Saturday, December 12, 2015

When The Bourgeoisie Was In Full Flower- With The French Painter Caillebotte In Mind

When The Bourgeoisie Was In Full Flower- With The French Painter Caillebotte In Mind 


From The Pen Of Sam Lowell


Yeah, the Baron, Baron Haussmann if you need a name to go with the damage, the social damage done, had done a good job, a damn good job of breaking up beloved Paris with his squeaky clean street lines and wide boulevards. Yeah, changed the face of Paris, the Paris of squalid throw your leavings out the window and heaven help who is below, and heaven help what awful thing was thrown down to the trash-filled streets. The Paris of funny crooked cul de sac streets, which reflected the add-ons over centuries to make a great city from the piss-pot small town back in the Middle Ages when the university was the center of attraction and the good bourgeois in embryo were trying to hold off the barbarians, the wayward no account peasant drifters who snuck off the land, or tried to in order to sulk and menace in the shadows down by the Seine, the river of life and of intrigue. The Paris of the small craftsman working his trade in some lonely workshop, maybe an indentured apprentice by his side if the craft was skilled enough to warrant such service, his “home” and hearth in the back rooms where the dutiful wife and undutiful screaming children scratched out their pitiful existence. Said craftsman working furiously always brow-beaten worrying about being edged out by Monsieur So and So with plenty of capital and fifty men in his employ underselling him by virtue of economy of scale (or just plain greed at having anybody even a single slave craftsman in his “invisible hand” market place). The Paris too of the jack-roller, the pick-pocket, the wharf rats, the tavern-dwellers, the drifters, the grifters, and the midnight sifters along the shallow shadows of that same beloved Seine     


He, Jean Villon, was called Jean-bon out of respect for his courage under fire in the hell-hole barricade days of 1848  when he and his neighbors, all working-men, held out to the last when the vicious petty-bourgeois who would have benefited most from victory deserted the barricades and he and his took to their fallen losses and jail cells with equanimity (he and his comrades ever after called ‘48ers and no further explanation was necessary, none what-so-ever in any street or boulevard in the town). And for his general good humor when he was not talking politics or scheming the next plot that would bring on the newer world that he and his brethren were seeking. This morning he had had to laugh about the changes in the Rue Madeleine, the urine-laned street where he grew up, about the smell to high heaven of tanning chemicals, rough blacksmith coals, clothe dyes, slaughtered cattles and poultries. Laughed too that in those days, the days before the Baron got the itch (Baron dreams prodded on by ’89 dreams of san-culottes crowds demanding his head on a platter, or maybe just his head any way they could get it preferably via the people’s justice of the guillotine and more recent close calls in ‘48) none of the government’s men dared to enter those quarters even to look for the treasonous or seditious whoever was in power was always nervously pacing the floor about (it did not matter-king-premier-emperor-they all nervously paced their respective floors).


Yeah, back then nothing but crooked little streets leading to harmless little cafes, where he, workingman Villon held “court” with the riff-raff so-called of the old society. Calmly and cautiously quartered when no king’s men would bother to penetrate for they might not come back. Villon descended in some cousin-age degree never quite figured out back to the 15th century from the outlaw poet mad monk bastard saint Francois Villon who wrote longing exile in his own country verse with one hand and stole whatever was not nailed down with the other a fact which Jean never tired of pointing out when back in the day, back in ‘48 on the barricades when it counted comrades would wonder whether his revolutionary energies were flagging and he would drag out his pedigree to small-mouthed scoffs and tittles.


Yeah, the Baron was a slick one tearing down the old quarters to let the rising petty-bourgeois have their elegant apartments tucked away from the steamy stinking markets, the riff-raff cafes, the shadow men of the Seine. Let the bourgeoisie laugh in their clubs about how the riff-raff, meaning their working-men, those who slaved for them, those they had fired for being what some wag called “master-less men” for their habit of robbing said masters whenever the shadows fell, and the once innocent peasant girls who followed in their train and cast their fate with the lot, would get a belly-full of lead from the phalanx encircling infantry the next time they tried to pull up brick number one in order to build a barricade.


Although for a while when Thiers, that wizened troll who never uttered anything but treacherous remarks and never stopped for one minute to give the orders to  send whatever troops against the barricades which remained loyal to keep him in power. Rammed those troops against the brave Paris communards of blessed memory back in 1871 when the frightened bourgeoisie realized that the barricades could still be constructed when the working-men rose up in righteous anger at the betrayals put upon them. (Those communards like their earlier brethren of ’48 called communards and no further explanation was necessary, none what-so-ever in any street or boulevard in the town.)

But those days were long gone now. The Baron had won, had won his victory over the riff-raff and Jean-bon Villon knew it would be a long time before the blood of the communards dried.


Now the picture before Villon as he walked along Rue Madeline a place foreign to his eyes this rainy Sunday morning is that of prosperous petty bourgeois walking under the shadows of their handsome umbrellas along the well-trodden brick-laid slippery street taking in the sullen airs of the day. Each pair, male and female from a rough look at the scene, in their own world heading perhaps to some cafĂ© breakfast (under awnings this morning) maybe going to the gardens up the road. Villon, the old revolutionary, looking down and noticing that every spattered brick had been inlaid (although that never stopped them from tearing them up in the old days), noticed that  as one wag put it that now the streets were big enough for all of Paris without regard to class to walk and fete wherever they cared to. Here is the waggish joke though, except for some ragman with his cur of a dog his sort were nary to be seen on these wet streets and intersections. Yeah, the Baron did his work well.      

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