I recall the days of my youth, when Antoine Lavoisier and myself first set out to conquer the world of odor. My olfactory genius already well known from my book on tracking and identifying cheeses, I proposed an encyclopedia of smell to our colleagues at the Academie. "We must collect," I argued, "not from mere curiosity, but from a desire to comprehend both foul and fragrant." And what a laboratory Paris!
The members accepted the challenge. We divided the city between us, arrondisement by arrondisement. Others reluctant to do so, I took charge of the sewers, a kingdom onto itself. Lavoisier, who had singed his nostrils on a recent distillation experiment and would be of little use in the field, agreed to help us identify the gases from his excellent facilities at home.
Below the streets and their barricades, I focused on my work, myself and a few assistants, mapping out the vast underground. For months we trudged through the subterranean maze, ever surprised and enthralled by the great variety of miasmas, effluvias, and scents, which gathered around us like street urchins. I couriered my notes and samples to Lavoisier, who organized and experimented with our findings.
Then one day we felt a terrible thump that sent shockwaves throughout the sewers. We later learned it had been the landing of the king's head in a basket, severed by the guillotine. The new society above us had begun to crumble as a reign of terror gripped the city, the leaders of the revolution turning upon one another. One of the last victims of Robespierre was no less than my best friend and collaborator, Lavoisier. Such a cesspool, politics.
For the first time I feared for my own slender neck and returned above ground to my chateau where I awaited the outcome of events and lamented the ugly turn of the revolution, which held such little regard for the advancement of knowledge. Once word finally arrived of the end of the terror, I went in search of my remaining friends from the academie. In the thermadorean reaction, I was further dismayed to learn, our collected papers had been destroyed, all of our painstaking work lost. It seemed neither side held learning in any esteem.
Despondent, I took my time returning to the chateau. Once inside, about mid-morning, I deposited myself in my study and called at the top of my lungs for a bottle of port. Such behavior so unusual for me, word soon spread throughout the house that I had lost my faculties.
The servants had never moved so fast before, if only to get a look at me. When my groom arrived to take my things and saw my muddy boots propped up on a footstool, his jaw nearly collided with the parquetry.
"Sir! You're soiling your things."
"Frightened of a little dirt, a little excrement?" I snarled.
"No sir, I just thought..."
"Well, I've lived in filth for months and you know what? You get used to it!"
"Of course, sir." He picked up my cloak, which I had draped over a Louis XIV side chair. I saw him flare his nostrils. "Um ... shall I brush it out for you, sir?"
"Yes, yes, if you must," I said, just to be rid of him. Then an idea occurred to me. "No, wait!" I jumped up and snatched my woolen garment, holding it to my nose at one place, then another, my excitement building as I recognized my great fortune.
"There's all of Paris right here," I cried.
My research had not been lost. My cloak contained a record of the smells of every sewer I had ever crawled through, lingering scents of the assorted wastes & diseases from all of the people. I needed only to analyze and publish my results, volumes which have made my achievements famous throughout France.
And now I, who have enlightened the world to the complexities of odor, thanks to my unusually sensitive nose hairs, turn to perhaps a far greater challenge to Parisian science, hygiene. If only poor, headless Antoine could be here with me.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/columbus.html]
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ME MUERO DE AMOR POR TODO ABAJO
pboz #5 is now absolutely available - hobart #4 is still available - boom #1 is totally freaking available, too
david barringer's "terminally curious" - his "johnny red" - charles ullmann's strategies 4 modern living
randall devallance's dive - el egotourismo! - kevin sampsell's beautiful blemish
matthew "xavier lipshitz" st. amand's "homoculus" is now out too!
submissions are being accepted and declined for:
the duck & herring co. - me three's lit crit contest
the memorial compilation of letters to frank conroy from his students