Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Baudin – local revolutionary history

Where I live we [I say “we”, but who am I kidding, I’m not French] have a fine reputation to uphold regarding revolutions.  The Bastille was just around the corner, the last stand of the Communards was up the road in the 20e arrondissement and the biggest massacre by the government troops was just up the road at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Some of these topics are too big to cover briefly and have been well covered elsewhere.  I am also not sure I could do justice the history of the Paris Commune and it is a topic that needs suitably respectful coverage.  Respectful to the Communards that is, not to the government.

This is a shorter story of revolutionary, republican behaviour.  Across the road from the bar called Le Chat Bossu [The Hunchbacked Cat and a very nice traditional bar for lunch], there is an off license and above the doorway is a sign that has seemingly been put up unofficially.

Sign describing the death of Alphonse Baudin

Sign describing the death of Alphonse Baudin

Translated it reads “Killed 2nd December 1851 on the barricade raised here by the insurrection against Napoleon III’s coup d’état.  The bronze statue erected here was given by Pétain to make cannons.”  What’s a bit strange is that all of the accounts that I’ve seen of Baudin’s death reckon he was killed on the 3rd December although the barricade was raised on the 2nd.

Seeing this sign piqued my interest. I hadn’t realised the number of revolts and uprisings that occurred in Paris.  I knew that we had revolts, riots and rebellions galore in the UK but my historical awareness is not so great here.  Since I wasn’t brought up here, I haven’t absorbed as much history through simply living amongst the stories.  If I’d bothered thinking then I would have guessed there would be have been the same kinds of riots and revolts, I just wouldn’t have been able to guess the facts.

Louis Napoleon was the nephew of the Emperor Napoleon.  He had been elected as President in 1848 by a huge majority.  At that time every male had the vote but the Assemblée Nationale introduced a rule that only male homeowners could vote in an effort to ensure that electoral support for Louis Napoleon was undermined. Napoleon was prevented from standing for re-election as president by the constitution since he was the incumbent.  His period as president was due to come to an end in December 1852.  He tried to force through constitutional change to allow him to stand again for election but this was blocked in the parliament and so he started plotting his coup.

On the night of the 1st and the morning of the 2nd December, troops loyal to Napoleon took up positions throughout the city and key opposition figures were arrested and Napoleon declared the Assemblée Nationale to be dissolved and that he was now in charge.

An insurrection against Napoleon was launched, led by, among others, Victor Hugo the famous author.  A bounty was put on Hugo’s head and he considered this an enormous compliment.  According to Eric Hazan, Hugo saw it as his duty to get killed in this insurrection which, had he succeeded, would have denied us his epic Les Miserables and, less worryingly, the spectacle of Russell Crowe singing.

On the members of the Assemblée Nationale who felt obliged to make a stand against Napoleon’s coup was Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Baudin, a doctor from Ain in the far east of France.

Across Paris barricades were erected.  Troops loyal to Napoleon began to murder people indiscriminately with people even being murdered in their homes.  Over 350 prisoners were shot at the École Militaire.

A particularly enormous barricade was erected on the Rue Faubourg St Antoine, next the junction with Rue de Cotte.  According to Hugo, this barricade was as high as the second storey of the surrounding buildings and was built in a similar location to that described Les Miserables by the barricade builder Frederic Constant Cournet during the 1848 revolution.  Cournet was one of the leaders of the 1851 revolution against Napoleon and he read out the proclamation of rebellion that was written by Hugo.  The revolution posters and declarations covered the barricade and many people gathered to discuss and read them.

It was at one point, whilst the crowd gathered to read the posters that, according a possibly apocryphal story, an old woman said that “The Twenty-Five Francs are crushed.  So much the better!”.  She was referring to the twenty-five francs per day that the members of the Assemblée Nationale received as remuneration, compared to the wage paid to the men and women who worked in the National Workshops of 2 and 1 franc per day respectively.  The troops of the 19th Leger formed into ranks on the street and Baudin attempted to motivate the workers to join the barricade.  Asked whether Baudin truly expected the workers to do die so that he could keep his twenty-five francs per day, Baudin made his grand comment, “I’ll show you how someone dies for twenty five francs” and climbed onto the barricade where he was shot and died.

Baudin's death

In order to recover Baudin’s body for burial, his family was obliged to make some commitments to the government about not making a fuss or political statements and Baudin was buried secretly in Montmartre, where is grave became a meeting point for Republicans.  A campaign was launched some years later to recognise Baudin’s sacrifice, for which Charles Delescluze, the journalist responsible,  was jailed for six months.  Delescluze was later killed by government forces during the Commune.  In 1879 a plaque was fixed to the house at the location of the barricade, which reads “Before this house fell gloriously Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Baudin, representative of the people for the department of Ain killed Dec. 3, 1851 Act defending the law and the Republic. ”

In 1901, a statue was erected, not at the site of the barricade but at the junction of Avenue Ledru-Rollin and Rue Traversière.

Baudin Statue

Statue of Baudin at the junction of Avenue Ledru Rollin and Rue Rue Traversière, from an old postcard.


In 1942 the statue was taken during the Nazi occupation and melted down.  This rationale hides another truth.  The government officials, acting on the wishes of Marshal Pétain, were happy to perform, in the words of the Minister of Education, “a just and salutary revision of our glories, so that there are no more intruders or unworthy people represented by statues.”  Victor Hugo, among others, had his statue taken down.

After the Liberation  many of the statues, including Hugo, are restored. But not that of Baudin.  In 1977, the base of his statue was even removed so as to permanently prevent any possibility of reconstruction.

So is there something unsavoury about Baudin to the French officials?  Is it the fact that he was a member of the government that turned against his own?  Is that enough?  Or is he really a person unworthy of a statue?  There is clearly some support for his recognition as can be seen by the recent plaque shown earlier but I don’t get any sense of widespread coverage or support.  He has a street [a rather insignificant street], a one star hotel and a school named after him.  Is that enough?


A Grand Meal During the Siege of Paris

In 1870, following an argument over Luxembourg [it’s tempting to be rude about Luxembourg again, but I won’t since they can cause wars and humiliating defeats] and the Spanish throne, the Prussians and the Germans declared war on France.

Germany wasn’t a unified country until 1871, just before the fall of Paris.

It was all rather embarrassing for France and they were defeated, distressingly easily, in a number of battles including the final humiliation at Sedan where Napoleon III and his army were captured.  Zola described the defeats and the chaos in his book La Débâcle, the penultimate of his mighty series of Rougon-Macquart novels.  The Prussians encircled Paris for four months from September 1870 until January 1871 when Paris fell and the Germans were granted a ceremonial entrance to the city as part of the surrender before returning home with Alsace and Lorraine tucked safely under their arms.

Things, as you might expect, were pretty grim under the siege and food was somewhat limited.  The animals in the zoo were slaughtered and it was possible to buy elephant, kangaroo, yak and buffalo meat on the Boulevard Haussmann.  Here’s a menu from a Christmas dinner from 1870 featuring camel, elephant, bear and wolf as well as cat, rat and antelope.  I like how camel is roasted in the English style.  We’re famed for roasting camel.

Christmas Menu Siege de Paris 1870


Once that had run out people were reduced to eating other animals as this menu, described by William Serman, shows:

Consommé of horse with millet

Dog liver brochettes au maître d’hôtel

Minced back of cat with mayonnaise

Filleted shoulder of dog with peas

Rat salami à la Robert

Dog gigot with baby rats

Begonia in juice

Plum pudding in juice with horse marrow

Dessert and wine


A tasty selection and, perhaps fortunately, I don’t have the recipes.  Although it’s pretty hard to find the ingredients even if I did.

Of course the people of Paris were starving and these things, as revolting as they may seem, were much in demand. As Donny Gluckstein points out they were priced way beyond the reach of the normal persons’ purse.  So despite the misery of the situation, the rich were still flaunting their wealth and ability to consume.  Some might call it hoarding. So it goes…

Following the French capitulation and the all to apparent sense of betrayal the Paris Commune sprang up and, for a short but thrilling time, Paris was run by the people for the people until the French government and its forces crushed the rebels in an astonishingly violent and brutal battle which saw over 30,000 people killed in a week.  A government declaring war on its own people?  So it goes…

Today’s Cheese is Pipoune with some betrayal, guilt and heresy too

For the last 18 months or more I’ve been going to the same cheese shop near where I live.  The people there have always been really friendly and chatty and they have a great range of cheese.  The shop, if you’re interested, is called L’Alpage and is 15 rue Aligre in the 12th arrondisement.

For my last birthday some friends bought me a voucher for La Cuisine Paris, near the Hotel de Ville.  I signed up for a session with a master affineur and it turns out he owns the cheese shop [or fromagerie, as we French people say] over the road.  He was an interesting chap and he had some interesting cheese views.  French cheese, he though was over-rated. Especially the cow’s milk cheeses.  In his view, the world’s best cheese is Roquefort.  And that’s a fine view since it is a magnificent cheese.  After that, he was heading to the UK and Ireland for cheeses in his top ten.  In France, this smacks of down-right heresy.  And if there’s one thing I like it’s a heretic.

But now what?  I had to go to his shop.  What if the people from L’Alpage saw me.  I was feeling like a cheat, a cheap, cheesy strumpet who would take their cheesy custom to any cheesy heretic who crosses their path.  Ah well, it is cheese after all, one of the major food groups.  I went in, quite brazenly.

Mmmmmm, new cheeses.  Cheeses I hadn’t seen before or heard of before.  Cheesy vistas opened in front of me.  Here’s one of the new cheeses.

It’s called Pipoune.  And it’s an artisanal goat’s cheese from the commune of Montréjeau in the Pyrenees.

There are three main types of cheese to look out for in a French cheese shop, and I guess you should apply them wherever you are buying cheese.  I am assuming you already look for unpasteurised cheese as a matter of course.  Fermier means that the cheese is made on the farm where the animals are who provide the milk.  This is the purest and most beloved of cheeses since you van get a taste and sense of the terroir.  Artisanal is next best and this means that the milk comes from a number of farms in the same region and Industrial means that they take milk from wherever.  Industrial is generally worth avoiding.  Unless it’s that rubbery, orange cheddar that’s perfect for baked beans and / or baked potatoes.  Funnily enough, they never write “industrial” on these cheeses.  I can’t imagine why…

It’s a little more mature than most goat cheeses I see.  It has a washed rind that’s dry, firm and a little thicker than most but it’s still edible.  The paste is soft, creamy and rich and its taste does not is much milder than its smell suggests.  That’s not to say that this is a really stinky cheese though. As you can see, the paste is starting to run.  It doesn’t have a long aftertaste though so it’s worth eating this early on your cheese board, spread on some decent bread.

And so now I have to share my cheese buying between the two shops.  And I don’t feel any guilt.  Not one ounce.  Shameless.

Ice Cream Safari – a bloated belly’s stumble across Paris

I love food.  You might have noticed.  But I am a healthy eater.  I know the major food groups and I try to keep them well balanced in my diet.  During the winter it’s not always easy to get the nutrients and vitamins you need and so, today, I decided to put that right.

Ice cream is one of those major food groups and, as such, is critical in any diet.  I had neglected it in the last couple of months.  My body had sensed the deficiency and I knew I had to act.

I planned my route.  I checked the opening times.  I was ready.  I planned my route.  I could easily cover it by foot.

ice cream safari

In France it’s pretty common for shops to be closed on a Monday, especially food shops.  There’s Sunday opening in France but it’s generally limited to food shops and “cultural” shops e.g. bookshops, record shops etc. and so many open on a Sunday, particularly if there’s lots of passing trade e.g. in touristy areas or where there’s a market but then close on the Monday.

I decided to have a standard flavour in each shop and chose Caramel au Beurre Salé or Salt Butter Caramel because it’s such a great flavour and it’s available pretty much everywhere.  I would also have a scoop of something more interesting – whatever looked good or unusual on the menu.

First stop: Amorino.  Amorino is a world-wide chain of Italian style ice cream shops.  As far as I know, it began in Paris but it is now franchised all over the place.  It’s an OK place and I guess it’s like Guinness;  if you’re ever somewhere with poor beer then you can generally rely on Guinness for a decent enough pint.  But I’ve never had a pint of GREAT Guinness.  No, I haven’t been to Ireland.  Anyway, Amorino is pretty popular and you won’t get bad ice cream here.  It’s not great either, but it does the job.  The caramel au beurre salé is a little underpowered here but it made up for that somewhat with the grains of crunch caramel on the top.  I also chose a really dark chocolate ice cream with orange and this was much better but lacked a long and deep aftertaste.  Not bad though and you’d be pretty happy with it as you walked the streets of Paris.

Bugger.  It had started to rain.  I was so well prepared that I hadn’t brought my brollie.  Never mind.  I was sure I’d survive the walk through the Marais to Pozzetto.  This is a tiny ice cream café on the Rue du Roi de Sicile in the 4e.  There’s another one in the 17e too.  This is another popular one and in summer [not on rainy Mondays in March] there’s always a big queue here.  Anyway, there was no queue today.  Just me.  And my carefully laid plan went awry pretty much straightaway.  No caramel au beurre salé. Ah well. So I had a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of Marrons Glacés or candied chestnuts.  Pistachio is one of those flavours that is a good gauge of an ice cream shop.  This one was a good one, sweet but the right degree of nutty earthiness and, thankfully, it wasn’t bright green.  It was just green enough.  The chestnuts were excellently candied and suitably soft and comforting but it’s not a taste sensation.  It’s an ice cream that definitely belongs to the colder months.

Onwards and upwards.  Strangely, after four scoops of ice cream, I wasn’t feeling exactly sparky.  Luckily it’s not far to Berthillon.  The main Berthillon is on the rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile which you will find, quite logically on the Île Saint-Louis.  This is the little island in the Seine just south-east from Notre Dame.  The main Berthillon is not open on a Monday but there are plenty of other shops nearby selling the same ice creams and without the queues.  Not that there were any queues today because it was shut. And it was a rainy Monday afternoon in the middle of March.

Berthillon is the legendary ice cream maker, or glacier as us French people say, in Paris.  Their flavours are strongest and most exciting and the ice cream is just, well, fantastic.  It’s a reputation that’s well deserved and they don’t rest on their laurels.  There’s a great range of flavours and not exactly novelty flavours but adult, authentic flavours.  Their sorbets are incredible too.  Naturally, I went for the caramel au beurre salé.  I love the salty kick of this one and it’s perhaps Berthillon’s defining flavour.  The food writer David Lebovitz reckons that this is not as good as Berthillon’s caramel flavour but unfortunately there wasn’t any available today.  Damn it.  It just means I’ll have to go back.  My other flavour was praline, lemon and coriander.  This was an excellent flavour, the sharpness of the lemon and the earthiness of the coriander well-placed alongside the more traditional sweet creaminess of the praline.  It’s mouthfeel suggested too much guar gum for me but I have no idea of the recipe and can only speculate.  It was alightly like those ice creams you get in Turkey where there’s lots of gum to prevent the ice cream from melting too quickly.

I ate my ice cream standing on the Pont de la Tournelle, watching the barges heading inland.  And feeling a little queasy.  I thought a fourth pot would settle my stomach and no mistake.

I walked along the left bank of the Seine and then cut through to the Boulevard Saint-Germain.  Keep following this past Odeon and you’ll soon come to the rue de Seine on your right.  And here’s where you find Grom.  Grom is an Italian chain from Turin that is, like Amorino, now global.  Like Ben and Jerry’s before them, they declare their love of the environment and of quality ingredients and, well, it would be cynical to moan.  Here the ice cream is definitely creamy and the caramel lacks caramelly punch but is so creamy that the thought of a big tub of ice cream from here fills me with horror.  I also tried the crema di Grom.  This is a great [and very rich] eggy ice cream with biscuits and small chocolate pieces.  The biscuits obviously offer some texture but they weren’t as satisfying as, say, the sponge you get in the zuppa Inglese flavour ice creams found in many Italian gelateria [I have no idea what the plural is, sorry] but, nonetheless, a fine flavour.

I mulled over going for a fifth pot elsewhere but this was quite clearly a very bad idea.  I shambled back to the Boulevard Saint-Germain, trying not to jiggle my aching belly.  This was the end of the day’s ice cream gluttony.  I would simply have to try the other recommended glaciers some other day.

I have sacrificed myself to ice cream, to exploration and to discovery.  And at least I know my ice cream limit now.  On the plus side, the two miles of walking will surely have burnt off any calories that were in the ice cream.  Wouldn’t it?

The Worker’s Dreyfus Affair

I’m currently working my way through a French fictionalisation of the Bonnot Gang, if ever there was such a thing.

There’s little doubt that there was an anarchist gang of illegalists but the naming of the gang is an invention of the press, who then, as now, relished the creation of news as much as reporting it.

The book is called L’homme à la carabine and it’s by Patrick Pécherot if you’re interested.  It’s only available in French but it’s a wonderful book.

I don’t want to pretend I’m flying through the book.  My dictionary is taking a real hiding.

A recent chapter began in the street where I live and referred to the execution of the thief and killer Jean-Jacques Liabeuf.  I had never heard of him before but it was pretty clear that this was a major story of the time.  Time to broaden my knowledge of the rich and violent history here in Paris…

Jean Jacques Liabeuf was a cobbler working in the Les Halles area of Paris.  He was originally from St Etienne where he had served a couple of jail sentences for theft.  After serving some time in the army he moved to Paris where he fell in love with Alexandrine Pigeon, a prostitute whose pimp, called Gaston, was also a police informer.

Along with Pigeon, Liabeuf is arrested for “vagabondage spécial” or pimping.  He is sentenced to three months in prison, fined one hundred francs and banished from Paris for five years. He doesn’t leave the city though and he is sent back to prison.

He now considers himself to be the victim of injustice and police persecution.  He swears that he is not a pimp and decides to seek revenge.  He makes some fearsome metal cuffs studded with spikes and arms himself with a revolver and a knife and goes looking for the police.

liabeuf weapons

He spends some time drinking on the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, the street just to the south west of what is now the Pompidou Centre and is again stopped by the police.  This time he fights, killing one of the policemen and slashing another’s throat.  He is wounded by a policeman armed with a sword, arrested and taken to Hospital Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, next to Notre Dame.

Petit Journal - Liabeuf

The Dadaist poet Robert Desnos was ten years old at the time of the arrest and was brought up in bar near Les Halles and witnessed he events.  Later, he wrote a slang poem about the arrest.  The French version is here but I don’t have an English translation to hand and my early 20th century French slang is really not up to the job of translating it.

Sorry.  If anyone has a translation then I’d love to read it.  Especially with an opening line of “Rue Aubry-le-Boucher fucks you up”…


Rue Aubry-le-Boucher on peut te foutre en l’air,
Bouziller tes tapins, tes tôles et tes crèches
Où se faisaient trancher des sœurs comaco blèches
Portant bavette en deuil sous des nichons riders.

On peut te maquiller de béton et de fer
On peut virer ton blaze et dégommer ta dèche
Ton casier judiciaire aura toujours en flèche
Liabeuf qui fit risette un matin à Deibler.

À Sorgue, aux Innocents, les esgourdes m’en tintent.
Son fantôme poursuit les flics. Il les esquinte.
Par vanne ils l’ont donné, sapé, guillotiné

Mais il décarre, malgré eux. Il court la belle,
Laissant en rade indics, roussins et hirondelles,
Que de sa lame Aubry tatoue au raisiné.

The socialist anti-militarist Gustave Hervé defended and applauded Liabeuf’s actions in the newspaper La Guerre Sociale or “The Social War” [could it perhaps be translated as Class War?].

Hervé was a strange character who embraced national socialism whilst denouncing its anti Jewish stance.  He praised Mussolini and was at times a supporter of Petain and Vichy France, although they later turned against him.

In an article titled “The Apache Example”, he wrote “”I think that in this age of the weak and the limp, [Liabeuf] gave a beautiful lesson of courage and energy to the crowd of honest people; to us revolutionaries, he has given a fine example.”

guerre social

The Apaches were violent muggers targeting the bourgeoisie in early 20th century Paris and were perhaps as much a press generated “boogeyman” as they were a reality.  

For his article, Hervé was sentenced to 4 years in prison and fined one thousand francs.

The article though stirred up huge support for Liabeuf and there was a huge protest of around ten thousand people outside the La Santé prison walls where he was being held and there were clashes and running battles with the police.

La Santé is still a prison, located in the 14th arrondisement and it has been home to such notables as Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Genet, Jacques Mesrine, Manuel Noriega, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka Carlos the Jackal and Bernard Tapie

There were pleas for clemency but these went unheard and Liabeuf was sent to the guillotine on July 10th 1910.  As he was led to guillotine and even with his head on the block, he was still proclaiming his innocence of the pimping charge.

“I am a murderer, it is true, but it is not my execution that will make me a pimp! … that’s abominable! … I’m not a pimp! …” he shouted as the blade came down.

Liabeuf goes to the guillotine

But Liabeuf wasn’t a politicised man.  He was a man who felt betrayed by the police, the agents of the state who had set him up, allowed him to be further criminalised on the humiliating charge of pimping and he took action.  And as public opinion began to turn against the police and the state and for the accused, who never denied the accusations of murder or theft and was therefore an honest man, the establishment and the police turned on the crowds who protested.  An act of self defence and an admission of guilt as much as protecting the critical[theoretical] function of the state – to serve the people.

J’accuse – Émile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus

Today, January 13th, is the anniversary of the famous “J’accuse” open letter from the great author Emile Zola to Félix Faure, the President of the French Republic in the newspaper L’Aurore.

The translated text of the letter can be found here. It is essentially a letter that lays out the widespread concerns over the continued imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus [on Devil’s Island, the future home of Papillon], a French Jewish artillery captain on faked charges of espionage when it became known subsequently that the real spy was Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy.

The accusations made in the letter are against Esterhazy, the investigating officer for his faked and corrupt investigation, various generals for religious discrimination and for continuing the cover-up, the handwriting experts who had knowingly made false statements against Dreyfus, the War Office and the press for misleading the public and the secret court martials for willfully acquitting a guilty man.  The handwriting experts even contrived an argument that the lack of similarity between the handwriting in the document that formed the basis of the case and Dreyfus’s own was proof of his guilt.

Given the fairly common anti-Jewish sentiment and the fact that the accused was spying on behalf of the Germans [remember that the Germans had recently invaded France and annexed Alsace], the case had caused great excitement and concern.  Zola’s letter served to pave the way for Dreyfus’s exoneration but caused widespread anger and rioting.  In Algeria, where there was a slightly different but still very strong anti-semitism, effigies of Zola and Dreyfus were burned and there was widespread rioting and looting of Jewish shops and businesses.  At least two Jews were killed during the riots, which the Police chose not to intervene in.

Zola was accused and sentenced for libel shortly after the article was published, as he had welcomed in the original article and fled to London, where he lived in Upper Norwood until 1899.

I’ve said it before but I’m going to say it again.  Britain was once a safe haven for those accused of political crimes and many of Europe’s anarchists and socialists sought sanctuary there.  Not any more. Shame on you Britain.

Dreyfus was pardoned in 1899 despite being having found guilty at the retrial and had to appeal again in 1906 to remove the guilty verdict from his records.

Zola died in 1902 from carbon monoxide poisoning in his apartment on the Rue de Bruxelles in Paris’s 9th arrondisment.  It has been suggested that the flue to his stove was blocked on purpose by a builder working on an an adjoining building angry at Zola and Dreyfus and a deathbed confession from 1927 for the crime was published in the 1950s.  Of course it is no longer possible to know what really happened.

In 1908 Zola’s remains were moved from the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris to the Panthéon.  During the procession and ceremony there were protests from nationalists and Dreyfus, attending with his wife and mistress, was shot and slightly wounded.

Dreyfus went on to serve in the First World War and was on the front line at Verdun and Chemin des Dames. He eventually received the rank of Officier de la Légion d’honneur.  He died in 1935.