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moulinrouge

The Moulin Rouge. Polychrome photo, 1914

 

With nearly 600,000 visitors every year, Moulin Rouge is in the top ten must-see items on the tourist’s list. Located at the bottom of a hill in the Montmartre neighborhood—then a semi-rural setting favored by artists—Moulin Rouge opened its doors in 1889 to offer champagne-filled parties during which remarkable dancers and singers performed. Very soon, the establishment became world-famous for a scandalous dance called the can-can. No one has described the can-can in better words than Mark Twain here.

 

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With enough champagne bottles emptied, spectators found themselves willing participants on the dance floor that was installed to admire the performers up close. The great painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, immortalized these scenes of night-time delirium in some of his famous works. It is mainly thanks to Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, that the two most colorful Moulin Rouge dancers remain in our consciousness.

 

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Moulin Rouge’s top star La Goulue with the silhouette of her dance partner Valentin the Boneless

 

 

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No less popular is this Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster featuring Jane Avril

 

The two women had only one thing in common: they both excelled on the dance floor. La Goulue, low-born and vulgar, was the prototype of the working-class girl found in the dancing halls. Louise Weber—her real name— was born in 1868 and passed to posterity as La Goulue for her greedy behavior: she liked to empty the guests’ glasses that stood within her reach.   The other dancers did not fare any better as to the choice of their nom d’artiste. There was the Cheese Kid, the Sewer Grid, or Nini the Paws-in-the-Air. This joyful band was not impressed with royalty. “Hey, Wales,” La Goulue addressed the heir to the British throne, “the champagne is in your name so is it you who pays or is your Mama [Queen Victoria] inviting us?”

 

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La Goulue’s sensual, provocative body corresponded to the taste of the time that appreciated generous femininity.

 

 

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La Goulue entering the Moulin-Rouge. 1892. Lautrec painted her with a smirk on her face that is difficult to interpret: is it the arrogance of a diva or simple tiredness?

 

 

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Toulouse-Lautrec remained La Goulue’s friend well after her triumphs. In this picture, they sit side by side with La Môme Fromage (the Cheese Kid) opposite

 

Soon, La Goulue ceased to please and turned to her painter-friend for help. Now self-employed, she would sell her renown in the fairgrounds.  To recall her prestigious past, Lautrec painted two large panels exposed on the front of her fairground hut.  A few years later, when in debt, she had to sell these panels and they were cut into smaller canvasses by a greedy merchant.  In 1929, they were bought and restored by the Louvre and can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay.

 

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La Goulue’s fairground hut with panels painted by Toulouse-Lautrec

 

The next adventure began in 1900 when La Goulue married. With her husband, a magician in trade, she learned to tame wild beasts.  Unfortunately, they were both assaulted during the show.

 

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By that time, La Gouloue’s life was on a sharp downward slide. Her husband was shot in 1914, the victim of a German bullet in the WW1. Her son, who she claimed was fathered by a prince, died at 27.

 

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La Goulue with her son Simon

 

deathShe lived miserably in a caravan, where she gathered ailing circus animals, and she returned to the Moulin Rouge for financial support. She was allowed to sell peanuts and cigarettes on the sidewalk. Now and then, she’d get drunk and shout: “I’m La Goulue! Can’t you see it? I was the greatest star here!”

The newspapers announced La Goulue’s death in 1929.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jane Avril by Edgar Chahine

 

 

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Jane Avril, charcoal sketch by Picasso

Born near Paris, but seemingly coming from another planet, was Jane Avril, the other celebrated Moulin Rouge star. Strange and mysterious, she did not need the raw sensuality of La Goulue to seduce her audience. She’d come and go as she pleased –no salaried employment for her—and simply danced with every nerve in her body. Except for that, she had nothing in common with the other dancers. They did not understand her and they did not like her. For them, she was Mad Jane. But Mad Jane did not care. She found her friends and lovers in intellectual circles.  She could marry if she wanted to for there were willing takers but she loved her freedom.

 

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Toulouse-Lautrec: Jane Avril Leaving the Moulin Rouge, a lonely, mysterious figure

 

Her story of an enfant-martyre explains a lot. Born Jeanne Beaudon, in 1868, to a Second Empire courtesan, and fathered by an Italian aristocrat to whom she was an embarrassment, she was first brought up by her maternal grandparents. Her life took a turn for the worse when her sadistic mother decided that Jane should live with her in Paris. She was nine when she entered hell. Today, Jane’s mother would be identified as a dangerous psychopath but the science in Jane’s childhood did not yet reach that stage. Nor did the social services function as they do today. The children, then, were the property of their parents. Several people knew that Jane was beaten at least twice a day for invented offenses, but none reported the abuse to the police. It was just not done. The constant stress had to show somewhere and Jane developed a chorea minor, then referred to as Saint Vitus Dance. It is a nervous disorder characterized by rapid, involuntary jerking movements. At fourteen, she ran away from home. Finally, she found herself in a madhouse and happy as a lark. One can fully appreciate the degree of her suffering when a child finds the madhouse a step above her home.

In her biography, Jane relates that during a musical entertainment at the hospital, she suddenly got up and began to dance. In front of her audience’s eyes, she changed from a timid, shivering nonentity into a graceful nymph. Her condition improved and, soon, she was released to her mother’s care. She ran away—for good— at sixteen to live with a student. She gave all of herself to this first love, only to find herself betrayed. This was too heavy a load for her fragile constitution. Immediately after the discovery, she ran toward the Seine to jump from a bridge. A prostitute talked her out of the idea. Jane spent that night in a brothel. The next day the inmates went to a public ball, taking their new protégé with them.

 

avrilThe public ball was Jane’s second awakening. From then on, her life became divided in two: a day job to keep her from hunger and a night life to keep away her demons. Her talent led to prestigious theatrical engagements when an exceptional dance number was needed and, for a time, she was the ambassador of French can-can in London and in Madrid. Her poise, grace, and intelligence made her a welcome guest at dinner parties. A friend of novelists, dramatists, artists, philosophers, and scientists, she also captured the heart of Toulouse-Lautrec who saw in her a sister soul. He too was a victim of physical suffering. He, too, had an unusual childhood. They remained friends until the painter’s premature death.

 

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Such was Jane Avril’s status in the world of entertainment that her presence in the audience recommended any show (poster by Toulouse-Lautrec)

 

In her forties, Jane finally settled down to sixteen years of quiet married life. She died in 1943 at the age of seventy-five.

 

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The sidewalks of Paris were populated by merchants of all kinds. A witness to his time, Victor Gilbert painted the city markets with their profusion of colorful flower stalls,  displays of raw meat or bowls of steaming soup. His sensitivity to detail is evident in every scene. His naturalistic paintings are valid documents for today’s study of street life in the late 19th century Paris.

 

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Victor Gabriel Gilbert in his studio

 

Victor Gilbert was born in 1860 as an apprentice to a decorative painter. In the evening, he attended art classes under the direction of Father Levasseur at the École de la Ville in Paris. He began his career at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1873. He earned a second class medal at the Salon of 1880 and a silver medal at the 1889 World Exhibition. He became a member of the Society of French Artists in 1914. Victor Gilbert was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1897 and was awarded the Léon Bonnat Prize in 1926.

 

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As a bonus:

 

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Luther Emerson Van Gorder: Quai aux Fleurs

Related posts:

Extreme Food Recycling  (Caution: Do not read before or after a meal.)

Paris Guide 1868: Things to beware of when shopping

 

 

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commune 1

 

A blook? I bet your reaction was “Huh?” as was mine when I first heard that word. That happened two weeks ago and, yesterday, the mailman brought me a fairly heavy parcel which contained my blook. Since yesterday was also my birthday—a very round one—I could have hardly received a better gift.

 

You, too, can have a blook, assuming that you have a blog (who doesn’t?) and a valid credit card. Made of time and energy, a blog is a body without substance, which is in danger of disappearing should the technology that keeps it together break down. I had that thought several times in the past, telling myself that I should print the posts or at least save them, but I failed to find the time. Never mind now. The blook is here to save us from possible cyber-annihilation.

 

So what do you do to get a printed book out of your blog and how long does it take? Assuming, again, that your blog needs no serious editing, and that you need no help with the cover design, the whole process of uploading and pdf-churning takes about ten minutes. The result is a high-quality printed version of your blog plus a free epub edition to read on your phone or tablet while awaiting the delivery of the real thing.

 

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You can choose a program-generated cover design or make your own

 

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Careful with the captions: if you add them as an afterthought, they will format into narrow columns. I had to part with several posts rather than to start over

 

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I would wish for a better use of space here but considering that no human hand handled the page, it looks acceptable

 

 

 

 

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eiffel story

A postcard stamped with the words Sommet de la Tour Eiffel was a proof that the sender had made it to the top

 

The Eiffel Tower, the unmistakable symbol of Paris, is 128 years old and, with seven million paying visitors a year, it is the most profitable monument in the city. Like all stories, the story of the Eiffel Tower is not without controversy. In the beginning, the odds were against this “odious pillar of bolted metal” as in here:

 
[…]Imagine for a moment a vertiginously ridiculous tower, as well as a gigantic black factory chimney, overlooking Paris, crushing with its barbaric mass the Notre Dame , The Sainte Chapelle, the Saint-Jacques Tower, the Louvre, the dome of the Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our monuments humiliated, all our architectures dwarfed, which will disappear in this astounding dream. And for twenty years we shall see spreading over the whole city, still vibrating with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see the odious shadow of the odious pillar of bolted metal spreading like an inkblot.[…]

 
Thus protested, in a petition published in 1887, the top painters, sculptors, music composers, writers, and other lights of the French cultural elite. Boy, were they wrong! For a start, the tower outlived the twenty years of its proposed duration thanks to its adaptability. It was used for scientific experiments (radio signals from the tower to the Panthéon in 1898), it served as a military radio station in 1903, it facilitated the first public radio program in 1925, and, finally, it adapted to the television signal. As for the ugliness, the 300 petition signatories could not have been more mistaken. What other architectural object in Paris had been inspiring more artistic creativity in painting, poetry, and music? Besides, the petition came too late as the tower had already been under construction for a month. At the time, the project had no other purpose than to showcase the French technical and engineering ability at the 1899 World Fair.

 

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The projected site of the 1899 Paris Universal Exposition on the Champ de Mars

 

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The 1000-foot Tower envisaged for the Philadelphia Universal Exhibition, its height compared to that of the main monuments of the world

 

 

 

The idea of a one-thousand-feet tower came from the United States, where such a project was envisioned for the Philadelphia World Exposition and rejected as impossible to realize. It is well-known, at least among the French, that “l’impossible n’est pas français.” A concourse was launched for a tour with a square base of 25 meters and the height of 300 meters (approx. one thousand feet). The project went to the firm of Gustave Eiffel, whose two engineers, Émile Nouguier and Maurice Kœchlin, were at the origin of the design.

 

 

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The first sketch of the tower by Maurice Kœchlin

 

The construction began on January 28, 1887. Standing 984 feet high upon completion on March 15, 1889, the Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest structure. It kept that honor for 41 years until the Chrysler Building topped it out in 1930, standing at 1,046 feet.

 

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The tower weighs 10,100 tons and comprises 18,000 metallic parts joined together by 2.5 million rivets. It is possible to climb to the top, but there are 1,665 steps. Most people take the lift.

 

Repainting the tower, which happens every seven years, requires 60 tons of paint. The color of the tower is not uniform. It has three distinct shades of the same hue. The darker is applied near the ground, the lighter covers the upper parts. This is done in order to limit the visual impact of the tower against the Parisian sky.

 

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The tower base with the Trocadéro Palace, which was demolished in 1937 to make room for the Palais de Chaillot

 

Nowadays the color is bronze, but it is not definitive. Indeed, between two painting projects, visitors have the opportunity to give their opinions on the color to be taken for the next painting job. Of course, they have no choice between red, green, yellow or blue, but between different shades of brown-brown-bronze. There is a suggestion box on the first floor of the tower that receives these choices. Initially, the tower was brown-red. Later, it took on a yellow-ocher tone before finding its definitive color in the brown palette.

 

After the completion of the tower, and after having witnessed its success, most of the distinguished petition signatories apologized for their short-sightedness. However, Guy de Maupassant made it his honorable duty to frequently dine at the feet of the tower, which was—according to him—the only place in Paris where the structure could not be seen.

 

Related post:

Paris of the 1870s: Risen From the Ashes

 

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The advertising columns have been an integral part of the Paris boulevard landscape. They hide a story

In The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk, we read that Parisians consumed large quantities of drink in public places. It follows that they had to frequently part with excess liquid. Before 1834, they could avail themselves of the services of self-appointed street hygienists who, clad in a leather apron, paced the public places offering a pail. However, money wasted on the men in leather aprons could be better spent on more drinking, and, besides, the pee-man himself could be lounging in some café and drinking away his earnings. Most men simply relieved themselves where the need overtook them and the city stank.

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An early public urinal in alloy

Around 1770, an order was issued to homeowners to install wooden barrels at street corners to serve as urinals. These were useful, but they lacked sophistication and, often, they lacked altogether. In 1834, the Paris City Hall introduced the first public urinals. Unlike the barrels and the men with pails, they were always there, and they were free. The expense of caring for 478 public conveniences proved to be ruinous to the city budget; they needed to generate some income. In 1839, a new design was introduced: an advertising column with the urinal inside. It was a superb idea. By 1868, street columns appeared that served only for advertising and they have been a part of the Parisian street furniture to this day.

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A successful new version added advertising

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The columns generated so much income that their dual function was abandoned and the urinal design developed separately. This one served five men at once

 

The website Vintage Everyday offers a diverting gallery of the Parisian pissotières in all their surprising variety.

 

Related posts:

The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk

The Government of Paris Will Sell Your Crinoline

The Government of Paris: A Success Story

 

 

 

 

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In 1909, a French banker Albert Khan sent several photographers around the world to take polychrome images on all continents. The project was called The Archives of the Planet. These twenty pictures of Paris are a part of that project. They were taken in 1914 at the beginning of the WW1.

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17 more pictures…

More about Paris history:

The Guide to Gay Paree 1869 – Part 7: Sightseeing

 

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cafe

Leon Joseph Voirin, La Terrasse du Cafe – Spending time in a café “en famille” was not a sin in France. Elsewhere, women seen in cafés risked their reputation

I would have a hard time trying to find the exact source of this anonymous text, but the writing style points to the early Victorian times. No doubt, the author was one of the American tourists appreciating France’s unabashed joie-de-vivre and the lack of remorse for having good time – a remorse which was so ingrained in the Anglo-Saxon soul.

An American is made for indoors, but a Frenchman’s home is the outside half of his house. It is for the street he sacrifices domestic comfort. He eats and drinks in the street; he reads his newspaper and takes his dram in the street. To appear like ladies or gentlemen in public one day in the week, either sex will economize their personal wants the remaining six to a condition bordering almost on penury, to save sufficient money to hire, if they cannot purchase, the necessary garments. More can be made of a small capital in Paris than in any other city. There is no occasion to buy anything. Whatever is needed of clothing, domestic utensils, or any article whatever, even to a newspaper, can be hired at moderate rates for any period of time.

One of the most striking contrasts between the French and Americans is in their physical appearance. Both sexes of the former look healthy and robust. Their countenances are full and florid, and have an expression of sensual ease and contentment, as if they were on good terms with themselves and the world. They have none of the care-worn, haggard American physiognomy, which gives youth the air of age, and betokens a race in which labor and thought are paramount to all other considerations. On the contrary, the French when old, look young. The pleasures of this life oil the joints of age, so that time slips smoothly by. If any class belie their years it is the children, to whom overdress and physical restraint give an expression of premature gravity or unnatural heaviness. No doubt the outdoor, and “care not for to-morrow,” life of the French, combined with their passion for amusements, has much to do in their fine state of preservation. Something must be put down to their superior toilets. For the English, with perhaps a higher condition of health, look beside them, to use a comprehensive term in the female vocabulary, like frights, or in other words, there is about as much difference of exterior between the two races as between a buffalo and a blood horse. This applies more particularly to the women. I verily believe an English lady to be incorrigible in matters of taste; or else it has become a point of honor with her to make herself as unattractive as possible. If both nations would divide equally their respective pride and vanity, the result would be a decided improvement in each. Add to this composition the go-ahead principle of brother Jonathan, and the world would have a specimen of a race that would soon distance all national competition in the essential points of order, beauty, and energy.

For a man whose passions are his slaves, whose sentiments are obedient to his will, whose emotions are made so many sources of epicurean pleasure, who lives only to extract the greatest amount of happiness from the sensual world, regardless of a spiritual life, Paris affords resources which are not to be found elsewhere. It is emphatically the home of the man of the world. All that the head can covet is at his option ; but if he has the faintest suspicion of possessing a heart in which dwells the love of the true and natural, he had better withdraw it from the vortex of Parisian life, before it is sucked in too deep to escape.

Related posts:

The Pilgrims and the Sinners: Sunday in Paris

Mark Twain and the Cancan

 

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