1931 European Letter from an MIT Grad, June 30
Prologue: When J. G. C. received his masters degree in Architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1930 he was awarded a fellowship for a year of study and travel in Europe. He left in February, 1931 and remained there until June, 1932. He became a successful architect in New York City, as well as an excellent painter.
The writer is my grand-uncle, and our family has enjoyed sharing these letters for generations. I think they're interesting because they are a window into the everyday life, travelling style, and speech patterns of a different era, and because in many you can see the effects of the Great Depression and hints of European preparation for World War II.
| Next Letter
June 30, 1931
I think I got to and had spent a couple of days at Assisi, Italy in my last letter, if I remember correctly. All in all Assisi is a very interesting town with its important history of the Catholic religion. It was there that St. Francis founded the Franciscan order of Monks. He had a deuce of a good time in his early youth with his father one of the wealthiest merchants in town. He raised the deuce in general and was ring leader in most of the plots for disturbing the peace of the old foggies. He was captured by the people of the neighboring town of Perugia during one of the numerous wars between the two places and held a prisoner for over a year. In those days the different towns and cities had their own armies, fought each other, the victor compelling the vanquished to pay taxes -- the same idea as nowadays only the general public doesn't ever get a chance to be the victor, they always have to pay the taxes and the politicians sit around and gloat. During this year Francis got to thinking what a hellraiser he was and decided to do something with his life so when he got out he started the order of monks, after having a few visions. His father brought him to court trying to prove that he was nuts, and there was a regular war there, with Francis stripping off all his clothes and throwing them at his father's feet. He then dressed himself in a burlap sack, tied it up with a piece of rope and started out. The "lower church" of this huge church is all in beautiful frescoes by old masters and some of the paintings are the most wonderful that I've ever seen. It all has a beautiful effect with very little light coming in, giving a very mysterious feeling. It is in the form of a crypt.
Assisi itself is built on a hill overlooking the flat Umbrian plain which stretches for miles and miles with mountains way off in the distance, a very beautiful sight, but not one that instills you with enthusiasm on a hot day, cause the place looks as if it has been burnt for centuries by the blazing sun. The streets of Assisi all run up and down hill (all depends on which way you look at it), and some of the nicest old Northern Italian architecture in their old buildings, with swell iron work and stone carving. The cathedral is one of the most perfect examples of old Romanesque architecture that I've ever seen, but the pigeons flying around there are not very well trained -- ask Hutchthausen, one of the fellows in the group. We climbed way up on the hill behind the town which contains the old castle that used to be used to protect the town but which is now nothing more than an old ruin, and made a sketch of the Church of St. Francis, a la bird's eye view. It was a lousy sketch. That night we made a hurried sketch about sunset of the church that was founded by the Saint that founded the Order of Poor Claras, the nunnery that corresponds to the Franciscan Order of Monks. The church is very beautiful at night with all the kids and old ladies dressed in bright reds and yellows and blues, etc. sitting on the long stone course at its base. It really was a sight to be remembered, with the sun setting way off behind the hills back of Perugia.
At the same hotel with us was a young Englishman and his wife who was Swiss. All these Englishmen seem to marry Swiss girls. She was real pretty though so I dont blame him. He was travelling all over painting landscapes, but spent most of the time talking with us, telling us about the war. He was a captain in it and it surely was interesting to sit there and listen to him. He was one of the most interesting fellows that I have ever met, and we had a wonderful time climbing all over the country side and discussing all the affairs of the world from everyone's point of view. I have an invitation to visit and stay with them when I'm in London, if I ever get there.
We next went on to Perugia, stopping on the way to see St. Francis's hut, the church he built with his own hands when he got a vison from Christ saying that the church was falling; there also is the place where he played gardener and grew some roses without thorns and they are supposed to grow only there, I guess. I never did quite understand all of it. But Perugia certainly is worth a visit. It is a great hang out for the English on a vacation, why I dont know. It certainly doesn't look like a vacationing place to me out there in the burning country with few trees, no water or river within miles, but lots of nice architecture shouting out in its own way the power and glory that was once Perugia's. Perugia was at one time the most powerful city of Northern Italy. It has some marvellous walls around the town, and an old Etruscan gate built centuries before. The square with its old municipal buildings is very imposing, and all the so when you knew the history of the place and could imagine the mobs and the riots held in that square, with a couple of Dukes being murdered on those steps, because they were reaming the people for taxes. The Pope even came there to try and restore peace back in those days and just got out alive himself. It was in Perugia that Raphael started painting and so far out shone his teacher Perugino that it was almost a case of a broken heart. Perugino was an old man when Raphael was in his prime. Before Raphael started in Perugino was the greatest painter of the time and had great fame, then when he was about fifty along came Raphael his pupil and within a couple of years Perugino had not the slightest bit of fame and Raphael for about twelve years had it all. Rap. died when he was about thirty-two and old Perugino keep on painting trying to get back a little fame but he had been so far outshone that he didn't recover much. The museum in Perugia is one of the nicest and most enjoyable that I've yet been in.
From there we went on to Cortona where we saw a few nice paintings in a couple of old churches, and then on to Arezzo which isn't worth mentioning with the exception of a nice cathedral. There were a bunch of German girls at our hotel who were playing in the theatre there, and most of them spoke some English. They were very interesting. One looked for all the world like Greta Garbo, so I was all for her. The next stop was back to Sienna where we remained for about three or four days, making a few lousy sketches, and seeing a lot of things that we didn't see when we were there the first time. Boy I never saw so much preparing for war as I saw at Sienna. I went around a corner to make a sketch and ran into a group of soldiers training to go over the top, another turn and there was a bunch practicing bayonneting a dummy -- wish they'd hang up Mussolini and practice on him, I'd go in for it strong then. In about ten minutes I bumped into another group with gas masks on going through battle manoeuvres, and down the street a ways a bugle sounded and along came bunch of soldiers on bicycles with these great big plume hats. They started riding around in circles and the inside fellow had to ride so slowly that he almost fell off and the outside fellow had to ride so fast that he could hardly keep up while the fellows in between these did their share of messing things up, and there was their officer in the center getting all tangled up with his sword and his bicycle and at the same time trying to bawl out these guys that you didn't know who was worse of the whole gang. Anyway, any person seeing all these soldiers and training in the way that they were couldn't help but see that they certainly are preparing for something and not very many years in the future either. Some of the younger Italian fellows have told me that they hope to start Fasicisti in America. Boy I'll gladly give my life to stop a thing like that. We aren't quite to the point yet where we need anything that even has a single Fascist fundamental behind it. I certainly hope the U.S. never degenerates to anything like that.
Spent the night in Viterbo again, going out to Toscanello to make a sketch. Our next movement was to a swell little place called Volterra which has the best preserved walls and garrison of any place I've ever seen. It also is built way up on the top of a hill and is an imposing sight from down in the valley. That night we stayed at San Gimignano a little town that at the time when the Pope and ruling princes made people tear down all of the castle towers which were signs and symbols of power of the various families owning them, (rich families had armies and fought each other for power in the town, just as towns fought each other, and as nations fight each now, thus each family had at least one tower on their palace and often more) -- to get back to the original thought -- some how or other San Gimignano escaped all or most of this and this little town is now bristling with towers of various heights and sizes. It is just a tiny town and yet holds more interest along picturesque lines I think than any other town of its kind. It is absolutely swell. Every tower I guess must hold about ten bells and exactly at three o'clock in the afternoon when the town wakes up again from its mid-day sleep, every bell starts ringing. I never in all my life heard so much noise before at one time. They all start on the second and ring for about twenty minutes. The town is full of sketches but we didn't have the time to hang around for very long there.
Florence was the next stop, and we stayed there again for almost a week. You could stay there for two months and still not see everything as much as you would like. It's the nicest city in Europe I think, at least for being attractive and interesting along artistic lines. There was a peach of a gang at the pension that we went back to, three fellows up from the American Academy at Rome, several other fellows whom we knew before and a woman and her two daughters who had formerly lived in Albion, to say nothing of a few old friends who had been there when we were there before. So Florence was more than interesting. They had a big celebration about something or other there and had grease pots burning this one night in all the windows and slits up the tower of the old Palazzo Vecchio. The slits were where they used to shoot arrows through when they were attacked. But gee, it was a beautiful sight all these flickering lights spotted all over this palace and up the high tower. There was a very nice exhibition of all the gardens of Italy in the palace which covered three immense floors, so you can imagine it was darn complete, and took most of a day to cover completely. We had seen many of the gardens so it was doubly interesting. We got special permission and got into two private villas with very pretty gardens one day, the Villa Strong, and the Villa Medici at Fiesole up on a hill outside of Florence. They overlooked Florence which was stretched out way below with the River Arno winding around through the place. One evening I went up on the hill where Michael Angelo planned the fortifications and where a copy of his huge "David" is. You get the most marvellous sight of Florence there at sunset. Gee, will never forget it, and then the walk back to the pension by the Boboli Gardens. Met several other people I knew while I was at Florence, and have been meeting them here and there ever since. Went back to my old favorite church San Croce several different times looking it over here and there. Gee, I like that place. One day I went through an old palace that has the interior just as it was in those days, furniture and all. It's called the Davenzetti Palace, and is very interesting in many ways. To see the old man's study was worth the trip alone. He had all the old maps of the known world at that time, old navigating instruments, and swell hour glass, and the best little cannon that was arranged with a magnifying glass adjustable so that you could set it to be exploded by the sun at a certain hour. Great idea for an alarm clock I think, then you wouldn't have to get up on rainy days, and after all those are the days you really want to sleep anyway. I could have well spent several more days there but we had to get on our way. Hope to get back there again some day tho', this trip if I can possibly make it from southern Germany perhaps.
The trip from Florence over to the Adriatic coast was as interesting a trip as any we had taken so far. It was through the mountains that cut down through central Italy, and in several places we were so high up that we saw snow. Boy it was cold up there, let me tell you. For anyone interested in rock formations I don't think you could find a better place in the world; the funniest strata I've ever seen. The most perfect modern German buildings going, it seemed. Long horizontal lines, like so many stories of buildings piling up and up and up. Then in places you could see where the entire mountain had sunk in one place and these lines all absolutely parallel would bend down in that one place, all perfectly even. Then in some places the lines would just bend over in a quarter circle and disappear into the ground, reappearing somewhere farther along. Some of these stratae would be very very thin and sharp as a razor, with the softer strata between eaten way back ten feet or more giving the effect of immense fins like you used to see on the cylinders of the motor in a motorcycle.
It was through these mountains that we passed at sunset, and one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. You can imagine it way up in these mountains, this beautiful rock strata, and a flaming red sun disappearing and then the after effects for a couple of hours. By that time we had passed out into the plain which extended for miles over to the Adriatic, and right in the middle of this plain there is one very high mountain peak, just one sitting there all by its lonesome, sticking up like a flagpole, it is so high, so sharp, and so tiny and alone in this huge plain. On the very top of this is the Republic of San Marino, the tiniest republic in the world, having a standing army of 160 men, and a population of not more than 500 people I imagine. It is just the one tiny town built on this peak.
As we approached this mountain peak from down on the plain where it was pitch dark, there was San Marino shining out in all its glory up there in the heavens like so many stars. There was hardly a light in all those many many miles down on the level plain, while way up in the air, the lights twinkled, and sparkled just like a big Christmas tree. Really, that was what it reminded me of, and it was just about the prettiest sight I've seen so far. We decided we wanted to spend the night up there so up we went to the top and to the walls of the town where the Republic's one cop told us autos weren't allowed inside because the only place you could drive to was into the square and that wasn't much larger than our back yard. But he hopped on and let us go in, up to the door of the one hotel. Gee, it was an experience to be remembered, with the square all lit up and the whole country out for the evening. It seems that exams in the school were just over so all the students and their girls were having a big celebration at the hotel. They found out we were students so we were quickly gathered in and introduced to all their girls, given dances (to this gawd awful Italian dance time), and just feted like a visiting king. Afterwards every fellow accompanied every girl home, we in the bunch. They just ran all over the republic about 2:30 in the morning letting everybody know they were students, and being sure that everyone knew their exams were over. A student in Europe is given a great deal more leeway to raise the deuce than one in America because there is so much more uneducation over here that when someone is taking higher education the masses and dumb police etc. dont dare to say a word, so all students take every advantage of such at condition and make the most of it. So that was some celebration that we hit, I want you to know.
The republic has their own stamps, but uses Italian money. They are all Italians of course and stronger Fasicista than any place I'd struck yet. Mussolini had visited the place a couple years before so they were all for him, as long as they could still remain a republic. The sight in the morning was as impressive as the one at night, for on one side of the peak there was a sheer drop of several hundred feet with two castles built right of the very edge. Way off you could see the Adriatic with the sun reflecting on it. The night before you could see the long row of lights stretching all along the road which ran along the sea coast and it really was an impressive sight. On the other side of the town you looked off towards the mountains through which we had come the day before and the plain was a green and brown color. From way off in the mountains, threading towards San Marino, past it on to the Adriatic, was this very very wide, dry river bed, which gave the most wonderful twisting line you ever saw through this long flat terrain. The castles were especially interesting because you could climb all over them, and the fortifications in them and the fortified walls running up to them with their runways for the archers made you think you were in fairyland. I wouldn't have missed that place for anything, and it is a place that few people ever get to. It was perfectly marvellous, because you felt it was a country in itself, and its site and all just placed it in a fairy-book and no where else. It's a shame that more people dont get to see it, but very very few ever do.
That afternoon we went on to Rimini, which I'll always remember as having the most wonderful bathing beach I've ever seen or ever hope to see. The town had a couple of interesting old buildings but you can see architecture any day, and its darn seldom that you find a beach like that place owns. Boy, it is marvellous! We spent most of the afternoon out there lying on the beach and way out in the warm water swiming around. It was about the first time that I've ever struck water that was so warm it really took the pep for swimming out of you. It was a very gradual slope out in the water, and in the shallow part where the sun had a chance to really heat the water the water was almost hot. It's the ideal place for any one to go who wants warm water to bathe in. Anyway its the most wonderful beach I've ever seen.
We went on to Ravenna that night and the next day saw the various old churches with their wonderful mosaics. Ravenna as a town is terrible, but for what's in it, it can't be beat. You see it was at one time the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and being on the Adriatic was very much influenced in its architecture and decoration by the Eastern church at Constantinople where the world's nicest mosaics have been done. So consequently the mosaics in the churches there are something to be studied and followed. I wish I had had more time to have made drawings of them, etc. Things like those have to have careful drawings done of them, not sketches.
I forgot to say that at Remini we went down by the canal and you never saw such a sight in all your life as all those fishing boats with their brightly colored sails, bright green hulls, red masts, the people dressed in bright reds, yellows, blues, etc. and sails stretched out on the banks with men and boys painting them, painting bright designs such as stars, cresents, etc. and other shapes and designs that "The Specialist" spoke of in his little book. You never saw such color in all your life, and with all this mass of boats piled on next to another, it was just the most beautiful sight possible. I hope to get back to a few of these places again sometime and make some water colors, but when, I dont know. Gee, a person could easily spend a year in just one little section and still not see everything that is offered there. I'd like to do it all over again, but guess it'll be a long time before I'll be as free again. At Ravenna we saw Dante's tomb, which was quite a pretty little thing, and just outside saw the forest about which he wrote several times.
From Ravenna I took my last ride in the old flivver to Bologna. Bologna has lots to offer for a couple of days, chief among its attractions being two huge squares which are wonderful to sit on at night, eat ice cream, drink beer or whatever you choose, and listen to two wonderful orchestras which play there every night until very late, no noisy cars on these huge squares, just people sitting or standing around listening. The orchestras are there for the cafes which sell the stuff to the people. The squares run into each other and are almost entirely surrounded by beautiful arcades, with the cathedral on one side and the old medieval town hall on a side, while out in the middle is the famous statue of Neptune in the middle of this huge fountain. There are two towers in the town right beside each other. The shorter one leans so far over I really dont see why it doesn't fall, and the tall one is very skinny and shoots for miles up in the air, the most awkward thing I ever saw but very unusual. Bologna has a couple of very nice churches, and a swell little fountain that is world famous, in the court of one of its palaces. But the most interesting thing of the whole place was its cathedral at noon. It seems that quite a few old medieval cathedrals have this, but this was the first I'd ever seen. They have what they call a Meridian Time line which is a line running directly north and south the length of the interior of the cathedral. On this line are marked off the days of the year, with June 21 at the top and Dec. 21, at the other end. Up in the roof there is a small hole through which the sun shines, and casts a most brilliant spot on the floor. Well, the dope is that this line has been so figured out that at exactly high noon this sun spot crosses this line, and of course at the corresponding day on the line. It seems that sun time in Bologna is thirteen minutes behind the regular time in that zone. Well, at about five after, all the old ducks of the town showed up, a couple of monks, a chauffeur, two soldiers and several other people, ourselves among them. All the old duffers stood around talking with each other until about twelve after then they all gathered around the line, watches out, and not a word spoken eyes glued on the watch and the spot. One old boy had a magnifying glass with which he was checking up on the seconds. I'll bet he hasn't missed a sunshiny day there at that line for thirty years. He looked exactly like that type. It was darn interesting to run into a thing like that though and see all the interest and care given.
I took the train from Bologna for Venice, cause I had to get back to Paris by the 18th, and didn't want to miss Venice, and the fellows had a couple of small towns they wanted to go to. It was kinda sad busting up after we'd had such a good time together for so long and covered so many miles in the old jitney. Got to Venice in a couple of hours, and grabbed one of Venice's street cars, a steam boat from the station platform to the place where I stayed. Venice is one swell town. You'll hear many people say they don't like it. Why, I dont know, I thought it was great and want to get back there again sometime. It's a wonderfully fascinating place with its Grand Canal, its smaller twisting canals, the huge Place San Marco, and all the gondolas, the harbor and the Lido. The pension where I stayed was on the Grand Canal right beside the Pont Rialto. All the time I was there there was this suffocating heat which was the cause of me not writing a letter home when I should have. It is some wind that blows up from the Sahara Desert and brings all the heat of Africa with it. Boy, it was terrible. Every afternoon except one we all went out to the Lido and went swimming. I say we because there were a bunch of fellows and girls at the pension whom I knew. Almost every one of the fellows who had been at the place in Florence, this mother and her two daughters again (her husband graduated from Tech in 1905 and is now doing a lot of work for the Russian government and the family is travelling around Europe until he finishes up) and several other people whom I'd known in Rome, but who hadn't been at Florence in our gang. So all in all, we had a marvellous time going places in the morning, going swimming at the Lido in the afternoon, getting one of these surf boats and going way out and trying to sink it, and at night going down to the Piazzo San Marco and sitting around listening to the band or orchestra, whichever one happened to be playing that night. The son of Swope, President of General Electric was in the gang for a couple of days; I knew his brother who had been at Tech about three years ago. A couple of nights we got a gondola and went all over the canals and out into the harbor in front of San Marco and listened to the sernades. There are some larger boats out there all decked out with Japanese lanterns and have an orchestra crowded in. They play and girls sing and dance while the gondolas crowd up next to each other and listen. Then every now and then one of the fellows from the sernade launch will walk right across the bows of the gondolas, from one to another taking up a collection. I'm living to see the day when the guy falls in, but he didn't while I was there. I also want to see one of the gondoliers fall in. The way they stand up on that slanting deck in back and push the long oar, leaning way forward and still not fall in is a wonder. Some of the gondolas are beautiful pieces of workmanship in carving. Boy they are beauts. Every house along the canal has a lot of these barber poles sticking out of the water and the gondolas poke their noses in between them to come up close to the landing steps. Here and there you will see a beautiful motor boat with top and all which of course is to that house likes a Cadillac or Packard is to a house in some American city. As I said they have a lot of large steam boats which are the street cars of Venice.
The canals are just like streets in an ordinary town, with boats loaded with boxes, and vegetables, etc, plying around, small boats, large ones, nice ones terrible ones. Every now and then you sea a gas pump along the canal. You can walk all over Venice but boy, you need a map. All the streets are terribly narrow and crooked. It's fascinating to walk around it at night and run on to a sernade in one of the small canals, with a couple of fellows with guitars strumming some old Venetian piece, and singing to some girl leaning out of a window overlooking the canal. I heard the best serenade of all in one of the narrowest and tiniest of canals. Of course there are no automobiles in Venice. You must leave your car in a neighboring town and come by boat, as all of Venice is out in this lagoon. It was built there many years ago when the hordes from northern Europe came down into Italy, for protection, and because of its situation it became one of the greatest of world powers at one time and the greatest naval power in Italy or the East,and immensely wealthy at one time as the Doges Palace and things around and in Venice will testify. A couple of years ago when a Prince or some other big shot was visiting Venice they dragged a car over and it was a sensation. There is no where you could drive if you got one there -- there are no streets. The Bridge of Sighs is still there in all its sombreness, and a very beautiful piece of design, too. Prisoners were lead across it from the prison into the Doges Palace, just to hear the sentence of death and then taken back and immediately executed. If they walked across it they knew the end had come, no chance of any sentence less than death.
The church San Marco is a beautiful thing. It really is surprising because it has such a conglomeration of detail and mosaic and color, yet it all harmonises and gives just the nicest effect imaginable. It also shows a great deal of Eastern influence in fact much more than Western. The interior is all gold mosaic with Byzantine detail, and statues, and brass lamps. The floor just goes up and down in spots, due to the settling of the ground. The altar contains some of the most precious gems in the world. To me San Marco is a thing that in this world, stands out by itself. In front of the church is the tall, beautiful Campanile tower, which in 1902 crumpled and fell down, just settling down like an elevator. The angel on top rolled over in front of the door of San Marco unhurt which has been taken by the Italians as a miracle. The tower was all rebuilt of course and is a beautiful spot in the square. Again I say that I dont know how anyone can help but like Venice. The huge square is just messed with pigeons and when the noon gun goes off they just all rise in the air at once practically making things like night around there from the thousands that are in the air. They soon come back and settle down. People feed them and get them to sit on their heads, shoulders, arms, etc. while they get their picture taken.
On top of one of the buildings there is a huge bell with two big bronze giants with mallets in their hands, and on the hour and half hour these guys swing with all their might and strike out the hours. They are quite ingenious. Over the portal of the Church San Marco are four huge bronze horses, that have travelled all over the world. The Venetians captured them in Constantinople in the 11th century, and brought them to Venice. Napolean carried them off to Paris, from where they were later returned. During the war they were carefully removed and hidden somewhere, and following the Armistice again replaced over the doors of San Marco. You can climb up and look them over. I highly recommend Venice as a wonderful place.
One day I went over to the island of Murano where they blow glass and watched these fellows pull the long tubes out of the furnance and blow the glass into some of the best looking vases, etc. It was very very interesting, and well worth a visit. Then I went over to the island of Burano and watched women making this famous Venetian lace. Boy, I dont see why they dont go blind doing that stuff, but it was interesting to look at, anyway. Then the island of Torcello has a couple of very nice old churches. But I've seen almost enough churches to last me for a lifetime. To me the Doges' Palace was more interesting on the outside than the interior, altho the interior certainly showed the lavishness of Venice at its height. The Doges of course, were the rulers of Venice, for the most part an elective office, being elected by the nobles of the city.
There was an old, not so old either, but a Catholic priest at the Pension, an American. Father Chapman, who had written a little book on Italy, and was a deuce of an interesting person to talk to. He had just about the best sense of humor and could tell jokes about the best, all kinds, of any person I've ever met. He'd sit there at this table with a lot of old maids from Beacon Hill, Boston and tell them all the best places to buy drinks in Europe, all the best bars in every town, and there they all were members of the W.C.T.U. He told them of this one marvellous place in Venice where he always held morning devotions at nine o' clock and evening devotions at five, inviting them to come along. He said, "For my devotions they always keep it on ice, and it only cost two lira a glass". He was a wow, but they couldn't quite appreciate him. I hated to see him go. He was telling about the kids with whom he played every night out along the canal, but one of them fell in, which is about the greatest disgrace that can happen to a kid in Venice, and his mother licked him and was after the priest so he didn't dare go play with 'em any more.
After six days in Venice, I got up early and grabbed a train to Verona, where I ran around for a few hours seeing a couple of darn nice churches and then grabbing the train for Milan. Boy I had so much luggage that I even felt sorry for myself. All the stuff that had accumulated on the three months trip, as stuff will, you know. I liked Milan very much, especially the cathedral which again is something that many dont like at all. But to me it had a lot of power on the interior, and really looked like a huge cathedral, as it should, something that many big churches that are supposed to be good dont at all. It is one of the largest churches in the world and a very interesting one, both outside and inside. The outside has thousands of pinnacles, six thousand to be exact, which gives a very unusual effect. I think it is darn nice and wish I could study it more.
Also at Milan there are several very nice old churches and one very interesting one done by Bramante, with the wall surface behind the altar modelled in perspective so that with a depth of only about eight inches you get a feeling of a depth of about twelve feet. In one of the churches which was formerly an old nunnery, on the end wall of the old refectory is Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of The Last Supper, which to me is one of the most wonderful, if not the most wonderful painting in the world. It is absolutely marvellous, but within fifty or a hundred years it will be gone because it is fast deterioating (that's all spelled wrong! but that's a thing I always held against this type writer, it never seemed to be a very good speller), and peeling off, mostly Leonardo's fault because he used tempera (poster colors) in many places just to be able to work faster because the Nuns were in a hurry for it. But even in its poor state of repair it is a beautiful thing to look at.
They had just opened a brand new station at Milan about a week before I got there, and it is quite a piece of architecture for the present day Italians, which to my mind, in spite of them being the leaders by far, back in the old days, are just about as far behind in good logical architecture these days as Michael Angelo was ahead in those days. But this new station is quite a nice piece of work except for the lousy detail which is characteristic of all present day Italian architecture. But it all has scale and looks like a business-like place, and a railway station in its essential. The huge Victor Emmanuel Monument in Rome is just about the worst piece of design I ever hope to see, and it's the world's largest, and I guess the most expensive War memorial in existence.
One thing I meant to tell about was the laundry places in the different towns of Italy. Each town has a special place where all laundry is done, usually under a big arcade with a stream running through it, and you'll see all the women of the town gather there and washing all day, gabbing away at a great rate and having a swell time. I'll bet that is one of the high spots in an Italian woman's life, wash day and one of the few enjoyments they really get out of living. They'll spread all the clean clothes all over the countryside to let them dry, and in these hill towns it is a beautiful sight to see a whole huge hill just absolutely covered with white laundry. This was especially true of that charming town of San Gimignano of which I spoke back farther. At Rimini we saw a funny sight. There was a stream running along the edge of town and out in the middle of it stood several women, up to their hips in the water, all fully clothed, and scrubbing away at a great rate, doing the laundry in the middle of the Rubicon, so's to speak. It surely was a comical sight though, it made you think they'd been canoeing, fallen in, stood up in the mud, and were trying to wash the mud from their clothes before they went home and got a licking from their mothers.
I left Milan at seven in the morning bound for Paris, headed first for the Italian Lake district, which is one gem in the world. Went by Lake Maggiore, and I wouldn't ask for a nicer spot to settle in or go to. Gee, it is perfect with the long lake winding around through the mountains, the high mountains piling out of the waters, and every here and there a swell island lying there peacefully and holding a nice Italian villa or two. It's just the laziest looking place and a perfect place to go for a vacation. You must try it.
About that time we began getting into the Alps, which although they are just another range of mountains yet seemed to strike me differently. To begin with they seem to have a lot more grandeur and strength than any mountains I had ever seen before, and practically every one of them were covered with snow. We went through Simplon Pass, which I believe is the longest tunnel in the world, being about fourteen miles in length. Gee, what a job to dig that hole; I'll the guy had a sore back when he got through. When you come out of that tunnel you are in Switzerland, with a complete change of architecture, and darn nice at that. The houses have tall pitched roofs, the churches have towers peculiar to just that country, and even the farms and land looks different. The old Rhone surely was a swollen river, and every now and then you would come upon a wonderful water fall tumbling down from some mountain peak, disappearing in a lot of mist. I loved Switzerland and stayed over for a short while but it is much too expensive to linger very long there unless you have an overflowing bank roll, and the only thing of mine that is overflowing is my expense account. But Switzerland is all it is cracked up to be. I'm going back there sometime when I have a few extra sheckles, years from now, but I'm getting there. Later I went through Lausanne, which is on beautiful Lake Geneva, and stopped there just for a short time. Gee, that country is like fairyland. The Alps disappear as quickly as they appear, and before you know it you are travelling over absolutely flat country and into France. Went through some very interesting French towns which I hope to get back to with a car sometime this trip. That's the advantage of a car, when you come upon something that is interesting and will make some good sketches you can hang over and do them, but when you see them from a train you dont have much show.
Got to Paris about eleven o'clock at night and a taxi driver immediately took advantage of the fact that I had so much luggage and took about all the money I had on me, to take me to the hotel. Since then, my calendar doesn't read of much interest. The weather has been very nice since I've been back, and we've had several very hot days. Gee, Paris is great in weather like this, with all its boulevards, parks, fountains, the Seine, etc. It cant be beat, but it's equally as dreary looking and dismal in the rain and bum weather. I've been very lucky since I've been in Europe, for with the exception of the first few days when I first hit Europe, I've missed the rain in every place, and both before and after we've been there they have had some terrible weather. All in all in the last four months, I dont think we've had more than five days of rainy weather.
Now if I can only smell the places where they're going to have nice weather during the next eight months why everything will be swell. With all this hot weather, about four afternoons we've all been swimming out in a very modern pool just outside of Paris. It is a great place, and calls forth some pretty kippy bathing suits from the weaker(?) sex. I'm afraid Batavia would blush to see some of them but they really are worth a trip to Paris. You must come over dad. Been to see a couple of exhibitions, one by a very modern painter, whom I must confess I think was drunk when he started his pictures and finished them standing on his head after he had passed out. I guess I'm dumb and ignorant but I just couldn't see very many of them. However, he is all the rage, and a leader in art. Oh well, who cares for art anyway!
One day I went out to the Exposition and made a sketch and looked around a bit. It is worth many visits which I expect to give it within the next few weeks. It is a darn nice piece of work along Exposition lines, and some of the buildings are perfectly swell. I'm going to take lots of pictures and make quite a few sketches I hope. Spent many hours in the famous Deux Magots, the hang-out of of all architects since the last fifty years I guess, talking with all the old gang. My gol, I know so many fellows here, old school chums etc. that by the time you get through arguing over all architecture that has been built in the last twenty years, half of the day is gone. You dont seem to accomplish much, but in reality you get lots out of such hours. At least they are darn enjoyable. Oh, yes, one noon Prof. Emerson had all the Tech fellows to his hotel to lunch. He expected about five or six, but wanted all who were in town, and the day before a couple of boats landed, bringing over several more, so by the time we had gathered there were about ten or twelve. We had a wonderful time all in all. Mr. and Mrs. Emerson had just returned from Egypt, Syria, Constantinople, Greece, etc. and had some very interesting things to tell about. I wish I didn't know of all these nice places, it makes me want to get to them also.
The rest of the time I've been working on the Grand Prix de Rome, not doing much but helping a little here and there, and having a good time meeting and talking with the French fellows, getting the spirit of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and meeting fellows whom I'd often heard of and seen their work reproduced, but never thought I'd meet. It is quite a spirit they have here in the school, with their continual monkeying around and yet producing much and good work. The old atelier is about the oldest building and the dirtiest and rickiest thing you can imagine, but they love every board and nail in it. They are continually running all over the roofs, dropping stuff down chimnies, and annoying the neighbors in every way, but having one wonderful time of life.
The other night the Medical scbool of the Sorbonne had their annual Ball, and boy oh boy, the report of French student Balls, and masquerades, etc. are not exaggerated in the least. What women! and what costumes or rather lack of costumes. They paraded all over the streets, with their girls sitting on their shoulders and yelling like madmen. Paris certainly is a free city for doing as you please in having a good time, and showing others what a good time you really are having. Nobody cares what goes on! I'll have to tell you the French mind about their girls when I get home; it is too long and complicated to write about.
I guess that takes me just about up to the present minute and again I am caught up, never to get so far behind again if I know what I'm doing. Think you'll have to take a week-end off to read the letter, and probably by this time you are thoroughly bored so I'll ring off. This week end when we have the car we're headed for Fontainebleu, and then Sunday to see Versailles, and watch the fountains play, and anything else that may feel like playing at the same time. Today was spent in many errands, storing a fur coat, and securing an International driving license, etc. I had to get a British driving license because my American license had expired and the French would make me take a test, while England would just give it to me. You have to have some single country's license, along with the International one. Good night!