The Fat and the Thin eBook

Émile Gaboriau
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 490 pages of information about The Fat and the Thin.
beleaguering Paris, and two millions of people were shut off from the world, I often strolled to the Halles to view their strangely altered aspect.  The fish pavilion, of which M. Zola has so much to say, was bare and deserted.  The railway drays, laden with the comestible treasures of the ocean, no longer thundered through the covered ways.  At the most one found an auction going on in one or another corner, and a few Seine eels or gudgeons fetching wellnigh their weight in gold.  Then, in the butter and cheese pavilions, one could only procure some nauseous melted fat, while in the meat department horse and mule and donkey took the place of beef and veal and mutton.  Mule and donkey were very scarce, and commanded high prices, but both were of better flavour than horse; mule, indeed, being quite a delicacy.  I also well remember a stall at which dog was sold, and, hunger knowing no law, I once purchased, cooked, and ate a couple of canine cutlets which cost me two francs apiece.  The flesh was pinky and very tender, yet I would not willingly make such a repast again.  However, peace and plenty at last came round once more, the Halles regained their old-time aspect, and in the years which followed I more than once saw the dawn rise slowly over the mounds of cabbages, carrots, leeks, and pumpkins, even as M. Zola describes in the following pages.  He has, I think, depicted with remarkable accuracy and artistic skill the many varying effects of colour that are produced as the climbing sun casts its early beams on the giant larder and its masses of food—­effects of colour which, to quote a famous saying of the first Napoleon, show that “the markets of Paris are the Louvre of the people” in more senses than one.

The reader will bear in mind that the period dealt with by the author in this work is that of 1857-60, when the new Halles Centrales were yet young, and indeed not altogether complete.  Still, although many old landmarks have long since been swept away, the picture of life in all essential particulars remained the same.  Prior to 1860 the limits of Paris were the so-called boulevards exterieurs, from which a girdle of suburbs, such as Montmartre, Belleville, Passy, and Montrouge, extended to the fortifications; and the population of the city was then only 1,400,000 souls.  Some of the figures which will be found scattered through M. Zola’s work must therefore be taken as applying entirely to the past.

Nowadays the amount of business transacted at the Halles has very largely increased, in spite of the multiplication of district markets.  Paris seems to have an insatiable appetite, though, on the other hand, its cuisine is fast becoming all simplicity.  To my thinking, few more remarkable changes have come over the Parisians of recent years than this change of diet.  One by one great restaurants, formerly renowned for particular dishes and special wines, have been compelled through lack of custom to close their doors; and this has not been caused so much by inability to defray the cost of high feeding as by inability to indulge in it with impunity in a physical sense.  In fact, Paris has become a city of impaired digestions, which nowadays seek the simplicity without the heaviness of the old English cuisine; and, should things continue in their present course, I fancy that Parisians anxious for high feeding will ultimately have to cross over to our side of the Channel.

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The Fat and the Thin from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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