What an Incredible Smell You’ve Discovered!

Being suave and well groomed isn’t enough. It still matters that a gentleman have depth of soul, a spirit of romance; panache, élan. All the same, the dapper devil will always have an advantage and may be able to get by on looks and charm alone, as long as he knows when to, metaphorically speaking, let his hair down and when to maintain the full facade of savoir-faire. Regardless of the situation, any man-about-town worth his salt will do best to impress with a show of his smoothest, wittiest and handsomest guise whenever he can. It’s the easiest way to not only attract the best in companions but also to have a hope of keeping in their good graces for the long run. That, at least, is the buzz I hear around here.pen and ink drawing

‘On Pouvait Dire . . . ‘

‘Ah! non! c’est un peu court, jeune homme!
On pouvait dire…Oh! Dieu!…bien des choses en somme…’

digital artworkWould that I had the miraculous gift of the silver tongue–it’s said that the genuine Cyrano de Bergerac, the writer and duelist enshrined in fiction as some sort of demigod of dramatic speech, was in life something quite near to it as well. As a youthful admirer of the romantic dream, I memorized Rostand‘s most famed soliloquy of Cyrano’s (in English, naturally), but what remains after so many years have passed is not so much the poetry of his slick speech; it is instead a deeper sense that for all my staring at his nose along with everyone else I managed to miss the point.

The story is told in fictional form to so exaggerate the majesty of his nasal promontory that all we see in most readings and performances onstage is a caricature or cartoon man, led by a nose of bowsprit proportions and foolish improvidence to oversized action and wildly improbable joys and sorrows as a result. These kinds of things do happen to real people in real life, of course; even the real man behind the character was larger-than-life in both nose and existence, according to what we know. He did, if his contemporary portraits are anything near the truth, have a substantial prow, and we have his writings–satirical pieces to classical tragedies–to prove that his wordplay was quite substantial too.

But what perhaps ought to be said of him–whether real or imaginary–is that he was a bit of an outsider by virtue of looking Different, and his response was to fight for respect, both with his rapier and his rapier wit. [Given the historical man and the possibility that he was (not surprisingly, given the era and culture and his reputed exploits) syphilitic, he may well have experienced life completely without a nose if he lived long enough.] It’s easier to label and classify others on the basis of unpopular appearance or differing from the currently decreed norms than it is to cultivate what we have in common. Yet we can learn from some of our outlier counterparts if we will stop, for a moment, being so mesmerized and distracted by what makes them seem unlike us, what it is that we have and value in common. Best if we do that before losing the duel.

Though at least, if the duel is purely verbal, there can be some entertainment inherent in getting taught a lesson. I can live with being the unarmed woman in a battle of wits, as long as I get to keep living long enough to laugh about it. I may not be a genius, but that, my friends: c’est mon panache!