Wednesday, July 4, 2012

To Thomas Paine: 4 juillet 2012

The bread I just purchased from the Boulangerie is so fresh, it still smells like yeast.  As an American, it makes me wonder if Thomas Paine ever remembered to eat while he worked.  Geniuses rarely remember such things.  And if he did remember, or if someone brought him food, was it ever fresh straight-out-of-the-oven bread?  And if so, how often did he get it?  Was it a pleasure, or was it something he took for granted?  Biting into, with ink-stained fingers, writing tirelessly.

Speaking of taking things for granted—Happy Independence Day.  Of course, it’s July 4th, 1776 that we always take as the birthday of our country—236 years old, now that’s something!—but it wasn’t until September 3rd, 1783—an entire seven years later—that the King of England officially recognized the independence of the 13 colonies.  Now, personally, I think that the country you’re at war with getting beaten and officially ‘recognizing’ you as a country is merely a formality.  Who has the right, after all, to officially recognize something else which already exists?  But, I digress.

That treaty was more than just an official recognition, it was a promise to the end of the war, and that is a celebration to be recognized indeed.  Now, I suppose you’ve always wondered where the treaty that ended the war with Britain was signed.

Ha.—Knew you always wondered.

That’s right, here in Paris.  There it is.  It’s not much now, but 56 rue Jacob used to be the Hotel d’York.  This is where Franklin, Jay and Adams met with two British delegates to sign the treaty which is a moment in history that goes un-celebrated.  It’s not too far from the Seine and about ten-minutes’ walk from L’église St.-Germain-des-Prés.

Not far from this area is where the original Shakespeare & Co. bookshop was established, and where Thomas Paine lived (Rue de l'Odeon) while he helped the French during their Revolution--which, I'm guessing you didn't know about!

56 rue Jacob is also not too far from Café Procope, the first Café in Paris, where Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson often dined.  Also, Voltaire supposedly drank 40 cups of coffee a day there, though he mixed it with chocolate, so does that really count?  Later, Robespierre, Danton, Marat and Cordeliers—all important men of the French Revolution—would dine there to discuss politics.

This area was teeming with politicians, writers, philosophers, rhetoricians and idealists alike.  Throwing around ideas, the worst of them and the best of them, some to be tried and tested, and others to fall on deaf ears, never to be heard again.  Though the French Revolution is somewhat looked on as a dark spot in history, both by the French and by others who deemed it too radical from the start, it was a war of ideas which came out of the Enlightenment far before it was a terror of blood.  A war of ideas was something Thomas Paine wholeheartedly encouraged.

(From Shakespeare's Globe production of "The New World")

I dedicate this post to Thomas Paine.  Might Americans someday give him a retrial and find him among our most important founding fathers.  Might they find him praiseworthy for preparing Americans to understand freedom.  Might he be recognized as the man who prepared the world for the later writings of Jefferson, actions of Washington, and hopes and dreams of Madison, the Adams', Hamilton, Jay and Franklin.   It was Paine who convinced Americans they had the right to be free; and Paine who convinced them freedom was something worth fighting for.

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