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PARIS AND THE PARISIANS.
TWO weeks in my own society at London had disgusted me
with my associate, and I resolved to abandon the solitary system of traveling, try a “Cook” excursion ticket, and prepare to answer affirmatively, in future, the first question of my traveling fellow-countrymen, “Have you been to Parry ?”
I proceeded by rail to Newhaven, and thence by boat to Dieppe. If any of my friends think of crossing there, I would advise them to borrow Capt. Boyton's suit and swim rather than to take the steamer that I did. Not a fourth of the passengers could get into the little cabin, and consequently they remained on deck. I was one of those who thus had a “cold deck” “rung in" on them. The sea was very smooth, and this was a crowning mercy, for I know there was not room on deck for a wash-basin. Had Jonah added himself to the passenger list, he would have had to go overboard — not from any malice at all, but merely to make room for the rest of us.
In the gray light of morning, we saw the coast of France, and the town of Dieppe. It looked exactly - bluff, old houses, and all — like the levee of a rather seedy town on the upper Mississippi. It is really a watering-place of some note, and lately had been visited by M. Thiers on an electioneering tour; but the “watering” part does not show from the dock where we landed. We saw some sad-looking men in uniform, and a very
tall crucifix, whereat several of the British, who live in mortal fear of the Pope, began to bewail themselves about the “superstition of the country.” In due time, we passed through the custom house. There was nothing dutiable in my valise. If there had been, as a measure of economy I should have handed over the “grip-sack” to the officer, and have asked him to make a present of it, with my compliments, to the French Republic. The officer in charge of persons, as distinguished from property, was a young man with fierce eyes and a mustache like two cork
"Aire you Ingleesh ?” he said; to which I responded in excellent French, “Oui.” It was a dreadful thing for one to say whose grandfather “fit in the Revolution,” but it saved time at any rate; and beside, the French think Americans are only a variety of the beast “Anglais."
We took breakfast at what the British said was a “buffy." The practice of uselessly ill-treating the French language at once commenced. The place was kept, I think, by an Englishman, and all the waiters understood English; but that did not prevent their being assailed with such remarks as, “Garsong, wooly-woo bring me some jambong?” The result was distraction.
We got into the cars at last, and started at a very moderate pace for Paris. The French railroads are not very strong in the matter of speed, and the management lacks enterprise in the way of ditching trains, running into open drawbridges, telescoping other trains, and such-like-in which my own country can, as in everything else, discount the world. The country presents a great uniformity in this part of France, increasing, however, in fertility and beauty as you get away from the coast. Mile after mile you see rural villages with thatched roofs, and smart little towns with white plastered houses and fire-red tile roofs, and interminable long straight rows of tall straight poplars; and little fields about as big as a tarpaulin, unseparated by fences, of different colors, and making the slopes of the hills look like vast patchwork quilts. In a wide valley, or rather where several valleys come together, you see the fine old city of Rouen, with its cathedral in the midst, looking more like some hoary old cliff than a house made with hands. You follow the windings of the Seine, a bright stream, which somehow always makes me think of a rosy old French gentleman when he feels good after dinner, it is so smooth and clear, and agreeable. Very much of a gentleman is the Seine.
You see, before you have gone far, that you are in an industrious country. You see countless tall chimneys, marking the sites of manufactories. There are no loafers about the stations you understand how the French paid off the enormous war indemnity.
One comes upon Paris suddenly. But a few moments before you pass the line of fortifications you are in a wood, like those around the towns of Indiana; but that is about the last "touch of nature" you see, for Paris is the most artificial, as it is artistic, of cities. As soon as you are at the station, you begin to note the difference between London and Paris—the superior height of the Parisian houses, their whiteness and brightness; and then they are lit up by the sun, the same one we have in America, and which has not yet been introduced into London.
Passengers traveling with Cook excursion tickets go to the hotels designated, and I went thus to the Hotel Coquilliere, in the Rue Coquilliere, not far from the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, which in its turn runs into Rue Montmartre, which – but I presume I have made the locality sufficiently clear to my readers, and will not particularize further. I suppose the Hotel Coquilliere was a one-horse hotel, but I have gone farther to four-horse establishments and fared worse. The landlord spoke English very well, though his name was Puisgasu, which the first class in French may stand up and pronounce. The landlady was one of the plumpest, and blackest-eyed of French women, and had the sweet, coaxing voice, peculiar, think, to the women of France, for I have never heard it elsewhere, as a rule, and I have listened attentively all my life. The chambermaids wore white caps with frills, and were as ruddy as apples, and as stout as horses, and could carry a Saratoga trunk to the top of the house without drawing a long breath. The table waiters spoke English, but pretended that they understood my French, which they did not; yet I could not help admiring their polite duplicity. Such was the Hotel Coquilliere, and long may it exist. If my country ever sends me to dream the happy hours away, save when waked up to draw my salary, in the laborious position of Minister to France, I shall transfer the flag of the American Embassy to the Hotel Coquilliere.
During my stay the hotel was filled with English people — most of them very pleasant associates. I think, however, the English know the least about France of any people. I have spoken of the British fear of the Pope. Another bugaboo among the religious English is Voltaire. Why people should worry about Voltaire who cannot read his works in French and who have not read them in English, I do not know; and, besides, the man has been dead some years. This I know, for I saw his tomb in the Pantheon. Yet I was always hearing about the wickedness of the French all somehow attributed to Voltaire, who believed in nothing, while nothing was said aboùt the historical influence of the men who perpetrated the massacre of Saint Bartholomew men who believed a great deal. I sat next to an English parson at table, who seemed very anxious to go to some bad place, not to partake of the ungodliness thereof, but, as he said, to "see the manners of a people unrestrained by Christian influences.” It occurred to me that, with a little exertion, he might see something of the sort in London. Americans, with all their faults as travelers, are not, I think, guilty of such Pecksniffism as this. There is no earthly call for it from anybody. I presume there are sinners in Paris; occasionally one straggles even into Topeka; but certainly a more decorous city than Paris externally does not exist. I saw a dozen drunken men in London where I saw one in Paris, and nowhere in the latter city did I see the noisy, struggling, ill. smelling crowd that I have seen around the flaring gin-palaces in London. This assumption of the superior morality of London is stupid.
Before I speak of the great sights of Paris, I may begin at the Hotel Coquilliere, and speak of familiar things thereabouts. To begin with, there was, very near, a great market — the Halle Centrale - which I never got tired of visiting. They dealt there in butcher's nieat and vegetables, and poultry and fish, and the same articles that, save the addition of flowers, one sees in American city markets; but it was the arrangement of the articles which struck me.
In the flower markets, the bouquets were very beautiful, but so were the beefsteaks, in their department. The legs of mutton were beautified and glorified, and liver and tripe suf