When did Paris get to be the city of romance and of young lovers? No doubt, the photographs of Robert Doisneau had something to do with it. Is it a post WWII phenomenon? I think of Paris for the period before that as being the city of loose women, artists, intellectuals, free-wheeling nightlife, but not exactly romance. As the WWI song went,
How ya’ going to keep them down on the farm,
after they’ve seen Gay Pa-ree?
This referred to all those rural American doughboy soldiers who’d gotten a taste of Sodom’s delights while on leave in the big city. And before that, during the Second Empire and the fin de siècle, Paris was the city of sin, lust, greed, wild financial wheeler-dealing, whores and nightclubs, drugs and absinthe, “ballet” dancers for purchase by rich sybarites, and plunging décolletage. Not exactly the stuff of…romance.
And then there’s the Paris of brutality and political insurrection. The bloody suppression of the Commune, the revolutions in the streets of 1830 and 1848, with barricades and hand-to-hand fighting. Looming over it all, the Big One, The French Revolution of 1789, and the ensuing Terror. Again, not too much romance there.
I guess I’ve been reading too much Zola. I was surprised to find how many of his novels deal with precisely this topic, the rebuilding of the city. The Belly of Paris and The Kill are two that come to mind immediately. And as for décolletage, he documents it in several texts, most tellingly here where he is describing not a prostitute or courtesan, but a society lady:
When Renée entered the room, a murmur of admiration greeted her. She was truly divine…her head and bodice were done up adorably. Her breasts exposed, almost to the nipples…the young woman seemed to emerge stark naked from her sheath of tulle and salin… [more here]
Does the objectification of woman get any more explicit? Romance?.. A few images from now and then…