Monday, March 26, 2007

Paris in the Spring after Waterloo

For my novel "No Regrets" I did a considerable amount of research on Paris after 1815---right after the battle of Waterloo.

There was a flood of visitors during the brief peace between England and France after the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Bonaparte was first consul at the time. It was then that English ladies and gentlemen realized that Paris fashions had left them behind. While their waistlines were natural and the men still wore the frock coats of the previous century, the ladies of Paris were wearing diaphanous high-waisted gowns and the men were in tight fitting pantaloons and high cut coats. The Parisiennes of the time definately looked down on them. The English rushed to catch up.
The English had also flocked to Paris when Napoleon was locked up on Elba. Wellington was appointed as Ambassador and his wife joined him. He did not prove a particularly popular Abassador with the French, his manners apparently were far too informal and brusque. It all came to a crashing halt when Bonaparte escaped for what proved to be one hundred days.

After Waterloo, June 1815, Paris was put under an army of occupation headed by Wellington. The city was as Bonaparte had left it and the Bourbonnes had returned. This is when my characters visit.

The mood is bitter. Everywhere there are soldiers in foreign uniforms, cossaks in brown baggy trousers, Austrians in embroidered white, and the British in red. One book describes the resentment of the populace. French soldiers fighting in the streets with allied troops over women or attempts of French soldiers to tear off allied soldiers victory medals and sprigs of oak leaves. They constantly challenged their occupying officers to duels.
A look of blasted glory, of withered pride and lurking revenge’ could be seen on the faces of French soldiers in Paris -Auguest de Staël.

Paris didn't look the way it does today, although it was the second largest city in the world after London. I'm guessing that it certainly didn't look any better than it does in this 1840 picture of the Notre Dame and the Seine. Unlike London, Paris had no street lights apart from the occasional lantern strung across the road. Off the main streets the alleys were twisty, narrow, dark and dangerous, and ran with ordure. That is waste of all descriptions, night slops horsemanure etc. The Palais Royal, however, standing in the midst of all this, was described as an island of light. It was lit with hundreds of lanterns. I imagine them to be like fairy lights today. There were elegant shops with an amazing array of goods from all over the Continent that the English had not seen for a long time, as well as restaurants for the well-to-do tourist and of course cafe's everywhere. The English at this time sent a great many artifacts home. The French were only too happy to sell them, because they were broke.

Apparently prostitutes lived in the attics of the Palais. It was in fact the center of all things Parisienne. The Englishman’s Mentor a guide book said they would take you to a room in the attics or a cellar or cabinet noir where there were scenes such as no Englishman can conceive of frightful and unimaginable sensuality. Hmm. Sounds like a good spot for a villain. bwahhaaa.
Licenced brothels called were called maisons de tolèrance and unlicenced ones were known as maisons clandestine. Prostitutes were required once a month to the Dispensiare de Salubrité in the Rue Croix des Petit Champs to get checked out for venereal desease. Paris and the French were a lot more liberal and much more organized than the English in that regard.

One of the most fashionable places to visit was Tortoni’s on the Boulevard des Italiens founded by a Neapolitan brought to France by Napoleon to provide Paris with good ices. Needless to say, this is one place my couple just had to visit. I can't help it, I love ice cream. According to a writer of the day Tortoni's were excellent. With his ice cream the patron received iced water in a neat carafe lined with a shell of ice. Sounds like something we could enjoy today.

This next view is of the Tuileries exactly how it looked when the English went to Paris to make their bows to the restored King and Queen. Apparently they really never did get the hang of just how it was done.

Of course I have 16 pages of notes on this stuff, and will provide some more later in the week, you'll get a little bit of politics, some characters of the day and a visit to the British Embassy, always a good location for a hero to visit, especially when you can be sure it was there at the time.
If you are interest in my source, the principle one I used was "Paris Between the Empires" – Phillip Mansell
Until next time, happy rambles in Paris in the Spring, or whereever you happen to be.