Friday, February 27, 2009

Letter 16: Pensione Dinesen



[Letter 16]

Pensione Dinesen
Rome, Italy

February 3, 1933

Dear Folks,

My last letter was typed on the "Conte Grande" and mailed the following day from Cairo. A group of about thirty people, many of them ship employees, ha been signed up by a specialist in trips for ship crews.His name is Goldman and he knows his business. Well, we agreed to go and little Miss Kramer made it a party of four. The crowd left in taxis and caught the 3:00 o'clock train to Cairo, arriving there at about 6:30. Then we were whisked over to the Bristol, where we had dinner. The dark attendants and waiters with their light clothes gave one a queer feeling. The meals were very good.

The next morning we were off early by auto to the outskirts of Cairo. The Pyramids are not in the midst of the desert but at the edge of the city -- surrounded by sand of course. Marcus and I each mounted a camel which was led by a dragoman; Dora and Miss Kramer preferred a sandcart drawn by a donkey. We were off! I shall not attempt to describe the huge Pyramids, marvels of engineering skill, nor the Sphinx, cut from a huge cliff. One can get such information in an encyclopedia. But the day was perfect and the experiences novel and memorable.

Looking from the train windows on our way to Cairo we saw flat fields in every direction. Villages composed entirely of mud huts, with holes a foot square for windows, revealed to us the level of life among these poor people. An American farmer provides better quarters for his animals. And yet, these people live and hope and worship, too. Ramadan, the thirty day fast, was coming to an end. The faithful do not eat during the thirty days, but start at sunset and eat all night. For the final day, their "Christmas", hordes of them were pouring into Cairo. Hundreds of wagons surmounted by flat platforms and drawn by a single small donkey each, passed us. A dozen women and children all in black were piled on each platform. What a picture! They were going to feast, but I saw no one smile.

We had a very good lunch at the Bristol. Then the Goldman taxis took us through the streets of old Cairo. Again the streets were very narrow, very busy and very noisy. The chauffeur kept blowing his horn all the time and driving up to within two feet of the natives, who turned aside without the slightest hint of nervousness. The famous Cairo bazaars are full of the most interesting things to tempt one's purse. Among the odd sights was that of a street merchant with two flat cakes about a foot in diameter, slapping them together loudly to attract attention or to shake off the dust.

After this medley of sights, sounds and smells we drove up to the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, a splendid structure almost entirely [made] of alabaster. We visited also Joseph's Well, a prison hewn out of a rock about 500 feet deep. I should not advise people with delicate hearts to look down that circular opening. We also saw the Synagog of Rabbi Ben Ezra and its Torah, 900 years old. The business-like young man tried to interest us in a Torah from Solomon's time, but the work looked too new and too good to convince us.

I said there was no begging in Haifa. That's because the British authorities have forbidden it. At Alexandria and at Cairo there was the most persistent begging. The vendors of knick-nacks simply would not go away. They would start with "Wallet, ten piasters" and keep hammering away, working down to an angry, "Allright--six piasters!", laying it on the back of your closed hand. Well, I didn't buy a genuine leather wallet for nineteen cents, because I don't like wallets, and anyway I am not sure that Franklin Roosevelt will make them useful to us.

The three-day sail to Naples was welcome: The weather was sunny and balmy. We sat on our deck chairs, reading. It was very restful. After this strenuous deck chair performance, we rested up some more in our cabin, which was airy and light. On Monday, January 30, we arrived at Naples, the second stop at that city. We got our luggage through the customs and then piled it into a taxi and drove to the Piazza Amadeo, having engaged rooms at the Dinesen in advance. Pretty soon we were trotting down to the American Express where we found 12 pieces of mail forwarded from Cannes; the next day made our total 29. The family was represented by two letters from Bertha, two from Youngstown, one from Jack; in addition were letters from many friends, Miss Kuhn, Frank P., Fanny etc.

The next day we were off for an all-day auto trip, arranged the previous day with Grande Brothers. We went like princes in a fine car with a chauffeur and also a guide; two employees for 2 1/2 people. We drove down the new toll road from Naples to Pompeii. They may well be proud of that road. We stopped to see the coral factory and bought some things. Salesmanship? Lots of it. We arrived pretty soon at Pompeii and the guide walked us among the ruins. The ancient streets (covered with forty feet of ashes and lava in 79 A.D.) are now cleaner than they ever were. The homes, fountains, pipes, yes, event he wheel ruts are all there. The Museum contains mirrors, manicure sticks and loaves of bread--there is nothing new under the sun. Our the luck was with us; it was a beautiful, sunny day.

We drove to Amalfi for lunch. This is much like the Grand Corniche drive, except that the precipices are perhaps steeper and the rocks more striking in their jagged outlines. On the steep hills lemon and olive trees grow in terraced plots. The former are covered with a network of boughs to keep out the cold. At Amalfi we had a fine lunch. Then we drove on to Sorrento, the birthplace of Tasso. Here are made beautiful inlaid boxes and also fine lace. We bought several things. We got back to the Dinesen after a wonderful day. In one of my Cannes letters I told you about an all-day trip for $3.60, or with meals and tips about 5.50. Well, I should not want to give the impression that such a rate is normal. This trip including tips and lunches was $17. Cooks would have charged $30.

[Written up the side] Dear Mother - We are feeling well and having an unusually nice trip. So far we have had no cold weather and Morris and Marcus feel fine. Love to you all - Dora

Perhaps that diagram [left] is not so very clear. It is a sectional view showing the terraces and the road cut out of the solid rock. The steps of the terrace are formed by L W L W R. Forget about the lemon trees and covering at first. There -- now you see it.

Of course we wandered about the Naples streets. There is a tremendous arcade covered with glass wherever you look. Everybody meets everybody else there. There are stores galore, cinemas etc. We took a funicular train to the top of one of the hills and got a view of Naples and its bay. On our return from Pompeii we got a fine view of Mount Vesuvius smoking clearly. On the other side a brilliant sunset rewarded our gaze.

We love the old streets with their flower and vegetable pedlars. They are just the things for an artist's canvas. The Naples tenements are pretty high. The women do "window-shopping", that is, they yell down to the pedlar and let down a basket. He puts in the vegetables and the buyer hoists it up with her rope. It is a simple open-air dumbwaiter--and not so dumb, either.

Those of the older generation who read this letter will recall exactly similar things to the ones I describe. I refer to the clamor of pedlars, their insistence on selling you something, the high asking prices etc. So also the dirt, poverty and ignorance are not peculiar to Egypt, Greece or Palestine: they can be found in Minsk, Pinsk and other places.

Yesterday, February second, we got to Rome, a 3 1/2 hour run from Naples. We had a fine meal on the train. They don't bother you with a menu-card. No brain-work is needed. The waiters come through and serve the various courses without asking questions. It's a very good idea. I didn't have to know Italian. At the close of the repast your money talks a universal tongue. We arrived and took two vast rooms at the Rome Dinesen. We are in a very nice section of the city. In the dining room one hears English, Italian, Danish, German, French and Dutch.

We took the autobus MB to St. Peter's this morning. We were not prepared to find the church as tremendous as it was. (It is the largest in the world.) A guide took us through this huge edifice and then to the Vatican. Of course we wanted to see the famous Sistine Chapel and we saw it. Groups of people were studying the work of Michaelangelo and that young genius, Raphael. The new Pinakothek, just opened, is a wonderful gallery. We spent 2 1/4hours and saw only two or three pieces in a room where there were 20 or 30. I must go back there without a guide. Countless millions have gone into the galleries and more money is needed to finish St. Peter's, still unfinished after four centuries.

This afternoon we took a stroll to the American Express and found cards from Cannes friends. Then we went home, stopping to look at the dozens of shop-windows displaying leather goods, silver, marble etc. So, I have brought the news right up to date. Oh, yes, this evening I am typing a letter to all my relatives! We are feeling fine, and Rome is beautiful and we are happy and I remain,

Affectionately,

Morris




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