20 September 2014

Stefan Zwieg on Paris 6

'All you could hear then was the faint roar of the city, an indistinct and rhythmic sound like waves breaking on a distant shore, you saw statues gleaming in the moonlight, and sometimes in the early hours of the morning the wind carried an aromatic scent of vegetables that way from the nearby food market of Les Halles. The writers and statesmen of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used to live in this historic quarter of the Palias Royal. Opposite stood the building where Balzac and Victor Hugo had so often climbed the hundred steps up to the attic story where the poet I loved so much, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, had lived. There stood the marble memorial at the place where Camille Desmoulins had called on the people to storm the Bastille, there was the covered walkway where the indigent young lieutenant Bonaparte had looked for a patroness among the not very virtuous ladies promenading along. The history of France spoke from every stone here, and what was more, the Bibliothèque Nationale where I spent my mornings was only a street away. Also close where the Musée du Louvre with its pictures and the boulevards with crowds pouring along them. At last I was where I had wanted to be, in a place where the warm heart of France had been steadily for centuries, right in the centre of the city. I remember how André Gide once visited me and amazed by such silence here in the heart of Paris, commented, "We have to ask foreigners to show us the most beautiful places in our own city." And sure enough, I couldn't have found anything more parisian and at the same time more secluded than my romantic studio  room in the very middle of the magic circle of the liveliest city in the world.' 

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