Baudelaire and "Paris Spleen"
Baudelaire has a very interesting relationship with Paris, though in some ways he represents the quintessential Parisian. He is grumpy and flighty and hateful of his own situation. However, his name is synonymous with our understanding of how modern Paris works. In his first poem in “Paris Spleen”, Baudelaire presents the question of love to a stranger who replies, “I love the clouds… the clouds that pass… up there… up there… the wonderful clouds!” (Baudelaire, 1). This is a hopeful opening to a book that is entirely depressing at points, full of self-contempt and contempt that the author has for the life he lives.
Despite what Baudelaire feels, I find myself resonating with the stranger at this point. When in a foreign country, it becomes easy to watch out for everything that might be in the slightest bit different from home. One of those things, for me in Paris, is the clouds. I live at the top of a 7 floor walk up, and my favorite thing to do is take a break after my short hike and look at the Eiffel Tower from the landing of the stairs. Sometimes, when I time it right, I arrive right when it starts to glitter (which I believe happens every hour on the hour after it gets dark until the tower lights turn off). However, even seeing the change of light makes the tower even more incredible. Even though it seems stereotypical and un-important, the tower has become my focus point. I take pleasure in the clouds that frame it and the sunlight.
My room faces in the opposite direction of the tower, so I don’t get to stare at it all night. However, I do get incredible sunsets. Weather seems to move faster in Paris then it does everywhere else I’ve ever been, raining in the morning at night and switching between cloudy and sunny during the day. Just last week I caught an incredible sunset, where the entire horizon was lit red behind the clouds.
Baudelaire might not appreciate the Paris he lives in, but he also lives in a different Paris than I do. I’m lucky to live in a wealthy neighborhood, near tourist attractions and school. Baudelaire frequently reflected on street urchins and prostitutes, none of which I’ve seen. However, his attitude that I have noticed other Parisians and New Yorkers share, that the city that they are in is the worst place in the world with no redeeming characteristics, often slips bye me. I love the cities I call home. I recognize their faults but love them all the same. I love the slow old ladies of Paris, wandering by with their canes. I love the young school kids, rushing by on their scooters. I love the way that spring is already here, though there are still gray and raining days abound. Perhaps Baudelaire does not understand because he does not like many things, including himself. His answer to things is inebriation. He writes, “One should always be drunk. That’s the great thing; the only question. Not to feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and bowing you to the earth, you should be drunk without respite… If you are not to be the martyred slaves of Time, be perpetually drunk! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please” (Baudelaire, 74). Maybe Baudelaire should spend some more time drunk on virtue so he could actually enjoy the clouds.
(Picture is mine, but taken of Baudelaire's poem XXXIII "Get Drunk", from "Paris Spleen"