The Cellar Where They Keep The Little Dark Chocolates Filled With Almonds Of Heaven and Hell

A thick rain comes down this afternoon, sheeting rain. On the roof of the gym, from inside, it sounds like drums. In the short time it takes me to get to my car from the gym’s door, I’m soaked. At home, I’ve left two windows open and rain has blown in on the floor. A copy of Alison Lurie’s Friends and Lovers has been soaked but the cover is unexpectedly rain-resistant and it dries easily. I make a new coffee from Seattle, Three Peckered Billy Goat, and it’s excellent. With my new coffee, I sit and write for a few hours, nap briefly, and then while I cook my dinner, I go through my books in my library.

I do the writing exercise from earlier in the week. I begin while my food cooks. I close my eyes in front of my shelves, pull seven books out, open them at random and for extra credit, I do it like the old Methodists did, and put my finger on the quote before opening my eyes. This makes the results seem uncanny. They’re also precise. Themes emerge that I was imagining I was tentative about, as if to say, Yes. We are the themes.

Also, I visit some favorite books. The results are here.

Everything would have depended on the readiness of the army. Is there a good reason to suppose that Randon was any more right in 1866 than Leboeuf in 1870? Louis may be supposed to have been better informed than his generals. In any case his diplomacy had secured Venetia for Italy—though Italy was anything but grateful to him—and might still give France the Rhineland. Al Europe, and especially England, suspected him of warlike intentions: he would prove them wrong. And even if war were only postponed there might at least be time for the reorganization of the French army.

Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire, by J. M. Thompson

I’m squeezing her hand; she is squeezing

My hand. We are going down

To the cellar where they keep

Little dark chocolates

Filled with almonds of heaven and hell.

Hotel Insomnia, Charles Simic

The Blixens sailed for Europe together in August of 1919 for a little recreation in London and Paris, a long winter visit with their families, and the unpleasant prospect of facing the shareholders of Karen Coffee. They traveled first class on the S.S. Pundua, and Tanne brought two little Somali pages to help her pack and unpack her trunks. The grave, beautifully dressed totos followed their mistress through the blue European dusk, carrying her parcels or her umbrella. At the Carlton Hotel they spent the night in her bathtub when there were no other quarters for them. Her African friends thought it amusing, though somewhat silly, and it was an item of gossip among them. In Denmark people stared at her on the streets, apparently offended by the flaunting of a decadent fantasy. It was not, in fact, a completely original decadent fantasy, for several well-known society vedettes of the era, notably the Princesse de Faucigny-Lucinge and the Marquesa Casati, also had their liveried Negro page boys. Years later Karen Blixen admitted to Bjørnvig that the gesture had “fallen flat”.

Isak Dinesen, The Life of a Storyteller, Judith Thurman

He thought that her hair had gotten burnt at the party. For a moment, she was tempted to lie, to put her head on his shoulder. I was embarrassed, she could say.

She stepped back, raising her eyebrows. “I was with someone else.”

She wanted it to come out grand and contemptuous. Instead it sounded adolescent.

Halfway House, Katherine Noel

Sheila paid rent and managed things until Tam was old enough for daycare, and then Angela got a job too, but they never said, This is a family. We are each other’s loves. We belong with these other women we’ve been hearing about, these lesbians. They both kept going out on dates with men at first—guys at the advertising agency where Angele first worked and then later at the doctor’s office, and guys at the rental car office where Sheila had landed. But then those same guys would meet the other woman and hear about the daughter and gradually put one and one and one together and hit the road. Neither Sheila nor Angela really minded. They had each other. And Tam kept getting bigger. Eventually, they stopped giving their numbers out.

Third Girl From The Left, Martha Southgate

“Why catch them?” Dean says. “They’re happy.”
“Until they are eaten by a brochet,” she says.
“Well, that’s what I’d be,” he says. “A brochet. Live in the river.”
“They would catch you.”
No. He shakes his head.
“Yes. Someone.”
“Not me,” he says. “No. I’d be a very smart brochet.”
“All right,” she says. “And I will be your brochette.”
The water is moving very slowly. Dean throws a small stone. The surface dissolves. I will be your brochette. It is really a quiet domestic life they are engaged in. Suddenly he perceives this. The phrase pierces him like a wire. She smiles. She begins to grow beautiful once more. It is always mysterious how she can change. By evening, in the Etoile d’Or, he can hardly take his eyes from her. She has fixed her hair and made up her face. She butters a piece of bread for him.
“Ça va?” she says.
He nips at her finger. The oestrus of night comes down over him like a hood. He can feel it descending, changing his flesh.

A Sport & A Pastime, James Salter

Inez Victor speaking her famous Spanish at a street festival in East Harlem. Buenos días, Inez Victor said on this and other such occasions. Yo estoy muy contenta a estar aquí hoy con mi esposo. In twenty-eight states and at least four languages Inez Victor said that she was very happy to be here today with her husband. In twenty-eight states she also said, usually in English but in Spanish for La Opinión in Los Angeles and for La Prensa in Miami, that the period during which she and her husband were separated had been an important time of renewal and rededication for each of them (vida nueva, she said for La Opinión, which was not quite right but since the reporter was only humoring Inez by conducting the interview in Spanish he got the drift) and had left their marriage stronger than ever. Oh, shit, Inez, Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor in Wahiawa on the 30th of March, 1975. Harry Victor’s wife.

Democracy, Joan Didion


  1. Well, I’m not sure if you meant this exercise to be contagious, but I decided to catch the fever regardless. The results are here; I think it turned out to be quite interesting. I was trying avoid the shelves with Japanese books, but one snuck in anyway. It actually fits in quite well; it’s about a prostitute eating pudding while contemplating a john’s offer.

    And re: your selections: Man, Charles Simic is so great, right? Man.

  2. BRB: Ha. Yes, actually, you’re supposed to get a little carried away. And I forgot to add the line, “If you put your results online, please link to them in the comments section.”

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