Our man at the centre of proceedings is a young aspiring artist named Edouard Cucuel who with his young friend Bishop take up a studio together and it's here that we join them as they embark on their journey through Bohemian Paris.
This book first came to my attention when I spotted it in the window display of that famous Paris bookshop Shakespeare & Co, and since that day I coveted it. It wasn't long before it was in my possession and my love affair with it began.
Edouard takes us on a journey through Bohemian Paris whilst studying at the famous Êcole Des Beaux-Arts sharing with us the reader all the weird and wonderful places he visits with his good friend.
Another fascination for me is that the book is essentially a time machine that once inside transports me back to the time of Jane Avril and the other heroes of that time with Edouard now amongst them.
I would like to share with you his experience of the Moulin Rouge and in the future other places of interest taken directly from his memoir.
"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 seemed no end of them; and each was arrayed to the full limit of her means. And there were 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 strolled about the place in numbers, twirling their moustaches and ogling the girls. And there were French army officers, long haired students and Montmartre poets, artists, actors, any many three-days-in-Paris English tourists wearing knickerbockers and golf caps, and always smoking bulldog pipes. There were also two parties of American men with their wives and daughters and they enjoyed the spectacle with the natural fullness 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 in this paper, 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 realise that; and so to Mr Thompkins 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 were amusing circles of on-lookers with spirited dancing and reckless high-kicking; and, being adepts in their peculiar art, were so flashing and illusory that an attempt to analyse their movements brought only bewilderment. No bones seemed to hamper their swiftness and elasticity. The flash of a black stocking would instantly dissolve into a fleecy cloud of lace, and the whirling air was a cyclone; and there upon the floor sat 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 would sweep a whirlwind of other dancers, and identities would become inextricably confused.
An odd-looking man, with a sad face and marvellously long, thin legs in tights, did incredible things with those members; he was merely a long spring without bones, joints, or hinges. His cadaverous face and glittering black eyes, above which rose a top-hat that never moved from place, completed the oddity of his appearance. He is always there in the thickest of the dancing, and his salary is three francs a night.
We suddenly discovered Mr Thompkins in a most embarrassing situation. A bewitching chemical blonde of the clinging type had discovered and appropriated him; she melted all over him, and poured a stream of bad English into his ear. She was so very, very thirsty, she pleaded, and Monsieur was so charming. So much a gentleman, - he was beautiful too. Oh, Monsieur would not be so unkind as to remove the soft, plump arm from round his neck, - surely it did not hurt Monsieur, for was it not warm and plump, and was not that a pretty dimple in the elbow, and another and even prettier in the shoulder? If Monsieur were not so charming and gracious the ladies would never, never fall in love with him like this. And oh, Monsieur, the place was so warm, and dancing makes one so thirsty!
Mr Thompkin's face was a picture of shame and despair, and I have never seen a more comical expression than that with which he looked appealingly to us for help. Suppose some one in this hall should happen to recognise him! Of course there was only one thing to do. Mademoiselle Blanche's thirst was of that awful kind which only shipwrecked sailors, travellers lost in a desert, and café dancing-girls can understand. And so four glasses of beer were ordered. It was beautiful to see the grace and celerity with which Mademoiselle Blanche disposed of hers, the passionate eagerness with which she pressed a long kiss upon Mr Thompkin's unwilling lips, and the promptness with which she then picked up the glass, drained it while she looked at him mischievously over the rim, kissed him again, and fled.
Mr Thompkins sat speechless, his face blazing his whole expression indescribably foolish. He vigorously wiped his lips with his handkerchief, and was not himself again for half an hour.
Innumerable bright little comedies were unconsciously played in all parts of the room, and they were even more interesting than the antics of the dancers.
We presently strolled into the garden of the Moulin, where a performance is given in the summer. There stood a great white sheet-iron elephant, remindful of Coney Island. in one of the legs was a small door, from which a winding stair led into the body of the beast. The entrance fee was fifty centimes, the ticket-office at the top of the stairs. It was a small room inside the elephant, and there was a small stage in the end of it, upon which three young women were exercising their abdominal muscles in the danse du ventre. Mr Thompkins, dismayed at this, would have fled had not Bishop captured him and hauled him back to a conspicuous seat, where the dancing-girls, quickly finding him, proceeded to make their work as extravagant as possible, throwing him wicked glances meanwhile, and manifestly enjoying his embarrassment. Of course the dancers came round presently for offerings of sous.
We returned to the dance-hall, for it is now closing-up time, and in order to feel a touch of kinship with America, drank a gin fizz at the American bar, though it seemed to be a novelty to Mr Thompkins."
Next stop Le Cabaret Du Ciel.
See you there!