Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Book finds at the Hodges Figges Sale

Hodges Figgis always has a deadly sale in January but so far, because am utterly skint after the excesses of Christmas and am trying to spend fuck all even to the point that I tried to haggle with a vacant checkout assistant in BT2 over the price of a pair of jeans, I have not been able to pick anything up. There is a fine selection of books on offer, putting both Easons and Waterstones( even though it is owned by the same company) to shame. Anyway I succumbed to temptation yesterday evening after a particularly bleak day and bought Journey to the Orient by Gerard de Nerval and Les Onze Mille Verges by Guillaume Apollinaire. The latter title is untranslatable because 'verges' refers both to the male member and virgins. The English alternative cheerfully offered by publisher Peter Owen Modern Classics is 'The Amorous Adventures of Prince Mony Vibescu', which goes some way to catching the mood of this carry-on style pornographic romp from I would have thought the most unlikely of sources, a celebrated avant-garde poet. Written when Apollinaire was like me stony broke, the novel, if you can call it that, amounts to one improbable, comical sex scene after another as our hero, Prince Vibescu has his wicked way with the ladies of Paris while not forgetting in turn to be serviced by many of its male denizens. The repetitive task of describing shag after shag clearly got to Apollinaire because with each vignette the action becomes more fantastical, the sheer accumulation of bodies and positions a ruse to hide the mundane purpose of the exercise.
Meanwhile, de Nerval's book is about a trip he took to Cairo, Beirut and Constantinople in 1844 in search of hashish and Eastern women. Published five years later, it was only translated into English in the late 1990's but clearly pre-dates Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson similar narcotic inspired odysseys by a century. That's Apollinaire looking grumpy in the above image.

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