A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Today, we’re going to the graveyard to pay our respects to Baudelaire. It’s a long way from the river, but we’re going to walk. The best way to see any city — especially Paris — is to hoof it. For one thing you’re never too far from a friendly bistro and medicinal wine. For another, unlike North American towns, Paris is an outdoor kinda place. Parisians take to the streets at any provocation. They’ve been doing it for years, and they’re good at it. Civil disobedience has been a Parisian pastime since Marie Antoinette decided to introduce the peasants to Betty Crocker. In fact, the reason Paris has such wide beautiful boulevards is Napoleon III (the real Napoleon’s nephew) didn’t want to find out how good Parisians were at controlling the streets. Napoleon hired a guy named Haussmann (BTW, he was never actually a baron) who redesigned most of Paris so a paranoid Emperor could get his troops from one neighbourhood to another faster than the locals could shout “Aux barricades!” Monsieur Haussmann succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest expectations. In the 1860s, he pulled down half the city. This was before urban development had a name, so the only pause in Haussmann’s destruction/construction plan was the time it took for him to tell the residents to move. Literally thousands of families were turned out into the streets which Haussmann immediately demolished. In a few years, Paris, the medieval market town, was gone, and Paris the modern European capital you see today, had been built. You can still get a feel for the old Paris, though, on the Left Bank close to the river in the Latin Quarter. The streets there are still narrow, dark and winding. There are even a few places where you can find the old cobblestones.
Ironically, Napoleon III never got to enjoy the city he created. He was deposed when the citizens of Paris decided their Emperor had lost one too many wars and took to the streets in 1870. Apparently, broad boulevards work just a well for angry mobs as they do for soldiers.