Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell


They come in the morning, but not too early. Usually they sit on the benches on the bridge. They talk and drink, once I heard them singing. It was the national anthem they were singing and I remember wishing they would stop. We call them "our boys". They have the most colourful vocabulary when it comes to getting money out of people and always the same words after that: fat old cow. If they get anything, it is always too little, if not, a person, usually a woman, is a fat old cow. Sometimes I overhear those women talking among themselves, not understanding the lack of gratitude from these men.

I read Down and Out in Paris and London for an English book club I attend once a month. Judging by the blurb and the fact that it was listed as nonfiction, it wouldn't be my choice of reading material. I'm glad I read it though. I liked Orwell's writing and the story made me think about the people living in the streets and about those working in horrible conditions. At first I didn't know how much of the book is fictional, then I was impressed to learn that Orwell went to the streets to "do his research" to get to know what he decided to write about. The book was rejected by several publishers until Victor Gollancz decided to publish it on the condition that Orwell removed the bad language. He didn't want to publish the book under his name, Eric Blair, to spare his family any embarrassment over his tramping experience.  

The book is divided into two parts. The first part covers a time Orwell spent in Paris working as a plongeur, a dishwasher, one of the slaves of modern world [...] He has been trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible. [...] they do not think, because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slaves of them. And it wouldn't do for the lowest of the low to start thinking, would it. After a while Orwell decides to return to England where he is offered a job, but when he gets there, he takes to the streets. The second part of the book is quite different as it covers the life of tramps in London, their daily routine and their dependence on those giving charity. He writes about all sorts of colourful people he met, for example Boris, a Russian ex-soldier he met in Paris and Paddy a fellow tramp in England. He writes about working conditions in Parisian hotels and restaurant kitchens and concludes that if people really knew what went on there, they would never eat in a restaurant or a hotel. I suppose things changed with time, however I couldn't help wondering. In London part I was surprised to learn how many different types of "accommodation" there were for tramps: spikes, lodging houses, shelters.

At the end of the book Orwell concludes with what he has [...] definitely learned by being hard up. [He] shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when [he] gives him a penny [...] The tramps were not grateful for free tea they were given. In Orwell's opinion they should be, but they weren't, even though the tea was given in a good spirit. In Salvation Army shelters tramps had to attend mass and say prayers. People who give tramps a penny expect gratitude in return. There's always something the tramps should do or feel in return. Maybe these expectations are humiliating and perhaps this is why our boys will never be grateful for whatever people give them.


*


Prihajajo zjutraj, vendar ne prezgodaj. Po navadi sedijo na klopeh na mostu. Pogovarjajo se, nadlegujejo mimoidoče, včasih celo pojejo. Nekoč sem jih slišala peti Zdravljico in si pri sebi želela, da bi nehali. Kličemo jih "naši fantje". Premorejo zelo pisan besednjak, ko je treba iz človeka izvleči tistih nekaj kovancev. Če ne dobijo ničesar ali pa če dobijo premalo je fraza vedno ista: krava debela, rečejo taki osebi, po navadi ženski. Včasih slišim ženske, ko se pogovarjajo med seboj in se zgražajo, da ni nobene hvaležnosti.

Nar robu in na dnu v Parizu in Londonu Georga Orwella sem brala za angleški knjižni klub, ki se ga udeležim enkrat na mesec. Sodeč po opisu na zadnji platnici, knjige sama od sebe ne bi izbrala za branje. Kljub temu pa me veseli, da sem jo prebrala. Všeč mi je Orwellov slog pisanja, zgodba pa mi je dala misliti o brezdomcih in ljudeh, ki delajo v nečloveških razmerah. Nisem vedela ali je knjiga napisana po resničnih dogodkih ali gre za plod avtorjeve domišljije. Kasneje sem nekje prebrala, da je Orwell opisano res doživel, da je resnično delal v pariških kuhinjah in preživel nekaj časa kot brezdomec v Londonu, da je tako spoznal tematiko, ki se jo je odločil opisati. Knjigo je nekaj založnikov zavrnilo, preden se je Victor Gollancz odločil, da jo objavi, pod pogojem, da Orwell črta kletvice in grde besede. Avtor ee je odločil, da knjige ne objavi pod svojim pravim imenom, kot Eric Blair, ampak pod psevdonimom, da bi družino obvaroval pred sramoto njegovih klošarskih eskapad.

Knjiga je razdeljena na dva dela. V prvem opisuje čas, ki ga je preživel v Parizu, kjer je delal kot plongeur ali pomivalec posode. Sam pomivalce posode imenuje sužnje sodobnega sveta, ljudi, ki so ujeti v rutino, ki jim onemogoča razmišljanje. Ne razmišljajo, saj za to nimajo časa. Njihov način življenja je iz njih naredil sužnje. Ja, saj ... to pa res ne bi šlo, da bi ljudje z družbenega dna pričeli razmišljati, kam pa pridemo, ne. Kasneje se Orwell odloči, da se vrne v Anglijo, kjer se mu obeta zaposlitev, vendar je zaradi odsotnosti delodajalca prisiljen preživeti na ulici. Drugi del knjige se precej razlikuje od prvega in opisuje življenje brezdomcev v Londonu, njihov vsakdan in odvisnost od miloščine. Avtor opisuje različne osebe, ki jih je imel priložnost spoznati, na primer Borisa, bivšega ruskega vojaka, s katerim je delal v Parizu in Paddyja, brezdomca v Londonu. Opisuje delovne razmere v pariških kuhinjah in hotelih ter zaključi, da če bi ljudje vedeli kakšne so kuhinje, nikoli ne bi jedli v hotelih in restavracijah. S časom se je gotovo marsikaj spremenilo, vendar mi je kljub temu dalo misliti. Presenetilo me je koliko različnih namestitev za brezdomce je obstajalo v takratni Angliji in jih niti ne znam prav prevesti: na primer ubožnica ali zavetišče.

Na koncu Orwell razloži kaj vse se je naučil, ko je težko živel. Nikoli več ne bo pomislil, da so vsi brezdomci pijanci, niti ne bo pričakoval hvaležnosti za kovanec. Brezdomci niso bili hvaležni za brezplačni čaj, ki so ga dobili. Avtor pravi, da bi bilo pošteno, če bi bili pa kljub temu niso bili, ne glede na to, da so čaj dobili z dobrimi nameni. V cerkvenih zavetiščih so se morali udeležiti maše in moliti preden so dobili žemljo in čaj. Ljudje, ki beraču dajo kovanec, pričakujejo hvaležnost. Vedno je nekaj, kar bi brezdomci morali narediti ali čutiti za to kar dobijo. Morda so taka pričakovanja res ponižujoča in morda ravno zaradi tega naši fantje nikoli ne bodo hvaležni za to, kar jim ljudje dajo.



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