60 Years Ago Today

Tuesday, 24 June 1952:

This had been such a charming spot. It was hard to leave. So far I would say France and Italy were quite similar, except it was my impression that Italy was less expensive, had cleaner restaurants, and had more war damage. The people seemed to be in greater need because they had more street peddlers. Perhaps I may change my mind on these things later. Also the shops had hoola doors which were kind of oriental like. We left the beautiful city of Rapallo climbing upward along the seashore, then down again to the next town, and up again towards the mountains which was between us and the sea. There were impressive winding roads and mountainous territory to view.

While learning about Rome on the bus, we passed Volterra which was an ancient town. We learned Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus according to legend. These twins were left to die in the wild by their uncle, but were found and suckled by a mother wolf. Later in life Romulus killed Remus in a quarrel and named the new city Rome after himself.

Herr Watkins’ notes about Rome said that it was the center of Italian civilization. Roman architecture contributions included the round arch and dome, the Pantheon and Coliseum. Many characteristics were called Roman culture by the Greeks. Roman abstract justice was one of their greatest contributions. There was a gradual degradation of the Roman ruins.

Now back to the scenery around us with pine trees, fields terraced on the mountains, and dotted thatched homes up the mountainside. The country was much like Yellowstone I thought. There were grapevines on the edge of each terraced level with plants next to the mountain. I saw funny haystacks with a pole down the middle of the haystack that was tapered to the top like a teepee.

There were many hair-raising turns on the way down into LaSpezia. Andre had to back up on one curve to make it around the curve. LaSpezia was a seacoast city on a hill. I observed a building with dozens of white plaques covered with names on the outside. The whole town formed a military guard in front. I spied an old moat, some red and white flowers grouped around the plaza, and rows of palm trees along the beach. Later I caught sight of the seaport with flower stalls on the road. Then the valley widened and the road straightened out.

As soon as we stopped to pick up some food to eat I ran all over creation trying to find bread. A little boy showed us to a little paneria or bakery down an alley. We had to try eating on the moving bus—with dirty hands. Whatta mess! At the same time we tried to watch the scenery and Dr. Rogers told us about Pisa.

Now we were in Pisa where four buildings in the square made up the Square of Miracles. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the buildings, had a 13 foot lean, 180 foot height on one side and 177 on the other side. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in weak, unstable subsoil and the foundation was not deep enough. And there was a slight slip in the land just after it was built. Cement has been inserted to keep it from leaning further.

I was the first one to climb to the top of the Leaning Tower which cost 120 lire. I could feel the slant of the tower while walking up the winding stairs. It was hollow inside and had little stairs to the top. There were six bells and one wall was thicker than the other with the thirteen foot lean.
Next we saw the monumental cemetery, Camposanto Monumentale, a historical edifice at Cathedral Square. A legend claimed that bodies buried in that ground rot in just 24 hours. The cemetery, which costs 60 lire to get in, was badly bombed during World War II and was in ruins. The Italians were in the process of restoring all of the buildings.

At one time the monumental cemetery walls were completely covered with murals. There were only traces of some of them left now. Many works of art were ruined from World War II as well. Original murals were being measured to make sure they were restored to their original condition. There were tombs all along the side walls of different shapes and sizes.

We talked to some workmen about the bombings. They said “the Americans did it.” Obviously they didn’t think we were Americans. Some statues had escaped damage but tourists had written their names all over them. Just like on the top of Pisa, names were written and carved everywhere.

The Baptistry of the Cathedral, the third building, was the largest baptistry in Italy. There were round holes on the round podium for baptisms and the balcony up above was a dome. Going through I noticed it had an echo. Echoes of one man sounded like a whole chorus.

Finally we discovered the cathedral which was in the middle of the plaza and the last of the four buildings. It was one of the foremost monuments of Medieval architecture in the world. Made in the shape of a Latin cross, the cathedral was devoted to the Virgin Mary and was built entirely in marble. It was Gothic Romanesque and Renaissance combination, I think, with some stained glass. It had beautiful murals and interesting ceilings. The cathedral had about four or five different altars. Outside there were funny toadstool trees. But we barely had time to step inside the cathedral because we had a feeling the mob was ready to go.

Once again we were back on tree-lined roads with lily ponds, weeping willows, grain fields, and grain piled in big stacks. Signs on the sidewalk still said “U.S. Go Home. Ridgway la peste.” We eventually stopped at Livorno (Leghorn) for our own spot for the night.

We drove down through the narrow streets and even right past the hotel. The hotel was hidden by its similarity to all the other buildings around it. It was quaint and interesting. I had room three on the ground floor which opens onto a beautiful patio. There was green paint on the French doors.

We found two big bathtubs on the next floor but there was only cold water. We went down to the beach in shorts and caused the usual or a little more than usual stir of attention. The beach was a poor man’s beach. It was smelly and had poor little kids on the beach. It cost 70 lire at the first entrance and 50 lire at the next one. The mob gathered around and piled up their belongings between two of the kids sunbathing. Some of the kids crawled through the rocks and moss and cut their feet. A few of us rented a blue ski boat for 150 lire. And Henry rowed a boat which almost capsized. Later Betty Lou, Eloise and I sunbathed. Finally we rowed out to the island. An Italian man in a rowboat hovered close around and we called him our guardian angel. There were ships in the harbor and sailboats.

We created a major commotion in getting back to the hotel. Carol was in a bathing suit, Eloise in a bathing suit and pedal pushers, and Betty and I were in shorts. People were running out of doors and hanging out of the windows to look at us. We were four pied pipers with a troupe of kids following us.The people on bikes rode past us several times and must have passed the word along, because it was the longest walk we ever took. The hotel was a welcome sight.

The group with Herr Watkins had a similar experience. He was wearing his shorts and people thought he was out in his underclothes. Back at the hotel I had a cold bath. Brrr! I got ready for dinner which was several blocks downtown. Once again we were still the center of attention. I guess they’re not used to seeing tall girls.

Dinner consisted of spaghetti, ice cream, and an orange for 480 lire. Cherries were thrown in for extra. We talked to an American civilian working at the army base here. As we chatted to John from Tennessee and Maria from Italy, they told us the hotel was in the midst of communism. They said Italian people were better off than the other European countries from World War II. And that the U.S. had such a poor propaganda system, the Italians didn’t even know who was helping them. The manager then asked us to go inside. Namely because too many people were gathering on the street.

So we went inside and had a round table discussion. John told us that the Italian people do not analyze things and that they pass from one party to the next. The Italians were easily aroused. It just depended on who was helping them get work.

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