I love dipping into that huge treasure chest, Project Gutenberg, and coming up with gemstones from the past: the arresting sentence, the paragraph or vignette illuminating the way things were beneath the radar of great events. Here is an example: everyday life in Paris as registered by an observant American woman, a Bryn Mawr graduate in her twenties temporarily residing in the City of Light with husband and baby in 1909-1910. Her enthusiastic but shrewd perceptions are absorbing:
Everybody knows that the cochers of Paris are no fools. They can drive a horse, but they can drive a bargain too and afterwards settle down on their high box and fling you shrewd observations about art or politics or what not. But there is more to it than that. When you have lived a while in the Latin quarter you know who are the expert judges of cooking. In the old days, the meal you could buy in a tiny dark rendez-vous des cochers was as tasty as anything you could enjoy on a Grand Boulevard at ten times the price. Minor details like a table-cloth and clean forks and knives with each new plate are not missed when the gigot is done to a turn and the sauce piquante is just right. The rendez-vous des cochers restaurant has one distinct advantage over the swell place on the Boulevards. If you are in a hurry to go to the Concert Rouge and have had no dinner, you can stop for a second at a cab driver’s restaurant while you buy a portion of frites. The luscious golden potatoes, sprinkled with salt, are wrapped in a paper, and you consume them as you walk up the Rue de Tournon. They don’t mind babies there. Scrappie was asleep in her carriage. Monsier le Patron came out and rolled the carriage ever so gently under the awning beside the glass screen by the restaurant door. He beamed at us benevolently, then stepped over to explain that he was a père de famille and that courants d’air inflame babies’ eyes.
From the Project Gutenberg eBook of Paris vistas (1919), by Helen Davenport Gibbons (1882-1960), ch viii p86
The picture shows Paris flooded in 1910.