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Yeah yeah yeah, enough with all the hullabaloo, Albert, All Burp!  Yeah, folks, this is Zapinette speaking.  That here author of mine is offering you … bothering you with … his vely vely skewed
memoir.  You don’t know who I am?  Shame on you.  So, for you, nerds, here is my expressway bio written by literarity expoits:  I have dozens of reviews from all over the world, in English, in French, in Eyetalian, and so fork and ding dong.  What? you ask me to put them down in black and white?  Just goooogle me, lazy bums, what’s Internet for?

 

«Zapinette lives with her mother, a staunch ‘felinist’ who owns a beauty parlor in Paris, as well as with Firmin, the latter’s boyfriend.» She has chucked him out in the meantime, thank Goddess. «The girl (that’s me) however feels much closer to her ‘Unky Berky’ (sometimes, not every minute of the day), in spite of the fact that he is ‘such a weirdo at times and can get on her bloomin nerves’» did I say that already?  Well repeating it won’t hurt your ears and even less your mushy brains.  «Through Firmin, ‘the vermin’, she learns that her beloved uncle is a ‘homey setchual’» – that was a shock all right, but never you mind! so say the Brits.  «They will travel to Italy together and the trip promises to be quite bumpy.»  Hey ho, in the meantime, we’ve visited the greatest city of the US of A, discovered the fabulous Orient, as well as rainbowish South Africa (ok, you already know that), not mentioning the Holiest of all Lands, Israel and Palestine, or the capital of Eurabia, which is Brussels, you dope, one third of the women there are already veiled, and if you go to some areas of that city, you might come back looking like them walking black mail boxes that roam Yemen and Saudi Arabia, coz there, women count less than labra-doors, who, by the way are considered dirty and impure, well you ever?

 

THE  LITERARY  REVIEW:

“… Be warned, Zapinette’s gems of insouciant wit tend to become infectious.  This wise-child’s deceptively» – hey what a silly word to describe me – «worldly innocence takes the entire gamut of human endeavor in its compass.  Hardly anyone or anything escapes unscathed.  Michael Jackson,Vittorio de Sica, Freddy Mercury, Mao Zedong, Bill and Hill, the Pope, Fidel Castro,» – add to them George double crap Bush who launched the deadliest war Irak has ever known, with hundreds of thousands of dead people – for what?  for nothing, for a bleatingly blatant lie.  He oughta be locked in prison for 1000 years, and instead, what does he do?  He is gallivanting and earning millions of grrreenbaaackhamms – I looove that sssexy David Beckham, he’s soo handsome, specially in mini shorts, with his mouth-kissing pout, he deseeerves to be a millionaire, pity he’s already married, coz I’d be at his beck and call and I like ham too -,  giving speeches all over the world, can you believe it! – «and even Jesus of Nazareth, all come under Zapinette’s delightfully zany fire as she ‘zaps’ from topic to topic in an irrepressible flux.  As the century of the double zeros has started its second decade, we have seen the future and the future is sham.  As a healthy dose of counter-sham, Zapinette’s whole series – holy mackerel, ain’t that cool of this here reviewer to write such cushy things about me – should be on every brain-functional person’s reading list.”

 

WORLD  LITERATURE  TODAY:

“… This book is a great ramble – ain’t Rambler a sort of Humvee car, so what is he talking about me rambling about? -, rather like a chapterless Montaigne – this has nothing to do with the Mont Blanc, the guy was a writer in the olden, very olden days – popping from one subject to the next, drawing connections no one else would ever have thought of, but with Groucho Marx – that guy wasn’t Karl Marx’s relative, you know the one who wanted all of us people to commune all together, ringing around the roses, like in that nerdy English song for the mentally retarded, night and day, and even in the loo, too disgusting for crap.  No, he was the brother of three other American comedians who pulled faces at the public in the times of my grandparents, aka nonni in Eyetalian, who, by the way I have never ever known or even met ghostily – say, passing on hints over the writer’s shoulder as to how to go about it.  We readers chuckle along and even burst out laughing as we advance through this hilarious book, but we gather, we too willy-nilly, the serious messages underlying the frolicking bounce and jocular mode of the writing.” No further comment, he said everything there was to say poyfectly.

 

SMALL  PRESS  REVIEW: (small is like Black, it can be beautiful, too!)

“ … The narrator of Albert Russo’s new novel, Zapinette, is a little girl of our time, very knowledgeable about the outside world, but also enormously ignorant» – the one wrote that is an ignoramosaur himself – «of the language commonly used about it, and, as a result, very funny.  Her phonetic transcriptions of what she hears and her malapropisms» – that word gives me bellyaches – «make of her a powerfully distorting lens but, strangely enough, also a reliable witness.» – Ok, here he redeems himself, some – «Albert Russo has thankfully spared us all the clichés of the genre, and what we read in his novel is a genuine portrait of a genuine child.”

Don’t forget that Albert is All Burp, I’ve told you that already many a time, no not money, you nerd, many, learn your vocabulary and your spelling fercrissake.

 

«This book which also appeared in the author’s own French translation and was favorably compared to Raymond Queneau’s masterpiece ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO, has been discussed at the Catholic University of Paris.  It was also offered to the one million subscribers of French Cable Television

Yeah, right, my picture appeared on their TV magazine.  A bit of rrrrespect, is what I expect from you, that is, if you want to hear about my new adventures.  Well, since you do agree, turn the page, pronto presto!

 

Like I said, THIS IS MY MASTERPIZZA, not All Burp’s, even if I let him believe it is his! And all along the never-ending rocky way, I will tell you everything about this goon, from his birth till this very day.  How do I know?  I have a tongue, you nerds, like that chameleon of his, coz I kept asking him the hows and the whereabouts of his life.  At times I had him sit till the wee wee hours of the morning, racking his marshmellow brains to remember, remember, remember, like that rose that’s a rose that’s a … enough

 already, Gerkin Stone, we’ve heard it a million times!  All the while, he was running to the loo, peeing and wee weeing like there would never be a tomorrow.  It’s called Pavlov reflex, what a Ripov (by the way, that’s a hero Albert aka Unky Berky invented, a zero, really), you’ll discover later in this may moo rrr.  And if you didn’t guess it yet, I’m his uncushy (which is the opposite of unconscionabbabble) conscience.          

Lookee here, what follows ain’t no laughing matter.  Albert adored his mother, and she really was a lovely and beautiful lady in every way.  It also broke my heart and I cried my eyes out.  So, I demand respect, ok! 

 

PS: Albert also explains, in his own words what this memoir is all about.  After all, I value freedom of expression, and he too has the right to tell it his way.

 

Elisabethville, 1947, I was 4 years old

 

When schools reopened after the July/August recess, I was registered at the Montessori section of the Institut Marie-José held by the Catholic Sisters.

Sister Marie-Thérèse would often find me hidden behind the trunk of a mango tree.

“Léo…Léopold,” she would call me in a flute-like voice. “Don’t you want to grow up to become a healthy and strong man? You must drink your milk like everybody else.”

Eyes cast down, shuffling my sandals in the dusty red laterite, I would follow her while she’d burrow her long, bony fingers into my hair. She seemed to derive great pleasure from playing with my frizzy curls. I’d close my eyes, relishing every instant of it before I would gulp down the ritual glass of warm milk I so detested.

If it hadn’t been for Sister Marie-Thérèse, I’d have brought up the milk and thrown a fit. She was my protector, and when I’d see her I’d feel a little less bashful in front of my schoolmates. At Montessori I was, I believe, the only métis (half caste). I don’t remember much of those kindergarten years except that I was often surrounded by cheerful little blonde girls, one of whom especially liked to pinch me. And they, like sister Marie-Thérèse, couldn’t resist touching my furry head as though it were a mascot.

Montessori conjures up ballet-like images, the ubiquitous white-cloaked sisters with their impeccable cone-shaped headdresses, the pungent smell of starch which was such a relief next to that of milk — I couldn’t stand watching that thin layer of cream spread at the brim of the glass as it was being poured piping hot out of a huge jug. There was something ethereal about the sisters. They appeared to glide rather than walk over the laterite ground. Then, suddenly, without warning, they’d move in a flurry and you’d hear soft, invisible jingles which seemed to originate from within the pleats of their flowing robes. That’s when I secretly longed for them to take me under their wings and fly away, very very far. Oh, sister Marie-Thérèse, which cloud are you floating on right now?

 

1949

 

My first acquaintance with the Collège Saint-François de Sales was a shock. It lay a few hundred meters behind the Institut Marie-José, and though I’d often watched the throngs of khaki-clad boys with their matching helmets pour out of its main entrance gate, it never dawned on me that I should one day belong to that all-male club.

When papa accompanied me there on the opening school day — I hadn’t turned six yet — I felt terribly spare, wearing the spanking new uniform Mamica had sewn for me and that tight-fitting colonial helmet which made me feel like a precocious kaboke (policeman). I clutched desperately at papa’s arm as we both approached the imposing figure who was to be my instructor. Father Vandamme had a huge white beard and piercing blue eyes. He stroked my head as I was being introduced to him whilst with the other hand he smoothed the thick strands of his beard. I shall always recall him with that gesture as though it were part of a ritual. The Sacred Beard of Father Vandamme.

Strangely enough, I found him to be the only reassuring figure in those early primary school days. During recess I would shy away from my classmates and look out for him. He was at once firm and kind, and he would encourage me to join the other boys at play. But I just couldn’t. A cringing fear gnawed at me whenever I stood in line as the school bell rang. There I was in Indian file, at the ready for a potential battle. The boys in front and behind me would jostle against one another and stamp on my feet until Father Vandamme, in his baritone voice, would call us to order. A bead of perspiration would then escape from under my helmet, trickling along my neck and sending shivers down my spine. It was only much later that I realized what I so cruelly missed at Saint François de Sales: the presence of the sisters and of those blonde little girls, the high-pitched voices, the prancing and the shrieks. I couldn’t understand this sudden separation of the sexes.

Boys and girls, we had been mixed for three years, and now we’d peek at each other from afar like strangers, like people belonging to a different society.

At the end of the week I nearly infallibly got a white card. White cards were the highest you could reach, then followed the pink cards, the red cards, both of which placed you in the class’s purgatory section, whilst if you received a green card and, God forbid, a yellow one, you were doomed to burn in hell.

Children can engage in very morbid games when they themselves feel threatened.

 

The second trimester had just begun and we were all, in turn, summoned to the infirmary to be vaccinated against cholera or was it yellow fever. The one vaccine injection I recalled before that hadn’t left me with any harrowing memory. A little scratch on the arm and an innocuous Band-Aid to cover it. But this time there were spine-chilling tales being spread around by my schoolmates. Hushed up snatches of conversation, so eerie they could only belong to the realm of the accursed. There was Pierrot who laughed convulsively — one couldn’t tell whether indeed he was chuckling or frankly sobbing, his eyes were so bloodshot.

“You can turn completely purple,” he said, “and drop dead instantly, or else stay paralyzed for the rest of your days.”

According to Antoine, you might get abscesses all over the body and cast your skin like an iguana, just to discover that you were full of new abscesses again. Another boy asserted that he’d known of a man who, after receiving the vaccine, lost his limbs, piece by piece. There were other nauseating images but nothing could compare with what appeared as the immediate threat: the size of the syringe itself…as long as a machete…as sharp as the tip of a poisoned arrow…it could pierce your heart or one of your lungs. The injection was given in the lumbar region. The doctor would aim at it so that the syringe could enter the bone directly. When I heard the word ‘bone’ then ‘spinal cord,’ I broke off. I literally fled from what now would be my certain and imminent death. I ran through the playground, out of the school gate and into the tree-lined avenue past the Institut Marie-José. Screaming my head off — it resounded like an empty calabash — “Mon Dieu, spare me, spare me, please! I don’t want to be maimed,” I heard myself utter between loud hiccups. Panting, a shaking mass of muscles, knuckles, and bones, I finally made it home. Mama Malkia was out, probably gone on errands. The fright caused by this incident has blurred my mind, and until this day I still don’t know whether I submitted myself to the compulsory vaccination. A small black hole.

 

I particularly cherished those Sunday outings when we would drive towards Elisabethville’s airfield, to watch the DC 6 of Sabena airlines flying in from Europe, as it loomed in the horizon, like a majestic bird, appearing as if by a divine sleight of hand in the early evening sky, where soon the twilight would splash its iridescent colors against its blue dome interspersed with endomorphic clouds, swiftly turning to crimson then to violet, after having played its symphonies of turquoise, flaming green and blood orange. This spectacle never failed to amaze me, even if it should be repeated every Sunday of the year, and my heart would race the very instant the gleaming machine would touch down at the far end of the runway, so loftily and with such boisterous élan, rolling towards us in a deafening uproar, as if all of a sudden, the surrounding savannah had acquired a thousand ears, banishing all other noise.  And how I would try to keep my gaze fixed at the sight, squinting to challenge the plane’s glare, so as not to miss the crowning moment when the four mighty propellers would rev up at full throttle, giving me that tingling sensation of an imminent, imaginary apocalypse.  I would then almost feel the earth quake under my feet, getting ready for the awaited shattering boom.  And just before the engines came to a standstill, there was that ultimate cough which in my head echoed with these words: “They should thank me a thousand times, those passengers, whom I have pampered during so many long hours, after having bridged two continents, spanned the planet’s largest sea and flown over the forbidding Sahara, which every year gains a bit more territory to the south, then finally covering the dense rain forest, some call paradise, others green hell.  All these memories and emotions will be washed down under a warm shower and I shall be forgotten at the turn of a tap.  O, the ungratefulness of human beings!”

Yes, I think I had more admiration for those winged steel giants than for the people or the objects they carried in their belly, aside from the pilots whom I compared to guardian angels.  And I would catch myself dreaming that one day I too might sit behind the control panel of some imposing transatlantic airliner, even if I knew then that the majority of the women who served in aviation couldn’t aspire at a more ambitious role than that of air hostesses.

After having watched, from a distance, the happy and noisy reunion between the passengers and their families and friends, punctuated by the inevitable jam sessions of tearful embraces, querrying matches and exclamations of surprise, particularly when children were involved, we would leave discreetly and Piet would take us – it was by now a well-worn ritual – to the Sabena Guesthouse, a five-minute drive from the airport.

On the terrace, flanked by two cable columns, overlooking a garden of cacti, of pink-flowered frangipani trees and of varicolored bougainvillaeas, a table awaited us; there was the bowl filled to the rim, with roasted peanuts, another one with Calamata olives and a small plate of cheese cubes sprinkled with celeriac salt.  Beyond the thick red and lilac creepers, interlaced here and there with white, orange and violet bows of flowers, stretched the ubiquitous Katangese savannah, marred by those bloated sepia-tinted antheaps, an eyesore I assimilated to gigantic boils. The vivid bougainvillea blossoms appeared like a slap of beauty, against that dull landscape which, in the dry season, seemed to be covered with a perennial veil of lateritic dust, which I thought I could taste at the tip of my tongue, just by looking at it.  This spot, which was at once privileged – a refreshing oasis amid purgatory -, and terribly oppressive, would conjure up in my mind, when I least expected it, some of the most hair-raising pictures of people disfigured and maimed by tropical diseases, which I had seen only that once in the Encyclopedia of Belgian Africa, vowing never to peruse again – but they seemed to pursue me right into my bedroom and trigger new strains of nightmares.  In order to dispel those dreadful and disturbing thoughts, I would force myself to concentrate on the more banal or even the funnier memories, such as the stories Tambwe would tell me.
ALBERTVILLE, province of Katanga, 1949

 

I was staying at my uncle’s place during the school recess in July of 1949.  He had a small convenience store there, two streets away from majestic lake Tanganyika.  The weather was pleasant and quite cool, and I found the town very pretty, with its flowery plazas and its flamboyant trees.

One afternoon, my uncle brought me to a Greek barbershop and left me there, saying: «You really need a haircut, mon garçon.  My friend Yanni, here, will take care of you, he’s the best coiffeur in town. I shall come and fetch you in about two hours, for I still have some business to attend to.  So be good, au revoir

I don’t know why, but I always felt uncomfortable when a barber attended to me, and I never understood how most men seemed to enjoy having their hair groomed, all the while they chatted and told, mostly, ribald jokes.

After what I deemed an ordeal, I went to sit down in a corner of the shop, where there stood a slot machine, something I had never come across before and which I thought incredibly modern, for I had only seen one in an American movie.

Holding his scissors in his left hand, Monsieur Yanni, whose next customer was a bit late, came to me, smiling and said: «I don’t want you to get bored waiting for your uncle, so I’ll show you how to use it.  You can play as long as you wish, you’re my guest.»

At first, I was hesitant, but after a while, when I became acquainted with the game, I had a wonderful time.

Before I knew, my uncle stood at the entrance. «Very good, I see you are having a lot of fun!» he quipped.

I was a bit sad to leave the slot machine.  But before we crossed the threshold of the shop, greeting the barber, Monsieur Yanni beckoned to my uncle:

«Oh, I forgot to tell you Sir, your nephew played for about an hour and a half, that would be 35 francs.»

My uncle’s face turned ashen but he kept silent as he paid the barber.  It is only when we got into his old convertible Ford that he scolded me: «Next time, my boy, you ask my permission before you play games, it’s cost me a hell of a lot!»

I was nonplussed and wanted to cry, for I had believed that the barber had invited me to use the slot machine for free.  After that experience, I liked barbers even less.

 

 

SALISBURY, EARLY 1950‘s

you’re sitting with Shelly and Minica

at the photographer’s studio

the picture is in black and white

you have never been more beautiful, Mamica

people say you resemble Deborah Kerr

but I find you even lovelier, of course,

I’m your doting son, but still, I know I’m right

and my little sisters, each by your side

have an air of young madonnas

you told me once, that the photographer

wanted to expose the photo in his window

but you refused, you have never liked publicity

that is the picture I have blown up in my office

whenever I turn my face, it is you I see

and I am constantly under your gaze

this proves, Mamica mia, that we have never parted

but suddenly, when I feel blue and depressed

which happens very often these days

I look into those big green grey eyes of yours

ojos de mi cara, and I start complaining

it isn’t fair, you should have stayed longer

then I realize how selfish I am and correct myself

you have suffered enough; enough is enough!

Basta!  It is time for you to rest

but then it is my time to cry, and do I cry!

I hear your rebuke: «no Victoria Falls, ok!»

How many times have we passed

by these Falls that thundered,

traveling from the Congo to Zambia

and then to Rhodesia / Zimbabwe

to be reunited with your family,

that family who welcomed us

with such affection, such gaiety!

By car, with Papacci’s black Chevrolet,

by train – we had to change,

is it two, or three locomotives? –

oh that train whose sooty particles

I used to breathe in

as if it were the whiff of an

expensive French perfume

After three or four days’ travel,

you had had it,

with your three children in tow,

constricted in that stuffy cabin,

two sets of berths,

one on top of the other;

But did we kids have a ball!

Can I ever forget the moment

when our train rode

over the bridge, with us,

looking down at the roaring cataracts

and how we screamed our heads off!

by plane – here too, we had to fly first

with Sabena’s DC3 to Ndola, Zambia

then take the larger and more comfortable

CAA Vickers Viscount to Salisbury,

our final destination.

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