CHAPTER II

Looking for lodgings — The Rue Visconti — The concierges —The "hotel" in the Rue de Seine — Visions of romance — I am inscribed at the Beaux Arts — The Cours Yvon — William Stott of Oldham — Introduction to the Quartier Latin

The artistic life of Paris in those days was divided into two camps as it were. The younger men generally were to be found in the Latin Quarter in the neighborhood of the École des Beaux Arts — whilst the men of maturer years who had finished with the schools had mostly chosen the heights of Montmartre for their studios. The two groups were therefore widely separated. Nowadays it is very different, the two areas having spread considerably, and the districts round Montparnasse and the Parc Monceau are full of artists. From the student point of view the vicinity of the Rue Bonaparte was the best place in Paris to live in, as it was near the École and the Louvre — so I was advised to look for a room somewhere round about there. Of course my friend and mentor, Monsieur Thomas, accompanied me in my search; whether he thought I was too young to be allowed to hunt round for myself, or that he and his wife feared I might fall into bad company, did not transpire, but at any rate he gave up several days of his valuable time to help me fix myself up. I could not have had a more delightful companion — although old enough to be my father, he had the temperament of a boy, and thoroughly enjoyed everything, even, I verily believe, to climbing up the steep stairs in the old houses — for cheap rooms, such as I was looking for, were invariably close to the roof.

Of variety and choice there was no end — even at the very moderate rent I was only able to give; the difficulty was to make up my mind. It was usually a question as to which was the least dilapidated and dirty — the sanitation being always such that the less said about it the better. I suppose there could have been no city in Europe in those days where less attention was paid to this subject. Apart though from such trifles as these, there were often other peculiarities about these old rooms for which I was not prepared to pay. I remember one place in the Rue Visconti — a narrow thoroughfare off the Rue Bonaparte — a fine old house, as it had evidently been the mansion of an aristocrat in bygone times. The room to let was not very high up — only on the second floor; it was very large and looked over an expanse of garden — a somewhat unusual thing to find in the Quartier Latin. It appeared to be altogether just what I wanted — plenty of light and air; still it was very, very old indeed, and also, to put it mildly, somewhat smelly, and there was a peculiar odor about it which I did not then know, but which became quite familiar after a little while in Paris. I at first thought it was because the window had been closed for some days, till I happened to notice something on the wall by the bed, which was in an alcove. I drew my friend's attention to it. He laughingly remarked to the concierge that the room although to let was "déjà habitée."

Hotel

"Oh," she replied, with a shrug of her shoulders," that's nothing — a sou's worth of insecticide a day and they'd never worry him much."

As I had come to Paris to study Art, not entomology, I thought I wouldn't chance it — one subject at a time would be sufficient. I was sorry, though, as it was a delightful old place — architecturally, I mean. The majority of the rooms we saw looked as though they'd never had a coat of paint or fresh wallpaper since the house was built, and one required to be very young and full of enthusiasm for work to make up one's mind to live in such dirt. In some of these I recollect the windows did not look out on the street or even the courtyard, but actually got their light and air from the grimy staircase; these were often known as "logements de garçon." Still they were cheap, and that was the principal desiratum from the average student's point of view. At one place twelve francs a month was all that was asked for one of these gloomy logements, and "furnished" at that.

The concierges varied as much as the rooms. Sometimes she would be a motherly sort of woman who would accompany us cheerfully even to the sixth floor, dilating the while on the advantages the house offered, till you almost felt that it would be unkind not to take the room. At others the janitor would be a terrible sort of person, before whom one had to present oneself with all humility, asking as a favor to be informed what there was to let — and then if it suited her august convenience she would perhaps condescend to show us. I may here mention that it does not require a very lengthy residence in Paris to discover that one's peace of mind practically depends on the temperament of one's concierge. I was somewhat fortunate in this respect, as I came across some very civil and decent ones; but the majority, from what I heard and saw of them, were gossiping, mischief-making hussies who struck terror into the soul of the unfortunate individual who was not ready to the very moment with his rent. However, revenons à nos moutons.

We were both tired out and sick of going up and down steep stairs when I happened to spot a "hotel" we had not noticed before, in the Rue de Seine. Yes, they had a room to let, fortunately for me as they seemed very civil people. Would we like to see it? It was on the first floor — that seemed all right. So up we went. It was not a large room, but the window opened on to a wide sort of terrace overlooking the street — ideal for a breath of air in the summer, I thought. Two adjoining rooms also opened on to the terrace.

Concierges


We were discussing the rent, which was a little higher than I wanted to give, when I suddenly saw a very pretty hand and arm appear at one of the windows on the terrace, and arrange the curtains which had blown out with the breeze. Visions of one of those romances of Paris I had read at once flashed through my mind — I was determined to have the room even if it did cost me more than I ought to pay. To the surprise of my friend I said without any further hesitation that I thought it would suit me, and that I'd take it at once — so it was settled that I should take possession as soon as I liked. As we came downstairs Monsieur Thomas asked me why I had made up my mind so quickly.

"The terrace decided me," I replied.

"Perhaps you are right — it will give you a little more air; but a deal depends on what your neighbors are like."

The room, I should add, was furnished, such as it was, not luxuriously perhaps, but quite as well as anything I had seen hitherto; at any rate, I was now fixed up — if I didn't like it later I could always look for something else.

When we got back to the Rue de Reuilly my good friends simply overwhelmed me with advice as to what and what not to do, and even went so far as to arrange every item of my daily expenditure to a centime almost. At the same time, they drew such a picture of the many pitfalls and temptations which were about to beset me in my new life, that I really began to feel quite nervous as to what was likely to happen to me. However, the feeling arose that I was now a student of the Quartier Latin and on my own, so I did not let myself become unduly depressed by their pessimistic though good-natured warnings. At the same time I must confess it — there was still in my mind the recollection of the vision of female loveliness I had caught the glimpse of at the window on the terrace.

Fortunately Monsieur Thomas had not seen it — or I fancy his advice would have been somewhat different, as I was a youngster at that time; whilst as to what Madame Thomas would have said had she known what was in my mind, I don't like to think, although they were neither of them the least bit narrow-minded or strait-laced.

The following day I found my way to the École des Beaux Arts and presented my letter from Gérome at the bureau. I was then duly inscribed on the books and presented with an oval-shaped card on which was written my name, nationality, age, and address, together with the atelier to which I was admitted as an élève. The porter then obligingly indicated where the Cours Yvon was held, and the big hall full of casts from the antique where I had been told by Gérome to commence my studies. Making my way there, and whilst having a look round and wondering what I had better do to make a start, I suddenly heard myself addressed in English by a burly young fellow who was making a drawing close by.

A Little Place

"You're a newcomer, aren't you ? Who are you with?"

"Gérome," I replied, with much pride.

"That's lucky," he answered, "so am I. What's your name? Mine is Stott — William Stott of Oldham. I'll take you round and show you what you've got to do — it will save you a lot of time finding it all out by yourself."

So we had a stroll through the hall and the courtyard, and in a very short time were quite pals, and then he suggested our going to have a cup of coffee and a smoke at a little place in the Rue de Buci which was the rendezvous then of many budding artists. Thus my introduction to student life in the Quartier was quite a delightful experience to me. As we sat chatting and comparing notes, as it were, and discussing our mutual plans for the future, I already realized the curious fascination of the free Bohemian life of Paris — and could conceive how largely it is instrumental in bringing out individuality and self-reliance by fostering enthusiasm for one's work. These informal gatherings in the cafés of the Quartier were the means of bringing together in friendly relationship men who would otherwise perhaps not have met at all outside the atelier.

We afterwards had a stroll round, talking of painting, and ending by discovering we had some mutual friends in England; then, as I was in no particular hurry to get home, we dined together in a little restaurant in the Rue St Bénôit crowded with students, and where Stott seemed to know everybody from the patron downwards. The dinner was a very decent one considering it cost only 1.25 vin compris, for Stott like myself was not overburdened with wealth — in fact he explained to me that he had to be pretty careful when it was getting towards the end of the month; besides which, as he said, there were other things more amusing than food to spend one's money on. It was not long before I realized that also.



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