From a Seine bridge one notes the wizard liberties the reckless moon takes with the colonnaded dome of the sombre Pantheon. And, more astonishing still, the magic tricks it plays with the adorned and enormous bulk of Notre Dame -now veiling, now revealing massive buttress and delicate rose-window, some recessed arch tucked full of sculptured saints all snugly foot to head, or a goblin band of hideous gargoyles that leer ghoulishly down from out the purple haze of the towers. One could well wish, however, for a closer view of that exquisite survivor of the Valois kings, the peerless Tour Saint-Jacques, at the first sight of which the most indifferent exclaim with delight over so rare a vision of grace and lace like beauty, over long slender windows delicately foliated, over traceries of stone like petrified festoons, and an ensemble so suggestive of some dainty ivory-carving a million times enlarged. With a glimpse of the round pointed towers of the dread Conciergerie comes something of the horror of the days of the Terror, and one fancies ghastly forms beckoning him at the windows with white, frightened faces and hanging hair and eyes with hideous rings, and delicate praying hands upheld to passers-by, and iron bars clutched by the little white fingers of Marie Antoinette and her court.
From such a gruesome fancy it is a relief to turn and look down on the dark rippling Seine and watch the wavy ribbons of light swim quiveringly out from the bridge lamps. And there in the cool of their stone wharves, still panting and perspiring from the violent exertions of the earlier evening, lie the fat little open-deck steamers that haul the lovers home. For many a happy pair this day has been dining deliciously a deux under the gay terrace awnings of one or another of the romantic, flower-embowered inns that overlook the river all the way from Charenton to gray old Argenteuil, where Heloise in her nunnery fought her losing fight against love and the memory of Abelard. Some of these steamers appear alarmingly apoplectic, so that one wonders how they have managed to wheeze safely under all those low arches with the garlanded “N’S” and past so many formidable buttresses all sculptured cap-a-pie.
If now you turn and look upward and about you, lo! the heaped and cluttered roofs of Paris – the most fantastic and romantic of spectacles! It is singular, almost startling, to see how they stare down as though to study you, and with apparently as much curious intentness and dark suspicion as you do them. There must be whole volumes of stories to each of them. Out of the ponderous Mansard roofs impudent, leering little dormer windows wink down and squint up, each with his rakish peaked roof like a jockey cap over one ear. And up above even them are whole groves of blackened chimney-stacks leaning all askew, like barricades for sansculottes. You look expectantly ‘Jo see miserable white Pierrot come forth, guitar in hand, and sing sadly of Colombine to the pallid moon.
Suddenly, to the right, the lift of a cloud unveils the bronze dome of the solemn Hotel des Invalides, and your heart beats high with thoughts of the marvelous man who lies under it among his tattered battle-flags on a pavement inscribed with his victories. It is a sobering reflection that now in the darkness and stillness of that chamber the only eyes that are looking down on his porphyry sarcophagus are those of the bronze Christ that hangs on the cross in the little side chapel of the tomb.
“Tout-Paris,” as smart society calls itself, spends the early summer at Trouville. All the most exclusive names of the two-volume Bottin are then inscribed in the hotel registers of this recherche resort, nor are their owners to be looked for in town again until long after the derbies have reappeared in the hatters’ windows. But while Fashion is flirting on the beaches and betting on the little wooden horses of the Trouville Casino, what is left at home after “All Paris” has gone is quite sufficient to keep the boulevards lively. What walkingspace remains is eagerly employed by the tens of thousands of visitors. One may not, therefore, see the fashionable show of winter, but he finds an acceptable substitute in the vivacious summer throngs with their perpetual atmosphere of Mardi Gras.
As midnight wanes and the multitude waxes, it is amusing to speculate upon the scattered sources of the innumerable tiny streams that come gradually trickling in. The outlying attractions hold firmly enough up to this hour, but the magnet of the boulevards is strongest in the end.
Montmartre, you may be sure, has been up to her old tricks. What “La Butte” has to learn about promiscuous entertaining may be classed among the negligible quantities. Somewhere in that honeycomb of moulins, cabarets, penny-shows, spectacles, revues, tiny theatres with sensational rococo faqades and cafes with fantastic names dedicated to the riotous and the risque, diversion is bound to be forthcoming for any amusement hunter blase with the usual. All the way down from the quaint little shops and crooked, cobble-stoned streets of the rustic upper region above the Moulin de la Galette to the blazing purlieus of the Place de Clichy and the Place Pigalle, there is always something on hand at midnight to amaze the neophyte. You may indulge or not, as inclination dictates, but you are pretty apt to be astonished, when you look at your watch, to see how long you have lingered. French ingenuity has lavished itself on every form of “attraction” from vaudeville and bals publics to papier-mache establishments devoted to parodies of Heaven and Hell. The Boulevard de Clichy is the heart of “La Butte,” but the life it pumps along its arteries flows principally from one show to another. You may settle down on a bench under the trees, if you like, and resolve to view life only in the open in defiance of all the devils rampant in the neighborhood, but presently a flashing electric sign shrieks out an overlooked novelty and you find yourself saying, “Oh, well, since I am in Paris,” etc., etc., and off you go.
The excuse of being in Paris covers a multitude of sins. To do as the Parisians do serves purposes rarely indulged by Parisians themselves. It must be because “everything is different here.” The frolicsome party in pink stockings who dropped her heel playfully on my bashful friend’s shoulder in an aside of the “quadrille” at the Moulin Rouge was merely turning one of the tricks that pass as chic on Montmartre. She was of the assured and robust type that supports the “pyramid” in acrobatic feats, and the effect this had of dazing my friend arose rather from astonishment at its unconventionality than delight at its skill. This much I gathered when he seized my arm and hurried me away and eventually choked out, “Do you know, I have to keep saying to myself `Mullen, can this be you!”‘ I think it was quite as hard on him at the Jardin de Paris, on the Champs-tlysees, when he saw beautifully gowned Paris girls step out of the crowd and go down the chutes on their shoulders, screaming with laughter, in a whirl of skirts and flash of lingerie. In Paris ! What American would dream of trying the tricks at home that he accomplishes with the ease of an expert on and under the tables of the “Rat Mort” or the Cafe Tabarin? It is a pretty problem as to whether he has saved up a special surplus of buoyancy for this city alone, or whether he has become infected with the natural high spirits of the Parisians and discovers too late that he is unable to control them as they do. The men who want “one more fling” before settling down head straight for Paris. It is probable if they could not get here that they would dispense with the fling altogether.
Nor is the Rive Gauche without its votaries at midnight. If the Latin Quarter stands for anything it is for unconventionality and comfortable enjoyment. If it is Thursday night the famous Bal Bullier is in full blast, and visitors are gazing down from the encircling boxes upon a jolly whirl of students in velvet coats and black slouch hats cutting fantastic capers in the quadrilles with their latest bonnes and pretty models. Mimi and Musette are on the arms of Rudolphe and Marcel, “contented with little, happy with more.” Those so disposed need not long remain uncompanioned if they take a turn among the tables under the trees of the enclosed garden, where from any cozy corner a soft voice at any moment may ask you for a cigarette. With so auspicious a start there is no reason, if you are that sort, why you should not be swearing eternal devotion before you have finished one citron glace.
And no matter what night it is there is the old “Boul’
Miche”‘ as always, the resort and delight of artists and students from time immemorial. Would you sup, there are cafes, tavernes, brasseries, and restaurants of every price and description. You can have a plat du jour of venerable beef and a quantity of vin ordinaire for the modest outlay of one franc fifty; and your payment is received with many a cheery “Merci, monsieur,” and “S’il vous plait,” and hearty “Bon soir,” and all the rest of that captivating civility that prevails to the last corner of the city. It is perhaps more agreeable to join the few remaining Henri Murger types among the crowds on the terraces of the Taverne du Pantheon or the Cafe Soufflot and listen to the vigorous talk that goes on over the little glasses of anisette and vermouth. It always seems to be that “hour of the aperitif ” pronounced by Baudelaire,
“L’heure sainte de l’absinthe.”Index Of Articles About Paris