We are married. The Sibylline parrots are protesting the sway of the first bobbed heads in the Biltmore panelled luxe. The hotel is trying to look older.
The faded rose corridors of the Commodore end in subways and subterranean metropolises—a man sold us a broken Marmon and a wild burst of friends spent half an hour revolving in the revolving door.
There were lilacs open to the dawn near the boarding house in Westport where we sat up all night to finish a story. We quarreled in the gray morning dew about morals; and made up over a red bathing suit.
The Manhattan took us in one late night though we looked very young and gay. Ungratefully we packed the empty suitcase with spoons and the phone book and a big square pin-cushion.
The Traymore room was gray and the chaise longue big enough for a courtesan. The sound of the sea kept us awake.
Electric fans blew the smell of peaches and hot biscuit and the cindery aroma of travelling salesmen through the New Willard halls in Washington.
But the Richmond hotel had a marble stair and long unopened rooms and marble statues of the gods lost somewhere in its echoing cells.
At the O.Henry in Greensville they thought a man and his wife ought not to be dressed alike in white knickerbockers in nineteen-twenty and we thought the water in the tubs ought not to run red mud.
Next day the summer whine of phonographs billowed out the skirts of the southern girls in Athens. There were so many smells in the drug stores and so much organdy and so many people just going somewhere… We left at dawn.
They were respectful in the Cecil in London; disciplined by the long majestuous twilights on the river and we were young but we were impressed anyway by the Hindus and the Royal Processions.
At the St. James and Albany in Paris we smelled up the room with an uncured Armenian goat-skin and put the unmelting “ice-cream” outside the window, and there were dirty postcards, but we were pregnant.
The Royal Danieli in Venice had a gambling machine and the wax of centuries over the window-sill and there were fine officers on the American destroyer. We had fun in a gondola feeling like a soft Italian song.
Bamboo curtains and an asthma patient complaining of the green plush and an ebony piano were all equally embalmed in the formal parlors of the Hotel d’Italie in Florence.
But there were fleas on the gilded filigree of the Grand Hotel in Rome; men from the British embassy scratched behind the palms; the clerks said it was the flea season.
Claridge’s in London served strawberries in a gold dish, but the room was an inside room and gray all day, and the waiter didn’t care whether we left or not, and he was our only contact.
In the fall we got to the Commodore in St. Paul, and while leaves blew up the streets we waited for our child to be born.
The Plaza was an etched hotel, dainty and subdued, with such a handsome head waiter that he never minded lending five dollars or borrowing a Rolls-Royce. We didn’t travel much in those years.
The Deux Mondes in Paris ended about a blue abysmal court outside our window. We bathed the daughter in the bidet by mistake and she drank the gin fizz thinking it was lemonade and ruined the luncheon table next day.
Goat was to eat in Grimm’s Park Hotel in Hyeres, and the bougainvillea was brittle as its own color in the hot white dust. Many soldiers loitered outside the gardens and brothels listening to the nickelodeons. The nights, smelling of honeysuckle and army leather, staggered up the mountain side and settled upon Mrs. Edith Wharton’s garden.
At the Ruhl in Nice we decided on a room not facing the sea, on all the dark men being princes, on not being able to afford it even out of season. During dinner on the terrace, stars fell in our plates, and we tried to identify ourselves with the place by recognizing faces from the boat. But nobody passed and we were alone with the deep blue grandeur and the filet de sole Ruhl and the second bottle of champagne.
The Hotel de Paris at Monte Carlo was like a palace in a detective story. Officials got us things: tickets and permissions, maps and newly portentous identities. We waited a good while in the formalized sun while they fitted us out with all we needed to be fitting guests of the Casino. Finally, taking control of the situation, we authoritatively sent the bell-boy for a tooth-brush.
Wistaria dripped in the court of the Hotel d’Europe at Avignon and the dawn rumbled up in market carts. A lone lady in tweeds drank Martinis in the dingy bar. We met French friends at the Taverne Riche and listened to the bells of late afternoon reverberate along the city walls. The Palace of the Popes rose chimerically through the gold end of day over the broad still Rhone, while we did nothing, assiduously, under the plane trees on the opposite bank.
Like Henri IV, a French patriot fed his babies red wine in the Continental at St. Raphael and there were no carpets because of summer, so echoes of the children’s protestations fell pleasantly amidst the clatter of dishes and china. By this time we could identify a few words of French and felt ourselves part of the country.
The Hotel du Cap at Antibes was almost deserted. The heat of day lingered in the blue and white blocks of the balcony and from the great canvas mats our friends had spread along the terrace we warmed our sunburned backs and invented new cocktails.
The Miramare in Genoa festooned the dark curve of the shore with garlands of lights, and the shape of the hills was picked out of the darkness by the blaze from the windows of high hotels. We thought of the men parading the gay arcades as undiscovered Carusos but they all assured us that Genoa was a business city and very like America and Milan.
We got to Pisa in the dark and couldn’t find the leaning tower until we passed it by accident leaving the Royal Victoria on our way out. It stood stark in a field by itself. The Arno was muddy and not half as insistent as it is in the cross-word puzzles.
Marion Crawford’s mother died in the Quirinal Hotel at Rome. All the chamber-maids remember it and tell the visitors about how they spread the room with newspapers afterwards. The sitting-rooms are hermetically sealed and palms conceal the way to open the windows. Middle-aged English doze in the stale air and nibble stale-salted peanuts with the hotel’s famous coffee, which comes out of a calliope-like device for filling it full of grounds, like the glass balls that make snow storms when shaken.
In the Hotel des Princes at Rome we lived on Bel Paese cheese and Corvo wine and made friends with a delicate spinster who intended to stop there until she finished a three-volume history of the Borgias. The sheets were damp and the nights were perforated by the snores of the people next door, but we didn’t mind because we could always come home down the stairs to the Via Sistina, and there were jonquils and beggars along that way. We were too superior at that time to use the guide books and wanted to discover the ruins for ourselves, which we did when we had exhausted the night-life and the market places and the campagna. We liked the Castello Sant’ Angelo because of its round mysterious unity and the river and the debris about its base. It was exciting being lost between centuries in the Roman dusk and taking your sense of direction from the Colosseum.
At the hotel in Sorrento we saw the tarantella, but it was a real one and we had seen so many more imaginative adaptations…
A southern sun drugged the court of the Quisisana to somnolence. Strange birds protested their sleepiness beneath the overwhelming cypress while Compton Mackenzie told us why he lived in Capri: Englishmen must have an island.
The Tiberio was a high white hotel scalloped about the base by the rounded roofs of Capri, cupped to catch rain which never falls. We climbed to it through devious dark alleys that house the island’s Rembrandt butcher shops and bakeries; then we climbed down again to the dark pagan hysteria of Capri’s Easter, the resurrection of the spirit of the people.
When we got back to Marseilles, going north again, the streets about the waterfront were bleached by the brightness of the harbor and pedestrians gayly discussed errors of time at little cafes on the corner. We were so damn glad of the animation.
The hotel in Lyons wore an obsolete air and nobody ever heard of Lyonnaise potatoes and we became so discouraged with touring that we left the little Renault there and took the train for Paris.
The Hotel Florida had catacornered rooms; the gilt had peeled from the curtain fixtures.
When we started out again after a few months, touring south, we slept six in a room in Dijon (Hotel du Dump, Pens. from 2 frs. Pouring water) because there wasn’t any other place. Our friends considered themselves somewhat compromised but snored towards morning.
In Salies-de-Bearn in the Pyrenees we took a cure for colitis, disease of that year, and rested in a white pine room in the Hotel Bellevue, flush with thin sun rolled down from the Pyrenees. There was a bronze statue of Henri IV on the mantel in our room, for his mother was born there. The boarded windows of the Casino were splotched with bird droppings—along the misty streets we bought canes with spears on the end and were a little discouraged about everything. We had a play on Broadway and the movies offered $60,000, but we were china people by then and it didn’t seem to matter particularly.
When that was over, a hired limousine drove us to Toulouse, careening around the grey block of Carcassonne and through the long unpopulated planes of the Cote d’Argent. The Hotel Tivollier, though ornate, had fallen into disuse. We kept ringing for the waiter to assure ourselves that life went on somewhere in the dingy crypt. He appeared resentfully and finally we induced him to give us so much beer that it heightened the gloom.
In the Hotel O’Connor old ladies in white lace rocked their pasts to circumspection with the lullabyic motion of the hotel chairs. But they were serving blue twilights at the cafes along the Promenade des Anglais for the price of a porto, and we danced their tangos and watched girls shiver in the appropriate clothes for the Cote d’Azur. We went to the Perroquet with friends, one of us wearing a blue hyacinth and the other an ill temper which made him buy a wagon full of roasted chestnuts and immediately scatter their warm burnt odor like largesse over the cold spring night.
In the sad August of that year we made a trip to Mentone, ordering bouillabaisse in an aquarium-like pavillion by the sea across from the Hotel Victoria. The hills were silver-olive, and of the true shape of frontiers.
Leaving the Riviera after a third summer, we called on a writer friend at the Hotel Continental at Cannes. He was proud of his independence in adopting a black mongrel dog. He had a nice house and a nice wife and we envied his comfortable installations that gave the effect of his having retired from the world when he had really taken such of it as he wanted and confined it.
When we got back to America we went to the Roosevelt Hotel in Washington and to see one of our mothers. The cardboard hotels, bought in sets, made us feel as if we committed a desecration by living in them—we left the brick pavements and the elms and the heterogeneous qualities of Washington and went further south.
It takes so long to get to California, and there were so many nickel handles, gadgets to avoid, buttons to invoke, and such, a lot of newness and Fred Harvey, that when one of us thought he had appendicitis we got out at El Paso. A cluttered bridge dumps one in Mexico where the restaurants are trimmed with tissue paper and there are contraband perfumes—we admired the Texas rangers, not having seen men with guns on their hips since the war.
We reached California in time for an earthquake. It was sunny, and misty at night. White roses swung luminous in the mist from a trellis outside the Ambassador windows; a bright exaggerated parrot droned incomprehensible shouts in an aquamarine pool—of course everybody interpreted them to be obscenities; geraniums underscored the discipline of the California flora. We paid homage to the pale aloof concision of Diana Manners’ primitive beauty and dined at Pickfair to marvel at Mary Pickford’s dynamic subjugation of life. A thoughtful limousine carried us for California hours to be properly moved by the fragility of Lillian Gish, too aspiring for life, clinging vine-like to occultisms.
From there we went to the DuPont in Wilmington. A friend took us to tea in the mahogany recesses of an almost feudal estate, where the sun gleamed apologetically in the silver tea-service and there were four kinds of buns and four indistinguishable daughters in riding clothes and a mistress of the house too busily preserving the charm of another era to separate out the children. We leased a very big old mansion on the Delaware River. The squareness of the rooms and the sweep of the columns were to bring us a judicious tranquility. There were sombre horse-chestnuts in the yard and a white pine bending as graciously as a Japanese brush drawing.
We went up to Princeton. There was a new colonial inn, but the campus offered the same worn grassy parade ground for the romantic spectres of Light-Horse Harry Lee and Aaron Burr. We loved the temperate shapes of Nassau Hall’s old brick, and the way it seems still a tribunal of early American ideals, the elm walks and meadows, the college windows open to the spring—open, open to everything in life—for a minute.
The Negroes are in knee-breeches at the Cavalier in Virginia Beach. It is theatrically southern and its newness is a bit barren, but there is the best beach in America; at that time, before the cottages were built, there were dunes and the moon tripped, fell, in the sandy ripples along the sea-front.
Next time we went, lost and driven now like the rest, it was a free trip north to Quebec. They thought maybe we’d write about it. The Chateau Frontenac was built of toy stone arches, a tin soldier’s castle. Our voices were truncated by the heavy snow, the stalactite icicles on the low roofs turned the town to a wintry cave; we spent most of our time in an echoing room lined with skis, because the professional there gave us a good feeling about the sports at which we were so inept. He was later taken up by the DuPonts on the same basis and made a powder magnate or something.
When we decided to go back to France we spent the night at the Pennsylvania, manipulating the new radio earphones and the servidors, where a suit can be frozen to a cube by nightfall. We were still impressed by running ice-water, self-sustaining rooms that could function even if besieged with current events. We were so little in touch with the world that they gave us an impression of a crowded subway station.
The hotel in Paris was triangular-shaped and faced Saint-Germain-des-Pres. On Sundays we sat at the Deux Magots and watched the people, devout as an opera chorus, enter the old doors, or else watched the French read newspapers. There were long conversations about the ballet over sauerkraut in Lipps, and blank recuperative hours over books and prints in the dank Allee Bonaparte.
Now the trips away had begun to be less fun. The next one to Brittany broke at Le Mans. The lethargic town was crumbling away, pulverized by the heat of the white hot summer and only travelling salesmen slid their chairs preemptorily about the uncarpeted dining room. Plane trees bordered the route to La Baule.
At the Palace in La Baule we felt raucous amidst so much chic restraint. Children bronzed on the bare blue-white beach while the tide went out so far as to leave them crabs and starfish to dig for in the sands.
We went to America but didn’t stay at hotels. When we got back to Europe we spent the first night at a sun-flushed hostelry, Bertolini’s in Genoa. There was a green tile bath and a very attentive valet de chambre and there was ballet to practice, using the brass bedstead as a bar. It was good to see the brilliant flowers colliding in prismatic explosions over the terraced hillside and to feel ourselves foreigners again.
Reaching Nice, we went economically to the Beau Rivage, which offered many stained glass windows to the Mediterranean glare. It was spring and was brittly cold along the Promenade des Anglais, though the crowds moved persistently in a summer tempo. We admired the painted windows of the converted palaces on the Place Gambetta. Walking at dusk, the voices fell seductively through the nebulous twilight inviting us to share the first stars, but we were busy. We went to the cheap ballets of the Casino on the jettee and rode almost to Villefranche for Salade Nicoise and a very special bouillabaisse.
In Paris we economized again in a not-yet-dried cement hotel, the name of which we’ve forgotten. It cost us a good deal, for we ate out every night to avoid starchy table d’hotes. Sylvia Beach invited us to dinner and the talk was all of the people who had discovered Joyce; we called on friends in better hotels: Zoe Akins, who had sought the picturesque of the open fires at Foyot’s, and Esther at the Port-Royal, who took us to see Romaine Brooks’ studio, a glass enclosed square of heaven swung high above Paris.
Then southward again, and wasting the dinner hour in an argument about which hotel: there was one in Beaune where Ernest Hemingway had liked the trout. Finally we decided to drive all night, and we ate well in a stable courtyard facing a canal—the green-white glare of Provence had already begun to dazzle us so that we didn’t care whether the food was good or not. That night we stopped under the white-trunked trees to open the windshield to the moon and to the sweep of the south against our faces, and to better smell the fragrance rustling restlessly amidst the poplars.
At Frejus Plage, they had built a new hotel, a barren structure facing the beach where the sailors bathe. We felt very superior remembering how we had been the first travellers to like the place in summer.
After the swimming at Cannes was over and the year’s octopi had grown up in the crevices of the rocks, we started back to Paris. The night of the stock-market crash we stayed at the Beau Ravage in St. Raphael in the room Ring Lardner had occupied another year. We got out as soon as we could because we had been there so many times before—it is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.
At the Jules Cesar in Aries we had a room that had once been a chapel. Following the festering waters of a stagnant canal we came to the ruins of a Roman dwelling-house. There was a blacksmith shop installed behind the proud columns and a few scattered cows ate the gold flowers off the meadow.
Then up and up; the twilit heavens expanded in the Cevennes valley, cracking the mountains apart, and there was a fearsome loneliness brooding on the flat tops. We crunched chestnut burrs on the road and aromatic smoke wound out of the mountain cottages. The Inn looked bad, the floors were covered with sawdust, but they gave us the best pheasant we ever ate and the best sausage, and the feather-beds were wonderful.
In Vichy, the leaves had covered the square about the wooden bandstand. Health advice was printed on the doors at the Hotel du Parc and on the menu, but the salon was filled with people drinking champagne. We loved the massive trees in Vichy and the way the friendly town nestles in a hollow.
By the time we got to Tours, we had begun to feel like Cardinal Balue in his cage in the little Renault. The Hotel de l’Univers was equally stuffy but after dinner we found a cafe crowded with people playing checkers and singing choruses and we felt we could go on to Paris after all.
Our cheap hotel in Paris had been turned into a girls’ school—we went to a nameless one in the Rue du Bac, where potted palms withered in the exhausted air. Through the thin partitions we witnessed the private lives and natural functions of our neighbors. We walked at night past the moulded columns of the Odeon and identified the gangrenous statue behind the Luxembourg fence as Catherine de Medici.
It was a trying winter and to forget bad times we went to Algiers. The Hotel de l’Oasis was laced together by Moorish grills; and the bar was an outpost of civilization with people accentuating their eccentricities. Beggars in white sheets were propped against the walls, and the dash of colonial uniforms gave the cafes a desperate swashbuckling air. Berbers have plaintive trusting eyes but it is really Fate they trust.
In Bou Saada, the scent of amber was swept along the streets by wide desert cloaks. We watched the moon stumble over the sand hillocks in a dead white glow and believed the guide as he told us of a priest he knew who could wreck railroad trains by wishing. The Ouled Nails were very brown and clean-cut girls, impersonal as they turned themselves into fitting instruments for sex by the ritual of their dance, jangling their gold to the tune of savage fidelities hid in the distant hills.
The world crumbled to pieces in Biskra; the streets crept through the town like streams of hot white lava. Arabs sold nougat and cakes of poisonous pink under the flare of open gas jets. Since The Garden of Allah and The Sheik the town has been filled with frustrate women. In the steep cobbled alleys we flinched at the brightness of mutton carcases swung from the butchers’ booths.
We stopped in El Kantara at a rambling inn whiskered with wistaria. Purple dusk steamed up from the depths of a gorge and we walked to a painter’s house, where, in the remoteness of those mountains, he worked at imitations of Meissonier.
Then Switzerland and another life. Spring bloomed in the gardens of the Grand Hotel in Glion, and a panorama world scintillated in the mountain air. The sun steamed delicate blossoms loose from the rocks while far below glinted the lake of Geneva.
Beyond the balustrade of the Lausanne Palace, sailboats plume themselves in the breeze like birds. Willow trees weave lacy patterns on the gravel terrace. The people are chic fugitives from life and death, rattling their teacups in querulous emotion on the deep protective balcony. They spell the names of hotels and cities with flowerbeds and laburnum in Switzerland and even the street lights wore crowns of verbena.
Leisurely men played checkers in the restaurant of the Hotel de la Paix in Lausanne. The depression had become frank in the American papers so we wanted to get back home.
But we went to Annecy for two weeks in summer, and said at the end that we’d never go there again because those weeks had been perfect and no other time could match them. First we lived at the Beau-Rivage, a rambler rose-covered hotel, with a diving platform wedged beneath our window between the sky and the lake, but there were enormous flies on the raft so we moved across the lake to Menthon. The water was greener there and the shadows long and cool and the scraggly gardens staggered up the shelved precipice to the Hotel Palace. We played tennis on the baked clay courts and fished tentatively from a low brick wall. The heat of summer seethed in the resin of the white pine bath-houses. We walked at night towards a cafe blooming with Japanese lanterns, white shoes gleaming like radium in the damp darkness. It was like the good gone times when we still believed in summer hotels and the philosophies of popular songs. Another night we danced a Wiener waltz, and just simply swep’ around.
At the Caux Palace, a thousand yards in the air, we tea-danced on the uneven boards of a pavilion and sopped our toast in mountain honey.
When we passed through Munich the Regina-Palast was empty; they gave us a suite where the princes stayed in the days when royalty travelled. The young Germans stalking the ill-lit streets wore a sinister air—the talk that underscored the beer-garden waltzes was of war and hard times. Thornton Wilder took us to a famous restaurant where the beer deserved the silver mugs it was served in. We went to see the cherished witnesses to a lost cause; our voices echoed through the planetarium and we lost our orientation in the deep blue cosmic presentation of how things are.
In Vienna, the Bristol was the best hotel and they were glad to have us because it, too, was empty. Our windows looked out on the mouldy baroque of the Opera over the tops of sorrowing elms. We dined at the widow Sacher’s—over the oak panelling hung a print of Franz Joseph going some happier place many years ago in a coach; one of the Rothschilds dined behind a leather screen. The city was poor already, or still, and the faces about us were harassed and defensive.
We stayed a few days at the Vevey Palace on Lake Geneva. The trees in the hotel gardens were the tallest we had ever seen and gigantic lonely birds fluttered over the surface of the lake. Farther along there was a gay little beach with a modern bar where we sat on the sands and discussed Stomachs.
We motored back to Paris: that is, we sat nervously in our six horse-power Renault. At the famous Hotel de la Cloche in Dijon we had a nice room with a very complicated mechanical inferno of a bath, which the valet proudly referred to as American plumbing.
In Paris for the last time, we installed ourselves amidst the faded grandeurs of the Hotel Majestic. We went to the Exposition and yielded up our imaginations to gold-lit facsimiles of Bali. Lonely flooded rice fields of lonely far-off islands told us an immutable story of work and death. The juxtaposition of so many replicas of so many civilizations was confusing, and depressing.
Back in America we stayed at the New Yorker because the advertisements said it was cheap. Everywhere quietude was sacrificed to haste and, momentarily, it seemed an impossible world, even though lustrous from the roof in the blue dusk.
In Alabama, the streets were sleepy and remote and a calliope on parade gasped out the tunes of our youth. There was sickness in the family and the house was full of nurses so we stayed at the big new elaborate Jefferson Davis. The old houses near the business section were falling to pieces at last. New bungalows lined the cedar drives on the outskirts; four-o’clocks bloomed beneath the old iron deer and arborvitae boxed the prim brick walks while vigorous weeds uprooted the pavements. Nothing had happened there since the Civil War. Everybody had forgotten why the hotel had been erected, and the clerk gave us three rooms and four baths for nine dollars a day. We used one as a sitting-room so the bell-boys would have some place to sleep when we rang for them.
At the biggest hotel in Biloxi we read Genesis and watched the sea pave the deserted shore with a mosaic of black twigs.
We went to Florida. The bleak marshes were punctuated by biblical admonitions to a better life; abandoned fishing boats disintegrated in the sun. The Don Cesar Hotel in Pass-A-Grille stretched lazily over the stubbed wilderness, surrendering its shape to the blinding brightness of the gulf. Opalescent shells cupped the twilight on the beach and a stray dog’s footprints in the wet sand staked out his claim to a free path round the ocean. We walked at night and discussed the Pythagorean theory of numbers, and we fished by day. We were sorry for the deep-sea bass and the amber-jacks—they seemed such easy game and no sport at all. Reading the Seven Against Thebes, we browned on a lonely beach. The hotel was almost empty and there were so many waiters waiting to be off that we could hardly eat our meals.
The room in the Algonquin was high up amidst the gilded domes of New York. Bells chimed hours that had yet to penetrate the shadowy streets of the canyon. It was too hot in the room, but the carpets were soft and the room was isolated by dark corridors outside the door and bright facades outside the window. We spent much time getting ready for theatres. We saw Georgia O’Keefe’s pictures and it was a deep emotional experience to abandon oneself to that majestic aspiration so adequately fitted into eloquent abstract forms.
For years we had wanted to go to Bermuda. We went. The Elbow Beach Hotel was full of honeymooners, who scintillated so persistently in each other’s eyes that we cynically moved. The Hotel St. George was nice. Bougainvillea cascaded down the tree trunks and long stairs passed by deep mysteries taking place behind native windows. Cats slept along the balustrade and lovely children grew. We rode bicycles along the wind-swept causeways and stared in a dreamy daze at such phenomena as roosters scratching amidst the sweet alyssum. We drank sherry on a veranda above the bony backs of horses tethered in the public square. We had travelled a lot, we thought. Maybe this would be the last trip for a long while. We thought Bermuda was a nice place to be the last one of so many years of travelling.
Published in Esquire magazine (May, June 1934).
Illustrations in part 2 by unknown artist.