No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jess Darling: Two more letters have arrived today – one re-directed from the unit – and now I feel much more in touch with you. I simply detest those gaps in our correspondence.
In one of your letters, you refer to someone on the wireless who advised soldiers wives not to write about their troubles, but I hope you will ignore this advice, my dear. I want to know what is going on at home – not just a few pleasant tit-bits. Incidentally, I have wondered whether I ought to find a few moans to write about (quite an easy job!) because it must be maddening to you reading of my comparatively gay time in Paris, whilst you have God knows how many worries to contend with, in addition to the house. It certainly seems damned unfair for me to have so few responsibilities just now, whilst you are having to contend with such things as crazy pram wheels, thieving coalmen, gas-cookers, (…) and Heaven knows what else. But I think you too would prefer to know about the main points of my life out here – and that is why I will continue to tell you about them.
In my last letter, I promised to tell you more about the concert yesterday. But having slept on it, I find there is little to write about. The ‘star’ of the show was Grace Moore. She was preceded by a fairly good pianist who played Chopin’s Polonaise, and one or two other items. And then came the tenor, Dino Martini… a really fine singer and a one time principal tenor at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. I have never before seen a singer perform with so little effort. The next item was a violinist – introduced as a man with a brilliant future. I foresee him becoming a dance band leader, or a restaurant violinist: he is certainly not a concert soloist and never will be whilst men like Menuhin and Heifetz and Kreisler are knocking around.
Before Grace Moore shewed herself, the announcer said a few appropriate things from the platform, concluding with the ambiguous “but you will all know her best from one night of love”. And then Grace bounced forth – trying to look horribly shocked by the awful implications of what he had said. And that little performance made my flesh creep… and it crept – sorry, kept creeping right through her performance. I know it is about ten years since we saw her in the film – but I’m sure she has aged 20 years. And the extent of her make-up, crowned by a mass of platinum blonde hair, didn’t improve matters. She started by switching on a beaming smile whilst everyone clapped and cheered, and then, in broad American, she informed us that she had “picked up a cold some place, so if you hear any cracked notes, you will know why”. And then she asked if anyone wanted any special song – and this was followed by a clamour for dozens of different items. Grace settled the matter by choosing the “Indian Love Ball” from “Rose Marie”. “I guess” she said, “if I give you something with plenty of love in it, it’ll be O.K. Let’s see what we can ger (sic) out of it”! And then she sang… and after a few seconds I closed my eyes: I just couldn’t stand the sight.
I must admit she worked damned hard, and produced a lot of volume… but her singing was only really musical when she was pouring forth a double fortissimo on the vowels ‘ee’ or ‘oo’. In fact, most of the sounds she produced were either ee’s or oo’s – even when she was singing in English. And her gestures were painful. I would rather forget them. The concert finished with three duets – Grace Moore and Martini – and they were much better, chiefly because Martini’s voice camouflaged the harsh notes and heavy breathing of the soprano. I could have listened to Martini all night and every night: he is an accomplished artist… but I won’t ever go to hear Grace Moore again. Once is enough.
I haven’t a lot to tell you about today, darling. I have been off-duty apart from the hour’s ‘maintenance’ this morning, but the heat has prevented my doing any more sight-seeing. It seems strange to read of rain and autumn conditions in your letters whilst we are simply sweltering in a heat wave. I have now been here thirteen days – and we have only had one light shower – just enough to wet the ground and freshen up the foliage. And even whilst it was raining, we were all practically panting for breath. Every day is the same – bright sunshine, cloudless skies, and blistering heat. It is beautiful weather – but a few blasts of really fresh air would be such a blessing. Of course, our clothing hasn’t helped matters. I could cheerfully strangle that blasted ‘brass-hat’ who has kept us in full uniform all this time. The bloody idiot ought to be cashiered at least. But I hear this evening that an order will be published tomorrow permitting us to wear ‘shirt sleeve order’ when off duty. The order has come a fortnight late… and now I expect we are scheduled for snow storms or something.
I have spent a few hours in the hotel today – reading and taking life easy, but I may go out for a stroll later this evening, if it gets any cooler. There is so much of Paris I want to see – and so little I have seen. I grumble about the heat, but I mustn’t forget to tell you of at least one of our blessings. This hotel is fully equipped, and there are several bathrooms on each floor – one of them just next to my room: And we have permanent hot and cold water. This is a blessing, Jess. I have been able to have a bath every night – just to remove the “stickiness”, and so have slept in reasonable comfort – naked – and sometimes on top of the bedclothes. Even so, I usually wake up in the mornings feeling ‘sticky’ again… and am only sorry that I haven’t time for another bath before breakfast.
I have had my evening stroll, Jess and now feel more contented: I don’t like spending all of my free time seeing and doing nothing… and even a stroll is at least something. I don’t suppose you know the Boulevard Haussmann… but that is where I have been. It is a long, wide, tree-lined avenue running on from the Boulevard Montmartre. It is the home of some large shops, department stores, imposing bank and insurance buildings etc. It has no special significance, but I find that you can only “get your bearings” in a place by hiking around and gradually connecting up all the loose bits of previous journeys. I cannot claim to know Paris, or to have seen anything but a minute fraction of it, but I certainly feel more ‘at home’ now than a week ago, and am pretty conversant with the central portion of the city.
There were a lot of people about this evening, more than usual, I think. Perhaps that is because it is Sunday. The wayside pavement restaurants all seemed to be packed out… both inside and out. And how elaborate some of these restaurants are… I saw two or three this evening which were literally blazing with neon-type lighting inside, and with powerful floodlights outside. And most of them seem to have orchestras. They look cheap and tawdry to me, but I suppose that is because I am not accustomed to the glaring colour schemes. There seem to be many good shops in this place – which isn’t really surprising, is it? This evening I came across the ‘Magasins de Printemps’ – a huge store – but I don’t think I will buy anything there. I only looked at one of the windows – it contained light summer frocks for girls of 8-10 years: three of them were priced 2300, 2700, and 2400 francs respectively!!! I s’pose someone will buy them: there is plenty of money in Paris… the German occupation was profitable… and I imagine the Allied occupation will be more profitable still.
Och – Jess… I wish I could be wafted home… to you.
Good night, my love