Cyrano de Bergerac, born in 1619, is of course best known in the modern times for his nose. According to legend, it was quite large. Depending on which account you accept, Cyrano was either a French aristocrat, author and military hero with a big nose or the descendant of a Sardinian fishmonger who suffered from syphilis with a big nose. He was an early writer of science fiction, and in his most famous work, The Other World, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers where he meets the inhabitants who have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it — the TV rights are still available, if you’re interested. A lesser known work, Noses from Mars, is self-explanatory.
Then we come to the story of Cyrano himself and how he courted the fair Roxanne on behalf of his friend Christian. Although these people are real, the story is alas! pure fiction, which is probably just as well, for Roxanne was Cyrano’s cousin and had they ever consummated their relationship, their children would have been half-wits with big noses.
A bonus excerpt about big noses from my story “All Day, All Night, Marianne”:
“Maybe I have an idea for you, Roberto,” said Toussaint, lowering his voice even though there was no one within thirty yards of the pier. “You know the fine gentleman from that city I can’t remember that’s very close to London, the one who takes my water taxi wherever he goes and pays me very generously? Him and me, we’re friends now. He talks to me about all sorts of things. He’s very educated in literacy – that’s reading important books by dead people and looking at pictures and listening to music, all by dead people. It seems people who write books and paint pictures and make music become important when they die.”
“What good is being important if you’re dead? Doesn’t sound all that educated to me.”
“How would you know educated, man?” said Toussaint, just a little miffed at Roberto’s effrontery in questioning him. “His name is Herbert and he’s got two last names. Now, do you want me to help you, or do you want to spend your life on the beach staring at her with your mouth open and your brain shut until you both get old and die?”
“I want you to help me,” said the chastened Roberto. He stared at his feet as he swirled them in the water.
“Okay,” said Toussaint, once again in command. “Now, Herbert was telling me this very, very famous story by a guy that’s been dead for close onto 400 years. Four hundred – now that makes him mighty important. The guy in the story is like you. His name is Romeo; that even sort of sounds like Roberto. This Romeo, he loves a girl whose name I forget. It doesn’t sound like Marianne, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Julianne, that’s it. I guess it sounds a little like Marianne. Now Julianne’s family don’t like Romeo one little bit.”
“Why doesn’t her family like him?” asked Roberto whose face now showed only confusion.
“Because Julianne is very beautiful, just like Marianne, but Romeo has this great big nose. So Romeo sneaks to Julianne’s back porch every night and hides in the bushes and says pretty words while her big fat mama sleeps inside. He says things like, ‘Julianne, my sweetest sweet, your face is like the moon.’ And Julianne says, ‘Oh Romeo, I can’t see your face; it’s behind the bushes. Show me your face.’ And Romeo says, ‘No, no, fair princess. I cannot. But it’s a nice face – with a tiny nose.’ And Julianne says, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are you, Romeo?’ See how they use each other’s names a lot? That’s very romantic.”
“That’s 400-year-old talk. But this is what puts smart dudes like me and Herbert over here and dumb dudes like you over on the beach with your mouth open and bugs flying in and out. When Julianne says wherefore, she isn’t wondering where Romeo is.”
“Of course not. She knows he’s in the bushes. What she’s really saying is why. Herbert explained that to me.”
“Because him and me is friends.”
“No, I mean why is wherefore ‘why’? And why would she ask Romeo why he is Romeo?”
“Because it’s literacy,” said Toussaint, trying his best not to patronize poor Roberto. “She wants to know why it has to be Romeo out there instead of someone else.”
“Because he has such a big nose, of course.”
Roberto thought about this story for a moment, kicking at the water with one foot and then the other. Toussaint studied him, looking for some sign that maybe he understood.
“Why doesn’t she just tell him to go away?” asked Roberto finally.
Toussaint grinned. “Because she loves all the pretty words he says to her. And before long, she loves him, too – nose and all. And all because he talked pretty. As Herbert says, the story don’t end until the fat lady sings.”
“The fat lady. I guess at the end of all these famous stories a fat lady sings. That’s how you know it’s over. So all you got to do, Roberto, is hide outside Marianne’s porch and say pretty words and hope she falls in love with you before a fat lady sings.”
Read the entire story here.
“All Day, All Night Marianne” is one of 15 short stories in the collection Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.