Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘clochards’

 

The French have the tendency to elevate the ordinary, to find beauty where there is none, to make insignificance matter. Nothing is too low to deserve contempt. While everybody agrees that every cloud has a silver lining, the French focus on the silver lining, trying to ignore the rainy side of the matter. That’s the part of their savoir vivre.

To start with, open a menu in a French restaurant. Nowhere in the world does food sound so extraordinary. Even a simple dish of peas topped with butter bears the fancy name of Petits Pois Bonne Femme. Naturally, you eat a dish thus named with a proper reverence. And that’s how things should be done, n’est-ce pas? Similarly, a mole becomes a grain de beauté. If you have one, doesn’t it make you feel better? It does, doesn’t it?

cloche

This attitude extends to the homeless. There is a certain nobility in a bum who sleeps under the bridge, with an empty bottle at his side, as long as the bridge is in Paris and the empty bottle had held the Beaujolais. The Parisian homeless is not a lowly bum. He is called a clochard and he deserves a song, a story, a painting, or even an entire movie. He is as much part of the Parisian folklore as all the midinettes, gigolettes, and grisettes of the previous posts.

Let’s first look at the silver lining before we address the reality. It is true that the clochards, like all the vagrants elsewhere in the world, enjoy a privileged life. They are their own bosses, they have no hours because time is their own and they are free of mortgage and of monthly bills. Why not celebrate this extraordinary freedom with a popular waltz?

Below are the chorus lyrics to the video that begins this post. Do start the video now.

Sous les ponts de Paris
Lorsque descend la nuit,
Tout’s sort’s de gueux se faufilent en cachette
Et sont heureux d’trouver une couchette
Hôtel du courant d’air,
Où l’on ne paye pas cher,
L’parfum et l’eau c’est pour rien, mon marquis
Sous les ponts de Paris.

Translation:

Under the bridges of Paris / When the night begins / All sorts of ragamuffins sneak in / Happy to find a berth

It’s the hotel of cold drafts / Where we don’t pay much / The perfume and water are for free, my marquis / Under the bridges of Paris

 

clochard

Now that we waltzed to the romantic lyrics, we can send a postcard of two vagrants (cheminaux) enjoying a lazy day next to someone’s working tools. Being a bum was not that bad when the warm weather lasted.

 

clochard 5

Let’s get real. This picture shows a cave, where the homeless gathered for a night in inclement weather. Nothing romantic can be found here. In some shelters of this type, the bums sat secured by a rope that prevented them from falling during sleep.

 

clochard 4

The poor gather around a heat source during winter

 

Modern times brought better shelter for the homeless but the problem of people without a fixed address in Paris streets grows instead of going away. Gone is the happy clochard content with a bottle of wine. The city is a target for a new type of homeless: those who came from the former colonies after having taken a perilous clandestine journey over the Mediterranean Sea.  They came to partake in the riches of Europe and as their dreams fade, they become increasingly angry.

 

Related posts:

Poor and Helpless in 19th Century Paris

The Worst Season in Paris

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: