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Humor Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

Seconds: “First of a Fine Spectacle”

Did you know Russian empress Catherine the Great wrote operas?  She did, badly, or so goes her history. Anyway, back in my own when came an anthology call for Catherine the Great stories and here she was upon research having tried her imperial hand at librettos. I wrote it, a comic romp. Got a yes. So there I was, 2013, me and a Catherine the Great opera romp. Not everyone can say that’s in their locker, y’all.

I like this one. It’s imperfect in execution but wonderful for its tomfoolery. It appeared only then in Pure Slush‘s Catherine, Refracted. Today, our world is struggling. People could use a breather romp. So, here is that Catherine story. As published, all hindsight editing resisted to preserve its goofball spirit. I hope it brings a needed smile.

FIRST OF A FINE SPECTACLE

Katerina hooded her gaze. “La Harpe told you everything?”

Her footman intoning “Katerina the Second, Empress and Autocrat of All the Russians,” still dizzied me even after it no longer echoed through her salon. My endless bow had me near toppling over, blood pounding in my ears. I, the librettist known for his single glorious failure, had been dragged into a private audience with the Empress herself.

“I’d have us speak plainly.” Katerina said. “Mr. Nowicki, are you quite well?”

I was not. My business in Saint Petersburg, to discuss texts for the soon-to-open Bolshoi opera, had ended badly. Before I could present my tragedy Kristall-Herzen, a fortune teller in love with her destined murderer, La Harpe made clear the true commission: to supervise texts credited to Empress Katerina. We debated the matter, he considering it an honor and I a prison sentence to be shunted into a ghost-writer’s closet. In that sense I won the argument when imperial guardsmen hauled me away.

“Mr. Nowicki?”

Katerina stood beside the piano, her face a once-perfect egg now swollen by age, her dark blue eyes still dancing with intelligence. Her white gown glowed in the sunlight surging through the windows. Outside the river flowed oblivious to my plight.

“Mr. Nowicki, I am accustomed to having my questions answered.”

Categories
France Humor Short Stories Travel

Paris Always Wins: Behind “The Montparnasse Moon Shot”

Bob’s Spot in Paris

There is a particular spot in Paris I go whenever there. It’s on the west tip of Île Saint-Louis, a prow of a park cutting the Seine into gauche and droit channels. The park is hardly a secret. Thousands of bateaux passengers cruise past it, thousands more stroll the river walks or zip along in the Parisienne traffic crush. But it’s hard-ish to get down there. Stairs and a short walk deter the less resolute. All the better, right? The park is quiet by local standards, shaded in places, and those bateaux passengers are merry (insider tip: wine is involved), and I feel history coursing by.

This nugget did not make “The Montparnasse Moon Shot.” Neither did my forever nipping into bodegas and sandwicheries, nor this friterie I know on the Right Bank. A travelogue of Paris was cut from the early drafts.

2013. I’d been writing France stories, and though one featured Paris already, it was a bit of a love letter. The famous sights, the simmering romance, so forth. Spend time there, and you grasp that Paris is hardly all City of Lights. It’s loud. Restless. Gritty, and if in some places it smells like urine, that’s because someone urinated there. I wanted that real Paris for a next story try. Real Paris seen through the eyes of someone who didn’t care much one way or the other. They had a job to do, and that job could show the myths of Paris as lovely bunk.

Good doggie

Enter that staple of the Paris romantic: café culture and in its analog day the pinball machine. And another from the lore box: the wolves of Paris that set after poor townsfolk centuries before anybody in Rohan or Westeros. The townsfolk got their wolf eventually, and they left architectural nods to the legend if you know where to look.

Categories
France Humor Travel

Mangeot of the Somewhat Nordlands: Among Les Français, 2018

Lately my traveling alter ego Mangeot of the Nordlands has chronicled expeditions through Norway, Quebec, and now France.

Try not to judge him too hard. He means well.

13 April — Tours

We arrive among Les Français (meaning “They who put sauces on anything”) at their chief aerodrome of Paris. It is a grand city of Statuary and much stone and plentiful macaroons. It is neither clean nor particularly well-lit.

There is Much Strife among the trainsmen. We journey forth regardless as far as they will convey us, into the Touraine. We stop at the drizzle-swept outpost of Tours, pronounced “TWO-er” and meaning in Old French “Why are you not smoking?”. The country folk greet us in a State of Ennui until we demonstrate means of payment. Then fine chefs serve us their Kir and Martini Rouge and treat us to feasts of savory pies made with chicken egg and salted pork. They show us all manner of chateau. Over local wine in which the townsfolk take Great Pride, they ask if I have read the writings of their noted author Balzac. “Some,” I say. “Oui,” they say, “you must be forgiven. You who are possibly from the Nordlands.” I nod. “Perhaps less so,” I say. “But still there is this,” they say. “Why are you not smoking?”

16 April — Bordeaux

We cross the Loire and sally forth into the hinterlands. Onward we venture, beyond the cloudy gloom and Lordly Manors, beyond the Signals of Wireless Service under what our quartermaster tells me is an International Roaming Plan. Our party presses into the Aquitaine, which I translate as “We wait until after the nap.”

In these Darkest Wilds we arrive among the Bordelaise. These are a river people who

Categories
Humor

One Half of an Awkward Conversation: Table for Mr. Sinatra

Good evening, sir. A big ring-a-ding-ding to you, too. And mademoiselle! Welcome to Toots Shor’s. Yes, quite a swinging clam-bake tonight. I hear it always is.

Table for two? I see. We’ve nothing just now. Perhaps for quite some time.

Yes, I’m sure you are ready to wet your whistles. Unfortunately, as you say, the clams are really baking, aren’t they? What name shall I put your party under?

Could you spell that for me? S-I-N-A-P-R-A. Mr. Sinapra, if I could just get you to step aside–

Oh, Sina-TRA, is it? I beg your pardon. As you can see, Mr. Sinatra, we’re rather busy at the moment. Friday night, all of Midtown swinging. So have a seat, and I’ll call you when—

Seated now? I’m terribly sorry, sir. It’s quite impossible. These good people ahead of you have been waiting–