During these thirteen years we travel a lot, and among other places we went to London a few times. And always in London we saw at least one play, we went to Selfridges’s in Oxford Street and we went to Foyle’s wonderful bookstore in Charing Cross Road where we walked down to the basement and looked over the wonderfully messy stacks of books which reminded us of the old bookstore, Barnes and Noble in New York City, where, in the old days, you could walk down to a somewhat less scruffy-looking basement and find the real treasures.
We went to Soho Square which neither of us knew of from previous separate visits. It doesn’t at all look downtrodden or filled with dubious-looking characters any more, just quiet and beautiful.
We visited the British Museum and its fabumous collection of stolen artifacts from the old world, Egypt mainly. We bought some minor Kashmir scarves and things in the very special store across from the museum. We heard a group of mostly young people singing Christmas carols outside Saint Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square. It was the end of November, it was cold and I was wearing a new Irish tweed suit from Selfriddges. The singing was delightful and we have always wondered how it is the the British are such musical people and the French not. This was a very nice surprise.
In 1988 we finally got around to visiting the V&A (Victoria & Albert) Museum, the jewel of art and design in its magnificent building on Cromwell Gardens just south of Knightsbridge and Kensington Gardens. It is only a stone’s throw away from the Roayl Albert Hall where I once went to a Promenade concert in 1955 with my dear friend Melville, who introduced me to London. The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is right there too.
In this nonpareil museum the very rooms are part of the art exhibit. If I ever saw anything vaguely like it, it would be Glyptoteket in Copenhagen, but this
is on a far superior level with its enormous number of art objects and its splendor. Some works of art were donated to the V&A, others were of course bought with the money the British Empire stole from its colonies in all parts of the world, and which they certainly thought they had a perfectly legal and moral right to. The museum was founded in 1852. You will find art of all imaginable forms from various European countries, from India and from several other Asian countries.
We must have been seriously overwhelmed during our visit, because we don’t remember very much of what is in this magnificent museum. Surprisingly enough, we have only one picture from the interior and that is one of Victorian costumes. If we ever decide to go back to London one more time, I believe it would be to revisit the V&A Museum. We would take a couple of days for the museum alone and hopefully also get in a visit to a theater. 7
We met with one of our Swedish girls, now a guide in London, Katarina from Stockholm, the daughter of very close friends from my youth, Britt and Ingvar. We first saw her at the hotel where she had her guiding headquarters, which was far better than ours that year, which happened to be pretty much of a dump that time, even though the exterior looked fine. We also went to her home in a street called something ending in ‘Mew’ — such a cute street name. She worked as a guide f
London, and she loved her job. It ended after a year or two though. She got married to the nice man, Anders, and had Britt’s and ingvar’s first granddaughters, being the oldest one of three sisters .. They now have seven grandchildren in all, of both genders.
Now John being the one he is, it was a must to go to Simpson’s in the Strand for dinner. We went there a, at least twice. When John called to make a reservation, he wisely asked if tie was de rigueur. The answer was ‘Yes’. John of course had not brought a tie, so we found on at Simpsons in Old Bond Street. Funny coincidence, and I don’t think it’s the same Simpsons. Apparently the name of this men’s clothing store is Daks Simpsons, so the likeness in the names is just a coincidence.
The atmosphere at Simpson’s in the Strand is sober and low-keyed, not snobbish. No noisy Americans here. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was the choice we made both times, since it just could not be more succulent than here. The noisy Americans might well be at the Savoy, which is close by, but certainly very different. But we also had delicious steak and kidney pie at Lyons in Fleet Street, which leads up to St Paul’s Cathedral. This was an area that I remember seeing still in rubble after the war in 1955, all around St. Paul’s there was nothing but rubble. I was amazed and shocked. Ten years after the end of the war London had not yet quite recovered, not by a long shot. Leicester Square was another shocking surprise where you could still see the ghastly destruction from the blitz during the war.
London today is a glitzy place of theaters and museums galore, Picccadilly Circus has been totally chnaged and much of its great charm gone by the seemingly eternal ‘Guiness Time’ neon sign with the enormous clock having been replaced by — what else, Mc Donald’s increasingly tasteless and domineering signs plus a multitude of IT signs. Even the Coca Cola sign is better than IT, in my opinion, since it was there as long ago as in 1955.
I had been to concerts in London in 1955 with my dear friend Melville, who first introduced me to London, its very modern Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall right south of Kensington Gardens. I had seen plays in London before I got to London with John, even the immortal play “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie at Ambassadors Theatre, with one
of my protégées,when we passed through London in 1966, a group of thirteen young American girls and I, as their chaperone. It is still running today, but at a different theater, Since the opening in the 50s, it must be the children and grandchildren of the early audiences who are now seeing it. Amazing. I do believe it beats the most long-running performance in Paris, which is Ionesco’s “La cantatrice chauve” and “La leçon” at le Théâtre de la Huchette in le Qiuartier Latin. (“The Bald Soprano” and “The Lesson”) Or doesn’t it beat Ionesco?
I quote from ‘Leçon de français‘ “What’s created the renown of this place is that for fifty years here we’ve been performing The Bald Soprano and The Lesson by Ionesco. It’s the world record for a consecutive run of the same show in the same place. Well, to begin with, the success was the success of a discovery. People came to listen to a new kind of humour. The Theatre of the Absurd, to begin with, surprised.” So it seems that Ionesco takes the price over old-fashioned Agatha Christie. I saw that performance around 1070 and even at that time it was a sensation, the way it seemed to have been running forever.
We even all of us saw the musical, “Oliver!”, all arranged by ‘Simpsons Travel Tours’ or rather its sister company in London who arranged our entire 8-week tour through Europe — badly.
“Oliver!”, a musical based on Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’, was seemingly a great success, but I found ti a very lackluster performance, as did in fact several reviewers, if I remember right.
However, now with John as my guide, theater in London became a much more interesting thing.
The first play we saw together was Tom Stoppard’s “Jumpers” a play and a playwright I had never heard of until then. I was back in the U.S. and my school at Mamaroneck after the one year in Paris when I had met John.Came Easter and I had nothing to do with myself. It was 1972 and it was getting close to Easter vacation. There was nobody in the U.S. I could go and see during my vacation. So I found a charter company (which I lived to regret, since they had gone bankrupt and closed down when it was time for me to go back home).
We had a good time seeing all John’s Collège de France friends, Roberto among others. When it came time for my returning from London, John generously suggested accompanying me.
That got to be out-r first visit together to London. We saw “Jumpers“, a burlesque comedy with serious undertones by Tom Stoppard, and I don’t suppose we had much time for anything else. I am not sure if our first visit to Simpson’s in the Strand was in ’72 or rather in ’83, which was to become our second trip to London. That was after we had sold our fermette in l’Indre and it was after our big tour of the United States in 1979. But I do know that we have been at Simpson’s in the Strand on at least two occasions. Both times equally pleasant and delicious. We might go back one day and see how it has changed. After thirty years it simply can not have remained the same as the last cenbtury’s refined, low-toned gentleman’s-club-like restaurant.
‘Jumpers‘ was an exciting play and an excellently staged performance, lively and funny. It was on at the Royal National Theater on the south bank, right across the Westminster Bridge crossing the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.
In this play Tom Stoppard ridicules the field of academic philosophy, especially in its athletic version — in the person of George Moore, university professor of philosophy — and “likening it to a less-than skilful competitive gymnastics display.” (Wikipedia) In this more or less absurdist play, Stoppard also makes fun of the exercise-nut, Archie Jumper, Vice-Chancellor of George Moore’s university. To complete this whimsical story, a murder mystery is also added to this unconventional play. Stoppard shows us from a burlesque angle the collapse of a dysfunctional marriage. Dotty is George’s disturbed wife, played by Diana Rigg, the only actor I had ever heard of. I knew her as the smart and funny Emma Peel in ‘The Avengers‘, a pretty funny television series in the sixties that I often watched in New Rochelle.
Quote from Wikipedia:
“George Moore is a faded and slightly foolish philosophy professor employed at a university whose slick, exercise-mad Vice-Chancellor Archie Jumper forces a tumbling and leaping curriculum on the faculty.” (Wikipedia)
In the fall of 1983 we saw a second play by Tom Stoppard — “The Real Thing”. We were somehow less impressed, but it got excellent reviews and it was, in spite of our personal opinions, a clear success. It opened in November 1982 and we saw it in the fall of ’83.
In the fall of 1988 on our next visit to London we first saw ‘The Secret of Sherlock Holmes’, a play by Jeremy Paul, at the Wyndham Theatre. Sherlock Holmes was played by Jeremy Brett who later got to be the Sherlocjkl Hollmes to at least one generation as he played the part on television between 1984 and ’94.. It was great fun.
We also saw The Tempest at the Old Vic with Max von Sydow as Prospero in 1988. I was not terribly carried away by the play itself, even though I love Shakespeare, to read and to watch and to listen to (e.g. BBC excellent radio productions). However, what made this a very special evening, at least for me, was my idea to go backstage and try to talk to Max von Sydow. , We managed this with a little white lie to the man (porter?) at the entrance. He asked if we were friends and I said Yes.
Max von Sydow came out of his dressing room just about finished with his de-make up and re-dressing. I said I was the daughter of Arne Lydén and I mentioned the beginning of Malmö Stadsteater with Sandro Malmquist and Arne Lydén. They were indeed the very beginning of the therater’s existence, even though there were also guest directors. Max von Sydow said with quite a bit of nostalgia that those were indeed the beginning of his love of theater. He lived not far from Malmö and he probably saw every play that was produced at the theater. He was 18 years old when the theater opened in 1944. I couldn’t get myself to say that it was a wonderful performance, and Max probably knew well that it was not, but I did say something positive about his acting. He is always a wonderful actor, always just right, the same as many of the other Ingmar Bergman actors. I made a mistake by speaking Swedish too much since John didn’t understand what we were saying, but he forgave me. It was fun speaking Swedish with Max von Sydow. He actually seemed to enjoy our little chat too, and John nudged me so I did switch over to English finally.
How we managed to also go to the Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House, I am sure I don’t know, but we have definitely been there twice. The first time was the fun time and I do think it must have been in 1983, even though for some reason I don’t have the program around here in the big red binders where I have saved all my programs.
We suddenly had the idea of trying to get tickets to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II at the Covent Garden, where neither of us had ever been. It would have been in 1983. We got back to the Covent Garden in 1988 to see Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky — Robert Lloyd as the feared Boris and Eva Randovà as Marina. Boris However, the only seats we could get were up right under the roof, what we in French call ‘le poulailler’ — where the chickens roost at night. We knew the operetta well and even though we were sitting so very far from the stage we really enjoyed the show.
I had seen Die Fledermau (Läderlappen) at the Stockholm Royal Opera in 1962 with wonderful Elsabeth Söderström as Fra von Eisenstein, the female lead. The New York Times wrote in 2009 in their obituary “the revered Swedish soprazno”. She performed at the Met in the early sixties and then again in the eighties. The other leading Swedish soprano of that day was Maragreta Hallin whom I saw as Desdemona at Malmö Stadsteater in a guest perforamnce by the Roayl Opera in 1964. She was heavenly, but never did perform internationally. It is said that she was inhibited by her lack of knowledge of English. Well, as Desdemoan she was a dream. That was the same year I later moved to the United States.
Back to the Covent Garden and the poulaiiller. fun interlude where the main singers have fun show off with a song from their own country. The hostess/soprano makes a joke about being from Ohio, which she clearly was. I don’t seem to have the program, but it would most likely have been Barbara Daniels Big laughter from the audience when she starts speaking English. And she sings an American song, I forget which one. It might well have been from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. It probably was. I don’t remember the other jokes, but here were of course several and the audience enjoyed it immensely.
In our recording at home Jussi Björling sings a Swedish national song, not the anthem, but almost. We had a fine time up in the poulailler. Also at the beginning of the party when the Emperor Franz Joseph calls to say that he can’t come, the princess/hostess says Hallo Josi, wie get’s dir? It’s of course hilarious to hear the hostess — even though a princess — treating the emperor as ‘du’ and calling him by a nickname — a fun little detail in the libretto.xx
Our vision was good back in those days, and our hearing too, and it was of course lucky that we knew the operetta well. From up high we came down a pretty small staircase, and since we wanted to see the foyer, we went around to the main entrance and saw … Daniel Barenboim coming down the big fancy stairway with a couple of other men, his white silk scarf loosely arranged around his neck over his black evening coat. It was like getting inside a play, these elegant gentlemen descending the marble stairway at the Covent Garden.
We saw Daniel Barenboim once at the Philharmonic Hall at the Lincoln Center (renamed Avery Fisher Hall in 1973) doing a piano concerto, being both the pianist and the conductor, and we have always very much admired him as a conductor especially.
The Barbican Centre 1988 Shakespeare — magnificent cultural complex, 1988 or ’83. Amazing when I thought about how all of this was nothing but a huge pile of rubble on my first visit to London n 1955. Rubble all the way from St Paul’s to where the Barbican Centre was created
The Centre hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. It also houses a library, three restaurants, and a conservatory. The Barbican Centre is member of the Global Cultural Districts Network….
was officially opened to the public by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 March 1982. (Wikipedia)
In 1983 we more or less on a fluke decided to go to Berlin and get a one-day visa for East Berlin. We had worked on improving our German ever since we had started going to the Austrian Alps for mountain hiking and climbing in the summer. We had both read novels and plays by Dürrenmatt, a novel by Max Frisch and one novel by Alfred Andersch. it seems like a strange coincidence that all these three writers should be Swiss, or at least lived in Switzerland. Andersch is German and I think vocabulary came back to us. I had seven years of German in secondary school, but my speaking had never been one of my strong points. My grammar and making sentences with all the strange German verbs at the end of the sentence was easy for me though.
In West Berlin English was understood and spoken, but in East Berlin speaking German was a necessity — in fact, the only way to communicate.
What struck us in West Berlin, where the only ruin from the war was the Kaiser Vilhelm Memorial Church (die Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche), which had been left to remind later generations of the horrors and destruction of Would War II, which, as we know well, the Germans themselves started, with considerable support from Austria.
On the bus-ride down south to the Dahlem Ethnological Museum, which first opened in 1973, we traveled past long rows of drab apartment buildings, where it could easily be seen how the city government had been in a terrible hurry, when the war was over, to remove all traces of ruined buildings and to replace the ruins by new apartment buildings by new and, even though certainly comfortable, remarkably unaesthetic buildings. No pleasant architecture had been considered when all these hundreds and hundreds of drab buildings mushroomed up. I can well imagine that the goal had been to create decent housing for thousands of homeless families, and very understandably and commendably so.
The bombing of Berlin by the Allies — the U.S, the U.K., and the last year, even France, had been ferocious and now, after the end of the war, the survivors, the home-comers, had to be housed and be helped to find a way to go on with their lives. That must not have been easy, and I can well imagine why all the haste to provide decent housing.1
“According to statistics composed by the Polish ministry of defence, military sappers intervene on average 7 to 8 thousand times a year, and dispose of about 400 thousand (yes, thousand) “explosive and hazardous items”, most of which are unexploded ordnance from WW2. 2
Once we arrived in Dahlem, it was almost beyond belief to see the affluent villas set inside beautiful yards, which surrounded the Dahlem Museum and which had clearly been left intact by the ferocious bombing of Berlin in the war. Were there really even one individual who had not really suffered from the horrors of that cruel war?
The Dahlem Museum comprises outstanding art and artefacts that were created outside Europe, goods that were brought to Berlin in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Strangely enough, we apparently did not take any pictures of this gorgeous and very modern building and its striking architecture. It had been planned originally in 1914, but two wars got in the way for ethological museum building. It was brought back as a project in the late sixties and was finished in 1973.
I went back to Dahlem Museum in 1997 when John was with computer people at his international meeting. That is when I took the pictures I now have. 3
Our day in East Berlin was living history. Starting out, of course, at Checkpoint Charlie, we made our way up to Brandenburger Tor. From there we followed the magnificent boulevard “Unter den Linden” over east to the cultural center with the most memorable buildings from centuries past
The old opera building was so black from soot, we assumed, from the fires during the vicious bombing by the Allies during the war. We didn’t even take a picture. There was nothing to see.
Across from it was Humboldt University, not too black though. Might they actually have cleaned it? Next to the Opera, across what was once named Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Platz”, formerly colloquially “Opernplatz”.The palace was once the home to the Kaiser when he left Sans Souci for Berlin. The Changing of Guards took place at this palace and iuafter watching videos I see that it took place in the very same way by the Nazis in 1936 as by the East German government in the summer of 1989, just before the wall fell.
Kaiser Wilhelm is said to appear at a window of the palace to watch the changing of the guards.. 4
Since then far more gruesome events have taken place at Bebelplatz. This was where the first book burning took place in and there is a plaque that says that on May 10, 1933 the first book burning took place by National Socialist students at Bebelplatz. A reminder from the USSR of the atrocities that took place during the Nazi era.
Notice the old Lada, photo from 1083
There is also a Changing of the Guards that takes place at “Die neue Wache” — “Mahnmal für die Opfer des Faschismus und Militarismus neu gestaltet” (Memorial to the victims of fascism and militarism redesigned.) This is a memorial to remind later generations of the evils of war and dictatorship . The building dates from 1816, but since 1931 it has served as a war memorial. However,n the texts on the walls inside the building seem rather to oppose the Nazi spirit than confirm it.
I remember vividly lunch in a drab restaurant, where, like in Prague a few years later, there was basically just a dish of some non-defined meat and dumplings to be had. I had it twice since I didn’t feel like filling myself up with dumplings. The waiter (Was there more than one?) was standing with his back against the wall right next to us, but he was not the least bit interested in serving us, so the meal took a while. Again, it was very much the same in Prague in 1989, just a year before Czechoslovakia had free elections in 1990.
The Forum Hotel at Alexanderplatz, the ugliest building in 1983, probably made to look a lot better since the wall came down in 1989 and the City government seriously started in on the work of cleaning up and beautifying East Berlin. Alexanderplatz no more looks anything like the grim and cold Platz it was in 1983, with this horror of a skyscraper hotel dominating it and no other really outstanding buildings.
In 1997, on our second visit to Berlin, Alexanderplatz was a hangout for dubious-looking skinheads and punks. On our way back from that Plaza on a somewhat late evening, I remember walking straight through one of those groups of really weird-looking fellows. It didn’t bother me much. But that was 14 years later. And also the skyscraper that we had found so monstrous had now become “Park Inn by Radisson Berlin”. I can try to imagine the interior metamorphosis that must have taken place at that hotel.
In 1983, on our way back from Alexanderplatz via Leipziger Street we went by Potsdamerpolatz — or rather the site where the Potsdamerplatz had once been. There was nothing left of the buildings that had been savagely bombed during the war, and the only thing we could see was a poster with pictures of Potsdamerplatz from four different years. Stretching north from the one-time Platz was a sadly empty huge area with nothing.
A deserted area that was going to be filled with construction the next time we were in Berlin, in 1997. That day in 1983, when this was still in East Berlin, at the northeastern end of this empty area, was the place where Hitler’s bunker had once been, where he killed his mistress and newly wedded wife, Eva Braun, and then himself on April 30, 1945. He married his long-time mistress just two days before the suicide. This madman had finally understood, the way his generals had seen it for many months, if not years, that the war was ultimately lost. It had been clear to the world ever since 1943.
The German defeat in Stalingrad in early 1943 had been a turning point in the war. The west front was lost, mostly due to the U.S. joining the war, Africa was lost and the submarine war as well. Only a madman like Hitler could possibly insanely order continued battles that were going to cause yet more lives — thousands of German as well as allied lives. German cities were cruelly bombed and almost annihilated because of Hitler’s insanity.
This quarter is today, in 2018, the most modern one in Berlin, I believe it is safe to say, with impressive high-rise buildings, certainly mostly business buildings, banks, insurance companies and that kind. Some of which are not even quite finished even today, 18 years after the reunification of Germany in 1990.
One day we found that the Renaissance-Theater was playing Bertolt Brecht’s “Arthur Ui”. A 1941 play by Brecht seemed like just the right thing to see in Berlin. We went to a bookstore and bough two copies of the play, one in German and one in English. We had one day to read it. John was generous and chose the version in German and I was happy to read it in English, since I don’t read as fast as John does.
It was a hilarious day. As I remember now decades later we practically walked around Berlin
reading as we were walking — which is probably a distorted memory. However, we did manage to get through the play so we knew beforehand what it was going to be about — “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” (Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui)
It was about the way Hitler was taught how to behave, to speak, to look in order to be impressive and sway the masses to hysterical ovations by his simple appearance and his way of holding himself like an over-lord, majestic, convincing and self-assured. The rolled r that he affected was simply a gimmick,, thought of by his trainers.
I believe that Brecht’s point in writing this play was to show how politics is theater, and especially that Hitler’s appearances were nothing but that. He makes his play a parable of the Cauliflower (Blumenkohl) mafia that is trying to take over the entire business, but it is of course clear what Brecht is really referring to. “Die Blumenkohl Mafia”. Hitler is a gangster. And, above all, the happenings in the Nazi era are far from unique. They will be repeated indefinitely, as long as there is business in the world. 5
We saw the same play in 1996 in Lyon, mise en scène Neiner Müller. This was a Berliner Ensemble production that toured Europe. It was s et up with French translations over the stage, which seemed to us a bit far reached and not really possible to profit from. But most importantly was that we did not appreciate the mise en scène at all as much as in Berlin in ’83.
We happened to get back to Berlin in 1997 because of a, international meeting for computer people that John was part of. I joined him a couple of days later. The city had changed completely, almost.
It was late winter or very early spring end on my first day in the city it started to snow. It was pretty darn cold and we had to go to a department store and stock up on woolens, scarves, gloves, and the like. It might well have been Kaufhaus Karstadt. I know I was only wearing a trench-coat, even though a warm one, so we were definitely not dressed for snow and cold winds.
This visit was mostly memorable for two things, der Museum Insel (the Museum Island) in the Spree and the Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter) whihc is in the old East Berlin, but we had missed it completely in ’83. It is said to have been the only part of East Berlin that the Communist regime kept attractive and in good shape. This delightful quarter right on the river Spree and across from the Museum Island became our wonderfum eating place at least a couple of evenings. We found out that Zum Paddenwirt, the most famous of the many restaurants, had Malteserkreuz, which we had discovered was, as far as we could tell, the same thing as Aalborg Scnapps (snaps in Swedish). The little Viertel was a delight to wisit and there was no inkling of it having for forty years or so been the target of bombs and soot and severe neglect. So maybe it had actually been kept up, as we were told, spared the damages of falling bombs and then kept as delightfully old-fashioned beautiful as we saw it.
When I go through our travel photos from the years in Paris, I am amazed at the amount of traveling we did, even though we were both busily working — at le Centre de Calcul at Jussieu and at l’Ecole Centrale in Châteny-Malabry next to the beautiful Parc de Sceaux south of Paris. I needed the car, but John didn’t. So one car was enough during those years.
There were lots of trips to Sweden and the USA, mostly Florida, apart from the “Big Trip” in 1979, which I have written about in a seoarate chapter. I will just mention here a few outstanding trips we made to a couple of other European countries.
We made several trips to Amsterdam, a city we love — its extraordinary art museums, and not just the van Gogh museum. We even added a trip to the Hague once to see the Mondrian museum? Mondrian is very different from any other painter I can think of, and it is very interesting to see how his style changes over the years.
Amsterdam is a gorgeous city with all its canals and old-style Hanseatic houses. However, the first time I ever got to
Amsterdam I do believe i was right away delighted to see streetcars, very modern and streamlined, but I love all streetcars, modern ones or the museum kind. And we both are fans of the raw herring with chopped onions which you can buy in stands in the streets, a bit like hotdog stands in Scandinavia. However, if you want a glass of genever to go with the delicious herring you have to find a bar. They sell the herring too. Every time we pass through Amsterdam airport we buy Dutch herring, which keeps for a very long time in the vacuum packed form they sell it in.
Usually these trips were combined with meetings for John, but one very special trips to Italy have been all on our own. Our unforgettable trip to Sienna and other historic towns in beaityful Tuscany, with our good friends Ruth and Jürgen, must get some space here in my memoirs.
John and I had both been to the foremost travel sites in Italy — I first with my group of thirteen American young girls whom I chaperoned through Europe in 1966. The tour began on Le France from the French pier on the Hudson river in New York City. Le France was the luxurious transatlantic ocean liner that is now cruzading in the Caribbean or wherever. This entire 8-week tour did not leave many very memorable moments for me, but there were a couple of definitely very funny events.
We had arrived in in Venice in about mid-tour, I was standing one morning alone looking out over the Gran Canale, next to Piazza San Marco, admiring the scenic view and the lively activities on the canal. Suddenly a manager lady from Simmons Travel Tours materialized next to me. Her name was something beginning with S but I can’t remember her exact name, so — Mrs S..
We chatted about what had been going on, how we had missed Jungfraujoch in Switzerland with its fabulous snowscape and ice tunnel, because our Dutch bus driver was mad at me for not fraternizing with him, but instead chatting with the girls in the bus.
In fact, the last straw for this angry bus driver was in Köln (Cologne) when he realized that I could speak German. All the time I had been speaking English with him since it is so much easier for me than struggling with German. As our bus came to a halt in a street in Köln I was met with an old German friend, Albrecht and this Italian born wife Angela, whom I had not mer before. Our driver when we were finally in Innsbruck, Switzerland, had a tantrum and accused me of forcing him to speak English with me when I knew perfectly well how to speak German. Well, German is not Dutch and it had never occurred to me that I could or should speak German to him. At the time I wasn’t too fluent in German even though I had seven years of German in secondary school in Sweden..
So our driver suddenly left in a fit of anger, went back to Holland, leaving us stranded in Innsbruck, where we were walking around more or less aimlessly for a day. What could be done? A new driver arrived in the evening, a man who was not feeling insulted because I spent my time with the girls and not with him. There had been no other hitches, but of course that one was a bit of a disaster.
The Peach in Veniuce
This story has become history and it is worth mentioning it here. Mrs S invited me and my protégée Joan to the outstanding donor of din ing with her in the hotel/restaurant where we were stay-ying.
We had an excellent and pleasant dinner the three of us, in spite of the hitch with the Jungfraujoch. Mrs S was obviously unhappy about that, but it was clear that I could not possibly be blamed for the unfortunate miss of what would have been a high point of our tour. It was clearly the mad bus driver who was responsible for that lost adventure.
So we had a gourmet dinner. The maître’d probably made an extra effort since Mrs S was the representative of Simmons Travel Tours and was known at the restaurant. For desert she said, without any hesitation — Do you have some of those won derail peaches you served me the last time ? Of course they did. Three peach beauties appeared on our plates, big, gorgeously collared. And — after the easiest pealing I have ever experienced with a peach. And the dream — when you put a piece of it in your mouth. Almost unbelievable.
Since then the Peach in Venice has been my touchstone for what a good peach should taste like. Whebn I come across a delicious peach, which happens once in a while, John says “Is it as good as the Peach in venice?”
One day in early 1980 our friends Ruth and Jürgen suggested that we travel together in a rented car in the gorgeous province of Tuscany, and especially Siena. We traveled by train to Florence, where we picked up a Fiat Panda that we had reserved. John and I have never rented such a small car, and still today I wonder how we could find room for the four of us and our luggage. We must have decided from the beginning that each one of us would have one suitcase only, and not a big one.John and I are not used to traveling light, but I guess, for this one time, John must not have carried a ton of books, and of course there was not a heavy laptop computer either.
At the end of the trip, John and I left off the car in Pisa after we all had a brief look around Florence, which we all knew more or less well from earlier visits. That is how I got to see the leaning tower in Pisa. John had already been in Pisa for a computer meeting (HEPVM or some such acronym).
This turned out to be the most memorable tour of Italy we have ever done — before or after. Ruth had lived with her family for a few years in Milan as a young girl, when her father taught English, or probably English and German, in a Gymnasium. I do believe that her father was her English teacher, and Ruth’s English is very good. She speaks Italian very fluently and that helped make out trip less touristy.
I remember one morning after John and I had just had a stand-up breakfast in a place close to our hotel, which was not the very best way of breakfasting we could imagine. We walked on to the big huge public square, Piazza del Campo, which “is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares” 6, and where we found Jürgen comfortably installed at a table outside a big café, reading Il Giorno, one of the major Italian newspapers. Jürgen is a proficient linguist and even though he didn’t speak Italian, he manages fine to read a newspaper.
We had to park outside the city, since all auto traffic is banned inside the city. Siena itself is a marvel of beauty and old buildings, but we made several trips in the area, Monepulciano, San Gimignano, Pienza. My psychotherapist Mme Mehlerwho knew Italy well said that we must not miss San Gimignano if we sere going to Siena. We might well have found out about that anyway, but it is just a detail that I remember. The four of us made daytrips to San Gimignano, and another day to Montepulciano, and Pienza right next to It, all south of Siena. .They were all fabulous towns set in the wonderful Tuscany countryside, sofr green hills and some vineyards and lots of the statuesque cypresses. The charm and beauty of these medieval walled cities I find impossible to describe in words. San Gimignano was definitely very special though, fascinating with all these towers, obviously watch towers for the defense of the town.. One does wonder however, why they needed that many watch towers.
John and I wanted to see all the frescoes of the pre-renaissance painter Giotto whom we adored — and still do. I do like his non-religious paintings better than most of his church frescoes,, but of course a painter, like a composer, has to make a living and it was the Catholic Church that had the money. The Church paid Mozart, and Bach of course, for their religious works as well as Giotto and many later renaissance painters for their immensely skilled and gorgeous works of art. As far as Giotto goes, I find him magic, religious paintings or not. So we took a day to drive, just the two of us, to Assisi, since Ruth and Jürgen had been there earlier. We loved it and we also loved the countryside on our way back to Siena. A few years later when we were in Venice, we drove to Padova to visit the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. I remember how were so carried away by the frescoes that, after lunch and a first visit, we both felt we just had to go back for a second visit.
This entire tour of Tuscany, with a side-trip to Assisi has left us with a general impression of gorgeous old cities and the wonderful soft hills of Tuscany, often capped with a line of cypresses, occasionally interspersed with Mediterranean pines, that made the landscape very picturesque.
We returned to Italy in 1982, this time to Venice mainly, which we got to know quite well, and we loved it. This visit too was memorable in several ways. For one thing we made a side trip to Padua to see Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel. Wonderful.
We visited the islands, mainly Murano, where glassmaking had developed from the Islamic art it once was. Glass makers immigrated to Venice in the 13th century from Constantinople. We were immensely impressed by the delicate beauty of this Venetian glass that got famous all over Europe.
I remember walking and walking an d walking during that visit. We loved the Campo Santa Margherita, the very popular plaza in the north of the main island, that looked so relaxed and friendly.
We liked the beautiful stone arch bridges joining the islands to one another — the most famous one being the covered bridge, the Ponte di Rialto, the older t bridge in Venice. It crosses the Grand Canal and it was the on ly bridge to do that until Ponte dell’Academia was obstructed in the mid 188 hundreds.
One day we crossed the Academy Bridge (Ponte dell’Academia) to get to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. I remember an enormous gathering of cats of all sizes and colours at the southern end of the bridge. The bridge is the second bridge that was built across the Grand Canal — the first one being the Ponte di Rialto up north. It was built under Austrian rule in the mid 1800s. The masses of cats is actually a common sight for most of Venice and for Italy in general.
Winding our way east, we finally managed to find the museum and we greatly appreciated our visit, even thought there was perhaps, for my taste, too much an accent on abstract art. It seems that even Peggy’s uncle Solomon Guggenheim was not entirely in agreement with the tastes of his niece. There are works by all the greatest painters and sculptors from the early 20th century art
During our wonderings we happened tonne day come across a restaurant that we thought looked very interesting. It was the Corte Sconta, a mostly unknown jewel at the time among the Venetian culinary palaces. We reserved for the same evening and we found that fish was the main specialty, the old-fashioned metal sign above the entrance being two curved lobsters, most likely.
The food was delicious and the atmosphere very pleasant. But the funniest thing was how we got to talk to the couple behind me, an American-Italian couple, who spent half the year in Venice and the other half somewhere in the U.S. They were amazed to see foreigners at their beloived Corte Scontasked and they asked us howus how on earth we knew about this restaurant.They said that we must never mention anything about it to our friends. We told them we had just happened to come across it and we thought it looked interesting. And seafood sounded good. Now, however, the restaurant has become a very ‘in’ place for all sorts of tourists, and you have to reserve a table a long time in advance.
In 1980 we started on our yearly vacations in Brand, the Austrian Aps, an these mountain hiking vacations were to continue until 2000, when we felt that we did not have the stamina from our younger years and so we gave up on our dear Königer family and friends and went on to more varied traveling; There will be a separate chapter on the Austrian Alps 1980 – 2000.
In 1990 we made a long and fascinating trip to Argentina, an interruption in our Brand vacations, mainly to see our dear friend Roberto and his Marta. There will be a separate chapter about that trip too.
Continued: Chapter 30 – Our Swedish girls – and other memories
- “It was bombed by the RAF Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945, by the USAAF Eighth Air Forcebetween 1943 and 1945, and the French Air Force between 1944 and 1945” Bombing of Berlin in World War II ↩
- How did they clean up all the battle debris? ↩
- Archaeological artefacts featured in the exhibition ‘American Archaeology’ – ranging from painted pottery to stone figures of gods and exquisite gold objects – date from as far back as 2000 BCE and demonstrate the rich cultural heritage of pre-Spanish cultures in Central and South America. A particular attraction is the presentation of the South Seas collection. True-to-scale exhibits of boats and spectacular houses typical of Oceania recreate the atmosphere of the Pacific islands. Ethnological Museum ↩
- Altes Palais– The Altes Palais was once the city residence of the Kings of Prussia and the German Emperors. Wilhelm I used to appear at the window for the changing of the guard, which attracted onlookers and was even mentioned in travel guides of the time. The building now belongs to Berlin’s Humboldt University as part of its Faculty of Law. Bebelplatz ↩
- Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui, von Bertolt Brecht ↩
- “Piazza del Campo” is the principal public space of the historic center of Siena, Tuscany, Italy and is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. It is renowned worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity. The Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia, as well as various palazzi signorili surround the shell-shaped piazza. At the northwest edge is the Fonte Gaia. The twice-a-year horse-race, Palio di Siena, is held around the edges of the piazza. The piazza is also the finish of the annual road cycling race Strade Bianche (Wikipedia) ↩