P U B L I C A T I O N S > F
R A N C E S S T I L L M A N ' S E
U R O P E D I A R Y
I..........Going from Here to There
XII..........Paris in the Fall
Tuesday, July 1st
Such confusion getting started for Rome this morning! We thought
the landlady had called a taxi for us, but as usual we must have
misunderstood her, for the time of departure drew near and we
were still waiting at the door of Pension Bernini with our luggage
beside us. Finally we managed to hail some boys in the street
and they carried the bags for us to the plaza facing the Duomo,
where the bus was just ready to start.
The ride through the Tuscan hills was magnificent. The hills were
the color of sand dunes, and like dunes, they looked as if they
had been blown by the wind and molded into many undulating shapes.
There were vast stretches of these sculptured slopes, in all shades
of gold, from lightest tan to deep bronze. Some were covered with
fields of wheat and other grain. Even when the country became
more and more rugged and unsuitable for cultivation, we saw little
farms here and there, often perched up on the very top of the
hills — evidently wherever the settlers in ancient years
were able to find a water supply. We passed white oxen pulling
carts, and flocks of sheep grazing in the fields, and peasant
women washing clothes in communal washing troughs, or trudging
up the hills balancing jugs on their head. At one spot we stopped
for a drink of cold water from a mountain spring. The country
became increasingly mountainous and our bus climbed up as high
as three thousand feet. Here little of the land could be cultivated,
it was volcanic country. We passed old craters and the ground
was strewn with lava.
Our driver was marvelous, and under his skillful touch the bus
climbed the steep slopes swiftly and dipped down, roller-coaster
fashion. At Acquapente we stopped at a little inn with an enormous
dining roam, where we had tea and delicious pastry. Our bus hostess
told us this is a very popular resort because of the fine air.
The walls were covered with autographed photographs of singers
and other celebrities.
On past little walled towns and mountainsides dotted with caves
from the old Etruscan times. And then finally Rome, a glimpse
of imposing gates and majestic monuments — the statue of
Moses — the Via Veneto with its luxurious hotels and side-walk
Thursday evening, July 3rd
It is almost ten o'clock, and Ary and I have just returned to
our room after dining in the restaurant on the roof of our pension,
Casa Blanca. We lingered some time after the meal was finished
— it was so heavenly cool after the blistering heat of the
day, and the green of the neighboring park and the circular outline
of the Castelo St. Angelo in the distance were so delightful.
It was because of its nearness to the park with its big shade
trees that we chose the Casa Blanca. Otherwise it is hardly to
our liking. It is quite a pretentious little place, with a pseudo-sophisticated
The guests are practically all Americans. There is a blond Embassy
secretary who is being "dated" by a five-star general,
and a rather pretty, dark-haired girl from Long Island, who is
in a terrible state of tension, having over-stayed her leave of
absence from her designer's job in the hope that definite declaration
will be forthcoming soon from the Italian engineer who has been
wooing her with such ardor. She says she has seen little of Rome;
she is so afraid of missing a telephone call. One guest, a heavy-set
dowager from south of the Mason-Dixon line, who evidently has
lived here many years, considers it beneath her dignity to talk
to her neighbors until she is satisfied with regard to their pedigree.
As a result she sits by herself on the balcony most of the time,
sipping one drink after another in lonely dignity. Ary and I,
being the latest arrivals, have been under her close scrutiny
and her verdict on us doesn't seem to be favorable. "It is
the foreigners who are spoiling Rome," she declared at lunch
this noon, looking at us and addressing a friend.
It seems to me that entire Rome has been coated with this veneer
of present-day sophistication and commercialism, obscuring somewhat
the under-layers of civilization and culture which make up the
Eternal City. Everything is geared for the tourist who has only
a few days and wants to cram them full of sight-seeing; everything
is mapped out for his easy assimilation. But it is a fabulous
place, this city of emperors and popes, of pagans and Christian
martyrs, and it is a fascinating experience to be able to scratch
even lightly at the patina which has developed over the ages,
to catch even a glimpse of the various layers which have been
the preoccupation of so many historians and archaeologists and
scholars of every kind.
Thus far in our wanderings about the city it is the layer of Roman
civilization which seems to project itself most strongly through
all the ages which followed it. There is such grandeur of conception
in everything that remains from those days. The Colosseum, which
we visited yesterday -incredibly colossal it is. This is the vision
and the handiwork or giants, not of men. And how equally impressive
the Pantheon is in its own way. It is circular, compact, rising
majestically high, with a superb dome from which a single shaft
or light falls with dramatic effect. There is no describing its
beauty of line, its perfection of form, the harmony of its proportions.
Raphael is buried here and Victor Emmanuel II and other notables,
and it contains many statues and shrines. But I was oblivious
to everything but the beauty of the building itself. It stands
so simply, with such nobility; it seems to sing out like music.
A similar beauty of form impresses one in the Colonna (from Marcus
Aurelius) which is not far from the Pantheon. It is a tall column
decorated with hundreds of carved figures representing Roman battle
scenes. Hew surprising to see the cross at the top of this pagan
column! But this is a city of incongruities, and in addition to
the layers of its own culture it has amassed art treasures from
Egypt and the Near-East which add to the richness and the complexity
of the whole.
Friday, July 4th
More of the Roman layer this morning — the ruins of the
Roman forum. The heat was too intense to permit more than a hasty
inspection. I wanted particularly to see the "Aurea Domus",
the Golden House of Nero. We wandered about interminably in the
scorching sun until we found it. And after taking a look at the
guide who was assigned to us I would gladly have foregone the
whole project. He was the most grotesque looking human being I
have ever seen, a ghoul-like creature, with hideously scarred
face and an expression of terrifying malignancy. I told Ary later
that no doubt they found him when they excavated — he must
have crawled out of a crevice somewhere, and they just brushed
him off and put him to work showing visitors all the nooks and
crannies he knows so well.
We finally ventured in and followed this fantastic figure through
the excavated rooms, with their lofty arched ceilings. The ornaments
and decorations have been destroyed by time or carried off for
display in museums. But the structure itself was most impressive,
built as it was on a colossal scale. Another symbol of the Romans
quest to eternalize themselves.
Saturday, July 5th
To the Cathedral San Pedro ad
Vincula this morning, to see the Michelangelo Moses"
statue. I have seen many Photographs of it, but the original is
far more impressive than the photographs ever indicate. Very realistic*,
of course, even to the veins on the hand, but this gives the figure
great strength. Also the feet give the same impression of power,
of indominatable will and determination. The horns, which Ary
says aren't horns at all, but rays of light (the Bible says there
were always rays of light about Moses) help give majesty and strength
to the figure. I thought it was majestic and profound enough to
be a representation of God, if one conceives a personal God.
I am more than ever eager to see the Michelangelo frescoes in
the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. We plan to go there on Monday.
*I read Ary what I
had written about "Moses" and he said I was wrong to
call it realism. Realism, he says, creates a shell and then tries
to fill it, but Michelangelo had a vision of David or Moses or
whatever character he wanted to depict, and he sought to find
an outward expression of his vision, to express visually his personal
conception of what that character stood for what it meant. He
built outward from within; he didn't start with the surface and
try to give it a meaning.
Monday, July 7th
The Michelangelo frescoes which adorn the Sistine Chapel have
an even more dynamic impact than I had anticipated. You feel that
here is a phenomenon of nature, a store-house of creative energy
that burst forth with explosive force. To me, Michelangelo in
his bigness is closely related to the Titanic force which conceived
and created the Colosseum. Only theirs was a collective force,
and in Michelangelo it was the individual who had the hand and
the soul of a giant. One can never forget the powerful Christ
figure in the famous Judgment Day. I found no compassion there,
only titanic strength and an avenging sternness.
Of course the Sistine Chapel is the climactic point of the Vatican
Museum. But there is much else of interest — countless rooms
filled with paintings and sculpture; religious and historical
pieces of gold and silver, jewels and carved wood; priceless manuscripts,
exquisitely embroidered robes and altar pieces. It is a treasure-trove
for those whose interest lies in the religious and historical
aspect, to whom the robes and medals and books, the religious
statues, the arts and vases and sacred chalices connected with
the church throughout the centuries are meaningful. Even Ary and
I, whose interest is in the aesthetic aspect, could spend many
hours there, roaming through the rooms of paintings, especially
our Beloved Sienese and some fine Florentine examples, and through
the remarkable collection of sculpture — Roman, Greek, Egyptian.
And there is the Raphael Room, hung with paintings and with tapestries
woven after Raphael sketches.
I must admit, however, that St. Peter's was disappointing to me.
True, the entrance is magnificent — the immense elliptical-shaped
piazza, bordered by a covered colonnade composed of massive, towering
pillars, four rows deep; the obelisk and fountains and the triple
flight of stairs leading up to the Cathedral. The guide-book calls
St. Peter's "the most majestic and the most vastest of all
the basilicas of Christendom." But to me it was too ornate
in conception and too elaborate in decoration, and it left me
quite unmoved. Most disturbing was the feeling that it lacks unity.
The first designs were made, they say, by Michelangelo, and it
was continued by other architects, and each one left a layer of
his own taste and his own ideas. As a result it lacks the unity
of style and hence the dignity which is so strong in the Gothic
and the early Renaissance.
Tuesday, July 8th
When we last saw our shipmates, the Ms, in Paris, alongside Mona
Lisa in the Louvre, we had promised that we would get in touch
with them when we reached Rome. So we phoned them last evening,
and they insisted that we have lunch with them at the American
Academy this noon.
We looked at the map and it didn't seem very far from our pension,
so we decided to walk, but before long we were sorry. It always
looks so simple on the map, but the map doesn't show the hills
and bridges and side streets and detours! And it doesnt
show the blistering heat! It was an interminable walk, through
narrow streets and cobble-stoned alleys, and up countless flights
of stone steps. But finally we reached a very beautiful part of
the city, high on the hills, green and cool, with spacious villas,
the type I had always expected to see in Rome.
The Academy itself is a handsome white stone building, with big
bushes of exotic-looking crimson flowers at the front gate, and
a beautifully arranged courtyard with fragments of ancient sculpture
and friezes decorating the courtyard walls. There were tables
and easychairs all around the verandah, and such a serene and
unhurried atmosphere prevailed.
Lunch was served buffet style at one long table
on the verandah. A mural painter and his wife sat opposite us,
and Ary discovered that the painter had been in his class at
the National Academy of Design in New York, and they talked
about those days. Mr. B., the muralist, is doing some mosaics
for a church in England and will probably spend the winter in
Venice, as there are such fine mosaic workers there.
The Ms took us up to show us their room, a cool and comfortable
place. They are so happy to have their material needs taken care
of while they pursue their adventures in research. The ambience
is surely conducive to quiet study and reflection
Back to the Casa Blanca for a siesta, and about six o'clock, after
the heat had subsided somewhat, we set off for the artists' quarters,
in Via Margutta, not far from the Piazza di Spagna. Some nice
courtyards and studio buildings but no cafe's or galleries of
interest, as far as we could see.
The Piazza di Spagna itself has a very distinct character, with
its beautifully designed fountain in the center, its simple and
dignified buildings in Renaissance style, and at one end the famous
Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti an imposing flight of some one
hundred and forty stairs. We stopped for a cold drink at a nearby
bikerino, a unique combination of bar and soda fountain
which seems to be peculiar to Italy. They serve all sorts of wines
and brandies and liqueurs, also soft drinks and ice-cream, and
there are tempting displays of little open sandwiches and hors
d'oeuvres and pastries. A group of young Hindus were drinking
a weird-looking iced coffee concoction, and we got into a conversation
with them. They have a Fulbright grant and are on their way to
the United States to study in various universities under the International
Institute for Education. Such keen, intelligent young people,
so eager to see the world and to bring the knowledge they gain
back to their people! Their host and guide, an Italian Professor
of Philosophy, invited Ary to come to visit him; said that he
would meet an interesting international crowd.
Wednesday, July 9th
Our last day in Rome! We decided to visit the Palazzo Venezia,
the exterior of which we have admired so much. It is a striking
example of early Renaissance architecture; it holds perfectly
in proportion and has a simplicity of line that is a visual delight.
We found the interior equally handsome. Immense rooms with high
ceilings, rich with gold and frescoes; beautiful tile floors in
fine designs of red, green, and marvelous tones of blue, wonderfully
softened and mellowed by age; handsome chandeliers — some
of heavy dull gold, others resplendent with colored glass lights.
Chairs upholstered in sumptuous velvet, exquisitely carved furniture
and lavish displays of fine china and glazed porcelain. Rooms
of armor and swords and guns and spears. And of course a superb
collection of paintings.
The room which Mussolini used as his office is an enormous one,
with floor of Roman mosaics in patterns of human figures and beasts.
A big fire-place at one end, and gold chairs upholstered in blue
velvet on either wall, down the length of the room. The huge chandelier
is of gold, decorated with bunches of purple grapes, and with
dozens of lights of green and reddish brown glass. In each of
the four corners of the room stands an immense lamp in the form
of a gold candlestick with tall white taper.
There are many ante-rooms before one reaches this "royal
chamber". Il Ducce was well protected in the center of this
vast palace. I thought of A.M.'s story of his visit to Mussolini
and the ordeal of marching down the long room to the huge desk
at the farther end, while the piercing eyes of Il Ducce bored
We stood in front of the famous balcony, from which one views
the majestic Colosseum and the elaborate, over-ornamented white
monument to Victor Emmanuel II, and we recalled the multitudes
who used to gather below. There was no cheering throng today;
only one young Italian, with his wife, in the room beside us,
who, in answer to Ary's "This must be the balcony,
nodded yes, then shook his head sadly. He kept coming back again
and again to look out of the window.