15 September 2014

Stefan Zweig on Paris 3

'Street musicians played in suburban yards, from the windows you heard midinettes at their work; there was laughter in the air somewhere, or the sound of someone calling out in friendly tones. If a coupe of cabbies got into an argument, they would shake hands afterwards, and drink a glass of wine together to wash down a few of the oysters that you could get really cheap. Nothing was stiffly formal. It was easy to meet women and easy to part with them again; there was someone for everyone, every young man had a carefree girlfriend with no prudishness about her. What a carefree life that was! You could live well in Paris, especially when you were young! Even strolling about the city was a pleasure, and also instructive, because everything was open to everyone - you could go into a bookshop and spend a quarter-of-an-hour leafing through the volumes there without any morose muttering from the bookseller. You could visit the little galleries and enjoy looking around the bric-a-brac shops at your leisure, you could go to auction sales at the Hotel Drouot just to watch, and talk to governesses out in the parks. Once you had really begun to stroll it wasn't easy to stop, for the street irresistibly led you on with it, always showing you something new, like the patterns of a kaleidoscope. If you felt tired, you could sit outside on of the ten thousand cafes and write letters on the free notepaper provided, while you listened to the street traders talking up the useless junk that had for sale. The only difficulty was staying at home or going home, particularly when spring came, silvery light shone softly over the Seine, the trees in the boulevards began to put out green leaves, and every young girl wore a bunch of violets that had cost a mere sou. However it didn't have to be spring for you to fee cheerful.'

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