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Apaches at Work

Encounter of the Apaches with the police on the Place de la Bastille

 

Tourist traps were not invented yesterday. The Parisians have got the hang of it very early on. One of the tourist attractions in the past was the glimpse of the redoubtable Apaches, the vicious gangs that terrorized Paris. (More about them in The Gangs of Paris.) Like other tourists, the American author and humorist Irvin S. Cobb followed this fashion of playing with the fire. We first came in contact with his caustic humor in Jacques Takes a Bath where he questions the local hygiene. In the following text, Cobb explores the Paris underground hoping for an adrenaline high in mingling with the Apaches:

Knowing from experience that every other American who lands in Paris will crave to observe the Apache while the Apache is in the act of Apaching round, the canny Parisians have provided a line of up-to-date Apache dens within easy walking distance of Montmartre; and hither the guides lead the round-eyed tourist and there introduce him to well-drilled, carefully made-up Apaches and Apachesses engaged in their customary sports and pastimes for as long as he is willing to pay out money for the privilege.

Being forewarned of this I naturally desired to see the genuine article. I took steps to achieve that end. Suitably chaperoned by a trio of transplanted Americans who knew a good bit about the Paris underworld I rode over miles of bumpy cobblestones until, about four o’clock in the morning, our taxicab turned into a dim back street opening off one of the big public markets and drew up in front of a grimy establishment rejoicing in the happy and well-chosen name of the Cave of the Innocents.

Alighting we passed through a small boozing ken, where a frowzy woman presided over a bar, serving drinks to smocked marketmen, and at the rear descended a steep flight of stone steps. At the foot of the stairs we came on two gendarmes who sat side by side on a wooden bench, having apparently nothing else to do except to caress their goatees and finger their swords. Whether the gendarmes were stationed here to keep the Apaches from preying on the marketmen or the marketmen preying on the Apaches I know not; but having subsequently purchased some fresh fruit in that selfsame market I should say now that if anybody about the premises needed police protection it was the Apaches. My money would be on the marketmen every time.

Beyond the couchant gendarmes we traversed a low, winding passage cut out of stone and so came at length to what seemingly had originally been a wine vault, hollowed out far down beneath the foundations of the building. The ceiling was so low that a tall man must stoop to avoid knocking his head off. The place was full of smells that crawled in a couple of hundred years before and had died without the benefit of clergy, and had remained there ever since. For its chief item of furniture the cavern had a wicked old piano, with its lid missing, so that its yellowed teeth showed in a perpetual snarl. I judged some of its important vital organs were missing too – after I heard it played. On the walls were inscribed such words as naughty little boys write on schoolhouse fences in this country, and more examples of this pleasing brand of literature were carved on the white oak benches and the rickety wooden stools. So much for the physical furbishing.

By rights—by all the hallowed rules and precedents of the American vaudeville stage!—the denizens of this cozy retreat in the bowels of the earth should have been wearing high-waisted baggy velvet trousers and drinking absinthe out of large flagons, and stabbing one another between the shoulder blades, and ever and anon, in the mystic mazes of dance, playing crack-the-whip with the necks and heels of their adoring lady friends; but such was not found to be the case. In all these essential and traditional regards the assembled Innocents were as poignantly disappointing as the costers of London had proved themselves.

According to all the printed information on the subject the London coster wears clothes covered up with pearl buttons and spends his time swapping ready repartee with his Donah or his Dinah. The costers I saw were barren of pearl buttons and silent of speech; and almost invariably they had left their Donahs at home. Similarly, these gentlemen habitués of the Cave of the Innocents wore few or no velvet pants, and guzzled none of the absinthe. Their favorite tipple appeared to be beer; and their female companions snuggled closely beside them.

apache 1

We stayed among them fully twenty minutes, but not a single person was stabbed while we were there. It must have been an off-night for stabbings. Still I judged them to have been genuine exhibits because here, for the first, last and only time in Paris, I found a shop where a stranger ready to spend a little money was not welcomed with vociferous enthusiasm. The paired-off cave-dwellers merely scowled on us as we scourged past them to a vacant bench in a far corner. […]

For the sake of the conventions I tried to feel apprehensive of grave peril. It was no use. I felt safe – not exactly comfortable, but perfectly safe. I could not even muster up a spasm of the spine when a member of our party leaned over and whispered in my ear that any one of these gentry roundabout us would cheerfully cut a man’s throat for twenty-five cents. I was surprised though at the moderation of the cost; this was the only cheap thing I had struck in Paris. It was cheaper even than the same job is supposed to be in the district round Chatham Square, on the East Side of New York, where the credulous stranger so frequently is told that he can have a plain murder done for five dollars – or a fancy murder with trimmings, for ten; rate card covering other jobs on application. In America, however, it has been my misfortune that I did not have the right amount handy; and here in Paris I was handicapped by my inability to make change correctly. By now I would not have trusted anyone in Paris to make change for me – not even an Apache. I was sorry for this, for at a quarter a head I should have been glad to engage a troupe of Apaches to kill me about two dollars’ worth of cabdrivers and waiters. For one of the waiters at our hotel I would have been willing to pay as much as fifty cents, provided they killed him very slowly. Because of the reasons named, however, I had to come away without making any deal, and I have always regretted it.

Related posts:

Jacques Takes a Bath

The Gags of Paris: Les Apaches

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Victor-Gabriel Gilbert: Les Halles, Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of Père Fabrice, who amassed a fortune in Paris, is told in Paris with Pen and Pencil by David W. Bartlett, published in 1854. Caution: Do not read this before or immediately after a meal.

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Fabrice had always a turn for speculation, and being a private soldier he made money by selling small articles to his fellow soldiers. When his term of service had expired, he entered the employ of a rag-merchant, and in a little while proposed a partnership with his master, who laughed at his impudence. He then set up an opposition shop, and lost all he had saved in a month.

He then became a porter at the halles where turkeys were sold. He noticed that those which remained unsold, in a day or two lost half their value. He asked the old women how the customers knew the turkeys were not fresh. They replied that the legs changed from a bright black to a dingy brown. Fabrice went home, was absent the next day from the halles, and on the third day returned with a bottle of liquid. Seizing hold of the first brown-legged turkey he met with, he forthwith painted its legs out of the contents of his bottle, and placing the thus decorated bird by the side of one just killed, he asked who now was able to see the difference between the fresh bird and the stale one? The old women were seized with admiration. They are a curious set of beings, those dames de la halle; their admiration is unbounded for successful adventurers—witness their enthusiasm for Louis Napoleon [Napoleon III]. They adopted our friend’s idea without hesitation, made an agreement with him on the principle of the division of profits; and it immediately became a statistical puzzle with the curious inquirers on these subjects, how it came to pass that stale turkeys should have all at once disappeared from the Paris market? It was set down to the increase of prosperity consequent on the constitutional régime and the wisdom of the citizen-king. The old women profited largely; but unfortunately, like the rest of the world, they in time forgot both their enthusiasm and their benefactor, and Père Fabrice found himself involved in a daily succession of squabbles about his half-profits. Tired out at last, he made an arrangement with the old dames, and, in military phrase, sold out.

 Possessed now of about double the capital with which he entered, he recollected his old friend, the rag-merchant, and went a second time to propose a partnership. ‘I am a man of capital now,’ he said; ‘you need not laugh so loud this time.’ The rag-merchant asked the amount of his capital; and when he heard it, whistled Ninon dormait, and turned upon his heel. ‘No wonder,’ said Fabrice afterward; ‘I little knew then what a rag-merchant was worth. That man could have bought up two of Louis Philippe’s ministers of finance.’ At the time, however, he did not take the matter so philosophically, and resolved, after the fashion of his class, not to drown himself, but to make a night of it. He found a friend, and went with him to dine at a small eating-house. While there, they noticed the quantity of broken bread thrown under the tables by the reckless and quarrelsome set that frequented the place; and his friend remarked, that if all the bread so thrown about were collected, it would feed half the quartier. Fabrice said nothing; but he was in search of an idea, and he took up his friend’s.

 The next day, he called on the restaurateur, and asked him for what he would sell the broken bread he was accustomed to sweep in the dustpan. The bread he wanted, it should be observed, was a very different thing from the fragments left upon the table; these had been consecrated to the marrow’s soup from time immemorial. He wanted the dirty bread actually thrown under the table, which even a Parisian restaurateur of the Quartier Latin, whose business it was to collect dirt and crumbs, had hitherto thrown away. Our restaurateur caught eagerly at the offer, made a bargain for a small sum; and Master Fabrice forthwith proceeded to about a hundred eating-houses of the same kind, with all of whom he made similar bargains. Upon this he established a bakery, extending his operations till there was scarcely a restaurant in Paris of which the sweepings did not find their way to the oven of Père Fabrice. Hence it is that the fourpenny restaurants are supplied; hence it is that the itinerant venders of gingerbread find their first material. Let any man who eats bread at any very cheap place in the capital take warning, if his stomach goes against the idea of a réchauffé of bread from the dust-hole. Fabrice, notwithstanding some extravagances with the fair sex, became a millionaire; and the greatest glory of his life was—that he lived to eclipse his old master, the rag-merchant.

Related posts:

The Guide to Gay Paree – Part 4: Restaurants and Cafés (From Paris Partout! A guide for the English and American Traveller in 1869 or How to see PARIS for 5 guineas)

Food: Not so good

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

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One hundred years before the Euro Disney, the Paris morgue was a popular attraction both for locals and tourists.

(From Paris Partout! A guide for the English and American Traveller in 1869 or How to see PARIS for 5 guineas)

Passing over the profusion of churches, monuments, galleries, and sights familiar to every tourist, we would draw the visitor’s attention to the MARCH OF IMPROVEMENT evidenced by this great city. In every quarter, at every level, Paris rises astonishingly anew. The sentimental antiquarian may mourn the loss of old Paris and its romantic past; the strict moralist may deplore the glory accorded to Mammon throughout, but others must justly rejoice at the triumph of modern science and hygiene.

The wonders begin at the lowest level: Paris’s new system of sewers consists of six main lines, fed by fifteen secondary lies, by means of which the city’s whole storm drainage is conducted to a grand receptacle beneath the Place de la Concorde, whence it is discharged by a shaft – the most extraordinary of its kind – sixteen feet high, eighteen feet wide, and three miles in length. The sewers may be visited, via an opening in the Boulevard de Sébastopol.

The foot pavement may also be remarked upon. Twenty-five years ago, it was detestable, worse even than London’s, and consisting in great part of large uneven stones, slopping from the houses down to the middle of the road, along which ran a copious and noxious gutter. The city is now widely blessed with smooth coatings of asphalt.

Les Halles market - the food cathedral. An example of the Industrial Age architecture.

Les Halles. An immense establishment, adjoining the old Marché des Innocents, on which the market people had constructed a set of wretched huts that continued to form Paris’s central market until very lately. In 1852 the present commodious and elegant Halles were begun from the architectural plans of M. Baltard, the result being eight large, lofty, and handsome pavillons,  intersected by carriageways and joined by one immense roof of iron framing and glass covering. One pavilion serves as a fish-market, another poultry, another fruit and flowers, a fourth for butter, cheese, and eggs, two for butcher’s meat &c. The vaults below, which may be visited, contain marble tanks and fountains for live fish, and underground tramways to the railway termini, by which produce is brought in from the country and rubbish removed without encumbering the streets. The whole site extends over five acres and has cost in excess of £l,500,000. Four million bricks in the vaulting alone, and five million kilogrammes of iron were used in the whole construction. There are eight electric clocks, public conveniences, and extensive gas lighting.

Bois de Boulogne - to see and to be seen

Bois de Boulogne, four miles west of the Louvre. This favourite promenade was up to 1852 a regular forest, with walks and rides cut through. In 1852 the Emperor, determined to copy, or rather improve upon, the London parks, presented the Bois to the city of Paris, and, in concert with the Municipality, dug out the lakes, and made the waterfalls, raised mounds, traced new roads, and converted the whole into the present and popular place of public resort.

At the north angle, near the Porte de Sablons, five acres have been given over to the Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation. Here are no wild beasts in the usual sense of the term, but only animals which may possibly be usefully acclimatized: yaks, tapirs, hemiones, viculas etc. Hitherto only lama and the Tibetan ox have succeeded. There are pretty views from the crevices of artificial rockwork which has been reconstructed for wild goats and mouflons. Eggs, and cuttings and seedlings from the exotic flora with which the garden is planted, may be purchased.

La Morgue, Quai Napoléon. The lower orders in Paris are fond of theatrical horrors, but it is not easy to understand how so repulsive a phenomenon, rebuilt in 1864, can be tolerated in a civilized country. Entering this building, one sees a glazed partition behind which stand two rows of black marble tables, inclined toward the spectator and each cooled by a constant stream of water. On these tables are exposed cadavers of those found dead or drowned, naked except for a strip of leather across their loins. Each corpse, often hideously bloated or disfigured, is thus left for three or four days, awaiting the identification of friends or family. Along the walls are hanged clothes and defects of the defunct. In 1866 the Morgue received a record 733 corpses – 486 men, 86 women, 161 infants. Of these 445 were identified; 285 had committed suicide by drowning, 19 were homicidal victims, 36 were hanged, 5 had shot themselves, 3 had been knifed, 6 charcoaled, 6 poisoned, 3 starved, and 82 had died suddenly in the street. Failed speculation on the Stock Exchange is said to be the greatest cause of suicide.

               What, one must ask, is the use of such a monstrous proceeding? Few, surely, would recognize their oldest friend, naked, wet, and stretched out on a marble slab; and there are, in fact, numerous cases of persons not identifying their nearest relations, while others have wrongly laid claim to someone they knew not. A perpetual throng runs in and out of this loathsome exhibition, too many of them English and American tourists. There they stand, gazing at the hideous objects before them, sometimes with exclamations of horror, sometimes with utter vicious indifference. A poor madman, who fancies himself dead, comes every morning to see if he can recognize his own corpse, and is hardly to be driven away.

Next:Part 8 – Beware!

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