MILLIONS FOR HEADDRESS, BUT ---
Blanding Goes to Paris to Study Costumes and Finds Little
Costume to Study
By DON BLANDING
NEW YORK. -- Aloha, Honolulu!
The months, since I wrote last, have reeled off like a Tom Mix thriller -- a dozen thrills to the reel and though I've landed in New York right side up with care I'm still dizzy with the wonder of it all.
My first glimpse of Paris, for instance. Imagine me in a big 15-passenger Handley-Page airplane that's droning like a gigantic June-bug above a white blanket of clouds over northern France. England lies behind, a fantastic patchwork quilt, each patch a field of emerald or yellow outlined with the bright green of hedges or the gray of stone walls. The English channel is still vivid in mind as a pavement of moonstones or opals seen from above. Paris lies ahead, eagerly anticipated and a little feared, for a chap who has waited 29 years to see it there [is] the possibility that it may disappoint. The monotonus hum of the motors is soporific in effect and I doze off into a cat-nap. Suddenly some one grasps my arm and commands, "Look down there."
Landing in Paris
Through a blue rift in the clouds, down, down and down, is a mosaic of color, lines of white and green, patches of gray and splashes of yellow and orange. Paris! The next moment we are dropping in magnificent curving swoops to the ground which rises to meet us with blood-chilling suddenness. Little insect figures are skittering around the airdromes which look like beehives.
Bump-wumpp-ahh-h! I've never been murdered nor have I had a burglar say "Hands up!" but if either of those experiences is more nerve-gripping or heart-tripping than that landing, I'm willing to forego them both.
I crawled dazedly out of the machine, gathered my luggage and senses together and took them through customs without undue difficulty. I said "Non" on general principles to all questions shot at me in French, which seemed to suffice. A large char-a-banc was chug-chugging outside and I crawled in with the other passengers and kept eyes right and left for an hour while we hurtled over cobbles into Paris.
I say "hurtled" with deliberate meaning. Paris taxi drivers have a stand-in with some malign god of terror. There are no more traffic rules than among water-bugs on a summer pool. The man who gets through first gets through first, and that's the traffic rule. A ride in a taxi is enlivened by the drivers calling each other carrots and onions and pigs while the machine guides itself by blind instinct. People have turned white-haired in a drive from the Gare du Nord to the Luxembourg.
"These Humble Lodgings"
I had obtained a "pension" address before leaving London, so I went directly to the place, 44 Rue Madame, a block from the Luxembourg Gardens, just off Boul' Mich' and only a little way from St. Sulpice. Madame, of the pension, spoke French and English equally well so that I had no trouble when my limited French gave out with pitiful suddenness. I chucked my bags into my room, washed with a lick and a promise and ventured forth with a feeling that was like going to have a tooth pulled by a lady dentist with whom one's in love -- you know, it's bound to be thrilling but maybe painful. I wouldn't allow myself to be disappointed.
Small chance. Twilight was shadowing the streets; the buildings looked old as age itself; the cobbles were smoothed by the feet of history and ghosts of romance walked with me. I won't say I was actually looking for any Apaches to appear on the streets, but I saw several people who had a sufficiently dirty look to fill the bill.
Down Boul' Mich' I wandered, across the river, through the arches of the Louvre, up to the Arc de Triomphe where over the grave of the Unknown Soldier burns the eternal flame which France has sworn shall never be quenched. If Marie Antoinette had swept by in a gilded coach I should have accepted it as part of the magic.
I'm not going to make this a sight-seeing letter. I just want to tell you some of the things which will remain in my mind until I move on to the next world. (I hope it will be as wonderful as this grand old one.)
Paris -- and Honolulu!
Paris was enchanting. It had the glamour of age and the novelty of the dernier-cri. It is one of the places that justifies the statement, "you haven't lived until you have lived there"; the other one is Honolulu. (That's not bunk, either.)
Most of the time I was in France my stomach felt like a delicatessen store, for I tried everything in the food line. I unbuttoned scores of French pastries to see what was inside them. Each was more enticing than the last -- almond and marshmallow paste, fruit and nut mixtures, creams as light as chiffon and smooth as velvet; jams and jellies and nougats, murderous mixtures. Thank the gods of the kitchen. I have a cast-iron digestion and the inquisitive appetite of a small boy.
One evening a group of us drove out to a little inn about 20 miles beyond Versailles. It was an old mill, remodeled, set in the valley of the Sleeping Beauty. The tables were set around the mill pond, where friendly, greedy ducks swam up to nibble morsels from our fingers. One wall of the inn, gray stone, had a window high up with a windowbox of scarlet geraniums, and peering over was a queenly cat, complacent as a dowager, with a huge blue bow of ribbon on her neck. She made the picture perfect.
Across the pond a great open fire crackled and blazed, throwing gorgeous orange banners of light on the water. The evening crept on. Chickens were roasting on the spit and the smell of them was maddening. We had cocktails (real ones) of the w.k. Martini brand while we examined the inn surroundings.
Some Dinner -- Oo La La!
Dinner was served! Hors d'oeuvres arrived -- a bewildering outlay of little dishes -- anchovies, cucumbers in oil, pate de foie, pickles, onions in vinegar and spice. I couldn't make a choice. "Tell her to shoot the whole works for me," I murmured feebly. Each morsel whetted a razor-keen appetite. Then the soup, herby and steaming. It was calculated to rouse the ravening beast. The fish was a flaky delight to put in the mouth quickly.
AND the chicken, with the taste of wood smoke in it, was as tender as an angel's heart and tempting as the seven delightful sins. But I'm holding out on you. When the old belt had been loosened four notches and my eyes were bulging slightly, Madame brought big blue plates on each of which lay an open gooseberry tart, dribbly with juice and fragrant as Cleopatra's pet perfume. Then Henri (his name must have been Henri) arrived with a great blue earthenware crock with a ladle.
"Cream?" I asked with a rising inflection.
"Sour cream," replied my host. I ladled out a modest dab which snuggled into that tart like an orphan to a Christmas tree.
Madame, the innkeeper's wife, shrieked with horror. "Not so -- not SO!" and with a generous swoop she dipped the ladle, poised it above the tart and blop! -- the tart vanished beneath a snowy mound of cream that a cat couldn't and wouldn't have jumped over. Need I say more? But I forget, the liqueurs (benedictine, curacao, cherry Rocher or what have you) were served in bulbous glasses shaped like old-fashioned lamp globes which we warmed in our hands until the cup was filled with the bouquet, then we tilted the cup to our lips and over the nostrils like an ether cup and inhaled. Be calm, be calm! When, raising my eyes from the fascinating colors in the cup, I saw the golden yellow moon staggering through a riot of silvery clouds I knew that life was worth living.
You'll probably think I've reverted to the days of Aji-No-Moto advertisements but it's the condiments, condiments, sauces and gravies which make French cooking so enticing -- not filling.
I tried snails, but I don't think that they're a vast improvement on opihis, and I'm still true (in my fashion) to chicken with luau and pig, cooked in imu.
Don't think I've forgotten what I went to Paris for -- to study. I did that diligently and joyfully. The museums and galleries were treasure houses, and the guidebooks can tell you all about them. The Venus de Milo and the Victory of Samothrace gave me a bigger reaction than I had anticipated. Most of all I enjoyed the Musee de Cluny in which all the costumes, utensils, ornaments and furnishings of old romantic France were gathered in the very house and against the walls of the period.
I wish I might have had months for that. But the modern shows of ultra-modern art were mad -- completely mad. I couldn't stomach the stuff and, as I've explained, I have a marvelous digestion. Pictures of bloated purple ladies with green lips, distorted, contorted -- everything but deported. You've no conception, unless you've seen it, how utterly wild and unbalanced the freakists here are. They're taken seriously -- for a day -- then some new cult arises. The dab-a-dabs, pat-a-pats, trust-in-lucks have their moment then they give way to the Dadaists, Fadists and Plaidists.
Some Modern "Art"
For example: a curlicue of blue paint, a dab of mustard yellow and a smear of corroded green is called "Impression of a Yearning Goulash"; three bars of black with a corkscrew of bilious brown, "Inhibited." Some of the big men are doing worthwhile work, but most of it is just tripe. The men-who-know advise ambitious young American artists to come to Paris for atmosphere but to study in America where our fine schools give excellent foundation in good drawing and construction and color, without which nothing fine is produced. Unless a student is well grounded in sane draftsmanship and color he is likely to be bitten with one of these pernicious cubist bugs and be utterly ruined. And that's that!
No Costume to Study
I came primarily to study costume. If I had studied it from the French revues I should have had a large knowledge of hats and slippers and practically nothing else. The motto of the Paris producers is "Millions for headdress, but not one cent for clothes." I never saw so much undress -- en masse -- in my life and I used to frequent Waikiki beach before the Desha law took effect. Gorgeous, utterly gorgeous settings and clever light effects and ingeniously contrived spectacles that dazzle with richness and beauty, but they become economical of material from the knees to the chin.
"The Baths of Bilitis" at the Casino de Paris was the most beautiful and the most decadent thing I ever dreamed of seeing in a theater for the public. Two elderly schoolteachers from Tulsa, Oklahoma (Jove knows why they went), nearly had apoplexy. However, they stayed to the bare end. That evening will be a scarlet secret in their lives at home.
There are American performers headlining in each revue. Herbert Stowitts, the young Californian who danced with Pavlova for a season, is dancing at the Folies Bergere; the Dolly sisters were the rage for a year; Gilda Gray danced a brief engagement at Deauville and there are others who are going over well there.
Every revue has also its quota of Tiller girls, English girls who dance with the most amazing ensemble effect. They are almost mechanical in the perfection of their chorus work. These girls use very little makeup, consequently their fresh English beauty is emphasized by contrast with the bizarre makeup of the French chorus with their purple and green lidded eyes which are extended almost to their ears, livid scarlet wounds for mouths; rouged fingers, toes and, well -- the effect is utterly artificial and while it is exotic and startling, I think the less Fatima-ish effect is more to the taste of Anglo-Saxons.
Mostly for Tourists
Most of the Frou-Frou shows are for tourists, who flock there in droves. The smaller theaters have delightful shows of a more normal type. I attended a few, but the value was lost for me, as I did not understand French well enough to catch the nuances.
Of course, I went to the Grand Guignol, that house of thrillers, and was I thrilled! The theater is very small, and in consequence the actors are almost in one's lap, therefore the effect is rather unnerving when a man on the stage has his eyes gouged out and shows the empty gaping sockets, from which blood gushes and spatters on the floor. Illusion, granted, but very terrible illusion. One lady from Dubuque fainted and had to be dragged outside and revived. Superb acting, clever makeup but morbid as a whole. The Parisians love it.
By the way, at the Casino de Paris there was a number called "Say it with an ukulele" in which hula girls in Chinese coolie hats, Japanese obis and grass skirts of pink silk-floss did the St. Vitus dance against a background of palms that never grew on land or sea. During the entre-act I was watching the crowd in the lobby when across the milling heads I saw a familiar beaming face -- Duke Kahanamoku. He saw me at the same time. He roared a joyous aloha and started with his famous trudgeon stroke through the crowd, scattering tourists like spray to right and left. We jabbered Honoluluese until the show started. He was leaving the next day. Thought the Hawaiian number was a riot. It was. I was mighty glad to hail Honolulu in Paris.
Olympic Games Slow
I didn't get much kick out of the Olympic games. They seemed very draggy, with endless waits; and I can't say that the French crowds were particularly sporting. Our fellows showed up magnificently over here. Believe me, the clean-cut, look-you-in-the-eye young American stands from the chin up above anything I saw on the continent. Our American women are cold knockouts, too. They may not be as delicately feminine as the Parisiennes, but they have poise and assurance, coupled with beautiful clothes and well-cared-for persons, which makes a smashing effect. Long may they wave!
Met Lionel Walden, the painter who executed the mural for the Hawaii theater. He hopes to return to Honolulu this winter. He had some beautiful pictures of the Seine and of Normandy in his studio.
"Honolulu" seems to be a magic word and an "open Sesame" all over the world. I have heard the phrase "I hope some day to go to Honolulu. It seems like a dream place," wherever I've visited. Tell the advertisers to play that note -- it's the one that people associate with Hawaii. They like to think that they can have a romantic adventure with all the comforts of civilization miraculously provided. Also, they're glad to know that we do not spend the middle of the day sweltering in shaded rooms away from the sun.
New York for Winter
I could rave on for pages, but I must stop. I stayed in Paris until the last possible moment; bade France a regretful goodby; caught a steamer from Cherbourg to Quebec, and here I am digging into New York for the winter. New York will be an adventure for me because I've never been here before. Great city.
I hope that too many moons do not pass before I'm back in the land where the sun is a joy and the moon a blessing and every day is a page from a fascinating book. Eat an alligator pear for me, and when white ginger starts blooming again, take an extra deep sniff of its fragrance for this wandering son of Honolulu.
This article appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on October 18, 1924. Don Blanding left Honolulu about May 23, traveling via Canada en route to London and Paris. He arrived in Paris about July 6 and remained there until mid-August, when he boarded a ship at Cherbourg for the return trip to Quebec and thence New York for the winter.
Illustrating the article is a "sketch of Don Blanding done in the Cafe of the Dead Rat in Paris by the famous artist C. G. C. (Christensen)."