October 1927 Issue
At Sea, September 24th
By Fola La Follette
A last look out over the ancient gray roofs of Paris and I said goodbye to the old studio in the Latin quarter where Mid and I had lived during the two years of 1920 and 1921, and where I had passed most of this summer. The place had been doubly endeared to me by the ten happy days that I had just had there with Phil. On the train to Cherbourg I went over again in memory our precious hours.
It was Phil's first visit to the continent, and I rediscovered the beauty of this fascinating old city through his eyes. It is wonderful to see it for the first time, but there is an even subtler joy in the renewal of the experience through sharing one's most treasured haunts with a sympathetic comrade. Together we wandered through the old streets, visiting Napoleon's tomb, where Phil repeated from memory Robert Ingersoll's prose poem inspired by the same scene on which we looked. It was a passage that father had often read aloud and held touching memories for us both. As we traversed the imposing Place de la Concorde, I related to Phil Jo Davidson's account of how father had looked out on that beautiful vista with tears in his eyes, saying: "It is wicked to have lived so many years without seeing all this beauty."
We spent enchanting days at Versailles, Fontainbleau and Chantilly, and went to mass one Sunday morning in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Everywhere Phil's vivid and dramatic recalling of historical associations colored and revivified my impressions. I was reminded again and again of how his childish interest in collecting autographed photographs of distinguished Europeans had stimulated and inspired his study of history.
In the days when educators were less given to emphasizing the importance of the child's own enthusiasm and interest Phil had spontaneously worked out a "project method" of his own which had its origin in the diversified interests of the friends who came to our home, and in the colorful contacts with individuals from many other countries which the Washington environment offered. Education is a subtle process. Wandering about Paris with Phil deepened my reverence for the creative power of children's enthusiasms. Wise and sympathetic parents had encouraged a small boy's fancy for collecting autographed photographs of his childish heroes, and this early enthusiasm had made the more mature study of distant times and places vivid and living experiences. Phil was at home in this old world, and it was almost impossible to believe that he was making his first visit to this ancient city. I was constantly delighted and entertained by the rich and vivid historical associations that all our pilgrimages evoked.
We spent a day at Chartres, wandering about that noble cathedral, which is one of the supremely beautiful architectural creations of all time. I renewed acquaintance with the sonneur who conducted us all about the exterior, enthusiastically pointing out his most treasured views of the subtle beauties of construction. At noon he guided us up the winding stairs of the North tower to see and hear the ringing of the bell. It was an impressive ceremony. One realized as one looked out over the plains of this fertile country what that signal must have meant when the entire life of the community was focused in this cathedral. From that tower, for centuries, the solemn tolling had signaled the individual and communal joys and tragedies of paupers, peasants and nobles.
The afternoon we passed watching the changing light on the wonderful stained glass windows. Monsieur Etienne Houvet, who has made a life study of these supreme examples of an art which has never reached such perfection as in the twelfth century glass of Chartres, took us about, explaining with loving devotion the legends and the wonders of their workmanship. He is a scholar and a mystic whose life has been devoted to the worship and interpretation of this earthly home of the blessed virgin.
At six o'clock the doors of the cathedral were closed for the organ recital. An admission fee was charged and most of the visitors who had been moving through the aisles all day long vanished. Four silent and awed listeners remained in this vast temple where ten or fifteen thousand had often gathered for worship. There was a long and breathless pause; a benediction of peace and calm enfolded us. The drifting clouds lifted and the brilliant autumn sun flooded the jeweled windows; time relied back and we became as children of the middle ages. The solemn organ tones resounded through the vast arches; the senses of sight and sound were enthralled; the mystery of beauty unified the past and the present. An hour of magic, then silence, and quietly Phil and I passed through the little side door out into the wind swept town, down a winding old street leading to the station. We paused, looked back, and spontaneously together voiced the same thought: "I wish we could have spent the night there enfolded in that peace and beauty like the pilgrims of old."
S.S. Munchen, August 25, 1927
By Phil La Follette
THIS BOAT is just the sort to come over on--everything spick and span; all the comforts and luxuries one could want without the fuss and feathers of higher toned ones. My cabin is on the boat deck, delightfully comfortable in every way. I have it alone (it is fitted for three people), so you will understand how roomy everything must be. There is only one other passenger on this deck, so it is very quiet and secluded. The officials of the line and the officers were very nice to me from the time I arrived.
We started out with quite a little roll on the sea and I found myself not quite as steady as on the former trip. I think I should have my sea legs by thirty-six hours.
The passengers seem like a very nice lot. I have a New York banker on one side at the table, a Chicago Italian banker (very pro-Mussolini) on the other; my deck seat mate is a Russian engineer in business in London; was formerly in the diplomatic service, a very delightful and charming fellow. Another interesting person is a German doctor, a specialist in tuberculosis.
I am confident I am going to get a great rest. I feel relaxed as I haven't in a long, long while.
Yesterday I tried out the gymnasium for the first time. It is equipped with mechanical bicycles, electric horses (a la Coolidge), rowing, etc. I rode 1.5 miles en the bicycle, and a half-hour on the horse, and again this morning have had a workout.
This morning we saw land, and are now following the Irish coastline to Queenstown which we expect to reach in about three-quarters of an hour. I am rather glad to have at least a sight of Ireland. Sometime I should like to visit the country and see something of Darby O'Gill's land and people.
I shall be glad to get off the boat tomorrow morning though I have enjoyed every minute of the voyage.
Yesterday afternoon I arrived at the St. Lazare station at 5:30. I had wired Fola of my train but we missed each other at the station. So your good husband creaked his terrible French into action, got a taxi, and told the driver very slowly "Vang-Rue Ja-Kobe," and started on his way down the streets of Paris. The way from St. Lazare to rue Jacob takes one across the Seine through the Tuilleries gardens, past the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde where one gets the sweep up and down the Champs Elysees. As I wrote you, I deeply enjoyed the ocean voyage, but when I got into that taxi and started out, I got a thrill! which increased into a real crescendo as I saw the Place de la Concorde and the Are de Triomphe. It was a thrill I shall always remember.
I reached 20 rue Jacob, but the front looked like the shopping district, so I stopped the taxi and rang the concierge's bell. When he appeared (somewhat anxious at the ringing of the bell at that hour of the day), I said "La Follette" and wiggled my thumb indicating (?) whether someone of that name lived there, and he immediately replied in the affirmative. So I climbed the six flights to the apartment and was admitted by the dear old Marie (who was with Fola so long). When Fola arrived I was already shaving and in quite a settled state. The apartment is a charming place, looking out over the roofs of Paris and down into an old garden, part of which was once Racine's. The house is some 300 years old, with the quaint char one would expect. The town certainly has a charm which is most individual. Here I really feel in another world. After Fola and I had visited a bit we walked out to the bank of the Seine and to the Port Michel where we got a vista of Notre Dame, and then over to the front portico. Then a taxi ride around the Louvre and back home for a delicious dinner. So my introduction to Paris has been most thrilling. (When I got to my room Fola had the N. Y. Times photo of the baby on my mirror, so I was really welcomed!)
Saturday morning we got up and had a French breakfast, my first, and then took the train from the Care des Invalides for Versailles. We had a beautiful sunny day. You have been there and know what we saw. It was impressive of what sort of life the kings lived in from Louis quatorze to Louis seize. We first went through the palace, and then took a horse and carriage and drove through the park, to the Grande and then the Petite Trianon. And then we went to the hotel de Reservoire where we had tea (the hotel where Madame de Maintenan lived), and then by train back to Paris.
Jo Davidson came in for dinner, and he and I hit it off right from the start. After dinner (about 10 p. m.) he suddenly said I ought to see Paris, so he, Fola and I started out in his car (a Peugot and very "magnifique") for a round of Paris. First to the Cafe de la Paix where we sat out on the curb and watched the people pass; then to the Cafe Dome and Rotonde; then to a somewhat smaller joint where we (Jo and I) danced with Fola. It did give me a real impression of the night-life of the Parisian. Every place we went the old French Johnnies who had known Jo from his student days and who had not seen him for years, rushed up to greet him. It was a rare treat.
Yesterday morning Fola and I got up and went to High Mass at Notre Dame. The organ is deep and very moving. Somehow one gets in touch with the whole emotional past of the church in being there during a service (the same in form for the last hundreds of years). After lunch we went to St. Eustace church which gets hold of you in a very extraordinary way. We afterwards saw two more churches, but they left no such lasting impression as St. Eustace. Then we went to the Arc de Triomphe to see the parade of the French veterans to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to rectify the profanation of the Communist demonstration at the time of the Sacco-Vanzetti demonstrations. Then Fola and I had lunch together out in front of one of the nearby restaurants on the banks of the Seine, looking at Notre Dame as we had our meal.
I was somewhat disappointed in the atmosphere of Napoleon's tomb--too much noise on the part of the visitors and too much ornateness on the part of the decorators.
Yesterday was a beautiful day and we left at 8:45 for Chartres. Arrived at 10 and stayed until 7:15 p. m. It is a great experience to see her. We climbed to the top of the towers, around the outside rim of the church, and watched the bell-ringer ring the gigantic bell. It is rung by jumping on a cross bar at the top of bell and takes his whole weight swinging in rhythm to ring it. It vibrates the tower, so much so that it scared me half to death-—I was sure the whole tower was caving in. We went through the Crypt and then accompanied the chap who has made a life-long study of the place. We went and examined the glass windows. Never in all my life have I seen such color and such optical illusions as one gets from these windows at Chartres. Then after an early tea we came back for the organ recital at 6. Not more than two or three besides us there in the whole cathedral; dusk and the dying sunlight—-I never expect to be nearer heaven by physical stimuli. That organ and those windows in the slowly gathering gloom!
Yesterday we spent at Malmaison. I got much more satisfaction out of it than the Invalides. It caught and holds some part of the personality of Napoleon. It is filled, of course, with the over-polish and gilt of the First Empire, but through it all there pervades some sense of the young spirit of the Corsican. Especially that wooded lane from the house to his little pavilion where he worked alone. There is there now a special exhibition of relics-—the map of Waterloo he used, Saint Helena bed, and garments, etc.
This morning we went to St. Denis where we saw the tombs of the old kings. The cathedral is, of course, an anti-climax to Chartres but is very interesting historically. After St. Denis, we went to Chantilly with the old forest which we drove through in an old carriage for an hour or more. Then into the chateau which has the marvelous exhibition of paintings.
While Fola is getting ready to go out, I will write you another note. I forgot in my latest letter to tell of my visit to Jo Davidson yesterday. We went there for lunch and to see the statue. I shall not try to describe it in detail but will give just an impression or two, The body is excellent; it has a movement and liveness that are very fine. The feet and hands are not perfect but are satisfactory. The face in plaster I cannot judge, but he is cutting a face in stone which brings out the lines, as plaster does not, and the face in stone is great. With the whole statue cut in stone, my judgment would be that it will be a great piece of work and one we will all take great satisfaction in. Even in plaster (which is difficult to get the proper light on), one gets a sense of Daddy that is deeply satisfying.
We are finishing up the odds and ends preparatory to my departure tomorrow morning. I shall go to Vienna, via Strassburg and Munich. This has been great, but I do want a sample of Germany and Austria. Fola has been a choice and rare guide and companion-—I shall never forget all she has done for me on this trip.