Boulevard Des Italiens.
So long as any of the soldiers who had served under Napoleon survived, they always came here on the Emperor's birthday and on the anniversaries of his great battles, and hung upon the railing of the column wreaths of flowers. Even now such scenes are not uncommon. The only wonder is that, in the wave of Napoleonic enthusiasm now sweeping over France, such demonstrations are not made more frequently. One recollects here the pathetic words of Napoleon's son, who, though born heir to a colossal empire, died virtually a prisoner in Austria. To a friend who was returning from Vienna to Paris, he murmured: "Say to the Ven-dome Column that I die because I cannot behold it."
A Parisian Boulevard.
From this historic monument a few steps brings one to the Boulevards. I mean, of course, the Boulevards; for though there are many new ones in Paris, the distinctive name refers to the old ramparts on the north, which were long since transformed into a line of splendid thoroughfares, beginning at the Madeleine and ending in the Place de la Bastille. No photographic view can do them justice; but every visitor to Paris knows that, as a specimen of metropolitan elegance and life, they are, in most respects, unequaled in the world. Through them for many hours of the day and night pours a continuous stream of restless life, between a rare display of jewels, paintings, laces, silks, and countless other fascinations, which justify the witty saying of Voltaire: "Le super flu, - chose si ne'cessaire!"
A Paris Omnibus.
Perhaps the first feature of these boulevards to impress the tourist is the width of their sidewalks. These are usually thirty or forty feet in breadth, and, when crowded on a Sunday afternoon, or about midnight at the closing of the theatres, the long perspective of pedestrians on them looks like an army marching ten abreast. Another striking characteristic is the throng of vehicles between their curbs. With the exception of a few omnibuses, these are all cabs or private carriages. One stands upon the curbstone as one might linger on a river-bank, and watches the swift current sweep along until the brain grows weary with the effort to imagine whence and whither.
Who can forget the omnibuses on these boulevards, with the ascending stairway in the rear, leading to that perambulating post of observation which Victor Hugo liked so well that he would often spend there hours at a time? To an American the Parisian system of refusing admission to a public vehicle after the seats are filled is a surprise. How he misses, at first, the crowds that in his native country walk upon his feet, half-dislocate his knee-pans, or sit upon his lap! How lax his muscles become when no more forced to use his acrobatic skill in clinging to a strap when the New York conductor roars out: "Hold fast!"as the cable-car swings around "Dead Man's Curve." In Paris, when the seats are occupied, the little sign "Complet" inexorably keeps out all intruders. This leads sometimes to strange mistakes on the part of tourists, one of whom is said to have declared: "I have visited every place in Paris except Complet; but whenever I have seen an omnibus bearing that name it would not stop for me." The most remarkable feature of the Parisian boulevards is the life in their cafes. Sometimes for a considerable distance one can see nothing in the lower stories of the buildings but cafes, - all blazing with electric lights, blushing in gorgeous upholstery, and multiplied in glittering mirrors. Before them on the spacious sidewalks are numberless little tables, where, on a pleasant afternoon or evening, sit hundreds of well-dressed men and women, laughing, talking, partaking of refreshments, or (in a state of tranquil happiness which we Americans with nerves can hardly understand) observing the crowd forever passing at their feet. The sight of such a boulevard at night invariably suggests to me a theatre, the audience of which is seated in a dazzling auditorium, watching the actors on a mighty stage.
Palais De L'Industrie, Champs-Elysees.