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How Paris Amuses Itself

Frank Berkeley Smith

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
It is the small boy who crawls under the circus tent who most keenly enjoys the show. He has watched while the big double-top canvas was being raised and staked taut, transforming the familiar pasture-lot into a magic realm, more alluring and seductive than the best fishing-hole in the town creek. Following the parade, a cavalcade of golden chariots, caparisoned horses and swaying elephants, the small boy has walked on air, buoyed by the thump and blare of the brass band. Weeks before he had reveled in every detail of the show as revealed in posters on the barn-doors: the lady with the fluffy skirts bounding through the paper hoops from the well-rosined back of her white horse; the merry, painted clown; the immaculate ringmaster in glistening boots; and, last of all, the showman!—generous, genial and big of heart, whose plain black cravat, fitted neatly under his collar as in the lithographs, and whose beaming blue eye seemed an open guaranty of all he promised at the single price of admission. Should the small boy grow up to be a connoisseur in much that glitters in life besides golden chariots, and yet manage to keep young enough to preserve a kindly feeling toward the lady of perennial youth upon the white horse, should boyish love of the picturesque still abide in him, he will find within the gates of Paris a city after his own heart, a place where gaiety never ceases, where the finesse of amusement has been brought almost to a state of perfection. To this great pleasure-ground the whole world flocks for amusement. It is upon this exquisitely fashioned spider-web of Europe that many rare butterflies have beaten their pretty wings to tatters, and in it that many an old wasp has entangled itself and died. Paris! the polished magnet which attracts the spare change of countless thousands in payment for the wares of folly and fashion, of the dressmaker and the cook! When the sun shines, the city is en fête. Rows of geraniums flame in the well ordered gardens of the Tuileries. Masses of flowers, gay in color as the ribbons streaming from the bonnets of the nurses, lie in brilliant patches along gravel walks or within the cool shadow of massive architecture. Brown-legged children, in white socks and white dresses fresh from the blanchisseuse, run screaming after runaway hooples, or watch in silent ecstasy the life and exploits of Mr. Punch at the Théâtre Guignol. Under a vault of turquoise sky the Alexander Bridge, emblazoned with its golden horses, spans the Seine, crowded with traffic sweeping beneath the great arc. Sturdy steam-tugs with vermilion funnels tow long sausage-like lines of newly varnished canal-boats, whose sunburned captains with their sweethearts or families lounge at déjeuner under improvised awnings stretched from the roofs of cabins shining in fresh paint. Down the great vista of the Seine each successive bridge is choked with thousands of hurrying ant-like humanity. Swift bateaux-mouches dart back and forth to their floating stations. For a few sous these small steamers will take you to St. Cloud or beyond, past feathery green islands, past small rural cafés perched upon grassy banks where all day long old gentlemen wearing white socks and Panama hats wait patiently for a stray nibble.