Saturday, February 2, 2013


In the middle of the the pretty Place Saint-Georges in the 9th arrondissement rises a monumental reminder that for five centuries the Carnaval de Paris counted among the world's most important Mardi Gras celebrations. The bust of Paul Gavarni, a famous 19th-century artist known for his illustrations of the Paris carnival, is mounted on a charming pedestal in bas-relief of typical carnival figures. Among the characters is the débardeuse, a woman in pants disguised as a stevedore--a costume which became popular because it was simple and fast to make.
Liberating and amusing, this costume was also considered to be erotic and against bonnes mœurs. Up to and thru the 19th century, Paris had a law that forbade women from dressing like men except during carnival celebrations. Outside of that period a woman in trousers could be fined if she didn't have a special authorization to wear them, issued by the police commissioner. To obtain that, she had to have a doctor's certificate attesting that she needed to wear pants for medical reasons.

By the 1950's, an accumulation of moral restrictions to curb the revel-rousing and licentiousness during the month-long carnival celebrations, as well as economic limitations--it cost money to clean up the city after the festivities--led the popular event to become nearly forgotten. The Carnaval de Paris has in recent times been revived, but on a much smaller scale. This year's carnival is set to start on Sunday, February 10.

l'oubli:  oblivion
tomber dans l'oubli:  to sink into oblivion
une débardeuse, un débardeur:  a woman disguised in pants at carnaval time (above); a docker, stevedore;  a sleeveless tee-shirt
les bonnes mœurs:  habits or behavior conforming to the morality, religion or culture of a people
le carnaval:  carnival

©2013 P.B. Lecron

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