Urban Renewal

The Haussmann Plan under Emperor Napoleon III transformed the French capital from a sprawling Medieval city to the modernist metropolis greatly admired today. The jumble of alleys gave way to broad boulevards and monumental structures that not only glorified the French autocratic ruler in power but also provided an easier access for his armies to quell the frequent rebellions that broke out.

Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the Seine prefect, was commissioned to carry out this sweeping project that uprooted hundreds of women and men from their homes and places of business, forcing them to resettle. The monetary compensation they were offered might have satisfied some of them but others suffered emotional trauma not easily healed.

The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay, St. Martin’s Press 2012, a novel set in 1860s Paris, reveals the unsettling turmoil experienced by its main character and narrator, Rose Bazelet, an elderly widow whose entire life has been lived in one neighborhood moving only a few blocks from her childhood home to the nearby family house of her husband.

Rose writes a series of letters to her deceased spouse, telling him things she was unable to vocalize while he was still alive, as the wrecking crews move relentlessly closer to the house they both loved. Eventually rue Childebert is to be obliterated to make way for two great thoroughfares, Boulevard Saint-Germain and rue de Rennes. The book opened my eyes to a time in history I previously knew little about, providing a momentary glimpse at the lives of ordinary people in a way that touched my heart.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved