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Posts Tagged ‘19th century France’

10.

The health care counts as one of the main reason why you would not want to live in the 19th century. It is easy to be seduced by paintings and movies. From our point of view of ragged jeans, tattoos, and messy hair, the elegance of tall hats, snow-white shirts, and gloves for the gentlemen, the lace, silk, and sculpted hairdos for the ladies, paint a picture of the lost perfect word. Ah, if only…

Wake up to the reality of our ancestors’ life. The snow-white shirts and the lace got rapidly dirty in the polluted air. Heating was provided by wood and coal, both producing ashes. In addition to sooth covering every urban surface, the streets reeked of urine and other byproducts of horse transport. Read  Life in the Age of Decay. (All links below)

The beautiful, elaborate gowns were unwashable because they were composites of too many materials, each needing special care. They were maintained by brushing and spot-cleaning; they never saw water. As for the poor, who formed the vast majority of the population, their water came in buckets, often from a faraway source, and had to be heated. Keeping clean was both time-consuming and expensive. In short, if the streets reeked, horses were only one part of the problem.

Food could kill you. No refrigeration meant that animal products spoiled rapidly. Little or no food control made eating  hazardous to your health. Adulteration with unhealthy substances was not uncommon. The post Extreme Food Recycling depicts the brutal situation. (Warning: do not read it before, during, or immediately after a meal.)

This lack of hygiene had consequences. Illness and early death were ever-present, with the average life-span only half of what it is today. If you would fall ill, you would stay in bed and send for a doctor. He would, in all probability, bleed you and prescribe some drops or powders to take in your drink. The rest was up to you.

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goiter

Medical knowledge was still rudimentary. Easily treatable diseases like the goitre disfigured people. This woman is not scared, and her contemporaries would know that, as they were used to the sight. Bulging eyes and swollen throat were the result of a malfunctioning thyroid gland.

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Hospitals were for the utterly destitute and no one in their right mind would go near one. Except perhaps for an urgent amputation, which in many cases resulted in death by sepsis, or a heart failure because of the searing pain for which there was no relief. Instead of washing their hands and wearing protective clothing, surgeons operated in their street clothes and an apron coated with dried blood. They washed their hands after the surgery.

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amputation

Amputation of a shoulder joint

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The plodding history of French hospitals/hospices under the Ancient Regime was interrupted by the radical hand of the Revolution.  In the Year II (1794), these institutions were nationalized. Only four years later, the revolutionaries realized they were unable to cope with the overwhelming task of poverty, and they dropped hospitals into the care of the municipalities who housed them. There they remained. Two centuries later, the mayor is still the chairman of the hospital’s board of directors.

Of the Ancient Regime hospitals in Paris, the largest was La Salpêtrière. It was an infamous women’s asylum, which was operated more like a prison, housing prostitutes, the mentally ill and the disabled. It had a terrible reputation. During the Revolution, in 1792, the hospital was stormed with the intention of releasing the detained women. However, the situation got out of hand. Instead, the mob dragged out thirty-five of the women and murdered them. In the next century, the female inmates were exploited in the study of hysteria. (Professor Charcot and the Amplification of Hysteria and The Ball of the Folles.)

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massacre

The La Salpêtrière Massacre  

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Around the mid-century, things began to change with the invention of anesthesia. It was now possible to cut the patients open and repair them from the inside. Thanks to scientists Semmelweiss, Lister, and Pasteur, the knowledge of harmful bacteria resulted in improved cleanliness. Now it made more sense, even for the moneyed, to seek help at the hospital. And money you needed when you had the bad luck to be admitted into a secular establishment.

In the hospitals ran by the religious authorities, and staffed by dedicated nuns, the patients were more or less equal. Not so in the secular hospitals, where those who could pay received all the attention while those who had no money got next to none. It took many years and many changes before patient care reached today’s standards.

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hospital

The visiting hour at a 19th century hospital ward

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In his book, The Modern Parisienne, Octave Uzanne looked at women earning their life in relatively new professions. His portrayal of nurses is damning. The book was published in 1912 and it is only reasonable to think that the bad manners and lack of professionalism were even worse in the preceding fifty years.

The lay staff of the hospitals includes the ward maids, the

probationers, and the superintendents. The ward maids do

all the hard work. They sweep, make the beds (as badly as

possible), distribute and change the plates at meal-times,

cut up the bread, and live in a perpetual state of hostility to

the probationers, with whom they desire to be on an

equality. From this feeling arise continual quarrels and

complaints, in which the patients are often compelled to

take part, to their great disadvantage.

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The ward maids are strong girls from the country, stupid,

coarse and rough, inconceivably awkward, if by an evil

chance they are called upon to give any help to a patient.

Their aim is to get through their work as quickly as possible,

to meet and gossip in their refectory. They are inveterate

beggars, and are always on the look-out to wring a few sous

from the patients. Everything must be paid for — a commis-

sion, a letter to the post; they smuggle in tobacco

and alcohol — in spite of a rule which absolutely forbids

gratuities. They are utterly indifferent to the patients, as

are nine out of ten of all the lay hospital assistants.

One of our friends knew an unfortunate man with a wound

in the leg, unable to go to the lavatory, and who for three

days asked in vain for a basin of water — he had no money.

The ward maids are boarded and lodged at the hospital.

They earn twenty to twenty-five francs per month, and

they have a free day once a fortnight.

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The probationers (boursières) are young girls of from

twenty to twenty-five. Very often they are pretty. They

have influence, and are recommended to their posts. They

receive some rudimentary training in dispensing, obstetrics,

and medicine, also in dressing and bandaging. In theory,

they are on the same footing as the ward maids, but not in

practice. As the superintendents are recruited from their

ranks they receive superior consideration. Their duties are

to give out the medicine, &c., at fixed hours, to renew

dressings, to apportion to the patients their proper food,

and to watch the serious cases at night. They are required

to make the rounds frequently, to watch the dying, lay out

the dead, open and shut the windows at fixed hours, and

see that everything is clean. They fulfil these duties with

great indifference. If they dislike a patient they manage

to forget the hour for his medicine, and it is a lucky

chance if they do not make mistakes and poison some poor

creature committed to their care.

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These statements are not exaggerated, and may be proved

any day in every hospital in Paris. The probationers spend

most of their time laughing and flirting with the house-

surgeons, dressers, or visitors. In this they are particularly

successful. They do not behave much better during the

doctor’s visits and as they pay little or no attention to his

orders, it is not surprising if they make blunders. They

take their meals outside, except when they are on duty,

which is twenty-four hours in three days, and sleep at home

except when on night duty. They are dressed like the ward

maids and superintendents, in a black dress, white apron

with bib, white sleeves, and a white cap with white bow.

The head-superintendents have a black bow on the cap.

Their name of boursières comes from the remuneration,

called a bourse, given by the Municipal Council, of 125

francs per month. They have a free day once a week.

When they are on night duty, they take part in convivial

parties given by the house-surgeons, and have a gay and

merry time. In a certain hospital which we will not name,

where a poet friend was a patient, the house-surgeons and

boursières on Shrove Tuesday romped in fancy dress through

the wards where men were dying — a most edifying spectacle.

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The superintendent is an old probationer nominated

after several competitive examinations. She has the direction

of a ward and entire command of all the male and female

staff attached to it, under the control of the house-surgeon.

Her duties are not heavy, consisting only in the distribution

of wine and the dressing of some cases where the relatives

have paid her specially. She is, as a rule, a sharp, scolding,

authoritative person. She has no love for the boursières

and annoys them as much as possible. She worries

the ward maids without any mercy. She has a small room

to herself at the entrance of the ward, where she keeps her

notes and where she retires to gossip with the superinten-

dents of the other wards. She, like all the others, has no

real compassion in her. She does what is strictly necessary

— nothing more; she has no love for her patients. Her

profession is, for her, both dull and disagreeable — and she

takes all the hours of liberty she can get. She is often

married and receives a salary of about 1200 to 1600 francs

a year. Like the probationers, she leaves the task of

laying-out the dead to the ward maids.

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We are not exaggerating the state of things, and moreover it is quite

comprehensible — these women have their interests outside

the hospital, their family, their friends. They go out often,

they draw a salary necessary to them for their living. It is

therefore a logical conclusion that they are not specially

enthusiastic about a very depressing profession, which

demands constant devotion of the most exalted kind.

Related posts:

Life in the Age of Decay

Extreme Food Recycling

Professor Charcot and the Amplification of Hysteria

The Madwomen’s Ball: A Flattering Invitation.

 

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The legacy of yesteryear, the recall of the skilled hands of painters, carvers, stonemakers, wood turners, tile-makers, sign-makers and other artisans, old storefronts still grace the streets of Paris. Around two hundred of them are protected by the Status of Historical Monuments. The most numerous among the survivors are shops selling food: bakers (boulangerie/ pâtisserie), confectioneries (confisserie), butchers (boucherie/ charcuterie), and bistros or restaurants.

Enjoy this old-charm gallery!

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Under the sign At the Cooked Herbs Renown this busy storefront combined the sale of dairy products and grilled meat

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This bakery still attracts shoppers with decorative tiles and hand painted panels

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The elaborate stonework and hand-painted tiles of this sign are the last remnants of a coffee-importer’s business

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Expensive marble panels and an intricate wood lace embellish this horsemeat butcher’s shop

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Made entirely of mosaic, this former horse butcher’s storefront still carries a sign announcing the purchase of horses for meat. Horse butcheries abounded before the arrival of the automobile. Horses served in transport before they ended as food. More about the growing troubles with horse transport here

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With its original merchandise still swimming on the tiles surrounding the shop window, this former fish shop is now a cosher fast food restaurant. It’s a pity that Jonathan did not put more care into marrying the new lettering with the old style

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All bells and whistles announce this old grocery shop

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The quality woodwork of this elegant restaurant storefront suggests the gourmet food inside

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Artwork by talented painters was a sign of success and the shopowner’s pride

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Beautiful panels seduced shoppers, Here, the gold lettering announces hot croissants inside. Who could resist the lure?

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Marrying art, skillful craftwork, and expensive materials, these ancient storefronts add beauty and charm to the streets of Paris

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Related posts:

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The Birth of Mass Shopping

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halles

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Les Halles were the commercial heart of Paris, a place of exchange and supply to the abundant life that had developed over the centuries. An entire chapter in Paris history was closed in 1971 with the destruction of this central market. Author Emile Zola closely described this anthill of human activity in his 1873 realistic novel Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris). It is a must read for researchers of this period, as are all Zola’s novels. (All twenty of them in one e-volume are available on Amazon for the ridiculous price of US 2.99).

A close look at the famous marketplace before it disappeared forever is provided by the 1950s documentary Twelve Hours in Halles posted below. No English translation is available, so here is what we see:

At midnight, when the Halles open, the first delivery trucks arrive. The merchandise is displayed, awaiting auctions. Around 4:00 AM, the Paris elite drops in for the famous onion soup, to rub shoulders with the market workers after having drunk champagne at some glitterati party. At 9:00 AM the market opens for shoppers. Old people from the neighborhood rummage through the organic garbage to gather ingredients for their soup. At noon, following a feverish trading, the market closes for cleaning, to be reopened again at midnight.  In the twelve hours of the never-changing routine, thirty thousand tonnes of merchandise have changed hands. Let the pictures talk and enjoy the forever-gone local color:

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Since the first video is no longer available, here is a replacement:

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The History

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halles pilori.

The marketplace supplied Paris for 800 years before it closed down. In medieval times, it housed a pillory. Convicts, mostly crooked traders using false weights, pimps, and blasphemers, were exposed there, and passers-by could throw all kinds of garbage at them. The executioner had his accommodation on the ground floor.

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hallesold

Les Halles at the beginning of the 1800s

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Around 1850, the cramped conditions and lack of hygiene forced the city council to vote for a reconstruction. At the same time, Napoleon’s ambitious nephew, Louis-Napoleon, seized power and crowned himself an emperor. With Napoleon III came the forceful “hausmanization” of Paris described in this post.The emperor had a look at the building plans and halted the project of heavy stone pavilions. Inspired by the Crystal Palace in London, and enthusiastic about the recently built spacious Gare de l’Est, he said to Prefect Haussmann: “I need large umbrellas, nothing more!”

halles design

Architect Victor Baltard’s light-weight pavilions won the emperor’s approval. The construction started in 1854, and took 15 years to complete. The market covered an area of 135 thousand square feet

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halles interior

The airy cast iron and glass interior

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Each pavilion had its specialty: number 3 for meat, number 9 for fish, and so on. Fruits and vegetables were also sold in the covered alleys and on the surrounding streets. The volume of the merchandise was enormous. As an example, each day, the butter, egg, and cheese pavilion took in a delivery of one hundred wagonloads of eggs, each wagon carrying seventy crates. Each of these cases contained 1,440 eggs.

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halles eggs

Inspecting eggs with the help of candlelight in the Dairy Pavillion cellar. The City of Paris employed one hundred egg inspectors to guarantee freshness. They were sworn in and placed directly under the supervision of the Prefecture de Police. 

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A postcard shows the feverish morning activity at Les Halles

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Someone had to move all this merchandise, and not just anyone. The task was performed by the Forts. These strongmen were easily identifiable thanks to their large hat, the coltin, with a built-in lead disc helping to support heavy loads carried on the head. The Forts formed a famous brotherhood, created under the reign of Louis IX during the 13th century.

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halles forts

Two Forts wearing their coltin hats 

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The organization was hierarchical. The chiefs were recognized by their silver medal, while the simple Forts wore a copper one. Their motto was Strength and Honor. Not everyone could become a Fort. The hiring conditions were strict and the applicant had to fulfill all five of them:

  • To be of French nationality
  • To have done military service
  • To have a clean criminal record
  • To measure at least 1.67 meters (5,5″)
  • To be able to carry a load of 200 kg (circa 450 pounds) over a distance of 60 meters (65 yards)

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halles forts 2

The Forts at work

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With the constantly growing population, Paris suffered circulation problems. Around 1960, it became clear that the current food distribution had to be changed to ease the cramped conditions. It no longer made sense to bring all the food into the city to be redistributed afterwards. The decision to transfer the market to two suburban locations, Rungis and La Vilette, became official in 1962.

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halles end

This photo by Pierre Doisneau, taken after the destruction of Les Halles, fits the mood of the place at the end of an era in the city’s history

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Related posts:

Camel Steak, Anyone? Shopping for Food in Paris

Extreme Food Recycling Caution: Not for weak stomachs!

Paris Markets in Victor Gilbert’s Paintings

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This blog has quietly passed the 10-year anniversary. We met many remarkable personalities along the way, and I want to recall some of them in this post. Not all were paragons of virtue, but they were bursting with enthusiasm, perseverance, and unlimited energy. The combination of all three is what leads to high achievement. Here then is a collection of five exceptional go-getters:

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Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III

(1808-1873)

His megalomaniac uncle ravaged Europe, wasted a whole generation of Frenchmen on battlefields, and caused untold suffering to people across the continent, from Spain to Russia. Napoleon III, on the contrary, ruled for eighteen prosperous years with modernization and progress as his goals. For some strange reason, Napoleon the Great found his historical place among the admired personalities instead of being sent to hell along with Hitler. His industrious nephew, on the other hand, is called Napoleon le Petit (Napoleon the Small) by the ungrateful French. And yet! Where are the glorious conquests of Napoleon I now? Gone, long gone. Only the legend remains. The legacy of Napoleon III, far less glorious, but far more useful, is still with us. It’s time to do this remarkable man justice. His life story is just as colorful as his uncle’s. Read The English Courtesan Who Made a French Emperor

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the man who transformed Paris

(1809-1891)

Better known as Baron Haussmann, this man was chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal of Paris. Never before had a city been transformed so fast and so completely. Never again will we see such a ruthless urban upheaval for greater good. What was possible then, under the imperial absolutism, is no longer doable in a democratic state. Nevertheless, whichever way we look at it today, we cannot deny Baron Haussmann’s genius. Read more…

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Countess of Castiglione, professional beauty, secret agent, and pioneer of photography

(1837-1899)

Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoïni, the Countess of Castiglione by virtue of her marriage, and the most notorious narcissist of the century, led a busy life. Still in her teens, she became the mistress to a king who then sent her to conquer an emperor. After bedroom diplomacy in her youth, she spent the rest of her life posing for portraits of her gorgeous self. While doing so, she rewrote the rules of photography. Read La Castiglione: The Too Much Countess

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Charles F. Worth, father of the haute-couture and fashion dictator

(1825-1895)

When Charles Worth died, queens and other wealthy women around the world wept. In his egalitarian establishment, Rue de la Paix, royalty met with high-ranking prostitutes and the common language was money. This former printer’s apprentice, ended with 1,200 employees and a huge fortune. How did it all happen? Read it here…

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Sarah Bernhardt, the drama queen who conquered the world

(1844-1923)

The Divine Sarah as she was known worldwide, was a woman of many talents, and even more eccentricities. She possessed the energy of a power plant and an extraordinary courage to fight adversity. When she stood in the US Congress, pleading for America to join the WW1, no one had to ask who was this small, one-legged, old Frenchwoman. If you lived in a civilized country you would have heard her name. She’d made sure of that. Read The Inescapable Sarah Bernhardt here…

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Just published:

ONE FOR ALL

After twenty years apart, the Three Musketeers reunite to right a wrong.

Madelon-la-Belle left Paris twenty years ago to escape her damaged reputation. She abandoned her infant daughter, Louise, in the care of her sister. Now she is back, a wealthy widow, and she plans to be a caring mother. Her idea of caring motherhood is to make Louise a high-born heiress. It only needs a little deception.

This does not sit well with Louise’s father, Captain d’Artagnan of the Royal Musketeers, who finds Madelon’s plan unsound. He wants to see Louise married as soon as possible, before she becomes a slut like her mother, and has already found a good husband for her. Unfortunately, the formidable Madelon does not agree with d’Artagnan’s choice. A battle of wills ensues, involving d’Artagnan’s long-lost friends, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

A screenplay inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel.

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An advertising leaflet of the word’s first department store

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Christmas time is also shopping time, so let’s talk about the history of shopping. The oldest shopping malls were the weekly, monthly, or annual fairs open to all kinds of weather. The rest of the time people had to do with local products. What the shops offered was further restricted by a law that permitted selling only one type of commodity. For instance, umbrella merchants could not sell eye-glasses and vice versa. Poor choice of merchandise was common even in large cities until the appearance of public transport. The first omnibuses in Paris started operating in 1828, and they allowed people to venture out of their neighborhoods.

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The precursor of shopping malls. Toward the first half of the 19th century, glass-ceilinged passages equipped with gaslights and lined with shops and restaurants, married retailing with leisure

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The first shopping malls began as narrow streets provided with glass ceilings. These were called passages, and many are still functioning in Paris. The 1830s saw the birth of magasins des nouveautés. These were novelty shops that offered various commodities organized in distinct departments on several floors around a glass-ceilinged courtyard.

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Railways were the agents of change in shopping

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Past the mid-century, the railway changed all that. Trains brought provincials and foreign visitors, who would have never left their home otherwise. They all wanted to see the sights and to shop, shop, shop. Unfortunately, all Paris had to offer these avid shoppers was the lack of retail space. The rise of the giant department stores begun.

Aristide Boucicaut

The first on the market–and in the world–was Au Bon Marché. Founded in 1838, it survived the competition of the other novelty magazines by shrewd display tactics and remained the leader in innovations. The genius behind modern shopping science was Au Bon Marché’s next owner, Aristide Boucicaut who took over the magazine in 1852. He had many tricks up his sleeve, including placing related merchandise at the opposite ends of the store. You bought fabric in one corner, and to get a sewing thread to put the fabric together, you had to cross the store passing seductive displays of fashion accessories that would enhance the new dress. Nearly all the shopping strategies, including the orgiastic sales that influence us today, were invented by Boucicaut and his clever followers in these early days of mass shopping.

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The most important strategy, still employed today, was to bring people in by promises of a good deal (bon marché in French) and keep them there by offering luxury surroundings and classless hospitality. People came, both wealthy and poor. Upper-class women, for whom the streets were not safe, found there a pleasant change from the confinement of home. For the lower classes, never before invited into a palace, it was a self-esteem building experience. Here, they could enter freely and be waited upon, the same as the rich.

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At the time of Boucicaut’s death in 1887, the Au Bon Marché covered nearly 100,000 square feet, employed 1,788 people, and was earning 77 million francs a year, making it the largest retail business in the world.

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Galleries Lafayette

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Other spectacular shopping temples rose in the streets of Paris, such as Au Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Both are still on the same level of attraction as the Eiffel Tower.

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Related posts:

Crinolines and Impériales: Public Transport in Paris

The Guide to Gay Paree 1869 – Part 5: Shopping

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While Sunday in the Anglo-Saxon world–in London and in New York–meant only godly thoughts and strict rest with church, prayers, and roast beef for entertainment, Parisians were out for serious fun. Sunday, especially a summer Sunday, meant a trip beyond the city limits. For many, the goal was their favorite guinguette (‘gang-ette), an establishment with music and dance on the outskirts of Paris where wine and food were significantly cheaper than in the capital.

One of the Parisian favorite guinguettes was the Moulin de la Galette, a medieval windmill standing on the Montmartre hill and offering a magnificent view of the city. Before electricity made them obsolete, there were some three hundred windmills in Paris, of which only four remain today.

Pierre-August Renoir’s famous painting Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (1876) depicts the jovial and comfortable atmosphere that reigned on the outdoor dance floor:

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What better way to perceive the mood in this ball than testimonials! Thanks to the press, it is still possible to read them again. Extract from the Intransigeant of May 28, 1882:

Last Sunday I was at the ball. At the Moulin de la Galette ball. I went there – with two friends, the big big X… the devil’s innkeeper, and the big little B… librettist and dominotier, a bearded, illuminated, pot-bellied like a monk of Rabelais; the other bald like an egg and yellowed like old ivory.

I adore this bastringue, with its large rectangular hall, with a polished floor, all shining – its orchestra with bellowing trombones, squealing flutes – its youthful couples whirling in the waltz, hopping in the polka, swaying in the quadrille; it’s tables where other lovers consume, hand squeezing the hand with tenderness, the classic salad bowl of sweet wine or absinthes to which the bland addition of barley gives a sickly, chlorotic tint, a pale greenness or a greenish whiteness – the color of drowned faces …

The enduring popularity of this guinguette is best illustrated with a photo from 1938

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Other popular guinguettes dotted the banks of the rivers Seine and Marne, where Parisians went to enjoy water sports. Again, Renoir is here to show us what it was like. We see the company digesting lunch, but there is a dance floor somewhere and musicians waiting to strike a quadrille.

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Pierre-August Renoir: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881)

The popularity of guinguettes, which took a dive in the second half of the twentieth century, is now on the rise again.

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Related posts:

Absinthe: The Rise and Fall of the Green Fairy

Parisians in 1842: The Working Class

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You can’t miss them, the bouquinists.  Along the Seine, nine hundred of their bottle-green boxes with 400,000 second-hand books figure as one of the symbols of Paris. They hark back to the medieval times when manuscript sellers chose the riverbank near the university to trade their goods.

Booksellers frequently had problems with authorities if the contents of the books displeased the powerful. Should the city police be on the lookout for a forbidden material, the owner of a small folding stand was at an advantage, especially if he offered non-censored pamphlets and scandalous gazettes.

In 1859, after many tribulations with the law, the bouquinists finally obtained the authorization to exercise their profession. The Town Hall set up concessions, allowing the salesmen to install the boxes in fixed places. Only second-hand books, antique art prints, and old magazines can be sold in these stands, although–if you take a closer look– you’ll see plenty of kitschy recent pictures of Paris. The average foreign tourist prefers that to antique French books.

Year after year, the number of the stands keeps increasing: 156 in 1892, 200 in 1900 at the Universal Exhibition, and 240 in 1991, the year in which the second-hand booksellers were listed as the UNESCO Heritage. Today, three kilometers of bouquinist stands can be seen along the Right Bank from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre and on the Left Bank from the Quai de la Tournelle to the Quai Voltaire.

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Related posts:

Greetings from Paris: Expect the Unexpected

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet

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114

In the old days, the month of February brought the unavoidable Lent: a period of penance, dietary restrictions, and prayers.  For those not familiar with religious traditions, Lent is a mobile Christian observance lasting for forty days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday before Easter.

Austerity is not something human beings crave. Since forty days of gloom proved to be too much to ask, the religious authorities allowed a pause to let out the pent-up human foibles after twenty days of duration.

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The origin of Mid-Lent (Mi-Carême) is lost in the mists of time. According to several historians, the celebration was born in the Middle Ages. The essence of the feast was a mini carnival that embraced the spirit of joy, laughter, and derision to contrast with the period of austerity, severity, and penance of Lent. A parade of elaborate floats characterized this celebration.

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In France, the Mi-Carême was also the feast of laundresses, described in the post From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris, of charcoal dealers, and water carriers.

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The float of the Queen of Queens. Elected from among the laundry queens of every city district, a simple washerwoman enjoys her one-day fame

Celebrated on a large scale in Paris, the Mi-Carême disappeared from this city during the WWII years. It made a comeback under the name of Carnival of Women in 2009 and gives rise to a parade again every year.

Related post:

From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris

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bistro.

Today, we’ll talk about a 19th-century Parisian institution of social importance: the bistrot. Not to be confused with a café—which is a frequent occurrence today—the bistrot/bistro was a waiter-less establishment where you ordered your refreshment from the “patron” who ran the place from behind a zinc-covered counter. The birth of Parisian bistros, as the legend would have it, goes back to the defeat of Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo (1814). As a consequence, Paris was overrun by various victorious armies, including the always-thirsting Russian Cossacks. They wanted a drink and they wanted it fast: Bistro! Bistro! The legend is embraced by all, except for the etymologists who still discuss the origin of the world as it does not appear in literature before 1884.

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bistrot

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While they take various forms today, Parisian bistros were small unpretentious joints run by so-called “bougnats” – the immigrants from Auvergne who left their poor lands during the Industrial Revolution to settle in Paris. These establishments were recognized for their very popular atmosphere. Designed for the poorer classes, bistros offered a drink and a quick bite. It was in the bistro that the neighborhood problems were discussed. It was a place for the morning coffee and croissant, for an apéritif before lunch and, again, for one before dinner; the bistro was also a haven for working-class lovers to meet during inclement weather and a recreation room for the local prostitute.

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“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.

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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.  

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