Aug. 2nd, 1917
My Dear Home Folks:
It is a rainy, disagreeable day, and not very pleasant for sightseeing, so I am going to start writing and will try as best I can to describe something of what I have already seen. I am sitting in my room at the hotel, my table before the open window overlooking La Rue LaFayette, where, in spite of the rain, there is a continuous stream of traffic, for rain or shine, Paris and a great part of France is throbbing with life and energy. Paris has been called "The Fair Capital of France" and it is certainly a pleasing and beautiful name, but it is far too weak a term to describe the magnificence of the place. The name "Gay City" is also often applied to it, and one can easily imagine how suitable is such a name in peace time, when now, in the midst of war, with the flower of her manhood at the front, and not a family who has not lost some near relatives, everything is gaiety and pleasure. However more of that later.
We arrived in Paris at 8:30 on the night of the 24th and took a taxi from the Gare du Nord (North Station) to a restaurant where they speak English where we had supper. The proprietor is an old soldier who lost an arm and an eye at Vimy in 1915, and his wife is an English woman who he married while working in a restaurant in London. Partly out of comradeship for the old soldier and partly because we can make ourselves understood more easily, we have patronized him ever since. From the restaurant we went to the hotel, which was only a few yards and had a good bath and a good sleep, the first time that we have been in a real bed with white, clean sheets for fourteen months. On the morning of the 25th Herb and I went to the YMCA for advice about the places of interest. From the Y we went to Notre Dame de Lorette, the grand cathedral of Paris, where we spent a very
enjoyable hour. I have bought quite a collection of postcards, showing almost all the places we have seen and will send them at the first opportunity. They will show you the beauty of the place much better than I could attempt to explain it. Notre Dame is, as I said, the grand cathedral of Paris and indeed of France. The front of the church, the facade, is a mass on beautiful carving, especially around the three doors and above them, while the sides, with their beautiful stained windows, give one an idea of the immensity of the building. On entering, one's first impression, as one stands midway between the great pillars and looks down toward the altar is of grandeur. After our few moments silent
admiration we passed down towards the altar and an English-speaking guide explained everything of interest, - the two great windows, one on each side of the church, which, if once broken, could never be replaced, for they are the only ones of their kind in the world. The glass is, by some special process, stained right through. They represent on one side of the Kings of France, who number nine hundred and twenty seven in all, and on the other, the Acts of the Apostles. Over the altar hangs the coat of arms of Paris and on the right stands a statue of Joan d'Arc, the great heroine of France. One of the most noteworthy things about the workmanship of the interior is the carving, which appears to be wood, but which is in reality a combination of plaster and stone, and which represents in a very vivid way all the miracles of Christ. Leaving Notre Dame we came to the Pantheon, a splendid structure of marble, dedicated to the great men of the country. It is an imposing building and the walls hung with paintings of great men are very interesting. Our time here however was limited and I did not see the place as I would have liked to. From the Pantheon, we went for a few minutes to L'Eglise St. Aden-du-Mont, a comparatively small but very beautiful church dedicated to Saint Genevieve. Although not so grand I think it is equally as beautiful as Notre Dame. From St. Aden we went to our restaurant for lunch.
After lunch we took a taxi to the Luxembourg Gardens, the largest of their kind in Paris, and at this time of year at their best. Here we spent a couple of very enjoyable hours, roaming about and resting under the shade of trees. Then we went into the Museum, the second finest in Paris, where we spent over an hour, admiring the paintings and sculpture. But the time passed all too quickly and first thing we knew it was dinner time. (Of course we were quite aristocratic and had dinner in the evening). After a short walk four of us took a taxi and went out to St. Cloud, a beautiful park just on the outskirts of Paris. It is a fine drive out through the city past the Eiffel Tower and around the park, from points of which we could command a view of the whole of Paris, spread out in a vast panorama
beneath the setting sun. Then back along the bank of the Seine, through a park where nature held almost supreme control and down the Avenue du Bois du Boulogne. Passing the Arc de Triomphe, the great triumphful arch of Paris, we strolled down to the Avenue de Champs Elysees, a very wealthy section of the city, across La Place de La Concorde, the largest square in the world and thence past the Opera and down Rue La Fayette to our hotel. It is hard to imagine anything more beautiful than that drive down through the Bois de Boulonge past the Lake and l'Arc de Triomphe and it is impossible to describe it. I am sending some views which will show you some of the grandest of it all.
And so ended our first day in Paris. The YMCA people had told us that everyday a brake, that is a big red wagon drawn by five horses, which seated about 25, took a party around Paris on a sightseeing tour and as there was an English-speaking guide we decided to take the trip the next day. We met it in the morning, bought our ticket which was not expensive, and started at 10 a.m. sharp. Passing the Brouse, the great stock exchange of Paris, and the Statue of the French Republic, built in 1883 at the cost of a million francs, we came to the Cemetery of Pere La Chaise, the largest Cemetery in Paris, in which rest the remains of most of the great men of France. On the left lie the Roman Catholics,
in the centre the Protestants, and on the right the Jews. As we had much to see, and our time was limited, we could not spend long in any one place and were soon on our way again. From the Cemetery we advanced to the street corner where the Guillotine once stood, and which is marked now by five stones made in the center of the street thus [HHS has drawn an illustration to show the placement of the stones]. On this spot during the past hundred years twenty thousand criminals were put to death. From here we went to the place where the Bastille, which was destroyed in the revolution on 1789, once stood. The place is now marked by the Column de Juillet, - Column of July.
Passing L'Eglise St Paul, one of the old Paris churches built in 1627, we came to the Hotel de Ville, the great Town Hall built in 1875 at the cost of one hundred and twenty-five million dollars, to replace the building which had been destroyed in 1871. It is one of the largest, if not indeed the largest building in Paris and that is saying something. From here we went to Notre Dame built nine hundred and twenty seven years ago, and, despite its age, still ranking first among the Cathedrals of France.
Our next stopping place was the Palace of Justice and the Chapel of St. Louis. The latter was built by Louis the ninth and is a very beautiful, also very expensive little church. In 1872, when the Huns were approaching Paris, the spire was wrapped with straw and other material for protection. The decorations of the interior of this church of St Capel are all in gold, and are certainly wonderful.
Leading St. Capel we went to the Tuileries Gardens, which ranked next to Luxembourg for size and beauty, where we spent a quiet half-hour. Then we went to the Museum de Louvre, the finest museum in Paris which contains the original of some of the world's greatest paintings, such as the Angelus and some of the best works of sculpture. Unfortunately our time here was short and we could only pass along the great galleries, noting the works of special interest.
From the Louvre we drove past the Eiffel Tower, La Grand Roue, - the Great Wheel, and on to L'Hotel des Invalides where the Emperor Napoleon is buried. In the centre of the building is a large excavation, circular in shape, and finished in white marble, and in the center of this crypt is the tomb made of carved onyx. Surrounding it, worked on the floor, are the names of his great victories and at either end of it stand the conquered flags. Over the entrance to the crypt are Napoleon's words: "I desire that my remains be buried near the banks of the River Seine, in the midst of my French people, who I so much love". The Invalides, or originally the Royal Chapel, was built by Louis XIV. The altar is of Russian marble, and the decorations are of gold, while the windows on either side of the altar are stained in such an excellent way as to make it that the sun is always shining on the altar. This is the case night and day and it has a very pleasing effect on the gold decorations. From Les Invalides we went to the Chapel which is small but beautiful. The two most noteworthy things about it are the display of captured flags overhead, and a very natural and vivid painting, showing of the burial of a French soldier by his comrades in the field.
In the courtyard areas there is a large display of German guns, captured on different parts of the front during the present war, also some captured German aeroplanes. Around the courtyard are long galleries in which are exhibitions of the uniforms, guns, swords etc. of Napoleon and of some of the latter French Kings. From Les Invalides we went up across the Alexander Bridge, past that Grand and Petit Palais, built for the World Exposition in Paris in 1900, and now used, the former as a Red Cross Hospital and the latter as a Picture Gallery. Crossing La Place de La Concorde, we passed the Madeleine Church and the Opera, - National Academy of Music, both of which were closed, and then down to our hotel, where we arrived at 6:15 p.m.
After dinner we went to one of the many theaters, to which we had been recommended, and enjoyed for the first time in fourteen months a real good show, for although in Paris, a great part of the performance was in English and even what was in French was worthwhile seeing, for although one could not understand all that was said, one could enjoy the acting. Four out of the five theaters we went to while in Paris staged a show which was at least half English, and in one of them there was practically no French at all.
On the morning of the 27th we slept in until almost noon, had a short walk and went to lunch at 1:30. In the afternoon we went to look at some of the places we had visited the day before, in order to see them more thoroughly, and in the evening we took a taxi and went out to St. Cloud for a drive. On the night of the 26th a second bunch arrived at the hotel including some of the telephonists, Ben Conrad and Major McNevin, a cousin of Colin's, you have heard Clemmie speak about so often, and one of the finest little fellows in the outfits, and in them I had two of my best chums to get around with. But I am digressing. As I said we went out to St. Cloud on the 27th. We were fortunate in getting
a very intelligent taxi driver and a man who spoke distinct French, so that, with my slight knowledge of the language, I was able to understand almost anything he said, and also to make myself understood to him although he could not speak a word of English. He explained much of the scenery which made the drive very interesting. Realizing the advantage of having such a man with us, we engaged him to take us to Versailles the next day. Sharp at 10 of the next morning he was at the hotel, waiting for us. An hour's run took us to Versailles, a distance of 20 kilometers, or about twelve and a half miles. Leaving that taxi we spent a few minutes in the old Chapel of Louis X1V and then on to the statue of Louis X1V, a beautiful piece of art, made of one piece of bronze with a marble base, and standing in such a position as to form, as it were the hub of a wheel, - the spokes being the six broad avenues which lead away from the Chateau. Louis X1V, who built Versailles said, "I will have my statue here where my people can see it, no matter from what direction they approach. Next to the sun I am King."
In front of the Palace, to the left, stands the residence of the Minister of Justice and Finance, and on the right, that of the Minister of Interior end War. Beyond are the statues of Louis V1V. On the left is a building which has the capacity of holding three thousand horses, and on the right, one which housed up to one thousand carriages. The building of the Chateau of Versailles was started in 1624 by Louis X1V of Bourbon, when the
central part consisting of forty rooms was erected. The remainder consisting of eight hundred rooms was built in 1651.
Passing in the main entrance over which is the monogram L.P. - Louis Philip; across the promenade and up the main staircase, past the beautiful statue of the three graces carved from one piece of marble, and the statue of Napoleon, representing him in his coronation robe, we entered the great gallery of battles, to the decoration of which Louis Philip donated the handsome sum of forty million francs. The gallery, which is one hundred and twenty yards long, contains paintings of all the great French victories from the time of the first and kings of France down to Napoleon.
Leaving the gallery we walked along a broad corridor, passing a beautiful statue of ebony and bronze, presented by the city of Paris to Napoleon in recognition of his services, then into the smaller rooms where we passed hurriedly some beautiful paintings, the most interesting representing Napoleon presenting the flag to the Army on December 5th, 1804. The throne were was especially worthy of note, the carpet, ceiling and jewel case being very beautiful. But next to Gallery of Battles comes the Gallery des Glaces, - the Winter Ball Room. The two are almost identical it in size, and the chief item of interest in the latter is a side wall which is one big mirror, something over one hundred yards long,
and reaching right to the ceiling.
But the Chateau is not the only place of interest at Versailles. The grounds alone, which cover some twelve thousand acres, are worth going a long distance to see for there are magnificent fountains and cool shady walks through a beautiful groove; they give the place a restful, refreshing atmosphere, in which one might spend many a pleasant and profitable day. Unfortunately our time was very short and we could only walk around a small portion of the grounds, surrounding the Chateau before we came home.
We got back to our hotel in time for dinner, and in the evening went to one of the theaters where we saw a very good show. Sunday morning, the 29th, we went to Notre Dame to service. Of course we could not understand much but the music was splendid. Naturally being the great cathedral of Paris, it has a very fine organ, the second best, they claim, in the world. After service we went to L'Eglise Sacre-Coeur, the church of the Sacred Heart, a splendid white building standing on high ground near the north side of the city, from which you can command a view of the whole of Paris
After lunch we went out to Bois des Boulogne for the afternoon, hired a boat and spent a very enjoyable afternoon on the lake. Monday morning, the 30th, was damp so we stayed in all forenoon. In the afternoon it cleared somewhat; and we took a walk around the town not seeing any new places worthy of note, but merely to get an idea of the everyday life and conditions of people.
Tuesday the 31st we spent around the Luxembourg and Tuileries Gardens and in the evening we took a taxi and went out around the Bois de Boulogne and St. Cloud for a drive. Part of the day out Wednesday the first we spent at the Invalides and from there, we went to la Grande Roue, or the Great Wheel. We bought our tickets which cost six pence, and went around. The trip lasted for twenty minutes and we got a magnificent view of the whole of Paris spread out in a grand panorama around us. It was a grand sight. Words cannot describe the beauty of the scene as we saw it that afternoon on a clear day. This took up most of our afternoon. In the evening we went to one of the theaters where we saw a splendid show. The morning of the second was disagreeable so I started to write this letter and have had several installments since then. We stayed in nearly all day and in the evening took in a theater
The 3rd was to be our last day so we were off and out early. In the forenoon we bought some stuff that we needed to take back with us, just little necessaries that would come in handy up the line and a few souvenirs. The afternoon we spent on the lake at the Bois de Boulogne and the evening in a taxi around town until 8:30 when we went to be Olympia Theater. We left Paris at 9:15 on the morning of the 4th and after a tedious trip got back to the battery on the morning of the 5th. To say that we enjoyed ourselves during our ten days leave would be putting it very mildly indeed. We had a simply glorious time made doubly so from the fact that we had been away from all the places and pleasures of civilized life for fourteen months.
Now that I have told, in some poor way, what we saw and did during our trip I think I must close. My descriptions have been very poor owing to my writing whenever I could catch a minutes. The letter must be very disjointed. I must ask you to forgive that and "apres la guerre" when we all get back again I will be able to tell you all about it. My only regret while I was away was that those at home could not see and enjoy it.
With a heart full of love, Harold