15.3.09

balzacorama

The boarders dropped in one after another, interchanging greetings and the empty jokes that certain classes of Parisians regard as humorous and witty. Dullness is their prevailing ingredient, and the whole point consists in mispronouncing a word or in a gesture. This kind of argot is always changing. The essence of the jest consists in some catchword suggested by a political event, an incident in the police courts, a street song, or a bit of burlesque at some theater, and forgotten in a month. Anything and everything serves to keep up a game of battledore and shuttlecock with words and ideas. The diorama, a recent invention, which carried an optical illusion a degree further than panoramas, had given rise to a mania among art students for ending every word with rama. The Maison Vauquer had caught the infection from a young artist among the boarders.

“Well, Monsieur-r-r Poiret,” said the employé from the Muséum, “how is your health-orama?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned to Mme. Couture and Victorine with a “Ladies, you seem melancholy.”
“Is dinner ready?” cried Horace Bianchon, a medical student, and a friend of Rastignac’s; “my stomach is sinking usque ad talones.”
“There is an uncommon frozerama outside!” said Vautrin. “Make room there, Father Goriot! Confound it! your foot covers the whole front of the stove.”
“Illustrious M. Vautrin,” put in Bianchon, “why do you say frozerama? is right by the same rule that you say ‘My feet are froze.’”
“Ah! ah!”
“Here is his Excellency the Marquis de Rastignac, Doctor of the Law of Contraries,” cried Bianchon, seizing Eugène by the throat, and almost throttling him.
“Hallo there! hallo!”
Mlle. Michonneau came noiselessly in, bowed to the rest of the party, and took her place beside the three women without saying a word.
“That old bat always makes me shudder,” said Bianchon in a low voice, indicating Mlle. Michonneau to Vautrin. “I have studied Gall’s system, and I am sure she has the bump of Judas.”
“Then you have seen a case before?” said Vautrin.
“Who has not?” answered Bianchon. “Upon my word, that ghastly old maid looks just like one of the long worms that will gnaw a beam through, give them time enough.”
“That is the way, young man,” returned he of the forty years and the dyed whiskers—
“The rose has lived the life of a rose—
A morning’s space.”

“Aha! here is a magnificent soupe-au-rama,” cried Poiret as Christophe came in bearing the soup with cautious heed.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Mme. Vauquer; “it is soupe aux choux.”
All the young men roared with laughter.


honoré de balzac, old goriot (1835)