Monday, July 7, 2014

Police Raid Esperanto Lessons! Esperanto a Front for Gambling

The Washington Evening Star reported on July 7, 1907 a June 27 police raid of an organization with the name of “The Republican Association of the Metropolis and the Colonies.” They were gathered on the Boulevard Clichy, in the Pigalle district, for the uplifting purpose of learning Esperanto. The Pigalle had been an artists quarter, but had become even seedier.

I'm not sure when the area became notorious for prostitution, but if that wasn't the case in 1907, it probably wasn't far away. For that matter, I've stayed in a hotel in the (completely upscale and non-seedy) Fourth Arrondissement that, reportedly, was a bordello until the early 1960s (not bad for a building built into a wall of a church).

The police found out that the Esperanto lessons were just a front for an unlicensed gambling parlor. Judging from the Evening Star, the popularity of the place was the giveaway. What? Esperanto lessons can’t be popular?
Raid on “Language Club” Reveals Gambling Den

Sudying Esperanto is not a thrilling occupation. So reflected the police of Paris, and accordingly become suspicious of a few score women who spent many and late hours on the third floor of a handsome building on the Boulevard Clichy.
Today, many of those “handsome buildings on the Boulevard Clichy” have shops that sell sex toys, although there are also cafés and even groceries. I've been on the Boulevard Clichy.
Apparently these women were students of Esperanto. They were members of a club ostensibly for the learning of the universal language. This club had the high-sounding name of “The Republican Association of the Metropolis and the Colonies.” The principal was Mme. Mathilde Beaujon. Its prospectus stated that it was formed in order to gather together people for the study of Esperanto, and to further the use of this language in Paris, the colonies and the whole world. There were many rules, the strictest of which were that neither religion nor politics were to be discussed on the club premises.
If the strictest rule was “no politics or religion,” could there really have been a rule against gambling?
The police for several weeks noticed that a large number of fashionably dressed women visited the club and that they kept long hours. The police suspected that the learning of Esperanto was scarcely their object.
Oh? So Esperantists can’t be fashionable? This is a slur against the Esperanto movement! Not every esperantist in 1907 Paris was a badly-dressed anarchist or socialist fighting for the rights of the proletariat. Just some. However, the long hours are suspicious, given that the language is easy to learn.
So a few evenings ago a half dozen detectives quietly forced their way into the club and were not surprised at what they discovered. In a very large and handsome apartment were scattered baccarat tables around which crowds of women were gathered. All were gambling furiously. Not one of the women was under forty years of age. Three or four old men were also present. There were found in another room some roulette tables, presided over by women, at which a few score of old women were also playing. Mme. Beaujon and some assistants were distributing cake and tea, sandwiches and wine gratis.
But were they speaking Esperanto? I’m certain that baccarat requires a specialized vocabulary which I would have to learn in any language.
This Esperanto “school” is now no more. The police took charge, and Mme. Mathilde is now passing two months in jail after paying a fine of $100.
I’m going to hazard a guess that Mme. Beaujon was not a member of the Esperanto movement in France.

Final note: I've seen a lot of movies set in turn-of-the-century Paris. I want one in which the police raid a gambling den disguised as an Esperanto class!
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