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Posts Tagged ‘social life in Paris’

The oldest gourmet restaurant in Paris

Early visitors to Paris, unless they were guests of the aristocracy, reported no outstanding culinary experiences. Before the storming of the Bastille, there was only one good restaurant in Paris – the Beauvillier’s, founded in 1782. This changed when the unemployed chefs of the beheaded nobles launched themselves into the hospitality industry. The upper middle class got a taste of sumptuous food and as early as1820, the number of restaurants mushroomed to three thousand. During the Second Empire, Paris boasted twenty thousands cafés and restaurants. By the middle of the 19th century France achieved its status as the paradise for gastronomers.           

What made France, and notably Paris, the cradle of haute cuisine? The main reason was that unlike the males of other nations, the Frenchman did not consider matters of food unmanly. Approached with the same seriousness men devote to science, cooking and eating were–and still are–one of the main topics around the table. Dedicated gourmets and culinary critics discussed the matter at length. The cooks themselves became theorists and many put their pens to paper.

“Because of the art we practice,” a famous chef wrote, “we have the right to respect and consideration because cooking can and must march hand in hand with the liberal arts.”

The illustrious chef Carême claimed that cooks were in fact doctors, with far more influence on their employers’ well-being than the charlatans that posed as doctors.

 Dining became worshipping at the altar of food and as such required a set of rituals.

“One should never talk of politics at table,” admonishes Le Gourmet magazine in the 1830’s. “The conversation should always be light, so as not to distract from the main interest, which is the food. In a dinner of knowledgeable people, the arrival of soup is followed by a silence. Until the third course, there should be no talk about anything except what one was eating, what one has eaten, and what one will eat. But after one has eaten well, one has a duty to make witty conversation.”

In fact, the acquisition of a good recipe became a noteworthy event even among the top artists of the era and could make and break the reputation of such a giant of literature as Alexander Dumas.

Judging by the proportion of advertisements for indigestion and constipation pills of the era, the culinary excesses, both at home and in restaurants, took their toll on the digestive system. To remain true to themselves, the French cannot equate food with vulgar indigestion. The correct term is “la crise de foie”, although a foreigner cannot imagine why only liver should be mentioned in a process in which all parts of the digestive system rebel with equal force.

Anonymous source

Marie-Antoine Carême Wikipedia

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James Tissot: Too Early, 1873

Excerpt from How to Enjoy Paris in 1842 by F. Herve

The occupations of the higher classes in Paris are much the same as they are in other capitals; both sexes are more fond of taking baths than they are in London, and even when they have that convenience in their own houses, the men often prefer lounging to the most fashionable public baths. The young sparks of fashion are very fond of sumptuous breakfasts at the most stylish coffee-houses in Paris, and often begin by taking a few dozen of oysters by way of giving them an appetite; beefsteaks dressed in the English style, a few choice French dishes, two or three sorts of wine, desert, and coffee, generally compose the repast until the dinner hour. The time is filled up with walking, riding, driving, practising gymnastic exercises, pistol-shooting, fencing, etc. After dinner, which usually terminates about eight, and is in fact the same thing as the breakfast on a more extensive scale, they proceed to the theatres; those most in vogue with the beau monde are the Italian Opera, the French Opera or Académie de Musique, the Comic Opera, and the Théâtre Français. After the performances are over, they generally lounge into some favourite coffee-house, and then close the day to recommence another, following much the same course, with some trifling variation. But now the favourite pursuit amongst young men of fashion, is that of riding and everything which is connected with horses, such as racing, leaping, steeple chasing, and discussing their different qualities and the various modes of breaking them in, in England and in France.

Although their pursuits are not so numerous nor so various as those of the men, yet women opportunities of killing time are greater; as shopping alone employs often some hours of the day, the importance attached to a bonnet, a cap, a turban and above all to a dress, causes many and long dissertations. Exhibitions and morning concerts frequently occupy also much of the ladies’ leisure, a little walking in the Tuileries gardens at a certain hour and in a certain part whilst their carriage waits for them, an airing in it, or a turn on horseback, fill up the rest of the day, and after dinner, if not at the theatre, they either receive or pay visits, as it is the fashion to do so of an evening in Paris.

I must not quit this sketch of the Parisians and their occupations without giving my readers some idea of what is called La Jeune France, which consists of a number of young men, who wear comical shaped hats, their hair very long hanging below their ears, and let the greater part of their beards grow; they also have their throats bare and their shirt collars turned down; they have rather a wild look, and their political theories are somewhat wilder than their looks; they are republican in principle, and in manner, adopting a sort of rough abrupt style, as far from courteous as can well be imagined. They amount to perhaps a few thousands in Paris, comprising a number of the students in law and medicine, many of the painters, musical professors, and at least half the literary characters in Paris; some of them are either the editors their subs or the communicators to two-thirds of the newspapers at Paris.

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souhaits

Marriage was no laughing matter

 

The French, so reputed for love, had a strictly business-like approach to marriage. Men and women were merchandise with a price tag and matrimony was a financial transaction much like any other commercial deal. Wealthy widows purchased titles; young beauties without dowry offered themselves for sale to rich old men. The intention to marry a fortune was expressed candidly in newspaper ads like these:

May 27, 1877

Demand for a Demoiselle, even difficult to marry, but of great fortune, for a distinguished young man. Write to the newspaper.

November 12, 1876

Marriages André 42, rue du Bac, founded in 1859. Patented for its success, its discretion. One orphan, 23, 150.000 F: an officer. Demoiselle, 20, 150,000 F, father will hand down business. Widow, 40, 400,000 F: Monsieur with a title.

October 5, 1881

Mme GRUET, 11 bis, rue Mauberge: 3 orphans, 17 to 22, 1 million to 5 million F, 5 widows, 25 to 55, 200,000 to 7 million F.

March 14, 1888

Young Demoiselle, honorable family, very good physique, educated, distinguished, loves only old age. A well-to-do Monsieur, very aged, even one with infirmity.

 

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