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La Belle Époque in ultimate analysis reveals no substance or a constancy of national character but an acute elevation of senses. This would be reflected in the works of JK Huysmans(Á Rebours) and of Proust (Á la recherche du temps perdu). This upbeat mood was steadily dissipated in the light of events that convulsed entire Europe. It was a mood that a man about town would feel after a satisfying night out, before confronting dismal circumstances awaiting him at home. A brief respite it gave Parisian, a hope that emerging industrial and technological advances would lead to richer, happier life. But by the 1910s much of that promise had vanished. As poet, philosopher Paul Valery put it, our civilization had found that it was mortal. While the delicate Marcel Proust stood on the balcony of the Ritz to watch the German planes strafe Paris a young priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was serving as a stretcher bearer of the trenches. He would write home that the front was ‘the extreme boundary between what we already know and what is still taking shape.’

The north and western suburbs of Paris were the motor city of the day. There were 600 car manufactories in France and 150 different makes – not just the emerging giants of Peugeot and Renault, but long-forgotten treasures like Berliet and Delaunay-Belleville. Delaunay-Belleville, which operated from what is now the high-immigration suburb of Saint-Denis, made limousines for Tsar Nicholas of Russia. France was the world’s biggest exporter of cars, and there was pride, but no great surprise, when the racing driver Jules Goux won the 1913 Indianapolis 500 – in a Peugeot.

France led the way in the skies. Bleriot crossed the channel in 1908, and in 1913 the sportsman Roland Garros – later (after his death in combat in the last month of the war) to give his name to the tennis stadium in Paris – completed the first ever crossing of the Mediterranean. And in cinema, invented, of course, by the Lumiere brothers two decades before, France vied with the US for first place in number of films produced – more than 1,000 every year, made by names still familiar today like Gaumont and Pathe.

Modernity was the moving spirit. It was the time of the machine. The city’s last horse-drawn omnibus made its way from Saint-Sulpice to La Villette in January 1913. From the top of the Eiffel Tower, built 35 years earlier like a symbol of the coming age, a mast had recently been erected, beaming radio waves into the ether.

Advances in Science and a new understanding of the nature of time and space would enable artists and writers to break the mould and experiment as Gertrude Stein did with language. As an art movement cubism entailed a new way of looking at things. In Paris Pablo Picasso and his friend Georges Braque would take the lead. Instead of painting things as they appeared to a single pair of eyes at a single moment in time, they painted things from a variety of possible viewpoints, creating a shifting world of abstract space. In the words of the late art historian Robert Hughes, the cubism of Picasso and Braque, created in the years running up to the war, was every bit as modern – and indeed part of the same destabilising intellectual movement – as the contemporary forays of Einstein into the secrets of relativity.

The speed of change, the rise of technology over craftsmanship, the frenetic search for new modes of artistic expression, as one avant-garde was overtaken by the next (and let’s not forget that 1913 was also the year in Paris that Marcel Duchamp presented his first “readymade” – a bicycle wheel on a stool – making the point that anything is art if you say it is), all this must have worked its way into the collective subconscious, creating a feeling that matters were accelerating out of control. It was indeed so. Just as the ideals of 1789 went out of control in the Commune of 1971 while the social changes merely created new class system and inequalities the spirit of optimism of the Parisians was backward looking than in the future.

Aftermath

Institutions would not escape the blight that had eaten into the vitals of  the republic. The Church, the Army and Politics were at odds with one another, which would bedevil the Third Republic till the Nazi Germany marched into Paris on 14 June 1940. These six weeks it took the brown-shirts to claim control of Paris showed the lie of La Belle Époque: it had lost its will. The setting up of the Vichy government under Marshall Philippe Petain was the coup de grace given to the nation that could never come to grip with ideals for which they fought the Great Revolution.

(Ack: Hugh Scofield-BBC news Paris/magazine- 7 Jan, 2014 (2) Wikipedia

(3)Eugen Weber-Paris La Belle Epoque/ NGC-July 1989)

Benny

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In order to have an insight as to how thin a veneer the cultural capital wore and its splendid cosmopolitan joie de vivre with which it dazzled every visitor, one need understand its denizens itself. The intellectual ferment the city carried was no more a mask than the narrow provincialism it concealed: the masses were held in check by their fractured social affiliations. Of the many institutions there was nothing to cement these into one. The Right, Centrist, the Left, anti-clerical and anti-monarchial all these on the petri dish of national politics were manifestation of provincialism, each vying with one other. It would reveal itself periodically in startling fashion. L’affaire Dreyfus for example. The many newspapers each representing its narrow interests made them all the more fractious.

Despite the Great Revolution of 1789 and adopting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the nation was haunted by monarchial ambitions for which the Right and the Church had insidiously worked; the Army also had its secret clubs to promote their own narrow interests. Such divisiveness would lead ultimately to the collapse of the republic. Apart from these there was a shadow of the Man on the Horseback, some military adventurer literally emulating the Eagle. The glory days of Napoleon had given the Army a hapless duty to preserve the gloire at any cost. In the unjust framing of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, the role of the Army would prove to be a dubious one. France was a divided nation and its social structure carried over the thrusts and retreats of various institutions, like a body seeking its balance by a fever of sorts. For the bourgeoisie the intellectual life of Paris was distant and far removed from their own realities.

The French are noted for their Gallic spirit. They were volatile, energetic and ever unruly. There were lots of peasant and urban revolts under the ancien regime but these did not break into a sustained conflagration as it did in 1789. When their ire was up their cruelty would surpass anything, as in the case of the storming of Bastille. In this they would capture the hapless governor whose head they cut off with a pocket knife and would impale on a pike. The guillotine was touted as humane capital punishment (like ‘a cool breath on the back of the neck’ according to its inventor, Dr. Joseph I. Guillotine). Its claim however was lost in the many thousands of victims needlessly sent to death in a general atmosphere of savagery and blood lust.)

Being volatile their attention from pressing issues of the day wandered and did not mend matters.

The city was a hotchpotch of separate quartiers, each insulated from one other from which inhabitants seldom ventured forth. A cab ride cost about the equivalent of a workman’s daily wages, and the poorer you were, the more quartier bound you were likely to be; many a workman’s child grew to adolescence before World War I without getting out of Ménilmontant or Belleville. In the movie Les Enfants du Paradis there is a scene in which Garance relives to Baptiste (whom she had just met) her indigent youth in Ménilmontant. Along the way pointing to it she adds, ‘(At fifteen) anyone who has grown up too fast doesn’t stay alone very long.’ Only alternative for girls like her was to become a demimondaine in the city of Paris.

Prostitution was all pervasive for girls with no means of family, talent or support. Young men fared no better. Those who dared to break the restraints of the provincial life needed entirely an altogether temper to make it rich in the city of Paris. Most commodity a yokel could bring along was his stolidity of his forebears and those who jettisoned all those values and relied on wits made it to the top like Balzac’s character Eugene de Rastigniac. The other side of the coin bears the image of Lucien Rubempré.

As Balzac would say, ‘….The streets of Paris have human qualities… and some of them like the Rue Montmartre are like mermaids-lovely heads, but fishtails at the extremity.’ The fashion of the City of lights dazzled and at the other end dirt roosted permanently. Not only when servants throw peelings and offals out the windows to annoy the concierge but in the general lack of amenities. The sordid haunted all sides of life. At the time of the Revolution the Place de la Bastille,on the edge of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was then a warren of tenements, craft shops all fetid with unwashed men and women while at the Palais Royale, its arcades and apartments filled with bistros, gambling and bawdy houses. Here the 30,000 prostitutes plied their trade among its 650,000 inhabitants. The model of the bourgeois apartment house of that is the centre of Zola’s Pot-Bouille, reveals no taps or sinks, let alone lavatories.

( Merle Severy-The Great Revolution/NG-July 1989)

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Paris was the cultural capital of the world. As Thomas Jefferson would qualify it ‘the second home of every cultured person. Is culture of any part distinct to be a beacon to every man who may have cut his teeth in the cultural milieu of his own corner under the sun?’ The difference may be illustrated in simple terms by the manner Parisian artists discovered Japanese art.

In about 1856 the French artist Felix Braquemond first came across a copy of the sketch book Hokusai Manga at the workshop of his printer; they had been used as packaging for a consignment of porcelain. In 1860 and 1861, black-and-white reproductions of ukiyo-e were published in books about Japan. Baudelaire wrote in a letter in 1861, “Quite a while ago I received a packet of japonneries. I’ve split them up among my friends …”. In 1862, La Porte Chinoise, a shop selling various Japanese goods including prints, opened in the rue de Rivoli, one of the most fashionable shopping street in Paris, and counted numerous artists from this art circle, like James Tissot, among its clients. This craze would lead to an art movement that we know as Impressionism. Whistler who was a frequenter of the salons of artists in Paris would introduce it in England. Such dissemination of Japanese art to all across the globe cannot happen by some fluke. Take music for instance: Maurice Ravel, saw the Indonesian Gamelan at the world fair in Paris and was inspired by its relaxed pentatonic sound. He did write some pieces for a full Gamelan and was forever influenced (Fray Hackbarth/quora.com). One need consider elsewhere in Europe the trends in music were becoming either loud ( shall I say ‘Wagnerian’?) or continuing the prevailing romantic style as was in the works of Brahms. French composers would resist such schism since in their fertile genius the use of pentatonic scale was more renewing and to the point. Whatever they did, carried their own stamp and it made a point. Thus they would set new trends after their own fashion. In short the world saw its own cultural heritage transformed and made altogether new. What was made in Paris sold across all the corners. Period.

Balzac was right: the city was the thinking voice of the world.

There is only one culture and each nation makes a part of it, and emotionally places hedges around it but holds nothing in their expression that can satisfy their intellect. Paris is where reverse is true. Besides the novelty of Japonism or Oriental music after having artistically elevated into a new mode, what else was there? Paris in short was the prism that can bear every colour of the spectrum.

 

Art in Paris as in the case of impressionism shall set the trends and la Belle Époque indeed showed it to its glorious best. If we continue we can well see the explosive colors and pictorial aberrations of the Fauve were not an anachronism but reflecting the moods of the times despite its surface glitter and gaiety. In 1905 it created furore when Salon d’Automne exhibited a room full of Matisse, Deraine, Marquet, Vlaminck. (A leading Fauvist spoofing critics who were enraged by the canvasses of the wild beasts(les fauves) used a donkey to create a canvas,’And the Sun set over the Adriatic-and it sold for 400 francs at an avant-garde show.) Victor Hugo’s dictum holds true: literature is civilization itself.’ Art was no exception reflecting the nation careening towards a catastrophe. The city exuded the national angst despite its thinking voice, and its own divided soul never fully recovered from the days of Revolution.

(To be continued)

 

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Paris, in Balzac’s words ‘is a sentient being’. If you need understand its sense of being one need only have entered into one of its houses in the early nineteenth- century Paris. Different classes and degrees of affluence might well be housed in the same building; only a subtle hint clued you in: higher you climbed you were entering a world of its own something out of Dante’s inferno. For every casual visitor again to quote Balzac, ‘Paris is still the same monstrous miracle, as astounding assemblage of movements, machines and ideas, the city of thousand different romances, the world’s thinking voice.’

Paris in the fin de siècle for all the restless movements must not have imagined it was standing on the rim of a crater and the beguiling way of living was merely a mood; despite swirling in a whirligig of ideas and fads the city would soon be swallowed up by the events of 1914. As such the good old days of Paris mark socially as well as culturally  a distinct social phenomenon called La Belle Époque.

France had much to be proud about. The nations industrial, scientific and cultural advances would be showcased by the International Exposition of 1900 and the Eifel Tower was its jewel in the crown. A million visitors ascended the Tower, which was completed 11 years before, all blissfully forgotten of its scathing reception during its erection (‘A ghastly dream’ it was called in 1887; Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the tower’s restaurant every day because it was the one place in Paris where the tower was not visible.)

On April, 14,1900 at four in the afternoon a balloon rose from the Tuileries Garden while 15,000 Parisians watched the cameraman who filmed the city for the coming Cinéorama, to be screened at the Exhibition that was due to open on the Left Bank.

The city was remodeled in the 1850s during the Empire Days by Baron Haussmann and had survived great many upheavals since then( the Commune of 1871 and Metro, whose first line opened to coincide with the Exhibition) and was the pleasure ground for two and a half million people. Symptomatic of the grand vision of the city everything was gigantic: the Ferris wheel 350 feet high, could carry 1,600 people at a time; The President of the Third Republic threw a party for 20,000 of mayors who were served by waiters on roller skates. The guide to the Exposition called the century ending ‘the most fertile in discoveries, the most prodigious in sciences’, that the world had had known and it spoke of a revolution in the economic order of the universe.’

In summer 1913, a party of San Francisco boy scouts passed through the city, and Le Figaro newspaper ran a survey – what had struck them the most?

Apart from the monuments and the gardens, they loved the trees lining the streets, and the general cleanliness. They thought the red trousers worn by soldiers most impressive, but it was odd how many young men wore moustaches and how many women smoked.

They loved the way policemen still wore swords, the dog barbers by the Seine, the glorious outdoor cafes. At the opera, one young American stared at the women “pivoting on their high heels, offering a fine view of their resplendent gowns and jewels”. This was Paris on the eve of war. Just doing what it did. Typical of the city, a thinking box, merely skirted the past, living for the moment. (Balzac quote is from his novel-Ferragus)( To be continued)

 

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Think of earth as our home and everything what takes place in it shall somehow work its way for better or worse into each one of us.

Security reasons compel one nation to trawl civil liberties of its citizenry and collect data which shall as in the case of Snowdon affair serve other nations to fix theirs a little better.

Where do you think this race will lead to? One earth in which all member nations shall be wasting their precious limited resources for zero gains.

Our earth our home. Race for material gains rattles it. Space race following the US getting hold of German v2 rocket program during the Cold War period showed its futility when ISS was needed for space explorations where the US and Russia required help from each other.. Does war on ideology serve any better than a spirit of cooperation ?

Much less different belief systems shall serve interests of the earth. It is the only home we have got.

ii

‘Belief has never blown a feather away. Deeds have levelled mountains.’

Fools praying on special days or 5 times a day made worse by killing other faiths on other days. The earth our home is a monument to folly of belief systems that never did the job as we hoped it would do.

Rascals we have had plenty who using fear of the unknown as a tool to subjugate our better natures to an idea they never followed themselves.

The earth is full of such follies that show peaks of human profligates playing with our secular and spiritual lives.

Turkish caliphate is anathema to Arab Sunnis. Historically caliphate had no leg to stand in time and place wherever it was imposed. It proved a failure for the simple reason these caliphs who ran the lives of others never looked to the time nor to social changes. Had the caliphs of old looked to the welfare of believers, would have worked to equip them take charge of changes in social history. This was not the case. Ask ourselves: why did Arab Spring never take off?

Kings, caliphs etc., have all taken advantage of the time secure their hold and not better the world. They left the earth worse than ever.

When one hears caliphate in our time it is a sure signal the world shall be much worse than is.

concluded

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Agriculture in a way was a bad idea given there were climate and soil conditions that made some groups reap rich harvest while some groups were ruined by bad harvest. This inequality necessitated skirmishes between groups. Given the circumstance of unequal returns for labour the society was to split gradually into two classes. Haves and Have-nots. This also led to specialization of trades since farming was not suited in all parts equally. Under repeated cultivation some fields became poorer and failure in crops and climate changes turned many to look for alternatives.  Specialization gradually became the norm. Artisan,mercantile and scholars and so on. One of the groups specialized in warfare. The farmers which had amassed grains required protection and these martial class were hired for the job. (The Japanese film the Seven Samurai deals with this topic.)

Kings, nobility and peasants, traders and artisan class were all clarified in course of time creating a more organized social structure.

Poor agricultural practices had ruined the farmers and one of the measures taken to improve farming methods touched upon technology. Progress in controlling fire and invention of tools gave technology a fillip. Agriculture was one area where technology would help in designing more efficient tools harnessing farm animals, storage facilities.  Progress would in course of time lead to the creation of cities. Rural population migrating to urban areas made the position of rulers all the more dependent on wealth.

The Triad of Head Hands and the Means determined the growth of cities. In these three holding the edifice of any society the centre of gravity determined the motivating factor. Wealth was that centre. In making wealth as the sole criteria, for man his dependence on a higher authority meant some kind of grading according to the proximity of the Head. The idea of Head as the most exalted would lead to other ideas say that of the divine right of kings. A few demanded perpetuating their hold on others was like a toxin into the bloodstream of mankind. This we see in so many groups scattered across the globe. Clergy and nobility were motivated by self-interest than weal of the hands. In short soul of the triad was misplaced, -not in reason nor in labour.

What seemed a good solution can prove a bad choice in the passage of time.

ii

The earth is one and if our home is founded on wrong foundation no amount of furnishing the interior can save it.

In seeking the Head protecting Hand or labour of hand was laying wealth as foundation. As in the example of agriculture farmer laid himself open to the ruler laying down tax and many other burdens on him. 

In the triad of Head Hand and Capital which is most essential? Progress if we look at social history of man, has ever marched on the wheels of wealth. Capital became wrongly equated with progress. What progress can we have if soul from the equation of Head and Heart is lost? Progress based on wealth is symptomatic of such misplaced emphasis. It is an error like putting cart before the horse. The error led to more errors as we see in our present times. (to be concluded)

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This essay is on the premise: the earth is the only home destined for human habitation. From whence came influences, I mean intervention from a divine or higher agencies (as some books would claim of Alien visitation) that pulled human species into a group from his ape-cousins is beyond the scope. Rise of humans we might assume was determined as a whole by environment. Human migrations played their roles in so many waves and these can be dated and also their route by tracking genetic changes. (Recent news item: Most humans have a little bit of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. Only those with recent African ancestry don’t.)

We have no record of any single ape ancestor having led the whole in the dawn of time as Patriarch Moses did with the Children of Israel in the Judaeo-Christian narrative.

Our Ape ancestors found it better option to separate from ape cousins than their arboreal existence in which they shared space with them.

Two clues we have on the possible reason why they parted ways.

Firstly they could walk on two feet. Other ape cousins also had similar ability but their larger brain space and its flexibility must have convinced it as an option.

(“Taung Child,” the fossil skull of a child of three or four was discovered in 1924 and dates back to about 2.5 million years ago. Scan of the skull show joints between the child’s skull plates (called the metopic suture) hadn’t fully fused, a uniquely human trait.

These brain joints close quickly after birth in monkeys and other apes, the researchers said, but in humans, this fusion happens much later. This flexibility in the skull may have existed only because the body first had to reconfigure hips of the mother to accommodate bipedalism. This in turn would have let prefrontal cortex, a brain area crucial for advanced cognitive capabilities, expand and grow over time. The researchers could see from the imprint of the brain on the inside of the skull that these brain areas had started expanding and changing. (the journal dated May7, 2012- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences/reprinted in LiveScience.com/2012) )

Secondly the tool making ability of the humans was of a different league than of ape cousins.

“The tool kits of most chimpanzee populations consist of about 20 types of tools, which are used for various functions in daily life, including subsistence, sociality, sex, and self-maintenance,” primatologist William C. McGrew wrote in an essay in the Apr. 30, 2010, issue of the journal Science.)

Our ape ancestors must have perceived many small positive gains supplied by their communal living was strong enough to separate themselves for the savannah.

ii

Such similar shifts in perception of their environment led our ancestors to changes in an altogether different direction. Climate and availability of fruits and food was one. Another was the quality of soil.

In the plentiful supply of food hunter-gatherer only need gather daily quota of fruits or hunt their prey. No one was the head but each hand adding to the whole group. Chief of families, clans and tribes came much later at a time agriculture put an end to their nomadic existence.

Inclement weather made gathering of fruits daily irksome. With agriculture as a way of life diet became more predictable. Not much variety was possible. Crop failure and threat from other groups in search food led to social changes. Farmers needed to organize and look to those who ensured safety of their crops and fields. Thus came into being the Chief as the Head and hands that served the king and at lower level the hands that supplied their needs. All the hands serving the king were required to secure the property so the king and his nobles were in turn provided for by the farmers who tilled the land supplied men in times of war. Wealth became essential to keep the social structure from collapse and it was appropriated by the King and his knights.

Once primitive ancestors went on their own way there occurred several slight shifts. These social changes led to the creation of a triad: Head, Hand and Wealth. (to be concluded)

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