[A much delayed offering this week, as we have been without an internet connection for several days…. a time for quiet contemplation (mostly about why someone isn’t getting it fixed)… but a sort of 7th cavalry arrived this morning with a super high tech new modem, so we’re now so fast we can’t even see what we’re writing]


Folks of my age might remember a song made famous by the singer Burl Ives, called ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain‘. Cited on Wickipedia as being a hobo’s dream of paradise, and a busker’s song, written by ‘Haywire Mac’ Harry McClintock in 1895, but springing from medieval ideas. [look up Cockaigne – all around my brain springs to mind- and you’ll see why]


As I recall there was ‘the buzzing of the bees/in the cigarette trees/the soda water fountain/the lemonade springs/ and the bluebird sings/in the big rock candy mountain’ – if my memory serves me we-ell.


Reading through a book of old French short stories, I came upon the following:


‘an isle of sugar with mountains of stewed fruit, and rocks of candy and caramel, and streams of syrup flowing through the fields.’


Kowalski(?) & A Cake

Kowalski(?) & A Cake

The line is from the opening of ‘The Isle of Pleasure‘ by Bishop Fenelon (1651-1715), not quite medieval, but going back some way towards it! There are more delights on display with ‘forests of liquorice and tall trees from which waffle cakes fell’. On a further island ‘mines of ham, sausages and peppered hashes’ and brooks of onion sauce, and the walls of the houses were pie-crusts.’ Pass me the pick-axe, Mac. I was salivating as I read.

The good Bishop’s story – and, by all accounts he was a good bishop – has other delights on offer, but most wonderful of all, from this short story writer’s perspective is the originality of the ideas behind the story. For, the travellers are offered not only all the food and drink they can imagine, including ‘morning dew (like) white wine’ and ‘boiling streams of frothing chocolate’, but also the opportunity to buy from ‘merchants of appetite’.

‘How much hunger’ would you buy? The narrator is offered ‘ a relay of appetites that would enable me to pass the whole day in eating.’ And when that tired him out, there were ‘sleep’ merchants plying their wares too.

In this world there were no poor and no rich; there were neither servants nor served. ‘Wishes, which are little spirits, playful and fluttering, that give in a moment to each person all that he desires’. One for the feminists, perhaps, is that ‘In this country the women govern the men.’ But the men have ‘become so poor-spirited, so idle, and so ignorant’.

Of course, it cannot turn out well, or be seen as having done so. The worthy priest has his narrator return home to find ‘in a sober life, in moderate work , in pure manners, and in the practice of virtue, the health and happiness I had not been able to procure by a continuity of feasting and a variety of pleasures.’ So there!


The other story by Bishop Fenelon The Story of Alibea, that of a shepherd boy plucked from the simple life and made into a sort of ancient PA of the Shah, has a similar ending, in which the eponymous hero tells us that his greatest possessions are not the gold and jewels of the court, but the ‘the sheep crook, the flute and the shepherd’s dress’, which he has secretly kept, the only treasure in his strong-room.


Both stories are from volume three of The Masterpiece Library of Short Stories.