Feeds:
Posts
Comments

.

The Santa Claus, as we know him today, is an American import created by immigrants of European origin. He crossed the ocean to conquer the Old World where Catholicism fought with Protestantism for Christmas symbols. The Father Christmas in these 19th century pictures is either a catholic bishop called Saint Nicholas or the fairy-tale figure of Père Noël, a mythical old man, probably of Scandinavian origins. These confusing, and sometimes fusing, figures have in common an abundant white beard. The Père Noël of old came in many colors, mostly in green and blue, before the red and white color combination became the standard look. In this Edwardian image, the blue Santa is already a minority:

.

Vive Saint Nicolas or Joyeux Noël : Both translate as Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to Victorian Paris readers and see you next year!

Related posts:

The Good News

The Réveillon: Christmas the French Way

.

.

“He who broke the glass will pay!” This painting depict an ambulant lemonade seller in conflict with a customer. The art of Jean Geoffroy is a humorous witness to the ups and downs of the late 19th century childhood.

.

Henri-Jules-Jean Geoffroy (1853-1924) became the painter of children because during his studies he shared a room with two teachers. When they opened a private school, he found his inspiration there. It was a good choice. The paintings pleased and Geoffroy’s career blossomed under the simple pseudonym of Géo. In 1882, he received his first major commission from the Ministry of National Education and, in 1887, he was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit.  

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Related posts:

James Tissot and the Women in Paris

Paris Markets in Victor Gilbert’s Paintings

.

.

.

A target to hordes of tourists, the Moulin Rouge is one of the most emblematic monuments of Paris. Before becoming a mythical place, the cabaret was a den of debauchery – a symbol of the Belle Époque madness.

.

.

The establishment opens in October 1889 with the owners labelling it a temple of music and dance. It’s founders, Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler (already patrons of the Olympia), know well what appeals to the Parisian public and do not skimp on the means. They invest in extravagant decoration, a gigantic dance floor, and fantastic shows inspired by the circus world. Everything is ready to entice the All Paris to come and have fun in this small Montmartre corner. There is even a huge elephant, recovered from the Universal Exhibition of 1889.

.

The famous elephant of Moulin Rouge was used as an opium den

.

.

If the cabaret is at this point the temple of entertainment, it is also thanks to the success of the French cancan. This famous dance with raised petticoats will delight the Parisians and turn the Moulin Rouge into a sanctuary for festivities and debauchery. Foreign travelers flock in for an unforgettable experience, and the fame of the French cancan spreads worldwide.

.

.

This 1894 drawing suggests that shady deals were concluded at the entrance to the Moulin Rouge

.

The Moulin Rouge is celebrated in many works of art, particularly in those of the painter Toulouse-Lautrec, who was a fixture there. His most famous poster (below) pictures two of the early Moulin Rouge stars: La Goulue and her dance partner Valentin-the-Boneless (in silhouette). The sad stories of la Goulue and of the dancer Mad Jane, are well-worth reading in Louise and Jeanne: The Antipodes of Moulin Rouge, an earlier post here.

.

.

Today, the Moulin Rouge has lost nothing of its grandeur except for the moral casualness of its beginnings. It remains a magical place of the cabaret world.

.

Related posts:

Louise and Jeanne: The Antipodes of Moulin Rouge

Mark Twain and the Cancan

The Opera of Paris: We Procure Our Ballerinas to Wealthy Men

.

.



Very few liquors deserved so much attention in literature, painting, and poetry as did the absinthe, the favorite drink of the Parisian artistic community. Absinthe drinking involved an ever-fascinating ritual, best described in one of Marcel Pagnol’s novels (Le Temps des Secrets):

“The poet’s eye shone suddenly, and then, in a deep silence, began a kind of ceremony. He installed before him a glass, which was very big, after checking its cleanliness. He then took the bottle, uncorked it, smelled it, and poured an amber liquid with green reflections, whose dose he seemed to measure with suspicious attention, for, after examination and reflection, he added a few drops. He then took from the tray a kind of small silver shovel, which was narrow and long, and pierced with cut-outs in the shape of arabesques. He put this device, like a bridge, on the edges of the glass, and charged it with two lumps of sugar.


With a hand resting on her hip at the end of her gracefully rounded arm, the Infanta lifted the pitcher high enough, then with an infallible address, she dropped a very thin stream of fresh water on the sugar cubes, which began to fall apart slowly.


The poet, whose chin was almost touching the table, between his two hands laid flat, watched closely the operation. The Infanta’s jug was as motionless as a fountain, and Isabelle was no longer breathing. In the liquid, whose level was rising slowly, I saw forming a kind of milky haze, in twisted twists that eventually joined, while a penetrating scent of anise was refreshing my nostrils. ”

Absinthe was also called the Green Fairy as it was believed that it opened the door to a fairyland


The effect of absinthe varies from person to person but it can be described as mind and eye-sharpening.  Some consumers mention impressive dreams. The active ingredient in absinthe is a plant called wormwood.  The most persistent misunderstanding about wormwood is that it is a drug. Although not true, this vision of absinthe as a dangerous intoxicant and hallucinogen grew until the liquor got banned.

The Green Muse by Albert Maignan (1895)


Paintings of absinthe drinkers usually depict melancholy and resigned individuals:

The Absinthe Drinkers Au Café By Edgar Degas, 1876





The Absinthe Drinker by Pablo Picasso, 1901





Absinth Drinkers by Jean Béraud, 1908

Absinthe got popular under the Second Empire (1852-1870).  At the beginning, it was a fashionable drink for the wealthy. Around this time, it became normal to start the meal with an aperitif, and between the 1500 liquors available, absinthe accounted for 90% of aperitifs consumed.

A cozy middle-class moment with absinthe


The consumption of absinthe crested in the years 1880-1910, when its price fell and it became accessible to all, rivaling in popularity with wine. During this time, everyone drank absinthe, from  society ladies to workers. In 1874, France consumed 700,000 liters of wormwood, but in 1910 this figure reached 36,000,000 liters a year. By that time, absinthe was already a major French export. The French colonies were important markets, followed by South American countries like Argentina and Chile.

Posters condemning the consumption of absinthe began to appear. Even the dog shows his disrespect for this working class loser


Absinthe contained 75% alcohol and was not always sufficiently diluted with water. When it began replacing wine, the problems with drunkenness grew and so did the backlash against the liquor. Absinthe was blamed for a syndrome, called absinthism, characterized by hyper-nervosity, epileptic seizures, and hallucinations. According to the anti-absinthe activists, the drink even caused the painter van Gogh’s madness and his ear amputation. (Not true.)

The Green Hour
What we know as the Happy Hour was called the Green Hour because absinthe was the drink of choice. This poster shows the effects of absinthe on the working class (left) and on the better class (right)


Discussions followed discussions. Petitions were signed. The vise slowly tightened around absinthe. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a series of particularly brutal family murders for which absinthe was blamed – largely unjustly. Preceding the crime, the murderer drank not only two glasses of absinthe but also a mint cream, a cognac, six glasses of wine to water his lunch, another glass of wine after work, a cup of coffee with brandy, a liter of wine on the way back, then another coffee with brandy. Only absinthe was blamed for his murderous dementia.

Absinthe was banned in Belgium in 1905, in Switzerland in 1910, in the United States in 1912, and finally in France in 1915. It was resurrected in 1987 in former Czechoslovakia and is now available in other countries as well


There are two ways of serving absinthe: the meditative and the flamboyant. Both are depicted in this video:




Related posts:

Drink and Prostitution: The Belle Epoque Hooters

The Scarcity of Water

.

.

The fascination with tattoo images swept the Victorian world when Samuel O’Reilly created the tattoo machine in 1891. A torture that could last weeks could be done faster and with less pain. The appetite for tattoos, seen as exotic through their association with the sea travel, was very present in the world of popular entertainment and among the circus people.  Even women without particular talent or beauty could make a living in the show business through displaying their tattooed bodies. However, they were marked for life as persons of low morals and little faith.

In the past, the western civilization associated corporal marking with crime. This reputation was due to the practice of tattooing in prisons. Made with makeshift means, the tattoos had to be hidden because they were forbidden by the church. For the prisoners, it was a way to claim their personality despite the gray reality of confinement. This bad reputation was strengthened by the marking of prostitutes who were inspired by the criminals they frequented. In the world of low-class crime, tattoos displayed the membership of a gang. A discreet mark near the eyes identified at the first sight the Parisian Apache.

It was not until the 1970s that tattooing became popular with the arrival of the hippie movement. Little by little, this practice became more widespread as sports and music stars began publicly wearing tattoos.

Related post:

The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches

 

monet

Claude Monet: Women in the Garden, 1866

 

 

How did they do it? The question occurs to many who see pictures of Victorian women in voluminous skirts. With up to twenty yards of fabric supported by a cage, the call of nature seems to be an insurmountable problem. In the post The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet published here,  we read about the history of public urinals that served men. Readers wondered, with reason, what provision was made for women. We can only guess that chamber pots were the solution. Other than that, the true manipulation remained a mystery until the Prior Attire came to the rescue. The Prior Attire is the Sixth Cavalry of fashion history. With the video they published on YouTube, we now know the secrets of the Victorian restroom:

 

 

 

 

Related posts:

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet

The Belle Epoque Lifestyle: Personal Hygiene

titles

 

french watching

 

The French culinary lifestyle—such as a family eating in a restaurant—surprised many mid-century travelers. In their home countries, eating in a public place made sense only when a person was away from her home and its safe food. This was a habit in France as well until the 1789 revolution. With the aristocrats guillotined or gone to exile, many skilled and creative cooks became unemployed. The only solution was to open public eateries. The well-to-do bourgeois tasted aristocratic cuisine and they liked it.  More than half a century later, when the following text was written, there were hundreds of restaurants in Paris. Eating out made more sense than staying at home. One saved on kitchen fuel, which was a considerable expense at the time, and one could choose from a variety of expertly cooked dishes.

James Jackson Jarves (1818-1888), the author of the text, visited Paris in the early 1850s and published his impressions in Parisian Sights and French Principles, seen through American spectacles (1852). His wit and the clarity of his style vividly portray the living condition in the mid-century Paris.

To see the French eat one should visit the restaurants of lesser magnitude and fame, particularly of a Sunday, where the rush to dinner, as no one dines that day under his own roof, is absolutely fearful to a lover of a quiet meal. Infants, dogs, and nurses, all have a seat that day, and the amount consumed would indicate considerable preparatory fasting. Eating and drinking, for the moment, become the only business of life. The preparations bespeak the seriousness of the operation.

A family enters, consisting of father, mother, maiden sister, two children under five years of age, and a dog. All the tables are filled. They turn to go out. The restaurateur rushes forward, intercepts their retreat, and promises a table toutsuite. He sees one party have called for their bills, hands them their change, and plumps the newcomers into their warm seats., with an array of broken bread, dirty glasses, and all the debris of the previous meal before them.

Once seated, with bonnets and hats hung up, they are considered as secure as fish fairly hooked. The garçon, with the dexterity and rapidity peculiarly his own, whisks away the soiled tablecloth and dishes, and in an instant has replaced them with snow-white linen and porcelain.

Now commences the tug of eating. Each member of the party, except for the dog who gravely occupies the chair, too well-bred to manifest impatience, plants a napkin under his or her chin, of the dimensions of a moderate-sized tablecloth. The females pin the extremities to each shoulder so that in front they have much the appearance of being in their shrouds. The menu card is studied, orders given, and content and pleasure reign. At these family feasts, children are literally crammed, indulged with wines and the delicacies called for by adult taste, their parents delighted in proportion to the quantity they consume.

Eating, under almost any circumstances, is to a looker-on a vulgar operation. In one of these restaurants, it is certainly an amusing one to a veteran traveler. whose sensibilities had long since their edges blunted. The French from early habit frequently make themselves very much at home at restaurants and cafes, spending their evenings at the latter, reading the journals, and playing chess and dominoes, paying the same by calling for a bottle of beer or a glass of brandy. I have myself seen a woman who had come in by herself, after finishing her repast, coolly throw herself back in a chair and proceed to take a comfortable digestive nap, apparently wholly oblivious to the existence and manifold trials of the race denominated unprotected females.

Related post:

Extreme Good Recycling  Warning: Do not read during or immediately after a meal!

Traveler’s Bonus:

The Cheapest Gourmet Restaurants in Paris

titles

%d bloggers like this: