Monday, October 22, 2012
Another Dose of Fiction from Mark Fitzpatrick!
Hello, all! This week, I'm very happy to to share two new 'quai-centric' excerpts from Mark Fitzpatrick's Paris-set novel Very Few to Love. In case you missed last week's post, Mark has been kind enough to go through his novel and pick out the scenes that take place around the quai for the purpose of sharing them here with us! Through these windows we glimpse a rich world of engaging characters and intriguing situations that invites us in and leaves us wanting more. Luckily, at the bottom of the page, there's info on how to contact Mark for the rest of the novel, and also a link to follow more of his work! Here at the top of the page, you'll find another of my quai-side photos. Enjoy!
She led me down to the Quai de Montebello, directly across from Notre Dame, stopping at a café-tabac to buy a ten-box of Gauloises and four coffees. One noisette, one with sugar, two without. I didn’t ask who they were for; I supposed I would find out soon enough. We went down the steps by the Pont au Double, down onto the quay. It was wide here, and tree-lined, benches between the trees. The leaves had just begun to turn, and fall in small rustling drifts on the ground. Almost overnight, summer had turned to autumn, and the air had a brisk snap to it, though the sky was blue, and the sun still warm. Near the steps, several artists had set up large easels and were painting soft-focus monochrome portraits of cute little girls while their sitters’ parents looked on. Further down the quay were more varied artists, offering caricatures, beaded necklaces, to write your name in Chinese calligraphy while you waited, to carve your name on a grain of rice. We walked along past them, each holding two of the takeaway coffees.
Halfway down the quay, Jill walked over to a group gathered around a seated figure beside a small but elaborate easel. He wore a long brown overcoat, and a battered hat hung on the corner of his easel. His hair and his thick moustache were iron-grey, his eyes under spiky brows twinkled with tragedy and comedy. As he spoke to the two women standing in front of him, his hands were filling and packing the bowl of a pipe with black tobacco. The two women, mother and daughter perhaps, had the healthy glow and practical clothes of American tourists. To one side and a little behind the seated man was another, sitting on the ground, his long legs sprawled in front of him. On them, stained tracksuit pants were tucked into thick socks that ended in battered boots, string laces undone. His chest was bare under an army-surplus vest covered in pockets, from which poked various cards, papers, paintbrushes, ribbons, flowers. His skin was nut-brown tanned; under curly, greying hair tied in braids and beads and feathers, held back by a dark red bandanna, his long face was intent on the work in his hands. A piece of white stone was held there, quickly turned under the chipping and gouging of one of the blades of a solid metal tool. On the ground in front of him were arrayed his wares, small figures smooth of detail in the white, porous stone. A circle was chalked around them, and prices on the stone beside each, proclaiming their vast value in francs and dollars. As he saw Jill approaching, the man at the easel stood.
“Forgive me a moment, beautiful ladies, but I see the love of my life is approaching with my breakfast.” He bowed slightly to them, ushering Jill towards him with a sweep of his hand. His accent was slight, Eastern European. He held out his hands to Jill, took her by the shoulders and kissed her firmly on both cheeks. “Bonjour chérie! Your timing is impeccable, as always.”
“Watch the coffee, Viktor! You’re going to make me spill it!” She held the plastic cups out of the way of his embrace. I hovered in the background, holding the other two awkwardly in front of me. The two Americans moved off, smiling. As soon as they were gone, Viktor spoke in a low aside to Jill.
“Ah thank God you arrived now! These Americans were in-tol-erable! They are content to listen to me telling charming stories and compliments to them, but will they buy something? Will they sit for a portrait in oils? Ha! They will rather pat me on the head and say, look, he is so cute, this old bohemian artist! He will make a story to tell to all the ladies in the bridge club at home in Nebraska. Pah!” He took one of the coffees from Jill, and, after sipping it, breathed out a great sigh. “Ah. Excuse me. It is only the crankiness of an old man who has not had breakfast. Here, Ludwig, coffee for you. Get up, you worthless wretch, and thank the nice young lady.”
I sat there and sipped my cooling coffee, listened to Viktor banter in French and English with the other artists as they passed, or popped over for a few words. They all seemed to know Jill as well, saluting her with varying degrees of affection or wariness. Some paced about with a portfolio under one arm, examples of their portraits or caricatures clipped to the side, head up, eyes back and forth, seeking a target for their pitch. They would fire a rapid volley of offers to draw the cutest of any given family group, cycling through the likely languages until they had hit on one that was understood. Ten minutes, you don’t like, you don’t pay, here, sit here, signora, come, sit, I show you. They would pause for a few words and a joke with Viktor, before perching on one of the benches, on the wall by the steps, or on their folding stools, drawing-board propped in front of them, squinting at the pretty Spanish girl who sat presenting a three-quarter profile, her two friends watching and giggling over the artist’s shoulder as the drawing took shape.
Across the river, Notre Dame rose in stony splendour. Where we sat, shade had fallen, and the air was slightly chilly, but the cathedral was bathed in golden sunlight. Passing tourists stopped often, to take pictures of this grand old lady, to film each other for a moment, standing across from her. Couples sat on the low wall at the edge of the quay, the Seine lapping the stones down below them, occasionally glancing up at the spires and buttresses and gargoyles, who peered indifferently back. They’d seen the likes of these before; they’d see many more. What’s one more couple who think they’re in love?
Mark Fitzpatrick is an Irish novelist living and working in Paris, France.
For more of Very Few to Love, or just to send your regards, you can connect with Mark directly at:
You can also follow his new fantasy adventure novel as it unfolds on his blog at:
Photos by Leslie McAllister: