Thursday, May 12, 2011
Lovers of Paris have long been grateful that German General Von Choltitz defied Hitler's order to destroy Paris before surrendering to the Allies in World War II. The idea of this beautiful city blown to bits is horrifying. That's why the images included in the exhibition now showing at the Hôtel de Ville are so startling. Paris was blown up, by Frenchmen themselves, less than 100 years earlier.
After the disastrous 1870 war between Napoleon III and Prussia and the terrible siege of Paris, the workers revolted against the caretaker government and established the Commune, a revolutionary, participatory government meant to finally establish the rights of the common man and woman (there were women on the barricades as well) against what they viewed as the capitalist oppressors. The Commune never extended very far beyond Paris itself, despite calls for other cities to join.
The government of President Thiers retreated to Versailles and used the army, recently defeated by the Prussians, to take back the city of Paris. In a bloody internecine battle, Paris was shelled by the French army and its defenders were killed in the hundreds. Survivors were rounded up and shot, jailed or exiled. The painter Gustave Courbet was among them.
The picture above shows the Legion of Honor building in the foreground and the Orsay Palace in the back. The palace was so badly damaged that it was razed and eventually a railway station took its place. As you know, that has since become the Musée d'Orsay.
This picture shows the rue Royale, with the Madeleine church in the background. This is probably just about where Maxim's is today. The Belle Epoque roistering at that restaurant was only a generation away from this scene.
And this is the rue de Lille, very near our apartment. Looks like Berlin in 1945, doesn't it?