Sunday, November 05, 2006

8 Feb. 1956

(Dear Folks)

Here I am again—writing in a silence made more profound by the fact that there are three other people in the room. But only an occasional turning page makes me aware of them. The only thing alive is the ship—she hums & pulsates, unknowing & uncaring that I, of no more importance than a white corpuscle, am aware of her life.

And so once more we are at sea, heading—unfortunately—for Naples… a city that shall always be my very own to hate.

Cannes was very nice, on looking back. It was clean & not quite so foreign as the other places we’ve been. Her amazing wealth did not strike me as it had on our way to the train station the first night I saw it.

Monday I took a one-day tour of the French Riviera, which I enjoyed despite the awful cold of the morning. My guardian angel, or good fairy, or private weatherman was kind as always, & Monday was the first sunny day since we arrived. We left the ship at six o’clock, before the sun even thought about coming up, & stood on Fleet Landing in the bitter cold (I was the bitter one) waiting for the bus. One of the officers suggested we wait in the lobby of a hotel at the foot of the pier, and we hurried down there only to find that they wouldn’t let us come in. So we stood.

When the bus did come, we all piled in—I was one of the first in & chose a perfect seat near a large window. Of course, we’d gotten on the wrong bus—this one was for the ski tour. Another bus pulled up & in the scramble that followed, I would up in a seat directly over the front wheels—it was by a window, but I had to sit all scrunched up with little or no leg room.

The tour was, as I said, very nice. The countryside of France is as strewn with houses as Sicily is with stones.

We passed through Nice, along the English Promenade—a sort of Riverside Drive built about a hundred years ago simply to keep the people busy.

Over the mountains & into the independent province of Monaco, a tiny republic surrounded entirely by France & supported almost solely by the proceeds from the world famous Casino of Monte Carlo.

Monaco is the only fairy tale kingdom left in our modern world—crowded & jostled by republics & democracies & totalitarian states. Here, high on a hill overlooking the city & the little blue bay, in a building that looks not quite like a castle & not quite like a palace, lives the sole remaining Prince. Outside the main door parades a single soldier–Monaco has a standing army of 80—elaborately dressed in blue & red, before two little barber-pole sentry boxes. All along the wall, & on the edge of the cliff facing the outside world, are lined formidable cannon—a gift of Napoleon’s nephew.

The Casino itself looks vaguely like an exhibition building left over from a world’s fair. Inside is a theatre opened by Miss Sarah Bernhardt. The gambling rooms are attractive & expensive, but not Hollywood-type plush.

Behind & around Monaco are the mountains—huge, proud, pensive but not brooding.

Back to Nice for dinner, past wide, almost dry rivers fed, & Spring-flooded, by the white topped mountains. Past, too, several houses looking like sand castles kicked in by a small child; reminders of when the Americans came calling with other than money.

I won’t bother describing dinner—I’ve had it before & you’ve read it before.

After dinner into the mountains; along Wolf Canyon; the bus was an ant out on Main Street. Tall, clean cliffs, an unbelievably clear stream rushing through a narrow valley cut patiently over thousands of years—large valleys with black-green trees. In one spot, a three-hundred-foot arch of a railway bridge supports nothing but the tiny section of rail atop it; in the valley below large chunks of bridge, destroyed by retreating German armies. In another, a large bridge happened to pass over a town. It too, was blown, & when it fell, it toppled onto the buildings below. They still lie together, broken toys.

Atop the highest mountains, & in the most ungodly places, are the villages—hanging on to the cliffs as thought the buildings had roots. No cars go here—the streets are too narrow—in some places the streets are merely stairways. Most of these villages are walled, founded before Christ. Ese got its name from the Egyptian goddess Isis.

Though quaint & picturesque, both looking out on & presenting lovely views, I cannot understand why people could ever want to live there, or what they find to do with themselves.

The last stop of the day was in Grasse (Grahs) where, both for enjoyment & also for commercial reasons, we visited a perfume factory. The smells were beautiful & our factory guide, "Mother," showed us all around & explained the manufacture of perfume step by step, ending in the showroom, where we were expected to buy gallons of liquid odor at $5 an ounce. I had no money, which is probably a good thing.

And so back to the ship. And now, since it’s taps, to bed.



Ken Beemer said...

Dorien (Roger)
I have enjoyed your blog from the beginning. It's a lovely start to my day each morning. I think that this undated letter is some of
your best writing. I loved that first paragraph. Thank you, and keep up the good work.

Dorien/Roger said...

Thanks for the much-appreciated comment, Ken. And for pointing out I'd left out the date of the letter (Feb. 6), which I've just corrected.

Dave said...

I took one of the busses to the top of the mountains from Cannes. It was just one switch-back after another. At most of them the bus had to stop half way through, back up, and then finish the turn. Half way up, the sand and rocks turned to a reddish color. The local fable was, some(I forget who) person died on the road and her blood forever stained the land. Sure was a great view from the top.