Category Archives: Paris

Talking about chatterboxes

Chatterbox Polka, sheet music cover illustrated by Brandard
‘Chatterbox Polka’, by Hermann Koenig, illustrated by Brandard.

The British used to sing about almost everything. Even about chatterboxes. The two girls on the cover above, apparently liked their bit of gossip. But so did the French ladies on the cover for the Polka des Commères (commère being the French word for gossip).

Polka des Commères, sheet music cover illustrated by Laporte
‘Polka des Commères’ by Gabriel Allier published by Philippo, illustrated by Laporte.

The French have another beautiful word for a chatterbox: une pipelette.

Bonjour Madame Pipelet, cover illustrated by Pousthomis
A nice looking pipelette, illustrated by Pousthomis
Mme. Pipelet millionaire, petit format sheet music cover
A not so nice looking pipelette, illustrated by… (Can someone identify this illustrator?)

The French word pipelette (feminine) or pipelet (masculine) comes from a character in the novel Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris) by Eugène Sue (1804-1857). Madame Pipelet is the wife of a caretaker. She talks too much and has an unhealthy interest in other peoples private lives. The word pipelet(te) is now used to indicate a caretaker or concierge and by extension a chatterbox or a gossip.

Eugène Sue himself introduces Madame Anastasie Pipelet as follows:
‘When Rodolphe ventured into this den, Monsieur Pipelet, the porter, momentarily absent, was represented by Madame Pipelet: seated near an iron stove which was in the middle of the room, she appeared to be listening to the boiling of the pot. The French Hogarth, Henri Monnier, has so admirably stereotyped la portière that we will content ourselves by begging the reader, if he wishes to figure to himself Madame Pipelet, to recall to his mind the most wrinkled, the most pimpled, the most niggardly, the most ragged, the most quarrelsome, the most venomous of portières immortalized by this eminent artist.’

Thankfully the Bibliothèque Nationale satisfies our curiosity and shows us Monnier’s portière for what she is: ready to quarrel!

Le roman chez la portière, illustration by Lhéritier
Le roman chez la portière, sketch by Henry Monnier and Gabriel : portrait of Jules Brasseur / by Lhéritier

Le train des maris

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‘Le Train des Maris’ by Georges Bolle & Ludivic Turquet, published by Union Musicale (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Charles Biqual.

With the development of railways in the second half of the 19th century, the upper and middle classes started to enjoy the summer  at the seaside. Women and children could stay for one or two months while the husbands joined them each weekend.

Every Saturday evening, after work, a train full of happy husbands departed direction coast and returned back on Monday morning. These express trains from Paris or Brussels to and fro the North Sea resorts were called trains des maris (husband trains). In Germany it was the Ehemännerzug which brought the husbands from Berlin to the Baltic Sea and back again.

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On the naive Parisian trade card above two men buy their tickets, first class of course, for the train des maris.

According to the Figaro there also existed ‘trains des amants’ or lover trains – so very French! On Monday morning these trains brought the young men from the cities to the ‘lonely’ married wives at the resorts. They returned home on Saturday morning before the arrival of the husbands…

The Belgian artist Félicien Rops made an amusing etching of a train des maris: a wife and her lover are seen kissing, behind huge and symbolic horns while in the distance the horn-bearing train takes her husband on his way.

Digital Capture

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Charles Biqual depicts the horned cows in the foreground of the sheet music cover, do you?

cows

Anyway, some women seemed very cheerful when the train des maris had left, as illustrated by Herouard for La Vie Parisienne.

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Anarchist squatter helps French composer

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This cover by Roger de Valerio  represents a caricature of the French singer, composer and lyricist Léonce Paco. He created some songs for the Montmartre cabaret ‘La Pie qui Chantebut little else is known about his life. In the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, we found a picture of him being assisted by Georges Cochon and his fédération des locataires. Apparently Léonce Paco was having trouble with his landlord.

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Léonce Paco (without hat) being assisted by sympathisers of Georges Cochon after having trouble with his landlord (1912). [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol] Bibliothèque numérique Gallica (BNF)
Georges Cochon was an anarchist and maybe the first squatter ever. He was very popular in the years before the First World War when cheap, decent lodgings were hard to find. Georges Cochon founded a tenants union (Syndicat des Locataires) and was, like a kind of Robin Hood, always ready to assist people being evicted by their landlord. According to The New York Times he moved poor (large) families out of their lodgings on which the rent was overdue so quickly that the landlords couldn’t get papers executed to seize the furniture. He then moved them into any other place available. And if he couldn’t find lodgings, he created them in empty houses or buildings.

Georges Cochon in action to defend Parisian tenants
Georges Cochon in action (©R.Violet)

Furthermore, to draw attention to his cause, he was the author of hundreds of playful protests. For example, he and his union erected a shack in the Parisian Jardin des Tuileries. On a banner one could read ‘House with garden donated by the Union of Tenants to a homeless family of 10, chased by their landlord and abandoned by the Public Assistance.’ Thanks to his protests public opinion changed and housing and renting conditions became more human.

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Georges Cochon’s Syndicate erecting a shack in the Jardin des Tuileries, being interrupted by the police.

Georges Cochon was a welcome subject in the Parisian Cafés Chantants. In our collection Images Musicales we have two songs sympathising with Georges Cochon: ‘Donnez des Logements’ and ‘C’est Cochon !’. The cover of the first song shows his picture and some cartoons of overprized poor lodgings. The cover of the second song illustrates his strategy to move the furniture of tenants with overdue rent on pushcarts, so that their furniture could not be confiscated.  Both are illustrated by the same artist E. Muller. So far we have found no information about this illustrator.

French Petits Formats sheet music covers; songs about Georges Cochon