THE hardships of American tourists and their disappointment over the spoiled summer vacation, their worry over lost trunks and uncashed checks, their wrath over missed steamship passages, are no longer even a memory,except for themselves. When one thinks of the million in Paris today without work, without men folks, who face starvation with a smile and with the heroism of those who know that they can give something else than their blood on the battlefield to sustain their country in the hour of need, there comes the realization of the difference between real trouble and petty discomfort, of how the former brings out a nobility of soul in welcome contrast to the meanness produced by the latter.
Now that Paris is beginning to become accustomed to the state of war, and has passed through the crisis of a German attack, the economic effect of the war is being felt more keenly. Excitement and uncertainty of the immediate future no longer prevent us from giving first thought to what is in the larder,and what is not there !
Contrary to the general impression that seems to be voiced by the American newspapers, the war has not as yet caused any increase in the price of food-stuffs. Prices are virtually as they were before the war started. There is a splendid supply upon the market of every kind of comestible that Paris is accustomed to have under normal conditions. I have noticed no difference either of price or variety in restaurant menus. The public services in the city have not been seriously disarranged since the first days of mobilization.’
The problem is not, then, one of food, of means of transportation, of light and heat. It is the problem of getting the money to pay for these things. The mobilization has taken to the front so many men from Paris, and the money stringency has reduced so greatly the number of buyers, that retail houses, if not closed entirely, can offer no employment to those who are seeking places. In wholesale business and in manufacturing, lack of credit, of railway transportation, and of raw material has compelled almost every firm to close its doors. So a great part of the population of the city finds itself out of work.
I Except the motor busses, which were commandeered for army service on the first day of the mobilization.
The Government is giving, for wives and children of soldiers, and for mothers where they can prove that they are dependent upon their sons, a daily sum just sufficient to keep body and soul together. But there are hundreds of thousands of people in Paris who cannot claim this aid. Boys under military age, men over military age, or who, for some physical defect, have been rejected for army service, women and girls who have been wage earners, can earn little or nothing. There are few organizations to which they can apply for relief. Winter is coming. Who sees any immediate prospect of the ordinary economic life of the nation being resumed?
Were it not for the fact that virtually every wage earner in France has “something in the stocking,” their plight to-day would be pitful beyond words. But these savings, put aside to buy interest bearing investments, will not, among the poor, last very long. What is to be done then?
The Government has already taken into consideration the question of rents. No one can be dispossessed for non-payment of rent until January.’ All you have to do is to go before a Justice of the Peace, and declare that you cannot pay the rent.
Ninety days of grace are given, beginning October first. But rent is always an important item of expense with the working man in the city. He depends upon his daily earnings to meet this dreaded quarterly obligation. Those who are without work now, and who find it difficult even to get food to put in their mouths, can regard the moratorium for rents only as a measure which puts off the evil day. The wage earners who are in the army and who are earning nothing will be confronted with this problem of paying arrears of rent when they come home. We are just beginning to see the horror of the economic disorganization caused by war. In a country where there is universal military service, each week makes matters worse.
So, in the opinion of the thinking men in France, the work of providing for the resumption of industrial life, with the receding of the wave of invasion, is equal in importance to that of national defense. Steps must soon be taken by the Government to encourage, and, if necessary, to force, the return of normal economic conditions through the reopening of factories and of business houses, upon which the great bulk of the city population depends for its daily bread.
This uneasiness concerning the future is beginning to be felt. It is reassuring to know that the German armies are retreating. It is equally reassuring to be told every day that the markets are full of foodstuffs. But the anxiety caused by the war becomes daily keener in most homes of the nation. It is hard to give your men to the army, and not to know whether they are alive or dead. But when the additional burden is placed upon them of getting bread to put in their children’s mouths, we can realize what the war means to the women of France.
For nine days the greatest battle in history has been raging between the Aisne and Oise in the midst of the equinoctial storms. There is no great anxiety in Paris about the outcome of this battle, upon which depends the fate of the city. It is felt that the crucial moment has passed, and that the star of German militarism is on the wane.
No matter what the Germans may succeed in doing on the Aisne, they are, and will be, in spite of any temporary successes, upon the defensive from now on in France. The legend of the invincibility of the Germans was destroyed in the battle of the Marne. Having once seen the Imperial Eagles in retreat, the French soldiers know that the trick is possible, and are confident that they can repeat it.
But, in spite of the confidence, there is no exultation here. Rather we are in the midst of ananguish and sorrow more poignant than any that has yet been felt during this unhappy war. For it is now known that the battle of the Marne was won only at stupendous sacrifice of life, and we realize that every kilometer gained along the Aisne means a hecatomb of the youth of France. The modern engines of war, while they have not been able to stop the assaults of armies one upon the other, have proved themselves far more destructive than anything that has yet been seen in the history of the world.
The French do not attempt to calculate their losses. They gave that up some time ago. How many are killed we do not know. We cannot even guess.
Here we are well into October, with the military situation very favorable, and the confidence of the people in the success of our arms greatly increased during the past two weeks.
And yet, Paris is still dull. Business is still paralyzed. It shows more than ever as winter approaches. In the summer time, you rather expect things to be dull: but to go down the Avenue de l’Opera, in the middle of an October afternoon, and to meet neither automobiles nor horsedrawn vehicles in the whole length of the street seems incredible.
Many establishments have announced their reopening, but few of them have done so. We still have to admit that there is little prospect of things “picking up in the near future.”
Paris is so much the city of pleasure and amusement, where the light side of life is shown everywhere, that the closing of cafes and the absence of theaters and music halls deprives the city of its normal aspect. A number of attempts have been made to reopen the theaters, but without success. Were it not for the cinematograph, we should have no form of diversion. Since the beginning of the war, I have not heard a single band. One does not play the piano.
There are two reasons for this stagnation of affairs, now that it can no longer be laid to the door of the German invasion and the lack of confidence in the success of the armies.
In the first place, our dullness is the dullness of death. The slaughter of the battles has been so fearful that no one has the heart, even though the Parisian nature cries out for it, to be merry. If it seems a sacrilege to play the piano, what would it be to go to the theater? When there is not a single family in this great city, which has not one of its members killed or wounded, when our armies are still in the field exposed to terrible dangers, is this to be marveled at? The Frenchman cannot help effervescence of spirits. He laughs through his tears. There is no glumness in Paris; You do not feel the weighing down of a great sorrow. But there is silence, and it is a silence that all the world respects. Never a day passes without numerous funerals of soldiers. And yet, for every one that is buried here with his family following him, a thousand have been thrown hastily into trenches or left to rot upon the fields.
The second reason is that people have no money to spend, or, if they have, do not enjoy spending it. The war has brought about such overwhelming disaster to the majority of the people that their money is sufficient only for the barest necessities. In the midst of this financial stress, those who have money feel a delicacy in spending as they do in ordinary times. One does not want to flaunt luxuries in the face of so great misery. As Paris is the city par excellence for luxuries, it is natural, then, that this cessation of buying has paralyzed almost every industry.
Some of the palatial cafés have closed their doors because the people will not buy highly priced dishes and highly priced wines, and they cannot afford to keep open on the basis of serving simpler fare. This Very shortly after this was written, music halls and theaters began to reopen timidly with programs censored by the Military Governor, and the order to close promptly at eleven o’clock.The same thing is true of the shops which, under normal conditions, do a thriving business in the sale of wearing apparel and articles of luxury.
It is noticeable already that the styles for the coming winter are going to be very simple. The milliners from whom ordinarily one could not buy a hat for less than two hundred and fifty francs, are offering their creations for sale at one-fifth of that price. The dressmakers who have kept open are selling the simplest kind of gowns for little money. One does not see in the streets beautifully appointed automobiles with handsomely gowned women. The wealthy woman of yesterday is the modest bourgeoise of today, riding in a horse cab, and wearing clothes that at the most could be bought for five hundred francs from hat to shoes.
The commission for the reopening of industries is doing its best to bring about the return of normal life. The railroads are beginning now to transport fuel, merchandise and raw materials to make this possible. I have heard of several large factories lately which have notified their workmen to return the middle of October.
Athletic organizations of Paris are encouraged to resume their outdoor sports this autumn. The Minister of the Interior has declared that it is a sign of patriotism to play football and tennis, and that everything that can be done by the athletic clubs to resume their activities will help towards reestablishing the spirit of normality so rudely interrupted at the beginning of August.
As the tide of battle rolls away from Paris, back into Belgium and towards the Rhine, this great city is bound to resume its usual life. Far from being hurt by the war, Paris will be benefited. We all look to see Paris enter upon a period of tremendous prosperity, not only in business, but also as a center of study. Victory in this war will increase the prestige of the French, and will make Paris more than ever the Mecca for students in every field of human knowledge and from every corner of the globe.
At last prices are beginning to show the effect of the war. During August and September fresh food products, such as vegetables and fruits, were cheaper in Paris than at any time during the past five years. The reason for this was that so many people had left the city, especially of the classes which buy in large amounts, that the consumers were fewer than the products put upon the market. After the, mobilization was over, transportation facilities for victualing Paris were restored to the normal schedule. Even in the matter of milk, the supply has been ample and the price stationary.
But now the general market is beginning to feel the protracted abnormal conditions, resulting not only from a state of war, but more particularly from the presence of the German army for so long a time in the north and northeast of France. Since the last week of August, the Germans have held firmly the angle from the Belgian frontier, to Compiègne, to the German frontier. They are still within fifty miles of the capital, and dominate the railways of northern and northeastern France.
After the Battle of the Marne, it was fondly hoped that the Germans would be driven out of France, or at least away from the immediate vicinity of the capital. But the fall of Maubeuge, followed now by the occupation of Lille, has given the Germans as strong a position in northern France as they have in Belgium by their occupation of Liege, Na-mur and Antwerp. In the past week, they seem to have been able to extend the battle front by the way of the English Channel. The winter will open very inopportunely for France, if the Germans actually control all the coast line from Antwerp to Calais.
Food supplies, of course, can reach the city without interruption from the west and south. Even if prices are a little higher, a serious deficit of food supplies except salt and sugar is not to be feared. But it is a different matter in regard to fuel. Lately it has been virtually impossible to buy coal or wood. I have had to wait eight to ten days after giving in my order to get even a small quantity of wood. My coal has not yet come.
The burden, as usual, will be borne by the poor. A slight increase in the price of food means to them the difference between being able to get along and starving. As for fuel, those who can afford to buy only in small quantities bear far more than their share of the loss and the difficulty in getting coal, coke, charcoal and wood for cooking and for keeping themselves warm.
Only an overwhelming victory of the allied armies within the next month can prevent a winter of extreme deprivation and suffering in Paris.
In every great city, there is a large class of people, unskilled laborers, who live from hand to mouth, and who are always on the verge of poverty. They know how to manage on little, and, when the misfortune of illness or of unemployment strikes them, how to find aid to tide them over the evil days. Every one knows people of this sort who are always at the very end of their resources. But they never starve. They manage to get sufficient for themselves and for their families,just how is a mystery, and they don’t explain. This class does not find itself at the present moment in a situation different from that with which it has coped for years. The war, in fact, has made means of subsistence more plentiful for them !
But the people who are to be pitied are those who have never before known what it is to be actually “up against it.” They are skilled laborers, or people of the middle classes whose business affairs have always brought them in sufficient for their needs during times of peace. When they found themselves suddenly left without employment and without money by the outbreak of the war, they were able at first to get along by using the money they happened to have in hand. But now no money is coming in, and, even if they have savings, the moratorium prevents their drawing money from the bank. There is no market for the sale of bonds or securities they may happen to possess. Banks are not lending money. I have met many people with comfortable homes, well dressed and prosperous looking, who are absolutely without means.
In talking the other day with the wife of one of the successful art photographers of Paris, I discovered by accident that all the money she had in the world was two francs. She had recently adopted a baby, and now has nothing for feeding it. Refusing to beg, she had been living by selling at absurd prices things in her apartment. She went one day to try newspaper selling. Being well dressed, she had a terrible experience. ‘When she started to sell,she was accused by the newsboys and newsgirls of wanting to rob them of their only means of subsistence, and was insulted until strength and nerve failed. She had to give up. This is one of thousands of cases, of which one hears only by accident. In my experience, I have generally found that the person who is without money through no fault of his own is the last person in the world to ask for help: Almost invariably, opportunities for charity which come to one through the solicitation of the object of charity are merely invitations to waste your money.
The classes that are hardest hit in Paris today are the theatrical people and the artists. No theaters or music halls or cafes are running. There is not in Paris the opportunity for a singer, an actor, a dancer or a musician to make any money at all. This class is generally helpless in every other way. Children are trained for the stage and for music from an early age, and know nothing else. An effort is being made to prevent these thousands of helpless theatrical people from starving by the establishment of cantines, where meals are served for a few sous on the presentation of a card from a committee which has carefully investigated each case. The Jardin de Paris on the Champs-Elysees has been turned into a huge refectory.
A great many of them are dependent upon remittances from their families or the occasional sale of a picture. This applies even to those who do very good work. Remittances are not coming to Paris now, and pictures are not being bought. In the Montparnasse Quarter, there are many cantines for artists. A committee has been formed to help those who find themselves now in destitution. It is hoped that this work will result in the elimination from the Quarter of a horde of incapables, who have for years been using art as an excuse for loafing. The committee knows these cases. Argument has always failed heretofore to prevail upon the idlers of the Quarter to go home or get a job. Now the opportunity has come to enforce the point of view of their friends upon many who have been posing as students or as artists just about to “arrive.”
Art students are not the only foreigners who have been inconvenienced by the sudden outbreak of war. Paris is full of students from every country of Europe who depend upon a monthly remittance from home. The remittances have stopped. Men students can enlist in the Foreign Legion. But women are “up against it” in the very toughest sense of the phrase. I have seen many girls, especially from Russia and Poland, who have nothing to eat and no friends. They cannot benefit by the measures of public relief which the Government has taken for its own women and children without resources, and by the cantines established for special categories of sufferers. They are too proud to beg and too good to do worse : so they starve. What it must be to be a stranger, starving in Paris !
Every tragedy has its lighter side. The wards of the Chinese Government studying in Paris are mostly sons of mandarins, young men who find themselves absolutely helpless when the monthly remittance does not arrive. They have applied to their embassy and to their consulate in vain.
In the old aristocratic Rue de Babylone (hidden by a wall unless you know where to look for it) is a wonderful Chinese pagoda,I use the word for want of a better one, and plead ignorance as to its proper use here. At any rate, beyond that wall in that queer oriental house is the home of the Chinese Ambassador to France. Last night a party of sixty hungry students went to see their country’s representative. They did not listen to the protests of the concierge, and he was not quick enough in trying to shut the door. They got inside, invaded the Embassy and found a delicious meal in the dining-room awaiting His Excellency. Not only did they eat everything on the table, but, being sixty, they filled out a good round banquet by raiding the pantry.
While the students were thus occupied, the Ambassador returned. Hearing from the concierge what was happening inside, he decided that prudence was the better part of valor, and retired to a nearby restaurant for dinner and to telephone the police.
It took more than words to get the students out. I understand that the police did not go at their task very strenuously. There is nothing that a Parisian enjoys, even though he be an officer of the law, more than a good joke.
Before he slept that night, His Excellency sent a wire to Peking for funds. The telegraph operator declares that it was marked “Urgent.’
There are two grave questions disturbing the already disturbed economic condition of France, and nowhere are they more clearly seen than in Paris today. A large number of workingmen and employers are profiting by the state of war to take advantage of each other.
The most fit in the nation have gone to war. Those that have been refused for army service are either unfit from the standpoint of some physical defect or are beyond the age of conscription. Consequently, even in the limited amount of industry that is being carried on, it seems impossible for the employers of good faith to get capable workmen or to make it profitable for them to carry on their business. In most industries, it is less of a loss to the employer to keep shut up entirely than to carry on business shorthanded or with incapables.
But there are employers who have the yellow streak in them, and are deliberately using the war as an excuse for cutting down the salaries of their employees to the lowest possible point. Many manufacturers who are still doing good business have reduced the wages of those who work for them fifty per cent. Of course, no blame can be attached to the employer who finds himself embarrassed by the war, and unable to give employment at all, unless he does so at reduced wages. But there are a good many lines of business that the war has prospered.
An investigation by some Paris newspapers of the wage rolls of factories where war supplies are being turned out has revealed the fact that employers have been getting work out of their workmen for half pay, when they themselves are earning more than under normal conditions. This exploitation has been called to the attention of the military authorities. The workingmen’s unions argue that the Government is justified in establishing a minimum wage where it is ascertained that the employer has not been affected adversely by the war, just as it has established a maximum price for foodstuffs.
On the other hand, much fault lies with the workingmen in this large city who have not been called to the army. Many thousands of them take the present situation as an excuse for not working, even when there is work for them to do. Every day workmen are advertised for, and more and more positions are opening to men, as available men become fewer. And yet, if you go at meal time to any one of the thousands of charitable agencies in Paris, you will see any number of husky looking men, standing in line with their kettle for soup. They are taking the war as an excuse for a protracted period of rest. They find they can get enough soup and bread to keep them going. Why then work?
It takes a situation like this to show people how difficult is the problem of alleviating human misery. It is easy enough to say that there are plenty who are in want, and to gather money and clothing and other things for distribution. But it requires an unusual amount of ability and perspicacity to be a successful worker among the unfortunate and poor. For the distribution of relief is a hundred times harder than gathering funds for relief. One never realizes how hard it is to get in touch with real want until he tries to distribute relief funds.