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I plan to be a role device, if you let young women know that they try out that hopes and dreams, And to say that I have worked in a city is practically the same thing as to say that I have at least liked it, for I have seldom been under the necessity of staying in a place that I did not like and in which I did not feel at home.
So I have always felt that my impressions were happiest when I merely glanced aside from something I was doing. Thus, Carcassonne has for me an extraordinary life because I wrote practically the whole of a book there—and indeed I have written a great many books in the south of France, and that is perhaps why I so much love the Midi, whereas places like Rouen or Tours or even Salem, Massachusetts, which I have visited avowedly merely to look at them, have left on my mind either very little impression at all or else impressions of a disagreeable kind.
This is perhaps because the mere job of getting to places is disturbing, or perhaps because I dislike being the stranger anywhere. Thus Salem, to which I went on land and over water from Newport, R. It is possible that Gloucester, Massachusetts, which comes back to me as a memory relatively delightful, may be responsible for my dislike of Salem. That is to say that on the morning we went to Salem we were entertained by hospitable customs-house officers on board their launch—we were entertained with large quantities of raw salt fish which called for the consumption of almost larger quantities of their admirable champagne.
So it was with me and Salem. That journey comes back to me as a memory of intense depression and disgust. For the matter of that, it does not come back to me at all. I can only remember stopping off in atrociously hot weather at a place called Kingston-on-Thames, a railway junction, that was crammed with particularly nauseating French-Canadians. Kingston, as I remember it, consisted of one single shack, like an army hut, which proclaimed itself to be The Star and Garter Restaurant.
The Thames was a trickle of yellow water between thirty-foot mud-banks. On our pushing open the gauze doors of The Star and Garter a long table revealed itself as covered with what appeared to be coal-black linoleum. That linoleum rose and dissolved into millions of flies. So at half-past two we came to Salem.
Now all over such parts of the United States as I had already visited I had heard rapturous tales of the ancient beauties, of the marvelous old-fashioned hostelry, of the marvelous old-fashioned host of the inn at Salem.
Alas, the most unpleasant place in England is called Ancoats, a soot-begrimed, coal-getting, cotton-spinning suburb of Manchester. Well, Salem intimately resembled Ancoats. It was black with soot and over it the skies wept sable tears. But they were nasty things. The anteroom of the hotel resembled the most unpleasing of provincial railway-station waiting rooms, nor was there in it any single thing upon which to sit. Behind a counter snored an enormous man, his face covered by an unpleasant-looking handkerchief.
We had to wake him to ask if we could have any lunch. I may as well remark here that this is the most unpleasant thing I shall say about this country, where, generally, my lines have fallen in pleasant places. Moreover, I am writing about a time, nearly a quarter of a century ago, when American conditions, and particularly American rural conditions, were undoubtedly much rougher than is to-day the case.
And I am also attempting to indicate rather how a book written by a foreigner visiting a foreign land should not be written than attempting to make any generalized point out of the oddities that I have recorded.
It is obvious, I mean, that if one is about to visit a national shrine for purposes of observation one should not first fill oneself up with raw salt cod and champagne. Nothing could withstand those depressants. For myself, the first natural gasp of emotion at the sight of the buildings behind the Battery or of the houses on the cliffs of Boulogne once over, I set myself to exhaust international similarities before beginning on the differences.
That is perhaps partly a product of contrariety—of that spirit that the French call ergoteur—but it is at least self-consciously due to a profound feeling that those globe-trotters who are volubly outraged because it is difficult to find drinking water in Madrid or because hotels in the United States do not have your boots cleaned for you unless you ask for it—that such unthinking idiots do an immense amount of international harm.
It is a curious fact that although we all look for instances confirmatory of the saying that there is no new thing under the sun, we are almost pained if we discover that our neighbor across the nearest frontier has not the habits and point of view of a Choctaw savage.
We love it when we discover that the ancient Egyptians in their temples at Memphis had penny-in-the-slot machines that delivered perfume after the insertion of an obol, and enormous delight rewards us when we find in reading Bion or Moschus that the emotions of two women, one holding a baby, and both crushed in a crowd of sightseers watching a procession—that their emotions, gossip, and even their ejaculations are precisely the same as would be those of any two women with a baby watching a procession from the pavements of Broadway two thousand years later.
But we are filled with disgust if the first Frenchman we see in a Paris restaurant does not eat his peas with a knife, or the first Englishman we see in Smithfield is not selling his wife with a halter around her neck.
For why should we travel if we cannot discover our neighbors to be infinitely inferior to ourselves? For myself, having spent a great portion of my life in lands other than that of my birth and a great portion of my time in the study of historical documents, I am inclined to regard international or chronological differences as so slight as to be negligible or so changing as to cause an endless confusion.
The inhabitants of the south of France in the thirteenth century spent the greater part of their days in baths or on other methods of perfuming and ablution. On the other hand, Brillat-Savarin, during the early decades of the last century, complained bitterly of the unpleasant smell of the inhabitants of New York, since in those days New Yorkers never bathed themselves and, indeed, the city did not then contain one fixed bath.
The results of migratory observation are so bewildering. The other day at a party an English newspaper correspondent was bewailing the fact that the passengers in New York public conveyances were grossly rough and brutal. He said that, traveling frequently with his wife on subways or in omnibuses, he had been disgusted by finding that if two vacant seats were separated by a third which was already occupied, the occupant of the third seat would never take the trouble to move so that my friend and his wife could sit together.
He said that in England, on the other hand, this would always be done. He was interrupted by an American newspaper correspondent who stated that, having spent ten years in London and traveling frequently, he, too, with his wife by bus or tram, he had never once known the occupant of a seat that was between two vacant seats to make room so that a couple could sit together.
At the same time I was experiencing an uneasy sensation. In the lounge of an hotel the day before, I had been occupying the middle one of three armchairs when two attractive young ladies came in together and sat one on each side of me. My natural impulse was to offer my place to the one or the other, and had they been elderly or unattractive I should certainly have done so. But I have lived for so long in France, where to offer your seat in a public conveyance to a lady below the age of sixty is apt to be regarded as an attempt to scrape acquaintance, that I refrained from that small act of politeness.
What, then, are we to make of these divergent constatations? And, if those two young ladies were English, what did they think of American manners? There is no end to the way in which one is contradicted the moment one attempts any of these generalizations. Last month I ventured into New England and, arrived at Boston, I delivered a harangue on the superior culture of the inhabitants of France. I said that if you talked to any French tram conductor you would find that he read books, took an interest in literature, and had very interesting views of life.
That same afternoon I went by a slow train to a remote part of the state of Massachusetts. The conductor of the train was a benevolent individual, like a kindly, elderly English butler, except that I have never seen an English butler wearing silver-rimmed spectacles.
He chatted in a fatherly manner with all the passengers, patted myself on the back, and appeared in every way like an English village patriarch upon an English village green. I almost saw a ghostly smock-frock draping his limbs. Now one young man of that carload read sedulously in a magazine, and the conductor halted before him shortly after we had passed Fitchburg.
The conductor asked the engrossed young man where he was getting off, and the engrossed young man answered that he was going to Fitchburg.
The assistant conductor declared that he had six times announced the name of Fitchburg. Or he might take a trolley to somewhere and there find a motor-bus to within two miles of Fitchburg.
That settled, the conductor began a monologue addressed mostly to myself. He said that books were engrossing things. When he took a book he himself would become so engrossed in it as to be completely lost to the world. Once when he was reading the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he had failed to go on duty altogether.
He found love stories even more engrossing than history. Pictures also could engross him. He liked to go to picture galleries alone so as not to be disturbed in his contemplation. He liked the frescos of Puvis de Chavannes in Boston better than most other pictures he had seen.
He then addressed the young man directly.
Fashion Muse: Amanda di Oraclefox
The young man must learn from this from what trivial causes great events may arise. He pointed out that on that trolley car or on that bus the young man very possibly might pick up a young woman every whit as beautiful as the heroine of the love story in the magazine.
The young man continually protested that he had been reading in that magazine not a love story but an article about Central Africa. The conductor, however, continued benevolently, that the young woman the young man would meet on the trolley would not only be more beautiful than the heroine of the story he had been reading but she would be an admirable helpmeet, a housekeeper of surpassing economy, and a cook beyond praise.
Thus, by her savings as by her exhortations that young man would certainly grow to be as rich as my more famous namesake. He then again addressed myself. Life, he said, was like that. It flowed in a placid current for long periods. Then some trivial accident would occur, but accidents never arrive singly.
At any rate, after having uttered a panegyric on the Wattmen of France for their interest in books, pictures, and views of life, asserting by implication that no Anglo-Saxon vehicular public servant would be interested in such things, within the hour I had to listen to that monologue upon books, pictures, and life. So generalizations are futile. They are, nevertheless, inevitable. They have to be. Apparently—mind, I say apparently—in this country few people object to your getting far drunker than a lord at any social gathering.
But in Paris if you get drunk at a party you are never asked to the house again. I do not think I have ever seen an American expatriate drunk in Paris.
I do not mean to say that I have never seen drunken American tourists: I have seen thousands. But then I have seen thousands of drunken tourists of all nationalities in that unfortunate city—British, Swedes, all other Scandinavians, Martinique negroes, but seldom a drunken Frenchman.
I do not think I have ever seen more than one Frenchman drunk. Certainly I have never seen a French woman overindulge. But when one generalizes on international matters one should observe certain rules. One should, as far as possible, accumulate a large number of particular instances before attempting a generalization—and one should attempt to discover the reason that underlies that collection of similar particular instances.
I am convinced that American expatriates in Paris, and still more in London, are a particularly sober race, because, as I have said, I cannot remember ever to have seen one of them in a state of intoxication. But my conviction gains immensely as soon as the consideration occurs to me that there is a reason for this sobriety and that that reason is a pretty strong one. And I think that another requisite for the writer of books of international comparison is what I will call the faculty of feeling-at-home-ness.
In a beautiful passage in one of his books W. Hudson says that there was no place in the world, whether in New England, or in the Banda Orientale, in Patagonia, or on Sussex downs—there was no place in the world where grass grew and where there were birds in which he did not feel himself a son of the soil. And I may make almost the same claim for myself as regards any place in which men and women live. I might be inclined to exclude the nations with which we were lately at war.
One of my reasons for disliking the Germans was this: But what was my perturbation the other day to read the following passage in a letter from an English lady who was revisiting Oxford and England after a long interval: I find, in spite of the cold, that I awfully like the aspects of the English country in winter, and of the towns, too. But the old stones and the old woodwork are so lovely that one does not like them to be in the hands of pedants and frumps.
But it is no place for a woman. The whole concern has been run for the glory of men since the beginning and women can only be domestic hangers-on. I felt that, sitting with the cold wives in the cold gallery of Magdalen Hall, watching their gorgeous husbands dining below with all that swanky simplicity of beer mugs, great fires, and bare tables that distinguishes the city of dreaming spires. So I presume I must revise my estimate of the place of Germany amongst the nations.
Of course one can palliate the apparent brutality of the Oxford dons in Magdalen Hall by explaining that that is only a traditional game and that Oxford dons, being cultivated gentlemen, do not normally eat while their womenfolk fast; it is a platonic proceeding much as at Yuletide you may see elderly gentlemen of blameless behavior forcibly embrace young virgins under the mistletoe, and no doubt some similar palliation may be found for the behavior of the German professors that I used to find so disagreeable.
The chief requisite, in short, for the writer of books about other countries is that of comprehension—and not only the faculty of comprehension but the determination to apply it to every national or individual manifestation that the writer may witness. Looking through what I have written I find that some explanations are necessary. The old-fashioned host of Salem was no doubt rendered crabbed by being awakened suddenly from post-prandial slumber.
I myself can be singularly brutal in similar circumstances, though I fancy you would find me normally bland and kindly. And the salt cod and champagne amply explain the desolate aspect of Salem which I believe to be one of the most delightful places imaginable. I quite believe it. As for the singular instances on the road to Coney Island, it should be explained that those were due to that sturdy love of liberty which distinguishes the population here, native or resident.
At that date the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company had just amalgamated with the Manhattan Beach Company and, there being a law to the effect that only one car fare of five cents can be exacted for any single journey, the New York public was determined that it would not pay more than five cents for the journey from New York to Manhattan Beach.
The companies had appealed to the law and had obtained from a judge, whose decision was finally reversed, a decree permitting them to exact two car fares for that journey.
The judge, moreover, had lent the companies several posses of city police. So the public were up in arms against the injustices of this judge Jeffreys of the twentieth century, and if I chanced to poke my nose in between those contending forces, that was my fault.
Foreigners should keep out of revolutions and civil strifes. The young lady rattlesnake catcher is also explicable. Rattlesnakes will not breed in captivity, so an annual supply is needed for the Bronx Park Zoo if the inhabitants of New York are to be kept instructed as to the habits and aspect of those engaging reptiles. So every year a band of the young friends of the Bronx Park custodians proceeds to Kent County Reservation where the rattlesnake is protected and plentiful.
Thus these young people secure for themselves a pleasant holiday whilst doing the state some service. The gentleman who fired off the revolver in the ball-room was not a National Trait. He had merely gone suddenly mad as has happened everywhere else. The only phenomenon to me inexplicable was the lady on the Paris. I am still inclined to think that she was supernatural. In that case not the United States but an even higher authority must take the responsibility for her.
I have not lately heard it. But in those days it was a good saying; it would not be so any longer now that the note of New York is that of a certain careless largeness—and a certain agelessness. In New York had a quality of littleness and a quality of age. Then there were boarding houses where men in shirt sleeves and lady guests in white shirtwaists sat on the steps of houses in Madison Avenue right down to Twenty-fourth Street; then all along the main thoroughfares peanut barrows made harmony with their whistles—and, above all, every second or third passerby on Broadway was apt to stop and ask you—an obvious foreigner!
I mean that whatever the city contains it contains no born New Yorkers. That is one of the phenomena that has here most struck me. I never meet born New Yorkers in the city of their birth. That I find sad, for they were such nice people. I have met one born New Yorker who used to be here in These are merely personal impressions gathered in the course of conversation, and these are all that I have to offer.
I am no statistician, nor would I be one if I could. When I first came here I had a certain shyness about asking people where they came from, but later I observed that when two Americans meet for the first time they invariably ask, the one of the other: In England it is not done—I suppose because it is a matter of good form to pretend that every one you know belongs to a county family—and you have to pretend to know all about the county families of England.
In Paris you can tell where people come from by their accents. There—in Paris—in the Quartier Montparnasse where I live, these accents are differentiable enough.
I doubt if they would be here, where a sort of normal, not very noticeable accent seems to be developing. New York is large, glamorous, easy-going, kindly and incurious—but above all it is a crucible—because it is large enough to be incurious. It is that that distinguishes the large from the not really large city. You become a Londoner in next to no time. You can even become a Parisian very quickly. I imagine you could grow into a New Yorker in a day or two.
You could do that, indeed, in the old days. I remember twenty years or so ago being taken over a public school in New York by an inspector. In one corner of an asphalted stretch of playground stood a small boy sobbing. Says the inspector to him: But above all, for me—and I am talking about my New York—the note of this city is its casualness, its easiness, its sheer ordinariness.
In the old days one would not have been much astonished if Redskins had raided Central Park; to-day one is astonished if anything out of the ordinary happens. The most singular proof of this came to me the other day. The business house, as is not unusual, had moved to other premises. There was nothing for it but to parade the street in front of that vacated nest—for half an hour or more. For myself, I always arrive a quarter of an hour before my date; no New Yorker known to me was ever less than an hour late for an appointment.
Well, I began to do sentry duty in front of that store—stepping up and down and about—turning, as the drill book has it, in a smart and soldierly manner. But gradually I began to think and gradually I began to loaf. I was thinking out, as a matter of fact, what I am writing now.
A comfortable, warm feeling that was. I just mooned happily. The New Yorker thinks that he rushes. Neither does the New York business man hustle. In London or Paris when I go to see my lawyer or my banker or my publisher I dash into his inner room, feeling frightened at my temerity. I tell my business in a few seconds and I rush out—sure that I have taken up too much time: Here, bless you, in palatially appointed rooms, the business man appears rather as orator and anecdotalist.
Before each announcement of what he is going to do for you he makes a preamble as to his moral and social motives—a long preamble! As you try to tear yourself away—appalled at the amount of his time you have taken up—he grasps your extended right hand gently but firmly and holding on to it, he tells you six anecdotes about his family, two about his last game of golf and several more about how they hustle in this city. Then he suggests taking you out to lunch somewhere—with a short round—twelve holes or so—afterward.
It is the paradise of business men. They say money is here easy to make. And it is good enough for me. As I have already said, in one of his books W. Hudson asserts that wherever grass grows and there are birds he has felt himself at home. For myself, I have something of the same feeling wherever men and women are to be found.
I daresay if I ever go to America I shall feel myself American enough. But I have never been to America: Americans, in fact, terrify me a little. But I am fond of New York and fond of several of the inhabitants of this city. But New York and New Yorkers like being liked. New York, then, is a place where I can moon about and feel pleasant—much as I can in Provence.
I see my English friends walk about here, agape for differences. They are astounded that bus conductors push something like an automatic pistol at them instead of handing them a pink strip of paper; they find it queer that the subway is not as deep down as the Tube in London, and unnatural that houses should scrape the skies.
But the nature of man is not changed by having to stick a coin into a little slot or even by working in an office on top of forty-three other offices. New York differs from London in having a keener intellectual life; it differs from Paris in that intellectual circles are smaller.
Perhaps the products of the intellect are less valued here by the bulk of the people than is the case in other cities—but New York is becoming more and more of an intellectual center as the days go on—and that adds enormously to the world.
It adds enormously, not merely to the pleasure, but to the safety of the world. If I—or you—can sit—as I found myself thinking the other day—perfectly tranquilly at table with eleven other people, all foreigners to me, and if I can feel perfectly at home and can find myself talking quite unself-consciously about just such things as I usually talk about at home, it is a sign that a great step has been taken toward that union of peoples that the world so dreadfully needs.
One day—may it come soon—there will not be any America, there will not be any Europe; there will be just the World about which we shall all move at ease, where we shall all loaf and think and, please God, find money easy to make. Well, one hears eternally that New York is not America.
It is obviously not Europe—the Atlantic lies between. Is it, then, the outer fringe of America—or the end of Europe? Perhaps, the one overlapping the other, here we have the beginning of the world. I like, at any rate, to think of it like that and it is possible that it is true enough. For New York is Babel without confusion of tongues.
A place of refuge for all races of the world from the flood of ancient sorrows; the forlorn hope of humanity that, having lived too long, seeks rebirth.
And indeed, the note of New York—its gayety, its tolerance, its carelessness is just that of a storming-party hurrying towards an unknown goal. It is the city of the Good Time—and the Good Time is there so sacred that you may be excused anything you do in searching for it. That is an ideal so practicable! Happiness, the quest for islands of the Blest, the pursuit of saintliness, of sanity or of tranquil continuity—all these graspings after a Fata Morgana have from the beginnings of eternity, in the Old World, given weariness to the lives of mankind.
They are so difficult and no New Yorker contemplates difficult things. But the Good Time—like the Catholic religion—is human and attainable. How it may be with America I do not know; perhaps there the sterner virtues and pursuits for which stand the pilgrim fathers—who were not Americans—still obtain.
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But not in New York. It is the only place outside Provence where everybody is rich and gay. I was just now airing my amiable views of New York to a lady from Boston. For me, alas, it is! I do not mean for myself personally.
Races that are not harassed are seldom menaces to their neighbors; races that have leisure have leisure also for Thought and the Arts. And it is pleasant—it is the pleasantest thing in the world, to think of great numbers of people—great, great numbers of people—all enjoying themselves innocently.
You know that when you think kindly of Henri IV, who wished that every peasant of his realms might have a fowl in the pot on Sundays. It is assuredly not from New York that any menace will come to the world: By day the soaring cliffs that rise joyously over behind the Battery are symbols not merely of hope but of attainment; after dark, and more particularly in the dusk, they are sheer fairyland.
There is something particularly romantic in a Germanic sort of way about mountains illuminated from within. I remember watching the mountains behind Caerphilly in South Wales from Cardiff; their purple black against the night was pierced by illuminated and flickering mine-mouths and the suggestion that gnomes and Nibelungen of sorts were there at work on the veined treasure of the earth was irresistible. But it was a relatively heavyish glamor: The mind on seeing it connotes not subterranean picks and sweat, but lighter, more tenuous occupations—the pursuits of delicate, wayward beings.
And indeed, the mind connotes correctly enough, for though statistically New York may for all I know be a great manufacturing city, nothing could be further from my Gotham, except for the work of the stevedores in the Port, than those other desperate and mournful labors, in the dark and underneath the earth. For New York stands for air and light. But, for me, the most vivid recollection of New York—and I have it even when I sit here at work in one of the darkest, oldest and most Bloomsbury-like houses of the downtown of this city—is the view, long ago, from the roof of one of the tall houses that look down on City Hall, of the brand-new, marvelously white and beautiful Flatiron.
In those days the Flatiron was one of the seven wonders of the world and the air was more clear than it is possible for air to be, beneath the crystalline bowl of the sky. The shadows were all naturally blue, too, and every detail of every cornice of that building was visible from where we stood, pinkish white outlined by delicate blue. And indeed, every detail of every other building within sight was equally visible, distance being indicated only by the diminution of objects, not by their growing dimmer to the sight.
And each building had its panache—its ostrich-plume of steam streaming away in the keen wind. I have never known greater exhilaration; I have never seen anything more gayly beautiful.
All that is very much changed now. There is, I suppose, a good deal of soft coal still being used, and what has been used during past times of stress seems indelibly to have left a film over the white buildings and even to have taken the edge off the very clearness of the air.
New York, I think, has lost a little in impressiveness, if not in beauty. Painters—and particularly foreign painters—still rave about her canyons and ravines. But there are too many. And the contrasts of the old days are lost. It used to be a cumulative affair; you used to come down on the Fifth Avenue horse-stage between personable but not too lofty houses; then you plunged into splendid abysses.
And the sentinel before these splendid abysses was the Flatiron that, seen down either Fifth Avenue or Broadway from afar, was as white and as radiantly proportioned as any Greek conception for celebrating a victory. That used to be a journey; a romance.
To-day the Flatiron is gray and the skyline along Fifth Avenue where it goes along Central Park is too uniform in height with the rest of the city to let you have any feeling either of entrance or of plunging down. Heaven knows where, on the North, you would have a sense of entering New York. She straggles out into sparse suburbs and wilted rusticities as is the case with London towards Twickenham, or Paris, Montmorency way.
So that the compact, comfortable feeling that one used to have, of being bounded on the two sides by the rivers and of entering a city that was still low at Fifty-seventh Street, is gone for ever. New York will never be little and old again; she has assumed the ageless aspect of the great metropolis.
It was, no doubt, merely an illusion, but the feeling that one then had that, when looking downtown from Central Park, one was outside the city walls and was looking into it, was so strong as to be nearly irresistible. I remember having letters of introduction to or calling on one or two families on that Square, several in Gramercy Park, one in West Fourteenth Street itself, others in Twenty-sixth and Thirty-sixth Streets, and so on upwards to the Park.
On the other hand, the offices of my publisher were in Twenty-third Street between Broadway and Lexington, and he himself lived somewhere up in the hundreds, and I had several friends away in Bronx Park. I stayed, I remember, at first in the Waldorf-Astoria, then in a hotel on West Twenty-seventh Street, just off Fifth, which was more than indifferent. Its anteroom always smelt of fish frying in indifferent fat. I remember this particularly because of a gentleman who, somebody told me, was a Western Senator—but I daresay he was not.
The coat-tails of his frock-coat flew out behind him as he made a flying leap onto the vehicle; he wore an immense black sombrero, a scarlet tie and black leggings. At least, I like to think of him as wearing leggings; perhaps he did not really, but I confuse his memory with that of Buffalo Bill.
He seated himself beside me, drew from his tail-pockets an immense dark-scarlet apple, which he first polished on his sleeve and then held under my nose. I regarded it with attention and then remarked that it appeared to me to be an apple. He remarked that if it was not the peachiest peach he ever seen he never seen another. But that fellow pursued me all the way to West Twenty-seventh Street, got off the car and followed me into the ante-room of my hotel, holding out the brilliant apple and vociferating: It has never left me.
And next day one of the papers came out with a column headed in gigantic type: In those days I weighed only nine stone two— pounds. I used to think for long that that caption gave the measure of the little oldness of my Gotham of those days when English visitors for pleasure were so rare that every one of them had to be dignified at least with the title of peer.
Indeed, when I told the emigration officer on the steamer that I was visiting the United States for my pleasure and in no hope of gain, he simply refused to believe me. He said he had never heard of anybody doing that. I remember him vividly to this day. A fat, dead-white complexioned man, with silver-rimmed spectacles, an unbuttoned waistcoat over an indecently enormous abdomen and wearing a singularly shabby straw hat, he lolled sideways at a table before which we stood, smoked a cigar and cleaned his fingernails whilst he spat out questions from behind his cigar.
As the first United States official to give an impression to the first visitor coming for pleasure he was a bit of a misfortune. But, as they used to say—for I have not heard the expression in many years: This is a free country. And yet I do not know—as regards that heading. It seemed to me the note of a small old town that the papers should give columns to an incident so trifling.
Yet I was the other day in Chicago, which is neither little nor old, and which can never be either. Certainly it can never be both—for when it was merely Fort Dearborn it was little and after the fire it was young.
But nowadays it grows vaster and vaster—and younger and younger and younger till it begins to have that pathos of extreme youth that.
However, I am not writing about Chicago now; I am writing about its hawk. For when I was in Chicago lately the whole city, all the newspapers, all the streets were convulsed or rendered impassable by a hawk. No war tidings could so have caused the larger sort of type to spring into use across the tops of pages of journals. The streets were rendered impassable by reason of the crowds gazing into the skies and dangerous because lovers of pigeons fired charges of gun-shot into the air at imaginary hawks, whilst lovers of hawks thrust their arms up or down whilst they were in the act of firing.
That lasted for days. It seems to me very proper and right. Life in the great towns is so mechanical, so aloof from vitality, so much a matter of machines that any incursion of the natural—of the wild, the predatory and the free—is a very proper derivative. It will cool blood heated by overindulgence in refrigerated food and brains overtaxed by tickers and typewritten statements. European nations support their royal families and aristocracies for this purpose; why should not Chicago have its hawk and its gunmen—though indeed the hawk excited more attention than ever did the raid on the Drake Hotel?
Still, excitement over accipitrine or foreign visitors for pleasure may be taken as the characteristic of a small old town, as a rule. You cannot imagine New York or Paris or London raising an eyelid because of the visit of a hawk to the City Hall or the Mansion House or the Hotel de Ville—though I do remember that years ago London was stirred by the first visit of great flocks of seagulls to the Thames Embankment.
But that excitement was soon over; to-day the gulls are so familiar a part of the riverine landscape of London that hardly a soul is found feeding them. Occasionally some one will take them a bundle of scraps, and now and then a city clerk at lunch time will toss into the beak of a gull a scrap of the sandwich he is eating as he strolls.
But then, whatever be the case with Paris, New York seems to have no city-consciousness at all. London, indeed, has herself precious little. The Parisian is always the Parisian, but the Londoner, except that he will exhibit symptoms of mild disgust if you suggest that he could be anything else but a Londoner, is singularly unaware of the existence of his city.
He prefers to say that he is from Vermont.
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And—for it is pleasant to contemplate the inter-actions and reactions of great cities one upon another—what of city-consciousness London has has always seemed to me to come to her, at any rate in part, by way of New York. By way of the gray squirrel!
For it was when the gray squirrel was first set free in quantities in Regents Park that, in order to secure immunity for them from the acts of chase of the London small boy that the London County Council issued orders that the board school teachers were to inculcate lessons as to civic pride upon their pupils.
And so with other beasts and birds. So that to-day the fauna of the London parks is profuse and astonishing and you never see—as used to be the case in my boyhood—the London male young using catapults against living things except other small boys—and perhaps cats. So here again the New World redressed the balance of the Old.