Deaf geographies, and other worlds.
Prompted by the BSL Pride event, I thought I’d do today’s lunchtime translation on the 1892 summer fête. This was the first, ever, French Deaf summer fête – and originated from an American idea that, by the 1890s, was attracting over 800 Deaf people each year.
The French fête was organised by the Association Amicale, which was (approximately) the BDA of its time, in France anyway – and took place by the Marne river, about 25 miles outside of Paris.
The fête replaced, in some senses, the central function of the Deaf-Mute Banquets. They were specifically designed to be a cross-political event. Started in 1892, they ran through the 1890s, and became progressively important as a symbol of political unity in the Deaf community.
Speeches given at the 1895 event gave rise, directly, to the events of the 1900 Congress in which Deaf people tried to overturn the Milan vote.
But… the 1892 was the first, much smaller, and much more about food.
(This is not from the Deaf Summer Fête, but it *is* a picture of the lake from the late 19th century. Image from: http://www.akpool.co.uk/postcards/24183207-postcard-varenne-chennevires-val-de-marne-lille-damour)
“Given the enormous distance of the location from Paris, the uncertainty of the weather in the morning, the unemployment of so many Deaf people, and the unfamiliarity of this kind of event, no more than fifteen participants were expected.
However, at 9 in the morning, 37 people followed Monsieur Colas, the first commissaire, from the station, while Messieurs Desperriers and Gaillard waited to bring along stragglers who didn’t turn up until gone 10 o’clock.
At la Varenne-Chennevières, the weather was much better than in Paris. The sun beamed down on the Marne, much to everyone’s general delight.
Arriving at the riverside park, the guests were delighted. From the outside, the hostel providing lunch looked promising. Colas showed us around all the downstairs rooms. They were narrow and low, with lots of alcoves and places to hide, furnished with chairs and tables from times long gone by and decorated with pictures, and prints, and hangings, and porcelain from the 17th and 18th centuries. The kitchen too, and its dishes, harked back to past times.
Out on the terrace, near to the water, the guests paused to have a cool drink before lunch, and a number began to strip off to show off their swimming skills in the Marne. All of sudden, Emile and Henri Mercier, the sons of the great Champagne producer, were seen arriving on their bicycles accompanied by their hearing friends. Having left in the night, they had crossed from Epernay to La Varenne (about 70 miles). They were given a standing ovation for their efforts. And then, only a few moments later, the celebrated photographer M. Pétin arrived from Paris and was similarly congratulated.
Then, a number of participants leaped into the canoes, and began to tear about on the Marne, dodging in and out of the swimmers who included Mr. Alexander who – surprisingly – turned out to be a superb swimmer, and who turned somersaults. Others ran with all haste to the rifle range bravely shouldering their guns.
At last, at one in the afternoon, the games were suspended, and everyone ascended to the top floor room which was set out almost as a painting gallery. The meal was not only delicious, but varied and served with an abundance that you only find in the country. From a loaded table, much was eaten, and much was drunk.
In the middle of the meal, M. Varvéris, and Messieurs Doctor Tchouzlos and Gonopoulos, two very dear friends of the young painter, arrived. Bravos rang out to welcome these representatives of noble Greece.
A quarter of an hour later, M. Larose, the best of Paris’Deaf cyclists arrived covered in dust and dripping with sweat. That same morning, he had been obliged to take part in his club’s races, and only free from 1 o’clock, he had then pointed his bicycle down the road from Paris to Champigny, arriving at Varenne around half past 2. With much congratulation, he was led to one of the places of honour where he was sustained as much by the greetings of his friends as by the food on offer.
Meanwhile the meal had become a great celebration, and there was great gaiety. M. Beaudinot […] made quite an impression on the guests by offering a bouquet of artistically arranged flowers to the ravishing Madame Desperriers, the only lady to have dared to attend the fête from the beginning.
Dessert arrived, and with it a number more Deaf people who – for a variety of reasons – had been prevented from arriving until this point, turned up just in time for coffee. With them, Mademoiselle Marguerite Grégoire, dressed up in her finery, and another pretty young, hearing-speaking lady, the cousin of M. Charles Agnus.
After dessert; speeches. M. Dusuzeau stood upon a chair and with wide, and clear and moving signs, expressed all of the emotion that such a successful first summer fête caused him – from M. Hirsch, and the American M. Tilden (who brought with him a U.S. tradition of summer fêtes with up to 800 attendees), and a pantomime by a M. Goupil.
Then, the table having been cleared, everyone moved outside, to find a shady corner where the entire group could be photographed by M. Desperriers.
That done, Messieurs Henri Mercier, Larole and Pétin, climbed back on their bicycles, and peddled off in the direction of Paris. Emile Mercier and Bizet, having been called away to their own business, had left before the speeches.
M. Dusuzeau, Théobald and most of those there from the Association, returned to catch the train. The commissaries, Messieurs Collas, Despierriers, Mina, Alexander and Gaillard, stayed to settle the bill.
A large number of Deaf people then descended to the river, and climbed into the canoes. The canoes, six of them, containing seven or eight people each, formed a line, and this soon became a competition to see who could go the furthest, fastest. The canoe guided by M. Cambuzat was the first to arrive at the Suey-en-Brie end of the lake. Messieurs Varvéris, and Dr Tchouzlos followed quickly behind. The third, was paddled by Hamar, Baudin and contained Mr Tilden, and Gaillard and Varenne.
At nine in the evening, with night falling majestic and quiet, most of the Deaf people who had remaining at Varenne took a light supper in the restaurants along the Marne. Then, at 11 o’clock, everyone who remained boarded the train, which arrived back in Paris at five minutes past midnight.”
Translated from the Gazette des Sourds Muets, 15th Sept 1892.