Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Letter 14: Aboard SS "Conte Grande"

[Letter 14]

Aboard SS "Conte Grande"
January 18, 1933

Dear Folks,

Here I am in the Lounge at a round table, typing on ship-board. I believe letters 1 and 2 also were written on board a boat. There is half an hour or so before dinner and I am tired of resting and reading in the stateroom. I expect to mail this letter in Naples to-morrow.

One of the things I mean to mention in a previous letter is the way the land is utilized. The land is terraced: that is, a long stone wall is built and then a horizontal "step" is made, say eight or ten feet wide and then another vertical wall. From a distance the hill looks like a flight of broad steps, the verticals being gray and the horizontals being green. Think of the vast amount of labor used to wring a little fertile area out of nature.

Our friends at the Victoria were genuinely sorry to see us go. Madame Lange, the charming Lithuanian lady, was interested in improving her English and in enjoying a good game of bridge. She, her son and Madame Unterman all went down to see the beautiful "Conte Grande" [pictured]. Madame Wallsdorff, the proprietress, said she would never forget us--we were so sweet. She gave us a lovely little box of candy. Well, we were among the "oldest inhabitants", having been there over two and a half months. Marcus gave some big games to Francois who has three children (and a salary of 600 francs a month); and Louise will wear on Sundays a pair of genuine American silk stockings given her by Madame Klein.

There are incidents that will come to mind long after we have returned to the States. For instance, I gave my light top-coat to a cleaner on Friday and it was promised for "demain soir", the following evening. Then it was to be delivered Monday. It wasn't, so I went around Tuesday morning, the day we sailed. I got a fluent French explanation, but no coat. We stopped the taxi on our way down to the pier, but still the coat wasn't ready. It would have to be parcel-posted to Naples, where I would get it two weeks later. However I told the porter to go in again and see if the coat had come. Well, a little while later he came down to the pier with the coat!

x This x was struck by a little boy who came over and said, "what's this?" and then took a peck at my machine. He didn't stay long after that.

There are several different types of passengers aboard. First, there is the usual run of Americans; then Italians and Greeks either touring or going on a visit to their native lands; lastly, a group of Jews, some very orthodox, who are all going to Palestine. They eat in a separate dining room and wear hats. I suppose there is a third class but I never see them. Wednesday night the Jewish folks gave a Palestinian concert. Cantor Friedman had a very excellent tenor voice, much like Caruso's. There must have been over a hundred people present. (In another room moving pictures were being shown.) How our mothers would have enjoyed in which the cantor sang: "mazel ohn seichel is nit git!"

We got to Genoa early the day after we sailed from Cannes. Before leaving Cannes we saw two Americans coming in, whose Camels and Lucky Strikes had not been declared and who were being fined. The inspections are hasty, but sometimes a fish is hooked. This reminds me of a lady at the Victoria who was sent for and asked to pay $2.40 on a package from the States. It turned out to be a gift to her son of a few handkerchiefs and such trifles. Was she angry! Thank you all for not having done anything so foolish. The customs duties are very high.

Genoa is one of the famous harbors of history. The city is on a hill and again we saw the terraced strips of land. We took a short ride on an inclined railway and got a view of the town. Then we walked around the streets, intrigued by the narrow alleys full of peddlars, food mongers and tiny shops. Of course, we took a taxi to see the house in which Columbus is said to have been born. It is a tiny dwelling covered with ivy and surrounded by a high iron fence. The truckload of tourists who were lined up and shown this relic just as we were leaving it, did not seem very cheery. It was wet underfoot and the hills were covered with what? You are right, Oswald, with snow. It was pretty cold and windy on some corners.

We saw a museum of Japanese articles, which did not excite us enough to look out for our blood pressure. Then we went on to the Palazzo Blanco e Rosso. In this ancient palace, however, we did find things to interest us. The floors were of colored inlaid marble. There were many pictures by Van Dyck, but our Metropolitan Museum has better ones. We taxied back for lunch. We noted an odd thing: Many houses had false windows painted on the walls to balance the arrangement. They looked very real.

The meals aboard have been very good. There is a complete service beginning with four hors-d'oeuvre. A big bottle of red wine and another of white decorate the table. The vegetables are fresh and plentiful. At luncheon today the steak was very nice and the string beans were tasty because of a tomato dressing. Try them that way some time.

Today we tramped around Naples, whic his a city of a million and has over 300 churches. Again, the streets were very picturesque with their crowds of shoppers and all the merchants crying their wares in high voices. We visited an old fortress, the Palazzo Nuovo, I think where a guide who thought he spoke English showed us through. The vast structure was being remodeled to make it Gothic as it was in the fourteenth century, for subsequently it had been made Baroque, an over-elaborate style. We saw a marvellous spiral stairway of 164 steps, of stone blocks; a circular hole, also, into which prisoners were hurled to fall far, far down into the sea; also some victims of the guillotine.

Our stateroom is very fine, being really a first-class room. The attendants all speak Italian and a bit of English. I shall study a little Italian. Little French seems to be known.

We feel fine, and expect to continue that way. No matter where your letters are addressed to, they will be forwarded--the first batch, twelve days' mail to Naples, then Rome, Florence.



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