Gathering Chestnuts



In the fall the leaves changed along the grand boulevards and the dark came early. A cold wind stripped the leaves from the trees and the leaves lay sodden on the streets in the rain. The days were short and the wind blew through the bare trees and there was a sadness then to the city. But with the bad weather we knew too that chestnuts had been loosened from the chestnut trees throughout the city.

Outside the metro stations men appeared selling the chestnuts they roasted on metal half-drums filled with hot coals and as you emerged from the underground there was the rich, smoky smell of chestnuts cooking. The men pushed the drums in shopping carts and their fingers were black from handling the hot nuts and packing them into the paper cones they served them in. The chestnut sellers were unbothered by the cold and rain and when they appeared it was a signal that the chestnuts had begun to fall in the parks across Paris and that I could go gathering chestnuts of my own.

On rue de la Roquette near Nation there was a park with five, fine reliable trees that I had collected from before, and on this day, the day after I had seen the chestnut sellers, I stuffed a plastic sack into the pocket of my pea coat and went out to see if the chestnuts had fallen. It was cold and windy walking down rue Saint-Maur but I was warm walking and thinking of chestnuts, and I hoped to make a good collection and return to the apartment before the rains. I hoped for dark glossy chestnuts, flat on one side and round and full on the other, and a little soft when I pressed them so that I would know the nutmeat inside had matured and begun to pull away from the shell.

It was late morning when I arrived at the park and the benches were empty, the weather too harsh for even the hardiest old bench sitters. I stepped over the low railing onto the pelouse and began to pick up and feel of the chestnuts lying in the grass. All of them were a disappointment. They were solidly hard and would require hours of cooking and even then would be hard and bitter to eat. I considered letting them mature in the apartment, but then I badly wanted chestnuts today and knew too that Florence might disagree with a pile of chestnuts maturing in the kitchen.

Then I recalled the chestnut piles I had once seen at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The nuts had been rotten but I wondered if I might find there a pile of freshly fallen chestnuts swept from off the graves and awaiting disposal.

It was not a long walk to the cemetery and I entered through the main entrance on Boulevard de Menilmontant and went up the cobblestone footpath, passing the empty grave that had once held Rossini, and turning off I noticed beyond Chopin a newly dug grave. I had not known of new graves at Père Lachaise and I saw it was for the dwarf jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani. I had not heard of his death and it surprised me. He had been a fine and very lyrical player and I stopped at the simple headstone and remembered him.

Gathering Chestnuts continues...
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About Jesse Myner


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Following a good five year run as a futures trader, Jesse Myner does what he wants and goes where he wants to. He has lived in Paris, Budapest, Croatia, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami, and currently splits his time between Bogota and Alaska, where he goes for the salmon run and to hunt caribou with...read more his Inupiat Eskimo friends. He is the author of the story collections Home Depot Profiles In Courage, America South, and Slime Line: Adventures In Fish Processing.
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  12 months ago
Simple but meaningful.

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