Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Paris Papers: Part One

Rues of Rubble and Boulevards of Blood

During and after the Paris Commune of 1871

To Those Who Come After


To the cities I came in a time of disorder
That was ruled by hunger.
I sheltered with the people in a time of uproar
And then I joined in their rebellion.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

I ate my dinners between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
I didn't care for much for love
And for nature's beauties I had little patience.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

The city streets all led to foul swamps in my time,
My speech betrayed me to the butchers.
I could do only little
But without me those that ruled could not sleep so easily:
That's what I hoped.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

Our forces were slight and small,
Our goal lay in the far distance
Clearly in our sights,
If for me myself beyond my reaching.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.


You who will come to the surface
From the flood that's overwhelmed us and drowned us all
Must think, when you speak of our weakness in times of darkness
That you've not had to face:

Days when we were used to changing countries
More often than shoes,
Through the war of the classes despairing
That there was only injustice and no outrage.

Even so we realised
Hatred of oppression still distorts the features,
Anger at injustice still makes voices raised and ugly.
Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness,
Could never be friendly ourselves.

And in the future when no longer
Do human beings still treat themselves as animals,
Look back on us with indulgence.

Bertolt Brecht

The news that winter was bitter. A provisional government had been established under Adolphe Thiers, who signed an armistice with the Prussians in 1871. But by the spring, civil war had broken out in Paris and a second siege would follow. The largely working-class members of a new, left-wing Commune rejected Thiers's Third Republic and forced its National Assembly to retreat to Versailles. By early May, government troops were at war with working-class Parisians and their supporters. And by the end of that month, the Commune was crushed and a chastened country was left to ponder its uncertain future. So much of what had been achieved in the Second Empire now lay in ruins: bombed out boulevards and buildings (including parts of the Louvre), demolished railways and viaducts, widespread economic ruin and a terrorized populace, replaced the glittering metropolis and boundless optimism of the previous decades. In 'l'anée terrible', as Victor Hugo aptly called it, France not only suffered an enormous human toll (with 25,000 killed in a single week in late May) and the loss of two key provinces, Alsace and Lorraine, but also sacrificed its position at the forefront of European culture and society. Within two-and-a-half years France would pay off the staggering five-billion-franc indemnity promised in the treaty of May 1871, but it would take far longer for the nation to recover from the Prussian humiliation and the strife of the Commune.

Mary Tompkins Lewis

I don't know whether war is an interlude during peace, or peace an interlude during war.

Georges Clemenceau

Musique Du Jour: Michael Nyman, Débarcadère (from La Traversée de Paris)