Whatever happened to criticism and dissent?

I am becoming increasingly disheartened, and sometimes despairing, about what I see as an ever-growing development of “unchallengeable” orthodoxies:

  • Anti-semitism. Anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are now much more dangerously conflated.
  • Brexit. Two years on from the referendum, the cabinet is split, the government is split, parliament is split and the country remains split. People advocating remaining or calling for “a people’s vote” on the deal are castigated as “remoaners” or “sore losers”.
  • Gender. The recent Genderquake debate on Channel 4 exemplified the many divisions on this issue.
  • Equality. Doubtless, there have been significant steps forward in many areas, but, in some respects, there is increasing (sometimes vitriolic, sometimes hateful) polarisation.
  • Patriotism/nationalism. Europe is shrinking. Fascist parties are growing. Racism is a salient feature of these features.
  • Austerity. We all need to pull together and share the burden of recovery.

I’ve tried to keep this neutral (you may have noticed). I have views and opinions on all of them.

The point, though, is this – some of these opinions I would never express publicly, like on this blog.

Now, this may be a function of my paranoia or intellectual cowardice, but I think not. I don’t get many hits on this blog, but the last thing I want is to be on the receiving end of hate mail or whatever. I took some risks in my youth and there were consequences. I’m now retired and the baton has passed to younger generations.

Pilgrimages to the French capital

I blame Baudelaire.

On my first visit to Paris, in 1963, I contracted the Paris virus and became a novice francophile.

In this and the next few visits I “did” the usual tourist sites, but felt drawn to the more offbeat destinations like catacombs, sewers, and cemeteries.

At secondary school I became very keen on C19th French poets. The likes of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Verlaine et al; not so much for their works as their lives. I was fascinated by the whole hashish, absinthe, rebellious, artistic, salons, urban poetry milieu. Bohemianism I suppose.

In particular, I devoured Enid Starkie’s biographies of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and the Hansons’ biography of Verlaine.

Well, that was it, the start of my pilgrimages to graves. Initially poets and novelists, but later expanding into musicians, artists, politicians and others, but mainly with a C19th focus.

I found and bought a book – Guide des Cimetières Parisiens by Jacques Barozzi – and this became my passport to lots of visitable graves, some as far afield as Pantin and Bagneux.

Paris cemeteries schematic

Baudelaire was probably my highest priority and I found him in Montparnasse, the second largest intra-muros cemetery after Père Lachaise.

Charles Baudelaire 1821-1867

I’ve always found it rather sad that his inscription comes below that of his stepfather with whom he did not enjoy a particularly harmonious relationship. I think I’ve visited this grave on most of my subsequent Paris trips.

It took me a while to get to the Batignolles cemetery for the grave of Paul Verlaine, nestling in an unprepossessing location right under the periph in northern Paris.

Paul Verlaine 1844-1896

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) lies not in Paris but in his native Charleville-Mézières in the Ardennes, Not the easiest of places to get to, so that will have to wait.

Over the years, then, I’ve accumulated dozens and dozens of grave photos, from the very famous to the relatively obscure. It has brought me a great deal of pleasure.




New directions

I started this site back in 2013. It was, partly at least, a project to help me keep my head above water following redundancy and de facto retirement. At its peak it had well over 200 pages containing thousands of photos and some text. These covered my travels around Europe, embracing France and Italy, the Czech Republic and Russia, as well as my domestic tourism. They’ve all gone now – deleted, trashed.

It served its purpose. But I found that I had become less enthusiastic about maintaining or expanding it. Photos I’d taken on various jaunts (photos I would once have been keen to add to the site) simply stayed in the camera. So it’s gone.

Instead, I want to take a completely different approach and experiment with a blog. I don’t know how that will pan out and I’m going to have to learn new stuff about how best to use this platform. What I do know is that I have opinions and I like to express them… sometimes. So maybe a narrative, rather than a visual, approach is more suited to where I am now. We’ll see.

BTW. The photo in the header, taken on the roof of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, is about 10 years old. I don’t look like that anymore.