PARIS: Eating has been skimpy in Paris through the four years of German occupation, but reports that people were on the verge of starvation apparently were untrue. The country people of Normandy all seemed so healthy and well fed that we said all along: "Well, country people always fare best, but just wait till we get back to Paris. We'll see real suffering there."
Of course the people of Paris have suffered during these four years of darkness. But I don't believe they have suffered as much physically as we had thought.
Certainly they don't look bedraggled and gaunt and pitiful, as the people of Italy did. In fact, they look to me just the way you would expect them to look in normal times.
However, the last three weeks before the liberation really were rough. For the Germans, sensing that their withdrawal was inevitable, began taking everything for themselves.
There is very little food in Paris right now. The restaurants either are closed or serve only the barest meals - coffee and sandwiches. And the "national coffee," as they call it, is made from barley and is about the vilest stuff you ever tasted. France has had nothing else for four years.
If you were to take a poll on what the average Parisian most wants in the way of little things, you would probably find that he wants real coffee, soap, gasoline and cigarets.
EATING IS THE biggest problem right now for us correspondents. The Army hasn't yet set up a mess. We can't even get our rations cooked in our hotel kitchens, on account of the gas shortage.
So we just eat cold K-rations and 10-in-1 rations in our rooms. For two days most of us were so busy we didn't eat at all, and on the morning after the liberation of Paris some of the correspondents were actually so weak from not eating that they could hardly navigate.
But the food situation should be relieved within a few days. The Army is bringing in 3000 tons of food right away for the Parisians. That is only about two pounds per person, but it will help.
In little towns only 10 miles from Paris you can get eggs and wonderful dinners of meat and noodles. Food does exist, and now that transportation is open again Paris should be eating soon.
AUTOS WERE ALMOST non-existent on the streets of Paris when we arrived. That first day we met an English girl who had been here throughout the war, and we drove her for some distance in our jeep. She was as excited as a child, and said that was her first ride in a motor car in four years. We told her that it wasn't a motor car, that it was a jeep, but she said it was a motor car for her.
Outside of war vehicles, a few French civilian cars were running when we arrived, but they were all in official use in the fighting. All of these had "FFI" (French Forces of the Interior) painted in rough white letters on the fenders, tops and sides.
ALTHOUGH IT appears that the Germans did conduct themselves fairly properly up until the last few weeks, the French really detest them. One woman told me that for the first three weeks of the occupation the Germans were fine, but that they turned arrogant. The people of Paris simply tolerated them and nothing more.
The Germans did perpetrate medieval barbarities against leaders of the resistance movement as their plight became more and more desperate. But what I'm driving at is that the bulk of the population of Paris - the average guy who just gets along no matter who is here - didn't really fare too badly from day to day. It was just the things they heard about, and the fact of being under the bull-headed and arrogant thumb that created the smoldering hatred for the Germans in the average Parisian's heart.
You can get an idea how they feel from a little incident that occured the first night we were here.
We put up at a little family sort of hotel in Montparnesse. The landlady took us up to show us our rooms. A cute little French maid came along with her.
As we were looking around the room the landlady opened a wardrobe door, and there on a shelf lay a German soldier's cap that he had forgotten to take.
The landlady picked it up with the tips of her fingers, held it out at arm's length, made a face, and dropped it on a chair.
Whereupon the little maid reached up with her pretty foot and gave it a huge kick that sent it sailing across the room.