HIST 276: France Since 1871
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France Since 1871
HIST 276 - Lecture 11 - Paris and the Belle Époque
Chapter 1. The Old Paris: A Portrait of Urban Poverty [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: Okay, today we’re going to talk about Paris. And in order to talk about Paris in the Belle Époque — and the Belle Époque was not good for most people in France, as we heard before, but the image of that nostalgia infused a vision of Paris in the Belle Époque is something that of course comes — really is created, it’s imagined, after World War I. But in order to understand sort of the cultural, and economic, and political, and social dimensions of fin de siècle of Paris, we have to back up and look at the rebuilding of Paris in the 1850s and ’60s by that man dissed by my late friend, Richard Cobb, as the Alsatian Attila, that is Baron Haussmann, whose name I should’ve written on the board but didn’t.
Some of you already know about him, but it’s h-a-u-s-s-m-a-n-n, Georges. And he only went back to Paris three times after he left in financial scandal at the end of the 1860s. And he lives until the early 1890s, but the great boulevards that became identified with modern Paris and on which Emile Henry went on this little walk, going out to kill, have to be seen in the context of the rebuilding of Paris during that period. And it was the largest urban renewal project in, at that time, in the history of cities. Really, the only ones comparable were the rebuilding of Edo, that is Tokyo, after the Great Fire, and London, at the time of Christopher Wren.
So, we back up even further to look at Paris in 1837, just to give you a sense of what changed. And the first thing you notice, particularly if you’re comparing it to London or to Berlin, is how small Paris was and how small Paris still is. This is pre-1860, so it’s before the inner suburbs were annexed, which included Montmartre out there, and Auteuil, and all of the others. And those of you who’ve been to Paris or know about Paris will see the Jardin de Luxembourg there, which was very, very close to the city limits at that time, and then there is the Tuileries, and then the edge of Paris there, the Arc de Triomphe, which was begun by Napoleon and completed during the July Monarchy.
So Paris, a tremendously overcrowded place — and the most densely populated parts of Paris until mid-century were the Île of Cité, that is the Island of Cite, c-i-t-e; there’s Notre Dame, and the Marais, m-a-r-a-i-s, the sort of central Right Bank districts; and their population density is three times what it is today. And, so, the population of Paris, which grows so rapidly, in 1851 is 1,053,000 people; 1861, a year after the annexation of the inner suburbs, is 1,696,000; 1872 after the Commune 1,825,000, minus the 25,000 people slaughtered in the wake of the Commune, during bloody week; 1881, 2,269,00, and 1896 about two and a half million people. And, so, European cities only grow basically in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century through migration, because more people die in cities than are born there — why? Because of unhealthy quarters…
The life expectancy in Lille, for example, was about nineteen-years-old, the same thing in Manchester. That includes infant mortality, so that’s a little bit skewed; but, still, cities are unhealthy places. Old people, the miserably poor people also go to Paris to try to find charity and ultimately to die. Child abandonment, infanticide and all the things that I mentioned before — disease, the cholera disease rips through Paris in 1832 and 1849, again in 1884. So, basically cities, large cities replenish themselves only through immigration, through much of the nineteenth century. And, so, what happens is you’ve got this sort of super, hyper overcrowding of the central districts as immigrants from the north of France, from Normandy, from the east of France, also seasonal migrants from the Limousine who finally settle Paris pour into these central districts and then gradually head for the edge of the city. It’s not until the 1880s that you have the huge wave of Breton migration from Brittany; and it’s not just to Paris, also, but that comes later than we’re talking about.
So, you’ve got your basic, extraordinarily crowded city, the ranks of the poor, above all, swollen by immigration. The difference, one of the differences between the nineteenth century and now, for example, is in the nineteenth century most people, the people coming into Paris were already poor, were poorer than the people who were already there. Now, in the 1950s and 1960s that changes, the 1950s and 1960s. You have les jeunes couples, you have young married couples, upwardly mobile, who come to Paris with enough money that they’ve put together to rent and then finally maybe to buy an apartment, et cetera, et cetera. But you have a mass of poor people, masses of poor people coming into Paris, and Paris is unhealthy.
This I put in, this is rien à voir avec, but this is — I’ve said before about how you just try to imagine what things are like until you can see actually for the first time — this is the first photo of Paris. This is a daguerreotype; it was a primitive kind of photo. You can identify this as the Rue — as the Faubourg du Temple on the edge of Paris, and this is 1837. But here is your classic sort of image of urban poverty, urban squalor, the kind of grey images of a street that no longer exists because of Haussmann’s rebuilding. This is behind the Panthéon, that is just sort of above the Latin Quarter, and you see this ditch running right down the street. It carried sewage. There were already sewers in Paris, but it was terribly unhealthy — and you’re thinking, “oh, why?” — he says, “it’s so crowded but where are all the people, it looks like there’s nobody there.” Well, in fact it’s because it took so long to expose photos that they’re — as you look very closely you can see some people. But another reason why there are not a lot of people about or any signs of life is that this has already been targeted for demolition, and the people have had to move out of what was already a poor neighborhood to find an even poorer one on the margins of urban life.
Chapter 2. Napoleon III and Haussmann: Building the Boulevards of Modern Paris [00:07:27]
That was a photograph by Charles Melville. And here we got the Louis Napoleon, your basic picture of Louis Napoleon, for once not at the opera trying to hit on the young ballerinas, and the man in the middle is Haussmann, who was not born in Alsace, but his family came from Alsace and he’d been a law student in Paris, and he was born in the more prosperous western part of Paris. Again, that dichotomy between prosperous west and more impoverished east is as important as increasingly prosperous center, over the long run of time, and the impoverished periphery, more about that in a minute. So, in 1852 Napoleon spreads out a map of a city he really didn’t know very well, Napoleon III does, and says, “I want you to build me great boulevards.” And, so, Haussmann, who’s prefect of the Seine, does that. And it’s a time when the wealthy got wealthier and the poor did better, working class people did better, but the gap between the rich and the poor increased.
So, now, if you’re looking later, in 1855 you see that the city had expanded but you still have the wall around Paris and you still have these sort of rural areas within the city. And one of the points of this is that there’s a continuing implosion of population into Paris, and the eviction by high prices and by demolition, with the rebuilding of Paris, is going to push people out into the working class periphery. Belleville, which I talked about before, that’s where Emile Henry says “it’s war between you and me now, baby”; La Villette; Montmartre here, which was indeed still at this time fairly rural. Oh well, you have to just all move your heads to see, this is not a very interesting photo, but — or it’s not hardly a photo, but just to see the difference between 1850 and 1900, the growth of the suburbs.
And so this all involved the demolition of great hills. This was a hill at Trocadero, which is right on the Seine, and it put tens of thousands of workers — gave them something to do. Now, the principle of this, of the planning itself, and this impacts this course and the Paris of this course, is really built upon classical principles associated with absolute monarchs; and I call it the imperialism of the straight line, in that if you think of a city like St. Petersburg, built by Peter the Great, or if you think of Madrid, built by Phillip II, or you think of Berlin and Frederick the Great, or you think of Versailles, a rather prosperous suburb, they were power alleys down which you marched troops, and very different than the kind of organic city that had grown up from medieval origins, a city like Strasbourg or, for that matter, Lyon, though Lyon has some classical touches too in the Place Bellecour, and all of that.
But here, just to give you an obvious and almost banal example, but I chose it because you already know about the Avenue of the Opéra, for reasons we talked about before, is that this is pure imperialism with a straight line. Theproblématique, or the question, is how you get — you’re going to build this big boulevard, how do you get from the Seine, basically — here’s the Rue de Rivoli paralleling the Seine, to where you’re going to build this new, magnificent opera that you saw before? Well, you don’t have to be an architectural genius, or Vincent Scully or someone like that, you simply take a ruler and then you tip off your friends about where the building’s going to go, so they make a lot of money, and that’s what Haussmann did, and then you plan the Avenue de l’Opéra. And there are three reasons, three, why Paris is rebuilt. First, to bring more light and air to Paris, to make it a healthier place — more sewers and all that; second, to free the flow of capital, for capital, to help business. It’s not a coincidence that the big department stores that grow up in the ’50s and ’60s are on the grands boulevards, are on the big boulevards; and third, and I’ve alluded to this before, how do you build a barricade across a huge boulevard, how do you build a barricade across the Avenue de l’Opéra?
The first barricades in Paris were in the late sixteenth century. You know about the barricades, at least some of you do anyway, of the French Revolution. There are more barricades in 1830, there are more barricades in 1851. You’ve seen photos of barricades from 1871. And Haussmann says this in his memoirs, “we want to create barricade-proof boulevards.” In World War II, in August of 1944, the barricades that are built against the German troops are built in neighborhoods often where you have narrow streets. And in 1968 it’s the same thing. It was very hard to build a barricade across the Boulevard Saint-Michel. So, that’s the first thing. And then you imagine you’re looking down — you’re looking at Garnier’s Opera, which is going to rise out of the ground, the most expensive building built in Paris to that point, and then these houses, which were actually fairly middle class buildings, have to be demolished.
So, you are in — you were sitting in a bulldozer looking through the smoke, and then there is Garnier’s Opera being built, and there is Garnier’s Opera, right here. And, of course, that square now contains probably the largest population of pickpockets this side of the Spanish steps as American tourists get off the metro there looking for American Express with their wallets about to be soon to disappear. But, and here you can look down and see — this is reversed but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference — you can see that’s the Place Vendôme, the column of which was brought down in 1871 at Courbet’s suggestion. And, so, you end up with this, which you’ve already seen before, the Avenue de l’Opéra, and it was down here, the first bomb that Emile Henry placed was down here at number eleven. And, so, this is again a photo from 1900. So, this is basically — there are a few automobiles racing around; they’re not racing, the speed limit was three miles an hour; but now, of course, you’re a dead duck if you try to cross there.
There was somebody, some general who was arrested, some scandal and he just had testified, and then he wasn’t thinking, and he walked out into the street and was run over by a bus. So, you really kind of have to watch it there. But here’s your pure sort of Haussmann vista of Paris. And, of course, the balconies, the sort of ornate balconies of the Third Republic are something that one identifies with the grandeur of modern Paris, the Paris of the Belle Époque. Now, what about the people who were chased from the central districts? This is not a very interesting print, but it’s still — it was sympathetic to those people. Most people didn’t own apartments, they rented, and if you were kicked out of your apartment in order to facilitate the building of these boulevards, you were given the equivalent of about a day’s wages and that was it. And here you have — this is part two, these are two lithographs, and the first is called Haussmannizationof — that is the bulldozing of, the Haussmannization of Paris, part one, where you see these people and they’ve got everything that they have — they got their dog and it’s a sympathetic look at them; and this is part two, and this is a pure Haussmann vista.
This is very near the Opéra, this is the Church of Saint-Augustine, which I think is just god-awful, but here again you have again the imperialism of the straight line. And this is the big commercial district, this is where the big department stores are near there, like the Gallery Lafayette, and at this time the Grand Magasin d’Louvre, and all these sorts of things. So that’s what — that’s the principle of Haussmann. Well, you can hardly see that. So, if you were a bird flying around up here then, or if you’re in a balloon and you’re seeing the results of Haussmann, here again you’ve got Notre Dame, which goes from the most populated part of Paris, along with the Marais, to the least populated part of Paris. Why? And we talk a lot about the State, but these state buildings or state constructions, including the big hospital, Hotel Dieu, or the Prefecture of Police are built on Cité, and so the population departs.
This over here is the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which had one of the great organs, and here this is the famous market of Les Halles which was built at this time next to the Church of Saint-Eustache, and it lasted until 1972, and they wouldn’t — and they tore them all down and built this sort of miserable failure, three floors of crummy electronics stores, and they didn’t even leave one so people — I sound like Scully but it’s true, they didn’t leave just one so people could see what it was like, what was the market. And I was lucky because the first time I ever was in Paris, when I was a kid, somebody took me down there in the middle of the night and you could see the butchers drinking with very sort of friqué, very prosperous clients eating at a big table next to there. And it was fantastic, it was the guts of Paris, it was the heart of Paris, and they just destroyed it.
And they had to move the market out by Orly Airport because Paris is so big, with eleven million people in the region now. But it didn’t make any sense to destroy them all, it was such vandalism, just incredible, and it came at the time of Pompidou, who said that “we must renounce this outmoded aesthetic”; that is, anything that was beautiful and interesting, and he was a patron of art, of modern art in all its worst forms. But, anyway, rien à voir avec. But okay, here’s the continuation of the Rue de Rivoli which had been begun by Napoleon and it gives you major access, that is west/east, and as we’ll see in a minute he also creates a north/south access because — or axis, what am I saying?; well, access, the same thing. So, that just gives you kind of a view from the top. And here are these les halles, this is the old market that was there. And I was lucky because it was gone about two years later or something like that. And I met a person who was kind enough to lodge me, and to take me down to see that. And it’s just gone. Now they have yet another plan to do something, and it’s just become this — oh well, ugh.
Chapter 3. New Modes of Commerce in Belle Époque Paris [00:19:09]
Okay, so again bringing- freeing the flow of capital, of commerce, et cetera, et cetera was a worthy goal indeed, and one of the things that Napoleon III did was to celebrate France with these expositions. And of course the idea of having a big exposition is that of the Victorians, the big one in 1851 at the Crystal Palace. The first public toilets, by the way, as such things were, in 1851 in London. And, so, Louis Napoleon has other expositions. This one is 1854. And, so, the principle of this is you walk down one of these exposition halls and you look and you see paintings on the right, you see the wonders of science on the left, et cetera, et cetera; and millions of people go. And that’s the same principle as the department store, isn’t it, except that you can buy what you see. And the department stores, what they do is they destroy local commerce, unless — like boot makers and very skilled craftsmen are on the boulevards near the department stores, or provide essential services in working class districts.
So, the Grand Magasin du Louvre is here, you’ve all the space, it becomes as Zola said the “cathedral of modernity,” along with the others. Now, there are the equivalent of department stores in Paris in some of the arcades already in the 18 — not arcades in our sense, but the arcades in the Parisian sense — in the 1820s, and there are even sort of proto department stores exist before that. But it’s the ’50s and ’60s that brings to London, and to Vienna, and to Berlin, and to Paris the department store, where you could buy forty different kinds of shawls, cheap shawls to very fancy shawls. So, it’s going to attract not only ordinary people looking occasionally for bargains. And, as I said before, it’s a form of — it creates jobs for working class and peasant women who becomes sales clerks living in terrible conditions in kind of dormitories and almost prison-like rules; but it also brings the friqué, the wealthy people will come in their carriages and have their drivers await them when they go in and listen to people sing Christmas carols on the stairs. And when electricity becomes common in the 1880s and 1890s you have these dazzling displays that change in the — along the streets, and so they become really a site of tourism themselves.
And, so, here your basic idea is to create — the problem is how do you get from — this is north, this is south, and this is east, this is west — that there was no way of getting anywhere. The two biggest streets in Paris in terms of the most important ones were the Rue Saint-Denis and the Rue Saint-Martin — please don’t remember these names. And, so, what they do is they create the Boulevard Saint-Michel, which is a disaster, here, and then — because McDonald’s and all this stuff, just awful, just terrible zoning; and then here, what became the Boulevard Sebastopol, the Boulevard Saint-Denis that goes out to the railroad stations. And, of course, Haussmann is often castigated for having built the railroad stations next to each other, without having anticipated the automobile, but how could he have known about the automobile in the 1850s and ’60s? So, they complete the sort of star, the Étoile here, which is the place, place of the Arc de Triomphe, and creates — he finishes the Rue de Rivoli here, and of course it’s along that axis, as you saw, that the troops come in May of 1851, decimating those who resisted in these neighborhoods. So, those are basically the plans that he wanted to do.
Chapter 4. The East-West Dichotomy: Mapping the Character of the New Neighborhoods [00:23:00]
So, here we go. This is the Rue de Rivoli, this is down its sort of completion, this is heading east, and the troops move down this way, and that, it just parallels the Seine. This is the tower, the remaining part of the tour of Saint-Jacques that is there. And, then, now this is looking north and you’re crossing Cité now. This is where the police were, at the Châtelet in the eighteenth century. But the point is that you see in the distance the Station of the East, the Gare de l’est. And so he’s very successful. In many ways he’s not an interesting man, Haussmann. I was asked to write a biography of him once and I didn’t do it, I gave it to someone else. And of course Paris is the big story. He was a fonctionnaire, he was a technocrat, but he was very good at what he did, from repress people to building boulevards. And, so, this is a success there, it frees up the flow of circulation, but it chases people like this — this is a pawn shop that still exists, it’s a municipal pawnshop, it’s exactly the same space where it was at this time. And anyone who looked at this would know what the image is, because these people are so poor they are about to sell back their mattress.
Remember what I said in L’Assommoir that Gervaise dies like a dog on a bed of straw, more or less. The last dignity that you had was to still have a mattress, and when things got so bad that was what went, the mattress. And so these folks are tearing out — carrying mattresses to try to get what they can from them. And then you’ve got the very poor down-and-out being expelled to the periphery even more. This is a place where people could get a little bit of food from charitable organizations. This is in Montmartre. And I just put this in, it’s around the corner actually from our apartment, but this is a classic kind of Haussmann building, and architects had started to sign their work on the première étage, on the second floor. So, this architect was called David and it has the date there. And these balconies are more ornate, really, than the ones that they did in general, at the time of Haussmann. These are more sort of Third Republic ones. But these are some very handsome buildings that lined — this is that line of boulevard that lines the Rue du Temple.
Now, and here we’ve got — this is cracked, I’m sorry — but this is the Station of the East. And when I see the station it always gives me a twinge of sadness because in 1914 all the people charging up to the station, screaming, “à Berlin, à Berlin,” “to Berlin, to Berlin,” and this is one of the, along with the Station of the North, led the troops to the fronts, from which many of them — most — well, many of them, a million and a half never returned. And also so many, from these stations, so many Jews were rounded up by the Germans, but above all by the French police, in 1942 and 1943 were sent on their way to Drancy, to the transit camp north of Paris, and then on to the death camps. And again one of the themes is that all of this makes this west/east division even more salient, and makes the center periphery contrast or juxtaposition even more important. Louis-Napoleon has spent a lot of time in London. He loved parks and so he has them work on the Bois de Boulogne, to the west of Paris, fancy, feeding the — or receiving people from the fancier quarters. And these kinds of cafés-concert along the Champs Élysées are part again of this east/west dichotomy.
And, then, that’s not to say that there weren’t parks in the east. This is the Butte de Chaumont, which is to the east, and there’s — apparently a lot of real high stakes boule games are still played here. So, there were places. Paris has very little green space compared to London and Berlin. Berlin, twenty-five percent of Berlin is green space and London’s about the same thing; Paris it’s five percent. And, then, there’s the Bois de Vincennes which is out to the east as well. But here is again — this is your image of the Belle Époque. Here you’ve got carriages carrying fancy people along, you have the kiosks selling newspapers, you have trees, you have these boulevards that had been created by Haussmann. Now, to be sure now there were boulevards in European cities before Haussmann. They tended to be on the outskirts of cities, and they were built where there had been walls, military fortifications, in a way replaced ramparts that had been torn down. The best example, and many of you may know this, is Vienna with the Ringstrasse, which was really a creation of the liberal period in Viennese history, in the 1850s, and ’60s, and ’70s, and which was on where there had been fortified walls. And in the case of Paris the best example is Montparnasse. Boulevard Montparnasse is on where there had been military fortifications but, as Paris expanded, the fortifications had to keep being pushed out.
So, this is the Boulevard Montmartre here in 1900, and then the next one is the slide that — it will be a color picture — and this is Pissarro’s view of that same boulevard. And my great friend Bob Herbert, the fantastic social historian of art, actually found the place where Pissarro was looking out the window to do this. Here again, it’s an obvious theme, but the light and the movement and the first painting, what strikes you at the first glance, Paris was really, the Paris of the boulevards were really made for the Impressionist paintings. And the only working-class impressionist painter was Renoir, and it was Renoir whom I quoted the other day. He started out as a porcelain painter in Limoges, painting porcelain, and it was he that said that these boulevards reminded him of the soldiers lined up for review. Again, that’s not a bad description of the imperialism of the straight line. But it was these boulevards, and its commerce, and its wealthy people that the anarchists so much hated.
And again here, this is a place, and this is — I threw this in for people that know something about Impressionist paintings — this became an Impressionist painting, and I didn’t get the slide, kind of an important street or intersection because the Impressionist collector and painter Caillebotte did his Paris, the Effect of the Rain, where he has bourgeois couples crossing the street, near each other, but having nothing in common with each other, part of the anomie of the city; and it was a statement about the sort of self-importance of the middle class. And some of Caillebotte’s other paintings involve views from balconies in which the person is — the viewer or the main subject of the painting is isolated from ordinary people who might walk around below. And you can over-emphasize his themes too much but it’s still worth keeping in mind. But here you have your basic Impressionist landscape, and it was very much a creation of the rebuilding of Paris in the 1850s and ’60s, urban landscape. So, again, this is a great example of the way in which not all boulevards were created by the Alsatian Attila in Paris. Some, as I suggested a few minutes ago, followed the routes of the walls, and here’s the best example one could pick.
This was, at the time of the French Revolution, the city limits. The two gates like this were called the Porte Saint-Denis and the Porte Saint-Martin. And it was when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette tried to escape, and probably disguised as retainers for some wealthy baroness, they were able to get through this particular gate because the guards werebourrés, they were all drunk from having been at a wedding. And then the tax collected on what you brought into the city passed right through this gate. You had to pay a tax on what you brought into the city, more about that in a minute. But you can see that these boulevards become extensions of these walls that had once been there. And in the case of the Porte Saint-Martin and the Porte Saint-Denis, they are still there. And of course the Porte Saint-Denis is going north to the cathedral town of Saint-Denis, or village of Saint-Denis, or small town, which became an important center of working class production, and subsequently of anarchism, socialism, and ultimately communism, more about that in a minute.
Now, you still have traditional work done in Paris, as I suggested when we were talking about the garment industry, and you still had cases where the father is literally the foreman, and his family is working for him, through sub-contracting, people working at what was a rather large — no, this is an atelier, this is not their home — well, you got pots and things hanging around, a big roof. But, anyway, it’s in the eastern part of Paris, and in the northeastern, and in the suburbs that you’ve got the conversion of old buildings into industrial production, and you have new industries perched on the edge of the city. And this is the rue, the faubourg of Saint-Antoine which at the time of the French Revolution was beyond the Bastille, and it was lots of these people who were cabinet workers who stormed the Bastille in 1789; but again the contrast between center and periphery. This is a somewhat sympathetic but also a little bit condescending look at popular sociability in these cabarets that I talked about the other day, on the edge of — the perception, middle class perception of the drunken commoner perched on the edge of urban life, on the margins of urban life, drinking it up.
And these are really great. I put these next two in simply to show you the difference between — or give you images of the difference between what happens to the western districts of Paris, on the edge, and those of the east. Now, this is the east, on the very edge, and these are sort of rural looking houses, with slanted roofs like that. This is the laundry of combat, so this is a real kind of socialist image from the turn of the century. This has got to be right before World War I. How do we know that? Because this is something of the métro, and the first metro opened along the Seine, paralleling the Seine, on July 14th, 1900, for the exhibition; it’s now the line that goes to Île-de-France all the way out to Vincennes, to the east. And then the lines were subsequently extended out. So, this is probably about 1912, 1913. But this is still kind of a — these are industrial suburbs that have been created by both the industrial conglomeration of Paris, the availability of land and of capital on the outside of Paris, and of a workforce, of a very transient but still massive workforce there.
And then if we go off in the other direction, on the edge — and this would be what the equivalent now of the seventeenth arrondissement — I reversed this but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference — you see that this building is sort of a solidly artisanal, lower-middle-class building that reflects the fact that in many ways the western half of Paris, including even the western periphery, was very different. I say that with some — once you get the image that all the suburbs in the west were like Versailles, Argenteuil for example. Five people broke into the Musée d’Orsay over the weekend, and for some — whatever reason, they’re all drunked up, poked a big hole in Monet’s great The Bridge at Argenteuil painting, which is really kind of amazing damage. But Argenteuil was a place where you had leisure, you had sailboats, you had people of means. You no longer had vineyards at all but you also had industry.
And Monet, the painter Claude Monet, his depictions of Argenteuil, you have the smoke stacks become just part of the scene and it’s a very neutral kind of look at smoke stacks, not clearly differentiated even from these sailboats, sort of in the regattas and all of that. But Monet, as my friend Bob Herbert, who pointed this out, Monet when he lives at Argenteuil, he gets tired of that, he gets tired of kind of the contradictions of capitalism and industrialization and he longs for this non-urban paysage, this non-urban scenes to paint. And what does he do? As you all know he moves to Giverny; Giverny along the Seine, and a railroad track runs right through his backyard and he never paints it, not once. What he does is he creates this kind of idyllic rural scene of lily pads and ponds. And it’s a wonderful experience to go there, if you’re not trampled by the 40,000 tourists. You can imagine this is someplace where someone lived, and ran up and down the stairs, and had fun, and then went out and got away from the sort of industry of Argenteuil. But, anyway, he was moving on to a different stage.
Chapter 5. Exile from the Center: The Development of Working Class Suburbia [00:38:23]
And, so, what you get on the edge of Paris, the west, is this. This is the Avenue of the Grande Armée. So this is beyond the Arc de Triomphe. And now this is going out to Neuilly which is a very — right on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, which became a very, very prosperous suburb, and certainly still is, that’s for sure. And what you had on the other side of the east was very different, in the north and northeast was extremely different, it wasn’t like that at all. And, so, what happens when you — the images that I showed you before of those big arcs of triumph that — in which you — in which I said the king had escaped through, trying to get out of France during the French Revolution. And I said that you paid on what you brought in. And just in conclusion, for the last seven minutes, I’m going to talk a little bit about a theme that’s rather interesting, and that’s why European suburbs are so different than American suburbs — more about that in a minute.
But the walls around Paris, when they lost their military purposes, still had a fiscal purpose which was to provide a means of collecting taxes on what you brought into town. And this wall, or this taxing apparatus, is called in French theoctroi, o-c-t-r-o-i. And I love these little buildings. You can see some near Nation, Place de la Nation, and other — in Thar-cor, in the Loire, there’s a fantastic one, you see them all over the place, and they’re just beautiful. Sometimes people live in them. But this lasts, this isn’t something that disappeared in 1850 or 1900, it lasts till World War II. And thus that’s the big way that municipalities were able to raise any money at all, since basically wealthy people didn’t pay taxes, and that’s why — it’s a very regressive tax, it’s like a huge sales tax, and France is nothing if it’s not full of regressive taxes, since the value-added tax is twenty-one percent, and on electronics and stuff like that it’s thirty-three percent. So, you’re taxed on what you buy, and since poor people have less money to buy things it really is totally unfair. But the origins of this system is in the octroi, and this is one of those actually fairly rare photos that I know of, of what it was like in your sort of diligence, your coach here. This was called an imperial because people rode on the top, and you’re leaving Paris, or you’re entering Paris, it doesn’t matter at all, but the point is that you were controlled, day or night, when you went through.
And on the edge of Paris are created these working-class industrial suburbs that are feared by the center, and during the 1920s and 1930s become major sources of support for the Communist Party, because people, most of the people who lived there were extremely badly lodged, and the Communists do very well because of the mal-lotis, that is people who are badly lodged, and they provide services to poor working families that in other municipalities simply one did not have. And if you go to something like the Fête de l’Humanité, which is the big Communist party, every year, a big boom, a big — which means a big party, full of speeches and all of that, you could kind of go from one booth and have your oysters in the Finistère booth, and then go have paella in the Catalan booth, and then have goat’s cheese in the Ardèche booth, et cetera, et cetera, and Beaujolais in the Rhône booth, et cetera, et cetera. But the association between working-class people on the edge of — on the margins of the big city and radical politics is terribly important in the ’20s and ’30s, and even much later than that.
And this is a town called Corbevoie, which is north of Paris, and they all have streets called something like the Rue Maurice Thorez, who was a miner who was a leader of the Communist Party, following the dictates of Moscow, alas, in the 1930s. Many of them still have an Avenue Jean Jaurès, for obvious reasons. But it’s this growth of all of these industrial suburbs that is one of the important sort of concomitants of large-scale industrialization, and the identification of the urban periphery with industrial work. Many of the so-called dirty industries, chemical production, soap production, things that smell, are forced out of the center and onto the periphery. And so that’s where the factories are, that’s where the cheapest labor is to be found — more about this in just a second, I’ll just finish this off with a Monet of Argenteuil; again, this one does-it’s not the Pont d’Argenteuil, if I’d had time I would have gone to get that one, the painting was just ripped by vandals over the weekend.
But, again, the extension of the sort of prosperity to the west is obviously the Normand coast because the turbo trains are already going to the Normand coast, Deauville is not far away, Etretat and these kinds of places are there. And so that’s an extension of this west/east dichotomy, that people from eastern Paris or from the northern suburbs are not going to Deauville, for the weekend, they’re not the kind of people who are going to be painted by Berthe Morisot. But, so, these spacial concomitants or aspects even continue to the planting of the Parisian flag on the Normand coast; and again, that’s a subject for another excellent book by my friend Bob Herbert.
Now, I want to finish off, I want to get some more light so I can see you all. How to do this, how to do this in five minutes? I’ll do this in the following way. In 1991 — was it 1991? Or 1992, at the time of the Rodney King riots, was that 1992? Rodney King was an Afro-American in L.A. and the police basically just beat the hell out of him, and they’re acquitted, and it led to some very difficult times in Los Angeles, with lots of riots and lots of anger. And we were doing, a bunch of us, an edited book on the Red suburbs, on precisely this and working class suburbs and their sort of identification with radical politics. And people in France kept asking me, they couldn’t understand the concept of wealthy suburbs and impoverished people, minorities living in the center of cities. And finally they stopped — even press, well I could write something — not because of me, but I just wrote something, an epilogue, trying to explain why it is that in Europe things are different. Now, and it’s not entirely so. After all, Versailles was a suburb.
In the early 1830s one of the ministers of Louis-Philippe went to him and said, “Sir, these factories that you’re allowing the prefect of police to tolerate on the edge of the city, will be the cord that wrings our neck one day.” Fear of the periphery, not fear of the center. In 1831 and 1834, Lyon, the suburb of the Croix-Rousse, the silk workers, poured down the hill, defending their rights, with signs that said “Live Free and Die Fighting,” and the middle-class National Guard set up their guns to — right at the edge of the city, to keep the suburban people from invading the center. That’s very, very different, isn’t it? Limoges the same thing, they put up barricades, the workers in the suburbs, that differentiated their space with the center. It is amazing, amazing kinds of continuity, these sort of mutual fears.
In Detroit, in 1968, when I was a kid, or was it 1967, I went to a Tiger game and we came out of the Tiger game, double-header with the Yankees, and the city was on fire, and it was the riots of Detroit. And much of Detroit is still decimated, has never recovered from that, never, despite the Renaissance Center, and the occasional success of the Tigers, and all good things like that. And one of the suburbs of Detroit tried at one point to change the street patterns so that they, that is the poor people from the center, could not come out to Grosse Pointe, or Farmington Hills, or one of those elegant places. And I remember that very, very vividly. Now, why did that all happen, why? And we talk — and two years ago we had these big riots in France in the suburbs, and it began in Clichy-sous-Bois, and all over the place; some were exaggerated and all of that, and Sarkozy spun it out of control by calling them scum, the people that live on the periphery, they’re scum, “racaille, ils existent, la racaille,” and all this stuff. It was just pas possible.
How did this happen? What happened is that the people unwanted by the center were — and Haussmann was part of this — rejected toward the outside where, with the dilapidation of American center cities — a good part of Philadelphia, most of Detroit, New Orleans, San Francisco and Beacon Hill, and we can find exceptions to that — but the pattern is just completely different. You had the Viennese Army firing large shells at the working class suburbs, at the working-class housing on the outside of the city. It’s just the opposite. When you think of suburbs you don’t just think of Darien or you don’t just think of Grosse Pointe, or Hillsborough, California, or very fancy places in other places. But it’s very different, and the pattern is just the opposite, just an incredible difference.
One can exaggerate this too much, but these spatial tensions count for something, and the margins of urban life in France, and particularly around Paris were really — the periphery became the domain of people who really couldn’t afford to live in the center. And that’s an increasing problem in Paris today is one neighborhood after another becomes more and more expensive. Now it’s the eleventh and twelfth are out of control, the thirteenth is out of control. And three million people may live in Paris, but you’ve got another eight thousand people living in this urban agglomeration, and creating these attempted cities that are going to be magnets of their own; it’s been an utter, utter failure. But Haussmann was really part of that. And people building factories seek a labor force, they seek more space, they want to have their factories outside of the customs barrier, so they’re not paying taxes on what they bring in to use in their factory.
So, that’s just a very short explanation for why European cities, and European suburbs in particular, the whole sense of a suburb — despite the kind of pavillon of Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse and places like that in the sort of wealthier parts of the Parisian periphery, there’s still a contrast there. And even the image when you say, in French you say, you come from the quatre-vingt-treize, you come from ninety-three, that means Seine-Saint-Denis, and that — for them that’s the image of the ninety-three license plate is that of the periphery, of people who are thought to be marginal by the center. But, as I’ve argued in other places, including some of my own writing, the sense of not belonging to the center creates a type of solidarity that helped the communists in the 1920s and ’30s, and hopefully helped people, as the government has undercut the attempts of suburban people to create voluntary associations that will offer hope to all these people. Wait till you watch La Haine, the film, later on, it’s incredible. Well, some of this starts with Haussmann. We went a long way today, from the Alsatian Attila all the way to Clichy-sous-Bois, two years ago. But I hope that the larger points were clear. And from that we move on to imperialism on Monday, have a fantastic weekend. See ya.
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