Measured Extravagance

2001-03-05 - 1:04 a.m.

The day was dreary, and the cat was illin', so I didn't pretend to myself I was going to be productive when I got home from church: after answering the morning's emails, I ran a hot bath, changed into a nightgown, and curled up with the puss under two afghans and went to sleep.

Later, I turned the lights back on and read Elliot Paul's Mayhem in B-Flat, a screwball mystery originally published in 1940. My copy is a Dover reprint I bought as a remainder. It's casually politically incorrect, full of implausibilities and recklessly liberal with arcane puns (*)- and I giggled through the entire thing. It was perfect for my mood - undemanding, stylish, and frivolously devious. For instance, take this marvel of a paragraph:

The season was early spring, so that the fruit trees in blossom and the chalk-like deposits on the faces of distant cliffs brought into brilliant relief the stark chimneys, derrick masts and spars along the river banks before them. Gay-colored clothes fluttered from clotheslines strung along the barges, happy dogs rolled over in the sun, and all along the quais the freighters, large and small, some dingy, others freshly painted, were receiving or discharging their loads. One year had passed since the spectacular conclusion of the Louvre murder case, those unforgettable few days when Miriam had been shaken with terror because she had maneuvered Homer inot the case. That terrible suspense, and the reaction following its happy termination, had left no mark upon her brow, perhaps, and had not caused her to be less careful or successful in the choice of her clothes, but the searing experience had left a little buzzer in her mind that sounded off sharply whenever she had an impulse to interfere with Homer's placid life or to complicate his serene existence. She was about to repeat her innocent question, 'What Baron?' but she thought better of it and simply was content to sit by the Seine, warmed by soft spring sunshine, and to wonder mildly why Homer, who seldom left Montparnasse, had suddenly been impelled to take her away from Paris to visit Normandy.

Miriam herself is a sharp-shooting, Schiaparelli-clad, Czerny-playing equivalent of Dr. Watson, at one point resignedly telling Homer "I'm in the fog, as usual. When you care to pierce it, I shall be more than ready." She's fabulous, and so's Moritz the dog. And then there's the sex and violins:

"...I've taken the liberty of buying for you a ticket to a violin recital tomorrow evening. An acquaintance and countryman of mine is playing a program at the Salle Gaveau and I shouldn't like to have you miss it..."

"But, Monsieur Evans," objected Frémont, non-plussed. "You know I can't tell one note from another. And particularly I detest the violin. It chatters like a monkey, then yowls like a cat from hell. And the freaks who choose to play it..."(**)

Heading up to bed now with Karen Elizabeth Gordon's Paris Out of Hand, the better to dream of L'Hôtel des Horloges, L'Hôtel des Muguets (The Hotel of Lilies of the Valley - or the Hotel of Flirts, depending on your intent), and Le Grenier de Tante Amelie (13, galerie des Corbeaux), where one can find "buttons, baseball cards, tonsils, teeth, old sweethearts you left on the shelf..."

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(*) For instance, the high-strung medical examiner is named Dr. Toudeux [pronounced /too-doo/]. Then there's the mysterious firm called "Stillwater and Tief"...

(**) Wondering what's so amusing about this? I'm a violist.

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