Thursday 12 June 1952:
6:30 a.m. and today we land in France! I think I was kind of fouled up a little. Because every little girl was packed except this one. Finally I ate breakfast and everybody prepared sandwiches for lunch. We were optimistic that we would be standing on French soil by 11 a.m.
I hurried back to the cabin to finish packing where I had difficulty closing my suitcase. I couldn’t understand this since I was wearing more clothes than usual. After taking care of the money tips to the cabin boy and steward, I went on deck to take some pictures. Frenchie happened to be in the background of one picture. I don’t remember if I have mentioned her before or not. She looks like someone out of the 1920’s, hairdo and all. Her father was a doctor in New York.
We can see the outline of the harbor now. The harbor master pilot came aboard and we went in. There were boats of every size and shape on all sides of us. We heard the dinner bell at 11 a.m., but it turned out to be a false alarm. We heard it again at noon just as we were arriving in the harbor, and we ate as the boat docked.
After lunch, we discovered that we couldn’t get off the boat until we had our passports checked in the fore lounge. This involved a long line and a certain amount of time. Le Havre seemed to be partly on a hill and partly not. Many of the buildings on the shoreline had never been repaired since the destruction of World War II.
Finally we were ready for the walk down the plank. Just a few steps and we would be on French soil! At the bottom of the plank, however, the French officers stopped us. We had to wait for something or somebody for innumerable minutes. I tried to use a little of the French I had learned which helped pass the time. Eventually a man in plain clothes came up, and we were permitted to take that last step onto French soil.
Customs turned out to be a mere formality for most of us. With an “S” on our suitcases, we were free to go through. However, two or three of the kids’ suitcases were opened.
As we climbed on the bus, which was waiting to take us to the station, we saw the Ile de France and the Sibajak ships move out. At 2:30 p.m. we were on our way to the LeHavre railroad station over a brick street and past a carnival with a Buffalo Bill sideshow. Some of the stores had such funny names as Bar Brasserie and Parfumerie. Most of the buildings needed new faces. Many had never been repaired since the bombing and strafing of World War II.
We had several hours to wait before our train left for Paris, so we spent it exploring the city. Every little thing almost seemed new, different and interesting. As we walked along the streets, a Coca Cola truck passing by reminded us of home. We passed a flower shop, Normandie Fleurs. There were English signs in the windows of stores, cafes, and shops. And some places even had Se Hable Espanol signs. We noticed liquors sold in small grocery stores. We passed a lottery ticket booth where some of the poorest people spent their last penny in the hopes of striking it rich.
Then we walked through an outside market where clothes and all manner of trinkets were sold. Soon after we spotted a bicycle store. Bicycles were a popular mode of transportation and surprisingly bicycles may even have outnumbered the cars. The cars were for the most part rather old and dilapidated. There were food stalls on the streets just like in Mexico. In fact, you could buy just about anything right on the street such as yard goods, shoes, rugs, Lux, Colgate, flowers, or just take your choice.
The trees lining the streets looked like they were growing out of the cement. We passed some nuns and then stopped in a furniture store to look around. The furniture was stacked up with no particular attempt at display except in the window.
Out on the street again we passed people carrying long loaves of unwrapped bread under their arms. There were unbound books for sale at book stalls. And an old truck stopped at a corner and people got on and off, so we assumed it was a city bus. Later a beggar accosted us as we proceeded down the street.
I noticed some of the cars were little tiny cars like Maeser’s. It seemed to be the style to use the horn instead of the brake. A lady on a motor bike buzzed by us. We came to a large estate with walls all around it and our curiosity was aroused as to who might live there. We talked to a gardener and a passerby who knew a little English. Soon after a little old man came out of the gate and a lady stopped to help us. We gathered that it was the mayor’s home and gardens with 46 aldermen also living behind the walls. The sign at the front gate said 83 Ville du Havre, Maison Familiale de Vieillards.
We saw Dick and Henry down the street and exchanged discoveries with them, and then met Alicia afterwards. We came to a park and official looking building. In answer to our “Parlez vous Anglais?” One of the workers fetched a man who told us that it was the Hotel de Ville or town hall and city park. Also, he told us that the population of Le Havre was 165,000. He had been in America in New York City for nine years before World War I and told us about a beautiful park in another part of the city.
We started out for this park or jardines. On the way we passed a shop for mending hoses, and I took a picture of Lucy and Carol at the Services Municipaux. We saw little kids drinking beer at the first street-side cafe. We got tired out before we found the jardines, so we retraced our steps.
On the way back to the station, we noticed lots of mothers wheeling their babies in various kinds of carriages. The mothers weren’t always dressed well, but the babies always seemed to be well cared for. And I noticed lots of cute little red headed babies. As we continued, we noticed they were putting in a new sewer or something of the sort along the main drag.
Back at the station we found a “Dames” bathroom with nothing but the bare necessity. No scrubbing brush had visited its domain for some time. We saw a lady changing her outer clothes in the baggage room of the station.
At 7 p.m. we left for Paris on a pretty dark green train. We traveled third class with eight in a compartment. The compartments or fumeurs had great big windows and dark green leather cushioned seats. The windows of our compartments had signs “Reserve, American Express.”
The panorama from our train window was interesting as we sped toward Paris. There were beautiful fields of light green grass, funny shaped tall skinny trees with busy tops, thatched roofs, and people still in the fields bunching hay. Then I viewed pastured cows in a field of clover that were tied in a circle which were eating their way to the middle. And a green patch of land that looked like good old sugar beets.
As we passed a little station I saw Dames and Messieurs WC (water closets or bathrooms) signs plainly visible. Then there were more beautiful patchwork fields with a straight grove of tall trees and women wearing dresses while pitching hay.
Next we passed through a little town called Yvetot where the houses had regular roofs. Then we proceeded through another town with several short and long tunnels. I spotted a linoleum company in a little manufacturing city, funny crane businesses in another town, and more tunnels. We came to a big station in the city Rouen that was Joan of Arc’s birthplace. In another tunnel, we almost missed the whole city going through the tunnels.
We had our first glimpse of the Seine River and viewed a shrine on the hill which could have been the statue of Joan. There were more small squares of patchwork fields without any fences. They looked like hundreds of little gardens. And there were children playing on what looked like an outside basketball court. Then we passed tall narrow squarish houses, Seine River again, new houses being built, and tiny shocks of hay or grass. And farther down I noticed the Seine River winding again, a small village against a hill, and more small fields with rows of little shacks.
There was another train track next to ours and every time a train passed we almost jumped out of our skins as the shrill whistle sounded loudly. We passed a little village church with beautiful flowers. Then the train followed the Seine River for a ways, another tunnel, another tunnel, and a red roofed village. Two men in the aisle way by our compartment decided to eat lunch. It consisted of a sandwich and a bottle of wine.
We caught sight of the reflection of the trees along the river and then passed through a town with a lot of square buildings near the railroad. I glanced at my watch. It was 9:15 p.m. as we passed a man in the field still working. Another tunnel—I should have counted these blessed things!
The train followed the Seine River and the highway as well. We passed a railroad terminal of some kind and a cellophane factory that looked like a reconverted munitions factory. It was quite dark by this time and there was no light in our fumeurs. As we passed a Ford auto factory at 10 p.m. we saw the lights of Paris.
We finally arrived in Paris! My how excited 36 kids got at seeing Paris. Bev was especially excited because she expected to see Bob, her boyfriend, in a few minutes. The four men of the mob (group) tossed our suitcases out the windows and porters loaded them on a car for 15 cents. We had a nice long stroll to the depot, but Bob was not there. People gave us the once over and we did the same for them.
Two big buses had been waiting for us since 3 p.m. Then we met Andre our bus driver for the trip. We buzzed down the streets with our mouths hanging open. We passed the opera, American Express, sidewalk cafes, Place de Republique, and Hotel Moderne. We really gave onlookers a show—crazy American estudiantes in Paree!
Unexpectedly, our hotel room was heaven. From what we had heard and read we thought it would be worse. There was a great big bathtub and beautiful soft looking beds. This wasn’t hard to take in at all. However there was no soap and the toilet paper was like oil paper. But we were braced for many more hardships than this. We each spent about a half hour soaking and then settled down to bed about 1 a.m.