Our first accidental Orientalist, Amalia Nizzoli, was barely 13 years old when, in 1819, she embarked upon a voyage with her parents to Egypt, where her uncle was employed as a physician by the son-in-law of the ruling Pasha, Muhammad Ali. When she published her memoirs of nine years of residence in Egypt some 22 years later, she did so by proxy. She herself was still traveling, so Francesco Cusani, a now forgotten erudite, patriot, and translator of Walter Scott, stood in for her with the publishing house, and provided a preface that put her narrative in its proper place. Following the logic of supplementarity that characterizes the placement of women's travel narratives within Orientalist discourse, Cusani first establishes the primacy of Nizzoli's male counterparts, whose abundance of writings (“copia dei libri”) has, he claims, rendered superfluous (“superflua”) any writings about Oriental “usi e costumi odierni” [present-day manners and customs] and then positions her as remedying a lack as only a woman can:
Hanno un bel dire certi viaggiatori altieri e vanitosi, ma nel Levante le donne sono custodite con si vigile gelosia, che avvicinarle e conoscerle non e agevole impresa agli stranieri; e tanto piu ai cristiani. E concedendo anche che alcuno per arditezza o per fortuite combinazioni sia riuscito ad amicarsi qualche donna, sarebbe d'uopo supporre in lui molta cognizione nella lingua araba o turca, perché potesse studiarne le tendenze e le abitudini. Ma generalmente manca ai viaggiatori tempo e volonta di applicarsi a quei difficilissimi idiomi; e coloro che se ne impratichiscono il più delle volte per necessità di commercio non s'occupano di stampare libri, intenti come sono ai loro traffichi. Soltanto a una donna era quindi possibile l'internarsi negli harem, studiarne le usanze in ripetute visite durante un lungo soggiorno in paese, e giovandosi della lingua araba, guadagnarsi l'amicizia e la confidenza delle leggiadre abitatrici dei medesimi.
Cultural cross-dressing and conversion to Islam were practices at once strategic and practical: many Westerners who spent any amount of time in the Middle East adopted local dress the better to accomplish their ends, whether scholarly or commercial, and conversion to Islam was in some cases similarly profitable. As we have seen, both cultural cross-dressing and the topos of “turning Turk” raise anxieties about the relation of exteriority and psychic interiority. To what extent can identities be assumed strategically, donned and taken off at will? Did those Christian converts to Islam – the rinnegati who “turned Turk” – merely assume the “external practices” of one religion while maintaining belief in another “in their hearts,” as the Catholic Church itself had sanctioned through the tribunals of the Roman Inquisition? This latter notion functioned as a discursive rescue operation making it possible to reclaim the Christian through an insistence that psychic interiority be strictly separable from the “merely” exterior. By the same token, the practices of passing and posing as Muslim, practices to which cultural cross-dressing was integral, informed performances as skillful as that of Richard Frances Burton, who entered Mecca as a non-believer, or as successful as that of the lesser-known Italian, Giovanni Finati, who entered Mecca as the Muslim Mahomet. In this chapter I turn to a rather different case of cultural cross-dressing and conversion to Islam, that of Leda Rafanelli (1880–1971). The stage upon which she posed was that of twentieth-century Milan, and the audience for her posing was, on the one hand, a small readership made up mostly of fellow anarchists and, on the other, the camera itself. Unlike those of her nineteenth-century predecessors, Rafanelli's “ethnomasquerade” was performed with promise of neither commercial profit nor the thrill of transgressive passing on sacred ground. And, unlike other cross-cultural cross-dressing female travelers, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Grace Ellison, and Isabelle Eberhardt, Rafanelli did not favor the şalvar (the divided skirt widely referred to by Westerners as “harem pants”) that was associated with freedom from strictures of femininity, both physical and social, but rather combined an “Egyptian” aesthetic with a “Gypsy” overlay that emphasized an Orientalized femininity.
This book examines a set of narratives authored by inhabitants of the Italian peninsula who, through the historical accidents of forced exile, desertion, or opportunism, traveled to Ottoman-governed lands during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and wrote about their experiences. It argues that the porous and riven national identities of these Italian travelers positioned them differently than their British and French counterparts in relation to the predominantly Muslim world in which they found themselves, and to which, in some cases, they came to belong. Mindful of the historical relation of the Italian peninsula and its population to the Mediterranean world, and, at least from the seventeenth century until 1861, of Italy as a dominated fraction of the dominant world, and hence as Europe's internal other in the modern period, the book is attentive to the ways in which the particular strand of “Accidental Italian Orientalism” that it identifies may be said to have a cultural and historical specificity of its own. Italians, after all, and especially southern Italians, were themselves subjected to an Orientalization on the part of northern Europeans, and the fact that Italian was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean for centuries positioned its speakers in the Mediterranean world differently from northern Europeans. Indeed, if Edward Said wrote little about Italian Orientalism (with the exception of side glances to Marco Polo and Dante), and the field of postcolonial studies has largely followed in his wake in this respect, it is likely in large part because the Italian case departs significantly from those of Britain and France, where philology, secularization, and the discipline and institutionalization of Orientalism went hand in hand in the nineteenth century. In Italy, instead, the Neapolitan institution that now goes by the name of “Oriental” (the Università degli studi di Napoli “L'Orientale”) was founded in 1732 by a missionary as the “College of Chinese,” whose goal was to train young Chinese so that they might return to China and propagate Catholicism; only in 1888 was its missionary goal officially abandoned, and only in the 1920s did a secular school of Orientalism, linked with a colonial program, take shape.
“We came to find new things,” I answered boldly. “We are tired of the old things; we have come up out of the sea to know that which is unknown. We are of a brave race who fear not death, my very much respected father – that is, if we can get a little fresh information before we die.”
If the harem was the forbidden space that authorized a female Orientalism, Mecca is the forbidden space that becomes the site of a masquerade on the part of a handful of European male Orientalists. In this chapter we will look at the topoi of passing and posing as Muslim in nineteenth-century Egypt in the memoirs of several European male travelers whose national belonging was riven, whether by force or choice. Leaving aside the discursive mode of the picturesque and its feminine connotations, as well as projects of social and religious reform, these travelers are practitioners of an ideology of adventure, and the real-life precursors of the kinds of hero who will later populate H. Rider Haggard's imperial fictions. Like those heroes, they are on a quest for a “little fresh information” before they die, and most especially about the sacred spaces forbidden to Christians upon threat of death, the Meccan and Medina Harams (or “holy places”). Although only one of our writers was born in the British Isles, all four published their accounts in English, a fact which underlines the dominant role played by Great Britain in the distribution and consumption of such narratives throughout the nineteenth century, and which, as Aamir R. Mufti has recently argued, is symptomatic of the role of the English language in mediating world literary relations through Orientalism itself. Our three non-British adventurers, John Lewis Burckhardt (1784–1817), Giovanni Belzoni (1778–1824), and Giovanni Finati (1787– date unknown) were contemporaries of Amalia Nizzoli; they similarly owed the impetus of their migration to the arrival of the Napoleonic army to their respective countries of origin and similarly experienced, indeed profited from, the fluidity of national identities that characterized Muhammad Ali's Egypt.
Two centuries after the cases we examined in Chapter 3, the Italian–Algerian writer Amara Lakhous reprises the topoi of passing and posing as Muslim in his 2010 novel Divorzio all'islamica a Viale Marconi [Divorce Islamic Style]. No longer primarily the point of departure for emigrating Italians, but rather the destination for immigrants – many of them Muslims from north Africa – contemporary Italy is now the locus of multiple migrations. Divorce Islamic Style explores the imbrication of these migrations with Orientalisms, both internal and external, and thus offers itself both as an epilogue to our examination of accidental orientalists and as a source of yet more reversals. No longer a stage external to Europe, the “Orient” in Divorce has been internalized as the multicultural call center in “Little Cairo,” locus of the novel's action and site where the protagonist Christian takes on his new identity as the Muslim Tunisian “Issa.” “Christian” in both religion and proper name, the protagonist is a Sicilian who studied classical Arabic at the University of Palermo and who, in 2005, is recruited by SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare) as part of Bush's “War on Terror.” His assignment: to impersonate a Muslim Tunisian immigrant and infiltrate a purported terrorist cell in the Roman neighborhood known as “Little Cairo,” home to an immigrant community made up largely of Egyptians and other north Africans. Both setting and characters contribute to a layering of migrations: Christian's true family origins link him to southern Italian emigration to Tunisia, and the topic of his tesi di laurea – Garibaldi's sojourn in Tunisia – in turn links that emigration to the Risorgimento and its making of Italian identity. The embedding of “Cairo” within an Italian city recalls yet other Mediterranean exchanges, both historically and geographically; the name “Cairo” itself is in fact the Italianization, on the part of travelers in the Middle Ages, of the original Arabic name of the city, al-Qāhira, and, as noted in Chapter 1 of this book, Cairo and Alexandria were home to immigrant communities of Europeans in general, and Italians in particular, in the wake of the Napoleonic occupation (1798–1801).
Some 40 years after Amalia Nizzoli traveled to Egypt, another Italian woman, Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso, offered to unlock the “hermetically closed” harem she had visited during her travels from Anatolia to Jerusalem. A patriot and princess, exceptional woman and anti-emancipationist feminist, Belgiojoso was also a resident in Ottoman lands. But, whereas Nizzoli's detour through the Orient was necessary to “Europeanize” her and make possible her subsequent “Italianization,” Belgiojoso's detour follows a trajectory in which the making of the Italian nation, travel to Ottoman-ruled lands, and entry into the harem line up rather differently. An active proponent of Italian Unification, Belgiojoso sought political exile in the 1830s in order to escape retribution from the Austrian authorities; she chose France, already in many senses her intellectual and cultural “home” as a Lombard aristocrat.1 After the failure of the revolutions of 1848 in Milan and Venice, and of 1849 in Rome, she once again sought exile. But by then deeply disappointed by the role of the French in squelching the Roman republic, during which she played an active role as director of military ambulances, she left Europe entirely to set up residence in Anatolia from 1850 to 1855. Her detour through France was cultural and political, as well as linguistic; with the exception of her 1866 Della presente condizione delle donne e del loro avvenire [Of the Present Condition of Women and of Their Future] and her 1868 Osservazioni sullo stato attuale dell'Italia e sul suo avvenire [Remarks on the Present State of Italy and its Future], Belgiojoso wrote her major works in French, including the majority of the texts that will be of interest to us here. These recount, in three different genres, a second detour through the Ottoman empire: the travel narrative La vie intime et la vie nomade en Orient [Intimate Life and Nomadic Life in the Orient], first published in La revue des deux mondes in 1855), her epistolary collection, Souvenirs dans l'exil [Memories in Exile], written en route to taking up residence in Anatolia in 1850, and her short stories gathered together as Scénes de la vie turque [Scenes of Turkish Life], written after her return to Italy and originally published in the Parisian periodical La revue des deux mondes in 1858.
If the cabaret culture of the 1880s, following the line of the old Mur des Fermiers Généraux along the border between the ninth and eighteenth arrondisssements, pointed towards the development of Belle Epoque Montmartre as the pre-eminent locus of the capital's popular entertainment industry, with its dancing, music halls, circus, ballet and, later, cinema, it was also the origin of an equally significant innovation in legitimate theatre, which would shape French theatrical practice throughout the twentieth century. Already, as Lucien Farnoux-Reynaud reminds us, the same forces which encouraged dance halls and taverns to proliferate along the lines of the chemins de ronde also led to the establishment at the beginning of the nineteenth century of the théâtres de la barrière which avoided the Napoleonic regime's restrictions in force within the city and which, by the birth of the Third Republic, had established an embryonic theatrical culture in Montmartre. In addition to this, the cabarets, as we have seen, pioneered a new form of entertainment which combined the popular with the intellectual and privileged the performance of the spoken word through dramatic monologues, often cultivating a refined and sophisticated sense of the absurd. At the same time, Henri Rivière's shadow plays for Le Chat Noir combined with a contemporary vogue for puppet theatre to create what was simultaneously a new, protocinematographic, and a primitive, age-old theatrical experience, which would have connections with non-European drama and some of the Cubists’ interests in masks. In addition, the natural symbiosis between cabaret performance and other forms of expression – in particular the publications and comic journals which accompanied them and which gave work to illustrators, artists and writers – was naturally extendable in the field of legitimate theatre through set design, scenery decoration, posters and the production of printed programmes which would be illustrated by some of the major artists of the period. In short, the development of theatre in Montmartre, like that of cabaret and popular entertainment, followed Salis's injunction to be ‘modern’.
Essentially, the history of Montmartre theatre in the Belle Epoque is confined, like that of the cabarets and music halls, to the ninth arrondissement and the southern fringes of the eighteenth, and centres on the role of three innovative theatre directors – André Antoine, Aurélien Lugné-Poe and Charles Dullin.
It is fitting that one of the first, and most comprehensive, overviews of the cultural history of Montmartre should be the special number of Le Crapouillot which appeared in 1959. Not only did it bring together some of the veterans of Montmartre culture from the Belle Epoque and the interwar years – not least its editor and founder, Jean Galtier-Boissière, who had been a frequent visitor to the bals at the Moulin de la Galette before the First World War – but it embodied that spirit of Montmartre non-conformism, which was one of its defining characteristics. At the same time, its appearance in 1959, in the transition between the Fourth and Fifth Republic. constitutes what may be considered a final chronological frontier in the district's history as a cultural centre, which had been in apparently irreversible decline since the Liberation.
This erosion was due to a number of factors: shifting patterns of cultural activity which benefited other areas, just as Montmartre in the 1880s had profited from transfers from the Latin Quarter; legislative changes, most notably the Loi Marthe Richard of 1947 closing the brothels – Louis Chevalier notes wryly that the 106 on the Boulevard de la Chapelle was turned into a Salvation Army hostel; transformations in the city's economic, demographic and urban profile, culminating in the creeping gentrification of all the arrondissements in the 1980s and following increased availability of home loans; and, finally, technical innovations which, like television, altered public taste in entertainment, and affected the closeness and sociability of intellectual and cultural groupings while tending to fragment them physically. While the Latin Quarter and the Left Bank may have shown more durability as centres of intellectual activity, due to the presence of the university and the publishing industry, they were no more immune to technological and sociological advances than Montmartre. Herbert R. Lottman concludes his study of the Rive Gauche by attributing the decline of the district as a cohesive intellectual centre in the 1960s to elements, like the proliferation of the telephone, banal in themselves, which rendered face-to-face encounters redundant, a process clearly continued by the rise of information technology.
On 2 February 1900, Gustave Charpentier's opera Louise was performed for the first time. The opera recounts ‘the love between a young poet and a working-class girl’ who is lured away from her respectable artisanal family by her lover Julien to become the ‘muse de Montmartre’ in the bohemian's ‘cortège du plaisir’. While Charpentier's depiction of working-class life is sympathetic – Louise's mother is described as ‘le fantôme de la souffrance’ (‘the ghost of suffering’) – and critical of bohemia – the mother cries to Louise: ‘tu la connais maintenant la vie de bohème, tu sais ce que c'est: de la misère en chansons!’ (‘you now know what bohemia is: poverty with songs!’) – the opera nevertheless refuses to renounce the bohemian ideal: Louise leaves her grief-stricken parents to return to the Montmartre bohemians, while her father, in a Rastignac-like gesture of rage at the capital, can only utter: ‘O Paris!’ As Jean-Claude Yan suggests, while Louise is anchored in a literary and operatic tradition, Charpentier, who was helped on the libretto by Saint-Pol Roux, stalwart of the Chat Noir, nevertheless manages to subvert that tradition: ‘Gustave Charpentier places his libretto in the tradition of an old repertoire and stereotypes which he plays upon’. The opera is clearly grounded in nineteenth-century evocations of Parisian bohemia, notably Musset's ‘Mimi Pinson. Profil de grisette’ of 1845, and Murger's Scènes de la vie de bohème, and also in late nineteenth-century operatic derivatives, like Puccini's La Bohème and Offenbach's La Vie parisienne. What is interesting, however, is that, while the bohemian relationship between artist and grisette ends in tears in Murger's depiction, by the turn of the century, bohemia is now dominant and successful in Montmartre – at least against its workingclass rivals. In other words, Louise marks a progression over Scènes de la vie de bohème and La Bohème in its celebration of the victory of bohemia over ‘civilian’ life, cruel as that may be, and it is this which constitutes Jean-Claude Yan's ‘subversion’ of the genre. At the same time, Louise represents a significant victory for Montmartre through its annexation of a fictional and operatic domain long considered the preserve of the Left Bank: bohemia depicted by Musset and Murger.
The response of the inhabitants of the Butte to the dual threat posed by modernisation and tourism was typically ambiguous, involving an apparently robust assertion of isolation combined with an astute commercial sense. In a tradition going back to Salis and his election campaigns, it took the form of spoof political entities: the ‘Commune Libre de Montmartre’ and the ‘République de Montmartre’, which both combined a serious purpose with fumisme. At the same time, it betrayed an acute wariness of the post-war world, which translated into both a retreat into nostalgia and a continued technical innovation most clearly represented by a flowering of caricature and illustration.
The Commune Libre and the République
The Commune Libre de Montmartre was founded on 11 April 1920 by Jules Depaquit, Maurice Hallé and Roger Toziny. Its first elections, held the same year, involved three competing lists: the Liste antigrattecieliste (‘anti-skyscrapers’), led by Depaquit himself; the Liste sauvagiste, whose manifesto included a proposal for ‘the transformation of the Sacré-Coeur into a municipal swimming pool’; and, significantly, a Liste dadaïste. Depaquit won and was elected maire, Hallé and Toziny serving as his two adjoints. To be sure, as Georges Charensol reminds us, these activities were by no means commercially disinterested: describing the municipality's conception, he comments: ‘Some amiable drunkards and clever café proprietors had the idea of making Montmartre into a Commune Libre’, and the Commune Libre certainly bore witness to a continuation of traditional Montmartre cabaret activity. Paul Yaki is right to characterise it as a ‘joke municipality’ and, indeed, much of its activity took the form of elaborate practical jokes and bogus organisations, like the Alpinistes de la Butte, which go back to a tradition of Montmartre humour of the Belle Epoque. In fact, the Commune's founders come precisely from the tradition of the Montmartre cabarets. Toziny, who came to Montmartre in 1903 as a singer and songwriter, founded the journal La Vache enragée in 1917 with Maurice Hallé, Bernard Lecache and Jack Mercereau, and opened the cabaret of the same name in 1920. Moreover, he was clearly heavily influenced by Willette, often performing dressed as Pierrot and writing Pierrot poems, such as ‘Pierrot pleure’ (1918).
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