Monday, March 21, 2011

The widening of the streets it was said, was necessitated by the crinoline.

If only they tweaked the streets of Sydney to allow for the vagaries of our clothing. No more being splashed by buses driving through the rainwater pooling in dips in the gutter, no more wind tunnels that whip up skirts and definitely no more of those zigzagging pavers with those cracks in between that snatch at stiletto heels, making you jerk midair like a marionette.
But I am no architect but if I was I would very much enjoy reading this week's allocated Benjamin convolute, E [Haussmanization, Barricade Fighting]. I'm not an expert on nineteenth-century city planning either but during the brief months I have been a Benjaminian I have learnt fast and now I can parade my knowledge in front of you as any good proto-academic should. Yes, and if I hadn't just admitted my newbness you would still be under the illusion that I am drawing this from my vast reservoir of knowledge rather than hastily Wikipediaing him (believe it) and asking lots of questions of my reading group fellows. 
So if you're like me-two-months-ago and the name Haussmann only rings a dim bell because there's a Boulevard Haussmann in Paris which baffled you at the time of being there because it's such an obviously German name, well, never fear. I shall be your tutor. 

SCENE: We are sitting in a rather small room, cream walls, industrially efficient lighting that's just two steps ahead of fluorescent bars. I am pulling the white board down over the top of the ancient blackboard because I don't want to get chalk dust on my black ensemb. I wore black because I want to convey a sense of authority to you; otherwise I'll be fighting my babyface every step of the way.
 You guys are at desks but they're joined in a circle cause I'm all about collaborative conversations in my classroom. One of you raises your arm- you (I like your hat! is that rabbit fur?)- and I point at you and it jumbles out in a blush-faced rush, 'who is Haussmann?'

First slide.
man knew how to rock the facial hair trend.

Ladies and gents, I present to you Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, the grand architect of modern-day Paris. He was commissioned by Napoleon III to reorder the city because up until that point, today's City of Light was yesterday's City of Narrow, Cramped Streets and Filthy Air. Doesn't have quite the same ring.
 He destroyed much of the city's existing buildings, running boulevards through houses and opening it up to vistas of the grand Parisian monuments. His hand is behind the wide avenues, the proliferation of cathedrals and the abundance of light pouring into the city.
Sometimes, though, the execution was more miss than hit: 
'The idea was excellent, but what awkwardness in the execution! The Boulevard de Strasbourg frames the enormous flights of steps at the Tribunal of Commerce, and the Avenue de l'Opera provides a vista of the porter's lodge at the Louvre.' (132) 

He faced considerable opposition and criticism by people who decried his changes as ugly, grandiose but lacking in grace, soulless and corrupt. It's kind of strange to read these criticisms now because Paris is generally thought to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 
'There were cries that he would bring on the plague; he tolerated such outcries and gave us instead- through his well-considered architectural breakthroughs- air, health, and life.' (127)

Blended in with E [Haussmanization, Barricade Fighting] is a consideration of the barricade fighting (surprise!) that was prolific in the city before the it's reno-makeover. Stories abound of furniture and street paving stones being thrown on the heads of troops by insurgents hanging out of windows, of the bodies of the dead being thrown on the barricades to make them higher, of carts being upturned to barricade streets and of the city coming to a halt amidst the rioting. 
Parallel to this is the dream of Paris, the epicentre of the universe, radiating out with ever-extending borders within which she incorporates Italy, Russia, Novaya Zemlya, Papua New Guinea... 'Paris will be the world, and the universe will be Paris... But all this is still nothing: Paris will mount to the skies and scale the firmament of firmaments; it will annex, as suburbs, the planets and the stars.' (137)


 O! Hai! Paris!


I'll stop. 


I am going to Melbourne, though, at the end of the week. Please do send through any recommendations you have because I always end up going back over to my favourite places again and again (what up, Alice Euphemia, American Rag, Jungle Juice Bar, Cumulus, NGV, Marais, Kinki Gerlinki?)
I'm going to take a hundred thousand photos to do a photo essay that actually has a purpose for existing, unlike my stars montage. 


Next time we're doing convolute F [Iron Construction] 
If there's one thing you can say about Benjamin, the man sure knew how to come up with catchy titles.

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