Suddenly the dying man raised himself on his elbows; his glance seemed like lightning to his terror-stricken children, the hair that fringed his temples rose, every wrinkle in his face quivered with excitement, a breath of inspiration passed over his face and made it sublime. He raised a hand, clenched in frenzy, with the cry of Archimedes – EUREKA! (I have found it!) – he called in piercing tones, then he fell heavily back like a dead body, and died with an awful moan. His despair could be read in the frenzied expression of his eyes until the doctor closed them. He could not leave to science the solution of the Great Enigma revealed to him too late, as the veil was torn asunder by the flesh-less fingers of Death.
I can say I officially discovered Balzac after watching The 400 Blows. Antoine Doinel reading La recherche de l’absolu, lighting a candle in a small shrine for him really stuck with me at the time I saw it, and prompted my reading his novels. The intoxicating fumes of his realistic descriptions made his novels almost dream-like and hypnotized with its labyrinthine prose. Reality, as seen through his microscope, was both exaggerated and elevated of its feature. His characters were meticulous human studies, that when mingled created a multiverse of circumstantial, annihilating and uncertain destinies, with the truth of irony. Life and dream-like visions en masse.
His love for coffee, which many believe led to his rather early demise, is well-known, as well as his particular nocturnal routine. (Waking up at midnight and working all night, and even once, he boasted, staying up 48 hours with only a 3-hour rest). An almost hermit-like lifestyle at times, with an obsessive creative burst and arduous editing process, much like his minutest observations in his books, he created society instead of frequenting it, paraphrasing George Saintsbury.
Another peculiarity about him was his themed dinner parties. He organized once an onion-themed party, which included nothing but onions: onion soup, his favorite onion puree, onion juice, onion fritters and onions with truffles. Following his tradition, I decided to make a coffee-themed meal, the protagonists of it being a Paris-brest, St. Honoré cake (the saint of whom he owes his name to) and some profiteroles. The Paris-brest was filled with an almond, chocolate and hazelnut cream with caramelized coffee and hazelnut nibs. The Saint Honoré was filled with a coffee-almond and pistachio cream, and the profiteroles were too, and dipped into a chocolate sauce.
After a caffeine-fueled meal, I proceeded to revisit Lost Illusions. I still have some way to go, but the embittered deceptive desires of grand cities and pursuits, the unraveling restlessness that increases within the chapters and decadent descriptions of 19th century Paris have been with me long time after its first read.
“Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yourself: perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true.”