60 Years Ago Today

Tuesday, 8 July 1952:

My, the days were going by in a hurry. No bag to pack for me this morning. It was really wonderful to travel light! Breakfast was the same kind today. Well, well, we had some loot this morning! It seemed that some of our crew encouraged a few of the Rodman crew to raid the ship’s larder. We received large canned ham, bread, pickles, and more. Picnic today for lunch!

American Express, who planned our trip, was right on time with the little motor boats or fast taxis to take us down to the Grand Canal to see the biggest bus garage in Europe. I snapped last minute pictures on our way of a gondola, Rialto Bridge, and the pretty white bridge by the station. I caught sight of a gondola food market and house of gold along the Grand Canal. Gee, I hated to leave Venice! I wanted to come back. This trip improved each day and would surely reach the summit soon.

Suitcases were pulled out and flung onto the top of the bus. I succumbed to another silk scarf for 500 lire this time. The man came down from 517 lire. Herr Watkins succumbed too. Guess what—Helen and Margaret got left! We didn’t have to wait for them long though. By the time the luggage was bagged, they came putting along with the canned ham in tow.

I dropped off to sleep not long after we got started. Somehow bus riding was conducive to sleeping. However I jolted awake each time my neck came to a 90 degree angle to my head. Then I took a peak at the gorgeous green landscape and drifted back to sleep.

We journeyed back to Padova, then on to Verona past the beautiful Garda Lake region, and through an interesting beautiful old archway that was high enough for our bus. Somewhere between Milan and Verona we stopped for our picnic near an ANAS (Italian Roads and Motorways National Agency) which was short for Casa Cantoniera. The lunch committee went to work and soon we were munching on bread, ham, and pickles. Our meal ended with a chunk of pastry and a drink from the ANAS.

Then on to Milan. They certainly made use of the psychology of repetition in their billboard signs in Italy. Just like in France there were two or three great big identical signs in a row. We crossed a beautiful clear river, but we were not sure which one. About 8:30 p.m. we were coming into Milan where there was a big new white oblong tenement house. It loomed like a house project on an apartment size scale. I glimpsed a big arch of something similar to Paree Arch de Triomph, spires of Milano Cathedral, and big cathedral square with somebody’s statue. There was a gold statue on the top of the building. Actually it looked like Angel Moroni. This cathedral was really covered with statues and ornate carvings.

During a WC run, I had delicious orangeade and about four glasses of water while waiting for the my turn. I went down to the end of square for a couple of shots of the cathedral. The inside of the cathedral was the most huge, massive church we had seen. It even seemed more overpowering than St. Peter’s Basilica of Rome. I tried to talk to three Italian ladies. It was definitely Gothic and had spires like the Salt Lake Temple. Milan looked quite progressive and clean, at least the section we went through.

Tonight we got the opportunity to stay in a youth hostel. Halfway to the hostel we decided we would like to see the 15th century mural Last Supper first. It would close soon so we decided to go. Everybody was wearing peddle pushers, so we couldn’t get inside the churches. Quickly we traded skirts around and ended up using coats. It turned out to be no cause for alarm, because it wasn’t functioning as a formal church. The church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, was a small bare church that cost 200 lire to enter. It was hit with a World War II bomb, and the Italians were trying to rebuild and revitalize it.

Miraculously Leonardo da Vinci’s mural, Last Supper, was still intact and recognizable. However, it was badly in need of restoration. It seemed that the man who posed as Christ for da Vinci could possibly have been the same man who modeled for Judas a couple years later. The church was bombed badly, but it was still very much alive and inspiring despite the ravages of war and time. Eventually we went back to the cathedral. We had an hour and a half to eat and look around.

Alicia and I found an underground public rest room at the end of the square. It cost 25 lire to use the toilette and an additional 25 lire for towel and soap. The men’s rest room was open with no charge—not fair! We strolled around the Victor Emmanuel Gallery which was very beautiful. The building was like a huge intersection with a glass roof completely covering it. There were shops of all kinds, including restaurants, bars that lined each side of the wide streets.

At the square two tall Italian men in white jackets and dark trousers with sabers on their hips really looked sharp. I found out later they were the special police for the square. We asked them in Italian where we could find a good place to eat. They saluted and tried to help us in French. Then they saluted as we left. We wandered around looking in ristorantes and shops. Finally we came back to a bar ristorante where we could sit at the counter and see what the food looked like. It was delicious. Then I wandered into a book shop—my downfall. I found an interesting language book with a few rudiments of the 25 languages of Europe.

We dashed back to the bus and thought we would be late, but everyone else was later. Whew! Finally the bus pulled up in front of a student hostel. That was what the sign said and believe me there were lots of students around our bus when we stopped—all of the male sex. It took quite some time to find a bed for everyone.

Then we began our Italian language and culture lesson for the evening by speaking with the students in the hostel. Most of the students spoke French and Italian and I felt like an illiterate. Other students spoke Deutch, Spanish and so on. But there was only one boy from Holland who spoke English well. My part of the conversation became a mixture of English, Spanish, German, Italian and French all in one sentence.

Our rooms were on the top floor of a six story building with no elevator. I stayed in room 550. We discovered hard beds, warm rooms, and cold water. Andre and the rest of the crew had to go to another hostel. There were only about 12 of us staying here. We went back down the umpteen flights of stairs to wait for our bags to come. There was a delay because Andre rebelled and got something to eat. Since the day before he had had nothing to eat except for two pieces of bread and wine.

We were surrounded by men of all nationalities, but most were Italian. We had plenty of time to try out our meager store of languages on them. It was a good lesson for all of us. Finally, we went inside to sit down in the terrace off the dining room. I ran back to our room to get the new 25 language book. So guess what just happened? When I returned the fellows came up the stairs carrying our bags. I wouldn’t let them go past the door of the courtyard. Which meant that we carried the luggage up the last five flights of stairs.

It was too hot to stay in the room, so I went back down to go walking with Valentino, an Italian hostel worker. Valentino had finished training to become an architect. He plans to come to America in 1953 to see American architecture. He helped us get bread at the cafeteria and then we went around the corner to the sidewalk café to get orangeade.

A small tornado came up that blew dust all over us. Everyone was rushing inside the hostel just as the lights went out. We all calmed down and went on a tour of the university with flashing lightning on all sides of us. I had another orangeade by a dancing place and resisted the temptation to go dancing. The entire family of the fellow Alicia was talking with was killed by Americans during the war. He lost faith in everything except himself.

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