Friday, September 08, 2006

27 November 1955--Paris Journal, Part 1

The Big Ti anchored in Cannes harbor at about 0900 the morning of the 22nd. I spent most of the day in the office, straightening things up for my 4 day absence.

If it were not for emptying the wastebasket, I would seldom see anything. On my pilgrimage to the incinerator, I caught a glimpse of a fair day, somewhat cloudy, & cold enough to destroy any illusions about Cannes being a year-round resort similar to Florida. The city itself wound along the narrow band of land between the mountains & the sea, & even from a distance it looked quite wealthy.

About four that afternoon, I quit work, went to the compartment, packed all my clothes, & took a shower. At six thirty all of us going to Paris met on the quarterdeck. It couldn’t be called a muster, since everyone just milled around waiting for the boat. I made good use of this extra time by running below decks at least three times for forgotten items, such as my peacoat, socks and ticket.

Thirty two of us, including six officers in civilian clothes, got into one of the liberty boats (much to the displeasure of those waiting in line to go on liberty), & rode the half mile to shore. We landed at the head of Cannes’ one long pier, illuminated by rows of neon lights & lined by small yachts belonging to Cannes’ wealthy summer inhabitants.

Some small boys were playing tag near a group of dingy house trailers half way up the dock.
They were exactly the same as boys everywhere, except that they wore short pants, longer hair, & shouted in French instead of English. An American Express bus was waiting for us. At seven ten, after waiting for a Commander from the Ti & three sailors from our shadow destroyer, we got going.

Cannes struck me as being an extremely wealthy city—the stores offered things found in only the best shops in America; were it not for the slightly narrow streets & dim-lighted foreign cars, it could easily have been mistaken for any city in America.

The railway station is a sprawling, cold building without restrooms (which always seem to be lacking in Europe whenever they’re needed). There wasn’t even a waiting room—just the one, large room, partly divided off into a baggage room at the far end. The only place to sit was on round table-like things near the ticket windows. The whole effect was that of the movies I’ve seen of the betting windows at race tracks. All along the walls were posters in French to the effect that when traveling, one should go by train.

We were introduced to our guide, a short man in a beret, who continually smoked a pipe, which he used as a baton when emphasizing points.

At eight forty-five we shuffled through the one narrow gate, being eyed suspiciously by the "controller" and counted like sheep.

For some reason, the French feel it necessary to cover not only the waiting platforms but the entire train, though all sides but that of the station my be open to the elements.

Fruit & soft drinks, among them one called "Pschitt" were available on the platform, with Coca Cola selling for about twenty cents. European coke bottles are of pale glass, & not marked on the bottoms as are their U.S. cousins.

At one end of the platform, to our left, was a tunnel leading beneath the city, from which the trains emerged.. A newsstand was situated at the other, selling French & American magazines. I was amused at a batch of French comic books. They seem to go in for westerns in a big way. One of them was called "Le Petit Sheriff"—a sort of French"Bobby Benson of the B-Bar-B". Another had the French version of a cowboy on its cover. He was riding an oddly distorted horse; behind him was what was supposed to be a ranch house, but more closely resembled a Swiss Chalet—and behind it was a simple, flat-topped mountain.

I bought an American magazine to read on the train &, while reading an article entitled "Should Honeymoons be Banned?" (conclusion—No) I ran into Bob Schmahl, a former mess cook, & two of his buddies—Roger Riso, from Utah, & Jim Bessette, from Aurora Illinois. Bob was carrying a box of pastries he’d bought across the street from the station; Roge was too busy eyeing all the passing women to be carrying anything. Jim and I were trying to find who, if anyone, we knew in common, & reassuring each other that there really was such a place as Illinois. The sound of a train coming through the tunnel sent everybody jostling to the edge of the platform. It turned out to be a false alarm in the form of a single engine.

French engines, like everything in France, resemble the American enough to be recognizable, but are different enough so that you know they aren’t. The two major differences are a complete mystery to me, as to the reason behind them. First are the two long heavy-looking shields, running the entire length of the boiler section. This gives it the impression that it is either trying to hide something, or from something. The second is the lack of smokestacks, which are missing only on diesel & electric trains in America. The result is that the smoke boils out of the engine & falls directly back on the train, wrapping it in a continual fog & spreading a thick layer of soot over everything if you are foolish enough to open a window.
Soon another engine appeared, this time pulling our train. Even reality didn’t quite spoil the expectancy or the magic of seeing the sign by the waiting room door saying "Paris—Arivee 845".


Dave said...
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Dave said...

Wish you had been at my birthday party that night. You could fill me in on what happened. I remember going in the lounge, eating, drinking, dancing with this French maiden who tried to take my uniform off on the dance floor, then leaving the next day....Everything in between is wrapped in a large cloak of mystery.

Dorien/Roger said...

Yeah, Dave...sorry I missed it, but it sounds like you did okay without me. I gather you were on the Paris tour, or was this back in Cannes? Either way, it's another great memory of our days on the Mighty Ti.