LA BELLE ÉPOQUE

 

At the beginning of the 20th century France was enjoying of a time of peace. It was what was called The Belle Époque, in full Victorian age. The defeat of France in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War, which marked the end of the Second Empire of Napoleon III, had leaved the country plunged in a deep economic depression, of which it recovered fully around 1896. There was an generalized optimism in progress, which seemed not to have limits. The material progress was expressed in the development of industries, railway networks, villages and cities arising everywhere. France had expanded its Colonial Empire, had a powerful army and was managing to guarantee its economy. The only thing they needed then was to assure forever to be able of living in peace, and to affirm the prosperity and the progress.

In 1900 the most important Universal Exhibition of France is realized, in Paris, with the assistance of more than 50 million visitors of  all the world. They presented the last scientific advances, the night lighting, Lumiére Brothers' Cinema, the first line of subway of Paris.

That relaxed life was displayed in cafés, cabarets, restaurants and theatres frequented by an economically comfortable middle class.

My grandfather Gaston and his family establish themselves then in Paris, to enjoy the benefits of a France again vigorous.

THE WORLD WAR I (1914-1918)

But then there arises the unforeseeable, the accidental, and the course of the History turns aside. Then has a detour the History of the world and that of my grandfather Gaston. On June 28, 1914, a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shoots a bullet at the head of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in his official visit to the city of Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Austro - Hungarian Empire, immediately after the event, declares the war to the Kingdom of Serbia. It led to the activation of all the European alliances, where Germany defends Austria - Hungary and faces France, Great Britain and Russia. Already there is unleashed the First World war, which would last 4 years, until 1918. This war had a terrible slaughter, and cost millions of lives, more than the Second World war.

My grandfather Gaston is recruited, as all the Frenchmen, to serve the Army. He goes with the degree of Caporal. And he combats in Verdun in 1916. My grandfather told us that the life in the trenches was terrible: the food was late months in coming, and they had to be fed by stews of baked mud and the herbs they could find around . When they saw at the nighttime a light in the sky, the panic was invading them on having thought that it could be a bomb that would explode in seconds in their trench. Entire months without sleeping calm in the night, sick and with a permanent stress. Gaston fell ill with dysentery, and was hospitalized. Then, to be able to escape of the horror of the war, he told us that he provoked an infection to himself rubbing soap in his eyes, with which he could go out of the hospital, and cross the Pyrenees, coming to Barcelona.

How might the life of a 40-year-old man be transformed after living through all this horror?

Verdun, 1916

In 1915 my grandfather Gaston's wife returns to Buenos Aires, with her two children, arriving on December 31st of that year. He remains alone in France, without his family and in full war. Then he initiates a sentimental relation with a Belgian lady, Madeleine Ragot, with whom he had a daughter, Irene, in 1917. But he also falls in love with his niece Suzanne Godineau, his sister Adéline's daughter - already deceased-, who lives in Paris with her father and her 2 sisters. In 1916, while Suzanne was working - obligatorily, in a factory of howitzers in Paris, as a civil contribution to the war - he contacts her and proposes her to travel with him to Buenos Aires. Suzanne Godineau is my grandmother. She, already pregnant of my aunt Arlette, agrees. She departs from Marseille and August 11th, 1916 arrives to Buenos Aires, on board of the vessel "Pampa", at her 23 years. He departs from Barcelona and August 18th, 1916 arrives to Buenos Aires, in the vessel Cadiz. They register Arlette's birth in the port of Montevideo.

Gaston, who was 40 years old at that time, got rid of  the war and had a new family. All the horrors, and a past life, with family and children, stayed behind as regards.

IRENE BRIAND- MADELEINE RAGOT

 

Madeleine Ragot and Irene Briand visit then my grandfather Gaston in Buenos Aires, in 1936. Irene was working at that time as tamer of panthers at a circus in France. After the World War II, we didn't have any more news neither of her, nor of his mother.

 

 

Back to the photo, handwritten by herself: "Ici Je pense comme Je veux être heureuse près de mon Papá chèri. Ta fille, Irene." >>>

How many circumstances can lead a man to being a stranger inside his own world...

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