Villon I concluded

Whew! That post yesterday was probably too much (however sincere and heartfelt), but weʼll relax today and return to the medieval days of yore in which we indulged last weekend.

We started on what little I have written of my Villon novel last weekend, and as I promised/threatened on Sunday, hereʼs the rest of chapter I. Enjoy.

Strange that he could still recall being innocent of all this. His innocence seemed so distant, so long ago, yet still clear in memory. Sometimes, when he bothered to recall. And other times when recollection chided his present state. Memory as conscience. Had some philosopher considered that? Had he read it, heard it at lecture, or was it actually his own, true insight?

He didn’t know.

Right now, the wine had filled his head, and the tavern, even the table he crouched against, wavered a bit in the uncertain lack of light. Quite early for such a feeling, but tonight was unique, or at least original. And he drank down the rest of his cup. He would need this warmth tonight.

Memory as conscience. No guilt without recollection. One must remember in order to learn. A lesson, and experience forgotten is no benefit, no lesson at all.

Thoughts tumbled shapelessly.

What could he remember? What had François learned? How had his experiences shaped him, wet mud dole clay, to become who he was at this critical moment on this unusual dark night?

Conscience? How could he in good conscience even be here? And what would conscience have to say tomorrow? Could he be about to kill conscience or rather prod it into hysteria? Whom or what could he blame for that which he was about to perform, what he was to become part in, who he was trembling to become? And what right had conscience to complain at all at this point? He had considered this and worse many times, as his fortunes waned and the dicecup drew him ever deeper under the shadow of his worst compatriots.

François realized he was staring across the smoky space at the flambeau nearest the door. The flames and we and intermingled, gold and red yellow white orange, wavering and vanishing, trembling and soaring, diminishing. He felt his soul strangely drawn into the bright mystery of fire, chaotic beauty.

Until raucous laughter cackled from the dicers near him. The wine had begun to work long ago: their voices clamored too loud for this narrow space, echoing inane annoyances that apparently no one attended. Words themselves were lost in simple noise, their bellowing all vowels, the clarity of consonants mislaid — sharing the same weary jokes. Again.

The active flames seemed sweeter. He recognized the wine had worked on him as well. Did he wish to be too drunk to do the deeds this night intended?

Again he felt his heart quicken with cowardice.

Suddenly, across from the dicers, still intent on their gaming, loud as they were, a trio at a more distant table burst into song — an old melody — barking a rondeau in honor of  wine, good friends and long revelrous nights.

Mine, thought François unselfconsciously. He had composed the lyrics years ago to amuse his companions — Guy impressively — early in his wastrel life. He’d heard it sung repeatedly, among others, since. Drinking songs, parody poems, caricatures of University figures and Parisian notables, and his first masterpiece — his Romance of the Devil’s Fart that Guy had so assiduously copied so many times, the fluorescence of his student days. Nights, rather.

And now, as Christmas and the year’s demise approached, he had made his choices. What advice, drink, sloth and violence had begun became fullblown crime tonight.

As if on cue, an actor in a mystery, Colin appeared at the tableside.

“Did you have to hide your self all the way back here? Get up, François. We are going. The rest are at the Mule.”

Making a face, François drew his lean body afoot and followed his friend (and master now) through a twisting path between tables to the door. And out into the cold toward robbery and betrayal.

And thatʼs the end of chapter I. (I was trying to keep them short for interest, Janet to the contrary on the interest part.) Iʼll do a little more from chapter II tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Villon I

You got the Prologue yesterday. Hereʼs a chunk of the first chapter (and itʼs a short chapter, actually). Funny. I can remember where and how I wrote a lot of this (but then, even the first words are only about four years old).

I used to always write when opportunity arose. Once I realized that opportunity did not always leave me near a computer, and once I had a good pocket notebook in which to write (I have always carried a little notebook, but the older ones were three-ring binders, and the pages werenʼt well adjusted to writing more than notes of all  kinds, addresses and and ideas, and poetry. Buying the Harrodʼs notebooks while Janet and I were in London in 2002 actually got me to do real writing when I was stranded in a mall waiting for her to have more fun shopping than she would have done if I had wandered into the clothing store(s) with her (and I vividly remember composing a large chunk of “Underground” in the big multifloor downtown mall in Portland, Oregon, several summers ago — with beautiful sun pouring in all around me).

Anyway. A key section of this little reverie in a tavern came out of a community theatre party at which I wasnʼt having the best of times (that was the same night I evenutally walked home from the far edge of Maquoketa and stepped into not-quite-refrozen four-inch-deep puddles on Summit Street), and my own muddled perception at the party helped imagine Françoisʼs own thoughts.

Another untitled work in progress, I just call it The Villon Novel …


The illumination in the Pomme de Pin was never very trustworthy —  a few flambeaux (two by the door, one by the barrels), a couple of candles on the “good” tables, sometimes a twist of oil-soaked grass stuck high in the back corner. The one big fireplace.

Essentially it was pretty dark, and by late evening fairly thick with smoke as well. Ventilation being a poor idea in the winter, holding warmth, even smoke, was a pleasant necessity.

François as a youth had found this dive a racy exhilaration. He failed to perceive that it was a morass from which he would not escape.

A tangled route had brought François to this scummy table in this notorious tavern on this ill-fated winter night. No candle here, far from the dancing brightness of the roaring hearth. No rushlight near either.

All the better. Darkness suited his purpose on this dark night early in a dark year. He heard the rattle of bones in the cup at another table near the farther wall.  François shuddered, drawing his narrow frame closer into the corner his table crowded, ignoring, mostly, the chill of the outdoor air permeating both walls. Coins clinked:  bets placed.

“Ha.” One shout of pleasure amidst indrawn breaths and hisses of dismay. François sniffed in sympathy, willing the gambling sounds away and studiously not looking up at the other table.

The bones had brought him here tonight. The price of the last dark year, his tavern year — long, dark nights huddled around the table. Wine and more wine. The dice — yellow and flashing in the red light. And his coins swiped away, lost. Again and again. Wine and more wine. Losing and losing and losing…

The times he won were bright flashes in his memory. They were bright moments at the time, too. Treasured and warm in his heart and belly.  The look of envy on Colin’s face. Others licking their lips, hiding their dismay with tankards, gulping wine. Flares of anger from Guy Tabarie, who lost oftener than François. Jehan looking sour and raking the dice back angrily. Faces to be savored.

Faces to be met tonight.

Winnings never lasted. Winning  just meant François bought more wine. Wine and dice: money sliding through his fingers onto the wet planks of tavern tables and so seldom ringing any coins back. Requiring more money…

At first that need meant work, tedious time in addition to his tedious studies, copying text for other students, even making illegal copies on Rue de Saint-Jacques sometimes. The work instead of his studies, scraping daylong with his always dull pens, work requiring him to spend money — ink, parchment, pens. Worked extending into the evenings he yearned to be here, drinking wine and gambling. Work that was worse than studying. Work that rewarded his efforts too little and generally too late.

Work which seemed so light when he thought of peasants wrenching rocks from fields or his nakedpate, rackhack-coughing masters shivering in their overworn threadbare patched-on-patches gowns to lecture inattentive allasleep idiots who only arouse to debate insignificant issues of irrelevant side points just to piss the master off, or bone ugly befouled and dirty, pocky, gouty, blear-eyed whores — shivering in worse garments than any master had to suffer — struggling to flaunt their eons-vanished charms to those same self-absorbed, self-importantly witty undergraduates in dark streets, puke-scented, thoroughly and throughly designed to defeat lust and sin (coughing even more than the futile wasting masters).

Still each joint between the elbow and the fingertips snarled and nagged with achepain and in the morning could scarcely twist or bend to grasp a pen. Weary aches that made taking the dicecup or goblet pleasureless effort until more wine and wine made the bones forget…

But those other bones — so carefully enumerated — never remembered and left François stumbling home alone night after night, whoreless in his innocent poverty, striding through black ways unhindered by footpads only too aware of a loser’s stagger. Still he dreaded them, those cutthroats, those alleyway bandits — dreaming of beatings in skullthrobbing notslumber night after night.

All from the dice and the wine. In the taverns. And low women and lower men, cockleshells and cuckoldry, murder and memory. All bringing him here. Tonight.

Thatʼs about half the chapter. Weʼll reserve the rest for Saturday. —Had you noticed I have been using weekends for older (this is actually quite new) writing? It rests the mind and leaves me what time I can muster for writing (now that I am at least temporarily working around having a real job again).

I get to train Census enumerators tomorrow. Wish me luck. Iʼm nervous.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


What miserable weather around here yesterday and today. The rain moved in Friday morning before I was astute enough to get outdoors and mow the yard, and pretty much itʼs been drizzling or pouring ever since. A soggy celebration for poor Will the Bard.

However, Shakespeareʼs birth has put me in a medieval/Renaissance frame of mind, and that made me realize I had a bit of writing about Paris and France from the later middle ages that I have been wanting to share. Itʼs the start of my Villon novel.

François Villon was a minor criminal, probably connected to the organized underworld, living most of his life in Paris in the fifteenth century. He had the good fortune that a benefactor — from whom he took the last name Villon (Françoisʼs actual surname is listed as either Montcorbier or des Loges, both small towns south of Paris from which his family probably came) — educated the boy and sent him on to the University of Paris, from which François Montcorbier acquired his Master of Arts degree. However, within a short time, the young man had committed a fairly major burglary of a church treasury (presumably amidst other crimes) and just previously had killed a priest in a brawl (eventually ruled self-defensive) that sent him into exile outside of the capital. On his return, Villon was caught up in other criminal activity, earning a second exile, during which he spent time in a hideous prison from which he was released only because the new king of France passed through the city (traditionally, the passage of the king was celebrated by a general pardon for prisoners in a community). Back in Paris again, the terribly aged man again got imprisoned on charges connected with the church burglary but again was near-miraculously released only to vanish from any records (presumably he died very soon, just over thirty years old). He lived with whores and crooks and apparently took delight in his wasted life. He was also one of the great poets of the French language, delineating in a rawly realistic style and language the actual life of late-medieval Paris.

I have been intrigued by him since just out of college (in fact a dual-language copy of his poetry attended me over the weekend that Janet and I got married). So it didnʼt surprise me that I started imagining a novel about his life a couple of years ago, which I penned into my little red Harrodʼs notebook as I concluded “Underground.” I worked on it much more last fall, and when Janet and I were headed to Wisconsin to visit her sister before Christmas, I read what I had completed at that time aloud as she drove us toward Dubuque and further.

Disappointingly, she didnʼt react well, finding my prose too literary to hold her interest. That response, of course, gives me excellent reason to inflict the current portion on you, faithful readers, seeking your feelings. The story begins with a Prologue…

Villon Novel, Prologue

The old man sat hunched like a blind miser, hanging his head close over the desk in front of them. But no golden horde lay there, simply parchment, old, abused and much used and reused, barely scraped clean enough to accept the words he was painfully scratching by the dying light of this day in the one room he did not own. He wrote:

“I knew him, this Villon, whose roundelay, still sung these fifty years on, heard by me this morning in the market street, still lingers in my ears.”

He stopped. The song did indeed ring in his aged and enfeebled memory. His dark eyes, crystalline with glaucoma, did not focus on that corner as his nearly toothless mouth moved, lips writhing to the remembered words. He recollected most of them.

His attention turned back to the palimpsest. He shook his head about something and continued.

“Youngsters remember his name — they think, as a rogue and wild man. They are wrong.  He wasn’t a rogue. He knew such men, associated with them, admired some, feared others, feared some he also respected or at least admired. He yearned almightily to be like most of them, to be wild, to live dangerously but free.

“But he could not. Legends flourished once the man is gone, but the truth remains like withered grass in the shade of growing tree: the man was a coward.”

The wrinkled, dry lips hissed a long sigh as the final word was penned. In black — well, thinned as it was, really rather greenish — ink the word stood recorded. Recorded and therefore true?

Coward. François Villon, coward.

And it was true.

The blind eyes felt for a moment a glimpse of light, the smoky illumination of the yellow plaster walls of the Pomme de Pin, that Parisian dive so faraway, opposite the sacred walls of the Madeleine, on the corner of the Rue de Juiverie and the Rue de Lanterne. So far in time as well… Fifty years gone…

Chapter I follows next. But since 900 words for today gives me a decent post, we will save the actual start (and the part Janet thought went on too long) to begin tomorrow.

I feel a bit strange ending on the list of street names (sometimes that old research just overwhelms you when writing), which I think works better as a bit of local color in full context. So of course youʼll want to be back tomorrow to read some of the first chapter.

Any reactions are welcome …

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.