Paris, the city of love and fashion, as we now know it, was not as glamorous back in the days when one war had just ended and another one was lurking in the shadows.
In the 20s, right after World War I, women in Paris became more active in society with their volunteering in the war effect. They also celebrated the rise and shine of French haute couture, along with the changes in male fashion and styling. The war left men with the desire to create a more democratic and egalitarian society in France, which resulted in a greater equality between the sexes.
It wasn’t until the 30s that the Great Depression hit Paris, resulting in population decline, increase of emigrants and numerous confrontations between the Communists and Front populaire on the extreme left and the Action Française on the extreme right. Political tensions were inversely proportional to the level of happiness and life satisfaction of the population.
A few years before the much anticipated elections in 1936 when Léon Blum was elected front prime minister in the hopes of bringing new light to the city, the desperation of the citizens was reaching higher levels. The extreme left and right were engaged with analyzing the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, along with the influence of Stalin and the Communist international. The demonstrations against corruption in the parliament and government quickly evolved into riots, turning hundreds of people into victims.
Meanwhile, some citizens just wanted to have a normal life. Numerous people decided to turn a blind eye on politics, in order to stay sane. Others were too busy trying to keep their job, so they did not dig into all the dirty details of the political mayhem that surrounded them.
If a typical day in one of the chic Parisian arrondissements in the early 30s had to be described, it would look a little something like this…
In the middle of Rue Bourbon le Chateau, a short and narrow street, occupied by a typical French cuisine restaurant, several fine wine shops and a Boulangerie, a bunch of people crossed paths. Their heads were looking down, as if there was not much to look up to, to aspire to.
A young mother, holding her young son and wondering in the back of her mind if he would grow up a smart one who will try to make a change for his city.
A construction worker, fiercely transporting a huge piece of wood on his shoulders, being brave and not cracking under the weight, trying to block out the pain and discomfort he felt while the drops of sweat formed on his forehead. He was the one who had to fix the doorframe of the small French restaurant, that same doorframe that got kicked down during one of the riots.
A cook, an excellent one at that, waiting impatiently for the construction worker to arrive and fix the façade of what represented the only financial income for himself, the two waiters and their families that were waiting home, hungry.
A young gentleman, walking opposite direction to another mother who was looking at her young daughter play with a bouncing ball and a racket. The gentleman greeted the woman and kept walking.
And then there was a girl, a very smart young lady, who had just taken her new dress for a stroll to the Boulangerie to get her favorite croissant au chocolat. She noticed the child and for a moment she allowed herself to observe the bouncy blonde curls that flew everywhere as the child ran after the ball. At that moment she felt like everything had frozen in mid-movement. Time stood still and the only thing moving was the child.
The young lady put one hand on her stomach and smiled. Soon enough she was going to be raising a child of her own, hoping it would be as vibrant as the one she was looking at.
“Hey there, little girl!” Her hand rose up just enough to be able to wave and salute the infant. With that physical gesture the lady broke the peaceful state of mind she was in, and was roughly thrown back into the reality.
Unfortunately for her, for the brief moment while her thoughts were blurring all of her senses, she had become the object of desire of an ill-mannered middle aged man.
“Hey there, big girl.” A loud, raspy voice of a smoker, combined with alcohol-induced breath, came up from behind her.
Before she knew it, a set of hands were grabbing her waist and her whole body was being forcefully backed up against the body of a male whose face she hadn’t even had the chance to take a glance at yet.
“No. Leave me alone. Please.” The lady begged quietly, not wanting to embarrass herself in the middle of the street if anyone noticed what was happening.
“You are very pretty, you know?” The man whispered in her ear, applying more pressure to his grasp.
“Please. Stop. You’re hurting me.” Her silent plea did nothing else but make him even more eager.
The more she tried to walk away, the tighter he squeezed, up to the point where she found it hard to take in a deep breath.
The little girl was the only one who noticed the scene. Being only nine years old she did not fully understand the gravity of the situation, but being brave and smart allowed her to change the lady’s life and future.
Looking around her she found a piece of paper and an almost worn out pencil on the sidewalk. They had fallen off the construction worker’s pocket a few seconds ago. Without any hesitation she dribbled some words onto the paper and carefully approached the lady.
”Are you dancing?” She asked loudly, in her squeaky childish voice, even though she already knew the answer - this man was hurting her.
“No, go away.” The man replied aggressively.
“Can I dance with you?” The child kept on pushing it, getting closer to them and trying to push the lady away, her tiny hands tugging on the fabric of the dress.
The villain was left with no choice. Rolling his eyes and exhaling deeply, he walked away with his hands in his pockets. He would now have to find himself a new girl to molest, all thanks to this child that he considered annoying and stupid. Little that he knew, that child was the beginning of the positive change in Paris.
The lady fixed her outfit and left in a hurry. Tears of pain and embarrassment were streaming down her cheeks and she couldn’t even look at the child, let alone thank her for what she had done.
Without getting the desired croissant, she ran back home. While stripping her clothes down, getting ready to take a long hot shower in hopes of washing away the painful memory that this man had left for her, she felt something weird in the pocket of her dress. Out of curiosity she reached into the pocket and retrieved a scruffy piece of paper with lousy handwriting on it. Upon reading the words, tears started falling again, but this time from joy, pride and restored faith in humanity.
The letter said:
“Don’t worry. I heard people say that one day girls like you and me will have rights, our voices will be heard and our wishes we will be respected. But be careful who you dance with! Also, I like your dress. – The little girl”