Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Village Voice

So, I didn't take the bobo canal tour today. Thanks to a comment on my blog, I went off in search of a book on historical Paris instead. Walks Through Lost Paris—which take you into areas that weren't disturbed by Baron Haussmann's 19th century redesign of Paris—by Bay Area author, Leonard Pitt. I was so intrigued with the possibilities his book seemed likely to provide, that getting it became the center of my world today.

The Village Voice is an English bookshop in the sixth arrondissement. That's on the Left Bank not far from where I walked in the Latin Quarter last week. It's also near the Delacroix museum that I want to visit. If I'd had more time, I would have gone there today.

The shop has two stories with a staircase and books everywhere. It fit my expectations, looking very much the way a Paris bookstore should look. I liked it immediately. And interestingly, I know about the author whose going to be featured there Thursday evening.

His name is Eric Karpeles and he's from the Bay Area. His book, Pictures in Proust, received a Special Award at the Northern California Book of the Year Awards that I attended last April when Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein was nominated for Northern California Book of the Year in Fiction. Karpeles' book tracks all the paintings that Proust referenced in his fiction. Karpeles tracked them all down. He's speaking Thursday right after my Art History class. Seems like I should attend. Who knows, maybe I'll meet some ex-patriot book lovers. One never knows.

After my turn around the bookstore, I went to my French class. Figuring out where the bookstore was, getting there, and buying a book, seemed all I could accomplish before my class, which shouldn't be a big surprise. It still takes me a long time to accomplish things. For example, because I was coming from the bookstore, I ended up taking the Metro, not the RER to the stop near the school.  When I got out, I could not figure out where I was. Same stop. I just came out in a slightly different place because it was the Metro. I had to walk around for about five minutes before I finally got my bearings. It was one of the moments when a compass would have helped. That's the hardest thing, really—figuring out which way is which. It's very easy for me to get turned around. I think I must be geographically challenged.

But I did make my French class, and I also had a French culture class that focused on the history of black people in France. I asked about the Delacroix painting—the one up at the top of this blog. I've always assumed the man on the far left is a black man. Apparently, I'm the only one who has assumed that, although after I brought it up, our speaker said she would look into it.

I'm not sure, now, but it's good that I asked, because my assumption is currently in the book and if I've just made it up... well, it would be good to get it out of the text sooner than later. I'm talking about the man on the far left, next to the man in the top hat (which is said to be a self-portrait of Delacroix).

Am I crazy? I don't know. Just know most of my assumptions are wrong these days, and as I think about it, it does seem unlikely, given what I know of  the history of France. One thing I learned today was that slavery was abolished by the French Revolution and reinstated by Napoleon. Napoleon. He certainly was a mixed bag, and his nephew, Louis-Napoleon followed suit. I hadn't quite understood that Louise-Napoleon declared himself an Emperor too. He's the one who hired Haussmann and gave him all the power he needed to transform Paris. What Haussmann did is still controversial, after all these years. Tomorrow night I'm taking a walking tour through the Marais, which is another of the areas that was left untouched by Haussmann. It's medieval in character. Victor Hugo lived in the area and his house is now a museum there, one of the places on my list to go visit.

UPDATE: I heard back from the woman who gave the lecture on Black History in Paris (Monique Wells is her name, an African American woman who has lived in Paris for 17 years.)  She said that the man's features, though dark, are not "negroid." She added that in the US, such an image might indeed reflect a person of color but that she doubted Delacroix had that degree of subtlety in his portrayal, given the scarcity of experience the French actually had with Africans at that time. That does make sense to me although I know that Delacroix traveled to the Mideast and across Northern Africa and painted scenes from both. So it's still a little unclear to me what his intentions were. I don't really know how to research it any farther, except to continue to read about the painting and see if there's anyone out there who has raised a similar question about the image. For me, it seems a bit irrelevant in the long run. It's a sidelight to the main thrust of the story, though an interesting one. In the text as I wrote it, it led to some discussion about slavery—the image reflects the 1830s.


  1. we missed seeing you Monday afternoon. Now that your sleep schedule is normalizing it is probably more difficult.
    I've been reflecting on how good it is to have you there, involved in your endeavors--all the while keeping us, and the world, posted on the marvelous scenes you are moving through.
    Lucky us for knowing you.

  2. Molly,

    I'm glad you were able to find a copy of Leonard's book. I think you will find it amazingly helpful in your research.