from any attempt at corrective observations until you have actually convinced her to listen to you."

"Good plan." Gustave put the pencil to the page, then paused again. "So…what should I write about?"

"How about her…eyes?" The alchemist frowned in thought. "They burn like the sun."

"No, no," the poet also frowned. "Her eyes are nothing like the sun…"

"Well, what colour are they?"

Gustave sighed. "Green like the moss deep in the forest, like a wet glen at the bottom of a wild waterfall."

Maggiormente nodded. "Yes, yes. That's good."

"Do you think so?" Gustave but the pencil, screwing his mouth up into a bow.

"Yes, of course, of course. Write it down!"

The poet stared. "But—"

"You can always change it afterward, but it's important to get the first impressions down."

"Do you think so?" The poet repeated.

Maggiomente made an explosive sound of annoyance. "If you don't get down these raw thoughts at the start, you lose the magic. It's important to capture the rich pearls of inspiration—even if you rub most of them away."

Gustave stared at him open-mouthed. "Is this alchemy?"

The alchemist shrugged. "Doesn't poetry work the same way?"

The poet sighed. "When it does."

Sunday, July 24, 2011


"What? Why do you look at me like that?"

The alchemist shook his head, chuckling. "You introduced yourself to the woman you love, this goddess, this angel—"

"I didn't say angel, did I?" Gustave frowned. "I don't want her to be too angelic."

"This woman you fell in love with, eh?" Maggiormente frowned, although he found it hard to hide a smile. "Your first words to her are finding fault with her sketch?"

"The perspective was a bit off." The poet shrugged. "What? Criticism helps improve your art."

The alchemist laughed. "Is that why you were so happy with the critic in Le Figaro?"

"The fool! He knew nothing of rhyme!"

"And what do you know of sketching?"

Gustave stared at him. "What are you saying?"

Maggiormente shrugged. "I'm guessing your goddess did not respond well to your words of criticism."

The poet covered his face again. "She was livid! She called me names a beautiful woman should not know."

The alchemist pondered for a moment what sort of words those might be, but then turned his attention back to his friend. "As a first impression, criticism may not have been the best avenue to pursue. You should establish a friendly interaction before provoking a hostile one."

"Do you think so?" The poet pulled at his moustache and stared morosely off into space, then reached for his glass and downed the rest of his wine.

"Of course, of course."

Gustave buried his head in his hands. "I'm ruined! She hates me! I will die of a broken heart!"

His muffled words made plain his distress, but Maggiormente had to bite his lip not to laugh at his friend. "There, there." He patted the man gingerly on the shoulder. "Perhaps you can ameliorate the situation."

The poet sniffed and raised his head. "How?"

The alchemist spread his hands. "What are your strengths?"

"What?" Gustave blinked at him.

"What are your strengths?" He repeated. "What do you do well?"

"I can recite the alphabet backwards while standing on one leg…"

Maggiormente guffawed. "Poetry, you fool!"

The young man gaped at him, than laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Why of course, of course! I shall write an epic poem detailing how my love has gone awry, I will make people weep and beat their chests—"

"Ah, mio amico! That's not what I meant at all." Maggiormente shook his head in disbelief. "You need to change her mind and show her that you are more than just a critic."

"But I was right about the perspective—"

"Would you rather be right or in the arms of your goddess of the red-gold hair?" The alchemist raised his eyebrow at the poet.

Gustave beat his own chest. "My goddess! I must have her!"

"Then write to her! Beg her forgiveness, praise her beauty and her skill."


"Do you want to be in her favours again?"

"Yes, of course, a thousand times, yes!"

"Then pour your heart out in a letter, a poem and get it to her."

The poet's face looked sunny again. "Do you think it will work?"

Maggiormente shrugged and sipped his wine. "Love comforteth like sunshine after rain."

It was the poet's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You have surprises, Maggiormente, that I do not expect."

"That is the nature of surprise." The alchemist grinned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


"I think the first thing you must do, my friend, is speak to her," the alchemist said at last while the poet continued to mutter quietly to himself.

Gustave looked up, eyes wide. "But I have!"

Maggiormente gaped. "You did? Then what—?"

"Oh, it was a disaster, mon ami." Gustave buried his head in his hands again.

The alchemist swallowed a smile. "I'm sure you're simply exaggerating, or rather," he added hastily, "considering it to be worse than it was. Surely!"

The poet sighed. "You won't say that when I tell you what happened."

"Go on, then. Tell me—it can't be that bad now, can it?"

Gustave took a deep breath. "Well, I wandered distraught for some hours, lost in my thoughts. Rapturous! She was a vision. At last I realised I must return to the same place and see if I could glimpse her beauty again. I stayed in Nancy that night, sleeping in the park because I knew no one. I had to see if she were real, if her beauty were as compelling on the second sight."

"And was it?"

Gustave struck his heart with his closed fist. "Of course! She was exquisite, an angel, a vision, a goddess." He closed his eyes, a rapturous look on his visage.


"And what?"

"Did you speak to her this time?"

The poet sighed again and shook his head while he waved toward the waiter. "Philippe! More wine!"

"Is that a good idea," the alchemist asked, eyeing his friend's flushed features.

The poet waved his concerns away. "There ain't no cure for love, as the poet says. We must only endure it."

"But how much simpler it would be if you simply spoke to her!"

"Ah, I don't know about that, considering what happened."

Maggiormente raised his eyebrows. "What did happen?"

Gustave covered his face with his hands again. "I awoke at dawn. If the daylight had not roused me the gendarme would have certainly done so. My entire body felt stiff, my fingers and toes cracked in agony. A chill had settled in my bones."

"Not propitious for love."

Gustave snorted. "Nonetheless, I set out for the square, certain that she had to return, my vision, to complete her picture. No artist could abandon a work with so much promise."

"And she did not disappoint?"

"Of course not! She was there by eight o'clock. Her work had delicious life, her hand worked unerringly to capture the shadow and light. One might only wish for a model that more adequately suited her skills."

"Indeed," Maggiormente agreed, pouring more wine from the bottle that Philippe had brought. Both his and Gustave's glasses were full again, though he suspected that the poet's would not long remain so. Indeed, his friend tipped his head back and swallowed half the glass. "What did you say?"

Gustave's expression fell again. "I knew I had to reveal to her who I was, what I was, so she would understand the depths of my love for her."

"That seems reasonable," the alchemist said, although he was beginning to have his doubts about what the poet might mean.

"She was so incredibly beautiful with the morning sun on her red-gold hair, her green dress and the soft sides of the artist's portfolio she carried. Even her brushes seemed to be in perfect form, the hairs abundant and soft."


Gustave shrugged. "I could not be a liar, after all."

"A liar?"

"I could not pretend all was well if it was not."


"So I offered a careful critique of her work. Who would not feel impelled to assure her that while in the main her sketch was terrific, there were some points that needed work. What?" Gustave looked at his friend with surprise.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Maggiormente laughed and clapped the young poet on the shoulder. "In love? Why, that's wonderful. It should lend wings to your inspiration."

Gustave sighed noisily, eyes closed. "No, no, it is terrible!"

"Terrible! But why?"

The poet downed the rest of his wine and filled his glass again. "Because it has rendered me mute!"

"I don't understand," the alchemist said. "Love is a wonderful thing, surely?"

"Not when it's unrequited!" Gustave raised his hands skyward as if to summon an angelic witness. "Then it is purgatory."

"Ah, my poor friend," Maggiormente said, a hand over his own heart protectively. "Tell me everything!"

"Where to begin?"

The alchemist smiled. "The beginning usually serves best. Where did you meet her?"

Gustave sighed, slugged down more wine and then sighed again. "I met her at Nancy in the Place Stanislas."

"Where is that?"

"East of here, in Lorraine. I passed through on my return from the family estate."

Maggiormente raised an eyebrow. "So this just happened, eh?"

"Just happened!" Gustave shook his head. "I have spent an eternity in agony."

"But since when?"

"Thursday," the poet admitted.

Maggiormente threw back his head and laughed.

"A lifetime! I burn in hell every hour."

The alchemist tried to smother his mirth. "Tell me how you met her."

The poet closed his eyes, presumably the better to visualize the moment. "I was walking along the square in the dazzling midday sun—not a propitious time, you understand."

"Of course not." Maggiormente had no idea why not, but thought better of asking for an explanation at this point.

"But there she was! Sketching the statue in that glaring light. The morning's rain had left puddles on the stones that shone like crazy diamonds."

"Poetry," Maggiormente muttered.

"Love," the poet corrected him.

"I meant your description."

Gustave waved his hand, dismissing him. "Her hair was abundant and a golden fiery red, warm as a winter fire, bright as persimmons. Her eyes large and green—emeralds! And her lips—"

"Her lips as rich as plums!" Maggiormente suggested.

Gustave glared at him. "Plums?! Don't be ridiculous. Barberries!"

"What is a barberry?"

"Crimson berries that grow on thorny bushes, difficult to harvest but sublime in flavour."

The alchemist sipped his wine. "I'm getting hungry now."

"Forget your stomach!" the poet admonished. "I'm trying to tell you about love!"

"Well, what did you say to her?"

"Say to her?"

"When you met, what did you say to her?"

The poet cried aloud, standing on his feet and gesturing once more skyward. "Are you insane, monsieur? A vision like that? I could not decide if she were woman or goddess. I was speechless before her beauty and grateful I had been granted such a glance at perfection."

"So, you didn't speak to her?"

"No." The poet collapsed in his chair once more and poured out the last of the wine. The alchemist sighed.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Maggiormente hastened down the stairs and out into the street before drawing breath, as if the sound of his aspiration might be enough to call the signora to follow him. Determining that she had not in fact pursued, the alchemist slowed his steps as he considered what to do.

Anything but return for her desired tête-à-tête!

He was not entirely certain how interested she truly was in his person, but it was beginning to look like very. Maggiormente frowned. He did not return her interest. And Eduardo would not much like it if she continued to express her insinuations.

There's so much work to be done! The alchemist shook his head. He did not need interference from anyone at present, particularly from his concierge. How awful to have to consider moving! But if her importunities did not end, it might have to be considered.

Maggiormente had stopped as the horror of the thought occurred to him. Although his original thought had been to get some sand from the river, and indeed his footsteps had taken him down the gentle slope in that direction, his intruding worries had pushed all thought of sand from his mind and he could not immediately remember where he had been bound.

"Monsieur alchemiste!" a voice called from nearby.

Hearing himself hailed, Maggiormente turned although the thoughts in his head continued to buzz like a hive. "Si?"

A young man in Bohemian garb waved a desultory hand at him, beckoning the alchemist to join him at the café where he sat. "Come, share a glass with me!"

"Gustave!" Maggiormente's face lit up and the buzzing thoughts subsided like the banked embers of a fire. He walked across the way with eager steps and clasped the offered hand in his two palms. "You have returned to Paris!"

The young man in the rumpled suit nodded, a broad grin brightening his unremarkable face with its uneven growth of beard. Only his twinkling eyes suggested there might be something more to the figure than one of another in the horde of young Bohemians still crowding the Paris cafés.

"I could not last long in the countryside, monsieur Maggiormente. I am not suited to the genteel life of the farm."

The alchemist threw himself down in the seat opposite his friend. "Ah, but the country is free of distractions. You must have got much writing done."

Gustave sighed. "Alas, no."

"But surely there was much to inspire you?"

The poet sighed even more dramatically. "Inspiration? Cows? Hayricks? Trees? Wheatfields? Bah! No one could find much in that."

The alchemist laughed. "I think there are many painters who might disagree with you. Pastoral novelists, too. I think there may be a poet or two who found much to immortalize in the countryside."

Gustave rubbed a hand over his face as if to erase the memory of the green. "Bloody Romantics! Don't give me your western winds and burbling streams. I want people, noise, shops, tavernas, galleries and fights. City life, monsieur. It is the only true inspiration. And no city is like Paris."

"Ah, but have you been to Rome or Venice? You must see Rome before you die," Maggiormente scolded.

"Gladly, gladly," Gustave said with a vague wave. "If this life does not kill me before I have the chance. Philippe! A glass for my friend." The waiter brought the glass and the poet filled it to the brim before handing it over.

"Oh no, just a little," Maggiormente said, frowning at the glass. "I still have much work to do—" He broke off, wondering if he would be able to get any work done while his concierge lay in wait for him.

"Nonsense! Drink up! Santé!"

"Well, perhaps a little respite…" The alchemist sipped the wine, grimacing a little to find it overly sweet. All French wine seemed a trifle sweet to him. He missed the bold Tuscan flavours that his local café in Rome favoured, and as soon as he thought of that, Maggiormente could almost taste roasted artichoke and felt a stab of homesickness flick his heart. To distract himself as much as anything else, he asked his friend, "And now that you're back in Paris, have you been writing much?"

Gustave smacked his forehead with an open palm. "Not one wretched word! None! My ink has dried up. My pages mock me. My quills have flown away."

"But you are in the city you love, full of noise and cafés and arguments."

"There's just one problem."

"What's that?"

"I'm in love!"