Fourth of July in Paris

CARLTON LAKE is the Paris art correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. For the past several years he has been living on the He St.-Louis in a venerable Louis XVI house. From this charming vantage point, he has been able to observe and chronicle the entertaining idiosyncrasies of the ParisiansAmerican no less than French — on both the Left and Right banks of the Seine.

1

EVERY summer since I came to France to live, one of the things I have missed the most is an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration, complete with fireworks and oratory. Bastille Day, celebrated ten days after the Fourth, is no substitute for it — it just doesn’t have the same flavor. Last year, about a week before the Fourth,

I read in the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune an announcement that Ambassador and Mrs. C. Douglas Dillon were holding a Fourth of July reception for members of the Paris American colony and any other Americans who happened to be in Paris on that day, in the garden at No. 16 Avenue Gabriel, not far from the main embassy building. I didn’t rush right down to the embassy, however, to pick up my ticket. I had been to that sort of shindig before, under previous administrations, and come away quite unmoved. But a few days later, when a friend of mine who lives in the Rue de Seine told me that his neighbor Raymond Duncan was holding open house, too, on the Fourth, I decided to lie a good American, impartial, and attend both.

Mr. Duncan, a brother of the late Isadora Duncan, is an 81-year-old American who, since about 1900, has been living, mostly in Paris, a life that incorporates some of the principles of ancient Greece with those of his pioneer American ancestors. He designs and founds the type with which he prints his own writings; he weaves his own clothes, tapestries, and rugs on looms he has designed and built; produces Sophocles in the original; interprets Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and others in a weekly series of “dialogues on the problems of music” (now in its sixteenth year); holds symposia in which he discusses everything from love to cannibalism (including their interrelations); and, in general, acts as unofficial ambassador without portfolio from the American people to the French people —all this and considerably more from a house on the Left Bank which, in his allegiance to the Greek ideal, he calls (he Akademia.

On Monday morning I arrived at the Avenue Gabriel just after eleven. There was already a line extending fifty yards or so down the sidewalk, halfway back to the main embassy building. W hen I reached the entrance, the Marine guard and the plain-clothes man at the gate were busy scrutinizing the passports of a group who had arrived without tickets. No one seemed interested in claiming mine, so I put it back in my pocket and walked inside.

Behind the high grille at No. 16 Avenue Gabriel lies a deep, sloping garden, English in style, with tall, sweeping trees undeformed by the French passion for triennial trimming. Well over a hundred yards back from the gate stands the broad, threestory, early nineteenth century mansion which the Baron Edmond de Rothschild sold to the United Si ates government in 1948 for $1,900,000. That. Monday it was draped with bunting.

I followed a shaded path which winds away to the left of the entrance, and when I rounded a bend and fell in at the end of the reception line I could see Mr. and Mrs. Dillon standing under a large chestnut tree about thirty yards further along. In front of me were three ladies, fiftyish, from somewhere out around Iowa f judged on the basis of their accent. As we advanced along the path, their necks bobbed back and forth like a gaggle of geese. Intermittently I caught glimpses of the Dillons. Mr. Dillon. I could see, had on the customary diplomatic uniform — striped trousers and the rest. Mrs. Dillon was wearing a relatively simple but undeniably haute couture light-gray dress, a tiny gray hat with a wisp of a veii, a two-strand pearl choker, black patent-leather pumps, and crisp white gloves.

“Isn’t shea darling!” said one of the trio in front of me. “Now, 1 tell you, she’s just precious,” agreed one of the others. “Makes you feel happy to know that they’re our representatives, doesn’t it ?” asked the third.

The Dillons loomed just ahead. “Nice of you to come,” I heard Mr. Dillon tell the lady in front of me as they shook hands. Then it was my turn. “Nice of you to come.” he said, He has a rather sweetly ascetic face and he smiles gravely. Mrs. Dillon smiles with joy. Both their grips were firm, I noticed. But then, it was early. (I read later that they received 4200 before the gates were closed.)

“Just who is he, anyhow, and where’s he from?” I heard a short, middle-aged man with a sturdy Tarheel accent ask a young naval ensign - on duty, apparently — as I walked on past the little groups of aides and photographers clustered around the chestnut tree.

“Well,” said the young ensign, looking about him guardedly, “his home is New York City and he’s Dillon, Read, the investment banker.”

An enormous buffet stretched across the width of the lawn. The 679th Air Force Band was set up but, for the moment, inoperative. As near as I could judge, the crowd was composerd largely of government employees — embassy and allied groups, officers from the various services and their families — and a sizable bloc of people who were clearly tourists.

The band, caps on and standing, began to play “La Marseillaise.” Most everyone looked undecided. After a quick finish it went into “The StarSpangled Banner.” Everyone stiffened up, and the military and naval men turned toward the band and saluted. At the end there was a little ripple of applause. I walked back along the buffet and took a careful survey. The first flight of locusts had passed over, but there was still enough left to feed a few thousand of the Abbé Pierre’s charges— fashionably, if not well. I edged along past several small mountains of bite-sized sandwiches to a tray of petits fours, I picked up a chocolate-covered one with a tiny American flag stuck in it. Then, thinking better of it, I removed the flag, put it into my jacket pocket, and handed the petit four to an attendant. He took it and thanked me. I looked at my watch and saw that I had been there over an hour. I hadn’t seen a face I had ever seen before,

I wasn’t feeling at all hungry, and nothing was happening, so I decided to leave.

2

BY THE time I got home I was hungry enough to eat a good lunch — no party food. J read the paper, worked until a little after five, and then, because I didn’t know how long or how fiery the evening’s oratory might turn out to be, I lay down and took a nap until seven. Out of respect for Mr. Duncan, who is known to consider meat-eating a branch of cannibalism, I dined lightly and herbivorously: vegetable soup, fruit salad, and tea.

I reached the Rue de Seine about eight-thirty. The Akademia—which dates, in most of its elements. from the reign of Louis XIV — is one of the largest houses on the street. It is halfway between the river and the Boulevard St.-Germain, just above the intersection of the Rue de Seine and the Rue des Beaux-Arts. From the facade hung the French and American flags. On each side of the wide entrance portal, and set back behind a small portico, is a gallery with glass front. I walked over to the one at the right of the entrance. The window was filled with colorful scarves that appeared to have been decorated by a combination of block-print ing and brush techniques. They were signed “Raymond Duncan.” At one end of the display shelf I saw a pair of leather sandals blind-stamped “ Raymond Duncan.” A card beside them confirmed my assumption that they were designed and manufactured by Mr. Duncan.

Arranged in shelf corners and in a vitrine at one side were a number of brochures by Mr. Duncan: La Parole dans le desert; Les Travaux d’ Héraklès; Jc chante et je dis: Poemes; Pages Prom My Press; La Beaute Hernelle. Along the walls of the gallery hung tapestries signed with his name or initials. They, like many of the scarves, depicted nude figures in primeval settings. Next to the door stood a fair-sized loom. Since J know a girl who once took weaving instruction at the Akademia, I realized that this must De one of the Duncan-designed and -built looms I had heard about in years past, on which Mr. Duncan and his compagne, Mine. Ai’a Bertrand, weave their clothes and instruct others in one phase of self-sufficiency. Sure enough, when I left the portico and walked under the archway that leads into the central courtyard, the first poster I saw — among a half-dozen or so pasted up on the wall —was one announcing free weaving courses on Friday afternoons at three-thirty and Tuesday evenings at eight, and next to it was one advertising the “Raymond Duncan loom.”

Afler that came a larger one describing the program of the Akademia —“teaching the technique of life through a synthesis of work and art.” Il listed, among the courses o file red, dance, music, theater, painting, weaving, and printing. Another poster announced a free course in the “new philosophy of Act ionalism ” given by Mr. Duncan on Wednesday evenings: “. . . a new vision of the ancient world. The message of ancient Greece for today’s world from the Actionalist point of view.”

Inside the courtyard, the walls were painted a bright yellow. The court itself was in great disorder. Stonemasons had been at work. Walls were being pierced along the north side to continue the picture gallery fronting on the Rue de Seine back to the main part of the house. Scaffolding set up along all four sides suggested more extensive work to come. Along the south wall of the court was ranged a series of gray stone bas-reliefs at least four feet square and nine or ten inches thick. Stylistically they were related to some of the tapestries I had just seen.

As I stood there studying them, Mr. Duncan, clad in a wheat-toned, Duncan-woven chlamys, came out of his printing shop and walked over to a group of three Americans next to me. He stands just about five feet four in his Duncan-made sandals. I saw him first in profile; and with his lean jaw, aquiline nose, and silvery-white shoulderlength hair parted in the middle and held in place by a finely braided cord across the brow, he looked

— in spite of his glasses and his pink-and-w bite unwrinkled skin — like a paler version of a distinguished American Indian now principally known for his services to a Boston bank.

“Haven’t seen you in a long time,” he said to one of the three. “What have you been doin’ with yourself ? ”

The boy —he might have been twenty-five — grinned. “Just, working. I don’t have time for much else.”

“Workin’ at what?” Mr. Duncan asked him.

“ Writing.”

“Wrilin’? You call that work? That’s play.”

“It’s work for me,” the boy said.

Mr. Duncan threw back his head and laughed heartily. “You want to know what makes you think it’s work?” he asked. “It’s because you don’t print what you write, yourself. If you did, it wouldn’t seem like work.” He pointed over to the printing shop. “I stand there by the hour,” he said. “I compose in my head and I compose with my hand. And my hand has to move pretty fast. And then, before I know it, it’s done and I run off a proof and I’m readin’ it while it’s still warm. Wait a minute.” He stepped back into the shop and came out with what looked like a small tabloid newspaper. “Here, you look at this,” he said. “ I’ve got to go backstage for a minute.”

I moved closer to the group. The paper was littled Exangelos. “Cold or Hot — How Will You Take It?” ran the headline. “Fear is a sure road to defeat and servitude. Cowardice is a greater danger than atomic bombs.” Before I could read more the fellow turned the page. “Read. For Here Is Logic and Perhaps Truth,” said the streamer. A modest and inviting claim, I thought. Underneath were an article on Tom Paine, another on “The Literary Sickness,” and a few scattered aphorisms (“Truth is a fact — not an ideal”; “All men die, but few men live”). The type was a very readable sans-serif, all u ppercase.

3

SMALL groups were beginning to file through the courtyard into the house. Through the window at the rear of the court I could see that the hall was beginning to fill up. I decided to go inside. I entered the main door and passed through an anteroom whose walls were covered with framed photographs into a large, high studio with a central skylight. At the south end was a stage. An American flag covered the backdrop. A concert grand jutted out from the left. The east and west walls of the studio were covered with large paintings and tapestries— all by Mr. Duncan. I could see. The chairs in the main area, under the skylight, were nearly all filled. I found an empty aisle seat, put down the book and papers I was carrying, to reserve it, and walked back into a relatively low-ceilinged extension at the north end of the room. Chairs had also been set up there, and these too were beginning to fill up. The bulk of the audience was French, obviously. In addition to the few Americans I could see and hear, there was a handful of British — in all, perhaps two hundred persons.

The three walls of the extension were lined with more photographs. I saw a hand-colored one dated San Francisco 1887, showing the four Duncans— Elizabeth, Augustine, Raymond, and Isadora — in their “Pantomime Dance.” (They had made their own cost umes, according to the printed legend underneath the picture.) There was a portrait of Isadora taken during her first month m Paris, in 1000 (wearing a dress made by Raymond); scenes from Raymond Duncan Paris productions: “ Prometheus,” a “noise drama,” and “Oidipous,” with Ai’a Bertrand in the role of Antigone; another, of Raymond seated before the Kreehtheum; scenes of young parisiennes weaving. I was still studying the photographs when I heard, from the other end of the hall, the greeting “Chers amis.”I turned and saw that Mr. Duncan was on stage. I quickly returned to my seat — apparently the only one unoccupied — and settled into it.

“For me this is the greatest day of the year,” he was saying, in his own flavorful amalgam of French and prairie American, “because for me liberty is just about the sweetest word in the language. I guess it has been for most Americans, especially since that day in Philadelphia — that first Fourth of July—when, just like a little chicken that’s been peckin’, peckin’, peekin’ away. Liberty finally popped its head out of the shell.” Mr. Duncan looked pleased with his simile, I thought. “We struck for liberty that day, all right,” he said, “but the idea is — we have to keep on doin’ it all our days. By liberty I don’t mean the right to do as you please. That’s not liberty; that’s chaos. Liberty consists in not bein’ hindered from doin’ what you should be doin’. Ever since I was a boy in California, I wanted to be free. That’s why I quit school at the age of eleven. That’s w hy I’ve done everything I’ve done since then.”

Mr. Duncan walked over to the flag and ran his hand up and down the thirteen stripes. “They shook off the yoke,” he said. “That’s what we all have to do. And we have to keep on doin’ it.” He rubbed his cheek thoughtfully, “Of course, some of these European countries don’t exactly love that, flag, but that’s because they don’t understand it. That flag represents people, not a government. We’re all one flesh" — he plucked at his bare left arm with the fingers of his right hand — “and there shouldn’t be anything to separate us. There shouldn’t be any separate nations, and one day there won’t be. There shouldn’t be any classes, either.” Mr. Duncan looked around him defiantly. “We don’t need any mildewed European ideologies to tell us that. Just good old American horse sense and a big beatin’ heart. Why, that’s the meanin’ of the Declaration of Independence!”

lie began to smile again. “Yes, sir,” he said, “the Fourth of July means a lot to me. I guess I’m more American than I would be if I’d stayed home in California.” Behind me I could hear one woman whisper, “C’est vrai. It faid le connaitre.”

“My ancestors helped make the country,” Mr. Duncan continued. “My great-grandfather, General William Duncan, was head of the Pennsylvania forces in the War of 1812. His wife, Anne Claypoole Peale, was one of the paintin’ Peales. She was the daughter of James Peale and he was the brother of Charles Willson Peale, and there was a man who believed in liberty so much that he freed his slaves more than seventy-five years before the Emancipation Proclamation! My maternal grandfather, Thomas Gray, was a captain in the Black Hawk War alongside Abraham Lincoln. He skippered one of the first paddle-wheel steamers on the upper Mississippi and it was on his boat — the Gypsy—that Dred Scott came out of the South. When the St. Louis fire wiped him out in ‘49, he went out to California and started all over again. And when the Civil War came, he went back East to serve under Grant and McClellan. And there were lots of others like those two.”he said, “and the blood of ‘em all boils in me.”

4

BY NOW, Mr. Duncan was boiling, but in a nice, proudly cheerful way. He walked back to the flag. “I see this flag as a visa,” he said; “a visa with which the whole world is goin’ to pass from servitude to freedom. It doesn’t represent a land or a country; it represents an idea—the biggest idea in the world: the idea that man is born to be free. There’s a lot of noise and fog and dust out there”

— his arm reached out in a wide, sweeping gesture

— “but they’ll never be able to smother that idea just so long as we go on livin’ it.” Mr. Duncan began to grin. “Freedom’s a long job, I know. I’ve been tryin’ for fifty-five years to liberate Paris from tradition, habit, and shoes, and I haven’t got very far. So it won’t do to be in a hurry.”

He looked off left into the wings. “Now I want you to hear what another American thought about liberty — the speech Patrick Henry made to the second revolutionary convention of Virginia in Richmond on Thursday, the 23rd of March, 1775. The translation is by our dear Ala.” Ala — Mnie. Bertrand — a plump, smiling Lett of about sixty, dressed in a linen chiton and wimple, had been listening at ihe doorway. She waved and dropped out of sight.

Mr. Duncan introduced Andre Cottard, a tall, bald-headed, serious-looking man. Manuscript in hand, M. Cottard began to declaim Patrick Henry’s speech. He was obviously a professional actor of considerable competence and it would be hard to imagine more fervor in the original than he pul into his reading of Mine. Bertrand’s French version. When he reached the point of pleading —

Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of Nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. . . . Besides, sir, we have uo election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery —

I could hear a good deal of buzzing around me, and when he rolled out the climactic

Je ne sais quelle direction vont prendre les autres, mais quant àa moi, donnez-moi la liberte ou donnezmoi la mort!

with all the fire it merited and with the classic Conservatoire gestures, the house began to stamp.

“C’est tres beau, tout ga,” I heard one little lady say, “ mais c’est tres fort! What if those hotheads in North Africa talked like that, hein?”

As the applause died down, Mr. Duncan came back on stage. With him was a slender, brighteyed young woman in her thirties, with shoulderlength blonde hair. She was wearing a strapless evening gown and what looked like a Navajo necklace. Mr. Duncan introduced her as “my daughter Ligoa, here on a v isit from Arizona.” Without accompaniment she sang, in a soft, sweet, untrained voice, a half-dozen American folk songs and spirituals, starting with “Down in the Valley” and ending with “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” Toward the end, her voice broke and the tears came, but she kept on, and by the time she left the stage, she was bright-eyed and cheerful again.

Mr. Duncan returned to the stage. “I don’t know if she cried because she’s leavin’ us on Friday or because she’s just sent off one of her sons to the United States Navy, but I guess you’ll forgive her,” he said. “Do you know what she’s been doin’ ever since she came here to visit us? She’s been goin’ around to insane asylums and other places, like the Saint-Lazare prison, and singin’ American folk songs to those people. Now you understand why I love her.” He paused for a moment, then said, “She never went to school a day in her life — heureusement.

“There’s somethin’ else I want you to hear now,” he said. “This is a poem written by an American poet —the first really great poet since Homer, He had nothin’ in him of Europe or of anybody else. It all came right out of his own breast. A friend of ours, Léon Bazalgctte, spent a good part of his life translatin’ his poems into French. His name is Wall Whitman, and Robert Le Flon will read him to you.” M. Le Flon, a small, thin man who looked like a miniature, more vigorous Gide, read from the Bazalgctte version of the “Song of the Exposition” an excerpt beginning Et toi, Amérique, and then Mr. Duncan was back again.

“Whitman was a printer, you know,” he said. “He printed his own poems. Well, I’m a printer and I print mine. And now Jeanne Prévost is goin’ to read one of ‘em to you. It’s called ‘O You 48 States.” But first I want to tell you how it came to get written. Right at the end of the war, as soon as we heard that the Americans were comin’ and Paris was goin’ to be liberated, I rushed over to the American Embassy with a big American flag. The Germans were withdrawin’ but there were still pockets of ‘em here and there. When I got to the Place de la Concorde I could see a bunch of ‘em up on lop of the Ministère de la Marine, next to the Crillon. I ran across to the embassy and finally got the guard to come out to the gate. I handed him the flag through the grille and told him, ' Run it up — vite, vite, vite!’ He told me the Swiss were in charge of the American Embassy and he said he’d have to get their permission. I told him to call ‘em up on the telephone and get the permission, then, He came back in three or four minutes and said the Swiss had told him he couldn’t run it up till the American ambassador got here. ‘By God, I’m the American ambassador,’ I told him. ‘Run it up!’ And he did. Well, while he was runnin’ it up I felt so proud I wanted to sing. I thought of singin’ ‘God Bless America’ but I didn’t know the words, so I sang ‘Yankee Doodle’ instead. And then I ran back across the garden to the river. And all the time those German snipers’ bullets were goin’ ping, pong, pong all over the square. All the way back this poem was writin’ itself in my head, and when I got here I went right into my printin’ shop and set it up.”

Mr. Duncan went off stage and returned with Mme. Prévost, a middle-aged blonde woman. From a sheaf of manuscript in her hand she began to read Mr. Duncan’s poem, “0 You 48 States.”

.... The world is in the making and
YOU are its MASTER BUILDERS
Ee-da-o, Take-zahss, A-la-ba-ma, Mcn-ne
Ee-lee-nwa and Ca-lee-for-nee
. . . Kahn-zahss and Oo-ta.

With Oo-ta, Mme. Prétost decided she needed her glasses. She rushed off and was back in a few seconds with them on, to sing the glories of Nort’ Ca-ro-lee-nn, Souse Ca-ro-lee-na, O-ee-o, and Ahrecd-zo-na. With the last word — America — she pulled off her glasses, threw her arms wide open, and ran off.

Mr. Duncan was back on at once with a cheery little brunette he called Stella. Stella sat down at. the piano. “You know,” said Mr. Duncan, “I got so excited that day singin’ ‘Yankee Doodle’ that I couldn’t talk above a whisper for three weeks. But I’m goin’ to sing it again, anyway.”And sing it ho did. When he reached the chorus and sang “Yankee Doodle, ha, ha, ha,” he threw back his silvery mane, held on to his sides, and roared out the “ha, ha, ha.” The audience roared back at him. By now he was in a singing mood. He stopped just long enough to tell the story of John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry and then broke into “John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave.” On the refrain — “Glory, glory, hal-le-lu-jah ” — the audience joined in with such gusto after the first go-round that I looked up apprehensively at the cracked panes in the skylight above my head. Finally John Brown’s body was reinterred. Air. Duncan thanked everybody for coming and said he hoped we had all had as good a lime as he had had. “I have to let off steam once in a while,” he said. “Otherwise I’d bust.”

The audience began to break up into small groups. I threaded my way around several that were clogging the center aisle. “Terribly American, isn’t he?” I heard a tall, bespectacled Englishman say to the woman beside him. W hen I got to the rear of the hall, Mr. Duncan had disappeared. I had reached the anteroom on my way out when suddenly the yellow courtyard was lighted up with fizzing, spluttering red, white, and blue flares. A big pinwheel in the middle of the court was shooting off stars in all directions. Air. Duncan came scurrying in from the court, looking very pleased with himself.

“ Where’d you get those?” I asked him.

“Alade ‘em,” ho said. “It’s the only way.” A few days before, I had seen the Paris revival of Thornton Wilder’s play The Skin of Our Teeth, and it seemed to me now that Air. Duncan was looking more like Air. Antrobus every minute. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the miniature American flag I had picked off Air. Dillon’s buffet that morning. It was mounted on a brass pin. I stuck it into Air. Duncan’s chlamys, right over his big boatin’ heart. I told him I had it from the ambassador — somewhat indirectly— but that I didn’t think he’d mind a bit if I passed it along to him. He thanked me, and he meant it.

“Wouldn’t you like to come tomorrow night?” he asked. “I’m givin’ a talk on my reform of the alphabet. Do you know about that ?”