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Paris: A Sentimental Journey

A Lovin’ Spoonful by Chocolatier Daniel Mercier at the Lyric Hotel on rue de Gramont (Photo by Theadora Brack)

By Lieut. Joseph E. Trounstine Published in 1918 by Leo. Feist

By Lieut. Joseph E. Trounstine Published in 1918 by Leo. Feist

By Theadora Brack

Fully embracing World Book Day and the bittersweet “gallop of remembrance,” this week I’m sharing my growing stash of patriotic sheet music. I’ll also include an excerpt from one of my favorite love letters, by poet and founding surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, written in 1915 while he was enlisted with the 38th Regiment of Field Artillery.

Setting the Scene: Living with Gusto

Madeleine Pagès was his muse. A cartridge casing served as his inkwell.

While serving in uniform in Champagne in the Premier Guerre Mondial, Apollinaire showered both his sweethearts and fellow artists with daily dispatches from the front: “Polishing galore, theory more than galore, maneuvers on foot, sabre, musket, revolver, horse management, riding, gymnastics, and a reasoned, practical and thorough study of the 75, which is a beautiful weapon, as beautiful, strong and sweet, I think, as one of my poems.”

Oh, say can you see?

Often by moonlight the prolific poet penned his calligrammes and signature “fireworks in steel.” Way ahead of the Dada hairpin curve, Apollinaire’s sensuous, erotically charged poèmes simultanés are still almighty hot to the touch, just bursting with joyous desire. I am in awe of his composure to compose his burning lines of verse while under actual fire, again and again.

Words by Albert Selden and Music by Samuel H. Stept Published in 1917 by A.J. Stasny Music Co. Illustrated by Albert W. Barbelle

Fire

You can almost feel the loud boom of cognitive collision in his free-form associations. Here’s a snippet from his poem, “Flare”:

The curl of black hair from the nape of your neck is my treasure
My thought finds you out and your thought meets mine
Your breasts are the only bombshells I love
Your memory is the searchlight focusing the night for us

Juggling and juxtaposing perceptions with memories, he transforms the battlefield horrors surrounding him into knockout surreal beauties that still crackle and stop this Jolie Rousse’s heart.

Love Letter

Apollinaire also had a softer side. In September 1915, he hunkered in the trenches to send his thoughts to his dearest Madeleine:

What an extraordinary feast I had today my love, a fantastic orgy, something truly magnificent—5 letters and two parcels from you!

The contents of the parcels were exquisite. First of all I ate the fruit, the chocolate, and the honey bonbon still bearing the divine traces of your teeth, and this marvelous kind of kiss of your invention proved to me once and for all that you are a true Vendéenne.

Your memory is the searchlight focusing the night for us-—Apollinaire

Your memory is the searchlight focusing the night for us-—Apollinaire

I was thrown into near spasms of voluptuousness by this kiss of such a new sort, so subtle, so delicate, so exquisite in its savagery, so Madeleine. I do adore you, you know. I could never have thought up such a thing or imagined such a perfect form of communication from afar between two lovers.

Your dear mouth, your tongue, your teeth, your delicious saliva—all mine your absence notwithstanding, my Madeleine, dearest peerless mistress! And to think that I was almost forgetting to thank you. I am well and truly obliged to you my dearest little wife.

I worship you.

Now that was a letter, from back when even an ordinary poilu still knew how to warm a girl’s heart! I thank Donald Nicholson-Smith for the translation. His Letters to Madeleine (edited by Laurence Campa) is a page-turner on fire.

And one for the road: How about this for an epitaph?

Two flares
Rose explosion
Like two breasts unbound
Raising their nipples insolently
HE KNEW HOW TO LOVE
—from “Festival,” 1915

As Edith Piaf so memorably put it:Non, je ne regrette rien. Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le feu.” And she’s right, you know. Regrets are a waste of time. Better to rekindle the fire with all those memories.

Tip: Do you also have a mad penchant for collecting vintage music sheets? Join the paper-pushing club. I’ve got a new contact. Grab a ballpoint pen.

Based in Virginia, John Whiting has been wheeling and dealing in ephemera for nearly forty years. The former history professor not only has an extensive collection of patriotic music sheets from WWI and WWII, but he also stocks old magazines like McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Elle, and Cosmopolitan—just to name a few.

Plus, he ships worldwide. Why, it’s a retro-rocking win-grin. Looking for a specific item? Drop him a line at j.whiting1@verizon.net  (Whiting’s Old Paper, Antique Village, Virginia, USA)

“There isn’t anything in the world that will raise a soldier’s spirits like a good, catchy marching tune,” wrote the music publisher Leo Feist.

Leo’s FEIST’S 80-PAGE “DOOM DISPELLER” COLLECTION (T. Brack’s archives)

Words by Will. Hart and Music by Ed. Nelson Published in 1917 by A. J. Stasny Music Co. Illustrated by Albert W. Barbelle (T. Brack’s archives)

Words by Lew Brown and Music by Will Clayton Published in 1918 by Broadway Music Corporation (T. Brack’s archives)

Words and Music by Chas. A. Synder & Oscar Doctor Published in 1917 by Snyder Music Pub. Co. Illustrated by E.H. Pfeiffer (T. Brack’s archives)

Words & Music by Great Howard Published in 1917 by Howard and La Var Music Co. (T. Brack's archives)

Words & Music by Great Howard Published in 1917 by Howard and La Var Music Co. (T. Brack’s archives)

Words by Howard Johnson and Harry Pease and Music by Harry Jentes Published in 1917 by Leo Feist Inc. Illustrated by Starmer and Starmer (T. Brack’s archives)

Words by Will Dillon and Music by Con Conrad Published in 1918 by Broadway Music (T. Brack’s archives)

BRACK Valentine 600

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50 thoughts on “Paris: A Sentimental Journey

    • Merci! I took the candy shot at Daniel Mercier’s chocolate shop launch at the Lyric Hotel. Endless trays of chocolate and Champagne were presented throughout the evening. It was heaven. Monsieur Mercier is talented and charming!

      (Film Buff Bradley: Apollinaire and Madeleine met on a train. Very much like Richard Linklater’s 2005 “Before Sunrise” film with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.)

      Enjoy the weekend!
      ~T.

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  1. “What an extraordinary feast I had today my love, a fantastic orgy, something truly magnificent—5 letters and two parcels from you!” – T, you’ve inspired me to put pen to paper this week. I’m committing to writing a letter. So much nicer to receive a lovely surprise in the post than an email…

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    • I know! I know! I always love to see real handwriting. “Gui” often sent his “Little Fairy” trench art (little rings and bracelets and inkwells), along with beaucoup photographs. I think they were way ahead of the “Selfie” curve!

      On June 23 1915, Apollinaire wrote: “How charming my little fairy is!—I am so happy with the two photos. The ever-so-pretty face, so solemn, so seriously and profoundly voluptuous. Little fairy, please send more, more of your photos!”

      Chills . . .
      ~T.

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    • Merci! I love old sheet music. It was a complete pleasure to pay homage to Tin Pan Alley music publishers, songwriters, and artists! (John Whiting has a great collection.) I also find them at the Paris flea markets. I especially love the oversized pre-piano stool sheets.

      Do you have a favorite era? I just read that Frank Music Co. (one of the last surviving music sheet companies) in New York recently shut its doors. Sigh.

      Enjoy the weekend!
      ~T.

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  2. Aww, Apollinaire really did have quite a flair for writing. Those love letters were so beautiful to wake up to :’) ‘…your memory is the searchlight focusing’

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    • I’m with you! Apollinaire really did have quite the flair. And I’m now quite smitten with the poet.

      So yes! The pair met on a train.

      In 1952, Madeleine wrote: “I was wearing a pretty hat that I was proud of, and the morning was glorious . . . And there was the sea, so beautiful! I must have reacted audibly at the sight of it for the soldier left his own corner and stood by me, and we both gazed at it, suddenly united in our admiration for its marvelous blueness.”

      Pretty darn romantic!
      ~T.

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  3. Oh my, T. Now this, this letter, is wild, wonderful perfection. That is the type of letter that would set any woman’s heart and the rest on fire. Loved this post and your eloquent rendering of the love that existed between the two. It is a feast for the heart, mind, and soul. And that chocolat — with that ruby red strawberry — ooh la la! I love Edith Pilaf btw. Listened to her on a rainy day plenty of times.

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    • Goodness. Gracious. I haven’t been able to close the 615-page book. Apollinaire’s words still sizzle. Donald Nicholson-Smith did such a lovely job with the translation. Sadly, Madeleine’s own letters from 1915 are not included the book. According to the editor, they’re scattered in private collections. (And thanks for your sweet words!)

      Stay Warm!
      ~T.

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    • Ah, Merci! I agree. The illustrations are wonderful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify and credit all the illustrators. I’m still digging in old archives for the names. I won’t give up! Like your photography, it’s gorgeous art!

      Have a lovely weekend,
      ~T.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kathy and Deb! I’ve always got my eyes peeled for old sheet music. I’m now hooked. Do you ever spot vintage sheets while you’re out thrifting? Do you have a favorite era?

      Happy Treasure Hunting!
      ~Theadora

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    • Well, thank you for the lovely comment! (I thoroughly enjoyed the research. It’s now time to move on to a new obsession . . .Oh, la la!)

      Have a great and productive weekend!
      ~T.

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  4. Fascinating post today Theodora – I just had your luscious chocolate for my breakfast delight and then settled down for a fabulous read and browse through these fantastic music sheets. Wonderful love letter, ah where is the romance today? Have a lovely weekend, seeking and searching for yesterday wonders.

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    • As always, thanks for such thoughtful words, Mary! I thoroughly enjoyed my days and nights with Apollinaire. During a recent trip to the Musée de Montmartre, I got to see a photograph of him, taken at Picasso’s studio. He was a romantic and a looker!

      In 1952 Madeleine wrote, “Whenever I spoke to my traveling companion I smiled unabashedly now, and each time I looked up I found his gaze fixed on me. His eyes were brown, like his hair; his features were truly striking—he was distinctly more handsome without his képi. But it was ten o’clock! Not without a deep blush, I offered him one of my extra sandwiches, and he accepted it amiably.”

      Sweet memory!

      Have a creative weekend!
      ~T.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Is that romance or what – isn’t it wonderful Theadora? So beautiful – this I love. Romancing a relationship brings lifelong love.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The Love Letter is awesome and could be written only by the person who is faraway from his Love, he miss her a lot, and is in really dramatic war environment with the high probability that it is the last one. The set of posters is really nice. Looking forward to try that delicious Lovin’ Spoonful on rue de Gramont. Have a nice weekend Theadora!

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    • Thanks, Alexander! Again, it’s a great read. The book’s only flaw is that it doesn’t include Madeleine’s own letters. They’re scattered in private collections. On the bright side: The editor included her 1952 recollection of their first meeting. It’s a heart breaker. I do believe it was love at first sight. Here’s one more favorite passage!

      Madeleine wrote: “We were coming into Marseilles, and it was time to put my hat back on. The soldier passed it to me. Before the mirror I fluffed up my hair and with astonishment contemplated the changed face I saw there, rather pale and with eyes that were too large. Then, behind my reflection, I saw that of the poet, observing my movements with amusement, and was able to look at him for longer than at any time since the beginning of our journey.”

      Enjoy the weekend (and stay warm)!
      ~T.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Like two breasts unbound
    Raising their nipples insolently”
    Definitely not your ordinary poilu!
    Not even your ordinary poet, I think.
    Wow!

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    • I know! I know! Apollinaire often included poems with his letters to Madeleine, along with little “trench art” trinkets. Treasures!
      Enjoy the week,
      ~T.

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  7. Pingback: Paris Valentine: 50 Shades of Sepia | Paris: People, Places and Bling

  8. A Sentimental Journey… you reminded me of when I was in several variety shows when I was a late-teen. There was a group that performed WW1 songs… I don’t remember the words but some titles are familiar.
    Over There, over there…
    Hail,Hail the gangs…
    K,K, K Katy…

    Great article.
    thom

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  9. long story, short: I always spend quality time @ your virtual realm, Mademoiselle TB… ❤ mille merci & bonne continuation… sunny thoughts & friendly hugs, Mélanie NB

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  10. Golly gee, I feel like putting on my brown wool knickers and canvas puttees, plopping my shallow doughboy helmet atop my noggin and then bursting into rousing song, World-War-One-style! Way fun, seeing all that old sheet music. Once again you’ve given us boys still stuck “Over Here” in the States a reason to wish we were “Over There” in Paris right this instant. Oh, my, if ONLY . . . .

    Sigh.

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  11. She pulled the box of papers from the very back of her armoire. The edges had curled a little with age. The print faded by time, but she could still read the notes. With a sign she uncovered the ivory keys. Set aside the ribbon bound package of letters and began to play. She played songs of love and songs of sadness. Songs of unspeakable happiness and forgotten goodbyes. The music drifted out into the night and into the minds of passers by of a certain age .

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    • I know, Mary. I especially love the postcard image on right. Their expressions move me each time I see the little card. Bittersweet! Apollinaire’s prose is worth a peek.
      ~T.
      (Enjoy the week!)

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      • Oh I shall have a wonderful week, thank you, as this time tomorrow my Cinderella carriage (aka Eurostar!) will be pulling in to Gare du Nord.

        Like

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