New beginnings begin with strolling about, strolling about with friends

New beginnings begin by ways of walking.

“And when public space disappears, so does the body, as (…) adequate for getting around.” ( Solnit, Rebecca, Wanderlust, a history of Walking. Verso, 2001, p.72.)

It was, as some Parisians later claimed, a perfect afternoon for a stroll in the Tuileries. Finally managing to escape the oppressive indoor drudgery to which they had been confined for so long, if not the whole of Paris, than certainly a specific political cross-section of the Parisians, welcomed this sunny January afternoon with a ferocity normally reserved for their traditional afternoon apéritif. The Jardin des Tuileries had always been, as it was to remain, a popular resort and few people could resist the temptation to walk past the Jeu de Paume towards the Place de la Concorde to go for a café at the Champs Elysées for although it was sunny, it was till bitterly cold. They could still gaze upon the Tuileries Palace, built by Catharina de Medici in the 16th century, it was not to survive the year 1871 when it was thoroughly plundered and destroyed by the Communards.

But now it stood firm testimony to the power of Kings and Queens over their subjects. A monarchical power that was, in the shape of Napoleon III, making a desperate attempt to survive by transforming an authoritarian Empire into a liberal one, a tactical move, which, as we know, did not succeed and led to the proclamation of the Republic on September 4 1870.

But to the people who strolled on the Champs-Elysées that fateful January afternoon this was still the Second Empire and they made no conscious connection between the amazing spectacle they were about to witness and the political earthquake that lay only a few months ahead.

A few weeks earlier, on January 10 1870, Victor Noire, a journalist from the extreme republican newspaper La Lanterne, was killed by Pierre Bonaparte, the Emperor’s cousin. This event profoundly disturbed the ‘eternal’ conspirator Blanqui whose revolutionary republican activism had earned him a wide range of dedicated followers. He suddenly realised that he only knew his lieutenants personally, and had never actually seen the men they commanded in his name. In effect, he did not even know their exact number.

Desperately wanting to assess the strength of his troops personally, he contacted his aide-de-camp.

The problem was obvious. They could not organise a parade of revolutionaries as if it were a regular military army. The solution, however, was equally obvious. You can hide a parade of revolutionaries in a parade of afternoon strollers.

He said farewell to his sister, put a gun in his pocket and took up his post on the Champs-Elysées. There the parade of the troops of which he was the mysterious general would take place. He knew the officers, now he would see the men they led for the first time, marching past in proud display. Blanqui mustered his troops for inspection without anyonesuspecting anything of what was actually happening. In the crowd that watched this curious display le vieux stood leaning against a tree watching his friends silently approaching in columns. The promenade was momentarily transformed into a parade ground.

In the very act of moving, walking men became marching soldiers.

Marching soldiers only had to drop out of line back into the crowd to be transformed into walking men again and ultimately into afternoon strollers on a sunny January afternoon. The Blanqui parade dispersed as swiftly as it had emerged. The unsuspecting onlookers were left with their bewilderment, in doubt as to what they had actually seen. They had witnessed a powerful manifestation of the existence of an another ‘society’ that had no institutional place in the political organisation of their time.

The covert world represented by the Blanqui parade erupted for a brief moment in the overt world at a time and place when it was least expected. In that brief moment, its presence deliberately unmasked, the covert parade coexisted alongside the overt promenade, and it is hard to tell which was the more real as the physical acts of strolling and marching seemed to blend into an harmonious simultaneity, thus revealing the frightening prospectthat they might be interchangeable.

In the blurring of the boundaries between marching and walking we are made aware of how we are positioned within a field of vision and that we might able to construct meaning through experiencing the transgression itself. At the same time, however, experiencing the transgression strengthens our notions of the very acts themselves, we translate the momentary – the simultaneous blending – into our everyday notions of walking and marching.

In the very moment that we gain the opportunity to make sense, we lose the opportunity to integrate it fully into our own ways of seeing.

To let it stand. On its own.


Solnit, Rebecca, Wanderlust, a history of Walking. Verso, 2001, p .11.

“Wenige Jahre nach Baudelaires Ende krsnte Blanqui seine Laufbahn als Konspirateur durch ein denkwrdiges Meisterstck. Es war nach der Ermordung von Victor Noir. Blanqui wollte sich einen Ýberblick ber seinen Truppenbestand verschaffen. Von Angesicht zu Angesicht kannte er im wesentlichen nur seine Unterfhrer. Wie weit alle in seiner Mannschaft ihn gekannt haben, steht dahin. Er verstSndigte sich mit Granger, seinem adjudanten, der die Anordnungen fr eine Revue der Blanquisten traf. Sie
sagte seinen Schwestern Adieu und bezog seinen Posten in den Champs-Elys?es. Dort sollte nach der Vereinbarung mit Granger das Defilee der Truppen stattfinden, deren geheimnisvoller General Blanqui war. Er kannte die Chefs, er sollte nun hinter ihrer jedem im Gleichschritt, in regelmSssigen Formationen deren Leute an sich vorbeiziehen sehen. Es geschah wie beschlossen war. Blanqui hielt seine Revue ab, ohne dass irgendwer etwas von dem merkwrdigen Schauspiel ahnte. In der Menge und unter den Leuten, die zuschauten wie er selber schaute, stand der Alte an einem Baum gelehnt and sah aufmerksam in Kolonnen seine Freunde herankommen, wie sie stumm unter einem Gemurmel sich nSherten, das durch Zurufe immerfort unterbrochen wurde.'” Benjamin, W., Charles Baudelaire. Ein Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus in (eds) Tiedemann, R., SchweppenhSuser, H., Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften I -2, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974, p. 604.

The history of the komuso can be found in: Malm, William P. Japanese Music and Musical instruments. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland Vamont, Tokyo Japan, 1959, pp.153-154.


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