I have before me a dainty volume in green calfskin. Come with me, gentle reader, for within its pages we shall find a world vibrant with the eccentric life of fin-de-siecle Paris. It is as if we can smell, taste, touch, hear, and, last but certainly not least, see, those streets, cafes, and the filthy garrets where the artists and writers lived their halcyon lives, hastened on their brief orbits. For this oh-too real volume is indeed 'La Vie Impossible: Creative Lives at the Turning of the Century' by the Edwardian Popinjay and Brothel-Creeper Cecil 'Cec' Poole.
In these perfumed pages, we shall encounter Helmut Gutterschnupp, who composed all his music 'from the inside out, so as to begin and end with its soul'. Gutterschnupp lived for 20 years in the attic apartment of Mme Corsette-Putain's Rue de Sodomie tenement. Apart from a futile infatuation with Alice Merde, a street-sweeper's daughter 27 years his junior, he made no connection with another human being in that time. He died in poverty, alone, in the cold of an icy February morning, his music unknown, and yet, today, some of this work is heard at last, though few will recognise the haunting accompaniments to current TV advertisements for Brewster's 'Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding' and Grampound's 'Victorian Penny-Black Chocolate' as Gutterschnupp's 'Symphony for Doomed Pedestrians' and 'Threnody for a Strangled Goose'.
And what of Georg Leucotomie, who kept a peacock in his rooms and drank only absinthe (apart from his birthday, when he would only imbibe from a laudanum bottle)? He was frequently seen promenading the Groperie district at night, in his yellow suit and top hat, swinging his malacca cane, and singing 'Les Aliverts de Fouvoncale' in a piping falsetto. His novels, 'Msr Bastinette Forgets to Buy a Trombone' and 'The Rabbit-Ears of the Nude Charwoman', were frequently discussed by himself and other absinthe drinkers, though they were never actually written, and when he died, in 1906, he bequeathed his peacock, Baudelaire, to 'Fou-Fou', a prostitute he had known since she was a child. When his rooms were cleared after his death, the officials found a macaque, along with the peacock; the macaque proceeded to engage the peacock in a waltz around the bedroom, and it was only with difficulty that the officiers were able to kill it and remove the bird from the premises, therefrom to hie to the lair of 'Fou-Fou' and deliver 'Baudelaire' to her. We can only imagine the scene, on yon dingy staircase, when the Judge, Olivier de Miscarriage, emerged from the boudoir of 'Fou-Fou', to be confronted by two portly officiers carrying a peacock. I say we can only imagine the scene, but this is not quite the whole truth: we can also blot it from our memory, and perhaps this is what we ought to do.
Yves de Lassitude was a painter who lived his life sideways, and always slept diagonally, in an old wheelbarrow inherited from an imaginary Great-Uncle. He expended all his artistic energies on the one painting, of the forge and medieval bridge at his home village of Voitiers-sur-Doilly. The painting was never completed. His goal was 'not to paint a picture of the landscape, but to paint a picture of the picture itself'. He died without ever managing to produce a picture of a picture that had not yet itself been painted. 'I shall die happy', he told his friend, Doctor Charlatane, 'for I have lived the impossible, in an age when few men are able to live the possible with any conviction'.
And so, gentlest of readers, I close at last this calfskin-enrobed Book of Wonders. And I myself must wonder: will we ever see the like again?