At the Great Paris Exposition
( Originally Published 1903 )
OUR month in London soon passed. I was kept busy with my newspaper work, and my friend found enough to do in visiting the various places of interest about the city. When I had an hour to spare, I looked up some of the people with whom I had become acquainted on my former visits. Every one was glad to see me again, and all were curious to know what progress I had been making.
We crossed from London to Paris one Friday night. We had been fearful that the Channel would be rough, and that we might succumb to seasickness, but for once the water was really smooth, and we were able to sleep all the way across. When we reached Paris, about nine in the morning, the lazy Parisians were just getting up, and the streets were just beginning to liven up with people. I took Jack at once to the place where I had lodged in 1900. We were able to get a very comfortable room at a low rate. It was on the sixth floor of the building, and there was no elevator, but we felt that we could put up with this disadvantage because of the low rent. We didn't mind climbing the stairs, and we didn't expect to spend any more time than was necessary in the room.
There was a sign outside the house, reading " English Spoken," but we were unable to find any one in the employ of the place who spoke a word of anything but French. I suppose this was really an advantage. I was obliged to refresh my knowledge of the language, and to study the vocabulary diligently in order to get what we wanted. It proved an excellent method of learning French, and before long I was able to get along very well.
Light-housekeeping in Paris
There was a little restaurant next door to our lodging, which proved to be a great convenience. For about a franc, or twenty cents in American money, we were able to get an excellent dinner, and when we didn't feel like preparing our morning meal in our room, we could obtain coffee and rolls next door for seven cents. For four cents we could get a large bowl of delicious soup, and at the same price we could get a plate of lettuce salad, with an excellent dressing. Sometimes we were a long way from this neighborhood when mealtime came, but we always tried to get back to the Rue de la Victoire when possible.
We didn't visit the Exposition on our first day in Paris. We had letters to write, and a great many other things to keep us busy in our room, and we preferred to wait until the next morning, when we could get an early start. We were out at seven o'clock, walking along the gratin boulevards on our way to the Place de la Concorde, which was the nearest entrance to the grounds, When we arrived at the site of the Egyptian Obelisk, I told Jack that more than two thou-sand people had lost their heads on this very spot at the time of the French Revolution. It was hard to believe, on this beautiful morning, that such a scene had ever taken place. The square looked anything but warlike now. The various government buildings which front on the Place were gaily decorated with flags, and over at one corner we perceived the principal entrance to the grounds of the Exposition. It was a magnificent structure, and we were greatly impressed with this first glimpse of the Fair. When we reached the gate, we discovered that if we wanted to enter before ten o'clock we would have to pay double admission fee, so in order to save money we spent our time in walking up the Champs Elysees. As we walked, we met an American negro, and we were so glad to see any one from home that we stopped to talk with him. He said that he had been in Paris for two months, and that he was working in the American Corn Kitchen at the Exposition. " That's a kitchen which the Gover'ment put up to serve these here French folks with samples of cawn things. We makes cawn cakes, and cawn bread, and cawn soup, and heaps of other things. If you-all are hungry for some, you'd better come up there with me now ; that is, if you don't know the way."
First Visit to the Exposition
We didn't know the way, and we thought we could eat some corn cakes with great relish, so we followed our friend to the nearest entrance. He showed us how to buy tickets of admission, and then we found ourselves at last within the magic gates. It was a long walk through the grounds to the Corn Kitchen, but we were so much interested in all that we saw that we didn't mind the distance. We passed nearly all the chief buildings of the Exposition, and were so thoroughly acquainted with their appearance from the pictures we had seen that we recognized most of them at once. We walked along the Rue des Nations, and we would have liked to enter the United States Pavilion, where we saw several large American flags flying in the breeze. We were rather disappointed with its outside appearance, and we had no time to look further, as our friend said he must hurry on to the Kitchen. We passed the Italian, Turkish, Austrian, Hungarian, British, Belgian, German, Swedish and Norwegian national pavilions, and all of them looked very interesting. We were just beginning to realize what a big affair the Exposition was. We hadn't a very great opinion of it from what we had read in the English papers, but we discovered that it was complete enough to keep us busy sightseeing for some time.
We hurried through the Champ de Mars, which I had formerly seen under such different circumstances, until we reached the Electricity Building. We were then very near the Corn Kitchen, which was located in the United States Agricultural Annex. We followed our guide up three short flights of stairs in this building, and then we saw before us a lunch-counter like the ones we had so often patronized at home, and which are never seen in European eating-places. There was a neat-looking colored woman for waitress, and before two minutes had passed the man who had brought us was also behind the counter with his apron on. " Now, boys," he said, " what'll you-all have to eat? It's all good, and it's all free, and you can take your choice." We saw a big colored Mammy frying some pancakes on a gas-stove, so we said we would have some of them. When the cakes were ready, the Mammy brought them herself, and presented them with her compliments. She said she was glad to see two Yankee boys. " I tell you I'm sick and tired of these here French," she said. They don't appear to have no gumption at all. They're shorely the mos' tired-lookin' lot I ever run across." The Mammy stopped to talk with us, and it was easy to see that she wasn't in love with Paris. She had been over about two months, and was already longing for the closing-time to come, so that she could go back to Chicago. " I never was in no sich fool town as this before," she remarked. " The means of transportation is thet poor that it takes me about two hours in the mornin' to get here from where I live, and I'm clean disgusted. I don't speak no French, an' I don't intend to learn any, neither. If they can't understand what I say, that's their fault, not mine."
Corn Cake and Molasses
Mammy's cakes were certainly good, and when we finished eating them, we lingered about the place ; it seemed so good to be where there were Americans. As we walked about I noticed in one corner an exhibit of a famous American food concern, with the proprietor of which I was well acquainted at home. I walked over to the booth, and asked the French girl in charge whether the proprietor was in Paris, and whether he would likely visit the exhibit on this morning. She re-plied that he was expected at any moment, so of course I waited to see him. When he arrived, he was apparently as glad to see us boys as we were to see him. When he found that we desired to remain in Paris for sometime, and that we wanted to earn enough to pay our expenses, he said that we were just the boys he was looking for. " You see," he explained, " I need one fellow to stay up here to explain our goods to the American and English visitors, and to oversee the exhibit. This little French girl will serve the samples and talk to the French visitors, and you can attend to the English and Americans. Then I want another boy to do the same thing at our exhibit downstairs, and if you care to undertake the work, I think you will suit all right. I will need you here only after twelve o'clock each day, and will pay you enough to defray your expenses while you're in the city."
We lost no time in accepting this proposition, and began at once to take lessons in what we were to do. It required only two or three days for us to become accustomed to the work. Every day at twelve I took my place in the Corn Kitchen, or the Cuisine de Mais, as the French called it, and from that hour until five there was always a crowd of people about to sample the pickles and beans, and the corn cakes. It was wonderfully interesting to see them, for they came from all quarters of the globe. It was one of my duties to talk to them and explain the merits of the pickles and the tomato soup, and in doing that I usually found out something about them. Some were Australians, some were from Cuba, and I even 'met people from India and China. They all seemed to like the corn cakes and the baked beans, and most of the women carried away recipes telling how the food could be prepared at home. When I visit Paris again I expect to find corn cakes in the restaurants and hotels.
My Work Was Pleasant
The five hours always passed quickly. It seemed no time at all until five o'clock, because I was always too busy to notice the time. There were usually some pleasant people around, and when the crowd was small, I had the colored mammy and the others to talk with. Our wages were barely sufficient to pay our necessary expenses. In going about the Exposition grounds we often purchased souvenirs to take home, and occasionally we attended the grand opera in the evening, and such extras as these had to be paid for out of savings. We were delighted, however, that we could earn as much as we did, and still have time to visit the places of interest in the mornings. I had saved up quite a sum of money while we were in London, and Jack had brought a good deal from home, so we had no reason to worry. We could remain in Paris as long as we. liked, and see the city and the Exposition thoroughly.
I often revisited the places I had seen and had admired on my first visit to the city. The art galleries were always interesting, and one couldn't go too often to such impressive buildings as Notre Dame and the Invalides. I explored, too, some of the byways of Paris which I hadn't previously discovered, and found a great many unique things.
One thing that I particularly wanted to accomplish was an interview with President Loubet, and after my experience with President Faure, I thought that I should have no difficulty in visiting the Elysee Palace a second time. The Secretary there would be sure to remember me, and if I had any difficulty in getting past the soldiers. at the gate, I could use his name. But when I confronted. the soldiers, they must have recalled my appearance, for they allowed me to pass in without any effort at examination. At the entrance I handed the footman my card, and asked him to take it to my friend. While he was gone, I had time to look about me. The furnishings were exceedingly rich and beautiful, and I decided that if I were able to see M. Loubet, I would ask him some questions. It was a remarkable thing that a farmer's lad should rise to occupy a palace such as this.
Second Visit to the Elysee Palace
When I was conducted to the Secretary's bureau, my friend appeared greatly surprised to see me back in Paris. " Where on earth did you come from ? " he asked, with real American slang. I explained that I had come over with a friend to see the Exposition, and that we were employed in the American Corn Kitchen. I then explained my desire to meet President Loubet, and that I had called to see what my chances were. The Secretary said at once that it would be easy to arrange if the President had any time at all. " You can have no idea how busy we are about here on account of the Exposition and the Chinese difficulties, and a number of other things which have come upon us all at once. But when the President understands that you were a friend of M. Faure, he will probably be glad to grant you a few minutes."
I couldn't help smiling when I heard the Secretary remark that I was a friend of the dead President, for the short audience I had enjoyed with him would scarcely entitle me to that distinction, but I was delighted that there was a chance of my seeing M. Loubet. I was told to call some evening during the following week, just before dinner, when I would stand a good chance of finding the President at home and disengaged. I thought this an excellent plan myself, and a few evenings later I was on hand at the appointed time. I was told that M. Loubet was in his room, looking over some papers, and that he could probably receive me without delay. So I followed my friend down a hallway and into a room which was fitted up as a study. There was a great desk in the centre of the floor, and at this M. Loubet was seated. I knew him at once, for I had seen him in public several times since I had been in Paris.
A Democratic President
He looked up with a smile when I entered and half rose from his chair as I was presented. " I'm pleased to meet you," he said ; " sit down." M. Loubet's English was very broken, and there were times when the Secretary had to come to his assistance, but in spite of this difficulty, the interview was pleasant and eminently satisfactory to me. I was obliged to answer many questions about the United States and about myself, for it seemed the Secretary had told some-thing about the experiences of my first trip abroad. The President said that he had seen more of the Americans during the Exposition year than ever before in his life, and he confessed that the more he saw of them the better he liked them. " You boys deserve a great deal of credit for coming here in the way you have to see the Exposition," he said, "and I hope you will enjoy yourselves in every way and see as much as you can of the different exhibits. If you see and understand only half of them, you will have a very good education of a certain kind." I told .the President how we were situated, and that we had only the mornings in which to go about, and he appeared much interested in all that I said. When I noticed the look of care on his fine face, I wondered if he doesn't some-times wish that he were once more a boy, and able to enjoy things in a boyish way.
M. Loubet has been working exceedingly hard as President, for one of his chief characteristics is his thoroughness. I had heard that he was a thorough business man, and there were evidences of this in his study. Everything about his table was arranged with scrupulous attention to detail. There was a place for everything, and he evidently kept things in their places. The pens and pencils were in their trays, and the papers were neatly arranged in piles before him. His whole life has been one of persevering effort, and that is the reason he is president of a great republic instead of working on a farm.
I was with him for only a few minutes, but in that time I was greatly impressed with his personality. As I left the palace I thought to myself that the French Republic couldn't be in such a bad way as some people try to believe, when it had for Presidents two such men as Felix Faure and Emile Loubet.
On the following evening we boys were walking in the Bois de Boulogne about six o'clock, just when the great driveway is most crowded with carriages. All at once I noticed a commotion in the crowd, and the President drove by, followed by a number of men on bicycles. We were told that these latter were detectives in plain clothes, who follow M. Loubet every time he drives out, to protect him from would-be assassins. It made us shudder to see them. " How dreadful it must be," I said to Jack, " to be always followed about by these men with pistols, and to feel that your life is in constant danger." Jack agreed with me, and we both said that we would rather be two American boy travelers, free to go and come as we pleased.