60 Years Ago Today

Wednesday, 25 June 1952:

I was up earlier than normal today. I was ready to go. It was either Rome or bust today. I learned policemen stayed in the hotel as well as Capone’s brother a long time ago. Finally we were ready to go but Dick and Henry’s passports were missing. They were not at the hotel desk. The manager was quite excited about it and said, “I don’t want to go to America. I’ve already been.” Everybody checked for the passports and Joyce had all of them.

On our way again, the country was flatter with a few hills. We followed the seacoast for a ways. I noticed a Singer sewing center sign and the biggest haystack that I’ve ever seen before. The haystack was still in a teepee shape with a pole in the middle. The farmers cut slices off the sides to use. Soon after there were groves of toadstool trees, flower and tree-lined roads, white strips painted on the trees, and a few women gleaning in harvested fields. Next the countryside had grapevines planted along the side of the railroad tracks and an orchard with a vineyard planted beneath the trees. I spied ox teams loading hay.

This plain country was drier and didn’t have such heavily luxurious growth as farther north did. I found striped road barriers at the railroad tracks. When the train whizzed by, the gates came up. Next I saw a lady carrying water up the steps of the farmhouse. The water in the river beds was low and the grass and weeds were high.

And I noticed the grains came in long shocks rather than in high piles. There were wild poppies growing amidst the stubble while other grain fields came in round shocks. The grain shocks were between rows of trees and grape vines. Later we passed an olive orchard, a little hedge between the trees, Oleander bushes alongside the road, and a really modern new service station. We waited for two trains, a passenger train and a freight train.

We didn’t have enough food hanging from the window baskets, so we stopped at a small town for something to eat. The mob descended upon a poor little alimentari shop, which was the Italian’s combination grocery, deli and cafe. It was one of the largest shops we had found so far.
When the bus was back on the road again, we passed a large auto van transporting about a dozen new little European cars. The little cars got better gas mileage, one of the main reasons for their widespread use here in Europe. I identified different shaped stacks of grain. Next was a cornfield, windmill by a farmhouse, and barbed wire fences. It was the first time I recalled seeing wire fences in Europe. This part of Italy looked somewhat like our dry farms. Then we went down by the Mediterranean again.

Next we crossed a river or canal or something. I couldn’t find on the map. Men working in field waved to us, just like we used to do in Idaho when we were out hoeing beets. Along the way I caught sight of a combination orchard, cornfield, wheat field and vineyard. I noticed rectangular two story houses with outside stone stairs going up to the second story. The little village looked like a ship sitting on top of a hill.

Our plans for Rome were to spend the first day at the Vatican, second day in the central part of the old city, and the catacombs the last day. The Vatican, the world’s smallest country, was a small independent state. A 400 ton obelisk was in the center of the square. It was the only remnant of Nero’s Circus where the obelisk would preside over Nero’s countless brutal games and Christian executions. The Vatican had two long colonnades on the side of the square that represented outstretched arms. Bernini had been the architect. Railroads, considered the shortest tracks in the world, were created to lead into the Vatican.

In this small country the Vatican had its own post office and guards. All the priests in the Vatican must be unmarried and within a certain age range. Also, there was a covered passageway which still connected St. Angelo Castle to the Vatican. St. Angelo sat along the river and was close to the main road leading to the Vatican. Often St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican was full of people for many different occasions. The Catholic Church, the wealthiest church, had sold many indulgences to pay for it.

I took a nap and missed part of the lecture. Lunch was crazy. Whatta circus! As we sped down the road, I chawed on an old dry bunch of Italian bread trying to get a little cheese or jam to stay on it! What an experience and it happened almost everyday. I was going to have strong teeth or none at all. The cross country bicycle race passed us going the other way, while we were eating. I wonder if Italy’s top cyclist was participating. The cyclists had jockey suits on and were eating and drinking while riding.

I just had a scare! I reached into my bag to put a plastic bag away and missed my travelers checks. A little voice with not so calm thinking thought it might be in my suitcase. I hope it was! Then we passed several bus loads of sailors. Inside the bus we waved at them and they whistled back.

I observed big white farmhouses with green shutters and orange roofs. And all the houses were built about the same. Italy looked drier and felt hotter than France. At spaced intervals we saw houses with the sign casa cantoniera. Later I found out they provided shelter for road workers and travelers in need. Another advertising sign showed baby baths that looked just like the thing we call foot baths in our hotel rooms.

We came into Rome from the northwest corner and there were big apartment houses on the outskirts. We spotted the dome of St. Peters and towers to the Vatican radio station. They sent messages all over the world. Next we passed the wall around the Vatican City. We observed a watering trough in which a man and horse were both drinking out of the same place. Nasty! Soon after I identified black robed priests and a bus load of priests.

Finally! We were in Rome which was 2700 years old. White uniformed police were in the middle of the streets. Then we went through a long tunnel and across a beautiful bridge called the Tibre. St. Angelo Castle, built in 150 a.d., was stripped of marble and turned into a fortress. Popes have taken refuge there.

Then we entered into the older part of the city. We passed old Roman ruins about 12 feet below the present level of Rome. The most modern monument, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, was part of the forum. Next was the Palazia Venezzia, formerly Palace of St. Mark, in central Rome just north of the Capitoline Hill. It was the balcony Mussolini used to speak from. I spied the Roman Colliseum for one moment.

We stopped at the American Express building only to find out they were closed until 3 p.m. We immediately went to our hotel, the Hotel Angelo American. It was unimpressive from the front but nice inside. I had room six with Carol and Alene. The bathroom had everything with all the trimmings except for the soap. I found my traveler’s checks and other important stuff in my bag. What a relief! We hurried down to American Express again for mail call.

It was wonderful to receive mail from Twila, Lucy, Loy, Cleo, and Dean Woodruff. I would like to write letters so I can receive more mail. We found a little tiny restaurant and had a good dinner. It consisted of tomato soup, roast veal, orange, and fruit. It cost 750 lire which included the cover and service.

After dinner I took off with Herr and Mrs. Rogers, Alene, Mrs. Hansen and McDonald looking for opera tickets. We went down the Billboard street to the intersection going to the fountain and Santa Mario Maguire. We found the theater, but the box office didn’t open until 7 p.m. So we went on farther exploring. Mrs. Hansen and Mrs. McDonald got a large charge out of walking behind us and watching the people stare at us. I assume it was because we are so tall.

We passed the Trajan’s old market coming off from the square where we thought the concert would be. Later we went back to the theater at 7 p.m. to get tickets, but we fouled up again. Blow! Tickets for that night were at the CIT office. As we headed back to the hotel, we were window shopping all the way.

I bathed and washed my hair before the concert, so I went with a wet pony tail. An Italian helped me find the Basilica and I paid 250 lire for standing seats. I thought it was going to be outside, but it was a covered building. As I went through the gate, it ended up being in front of the building. The Vorekovsky Symphony was in process. What an enchanting atmosphere for a symphony—in the midst of Roman Ruins. I ran around trying to get a program. At last an usher gave one to me. At 10:38 p.m. I watched Hawthorne’s Marble Faun. What a wonderful night!

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