Thursday, 29 July 2010

Hunting For Truffles - #fridayflash

"Thank you for giving me your time Monsieur Leger. I know this season of harvest leaves you with so many calls on your time".

"Nature's cycles means she rarely lets up on her demands".

Callused fingers indicated a knotted wood chair to the military man. The soldier sat down with an elongated crinkling of his leather tunic. The farmer imagined that the man had to pour himself in and out of the uniform like straining yogurt. The officer removed his peaked cap and ran his hand through slicked hair.

"We can hardly accuse mother earth of being a tyrant surely? Not when she provides so beneficently? Feasts for the eye as well as the gustation".

"Please, help yourself to some chevres there".

"Thank you, I will. In truth Monsieur Leger, it's that which I have come to see you about. Umm, this is an undoubted treat for the palate. So fortunate to be stationed here in the French countryside. Rather than slogging through the baked mud of the Russian steppes".

The farmer looked at the man expressionlessly.

"Of course, so far from any front here, you may not have any notion of what I'm referring to. You merely have to concern yourself with keeping the armies of the Reich fed and nourished for them to march on full stomachs to victory".

The farmer gave a tight nod and continued fixing the soldier in his steely gaze.

"Yes, entirely cut off from any action here. Yet I notice your farm's output offered up to the glorious war effort seems to have declined in recent months. Why is that I wonder? Have your herds got trenchfoot and mouth? Your hens developed shellshock? If you shut your eyes, one could imagine a swarm of bees to sound like a squadron of die Stukas. Perhaps swine fever has broken out inside the ground staked out by your fence posts? Maybe we have to quarantine off the area?"

"My pigs are perfectly sound".

"Truffle hunters rather than cannibals I bet? Steadfastly refusing to eat of their own. Since the swine I was referring to, are of the two legged, non-piquant smelling variety, though they spend most of their miserable lives crouched down low on all fours in fear. Ears, snouts, everything to the ground, listening for the approach of the leather boot."

The soldier put his ear to the table as if to plumb for its tiny wood-boring denizens. He snaked his arm out deliberately for the cheese and pushed his thumb into its soft heart. Granules cascaded down until he prompted a full avalanche of cheese fragments.

"Tell me, since you're the man who necessarily concerns himself with observing herd activity. What happens to the runt of any litter? Or the weakest member of a pack? It is shunned by its fellows is it not? Put in virtual quarantine until it dies and in such a way so not act as a drag upon its fellow creatures. Nature is wise in how she has resolved such dilemmas".

The farmer shrugged his shoulders, then readjusted the sit of his jerkin.

"If there is a parasitic infestation, then do you not remove those afflicted to preserve the common weal?"

"The tendency has been that in order to cut out the infection, the whole herd is slaughtered and the farmer is expected to start again with a new breeding stock. Malheureusement, such action actually leaves the poor farmer unable to afford to restock and he too dies, albeit a far slower death from starvation".

"Ah again, you are a victim of your remoteness here. German chemical science can now provide you with a means of targeting just the infection itself, leaving all around who are in pure health untouched and untainted. See, up until now this has been the historical problem of all empires. Where people amass in close quarters such as the cities, authority and hygiene may be maintained. But in the far flung countryside, control is harder to maintain. Just look at the history of the Church. Devout, humble attendance in city churches. Goodness alone knows what pagan practices were meanwhile occurring out in the forests".

"I thought your race venerated Richard Wagner? Did he not extol the pagan for you all?"

"So this man of the soil is not so unworldly after all? You surprise me Monsieur. That a man of such attentiveness to wider affairs, should not notice that his own domestic rations seem to have increased somewhat. That even though you are a widower, there seems to be some new mouths to feed within this farmstead".

"My three daughters are all growing into adulthood. They toil hard for me in the fields. They require greater sustenance."

"Ah yes your three fragrant, fresh-faced girls. So proper of you to request them to go outside while we talk of such unsavoury matters. Are they conversing with my not so fresh-faced boys? Tilling their plough-coarsened fingers over my men's battle creased faces?"

"They are good girls".

"But my boys, good warrior pagans all, they are so far from their home cities. From any useful control as we discussed. I can keep them in line, but how they miss their sweethearts. Boys expect their fathers to provide for them. Just as girls expect their fathers to protect them from ill..."

"If your men have their evil way with my girls, then they will know why."

"Oh really? Have they consented for this to happen? If you don't have to ask them, then why should my troops?"

The farmer folded his arms and tipped back on his chair perfectly poised in mid-air.

"Maybe I have this the wrong way round. Maybe I should put a gun to your head and march you outside and ask them for consent to pull the trigger?"

The farmer shrugged and smiled. "All along we have made reckonings. Initially we thought and prayed we were sheltered by distance. But then the war came knocking in the form of some Jews on the run. Our basic humanity was to feed and help them. But we did pause to weigh the risk to ourselves. The selfish calculation for one's own skin and the skin of loved ones. But the calculation quickly became what sort of world would it be for those loved ones to grow up in, where we not only fearfully shunned one's fellow man, but condemned them to death in doing so? So we took them in and just like before they arrived, we sat tight, counting off the calendar days we passed off unscathed. Until so many follow in a row, you believe you are safe from any predation at all. Hope turns into complacency. If you kill and rape us, it is only what you are doing to the rest of Europe. What makes us believe we would be immune to that? Go ahead, slaughter the entire herd. Your breeding stock will be all the poorer. And somewhere out in the margins of your new empire, new warrior pagans will rise to throw off your shackles".

The soldier rose, replaced his cap on his head and clicked his fingers to those stood outside the door.

The prompt for this came from a surprising source even to me. The Quentin Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds". It is essentially a comic book film, a fantasy plot to kill top Nazis by a mixture of Hogan's Heroes meets the Dirty Dozen played for maximum laughs. Yet the film opens with a very long scene of a Nazi hunter visiting a French farmhouse and conversing with the farmer who seems to be a loyal anti-Semite, but gradually the german peels away his true feelings and the fact that he has hidden some refugee Jews under the floorboards. The scene is anything but cartoony and knockabout. To my mind it is in the wrong film, given what follows. The scene introduces us to the character of the Nazi hunter and to the sole survivor of the Jewish family who manages to escape while her family perish. But it was the character of the farmer I was intrigued by. He doesn't reappear in the film. It's not clear whether he is executed on the spot or not. I just wanted to write a version of it if it was the opening to a serious film on the subject and "Hunting For Truffles" was the result.

34 comments:

Laura Eno said...

I haven't seen the film but this is beautiful and thought-provoking. I loved it.

ganymeder said...

I absolutely love this story. I haven't seen the film either, but the sinister undertone mixed with the farmer's spirit makes for a sensational story. Awesome writing.

Linda said...

This was a super story, it felt of that era: the language, the character of the farmer. And you certainly know your pigs and fungi! Beautiful, evocative. Peace...

mazzz in Leeds said...

For me, the farmer triumphs even if he is shot. The portrayal of the Nazi guy was most cilling, nicely done. I'm leaving this as my last #fridayflash of the morning to let the thoughts it has raised linger

Anne said...

'elongated crinkling of his leather tunic' -just one example of the superb writing in this story. I haven't seen the film but it was interesting to read about what inspired this story. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.
Pen

shannon said...

What kind of world would it be, indeed. Good point. I have seen this movie so I enjoyed your version of making the farmer's bravery and the Nazi's ignorance even more clear. Well done!

Jen Brubacher said...

As I read it reminded me very much of Inglourious Basterds, so I wasn't surprised by what you wrote at the end. I think that beginning scene is one of my favourite in the film. I'm not sure if I feel it's in the wrong movie, because I'm pretty used to Tarantino experimenting from one moment to the next in his stuff, but it's certainly thoughtworthy, as your story shows. I'm impressed & interested that you took the farmer's character further.

pegjet said...

Taut and thought-provoking. I haven't seen the movie, though the rest of my family loves it. Maybe I'll watch the first scene, after reading this.

G.P. Ching said...

This makes me want to see the movie. Loved the farmer's character. Interesting and, as always, well written.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I LOVE Inglourious Basterds, and I was thinking of that opening scene the whole time that I read this. Very awesome flash.

J. Dane Tyler said...

I've not seen the movie either, but this had a great bit of tension and sat on a wire like a balancing acrobat. Fantastic job with this.

Jason Coggins said...

In the move in was the the farmer's stoicism and threat to his daughters that turned the screws. In your take the farmer's eloquence certainly evens the score.

Alan W. Davidson said...

That was a very intesting take on that scene, Marc. I've not been a huge fan of Tarantino (it's either love him or hate him, right?) but that opening scene of the movie with the cat-and-mouse dialogue between the farmer and German officer was fantastic.

Your attention to the small details were fantastic and really added to the story. Excellent job, sir.

Mari said...

I saw the film and your flash reminded me of it. Excellent setting!

I just wonder why the nazi officer didn't kill the farmer on the spot, after such offense. After all, he knew where to find the Jews all the time. :P

Carrie said...

This was a gripping account. Yes I'm a fan no I have not seen the movie but wow damn I sure adore your clever dialogue and precise descriptions!

Lou Freshwater said...

Never saw the film, but this stands on it's own without that reference point. I'm pretty amazed by your internal rhyme and sonics in this. Don't even know if it was intentional, but the sound is lovely.

Travis King said...

Marc,

I enjoyed this piece--especially the dialogue. I loved the way the conversation progressed, slowly building the tension.

I was thrown at first by the soldier's leather tunic; it put me in a medieval fantasy mindset, but as soon as I came across the French countryside/Russian steppes/Reich references, I flashed forward in time to fix the actual setting in my mind, and the soldier automatically became a sinister character.

The penultimate paragraph seemed a bit long, but maybe that's just me. It's definitely an important piece of the story.

Although you had already mentioned a decreased productivity, it was at "this man of the soil is not so unworldly after all" that I had that "aha" moment--and you immediately confirmed what I had figured out, so I have to say that's great placement and pacing; everything is just in the right place.

An excellent piece of work.

Danielle La Paglia said...

The conversation in the piece is wonderfully crafted. Nicely done, Marc.

Cathy Olliffe said...

I can't believe how few of you guys have seen the movie!
I loved it, loved the whole darn thing. And Marc's right, the beginning was just amazing. But see the whole thing... (my favourite Brad Pritt performance ever)
And, oh yes, your story Marc! Tight, swift, frank writing. Fraught and stretched with an undercurrent of barely suppressed electricity.
Your control over it was simply outstanding.

Cathy Olliffe said...

I can't believe how few of you guys have seen the movie!
I loved it, loved the whole darn thing. And Marc's right, the beginning was just amazing. But see the whole thing... (my favourite Brad Pritt performance ever)
And, oh yes, your story Marc! Tight, swift, frank writing. Fraught and stretched with an undercurrent of barely suppressed electricity.
Your control over it was simply outstanding.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Oh this builds the tension well. I like the interplay between the forces of nature and the forces of Nazism. Great stuff.

Eric J. Krause said...

I was thinking of that first scene of Inglorious Bastards as I was reading this. I enjoyed that scene, and I enjoyed reading this one, too. Well done!

Walt said...

I haven't seen the film but if this piece of writing was inspired by the opening scene, I'm going to have to check it out.

I started off intrigued by your story. By the time you closed it out my eyes were glued to the screen.

Fantastic piece of writing. Well done

Liras said...

Reading your words is like swimming through water, so very easy to do and refreshing, as well.

You make me want to put down the book I am reading and grab the movie. You devil, you. Tempting a die-hard reader with a movie!!!

Bukowski's Basement said...

Marc:

Sorry I'm late to the game here but yeah, you did the scene and prompt proud, my man ... The tension was taut and perfectly executed.

That said, lemme just say that I'm just flummoxed by how many of our peeps haven't seen the film. Rent it, gang... Def. a worthy ride.

Michelle said...

great story!

Rebecca Emin said...

Wonderfully written, and as others have said it makes me want to see the movie. Well done.

Tomara Armstrong said...

I haven't seen it either *cowers*, but I think this is a magnificent piece. You are amazing

~2

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Where, oh where is your email address? The one on YZ does not work. I've got something of yours to send to you. I'll just forward it to Dan to send to you.

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