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

Friday, 27 June 1952:

The group had breakfast at the hotel. Then I spent 715 lire to mail two letters and five cards. Via del Corso, the main street running through the historical center of Rome, used to have horse races. We crossed the Tiber River. Then we identified the Caesar Augustus Old Mausoleum, Palazzio Justice Renaissance building or Hall of Justice, courthouse, Castle St. Angelo the former burial place of emperors, and Berssini’s colonnades which was the latest addition added about 130 years after the church was started.

Then we finally ended up at St. Peter’s Basilica and discovered fountains that had been working for over 700 years and an obelisk weighing 500 tons in the center of the square. Here we actually walked up to St. Peter’s door and looked at the statue of Charlemagne through iron doors. Then I saw bronze doors that were copied from some bronze doors in Florence. The northernmost door is the “Holy Door” which, by tradition, was walled-up with bricks, and opened only for holy years such as the Jubilee year by the Pope. The present door is bronze and was designed by Vico Consorti in 1950. The southern door, the Door of the Dead, was designed by 20th century sculptor Giacomo Manzù. Popes and others exited here for their funeral processions.

I caught sight of La Pieta, a statue by Michelangelo, which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus. La Pieta was much smaller than most of his other statues, and it was the only statue he ever signed. Then there was a beautiful mosaic of Pope Clement VIII holding the key to the Jubilee door. In the right aisle is a monument to Christina of Sweden who renounced Protestantism and became Catholic.

Then I saw another monument to Leo 12th and later the Chapel of St. Sebastian, which was named after the subject of the mosaic above the altar. Other sites included: Tomb of Innocent XII, tomb of Countess Matilda, tomb of Gregory XII, tomb of Gregory XIV, painting of The Mass of St. Basil for the altar of St. Basil, monument to Benedict XIV, and painting of Martyrdom of St. Erasmus.
As we continued our tour in St. Peter’s Basilica, a man came up and called us down on our vulgar dress. After that experience we continued by viewing the eleven chandeliers that hung down on strings from every corner. The chandeliers came to an arch or a point above a central arch. Michelangelo redesigned the dome in 1547 when he was 72. The weight of St. Peter’s dome rests on four big pillars. The huge main altar was made of bronze from the Pantheon. There were 92 lamps burning and St. Peter was buried right under the mantle. Big maroon booth things decorated each huge pillar for special ceremonies. I saw a lady kiss the toe of St. Peter. His toes were worn down from people kissing them. St. Peter had the keys of authority in his hand that were supposedly found in his original shrine.

We proceeded through St. Peter’s Basilica with St. Andrew statue, St. Veronica statue, St. Longinus statue by Bernini, St. Linus statue, monument to Paul III, tomb of Urban VIII (Mafeo Barberini), monument to Benedict XIV and St. Helen statue who was the mother of Constantine. She converted to Christianity and became a devout Christian. She brought part of the true cross from Jerusalem.

Next was the entrance to St. Peter’s crypt where Peter was buried. The rounded domes were Renaissance architecture. There was a copy of the painting Sacred Heart. And later a list of all the 143 popes was on a marble plaque. The Chapel of Immaculate Conception was next with a beautiful mosaic.

Then we climbed the stairs to the top. It cost 50 lire on the way up and I saw autographs on most of the tombs. There were plaques commemorating the days when important figures came to visit the current popes. St. Peter’s Basilica was partially built over the same site of the earlier Nero’s Circus where St. Peter had been killed there in 67 a.d. during the Christians martyrdom.

The obelisk was the only existing structure from that time period. The first level of the dome had a mosaic all around it and was clear to the top. It was made of little stones and looked down on the main altar. There were narrow winding stairs to the top with autographs all over the place.
Later I snuck two pictures from the first level of the Chapel of Immaculate Conception.

Afterwards I snuck a couple more shots of the Vatican gardens from on top. Then we sang O Suzannah with two Roman boys on the way down. We talked to them at the bottom as well. We were tired of trying to get the Italian guards to let us take pictures of the Swiss guards. No soap! Their uniforms were beautiful and elaborate costumes.

Later we followed Herr Watkins to find some food. We found a lady and man fighting over our patronage. It was quite a circus! We split up and gave them both a break. The salt and pepper in this place are not in shakers, but in little round tin bowls. There were things with toothpicks sticking up between the salt and pepper.

A cute waiter brought us cherries, apricots and plums. Finally I snapped a picture of a Swiss Guard. He was not supposed to smile, but he couldn’t help it. There are 90 Swiss Guards that represent an honor guard from the nobility.

We viewed a tunnel where the Pope escaped to St. Angelo Castle in the 16th century. A Swiss Guard died protecting the Pope. There was an old mote around St. Angelo. It was originally built as a mausoleum and burial place for emperors and family members. St. Angelo was built of gleaming white marble that was later stripped off.

We found wide open “dealies” along the street with not even as much protection as in Paris. Afterwards it started to sprinkle. We waited under a tree for it to stop. There was a little garden down along the Tiber River. Little boys were swimming in the river and gambling on the streets.
Old Roman ruins were preserved in the midst of new buildings. Little kids were playing on the ruins. I was mobbed by little boys when I brought out my pack of gum. They ran after the other kids to see if they could get more gum.

Huge lemons were at a streetside stand. Caesar Augustus’ Mausoleum had withstood the ravages of time. Gardens were replanted around it. Then I saw Rendezvous of Poets and a silk shop that was mentioned in Fielding which sells ties and silk scarves.

American Express popped up on the next corner so I left a forwarding address. Then I stopped in a book shop and drooled over a book about Italy. I was too tired to talk to a fellow working in the store about literature. I stopped in the silk shop to see what it was like. The kids were wondering what happened to me.

Alene, Lucy and I went down to Economico for dinner. The manager brought chips over to us, but we didn’t understand. All of us ordered spaghetti and soup because we couldn’t read the menu. We discovered from watching others that we were supposed to buy chips before we got what we wanted.

At 9 p.m. we spent the night on the town in Rome. At the Trivi Fountain I threw five lire in the pond and also drank the water. A traditional legend states that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. Guess I’m coming back for sure. [Yes! And I returned in July of 1983.]

A policeman in a white spotless uniform had a spotlight on him in the middle of the square in front of the monument to Victor Emanuel II, Italy’s great king. Victor was born in Turin, Italy and claimed Nice during the last war. I saw his tomb in the Pantheon. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we discovered something new. By pushing a button something would come up from the underground. While there we caught the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We proceeded to Palazzo Venezia, a residential papal palace, which was a building belonging to the Venetian Republic. Mussolini had had an office there and used the balcony for many of his notable speeches. Napoleon’s mother had lived centuries earlier on a corner across from Mussolini’s office. From there we progressed to the Tor di Valle that was an important and large horse racing venue of the city of Rome.

Next was the Trajan Forum which was a forum for Caesar and Circus Maximus that was an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. Palatine Hill, one of the most ancient parts of the city, was on the right. Then we caught sight of the Temple of Vesta and Temple of Fortune Virale.

And we discovered the Theatre of Marcellus, an ancient open-air theatre, that was the second largest seating capacity in ancient Rome. Then we passed over the oldest Roman bridge, Ponte Fabricio, still in its original state from 62 b.c. It spanned the Tiber River.The little Church of St. Bartholomew and hospital was next. There was a four headed statue on the other side of bridge. There was a baby that was born in ancient Rome with four heads so the Italians made a statue of the baby. Another bridge, Pons Cestius, was a Roman stone bridge spanning the Tiber River as well.

Then we caught sight of the House of Dante, a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. He stayed here when in Rome. We rode over Gianicolo Hill that was the second tallest hill in Rome.
Next we observed the monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi in Piazza don Minzoni Square. It was sculpted by Angelo Viotti in 1884 and dedicated on 6 September 1885. Giuseppe Garibaldi was to Italy what Washington was to America. There was a cannon at the base of the monument that had been fired from the hill every night. About 15 years ago the Italians stopped shooting the cannon.
At St. Peter’s Basilica, Bernini, a prominent Italian artist, built colonnades around St. Peter’s Basilica and got both fountains going.

The light was on in the apartment of the Pope. Papa Pius XII, the current pope, was 74 or 75 years old. Tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. we get to meet him. Everyone was in bed—except me! I snuck around trying to wash my clothes at midnight.