About Paris

Aug 3, 2012 by

I loooooove old books, but as you know they are getting harder and harder to find as the years go by, and if/when you do find one, you have to pay an unusually high amount (usually).  So, I’m happy to have found for you an exact reproduction from an original copy of Richard Harding Davis’ book ABOUT PARIS first published in 1895.  Here are a few paragraphs to give you a feel for the book:

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. 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 indoors 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 Cafe de la Paix which juts the farthest out into the Avenue de I’Opera 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 Cafe 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 cafe 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 Long- champs” 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 boule- vardier. 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 ! 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 Cafe 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.”  Enjoy!



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