Friday, February 27, 2009

Letter 19: Pension Seguso, Venice

[Letter 19]

Pension Seguso
Venice, Italy

March 9, 1933
Dear Folks,

Among the Florence incidents not mentioned, our visit to the Synagog deserves a little space. Dora and I attended part of a Saturday service with the Ehrenfelds [see letter 18]. The Temple is large and beautiful. The walls are entirely covered with Moorish designs in keeping with the Moorish architecture. However, I like my own Temple Ansche Chesed as much or more. There was a choir of boys who were in need of a good music teacher. The women sat in the balcony screened by an iron grill. As we came out of the temple,
 Dora met a Mrs Epstein, prominent club-woman of New York, and they almost fell on each other's necks.

On Friday evening the Ehrenfelds came over and then we stepped out into a nearby cafe. We enjoyed the music and the local color; we can get better coffee in New York. We chatted cheerfully. The next day, March fourth, we said "Goodby" to Florence and were off to Venice -- a five-hour run. To my surprise, I found that the train we were on was a big express to Warsaw, our trip to Venice being but a short part of this long run. The signs were in Polish [1], Italian, French and German. When a washroom is marked "Libero" or "Occupato" I know what's what but the Polish words left me in the dark; however, the door had a handle, so I found out. The second class section was jammed so we occupied the first-class seats and then cheerfully went to lunch in the diner. After we got back the conductor did a lot of figuring and presented a bill for $7.50 additional. We argued in the most polite manner and used all the languages we knew and some more, and finally did not pay. There seemed to be no difference between the first and second class accommodation.

As the train reached higher altitudes we saw more and more snow, but by the time we got to the low lands around Venice occasional green fields were visible -- no snow. Well, we got to Venice while it was raining merrily. A big crowd of hotel porters all wearing identical caps with their hotels' names above the visors were lined up. The Seguso man took us into a gondola. He talked to Marcus and me in French. Well, of course it wasn't just like the tinted pictures you've seen of a cuple sitting close in their graceful skiff gazing at the moon while the gondolier sings in rhythm with his strokes. The poor fellow was all wet. However, we have the fortunate faculty of getting a thrill out of things. Dora enjoyed the experience even in the rain. We were given two fine rooms and soon came down to dinner.

Venice was settled by fugitives in the fourth century who, wishing to escape the conquering Goths, settled on these inaccessible islands. There are about 120 islands, 150 canals and 400 bridges. The city (about 250,000) is built on millions of piles of both wood and stone. Through middle the S-shaped Grand Canal flows. Steamers ply on it regularly. We often go to St Mark's that way. On the small canals only gondolas can navigate. There are no cars, autos, horses or bicycles. Think of the peace of mind that comes to one as he crosses the bridges and busy little streets knowing that there are no vehicles! Truly, "it's a grand and glorious feeling.

[Written up the side] Dear Mother - We are almost at the end of our holiday and I must say it has been a great one. I do hope that you are well and that your voice [illegible] cheerful when I speak to you on the telephone in a few weeks. Love from us to you and the boys. Dora.

I suppose most people think that one cannot go anywhere in Venice except by gondola. That is not so at all. There are sidewalks and narrow streets and alleys that lead all over the city. The small canals from 15 to 40 feet wide are traversed by gondolas and sometimes small motorboats. The houses rise directly from the water's edge in many cases. Thus along the Grand Canal the front steps lead right into the water where private or public gondolas are waiting -- taxis, you know. Some of these palaces are very beautiful. Each has tall mooring posts, decorated with the family arms or gay stripes.

Our own pension [pictured] is right next to the Casa Ruskin where the famous writer lived in 1878. We are on the corner of a small canal and the canal Giudecca which is one of the wide bodies of water surrounding the city. We therefore see large steamers and freighters and boats with patched orange sails hauling ice, bricks etc. Our rooms have six windows, two porches and furniture of genuine inlaid wood. Everything is white and clean. There are only a dozen people, but they include English, German, Italian, Hindu.

The American Express is right back of the famous St. Mark's church so we have been over there very often. The Piazza (Pee-a-sah, meaning square) in front of this San Marco is very large and is surrounded by low, beautiful buildings. What a lovely place! Of course Marcus bought corn and fed the pigeons while my movie camera whirred and Dora smiled. It's so peaceful and colorful and safe! One afternoon we sat outdoors to have our coffee. It was a delightful treat to sip and watch the pigeons, the people and the thousand-year-old church with its colorful mosaics and its myriad chiseled decorations. But please do not think that we are unmindful of conditions at home. We know about the bank closings and the worries. We are bound to know because there are English papers and furthermore the moratorium caused the American Express to hand me 185 lire for a ten-dollar check instead of 195. But we no doubt will find plenty of difficulties left when we return. Hence we ought to enjoy life now. Business is bad here, too. The shopkeepers stand in their doorways and no sooner see a foreigner but they smile and begin to invite you in. It reminds me of the old song: "Strike up the band, here comes the sailor!"

Yesterday we went by steamer and electric tram to Padua to see the best work of Giotto in a chapel of the Arena church. We also trolleyed through the town and saw its fine parks and statues. Our weather luck was with us again; it was a beautiful day and we managed to be back at four for rest and reading. I broke my reading record in February -- seven books, including detective stories, novels and a 450 page History of Italian Art.

Monday we go to Milan, then off to Switzerland, then Brussels, Amsterdam and Antwerp. Good-by for the present. There will be at least one more letter about ten days from now.



All of us are well. We heard from Bill and Isabel again. 
 [1] Morris was born in Dzialoszyce, then in the Russian Empire, now in Poland.

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