Simanaitis Says

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HOW COULD I NOT read a book from 1903 with the title How Paris Amuses Itself? The book is one of those available new “selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible.”

How Paris Amuses Itself, by F. Berkeley Smith, Funk & Wagnalls, 1903.

Indeed, my copy is an “original artifact,” a bit fragile though a delight to read. Here are tidbits in no particular order of cultural importance.

The Automobile in 1903 Paris. “An automobile passes, sputtering and growling through the mȇlee of the broad boulevard, taking advantage of every chance space as it threads its way out to the green country beyond with its begoggled occupants to déjeuner at Poissy or perchance to dash farther on at a devilish pace to the sea and Trouville.” 

Promenading the Champs-Élysées. “A woman, with an olive skin whose lithe body seems to have been poured into a delicate mold of Valenciennes lace, glides by on the arm of a Russian. Her jewels have bankrupted a prince.”

A restaurant on the Champs-Élysées.

Smith continues the scene, “Sundry old Frenchmen, in straight-brimmed hats with ribbons on their button-holes, pass; one is a senator, another a famous sculptor. At one’s elbow is a pretty blonde, her white neck encircled by a band of turquoise reaching nearly to her small pink ears, ever listening like tiny shells to the flattering murmur of the human sea about her.”

Restaurant Ambience. “It is often a pleasure to dine in a room devoid of gilt and tinsel. The Père La Thuille is restful in this respect. The cuisine is perfect and the wine very old.”

“At one of the tables in the rectangular dining-room a celebrated diva whose bodice glitters in gems is dining with monsieur, the aged director of a gas company. Several empty tables away another elderly gentleman is filling Mademoiselle Fifi’s glass of champagne. Half hidden in another corner of the long leather settee a lady with delicate features  and frank, intelligent eyes pours forth her soul and the remainder of a bottle to a well-groomed man at her side…. Poor devil! he must return to his regiment to-morrow and what is still sadder, the lady is married.”

A Troubled Bon-vivant Softens. “The French never hurry over dinner…. Into the Restaurant Weber comes an old bon-vivant growling… ‘The devil!’ he mutters to himself. ‘She’ll get my letter to-morrow. Bon Dieu! to think I have been imbecile enough to trust her!’ ”

“ ‘Has monsieur le comte ordered?’ interrupted quietly the maïtre d’hôtel Léon.”

A maïtre d’hôtel

“The count glowers over the menu. ‘Some filets de hareng saurs.’ ” “ ‘Parfaitement, monsieur,’ replies Léon, and he repeats the order to the waiter.” 

“There follows a pause, during which the count’s irate eye (the one not occupied with his monocle) wanders absently over the list.” 

“ ‘Perhaps monsieur would like an excellent purée of peas to follow?’ Léon naïvely suggests.”

“ ‘Bon!’ gruffly accepts the comte. ‘And a homard, and a roast with a good salad and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, ’93,’ adds the count.”

The Meal Amuses. “… the tiny filets de hareng, with their tang of the sea, sharpen his appetite, and the wine quiets his nerves and refreshes his brain, and the purée warms him and the lobster steaming in its thick, spicy sauce cheers him. That lump of jealousy buried so deep half an hour ago has so diminished that, when the fat little partridge arrives, garnished and sunk in its nest of fresh watercress, this gives the fatal coup to ill humor.” 

“The count gazes peacefully on those about him and admires, with the critical eye of a connoisseur of beauty, the pretty woman at the corner table.” 

“The count writes upon his visiting card a short line, seals it in its envelope, calls the chausser [messenger boy] and, giving him the note, directs: ‘Stop on your way at Véton’s for the red roses.’ ”

“Ah, mesdames et messieurs, how many of your little troubles have been settled by the doctor with the cordon bleu and the shining saucepans!”

Evidently a proper French dinner does more than nourish. It amuses and encourages. ds  

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

2 comments on “HOW PARIS AMUSES ITSELF, 1903

  1. Jack Albrecht
    January 26, 2022

    Interesting how women are portrayed in that short excerpt.

    • simanaitissays
      January 26, 2022

      Agreed. And older men as well. It almost sounds like a Fifties Hollywood musical.

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