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October 24, 2014

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Le Temps des Cerises

by soundlandscapes

AS PART OF MY RESEARCH for an audio project I’m working on about the Paris Commune of 1871, I found myself in the 13th arrondissement in the Butte-aux-Cailles area of Paris. My intention was to visit the office and bookshop of Les Amis de la Commune de Paris (1871) in rue des Cinq-Diamants to browse the literature they have about the Paris Commune and see what might help with my research. I should have known though that it would be folly to turn up without checking first to make sure that the office was open and, of course, it was not!

Butte aux Cailles

Office and bookshop of Les Amis de la Commune de Paris (1871)

Still, thanks to the tail end of our Indian summer, the weather was delightful and so I decided to stay and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring this part of Paris including doing a soundwalk along the main street, rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles.

Butte aux Cailles

Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles – A Soundwalk:

I began my soundwalk at the little square at the western end of the rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, Place de la Commune de Paris 1871, one of twenty-three squares and streets in Paris named after the Paris Commune or the people associated with it. There’s another example at the eastern end of the rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles where another square, Place Paul Verlaine, is named after the French poet and member of the Central Committee of the Paris Commune, and yet another at the foot of the Butte-aux-Cailles, Boulevard Auguste Blanqui, named after the French socialist and revolutionary who was one of the group that briefly seized the reins of power on 31 October 1870 for which he was condemned to death in absentia on 9 March 1871.

Butte aux Cailles

Place de la Commune de Paris 1871

Butte aux Cailles

As I walked along the street listening to the everyday sounds around me, I couldn’t help reflecting upon the Paris Commune of 1871 since that’s what had brought me here on this sunny October afternoon.

Butte aux Cailles

Place de la Commune de Paris 1871

In 1870, thanks to his increasing unpopularity at home and France’s waning power abroad, Napoleon III decided to embark upon an ill-fated war against a coalition of German states led by Prussia. On 1st September 1870, France was defeated at the Battle of Sedan, Napoleon III was deposed and the Second Empire collapsed.

After the debacle of Sedan, Prussian forces advanced on Paris and the city was besieged for four months until it was finally captured in January 1871 bringing the war to an end.

A new French government of National Defence was quickly established and an armistice, ratified on 1 March 1871, included a provision for the election of a French National Assembly, which would have the authority to conclude a peace with Germany.

However, provincial royalists dominated this new French national government and when the government moved from Paris out to Versailles republican Parisians feared a return to a monarchy.

Adolphe Thiers, executive head of the provisional national government, disarmed the National Guard, a citizens’ militia organised to assist in the defence of Paris during the siege and made up primarily of ordinary working people – and another French revolution was born.

The revolutionaries dominated municipal elections in March 1871 and organized a communal government, the Commune de Paris. Commune members included Jacobins who followed Revolutionary traditions of 1793, Proudhonists who supported a nation-wide federation of communal governments, and Blanquistes who demanded violent action to bring about change.

Following the quick suppression of several communes across France, the Versailles government attacked the revolutionaries, the Fédérés as they became known, completely crushing them. In what can only be described as a spectacular act of state terrorism, some 20,000 Communards, as well as those suspected of being Communards, were massacred during a single week known as La Semaine Sanglante, Bloody Week. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the national government continued to take harsh repressive measures following their victory, imprisoning and exiling many of the remaining Communards.

In the short time it existed as a communal government, the Paris Commune implemented the separation of the church from the state, the introduction of free and obligatory primary education, the remission of rents owed for the entire period of the siege (during which payment had been suspended), the abolition of night work in the hundreds of Paris bakeries, the granting of pensions to the unmarried companions and children of National Guards killed on active service, the free return by the city pawnshops of all workmen’s tools and household items valued up to 20 francs pledged during the siege, the postponement of commercial debt obligations and the abolition of interest on the debts, the right of employees to take over and run an enterprise if it were deserted by its owner (the Commune, nonetheless, recognized the previous owner’s right to compensation) and the prohibition of fines imposed by employers on their workmen.

What else the Paris Commune might have achieved had it not been so brutally repressed we can only guess.

Butte aux Cailles

Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles

Of course, what I’ve set out above is only a thumbnail sketch of the events leading up to the Paris Commune and the life – and death – of the Commune itself. But it was this sketch that I had in my mind as I walked along rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles. And I also had in mind that, in the fight to suppress the Paris Commune, the Bataille de la Butte-aux-Cailles took place hereabouts. The Polish politician and Communard General, Walery Antoni Wróblewski, successfully defended the advance of Thiers’ forces, the Versaillais, here for some time until he was eventually pushed back which enabled the Versaillais to capture the entire Left Bank of the Seine and enter the eastern suburbs of Paris where the dénouement was finally played out.

And as I was thinking of all these things, I looked across the street and saw this restaurant, Le Temps des Cerises.

Butte aux Cailles

Le Temps des Cerises – The Time of the Cherries

This seemed to be entirely appropriate because Le Temps des Cerises is, in the spirit of the Paris Commune, a Société Coopérative Ouvrière de Production, a workers cooperative. But the name, Le Temps des Cerises, also has another significance.

In 1866, a French socialist, journalist and songwriter, Jean-Baptiste Clément, wrote a song called Le Temps des Cerises which was to become inextricably linked with the Paris Commune. Clément was very active within the Paris Commune and was present at the barricades during La Semaine Sanglante. But, facing the risk of arrest or worse, he managed to flee Paris, went to Belgium and then to London and was then condemned to death in absentia. Parisians had sung Le Temps des Cerises during both the Prussian and Versailles sieges but now Clément dedicated it to:

“Valiant Citizen Louise, the volunteer doctor’s assistant of rue Fontaine-au-Roi, Sunday, 28 May, 1871

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Standing in rue de la Butte-aux-Cailes looking at this restaurant and reflecting on the Paris Commune and particularly on La Semaine Sanglante, the words of Le Temps des Cerises, a sentimental love song that became the anthem of the struggle, and defeat, of the Communards, came back to me …

I will always love the time of the cherries.

I will keep this time in my heart,

An open wound.

Le Temps des Cerises:      

 

Butte aux Cailles

Le Temps des Cerises:

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises

Et gai rossignol et merle moqueur

Seront tous en fête

Les belles auront la folie en tête

Et les amoureux du soleil au cœur

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises

Sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur

 

Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises

Où l’on s’en va deux cueillir en rêvant

Des pendants d’oreille…

Cerises d’amour aux robes pareilles

Tombant sous la feuille en gouttes de sang…

Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises

Pendants de corail qu’on cueille en rêvant !

 

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises

Si vous avez peur des chagrins d’amour

Évitez les belles!

Moi qui ne crains pas les peines cruelles

Je ne vivrai pas sans souffrir un jour…

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises

Vous aurez aussi des peines d’amour !

 

J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises

C’est de ce temps-là que je garde au cœur

Une plaie ouverte!

Et Dame Fortune, en m’étant offerte

Ne pourra jamais fermer ma douleur…

J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises

Et le souvenir que je garde au cœur !

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Maximilien Luce – A Street in Paris in May 1871 – Google Art Project

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 27 2014

    Goosebumps! A beautiful and poignant post Des. The sounds of everyday life carrying on in the location of these violent events is strangely soothing, like a peaceful coda to all that pain.

    Reply
    • Oct 30 2014

      Thank you Susanna. ‘A peaceful coda …’, how beautifully put.

      Whether you’re for or against the Paris Commune of 1871, the massacre of the Communards by the apparatus of the State was inexcusable and unforgivable. How many times does history have to repeat itself before we learn?

      Reply

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