Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Charivarious

I've wanted to post on the experience of living, for almost exactly a year, in Montréal, and last week the "new life" became not only newer, but noisier.

The continuing student strike is a feature of daily life. Initially concerned with a graduated increase in tuition fees, the protests have now been joined by non-students and those who have other issues with the government.  

If interested in "What the hell is going on in Quebec?", Cory Doctorow's article published on BoingBoing gives a good snapshot.

On May 18, the government of Quebec passed an emergency law, Bill 78, that restricts organized public rallies, among several other aspects. The law, with its implications for civil liberties, upset many more people.

The protesters then borrowed a tactic used in Latin America since the '70s, cazerolazo, literally, "stew pot action". It is a form of protest initiated by women in Argentina against the military dictatorship of the 1970's and 1980's which murdered and "disappeared" numerous people, and in Chile to protest shortages, among other grievances.
 
Nightly street-filling marches of clanging cacophony, on the stroke of 8 pm. for every evening since the law's passage last week, in both downtown and neighbourhoods, signal disapproval through disobedience of the new law. (Legal challenges to the bill are underway as well.)

All ages march and at least where I live, the protests are peaceable. Below, son Etienne "casseroles" from our balcony. (He was a dinner guest.)



Listen a few moments; this video was shot nearby:



There's also a tradition in New Brunswick called le tintamarre, which dates back to the mid-'50s, when the Archbishop of Moncton encouraged Acadians to make noise for several minutes with whistles, bells, car horns, toys and pots at an event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Expulsion of the Acadians, to remind the authorities of their presence. The present-day tintamarre is usually practiced on August 15 on National Acadian Day in proud celebration of their heritage.

Another guest, our friend Alyson, recalled that the tactic was used by women even further back, in France, Italy and other European countries centuries ago, and known as a shivaree or charivari. They would stand outside the house of an abusive man and clang to protest his behaviour (among other acts that drew the community's disapproval). 



Remember the custom of tying tin cans to a newlywed's car? A variant of the shivaree.


That was also the name of the famous now-closed New York boutique (later in several locations). Charivari made its big noise by vacuuming my wallet regularly in the late '70s to early '80s. Then I had a family and would no longer mortgage myself for a jacket. (Photo from Jessica Gold's blog Truth Plus, which features a history of the Charivari boutiques.)

Yes, I've segued from the political to the superficial. I discuss the strike every day, sometimes for hours, and don't intend to debate the issues here, as well.  

The dissent will, I hope, enable more lasting change than that carried on the evening air. As Molly Ivins said, "The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."

20 comments:

déjà pseu said...

Interesting times we live in...and I love the idea of women making a clangor outside the home of an abusive man. I guess a modern day version of that is Holla Back, where women take photos of men who street-harass women and post them online.

frugalscholar said...

My father-in-law was teaching in France Spring 1968, so the whole family experienced the student protests! In the 70s-80s i was a starving grad student, dressed in rags, but I remember reading about Charivari--wonder what happened to the kids (or is it in the article and i missed it?)

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

It's rather like Mardi Gras!
Peaceful protesting never sounded quite so loud!
Interesting times that we live in Duchesse...
oh I see Deja Pseu said that first!

M said...

Thanks for this post...very instructive. It's nice to read a women's blog that is about something other than hair, makeup, clothes and cat fights. I'll have to keep my eye on this Bill 78. Is it your feeling that the focus has now turned to the emergency law? I hope Eitenne's casserole dish was clear of any left overs :)

Duchesse said...

pseu: The purpose is similar, though posting online is not such a direct message to the perpetrator.

frugal: You mean the founders of the store? Selma Weiser died in 2009.

hostess: The point is protest rather than revery, so I see it at the other end of the continuum from Mardi Gras. Some protesters are masked; Bill 78 forbids masks.

M.: There are many women's blogs about topics other than those you list- thank goodness! I'm bored by makeup, but can still muster enthusiasm for clothes and accessories.

Many Montrealers who were either partially or wholly opposed to the student striker's position are now marching because of Bill 78.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful word, charivari, with a whiff of Medieval spice about it. Variants turn up in blues lyrics, too, as in:

"I've got a secret
I ain't gonna tell.
I'm goin to heaven
in a brown pea shell.

Oh Lordy me, didn't I shake shivaree,
Everything I got is done and pawned."

For political commentary, I'll take spontaneous communal noise-making over the fretful droning of talking heads, any day.

C.

coffeeaddict said...

Enjoyed reading about the etymology as well as different variants of the institute of charivari. I've done extensive research on the topic of communal peacekeeping in early medieval England and I'm continually amazed at seeing a resurgence of some typical examples of community driven institutes that aim to regulate, dispense justice and keep the peace if you will.
Really shocked to read about Bill 78. I have no words to describe how frustrated I am to see civil rights being violated like this. I'm not one to promote self help or mass riot but the situation seems dire indeed and given the circumstanced the protesters have responded with great dignity and peaceful resolve.

Duchesse said...

C.: We have droning heads and endless op ed pieces as well as le tintamarre.

coffeeadict: If only it were that simple. We have had violence in during the strike protests, mainly done by a very small but aggressive segment: bricks thrown on our subway tracks, shops and cars vandalized. People barred from entering classrooms (when they had a court injunction to do so.) Not so mellow.

And sometimes, seeing the festive atmosphere (and joints being passed) among the protesters, I wonder if the street is having a little too much fun.

There is no doubt that Bill 78 changes the manner in which anyone can protest, but as some have pointed out, certain aspects, e.g. the requirement to give notice 24 hrs in advance of a demonstration that involves 50 persons or more, is less stringent than in many cities this size.

I probably did not represent the full complexity of the events in my post.

Duchesse said...

hostess: There is a typo in my response to you: "protest rather than revelry."

Jill Ann said...

Duchesse, I'm delighted by any post that references Molly Ivins! I have lived in Texas for 27 years, and while I despair of most of our politicians and pundits, the dynamic duo of Molly Ivins and our former governor, Ann Richards, will never be matched. My fondest wish (well, one of them) is to meet them for a beer and conversation in heaven one day.

I'm interested in your civil disobedience up there. I know it's messy, but I'm glad to see it happening....I do feel that, at least here in the U.S., people are too accepting of restrictions on their civil liberties. Too much time watching Fox News and The Real Housewives of Wherever have really dulled the public discourse. In my opinion ;-)

Terri said...

How long does the clamor last each evening? I would suspect that it might compel the apathetic to pay attention. Very interesting to learn the story behind the tin cans on the young couple's car.

Duchesse said...

Jill Ann: I'm a US citizen as well as a Canadian one, with a branch of the family in Texas., and remain a deep admirerer of both Ivins and Richards.

Terri: Starts on the stroke of 8 pm and can last for hours as protesters march through the various neighbourhoods. As I reply it is 9:30 pm and the clamour is energetic but there was a break of 45 min. in the middle as they marched away from my place. I have read that this is the first time the tactic has been used as a nightly display. The purpose is to flout the law which disallows gatherings of over 50 without advance notice.

LPC said...

Your post is fantastic, your son very handsome. And all I can say is, OMG I SHOPPED AT CHARIVARI TOO! 1982-84! Rei Kawakubo, if I remember:).

Rubiatonta said...

I was just watching an old QI program yesterday that referred to "rough music" -- another version of the shivaree -- funny how these things line up.

We're in "manifestación" season here in Madrid, and I'm sure there will be more soon, especially given the latest news about Bankia.

materfamilias said...

as you suggest, this is such a complex situation, and I suspect you've spent many hours discussing it. Paul reads LeMonde assiduously when we're in France (although sometimes opts for the much-lighter figaro, just as a relief) and we were pleased to see the coverage there, and of course being in the academic community, links and commetaries have been filling my email box regularly. Yet your commentary, that of a sophisticated resident with various connections within that community -- especially with your historical focus on the charivari -- brings a new awareness.
We landed yesterday late afternoon and after a brief nap, headed over to visit our little Nola. Driving home, about 8, we passed a small group (perhaps 15?) young people marching along with their pots and pans, clanging away -- obviously in solidarity with their Montreal peers. A bit of that French spirit (the manifs) back here in our 'hood!

Duchesse said...

materfamilias: Certain media coverage in France has been laudatory of the strike and earned the ire of those opposed- because in their opinion the French press was not responsibly reporting the bigger picture.

I read an op-ed piece in the NYT which was quite an artful higlighting of some stats, while ignoring others. This is typical in any contentious climate. I've learned a great deal from reading as many sides of the issue as I can.

Anonymous said...

An interesting article by Jonathan Sterne and Nathalie Zemon Davis (whom some of you may know) on the casseroles as a call for order (and for the protests to be peaceful):

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/quebecs-manifs-casseroles-are-a-call-for-order/article2447641/

The casserole concerts and marches have been huge around here (Villeray/Petite-Patrie) and utterly peaceful. The "casseurs" (violent troublemakers) don't dare get involved.

Anonymous said...

Something is wrong - I couldn't sign my name - I'm lagatta à montréal of course and the above comment is mine (I live close to la Duchesse et le Duc)

jgold said...

Hi Duchesse: The Charivari store article you link to is from my fashion history/business blog, Truth Plus. I wanted to say hello, and to introduce you to my new clothing line, Dobbin Clothing www.dobbinclothing.com. I'd love to tell you more! My email is jess@dobbinclothing.com.

Duchesse said...

jgold: Thank you; I've added links, as I should have originally. And congratulations on your company, I will write you.