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“PARIS, THE capital of France, may justly be termed the centre of the whole pleasure seeking world…” And for the armchair traveller, there’s nothing better than a stack of Paris guidebooks with which to indulge this pleasure. All the better if they are old guidebooks.
If something was worth seeing in 1874, it’s likely worth seeing today.
My opening quote is from this, one of the earlier guidebooks in my collection, and quite different from the others. It’s the same handy pocket-size, but devoid of maps; and unlike a Baedeker’s, there are plenty of ads. Everything from hotels and restaurants to boarding schools, hair dressers, hatters and watchmakers (including Breguet).
The Hotel Meurice, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, is “best situated in Paris” and identified as “one of the best family hotels in Europe.” Established in 1815, the Meurice is still in business today at 228, Rue Rivoli.
The guide has no mention of the Eiffel Tower; this landmark came with the 1889 World’s Fair.
From its Preface, A Woman’s Paris writes to a special reader: “This lady wishes to do the agreeable things there are to do, and to avoid the disagreeable things there are not to do.”
On pensions and family hotels, A Woman’s Paris says “Bathing facilities do not exist, as we count them. But hot water is plenty, and one can learn how to bathe without a tub. The food is good, and there is enough of it; for French families are apt to consist of hearty epicures.”
This 1908 handbook offers specific advice for those interested in the culinary arts. “Any person may learn the secret by going to the Cordon Bleu (129, rue du Faubourg St. Honoré) and taking single private lessons, or by joining a cours with other people.”
On other activities, Ms. Williams tells us “Amusements in Paris are usually judged by foreigners from the moral rather than from the entertaining point of view. And young Americans in Paris would do well to remember that their French sisters rarely, if ever, go to a place of public entertainment.”
Like other Cook’s, this one offers detailed itineraries, maps and plans for sight-seeing. Its ads are delights.
“A Home Away From Home” reads a Cook’s ad for the Hotel Metropole. What a depressing thought: to travel all the way to Paris and still be at home.
In 1937, Thos. Cook & Son was Authorized Agent for a good number of Paris hotels, including the California, the Pennsylvania and the Florida. And the Meurice.
One of the earlier guides, A Woman in Paris, warns against “men in search of Bohemian resorts,” and darned if one of my later guidebooks isn’t spot-on for them.
Both the Hotel Meurice (five star) and the Florida (one star) are cited. In addition, its Paris by Night portion separates this guide from others in my collection.
Where else to read about the Countess Virginia de Castaglione, “La Belle des Belles, the Beauty of Beauties” of the 19th century?
The Countess is reported to have received a million francs (perhaps $5.6 million in today’s cash) from a nobleman for a single night of amour. It’s said she was then asked for a receipt so he could brag to his friends.
The Folies Bergère is the “most modern review theatre in Paris, and the best known.” The Casino de Paris is the “biggest and oldest revue theatre in Paris.” They’re both in operation to this day. Casino de Paris notables include Maurice Chevalier, Mistinguette and Josephine Baker (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-1uI).
Good advice, in Paris and elsewhere: “Be suspicious of extra kindness and interest shown by people you have never seen before. Be especially careful of the ‘ladies’ smiling invitingly at you. It is only your money they’re after.”
My advice: Don’t ask for a receipt. Bad form, that. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014