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Europe After 8:15
by H. L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan and Willard Huntington Wright
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Look you, romance seeker, rather into the places of Montepin and Eugene Sue. The moon is down. The sound of dance is stilled in the city. So go we into the Rue Croissant, with its shaveless thuggeries and marauding cabs. It is dark, very. And very quiet. And the sniff of unknown things is to be had in the air. Dens of drink with their furtive thieves ... the enigma of the shadows of the church of Saint Eustache ... slinking feet to the rear of you ... at length, the Rue Pirouette and the sign of the angel Gabriel on the lantern before the house. Here is good company to be found! Well do I remember the bon-camaraderie of Henri Laverte, that most successful of Parisian burglars, of the good Jean Darteau, that most artistic of all Parisian second story virtuosi, of pretty Mado Veralment, who was not convicted for the murder of her erstwhile lover Abernal, nor, at a later date, for that of her erstwhile lover Crepeat, both of whom, so it had been rudely whispered by her enemies, had rashly believed to desert her for another charmer. Witty and altogether excellent folk. Indeed, I might go further from the truth than to say that in no woman have ever I found a deeper, a more authentic appreciation of the poetry of Verlaine than in this Mademoiselle Mado.

So, too, up the stone steps and into the Caveau of the Rue des Innocents ... and here—likewise a jolly party. Inquire of most persons about Le Caveau and you will be apprised that it is a "vile hole," "a place of the lowest order." It is dirty, so much I will grant; and it is of a Brobdingnagian smell. Also, is it frequented almost entirely by murderers, garroters, and thieves. But to say it is a "vile hole" or "a place of the lowest order" is to say what is not true. It is immeasurably superior to the tinselled inn of the Rue Royale. And its habitues constitute an infinitely more respectable lodge. If the left wall of the cavern contains its "roll of honour"—the names of all the erstwhile noted gentlemen patrons of the establishment who have, because of some slight carelessness or oversight, ended their days in the company of the public executioner—I still cannot appreciate that the list is any the less civilised than the head waiter's "roll of honour" at the celebrated tavern in the Avenue de l'Opera. Nor do the numerous scribbled inscriptions on the other walls, such saucy epigrams as "To hell with the prefect of police," "The police are damned low flea-full dogs" and the like impress me less favourably than the scribbled inscriptions on notes of assignation placed covertly by subsidised waiters into the serviettes of the Callot-adorned Thaises in the spectacularized haunts of the Bois. The piano in Le Caveau may be diabetic, senescent, and its operator half blind and all knuckles (as he is), but the music it gives forth is full of the romance of Sheppard and Turpin, of stage coach days and dark and nervous highways, of life when life was in the world and all the world was young.

Paris when your skies are greying, how many of us know you? Do we know your Rue du Pont Neuf, with its silent melodrama under the dawning heavens, or do we know only the farce of your Montmartre? Do we know the drama of your Comptoir, of your Rue Montorgueil, when your skies are faintly lighting, or do we know only the burlesque of your Maxim's and your Catelans? Do we, when the week's work of your humbler people is done, see the laughter in dancing eyes in the Rue Mouffetard or, in the revel of your Saturday night, do we see only the belladonna'd leer of the drabs in the Place Pigalle? Do we hear the romance of your concertinas setting thousands of hobnailed boots a-clatter with Terpsichore in the Boulevard de la Chapelle, in Polonceau and Myrrha, or do we hear only your union orchestra soughing through Mascagni in the Cafe de Paris? Do we know the romance of your peoples or the romance of your restaurateurs? Which? I wonder.

* * * * *

Paris has changed ... it isn't the Paris of other days ... and Paquerette, little Easter daisy in whose lips new worlds were born to you, little flower of France the music and perfume of whose youth are yours still to remember through the guerrilla warfare of the mounting years—little Paquerette is dead. And you are old now and married, and there are the children to look out for—they're at the school age—and life's quondam melody is full of rests and skies are not always as blue as once they were. And Paris, four thousand miles beyond the seas—Paris isn't what it used to be!



But Paris is. For Paris is not a city—it is Youth. And Youth never dies. To Youth, while youth is in the arteries, Paris is ever Paris, a-throb with dreams, a-dream with love, a-love with triumphs to be triumphed o'er. The Paris of Villon and Murger and Du Maurier is still there by the Seine: it is only Villon and Murger and Du Maurier who are not. And if your Paquerette is gone forever, there is Zinette—some other fellow's Paquerette—in her place. And to him new worlds are born in her lips even as new worlds were born to you in the kisses of another's yesterday ... and the music and the perfume of Zinette's youth shall, too, be rosemary some day to this other.

The only thing that changes in Paris is the Paris of the Americans, that foul swelling at the Carrara throat of Youth's fairyland. It is this Paris, cankered with the erosions of foreign gold and foreign itch, that has placed "souvenirs" on sale at the Tomb of Napoleon, that vends obscenities on the boulevards, that has raised the price of bouillabaisse to one franc fifty, that has installed ice cream at the Brasserie Zimmer, that has caused innumerable erstwhile respectable French working girls to don short yellow skirts, stick roses in their mouths, wield castanets and become Spanish dancers in the restaurants. It is this Paris that celebrates the hour of the aperitif with Bronx cocktails and "stingers," that has put Chicken a la King on the menu of the Soufflet, that has enabled the ober-kellner of Ledoyen to purchase a six-cylinder Benz, that has introduced forks in the Rue Falguiere, that has made the beguins at the annual Quat'-z-Arts ball conscious of the visibility of their legs. It is this Paris that puts on evening clothes in order to become properly soused at Maxim's and cast confetti at the Viennese Magdalenes, that fights the cabmen, that sings "We Won't Go Home Till Morning" at the Catelan, that buys a set of Maupassant in the original French (and then can't read it), that sits in front of the Cafe de la Paix reading the New York Morning Telegraph and wondering what Jake and the rest of the gang are doing back home, that gives the Pittsburgh high sign to every good-looking woman walking on the boulevards in the belief that all French women are in the constant state of desiring a liaison, that callouses its hands in patriotic music hall applause for that great American, Harry Pilcer, that trips the turkey trot with all the Castle interpolations at the Tabarin. It is this Paris that changes year by year—from bad to worse. It is this Paris that remembers Gaby Deslys and forgets Cecile Sorel, that remembers Madge Lessing and arches its eyebrow in interrogation as to Marie Leconte. This is the Paris of Sniff and Snicker, this the Paris of New York.

But the other Paris, the Paris of the canorous night, the Paris of the Parisians! The little studio in the Rue Leopold Robert ... Alinette and Reine and Renee ... the road to Auteuil under the moon-shot baldaquin of French stars ... the crowd in the old gathering place in the Boulevard Raspail ... the music of the heathen streets ... dawn in the Gardens of the Luxembourg....

Yes, there's a Paris that never changes. Always it's there for some one, some one still young, still dreaming, still with eyes that sweep the world with youth's wild ambitions. Always it's there, across the seas, for some one—maybe no longer you and me, exiles of the years in this far-away America—but still for some one younger, some one for whom the loves and adventures and the hazards of life are still so all-wondrous, so all-worth-while, so almighty. But, however old, however hardened by the trickeries of passing decades, those who have loved Paris, those to whom Paris has lifted her lips in youth, these never say good-bye to her. For in their hearts sings on her romance, for in their hearts march on the million memories of her gipsy days and nights.

THE END

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Transcriber's Notes: Page 54: Dome amended to Dome Page 58: Kartnerring amended to Kaertnerring; italics to "and" removed ("and kaisersemmln") Page 75: Therese amended to Therese Page 76: et al amended to et al. Page 90: Yodlers sic Page 91: jadded amended to jaded Page 103: maesse and pince-nez sic Page 119: jevousaime sic Page 120: Catelan amended to Catelan Page 122: pere amended to pere; meaningfull sic Page 134: Montmarte amended to Montmartre Page 158: Suates amended to Sautes Page 194: speakeasys sic Page 205: viola amended to voila Page 210: suede sic Page 220: apertif amended to aperitif Where there is an equal number of instances of a word being hyphenated and unhyphenated, or an equal number of instances of a spelling of a word, both versions have been retained: oberkellner/ober-kellner; Max-Joseph-Platz/Max-Joseph-platz; and Johannisberger/Johannesberger.

* * * * *

THE END

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