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french watching

 

The French culinary lifestyle—such as a family eating in a restaurant—surprised many mid-century travelers. In their home countries, eating in a public place made sense only when a person was away from her home and its safe food. This was a habit in France as well until the 1789 revolution. With the aristocrats guillotined or gone to exile, many skilled and creative cooks became unemployed. The only solution was to open public eateries. The well-to-do bourgeois tasted aristocratic cuisine and they liked it.  More than half a century later, when the following text was written, there were hundreds of restaurants in Paris. Eating out made more sense than staying at home. One saved on kitchen fuel, which was a considerable expense at the time, and one could choose from a variety of expertly cooked dishes.

James Jackson Jarves (1818-1888), the author of the text, visited Paris in the early 1850s and published his impressions in Parisian Sights and French Principles, seen through American spectacles (1852). His wit and the clarity of his style vividly portray the living condition in the mid-century Paris.

To see the French eat one should visit the restaurants of lesser magnitude and fame, particularly of a Sunday, where the rush to dinner, as no one dines that day under his own roof, is absolutely fearful to a lover of a quiet meal. Infants, dogs, and nurses, all have a seat that day, and the amount consumed would indicate considerable preparatory fasting. Eating and drinking, for the moment, become the only business of life. The preparations bespeak the seriousness of the operation.

A family enters, consisting of father, mother, maiden sister, two children under five years of age, and a dog. All the tables are filled. They turn to go out. The restaurateur rushes forward, intercepts their retreat, and promises a table toutsuite. He sees one party have called for their bills, hands them their change, and plumps the newcomers into their warm seats., with an array of broken bread, dirty glasses, and all the debris of the previous meal before them.

Once seated, with bonnets and hats hung up, they are considered as secure as fish fairly hooked. The garçon, with the dexterity and rapidity peculiarly his own, whisks away the soiled tablecloth and dishes, and in an instant has replaced them with snow-white linen and porcelain.

Now commences the tug of eating. Each member of the party, except for the dog who gravely occupies the chair, too well-bred to manifest impatience, plants a napkin under his or her chin, of the dimensions of a moderate-sized tablecloth. The females pin the extremities to each shoulder so that in front they have much the appearance of being in their shrouds. The menu card is studied, orders given, and content and pleasure reign. At these family feasts, children are literally crammed, indulged with wines and the delicacies called for by adult taste, their parents delighted in proportion to the quantity they consume.

Eating, under almost any circumstances, is to a looker-on a vulgar operation. In one of these restaurants, it is certainly an amusing one to a veteran traveler. whose sensibilities had long since their edges blunted. The French from early habit frequently make themselves very much at home at restaurants and cafes, spending their evenings at the latter, reading the journals, and playing chess and dominoes, paying the same by calling for a bottle of beer or a glass of brandy. I have myself seen a woman who had come in by herself, after finishing her repast, coolly throw herself back in a chair and proceed to take a comfortable digestive nap, apparently wholly oblivious to the existence and manifold trials of the race denominated unprotected females.

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Traveler’s Bonus:

The Cheapest Gourmet Restaurants in Paris

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When one lives in Paris, nothing is as difficult as staying at home. The city contains so many enticing spectacles, free or paid entertainment, that the temptation often becomes the strongest and that one abandons one’s home, attracted as we are by the charm of the street. We do not know what we are going to see, but we are sure we will see something, and that something will be new. Curiosity is so strong in Paris that the trees themselves undergo it and set themselves in motion.”

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ACROSS PARIS by Crafty

So said Crafty, whose real name was Victor Eugène Géruzez (1840 – 1906). This graphic artist, painter, draftsman, and author of literature for youth, authored several picture albums depicting life in Paris in his humorous style. Let’s see how trees moved in Paris (and still do) as well as other spectacles, most of them completely free.

 

 

 

 

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Fire!

 

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The Aftermath of Fire

 

WEDDING

A Wedding

 

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The Omnibus Station 

 

 

 

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Poster Men Taking a Lunch Rest

 

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A Runaway Horse

 

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A Guided City Tour

 

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A Downpour

 

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c-AT THE CONFISEUR ( Boulevard de la Madeleine )

At the Confectioner’s

 

c-AT THE BOOKSELLER ( Boulevard des Italiens )

At the Bookseller’s / Food for the Mind

 

C-AN ACCIDENT ( Rue de Rivoli )

Running on Empty

 

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Traffic-Stopping Street Hygiene

 

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The Suburban Train

 

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After Midnight

 

Related post:

Events in the Street: Female Duel with Sand-Filled Socks

A Traveler’s Bonus:  The Most Beautiful Metro Stations in Paris

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The most popular soap in France, an olive oil-based one, came from Marseille

 

In Jacques Takes a Bath, posted here in October 2014, the American humorist Irvin S. Cobb sank his teeth into the French reluctance to bathe. Although exaggerated to the point of absurdity,  Cobb’s article had a grain of truth in it. Bathing was not central in the mind of the ancestors and the history of the bathroom is a very recent one. The air in public places was not always filled with deodorant fragrances. Quite the contrary, the 19th-century streets were pungent with horse dung and various unmentionable odors emanating from many of the passers-by.

The French being French, they do find in their vocabulary something glamorous for the simplest or lowest of things and occurrences. Thus, a mole is the grain of beauty (le grain de beauté), les Petits Pois Bonne Femme is French for peas with butter and la crise de foie (the liver crisis) is a dramatic euphemism for indigestion. By the same token, the body odor becomes l’odeur du sable chaud. The scent of hot sand. We can’t beat the French at the savoir vivre, can we?

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The bidet

The Americans visiting Europe justly complained about the lack of modern comfort but, to be fair, the French had their bidets to stay clean where it counted. The sight of the bidet as part of the bathroom furniture scandalized the Anglo-Saxon Puritans. The luxury cruise ship Le France, built in 1957 (yes, there were still Puritans in 1957!) for carrying passengers between Le Havre and New York, remained bidet-less for the very reason.

The first bathrooms—that is rooms fully devoted to personal hygiene—appeared at the beginning of the century but they remained the privilege of the very rich for the next one hundred years. The discovery of harmful microbes by Louis Pasteur accelerated the shift toward better personal care.  Toward the end of the century, the idea of a fully equipped bathroom entered the advertising business.

 

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This ad offers complete bathroom equipment starting at 250 francs. For this price, you would get a bathtub, a sink, a water tank, a foot bath, a sitting bath, and a Scotch shower

 

 

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Dating from the turn-of-the-century, this ad humorously conceives the bathroom as a luxury reception room

 

We can hardly imagine life without a bathroom, but this state of things remained a reality for many Europeans well into the 20th century.

 

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The Belle Epoque Lifestyle: Alimentation

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet

 

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