As I’m writing this, it’s June, the time for graduations and yearbooks. Graduation was held via Zoom at the school where I teach French, and yearbooks were released online and “signed” virtually. In my own high school graduation yearbook, I remember that I rather pretentiously chose as my motto Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (ploo sa shanj ploo seh lah mem shows), or “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” At eighteen, what did I know about either change or remaining the same? I just liked the sound of it. And it was French.
I just finished A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light, by David Downie. The theme is the incredibly interconnected lives and loves of the writers, artists, and musicians of the Romantic era, such as Chopin, Baudelaire, and Nadar. At first, I found the book hard to get into. The prose seemed choppy and more about Downie than the purported subjects of the book, but I found myself getting drawn into it.
Maybe it was the passages that talked about the comings and going around the neighborhoods adjacent to the Luxembourg Gardens. In a normal year, this is my summertime neighborhood. Maybe it was the tidbits of bizarre info, like the fact that Victor Hugo was knocked into the open grave by the hearse after giving Balzac eulogy.
Maybe it was the insights into the lives of women at the time. I had always thought that it was unusual that Aurore Dupin, better known by her pen-name George Sand, preferred men’s clothes. But Downie revealed that this was not unusual for women of her social class as it was so difficult for well-born ladies to move freely about the city by themselves. Dressed as men, they had liberty. Or maybe it was the fact that he kept weaving in my yearbook motto, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
In the end, I found it to be an engrossing read. I’m looking forward to visiting some of the places Downie highlighted when I can get back to Paris. What will have changed? Probably not much.