The fat and the thin

by Émile Zola

Claude, however, had enthusiastically sprung on to the bench, and stood upon it. He compelled his companion to admire the effect of the dawn rising over the vegetables. There was a perfect sea of these extending between the two clusters of pavilions from Saint Eustache to the Rue des Halles. And in the two open spaces at either end the flood of greenery rose to even greater height, and quite submerged the pavements. The dawn appeared slowly, softly grey in hue, and spreading a light water-colour tint over everything. These surging piles akin to hurrying waves, this river of verdure rushing along the roadway like an autumn torrent, assumed delicate shadowy tints—tender violet, blush-rose, and greeny yellow, all the soft, light hues which at sunrise make the sky look like a canopy of shot silk. And by degrees, as the fires of dawn rose higher and higher at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau, the mass of vegetation grew brighter and brighter, emerging more and more distinctly from the bluey gloom that clung to the ground. Salad herbs, cabbage-lettuce, endive, and succory, with rich soil still clinging to their roots, exposed their swelling hearts; bundles of spinach, bundles of sorrel, clusters of artichokes, piles of peas and beans, mounds of cos-lettuce, tied round with straws, sounded every note in the whole gamut of greenery, from the sheeny lacquer-like green of the pods to the deep-toned green of the foliage; a continuous gamut with ascending and descending scales which died away in the variegated tones of the heads of celery and bundles of leeks. But the highest and most sonorous notes still came from the patches of bright carrots and snowy turnips, strewn in prodigious quantities all along the markets and lighting them up with the medley of their two colours.
At the crossway in the Rue des Halles cabbages were piled up in mountains; there were white ones, hard and compact as metal balls, curly savoys, whose great leaves made them look like basins of green bronze, and red cabbages, which the dawn seemed to transform into superb masses of bloom with the hue of wine-lees, splotched with dark purple and carmine. At the other side of the markets, at the crossway near Saint Eustache, the end of the Rue Rambuteau was blocked by a barricade of orange-hued pumpkins, sprawling with swelling bellies in two superposed rows. And here and there gleamed the glistening ruddy brown of a hamper of onions, the blood-red crimson of a heap of tomatoes, the quiet yellow of a display of marrows, and the sombre violet of the fruit of the eggplant; while numerous fat black radishes still left patches of gloom amidst the quivering brilliance of the general awakening.
Claude clapped his hands at the sight. He declared that those “blackguard vegetables” were wild, mad, sublime! He stoutly maintained that they were not yet dead, but, gathered in the previous evening, waited for the morning sun to bid him good-bye from the flag-stones of the market. He could observe their vitality, he declared, see their leaves stir and open as though their roots were yet firmly and warmly embedded in well-manured soil. And here, in the markets, he added, he heard the death-rattle of all the kitchen gardens of the environs of Paris.
A crowd of white caps, loose black jackets, and blue blouses was swarming in the narrow paths between the various piles. The big baskets of the market porters passed along slowly, above the heads of the throng. Retail dealers, costermongers, and greengrocers were making their purchases in haste. Corporals and nuns clustered round the mountains of cabbages, and college cooks prowled about inquisitively, on the look-out for good bargains. The unloading was still going on; heavy tumbrels, discharging their contents as though these were so many paving-stones, added more and more waves to the sea of greenery which was now beating against the opposite footways. And from the far end of the Rue du Pont Neuf fresh rows of carts were still and ever arriving.
“What a fine sight it is!” exclaimed Claude in an ecstasy of enthusiasm.
Florent was suffering keenly. He fancied that all this was some supernatural temptation, and, unwilling to look at the markets any longer, turned towards Saint Eustache, a side view of which he obtained from the spot where he now stood. With its roses, and broad arched windows, its bell-turret, and roofs of slate, it looked as though painted in sepia against the blue of the sky. He fixed his eyes at last on the sombre depths of the Rue Montorgueil, where fragments of gaudy sign boards showed conspicuously, and on the corner of the Rue Montmartre, where there were balconies gleaming with letters of gold. And when he again glanced at the cross-roads, his gaze was solicited by other sign boards, on which such inscriptions as “Druggist and Chemist,” “Flour and Grain” appeared in big red and black capital letters upon faded backgrounds.

Emile Zola, The Fat and the Thin, Project Gutenberg ebook, 2006,
translation by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly