Rug Vendor is Fixture in Parisian Life

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Daily Star/August 12, 1922

Paris.-No one can sit for twenty consecutive minutes in front of any Parisian cafe without becoming aware, aurally or nasally, of the fur rug vendor.Wearing a dirty red fez, a bundle of skins slung over his shoulder, a red morocco billfold in his hand, his brown face shining, the rug seller is as firm a feature of Paris Ii fe as the big green buses that snort and roar past, the little, old, red one-lung taxis that grind and beetle through the traffic or the sleek cat that suns herself in every concierge’s window.

The rug seller comes by, smiles at each table, and spreads out one of his handsome fur rugs. If you assume such an expression as might fasten itself on the face of the Hon. Mr. Raney on the occasion of his receiving a delegation of the Young Men’s Pari-Mutuel Association with a request for him to contribute some fitting sum toward cushions for the seats at the Woodbine rracetrack-1 and at the same time inform the rug vendor, with a dirty look, that you hate all rugs and have just come out of jail after having served twenty years for killing rug sellers on the slopes of Montparnasse, he may pass on to the next table.

Twenty to one, however, would be a good bet against his doing so. It is much more likely that he will fix you with a sad, brown stare and remark, “Monsieur jests about my beautiful rugs.”

Now, if you, at this point, arise and kick the rug vendor with your strongest foot, at the same time hitting him heavily over the head with a cafe table and cry out in a loud clear voice: “Death to robbers and rug vendors!” there is a small chance that he will perceive that you are not in the market for rugs and move on to the next table. It is much more likely, however, that he will slip to his knees, grasp your foot in one hand, bow his head to the blow of the table and say, in a patient voice: “Monsieur kicks and hits me. It is on account of my beautiful rugs.”

There is nothing for you to do after that but help him to his feet and ask: “How much?”

The rug vendor unslings something that looks like a royal Bengal tiger from his shoulder and spreads it out lovingly: “For you, Monsieur, two hundred francs.”

You examine the royal Bengal tiger closely and perceive it is a beauti-fully patched and dyed goat skin.

“It is a goat,” you say.

“Ah, no, Monsieur,” says the rug vendor sadly. “It is a veritable tiger.” “It is a goat!” you grunt fiercely.

“Ah yes, Monsieur,” the rug vendor puts his hand on his heart, “it is a veritable tiger. I swear by Allah.”

“It is a goat,” you repeat. “Stop this lying.”

“Ah yes, Monsieur,” the rug vendor bows his head. “It is a veritable goat.”

“How much do you charge for this mean, ill-dyed, foul-smelling goat?” “A gift to you, Monsieur, for one hundred francs.”

“Forty francs. The last price,” you say grimly.

The rug vendor puts the rug over his back and walks sadly away. “You jest, Monsieur, you jest about the beautiful skins. We cannot trade together.”

You go back to your newspaper but in a moment there is a familiar aroma. You raise your eyes and there is the rug vendor. He is holding out the royal Bengal tiger. “A sacrifice. For Monsieur, because of his gentility, this beautiful tiger for fifty francs.”

You pretend that the rug vendor is nonexistent. He goes off again but comes back. “Forty-five francs,” he says brightly. “For Monsieur alone of all the world. Forty-five francs and Monsieur owns the very beautiful tiger.”

“I have bought a thousand like it for forty francs,” you answer, turning back to the newspaper.

“It is yours, Monsieur. You have bought it for forty francs. The beautiful tiger.”

The beautiful tiger is laid across the back of your chair and at once commences his lifelong job of getting hair on your clothing. You give the rug vendor two twenty-franc notes and he bows low. He goes off a little way but you see him eyeing you. He comes back.

“Perhaps Monsieur would care for one of these lovely morocco pocket­books,” he says, smiling happily.

There is only one thing to do. Leave the cafe.

Several hundred rug vendors are employed by a syndicate that makes the rugs and pocketbooks and pays the salesmen five francs a day and everything they get over the minimum price. Rugs are usually priced at 200 francs to start, with a minimum price about 45 francs. Most of the salesmen are Arabs.

Many of the rugs are well made and very fine-looking and are good bargains at from 45 to 55 francs. Tourists buy them at from 75 to 150 francs and are invariably very satisfied with them-unless the goat develops atavistic tendencies in the hot weather. For that there is no remedy.

(Source: Dateline: Toronto. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985)

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