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Monday, 5 November 2012

An incident in Paris

Thursday, November 5th., Paris

I had a chill, and all day I failed to concentrate my thoughts on my third Windsor story. But I had one good idea in the night.
In the afternoon I walked down the whole length of the Fete de Montmartre as far as La Chapelle, and then back on the other side of the road, incidentally inspecting the immense shop of Dufayel.

'Dufayel' was a huge department store that sold furniture and housewares. When it opened in 1856, it was called Le Grand Magasin des Nouveautés. When the original owner died in 1888, an ambitious employee called Georges Dufayel bought it and gave it his own name. Dufayel (1855 -1916) was quite an operator. He either invented or popularized the notion of buying goods on the instalment plan and buying from a catalogue. He also sold coupons that could be used in other stores, and took a cut of each transaction. Les Grands Magasins Dufayel expanded over the years until the store occupied most of a city block to the east of the hill of Montmartre – about a hectare in all. The inside was palatial, with chandeliers and mirrors, and contained a winter garden and a theatre that seated 3,000. On top of the dome was a revolving searchlight of 10 million candlepower – roughly similar to the light that currently revolves on top of the Eiffel Tower. The statues on either side of the entrance represent “Credit” and “Publicity” and over the door was “Progress” riding in a chariot.

I only saw one episode that interested me - a horse falling down as it turned too sharply from the boulevard into one of the steep streets north. This accident, like many others here, was due to the practice of balancing really large and heavy carts (the cart was loaded with bricks) on two wheels only. The strain on the shaft horse must sometimes be enormous. The leader had stumbled several times onto his knees in the boulevard, but he got round the corner in safety. It was the shaft horse that fell. The teamster gave a little fatalistic nod. The horse, after a brief struggle, resigned himself. Of course, a crowd gathered immediately; a busy, interfering, wishful-to-help crowd. I was much struck by the stink of the crowd, the low type of face, the squints, the bullet heads, the misshapen features. The getting up of the horse was mismanaged for a long time; but in the end it was accomplished without injury to the horse or the cart. No gendarme appeared until just before the end, and then he stood amiably smiling and watching - an oldish man. At least a dozen men gave active assistance, and dozens gesticulated and shouted advice. It was rather melancholy, this exhibition in the mass of the French man's ineptitude. A crowd of French women would have managed it better. I was out an hour and a half, and at the end, as I came in, the noise of the scores of sham orchestras had got fearfully on my nerves.

1 comment:

  1. I see you have used my Photo I took of the William Boulton Stationary Steam Engine at Middleport Pottery. I thought you would have asked.