They arrived in Paris just after midnight. Callie wrote many pages in her journal about the next four hours:June 8 1917.
It was one a.m. when we arrived at our hotel. The city was in complete blackout, except for the moon. Mother Gish was exhausted and went to bed, but we girls were much too giddy with excitement to sleep.
Mr. Griffith seized upon the moment and gathered us round him.
“Now children, if you wish, I will show you what the most beautiful city in the world looks like with only the moon above it. You may never get another chance.”
Our hotel was beside the lovely Jardin du Luxembourg and the four of us strolled under the perfectly-trimmed trees, past beds of daffodils, ghostly white in the moonlight. The fragrances of cherry blossoms intoxicated me quite easily, for between fatigue, hunger and exhilaration, I was in quite a state. Lillian and Dorothy began to chase each other across the lawn, giggling and horsing around, letting out all the stress of travel of the past few days. Mr. Griffith leaned against a tree, chuckling, puffing on one of his cigarettes. Even in a casual pose, the man is imposing.
We walked through the Latin Quarter, down Boulevard Saint Michel. The sound of distant cannon-fire followed us, but it was a good thing, for it signified that the French guns were between us and the Germans.
The war began to fade and the City of Light worked its magic. We three girls were all still young and hungry for excitement, and to stroll through the empty streets of Paris in darkness, lit only by moonlight as it was long ago, gave us the feeling of being in our own fairy tale.
We peered into little pastry shops, elegant cafes, musty old bookstores. Every single thing looked enchanted.
“Where’s my Prince?” Dorothy kept shouting. “I want my Prince!”
“Shhh,” admonished Lillian.
Dorothy grabbed Lillian by the waist. “Lillian, dear sister, lookaround. Who’s listening? No one else is awake. Paris belongs to us tonight.”
My eyes were drawn to a figure across the street-a handsome young Frenchman, attired in a sleek tuxedo, holding a cigarette. A very real-looking mannequin in front of a boutique de vêtements.
“There’s your prince!” I yelled to Dorothy,
She ran up and embraced him, planted a passionate kiss on his wooden lips, running her hand down his trousered leg.
“My God, Dorothy!” said Lillian, laughing in spite of herself.
This was all so far away from the blood and violence of a world war, or so it seemed that night.
We finally reached the Seine. All the bookstalls were locked up and no bateaus were to be seen plying its lazy waters. I walked in between Dorothy and Lillian, hand in hand, Mr. Griffith close behind. We were all three of us in white and must have appeared like three spirits softly blowing in the Parisian breeze, barely touching the ground.
A wave of melancholy for Casey came over me, but I kept myself in the present moment and walked on.
The magnificent bulk of Notre Dame reared up above the river, its massive facade and dramatic flying buttresses suddenly so reassuring in such mad times. We all stopped and just stared. “How many wars has that lovely church been witness to?” I wondered. “And yet, it is still here, in front of us.”
I am exhausted, but I will never forget this night. To sleep.
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