The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Francisque Sarcey Meets Rodolphe Salis

May 13th, 2013 · 2 Comments


Have you ordered your copy of How I Became an Idiot?  As you no doubt read in the last post, Doug Skinner has translated four examples of Alphonse Allais’s sustained mockery of the conservative critic Francisque Sarcey, and they are now available in a nice little volume from Black Scat Books.

Allais, seen above lunching at the Chat Noir with Henri Jouard and George Auriol, for many years wrote a column under Sarcey’s name for the Chat Noir’s paper.  Sarcey, apparently astute enough to realize that complaint would only prompt more ridicule, gamely excused it as youthful exuberance.

To pique your interest, here’s a bit of another column, from 1889, not included in the book.  Here, the pseudo-Sarcey remembers how he met Rodolphe Salis, director of the Chat Noir.  The general referred to is probably Boulanger, then at the height of his popularity; I should also add that Salis did indeed provide a special chair for Sarcey in the club, since the usual chairs were, um, too small.


I first met Rodolphe Salis at the Odéon, at the premiere of some play, I don’t remember which.

I was very uncomfortable, and, to use the vulgar expression, not feeling so hot.

Did you read, in my last column in the Temps, the indignant lines that I devoted to those velvet seats, upon which, like it or not, theater owners compel us to rest our buttocks?

As I correctly pointed out, velvet is the worst thing possible on some occasions, and that evening, precisely, was one of those occasions.

My God, I suppose I can tell you, since our distinguished general has them, that I suffer from hemorrhoids, and that there are days when I really don’t know where to sit.

Prey to the cruelest torture, I was writhing around on my velvet, when I saw the man to my left lean toward me.

He was a tall lad, well built, and reddish blond, that reddish blond that, according to experts, was the color of Christ.

“You don’t seem too comfortable, my uncle?” the young man said, in a respectfully sympathetic tone.

“Not very,” I answered.

“Hemorrhoids, perhaps?”


“If that’s all, I’ll be back in five minutes.”

Soon the young man returned, carrying one of those inflatable devices, in the form of a wreath, upon which the afflicted can rest the sorest backsides with impunity.

I was saved.

I tried to thank the young man at the first intermission, but, probably bored by the play, he had disappeared…

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Alphonse Allais · Literature

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Win // May 15, 2013 at 12:53 am

    A most touching scene, and one marvels that a Parisian theater goer could obtain such a merciful device in less than five minutes. And were I in a position to do so, I would certainly not leave before gaining a full measure of enjoyment from the spectacle of blessed relief induced by its application.
    Allais is to be commended for reporting Salis’s departure without censure.

  • 2 Doug // May 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Sarcey, of course, was not merely a theater goer, but the most powerful critic in Paris. The Christ-like Salis doesn’t wait to be thanked; a good deed is its own reward. Sarcey, too, is to be commended for putting up with all this.

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