Thursday 26 November 2015

Wings of Hope - Paris, November 2015, by Carol Drinkwater

                                                                         PEACE FOR PARIS. 
                                                                  I believe the artist is Jean Julien. @jean_julien

I have written and thrown out several posts for today, turning over in my mind what more could be said on the subject of the recent abominations that took place on Friday 13th in the City of Lights. An evening of darkness that has touched the world, preceded and followed by murderous atrocities in Beirut, Kenya and Mali, not to mention the lockdown of Brussels.

France Magazine is a monthly journal I have been writing a column for for close to six years. It is the bestselling and probably most comprehensive, English-language guide to all things French. It also offers excellent and well-researched articles on almost every rocky outcrop or blade of grass growing in this diverse country. As a tribute, Carolyn Boyd, the editor, has decided to dedicate the upcoming January issue to all who lost their lives or were injured in Paris during and after the atrocities of that evening of 13 November.

From a rich pool of writers and illustrators, Carolyn invited brief contributions on the subject of To Paris With Love. I was keen to be included and began to think about Paris and how it has penetrated and coloured my work. I have lived here in France, sharing my time between the capital and the south, for thirty years, a greater span of life than I spent in either of my mother countries, Ireland and England. One of the hardest calls for me is when France and Ireland play one another at football or rugby – not that these are sports I follow ardently – but who do I shout for on such occasions?

Most inhabitants of a metropolis have special corners and hangouts within their cities: the street where they live, where they work, local cinemas or meet up with friends. The murders and bombings were carried out in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, which is to say the upper east side; north of the Seine, on the eastern flanks of the city. 

                                                   Siege of La Bastille, by Claude Cholat

La Bastille sits at the heart of 11th arrondissement. Although I have never lived in the quartier, my husband, Michel, has had editing suites and offices there on and off for almost the entire time I have known him. When I first began to discover the streets and many tucked-away alleys that fan out like a star from La Place de la Bastille it was still rather scruffy, the real estate was cheap and the magnificent Bastille Opera House had not yet been built to commemorate the bicentenary of the French Revolution. I knew the little cafés where the artists hung out, where some of the Charlie Hebdo journalists and illustrators would decamp for coffee, long discussions, and many Gauloises smoked. A few filmmakers haunted this area – such as Michel – because the rent was affordable. The neighbourhood of La Bastille was cutting edge. Before my time, during the 60s and 70s, it might have been described as the Soho of Paris. I caught its flavour, I picked up on its vibrant vibe, its populaire and revolutionary spirit.

                                                                East view of La Bastille

La Place de la Bastille takes its name from the fortress that stood upon the site of this capacious square. The fortress, later a state prison, was built to protect this eastern side of the capital against the invading British during the Hundred Years War.

14 July 1789, the date that marks the beginning of the French Revolution, was when the Bastille prison was stormed by revolutionaries. By November of that same year, the mighty fortress was more or less demolished. The work of dismantling a structure that all had believed impenetrable was headed up by Pierre-Francois Palloy. The vast empty square that remained was cluttered with displays of bits and pieces of ironwork, excavated bones and stone remnants hauled from the interior of the prison. Palloy began a thriving business in Bastille memorabilia. Items were shipped all over France. 

                                             One stone carved as a model of the Bastille prison.

Models of the Bastille carved from its stones were sent by Palloy to many départements as a means of spreading the revolutionary message. In 1790, a grand ball was held in the square to celebrate the first anniversary of 14 July. 
A foundation stone was laid on 14 July 1792. It was to have been the first phase of the erection of a column to commemorate the Fall of the Bastille, but the project never advanced. In 1804, in rode Napoleon and established France’s First Empire. Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte envisaged a fountain in the Bastille square with a bronze elephant at its centre.
     The Arc de Triomphe, built during the First Empire commissioned by Napoléon Bonaparte
                                  This he did manage to realise, but not his Bastille Fountain

The First Empire Bastille Fountain only reached preliminary stage; a stucco elephant was planted there but the bronze was never commissioned due to lack of funds. However, its plinth proved useful for what was yet to come: the July Column. La Colonne de Juillet is the structure that towers over the entire Bastille neighbourhood today. 

                                                     La Colonne de Juillet - July Column

47 metres high, the monumental column, built between 1835 and 1840, is both elegant and impressive. I walk past it almost on a daily basis when I am in Paris and never fail to pause and admire it, most especially the gold-leafed bronze statue that stands atop the capitol, perched on a golden globe balanced on one leg as though about to take flight. It is a winged figure with outstretched arms. He holds in one hand a flaming torch and in the other a broken length of chain. Auguste Dumont’s iconic figure was christened Génie de la Liberté or Spirit of Freedom.

                                                              The Spirit of Freedom

Ironically, he was commissioned as a monument to another, later revolution that took place over three days at the end of July 1830. Even so, the winged angel flying high over all eastern Paris is indubitably the spirit of every step of the French Revolution, of shackles broken, every stage that led to the French Republic. He represents empowerment, a visual reminder of what France’s citizens hold dearer than anything else: the freedom of the individual.

I have been asking myself on a daily basis whether the attacks were deliberately situated around this quartier of the city, or whether the target choices were random. The neighbouring Stade de France, of course, if the suicide bombers had succeeded in penetrating the stadium, would have been a target of unthinkable proportions and would have included our President. Were the nearby bars and restaurants chosen for no reason in particular or were these murderous assassins actually making a statement against the philosophy that runs deep within the soul of every French citizen? The Bible by which we live: Liberté, egalité and fraternité. The motto that first appeared during the early days of the French Revolution. 

DAESH - I refuse to dignify that fundamentalist mob with the nomenclature, ISIS. Here is an excellent link to the understanding of the name: - DAESH despises music, dancing, laughter, alcohol, women’s suffrage and liberty, sexual liberty, artistic freedom, culture; everything our modern lives celebrate. Still, any and all of these could have been punished by hitting any and every bar or restaurant around the city.

So why this neighbourhood? I don’t know, but I do know that in these days that have succeeded the horrors, there has been a veritable upsurge in the vision that is French, in what the French citizens and their notion of society represents. The winged angel, the Spirit of Freedom, still perches on his golden globe, ready to take flight. He is at the heart of this eastern quarter, at the heart of what will survive and flourish here in France. Freedom of spirit, freedom of the being. Our right to live and believe according to our own mores, while respecting our differences and our multiculturalism.

My new novel, The Forgotten Summer, to be published on 25 February 2016 by Penguin has been partially inspired by Paris.

Je Suis Charlie. Je Suis Paris  Paris, Je T'aime


Kate Lord Brown said...

Just saved your image of the spirit of freedom as my Christmas home page. Vive la France x

Kate Lord Brown said...

Just saved your image of the spirit of freedom as my Christmas home page. Vive la France x

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks, Carol, for taking us more deeply into this part of Paris.

Unknown said...

Thank you Carol, thoughtful and insightful as ever.I firmly believe the only way to defeat these neo-fascisti is with love and laughter, the very qualities for which Paris is renowned.The spirit of the people of Paris was undefeated by the fascist forerunners in the 1940's and remains undefeated again.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Thanks for a beautiful read, and a very interesting insight into this particular area of Paris. It really does serve to highlight the contrast between Western ideals of freedom and ISIS' hatred of that freedom.

Unknown said...

Yet another peach of an article. Carol Drinkwater writes with a perfect mix of heart and head, and always leaves me wishing the article were longer.

Shelley said...

Thank you, Carol, not only for the lesson in history, but also for your response to the history currently being written. A beautiful tribute to France, her culture, and her people.

Unknown said...

A very perceptive analysis of troubling times and actions

Miranda Miller said...

This is fascinating, Carol, and I look forward to reading your novel. I lived in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years and encountered Islamic fundamentalism there - horrible!

Unknown said...

Well written as usual Carol.I always learn something new from your articles.Very interesting,especially after such traumatic events.

Grier said...

Thank you for an enlightening article. The French ideals must endure the onslaught of hate and intolerance.

Unknown said...

A most interesting piece...'food' for thought on many levels. Thank you for being able to express deep feelings about what happened in Paris & elsewhere. Carefully thought out & making the link between past & present history...I now understand a lot more than I did about the word ' daesh'.

Judy Krueger said...

Wonderful piece! I also want to note that the Paris Conference on Climate Change will begin this coming week.