18 September 2014

Stefan Zweig on Paris 5

'I was a novice drinker, unused to alcohol, but I ordered a glass of absinthe in his honor, not because I liked the taste of the greenish brew at all, but out of a sense that, as a young admirer of the great lyric poet of France, I ought to observe his own ritual in the Latin Quarter. At that time my idea of the right thing to do made me want to live in a fifth floor attic near the Sorbonne, to give me more a faithful idea of the 'real' atmosphere of the Latin Quarter, which I knew from books. At twenty-five, however, I was no longer so naively romantic. The student quarter seemed to me too international, too un-Parisian. Above all, I no longer wanted to choose my permanent place of residence for reasons of literary reminiscence, but in order to work there as well as possible myself. I started looking around at once. The elegant Paris of the Champs Elysées was not at all suitable, still less the quarter around the Café de la Paix, where all the rich visitors from the Balkens congregated and no one spoke French but the waiters. I was more attracted by the quiet district of Sanit Sulpice, surrounded by churches and monasteries, where Rilke and Suarès also like to stay. Most of all I would have liked to take lodgings on the Île Saint-Louis so that I could feel I was linked to both sides of Paris, the Right Bank and the Left Bank. But in my exploration of the city I managed to find something even better in my first week. Wandering around the Galeries du Palais-Royal, I discovered that among the eighteenth-century buildings constructed on the same pattern in that huge square by the duc d'Orléans, nicknamed Philippe Égalité, a single once trance palais had come down in the world, and was now a small and rather primitive hotel. I asked to shown one of the rooms, and was charmed to find that its windows has a view of the garden of the Palais-Royal, which was closed to the public after dark.'

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