Isn’t it ironic? Composing a march to celebrate another form of locomotion, really! The lady reading a book in her automobile has no intention at all to set foot on the ground, let alone to walk. Her chauffeur seems to question her attitude. Thank you Léonce Burret for this quizzical image.
A marche that wasn’t composed to accompany a brisk walk or hike. We found this same kind of contradiction for ‘marches‘ that praise cycling,…
or cheer the enjoyment of gliding on ice…
or over snow.
We recognise a good old-fashioned march when we hear or see one. Something that encourages a fast pace in a military spirit, and that goes a long way, on foot of course! Here it is, the Marche du Matin strongly illustrated by Lucien Faure-Dujarric.
I mistakenly assumed that the Marche du Matin was composed to hearten the soldiers during their daily early morning exercise. No, the title of the march refers to Le Matin, one of the four big French newspapers before WWI.
On the 29th of May in 1904 Le Matin organised a promotional stunt: with the encouragement of the Minister of War and the cooperation of the Army top, each French regiment selected 10 of its men to participate in the big Marche de l’Armée. The walking contest started at the Place de la Concorde at 7 am, with the playing of a military march. Then the 2000 men in battle dress and heavy boots assembled in two long columns and charged up the Champs-Elysées to commence the 45 km (!) long itinerary that would bring them through Paris as far as St-Germain-en-Laye and back. Large crowds, cheers and flags accompanied the men.
France’s Bibliothèque nationale is a real treasure trove. After some digging we were lucky to find interesting pictures of this arduous march by the photographic agency Rol.
I won’t recount the whole day, nor the numerous incidents and accidents. After more than 5 hours the first contestant arrived at the finish. That day the weather was abnormally hot, and the men suffered. Many abandoned the march. Some soldiers were taken to hospital, at least one died. What should have been a festive day became a painful spectacle. The next day L’Humanité, the communist newspaper would report: “The sight of Gerard, the winner, had made the crowd cry out in pity. The unhappy boy could not even, at the end, lift his painful feet swollen with fatigue. The sight of the last groups deeply moved the spectators. The sturdy lads, who had left so happily in the morning, returned broken with fatigue, devastated, drenched in sweat, haggard eyes, clenched hands, clenched jaws, stumbling at every step, threatening continually to fall on the pavement.
A small marine infantry soldier, seized by a dizzy spell, takes two steps back. An officer holds him and shakes him. Another one shouts at him: “Hold on, no more than 25 meters left!”. Hardly recovered, the poor child, he is not yet twenty, continues on his way staggering. A hundred meters from the checkpoint, he stops again and brings his clenched hands to his throat. But an officer motions him forward, giving him a word of encouragement. He stiffens then, and feeling his strength completely abandon him, he rushes in a last effort towards the finish post near which he comes crashing down. And these sorrowful scenes went on and on …“
Hm… I think that white fatigue trousers will forever remind me of the deplorable scenes above.
The song V’la le Choléra qui arrive by Aristide Bruant is an ironic and anticlerical hymn to the cholera pandemic that scared Paris. The illustration is by Theophile Steinlen. We have no idea why he chose to dress this very contagious and devastating disease like a stereotypical Englishman. In a previous Bruant publication Steinlen had rather chosen for the image of the cholera as a travelling salesman or a polite caretaker.
And for a third edition Steinlen chose to represent the cholera as a murdering phantom hovering over the capital, the frightening sign of divine vengeance: “Here comes the cholera! From shore to shore, everyone will die. Here comes the cholera.”
Aristide Bruant created the song in 1884 when cholera was diagnosed in Toulon. Allegedly it had arrived by boat from Saigon and quickly spread to Marseille and Arles. People started to flee from the Midi to Paris. The memory of the huge epidemic wave of 1853-1854 —with more than 143,000 dead— was still vivid: the people from Paris, the municipality and the press panicked!
Quickly, prophylactic measures were prescribed. Special train wagons were reserved for travellers coming from Toulon and Marseilles. On arrival in Paris, at the Gare de Lyon, these travellers had to descend into a special waiting room where the floor was covered with sawdust impregnated with thymol and copper salts. Large containers with nitrosylsulfuric acid were left to burn, in the belief that inhaling the hazardous vapours could disinfect. Travellers had to stay there for half an hour, meanwhile their luggage was fumigated in another room.
A newspaper of the time tells the anecdote of a wealthy merchant, arriving from China, who lands in Paris with a collection of parakeets and turtles. The birds sat in an open trunk and the unfortunate animals were poisoned by the spreading vapours of the disinfection ( Le Matin 11 July 1884). Soon however the Academy of Medicine dismissed these disinfection practices as inefficient and illusory.
The press was stirring up the fear for a new murderous epidemic. But by then science had already rejected the old idea that miasma, or a noxious form of bad air, caused cholera and had accepted John Snow’s idea that cholera could originate in water. Louis Pasteur had demonstrated that microorganisms can cause diseases and he had discovered how to make vaccines from attenuated microbes. Robert Koch had determined the causative agent of cholera by isolating the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.(*) And a complex system of new sewers (Les égouts) were being constructed in Paris to sanitize the city.
By that time a cholera epidemic was thus no longer automatically synonym for a catastrophe. It is in this view that we must understand Bruant’s song:
Paraît qu’on attend l’choléra, La chose est positive. On n’sait pas quand il arriv’ra, Mais on sait qu’il arrive.
And indeed the epidemic would soon be under control and a very small number of cases would reach Paris. But according to Bruant, entrepreneurs, pharmacists and especially the clergy had made a profit from the anxious situation.
This is the 1935 version of the song by Stello.
The 1884 cholera outbreak was the last one to reach France. By then France had already been haunted by several more serious cholera outbreaks. The first murderous wave of cholera struck Paris in 1832. Hospitals were unable to keep pace with the volume of new patients and morgues were overflowing. Sounds familiar? It prompted the public authorities to clean up the capital, which was still simmering in its medieval juices. The fear for cholera would become a driving force behind urban planning.
As one of the first solutions, Paris sought to supply its inhabitants with uncontaminated water. Therefore the City Council decided in 1833 to drill the first artesian well. Artesian wells are named after the French province of Artois where the first drilling of its kind was undertaken by monks in the 12th century. Water flows from artesian wells under natural pressure without pumping. However to get to the layer that contains enough water, one had to drill extremely deep in Paris. It was not before the 1830s that technical progress made deep boreholes possible.
The engineer Louis-Georges Mulot undertook to drill the first artesian well in the courtyard of the Grenelle slaughterhouse, just outside of Paris. It would take almost eight years of effort, slow progress, setbacks and a borehole of 548 meter deep, before water finally squirted out of the well in 1841.
On opening their newspaper the next day, the Parisians learned of the successful end of this scientific and technological adventure and thousands of them rushed to see the new curiosity.
A poster was made to show how deep the borehole was, comparing its depth to the height of the Strasbourg Cathedral, Notre Dame of Paris, the Dôme des invalides and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
A rumour soon circulated, amplified by a press campaign, and scaring Parisians that their city would be engulfed in a landslide or that the waters of the Seine would seep through some crack and disappear completely into this chasm. Fake news is not a recent thing…
The water that came out of the well was lukewarm and alas somewhat muddy. Decanting was therefore necessary before it could be used.
To that purpose a three-storey cast iron regulator tower, 43 m high, was built outside the slaughterhouse. This tower looked somewhat like a mini Eiffel tower. It is said that it also functioned from time to time as a fountain. I couldn’t find a reliable source to corroborate this, only an engraving which makes me dream that this splendid fountain truly existed at one time…
At the start of the 20th century the aquatic construction deteriorated due to problems of water quality, pressure and silting. In 1904 the tower was —aptly— replaced by a statue of Louis Pasteur.
(*) Although Robert Koch isolated the vibrio the same year, the miasma theory of cholera transmission was still dominant in Marseille. In 1884, Koch went to Toulon and Marseille, where he isolated the vibrio bacillus in the stools of patients to convince the sceptics and to support two local biologists. Koch gave prophylactic advice and insisted in particular to not consume any uncooked food.
The sinuous walk displayed on this cover is called a slinker slouch. According to a correspondent of The Daily Mirror in 1913, the slinker slouch is a limp and careless lazy gait that accompanies the fashion of wearing gowns with flowing curves. To achieve the perfect slinker slouch you had to move with rounded shoulders while lowering your weight on the hips. The look was complete when you trusted your hands into your pockets and affected a dead-bored expression. The journal warned that this pose was not without danger as the contraction of the chest could cause “lung troubles and digestive derangements”.
A New Zealand newspaper coined the indolent stride like this: “The modish woman’s walk has been christened the Slinker Slouch. The smart woman beats the sardine in her backbonelessness.”
It was not long before the slinker slouch slunk into oblivion. And by 1914 another newspaper tutted that the very slim slinker-slouched woman was to be considered ugly and deformed.
Around the same time the hobble skirt made its appearance. French fashion designer Paul Poiret claimed authorship of this extremely slim and long skirt. Allegedly he was inspired by a picture of Mrs Berg sitting next to Wilbur Wright in his aircraft. To stop the wind playing with her skirt she had tied it together beneath her knees with a rope.
Women wearing a hobble skirt had to take tiny steps, much like a geisha would. Of course, this highly unpractical garment prompted cartoonists and composers to lampoon the helpless struggles to cross streets or to climb stairs.
We found earlier examples of weird walking vogues even as early as the 1860’s, the Grecian bend and the Alexandra limp.
When the hoop skirt lost popularity around 1868 it was replaced by a framework known as the bustle. The large bell-like silhouette of the crinoline was flattened out at the front and sides but with a lot of fabric to the back to create a pannier. A bustle served as the base upon which all that fabric could be pinned. To keep their balance women had to bend over, and this stooped silhouette was called the Grecian bend. It supposedly got its name from ancient Grecian statues, bending gracefully forward.
But the Grecian bend was rather tiring and painful. Moreover it was annoying when riding in carriages because the bustle made it difficult to sit upright.
This new female, stooped silhouette provided ample opportunity for composing songs. One played a jeu de mots and funnily shows a man going on a drinking spree dreaming of Greece…
At about the same time, fashionable British women started to affect the Alexandra limp. This hobbling gait was in imitation of Alexandra, princess of Wales, the wife of the future King Edward VII, otherwise known as ‘Bertie’.
The Danish Alexandra was a fashion icon and hugely popular. After contracting rheumatic fever in 1867, she developed a limp. Women were so used to fervently imitate her that they even started to mimic her limp. For that, they went as far as wearing odd shoes or shorten one heel. Everything for a hobbling walk!