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Paris pendant l’époque de Proust et de Colette

Some years ago I read  À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust.  All seven volumes totaling around 3,200 pages and featuring more than 2,000 characters.  To read it again but in French would be an accomplishment and a joy, and I vow to do it.  Lately, I have been remembering Proust and thinking about Colette.  Why Colette?  I read a review of a recent biography written by Judith Thurman titled Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, it appealed to me, so I bought a copy and read it.  I want to read Colette’s novels now.

Colette and Proust did meet several times.  Those would have been intriguing encounters.  They lived in Paris at the same time after all.  Colette was well known, and Proust was a young man.  I have looked but not found letters or diary entries that recorded those meetings or their impressions of each other.  However, Thurman noted that Colette imagined in Claudine en ménage an encounter with a young man similar to Proust.

While looking for the connections between these two, I began to wonder what Paris looked like to them.  I cannot go back in time, but I can meander among what exists to imagine what was.  Proust himself said:

Something of the happiness one feels taking a walk in a city like Beaune, that has preserved intact its fifteenth century hospital, one can feel again wandering in the midst of a tragedy by Racine or a volume of Saint-Simon.”

“Un peu du bonheur qu’on éprouve à se promener dans une ville comme Beaune qui garde intact son hôpital du XVème siècle [on le ressent encore] à errer au milieu d’une tragédie de Racine ou d’un volume de Saint-Simon.”  [Proust, Sur la Lecture, 50–51.]

I found an amazing array of photos and videos of Paris and of the period when Proust and Colette lived and wrote.  For example, at one site on-line Paris, 1914,  I found several black and white photos that had color added to them.

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Because of modern technology, an enterprising flâneur can go to Google Earth, identify the streets from its “street view” mode and note how certain street corners and buildings in Paris have changed.  For example, I have identified the “‘angle de la rue du Montparnasse avec le boulevard Raspail” in the following two photos, one from 1914 and one taken more recently by Google.

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While looking for Paris at the turn of the 20th century, I did not stop with photographs.  I looked for video as well and found some amazing footage that has been well preserved.  The first Paris 1900 is a series of stills with a music accompaniment, the second Paris 1900 / 1930 La Belle époque Rare video has music as well, the third Paris 1910 – Oldest Footage of Paris is quite short, and, finally, the fourth and my favorite Rues de Paris — 1928 takes the viewer on a bus ride.

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