Friday, 5 December 2008

In memory of absent friends

When I was eight, my uncle Adraste brought home an amusing friend whose scenarios were being typeset chez Briasson. He was Monsieur Biancolelli, known throughout Paris as Dominique, the famous Trivelino of La Comedie Italienne that played in the Hotel Bourgogne. I was enchanted by his round, honest face and his enormous, gentle eyes that looked upon me with sympathy and fondness, for my uncle had no doubt told him my own sad history. We dined simply at home and M. Biancolelli told my uncle jokes all the way through, his mouth full of bread and wine, with the base parts in Italian so I would not understand.

"It's rude to speak in a strange language," I complained crossly.

"Diabolo! You mean to tell me you do not understand Italian, little princess? How can that be?" He gestured to me and with my uncle's permission I went over to his side of the table. "Why, it is the most beautiful language in all of the world, especially when spoken by a young lady such as yourself. You know, my Marie-Therese is the same age as you. She speaks a beautiful Italian. Her mother and I are worried that she hears too little French at home, and her only companion at the Theatre is a little boy with abominable manners." He bent down and cupped his hand over his mouth as if he had a secret to share though he spoke loud enough for my uncle to hear. "You know, princess, if you insisted, your uncle might permit you to pay us a visit. He would refuse at first, for he thinks us all vagabonds and braggarts, but if you stamp your foot like this..." He stood up, crossed his arms and stamped, exactly as I used to do when I was six.

My uncle laughed and said, "Look, now you are already ruining the child! Yolande, naturally you may visit the Biancolelli's, but only if you don't listen to this madman who never grew up!"

At my uncle's words, Monsieur Biancolelli appeared to deflate before my eyes and hung his hands limply, swaying every so slightly on bent knees, ever so much like a marionette on strings. "You wound me, Seignor Osborno, you cut my strings!" And his hands dropped and he collapsed on the floor, his head lolling on his chest. I leaped back in horror, but his head rose and he gave me a quick wink before he let it drop again. "What shall we do with the poor puppet?" came a falsetto voice from the heap that was my uncle's friend. "He must grow up and go to school" came another voice from the same place. "He must learn proper French and arithmetics and law and become a dottore at the university." "No, I'll run away first!" Then M. Biancolelli leaped to his feet and dashed out of the room.

I clapped my hands with delight to see an adult pretending to be a puppet all for my benefit. I turned to my uncle, who never stopped laughing throughout the entire pantomime, holding his sides and shaking his head. "Please may I learn Italian?"

"Yes, yes, but first go out and call Monsieur back to the table, or he may run clear across Paris!"

I pounded down the stairs as fast as I could. Monsieur Biancolelli was seated on the sidewalk a little way down the street, talking in Italian to a horse, who seemed to listen with much interest. I took his hand and pulled him back to our door, where he effortlessly hoisted me onto his shoulders and bounced me back up the stairs. I believe I held his hand for the rest of his visit.


Osprey said...

Continue, please. :-D

Enjah said...

What a delight to read. Thank you for sharing this oh-so-continental anecdote!