An American historian passionate about France explains that Parisian life in the 18th century was also « inspiring than frustrating ». Do you think the capital was calmer than today? If so, you are absolutely wrong!
The sounds of footsteps, the swarming of the crowds, the incessant din of cars and the sirens of emergency vehicles or even the horns make up the daily life of the streets of our cities, Paris in the lead. Is the noise in the city specific to our time?
According to historian Carolyn Purnell, the French capital was also very noisy in the 18th century. Interviewed by the CityLab site, this Francophile recently released a book entitled The Sensational Past in which she describes this type of atmosphere and the differences with our time.
First of all, it must be understood that in terms of the organization of the urban fabric, Paris did not have the same appearance as today. Indeed, the hygienist transformations carried out by Haussmann (from the middle of the 19th century) have not yet erased the still medieval appearance of the capital. In the 18th century, the streets there were still dark, narrow and unsanitary.
Carolyn Purnell evokes an “urban chaos” embodied by a multitude of daily activities and events taking place in the street and contributing to the (noisy) animation of the city. It is possible to evoke the merchants giving voice to sell their products, the craftsmen giving themselves to heart joy on their anvils while the existing vehicles were already noisy, but in another way: by bumping on the streets paved. This is all the more true in the Les Halles district which was the heart of the capital with its market.
“The two main observations I came across fell into two categories: complaints about urban noise and enthusiastic reactions to new foods,” says the historian.
These new foodstuffs from the triangular trade were rather new and were sold mainly in shops (or cafes) intended for the privileged, lovers of coffee, cocoa, tea or tobacco… For the less well-off, these products were available on the markets subject to beware of scams.
According to the historian, this is a notion that could escape us today:
“Based on the medical theory of that time, body and mind were intimately linked and each sensory experience had the power to directly change a person’s temperament, habits and desires. The city required social interaction, touch and attention to detail. »
These social interactions were therefore very different compared to those of today, but the background remains similar, as Carolyn Purnell tends to assert:
“How do you build a community in the midst of a huge population? How to live as comfortably as possible? How to balance private and public life? How to be entertained? How to find your way in the crowd? How to find one’s way between the chaos and the order of urban life; can this ultimately be as inspiring as it is frustrating? »
Sources: City Lab – Slate