On Capitole Square, elbows on the counter of the corner-café under the arcades, Director Epsilon (we owe him a treatise dealing with the orthography and difference of words) sips his second small dry retsina. The sun is drying the pavement still damp with night dew. The Viscount comes out of the director’s office, appointment in hand: interim baby-sitter at the small college of Zagzig. He immediately gave a dig into the eye of the fat matron, the head-secretary of super Director Epsilon, for he has forgotten to bring her the traditional chicken or duck which are sure to have an influence on the geographical destination of every young green-horn in need of university survival. The College of Zagzig is a mere three hours forty-five minutes from the capital of the Languedoc, in the heart, or almost, of Aquitania novempopulana, this pearl of the Roman empire at the time of Caesar the Bald, stretching as far as the Loire under Augustus, before finally becoming Aquitania-tertia, bordering on the Narbonnaise and converted to letters and eloquence like its neighbour who suffered the influence of the phocean colony Massalia.
At the time when the wave of the Roman occupation was spreading, the Novempopulanians were rich, polite and clean, resembling the Spanish according to Strabo; dexterous, subtle and cunning, given to witticism and mockery in the view of Florus, while Sulpicius Severus underlines the grace of their language. Chosibus has made inquiries to the point of wondering as for the reticence of Father Montgaillard, a Jesuit, born in Aubiet, not far from Auch, teacher at this town’s college. In fine weather, beyond the hills, the chain of the Pyrenees can be seen. The puny Tiber crosses the town before flowing into the mighty Garonne. One hears the dialect of the Landes, of Jasmin and of Pey de Garros. There is good food, robust wine, a well-fed population, life is simple, the mood peaceful, the women are pleasing.
Viscount Chosibus has pocketed his first salary. He will meet on the same level (or almost) these Governors, these Under-governors, these rhetoricians full of eloquence, these grammarians who teach Celtic and Greek as well as Latin, these Axius-Maulus in Tarbes, these Tetradius in Angoulême, whose public lessons cause the housewives to leave their kitchen ranges.
The river, which winds and makes the mills turn, is, in summer, no more than a stream which could not cover a horse’s hoof (according to the poet). There, the wheat of Campania grows in abundance, and the vines of Sorrento, in order to feed these kings of the earth, who have no other Gods than their bellies.
At this time, on the terraces of the cafés at Place Roosevelt, the former classmates of Chosibus sip the fashionable aperitif, some of them enrolled at the Faculty of Law, some at the Faculty of Aesculap, entertaining in the sun a tan which they will produce intact in the next winter holidays three months hence. At the main Post Office, friends of the family are sitting behind the counter. The statue of a breton Poet rules over the Grand’ Place. The voice of the tenors from the mountains moves to tears the usherettes of the Théâtre des Quinconces where Rigoletto is given. Chosibus has enrolled in the Faculty of Letters founded by the Preaching-Friars Roland of Cremona, Jean de Saint-Gilles and so-called Laurent l’Anglais, and this in the hope of obtaining some CAP (Certificate of Professional Aptitude) which will allow him to climb the steep steps of the scholastic hierarchy, with, perhaps, at the end an appointment which will make him into a theologian in his own right. In front of the Bus Station, Chosibus has collected time-tables before facing a bumpy ride which will take him into exile as surely as Ovid towards the shores of the land of the Getes. Here now Egericius, its paved streets, its Cathedral, its Prefecture, then even deeper in the night the terminus of Zagzig, subprefecture, girls’ college, boys’ college, the countryside.
Viscount Chosibus breathes in deeply this smell of earth being ploughed and which in the first sun of March announces the return of spring.
O Fortunatos nimium ..., scans Chosibus who swims in happiness like a cockroach in a sink, while the new Falerno is fermenting merrily in the vats, making little noises. Chosibus has met the Governor with the Clark Gable breath, whose beautiful spouse prepares the soup for the boarders of the establishment: she is the daughter of the miller’s wife and one who counts her pennies. The Governor is supposed to have started a thesis on Jasmin and to have left it at that.
The boarders from Carthago bring enormous carpets for the Head-Mistress and stuffed dates; it is not forbidden to find them intelligent and good-mannered, all the more so because they proudly display their twenty-five years and all their teeth. Chosibus’ colleague manages a nightclub in Bordeaux. The pupil Alcibiades runs in marathons, the pupil Brantôme distils his foie gras, the English teacher Connecticut, who spent two years in the United States, lends his mare Daisy to the older pupils, if not to the supervisors, and organizes linguistic stays in England (take your own food). Everyone attends the ball at the subprefecture, in formal dress, whereas a chauvinistic male flexes his muscles which he will exhibit under the French jersey two or three times, one way or other.
Felix regio ubi bibere, vivere, dicitur, in the words of the local subprefect, a native from Courvallois and proud to be so.
Claude d’Esplas (Les Merlufleaux)
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Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke (Tübingen)