The History That Wasn't

Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie, Paris 5
This café is right around the corner from the Nouvelle Mairie of the 5th.

Lots of Research, Little to Show for It

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 12. January 1998:- About ten days ago I got a huge packet from the Bibliothèque Nationale, concerning the homage to Captain Dreyfus and his defender, Emile Zola - which starts today.

All sorts of ideas started to twirl around in my amateur-historian brain as I thought of all I could 'do' with this; how I could tie in this 100 year-old 'affaire' with the way France is today.

But, what I did first - when I got around to it - was call the press service at the BN to see if they could send me something in the way of images. After some conversation, it seemed as if the only thing they were willing to release, was a copy of the front page of the famous edition of L'Aurore with the 'J'Accuse...!' headline. I even promised to return it to them after scanning it.

Meanwhile, I got my little library more or less in order - not a great lot; but enough. On Wednesday I went to the Panthéon, but only learned they do not like visitors without appointments. I managed to verify that Zola is 'in' it.

On Friday I went up to near Clichy to look at the house in the rue de Bruxelles. After I got that, I battled shoppers for peeks at naughty windows, to get some sort or shots for M-R. O'Rahilly's little commentary on fashion; and it all ended up being a long walk - in beautiful weather.

From the Dreyfus-Zola packet I learned of the Zola museum at Médan and because it isn't far away I went there on Saturday. I didn't count on a huge traffic jam on the RN13 going both ways, and on the ten-year-old's birthday party going on outside my door.

Then TV started cranking up the Zola machine over the weekend and I saw roof of Pantheon a movie version of Dreyfus getting his sword snapped in half a half-dozen times. By last night, it seemed as if today's ceremonies had already begun.

Two of the columns and the roof of the Panthéon; from a bent-neck view.

In the end, I have not had time to even read 'J'Accuse...!' It is about seven pages long, single-spaced and with few paragraph breaks. I think typesetters must have hated indents for some reason. I have not had time to write a brief history of France from, say, the war of 1870 to 1900 - to give you an idea of those times; in fact, you may as well read Zola instead.

The truth of it is, I got bogged down in the size of the project; it will not fit into this sort of publication, done with justice.

Instead all I can give you are the bare bones of the 'Affaire Dreyfus.' There was a gigantic uproar about it and it went on for years; in certain circles in France, it is still going on.

I assembled my materials, but I didn't get into them. The one thing I would like to know, is how Dreyfus was picked to be the fall-guy in the first place - and why a relatively minor bit of routine espionage was inflated all out of proportion by army leaders.

For want of any answers at the moment, I can only guess that folly is always in season.

Short-Cut to San Francisco

Last Wednesday I was taking one of my long, roundabout shortcuts, through the rue Dupuytren, so I was thinking about Sylvia Beach, and when I turned left into rue Monsieur-le-Prince and saw the San Francisco Book Co. I suspended my 'shortcut' route for a minute to look it over.

The shop is not big inside so its organization and tidiness allow it to contain more than it first appears possible. Most books are used, but some are new but 'remaindered' editions; selling for under their cover prices. The shop buys used books, either for cash, trade or trade-credit.

I saw a copy o Jimmy Charter's 'This Must Be the Place' for 50 francs, somewhat less than its cover price of $13.95 and would have snatched it up immediately if I had not been momentarily financially distressed.


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