Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Whimsy's Diary, 23rd October 1895

Oh, how wonderful to have visited Paris!

I know it was brief - merely a 'flying visit' - but it is a marvellous and thoroughly modern city. Men often do not wear hats - not a single stove-pipe did I see in my whole time there, though some men of poorer sort wore different kinds of flat cap, some pulled to the front and some that lean to one side. This sort, Rivets informed me, are a kind of fisherman's hat called a 'berry', though I cannot see why, as they resemble no sort of berry I know, but rather a kind of pancake, of which there many and excellent kinds for sale in the back-streets below the new church of Sacre Coeur. The women wear their hair long for the most part, and top this with either hats like a Homburg or another kind of fisherman's cap, this one less flat and somewhat resembling a pastry, of which there was also multitude of kinds on sale everywhere. Everyone, men and women alike, wears a kind of long narrow shawl called 'escarfe'. These come in a wide variety of designs and fabrics, and are knotted round the neck in a multitude of ways. But the most extra-ordinary thing is that some ladies wear trousers! Young girls, and many ladies of more mature years, wear respectable dresses it is true, but from about the age of 15 or so, up to 50, a great many women were wearing trousers. I can only assume this is due to the great love Parisiennes have of riding. Long coats vented so as to facilitate riding, as well as many short jackets, were much in evidence to support this notion. Of course, boots were also conspicuous, though as the weather was not exactly summery in late October, this may have been more to do with the water in the streets than any wish to exercise horses in the Bois de Boulogne.

We stayed in a small place in Belleville, which lived up to its name - a charming place and full of people from all over the globe from Africa to China, and even the far Americas, if you would believe such a thing. Walking down one of the broad avenues, intent on visiting the modern cemetery at Pere Lachaise, I happened to notice several ladies of Oriental appearance - though dressed in a manner indistinguishable from the French ladies - who seemed to be waiting for something while standing outside various establishments. Thinking perhaps that their husbands were conducting business inside, I asked Rivets if it was the custom that ladies of China would not enter the shops. Rivets seemed quite certain that these ladies did not have husbands. Asking how he was so sure, he told me that he was certain they were waiting for gentleman callers to approach them, at which point they would begin to conduct business on their own account. I was shocked, I must admit, as we don't have such a thing in Pootling Magna, I'm quite sure. I feel like such a silly girl sometimes, and am grateful to Rivets for his wide knowledge and wise advice. He turned even more red than usual when telling me, though.

At Pere Lachaise, I learned nothing. Neither Uncle Reg's grave, nor any of my grandemere's family, could I find. Certainly, I found many de Rieres in Paris, but never the right one. As to Uncle Reg, the story that he was given a hero's burial seems wide of the mark. I'll be very sorry to tell Aunt Eleanor, but those who died in that awful time are almost forgotten. What a waste, to have laid down your life for a city that pretends that nothing has happened! But, thoroughly moderne though it is, Paris bears the scars of war. Barely 20 years have passed since the war with Prussia, and only due the ingenuity of M. Verne's engines was the city kept safe at all. Here and there were memorials to those who fought to defend the city as well as partly-destroyed buildings - the results, I assume, of bombardment by the Prussian Kriegmaschinen. This latest calamity seems much more in evidence than the events of 1848. That escapade seems to have become something of a forgotten myth, and Uncle Reg has been forgotten with it - if his remembrance was ever more than our family's own myth to console us in our loss.

This is, I think, because Paris is always thinking of the future. The astounding metal tower built by M. Eiffel in the western part of the city is certainly a marvel of the modern world. I really cannot do it justice - the soaring iron beams seem to fling themselves into the sky, and one's eye is drawn irresistibly upward whenever one spies it above the surrounding buildings or at the end of a boulevard. The top floor, I'm told, is a tether-stage for airships of all kinds - though, as we were trying to stay somewhat inconspicuous, we set down Windhover on a small aerofield near Gare de l'est. I have taken many photomatographics of the tower; I shall study them in an attempt to better to understand this fantastical construction.

Peggy was transfixed by the whole adventure - perhaps by nothing more than our visit to the lingeresse that Aunt Eleanor recommended to me. She was right that their wares are far more sophisticated than anything I have seen in England! I am glad to say that Rivets did not accompany us on that trip - when I flatly told him we were going shopping for ladies' delicates, he turned scarlet (again) harrumphed very loudly and said that he would try to find some axle-grease from a mechanic's workshop. Peggy rolled her eyes at this - we both know that we're very well provided for grease and Rivets was making excuses, but it is for the best. I'm sure he would have been even more uncomfortable had he actually caught sight of any of the pretty under-things on display!

Sadly, in the end, our visit was fruitless. I am no further in my quest to find information on my father's mysterious disappearance and now, back in England, I can think of no other course than to venture into the veritable lions' den. I fear, I must make the trip to Ruritania - and soon, if I am not to find the trail utterly cold. It is not a prospect I relish...