Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dr José Rizal's Paris "Bouillon"

                  Dr. José Rizal’s Paris Bouillon

It was June 1883.  Rizal left his Madrid digs to spend a summer in Paris.  He left even without the approval of Paciano.  But he sped off anyway.  His Paris anticipation knew no bounds.  His friends, Zamora and Cunanan  (medical students in Madrid) were telling him to join their exuberant discoveries and excursions.  And boy, was he hooked! The grandeur of Imperial France was on clear display.  The Third Republic ushered in the glittering "belle époque" that Rizal admired so much.

José Rizal was like a bull that escaped from its cramped den and now finds himself in a shop full of dainties of great antiquities.  He couldn’t help all this gushing  “Ahhs” and Ohhs”  He wrote on  21st June: 

Here man is a real ant; there are streets whose ends cannot be seen, and nevertheless they are straight, wide and very well laid out; shops and department stores everywhere, coaches for hire are said to reach 25,000.  Passers by animate and throng the streets, the restaurants, café’s,”bouillons,” beerhalls, parks and monuments….” p 234.

On the way to my hotel, Sir Jean-Claude Pérrichon, Knights of Rizal Dimasalang chapter commander, explained and pointed out to me the antecedents of the Paris wide boulevards which Rizal noted as “well laid out.”

He said:  “Baron Georges Eugène Haussmann was the city’s urban planner.  During the French revolution the narrow and crooked streets became the natural barricades that prevented the army to sweep out the student revolutionists. At the end of the revolution, Haussmann straightened out the streets, rebuilt and standardized the kind of building façades that lined the boulevards:  (i.e. each building’s third floor must have grilled balconies beneath wide large floor windows.  Then the 6th floor must again have overall balconies beneath the windows).” 

Look again closely at the street buildings and note the regular cadences of the aesthetic and symmetrical effects of the grilled balconies on the third and sixth floors of the buildings. 

This was what caught Rizal’s admiration.  What he wrote on his diary book was the wide boulevards.  What he forgot to describe were the buildings that lined those boulevards. But he must have admired the edifices clearly.

I followed Rizal’s Paris excursion.  At times, Rizal was so touristy, so matter of factly…almost lacking any imagination.  I could feel he was fully saturated by the visual, experiential, and in-your-face new experience.

The Champ Elysées is a grand avenue, wide and long and full of trees, with theaters on both sides, from the Place de Concorde to the Arch of the Carrousel.”

The Vendome column is tall and big, full of bas reliefs depicting the wars of Napoleon in Germany, crowned by his statue holding in his hand the symbol of victory and a globe.

I dutifully followed my eyes from the base to the very top of the Vendome column.  Sure enough, Rizal had a good photographic eye.

The Place de la Concorde is an immense and wide circle inside which stands the Obelisk of Luxor. 

The obelisk is still there, a thin needle thrust among a throng of backpackers. I would have been delighted if Rizal had told us the character of the throng who gathered to admire the Egyptian Obelisk.  Rizal did not even mention that Napoleon “stole” this obelisk from his Egyptian campaign, nor how Napoleon chipped off the nose of the great Sphinx on the dessert plains of Gizeh.

Next, the monastery of the Abbey de Cluny caught my fancy.  Rizal was also fascinated by the Julian Roman baths near the monastery. Rizal noted something that would have made our contemporary modern tourists gasp with great surprise and delight:  he noted the array of “shoes” displayed within the Cluny museum.

In this same Hotel de Cluny there is a department where all kinds of footwear used in the world can be studied.  So that you may see how complete it is, I saw there slippers with red tops, designs and embroidery of the Chinese of Rosario Street, straw slippers costing a peseta, and other used ones.  It is there and not elsewhere that we can find which country has the smallest feet but natural ones.”   p. 254.

Rizal’s attention centered on the shoes that he declared were the products of the household shops in Manila's Rosario street in Binondo.  This artifact  could be  a great ethnographic find!  A modern Rizalista should go there, examine the displayed shoes, and then find the counterpart shoes produced by the Binondo, Rosario Street cobblers.  I bet you it is made of red "velvet abolorio" top and is commonly called a "zapatilla." It made me think of taking another look at Imelda’s shoes, where rumor says, are now infected with molds and meeting eventual desintegration.  We could have made it into a museum and have had tickets sold.  I’m sure many tourists would have wanted to gape at them, as Rizal had gaped into those foot fetishes of the ancient ages.

Well then, having seen monuments, museums and attractions, Rizal turns to observing the Parisien people.  And what does he say?  He tells us where he found them eating:

The majority of the people in Paris eat at either the restaurants or “bouillons.”  p. 235.

He did not mention the cafés, bistros, patisseries, charcuterie, brasseries. What is this bouillon that he writes for the second time?  (See José Rizal’s Reminiscences and Travels, pp. 234 and 235, 2011 National Historical Commission.) 

Rizal was writing to his parents and brother, sisters, nephews and nieces in the Philippines. They did not know what that French term was.  In my own kitchen, a bouillon is a paste of ground spices shaped into tiny cubes used to flavor a clear broth.  And so I asked my Rizalista guide, Maria Pilar “Boots” Magannon, what Rizal meant by “bouillon.”

She perused Rizal’s diaries again, and we re-read Rizal’s entry: carefully

The Bouillons Duval of the butcher Duval are found everywhere, they are neat and clean and one can eat in them quite well for two and a half pesetas. Those who wait on tables are women and the food is good and inexpensive.  We usually go there. p. 235.

In my own interpretation, it must have been a circa 1883 "turo-turo karenderia" where the menu was written in chalkboard outside since the cook changed the everyday menu depending on the availability of fresh produce.  Rizal wrote he and his friends ate there often.

Professor Esteban Magannon had an idea.  He announced, “This evening  I’ll treat you to dinner at the Bouillon Chartier.  It’s on rue Faubourg du Montmarte, off at Metro Grand Boulevard.  It's not the same one where Rizal went, but it’s the only remaining bouillon in Paris that still sports the 1883-90 ambiance of the Rizal era.”

Well, at least when we arrived, the men outnumbered the women waiters.  The décor is definitely 19th century wood panels. The tables, chairs, stalls, wall paintings are vintage 1899-1900 era.  The food is still fresh and very good, but now with Euro inflation, it’s no longer that inexpensive.  The waiter added our bill right on the paper table cover. There was no pre-printed receipt:  clearly a 1883 practice. Sacrebleu!

Now if you want to see and imbibe the aura of where Rizal used to eat; go to a Bouillon.  See and use the old cloak stalls where he could have used to hang his frock coat.  Go, sit, order and savor the kind of meal that Rizal thought was “good;” but then in today's world,  be sure to reserve a place and be doused with Rizal Paris nostalgia.  


Rizal returned  to Paris five years later to attend the 1889 Expositions universelles (world exhibition) He was dismayed and incensed of how the Philippine native Igorots were displayed inhumanely bereft of their dignity  (This is another topic for a forthcoming blog).

Accompanying pictures are coming.