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Friday, 25 October 2013

An equivocal tourist

Monday, October 25th., Paris.

Ascended the tower of Notre Dame in order to see the Devils, which surpassed expectations. It struck me that these twelfth century devils gazed over Zola's Paris with a certain benign satisfaction.

Gardens of Luxembourg. It is here that bohemian Paris takes the air. This part of the city has an effective significance which is missing in the neighbourhood of the cosmopolitan Boulevard des Italiens. Here is some Doing. People are less self-conscious and more purposeful; more truly light-hearted and yet more earnest .... A beautiful afternoon, absolutely cloudless sky, gentlest breeze just moving out of the perpendicular the high fountain spray in front of the Palace .... A large, apparently but not really shapeless space, gravelled and sown with brown trees and yellow chairs, and untidy with autumn leaves.

As to the people:
Nursemaids, whose large white or blue aprons and white caps seem to strike the note of the scene; scores of children, many just able to walk, others learning to skip or clumsily trundling hoops, others in arms; the last seemed always to be receiving clean napkins from their plump comfortable nurses.
Students in fine black hats and vast neckties, walking about or sitting in groups.
The chairwoman, a buxom young woman, capless, with a large black apron. She goes to a group of young students who are talking and laughing amongst themselves. Without apparently noticing her, they throw her a few words, still laughing, a colloquy ensues, and then for some reason she goes away without exacting pennies from them.

Young women, carelessly chic, some powdered, all talkative, sitting about in pairs, with looks on their faces of invitation.
Here and there a few sedater groups, well-dressed; papa, mama et bebe, or perhaps several old women full of volubility and gesture.
A few inquisitive dogs.
In the distance the tooting of tram-cars, and the vague roar of traffic.

The traveller, however virginal and enthusiastic, does not enjoy an unbroken ecstasy. He has periods of gloom, periods when he asks himself the object of all these exertions, and puts the question whether or not he is really experiencing pleasure. At such times he suspects that he is not seeing the right things, that the characteristic, the right aspects of these strange scenes are escaping him. He looks forward dully to the days of his holiday yet to pass, and wonders how he will dispose of them. He is disgusted because his money is not more, his command of the language so slight, and his capacity for enjoyment so limited. His mind goes forward to speculate as to his future career, which seems one of but narrow possibilities, and he foresees failure. The newness of things grows monotonous; he desires the known, the expected.

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