“If we do not taste the fruit of love, how do we know we have loved?”
He remembered the quote perfectly. It had come to him around an early romance of his youth. He thought it might be necessarily persuasive for the young woman, the object of his affection. But she had simply said: “yes, who was it who said that?”
And Auguste did not know, he continued to feel foolish years afterwards; this had terminated what might have been an aspiring romance. Why had he not made something up, guessed or told her he himself was the author?
Now he sat lonely on the steps of La Bourse in Brussels and noticed some of the escutcheons of gargoyles. The old building was being repurposed as the museum of Belgian Beer. He was asked to vacate the stairs as the construction workers wished to continue. He rose up realizing that he had drifted into another semi-preoccupied dream, and then hesitated before leaving.
“The gargoyles are formidable, are they Rodin?” he asked
“I’m not sure” said the worker, setting a knee up and leaning forward. He looked up and said “They are something, it’s too bad they aren’t making any effort to save them.”
“Do you suppose I might have one?” asked Auguste.
The man asked him to wait a moment and came back momentarily with a ladder. He climbed up to the top and examined the gargoyle briefly, before loosening from its bearings and carrying it down.
“There you are” said the man in the orange reflective-vest smiling.
“Thank-You” said Auguste trying to wrap his head around what had come together very quickly just now.
The gargoyle had a long beak-like snout, its eyes were heavily-lidded and forbidding, it had two short fat horns protruding from its forehead and two mule-like ears on either side.
He cradled it inside his long jacket and brought it home with him. Where he set it on the dinner table to look at more closely after. It was a beautiful summer’s day, and the plentiful light cast upon the stone a deeper frown.
He set about to make some soup for his lunch. He sat down in front of the creature and ate looking a bit too closely at its lips. He finished his soup and looked-up, quickly realizing that he had become a bit disoriented. Where was his furniture? He didn’t remember having such a large studio, or such lovely models lounging around on white sheets in the next room.
He left the creature on the table and wandered into the studio. Here were two sculptures on the go.
“Put the beer down Auguste! And come finish with us. Camille and I have places to be, you know!” said a voice.
Auguste! That was his name! He walked towards her smiling.
“Sorry to keep you waiting!” said Auguste.
He decided to sit down before the unfinished work, and pick up a small chisel and a marteau d’artiste lying on the tray.
“Don’t use that one for her face Auguste!” called the other girl.
“You are very bold for a model my darling!” said Auguste, “ and you give advice so freely.”
“On the contrary” she said, “a model who gives good advice should get additional gratuities.”
“I had almost forgotten” he said “you are a sculptor yourself are you not my dear?” he said.
“What is with all this dear and darling?” asked Camille.
“Not a problem” he said “I appreciate some advice.”
There was some quiet as Auguste chose a smaller chisel, and began with something less ambitious than the cheek, the girl’s elbow. Unaccustomed as he was to the tools, the soft line he was going for turned into more of a chip. He retracted his hands quickly and resisted the urge to swear.
He expected it to carve less readily. His most relevant experience had clearly been with butter and sand-castles.
“Were you expecting Butter?” asked Camille again.
“Yes!” said Auguste, a little disheartened.
“Ever since you came back from Italy you think everything is made of butter!” said the other girl.
They continued holding their chins aloft the way the artist had requested for a time.
“You know I have a friend from La Societe who would like to meet you,” said one of the girls.
“Oh?” said Auguste.
“Yes” she said “Henri Lebosse, he is working on a tribute to Victor Hugo, and he would like some advice.”
“I told him not to gloss over the beard” said Camille, “but he wants a man’s opinion.”
“Victor Hugo!” said Auguste.
“I am beginning to think I should return to sculpting butter” said Auguste.
“Augustus!” said the girls deploringly, “does our shape not please you?”
“Do not be so hard-hearted Auguste!” said Camille, “these literary types are good subjects for art. They are among the best. Just think how many people you will reach with your vision!”
“Yes” said Auguste “you may be right, I have often noticed these types have a very rotund physique which interests me.”
One of the girls caught a chill and jumped up in search of her robe.
“I am headed for the beach this evening for a party!” she said. “You are both welcome to come along. Victor Hugo may be there!”
Auguste set down his tools and headed for the wardrobe to replace his trousers and find a suitable hat.
“Auguste Rodin!” came a voice from the door musingly.
He looked up, it was the mayor of Callais.
“My good Rodin!” he said, shaking his hand. “You invited me to see the piece I commissioned. May I come in?”
“Of course, of course” said Auguste, motioning for him to come in and see the studio. The girls are just finishing up for the day, they have a party to go to” he said.
The mayor smiled “I hope they are not distracting you from your work.”
“I have many pieces on the go, as you can see Monsieur Mayor” said Auguste.
“But none as worthy as mine!” said the mayor. “Think of it Auguste, you will be sinking your weight into the story itself!” none of this baloney about realism and busts and so on.
“My dear Mayor” he said reaching his arm around the man. “Your story interests me greatly! Even more say than those two young women. But if I am to do a piece about the Burghers of Callais. Should I not know what lives the burghers lived?” Eat as the burghers ate and so on?”
“You wish to eat as the burghers ate?” said the mayor in surprise. “My dear man the burghers did not eat very well, they were humble peasants!”
“I would like to eat a burger!” said Auguste.
“A burger!” said the Mayor.
“A patty of beef, on a bun, with a thick slice of tomato and lettuce, some onion rings and a little mustard and ketchup” explained Auguste.
“Yes monsieur” said the Mayor “I will return shortly with a burger.”
“Bring several” he said, “I’m hungry.”
The girls had since left, when the Mayor returned with some burgers.
“I am very pleased” he said, “these are excellent burgers. Where did you get them?”
“Nearby” said the Mayor.
“Yes I know the place” said Auguste “a very popular locale.”
They finished the burgers. “If your work is half as good as these delicious burgers were, I will still be most satisfied.” said the mayor.
“Would you like to see some of my other pieces?” asked Auguste.
“Absolutely” said the Mayor.
They looked at some of his paintings and sketches, and then turned to the kitchen, where the gargoyle was sitting on the table.
“You are a man of the future!” said the Mayor,
“What concerns me most” he said to the Mayor, “is not that these stories will be forgotten. It is that people will quarrel about its meaning. They will smash, deface and vandalize everything, all our edifices of philosophy, and say our art proves nothing and that we are corrupt as a nation.”
“I have always admired you as a very forward thinking man” said the Mayor. “What you describe troubles me greatly.”
“That is the plight of all art” said Rodin, “other art comes along and paints everything preceding it with one brush.”
“Vandalism?” said the Mayor incredulously, “who would do such a thing?”
“You or I” said Auguste. “It is not always obvious, there is subtle vandalism as well. If you are a real artist you may prefer it in its more obvious forms. It is much easier to defend against, and less likely to ensnare you in the tangles of its sophistry.”
“Yes” said the Mayor
“It is Totems like this one here that survive the squabbles of passing time and of history” said Auguste. “Who would argue with this guy?” he said, gesturing at the menacing figure.
“Yes, you make a good point” said the Mayor.
“Art doesn’t interest me enough” said Auguste after a pause.
“How can you say that!” said the Mayor.
“Culture interests me greatly, it is less obsessed with its own perfection. People need to see flaws more than they need another dose of beauty or idealism. I like vandalism” he said. “This is why the English dislike us. An English man will punch you in the face. But a French man will humiliate you with your own euphemisms. He will make you eat burgers in front of great art.”
He sat down again in front of the gargoyle looking deeply into its difficult face. When he looked up, the room was once again as it had been. The Mayor was gone, as were the young women. The furniture was as he had left it. He was French. He took the gargoyle up in his arms and set it on his balcony.
Auguste was walking home one day along the preferred route, by the old Bourse Brussels now the museum of beer, and by the national gallery of fine arts when he saw the sign beckoning passers by into the gallery. Rodin exhibit! See the French sculptor’s best work! He decided he had time for a brief viewing. He paid the fee and entered the gallery. Here they were! The great works themselves. He walked quietly around the pieces. The gallery was not busy, it being the hour of the evening meal. The Kiss was there in all its beauty, the thinker and some frieses of allegorical figures: justice, piety and so on. And then coming back again to the beginning there were more, Iris: messenger of the gods; and also there was a small, quiet woman in the nude. He recognized it immediately and examined her more closely. There on her elbow he discovered a small chip. He looked up, the guard had noticed him. Auguste nodded at him, and continued on his way out the door.