Archive for the ‘lifestyle’ Category

Thanks to Denis Shiryaev and his video-enhancing work, we can visit Paris in the last decade of the 1800s and feel like we’re traveling in time. With their heightened authenticity, Shiryaev’s videos bring us a world we know only from low-quality footage. It was always difficult to identify with the ghostlike images of that era but with sound and color, the ghosts revive, as in this video.

Since the video does not provide guidance here is a brief description with links to Victorian Paris posts:

0:00 The Parvis of Notre Dame

1:09 Paris-Expo 1900

1:49 The Bois de Boulogne Parade (see Bois de Boulogne: The Rendezvous of Wealth and Opulence )

2:44 Place de la Concorde

3:34 Firefighters to the rescue

4:07 Fountain in the Tuilleries Garden (see Géo: The Painter of French Childhood)

4:58 Back to the Expo 1900: A moving sidewalk

5:37 The Eiffel Tower (see The Eiffel Tower Story)

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While Sunday in the Anglo-Saxon world–in London and in New York–meant only godly thoughts and strict rest with church, prayers, and roast beef for entertainment, Parisians were out for serious fun. Sunday, especially a summer Sunday, meant a trip beyond the city limits. For many, the goal was their favorite guinguette (‘gang-ette), an establishment with music and dance on the outskirts of Paris where wine and food were significantly cheaper than in the capital.

One of the Parisian favorite guinguettes was the Moulin de la Galette, a medieval windmill standing on the Montmartre hill and offering a magnificent view of the city. Before electricity made them obsolete, there were some three hundred windmills in Paris, of which only four remain today.

Pierre-August Renoir’s famous painting Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (1876) depicts the jovial and comfortable atmosphere that reigned on the outdoor dance floor:



What better way to perceive the mood in this ball than testimonials! Thanks to the press, it is still possible to read them again. Extract from the Intransigeant of May 28, 1882:

Last Sunday I was at the ball. At the Moulin de la Galette ball. I went there – with two friends, the big big X… the devil’s innkeeper, and the big little B… librettist and dominotier, a bearded, illuminated, pot-bellied like a monk of Rabelais; the other bald like an egg and yellowed like old ivory.

I adore this bastringue, with its large rectangular hall, with a polished floor, all shining – its orchestra with bellowing trombones, squealing flutes – its youthful couples whirling in the waltz, hopping in the polka, swaying in the quadrille; it’s tables where other lovers consume, hand squeezing the hand with tenderness, the classic salad bowl of sweet wine or absinthes to which the bland addition of barley gives a sickly, chlorotic tint, a pale greenness or a greenish whiteness – the color of drowned faces …

The enduring popularity of this guinguette is best illustrated with a photo from 1938


Other popular guinguettes dotted the banks of the rivers Seine and Marne, where Parisians went to enjoy water sports. Again, Renoir is here to show us what it was like. We see the company digesting lunch, but there is a dance floor somewhere and musicians waiting to strike a quadrille.


Pierre-August Renoir: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881)

The popularity of guinguettes, which took a dive in the second half of the twentieth century, is now on the rise again.


Related posts:

Absinthe: The Rise and Fall of the Green Fairy

Parisians in 1842: The Working Class


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If we judge by the vintage photographs, our ancestors appear to be stiff and unsmiling individuals. It’s hard to see how–with all that propriety–they managed to give way to their feelings. Only paintings and illustrations allow us to see that our great-great-grandparents’ hormones worked at full capacity and that they, too, got caught in the swirl of passion.


Here is how we know them…

…and it is not hard to believe that all these children came via the stork delivery

Fortunately, art took another approach and here is a gallery of Victorian passion that proves it was not so. From seduction to conclusion:




Related posts:

The Jolies Madames

We Procure our Ballerinas to Wealthy Men


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Giuseppe de Nittis: The Salon of Princess Mathilde, 1883

One of the most significant cultural differences between the Brits and the French was their attitude toward women. The British gentleman suffered women where he could not avoid them and avoided them where he could by seeking refuge in men-only clubs. The Frenchman, on the contrary, did not feel bright unless there were women around. He sought them out during his leisure time, and he was keen to converse in their company. The French were never afraid of clever women and they allowed them to rule as the salonnières.



A 17th-century literary salon.


The tradition of the Parisian Salon was an old one. It began in the seventeenth century and was largely abandoned during the WW1. The salonnières, who hosted these gatherings in their homes, held power. Political plots were hatched, new literary trends were started, scientific discoveries were publicized, and new artistic talents were launched under their influence.

Could you, yourself, become a salonnière?

Who knows? Maybe you already have every asset to revive this ancient tradition. Let’s see what it takes:

You must be a woman. Salons were always ran by women. It did not matter whether or not they were respectable. A princess could compete with a courtesan for the same guests.

You must be wealthy. Your house must offer an agreeable background for the sophisticated exchange of ideas. A well-run Salon may provide a Wednesday dinner for some thirty seated guests and a Saturday reception for about one hundred. Quality wine was a must. Good food was expected as well.

You must have a complacent husband or no husband at all. Very rarely, a husband would hang around and co-host the events. The ideal husband would content himself with a visit to his mistress and allow his wife to rule the crowd.

You must have a great man. Salons were built around a great man who served as a magnet to attract other desirables. He could be a philosopher, a politician, a music composer, or a famous author. Often, the great man was the salonnière’s lover and her goal was to make him even greater.

You must be attentive to new trends and courageous enough to start one. Depending on the type of your salon, you must be aware of what goes on in politics, culture, or science. You must read the latest novel, meet the latest polar explorer, or recognize the right time to introduce new talent.

You must be a social expert. It is important to be well-informed about your guests and careful not to invite two bitter enemies. Knowing the latest gossip is always helpful in that matter and having your spies in competing salons is a clever way to stay on top of things.

You must be a woman of authority. Your salon, your rules. If the conversation does not go the right way, you stop it politely, but with no room for appeal. It is your choice whether you allow an uncontrolled flow or, on the contrary, whether you choose a subject of conversation and insist that the guests stick within the limits.

You must be ready to make it a full-time job. Seeing new trends coming, finding the right guests, sending out invitations, supervising the staff, choosing wines and menus, listening to all relevant gossip, and all the plotting and scheming that goes into it, will take your entire waking time.


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The Goncourts: Gossip Inc.


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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.

Related post:

Extreme Good Recycling  Warning: Do not read during or immediately after a meal!

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.”



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.





The Aftermath of Fire


A Wedding


The Omnibus Station 

c-poster men

Poster Men Taking a Lunch Rest


c runaway

A Runaway Horse


A Guided City Tour



A Downpour


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



Traffic-Stopping Street Hygiene


The Suburban Train

c-after midnight

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?

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.

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
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.

Related posts:

The Belle Epoque Lifestyle: Alimentation

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet


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