Here’s a treat for the holidays — an advance excerpt from Alphonse Allais’s THE SQUADRON’S UMBRELLA (Le parapluie de l’escouade)—a collection of 39 humorous texts never before published in English, and translated from the French by Doug Skinner. We hope you enjoy.
The Easter holiday was favored with exceptional weather. On Sunday and Monday, numerous Parisians took advantage of it to travel, with their families, into the country.
The amount of ham and cold veal that they consumed, on the grass, was practically prodigious.
The Journal’s record keepers, assigned specially to this statistic, report a truly extraordinary result: 740,000 tons! A number which, we believe, has not been equalled since the summer of 1879.
The summer of 1879, we hasten to add, will remain legendary in the annals of the consumption of ham and cold veal.
On this occasion, let us thank our excellent colleague Baïssass, who, quite obligingly, took upon himself the role of record keeper, and brought surprising energy and perfect tact to the task.
As for me, I profited from the holiday by making my annual pilgrimage to the gingerbread fair, in the company of two excellent comrades, who were none other than Monseigneur the Duke of Aumale and M. Gidel, the amiable headmaster of the Condorcet school.
We had soon had enough, my friends and I, of the intolerable dust that suffuses the avenues of Vincennes, and, quite thirsty, installed ourselves on the terrace of a brasserie on the place du Trône, where we were served three mugs of a little pissen-brau, and I need say no more.
We chatted of one thing and another. The Duke of Aumale teems with piquant reminiscences, and Gidel literally scintillates with ingenious observations.
In short, we conversed with all our might.
Before us stood a booth, not yet open, with a sign in Russian letters.
An enormous picture, on the front, showed a tall Slavic woman who seemed to be on friendly terms with a sort of tzar dressed all in white.
What did they sell in that booth? I never learned, but it was a handsome booth, solidly constructed, and rich in appearance.
A line of dots, by way of abridgment.
Suddenly, right in the middle of a rather risqué story from Gidel, I saw Henri… (I refer to the Duke of Aumale. Heavens! It’s not as if we met yesterday!)
I saw Henri, I say, whose face had become white, and whose eyes were wide with astonishment.
“What?” I asked, worried. “What’s the matter?”
And Henri, pale, his arm extended, stammered:
“The Russian booth! The Russian booth!”
The color drained from our faces as well.
The Russian booth was no longer there!
The Russian booth that we had been admiring only five minutes ago, the Russian booth was no longer there!
It was too much!
They had not had time to move it. And besides, we would have noticed.
Henri, Gidel, and I racked our brains to the bursting point.
There was a minute of inexpressible anguish.
Suddenly, Gidel burst into that laughter so familiar to the students at Condorcet:
“My God,” he cried, “how stupid we are!”
“The Russian booth…”
“Yes, the Russian booth?”
“Well, the Russian booth is still there.”
“We’re the ones who changed cafe.”