001i – Jeeves and the King of Clubs; Coffee; The Siege of Paris 1870-71

Summary

Aadisht Khanna and Ashish Kulkarni talked about Jeeves and the King of Clubs, a pastiche by Ben Schott which is an homage to PG Wodehouse; an In Our Time episode about the history of coffee drinking, and another In Our Time episode about the siege of Paris that followed the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

What We Discussed

Goodreads: Jeeves and the King of Clubs

Goodreads: Titus Groan

Goodreads: Just William

Goodreads: Good Omens

Goodreads: Leave it to Psmith

Goodreads: Types of Ethical Theory

The passage which Bertie Wooster reads from Types of Ethical Theory when he opens it at random is as follows:

The postulate or common understanding involved in speech is certainly co-extensive, in the obligation it carries, with the social organism of which language is the instrument, and the ends of which it is an effort to subserve.

Carry on, Jeeves

In Our Time: Coffee

Goodreads: The Coffee House

In Our Time: The Siege of Paris

YouTube: Do You Hear the People Sing (Les Miserables)

Wikipedia: Castor and Pollux (elephants)

Wikipedia: French Onion Soup

Transcript

What are you reading now and what have you read in the past? How do the things that you have read in the past help you understand what you are reading today or in the future for that matter? And what if it wasn’t just what you read but what you listened to or watched and hey what if this could be shared with lots of folks. Welcome to- that reminds me! 

This is episode 1i featuring a conversation between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna recorded on the 3rd of April 2020. Ashish and Aadisht discussed Ben Schott’s book Jeeves and the King of Clubs and 2 episodes of the podcast in our time about the history of coffee and the 1870-71 siege of Paris. This episode took many digressions including Ashish and Aadisht’s own coffee habits,the possibility of Lord Emsworth secretly being his own spy master, and how Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series may also be a Wodehouse setting gone terribly wrong.

Aadisht (AD): Good afternoon Ashish, how are you?

Ashish(AS): Doing good, doing good. Day 8 or 9 of the lockdown I am beginning to lose count here. But all good. 

AD: Day 12 according to me, but as you said- who’s keeping count. 

AS: [laughs] Pretty much, exactly.

AD: Alright, moving on to cheerier topics- we are going to speak about 3 of the posts that you have written right? So we are back to I interviewing you. 

AD: Yeah, except I’m thinking that more and more it ends up the 2 of us asking each other questions and quoting books to each other- not that there’s anything wrong with that.

AS: Nothing at all, but it’s good to keep up pretenses.Thats all we seem to be doing these days. 

AD: Exactly.

AS: Alright so the 3 things that we are going to be speaking about today. I will just for the benefit of the listeners count them out. The 1st is Jeeves and the King of Clubs- this is written by Ben Schott, the 2nd is the siege of paris from 1870 to 71- this is from in our time and the 3rd is once again an in our time episode and this is about coffee. I’ve got those right, correct?

AD: Yeah, can’t wait to get started.

AS: All right so lets begin with the one you and I are not even secretly the most passionate about Jeeves, Bertie Wooster and the magical, magical world of PG Wodehouse. I have not read anything about Bertie and Wooster that is not directly from the pen of PG Wodehouse and I actually would have considered it a- almost a sacrilegious thing to read a Jeeves and Wooster story penned by somebody else but you seem to have thoroughly enjoyed it.

AD: That is true. I got recommended this book last year, only got down to it once lockdown started and I decided that I want to spend as much time reading as light fiction as possible. And it’s really worked out well for me. 

AS: Okay, so before we start talking about this particular book, for the benefit of our listeners, and if at all there is somebody who’s not heard of Bertie and Wooster or not yet experienced PG Wodehouse’s penmanship- could you give a brief introduction to the original Jeeves and Bertie series and your opinion on what Wodehouse was trying to do with them?

AD: House was a writer of comedy, he created the character of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in the 1920s. He kept writing books featuring Mr Jeeves and Wooster well into the 70s. While the environment and circumstances changed around Jeeves and Wooster, Jeeves and Wooster remained very much a sort of 1910s 1920s kind of characters. A rich, young London man who didn’t have to work for a living and his personal servant. How the joke starts off is that the man servant is much smarter than Bertie Wooster actually is. He has a huge wealth of education. He is also able to solve complicated problems involving relationships, money through either counselling or sheer trickery and guile and he keeps getting Bertie out of all sorts of trouble, whether that trouble involves being engaged to the wrong woman, whether it involves stealing art for his aunt or whether it involves his friends being engaged to the wrong people.

AS: And as it turns out- that’s a pretty good summary- and as it turns out in the current book you’re reading the one by Ben Schott all of this seems to be an elaborate cover for Bertie simply isn’t as absentminded or as hopeless as he’s made out to be- that’s all just for show apparently.

AD: Well, that’s my interpretation. But it’s not that Ben Schott makes it explicit in the book. But he certainly does Bertie Wooster in a way that is much more- well maybe not much more- but certainly more intelligent than Wodehouse himself wrote Wooster and once you have that initial direction set of Wooster being a little smarter than you’ve traditionally see him I went on the path of saying ‘hey, what he was much much smarter and all the original books are just Wooster making himself out to be an idiot.

A: So as a Wodehouse trivia fan I can’t help but ask the one time- I think there is only 1 story when Jeeves writes it in the first person and Wooster is described in the third person.

AD: That’s correct. 

AS: How will that story fit into your theory?

AD: Before we get into that there is 1 story which Jeeves writes in the first person but there’s also 1 story where there is a 3rd person narrator and Jeeves features but Bertie Wooster doesn’t.

AS: That’s the little girl . . .

AD: the story you brought up does have little girls and is the story of how Jeeves manages to discourage Bertie Wooster from adopting girls. The story that I am talking about is a full length book which features Bertie post world war 2 off at a school which teaches rich people how to function in a postwar economy. Okay, so the reason that I brought up the story that I did is to ask you how your theory might still stand up to scrutiny under the fact that Jeeves in that doesn’t seem to have a very high opinion of his master’s capabilities either. 

AD: One of the advantages of my theory is that any of the original stories can be explained as simply providing cover.

AS: okay, alright.

AD: so, let me begin with the good reads summary you posted the goodreads description of this particular story and one thing that I take very seriously is- as I’m sure anybody that reads PG Wodehouse does- is the quality of the word play- and the goodreads review says that this new version is full of everything that you would expect from a Wodehouse story except most importantly the Wodehousian word play. As a connoisseur of this word play would you say that Ben Schott lives up to expectation in this regard?

AS: What I feel is that Ben Schott’s word play is almost as good as Wodehouse’s without being exactly the same. But, as I mentioned when I first wrote about this book- even Wodehouse’s later books did not really live up to the wordplay of his earlier books, while still being delightful. And I feel what Ben Schott has written is slightly comparable to that. It’s just as good without being the same. 

AS: And you mean that as a compliment, not a criticism?
AD: I do mean that as a compliment. 

AS: let’s delve deeper into this particular book itself and let’s see what it reminds me of. You are combining a whole variety of genres here, you are speaking about maybe potentially there being- or there should be a sci-fi or time travel explanation to the saga of the time travel of Wooster’s stories. Could you build on that a little bit? 

AD: As I mentioned when we were speaking about a brief explained of which Jeeves and Wooster are- the setting of the Jeeves and Wooster books are pretty much the setting of the time in which the books were written in. There are books written in the 1920s which are set in the 1920s, there are books written in the 1950s which are set in the 1950s, there are books written in the 60s and 70s which are set at that time.

AS: Right. 

AD: In all this time only 5 or 6 years have passed in Jeeves and Wooster themselves. They are still very young people. Bertie Wooster’s aunt Dahlia has not aged at all and she is still as active as she was, whereas if she had been aging at the same time as the time around them she would have been in some sort of old age home and barely able to leave the bed. SO you have this sort of internal inconsistency which is that the technology around the characters is changing all the time (but) they themselves aren’t aging and this is also the sort of time that you see passing in the Archie comics and also in the children’s book series of William. With the William books we did get a sci-fi explanation in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omen’s they said that William created an aura around himself where time simply did not move from the idyllic period of the 1920s.

AS: This is the Just William series you are talking about?

AD: It is

AS: Ah, Richmal Crompton. That’s a serious blast from the past!But the first thing that this reminded me of and I really want to explore this in more detail. There is a part of me which is wondering if this is all 1 giant conspiracy right now. I just have begun to think that Lord Emsworth would make a very very very good spy master, Blandings castle is eminently suited for the role and I if I were to bring in a little bit of James Bond- it can’t be coincidence that his name is ‘M’sworth.

AD: Ashish I was taking a drink of water right now and you almost made me spit it out laughing.

AS: I will take that as a compliment. But, come on- it can’t be a coincidence. There is a greater conspiracy afoot over here. We just happen to be the first ones to have dug it out.

AD: Ian Flemming did come up with the James Bond series about 30 years after PG Wodehouse with Lord Emsworth. So we’ll again need a science fiction and time travel explanation to explain how that inspired the other. 

AS: But I maintain worth pursuing it would be an excuse to read Wodehouse and Flemming for the remaining days of the lockdown. And what better task to set oneself. 

AD: My personal conspiracy theory or extended universe theory about a lord Emsworth and Blanding castle’s books involves the other science fiction-ish, fantasy-ish series called gormenghast . .

AS: I haven’t read this 

AD: Yeah, I don’t think it is very familiar to Indian readers. A quick explanation for people who aren’t familiar with it- Gormenghast is a sort of feudal castle with a village surrounding it. Over 3 or 4 books we find out that it’s not in the past it’s in the far future and it is just that this one castle with a really crazy family inside it has been completely cut off from the world around it, has maintained this feudal life all the time while in the world outside technology has moved on and you have flying cars and similar (things). So, my personal explanation for this is that in the Blanding’s world leave it to Smith- Smith manages to get Baxter so enraged that he spends a whole morning bringing flowers into lord Emsworth’s room and gets fired. Now, what if Gormenghast is the world where Baxter did not get fired- keeps Blanding’s castle within his organizational capabilities and makes it so regimented that the family never breaks from routine and goes still crazy and both blandings castle and the village next by completely fall under the spell and are stuck in this frozen, very regimented world.

AS: It says something about how enamoured I am by your theory that I almost want it to be true because it gives me a shot at visiting this place at one point of time. 

AD: At Gormenghast things go pretty wrong so it’s as if Smith was the only thing standing between Baxter’s world domination and how bad it could have made things.

AS: Although the story in which Baxter and Smith meet at Blanding’s is probably one of my 2 all time favourite Wodehouse novels- I just needed to mention that.

AD: It’s a good choice. 

AS: Although we can keep on going- I’m not even referring to your notes right now- just delving into my memories of Wodehouse but this also raises the question about the role of uncle Gallahad.

AD: I think uncle Galahad would make a fabulous M.

AS: Oh absolutely! This might end up taking us somewhere. But anyway- back to your notes and I will be tempted to go away from them and into the Wodehousian universe every now and then. But it turns out the types of ethical theory is actually a real book!

AD: Again for the benefit of our listeners who may not be familiar about the complete works of PG Wodehouse- the first time we ever encountered Bertie Wooster and Jeeves is the story in which he hires Jeeves for the first time. He is at this time engaged to a lady called Florence Craye and Florence Craye is a woman who is far more serious than Bertie’s happy go lucky ways and is trying to make him read a book called types of ethical theory. And we start off with Bertie Wooster opening up types of ethical theory at random- reading out a very weighted passage and wondering how on earth he’s able to get on with it. Towards the end of the story we find that Jeeves points out that the woman who is making him read types of ethical theory is not perhaps the ideal wife for him.

AS: That’s putting it mildly [laughs]. 

AD: All this while I thought that types of ethical theory was simply a fictional creation within the story it turned out to be a real book. 

AS: I am tempted to try and see if it is available to buy just so to keep it with me at one point of time. There is one thing that I wanted to- and this is a reference from the Wodehousian universe once again- we are skipping between our collective memory of Wodehouse and your notes. But that also happens to be the first story- I don’t know if memory serves me correctly- where we hear about Jeeves’ magic pick me up which contains Worcester sauce and a raw egg.

AD: I believe so- yes.

AS: I was in school at that time so I didn’t understand. But the first time I woke up with a hangover I was wishing that that part of the story were actually true. I could have done with something like that. The other thing that I was a bit confused about is this character called Iona. Would you mind elaborating on who she is and what her role is in this series?

AD: It’s actually time to get into the plot of this book rather than the plot of all the old Bertie and Jeeves books. 

AS: Jump right in.

AD: Okay, so Jeeves is a member in the Wodehouse books themselves of a club called the Junior Ganymede which is supposed to be a club for butlers, valets and other personal manservants. The premise of this book “Jeeves and the king of clubs’ is that the Junior Ganymede club is actually an association of secret agents working for British agents. The rationale for this is that anyone who is a VIP and who is entertaining foreign visitors or who is entertaining members of various political parties, etc will have servants in attendance. And if these servants are discreetly eavesdropping they can report back to British intelligence about exactly what these foreign visitors are up to . . . This is the set up the person within formal military intelligence who is interfacing with the Junior Ganymede club is a scottish gentleman called Lord McCusland and his daughter is also involved in espionage activities (as we find out over the course of the book). She is actually a photographer in the book and is employed as a photographer but the perks of being a professional photographer she will simply land up at various places and no one will know that what she is focusing on is not the tourists in front of a military base but the military base itself. 

AS: So before we move on to the rest of the plot one thing that I wanted to mention is it just struck me how many stories based out of england seem to rely on clubs and its either a central plotline or crucial to moving the plot along whether it is the club that we are speaking about right now or the Sherlock Holmes club Diogenes or the club- I can’t for the life of me remember the name right now but the club in the Yes minister series.Clubs are central to quite a few of these plots. 

AD: Yes and I think we can talk about that when we talk about coffee.

AS: Yes, that is an excellent way to segue into that blogpost. But, alright, please continue with the plot over here.
AD: This is something which perhaps is exaggerated but it does seem that clubs whether with clubhouses or not and the general associations which people form in the united kingdom have really contributed a lot to lots of things happening and that literature reflects this and you and I are both fans of Neal Stephenson so when we looked at the baroque cycle and how the royal society starts simply as a association of amateur scientists and then ends up hosting people who make major discoveries of the modern age is also a real, historical example of this. 

AS: Yes, absolutely and the two things that this reminds me of- they are 2 very weird references to give- especially together.One is Bill Bryson has written a book called “seeing further the story of the sciences and royal society” which- if you haven’t read it- not just you but also the others- our listeners- is worth reading about how the society came to be. And the second is even weirder a reference- I am trying to get my daughter to like reading and we are just starting off on the first secret seven story and that also- believe it or not begins with a club. So there is really something to the idea that the British isles has come up with a pretty good idea when it comes to clubs. 

AD: And I am wondering why this is so. And this is probably a good time to mention Alexis Tocqueville and his theory that America was very good at voluntarism and voluntary associations. But somehow American voluntary associations have never seemed to have the impact that British clubs do or at least they have never been lending to literature the way british clubs have.

AS: I honestly think we should consider taking donations from sociologists from this episode on.

AD: Or we possibly start getting sociologists in on these calls.

AS: [laughs] The first method gives us more money so I will go with that one. 

AD: We can use it to hire transcriptors or pay them.

AS: There’s a thought [laughs]. Alright now back to the plot so we have this club and we have this daughter who is supposed to be a photographer but she is more than that. What happens after that?

AD: This is a nice coincidence which hooks up with the last episode which we recorded- as we already know from the original wodehouse books of Jeeves and Wooster- there is a character called Roderick Spode who is a fascist- a British fascist. Spode is based on genuine British fascists. The fascist movement was not related to Germany or Italy there were attempts to have fascist political parties in Great Britain too- prior to the outbreak of the world war. What the book is trying to examine and suggest is that these fascist political parties are upto no good and finally Spode is one of the villains involved in this. And another of the villains in this story turns out to be Bertie Wooster’s bank manager. The interesting thing which comes here is that the author has mentioned in endnotes that this particular villain- the bank manager- is based on a real manager of the bank of England who helped to transfer the foreign exchange or the gold reserves of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany after Germany invaded and annexed Czechoslovakia. Why this ties up with the last episode we recorded is that counterparty this person Bank of England head that was dealing with Germany is a person called Hjalmar Schacht who was the head of the German Reichsbank who’s idea was to use the new currency to combat hyperinflation. 

AS: This is fascinating

AD: And Hjalmar Schacht head of the German Reichsbank had in fact asked this Bank of England governor to be the Godfather of one of his children. 

AS: One of the entirely unexpected advantages of having these conversations Aadisht is that you tend to remember the weirdest of things. Like when you were speaking about the British fascist for some reason I remembered a novel by Ken Follet in which a group of people try to escape England during the second world war- one of which happens to be a family who’s head is a sympathiser of the Nazi’s in Germany. I can’t remember the name of the story but it involved flying across the atlantic in a blimp if I remember correctly. 

AD: Sorry I’ve never read any Ken Follet but why not?

AS: [laughs] yeah, why not? That is kind of the point of these stories and I also happened to be looking up the Wikipedia article on Sir Roderick Spode while you were talking and I wonder how much of- not the Ben Schott’s story- but how much of Wodehouse’s writing of Sir Roderick Spode was based on his being kept under house arrest/ imprisonment- call it whatever you will during the 2nd world war.

AD: Not much because he was introduced before the 2nd world war at a time when British fascism was active.

AS: Ah, okay. Coming back to the plotline and the stories- is this the only novel he has written so far or are there more in the pipeline. Do you know? 

AD: It is certainly the only Jeeves and Wooster novel that he has written. I’m not sure if he has written other novels. He certainly has written something else but I can’t remember if it was a novel or something non-fiction. But he did get a blessing from PG Wodehouse’s step grandson. And I’m not sure if this was an official or unofficial blessing but PG Wodehouse’s step grandson did encourage Ben Schott to write this book.

AS: Okay, so not only is this added to the list but this shoots to the top of the to read list so I will be sure to read this and perhaps I will come back and be able to speak more about it. I think we covered all of what we did with Wodehouse- I must and you must keep ourselves from speaking of Wodehouse. So the next episode we shall be speaking about should be coffee and it’s not like we are ever going to complain about having to speak about coffee but this is the second time we are recording this episode, right? 

AD: yes unfortunately last time we had a slight error recording it.

AS: So if we sound rehearsed- that is because we are. It actually is going to end up being my favorite episode if we are going to end up speaking about both Wodehouse and coffee. So there can’t be too much wrong with the episode. But before we begin let’s speak to our audience about our mutual love for coffee and how addicted I am and I think you are as well to the beverage. 

AD: That’s true this is something which I have been drinking for 22 years. I started off with instant coffee, went on to using coffee grounds and I have to use a lot of instant coffee still because I travel so much- collecting coffees from across the world, trying coffees across the world and it’s been a very very pleasurable dependence/ addiction or habit depending on how much I’m complimenting myself or how much I am going with my wife’s perspective of things. 

AS: If it is any solace to you we are sailing in the same boat where our own opinions about- I’m going to call it habit- and our wives’ opinions about it our addiction is pretty much the same story.

AD: On the bright side I have got my wife to share the habit- at least up to one cup a day. Which I count as one of the successes of my marriage. 

AS: [laughs] we are in the same boat there as well. My wife prefers coffee to tea and that’s one of the major successes of my 12 years of marriage. But alright let’s start talking about coffee and what you have written about it- this is from a podcast that you listened to called- ‘in our time’. The entire episode is about not just the history of the coffee bean itself but also the social impact it has had. Aadisht we spoke in the earlier blogpost about clubs and how segueing over to this will be worth our while because we are speaking about the emergence of coffee houses, the emergence of newspapers and the link to the british fascination with clubs. WOuld you mind expanding on this with regard to what you had written in the blogpost?

AD: Sure, so when coffee drinking reached Britain it’s important to understand that this is in the 16th or 17th century. And making coffee and just sourcing coffee itself is extremely difficult and right from the origins of coffee from the Ottoman empire- coffee is not a drink which you make at home. Coffee is a drink which is made by somebody and served. What ends up happening is that groups of people who have shared interest which could either be a professional interest they are all merchants or they are all soldiers or it could be an amateur interest that they are all interested in a certain aspect of science form slight associations start congregating at specific coffee houses and go there to have coffee. But the culture at the coffee house is that coffee is prepared somewhere off table, served at a table but there is only one table. The social norm here is that you come down, sit at the table and strike up a conversation with whomsoever is sitting next to you.

AS: You mentioned on your blog that another way to think about this is that coffee house is the material form of the right to form associations. 

AD: Yeah- very much so because we can refer to Adam Smith now and his quotation about man’s tendencies to barter and associate if I am getting it right. Even if I am not- there is a propensity to associate. It is difficult to associate if you don’t have a public place to do it in. And the coffee house was serving that purpose. 

AS: It was serving that purpose as recently as the television series friends. So there is a long and rich cultural history to this. The other thing that you mentioned in your blogpost which is equally fascinating especially as an economist is the fact that coffee is not just a drink that requires division of labour but also requires a phenomenon called urbanization. Which to me was fascinating.

AD: As I said coffee has always been a difficult drink to source.  In addition to this it is also a very difficult drink to prepare. You first have to source beans, you then have to grind beans and in between the sourcing and the grinding you have to roast your beans up to the desired level of darkness-

AS: bitterness

AD: Yeah. And once this is done we finally get down to the brewing. There are so many steps involved that no single person can start with raw coffee beans and make a drink of coffee for himself or herself without spending a ridiculous amount of time. To have that division of labour and that economy of scale that will make it worthwhile to serve coffee- you don’t get that on a farm or in a village. You need cities for that.AS: A couple of other points that I wanted to speak about where this particular blog post is concerned- A. differential pricing- particularly in Italy- but this is true throughout Europe. We have coffee that is served- so to speak- standing up. And coffee that is served on the table.

AD: That is correct. The panel in the ‘in our time’ episode mentioned this and they mentioned that coffee served when you sit down and coffee served when you just drink the cup at the counter and push it back have different prices. And for Italy- I don’t know about the rest of Europe- this is true for food as well. The food which you eat at counter costs less [Aadisht said more by accident but he meant less] than the food you eat sitting down- even if all you are having is a sandwich.  

AS: I would much prefer to not have coffee from starbucks because I think they over roast their coffee beans although that is a matter of opinion. But I am sad to report that in India starbucks does not carry this practice forward. It does not matter if you take the coffee in house or to go it’s price remains the same. 

AD: That is true whereas in Italy- as the panel explained- because this practice of differential pricing has been in place so long culture has evolved around it and Italians prefer to drink their coffee standing up. Whereas Starbucks as policy focuses on getting you to sit down and enjoying the experience. And so not only are Starbuck’s prices much higher in Italy than the competing espresso bars. They face resistance among customers who simply are not used to sitting down and having a coffee.

AS: True, and the other thing that I wanted to ask you was that coffee is an urban drink explains why Starbucks is more prevalent in democratic states than in Republican states. I think this is understandable but just to make sure that I’m not getting the inference completely incorrect would you mind explaining what you mean by this?

AD: Yeah, so we’re talking about the United states over here and if concentration or spread of starbucks is mapped across the spread of America you find that they are much more prevalent in states that vote for democratic government than in states that vote for republican government. And this is probably to do with the association that more urbanized locations tend to vote for the democratic party whereas less urbanized and more rural and suburban places tend to vote for the republican party.

AS: If only it worked in reverse as well. If only we could somehow cure the world by opening up multiple starbucks the world over. 

AD: It might be worthwhile to see if you map the political party and you also map the spread and revenue and the number of outlets of starbucks. Which one follows the other? 

AS: Yes, exactly! Unfortunately we must move on to the 3rd blogpost right now. Although there is a lot I want to speak about coffee. Maybe we can do another episode about this sometime later?

AD: Sounds fantastic!

AS: Alright, let’s move on to the 3rd of the blogposts we were going to speak about today. This is the siege of Paris 1870-71. This once again comes from the podcast- ‘in our time’. This is about the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war although there are other ends to this blog as well which will become clear as we start speaking about them. I had the pleasure of visiting Paris twice recently. But I get the sense that the kind of Paris that has been described over here is very different to the kind of Paris I got to see 2 years ago. 

AD: And, why is that?

AS: For a variety of reasons- not the least of which is that it was under siege. It was anything but under siege when I visited it. But it’s not just the fact that it was under siege I get the sense by reading this blog post that the culture of Paris was very different then than it seems to be right now. The word Bohemian comes to mind in the current context but I suspect that is not the feeling that one gets while listening to this podcast. 

AD: No. This podcast is full of violence, revolution and brutal dictatorship.

AS: Could you build on that please? What exactly was the setting like in 71 and why was Paris under siege? 

AD: Well, in 1870-71 and this goes back to what we discussed in the previous episode. France was at war with Prussia and Prussia had invaded France and had been extremely successful at it. The French government withdrew from Paris. Paris itself was under siege from the Prussian [Aadisht said French but he meant Prussian] army and during this period of time the working classes decided to set up their own government and act as an independent state and they called themselves the Paris commune. Because there was just so much violence involved I ended up losing track of who was at war with whom at what time.

AS: That sounds classically French. 

AD: But there was a situation where there was a Prussian army outside the city but the French government itself which had stood for peace was now faced with the task of getting the capital back. So the Paris commune which had started out purely as an attempt by the citizens of Paris to resist the invading Prussians ended up being in a civil war with the French government itself.

AS: You mentioned in the blogpost that while listening to this podcast you were wondering if Les Miserables was set in the siege of Paris and that apparently you got wrong. I am sure I would have gotten the date wrong myself but the one thing that this reminded me made me wonder if the French onion soup came out as a consequence of this particular siege.

AD: This is something we should look up. 

AS: Yeah. I wouldn’t mind looking it up as we are talking but I remember reading on the wall of some restaurant- I can’t for the life of me remember which one now- in Paris about how the French onion soup came about as a cheap easy way to feed the masses during one of the wars that Paris seems to have made a habit of getting into every now and then as you mentioned. And I found myself wondering if the French onion soup was because of this particular siege.

AD: In fact in one of the sieges and I don’t remember which one- which speaks to how many times Paris ends up being besieged- was that as the population started starving they first began eating horses once the beef ran out and these were not horses that had been raised for meat. They were eating horses out of transportation stables. 

AS: Wow, okay.

AD: And once the horses ran out- they started eating zoo animals and once the zoo animals ran out they started eating rats. 

AS: [stunned silence] okay. So this is new information. Not very palatable considering that I still have to have lunch. But I will try and forget all of what I just heard. 

AD: I’m sorry about that. Maybe we should go back to coffee.

AS: [laughs] with pleasure! But speaking about Paris- the other thing is and we spoke about Simon Winder’s book. I am presuming that this is the same book that we spoke about in the last episode. It has a line that goes along like this- “it took no deep, strategic sense to notice that at periodic intervals France went mad and invaded everybody. And you suggested shifting that to Paris having a revolution at periodic intervals.

AD: Yeah that is correct and the original line was in the context of how first I think it was Louis XIV in his attempts to increase both France’s actual territory as well as its overall influence in Europe. Then followed by Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars which were actual invasions and finally the Franco-Prussian war. And we were discussing this last time in the context of how  Prussia felt that it simply had to organize all of Germany into a cohesive whole to prevent French influence. Finding out that Les Miserables is from a completely different revolution in Paris compared to this one makes you wonder how many revolutions does Paris have every now and then because they went to the barricades in 1960s as well. SO it does seem that is something about Paris which encourages everyone to have a revolution.

AS: Possibly yes. I was speaking to some friends of mine when I visited Paris earlier this year and they were mentioning the strikes of the 1960s as well. But apparently at that point of time the middle class was not just not against the strikes they were vehemently in favor of it. 

AD: And participants

AS: And participants- exactly!

AD: Yeah which is untrue of the siege of Paris being described in this episode the middle classes fled the city along with the government, hated the working class uprising and were encouraging the government to reinvade Paris and put down the revolution

AS: Not quite sure how to think of Paris along these lines. The last time that we were there as a family that was in November 2018 the day on which we left is the day on which the Gilets jaunes movement started. The green vests of orange vests- I can’t remember-

AD: -yellow vests. 

AS: yellow vests! I’m sorry. The yellow vest protests started so the tradition of Paris losing it and going ape seems to continue even in the modern context. 

AD: Well, as far as I know from very removed news hearing the yellow vest movement was more rural working classes getting annoyed and invading Paris. 

AS: We were very safely out of Paris the day on which it started so I was not as removed as you were but close enough . . So I don’t know what the truth is but Paris does seem to attract its share of revolutions that much is certainly true. Alright Aadisht- let us stop over here for today. 3 episodes out of which I don’t mind admitting that because of the bias that I have the Wodehouse one was my favorite by far. 

AD: Truly, we did spend much more time on that than we do usually. 

AS: And I speak for myself but I think also for you when I say that we had to tear ourselves away from that one but hopefully we can circle back to that episode or at least something related to it soon.

AD: We did have to tear ourselves away from the coffee episode as well. But the happy news is that we can go back to an actual coffee. 

AS: Absolutely! And that is about as good a note as we can end on ever. So thank you Aadisht, I hope to speak to you soon. 

AD: So do I. Take care.

AS: You too! Bye.

You’ve been listening to “That reminds me” episode 1i. Today’s conversation was between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. Ashish’s blog is https://econforeverybody.com/ and Aadisht’s blog is http://www.aadisht.net/blog/ . That reminds me is a podcast produced by Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. You can find all episodes of this podcast at https://www.thatreminds.me/ . You can leave your comments. You can also email us- our address is feedback@thatreminds.me . The podcast is supported by emergent ventures. The show music is the carnival of the animals performed by the seattle group symphony at the https://www.usopen.org/index.html  [MUSIC]

Transcript is provided by Simran Gopal (https://www.linkedin.com/in/simran-gopal-42a1281b1/)

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