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Friday, March 23, 2007

Back to The Swan

posted by on March 23 at 11:28 AM

Today the P-I published a rather flat article on the gentrification of the Central District. It offers no new ideas about what has happened in that part of Seattle—how and why it was transformed from a hood to a neighborhood. And the mood of the article—its sense of shock, loss, and saudade (an excellent Portuguese word that needs to be fully adopted by English)—is the same mood of the world’s first poem about gentrification, Charles Baudelaire’s The Swan, which was published near the middle of the 19th century in response to the Haussmannization of Paris. This passage makes up the poem’s end and final meaning:

Paris may change; my melancholy is fixed.

New palaces, and scaffoldings, and blocks,

And suburbs old, are symbols all to me

Whose memories are as heavy as a stone.

And so, before the Louvre, to vex my soul,

The image came of my majestic swan

With his mad gestures, foolish and sublime,

As of an exile whom one great desire

Gnaws with no truce. And then I thought of you,

Andromache! torn from your hero’s arms;

Beneath the hand of Pyrrhus in his pride;

Bent o’er an empty tomb in ecstasy;

Widow of Hector — wife of Helenus!

And of the negress, wan and phthisical,

Tramping the mud, and with her haggard eyes

Seeking beyond the mighty walls of fog

The absent palm-trees of proud Africa;

Of all who lose that which they never find;

Of all who drink of tears; all whom grey grief

Gives suck to as the kindly wolf gave suck;

Of meagre orphans who like blossoms fade.

And one old Memory like a crying horn

Sounds through the forest where my soul is lost …

I think of sailors on some isle forgotten;

Of captives; vanquished … and of many more.

Indeed, that lost and consumptive black woman in Haussmannized Paris can be seen even today in the gentrified Central District.

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Um. ok. But I've been to Paris lots of times - and it's still Paris.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 23, 2007 11:58 AM

Hey Charles, what kind of tits are on this woman you speak of? Are they ripe? She wasn't too old was she?

Posted by Nina | March 23, 2007 12:00 PM

Right… because unsanitary, consumptive, overcrowded ghettos are preferable to well organized neighborhoods with broad avenues and open spaces?

The Baron Haussmann's transformations to Paris brought a real improvement to the quality of life in the Capital. Disease epidemics ceased, traffic circulation improved and new buildings were better-built and more functional than their predecessors. We could use a Baron Haussmann.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | March 23, 2007 12:01 PM

pinin' for the fjords, he is.

i have architect friends who think that the underside of the viaduct is the only real urban space in the city of seattle. they have a point, but it still sucks.

Posted by Max Solomon | March 23, 2007 12:59 PM

No, Max, they're right. As anyone from the grunge days could tell you, under the Viaduct was where it was happening.

You can't get more real than that.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 23, 2007 4:20 PM

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