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Featured in Alimentum Issue Eight, these original woodcuts by author Mark Kurlansky were inspired by his translation of Emile Zola's The Belly of Paris published in May 2009 by Modern Library.
For more information on Mark Kurlansky, visit his website.
In the opening of the novel an emaciated man, Florent, who has miraculously escaped from the French Guiana penal colony is making his way back to Paris. Almost there he has been out of money and on foot since Normandy. Starving and exhausted, he collapses in the road. Someone shouts at him and he is dragged out of the way to allow wagons full of food to pass on their way to the Les Halles market.
In my favorite scene of the book, the family is sitting around at night in the family charcuterie, up to their elbows in blood, making boudin noir. The little girl overheard Florent telling someone the horrifying story of his escape and she demands to hear the story of the man who was eaten by animals. He puts her on his lap, while the cat purrs nearby and the family stirs the blood and begins, "Once upon a time…" proceeding to tell a horrifying story of people starved, beaten to death, eaten alive by crabs...
Florent became the inspector in the fish market where he was shoved and abused by the women who sold fish. "The waifs of Rue de l'Estrapade had never had the ferocity of the women of Les Halles, the relentlessness of these huge women, whose bellies and bosoms bobbed with the glee of giants, whenever they could trick him in anyway. They stared him down with their red faces. In the inflections of their hoarse voices, the swaying of their hips, the flips of their hands, he could read the obscenities being hurled at him."
Mademoiselle Saget, the diminutive neighborhood gossip, spilled the latest on Florent to La Sariette, the voluptuous fruit vendor at the cheese shop of Madame Lecour, an embittered spinster. But they could not stay long among the cheeses, "the pale yellow mont d'ors released a sweet smell, the troyes, which were thick and bruised on the edges, were stronger smelling than the others, adding a fetid edge to the damp cellar, the camemberts with their scent of decomposing game; neufchâtels, the limbourg, the marolles, the pont-l'évèques, each one playing its own shrill note in a composition that was almost sickening; the livarots, dyed red, harsh and sulphurous in the throat; and then, the olivets, wrapped in walnut leaves the way peasants cover with branches rotting carcasses of animals lying by the side of the road in the heat of the sun."
At night Florent returns to his garret above his brother’s charcuterie. He can still smell the central market spread out below his window. "From a distance the meat market and the tripe market discharged a steam with the dull scent of blood. The vegetable and fruit markets exhaled the smell of sour cabbage, rotten apples, and greens chucked into the street. The butter stank, the fish market had a peppery freshness. And at his feet he could see the poultry market pushing a blast of hot air through its ventilation turret, a stench that poured out like soot from a factory. The cloud of all these breaths gathered over the rooftop, drifted to the neighboring houses and spread into a heavy cloud over all of Paris. It was Les Halles bursting out of its steel belt and warming the sleep of the overfed city belching with indigestion. " Florent sat at his desk and feverishly planned the revolution.