Thursday, January 21, 2016

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 2

Maxwell's View, Part 2

Lunch in the grand salon was as luxurious as the setting, and as luxurious as one would expect on a British Airways vessel. The room buzzed with conversation, as the passengers sat at large round tables and got to mingle with their fellow travelers. Waiters slipped in and out silently, refilling drinks and taking away plates. The sound of cutlery clinking on porcelain had died down as conversation increased. Those seated seemed in no hurry to get up and leave their new companions. The Maxwells were seated at a table with a retired couple from London, the husband had been a mid-level banker, and served in the War, along with a newly-married couple who had postponed their honeymoon until Christmas, and finally a middle-aged reporter from America, who was stationed in London and had been asked by his paper to cover the 30th Anniversary ceremonies. Jack had asked the reporter, Gary Smithfield, why he hadn’t taken an airplane. Yes, airships still ruled, but most industry experts agreed that the airplane would overtake it, and a ticket on an American-built DC-3 would be cheeper and quicker. 
“Oh I know that,” he’d said, “and Lord knows the paper didn’t pay for my passage today. I decided to use some vacation time and money and splurge a little. Grew up fascinated by airships, and I take any opportunity I can to sail on one.”
Jack had chuckled and commented that his youngest son Tom would really get along with the reporter. The whole table had laughed lightly at that. Tom himself just beamed, and went off on a short ramble about how wonderful airships really were. Jack had also traded a few stories from the war with the older gentleman at the table, Hiram Winters. Winters had been in a unit that had accompanied the French troops to Paris, one of the few British Christmas Army units that hadn’t marched on Strassburg in January of 1915, like Jack’s own unit. 
“Was such a wild time, when we entered Paris. Every building was draped either in the tricolor, our truce banner, or in socialist red. We still couldn’t quite believe it when we found out that Juares had been able to take control during the chaos and proclaim the world’s first socialist state.”
“The first of many, thankfully.” Samantha chimed in. Jack himself had grown up in a politically moderate family of Old Liberals, whereas Samantha’s parents had been radical Labour members. She’d grown up having regular trips to Red Paris, and actually served as university representative to the founding of the ISLP, but had mellowed some with age and marriage to a political moderate. But only some.
“You younger ones are more adept in this new world of socialism than I, Mrs. Maxwell,” Winters had said, “though I cannot deny the benefits that it has brought to quality of life as a whole on this continent, or at least where it’s been allowed ot take root. And no matter my personal qualms, I would take David Landsbury’s government, or his fathers, over that of America’s Thurman any day. No offense meant to present company.” Winters had nodded apologetically to Smithfield.
“Oh none taken. I grew up in Chicago, even if I work for a New York paper now, and many say that Chicago is as red as Paris.” The table chuckled. “I sure didn’t vote for Thurman.”
As there conversation had gone on, the Maxwells learned that the new bride, Sara Giles, had an uncle who had been part of the Christmas Army and stayed in Strassburg when the fighting ended. Her and her family had visited Strassburg for many a Christmas, and the holiday itself and a Strassburg Christmas in particular, held a special place in her heart. 
“We had wanted to marry at Christmas, but decided we didn’t want to wait quite that long. George did propose on Christmas though.” She had smiled at her husband and then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
Jack commented, “I have a friend, Harry, who stayed in Strassburg too. I read a report at work a few months back, and apparently it’s estimated that 1/3 of Strassburg’s population is made up of Christmas Army emigres and their families and descendants, and throughout all of Alsace-Lorraine it’s believed to be somewhere between 1/5 and 1/8 of the entire national population. Hard to imaging such a cosmopolitan nation in the heart of Europe like that.”
“Sounds almost like a miniature version of America, with all those immigrants moving to make a new life in a new home.” Smithfield said.
“Somewhat,” Sara chimed in, “though different, too. It’s still not quite the melting pot that America is, or is supposed to be. But my uncle says they’re trying to change that, making a truly new people out of all the emigres and locals alike.”
“I read in the Times that the Congressional Republic has really been pushing the learning and use of that constructed language, called…..oh, Esperanto, I think?”
Byron piped up at this. “I heard that from one of my teachers at school. We have an Esperanto club, and they’re discussing adding a formal course of it next year.”
“What a brave new world we are in.” commented Mrs. Winters. She didn’t look so thrilled, more resigned. 
“I’m not sure just how new,” Jack said. “With all the noise coming from Germany over the conflict between the ISLP and the Junkers, we could find ourselves in quite an old world very quickly.”
George Giles tried to sound optimistic, showing the naivety of someone born after 1914. “Surely it won’t get as bad as that. It’s like old Landsbury said, this is the Century of Peace. We’re all going there to celebrate that very event now. The Junkers will back down. The Kaiser will keep them in line as he has for the past three decades.”
“One can hope, young man, but one should also be careful to not let wishful thinking cloud reality.” That was Mr. Winters.
Before Giles could offer a rebuttal, an announcement came over the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now approaching Paris. You should be able to see the city from either of the promenades, and the dining salon. We will be stopping briefly at Juares Memorial Aerodrome before continuing on to Strassborg.”
With that, the lunch conversation broke up, and the group joined many of the other passengers who wanted to look out and gawk at the French capital. Early fears after the Revolution that the new government would completely remake Paris in their own socialist image had been largely unfounded. The great palaces had been kept and in some cases restored. The Eiffel Tower was still the icon of the city. The only major addition to the center of the city was the Palace of the People, built at the site of the old Tuileries Palace. No one could deny that this building, the center of the new socialist regime, did stick out a bit. It was built in the new Art Moderne style that many within the socialist movement loved. It’s streamlined designs and lack of ornamentation were in stark contrast to much of the city. 
The Palace of the People’s main structure faced the Seine, flanked on either side by smaller wings. in the courtyard facing the river stood a large statue of Juares, father of the Revolution, carrying a red banner. The building was decked out in red banners of the French Socialist Party, along with the modified tricolor of the People’s Republic. As the passengers looked down on the city, the pianist in the salon began to play “La Marseillaise.” 
Before long, the aerodrome was in sight, and the ship began to descend to the Earth. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please return to your seats. We will be landing at Juares Memorial Aerodrome shortly. We will be on the ground for approximately half an hour to take on passengers, before we resume our flight to Strassburg. Thank you for your cooperation.”
With that, the salon emptied quickly. The Maxwells waved goodbye to their table companions, who had seats on the other side of the ship. Jack had enjoyed the conversation. You never knew who you’d meet while traveling. To him, it was one of the best parts of making such a trip. 
It was after 1:30 in the afternoon when the Limited moored at the aerodrome, and after taking on two dozen or so more passengers, a mix of British tourists in Paris and native French, the vessel was aloft before 2:30. The passengers were informed once in the air that they were right on schedule and should arrive in Strassburg by 6:00 pm. The weather was getting overcast, and they should expect a light snow in Strassburg overnight. The children were excited about the snow, especially Tabitha, who frequently said that snow was her favorite part about winter and Christmas time. 
The rest of the flight passed uneventfully. Jack took Tom to explore the ship a bit more, but they weren’t offering tours of the interior of the ship on this flight, so there was only so much to see in the passenger section. It got cloudy and hard to see much of the scenery below about an hour after Paris, so the rest of the flight the family sat reading their various books and magazines, and also played a round of canasta with cards that Samantha had packed. Her own parents had loved the game and she’d shared that with the children when they were old enough to learn how to play. Finally, at a quarter till 6, the announcement that they were beginning their descent into Strassburg International Airport chimed over the intercom. Tom cheered, as did several others of various ages in the passenger cabin. Soon the ship escaped the clouds, and they could all see the lights of the airport and the city beyond. Searchlights waved through the evening sky, finding the ship and locking on, helping the landing crews bring the gentle giant back down to the ground. The ship was then guided into an awaiting hangar, where the passengers would finally disembark. 
As the Maxwells went down the gangway stairs and on to the hangar floor, they were directed to an entrance hall that would presumably take them to the main terminal and ultimately out of the airport. Jack chuckled mildly to himself as they went through the door. Above the door there was a large sign that said “Bonvenon al Strassburg!” Yes, he thought to himself, Esperanto is definitely alive and well in the capital of Europe. He just hoped that the language of peace would spread its influence east and keep Germany from shattering modern day “Pax Europa.”

As they emerged into the main terminal, all thoughts of gloom and war faded from memory. Everywhere imaginable, evergreen garland and twinkling fairy-lights decorated the space, and several large Christmas trees filled the center of the hall, as passengers came too and fro. Somewhere in the hall, out of immediate view thanks to the travelers and Christmas trees, a choir sang Christmas carols. And, prominently displayed at either end of the main terminal hall, the flag of the Congressional Republic of Alsace-Lorraine: A white banner, with a single red and single gold stripe at the bottom (added to represent Lorraine), a simplified Christmas tree in the center, and three red stars in the upper left-hand corner of the flag.There had been some discussion after the Peace of 1915, which established the Congressional Republic, as to whether or not a new flag should be adopted that was different from that used by the Truce Army. However, since much of the Truce Army leadership had stayed in Strassburg and helped set up its new government, the flag of the truce fighters was kept. 

No comments:

Post a Comment