Thursday, May 13, 2010

Comment Vit l'autre Moitié

14 May 1968

This is the house in which, this week, Maria delivered a woman of her child. At the upper end of the Boulevard Magenta, in a colony of huts--which are leased to the poorest of the poor in Paris by whom? Baron James de Rothschild--a room where the planks that form the walls are coming apart and the floor is full of holes, through which rats are constantly appearing, rats which also come in whenever the door is opened, impudent poor men's rats which climb on to the table, carrying away whole hunks of bread, and worry the feet of the sleeping occupants. In this room, six children: the four biggest in a bed, and at their feet, which they are unable to stretch out, the two smallest in a crate. The man, a costermonger who has known better days, dead-drunk during his wife's labour. The woman, as drunk as her husband, lying on a straw mattress and being plied with drink by a friend of hers, an old canteen attendant who developed a thirst in twenty-five years' campaigning and spends all her pension on liquor. And during the delivery in this shanty, the wretched shanty of civilization, an organ-grinder's monkey, imitating and parodying the cries and angry oaths of the shrews in the throes of childbirth, piddling through a crack in the roof on the snoring husband's back.

--Edmund and Jules de Goncourt,
Pages from the Goncourt Journals 136-7 (NYRB Classics 2007)

Per Wiki, Baron James de Rothschild had turned 76 just three days before; he died on 15 November of the same year, just three months after purchasing the Chateau Lafite vineyard. There still is a Boulevard de Magenta in Paris; it runs through the unfashionable ninth and tenth arrondissements..

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