Thursday, February 25, 2016

If I were Old Bourras in The Ladies’ Paradise

Le Bon Marche by Felix Valloton
Parisian store which inspired Ladies' Paradise
Reading Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise gives me certain excitement which I have never encountered before from Rougon-Macquart series that I have read so far—it is the business aspect. The growing expansion of Octave Mouret’s first modern department store in Paris has awakened my own business instinct which has grown from my more-than-twenty-years of working in trading business.

This is not a proper review of the book (for I am still half through it at the moment), but I was intrigued to give my personal advice to one of the shop owners whose business is threaten to be ruined by the Ladies’ Paradise.

Old Bourras owns an umbrella shop. He used to have employees worked for him, and his specialty is carving the handle-knob with artistic subjects, which, I believe, gives his umbrellas a personal touch. But then Ladies’ Paradise opened its umbrella and sunshade department, selling umbrellas in much cheaper prices, and stealing Bourras’ loyal customers away. It gave old Bourras a terrible blow, but, does it really have to end that way? I personally do not think so.

If I were in Bourras’ place—instead of spending my passion and energy by condemning the department store, or by wasting my capital to compete with it—I would offer an attractive scheme of partnership to Mouret. I would persuade Mouret to sell my umbrellas IN his department store. Oh, Mouret would certainly laugh at me:

Mouret: “What? Buying umbrellas from you, while I could buy from other manufacturers in larger quantity and with much cheaper price? How do you think your umbrellas could compete with ours?”

But I would calmly smile to him, and say: “Of course not, sir. I know I won’t be able to compete with your big store, if I sell the SAME umbrellas as yours.”

Mouret (still chuckles): “What do you mean? Umbrella is umbrella; people buy it to shade them from sunlight or rain. If they could get ours cheaper, why on earth would they pick yours?”

Me: “But what I am offering you now, sir, is not the same product that you are selling in one of your departments.”

Mouret (his business instinct being awaken): “Go on...”

Me: “You see, sir, I am more an artist than a businessman. You might say that I sell umbrellas, but for me, these umbrellas are my artworks. I love carving, and it gives me utmost happiness to sit in my quiet shop, carving the handles with beautiful subjects: flowers, animals, fruits, etc. I’m happy to see that my customers love them, and it gives them satisfaction, knowing that their umbrellas were carved specially for them. And, of course, in the end it gives me money to buy my bread and lodging.”

Mouret: “So, you were saying that…”

Me: “Yes. I am offering you a new concept of umbrella. It’s not just means of shading one from sun and rain. Umbrella can be a fashionable item. Just imagine a luxury umbrella with finely carved ivory handle and elegant design, in the hand of a charming lady on a rainy day outside The Opera. The lady’s friends would have adored it, and the lady would answer proudly: ‘Oh, I have ordered it at The Ladies’ Paradise the other day. They allow us to choose our own design, you know, and pick our own subject to be carved on the handle!’ And soon enough, these ladies will queue up to order such elegant personalized umbrellas at your store, sir!”

Mouret (now quite bought up by the idea): “But how can I be sure that you won’t sell it with cheaper price to other stores, or even worse, directly to my customers?”

Me: “I am ready to grant you an exclusive right to sell my umbrellas at whatever price you believe is most profitable, if you consent to appoint me as your sole supplier, and buy my products at reasonable price. I put my trust on your lawyer, sir, to issue the contract which I would be proud to sign to bind our partnership.”

Mouret (amazed and curious): “Do you realize, M. Bourras, that if we had this partnership as your idea, your income will not significantly improve? Because producing personalized goods is different from mass production. In the end, your business will not profit much more than it is now. It would certainly profit me, but what will it do for you?”

Me: “Dear M. Mouret, I have told you earlier, that I am no businessman. With this partnership, I will earn enough money for my business to keep going, and a humble living for myself. But mostly I will have pleasures from making beautiful umbrellas. It’s all what I need in this world.

So…. do we have a deal?”


In a new turbulence era, we better face the changes with open mind. It is good to keep our principles, but do not let it bar our judgment. Creativity is the key, and always find a win-win solution! When a huge power dominates our society (in this case capitalism), don’t fight back! Or else it will crush you mercilessly. Open mind and creativity will give us better bargaining position.

If only I can get into the story, and give my advice to old Bourras! But then…. It will alter the story. And considering what Zola wanted to say with his Rougon-Macquart series, I think I’d better return to my book and enjoy it. Sorry Monsieur Zola, for indulging my imagination for a moment in this post! J

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

It’s a Very Outdated Post!

I know it’s very-very outdated. 2015 was already far away… but I won’t ever forgive myself if I don’t, somehow, wrap up my last year Literary Movement Reading Challenge. You know, of course, that I failed my own challenge, but there are others who took efforts to read all, or at least most of, the movements. In the middle of my spare time during office hours—yayy… J--Ihave managed to count all participant’s posts (though I’m really sorry if I couldn’t read nor comment them one by one). From 22 who signed up, just a few managed to ‘survive’ to the last. And from the few, only ONE person completed the whole challenge, by reading at least one book for all movements; and I’m proud to announce that the winner of this challenge is…..

Congratz to Ruth—a very good job! I’m proud of you and your dedication for this challenge. I will contact you soon to arrange the prize.

And now…. Allow me to retreat to my quiet corner of bookish life again. I’ll keep posting every now and then, especially for Belle Époque Event, but I’ll dedicate most of my limited spare time with… reading, of course! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Belle Époque Artists: Gustave Caillebotte

Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877

Gustave Caillebotte (19 August 1848 – 21 February 1894) was a French painter, member and patron of the group of artists known as Impressionists, though he painted in a much more realistic manner than many other artists in the group. Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an art form. Caillebotte's style belongs to the School of Realism but was strongly influenced by his Impressionist associates.

Caillebotte is best known for his paintings of urban Paris, such as The Europe Bridge (Le Pont de l'Europe) (1876), and Paris Street; Rainy Day (Rue de Paris; temps de pluie, also known as La Place de l'Europe, temps de pluie) (1877). The latter is almost unique among his works for its particularly flat colors and photo-realistic effect which gives the painting its distinctive and modern look, almost akin to American Realists. Showing little allegiance to any one style, many of Caillebotte's other urban paintings produced in the same period, such as The Place Saint-Augustin (1877), are considerably more impressionistic.

Le Pont de l'Europe, 1876

My Note:
Gustave Caillebotte's paintings are not new to me... well, several of them, at least. Apparently, Oxford World's Classics used at least three of them as covers for Emile Zola's books. The "Paris Street, Rainy Day" was used for The Kill's cover, while "Le Pont de l'Europe" was actually picked by OWC as the cover of La Bête Humaine. And if you own the latest edition of The Money from OWC, you will not  be surprised to see that its cover was borrowed from Caillebotte's "Man on a Balcony". To me it's really nice of OWC to pick French Impressionist's paintings as Zola's book cover. Zola was one of the supporters of Impressionism on his era anyway.

Man on a Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880

A Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880

I posted this for my Belle Époque Event 2016, You will find more artists along the year; the next one will be up in March!