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Posts Tagged ‘19th century France’

interior 1

 

With the streets dotted with busy cafés, with the boulevards and city parks alive with unhurried flâneurs, Paris in the 19th century was an immense outdoor living-room where all classes mixed freely. But what homes did they return to when the day was over? To be sure, the wealthiest headed for their mansions called hôtels privés – not to be confused with a real hotel – while the rest, from the well-to-do to the poorest citizens, lived atop each other in mostly six-storied houses. To better understand this class arrangement, view the picture in the post Living Vertically.

The illustration you saw above represents a sitting room of the privileged inhabitants found on the second floor just above the street level and the entresol, both occupied by shops and offices. The rooms on this floor were spacious, the ornate ceilings higher than those on the floors above, the walls and doors treated with elaborate decoration. The large French windows usually lead to a balcony. They provided plentiful light and fresh air in the summer and unpleasant cold drafts in the winter. The only source of heat was the fireplace, where the fire consumed expensive wood logs (coal was not frequently used in Paris) and even the most affluent Parisians occasionally suffered from cold.

In the following picture, we are in a cozy, but reduced dwelling, probably situated on one of the upper floors. A card reader conducts her profitable business in her bedsitter. Notice the old-fashioned built-in bed. If the bed is somewhat shorter than normal, it is for a reason. In the past, Frenchmen used to sleep in a reclining position to ease breathing. The niche in which the bed was inserted was called alcôve and to this day the expression les secrets d’alcôve refers to seduction, adultery, and other spicy activities in the bedroom.

interior 1a

 

A lower-class room, like the one below, would be home to a skilled worker or a small shopkeeper. A young family, in their Sunday best, are visiting aged parents. The son has done well, he is probably a white-collar, or the daughter has married wisely. The old couple is decidedly working-class.  There are signs of mild comfort: a small carpet on the floor, some pictures hanging on the wall, and cheap knick-knacks on the dresser.

interior 2

The last floor, directly under the roof, was reserved for the poor. It was home to the servants of the house, or—worse—to the near destitute as long as they could afford rent. The illustration below is a picture of utter misery, but life under the roof was not comfortable in the best of cases. In the old houses, water had to be carried up from the courtyard and in the newer buildings the taps ended on the fourth floor because there was no sufficient pressure in the pipes. There was no heating; a portable stove on which a stew would be cooked, was rarely used as fuel was too expensive. Cooked food came cheaper when purchased from the street vendors.

interior 3

Related posts:

Living Vertically: Parisian housing in 1850 (1)

Living Vertically: Parisian housing in 1850 (2)

Feared and Despised: The Parisian concierge

 

 

 

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You are in Paris and you are in the mood for some entertainment. Nothing too heavy on the intellectual side nor do you want to explore the seedy aspect of the city. You are simply looking for clean fun with an edge.
If you don’t mind loud noise, you can stop at the Hippodrome to see The Live Projectile, Miss Zazel de Farini, blasted out of a cannon:

spectacle projectile vivant
Amateurs of the bizarre, go to the Folies Bergère, where Captain Constentenus, tattooed at the order of Yakoob Beg, the Chief of the Tartars, will show you his body decorated with 2 million needle jabs and 325 animal figures:

spectacle tattooed man
Equally bizarre, but more graceful are Rosa-Josepha, the phenomenal Siamese twins at the Théâtre  de la Gaîté:

spectacle siamese
For even more grace, with the added bonus of fantasy, and an eyeful of exposed female legs, head for the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin to see the Snow Ballet in the show The Voyage to the Moon:

spectacle ballet de la neige

Should you find the ballet too tame, there is an additional excitement when dance is performed in a lion cage like here at the Olympia Théâtre:

spectacle danse avec lions

The sight of the most ferocious beasts occupying a single cage will titillate you at the Paris Zoo:

spectacle cage des betes feroces
For a taste of faraway cultures, see the exotic Tuareg tribe from the sands of Sahara at the Vélodrome d’Hiver:

spectacle tuaregs
The Théâtre des Variétés, on the other hand, will take you back in history in a sumptuous play with a cast of druids and pretty heroines on live horses:spectacle theatre des varietes

Related posts:

The Guide to Gay Paree 1869: Entertainment

Mark Twain and the Cancan

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mont de piete

Excerpt from Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles (1873) by Charles C. Fulton:

Mont-de-Piété is one of the most important and extensive establishments connected with the city government of Paris. It is a municipal pawnbroker establishment for the relief and protection of the poor, and, indeed, of all classes who may by either poverty or misfortune be compelled to borrow money on their personal effects. That the extent of this establishment may be understood, it is only necessary to state that it has two principal offices in opposite section of the city, twenty auxiliary offices in different wards or arrondissements, and has three hundred officers connected with it.

The average number of articles pledged daily is three thousand, but no pledges are received from anyone unless they are known to be householders, or produce a passport or papers en règle, showing who they are and that the property they offer is their own. The privilege of loaning money on deposits is enjoyed exclusively by this establishment: hence thieves have but little opportunity of disposing of their plunder. Out of two millions of articles pledged per annum, the average number delivered to the police on suspicion of theft is three hundred and ninety-one, representing loans to the amount of eight thousand nine hundred francs. Thus this establishment, instead of encouraging theft, leads to detection, punishment, and restoration of stolen goods.

The Mont-de-Piété is under the authority of the Minister of the Interior and the Prefect of the Seine and is managed by a Director, appointed by the former. It has a Council or Board of Managers, consisting of three members of the City Council, three citizens of Paris, and three members of three Council of Public Assistance. The number of officers employed in its management is over three hundred, and they are kept busy for twelve or fourteen hours per day.

Everything that is brought to be pledged is carefully appraised, and the amount loaned is four-fifths of the value of gold and silver articles, and two-thirds of the value of other effects, provided no loan at the two central offices exceeds ten thousand francs, and at the branch establishments five hundred francs. From this, it will be seen it is not used entirely by the extremely poor, but all classes at times avail themselves of its advantages to enable them to ride over temporary difficulties.

mont-de-piete

The pledges of the previous day are brought every morning to the central establishments or the two storehouses and it would be difficult to find in the whole of Paris a scene of more stirring business activity. The system with which the whole business is managed is wonderful, there being one department where borrowers are enabled to refund by installments the sums advanced: even one franc is received.

Whilst the work of redeeming pledges is constantly in progress in one part of the establishment, another is crowded with men, women, and children with bundles to offer for small advances, which continues from nine o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon. In another section, an auction is daily held for the sale of forfeited pledges, which have not been redeemed within the time specified. After a year, or rather fourteen months, the effects, if the duplicate be not renewed by paying the interest due upon it, are thus sold, and the auction room is a scene for a painter. Here all the old-clothes establishments are represented, and at times the bidding is very lively, nothing being sold and no bids received for less sum than the amount advanced.

Related posts:

The Government of Paris: A success story

Parisian Foundlings

The Dead of Paris

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Election of the Queen

Election of the Queen

Paris of the 19th century was home to a boisterous and hard-working female corporation. Nearly one hundred thousand washerwomen worked either in the brick-and-mortar laundries across the city, or in the bateaux-lavoirs  –  wooden constructions floating on the river.  They labored twelve to fifteen hours a day, six days a week, with no sick leave or paid vacation. Once a year though, Paris treated them like royalty. During the feasts of Mid-Lent, the streets of Paris exploded with the frenzy of carnival, whose principal actors were the washerwomen. With great pomp and circumstance, the women of each lavoir elected a queen and the new sovereigns, escorted by masks, paraded on the boulevards in elaborate floats. Much drinking and merry-making accompanied the procession. In the 1890’s city authorities decided to nominate the Queen of Queens—the best of all the locally elected queens—to represent the spirit of the feast. This custom survived into the 20th century when it was interrupted by the WWII and was never fully revived.

The Queen and her entourage

The Queen and her entourage

The Queen of Queens

The Queen of Queens received by her sponsors

Other posts of interest:

French-watching in 1850: Feeding time at a popular restaurant

Parisian Lifestyle: Sensual ease and contentment

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sports belfort One hundred and twenty-five years ago—and four years before the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896—the first long distance course was organized by a Parisian newspaper. It was all new and nobody had the slightest idea how the participants would behave during the 500-kilometers long journey. The vast majority were ignorant of the first principles of physical training. However, of the 840 men who gathered in Paris, about 250 reached Belfort – not a bad result at all considering that they had neither experience nor the comfortable sportswear we enjoy today. One has to admit though that the assortment of jackets, jerseys, naval uniforms, and the variety of headgear, scarves, and bright belts gave the participants that romantic look of adventure which we usually don’t associate with sports.

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As terror stalks the streets of Paris, one is forced to remember the 1890’s when the situation was similar; when men and women infected with extreme ideas and with no regard for human life carried out deadly attacks on innocent people. While the Islamists work for the ideal of the Caliphate—a world-wide state where everyone will be either Muslim or dead—the anarchists of the 19th century advocated a government-free, self-managed society. Have you heard of the anarchists lately? Not so much, I’d say. That’s the fate of all insane movements.

 

aniche bomb au cafe terminus arrestation dynamite a la chambre dynamite au commissariat ravachol

Related posts:

The Gangs of Paris

Saint-Lazare: Women in prison 

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The art of sitting in a cage crinoline

The art of sitting in a cage crinoline

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage post, published here earlier, discussed the encumbrance of this fashionable accessory mostly in a humorous way. Yet there was a serious—one may say tragic—side to the matter.

When the crinoline had reached its greatest degree of expansion, it was extremely hard—indeed, practically impossible—for more than two ladies to manoeuvre their skirts in one small room. “It was necessary,” remarked a lady of the Empress Eugénie’s court, in later years, “to watch one’s every movement carefully, to walk with a gliding step, and to supply the elegance lacking to the outline by a certain yieldingness of figure.   It was not easy for a woman to walk with such a mass of material to carry along with her. But as to sitting, it was a pure matter of art to prevent the steel hoops from getting out of place. To step into a carriage without crushing the light tulle and lace fabrics required a long time, very quiet horses, and a husband of extraordinary patience! To travel, to lie down, to play with the children, or indeed merely to shake hands and to walk with them—these were problems which called for great fondness and much good will for their solution.”

Women, moreover, with the introduction of the most advanced Victorian fashions, had become highly inflammable. Though gasoliers now lighted ballroom and drawing-room in place of the crystal chandeliers and silver sconces, candles and oil lamps were still set in dangerous proximity to flimsy shawls, sleeves and skirts, and the chronicles of the nineteenth century are full of stories  of dreadful deaths by fire – of how the Duchess de Maillé was burned to death at her friend’s fireside; how the Archduchess Mathilde, discovered smoking, attempted to hide the surreptitious cigarette in her petticoat and went up in flames; how a French actress was incinerated on stage; and how Queen Victoria’s daughter, the Princess Royal, narrowly escaped death by the same agency.

Source: Victorian Panorama by Peter Quennell

Further reading:

Visit the richly illustrated Crinoline Review 1850-1859

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