RARA-AVIS: Grisaille and Willeford

From: Mbdlevin@aol.com
Date: 07 Apr 2001

Etienne Borgers writes:
 I can understand your feeling of noir in some ambiance
 of Simenon's mysteries; I personally think it's more
 "grayish", with a meaning like the word "grisaille" in
 French (word applied to climatic conditions for gray
 skies, as well as in a symbolic way to places or
 moods, or even way of living- grayness maybe in

I am very happy to hear Etienne Borgers make this comment. A little while back, I had occasion to make some spoken comments about Charles Willeford, and I included a close look at a passage from Burnt Orange Heresy that included the word "grisaille." The word appears in chapter two; I won't quote the lead-in or the paragraphs that follow (which loop back to that word), but here is the description of Berenice Hollis's scar: "The coccyx scar had changed from an angry red to gray and finally to slightly puckered grisaille." The word is heavily loaded. It has a local artistic context
(Figueras the narrator is an art critic), but seems to have a lot of other energy surrounding it. The passage wraps up with Figueras expressing outrage at Berenice's homemaking habits; he states: "[O]nce I caught her pouring bacon grease into the sink" (a great Willeford food moment), and I noted in my talk that: "'bacon grease' seems to tap our mind's wandering confrontation with that word "grisaille," [grizigh] which seems to resemble both
"gristle"-suggestive of the stringy meatiness of bacon-and the word "grease" itself." Now, we (non-French speakers) can add Etienne's definition as well, which presumably Willeford would think of too, having spent some time in France. The definition of mood works well, and in the BOH passage, there is reference to climate as well. Doug

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