chapter  5
Agape and Anorexia: Decadent Fast and Democratic Feast
Pages 9

One of the most celebtated banquets of the Banquet years was the Republican banquet catered by the maison Potel et Chabot l that brought together 11,250 mayors of France and the colonies-a total of 13,456 participants according to Pascal Ory-in the Palais de l'Industrie at the 1889 World's Fair. That banquets were, as Roger Shattuck has demonstrated in his classic work on the "belle epoque," The Banquet Years, one of the most characteristic and widespread forms of social gathering at the fin de siecle--cutting as they did across various professions and social classes (though the poorest were excluded from the feast)2--obscures what makes this celebrated banquet so significant: it brought together bureaucrats, the agents of the Republic, the new class of notables. It is this administrative constituency that characterizes the era: the Belle Epoque marked the triumph of the French administration that had initially been put into place by Napoleon. What the mayors were engaged in was not so much alimentary excess as self-congratulation, what they were celebrating was the triumph of an indigenous administrative structure that forged national identity and consolidated an empire.