Friday, January 6, 2012

Mont de Piété

The Times has an article about the Crédit Municipal in Paris, a venerable state-run pawnshop that has served the famous as well as the obscure for centuries.
Neither buyers nor sellers are inclined to identify themselves. Cameras are prohibited and security guards are omnipresent. One anonymous buyer admitted that good deals are now hard to come by. Watches and jewelry are the most common items to be pawned these days. Electronic goods, rapidly devalued by new technology, are refused.
Back in the old days mattresses were hard currency — a last resort for the desperate, and one of the few possessions bailiffs were not (and are still not today under French law) allowed to confiscate from your home. An inventory taken in 1868 counted 15,000 mattresses. The Crédit Municipal still has a 19th century mattress-delousing machine, a giant cylindrical contraption the pumped high pressure steam to kill any bedbugs.
Famous clients include Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, and the Prince de Joinville, a 19th-century gambler who once covered his debts by pawning a watch, a gift from his mother. When she asked why he wasn’t wearing it, he deftly replied, “It’s at my aunt’s.” This expression has become a French euphemism for a visit to the Crédit Municipal.

But my favorite French (and Spanish and Italian and even English euphemism for pawnbroker remains the title of this post.

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