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Life in Paris during the First World War

2014-05-28

lansiaux-1.jpgTill mid-June in the Historical Library of Paris you can see the photo exhibition of the photographer Charles Lansiaux (1855-1939). About two hundred photos document Paris in the years of the World War I. We discover the war Paris, but not its battle and fronts face but the war years how they were lived by Parisians.

As mentioned in one of the comments to the photographs of the exhibition, Lansiaux does not capture the fights, but the prints of the war in the everyday life of Paris, sometimes distant, sometimes close with their present pain. Together with the photographer we walk in the streets of Paris and we see people smiling alansiaux-2.jpgnd suffering, kissing and saying goodbye and living the moments they did not imagine to be deeply written in the history.

Paris in which the young men are recruited to the war, in which historical sights were protected by the sand bags and baricades from the trees branches, where baricades were transformed to the playgrounds. 

Moments when people run in crowds to the undergroung, not because they hurry up to work but because an aerial assault has been announced. The pictures show the moments when in the streets of Paris you could see only women and children, when kisses at the train station had a taste of an unknown separation full of fear, when men were coming back without legs, arms or with deformed faces.lansiaux-3.jpg

The exhibition shows Paris which is already completely different from the years of "Belle Epoque", when its architectonic jewels are full of smiling nurses and disabled and injured men, when fancy premises and halls of luxury hotels or the "Grand Palais" are transformed to emergency hospitals, where large rooms are filled with the beds.

We learn that during the first years of the war Paris did not suffer from the lack of food, there was a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits and they were sold cheaply. From 1916 in the restaurants for lunch or dinner one could order one meat meal and the Parisian lansiaux-4.jpggourmands had to limit themselves in the consumption of butter, eggs and pastries. In 1917 Paris lived a very hard winter and the "food distribution tickets" had to be used.

In the coffee places people meet in order to share and discuss the fresh news from the front, children play with scooters, small sails in the Luxembourg garden, drive in the horse carriages. Often, besides their games, they have to beg or sell small medals. Women have to work and so the children spend most of the day alone.

On a May Saturday evening we get out of the exhibition, with our mind full of the pictures from the war Paris and we hurry up to a champaign cave with stone archs, for the event "Literature night" that is organized for second time by the Czech Cultural Center in cooperation with the Forum of Foreign Cultural Institutes in Paris.

On the corner of the streets "rue du Parc Royal" and "rue Elzevir" by the shop-window of the bakery-chocolatery Meert with the specialties of Northern France we hear a young mom commenting to her baby the strawberry cakes, caramel candies and biscuits in shape of wind mills: "look how pretty things are in this bakery and they are also delicious but you cannot know that yet".

Maria Danthine, Paristep

Exhibition: "Paris 14-18 War in the everyday life of Paris", 22 rue Malher in the Marais quarter. Metro: line 1 Saint Paul. Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 1 p.m. till 7 p.m. Free entrance on Thursday night, till 9 p.m.

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