More Attractions Of Paris
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PARIS never sleeps. The crowd on the boulevards during the day is only equaled later by that great mass of people who, like somnambulists, walk in the night. The innumerable artificial lights make a good substitute for the sun, and the nocturnal glare was once described by a little boy who said one evening: "Why, its just as light out as a feather!"
The streets draw one forth like a magnet; it is almost impossible to withstand their attractions, and aimlessly carried along with the human ocean one can appreciate the remark of a Swedish king that he longed to renounce his kingdom to go back to the life of a Paris boulevardier.
Rich and poor, good and bad, prince and bourgeois, thieves and grisettes all saunter along together, and where they are going is as difficult an enigma as whence they all came. Like the lilies, they apparently neither toil nor spin, yet they are arrayed in a way that would make Joseph's coat of many colors pass unnoticed among them.
Places of amusement are as numerous as the churches. So much has been said of the cost and beauty of the Grand Opera House that many upon first seeing it are disappointed.' Too much gold work is the usual criticism of the interior, but the beauty of the marble stairway, with its alabaster balustrades and the richly decorated foyer awe even the critics, while the enthusiastic Parisians consider it one one of the wonders of the world.
The Opera Comique has a fine modern auditorium and the performances given are far superior to our ideas of comic opera. One has the advantage of hearing there, at prices far more reasonable than for grand opera, some of the best music written.
The Theatre Francais has a stock company, the Comedie Francaise, unrivaled for excellence. It is called the House of Moliere because it was that actor-playwright who combined, at an early date, several little troops under his own name, and Louis XIV. added brilliancy to the initial performance in their new theatre by the glory of his royal presence. The company has retained its title through all succeeding generations, and in the winter of 1900-01, when its rebuilt edifice was finished, President Loubet copied, as nearly as possible, the way in which the Grand Monarch had opened the original building. Owing to the former fire no expense has been spared to make this theatre fire-proof, and the heavy marble pedestals supporting valuable statues are on wheels that in time of danger they may be quickly rolled out of the room. The best actors and actresses of France have been trained in this Comedie Francaise, and when attending one is sure of a finished performance with no little detail neglected. It is subsidized by the government and the retired players are pensioned.
Mme. Bernhardt used to criticize severely M. Clairtie, the director, because he repeated over and over the old dramas; she declared under his management no innovations were introduced and nothing done for° the progress of art. Mme. Bernhardt does riot believe in letting well enough alone, for as there is no such thing as standing still, she thinks that if one is not going forward one must unconsciously be drifting backward.
The majority of Paris theatres are old, badly ventilated and heavy looking, but the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt is a pleasant exception. It is light in tone, well arranged, and in American fashion ladies are asked to remove their hats. With this exception and at the Opera, where those on the main floor are requested to wear evening dress. hats usually assert their rights, and feathers wave defiance in many of the other theatres.
When Cardinal Richclieu wore not only the scarlet hat but virtually the crown of France, he added to his vast palace opposite the Louvre a good sized theatre, for the old prelate thought it no sin to divide his time between God and the world —and the latter usually had the larger share. When Queen Anne moved her little son, Louis XIV., into this gorgeous Palais-Cardinal its name was changed to Palais-Royal, and later it was occupied by the Dukes d'Orleans. King Louis Philippe, who was helped to the throne by one revolution and driven off by another, lived in it, also Jerome Bonaparte when a king without a kingdom; and Philippe Egalite built, to obtain more money by its rental, that gallery in whose cheap little jewelry shops all is not gold that glitters, and in the many second-class cafes the proprietors vie with each other in cheating their customers. The palace proper is now occupied by the Council of State.
The markets early in the morning are worth visiting. Even raw meats and fish are made to look inviting. In the little butcher-shops everything is especially prepared, croquettes are breaded ready for cooking, and housekeeping in France is almost as delightful as when manna dropped daily from heaven. No baking is ever done at home. The rolls and bread arrive every morning' fresh from the baker's and the latter comes in those very long sticks—well named the staff of life.
In the Magasin de Louvre and Bon Marche, down to the tiny shops whose entire contents are temptingly displayed in the windows, everything that has ever been made can be found. The jewelers' daziling windows in the Rue de la Paix make one think all the world's gems on exhibition; the choicest products of all the arts are in Paris, for it is the sample-room for the world's trade.
Before the Tour Eiffel was built, those indefatigable tourists who want "to get the view," always went up the Column Vendome, but as it grew to be a favorite place of suicide no one is now allowed to go to the top. Because it is made of Russian and Austrian cannons it is often inferred that the name came from one of Napoleon's battles, whereas it really comes from the square where it stands, originally the site of the palace of the Duke of Vendome. Although the Commune tore it down, its bronze shaft has been care-fully restored. Another place to get the view is from the Tour St. Jacques, the only remaining part of an old Gothic church, up whose tower Pascal used daily to make those tests of atmospheric pressure that made .him an authority on that subject.
When the Bastille was torn down, Lafayette sent Washington one of the keys, a memento still treasured at Mt. Vernon. Walls twenty feet thick did not stop the fury of the enraged populace, and during the Revolution the Bastille fell like a house of cards. The Column of July stands at present on its site, with a statue of Liberty on the summit, holding a broken chain in one hand and a torch in the other.
The sombre Pantheon was intended to hold the remains of Genevieve the saint of Paris, but by a not unusual deflected interest one finds her resting-place over in the church of St. Etienne du Mont. The Pantheon has been periodically changed from a church into a temple of fame for the great , men of France. Mira-beau, Carnot and Victor Hugo lie there, and there too are the empty tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau. Even those who do not care to do any-thing so cheerless as to visit tombs, go to the Pantheon to see the fine frescoes just finished by the greatest painters of the day. Jeanne d'Arc and many other French heroes and heroines have scenes.
The height of every aspiring Frenchman's ambition is to become a member of the Institute. This organization of talented men is composed of five academies of which the French Academy, comprising the " Forty Immortals," is possibly the best known. One often used to see a caricature of Zola knocking at a door, meant to be that of this Academy, which had from their lives depicted on its walls repeatedly denied him admittance. The annual meeting of the combined five branches is held every October in the old building of the Institute, and as admittance is only by invitation, and space limited, a man once said, when waiting outside with a crowd, that it was more difficult to get inside than it was to be made a member!
The costumes of the Academiciens are embroidered with green palm leaves, and all wear cocked hats. The meeting is conducted with state ceremony and as the distinguished men file in, in a body, the escorting soldiers present arms. The old Viscomte de Bornier was the most applauded speaker in 1900, and the chair made vacant by his death was then offered to one of France's greatest writers, Rostand of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "L'Aiglon" fame, while Rene de Bazin's recent election is an honor to the Academy as well as to himself.
The Institute dates back several hundred years, and the members enjoy considerable social prestige, but the honor of membership is not now so highly estimated as in former years. Many famous men have unfortunately been overlooked by it until too late. Balzac, 'Alphonse Daudet and the immortal Moliere were never members, but a tardy tribute was paid the latter by placing his bust in the Institute a few years ago with this apologetic inscription: "Nothing is lacking to his glory, but he is lacking to ours."
Foreigners who think the painted-faced women seen on the boulevards who suggest the dressmakers' competitive exhibitions, and who raise their skirts to such startling heights to display their silken petticoats and stockings, any one indeed, who thinks these creatures typical French women does the noble 'women of France a great injustice. One can rarely see in any country so many distinguished women as in an audience at the Institute, when the aristocracy gathers to pay tribute to genius.
In the same way many sightseers leave with a false idea of Parisians' amusements, for most men making the rounds of the so-called "sights of Paris," apparently forget that one can find places that cater to the low tastes of humanity in every city in proportion to its size, and overlooking entirely higher-class attractions they depart with the satisfied feeling that they have really seen Parisian life.
The Ecole des Beau Arts is under the Academy of Artists, and it is in that school that the gifted pupils are rewarded with the Prix de Rome that enables them to remain four years in Rome at the expense of the French government. There are so many advantages for art students and so many great masters located here that Paris rivals Italy in its rank as an art center.
Jean Gobelin's old dye-works on the banks of the Seine continue today under government ownership the making of those unrivaled tapestries. It is particularly interesting to watch the workers. Each one chalks out his design on a screen of threads, and with his pattern near at hand then winds his shuttle in and out. Twenty-four shades for each color make the exquisite blending of tints in their creations, and gobelin blue takes its name of course from this factory. Six square inches a ,day is considered a good amount for one worker, and beside the tapestries being made, many old pieces are on exhibition, so that a visit to this unique establishment is well worth one's while.
The old Musee de Cluny is the headquarters for the glories of the past, and medieval art reigns here supreme. Furniture and tapestries, paintings, porcelains, shoes from all countries, musical instruments, altar pieces, robes of Knights of the Holy Spirit, and the precious Golden Rose from the Pope, are all here together. The old building itself is as interesting as its contents, and the baths of the Roman Emperors who had on this site a palace, are still extant and make a valuable addition to the curios.
Mme. de Sevignee's home, the Hotel Carnavalet, now belongs to the city and has been turned into a museum where the municipality's antiquities are shown. Among Paris' many libraries the Biblioteque Nationale ranks at the head of the world's great collections of books and the Hotel de Ville, the city hall, is an imposing modern edifice with splendid decorations inside and out, valuable busts are in all the niches and illustrious portraits cover the walls.
The spring exhibition of paintings, formerly held in a salon of the Louvre, still keeps the name "Salon," although now it is held in the Grand Palais. This great building and its smaller companion, the Petit Palais, have been left standing since the Exposition of 1900 and are found very useful for exhibitions and other public spectacles.
The Grand Prix and the opening of the Salon are two events which no one can afford to miss in May. In the last few years the Salon has had a would-be rival in the exhibition of independent artists called the Salon of the Champs do Mars. This competition has been a benefit to both sides, however, and the public now has two feasts of the finest pictures of the year.
The Bourse, or stock exchange, looks on the outside like a great temple, and in its enormous hall two thousand men can easily mingle. Frenchmen are always excitable, but the confusion on this stock exchange would have made the Tower of Babel appear quiet and peaceful.
On Sunday afternoons all Paris drives in the Bois de Boulogne, and though there are many fine turnouts they are not so numerous as the smart traps seen in London. Street cabs are admitted and along side a perfectly-appointed equipage will come a rambling old fiacre which, built to hold three comfortably, is often occupied by eight or nine ragged spendthrifts who give themselves regularly this Sunday treat. It is almost impossible to cross the wide Champs Elysees with the stream of carriages and motor cars, and the orders of the policemen, who look like pigmies, are generally no more noticed than if they were toy soldiers.
The old boatmen, the Parisee, who gave the city its present name, have also furnished its coat of arms—a boat. The motto, "Though she goes through many tempests she is never overcome," is particularly appropriate for Paris, for in spite of the many desperate struggles, after each sacking the noble buildings have risen again like the phoenix from its own ashes.