Friday, February 27, 2009

Letter 20: Hotel Metropole, Brussels

[Letter 20]

Hotel Metropole
Brussels, Belgium

March 20, 1933

Dear Folks,

Well, here is the last letter of the TRIP ABROAD series. The safest way to describe my feelings is to say that I am sorry as you are. I have enjoyed keeping you all informed, especially as I received from time to time such very warm expressions of appreciation -- greater, I think, than the letters merited. The letters were read regularly by about 55 people and sometimes the number may have run to 75 or higher. Bill regularly mailed his to Corinne, so that his letter did duty for nine readers, and my brother Henry's letter reached even more folks. When I think of Mary's aggregation I give up: I have no adding machine.

VENICE. I have told you of the charming and restful nine days we had in this unique city. There should be mentioned our visit to the glass-blowing factory. The men demonstrated the making of a beautiful Murano vase. You all know how beautiful and expensive this ware is. We bought some cute little fish and an animal or two. In Venice we were only four minutes from the Accademia, the largest picture gallery. It is a large, restful place with some immense pictures, some of the finest by Veronese and the Bellinis; and Titians and Giorgiones, of course. (Don't mind an awkward repetition of a word here or there: I don't quite "think" on a typewriter as yet -- I watch the keys). One of the special treats at Venice is the Doge's Palace. The admission fee is the highest we have run across on our entire trip, 62 c a person, but it is well worth it. The open court is a gem and the meeting rooms are vast in size and rich in ornamentation. The ceilings are in moulded relief and heavily gilt. My brother David would be interested to know that the gold leaf which shines so brightly was put on almost three hundred years ago. The greatest masters, Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, contributed their efforts to the adornment of this Palace of the Doges. There are a good many people going through as admission is free on Sunday. Now you know what day we went. No, Aloysius, the guides do not tell you on Saturday that it is free on Sunday.... I went alone to the upper galleries of St. Mark's getting close views of the glass mosaics and even familiarly slapping one of the bronze horses on the thigh. No ten-minute "flying" tour for me. One could spend many days there. Regretfully we left Venice at 10:15 AM., arriving in Milan at 4:35.

MILAN is a large, modern city. In a way, it "out-Romes Rome". Extensive improvements, parked streets etc, are under way. We went straight to the Hotel Manin in their bus. This is a delightful little hostelry, much patronized by English-speaking people. Our room overlooked a fine garden and across the way was a large park with a zoo. Marcus was allowed to go there alone. He struck up quite a friendship with the lions, herons and deer. The hotel is a good one -- fast service, fine table and lovely dining room facing the garden. We recommend this hotel highly.

The Brera gallery is one of the best-arranged and lighted I have ever seen. We enjoyed the Italian masters there especially Raphael's fine Marriage of the Virgin. I took Marcus to see Da Vince's "Last Supper", which contrary to my expectations was clearly visible.

The most important thing to see in Milan is the remarkable Cathedral. This is a large large and has a large open square in front of it. St Peter's in Rome in larger, but I believe this Duomo is finer. It is a harmonious unit. The inside is entirely of stone and marble, even the carved ceiling. The size dwarfs one. The stained glass windows are probably the largest in the world, and the columns are eleven feet thick. Picture that! Although there are over 3000 carved figures they do not obtrude, being well grouped. The outside is recorded in my movie, as are also the Roman forum, scenes in Florence and fine views of Venice.

Grand Hotel Antwerp, Belgium

March 20, 1933

Dora had been watching the papers and noticed that the "Minnewaska" sailing was not being advertised. Upon inquiry we learned that the trip was canceled. That meant taking another Red Star boat and we decided to leave Milan at once. So, after four day so of perfect weather we left at about 10:15 headed for Berne, due there 4:55. We traveled through some fine Italian country and pretty soon the Alps came into view. They were steep indeed and as the train climbed higher the houses took on the appearance of toys far down in the valley. The fields of different colors one could never tire of looking at. Each farmer had one rectangle of some brilliant green growth, like a large outdoor billiard table. Everything in Switzerland was so very neat. The kindling wood was piled in the most orderly fashion, sometimes in perfect cylindrical stacks. There was hardly an advertising sign to be see, and I tell you it makes a difference. The people were so clean and balanced, too. Whereas in Italy the fields were well-kept, a third class carriage was not an attractive to think of entering. (We never did.) In Switzerland, we saw third class cars wiaitng and the people looked clean and intelligent. It's a great little country, with a nice supply of gold reserve. Sense? They do not permit children under sixteen into movies (except special, suitable plays) even with their parents. Nuf sed. Well, Marcus stood the trip so well, enjoying the new scenery and numerous tunnels so much that we decided to omit the Berne stop and press on to

BASLE, where we arrived at 7:00 and registered at the Park-Berenhof, and began to learn the use of Swiss money -- five francs to a dollar. We had supper and breakfast and again we were off, this time headed for Brussels. We found that the crack express known as "Edelweiss" could get us in at 5:43 instead of 9:00. So we gladly paid the $5.20 supplement and had a fast run through France, Luxembourg and Belgium. Inspectors came through and made half-hearted inspections of the baggage and the friction on my coat pocket nearly ruined the lining due to the number of times they looked at and stamped my passport. But they are always polite. By now, I was paying in Belgian francs, 35 to the dollar. Also I had to get rid of Italian money. Of course there are money changers everywhere and they figure very fast. But they are honest. So apparently were all the tradesmen in all countries. The champion short-change artists are among Italian ticket-sellers. An American or an Englishman is their favorite dish -- but, though they tried hard using skill and artistry, they failed to score in my case.

[missing - page torn] was reached on time. I rushed to the American Express to get news from the Red Star Line about our boat, but the office had closed at one o'clock and the next day was Sunday. So we had to wait till Monday morning. There were only three letters -- one from the boat company, one from the State Tax Commission granting my application for two months' extension of time on my income tax report. But I must pay 6% from April 15th on my tax amount. Have they started coining mills while I was away? That would be one way for nearly everybody to have some money these days. The third letter was from Maxwell Heller [1], a friend of mine.

The Metropole
is listed as Belgium's leading hotel. Perhaps it is. At any rate, it is a large and fine. We had a room, divided by portieres to make two rooms. The length when open must have been thirty feet or more with a bathroom six by fifteen feet. There were nineteen electric lights
and every convenience. The charge per day (room only of course) was 125 francs or $3.57, with 10% for service and no other tips expected. It was a beautiful room furnished with Simmons metal furniture. While in Brussels M. and Mme. Hanchard whom we had met in our Cannes hotel called on us and took us to tea at the Grand Hotel. Of course we saw the finest Dutch art in two museums. Again the pictures were found to be well hunt and there were some fine masterpieces. After lunch today we checked out and made the run to

ANTWERP in forty minutes. Here we found letters from Ezra Putnoi and Fan Schwitzer. Dora concluded arrangements with the Red Star Line. We get a fine room on A deck.

on the STEAMER "WESTERNLAND", stopping at HAVRE, Southampton and Halifax.

There's the news, poorly typed, too. Anyway it's the WESTERNLAND [pictured] due in New York about April 4th on a Tuesday. Should we not sail on that boat, I shall cable to my mother and she or my sister will inform our New York friends (whose addresses they have).

It has been a wonderful trip. There was hardly an unpleasant incident. Perhaps the nearest approach to one was when a conductor murmured that Marcus looked large for nien years. Well, so he is, but he is only nine. The weather was marvellous. Generally, when it did rain, we were on a train, or asleep. We so so much; we learned so much. All our reading will be much more meaningful from now on. Marcus, too, instantly recognizes pictures of famous buildings or works of art. One on Marcus! In Brussels, while we were looking at primitive Flemish paintings, he called me back and said "Oh, dad, come look at this; it must be very valuable and very old. It's in a wooden case with a little glass window". I looked at it and said, "That's the most modern thing in the room -- it's the fire-hose."

I didn't know I could be so interested in languages. I brushed up on my German which had forty years of cobwebs on it. Now the order of excellence stands, 1. English (I hope), 2. German, 3. French, 4. Italian. I expect to keep up a little reading, especially in French.

Good-bye and soon "How do?" We may stop at the Bretton Hall a few days, but my mail address is: P.O. 36, Station S., N.Y. City.



[1] Maxwell Heller, artist, born 1881 in New York, died in Hollis, New York in 1963. 

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