11. Paris to Dieppe
11. Paris to Dieppe
4 July 1889
At 8:55 on the evening of the 4th of July we left Paris, five minutes later than the time set by the train directory. This tardiness of five minutes in the train departure is always due to the fact that at the last minute one or more coaches are joined to the train. In Paris I have seen similar cases whenever I went to the stations of Orleans, Lyon, the North, and St. Lazare to bid someone goodbye. Is this evidence that there are too many people, too many passengers that the company cannot foresee? Frankly speaking, the first time that I saw it, I said to myself as the Madrilenians do when they leave Madrid: “Goodbye Madrid, may you have no people left!” I thought that that day was extraordinary, but later I was convinced that in this instance the only extraordinary thing was the railway company.
In accordance then with this arrangement seven passengers were assigned to our tiny compartment in spite of the heat. Three Americans were with us: Two with long beards exactly like those I saw as a child in the illustrations in the book of Julius Verne, From the Earth to the Moon. These two hardly spoke, but the third, who had only a mustache and had all the appearance of an American humbug, spoke for the two and for himself. Opposite me was a thin Englishman and beside him two Frenchmen who did not talk or wink throughout the trip.
While we were waiting for the time of departure, the American with the boastful mien who was seated beside me in the middle of the seat did not stop talking; it was true he talked in English. In Paris he found everything unsatisfactory: the exposition, Eiffel Tower, streetcars, omnibus, cafés, restaurants, buildings, etc. All in all, it has nothing comparable with New York. His two compatriots let him talk, and the Englishman merely said from time to time when the story seemed to him a little phenomenal, “Oh, indeed!’
The truth is Paris is not the perfect city that many Parisians imagine. It is true that it has many bad and imperfect things and while good coffee is not plentiful, yet good chicory is; if the omnibus and street care service is inadequate, a great number of houses are alike in style – all this and more are true; but to the poor American Paris has not a genuine coffee bean, he cannot find a single seat in any of the public vehicles, though he waits all day at an omnibus station.
I have already observed more than once, and many others before me also have, that the North American is wont to use hyperbolic language, though not as much as the Spaniard. The latter, for example, when he wants to praise highly a thing usually says: Andalucía is the most beautiful country in the world. So and so is the foremost orator in the whole world; the Spanish soldier is the most experienced soldier of the world, has the most martial mien; the Puerta del Sol is the most beautiful plaza in the world, the Palacio de Oriente is the most beautiful palace in the world; etc. Our American also uses the word world, but he has the modesty to add, that I have seen until now. Speaking of St. Paul in London he said: “It is the dirtiest place in the world I have ever seen.”
“Oh, indeed!” replied the Englishman.
And he must have seen little of the world and even of his country, for I believe that without going outside of New York, one can find there places dirtier than the plaza of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
It is true that a minute later he added: “Pittsburgh is the dirtiest city that I have ever seen in the world!”
I thought to myself: When did this man see Pittsburg? A minute ago he did not seem to know it; St. Paul was the dirtiest, etc. and now it is Pittsburg.
I was beginning to be annoyed by the fury of the traveler and I was going to join in the conversation to tell him what I have seen and endured in America, in New York itself, how many troubles and what torture the customs in the United States made us suffer, the demands of the drivers, barbers, etc. people who, as in many other places live on travelers, when, fortunately the train started and by magic my man stopped talking.
I was tempted to believe that my man’s verbosity, being a good Yankee, came from the steam of a boiler inside his body, and I even imagined seeing in him a robot created and hurled to the world by the Americans, a robot with a perfect engine inside to discredit Europe and make the Great Republic triumph, a machine fed with the very steam of the locomotives, etc. My automaton went to sleep, all went to sleep, and I, alone, remained awake, thinking and reflecting.
My God! I said to myself while the train was little by little increasing its speed and leaving Paris. Is it the coffee or the chicory that I have just taken, not being accustomed to it, which has made me nervous? Is it the blood of Quixote that boils in me which drives me to defend even my very enemies when I see them unjustly attacked? Why did I get nervous hearing this automaton hurl offensive words against all Paris, find ugly and even vulgar the Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, the Concorde, I who have many reasons to complain against the Parisians, I who am compelled to leave Paris because of the covetousness and bad faith of the owners of hotels and private boarding houses, I who have been obliged to change rooms five times in three and a half months, while in Berlin and London I didn’t have to; and just day before yesterday, walking through a street, a rattled maid emptied a glass of wine on my pantaloons, timorously hiding herself afterwards, and when I complained to the police he just replied this: “How annoying, it is truly annoying!”
It is also a misfortune to understand various languages because thus one has more occasions to hear stupidities and nonsense. Lord, I said, thinking of God – because regardless of what the friars say I believe in God – if for six or seven languages that I scarcely understand I sometimes have unpleasant moments because of the nonsense I hear, what moments would Thou pass, Thou who understands all languages, not only of men but also of animals? If I who am little less than ignorance itself, I’m so irritated to hear the stupid designs of only one man, how will Thou feel, Thou who art wisdom itself when Thou hear our stupid intentions, our foolish pretensions, and especially the qualifications and attributes of those who dare to measure, define, and interpret Thee, of those whose occupation is ignorance, whose dogma is blindness, whose covenant is obscurantism?
While I was thinking of these things I saw that the light of the Eiffel Tower was gradually receding in the distance, blinking like many lighthouses, like the Manila lighthouse at the entrance of the Pasig. I said to myself: The light shines here as there over the crowd that moves and stirs at its feet. From afar one who sees only the light of the beacon has no idea of the seething passions that it illumines, the love, the hatred, the gardens, the buildings, the convents, perhaps the caverns of wolves.
I could say that our trip was quiet, for I have become accustomed to the monotony of the noise the train makes. I looked through the window at the countryside lying on the left which stretched out into a vast plain. The quarter moon in the sky was brightening little by little due to the slowness of the twilight that envelops the landscape in a delightful semi-obscurity rendering it more beautiful, as gauze covers and beautifies the protuberant charms of a feminine beauty. Some stars are beginning to shine. I keep thinking of many things and as all have gone to sleep, no one disturbed my meditation.
At 10 ¼ o’clock we arrive at Vernon.
“How long does it stop here?” asked one of the Americans with long beard of the page. The page who did not understand English naturally did not answer him. The American repeated his question, now with a louder voice. Futile. He repeated for the third time. I, who undoubtedly could not be in a normal condition noticing the irritation of the North American, shouted to him in French: “Parlez-lui francais.” (“Speak to him in French.”) Naturally my man did not understand me. Then I smiled at my confusion and served him as an interpreter. The train did not stop more than two minutes.
Then I remembered that I made a mistake in laughing when once I was told the adventure of a certain beautiful Spanish young woman, an acquaintance of mine, who was shopping at the department store Le Louvre (Paris), speaking in Spanish and she shouted when she could not be understood and tried to pronounce distinctly the Spanish words.
The night was delightful and, were it not for the dust that penetrated everywhere, I had nothing to complain about. My companions continued sleeping and luckily no one snored, no one put his legs on me, no one made a pillow of my shoulders.
We arrived at Rouen at 11:30 o’clock and there was a six-minute stop. Unluckily for me, as the French passengers were getting down there, everybody woke up and my American resumed his talk about Paris exactly at the point where he left off, as if he has not slept, as if he has not stopped two and a half hours. Astonished I looked at him. Naturally the train is not moving and my automaton used the steam.
I went down the coach to walk a little and unload my humanity. . . and on my return I found my man still extolling the beauties and conveniences of New York. To every praise of the monuments and magnificence of the country of the Yankees, the Englishman merely said, “Oh, are they?”
Then the train started to move; naturally my automaton, lacking steam, again kept silent and his engine slept.
At last I arrived at Dieppe and I left my companions. The Englishman, contrary to the custom of his countrymen, took the trouble of helping me to take down my valise. I thanked him, saying, “Thanks” and “Good night” and I left. A porter, an old one, accompanied me to the Hotel du Rhin, located along the beach. On the way the good old man talked to me and highly praised the excellent condition of Dieppe, the advantages of taking a porter rather than a carriage, etc. He knows Dieppe having been a porter there for forty years. Here, there are no cads and pickpockets as in Paris.
At last we reached the hotel. They gave me a room overlooking the sea; from my window I hear the waves sing softly on the sand of the beach. I looked out a moment and I stay in the room. L A homely maid brings me water and candles; I wash; I read, and . . . (Pages missing)
Dieppe, with 19,000 inhabitants, fortified city of the 3rd class. Park of Oysters, each park 28,000 oysters. The Dieppois are engaged in fishing codfish, herring, and mackerel. Ivory objects, tobacco, spinning. Promenade, English garden – Church of St. Jacques, XIII, XIV, XV centuries – Church of St. Remy, XIV century – Castle, 1433, the trench dates to the XVI century – Modern Hotel de Ville (City Hall) with a library of 8,000 volumes and a museum dating to 1863 – The house of yellow bricks called Maison Quenouille, favorite residence of the Duchess of Berry – Statue of Duquesne by Daubau, inaugurated in 1844.
Dieppe seems to be derived from Deep, former name of the river of d’Argueil – Depa or Depe in the old maps. Dieppe lost its importance during the war between Philippe Auguste and Richard the Lionhearted. In the XIII century Dieppe furnished 45 war vessels to punish the English. Talbot besieged it in 1442 at the head of 5,000 men. Dunois and the Dauphin (Louis XI) saved it. Until 1789 the Dieppois celebrated the anniversary of their deliverance, called the Mitouries de la mi-aout. Together with Harfleur they pillaged Sandwich in the country of Kent. Expeditions of the Dieppois to Africa, Canaries, Cort d’Or, Jean Augo, viscount and governor of Dieppe. The Dieppois captain Cousin must have touched Brazil in 1488 before Christopher Columbus. The brothers Jean and Raoul Parmentier on board the ships La Pensée and Le Saere traveled to Sumatra in 1529. Thomas Aubert, lieutenant of Auge, founded a colony in Terre-neuve. In 1608 Aymer de Chartes, governor of Dieppe, was appointed by Henry IV viceroy of Canada; he died shortly after; his lieutenant Champlain laid the foundation of Quebec. The French in Florida under Protector Ribau of Dieppe were hanged by Pedro Meneses in 156 . . . nor as Frenchmen but as heretics. The privateer Juan Sowrie, protector of Dieppe, scoured the seas killing Spaniards and Portuguese in revenge; and Dominico de ville fought the English and Danish fleet which bombarded the city in 1694. Brick houses form the majority. The city suffered much from the Edict of Nantes. Dieppe was in favor of reform. During the Franco-German War Dieppe was occupied by the Germans from December 1870 until July 1871.