Among many other things, Casanova was a great travel writer. Here’s his account of a visit to the garden of the Palais-Royal in Paris which was open to the public:
After his visit I told Esprit to take me to the Palais-Royal, and I left him at the gates. I felt the greatest curiosity about that renowned garden, and at first I examined everything. I see a rather fine garden, walks lined with big trees, fountains, high houses all round the garden, a great many men and women walking about, benches here and there forming shops for the sale of newspapers, perfumes, tooth-picks, and other trifles. I see a quantity of chairs for hire at the rate of one sou, men reading the newspaper under the shade of the trees, girls and men breakfasting either alone or in company, waiters who were rapidly going up and down a narrow staircase hidden under the foliage.
I sit down at a small table: a waiter comes immediately to enquire my wishes. I ask for some chocolate made with water; he brings me some, but very bad, although served in a splendid silver-gilt cup. I tell him to give me some coffee, if it is good.
“Excellent, I made it myself yesterday.”
“Yesterday! I do not want it.”
“The milk is very good.”
“Milk! I never drink any. Make me a cup of fresh coffee without milk.”
“Without milk! Well, sir, we never make coffee but in the afternoon. Would you like a good bavaroise, or a decanter of orgeat?”
“Yes, give me the orgeat.”
I find that beverage delicious, and make up my mind to have it daily for my breakfast. I enquire from the waiter whether there is any news; he answers that the dauphine has been delivered of a prince. An abbe, seated at a table close by, says to him,—
“You are mad, she has given birth to a princess.”
A third man comes forward and exclaims,—
“I have just returned from Versailles, and the dauphine has not been delivered either of a prince or of a princess.”
Then, turning towards me, he says that I look like a foreigner, and when I say that I am an Italian he begins to speak to me of the court, of the city, of the theatres, and at last he offers to accompany me everywhere. I thank him and take my leave. The abbe rises at the same time, walks with me, and tells me the names of all the women we meet in the garden.
A young man comes up to him, they embrace one another, and the abbe presents him to me as a learned Italian scholar. I address him in Italian, and he answers very wittily, but his way of speaking makes me smile, and I tell him why. He expressed himself exactly in the style of Boccacio. My remark pleases him, but I soon prove to him that it is not the right way to speak, however perfect may have been the language of that ancient writer. In less than a quarter of an hour we are excellent friends, for we find that our tastes are the same.
My new friend was a poet as I was; he was an admirer of Italian literature, while I admired the French.
We exchanged addresses, and promise to see one another very often.
I see a crowd in one corner of the garden, everybody standing still and looking up. I enquire from my friend whether there is anything wonderful going on.
“These persons are watching the meridian; everyone holds his watch in his hand in order to regulate it exactly at noon.”
“Is there not a meridian everywhere?”
“Yes, but the meridian of the Palais-Royal is the most exact.”
I laugh heartily.
“Why do you laugh?”
“Because it is impossible for all meridians not to be the same. That is true ‘badauderie’.”
My friend looks at me for a moment, then he laughs likewise, and supplies me with ample food to ridicule the worthy Parisians.
(Casanova’s Memoirs, To Paris and Prison, Chapter VI)
‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is freely available here.
27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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