Like a practiced coquette, Paris, the world’s enchantress, reserves for the supreme moments of midnight her rarest resources of gaiety and charm. Her last laughs are her best. And decidedly, she is dangerous when laughing. Beyond question, her glowing eyes at midnight are wonderfully sweet and beguiling; and hers is the skill to touch the bright hours with the most delectable couleur de rose. There is satisfaction for each desire. “Would monsieur sup ? ” The most amazing cuisine in the world awaits your pleasure. “Would monsieur stroll ?” The sparkling lights and rustling trees of the fairest of boulevards fairly drag you their way. “Would he drive?” You raise your hand; a fierce dashes up; and soon the Bois and the Champs-Elysees, cool, scented, dewy, receive you gladly to their enchanting retreats. “Would he join a revel -just a little one?” Cabarets, cafes-chantants, bals publics were designed for no other purpose. “Would he look on at life?” “GarCon vite! Une demi-tasse – une; sur la terrasse!” – and heart could not ask for a madder, merrier, more absorbing spectacle than that which will whirl and surge by the very edge of your little round table. “Eh? Monsieur has a fancy for nature and solitude? Mon Dieu ! C’est un original, celui-la! Mais” -and you will find nowhere gardens lovelier than those of the Tuileries, elegant with statues and carpeted with flowers. Thus at every point the charmer wins. What is left but surrender? She seems the very Queen of Heart’s Desire.
Of course, the night side of Paris is her most trivial side. But then visitors have always refused to take her seriously at any time. No matter how many wonderful achievements have been crying out to them all day that this is one of the most extraordinary and advanced communities to be found anywhere on the face of the earth, still they stubbornly cling to the conviction that all is frivolity here and that night is Paris’s supreme period and pleasure seeking her most conspicuous and characteristic role. Accustomed to the droll ideas of foreigners, and bothering little about them except to find occasional amusement, Paris shrugs her shoulders in indifference and turns on more lights. Brilliant, charming, and ingenious she creates what she prefers – an atmosphere of gayety and beauty. And the visiting world purrs about her in joy of a fascination it cannot find elsewhere and salves its own patriotism with the conclusion that this is her principal raison d’etre.
As a matter of fact, the Parisians are masters of the art of living. As their kitchen is the best, so is their drawing-room and study. All the affairs of every day are handled with ease and grace, with imagination and a kind of poetic skill that adorns even the ugly and commonplace and invests them with attractiveness and charm. The cheery light-heartedness that is a fundamental trait of Parisians converts the life of their streets and parks into scenes delightful either to contemplate or share. Indeed, they often seem to be only grown-up children, so gracefully have they retained the fresh and stimulating enthusiasm of youth -so rueful and pouting over a rainy day; so exuberant over a bright one. And the best of it is that there is an infection to their high spirits that passes into the observer and clears his perception of the folly of worry and depression, and shows him the value and availableness of optimism and good cheer. Such is the glorious influence of a people whose attitude toward life is essentially one of hope and zest.
No one is going to deny that the Parisian is vain. Indeed, his attitude toward the rest of the earth, while patient and polite, is at bottom patronizing and even a little supercilious. And sometimes, it must be confessed, this gets on the visitor’s nerves. One cannot give out admiration forever and rest content with getting none back. It is easy to understand the mood of bitter derision into which even so enthusiastic an admirer as Edmondo de Amicis fell when he wrathfully wrote: “Three hundred `citizens’ hang over the side of a bridge to see a dog washed; if a drum passes, a crowd collects; and a thousand people, in one railway station, make a tremendous uproar by clapping their hands, shouting, and laughing because one of the guards of the train has lost his hat!” Yet De Amicis came shortly to see that this is only the Parisian temperament, which he admired in so many other of its manifestations, and that under it lie solid qualities of the highest and rarest order. So he forgave Paris, as everyone does, and took her again to his heart – albeit, I mistrust, with reservation and a lingering grain of suspicion and perhaps something of the foreign conviction that she is not always to be taken quite seriously.
To the vast majority of visitors Paris by night means the boulevards. The beauty of these famed thoroughfares, the cosmopolitan and fascinating sea of humanity that flows through them, the means of amusement that abound, and all the many little refinements of comfort and elegance to be seen on every hand place them in a class by themselves among the city streets of the world. In the matter of virility the life of the boulevards is amazing. Every one seems to be at his keenest when he walks there. Anticipation is fairly skipping on tiptoe. The old boulevardier, the traditional flaneur, has not been disappointed of his evening’s diverting on-look these forty years or more, and he can, therefore, clothed and gloved and caned a la mode, proceed with his stroll in unhasting dignity, confident that the usual amusing spectacle will unfold itself in good time. But the new arrivals and the visitors of a few weeks show in their eager faces that nothing is going to escape them and that a thorough debauch of pleasure is the least they propose to make out of all the bewildering light and life about them. From the Place de la Concorde to the Place de la Republique a laughing, brilliant, light-hearted multitude pours along all night with infinite bustle and chatter. Between twelve and one o’clock it is at its gayest. The theatres and cafes-concerts have emptied their audiences into the stream, which is swollen to the very curb, and the driveways are whirling with an enormous outpouring of busses, motors, and cabs. The size of the loads the hired victorias and fiacres will accommodate is determined solely by the inclination and interest of the impertinent fat cocher in the varnished plug hat; and it is nothing to see a conveyance, that ordinarily carries but two people, trundling merrily along behind a sprung-kneed nag, with a man and several girls piled inside and all waving hands to the crowd with the vastest camaraderie imaginable. This is of a piece with the universal high spirits and good humor that prevail along the boulevards. It is all fun and frolic, and everybody is in it. The rows of chairs and tables on the sidewalks before the cafes really make the spectators a part of the show; and the groups before the artistic little newspaper kiosks and the comfortable sitters on the green benches along the curb are, in spite of themselves, part and parcel of the big family, with something of the intimacy and allied interest of a village street at fair-time. And it always seems fair-time in Paris by night. The profusion of lights that have won it the title of “La Ville Lumiere” gives it an appearance of being perpetually en fete, and the ebullient crowds complete the illusion.
But the Grand Boulevards have no monopoly of the night attractiveness of the city. All over town stretch broad, clean streets with shade trees and double lines of lights and rows of stone and stucco houses. In the main these houses resemble each other rather closely; slatecolored, Mansard-roofed, and with shallow iron balconies running full length of the second, fourth, and fifth stories. By night they fairly exhale an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. There are, besides, hundreds of beautiful roomy squares, flooded with light and set with comfortable benches that are seldom without contented occupants. Such a notable one as the Place de la Concorde is without its equal in any city. It costs the three and a quarter millions of people who live in and about Paris more than $70,000,000 a year to maintain their city’s reputation for beauty; and not a sou of it is begrudged. For Paris is the whole world to most of them, and many a Parisian politician had rather be Prefect of the Seine and rule this town than president of the whole Republic. And with what reason! “It is a world-city,” said Goethe, “where the crossing of every bridge or every square recalls a great past, and where at every street corner a piece of history has, been unfolded.”
Whoever turns from the boulevards for a space will learn of other kinds of life that are in full cry at midnight. What of the studio revelries of the Quartier Latin? There abound jollity and earnestness and strong friendships with few of the gilded accessories of the Rive Droite. The brightest of these scenes are often the most meagre in setting. A group of jovial, smoking, singing companions – and about them an easel and sketchingboard, a dingy divan, a few battered chairs, a stove in the corner with the remains of the last meal, a huddle of draperies and hangings, fragments of casts and uncompleted sketches on the walls, and a corner table piled with a dusty litter of squeezed-out paint-tubes, broken brushes, magazine illustrations, a dog-eared book or two, and a generous strewing of cigarette butts. The cleanest things in sight are a freshly scraped palette and a sheaf of brushes stuck in a half-filled jar of water. With so much of equipment your merry, care-free artist squeezes the orange of life to its smallest drop, and cares not a sou how the whole world wags, provided all is well between the Place de 1’Observatoire and the Seine.
Then, again, were you to pass some pleasant house on a quiet avenue where an evening’s party is ending, you could not help but linger under the windows in delight to hear some tender song of Massenet’s, some soothing berceuse of Ropartz’s, a haunting plaint of Saint-Saens or a vitalizing torrent of Chaminade’s.
And perhaps where you might most expect just such a scene as this, behind the closely-drawn window draperies of some handsome apartment, there is gathered around a broad green table a group of flushed, excited men to whom a hard-eyed croupier is singing the abominable siren song of “Faites vos jeux,” “Les jeux sont faits,” “Rien ne va plus.” It seems quiet and peaceful enough. You could scarcely believe that there hangs above it the shadow of the little gray Morgue down behind Notre-Dame!
Before returning to the giddy boulevards for a final petit-verre and an exchange of pleasantries with cafe acquaintances, one likes to finish a cigar in an aimless ramble through such placid scenes as these. Not only may he so indulge the pleasing diversion of speculating over the kinds of home life that go on within these houses, but incidentally he escapes the tumult of the maelstrom for a few calm moments, and eventually sees for himself what a pity it is that so many night fascinations should abound in Paris and be enjoyed by so few. He may like to draw moral conclusions from the peace-loving pigeons nesting in the war-glorifying reliefs of the gigantic and towering Arc de Triomphe, or take satisfied note of the monuments of the victories of peace that dot the broad avenues that radiate from it. One such monument is always under the eyes of the boulevardiers in the form of that most glorious of all temples to music, the Paris Opera House. It is especially impressive by night, with the shadows blending columns and statues in bewildering beauty, and highlights from the street lamps glinting on sculptured balustrades and cornices, chalking the edges of half-hidden arches and penciling the delicate detail of medallions and reliefs. Nor, it must be allowed, are devotees often wanting for that fair Greek temple of La Madeleine – so chaste and of such imposing dignity, rimmed with giant columns and embowered in verdure.
After like fashion does night enhance the beauty of the great, rambling Louvre – though this may only be Diana’s way of paying tribute to the Arts and of venerating the sacred shrine of a sister divinity, that serenest and sublimest of goddesses, the Venus de Milo. There is certainly something of almost ethereal comeliness by night to those long vistas of columns and arcades, to the shadowy sculptures of the pavilions, the lines of graceful caryatids and the blustering triumphal groups of the pediments. One might fancy the Louvre wearing a look of grave disapproval over the hubbub that drifts in from the boulevards were he not aware how carefully it treasures so many pictorial skeletons in its own closets. Boucher and Watteau are on record with infinitely worse scenes than these. But now it has the appearance of some palace capitol of Shadowland; and before it in perfect sympathy lies its beautiful dream-kingdom, the hushed and fragrant gardens of the Tuileries, – fair as the golden Hesperides, – fresh with fountains, silvered in patches with little shining lakes, marquetried in flowers, and peopled with shadowy forms of pallid marble. Index Of Articles About Paris