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ABOUT PARIS ***




Produced by Clarity, Brian Wilsden and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This
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by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)









[Illustration: "PARIS HAD TAKEN OFF HER MOURNING"]

ABOUT PARIS
BY
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS


ILLUSTRATED
BY
CHARLES DANA GIBSON

[Illustration]

NEW YORK
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
1895

BY RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.




OUR ENGLISH COUSINS. Illustrated. Post 8vo,
Cloth, Ornamental, $1 25.

THE RULERS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN.
Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 25.

THE WEST FROM A CAR-WINDOW. Illustrated.
Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 25.

THE EXILES, AND OTHER STORIES. Illustrated.
Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 50.

VAN BIBBER, AND OTHERS. Illustrated. Post
8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00; Paper, 60 cents.

=Published by= HARPER & BROTHERS, =New York=.


Copyright, 1895, by Harper & Brothers.

_All rights reserved._




TO

PAUL BOURGET




CONTENTS


PAGE

I. THE STREETS OF PARIS 1

II. THE SHOW-PLACES OF PARIS - NIGHT 47

III. PARIS IN MOURNING 98

IV. THE GRAND PRIX AND OTHER PRIZES 138

V. AMERICANS IN PARIS 177




ILLUSTRATIONS


PAGE

"PARIS HAD TAKEN OFF HER MOURNING" _Frontispiece_

"THE CONCIERGE OF EACH HOUSE STOOD CONTINUALLY
AT THE FRONT DOOR" 3

"SHE LOOKED DOWN UPON OUR STREET" 9

"WITH A LONG LOAF OF BREAD" 15

"TES DANS LA RUE, VA, T'ES CHEZ TOI" 19

"THE PARTY PROMPTLY BROKE UP" 25

"AND TRANSFORM LONG-HAIRED STUDENTS INTO MEMBERS
OF THE INSTITUTE" 31

INSIDE COLUMBIN'S 37

"AND YOU BELIEVE THE GUIDES" 41

THE CHÂTEAU ROUGE 59

AT BRUANT'S 65

AT THE BLACK CAT 71

A CAFÉ CHANTANT 77

ON MONTMARTRE 83

SOME YOUNG PEOPLE OF MONTMARTRE 89

AT THE MOULIN ROUGE 93

AT THE JARDIN DE PARIS 103

PORTRAITS OF CARNOT IN HEAVY BLACK 109

"TO BRING A QUEEN BACK TO PARIS" 115

"THE GIRL WHO REPRESENTED ALSACE" 131

THE RESTAURANT AMONG THE TREES 143

INTERESTED IN THE WINNER 149

"AROUND SOME STATELY DIGNITARY" 159

"THE MAN THAT BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO" 167

"LISTENING FOR THE VOICE TO SPEAK HIS NAME ONCE
MORE" 179

"STANDING ON THEIR FEET FOR HOURS AT A TIME" 187

"THE AMERICAN COLONY IS NOT WICKED" 195

WHAT MIGHT SOME TIME HAPPEN IF THESE WERE LOVE-MATCHES 203

"'I HAVE ONE PICTURE IN THE SALON'" 215




ABOUT PARIS




I

THE STREETS OF PARIS


The street that I knew best in Paris was an unimportant street, and
one into which important people seldom came, and then only to pass on
through it to the Rue de Rivoli, which ran parallel with it, or to the
Rue Castiglione, which cut it evenly in two. It was to them only the
shortest distance between two points, for the sidewalks of this street
were not sprinkled with damp sawdust and set out with marble-topped
tables under red awnings, nor were there the mirrors and windows of
jewellers and milliners along its course to make one turn and look.
It was interesting only to those people who lived upon it, and to us
perhaps only for that reason. If you judged it by the circumstance
that we all spent our time in hanging out of the windows, and that the
concierge of each house stood continually at the front door, you would
suppose it to be a most interesting thoroughfare, in which things were
always happening. What did happen was not interesting to the outsider,
and you had to live in it some time before you could appreciate the
true value of the street. With one exception. This was the great
distinction of our street, and one of which we were very proud. A poet
had lived in his way, and loved in his way, in one of the houses, and
had died there. You could read the simple, unromantic record of this in
big black letters on a tablet placed evenly between the two windows of
the entresol. It gave a distinguished air to that house, and rendered
it different from all of the others, as a Legion of Honor on the breast
of a French soldier makes him conspicuous amongst his fellows.

ALFRED DE MUSSET

né à Paris

Le 11 Décembre 1810

est mort
dans cette maison

Le 2 Mai 1857

[Illustration: "THE CONCIERGE OF EACH HOUSE STOOD
CONTINUALLY AT THE FRONT DOOR"]

We were all pleased when people stopped and read this inscription. We
took it as a tribute to the importance of our street, and we felt a
proprietary interest in that tablet and in that house, as though this
neighborly association with genius was something to our individual
credit.

We had other distinguished people in our street, but they were very
much alive, and their tablets were colored ones drawn by Chéret, and
pasted up all over Paris in endless repetition; and though their
celebrity may not live as long as has the poet's, while they are living
they seem to enjoy life as fully as he did, and to get out of the
present all that the present has to give.

The one in which we all took the most interest lived just across the
street from me, and by looking up a little you could see her looking
out of her window, with her thick, heavy black hair bound in bandeaux
across her forehead, and a great diamond horseshoe pinned at her
throat, and with just a touch of white powder showing on her nose and
cheeks. She looked as though she should have lived by rights in the
Faubourg St.-Germain, and she used to smile down rather kindly upon
the street with a haughty, tolerant look, as if it amused her by its
simplicity and idleness, and by the quietness, which only the cries
of the children or of the hucksters, or the cracking at times of a
coachman's whip, ever broke. She looked very well then, but it was in
the morning that the street saw her at her best. For it was then that
she went out to ride in the Bois in her Whitechapel cart, and as she
never awoke in time, apparently, we had the satisfaction of watching
the pony and the tiger and cart for an hour or two until she came. It
was a brown basket-cart, and the tiger used to walk around it many
times to see that it had not changed in any particular since he had
examined it three minutes before, and the air with which he did this
gave us an excellent idea of the responsibility of his position. So
that people passing stopped and looked too - bakers' boys in white linen
caps and with baskets on their arms, and commissionnaires in cocked
hats and portfolios chained to their persons, and gentlemen freshly
made up for the morning, with waxed mustaches and flat-brimmed high
hats, and little girls with plaits, and little boys with bare legs; and
all of us in-doors, as soon as we heard the pony stamp his sharp hoofs
on the asphalt, would drop books or razors or brooms or mops and wait
patiently at the window until she came.

When she came she wore a black habit with fresh white gloves, holding
her skirt and crop in one hand, and the crowd would separate on either
side of her. She did not see the crowd. She was used to crowds, and she
would pat the pony's head or rub his ears with the fresh kid gloves,
and tighten the buckle or shift a strap with an air quite as knowing
as the tiger's, but not quite so serious. Then she would wrap the
lap-robe about her, and her maid would take her place at her side with
the spaniel in her arms, and she would give the pony the full length
of the lash, and he would go off like a hound out of the leash. They
always reached the corner before the tiger was able to overtake them,
and I believe it was the hope of seeing him some morning left behind
forever which led to the general interest in their departure. And when
they had gone, the crowd would look at the empty place in the street,
and at each other, and up at us in the windows, and then separate,
and the street would grow quiet again. One could see her again later,
if one wished, in the evening, riding a great horse around the ring,
in another habit, but with the same haughty smile; and as the horse
reared on his hind-legs, and kicked and plunged as though he would
fall back on her, she would smile at him as she did on the children in
our street, with the same unconcerned, amused look that she would have
given to a kitten playing with its tail.

The houses on our street had tall yellow fronts with gray slate roofs,
and roof-gardens of flowers and palms in pots. Some of the houses had
iron balconies, from which the women leaned and talked across the
street to one another in purring nasal voices, with a great rolling
of the r's and an occasional disdainful movement of the shoulders.
When any other than a French woman shrugs her shoulders she moves the
whole upper part of her body, from the hips up; but the French woman's
shoulders and arms are all that change when she makes that ineffable
gesture that we have settled upon as the characteristic one of her
nation.

[Illustration: "SHE LOOKED DOWN UPON OUR STREET"]

In a street of like respectability to ours in London or New York those
who lived on it would know as little of their next-door neighbor as
of a citizen at another end of the town. The house fronts would tell
nothing to the outside world; they would frown upon each other like
family tombs in a cemetery; but in this street of Paris the people
lived in it, or on the balconies, or at the windows. We knew what
they were going to have for dinner, because we could see them
carrying the uncooked portions of it from the restaurant at the corner,
with a long loaf of bread under one arm and a single egg in the other
hand; and when some one gave a fête we knew of it by the rows of
bottles on the ledge of the window and the jellies set out to cool
on the balcony. We were all interested in the efforts of the stout
gentleman in the short blue smoking-jacket who taught his parrot to
call to the coachman of each passing fiacre; he did this every night
after dinner, with his cigarette in his mouth, and with great patience
and good-nature. We took a common pride also in the flower-garden of
the young people on the seventh floor, and in their arrangement of
strings upon which the vines were to grow, and in the lines of roses,
which dropped their petals whenever the wind blew, upon the head of the
concierge, so that she would look up and shake her head at them, and
then go inside and get a broom and sweep the leaves carefully away.
When any one in our street went off in his best clothes in a fiacre we
looked after him with envy, and yet with a certain pride that we lived
with such fortunate people, who were evidently much sought after in
the fashionable world; and when a musician or a blind man broke the
silence of our street with his music or his calls, we vied with one
another in throwing him coppers - not on his account at all, but because
we wished to stand well in the opinion of our neighbors. It was like
camping out on two sides of a valley where every one could look over
into the other's tent.

There was a young couple near the corner, who, I think, had but lately
married, and every evening she used to watch for him in a fresh gown
for a half-hour or so before he came. During the day she wore a very
plain gown, and her eyes wandered everywhere; but during that half-hour
before he came she never changed her position nor relaxed her vigil.
And it made us all quite uncomfortable, and we could not give our
attention to anything else until he had turned the corner and waved
his hand, and she had answered him with a start and a little shrug of
content. After dinner they appeared together, and he would put his arm
around her waist, with that refreshing disregard for the world that
French lovers have, and they would smile down upon us in a very happy
and superior manner, or up at the sun as it sank a brilliant red at
the end of our street, with the hundreds of chimney-pots looking like
black musical notes against it. There was also a very interesting old
lady in the house that blocked the end of our street, a very fat and
masculine old lady in a loose white wrapper, who spent all of her time
rearranging her plants and flowers, and kept up an amiable rivalry with
the people in the balconies above and below her in the abundance and
verdure of her garden. It was a very pleasant competition for the rest
of us, as it hung that end of the street with a curtain of living green.

[Illustration: "WITH A LONG LOAF OF BREAD"]

For a little time there was a young girl who used to sit upon the
balcony whenever the sun was brightest and the air not too chill; but
she took no interest in the street, for she knew nothing of it except
its noises. She lay always in an invalid's chair, looking up at the
sky and the roof-line above, and with her profile against the gray
wall. During the day a nurse in a white cap sat with her; but after
dinner a stout, jaunty man of middle age came back from his club or
his bureau, and took the place beside her until it grew dark, when he
and the nurse would lift her in-doors again, and he would take his
hat and go off to the boulevards, I suppose, to cheer himself a bit.
It did not last long, for one day I came home to find them taking
down a black-and-silver curtain from the front of the house, and the
concierge said that the girl had been buried, and that her father was
now quite alone. For the first week after that he did not go to the
boulevards, but used to sit out on the balcony until late into the
evening, with the night about him, so that we would not have known he
was there save for the light of his cigar burning in the darkness.

The step from our street to the boulevards is a much longer one in
the imagination than in actual distance. Our street, after all, was
only typical of thousands of other Parisian streets, and when you have
explained it you have described miles after miles of other streets like
it. But there is nothing just like the boulevards. If you should wish
to sit at the exact centre of the world and to watch it revolve around
you, you have only to take your place at that corner table of the Café
de la Paix which juts the farthest out into the Avenue de l'Opéra
and the Boulevard Capucines. This table is the apex of all the other
tables. It turns the tides of pedestrians on the broad sidewalks of
both the great thoroughfares, and it is geographically situated exactly
under the "de la" of the "Café de la Paix," painted in red letters
on the awning over your head. From this admirable position you can
sweep the square in front of the Opera-house, the boulevard itself,
and the three great streets running into it from the river. People
move obligingly around and up and down and across these, and if you
sit there long enough you will see every one worth seeing in the known
world.

There is a large class of Parisians whose knowledge of that city is
limited to the boulevards. They neither know nor care to know of
any other part; we read about them a great deal, of them and their
witticisms and café politics; and what "the boulevards" think of this
or that is as seriously quoted as what "a gentleman very near the
President," or "a diplomat whose name I am requested not to give, but
who is in a position to know whereof he speaks," cares to say of public
matters at home. For my part, I should think an existence limited to
two sidewalks would be somewhat sad, especially if it were continued
into the middle age, which all boulevardiers seem to have already
attained. It does not strike one as a difficult school to enter, or
as one for which there is any long apprenticeship. You have only to
sit for an hour every evening under the "de la," and you will find
that you know by sight half the faces of the men who pass you, who
come up suddenly out of the night and disappear again, like slides in
a stereopticon, or whom you find next you when you take your place,
and whom you leave behind, still sipping from the half-empty glasses
ordered three hours before you came.

The man who goes to Paris for a summer must be a very misanthropic
and churlish individual if he tires of the boulevards in that short
period. There is no place so amusing for the stranger between the
hours of six and seven and eleven and one as these same boulevards;
but to the Parisian what a bore it must become! That is, what a bore
it would become to any one save a Parisian! To have the same fat man
with the sombrero and the waxed mustache snap patent match-boxes in
your face day after day and night after night, and to have "Carnot at
Longchamps" taking off his hat and putting it on again held out for
your inspection for weeks, and to seek the same insipid silly faces
of boys with broad velvet collars and stocks, which they believe are
worn by Englishmen, and the same pompous gentlemen who cut their white
goatees as do military men of the Second Empire, and who hope that the
ruddiness of their cheeks, which is due to the wines of Burgundy, will
be attributed to the suns of Tunis and Algiers. And the same women,
the one with the mustache and the younger one with the black curl, and
the hundreds of others, silent and panther-like, and growing obviously
more ugly as the night grows later and the streets more deserted. If
any one aspires to be known among such as these, his aspirations are
easily gratified. He can have his heart's desire; he need only walk the
boulevards for a week, and he will be recognized as a boulevardier. It
is a cheap notoriety, purchased at the expense of the easy exercise of
walking, and the cost of some few glasses of "bock," with a few cents
to the waiter. There is much excuse for the visitor; he is really to be
envied; it is all new and strange and absurd to him; but what an old,
old story it must be to the boulevardier!

[Illustration: "TES DANS LA RUE, VA, T'ES CHEZ TOI"]

The visitor, perhaps, has never sat out-of-doors before and taken his
ease on the sidewalk. Yet it seems a perfectly natural thing to do,
until he imagines himself doing the same thing at home. There was a
party of men and women from New York sitting in front of the Café de
la Paix one night after the opera, and enjoying themselves very much,
until one of them suggested their doing the same thing the next month
at home. "We will all take chairs," he said, "and sit at the corner of
Twenty-sixth Street and Broadway at twelve o'clock at night and drink
bock-bier," and the idea was so impossible that the party promptly
broke up and went to their hotels.

Of course the visitor in Paris misses a great deal that the true
boulevardier enjoys through not knowing or understanding all that he
sees. But, on the other hand, he has an advantage in being able to
imagine that he is surrounded by all the famous journalists and poets
and noted duellists; and every clerk with a portfolio becomes a Deputy,
and every powdered and auburn-haired woman who passes in an open fiacre
is a celebrated actress of the Comédie Française. He can distribute
titles as freely as the Papal court, and transform long-haired students
into members of the Institute, and promote the boys of the Polytechnic
School, in their holiday cocked hats and play-swords, into lieutenants
and captains of the regular army. He believes that the ill-looking
individual in rags who shows such apparent fear of the policeman on
the corner really has forbidden prints and books to sell, and that
the guides who hover about like vultures looking for a fresh victim
have it in their power to show him things to which they only hold the
key - things which any Frenchman could tell him he could see at his own
home if he has the taste for such sights.

The best of the boulevards is that the people sitting on their
sidewalks, and the heavy green trees, and the bare heads of so many
of the women, make one feel how much out-of-doors he is, as no other
street or city does, and what a folly it is to waste time within walls.
I do not think we appreciate how much we owe to the women in Paris who
go without bonnets. They give the city so homelike and friendly an
air, as though every woman knew every other woman so well that she did
not mind running across the street to gossip with her neighbor without
the formality of a head-covering. And it really seems strange that the
prettiest bonnets should come from the city where the women of the
poorer classes have shown how very pretty a woman of any class can look
without any bonnet at all.

The enduring nature of the boulevards impresses one who sees them at
different hours as much as does their life and gayety at every hour.
You sometimes think surely to-morrow they will rest, and the cafés
will be closed, and the long passing stream of cabs and omnibuses
will stop, and the asphalt street will be permitted to rest from its
burden. You may think this at night, but when you turn up again at nine
the next morning you will find it all just as you left it at one the
same morning. The same waiters, the same rush of carriages, the same
ponderous omnibuses with fine straining white horses, the flowers in
the booths, and the newspapers neatly piled round the colored kiosks.

[Illustration: "THE PARTY PROMPTLY BROKE UP"]

The Champs Élysées is hardly a street, but as a thoroughfare it is
the most remarkable in the world. It is a much better show than are
the boulevards. The place for which you pay to enter is generally
more interesting than the place to which admittance is free, and any
one can walk along the boulevards, but to ride in the Champs Élysées
you must pay something, even if you take your fiacre by the hour.
Some Parisians regret that the Avenue des Champs Élysées should be so
cheapened that it is not reserved for carriages hired by the month,
and not by the course, and that omnibuses and hired cabs are not kept
out of it, as they are kept out of Hyde Park. But should this rule
obtain the Avenue des Champs Élysées would lose the most amusing of
its features. It would shut out the young married couples and their
families and friends in their gala clothes, which look strangely
unfamiliar in the sunlight, and make you think that the wearers have
been up all night; and the hundreds of girls in pairs from the Jardin
de Paris, who have halved the expense of a fiacre, but who cannot yet
afford a brougham; and the English tourists dressed in flannel shirts
and hunting-caps and knickerbockers, exactly as though they were
penetrating the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Syria, and
as unashamed of their provincialism as the young marquis who passes on
his dog-cart is unashamed of having placed the girl with him on his
right hand instead of his left, though by so doing he tells every one
who passes who and what she is. It would shut out the omnibuses, with
the rows of spectators on their tops, who lean on their knees and look
down into the carriages below, and point out the prettiest gowns and
faces; and it would exclude the market-wagons laden with huge piles
of yellow carrots and purple radishes, with a woman driving on the
box-seat, and a dog chained beside her. There is no other place in the
world, unless it be Piccadilly at five o'clock in the afternoon, where
so many breeds of horses trot side by side, where the chains of the
baron banker and the cracking whip of a drunken cabman and the horn
of some American millionaire's four-in-hand all sound at the same
time. To be known is easy in the boulevards, but it is a distinction
in the Avenue des Champs Élysées - a distinction which costs much
money and which lasts an hour. Sometimes it is gained by liveries and
trappings and a large red rosette in the button-hole, or by driving
the same coach at the same hour at the same rate of speed throughout


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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisAbout Paris → online text (page 1 of 9)