Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

A whole story is attached to this picture. I will gladly share it with anyone who can afford to waste five minutes.

A loooooong time ago, one night sometime in the seventies, when Disco era was at its peak and dancing all night long at Le Palace, the Parisian equivalent of the Studio 54 in NYC, was the thing to do, I had left the party shortly before dawn, like I did every night every now and then. A whole decade of Saturday nights. For some reason, I couldn't find a taxi, so the only other option was to walk back home, something that was safe in those days, even if it meant having to go through half of Paris. In those days, too, the city laws let you take the trash cans out on the sidewalks right from the evening, which is not allowed anymore. So, at some street corner, what prompted me to get out of the junk and trash what seemed to be just a plywood panel with a filthy, tattered tarpaulin pinned on it, I still don't know today. I mean... it wasn't among old furniture or stuff where you can hope to find, thank to some miracle, something, anything priceless thrown away by someone unaware of his treasure. No, it was just trash and trash cans. You couldn't guess what it was. The panel, covered with the dirty stuff, must have been used to hide something. But, once it was stripped down, even in the dim light of the street, you could tell it was some Art Deco graphic thing. Once I had taken home my found, I realized it was a large size water color graphic on some strong, thick cardboard, actually a project for a poster about railroad discount tickets. There was a signature : Marthe Norgeu.

A French XIX th century poet, Alphonse de Lamartine wrote :
Objets inanimes, avez-vous donc une ame,

Qui s'attache a notre ame et la force d'aimer ?
(Motionless things, do you have a soul,

That sticks to our own soul and force her to love ?)
I always say that things find me much more than the opposite. That is probably the reason why my place is so full of junk, I guess !

Anyway, here is the second chapter of the story. The original artwork never left the walls of any flat I had since then and I never grew tired of his geometric, stylized if slightly faded beauty. But it is only recently that, thank to The Internet and some Google search, I connected the dots and realized this poster project had actually been designed by...
Well, Marthe Norgeu was the daughter of a printer in Paris whose worshop was specialized in... posters and advertisement. When her father died, Marthe ruled the company in her turn and, during WWII, massively used it to print and spread out anti-nazi pamphlets. She entered the Resistance, she rapidly became a prominent figure of. All pieces of the jigsaw puzzle perfectly fitted together, since I found the original poster in the Belleville area in Paris, a block away where the long gone Norgeu print worshop once was. Who had been silly and careless enough to get rid of this, I'll never know.

Although not specifically dated, it is easy to guess the artwork has been designed in 1936-1937 at the latest. In 1936, under the very first French socialist government of Leon Blum, were initiated the first Conges Payes (payed vacations). Two weeks free and payed for everyone. It was a complete revolution in those days when vacations were for the bourgeoisie only and, for the first time, workers of all kinds and their family got to discover the seaside or the mountains they had never been able to afford to see so far, even if they were only 300 km away, lacking both the time and money for that. In order to take everyone to these vacation places, Leo Lagrange, first ever minister of Sports and Free Time, mercilessly negociated discount tickets with the French railroad - private then -companies. The whole event was absolutely unbelievable, the dawn of a new era for the working class and it remained burnt forever in the memory of an entire generation like... the Summer of Love of 1967, one of those magic moments in time. The Front Populaire, the working class movement invented all in a row during those same days the Auberges de Jeunesse (sort of YMCA but for boys and girls), hitchhiking, camping and even... amour libre, all this under the shocked, scornful looks of the above mentionned bourgeoisie ! In 1938, the Leon Blum's government was defeated and the right wing was getting the power back, while Hitler was invading Austria and Tchekoslovaquia. The magic of 1936 Summer was gone forever.

As a tribute to a Grande Dame of the French Resistance who died in 1989, here is a (barely re-thought for digital attractiveness reasons) digital version of Marthe Norgeu's original Art Deco graphic work. I probably should have posted this a couple of days ago, as a celebration of June 18th, birthday of De Gaulle famous Call. Better late than never.

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Comment by Athenaprime on June 22, 2010 at 8:54pm
Oh Stefan, what a wonderful happenstance that led you to a little piece of very important history! And what a wonderful way to share it. The summer of 1936 must have been a little piece of joy and wonder and merriment for a very tired people. Perhaps it's that hope that spurred them on to keep the faith through the darker years ahead.
Comment by Stefan on June 22, 2010 at 9:06am
@ Tome : the Internet offers a few links about Mathe Norgeu with a short biography, including a Wikipedia entry :
Sadly, all these pages are in French and I haven't been able to find one in English.
Pierre Norgeu, Marthe's brother, was also a prominent figure of the French Resistance. He died in 1940, murdered by the nazis. Thank to the family business, Marthe Norgeu vastly contributed to the printing and spreading out of Liberation, the clandestine newspaper of the French Resistance. It must also be said that it is through Marthe Norgeu that Lucie Aubrac, another great female figure of the time, entered the Resistance. Jeanne, Lucie' sister, married Pierre Norgeu, Marthe's brother. Countless books have been published, narrating the her story, as well as Marthe and Pierre Norgeu's and a film has been made, starring the French actress and Chanel icon Carole Bouquet. More recently, the movie Les Femmes de l'Ombre is based on Marthe and Lucie's story.

On a side note, today, if you Google Marthe Norgeu, the Dieselpunks website comes on top list !
Comment by Tome Wilson on June 21, 2010 at 9:48pm
Where else can we read about Marthe Norgeu?
Comment by Cap'n Tony on June 21, 2010 at 6:34pm
Beautiful story, Stefan! I'd never known of the "Summer of '36" as such a pivital moment in French culture.

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