Rome 1974

My life was expanding! I was on the move! In 1973 I had finished my dissertation, gotten tenure, moved to my lakefront condominium at the Barclay, started sailing, and begun a new relationship. By 1974 I was an associate professor of English at Chicago State University. The winter term beginning in January held no surprises—no new courses to arrange—3 composition courses on Tuesdays-Thursdays and a graduate class on Tuesday evenings –the Image of the Black Man in American Literature—all courses I had taught many times. I had tenure, a new condo on the lake, time to enjoy myself--dating, skiing in Michigan or Wisconsin, redecorating. I was busy making drapes for my new condo and reupholstering the 9 ft. sectional in my living room. I needed to keep going. What was next? Would this be it? Would I settle down to an even tenured life, content to work, get paid, stay home, watch TV, visit with family and friends? I doubted it. Since I left the convent, in my frantic effort to catch up, I had been packing too much into my life to stop now. My friend Gerda called me an “unruhige Seele” –a restless soul. I couldn’t stop driving in some direction. But what direction would my mysterious compass point to next? I had no compelling practical needs. But teaching was not enough.

From when I was a young girl growing up in Kansas City, I had loved free roaming-- over to Mission Hills with my dog Robin, or to Loose Park or Swope Park--just for the exploring. My favorite childhood books were Swiss Family Robinson and anything by Stevenson— Treasure Island, Kidnapped. As a teenager I asked every Christmas for books by Richard Halliburton, the writer/explorer. Stories of adventure and travel fed my imagination--The Royal Road to Romance, Seven League Boots, The Glorious Adventure, New Worlds to Conquer, The Flying Carpet. Halliburton was my secret hero. He had rejected a life of “even tenor” in a letter to his father in a letter from Paris in 1919.

Dad, you hit the wrong target when you write that you wish I were at Princeton living "in the even tenor of my way." I hate that expression and as far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition. When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my "way" as uneven as possible then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making life as conglomerate and vivid as possible. Those who live in the even tenor of their way simply exist until death ends their monotonous tranquility. No, there's going to be no even tenor with me. The more uneven it is the happier I shall be. And when my time comes to die, I'll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain, thrills--every emotion that any human ever had--and I'll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed. So, Dad, I'm afraid your wish will always come to naught, for my way is to be ever changing, but always swift, acute and leaping from peak to peak instead of following the rest of the herd, shackled in conventionalities, along the monotonous narrow path in the valley. The dead have reached perfection when it comes to even tenor!

His retracing the route of Ulysses as described in Homer’s Odyssey, recounted in The Glorious Adventure, was the the ideal way of traveling. I too wanted to sail like Ulysses “beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” I had even taken up sailing, hadn’t I?

Although I had a job that kept me at a desk, I too wanted a life of adventure and travel. I would travel whenever I could. I would not rest. Tennyson’s “Ulysses” spoke my heart’s dream:

I am a part of all that I have met;
            Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
            Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
            For ever and forever when I move.
            How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
            To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
            As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
            Were all too little, and of one to me
            Little remains: but every hour is saved
            From that eternal silence, something more,
            A bringer of new things. . .”

I too wanted “new things,” I wanted to “shine in use,” to “follow knowledge like a sinking star, /   Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” Of course, I never said this to myself in so many words, and wasn’t aware of it at the time, but looking back, after the fact, I know, this was my compass bearing. The journals of my travels tell the story—in words and when possible in pictures. These I have now to draw on. The only unfulfilled desire was my wanderlust, my curiosity and love of adventure.

Travel allowed me to use my imagination. I am one of those people who can discern a lot from (or read a lot into?) one glance, one character, one scene. I can imagine relationships, “read” the terrain, especially when I am alone. The unexpected scenes that I chance upon when traveling alone allow me to become a participant, not a tourist. That evening when I unexpectedly came upon Covent Garden on my first visit to England, and immediately joined the audience as if I had planned this all along, winding up in the box seat opposite the royal box was the way I liked to live--responding to every opportunity. And that last day I had spent walking in Paris in the rain, when, looking for the theatre showing Le Grande Meaulnes, I found myself at the Sorbonne, joined the crowd at an outdoor café becoming one with the students.

I wanted to travel, to find more such opportunities. To date, my only travels had been to Spain, Portugal and France with Joe and Pat Shaughnessy in 1967, and the week I spent in England in 1972. These had been enough, though, to know that I would travel again.

Curacao

That memorable year of 1973 concluded with one more travel treat—CSU, which in those days had enterprising faculty who liked to travel and get group discounts, was offering a trip to Curacao over the New Year’s break, and I talked two English department colleagues, Bea and Margaret, into signing up with me. Curacao's warm beaches and palm trees and charming Dutch-looking buildings in Willemsted were helpful in recovering from a cold.

On the return, we stayed over for 3 nights in New York, getting half-price tickets for A Little Night Music and Pippin. I visited with Morris L. Ernst, the lawyer for the Ferber estate, to see if I could get access to her unpublished papers. He was a fascinating man. He wanted to know if I could write! He specialized in authors and their trials, and told me he had been defended James Joyce in the 1933 obscenity trial over Ulysses in New York, confiding that authors sometimes like to have their books banned and go through trials, to feel like martyrs. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help me with my request though, as Ferber’s great niece Julia planned to use the material in a book of her own. Ernst died in 1980, and Julia Goldsmith Gilbert’s first book Ferber came out in the 80’s (no longer in print). It was not sympathetic at all to Ferber, but rather resentful of her fame and her benefactions to her sister Fanny Ferber Fox, Gilbert’s grandmother, a writer herself.

Rome

I continued to long to travel, to expand my world. When I heard that there would be another CSU-faculty sponsored trip over the April break--to Rome, I jumped at the opportunity. I had gone on a CSU-sponsored trip to England in 1972, and now I could celebrate my 43rd birthday in Italy!

My companion this time was Marcie Horner, friend and artist. We would be staying at the Holiday Inn in Rome—not exactly centrally located, but Bus 98 ran right to St. Peter’s, where we could hop Bus 64 to go across town. Our first expedition led us through St. Peter’s, then on to the Piazza Venezia and the amazing monument to Vittorio Emmanuele.

This monument became the center of a map of Rome that was building inside my head. Heading southeast from it, we walked through the Forum to the Coliseum, then back to the Via Nazionale where we got Bus 64 back to St. Peters and walked around there, then took a cab back and rested until dinner at La Cisterna in Trastevere. There we met three fellows from Milan and talked to them until 12:30 a.m.

The next day I filled in more of my inner Rome map, heading east from St. Peter’s, exploring the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Marcus Aurelius Column, the Trevi Fountain, and finally met Marcie at the Spanish Steps so we could have lunch at the nearby Greco Caffe on the Via Condotti, “one of the three most ancient cafes in the world, with a very classical atmosphere, red-velvet chairs and marble tables. It hosted the likes of Byron, Shelley, Keats, Goethe, and Casanova.” Marcie was a shopper, so after lunch we stopped in Bulgari’s to look at jewelry, as well as in glove shops, shoe shops, purse shops and dress shops in that area. She also wanted to see the Via Veneto, which was a disappointment—too much like North Michigan Ave for my tastes. We walked to the Piazza Barberini and Via Quattro Fontana till we came upon a little restaurant that didn’t appeal to her visually, but we had a huge meal, with soup, carafe of red wine, aqua minerale, veal, insalata mista for 3000 lira each. From my travels with my brother, I had learned to look for the cheaper places where the locals eat, knowing they will get their money’s work. I was trying to show Marcie this, but she wasn’t getting the message. After the first few days spent staying together we eventually split up, to accommodate our different interests and travel styles. From my brother Joe I had learned to keep pushing on, not to stop till I was exhausted. Not everyone wants to keep this punishing pace. Marcie was into cabs, I wanted to ride the buses. She was a shopper, and I was impatient with shopping for its own sake. I shopped on the fly, while passing through on the way to something important.

The next day I was supposed to meet Marcie at noon at St. Peter’s for lunch, but I slept until 10, thinking it was 8:45 (I hadn’t reset my watch). By the time I got there, it was 1:30, and she had left, returning to the hotel. Our hotel Parco dei Medici was out by the Villa Dori Pamphili, a long bus or taxi ride; nevertheless, after I called her, she good-heartedly came back and met me at the obelisk; we found a restaurant near the Vatican Museums. After lunch we took bus 64 to the Capitoline Museum, which was closed, so we walked to Sta. Maria Maggiore, visited it, shopped in the area, then walked on the Via del Cavour to S. Pietro in Vinculo, where we saw the Moses, then walked to the Coliseum, and to San Clemente, which we visited, almost getting locked in the catacombs. We had pizza and wine at the Coliseum until 8:30, then took Bus 81 to Piazza del Populo, where, sitting on the steps of the Church I met an Italian Roberto Vincenzo, who had a drink with us then drove us home at 11:30. I got the impression that Marcie didn’t approve of my friendliness with the locals, something Joe had taught me on our Spain trip in 1967.

It was Sunday, my 43 rd birthday, and I hoping to get the Pope’s blessing, I took the 11 a.m. bus to St. Peters, where I was fortunate to get into the basilica for noon Mass. It was raining and I had on my then-fashionable vinyl raincoat with the animal print, and a wide-brimmed hat. If I had dressed to attract attention, it worked. The Pope, who was being carried around the basilica on his litter in celebration of the beatification of someone, (possibly Mary Frances Schervier, 3 rd Order Franciscan) caught sight of me and, possibly shocked by my vivid appearance, looked straight at me with his piercing dark eyes—disapprovingly it seemed. And you have the temerity to want to be a saint? You should dismiss that thought once and for all, he seemed to say sternly.

Distressed at having been reproved by the Pope, I sought consolation in nature, so I walked up the parklike Janiculum, stopping twice to eat at stands along the way. I was diverted from my gloomy meditations by Peter, Oswald and John, three Italian youths who invited me to see the catacombs (unfortunately closed). Undeterred, John headed his car back to the Coliseum and Forum, where he dropped Oswald and Peter and me off, so we walked to the Piazza Navona, then along the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. They were determined to show me something I had not seen, so we boarded Bus 64 and headed back to St. Peter’s (from which I had started the day) and they took me down to show me the scavi, excavations under the altar where St. Peter and John XXIII were buried. In those days one could just drop by these sites that now have long lines waiting. The boys and I separated at 4:45 p.m., and I took the bus back to the hotel. They wanted to meet me them later at the Piazza Venezia to go see the film Family Life. I was very trusting and naïve in those days, and thought it a lark to meet strangers who could show me something. I could have easily fallen in with their plans, but a better offer presented itself when Ruth, a woman I met at our hotel, invited me along to the Scoglio di frisia restaurant at 256 Via Merulana, where she was meeting some faculty friends from Notre Dame International, among them Vince McAloon (who was with NDI until his death in 2002) and Jim Carberry, who was teaching chemical engineering in Rome. I confessed that it was my birthday, so they sang to me, and the singing continued until we left at 12 heading back to the Holiday Inn, with NDI tagging along. We stayed in the bar singing until it closed at 1:30 a.m., then adjourned to the lobby, then to the elevator lobby, till we were invited to someone’s room where we sang and carried on until the manager made us leave at 3 a.m. It was an exhilarating ending to a birthday that began with Pope Paul VI’s discouraging glance.

I rose at 8 on Monday and got to the Vatican by 10:15, to tour the Sistine Chapel, the Borgia Apartments, the Raphael rooms, the biblioteca, the Etruscan Museum, and at 2 met Marcie and her new friend Gunner to head to the Marcella Bar where we had canalone, Frascati and cakes, and were back at the hotel by 5:30. Roberto Vincenzo called and we talked till 8—he was trying to persuade me to go out with him and a friend, but I was too tired and besides I wanted to go to Florence next day, Tuesday.

Florence

On the early train (7:15 a.m.) to Florence, I met a Japanese Airlines steward who spoke English and was also planning on visiting Florence. When I told him the places I planned to go, he wanted to join me. We got there at 11:15 a.m. and checked our bags at the station, then took a cab to the Uffizi and ate the lunches we had bought in the train station (something the Japanese do all the time, he said). We ate in the Piazza della Signoria, waiting for the Uffizi to open at noon. Remembering Bruno Schlesinger’s History of Art class, I led “Ishi” through, commenting on the Giottos, Botticellis, Raphaels, Titians,

Ghirlandaios, Fra Lippo Lippis, Michelangelos, Da Vincis. This was truly the treasure trove of Italy. I indulged in a guidebook just for Florence, to go with my Michelin green guide to Italy (which I still have 30 years later). As the Palazzo Vecchio was closed for a ceremony, we went to the Accademia and saw the David and other Michelangelo sculptures, many unfinished. Following the guidebook, we perhaps didn’t realize we were so near the Convento San Marco, as we wanted to see all the Michelangelo’s listed in the green guide. That took us next to the Medici Chapel, and the Princes’ Chapel, with the tombs of Julius and Niccolo de Medici.

 

Realizing that I must not miss the Convento San Marco, we walked back, via the Duomo, where we saw the Pieta

and the Baptistry and doors. At Convento S. Marco, we visited the cells adorned by Fra Angelico—the Annunciation, the Last Judgment:

I looked at Savanarola’s cell as well as Cosimo de Medici’s cell. To think that one of the Medicis reserved a monk’s cell for retreats.

After a coffee break, we headed for the train station to retrieve our luggage, and needing to find a place nearby to stay for the night, I settled on the nearby Albergo Nationale on Piazza Maria Novella, right across from the lovely Santa Maria Novella Church, which we visited and were astonished to see that Ghirlandaio, Uccelo, Brunelleschi had all been here as well. Then we split up, and I headed back toward the river. Along the way, I came upon a jewel—the quattrocento Palazzo Davanzati, which an Italian had tipped me off about, saying I shouldn’t miss this fully furnished Renaissance residence.

On successive visits to Florence, this museum was always closed for restoration, so I was delighted to find it is now available on the internet on this website:

After touring the house musem, I looked for a restaurant near the Duomo and was delighted to find the Ristorante Sasso di Dante, which was named for the place Dante supposedly liked to sit and watch the construction of the Duomo, begun in 1296. This gave me ideas about my itinerary for the next day—a day with Dante.

I couldn’t sleep that night because of all the traffic noise along the Via Nazionale. Rising at 9-- late for me, I ate a leftover apple and a roll with cheese then went out, had a cappucino and walked down the Via de Fossi to the Arno, to find the Ponte Sta Trinita, the starting point for my Dante itinerary. I had read The Vita Nuova in English while I was in high school and remembered that life-changing first glimpse he had of her by the Ponte Santa Trinita, immortalized in this romantic painting by Henry Holliday, (now in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool).

 

After imagining the scene and photographing the bridge, I headed up the Via de’ Tornabuoni, stopping at the Church of the Holy Trinity where there were Ghirlandaio frescoes of St. Francis. then over to the Strozzi Palace and then backtracked across the Ponte Santa Trinita toward the Chiesa Santo Spiritu (designed by Brunelleschi). Then I headed over to Sta. Mara del Carmine and saw in the Brancacci Chapel the frescoes by Masaccio that Bruno had explained were the beginnings of realism, as here in the Payment of the Tribute and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve.

 

I wanted to visit the Pitti Palace, but it was closed. I wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio, so I prowled the jewelers shops and bought a cigarette case. (I was still a smoker then.) Sta. Croce was also closed, as it was about 1 p.m., so I walked over to the Bargello, but didn’t want to go through a major museum at that moment, and wanted to find the Dante spots in this, his neighborhood. Over toward Orsanmichele where this charming painting is:

On a little side street (Via Alighieri) I found Casa de Dante. At Orsanmichele, I found the Dante Society building across the steet. San Lorenzo the family church of the Medici’s was also closed, so I checked out of my hotel and took my bag and umbrella, and bought my ticket for the 6:51 train back to Rome. So much to see, so little time!

Since the churches were all closed till 3 p.m. or so, I went back to San Marco to get the #7 bus for Fiesole, but found the buses weren’t running, so I had a campari and sandwiches, which I ate on the way over to the Church of the Annunciata, but it was closed too, alas, so I walked back to the church of San Lorenzo--still closed. Fortunately, the duomo wasn’t closed, so I bought a ticket to walk to the top, which was fantastic. Coming down, I went to the Baptistry and rested while studying the doors, then walked over to San Lorenzo which was by then open. There I saw the Donatello and Girlandaio, and thence to the Church of Sta. Maria Novella, near the train station. I enjoyed another sandwich and a bottle of wine in the piazza, gazing at the church and feeding the pigeons.

The train for Rome was at least 1 ½ hours late. I talked to a Greek named Mikail. Finally I got on the 8:15 p.m. Rapido, sat down and never said a word on the trip back to Rome, where I arrived at 11:15 p.m..

My whirlwind trip to Rome and Florence was ending. The next day we returned to the States, so I went back to the Vatican area and went on a buying spree around Piazza del Risorgimento, buying gifts—I found Danielles, where gloves and purses were inexpensive.

As I read through my journals from that first visit to Italy, I am amazed what I managed to see in those few days in Rome and Florence, before the hordes and lines. I had discovered something about myself. I was a born traveler—once I had been shown the way by my brother.

By pushing on and drinking deep, like Joe I had become intoxicated with what I was seeing. I wanted to see more. I had found so many places closed those two days in Florence that I knew I would have to return—the very next place I would visit would be Florence-- Italy. I could apply for a sabbatical in 1975, when I would have taught at CSU for 7 years.

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