16 September 2014

Stefan Zweig on Paris 4

'At the time when I first knew the city it had not merged so completely into a single entity as it has today, (this being 1941 when written) thanks to the underground railway and motor cars. Most of the traffic in the streets still consisted of omnibuses drawn by heavy horses with steam rising from them. And there was no more comfortable way of discovering Paris than from the imp√©riale, the top deck of those wide omnibuses, or from one of the open cabs which also ambled along at a leisurely pace. At that time it was still quite a journey to go from Montmartre to Montparnasse, and considering the thrifty habits of the petit bourgeoisie of Paris i thought it quite credible that, as legend had it, there were still Parisians on the Right Bank who had never set foot on the Left Bank, children who played in the jar din de Luxembourg and had never been to the Tuileries or Parc Monceau. The Parisian resident or concierge preferred to stay at home in his own part of the city, making his own little Paris inside the great metropolis, and every arrondissement had its own distinct  and even provincial character. So it was quite an important decision for a stranger to choose a place to stay. The Latin Quarter no longer enticed me. On an earlier brief visit, when I was twenty, I had gone straight there from the railway station, and on my very first evening I had sat in the Cafe Vachette, getting them to show me, with all due reverence, the place where Verlaine used to sit and the marble-topped table on which, when he was tipsy, he used to bang angrily with his heavy stick to get a respectful hearing.'

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