I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Down Among the Dead Men

Down Among the Dead Men

John Fleming
The Other Paris: An Illustrated Journey through a City’s Poor and Bohemian Past, by Luc Sante, Faber & Faber, 320 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-0571241286 The city of light. Of lovers. Of writers, painters, dead rock stars. Seldom has a city been so let down by clichés and trite romanticisation. But you’ll get no easy city of light here. No lovers walking by the Seine. No soft focus mush. Luc Sante’s Paris is an aged yet ever-evolving ant colony: he avoids tedious references to exactly where this or that famed insect might have lived within that colony, to which a less brilliant writer might have stooped. The Other Paris harvests a city that is way bigger and far more mysterious, much more radiant and infinitely more squalid; its yield is greater than mere accounts of any individuals within it. Sante’s fresco incorporates old flaked-paint coats and forgotten figures from across the centuries and works as a multidimensional portrait of the faceless, seething masses who have lived in Paris, the dwellers whose waste you fancy you can smell in the bowels of Metro stations dug so deep down they are contiguous with the bountiful sewers that rise and fall on urban biological tides. Through his multiple, detailed sociologies, he recreates a cross-era model of a Paris that is composed of nothing but its people. An ant colony requires insects and they must be respected. Sante has no interest in the kings and queens and bishops and mayors, none in the higher ranks that usually monopolise the history books: he generally ignores the leeches whose ultimate act of leechery is the pedestal upon which they force history to place them. His cast from across the ages includes thieves, alcoholics and whores; his history is that of the ragpickers and pickpockets, the homeless and the pimps, the entertainers and vaudevillians. While he filches the insights of intellectuals whose street wandering was weighed down by concepts, his real stars are the clochards whose bedraggled perambulations were uninformed by ideas that interfered with or framed their city. Across twelve tight chapters, Sante rebuilds a city of prisons, abattoirs, poisonous fumes, factories, canals and gasometers. Stockpiles of anecdotes and insights from Balzac and Hugo and prototype investigative journalists such as les frères Bonneff and novelist Eugène Sue furnish him with vivid accounts of life in Paris in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But there is an authority and love behind his telling…

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