January 24, 2011

Rereading Rostand: A True Tale of Hasty Love in a Bookstore With Cyrano

I am rereading and English translation of Edmond Rostand's play "Cyrano de Bergerac." I recently reviewed the 1950 movie, and was hungry for more.

I first read it quickly in an antiquarian bookseller where I am friends with the owner.

His bookstore is like a private library for me. Thousands of books, and more in a dark corrugated metal warehouse in the back. Near the front window is an old round table. Who knows what previous use it had, but now, it stored things. These things were just that, an unorganized menagerie of items that should, but didn't, have a home. Bookmarks, covers of books they independently published, empty cases of metal type, a pencil cup without a pencil. Why wasn't it a cup intended for pens? Not here. Pens have no place making new, permanent marks in books older than any living animal.

Not all of his books were old, and not all were valuable in any other way either. Some were just there to fill the shelves and make a few dollars. Most of those, like Cyrano, were overpriced. Let there be no romantic illusion about this quaint bookstore. It was and is a business as much as the largest corporation. The owner knew any customer willing to pay $500 for a pamphlet from 1850 might be interested in an old, but otherwise insignificant edition of Cyrano. It isn't that he hoodwinked customers. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and this edition had its rustic charm. He made enough to buy a home in the woods for his wife and six children, and a dog, and more books.

Cyrano de Bergerac (Bantam Classics reissue)Bookstores like his are both in direct competition with Amazon.com, and opposite, all at once. His books are online, but Harry Potter cannot be found. Some is one of a kind, and other books on his shelves, like Cyrano, are probably in any antiquarian shop.

Our lunch plans were slowed when a rash of paying customers came in. Five minutes became over two hours so I read a copy he had I started a couple of lunches earlier.

This wasn't reading so much as it was soaking and getting soaked. I gulped this wine instead of sipping. It went to my head well enough, and, like a drunk then, I returned. Wisdom stayed away in my haste, but almost a decade has passe. Older, wiser, ready for passion that does not finish before lunch. 

Now, like a lover with hours to smile, I kissed carefully as I begun a new reading through of the play. The edition I am reading is translated into English by Bryan Hooker. My copy is less beautiful that most you may have seen, but my comfort comes from our deciduous and delightful conversation, falling in and out of inexplicably blissful moments to ecstatic ones, and again.. A book, a play, even the shortest poem must be kissed if it is to be loved, and must be loved if it is to be kissed.

Each night, most nights, I read slowly. The whispers coming only to me. I am silent, listening, trying to see not what José Ferrer or Gerard Depardieu saw, but what Rostand himself saw 100 years ago.
And what is a kiss, specifically? A pledge properly sealed, a promise seasoned to taste, a vow stamped with the immediacy of a lip, a rosy circle drawn around the verb 'to love.' A kiss is a message too intimate for the ear, infinity captured in the bee's brief visit to a flower, secular communication with an aftertaste of heaven, the pulse rising from the heart to utter its name on a lover's lip: 'Forever.'
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 3

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