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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsSaunterings - Paris In May--French Girls--The Emperor At Longchamps
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Saunterings - Paris In May--French Girls--The Emperor At Longchamps Post by :jamesc96 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2387

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Saunterings - Paris In May--French Girls--The Emperor At Longchamps

It was the first of May when we came up from Italy. The spring grew on us as we advanced north; vegetation seemed further along than it was south of the Alps. Paris was bathed in sunshine, wrapped in delicious weather, adorned with all the delicate colors of blushing spring. Now the horse-chestnuts are all in bloom and so is the hawthorn; and in parks and gardens there are rows and alleys of trees, with blossoms of pink and of white; patches of flowers set in the light green grass; solid masses of gorgeous color, which fill all the air with perfume; fountains that dance in the sunlight as if just released from prison; and everywhere the soft suffusion of May. Young maidens who make their first communion go into the churches in processions of hundreds, all in white, from the flowing veil to the satin slipper; and I see them everywhere for a week after the ceremony, in their robes of innocence, often with bouquets of flowers, and attended by their friends; all concerned making it a joyful holiday, as it ought to be. I hear, of course, with what false ideas of life these girls are educated; how they are watched before marriage; how the marriage is only one of arrangement, and what liberty they eagerly seek afterwards. I met a charming Paris lady last winter in Italy, recently married, who said she had never been in the Louvre in her life; never had seen any of the magnificent pictures or world-famous statuary there, because girls were not allowed to go there, lest they should see something that they ought not to see. I suppose they look with wonder at the young American girls who march up to anything that ever was created, with undismayed front.

Another Frenchwoman, a lady of talent and the best breeding, recently said to a friend, in entire unconsciousness that she was saying anything remarkable, that, when she was seventeen, her great desire was to marry one of her uncles (a thing not very unusual with the papal dispensation), in order to keep all the money in the family! That was the ambition of a girl of seventeen.

I like, on these sunny days, to look into the Luxembourg Garden: nowhere else is the eye more delighted with life and color. In the afternoon, especially, it is a baby-show worth going far to see. The avenues are full of children, whose animated play, light laughter, and happy chatter, and pretty, picturesque dress, make a sort of fairy grove of the garden; and all the nurses of that quarter bring their charges there, and sit in the shade, sewing, gossiping, and comparing the merits of the little dears. One baby differs from another in glory, I suppose; but I think on such days that they are all lovely, taken in the mass, and all in sweet harmony with the delicious atmosphere, the tender green, and the other flowers of spring. A baby can't do better than to spend its spring days in the Luxembourg Garden.

There are several ways of seeing Paris besides roaming up and down before the blazing shop-windows, and lounging by daylight or gaslight along the crowded and gay boulevards; and one of the best is to go to the Bois de Boulogne on a fete-day, or when the races are in progress. This famous wood is very disappointing at first to one who has seen the English parks, or who remembers the noble trees and glades and avenues of that at Munich. To be sure, there is a lovely little lake and a pretty artificial cascade, and the roads and walks are good; but the trees are all saplings, and nearly all the "wood" is a thicket of small stuff. Yet there is green grass that one can roll on, and there is a grove of small pines that one can sit under. It is a pleasant place to drive toward evening; but its great attraction is the crowd there. All the principal avenues are lined with chairs, and there people sit to watch the streams of carriages.

I went out to the Bois the other day, when there were races going on; not that I went to the races, for I know nothing about them, per se, and care less. All running races are pretty much alike. You see a lean horse, neck and tail, flash by you, with a jockey in colors on his back; and that is the whole of it. Unless you have some money on it, in the pool or otherwise, it is impossible to raise any excitement. The day I went out, the Champs Elysees, on both sides, its whole length, was crowded with people, rows and ranks of them sitting in chairs and on benches. The Avenue de l'Imperatrice, from the Arc de l'Etoile to the entrance of the Bois, was full of promenaders; and the main avenues of the Bois, from the chief entrance to the race-course, were lined with people, who stood or sat, simply to see the passing show. There could not have been less than ten miles of spectators, in double or triple rows, who had taken places that afternoon to watch the turnouts of fashion and rank. These great avenues were at all times, from three till seven, filled with vehicles; and at certain points, and late in the day, there was, or would have been anywhere else except in Paris, a jam. I saw a great many splendid horses, but not so many fine liveries as one will see on a swell-day in London. There was one that I liked. A handsome carriage, with one seat, was drawn by four large and elegant black horses, the two near horses ridden by postilions in blue and silver,--blue roundabouts, white breeches and topboots, a round-topped silver cap, and the hair, or wig, powdered, and showing just a little behind. A footman mounted behind, seated, wore the same colors; and the whole establishment was exceedingly tonnish.

The race-track (Longchamps, as it is called), broad and beautiful springy turf, is not different from some others, except that the inclosed oblong space is not flat, but undulating just enough for beauty, and so framed in by graceful woods, and looked on by chateaux and upland forests, that I thought I had never seen a sweeter bit of greensward. St. Cloud overlooks it, and villas also regard it from other heights. The day I saw it, the horse-chestnuts were in bloom; and there was, on the edges, a cloud of pink and white blossoms, that gave a soft and charming appearance to the entire landscape. The crowd in the grounds, in front of the stands for judges, royalty, and people who are privileged or will pay for places, was, I suppose, much as usual,--an excited throng of young and jockey-looking men, with a few women-gamblers in their midst, making up the pool; a pack of carriages along the circuit of the track, with all sorts of people, except the very good; and conspicuous the elegantly habited daughters of sin and satin, with servants in livery, as if they had been born to it; gentlemen and ladies strolling about, or reclining on the sward, and a refreshment-stand in lively operation.

When the bell rang, we all cleared out from the track, and I happened to get a position by the railing. I was looking over to the Pavilion, where I supposed the Emperor to be, when the man next to me cried, "Voila!" and, looking up, two horses brushed right by my face, of which I saw about two tails and one neck, and they were gone. Pretty soon they came round again, and one was ahead, as is apt to be the case; and somebody cried, "Bully for Therise!" or French to that effect, and it was all over. Then we rushed across to the Emperor's Pavilion, except that I walked with all the dignity consistent with rapidity, and there, in the midst of his suite, sat the Man of December, a stout, broad, and heavy-faced man as you know, but a man who impresses one with a sense of force and purpose,--sat, as I say, and looked at us through his narrow, half-shut eyes, till he was satisfied that I had got his features through my glass, when he deliberately arose and went in.

All Paris was out that day,--it is always out, by the way, when the sun shines, and in whatever part of the city you happen to be; and it seemed to me there was a special throng clear down to the gate of the Tuileries, to see the Emperor and the rest of us come home. He went round by the Rue Rivoli, but I walked through the gardens. The soldiers from Africa sat by the gilded portals, as usual,--aliens, and yet always with the port of conquerors here in Paris. Their nonchalant indifference and soldierly bearing always remind me of the sort of force the Emperor has at hand to secure his throne. I think the blouses must look askance at these satraps of the desert. The single jet fountain in the basin was springing its highest,--a quivering pillar of water to match the stone shaft of Egypt which stands close by. The sun illuminated it, and threw a rainbow from it a hundred feet long, upon the white and green dome of chestnut-trees near. When I was farther down the avenue, I had the dancing column of water, the obelisk, and the Arch of Triumph all in line, and the rosy sunset beyond.

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