The Belly of Paris (Modern Library Classics)
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Part of Emile Zola’s multigenerational Rougon-Macquart saga, The Belly of Paris is the story of Florent Quenu, a wrongly accused man who escapes imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Returning to his native Paris, Florent finds a city he barely recognizes, with its working classes displaced to make way for broad boulevards and bourgeois flats. Living with his brother’s family in the newly rebuilt Les Halles market, Florent is soon caught up in a dangerous maelstrom of food and politics. Amid intrigue among the market’s sellers–the fishmonger, the charcutière, the fruit girl, and the cheese vendor–and the glorious culinary bounty of their labors, we see the dramatic difference between “fat and thin” (the rich and the poor) and how the widening gulf between them strains a city to the breaking point.
Translated and with an Introduction by the celebrated historian and food writer Mark Kurlansky, The Belly of Paris offers fascinating perspectives on the French capital during the Second Empire–and, of course, tantalizing descriptions of its sumptuous repasts.
probably some stupid drunk.’ Madame François, however, had leaned forward and, down to her right, had seen a black shape lying across the road, almost under the horse’s hooves. ‘You don’t want us to ride over someone, do you?’ she said, jumping to the ground. 4 The Belly of Paris A man was lying full length on the road, spreadeagled with his face in the dust. He seemed remarkably long and as thin as a rake; it was a wonder that Balthazar had not snapped him in two with one of his hooves.
bathed in the light of dawn, they seemed like some vast modern machine, a steam engine or a cauldron supplying the digestive needs of a whole people, a huge metal belly, bolted and riveted, constructed of wood, glass, and iron, with the elegance and power of a machine working away with ﬁery furnaces and wildly turning wheels. Claude had enthusiastically jumped onto the bench. He urged his companion to admire the eﬀect of the day dawning over the vegetables. It was like an ocean spreading between
creatures’ bodies. Everywhere there were soles, grey or pale yellow, heaped in pairs; sand eels, thin and stiﬀ, like shavings of pewter; herrings, slightly twisted, with bleeding gills showing on their silver-worked skins; fat bream, tinged with crimson; golden mackerel, their backs stained with greenish brown markings, their sides shimmering like mother-of-pearl; and pink gurnet with white bellies, placed with their heads together in the middle of the baskets and their tails fanned out, so that
spread out in a confused mass. They looked like sleeping lakes, on whose surface the reﬂection of a window pane gleamed every now and then like a silvery ripple. In the distance the roofs of the meat and poultry markets lay in darkness, forming a shadowy mass receding towards the horizon. Florent delighted in the great stretch of sky before him, in the vastness of Les Halles which, amid the narrow streets of the city, reminded him vaguely of the seashore, of the still grey waters of a bay barely
ﬁngers. ‘Oh,’ she said suddenly, ‘I must show you my carp!’ She removed a third grating and, with both hands, took out a carp, which began to ﬂap its tail and gasp. She looked for a smaller one, and this she was able to hold in one hand, which was forced open a little each time the ﬁsh gasped. She thought it would be fun to put her thumb into its gaping mouth. ‘It doesn’t bite,’ she murmured, laughing softly. ‘It’s quite harmless. So are the crayﬁsh; I’m not at all frightened of them.’ She