Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Sixteen
Palace Hotel, Milan,
Sunday, August 24th, 1919.
I am waiting for dinner prior to taking the 8:45 P.M., or rather the 20:45 train for Rome. I had an awful time in Paris getting a passport and then getting it viseed by all the governments concerned, but the daylight trip across Switzerland was well worth it. I could easily have started negotiations upon my previous visit to Paris, but I was then advised that a passport was unnecessary. I could not even buy a rail-way ticket nor get a reservation from the Wagon-Lit Co., without a passport.

I managed to see a bit more of Paris yesterday between official visits. In Henry's Bar, quite an American rendezvous, I ran into Ken Wang, West Point, 1919, who graduated near the top of his class ahead of time in 1918. He is now a Captain in the Chinese Army and is on duty with the Chinese Delegation to the Commission to Negotiate Peace. He is quite a live chap and, as it was late in the afternoon, he was in a mood to welcome me as a long lost brother, though I barely knew him at West Point. His class graduated without ever reaching my department. He and I and another American officer had some real "Sole Marguery" at Marguery's before I had to catch my train.

Yesterday afternoon, I visited the Pantheon de Guerre, which contains a marvellous panorama of the Western Front with over 6000 actual portraits of prominent military and civil officials of all the Allies. It was amuzing to hear our French guide sound off the names. He knew them all, but he had us stumped for awhile with "Miss-Anne-Morgan" which he pronounced all as one word. As she was partially hidden behind General Bullard I did not at first recognize the painting.

 I have not yet been able to make up my mind whether the French cabby is stupid or merely perverse. In the United States we are so used to so many dialects that no matter how broken the English used by a foreigner German, Chinese, Negro, or Greek - we can usually make out what he is getting at. But in Paris, which is certainly more cosmopolitan than any American City, and where there have been thousands of Americans over-running running the place now for two years, one's pronunciation must be very precise and follow the peculiarities of the patois of the district from which the Parisian hails, or he does not comprehend. He seems to have no intuition or seems not to be trying to guess at what you are trying to say. The Continental Hotel is the place to which fifty per cent of the Americans in Paris ask to be driven. Except for the intonation, it is pronounced in French just as in English, yet, if you do not hit the last syllable with a heavy throaty exhalation, the driver will simply stare stupidly at you and apparently have no interest whatever in the possibility of a fare. Biarritz is another simple word which is the same in both languages, but unless you pronounce it with at least six "Z's" on the end, you are unintelligible.

 My French ticket carried me from Paris to Vallorbe on the Swiss frontier. There, about daylight, we were held by the Custom's and subjected to a thorough examination by the Swiss. The Swiss are quite provoked by the termination of the War and the consequent killing of the goose that had been laying them golden eggs. Even Allied Officers cannot go across the country on a through train without a passport. I had borrowed a civilian coat and necktie from the photographer in Paris, upon the advice of the American Embassy, in order to expedite the issuing of my special passport. This civilian photograph nearly brought me to grief, but I finally was passed through.

My Federal Railways ticket carried me across the country through Laussane on Lake Geneva, up the Rhone Valley to Brigue and then through the Simplon  Tunnel into Italy at  Domodossola. There I purchased an Italian ticket down along Lake Maggiore to Milan. The ticket agent charged me full fare, counted my fifty franc note as fifty lire and gave me my change in lire. My ticket cost thirty lire and he gave me twenty lire change. As fifty francs equal sixty-five lire, his commission amounted to fifteen lire, or fifty per cent. Besides, I was entitled to the military rate of one-third, but had not time to go to the Commando Militar to get a certificate. So I really paid forty-five lire for a ten lire ticket.

I reach Rome tomorrow morning and then get new orders. Again no sleeping car. I though the Australians, with their broad brimmed hats with one side pinned up Rough Rider style and an ostrich plume, were some swashbuckling heroes, but these Alpini, with their two foot cock’s feathers, go them one better, especially as they are such little fellows.

End Notes and Bibliography