18: “Alouette, je te plumerai”

Cyrano’s friend, the Sun-being, has acquired a brand-new chassis for a long trip. The circumstances are a little confusing, but the Sun-being is enjoying renewed vigor and has afforded Cyrano a comfortable ride so far. They stop at an inn for the evening, and now Cyrano is getting hungry again. When he does that, we know we can expect strange things to happen...

He would have told me more, but we were called to dinner. My guide led me into a beautifully furnished hall, but I saw nothing to eat. Not a single place setting, and I was starving. I had to ask him where dinner was being prepared. I didn’t listen to what he told me, because at that moment three or four boys who were the children of our host approached me and very politely undressed me down to my underwear.

This new kind of ceremony surprised me so much that I didn’t dare ask the handsome valets what they were doing. When my guide asked how I would like to begin, I don’t know how I managed to stammer out: “With soup.” I immediately smelled of the most succulent stew that ever reached the nose of the most decadently wealthy man. I wanted to get up from my chair to follow my nostrils toward the source of this pleasant odor, but my carrier stopped me: “Where are you going?” he asked. “We’ll go for a walk later, but now it’s dinner time. Finish your soup and then we’ll have something else.”

“Where the hell is that soup!?” I yelled at him angrily. “Are you going to play jokes on me all day long?!”

He replied, “In the town we came from I thought you might have seen your master or someone else having dinner. That’s why I haven't said anything about the way people eat in this country. Since you don’t know about it, I can tell you that the people here live on vapor alone. The art of cooking consists in enclosing the exhalations of victuals in large, specially moulded pots. Several different sorts and tastes are collected to suit the appetite of those who are about to dine. Then the pots are unstopped one after the other until everyone has had their fill. You have to experience it, otherwise you’d never believe that the nose rather than the teeth, throat and mouth can nourish you. But I’ll show you.”

No sooner had he spoken than I began to smell delicious vapors entering the room one after the other. There were so many and they were so nourishing that in less than a quarter of an hour I felt completely satiated.

When we had finished dinner he said, “This should come as no great surprise to you. You can’t have lived so long in your world without noticing that cooks and pastry bakers eat less than those in other occupations and are yet much fatter. How do they become so plump? The odor of the food that constantly surrounds them penetrates their bodies and nourishes them. The people of this world enjoy health that is much less interrupted and more vigorous because almost none of the food becomes excrement, which is the source of almost all illnesses. You may have been surprised when you were disrobed before dinner, because that is not the custom in your country. It is the fashion here because it makes the body more transpirable to odors.”

“Monsieur,” I answered, “what you say seems very plausible, and I have just experienced the effect myself. But I will admit that I have not been able to de-animalize myself so quickly, and I would really like to taste a tangible morsel in my mouth.”

He promised I would, but it would have to be for the next day. He said that eating so soon after dinner might cause indigestion. We talked for a while longer and then went upstairs to go to bed.

A man at the top of the stairs presented himself to us and looked us over carefully. He led me into a room where the floor was three feet deep in orange blossoms. My familiar spirit was taken into another that was full of carnations and jasmine. When he saw how astonished I was at such magnificence, he explained that it was the style of bed in that country.

Finally we went to bed, each in our own room. When I had lain down on my flowers, I noticed about thirty big, glowing worms enclosed in a crystal (since candles are not used). In the light, I saw the three or four boys who had undressed me at dinner. One of them began massaging my feet; another, my thighs; another, my sides; and the last, my arms. They did it with such dexterity and so soft a touch that in less than a minute I was sound asleep.

The next morning, my familiar spirit came in at sunrise and said, “I’ll keep my word. You’ll have more solid food today than you did yesterday.”

I immediately got up. He led me by the hand out behind the garden of the inn. One of the innkeeper’s children was waiting for us, with a weapon in his hand, something like our rifles. He asked my guide if I would like a dozen larks, because that is what monkeys ate (and that’s what he took me for). I hardly had the time to say yes before he shot his gun into the air and twenty or thirty larks fell to the ground at our feet, all nicely cooked. I immediately recalled our proverb about a country where larks fall all roasted onto your plate. No doubt it was coined by someone who had visited this place.

“Go ahead and eat,” said my familiar spirit. The gunpowder that kills, plucks and roasts the game birds has in it all the necessary seasonings, as well.”

I picked up a few and ate them, as directed. Truly I have never in my life tasted anything so delicious.

How could Cyrano have served as a tame animal trained to do a tumbling act without learning in the process how the Moon-beings eat? And it’s doubtful his dour master shot freshly roasted birds out of the sky just for him.

Which raises another question: if the Moon-beings find it healthiest to dine on aromas, how come they have a firearm that shoots, plucks and roasts birds — all the while seasoning them to taste — before the birds can even plop at your feet? A fast-food rifle that serves as a portable kitchen and that is capable of such mass production would hardly seem to be necessary.

But by now the reader has learned not to expect carefully stage-managed realism in the sense we understand it. Rather, Cyrano is a veritable fountain of ideas, and he puts them front and center without concerning himself overmuch with their context.

Cyrano knows what goes into making an elaborate meal. Starting from that, he uses the “world upside down” approach in this episode. In the process he invents, in effect, aromatherapy, mechanical chicken pluckers, the microwave oven and prepackaged seasonings. What inventions do our present-day science fiction writers foresee for the 24th century?