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.

60 Years Ago Today

Sunday, 6 July 1952:

We were off at 6:30 a.m. in the morning. We really were starting to get on the ball. We said we were going to leave early and we did! Florence, it was goodbye! It was definitely a fun place to experience. We started to take the road to Bologna across the Apennine Mountains, climbing gradually. There was beautiful scenery and green vegetation covering the mountains. Patchwork fields dotted all through the valleys. This area reminded me of Mexico.

Oh, oh! I guess the bus couldn’t quite handle the big load. We stopped. Andre let the engine cool and tinkered around a little bit. Then our four men got out and pushed. That was what the bus needed, because the bus started up and the men had to run and jump to get on the bus.

We were on to more picturesque mountains, valley farms, men shocking grain by the road on Sunday, and men putting up hay in another field. Oh, oh! As we were nearing the summit, another contest between the bus and grade. And the grade won. Andre backed down to a more level spot in the shade and got himself all dirty under the bus giving it a once over. Finally the bus was ready to go again.

Where was Herr Watkins? About five minutes later he appeared with an interesting story to tell. Luckily we had trouble at the right spot for him in order to pick him up from visiting his friends. He was back visiting Italy after spending about eight months here during the war.

Herr had sent a note ahead of time saying that he would stop to see his friends if it were at all possible. They had been waiting for him since yesterday with wine and food. During the meal his Italian friends asked if he had a bad stomach because he hadn’t drunk any wine, only water. He gave us a detailed account over the public address system in the bus, so we could all hear about it.

He also told us about how the American soldiers impressed the Italian people as compared with the English and German soldiers. He shared their weekly system of getting clean uniforms, equipment, and personal baths.

I saw Bologna with a big swimming pool and green milky water right by the road. There were wide streets with beautiful new buildings done with a brocaded look on the outside. Later I saw a big gold courtyard and palace looking building. Then I spotted a municipal building with huge pillars, public square, and a huge round villa or monastery on the hill. We learned that Bologna was the home of oldest university in Europe.

We continued down into Po Valley that was the most fertile section of Italy. The landscape was dotted with rows of trees, tree fences and fields. We surely left Po valley in a hurry though. I guess we had hit the edge of it. Once again we were back to the drier country mountains. However, after awhile Andre stopped to talk to some men. Whatta ya know we were going the wrong way! We started to head back to Bologna again!

As we turned around in the yard of a farmhouse two little girls stood watching us. Mrs. Hansen reached out the window and gave them some gum. We have really been lucky. This was only the second time on this trip that we have missed our road. Seems like everything happens to us on Sunday though. I couldn’t decide whether it’s just coincidental or chastisement. I noticed skull and cross bones for railroad crossing again.

Back in Bologna again. There were not very many cities we got to see twice on this trip. We stopped this time for a rest stop. It wasn’t such a hot spot with long waiting lines. It was a bad day for Alicia. She was not feeling well. We found lemonade at a corner stand. I guess it wasn’t such a bad spot after all. Vamos!

Back on the road again we passed fields looking suspiciously like sugar beets. Then I noticed some tall stuff. I recognized this plant from before but couldn’t remember what they used it for. Then I saw an irrigation system. Next was a strange looking rectangular and pale green pond affair with several piles of rocks. A canal that ran along the road had a milky appearance like irrigation water. The canal was really low and kinda slimy green looking.

I missed the tree lined roads on the drive that I was used to. However, there were double rows of trees on one side and a newly planted double row of trees on the other side. We crossed an almost dried up river. It looked like a drought this season in Po Valley. I kept seeing casa cantoniera which means rest area, at regular intervals so the Italians hadn’t forgotten the poor travelers in need.

Then we ventured onward to Ferrara, Padua and Venice. On our way we crossed the Po River with weeping willow trees on the banks. I noticed road construction as we passed kids playing in a big swimming hole and then back to tree lined roads again with pyramid shaped hills. One hill had tall dark slender trees along the road winding around to the top. Again there were kids swimming in a big canal along side the road. Like Padua there were sidewalks along the canal. There were many big churches there.

We took the Autostrada, the main highway system in Italy, into Venice. My glasses were giving me a bad time and kept crawling down on my nose. Finally the bus went over the causeway connecting us to the Island of Venice.

In Venice there were little boats and people bathing in the water that stretched out on both sides of us. We arrived and then had a conference to decide what to do about our big suitcases. It resulted in suitcases opened all over the sidewalks and a major traffic jam in the bus. Eventually we got out what we needed and left the large suitcases in the bus.

And soon we were off to the gondola. We ran into some kind of bottleneck on the money angle and had to wait for American Express to clear us. There was a man with a motorboat! All of us took a slight jaunt down to the docks to the motorboat. No! The coupon says gondola, so we go back again. Someone made a phone call and finally we get in a gondola. One more first for me, a gondola. That’s me. Tis the life!

Hey what was this? A traffic light on the canal and a bridge with white iron work. This canal crossed another canal into an intersection. What! A garage held two boats. Most of the front sides of buildings had little balconies on the water. There weren’t any porches unless they were inside the door or gate. I believed this must be the grand canal we were going down, because it was pretty wide. In Venice the gondolas were the slow taxis, small motor boats were the fast taxis, and big motor boats were the buses.

The big bridge came up. Lord Byron called it the Bridge of Sighs. It came from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice out the window before being taken down to their cells.Wrong bridge, that was another one! This was the Rialto Bridge.

Our gondola didn’t go under the bridge and went down an alley and came out on what looked like a lake, too big for a canal. I saw a navy boat with American sailors. We waved and asked if “Anybody was from Utah?” No one was from Utah it appeared.

There were beautiful facades on these waterfront buildings. It seemed to be the center part of the city. Someone spied our hotel, Conte Pensione. Meals were included with the hotel and were we ever ready for dinner. There was a monastery room overlooking the alley. Dinner was at 8 p.m. Everybody was on time and eager to chow down.

After dinner we took a stroll and found three American servicemen stationed in Trieste. Everyone crowded around them. As more of the mob came by, it was a U.S. reunion. Then we went on to St. Mark Square.

Venice at night was so enchanting and too beautiful to describe. On the island there were sidewalks between the buildings, but between the islands were canals. There were no wasted spaces with every inch in use.

I took another gondola ride with a song from the gondolier. What a delicious spot for a honeymoon! Need I say more? As we glided past the blue grotto there was divine music and atmosphere. But where wasn’t there atmosphere here? People were wandering back home down our alley into the night singing and chatting.