A Traveler’s History of Paris by Robert Cole

A very amusing and interesting book about the history of various sights and locations in Paris, but don’t try using it as a guidebook. More like supplemental reading. I enjoyed it a lot, mostly for the following section, which perfectly illustrates why I aime the French so much:

“As always, Parisians confronted change with mixed emotions. On 29 May 1913 Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps premiered at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees. The composer described it as a ballet suite based upon a ‘solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance herself to death…to propitiate the god of spring.’ To many critics it was a ‘blasphemous attempt to destroy music as an art.’
The production, staged by impressario Serge Diaghilev with sets by Picasso and danced by Vaslav Nijinsky, turned into a riot. Part of the audience whistled, shouted and made ‘audible suggestions as to how the performance should proceed’ which drowned out the orchestra, while another part praised the brilliance of both music and choreography. Camille Saint-Saens left the theatre in indignation; music critic Andre Capu shouted that the ‘music was a colossal fraud’; the Austrian ambassador laughed derisively; and the Princesse de Purtales left her box claiming: ‘I am sixty years old, but this is the first time that anyone dared to make a fool of me!’ On the other hand, one woman slapped a man who hissed, and her escort arranged a duel with him; a society lady spat in the face of a protestor; Maurice Ravel shouted ‘genius’ repeatedly; Roland-Manuel had his collar torn off for defending the music; Debussy pleaded with those around him to be quiet; and backstage, Stravinsky had to restrain Nijinsky from going out and physically attacking members of the audience. This was all in the finest Paris tradition.”

If I ever invent a time machine, that night is first on my list of stops. When I get there I won’t know whether to join the fight or start asking for everyone’s autographs.

Verdict: four out of five stars


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