Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

not be under the misapprehension that we are set to any task other
than that of sauntering where it pleases us.





PARIS AND LONDON


SURFACE CONTRASTS OF PARIS AND LONDON

I wonder if it is the Channel?  Almost everything is laid to the
Channel: it has no friends.  The sailors call it the nastiest bit of
water in the world.  All travelers anathematize it.  I have now
crossed it three times in different places, by long routes and short
ones, and have always found it as comfortable as any sailing
anywhere, sailing being one of the most tedious and disagreeable
inventions of a fallen race.  But such is not the usual experience:
most people would make great sacrifices to avoid the hour and three
quarters in one of those loathsome little Channel boats,--they always
call them loathsome, though I did n't see but they are as good as any
boats.  I have never found any boat that hasn't a detestable habit of
bobbing round.  The Channel is hated: and no one who has much to do
with it is surprised at the projects for bridging it and for boring a
hole under it; though I have scarcely ever met an Englishman who
wants either done,--he does not desire any more facile communication
with the French than now exists.  The traditional hatred may not be
so strong as it was, but it is hard to say on which side is the most
ignorance and contempt of the other.

It must be the Channel: that is enough to produce a physical
disagreement even between the two coasts; and there cannot be a
greater contrast in the cultivated world than between the two lands
lying so close to each other; and the contrast of their capitals is
even more decided,--I was about to say rival capitals, but they have
not enough in common to make them rivals.  I have lately been over to
London for a week, going by the Dieppe and New Haven route at night,
and returning by another; and the contrasts I speak of were impressed
upon me anew.  Everything here in and about Paris was in the green
and bloom of spring, and seemed to me very lovely; but my first
glance at an English landscape made it all seem pale and flat.  We
went up from New Haven to London in the morning, and feasted our eyes
all the way.  The French foliage is thin, spindling, sparse; the
grass is thin and light in color--in contrast.  The English trees are
massive, solid in substance and color; the grass is thick, and green
as emerald; the turf is like the heaviest Wilton carpet.  The whole
effect is that of vegetable luxuriance and solidity, as it were a
tropical luxuriance, condensed and hardened by northern influences.
If my eyes remember well, the French landscapes are more like our
own, in spring tone, at least; but the English are a revelation to us
strangers of what green really is, and what grass and trees can be.
I had been told that we did well to see England before going to the
Continent, for it would seem small and only pretty afterwards.  Well,
leaving out Switzerland, I have seen nothing in that beauty which
satisfies the eye and wins the heart to compare with England in
spring.  When we annex it to our sprawling country which lies
out-doors in so many climates, it will make a charming little retreat
for us in May and June, a sort of garden of delight, whence we shall
draw our May butter and our June roses.  It will only be necessary to
put it under glass to make it pleasant the year round.

When we passed within the hanging smoke of London town, threading our
way amid numberless railway tracks, sometimes over a road and
sometimes under one, now burrowing into the ground, and now running
along among the chimney-pots,--when we came into the pale light and
the thickening industry of a London day, we could but at once
contrast Paris.  Unpleasant weather usually reduces places to an
equality of disagreeableness.  But Paris, with its wide streets,
light, handsome houses, gay windows and smiling little parks and
fountains, keeps up a tolerably pleasant aspect, let the weather do
its worst.  But London, with its low, dark, smutty brick houses and
insignificant streets, settles down hopelessly into the dumps when
the weather is bad.  Even with the sun doing its best on the eternal
cloud of smoke, it is dingy and gloomy enough, and so dirty, after
spick-span, shining Paris.  And there is a contrast in the matter of
order and system; the lack of both in London is apparent.  You detect
it in public places, in crowds, in the streets.  The "social evil" is
bad enough in its demonstrations in Paris: it is twice as offensive
in London.  I have never seen a drunken woman in Paris: I saw many of
them in the daytime in London.  I saw men and women fight in the
streets,--a man kick and pound a woman; and nobody interfered.  There
is a brutal streak in the Anglo-Saxon, I fear,--a downright animal
coarseness, that does not exhibit itself the other side of the
Channel.  It is a proverb, that the London policemen are never at
hand.  The stout fellows with their clubs look as if they might do
service; but what a contrast they are to the Paris sergents de ville!
The latter, with his dress-coat, cocked hat, long rapier, white
gloves, neat, polite, attentive, alert,--always with the manner of a
jesuit turned soldier,--you learn to trust very much, if not respect;
and you feel perfectly secure that he will protect you, and give you
your rights in any corner of Paris.  It does look as if he might slip
that slender rapier through your body in a second, and pull it out
and wipe it, and not move a muscle; but I don't think he would do it
unless he were directly ordered to.  He would not be likely to knock
you down and drag you out, in mistake for the rowdy who was
assaulting you.

A great contrast between the habits of the people of London and Paris
is shown by their eating and drinking.  Paris is brilliant with
cafes: all the world frequents them to sip coffee (and too often
absinthe), read the papers, and gossip over the news; take them away,
as all travelers know, and Paris would not know itself.  There is not
a cafe in London: instead of cafes, there are gin-mills; instead of
light wine, there is heavy beer.  The restaurants and restaurant life
are as different as can be.  You can get anything you wish in Paris:
you can live very cheaply or very dearly, as you like.  The range is
more limited in London.  I do not fancy the usual run of Paris
restaurants.  You get a great deal for your money, in variety and
quantity; but you don't exactly know what it is: and in time you tire
of odds and ends, which destroy your hunger without exactly
satisfying you.  For myself, after a pretty good run of French
cookery (and it beats the world for making the most out of little),
when I sat down again to what the eminently respectable waiter in
white and black calls "a dinner off the Joint, sir," with what
belongs to it, and ended up with an attack on a section of a cheese
as big as a bass-drum, not to forget a pewter mug of amber liquid, I
felt as if I had touched bottom again,--got something substantial,
had what you call a square meal.  The English give you the
substantials, and better, I believe, than any other people.
Thackeray used to come over to Paris to get a good dinner now and
then.  I have tried his favorite restaurant here, the cuisine of
which is famous far beyond the banks of the Seine; but I think if he,
hearty trencher-man that he was, had lived in Paris, he would have
gone to London for a dinner oftener than he came here.

And as for a lunch,--this eating is a fascinating theme,--commend me
to a quiet inn of England.  We happened to be out at Kew Gardens the
other afternoon.  You ought to go to Kew, even if the Duchess of
Cambridge is not at home.  There is not such a park out of England,
considering how beautiful the Thames is there.  What splendid trees
it has!  the horse-chestnut, now a mass of pink-and-white blossoms,
from its broad base, which rests on the ground, to its high rounded
dome; the hawthorns, white and red, in full flower; the sweeps and
glades of living green,--turf on which you walk with a grateful sense
of drawing life directly from the yielding, bountiful earth,--a green
set out and heightened by flowers in masses of color (a great variety
of rhododendrons, for one thing), to say nothing of magnificent
greenhouses and outlying flower-gardens.  Just beyond are Richmond
Hill and Hampton Court, and five or six centuries of tradition and
history and romance.  Before you enter the garden, you pass the
green.  On one side of it are cottages, and on the other the old
village church and its quiet churchyard.  Some boys were playing
cricket on the sward, and children were getting as intimate with the
turf and the sweet earth as their nurses would let them.  We turned
into a little cottage, which gave notice of hospitality for a
consideration; and were shown, by a pretty maid in calico, into an
upper room,--a neat, cheerful, common room, with bright flowers in
the open windows, and white muslin curtains for contrast.  We looked
out on the green and over to the beautiful churchyard, where one of
England's greatest painters, Gainsborough, lies in rural repose.  It
is nothing to you, who always dine off the best at home, and never
encounter dirty restaurants and snuffy inns, or run the gauntlet of
Continental hotels, every meal being an experiment of great interest,
if not of danger, to say that this brisk little waitress spread a
snowy cloth, and set thereon meat and bread and butter and a salad:
that conveys no idea to your mind.  Because you cannot see that the
loaf of wheaten bread was white and delicate, and full of the
goodness of the grain; or that the butter, yellow as a guinea, tasted
of grass and cows, and all the rich juices of the verdant year, and
was not mere flavorless grease; or that the cuts of roast beef, fat
and lean, had qualities that indicate to me some moral elevation in
the cattle,--high-toned, rich meat; or that the salad was crisp and
delicious, and rather seemed to enjoy being eaten, at least, did n't
disconsolately wilt down at the prospect, as most salad does.  I do

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com