Let us now celebrate one of the best days of the year for democracy – a day when the downtrodden finally rose in arms and started to break the power that had always set its foot on their necks. Today is Bastille Day.
It was not a quick revolution nor a clean one – the real ones never are – but it was, by and large, a successful one. The old monarchy tried to return after the new upstart monarchy was defeated. Eventually both their powers petered out and people took more of their lives into their own hands.
They’ve been conquered since, and then liberated and have conquered in their turn, and are facing more of it – as all Europe does. But then Europe has always faced strife since before the Roman Empire – none of it is new.
I take comfort on Bastille Day in reading Tom Paine’s ” The Rights Of Man ” and am inspired by our Marianne in the liberty cap. It is a good day for cheese and wine and paté.
In a previous post I declared that I was a friend of Art. And that I was a kindly and nonjudgemental soul. That I would celebrate all I saw.
You have only to place before me some of the most celebrated works of European artists to call forth from me the Canadian version of the Bronx cheer. It has bellowed forth through the art gallery of New South Wales and the NGV many times. This year Marcel Duchamp’s works evoked it. And it was not even because it was a paid exhibition – I’d have laughed it to scorn for free.
There’s Marcel’s pisser, of course…
And the edifying sight of a bus-load of earnest French high school students worshipping it.
I was taken with the red wooden box in which Marcel established a portable gallery of his works, and with the revolving discs that made optical illusions when placed on a gramophone…and by the portable chess set he carried.
But I cannot bring the same sense of admiration – other than the sort of regard in which I hold P.T. Barnum – for the bicycle wheel, the ball of twine, or the urinal. He said that they were art and got people to agree with him – but people can agree on folly as readily as they can on wisdom.
If you were looking for an internet columnist who will write mean things about people, I’m your man. I’m available 24 hours a day to bang out copy telling the world how dreadful your enemies are – no target goes unscathed. I charge reasonable prices for scandalous writing, and I have an ABN number so you can get a tax deduction.
Except today – this is the one day of the year when I write nice things about people – and today it is about Yamina, the Samba dancer.
She was kind enough yesterday to buy me a ticket to the movies during the Festival Of French Cinema and accompany me to the show. As a French teacher, she could get a lot more from the film than I, but fortunately there were very good subtitles. And as it was a show about music and dance, the soundtrack and visuals spoke for themselves.
Totally not what I thought it was going to be. The title was Le Grand Bal, and I expected opera or theatre costuming, sweeping staircases, and Offenbach. As it turned out, it was a doco on one of the festivals of folk music and dance held in the central part of France in the summer. She had been to many of these in similar circumstances and this was the connection. Apparently it was a very accurate as well as charming film.
I found it fascinating seeing people dressed as ordinary tourists but doing extraordinary things – dancing for 7 days and 8 nights while taking workshop lessons and getting 2 hours of sleep in the interim. Performing intricate art for their own enjoyment. Acting as an impromptu corps du ballet – perfectly controlled, and all to folk instruments. Amazing.
After the show another member of the audience recognised her and rushed over to find out if this sort of dancing ball would ever be held here in Perth.
Note: it is very much of advantage to have an experienced French wine-drinker looking at the wine list in a restaurant when you want something good to drink.
But Terrible? Why have I written Terrible? Easy…
I teased her that I was going to write a column with this title, so I know she is now going to read the column assiduously. I am not ashamed to get my readers by subterfuge and sneaky tricks…Of course there is nothing at all terrible about her – quite the contrary – but now she’s reading.
Mwa Ha ha ha …
I was never much of a fan of revolution until I saw the uniforms. Particularly the ones they gave to the girls. Eugene Delacroix was on the spot to capture the new fashion and I am grateful.
I even approve of the musket, though my experience of the 1777 Charleville .69 calibre arm was mixed. It had a good barrel, and a convenient set of barrel bands to allow for cleaning, but the stock was woefully short coupled – the French must all have had short arms and tiny physiques. The British Brown Bess was a much more comfortable firearm to use. About the only really clever thing the French did was put a locking ring on the tree-cornered bayonet so that you could withdraw it without having it fall off the barrel.*
The heading image is only part of Delacroix’s painting; ” Liberty Leading The People “- if you google it you’ll get to see the chaps on the lady’s right and the kid with the pistol. The one with the top hat seems to be hefting a blunderbus…which leads one to question who exactly he is, with the fancy clothes and the civilian man-killer. Stagecoach guard? Gamekeeper?
Further to her right is a pirate with a cutlass. He’s also got a pistol aimed at his own goolies.
The kid with the pistol is actually toting two of them, plus an improbably large bag of accessories. It may contain his play lunch.
And they are all climbing over a pile of broken furniture and rubbish. Delacroix has used the caption to suggest a noble purpose for it all, but after looking at this lot, I have come to the conclusion that Liberty is not really leading the people. She’s had a good look at them and is doing her best to get away from them.
I should too. Armed amateurs with no sense of firearms responsibility. Any SSAA range officer would throw ’em out in a minute.
* When the US Army redesigned the basic musket in 1842 they added more stock and wrist to it and it became a really good battlefield shotgun. But by then the rifled musket was the queen of battle so it was a second-line item.
I was shocked.
Shocked, I tell you. It was all I could do to catch my breath. I felt faint – had it not been for three stiff brandys I don’t know what would have become of me.
I remember the day well when I heard the news. It seared itself into my memory. The headline ” French Leader Had A Mistress ” blared out at me from page 23 of the local grazier’s and stockbreeder’s gazette. It was as if the fabric of the world had crumbled beneath my feet.
I felt my gorge rise – to think that a trusted leader of a Catholic country could abandon morality so blatantly – and for such a long period of time. How could any citizen of France emerge from their house and walk along the street after this news? What new horror lurked in the dark streets of Paris? Next thing you knew there could be women dancing bare-chested in cabarets and after that the earth would open up and swallow us all…
Well, we recovered. Eventually. Enough anguish was pressed into enough ink and printed in enough papers to eventually lay the whole sad thing to rest. France has recovered. Morality has been re-asserted. Curfew is tolled each night at 18:00 hours and everyone sleeps with their hands outside the bedsheets. And I think it has done the world good – even the world of the United States.
They seem to have been able to take possible revelations of their President’s liason with a strange woman in their stride. The thought that he may have paid her hush money when he realised that he would actually make it to the presidency and that she may have wanted more after she realised it too – the thought that she may have decided to take her story to other political entities who might also have access to money – and that now the money is nearly irrelevant – has occurred to many. It has occurred to me.
There may be some outraged by it all – for outrage is a powerful and useful emotion. There may be some genuinely concerned for the morality of it all – again, morality is a real thing.
And there may be some who, like myself, have exhausted all our tears on His Majesty King Louis XVI, and have none to spare for Mr. Harding. And as we have not been paid any money to care, we don’t.
And French, to boot. How much more mysterious could you get?
The Amilcar seen here at Hyde Park this year is the closest thing I could find on the day to my all-time favourite motor car – the Samson of M. Hulot. It has a little more style that the Samson, and this could be a problem for me as I have no style whatsoever, but for a car as lovely as this I would be prepared to wash, shave, and dress.
It is hard for a person with a limited grasp of the French language to read literature of the period – the 1920’s – and understand all the nuances of the country. I depend upon English translations and these can sometimes be a view filtered through glass coloured by any number of biases. But one does not need to be a master of literature to appreciate an object of the period – whether it be art, furniture, architecture, or mechanics. Thus the Amilcar acts simultaneously as a vigorous stimulant and delightful object of art.
And it is an adventure. Who could set out for any destination in this little roadster without experiencing a thrill of discovery – of danger, of wind, and dust, and velocity. Rain, too, though there is some provision for protection on the port quarter of the boat tail. Neither the driver nor the passenger will be in comfort, but neither will they care – they are racing against the clock to Monte Carlo, or Rheims, or the local IGA. And the Polly Farmer Tunnel at 80 Kph must be as good as a ride at Disneyland!
I’m rarely jealous of others’ motor cars. The troubles and expenses that they are faced with are a barrier to me – but I would be prepared to face them if there were a little mechanical delight like this as the reward.
But one thing puzzles…the blue triangle. I cannot find any sensible reference to it in a Google search. Perhaps readers can enlighten me.
Addendum: The Leatherworking Reverand has supplied an answer – apparently the blue triangle is an indicator panel required under CAMS rules to indicate where the battery of the car is located – for vintage motor racing. Thank you, Reverand.
I just read several new posts on Facebook telling of incredible incidents…and I realised that I have been a Facebook criminal for many years.
The posts were from someone repeating posts from a third person, and were so vague as to be untraceable. That didn’t stop them from being sensational reading, mind – they spoke of stirring world events and social mores and the call to virtue and vice. All the good stuff.
The trouble was, they were very likely apocryphal. Legendary. Those are intellectual words for lies. Good lies, entertaining lies, educational lies – lies repeated by a person who is a very good person in other respects…but lies nevertheless. I’ve been seeing these lies for years – as long as I have subscribed to the main Facebook feed – and I’ve been complicit all that time.
Complicit? Why? Because I have just let them pass – pass along to the next person. Pass along to someone who might believe them and then pass them further. Some of the lies won’t do much harm or much good, but the constant stream of them must wear away any support for truth on the internet and eventually for truth in general society.
I repent of my crime. I shall reform. I will adopt the motto of Robert Nivelle. In the future the lies shall not pass.
Heading Image: A fine painted model French Poilu from the 2017 plastic model exhibition.