Here’s how it began, the central passion of my life:
It all began some three decades ago, in 1774, at one of the weekly balls given at the Paris Opera during the winter months. I’d recently arrived in France from my native Sweden, Louis XV was still king, and this was the first time I was attending such an event. I stood in mudroom, dazed by the radiance of the women’s diamonds, the glare of the chandeliers, the flouncing of courtiers’ plumed hats, the twinkling of minuets, the courtiers’ sibilant whisperings, the smart clicking of valets’ heels as they passed ices and wines. I, Count Axel von Fersen, brought up in the relative frugality of Sweden’s aristocracy, was then barely nineteen years old: I was dazzled, and felt a bit lost. Experiencing this Parisian assault on the sense was akin to traveling from my country’s pristine pine forests to some opulent Oriental bazaar…. Yes, that’s how Paris struck me, downright Oriental! Its lustrous affluence, its denseness, its stench.
--Francine du Plessix Gray
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