I’ve seen Les Mis a dozen times and read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities more than once. I love the story of revolution, so surprisingly while reading this month’s Smithsonian Magazine coverage of how potatoes traveled from Peru to Europe I happily stumbled upon an incidental history lesson! Apparently Louis XVI appointed Anne Robert Jacques Turgot as the French interpretation of Minister of Finance. Monsieur Turgot abolished price controls on and established free trade in grain, and it seems he is credited with good intentions faithful to his liberal ideals–in other words, he meant well, but as part of the “best of times, worst of times” a poor grain harvest led to a disproportionate rise in the price of bread, leading to riots in and around Paris–the Flour Wars! He made other unpopular choices before being forced to resign, but at least he kept his head.
My mind went off on a tangent and I never did follow through to see what this has to do with potatoes. But flour does appear prominently in the story of revolution. Although there is no evidence that Queen Marie Antoinette actually uttered the crass “Let them eat cake”—or brioche, she was known for aristocratic excess and frivolity in mockery of a starving populace. 50,000 people died in the violent 10-year period transitioning the French government from an absolute monarchy to a Constitutional Monarchy—most noble families met the fate of the guillotine.
The French Revolution, as well as the American counterpart, qualify as epic history! No hyperbole here! Heads did roll…So I’m having a little trouble, discomfort maybe, with the loose references comparing Occupy Wall Street (now OWS in the papers) to “revolution” with the idiom “Let them eat cake” bandied back and forth like a ping pong ball. Like I said, I do like a good revolt, but I’m not that keen on gross exaggeration.
Still, I was oh-so-curious to see the Occupy L.A. crowd for myself, but where to find the time? Sometimes opportunity arrives when unexpected. Coming home from my daughter’s house I hit two significant traffic snarls. Big ones. Habit is that I sing in the car to keep myself entertained in bumper-to-bumper gridlock, and as I was singing along to the noontime XM Broadway channel, what did I hear? Wait for it… ta da! The soundtrack from Les Mis! My story would be even stronger if the selection had been Do You Hear the People Sing? or One Day More, but in truth it was the bawdy Master of the House. It didn’t matter, I still decided it was a sign.
I took full advantage of the now or never moment and quickly veered off the 110 freeway honing in on City Hall. I had to circle the block several times to snap just a few photos. Street congestion, no parking, strong police presence and the ever-ready news vans made navigation a little trippy, but I persevered unwilling to vacate without fully taking in the scene.
I can surely understand the frustrations of the 99%. I’m at home with the demographic, but I am entirely too strategic in my thinking to relate to this particular crowd. Maybe a leader with some high-level communication skills will still emerge! And maybe if the rhetoric is tweaked just a bit some effective lobbying might eventually find a path to Washington. But currently the occupiers’ larger “corporate greed” issues are a little lost in the hodge-podge of slogans and signs warning against the “conspiracy of flu shots” posted next to “No Borders” placards, and what would any good Los Angeles movement be without at least a few fervent souls campaigning in favor of pro-medical marijuana initiatives– the best of times, worst of times—LITE!
Now I can go back to my Smithsonian and figure out what the potato had to do with the French Revolution. I may have lost my own focus! Debra
- New Yorkers in Marie Antoinette costumes throw Let Them Eat Cake protest at mayor’s mansion (boingboing.net)
- Link: Let Them Eat Cake: 10 Examples Of How The Elite Are Savagely Mocking The Poor (michigantelephone.wordpress.com)
- Occupy LA – Let Them Eat Cake – YouTube.