Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 22

Dainty Dishes for a Doll

The meals that Chrysanthème enjoys are something almost indescribable.

She begins in the morning, when she wakes, with two little green wild plums pickled in vinegar and rolled in powdered sugar. A cup of tea completes this almost traditional breakfast of Japan, the very same that Madame Prune is eating downstairs, the same that is served in the inns to travellers.

At intervals during the day the meals are continued by two little dinners of the drollest description. They are brought up on a tray of red lacquer, in microscopic cups with covers, from Madame Prune’s apartment, where they are cooked: a hashed sparrow, a stuffed prawn, seaweed with a sauce, a salted sweetmeat, a sugared chili! Chrysanthème tastes a little of all, with dainty pecks and the aid of her little chopsticks, raising the tips of her fingers with affected grace. At every dish she makes a face, leaves three parts of it, and dries her finger-tips after it in apparent disgust.

These menus vary according to the inspiration that may have seized Madame Prune. But one thing never varies, either in our household or in any other, neither in the north nor in the south of the Empire, and that is the dessert and the manner of eating it: after all these little dishes, which are a mere make-believe, a wooden bowl is brought in, bound with copper — an enormous bowl, fit for Gargantua, and filled to the very brim with rice, plainly cooked in water. Chrysanthème fills another large bowl from it (sometimes twice, sometimes three times), darkens its snowy whiteness with a black sauce flavored with fish, which is contained in a delicately shaped blue cruet, mixes it all together, carries the bowl to her lips, and crams down all the rice, shovelling it with her two chop-sticks into her very throat. Next the little cups and covers are picked up, as well as the tiniest crumb that may have fallen upon the white mats, the irreproachable purity of which nothing is allowed to tarnish. And so ends the dinner.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36