Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Sieges of Paris:

Two major sieges happened to Paris in the years 1870-1871. That’s right, two.

The first was at the end of the Franco-Prussian war. The French had been beaten back to the point that Napoleon resigned (because he was captured) and Republic declared. The French government fled to Versailles (right down the road). Paris, on the other hand, became the point of contention in negotiations. The Prussians laid siege to the capital, cut off supply lines, and shot cannons wildly onto the city. The French – in Versailles – eventually capitulated, and the Prussians stormed the city.

Paris was pissed. They thought the war had been lost by the mismanagement of generals and the cowardice of the provinces. Wasn’t it Paris after all that was most affected by this war? And wasn’t it Paris that so courageously held out?

Under this mounting indignation at the new Versailles government, the shame of seeing Prussians parade through the shining capital of the 19th century, and finally feeling betrayed by the French who “decapitated” the country by moving the seat of government to Versailles (where the kings used to live, btw), Paris declared itself independent. Under the red flag of the people, the Paris Commune was declared.

The Versailles government had to do something. Thiers, the interim leader of the Versaillais, commanded his armies to attack the city. Paris was once again under siege, but this time by their own countrymen. The Versaillais troops literally picked up the cannons the Prussians had set down, and began shooting again.

This means that everyone living in Paris either had to flee their home or suffer through a year of dwindling food supplies and death from above.

Accounts by the Goncourt brothers, for example, tell of the last oyster eaten at the Café Riche. Rats and cats became staples of butcher shops.

The most interesting thing about these two sieges is that the people in Paris were very divided. The bourgeoisie who were not able to flee lived in fear of not only the Prussians (then later the French) outside, but also of the lower classes that became more and more politically vocal. The poor were not just asking for food, but also for a halt on (and sometimes even forgiveness of) debts, including rent. The lower classes began to organize (in Montmartre and Belleville), and eventually during the Commune held elections that in essence deprived the bourgeoisie of their majority.

The point I’m trying to make I guess is that the city under siege doesn’t just come to a halt – in fact, everything you do becomes political or ideological. What you eat, where you go, what work you do all becomes a way of telling others how you expect the siege to end, and more importantly, how you want things to be afterward.

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