Bohemian Paris

Bohemian Paris

The students are the pets of Paris. They lend to the city a picturesqueness that no other city enjoys. So long as they avoid riots aimed at a government that may now and then offend their sense of right, their ways of living, their escapades, their noisy and joyous manifestations of healthy young animal life, are good-naturedly overlooked. Underneath such a life there lies, concealed from casual view, another life that they lead, -- one of hard work, of hope, of aspiration, and often of pinching poverty and cruel self-denial. The stress upon them, of many kinds, is great. The utter absence of an effort to reorganize their lives upon conventional lines is from a philosophical belief that if they fail to pass unscathed through it all, they lack the fine, strong metal from which worthy artists are made.

The stranger in Paris will here find opened to him places in which he may study for himself the Bohernian life of the city in all its careless disregard of conventions. The cafes, cabarets, and dance-halls illustrate a charm that wholesome, well-balanced minds will enjoy without any effort at concealment.

Every night in the cheapest seats of some theatre, the terraces of the Cafe de la Paix, watching the pretty girls as they passed, their silken skirts saucily pulled up, revealing dainty laces and ankles. Studying the masterpieces of David, Rubens, Rembrandt, and the rest, from the slippery floor of the Louvre galleries; the Pantheon, the Musee Cluny; the Eiffel Tower, traversing the Bois de Boulogne and the Champs-Elysees.

The beggars and musicians have regular routes and fixed hours. Cold and stormy days are welcomed by them, for then pity lends activity to sous. A piratical old beggar has his stand near the entrance to a court, where he kneels on the stones, his faithful mongrel dog beside him. He occasionally poses for the artists when times are dull, but he prefers begging, -- it is easier and more remunerative. Sometimes a strolling troupe of two actors and three musicians makes its appearance, and invariably plays to a full house. There are droves of sham singers who do not sing at all but give mournful howls and tell their woes to deaf windows.

There are no bath-tubs in the old houses, but that difficulty is surmounted by a bathing establishment on the Boulevard St. Michel. It sends around a cart bearing a tank of hot water and a zinc tub. The man who pulls the cart carries the tub to the room, and fills it by carrying up the water in buckets. Then he remains below until the bath is finished, to regain his tub and collect a franc.

There is the strange Bohemian life lying outside as well as within the students' pale, and into the spirit of it all they find their way. It is to the Bohemian, not the social, life of Paris that these papers are devoted -- a life both picturesque and pathetic, filled with the oddest contrasts and incongruities, with much suffering but more content, and spectacular and fascinating in all its phases. No one can have seen and known Paris without a study of this - its living, struggling artistic side, so strange, so remote from the commonplace world surging and roaring unheeded about it.


Ecole des Beaux-Arts About the fifteenth of October, after the long summer vacation, that the doors of the great Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in the Rue Bonaparte, are thrown open. The first week, called "la semaine des nouveaux," is devoted to the initiation and hazing of the new students, who come mostly from foreign countries and the French provinces. These festivities can never be forgotten -- by the nouveaux.

It is only in this government school of the four arts that the typical Bohemian students of Paris may be found, including the genuine type of French student, with his long hair, his whiskers, his Latin Quarter "plug" hat*, his cape, blouse, wide corduroy trousers, sash, expansive necktie, and immense cane. The Ecole preserves this type more effectually than the other schools, such as Julian's and Colarossi's, where most of the students are foreigners in conventional dress. [* A high crowned hat with a flat top and narrow brim. Also called Chimneypot hat, Stovepipe hat, pot hat, silk hat.]

The models - what stories are there! Every Monday morning from ten to twenty present themselves, male and female, for inspection in puris naturalibus before the critical gaze of the students of the different ateliers. One after another they mount the throne and assume such academic poses of their own choosing as they imagine will display their points to the best advantage. The students then vote upon them, for and against, by raising the hand. The massier, standing beside the model, announces the result, and, if the vote is favorable, enrols the model for a certain week to come.

There is intense rivalry among the models. Strange to say, most of the male models in the schools of Paris are from Italy, the southern part especially. As a rule, they have very good figures. They begin posing at the age of five or six, and follow the business. Crowds of them are at the gates of the Beaux-Arts early on Monday mornings. In the voting, a child may be preferred to his seniors, and yet the rate of payment is the same, -- thirty francs a week.

Many of the older models are quite proud of their profession, spending idle hours in studying the attitudes of figures in great paintings and in sculptures in the Louvre or the Luxembourg, and adopting these poses when exhibiting themselves to artists; but the trick is worthless.

Few of the women models remain long in the profession. Posing is hard and fatiguing work, and the students are merciless in their criticisms of any defects of figure that the models may have, -- the French are born critics.

Some become companions of students and artists, but the cafes along the Boul' Mich', the cabarets of Montmartre, and the dance-halls of the Moulin Rouge and the Bal Bullier have their own story to tell. Most of them are ordinaire, living the easy life of Bohemian Paris, and having little knowledge of le monde propre. But, oh, how they all love dress! and therein lies most of the story.

All the great painters have their exclusive model or models, paying them a permanent salary. These favored ones move in a special circle, into which the ordinaire may not enter, unless she becomes the favorite of some grand homme. They are never seen at the academies, and rarely or never pose in the schools, unless it was there they began their career.

Sarah Brown

Perhaps the most famous of the models of Paris was Sarah Brown, whose wild and exciting life has been the talk of the world. Her beautiful figure and glorious golden hair opened to her the whole field of modeldom. Offers for her services as model were more numerous than she could accept, and the prices that she received were very high. She was the mistress of one great painter after another, and she lived and reigned like a queen. Impulsive, headstrong, passionate, she would do the most reckless things. She would desert an artist in the middle of his masterpiece and come down to the studio to pose for the students at thirty francs a week. Gorgeously apparelled, she would glide into a studio, overturn all the easels that she could reach, and then shriek with laughter over the havoc and consternation that she had created. The students would greet her with shouts and form a circle about her, while she would banteringly call them her friends. Then she would jump upon the throne, dispossess the model there, and give a dance or make a speech, knocking off every hat that her parasol could reach. But no one could resist Sarah.

The breaking in of a new girl model is a joy that the students never permit themselves to miss. Among the many demoiselles who come every Monday morning are usually one or two that are new. The new one is accompanied by two or more of her girl friends, who give her encouragement at the terrible moment when she disrobes. As there are no dressing-rooms, there can be no privacy. The students gather about and watch the proceedings with great interest, and make whatever remarks their deviltry can suggest. This is the supreme test; all the efforts of the attendant girls are required to hold the new one to her purpose. When finally, after an inconceivable struggle with her shame, the girl plunges ahead in reckless haste to finish the job, the students applaud her roundly.

The Boulevard Saint-Michel is a way of Paris, on the border between the 5th and 6th districts, stretching from Pont Saint-Michel to the Avenue de l'Observatoire. It is called colloquially the "boul 'Mich' " by contraction of secular name" Michel Boulevard that was once given to it by students anticlerical.

Of course the proper name for the great thoroughfare of the Quartier Latin is the Boulevard Saint-Michel, but the boulevardiers call it the Boul 'Mich', just as the students call the Quatre Arts the Quat'z' Arts, because it is easier to say.

Quat'z' Arts

The Boul 'Mich' is the student's highway to relaxation. Mention of it at once recalls whirling visions of brilliant cafes, with their clattering of saucers and glasses, the shouting of their white-aproned gargons, their hordes of gay and wicked damsels dressed in the costliest and most fashionable gowns, and a multitude of riotous students howling class songs and dancing and parading to the different cafes as only students can. This is the head-quarters of the Bohemians of real Bohemia, whose poets haunt the dim and quaint cabarets and read their compositions to admiring friends; of flower-girls who offer you un petit bouquet, seulement dix centimes, and pin it into your button-hole before you can refuse; of Turks in picturesque native costume selling sweetmeats; of the cane man loaded down with immense sticks; of the pipe man, with pipes having stems a yard long; of beggars, gutter-snipes, hot-chestnut venders, pedlers, singers, actors, students, and all manner of queer characters.

The life of the Boul' Mich' begins at the Pantheon, where repose the remains of France's great men, and ends at the Seine, where the gray Gothic towers and the gargoyles of Notre-Dame look down disdainfully upon the giddy traffic below. The eastern side of the Boul' is lined with cafes, cabarets, and brasseries.

This is historic ground, for where now is the old Hotel Cluny are still to be seen the ruins of Roman baths, and not a great distance hence are the partly uncovered ruins of a Roman arena, with its tiers of stone seats and its dens. The tomb of Cardinal Richelieu is in the beautiful old chapel of the Sorbonne, within sound of the wickedest cafe in Paris, the Cafe d'Harcourt.

Cafe d'Harcourt

In the immediate vicinity are to be found the quaint jumbled buildings of old Paris, but they are fast disappearing. And the Quartier abounds in the world's greatest schools and colleges of the arts and sciences. In the side streets leading away from the markets are cafes and restaurants almost without number, and they are open toute la nuit, to accommodate the market people, having a special permit to do so; but as they are open to all, the revellers from all parts of Paris assemble there after they have been turned out of the boulevard cafes at two o'clock. It is not an uncommon thing early of a Sunday morning to see crowds of merry-makers from a bal masque finishing the night here, all in costume, dancing and playing ring-around-a-rosy among the stacks of vegetables and the unheeding market people. Indeed, it is quite a common thing to end one's night's frivolity at the Halles and their cafes, and take the first 'buses home in the early morning.

The Boul' Mich' is at its glory on Saturday nights, for the students have done their week's work, and the morrow is Sunday. Nearly everybody goes to the Bal Bullier.

This is separated from the crowded Boul' Mich' by several squares of respectable dwelling-houses and shops, and a dearth of cafes prevails thereabout. At the upper end of the Luxembourg is a long stone wall brilliantly bedecked with lamps set in clusters. -- the same wall against which Marechal Ney was shot (a striking monument across the way recalls the incident). At one end of this yellow wall is an arched entree, resplendent with the glow of many rows of electric lights and lamps, which reveal the colored bas-reliefs of dancing students and grisettes that adorn the portal. Near by stands a row of voitures, and others are continually dashing up and depositing Latin-Quarter swells with hair parted behind and combed forward toward the ears, and dazzling visions of the demi-monde in lace, silks, and gauze. And there is a constantly arriving stream of students and gaudily dressed women on foot. Big gardes municipaux stand at the door like stone images as the crowd surges past.

Bal BulHer

The gayety is at its height, the Bal BulHer is in full swing. The tables are piled high with saucers, and the garçons are bringing more. The room is warm and suffocating, the dancing and flirting faster than ever. Now and then a line is formed to "crack the whip," and woe betide anything that comes in its way!

Bal BulHer

Martinique negroesBut the big black Martinique negroes, -- they haunted and dominated everything, and the demi-monde fell down and worshipped them. They are students of law and medicine, and are sent hither from the French colonies by the government, or come on their private means. They are all heavy swells, as only negroes can be; their well-fitted clothes are of the finest and most showy material; they wear shining silk hats, white waistcoats, white "spats," patent leathers, and very light kid gloves, not to mention a load of massive jewelry. The girls flutter about them in bevies, like doves to be fed.

At exactly a quarter-past midnight the band plays the last piece, the lights began to go out, and the Bal Bullier was closed. Out into the boulevard surge the heated crowd, shouting, singing, and cutting capers as they head for the Boul' Mich', there to continue the revelries of which the Bal Bullier was only the beginning, "A la Taverne du Pantheon!" "Au Cafe Lorrain!" "Au Cafe d'Harcourt!", cries rang through the streets, mingled with the singing of half a thousand people.

Cafe d'Harcourt
Cafe d'Harcourt
Taverne du Pantheon
Pantheon from Luxembourg Gardens

Ah, le Boul' Mich' never sleeps! There are the laughing grisettes, the singing and dancing students, the kiosks all aglow; the marchand de marrons roasting his chestnuts over a charcoal brazier, sending out a savory aroma; the swarthy Turk is offering his wares with a princely grace; the flower-girls flit about with freshly cut carnations, violets, and Marechal Niel roses, --

Childe Hassam - Maréchal Niel Roses 1919."This joli bouquet for your sweetheart," they plead plaintively; the pipe man plies his trade, and the sellers of the last editions of the papers cry their wares. An old pedler works in and out among the cafe tables with a little basket of olives, deux pour un sou. The crawfish seller, with his little red ecrevisses neatly arranged on a platter; Italian boys in white blouses bearing baskets filled with plaster casts of "works of the old masters;" gewgaw pedlers, -- they are still all busily at work, each adding his mite to the din.

The cafes are packed, both inside and out, but the favorite seats are those on the sidewalk under the awninofs. Every consommation is served with a saucer, upon which is marked the price of the drink, and the score is thus footed a la fin de ces joies. There are some heavy accounts to be settled with the garçons. The night's excitement reaches its height now. There is a dizzy whirl of skirts, feathers, "plug" hats, and silken stockings; and there is dancing on the tables, with a smashing of glass, while lumps of sugar soaked in cognac are thrown about. A single-file march round the room is started, each dragging a chair and all singing, " Oh, la pauvre fille, elle est malade!"

The contrast between the fluffy and silk-gowned demi-mondaines and the dirty, roughly clad market people is very striking at the Cafe Barrette.

There the women sit in graceful poses, or saunter about and give evidence of their style, silk gowns, India laces, and handsome furs, greeting each new-comer with pleas for a sandwich or a bock [a strong dark beer brewed in the fall and drunk in the spring]; they are always hungry and thirsty, but they get a commission on all sales that they promote. A small string orchestra gives lively music, and take up collections between performances. The array of gilt-framed mirrors heighten the brilliancy of the place, already sufficiently aglow with many electric lights. The Cafe Barrette is the last stand of the gaudy women of the boulevards. With the first gray gleam of dawn they pass with the night to which they belong.

Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge resembles very much the Bullier; but at the Moulin the cocottes are much more dashing and gaudy than over in the Quartier, because the inspector at the door of the Moulin maintains a more exacting standard on the score of the toilettes of the women whom he admits free of charge. Women, women, women! There seems no end of them; and each is arrayed to the full limit of her means. And there are French dandies in long white melton coats that were very tight at the waist, and that bore large brown-velvet collars; their hair, parted behind, was brushed toward their ears; they stroll about the place in numbers, twirling their moustaches and ogling the girls. And there are French army officers, Martinique negroes, long-haired students and Montmartre poets, artists, actors, and many three-days-in-Paris English tourists wearing knickerbockers and golf-caps, and always smoking bulldog pipes. There are also two parties of American men with their wives and daughters, and they enjoy the spectacle with the natural fulness and responsiveness of their soil. For the Moulin is really now but a great show place; it has been discovered by the outside world, and, unlike the other quaint places mentioned, has suffered the change that such contact inevitably imparts. It is no longer the queer old Moulin, genuinely, spontaneously Bohemian. But the stranger would hardly realize that; it seemed the brilliant and showy side of Bohemian Paris. By reason of its change in character it has less interest than the real Bohemian Paris that the real Bohemians know, enjoy, and jealously guard.

Many light-footed young women amuse circles of on-lookers with spirited dancing and reckless high-kicking; and, being adept in their peculiar art, so flashing and illusory that an attempt to analyze their movements only bewilder. No bones seemed to hamper their swiftness and elasticity. The flash of a black stocking instantly dissolves into a fleecy cloud of lace, and the whirling air a cyclone; and there upon the floor the dancer in the "split," looking up with a merry laugh, flushed cheeks, and sparkling eyes, twinkling from the shadow of a twisted toque; then over her sweeps a whirlwind of other dancers, and identities would become inextricably confused. Innumerable bright little comedies unconsciously play in all parts of the room, and even more interesting than the antics of the dancers.

Montmartre presents the extravagant side of Parisian Bohemianism. If there is a thing to be mocked, a convention to be outraged, an idol to be destroyed, Montmartre will find the way. But it has a taint of sordidness that the real Bohemianism of the old Latin Quarter lacks, -- for it is not the Bohemianism of the students. And it is vulgar. For all that, in its rude, reckless, and brazen way it iicturesque.

The Quartier Latin takes on unwonted life about the fifteenth of July, when the artists and students change their places of abode under the resistless pressure of a nomadic spirit. Studios are generally taken for terms ranging from three months to a year, and the terms generally expire in July. The artists who do not change their residence then go into the country, and that means moving their effects. It is a familiar fact that artists do not generally occupy a high position in the financial world. Consequently they are a very practical lot, attending to their own domestic duties (including washing when times are hard), and doing their own moving when July comes; but this is not a very elaborate undertaking, the worse of them for that.

It is Love that moves Paris -- it is the motive power of this big, beautiful, polished city -- the love of adventure, the love of intrigue, the love of being a bohemian if you will -- but it is Love all the same!

Bohemian Paris of To-day, W. C. Morrow, From Notes by Edouard Cucuel, Illustrated by Edouard Cucuel, 1899. (The punctuation and spelling from the original text have been faithfully preserved. Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected; ocr errors may be present.)
The Real Latin Quarter, by F. Berkeley Smith, 1901