Andrea here, musing on research, and why I find it such fun to delve into background material to find all the little details that help to add color to a story. I’ve got a new Lady Arianna mystery coming out on April 6th—it’s titled A TANGLE OF SERPENTS—and this latest adventure takes Arianna and Saybrook to Paris in the aftermath of of Waterloo. The Allied armies have occupied the city, which has become a viper’s nest of international intrigue as Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria all jockey for power in how to reorder France. (You can pre-order here. And read an excerpt here.)
It’s a fabulously interesting setting for a mystery . . . I found so many fun bits of color to weave into the plot. The most amazing discovery, which figures prominently in the action, is one I’m saving for close to the release date. But here are plenty of others . . .
Imagine the city suddenly flooded with soldiers from all over Europe—how do you keep them . . . er . . . entertained? And add to the soldiers all the British civilians who at last were free to visit the Continent after years of war. So tourists were also crowding the boulevards, anxious to taste all the pleasures of Paris. Well, thank heavens the city was famous for its joie de vivre. Food! Fashion! Flirting! It turns out there was no dearth of places that offered a sumptuous array of amusements.
One of my favorite discoveries is the Place des Panoramas, a serpentine maze of indoor shops, cafes and exhibition which was the Regency equivalent of our modern-day malls! (Though the Middle Eastern and North African bazaars and suks had been around for centuries.) The idea of a covered arcade in Paris began 1786, when Philippe d’Orléans got the bright idea of building stone arcades within the Palaise Royal for shops and bistros protected from the elements (and in the process plumping his pockets with rent revenues.) The idea was a huge hit and other arcades sprung up throughout the city.
The Passage des Panorama, built in 1800 on the site of the Duc de Luxembourg’s palatial townhouse, become one of the most popular during the occupation of Paris, in part because of its two massive rotundas, which housed panoramic murals, that drew crowds on their own (for an admissions price!) The large circular paintings are a very interesting story in their own right—and have an American connection!
Robert Fulton, the American inventor, had come to Paris hoping to sell Napoleon his designs for steamboat and submarine warships, as well as torpedoes, to use in France’s war with Britain. Napoleon, who was never a fan of the navy, hemmed and hawed over the idea, and to support himself while he cooled his heels in Paris, Fulton painted scenes of Paris, Toulon, Rome, Jerusalem, and other famous cities, and charge admission to ooh and aah over the spectacle. (Panorama painting became something of a fad in Europe. London also had displays over the years. And while I’ve found no record of Fulton’s paintings, I did come across this sketch of a London panorama for the Battle of Trafalgar.)
Napoleon ultimately turned down Fulton, and he prompted decamped to London and offered his inventions to the British—but murals remained, and his business partner, fellow American James Thayer took over the enterprise. Among the many artists who murals in the rotunda in later years was Louis Daguerre, of photographic fame.
The Passage des Panoramas drew large crowds for shopping and dining. Protected from the weather, visitors could linger over café au lait and people-watch, or shop for a wide range of goods in the numerous stores, including books, souvenirs—and chocolate! (Another fun fact is that the Passage was center for stamp and coin collectors, as apparently a number of shops specialized in those collectibles.) It was the first indoor arcade to be lit by gaslight, which happened in 1817, and the glow at night was said to be very romantic!
I’m delighted to report that the Passage des Panoramas still exists today, with many vintage features still intact (though not the murals.) And one can still stroll through endless arcades, sampling the food offerings and ogling all the items on sale at the shops. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!
I think I would have very much enjoyed the Regency Passage des Panoramas, though I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the modern-day mall. What about you? Do you enjoy visiting a mall, and the convenience of having so many different shops and restaurants and entertainment venues in one place? Or do you feel . . overwhelmed.