Thursday, May 09, 2013

Vive la Revolution

I'm currently reading 1000 Years of Annoying the French - a deliberately mischievous title - by Stephen Clarke; a man who obviously loves France but also is constantly bemused by it oddities. Bill Bryson has brilliantly done a similar job on the British  - he loves Britain but as a visitor he can instantly spot the eccentricities that we have long since accepted as the norm and see nothing unusual in. I like books like this.

The section about the French Revolution is both gruesome and comical - something of a theme throughout the book. If you think times are bad now then just be grateful you weren't born sometime in the preceding 1000 years and you'd be wrong to assume the only victims of the French Revolution  were a few dandified aristocrats . 

Prior to reading the book I vaguely remembered that the revolutionaries introduced a new calendar to mark their new beginning but I'd never been aware of the detail.

Each month was divided into three 10-day 'weeks'. Each month had a new name and every day of the year had its own special name.  They even redesigned the clock using the metric method of 10 hours in each day, each hour containing 100 minutes and each minute containing 100 seconds. Considering the obvious desire to work within the decimal system I don't quite understand why they didn't have ten months but I suspect any attempt to bring numerical order to a natural cycle such as an earth year is going to be difficult and goes some way to explaining the odd method that we still currently use.

I was born in the month of Brumaire (roughly translated as "foggy") on the day called Scorsonère which is actually the plant black salsify. Month names were intended to reflect the prevailing weather or agricultural conditions at that time of year and days were named after animals, tools, plants or minerals.

The new calendar actually functioned for about 12 years from late 1793 to 1805 when it rather imploded on its own preposterousness.

Vive la revolution.

1 comment:

Nota Bene said...

I must try that...sounds fascinating. In my younger 'I will conquer the world days' I devised a decimal clock/calendar, not caring one jot about natural cycles. I can't believe the French beat me to it. And I was delighted to be at The Globe last year watching a bit of Shakespeare and discovering that the French were the butt of jokes even then. And my favourite is to Google 'French Military Victories'