“Well,” Yves Boisclair announced, “if it isn't Duncan donuts!”
“Baked fresh every day,” Duncan replied, approaching Yves with the cardboard tray with two coffees and fresh crullers, one arm spread out graciously to accept the acclaim,
“Coffee and donuts at 10 a.m,” Yves said. “Just what the doctor ordered.”
“Would your médicin happen to be called . . Dr. John?”
“Ha, ha. So, how's the book biz these days? Pretty shitty I imagine, no?”
“Up and down, as always,” Duncan said handing over the coffee and bag of donuts. “Yup, sometimes pretty shitty. But how are you managing?”
“Cash only now,” he said taking a drink of the steaming brew. “Bloody bank fees are too high. Ah, mon vieux, this coffee hits the spot.”
“Ah, no problemo”
Duncan sat down behind the counter with Yves on one of the stools and looked around. Posters of concerts signed by musicians, signed guitars in cases, and facing them, a complete wall of fine wood shelving ten feet high housing the albums for sale. A few cabinets and shelving units in the middle of the long narrow shop with additional LP's and assorted islands of glassed-in memorabilia made up the eclectic, yet clean, decor of Disques Deux Côtés. Duncan spun around on his stool looking at the posters behind him. He liked the way a poster of The Clash was hanging beside a poster of Yo Yo Ma, and another of Miles Davis. Yves and his juxtapositions; just like the way he used to play his bass.
“La brume, la brume! Two days of this weather,” Yves said gesturing at the window with his half eaten cruller. “It's tough enough being on this side street without this fog!”
“Like being in the valley of Mordar perhaps,” Duncan replied, knowing Yves was a Tolkien aficionado.
“And the damn penny! Soon it will be no longer. More complications eh, pennies, taxes, bank fees. . . fog!” he said dramatically before licking his fingers.
“Yes,” Duncan said, “we'll have to start rolling those pennies we've squirrelled away.”
“Maybe we should regroup,” Yves said. “You, me and Tom. Hook up with a good looking female singer and get back into the showbiz, eh? Make some extra cashola. Smooth ride.”
Not wanting to deflate Yves's enthusiasm if he was serious, Duncan nodded his head and shuffled his feet before telling him his guitar cases were very dusty, having not touched them in many, many months. Looking at Yves, his fine bald head, his dark goatee, the earring, the tattoo, he could see him back on stage. “I saw Tom yesterday,” Duncan said, “he's grown his side-burns again.”
“Eh bien!” Yves said enthusiastically, “that always means Tom's dying to get behind the drum kit.”
They sipped their coffees and listened to the soft voice of Chet Baker singing I Fall in Love Too Easily coming from the speakers.
“A good looking female lead singer?” Duncan asked arching his eyebrows.
“Yeah, sure. We could call ourselves . . . Celsius.”
“Yeah, we run hot and cold, Celsius!” Yves said sweeping a hand before him like a magician.
Duncan raised his coffee in a gesture of a toast, “To Celsius, may it clear the fog!”
“So, how is Céline,” Duncan asked, helping himself to a sugary cruller.
“Good, good, but you know, office politics." Yves sipped his coffee as if in pain. “Céline is using the sauna a lot let me tell you. Lots of stress. Lots of stress.”
“Here we are,” Duncan said, “two men running businesses with few if any employees, and women are in the office world slugging it out with all its backbiting, and corporate ceilings of one kind or another.”
“I thought women would be different than men.” Yves said. “Less coo coo for coco pops than men.”
“In the old days,” Duncan said, “people would be called duplicitous, disingenuous, deceitful, two-faced."
“Coo coo for coco pops works for me,” Yves said.”
“How are the kids?”
“Hunky Dory, Dunc, hunky dory. Everything's dee dee dee, da da da,” he said gesturing with his thumbs as if he were texting. “They're good but man they live on their phones.”
A hip young couple sporting sunglasses entered the shop, “Bonjours,” Yves greeted them.
“Bonjours, bonjours. Avez-vous des disques de . . . Julie London?”
“Ah, oui, certainment. Un moment s'il vous plait.” Yves raised his eyebrows at Duncan, “Your albums are in the bag behind you Dunc. Take'em home, try'em out, keep the ones you want.”
“Merci mon ami,” Duncan said, tossing his empty cup into the recycling box under the counter. “Well, it was good to see you my friend.”
They shook hands and Yves pointed at him and said, “Celsius!”
Duncan laughed as he made his way to the door, pointing back, “Celsius, right.”
The folio sketch book lay open before Jerome, hours of preparatory sketches, cartoons, and studies overflowed from page to page. He looked down at the delicate hands of Lucrezia Panciatichi, one with her long fingers resting on a religious devotional text, the other spread sensually upon the arm of an oak chair, studies in delicacy, studies in subtext. The words, sans fin amour dure, and dure sans fin amour he had written across the top of the page in a flourish of black ink. These words were to be found on the long golden necklace worn by Lucrezia, one word per golden round plate, words that could be read either way depending on the word one had started with. The list of the required colour palette he had written along one side.
The portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi had originally been painted on a wood panel probably made of poplar, about 40 by 34 inches, a panel that would have required many hours of preparation by apprentices. He didn't know if his client wished for complete authenticity, or whether canvas would do. He had to be prepared for anything.
The many half-circle symmetries within the painting renewed his love for the portrait and the painter. The subject's slightly off center seated position within the dark framing of the the architectural detail arching behind her, was to Jerome, utterly perfect. The top of the arch being left out was a brilliant observation of what would reinforce the subject, keeping the eye within. From afar there was the classical triangular structure rising from the hands to her mannerist long neck and up to her subtle facial features. Between the jewelled pendant hanging from the string of pearls, and the longer golden necklace draping underneath with the words in gold, Jerome felt the tightness in her bosom, felt the constraint upon her breath.
He wondered if his own subject would have such a melancholy look.
Bronzino had always been a favourite painter of Jerome's and the more he contemplated this portrait commission, the more he thought he would like to make a copy of the complimentary painting, the portrait of her husband, Bartolomeo, whose extraordinary beard and appearance reminded him of a friend of his, a jazz musician.
Art books and large reproductions lay open before him, numerous examples of the two paintings for him to study. The dark intelligent eyes of Bartolomeo and his long nose were subtly reinforced by the dark eyes and long nose of his black dog in the lower right corner, the dog looking out at the painter, and at the viewer with a sense of admonished curiosity. The aristocrat and future French Ambassador was only thirty years of age in 1540, the date of the painting, even though he would likely be taken for twice that age by a casual observer today. There was a wisdom and a scholarly aura that Bronzino had captured, one that perhaps had revealed a Humanist in a dangerous age of religious constraints. Jerome wondered if Bartolomeo could have foreseen the dangers of the Italian Inquisition when in the early 1550s he returned from France and was required to renounce his heretical Lutheranism. Jerome was fascinated that this son of a great Italian banking and commercial family should have had the courage to involve himself with the Protestants of Lyon, even perhaps in bringing Protestant books back to Florence.
Jerome looked deeply at the face of Lucrezia and felt it was a combination of the features which gave the total effect of melancholy, purity, and chastity. The delicate lips, the slight shadows around the wide, innocent, yet concerned eyes. The lips, however, he felt were the key to the melancholy, not the eyes. The eyes were brilliantly done though. The further away you were, the more they seemed to stare straight ahead. The closer you approached, the more you realized they were looking slightly over your right shoulder. Brilliant. The closer you got, the more you felt someone was standing behind you.
The doorbell rang. Jerome placed the sketch book in his large shoulder bag with all of his prepared art supplies, picked up his light-weight portable easel and descended the stairs to his front door. The bell rang again just as he was putting his leather coat on. On the stoop, a well-dressed, heavy set man, about 6' 2” looked down at him. “Is that all you have?” he enquired.
Jerome nodded his head, feeling less sure of this commission already.
© ralph patrick mackay
© ralph patrick mackay