Thursday, 24 March 2011

Paris and I ~ 'Face Saving Time'

iPhone Photo Chronicles
~ Face Saving Time ~

Face Saving Time, originally uploaded by Paris Set Me Free.

How politically correct, or probably not, this would be considered if it appeared in Dior's or Yves Saint Laurent's latest 'Restoration Chic' collection is difficult to say.

But whatever the ethical considerations, if you cast yourself back to the early days of the 19th century, you'd have seen this impressive, nearly life-sized enseigne outside a famous watchmaker 'Au Nègre' (at the sign of the negro) as you strolled along the Boulevard Saint-Denis. I didn't even know there was a Boulevard Saint-Denis, but there was and there is and I do now and that is where you could procure one of the popular clocks très à la mode just like this one only smaller for your interempire desktop or mantlepiece. Nice.

It reminds me of another fine example of different times and different mores slap-bang in your face in the streets of Paris, in the form of the surprising, building-wide 'Au Nègre Joyeux' (at the sign of the happy negro) panel. This used to advertise a chocolate factory, complete with its painting of a white female aristocrat being tended by a manically grinning servant but that will merit a ramble all of its own one day soon.

I learnt yesterday that slavery was only abolished in the USA exactly one hundred years before my birth, in 1865, although it was outlawed earlier over here, in 1833 for Britain and 1848 in France.

How far we've come in just a couple of hundred years, although a lot of the frequent unrest in the Parisian suburbs, and the hot topics discussed on the television talk shows, can easily be traced back to some of the more dubious chapters of our not so distant past.

Another example of politically correct angst and hand-wringing was the 'French cultural icon' which is the old advertising slogan and image for Banania, the wildly popular children-targeted chocolate and banana flavoured milky drink. The packet and adverts depicted a widely smiling Senegalese infantryman uttering a supposedly pidgin French expression for 'it's good' (y'a bon) and used to grace every breakfast table in France. It's been radically modified now though, as accusations of racism and creaking colonialism started to seriously hurt the product's image... and profits.

The old cliché of the 'friendly but stupid' African had run its course in 20th century France and was no longer à la mode. It was well and truly time to remettre les pendules à l'heure as the French so aptly say: time to put the clocks right.

© 2011
Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly for photo tours, interviews, exhibitions, etc.


Marilyn said...

I would like a clock like that. Will make some of my guests from Africa feel at home.

By the way, Sab, have you ever eaten a tete de negre cake? (Sorry can't type the accents.)

The French are though quite at ease with the word negre. Like Sarkozy spends his summer holidays at his wife's country mansion at Cap Negre in the South of France.And a ghostwriter is a negre.

Sab said...

Hi Marilyn - tête de nègre? Nope I don't think so! Is it anything like a réligieuse?

About nègre, of course we have two words in English this could feasibly be translated as, negro and nigger, with the first one being far less offensive than the second. And Negre just comes from the Spanish for black, so it might be far less dogdy than it sounds.

As for the ghost writer, along with a whole load of other innocent-seeming-but-not-really expressions, like 'to give someone a black look', it's probably not so innocent.

I know that every few years or so some ignorant politician or other will let a 'work like a nigger' slip out and get hell (and maybe lose their job) for it.

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