All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Beauty and History Intertwined at Nogent sur Marne

Renowned in the Middle Ages for its pure air, the Kings of France would escape the noisome atmosphere of Paris to stay at the manor of Beaute sur Marne ......Charles VII giving the manor to his mistress, Agnes Sorel, who thus became styled la Dame de Beaute, although best known for her associations with Loches.

Standards of beauty vary over the centuries, styles change, but the painter  of this image of the Virgin, Jean Fouquet, is popularly supposed to have used as a model the face - at least - of Agnes Sorel.

Where kings lead, the nobility follow and in their turn the bourgeoisie. Nogent sur Marne became a town of stylish seventeenth and eighteenth century houses and remained a mecca of secondary residences for well off Parisiens down to the twentieth century, attested by areas of Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses.

The less well off appreciated Nogent sur Marne as well. The advent of the railways allowed poorer Parisians to take the air of the quiet was the epoque of Sundays spent fishing, boating, dining and dancing
in the riverside guinguettes.....restaurants offering simple food and the local white wine. A wonderful break from the working week. One of these guingettes still exists...Le Verger...but in these days of austerity no dancing is on offer.

For Nogent sur Marne has not been exempt from the economic problems which have befallen France. It has a significant number of people in poverty...not all confined to the descendants of the Italian labourers who came in the days of the railway construction boom.
Such is the level of poverty that the council have issued an edict forbidding people to rummage through the waste bins....whether this is to prevent health problems or to preserve the bourgeois image of the town is a moot point.

However, austerity bows before popular culture and the mayor, although of the right wing UMP, has decided to honour the memory of the women who worked in the feather industry...the 'plumassieres'.
Fashions in dress, as well as in beauty, change. These days the feathered military headdress has been replaced by the utilitarian beret.....the vast hat of the Edwardian lady by the fascinator. 
Ostrich feathers are now thought to look better on the ostrich.
However in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century feathers were big business and formed an important economic activity for the area.
These days there are very few workshops working in feathers...and none in Nogent sur Marne. The remainder are in Paris itself, sub contracting to the couture industry...and making the costumes for 'les girls' of the Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse.

What shape will this commemoration take?
That of a bronze statue, some two metres high, costing over 80,000 Euros and depicting one of the 'plumassieres' in working costume
The mayor, who took this decision unilaterally, without discussion in the council, does not agree that money is a problem. 
Half has been donated by a big construction firm....out of the goodness of their black hearts....the people reduced to rummaging in waste bins will only have to pay the other half.

He'll have to make up his mind where to place it...the Architects of the Batiments de France - equivalent of English Heritage - are very choosy what can be done in the 500 metres surrounding listed buildings, and Nogent sur Marne has five of them....because he'll need to have the paperwork in place by May which is when he intends to inaugurate the monument.

May...but that's the month of the Presidential elections!
Indeed it is and the mayor will no doubt be hoping that the official UMP candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, will be re elected. 
For the model for the statue, chosen with a nod to the connections with the fashion industry and to the Italian immigrant community is none other than

Carla Bruni Sarkozy.......that well known working girl.


  1. Carla Bruni immortalised in bronze feathers - I wonder if she will actually model for it? Does anything pass you by I sometimes wonder?

  2. Mark, apparently she has done photo shoots for the artist chosen...

  3. Well, blow me dahn wiv a fevver, guv!

    I do hope they don't add M'sieur Short-Arse!

  4. dinahmow, no...unthinkable...that would be sure sycophantism...

  5. I meant to type pure not sure..need to change the glasses....

  6. Not allowed to rummage through the bins? No chance of a Lady And The Tramp remake then.

  7. I wonder if Carla could see the irony when she agreed to have the photo shoot.

    "Let them eat cake."


  8. I read about this and wondered if the mayor is insane, or living in a parallel universe where everyone is affluent and there is no need to make sure you're not just about to commit some awful act of idiocy...

  9. Steve, more like the Lady is a Tramp... is a bit fin de regime, isn't it! Modern version of Marie Antoinette dressing up as a shepherdess...

    Sarah, Gerard put me on to this...apparently Sarkozy is about to summon local government representatives to demand more austerity and then this mad mayor comes up with this notion...

    Niall and Antonette, I suppose it beats providing orgies for about the same price....

  10. Hello!
    I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, details of which can be found on my site:

    As you can see from my rather tongue-in-cheek post, I completely understand if you choose not to participate. I only pass it on as a means of letting you know I really enjoy your blog!

    Have a great day!


  11. Carrie, thank you!
    I found your blog thanks to Freshly Pressed and enjoy it a lot...the recent pic of the Jack Russell sticks in the mind too!
    Through your blog I've found others...never have my horizons been so broadened....

  12. Ouch! Your pen hasn't lost its barb in Costa Rica, has it, Fly? You had me fooled for a minute that this was just an interesting historical byway, then wham! I'd be tempted to say only in France, but that might not be true......

  13. Nogent sur Marne is but one stop down on the RER from where I live. As M Caine once said, not a lot of people know that.

  14. Perpetua, what's life without a squeeze of lemon!
    What an insult to those women!

    Dumdad, will you be exercising your 'plume' on the subject?

  15. It kind of reminds me of the way that every town here has an elaborate and very costly statue of Ataturk, whilst people still rummage in bins.

  16. Ayak, amazing the priorities, isn't it...the world over.

  17. My 11 yo son walked in just as I started reading this post, saw the first image, and got completely weirded out. Poor thing would never make it in Europe. Thanks for giving me a good laugh at his expense :)

  18. Carrie, do you think I've traumatised him for you reckon he'll sue me some time down the line....poor guy!

  19. Oh, I suspect he'll survive!

  20. Carrie, most probably, being msle....

  21. I think before she's allowed to pose for this "work of ar"t, the bins she should be required spend a couple weeks dumpster diving. But....the bins should be opened up to everyone at the same time. We don't want her to get all the good stuff!

  22. You really couldn't make this stuff up!! Ludicrous country, ludicrous first lady

  23. Delana, I'd love to see that. Bet the video would go viral!

    Kaz, I could not believe what I was reading! A friend put me on to it and I thought at first he was joking.

  24. As long as she is depicted barefoot with a guitar and a cigarette.
    X David

  25. avid McGrievey...ah, the Sandi Shaw of France...

  26. Why not a Carla statue? She has the aesthetics.

  27. Ian -Lidster, Carla as Carla...fine. Serving as the model for a working woman....sick.

  28. I will bring Pooch along specially to tiddle on the Carla statue. I think many of my neighbours would be delighted to do the same; she is universally despised here in Italy!

  29. statusviatoris, hoorah for Pooch!
    While he's here, I have a list....and am prepared to allow the self sacrificing animal to save me from cheesy biscuits, charcuterie, etc. while he is engaged on his cultural work.