National Geographic : 1989 Jul
162 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, JULY 1989 in Paris. The International Expo sition of that year was the greatest in a series held in the city. Every thing was gigantic: The Ferris wheel, 350 feet high, could carry 1,600 people at one time. Camille Saint-Saens' "Heavenly Fire," a hymn to the glory of the electricity that glowed over the fairgrounds, was performed by 2,000 massed musicians, who also belted out a rousing "Marseillaise." The president of the republic enter tained 20,000 of France's mayors at a Pantagruelian banquet, the waiters on roller skates. (It seemed only Grimoin's Cineo rama came to grief: His first show was his last. The intense heat of the arc lamps used for the projec tion led to accidents. The show was canceled; he went bankrupt.) The guide to the exhibition called the century ending "the Celebritieswere part of the spectacle in 1920s cafes like La Coupole. Denizens in cluded painter Moise Kisling, at far right,andJapanese artist Foujita. Guillaume Apollinaire (top right), a literaryapostle of cubism, sought to do in his poems what Picasso accom plished on canvas. Both befriended a notableAmeri can in Paris, writer Gertrude Stein (bottom, at left), and her companion, Alice B. Toklas. most fertile in discoveries, the most prodigious in sciences" that the world had known, and it spoke of "a revolution in the eco nomic order of the universe." Paris was the cultural capital of the world: It set fashions in dress, art, the pleasures of life; its vitality was everywhere envied. Artists, writers, painters, musi cians were busy laying the foun dations of the modern, 20th century consciousness to come. But there was another feeling, even more widely shared; the French of the 1880s and 1890s had referred to themselves asfin de siecle, "end of the century," and in a way that came to mark not just the end of a century but theend ofan age, anera, away of life, a world. That world would come crash ing down 14 years later with World War I, not only with death and financial ruin but also with new and therefore frightening ways of thinking, seeing, acting. In time the French would look back on those three decades around 1900 as La Belle Epoque, "the good old days."