Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Path of the slow discovery

    Even the Greek fishermen
    seem to have left the 
    quai des Belges, to make 
    way for tourists from the
    north and for extremely
    expensive fish restaurants
    and hotels and apartment
    blocks advertised 'avec
    vue sur le port'.

    One can hardly look for-
    ward to the further de-
    velopment of a maritime
    literature concerning gi-
    ant petrol carriers .. and
    a present-day Conrad, Loti,
    Peisson or a Cendrars would
    clearly be overtaken .. by
    something that has killed
    the excitement of slow dis-
    covery  --

that distant, almost fabulous period of French urban history when strange, rather frightening 'tomates' performed, with a wonderfully realistic jerky mechanism .. as they pointed, at carefully measured periodic intervals, to the designated object of wonder and envy, to the mixed delight and terror of small Parisian children, in colored smocks and berets, their cartables strapped on their backs .. The tomates were so appealing because they really did seem to respond to a hidden machinery .. And yet one knew, in one's heart of hearts, that they really were human, just poor men who had chosen this particular way of earning a sort of living --

and who, when the lights went out
and the blinds and shutters came
down, would step nimbly down from
the shop window, stretch themselves,
scratch, resume the normal flow of
movement, before walking off to the
nearest Bouillon Chartier, where,

had it not been for their frayed
and formal elegance, nothing would
have distinguished them from the gen-
eral mass of eaters who, in their
speed to fill themselves with a poor
fare, would themselves assume a mech-
anical movement of jaw and tongue it-
self reminiscent of the public per-
formance just completed in the face
of the street.

Professor of Modern History
Paris and Elsewhere
  Selected Writings
David Gilmour, editor
John Murray, 1998©

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