MIRACLE IN MONTAUBAN
This year I pick grapes and itinerantly plumb in Midi-Pyrennees. Indigenous pipework and wine both shite, but, comme d’habitude, locals think they’re world’s finest, pointing to the Pont du Gard as the latest thing in aqueducts and plonk as holy blood of Christ. Pickers can drink all they like since no sane person would pay for it. Most finishes up in wine lake or as anti-freeze on roads. I ask boss vigneron if he have any Vosne Romanee by way of a change. “Vosne what?” he say “No we have none of that gitane homebrewed horse piss here!”
My plan is to visit Montauban where there are fine art works by Ingres and Bourdelle. I check into pension Robert de Montesquiou, recommended by cousin Stanislaw, and arrange my bibelots: silver framed signed photo of Uncle Woicjeck in dark specs, small bust of Chopin in globe which plays Revolutionary etude during snowstorm when shaken, SS helmet from sister-in-law’s cousin Boguslaw whose father was in elite unit, diploma of plumbing from technical college in Lodz with watermark of V.I. Lenin holding blowlamp, pump-up doll of celebrity Jordan left by client demanding threesome in daughter’s Greek street flat. Cleaner comes in (all boys here) and pronounces scene “un vrai Bourdelle!” I much pleased with this accolade from compatriot of great sculptor. I give him 10 euros whereupon he tries to undo my pants. I say I have no need of valet and anyway am reconstructed Polish commie and reject all master-slave nonsense.
Musee Ingres is massive brick building near river. The paintings are upstairs. Many stick-like, grey old trouts sit on benches drooling over male nudes. I get postcard for cousin Stani but note that my favourite girlie pics by the master are all in Paris. I particularly like the Grande Odalisque of 1844. Ingres give her extra vertebrae so that long body very flexible for improved jigajig. English critic Lord Clark write that “this fantastic floosie could wriggle and flow round Percy like a hungry anaconda”. This picture give me horn – a sure sign of excellence according to Lord Clark.
Disappointed at this deficiency I descend to the Bourdelle room. Many fine sculptures here of kraut piano player Ludwig van Morrison who seems to be obsession of Bourdelle’s. Not many lady figures though so I approach guardian of treasures, nodding off over L’Equipe, to ask if the great Bourdelle ever did statue of warbling Welsh hornbag Charlotte Church. He looks puzzled then says “Church? Yes just up road opposite - St Jacques”.
St Jacques is vast and ugly brick shed - more Jakes than Jacques. Very old. Considered by locals much better than St Peter’s in Rome. Inside very gloomy. Old black crones fiddle with candles. I try to recall childhood scenes in such buildings in Lodz. Suddenly my perambulation is arrested by eerie vision. Very lifelike, coloured and full-sized I see simulacrum of St Pio holding up hand adorned with fingerless gel-padded bike mitt available from Lidl at £2.99 a pair. The gesture seems to say “You’re not coming in here in those dirty overalls Stefan.” But then I hear voice saying that I am miserable sinner, atheist, follower of the anti-Christ J.V. Stalin and that my daughter is a “putain sale” - also that I overcharge for fixing ball-cocks. I remember childhood indoctrination. Stirrings still! I feel much apprehension. I fall to knees and shout “Holy St Pio I repent!!” My cry echoes in inky void. A distant crone shouts “ta gueule!”. I stagger out, taking with me a prepaid Pio Information Service postcard from a small lectern inscribed “Credo quia absurdum”. I vow to become faithful follower of St Pio.
Back in Pension Robert de Montesquiou I read Penniless Press 24, particularly article on the saint. When I first read it a week ago it seemed standard atheist rant a la Dawkins. But now I see author is firm believer, probably Jesuit, who uses subtle irony to confound the pagan - like Swift who exhorted starving Irish to eat babies. And like Aquinas too, often praised by my old tutor Leszek Kolakowski in Lodz. Leszek was communist who saw the light and retired from luxurious Polish apparat to dingy, spartan Arseholes college Oxford. Aquinas, he say, was great philosopher who always presented anti-God arguments in the best possible light before delivering crushing refutation in his Summa Contra Gentiles. Pio article likewise has many quips about lazy arsed monks who eat nothing, weigh thirteen stone and bleed cupful of blood a day from hole which goes right through heart. How I larfed formerly. But now I see countervailing accounts of wrestles with Satan and persistent stigmata as convincing rebuttals of desiccated rationalism. I call in cleaning boy and ask him to watch while I fumble under blanket. He say yes it look very like I scratch scabs off palms but then I throw back sheet to reveal I having a J Arthur. The Pope refuted thus.
That night I wander round Place Nationale (finer than St Marks square in Venice say locals) looking for sinners to convert. I stumble across Bordel Internationale run by Chinese lady Suk Yo Koc. She takes me in and introduces me to steatopygous hottentot – a rarity in Lodz. Also she have a good Vacqueras 2005 as house wine which remind me of my time there two years ago when I first decide to become great poet. Soon I pissed as fart and in bed with whore. “Give me chastity” I shout down stairs – “but not yet”. “Ta gueule” shout back fat Eskimo with no teeth. Oddly this admonition common to both temples. I decide that Pio speech was hidden tape recorder. Funny turn result of lingering incense and childhood insecurities. I attempt to wipe arse on postcard but then decide to fill in Editor Dent’s name and address instead.