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Posts Tagged ‘19th century’

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.

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The Cheapest Gourmet Restaurants in Paris

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Grand Prix Day by Frederick Childe Hassam

 

Abandon all romantic thoughts about horses and think of horse manure. It was a problem that was growing as the large cities grew even larger. Toward the end of the 19th century, the waste product of horse digestion covered the city streets in thick layers.  For the city councils, it was a headache for which there was no soothing pill. Each day in Paris, 90,000 horses needed to be fed and their waste disposed of somehow. London and New York experienced an even worse calamity.

It was generally thought that the first international conference on urban planning would bring a solution. The year was 1898 and the symposium of one-week duration opened with great pomp in New York, the most dynamically growing city in the world. Attendees arrived from many world’s capitals.  The New York’s mayor led the opening speeches at the City Hall and journalists competed in speculation about what would be the outcome of the high-level conference. Horse manure was the main subject. But the meeting of the city planners ended quietly after three days of failure. No solution was found.

At the time of the conference, London could boast of the world’s first ever underground rail system but eleven thousand horse-driven taxis still carried people on the surface. The passenger transport used horse-drawn buses. A standard car, with twenty seats and a pair of horses, worked sixteen hours a day. The animals were not allowed to work for more than four hours, so at least eight horses were needed for one car. During hot weather, it was necessary to use fresh horses more often.  The transport of heavy goods needed a stream of freight wagons pulled by four to twelve horses. The driving force of London was about 190,000 horses, each producing up to 50 pounds of waste per day. Each day, London’s four-legged population yielded about four and a half million pounds of dung. Add to it the hectolitres of horse urine and you cannot be surprised that the turn of the century was called the Age of Decay. A New York newspaper of the time complains that the whole city “is covered with brownish smoking carpet that stinks to high heaven”. On hot days, it was preferable to live behind closed doors and windows.

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Horses needed hay feed and straw for bedding. Delivery wagons, such as these, were a common sight in the cities.

 

Nobody wanted the manure. The farmers had enough of their own. The only people happy about the situation were real estate speculators, who purchased cheap parcels of land and converted them into dung depots. There, the heaps of manure reached up to 15 meters high which did not help the air quality in the cities.

As if that was not enough, there were horse carcasses, each weighing about one thousand pounds. Many horses were left where they died by unscrupulous owners. Their bodies were a paradise for flies and various insects, as well as for rats. In New York, about 15,000 carcasses were removed every year from the streets.

Hygiene and cleanliness seemed to be unreachable goals as the conference ended on a gloomy note. The dire prognosis envisaged that, at the current rate of growth, in 1930 large cities streets would be buried under three meters of manure. No one could imagine cities without horses.  And so, burdened with black thoughts of a bleak future, the participants left for home after only three days. However, as we know, cities eventually did not drown in horse manure. Automobiles and electric tramways saved us just in time.

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Crinolines and Impériales: Public Transport in Paris

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“I equal the highest-born ladies with my birth, I surpass them with my beauty, and I judge them with my mind.” Thus spoke Virginia Oldoïni, Countess of Castiglione, who was convinced that she was the most beautiful woman since God had created the World. With this attitude, she managed to lead not one but several lives. Conspirator and diplomat in petticoats, an emancipated courtesan, a pioneer of photography,  an art director and producer, La Castiglione was, above all, a professional beauty. Aged only 18, married for a year and mother of a male child, Virginia—Nicchia to family and friends—already managed to add several lovers to her stable of admirers in her native land. One of them was Victor Emmanuel IIKing of Sardinia, who dreamt of a united Italy.

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A part of Northern Italy (in yellow) was then a territory of the Austrian Empire and the Austrians were unwilling to part with it. An armed conflict could not be won without strong allies. One of the most desirable allies for this project was Napoleon III. Knowing the French monarch’s penchant for women, Victor Emmanuel and his minister Cavour (Virginia’s cousin) thought of the Pearl of Italy as Virginia was then known. They charged her with the mission of convincing the French emperor to lend a helping hand for the unification of the country. Impressed with the importance of the plot, she accepted eagerly. The king and his minister profited from their visit to France by spreading the rumor of her beauty so that when she finally appeared in Paris, in January 1856, she was the object of a wide-spread curiosity at the Court.

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A costume ball saw La Castiglione in her famous Queen of Hearts outfit. She wears it without a corset and the transparent gauze reveals her bosom. Empress Eugenie remarked with open sarcasm that the heart was seated too low

The diplomatic task was not as easy as Virginia expected. Napoleon III, usually easily seducible, resisted for four agonizing months.  During that time, the countess spent heavily on extravagant outfits with very low-cut necklines. One wit observed that the larger Virginia’s décolletages became, the less room there remained in men’s pants. She began to specialize in spectacular entrances, usually toward the end of social gatherings. On one such occasion, she entered the ballroom as Napoleon III was leaving. “You are too late,” he said to her. “No, Sire. You are leaving too early,” she retorted.

This marked a break in her bad luck. The emperor, who had considered her a dull doll, took notice. Her appearance at a masked ball as a Decadent Roman Woman finally brought result. With her abundant hair loose and her skirt split to show a nude leg, a ring on each toe, she caused a sensation. A crowd gathered around her to gape; some women even climbed onto the furniture to get a better view. Within a week, she became the emperor’s mistress and her letters describing successful pillow talks reached the Sardinian embassy to be dispatched by the diplomatic mail.

While Virginia enjoyed the status of the emperor’s mistress, her impoverished husband returned home to sell the family silver. His wife’s extravagance had ruined him and the pair separated for good. Virginia made no friends at the French court either. She was heartily hated by all for her stupid arrogance. They called her the Too Much Countess and when she kept bragging about her lover’s gifts, the emperor cut her off without mercy. Napoleon III would not tolerate indiscreet mistresses.

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The Too Much Countess

After two years basking in the imperial favor, La Castiglione returned home to Turin, defeated, and soon sank into boredom. She brightened up when Victor Emmanuel granted her a pension for her diplomatic merits. She began to travel to the courts of Europe as her scandalous reputation led to invitations from people who wanted to satisfy their curiosity. During her stay at the court of the King of Prussia, she made the acquaintance of Chancellor Bismarck. Her second chance at diplomacy came much later (in 1871) when Napoleon III, ill, defeated, and with his empire in ruins, asked her to intervene with Bismarck to cancel his plan for the Prussian army to occupy Paris. Paris was spared the Prussian occupation.

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During her first stay in Paris, Virginia posed for many photographs. She returned in 1861 with her son Giorgio to have more pictures taken. This was a hobby, and a passion, that was to last for the next forty years. She spent her fortune on elaborate costumes and props

In 1863, she was invited to a costume ball in the imperial palace. She appeared disguised as Queen of Etruria. Virginia rushed the next day to the photography studio to immortalize her outfit. Convinced of her success and her return to the upper echelons, she took lascivious and suave poses, miming innocence. However, the costume was judged scandalous. The press was unleashed and she was accused of appearing naked at the party.

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Her husband, still in Italy, threatened to take Giorgio back. She responded with a photograph called “The Vengeance”. In this picture, she is dressed in the same costume of Queen of Etruria but with a cape covering her shoulders. Another addition is a dagger she holds in her hand. After this, her husband ceased to protest.

The volcanic countess continued to produce dramatic photographs of herself for many years. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a collection of some 400 of them. Virginia appears as a tragic victim,  a pursued virgin, a nun, an Odalisque, and many other incarnations. She was the first to invent dramatic poses. By choosing the costumes, the angles, and the shots, she wrote a new chapter in the history of photography.

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La Castiglione in 1875. As the years passed, the mirror returned a less satisfactory image.

Women, who build their life on their beauty alone, suffer when old age hits.  A few of the lucky ones accept their fate and do not fight the wrinkles. Others hang on using artificial means to keep their beauty until they become the caricatures of their former selves. Some go into hiding.  No longer able to admire herself in the mirror, Virginia banned all mirrors from her house. With both her husband and her son deceased, she ended her days alone, immured in a modest Parisian apartment with the walls covered in black and the shutters closed. She died in 1899, aged 62. The Italian embassy immediately dispatched an agent to burn all possible compromising correspondence.

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Traveller’s Bonus: Top 10 Free Museums in Paris

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When one lives in Paris, nothing is as difficult as staying at home. The city contains so many enticing spectacles, free or paid entertainment, that the temptation often becomes the strongest and that one abandons one’s home, attracted as we are by the charm of the street. We do not know what we are going to see, but we are sure we will see something, and that something will be new. Curiosity is so strong in Paris that the trees themselves undergo it and set themselves in motion.”

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ACROSS PARIS by Crafty

So said Crafty, whose real name was Victor Eugène Géruzez (1840 – 1906). This graphic artist, painter, draftsman, and author of literature for youth, authored several picture albums depicting life in Paris in his humorous style. Let’s see how trees moved in Paris (and still do) as well as other spectacles, most of them completely free.

 

 

 

 

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Fire!

 

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The Aftermath of Fire

 

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A Wedding

 

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The Omnibus Station 

 

 

 

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Poster Men Taking a Lunch Rest

 

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A Runaway Horse

 

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A Guided City Tour

 

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A Downpour

 

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c-AT THE CONFISEUR ( Boulevard de la Madeleine )

At the Confectioner’s

 

c-AT THE BOOKSELLER ( Boulevard des Italiens )

At the Bookseller’s / Food for the Mind

 

C-AN ACCIDENT ( Rue de Rivoli )

Running on Empty

 

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Traffic-Stopping Street Hygiene

 

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The Suburban Train

 

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After Midnight

 

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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

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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.

 

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Backstage at the Opera by Jean Béraud

The title of this post is not an exaggeration, although the Opera directors would have preferred a more subtle one or, ideally, a complete silence on the subject.  The Béraud’s painting above needs no further words.  On the subject of ballerinas, there is the internationally popular Edgar Degas with his paintings of hard-working, hard-driven little dancers, and there is our say-it-as-it-is Jean Béraud (more of him here), who bluntly covers the other end of the story. The true story of the Degas’s dancers.

In our day, such enablement of sex commerce in a prestigious cultural institution would be unthinkable.  Welcome to the 19th century for a taste of life without women’s rights and women’s education, where a career choice outside marriage was limited mainly to servitude or prostitution. In a world made by men for the men, the Opera direction facilitated the meetings between wealthy men and the ballerinas by providing the former with access to the backstage and, above all, to the dance foyer, where they could observe the dancers at a close range and, eventually, make a choice.  The access was available for a substantial subscription fee.

In the 19th century, the ballet was more than the high-brow entertainment that makes today’s real men yawn. It was the height of erotic experience.  In an age, when an accidental glimpse of a female ankle could send a man’s heart into overdrive, the spectacle of exposed legs and nude arms in a variety of alluring positions would beat the Stanley Cup in attendance. (Also, and this may be somewhat important, there were no sports matches to watch.) A man’s prestige mattered as well. To maintain a Paris Opera ballerina, or at least to be seen dining with one, meant that you have arrived socially and economically.

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The Dance Class by Edgar Degas, 1874

Now back to Edgar Degas and his suffering little dancers. Since the profession was morally disreputable, the recruits came from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. A pretty daughter with a dancing talent was a God-sent gift to a struggling family.  It was on the frail shoulders of this 12- to 13-year-old that the future of the family rested – it was her duty to provide them with a better life. Dancing alone would not bring the riches, the riches would come from the admirers; the girls knew that from the very beginning.

For the dancer, the road to success inevitably comes through men.  First, there is the ballet master with his close touch while straightening a waist, repositioning a leg, or stretching an arm. The girl surrenders to the inescapable in order not to compromise her professional ascent. Then come other men, who all, one way or another, hold her career in their hands: the librettist, who gives her a role – or not – in the next ballet and the director who renews – or not – her contract. If she really wants to break out of the anonymity of the dance corps, she must quickly seduce a wealthy protector, who would pay for advanced dance classes.

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A daughter’s virtue was a subject to negotiation

To maintain a pretense of respectability, the direction allowed chaperones to be present at all times. These women, whether they were a mother, an aunt, or an older cousin, were the driving force behind each dancer and the unavoidable intermediaries between the girl and men.  Other lessons were needed and provided:  how to be desirable was taught with the same importance as the pas de danse. Théophile Gautier notes the results of this licentious education:  “The young ballerina is at once corrupt as an old diplomat and as naïve as a good savage. At the age of thirteen, she could teach a courtesan.”

The “mothers” then negotiate the charms of their daughters and they can be quite tyrannical. Is the interested party old and ugly? Too bad, he’s got money so the daughter better be nice to him. Prices are agreed upon and, if a long-term liaison is in the making, a contract is signed at the notary’s office. A skillful mother can make herself included in the monthly allowance.

Those, who are not urged by their mothers to give themselves to a man do so on their own will. Without the protection of a wealthy man and, if possible, a titled one, they have no access to professional recognition. It’s a man’s world and, in this profession, the masculine element holds the power. The only weapons in the arsenal of the ballerina are cunning and seduction.

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