|A 1789 French etching of the storming heard 'round the world|
...when we passed by the Column of July we needed no one to tell us what it was or to remind us that on its site once stood the grim Bastile [sic], that grave of human hopes and happiness, that dismal prison house within whose dungeons so many young faces put on the wrinkles of age, so many proud spirits grew humble, so many brave hearts broke.
Anyone want to try counting the rhetorical devices in that long half-sentence? There's metaphor, of course, as well as allusion, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, parallelism, point-of-view. And what about authorial intrusion in that turn of phrase, "we needed no one to tell us...or remind us"? Maybe metonymy in the "brave hearts" that broke? Pathetic fallacy in those faces putting on those wrinkles? And surely the whole thing is a textbook example of periphrasis or circumlocution? But all to good effect. Twain the tourist successfully creates a cathartic moment of tragic lyricism for his audience back home.
I was thinking of this passage recently when my husband, our two sons, and I walked down to the Place de la Bastille from our apartment not far away. It was a nice evening, the first after weeks of battleship-gray skies, cold rain, and even rare snow. We were like a group of giddy kids on a field trip as we wound our way down the rue de Charonne through the 11th arrondissement. We hadn't been here long and, what with all the bad weather, we hadn't much explored our own--never mind nearby--quartiers. So we were delighted to see all the cafes and shops that we could get to-- a pied, without a car!
|The view from our apartment window this winter.|
(This last was aimed at our teenage sons, who would usually rather be back home with their friends.)
My husband was getting into the swing of things, though, smiling and taking my hand. Even the boys were not complaining. Then we started to notice all the people wearing face paint and bright costumes. There were stripes in many colors, creative hats, and masses of balloons. Some people were singing and chanting, but I couldn't figure out exactly what. The sidewalks and the narrow streets kept getting more and more crowded as we approached the Place de la Bastille.
|My favorite placard: "Better a gay marriage than an unhappy marriage"|
For a moment, I was ashamed by our resemblance to the family in the National Lampoon's Vacation movies, in which Chevy Chase and Beverly DiAngelo, as Clark and Ellen Griswold, bring their kids to famous places, only to reveal themselves as American cultural ignoramuses. In particular, I was mortified at the memory of a scene in European Vacation. Clark tosses his son Rusty's monogrammed beret off the Eiffel Tower, whereupon a Parisian lap dog jumps off after it:
But then, as the sun set over the Column of July and French demonstrators chanted and sang around me, I felt a thrill coming on. What had been a feeling of bourgeois complacency turned into a frisson of revolutionary promise.
Aux placards, citoyens! I starting humming La Marseillaise to myself. Have a listen; it might get you too in the storming mood:
Now this, I thought, revising my earlier assessment, this is France. You go out for an evening stroll and you wind up in the middle of a revolutionary movement.