Round the World at the Paris Exposition
“ DISTINGTREWS, distinguons! Let us make the distinction, gentlemen,” says the venal English commissioner at whom the people laugh, going round the world in eighty days with Mr. Pliineas Fogg at the Porte Saint Martin Theatre, “ It was one thing to break up the ceremony (the suttee of the Hindoo widow), though our gracious government aims to guarantee to all of its subjects the enjoyment of their conscientious religious convictions, and another to shoot the officiating Brahmins.”
“ Such being the case, as you will observe that we are extremely pressed for time, what will you take to call it square? ” says Mr. Phineas Fogg.
“ One hundred thousand francs,” the commissioner replies. The comic servant ladles the money out of the inexhaustible haversack, and they are off in a twinkling for a shipwreck, a cavern of serpents, and a ballet of nautch girls, in the next act.
There are naturally inaccuracies in this spirited picture of life and geography, attributable to the haste in which it is sketched. Thus it is not possible, in the actual chase of lions in the jungles of Bengal, that the hunter is called upon to enter with a whip and stir them up to jump over hurdles. Nor are the railway carriages on the Central Pacific, which put passengers down at waystations to be tomahawked by savages, constructed on the European plan, with compartments and side doors and platforms. In the same way the tour of the world, as it can be made at the Exposition, can only be depended upon to give such an impression as might result from the thing itself if it could be supposed to be accomplished in the time usually allotted to it. The exotic buildings on the ground and their arrangement are in concrete form such a troubled dream of the journey as might remain if it had been performed in a lightning-express train at a sitting.
One would conclude, for instance, if he judged from the slopes of the Trocadéro, that the north of Africa was of a preponderating importance much beyond what is really the case. The people of this section, repressed in their peculiar courses towards Europeans at the date of Commodore Decatur and Captain Riley’s Narrative, bear no grudge, all the same. They accept the situation with the greatest readiness. They show a commercial spirit and an adaptability to the ultimate facts of civilization. Not being able for a long time to sell their white neighbors into slavery, they are extremely pleased to come and be with them, and furnish them small trumpery for their entertainment. They choose especially seasons and places of rejoicing. Few summer resorts — certainly not those of America—are free of them. They are likely to recover at Saratoga and Newport alone more than the plunder of all the Barbary corsairs. This is the kind of people who constitute the principal population in costume. Their booths are pitched upon the grounds in great numbers. Shrewd, versatile in languages, impudent and merry and entirely unscrupulous, they sit within, behind heaps of enameled copper jewelry; bracelets in perfumed paste, said to bring good fortune; pipes, inkstands, pen-holders, and paper-cutters,—made for the most part in Paris, and bought to better advantage in the Rue de Rivoli,— and dazzle, cajole, or browbeat the traveling public. The pen-holders contain an infinitesimal magnifying-glass in the handle, with views of the Exposition. The most common type of the out-ofdoor visitor is a person who holds one of them painfully to his eye, while the other is tight closed, and persuades himself, under the solicitations of the reclaimed Bedouin of the desert, that he can see something.
A department of religious objects — rosaries, crucifixes, articles from Jerusalem, and particularly from the Mount of Olives, for which credence is requested
— figures largely in this merchandise. It invests the sellers — for apart from the slightly disguised Parisians there are those whose authenticity is undeniable
— with a curious air of cynicism. Is it at this point that uniformity has arrived,
— the fusion of all opinions, or the indifference to any ? Does Ibn Ben Ibrahim, “ exposing for a few days articles from the Holy Land, mother-of-pearl, olive wood, and stone from Dead Sea,” know that there were eight crusades, — or was it nine?—extending over two hundred years, with the total loss of six millions of lives, and the entire upheaval and reconstruction of society, that he offers the hated symbols of one of the furiously contending parties, in his bazar of horseshoe arches, under the coquettish crescent of the other ? “If you do not think as I do, possibly I think as you do,” the merry Ibn Ben Ibrahim, leaning out in his striped gabardine and tasseled red fez from a background of rich carpets, seems to say; “ or at any rate, what difference does it make? In the mean time commandez, choississez, messieurs et mesdames. V’la un beau Christ! You spik English? Fi francs, fi— How much you give? Approchez, madame. Ah, it was easy to see that a person like that had no money.”
At Philadelphia there was space and shrubbery to separate the constructions from the remote and strange countries a little from each other. The imagination had an opportunity to work. In passing between them a space of time might be supposed to elapse, as during the fall of the drop-curtain of a theatre. Here nothing elapses. You enter the Persian pavilion, glancing at the Chinese pagoda at the right, and from the windows you overlook Swedish school-houses and the Japanese farm.
It is indeed a Persian house, the property of his majesty the Shah, the only exhibitor from a country where it may be well believed the private initiative has made as yet very slight headway. It is in green with yellow moldings, and a golden lion over the door with a scimitar on his shoulder and a rising sun behind him. The peculiarity is the very deep recessing of the doors and windows in the walls, which appear to be double. Where is Nourmahal? Let us go down and hear the fountain plash in the tilepaved court below. Where is Scheherezade, and the younger sister Dinarzade, dissimulating her tender fears to join in the hazardous plan? “I pray you, sister, if you be yet awake, relate to us one of those agreeable stories in which you so excel, to pass the time till day, which is going to break.” And the redoubtable caliph who pricks up his ears, caught by the artful plot, and the thousand and one days that pass and pass to the seductive drone of the inexhaustible narrative? Are there no bulbuls? and the slaves with pots of jewels on their heads, —where are they? I do not see them. There is a principal chamber entirely in crystal, even to the mantel-piece. The walls are engraved mirrors, the ceiling a mass of stalactites; the furniture is of yellow cashmere, and India shawls are spread upon the floor. Still, there is a thousand leagues to go to equal the upholstery of the imagination. And besides, the other apartments and the miserable, bald little staircase are far from in keeping. This Oriental magnificence, in fact, — it may be doubted whether it ever approached that of the finished Western civilization, which covers every point and makes a scientific comfort its basis. It is gorgeous in detail, but has a common and sordid element. There is no gas or water. The camel pokes his nose into the silken tent, and the sands of the desert are not leveled by contract to the established grade. The Shah’s pavilion is surpassed, for average effect, by a dozen houses in every one of the better streets of New York.
The Egyptian house of Cairo is a blockish structure, like one dry-goods box placed upon two others. The lower portion is in bands of red, black, and corn-color; the upper white with a green margin. It has one of the small bay-windows in close-meshed carving attached to it, out of which it is customary to imagine almond-eyed beauties peeping; only there is no one peeping out of this, as the whole interior is a single shop, and there is no way of getting up to it except with a rope and pulley. There is a house of Morocco, a small, square white block of one story, with furniture Complete, which with a grave Moor sitting at its door at sunset is quite capable of producing a little illusion. Everything is on the smallest scale. The people are stowed away, for their sleeping accommodations, in strips of chambers surrounding three sides of a court, with a minute fountain, as compactly as in the cabin of a model yacht. It is not a question of swinging a cat; you could not swing a mouse. It is managed to have a very much sculptured and gilded arcade in the central space, small as it is. The curious doors, where there are any instead of curtains, not only open as a whole, but each of the main panels opens separately. I do not see why this is not a good idea for a number of purposes, and capable of saving a good deal of needless slamming.
There is a sign-board near at hand pointing out the approach to the Chinese pagoda in the best vernacular. One of the ingenious florists with whom the Exposition abounds has starred the side of the bank on which it rises with a mammoth device of the fleur-de-lis, in natural colors of flowers. The extensive pagoda itself, in black bricks, wiih its wide, projecting eaves in vermilion and gilt, the turned - up corners terminating in dragons, and the yellow flags living from the mâts cocagne in front, is extremely cheerful. It bristles with gilded images and blue porcelain, and exhales the odor of sandal-wood. The goods, down to the most inconsiderable, — and this includes the Japanese as well, — have a real value and quaintness, unlike the tawdry stuff of the Moors, which you would not want to take at any price. The salesmen, too, by their quiet manners and definite prices, gain very much from the contrast. Yonder large, wellformed young proprietor, with good features, olive skin, and a becoming dress of two degrees of blue, has nothing but his shaved lemples to prevent him from being received as a very dignified and well-favored personage by the most civilized standards. He is one of the kind who never by any chance gets into the Chinese art, singular that it is! It prefers ihe wizened old man, his clerk, with an oblong head and a few long, straight hairs of moustache and beard like those of a seal. Is the solution that it is all a huge jovial caricature?
If the inclosures of the Japanese farm are usually in an irregularly-oval ring fence like this, it is not a country of somnolent ease for the surveyors. The ring fence flowers all around with fragrant pea blossoms. It is of bamboo, as in some form is almost everything else of the constructions of the place. A sculptured cock and hen surmount the white - wood entrance gates. There is a patch of maize, with melons creeping about below. The slender bamboo without a branch, but only tender green leaves at the joints, shoots up and waves above the cottages. There are plums, peaches, tobacco. The shrubbery — japonieas, the lemon, and pomegranate among it — is largely of a kind with sharp, thick leaves of glossy dark green. There are arbor vitæ and cedar dwarfed to the dimensions of a flower-pot, yet presenting gnarled trunks and all the phenomena of an ancient growth. Come and see the chickens. They eat out of dishes of green and yellow faience, in bamboo cages; but they do not differ so much from the bantams that pick up their living from rusty tin pans in New England farm-yards. The hedge of white and lilac peablossoms makes a decorative background; it only needs a hideous figure, with distorted fingers and toes, and several swords stuck in a wide purple sash, crouching beside it, or under the umbrella-shaped trellis there, to make it quite Japan. But the Japanese merchants will do nothing to realize Japan. They are, for the most part, lively fellows in fashionable European dress, who go about smoking cigarettes, and have more the air of young Cubans. Yonder comes one whistling out of the bazar, with his pen behind his ear, who might be clerk in an importing house in Duane Street. Yesterday I overlooked one reading Corneille, — whose statue on the He Lacroix of this prosperous city of Rouen is under my eye as I write, this very minute.
The Egyptian temple is an improvisation in plaster, and patterns from Owen Jones, on the theme of the old remains. It shuts up, like the Algerian mosque, a practical collection exposing the condition of the country, — cotton, gum arabic, a lucid reduction of the Suez Canal. The most notable aspect of both, and the latter particularly, is the modern and scientific look of things: tramways, irontruss bridges of the most approved pattern; and what think you, at Algiers, of a flourishing literary periodical, the African Review? It has a Rue do Rivoli, furthermore, as an Algérienne, with a perfect London accent, among the booths, informs me, and a boulevard finer than that of the Italiens. There are natives who accumulate great fortunes, and go to the springs as patrons as well as hucksters. The more they make, says the lively shop-keeper, who describes them as penurious aud grasping, the more avaricious they become. The government treats very well its military contingent from this important colony. A group of spahis galloped at the head of the Marshal’s procession, reviewing the troops at Longehamps, the 20th of June. I see one occasionally stalking about Paris, or riding in the miserable public carriages, in solitary grandeur. He wears red boots, a pointed beard, and a long white burnoose depending from his white and yellow turban.
The French are not so badly off for colonies as we are apt to think. There is Guadaloupe, then Guiana, across to New Caledonia in the Pacific, a section of Cochin China, then home by way of Africa, beginning with Senegal. All of these are quite fully displayed. When the actual inhabitants are not at hand, like the creoles in yellow bandanas who sell orange wine and packets of vanilla of the West Indies under their awning in the Champs de Mars, recourse is had, to show the dress and manners, to costumed dolls. You may see any costume you like, — Tahiti, for instance. It would have been quite a simple matter in the days of Captain Cook, if you remember, but there have been changes since then. All of these colonies, — the Alsace-Lorraine villages in Algeria, the English settlements of Oeeanica, and the states of Central America, — which would like to fill their vacant spaces with immigrants, and are liberal with informing prospectuses, draw out a friendly interest. There is an element of faint speculation in our musing before their great cucumbers, the crude and realistic paintings of the wild scenery, and the photographs of the native women with rings in their noses, as if there were latent possibilities of life and careers not wholly disconnected even from us.
The Scandinavians erect school - houses and a bell tower among the Orientalism in a solid architecture of unpainted wood, which is a sort of union of the Swiss chalet to the open timber houses of the Middle Ages. On the way to the corner of Algeria an extensive settlement presents the manner of French farm buildings as you see them in the remote interior. Here is no coquettish bamboo-work, but solid trunks and boughs framed in rustic fashion with the bark on, filled in with rough cast plaster, and heavily thatched. These heavy granges have a damp and gloomy look even amid the apple orchards of Normandy. I much prefer the cheery New England barn. One of them contains an exposition of insects, noxious and useful, — principally useful. There is the silk-worm in all his stages, with skeins of the beautiful, shining floss; and the honey-bee — including a live colony which passes most of its time among the dates and confectionery and syrup bottles of the Arabs — and his products in every attractive form.
I am a person (I strenuously declare, because it will never appear) who is rather fond of going to the bottom of things than otherwise. If I had my way, I would never voyage but, like the amiable Count de Maistre around his chamber, in a field where justice could be done to everything, and nothing omitted. But if this narrative is desultory, it is nothing like as desultory as it might have been, let me tell you. I have not touched a hundredth part of the things we have passed in our ramblings: not the restaurants, though, without imagination as they are, — the Spanish, for instance, offering in a great sign to furnish French and English cookery,— they would not have detained us long; not the mushroom settlements and the workingmen’s exhibition on the inclosing streets; not the frigorifique and the nautical matters on the river. Nor will I go in search of them now, at this late stage, since I desire before closing to make a mention, at least in some of their social aspects, of the visiting people,— the great kaleidoscopic crowd.
This Exposition has never seemed crowded, like that at Philadelphia, yet I have not seen the number of admissions for any day put down at less than seventy thousand. There is always elbow-room, and rarely a comfortable seat lacking, without invading the exhibited furniture in the utterly collapsed condition which was there so frequent a spectacle. I do not think there has been here the same degree of exhaustion from the long days of sight-seeing. I lay it not only to the difference in the climate, but to a difference in the degree of attention. There never was another case like ours in which so much fresh curiosity was brought face to face with such material for its gratification. The country which was accustomed only to the sights of a commonplace utilitarian civilization moved in a mass to contemplate of a sudden the heaped-up treasures of the Old World. It is different here: there is a curiosity shop in every street, and party-colored costumes are no rarity. It is in this way that I account for an easy nonchalance in this public which was at first difficult to understand. I will not undertake a calculation of the few in the seventy thousand who provide themselves with a catalogue or a guide-book of any kind, although the guide-books are none too good or too numerous; and one, designed especially for the lower classes, is a bare-faced fraud that ought to send the maker to jail. It is absolutely nothing but extracts from journals published within the year before the opening, and stating in a general way what the Exposition will probably be, but which it is not at all. The government does not label or explain much, not having yet got over the monarchical habit of thinking that it suffices for the administration to know the essence of things, without there being a pressing necessity for taking the public into its confidence. So the lower orders jog contentedly along, passing at every moment inestimable things, straightening out the children when they become tangled up, — Voulez-vous ne pas toucher ca, Marianne! Amadée! Faites appeler Amadee! Tiens! ’Malie, les oiseaux! — and go away to dine at the e'tablissements de bouillon outside the gates.
The young Frenchman and his wife of the upper classes are an interesting couple. She is in pink, and has a lithe, willowy movement. He has a light beard curling round his face, and smokes his cigar with an indifferent air while she points out things to him occasionally. The young officer of St. Cyr, whatever he does in time of war, in time of peace for the most part wears an eye-glass. The elderly Frenchwoman of the upper classes, rather more than of the lower, wears a decided moustache. The English are extremely prominent in the defile of nations. In the month of August they have passed in perfect droves, “personally conducted” parties under the supervision of an autocratic guide. There are none that make such an entire profession, when they travel, of being en voyage. They don a complete outfit, cross straps over their shoulders, tie a scarf about their hats, and declare to all the world the business in hand.
A genuine peasant, with the large Alsatian black bow, mingles in the throng, under the safe conduct of her city cousins. There is one who superintends the grinding of coffee in tlie pavilion of Guatemala, and there are one or two in the short skirts and gilt, lacecovered helmets of the Dutch provinces who dispense the cordials of Amsterdam. The Swedish students, if it be their turn to be giving the national concert at the Trocadéro are showing their white caps and blooming complexions. If there are some young women, close braided, and attired with a peculiar effort at quiet elegance, they are Americans. The American youths, corrupted to the marrow by Mark Twain, pass through seeking humorous solutions to things. The young person in general comes much to the front among the English-speaking foreigners. If I were to make particular mention of another very frequent type, it would be the miss in her teens, who, alone knowing something of the language, is seen negotiating with a cab-man or a shop-keeper all over Paris, while the family stands deferentially back awaiting the result. It is the crucial test of an education at Madame Volau-Vent’s, which has cost a small fortune per quarter, not to speak of extras.
Americanism is but a small element in the great babel. It has been an excellent place to find, if you thought you were important, that the case is quite, the contrary. Some pains have been taken, too, to make it as grotesque as possible. I have seen our facade gravely spoken of, in still another guide-book, as of the kind to be taken down and put up at pleasure, and carried with them by the emigrants to the far West; fitly symbolical, therefore, of this country of rapid progress. An “ English and American bar ” represents our national characteristics in a prominently printed list of refreshments, divided into departments of long drinks, short drinks, and specialties. The long drinks include a Stonewall Jackson, a Greeley nogg, and a John Collins. The specialties, it may be well believed, yield to neither the long drinks nor the short drinks in ingenuity.
With all thy faults, however, my country, I love thee still. I hold to thee these hands to testify that ours is almost the only department where there is a semblance of a “ head-quarters; ” where there is a register, and a hospitable provision of space and easy-chairs for jurors and honorary commissioners. To the Italian, the Dane, the Turk, when he travels, it makes no difference whether his next-door neighbor may be within a stone’s-throw of him or not. The American desires — commendably, as I maintain — to overlook the movement from his section. It is a luxury at times to come back out of the, vast maze of foreignness and no more than overhear a Chicago man seated on a stove discussing with a Newark man the next governorship of his State; how much more to take a personal part in it, with possibly a bosom friend for the interlocutor!
The employees of this bureau, and the corporal’s guard of trim marines who have made so good a figure for us, have acclimated themselves extremely well. It has been possible to assist at Joinville-le-Pont, in the suburbs, at séances of nothing less than our national game of base-ball, between the by no means common contingents of an Exposition nine and a Latin Quarter nine; the latter made up of young artists and architects. The commissioners’ room is the centre of a bustle of affairs: the departure of parties for the catacombs, and the trials of agricultural machinery, the arrival of inquiring friends; the entrance of deferential foreigners, with their business written down on paper, who wish M. le général, this and M. the governor that to come and examine their peculiar turbine wheel or their respirator for mines. Everybody has been more or less connected with congresses: congresses for the abolition of war, the reëstablishment of silver currency, the protection of patents, the conclusion of a Franco-American treaty; congresses of lighting, locomotions, lunacy. It is but a property of matter, they tell us, — this human life of ours, like all the rest; but, O scientist, what a variety and intensity it has!
There has not, been the need of organizing an intimate social life among the large body of permanent residents at the Exposition. When the shades of evening close in, and the Fresnel lantern begins to circle its colored rays over the deserted scene, now a red, next a green, then a white one, touching the glass palace, the trees of the Isle des Cygnes, the white Trocadéro, and the sphinxlike head of Liberty in turn, all Paris is open, and its pleasures are not easily exhausted. A small knot of jovial inventors, purveyors of arms to the government, prospectors for the advantageous placing of new merchandise, give themselves rendezvous every evening in the court of the Grand Hotel, where they employ one word of French to five thousand of sound American in their talk, inaugurate a little round of dinners, or drive out occasionally to dine at the country seats of the personages with whom they have relations. Here I have heard the project of the bestnatured elderly gentleman to introduce anthracite coal in the south of Europe, taking back cement from Rome and iron ore from Spain for return freights, and have labored to keep down the inexperienced feeling of incongruity, which has no business at all to arise in this day of close commercial relations.
The formal sociality has been the giving of a number of entertainments by the cabinet ministers, mainly dinners and receptions to commissioners by the department of commerce and agriculture, under whose auspices the Exposition is held. The minister lives in the ministère, as the custom is in all branches for the proprietor to be in the same hotel with his business. I have been at the one in the Rue de Varennes, Faubourg Saint Germain, of a Wednesday evening. Two steel-clad cuirassiers mount guard before the door, and the chamberlains in black, with medals about their necks, who waft you up the staircase are very stately. The minister’s rooms are in crimson, with gilt furniture, crystal chandeliers, and Louis Quatorze carpets. Some such provision for entertainments, rent-free, might be a solution of the vexed question of the cabinet officer’s salary at Washington. Apart from this, he could live as simply as he pleased. The minister’s dinner is good, but there will not be too much information, if yon happen to be in search of it, derived from the guests If everybody has not a thousand things demanding his attention next, the Exposition creates in him the uneasy impression that he has, and prevents him from fixing it too closely on any.
There are guests who go out after dinner on the balcony of the smokingroom, where the débris and flowers and lake-like mirror in the centre of the vast dining-table can be looked down upon, and speculate as to the cost of the prodigal scene. It is a political question. The republic has revived the practice of furnishing good cheer of various kinds at entertainments. This seems to the opposition a riot and debauchery — for a republic — that makes them dread the wrath to come. The vindicating journals, on the other hand, make for it something like the argument connected with joining the church. One can be a very good republican, and yet be fond of a little innocent gorgeousness. There is nothing austere about the republic; it is the friend of every cheerful and harmless diversion. It wishes to show that as it is not monarchies alone that can assist by expositions the progress of affairs among their subjects, which otherwise would be marching but poorly, so it is not necessarily monarehs alone who can do something for the cultivation of the graces of a polite social life. I shall allow my friends — who must be pleased that I should take leave of them finally in so ornamental and highly respectable a scene — to determine the merits of this small controversy, if they care to, for themselves.