Burlington Hotel, June 22, 1926

Creator

Loring Whitman

Date

6/22/26

Text

Burlington Hotel, W.l

Finished Tuesday night

June 22nd, 1926.

 

Dear Family; -

            It is time that I should continue my narrative – the history of pleasure – for soon so many events will have been crowded into my life that I will be unable to remember or describe them.

            I started to write before but on reading the first part I found it to be so illiterate that I was forced to throw it away and begin again.

            The last you saw of me I was aboard the Mauretania – the party over – the guests gone – and the host weary – yes, very weary. I wandered along empty corridors, around barren decks, thru deserted libraries, lounges, and smoking rooms – seeking nothing – just restless. The few people I saw lay stretched – vacant – upon sofas, while here and there a couple would be talking in hushed monosyllables. I went out on deck where a leaden sun was boring thru the haze, casting a dull metallic glitter over the sea. Gone was the brilliant blue of the water at Cherbourg with its flashing diamonds and in its place an ever-rolling dull gray with its metallic lustre. I went aft – to the café – where Hal found me. We joined one of the few remaining damsels and had tea together. Still the party was very sleepy and conversation lagged frequently. Hal then left us to write some letters. So we wandered up to the bow to watch the shores of England slowly loom out of the haze. For a while we slipped along the coast before we finally entered the river. I felt as if we were some big prehistoric monster as we steamed along – on each side green lawns, not meadows, rolling down to the very water’s edge, while cool green trees dotted the landscape or formed barriers between the lawns. And guarding all this from the restless water was a neat stone embankment with an occasional tower. Small sail boats peeped up at us now and then before scurrying off like rabbits, while rusty, lumbering freighters drifted silently by on their way to other ports. The little red and black buoys which dotted our course looked more like match sticks than guardians of the channel. And over all lay a feeling of peace, of ageless, endless peace, which made me suddenly realize that I didn’t want to get off the ship.

            But we did get off finally and gathered our many crates, boxes, bags, and trunks together, leaving everything in bond, so that the Customs was soon passed and we were seated in a little English train on our way to London. Tho’ late it was still very light as we rode along, looking out on green fields separated by hedges, - on thatched roofed cottages peeping from beneath trees, on mares and foals in luxurious grass – or perhaps on little slate “tenements” with a pinkish cast and little crooked chimney pots. Everything seemed as quiet and peaceful – no worry and bustle – ah – there was a little donkey with his cart. We lay back in our compartment and just drank it in (with a Tom Collins), saying little, yet – oh, well, I could never express my feelings.

             And then came London – with its busy roar. We had to get the trunk off the van, so I stood guard over our dress suit cases. Peaple passed back and forth in front of me – some running – some slowly sauntering – some looking for friends – some evidently just meeting wives or fiancées – or maybe just friends. I stood alone, saying nothing, just watching. Behind me was an ingenious advertising device made of many rollers, of which I have shown a cross section. In one case at least 10 different advertisements could be shown over and over again. A little girl – maybe 8 – came tripping across the station to stare at it with awe. She had probably seen it many times before but the fascination of it still gripped her. 

            I notice one thing – the toilets are labeled “Gentlemen” instead of “Gents” or “Men” as they are at home. Perhaps that is one of the most fundamental differences between England and America.

             We got a taxi – covered with shiney brass and well-groomed leather – to take us to the Burlington Hotel. We rushed thru busy streets, round corners, always on the wrong side – really a ghastly experience for the newly arrived traveller – to end up finally at a very quiet and simple hotel. On the way our driver nearly ran down a woman to whom we would have introduced us had we so desired, - a true man of the world. We got our rooms and enquired after the rest of the party only to find that they were still in Brussels and would not be back till Sunday. However, Theiller came around to see us and we learned the latest gossip. But we were tired – worn out, in fact, so we soon turned in to fall into a heavy sleep.

                         I am not going to catalogue the next few days or even try to describe them for they remain in my mind only as a dream – a vague impression of rushing from one end of London to the other, buying clothes. Theiller had us in tow so that we did not have to bother ourselves with where we were going. We wandered thru narrow streets, thru broad streets, past little squares and parks – we rode on busses, n taxi cabs, and underground. WE walked – and everywhere I felt as if I was invisible, intangible, slipping thru the busy street as an unseen spectator. And above all, I felt the endlessness of London. It was as if all direction was lost – no uptown or downtown no north, east, south, or west – no business and residential sections – no ordered traffic – just people trickling across streets while taxis, busses, motorcycles and wagons weave weird patterns as they filter thru the pedestrians.

            As I have said, London has no direction. I never know which way to turn, for to me all ways are the same. I walk down a street and am always surprised to find myself at the right place. I could just as easily have walked in the opposite direction without knowing the difference. If I take the underground I ask which way I must turn, when once more I see the light of day and yet with its confusion London has its fascination. The taxis are of interest both to me and to the archeologist with their little motors and their brightly polished brass fittings. I was even reprimanded by a driver for resting my feet against the seat in front. Then there are the little wee automobiles which come peering out from beneath massive busses. Some of them are apparently of mixed ancestry having a distinct motorcycle caste of countenance. And the busses themselves are a monument of advertising. But aside from the transportation, there are the store windows – enough to make one gasp at the sheer volume of display – really there isn’t room left for a hairpin after they have finished cramming their wares into whatever free space that can be found. Canes lend themselves particularly to this form of sport and the final effect is truly overpowering. And lingerie (have I spelt it correctly?) tho not so formal when draped in every available corner lends a bazaar touch to the scenery.

            But the service – truly remarkable. No hurry and bustle – just six or seven people doing their best to be courteous to you all at once and never together. By the time you have told the last one what you want and he has gone into consultation with his fellow workers you begin to wonder whether you really have remembered your original wants and at the same time whether you will be finished in time for dinner. And then finally there are the fashions. Am I right in saying that an Englishman never goes out without a stick and gloves yet never wears out the latter? I have not seen any worn yet, although I have not seen an Englishman that I could recognize who did not have them in his hand. I am going to buy a pair if I don’t leave soon.

            But I must continue my narrative. I was waked Friday morning at 6 A.M. with tea and toast for breakfast which I ate in a leisurely fashion while dressing. Then into a taxi and off to the Hotel Victoria. It was cold and gray while a drizzling rain splashed down the pavements. But few people were stirring at that hour, and inside the hotel it was still dark and sleepy. A man and woman were talking quietly in one corner – another man was half asleep, sitting in a stiff chair. A bus drew up – a single for a restless stirring up of those waiting. We nodded to one another and stepped out thru the rain into the waiting bus. Then we were off to Croyden. The conversation was spasmodic – mostly about no breakfast and the early hour. Then complete silence. For half an hour we spattered along deserted streets until we finally drew up alongside some long, low buildings partially shrouded with mist. “Passports, please – Fill out this Card, please”, and we were ready. I sat and talked to a singer, Ursula Greville – very pleasant and absolutely confident of her own ability. “I am going to give a remarkable programme in Boston next Winter – you’d better ask your family to come hear”. She gave me a rather charming letter of introduction to a man in Mombassa – as follows –

“Dear Alick;-

Be kind to this youngster. He is on some sort of expedition and he reminds me of Draggil-in some queer way. Make his stay in Mombassa good,  

Yours devotedly,

Ursula Greville.”

            A door opened and a man dressed in leather entered and talked for a few moments to an official, and left. Then w were called. We slowly filed out of the room into the mist. No hurry – no excitement – just an every day event. We climbed into the waiting machine – “All ready? Yes.” There is a mighty roaring of motors – we start to move slowly, then with increasing speed – the ground flies by and imperceptibly we clear – a parting kiss and we off to Paris by aeroplane.

             Ah – ha – the cat is out of the bag. I have been to Paris and back by air and honestly I am still gloating over the experience. As I have said, we lifted and then gave a final pat to the earth and were off. There was no lurch or sudden rising – just a slow steady climb to about 500 feet, at which height we banked sharply, swung over the flying field and settled on our course. I will quote from some notes I wrote in the plane on the back leaf of a book; -

            “For one who has seen but little of England, I recommend flying, unless of course, one suffers from car sickness. I also endorse it as a cure for self-importance. As I sit here now constantly bumping and swaying I can see mile after mile of beautiful fields – blue greens, gray greens, yellow greens, and the rich brown of ploughed land beneath me, all divided into little squares. They seem little and separated one from the other by hedges. The trees appear round and woolly sheep are but white specks. I can see a windmill below us, slowly revolving – ah, there is a train – a thin wisp of cotton over a slowly creeping black thread. I can see a small thatch cottage with a small thatch barn nestling between trees beside a small pond. There is another with a garden behind and white pigeons are flying about its roof”.

            And then came the channel with its little bobbing boats and infinitesimal white caps. It looks so quiet  below. The coast of France came out of the haze. We flew for miles low down along the beach watching the fishermen or clam diggers playing their trade below us. We could see row after row of silly little breakers and the nets with which those diminutive specks were working. But soon we turned inland and again started the endless motion.

            Fro the air there is a distinct difference between England and France. Gone are the little hedges and the fields are now bigger and merge almost imperceptibly one into the other, and everywhere are parallel lines, a thing foreign to England. Then, too, there are more trees and in places we flew over veritable forests. Every now and then we would run into a rain storm to pop out the other side into clear weather again. We passed over diminutive cities with their red tile roofs – again different from L’Angleterre – each with its old greystone church.

            But at last the flying field appeared ahead and we were at the end of our journey. We circled around it until we were headed up wind, at the same time banking almost 90° - then the engines were cut off and we plunged down. The wings and straps hummed, the speed grew faster and faster and the ground fairly rushed up to meet us. We skimmed the tops of the hangars, still dropping, - then flattened out, a long coast and we oozed down onto the ground. No jar or drop, just a gentle transition. Really it was the most inspiring feeling. I’ve had in years and I would run any risk just to land again in that way.

            I am afraid that very few people can appreciate my state of mind on entering Paris.My ears were still buzzing – my mind was still in a whirl from London and here I was in a foreign city with practically no knowledge of the language. I suppose if I was suddenly dropped on Mars overnight I would undergo the same sensation again. I deciced to call up Donia and get her to act as my guide and interpreter and at the same time have a very pleasant companion. However, I knew very little French and with the telephone as a medium I was completely lost. So, I gave up. I ordered a taxi and went address Donia have given me in case I should come to Paris. I arrived there to be greeted in French by the doorman, who assured me that I was in the right place though the Mll. Was out. But Mme. Was in. I went upstairs and ran the doorbell – would I be greeted in French by her friend or could she perhaps speak English. The door opened and Donia met me. I was relieved.

            Now I have got myself into a very difficult position – for when a young man away from home flies to Paris to call on a young girl it looks extremely risqué, to say the least. However, he usually does not write home and tell his family about it. As it is, I am afraid that I cannot say that it was a pure accident altho I think that my reputation will not suffer in consequence. And I will admit that I could not have been introduced to Paris in a more pleasant way. To be sure, the majority of the time was spent shopping and trying to change American dollars into Polish money – still I probably saw more of Paris than a good many Americans do in two days.

            The firs thing was to find a hotel for me to stay at. We were very successful and fortunate in finding one in an out of the way place where no English was spoken by anyone. At the same time there was running water in the room, nice curtains, and very clean. The price was 25 francs a day (about 75 cents). We then went over to the Crillon Hotel where I left mail I had brought over for Drs. Strong and Shattuck. They were out, however, so that I did not see them. We next got Donia’s tickets to Poland and being through the day’s work went back to Donia’s place for tea. Mm. Chadyoska, with whom Donia lives when in Paris, is a doctor and is extremely interesting as well as pleasant. She also speaks a little English so that I could talk with her with some understanding. Working from early dawn to late in the evening she never seems to lose her poise or calm appearance, altho to be sure she looks quite tired at times. I suppose she is about 50. 

            We had supper at Romano’s before going to the Moulin Rouge. The first was very nice, the second rather interesting. They do wear less than we are accustomed to see in the Follies but they do wear that little well.  And it wasn’t as rough (so far as I could make out) as our New York plays. No bedrooms scenes for example.

             The next morning I was confronted with the task of getting breakfast without a guide. Now, as you know, Parisians don’t eat breakfast so that most of the cafes were still closed. However, I found one wherein the head of the house was busy on top of a step ladder, fixing the lights while his better half was just commencing to scrub the floors. All the chairs were stacked on the tables. I told him that my command of French was distinctly limited but if he understood me I would like two eggs – a la plate – coffee and bread of some sort. He surprised me by asking me, without a smile, if I was Swiss. I beamed at him. While I ate he explained the reasons for his becoming an electrician and we chatted so far as my ability to speak and understand let us go. Then I thanked him and we parted. (I paid him, too.)

            I had lunch with Donia in a little Polish restaurant over near the Latin Quarter, off the “Boule Miche”. We then got a taxi (after walking thru the Luxembourg Gardens) and asked the driver to take us through the narrow streets. He certainly was successful – down one alley and up another, through little squares and between sheer walls. Every now and then you could look through a door into some perfectly fascinating little court garden, completely shut off from the outside world. It was glorious and then we visited Notre Dam and La Chappele St. Germaine.

            When we got back to Mme. Chadnynska’s it was about 6:00 and we had a late tea which successfully ruined our appetites. So, without supper, we went out to call on some of Donia’s friends- a Ruth Spofford, who went to Columbia and is now working in the immigration bureau before going to Geneva – and a Sonia ? – (a Polish girl who lived several years in America and is extremely pretty, as well as capable.

             We stayed there for a while and chatted. Then we went up to Montematre. Mm. Chadnynska recommended “La Place du Gertre” and I am certainly glad that she did. It is a little open square with a gravel floor and a canopy of rustling leaves with branches. It is dotted with little tables, on each of which flickers a small kerosene lamp with an orange lamp shade. Orange beach umbrellas shelter each table. An orchestra consisting of a mandolin and a guitar was playing a mixture of weird and modern music. People were sitting around, some drinking, some eating, some absolutely oblivious of their surroundings, intent only upon one another. A group of students ate at a long table singing songs or drinking toasts, while an old man, a little full perhaps, sang French songs with a beautifully trained voice, about 55-60 perhaps with long gray hair and a twinkling eye, which constantly wandered over his audience. He swayed almost imperceptibly and trailed off into a really superb falsetto. We have him a franc, as did most of the rest. Everybody seemed oblivious to their surroundings, yet strangely conscious of their surroundings – an odd feeling. Men, women, even children (with their parents) were there – all cheerful, laughing, joking over their bottle of wine. Not a cross word or look.

            And then occasionally some giant sight-seeing bus would come honking along, filled with Americans in straw hats, some of whom stood up that they might better see the wild night life of Paris. I suppose some of them will write books on it. And with the arrival of each bus, catcalls, jeers and whistles (a Parisian way of saying you are not wanted) came from the crowd. I felt like joining in.

            We finally left – it was Donia’s first time there – and wandered home thru the narrow little streets of Montmatre. Well, I decided that I would do some graduate work in Paris after I finished the medical school.

            But that ended my stay. I paid my hotel bill the next morning and in a rather jerky and hesitating manner told them that I was greatly pleased with the place. They gave me a card with the address etc. which I will show you.when I get home- Hotel Ideal – really a gem.

            And then I said good-bye to Donia and Mme. Chadzynaka, who to be sure made my trip to Paris a complete success. Then off to the flying field and back to London.

            On the place I met a Mr. Mitchell, who lives in Uganda, East Africa and wants us to look him up when we pass thru Kampala. We chatted about Africa and aviation whenever we could shout above the roar of the planes. The going was much less bumpy and the sun was shining thru holes in what proved to be a thin layer of clouds. Our pilot decided to get above them and started to climb up through – at first we sifted into the lower fringes but then, as if plunging into water, we disappeared into the thick almost sticky white fog. And then, almost as suddenly, we popped out into a brilliant sunny day , to float in majesty upon a billowy sea of cotton. The sun sparkled down upon the queer soft lumps, throwing them into relief, and nowhere could be seen a trace of the green earth below us. We were entirely detached from the world and all its bustle and were floating there upon a fairy sea of dewdrops. Still it was not for long, for soon nosing the plane down we plunged once more into white nothingness, to finally plane back into the realms of verdant fields and woolly trees.

            The landing was just as exciting as before and just as beautifully executed. Really I think I would risk my neck anywhere just for the pleasure of that final plunge to earth. But here we were back in London, when we only first arrived there 4 ½ days ago. 

            Since then little has happened of particular interest. We have shopped, paid bills, and shopped some more. We have packed and we have loafed but we have done nothing that would really interest you all so I guess I am ready to stop letters and begin the official diary of the trip. We are all together here ready to be off tomorrow morning – all the trunks are packed and labeled – all bills are paid (I did a lot of them) and Bequaert has already gone to Southampton to see about getting all

(Last sheet mislaid)

 

Type

Historical Documents

Identifier

VAD2036-U-00037

Original Format

To

Mr. and Mrs. Whitman Jr.

Citation

Loring Whitman, “Burlington Hotel, June 22, 1926,” A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation, accessed November 23, 2017, http://liberianhistory.org/items/show/3623.