Saturday, January 27, 2007

6 July 1956 (Part 1)

Dear Folks

I could say that the reason I haven’t written for the past six days is that I’ve run out of stamps, but that wouldn’t be a very good excuse. Or, I could say that we’ve been working very long & hard, which would also be true, but not too good a reason either. And then I could always say that I’ve had no interest at all in writing letters, & that would probably be the best reason, though the poorest excuse.

Almost every day I’d start a letter, write three or four lines, & then quit, thinking: "Well, I’ll get at it tomorrow." Finally, tomorrow has caught up with me. I can’t promise that it won’t happen again, but only that I’ll try not to let it..

I have a bad case of Short-Timer’s Fever, the symptoms being 48 hour days & a general slowing down of the external world contrasted with a speeding up of mental processes. The victims of this fever, though seemingly in good health, are addicted to fingering the pages of a calendar as though it were a rosary, incessant glances a the clock, & scanning of newspaper & magazine datelines.

Fortunately, I am not nearly as bad off as some of the other guys, & I only have 37 days to go (869.5 hours as of this writing). One other thing—whether in my favor or against it—is that I am almost Senior-in-line-of-discharge. Everyone who gets discharged up to two days before me has left the ship. Oh, well….

Ran over to Nice on the 4th. Cannes & Nice are swarming with movie stars & assorted celebrities. Some guys who took a tour to Monaco got to see a fleeting glimpse of Grace Kelly’s hat ("white with lots of feathers") driving past from the cathedral to the Palace. She & the Prince had gone to mass to celebrate the American 4th of July. Darn nice of her, I’d say.

I saw one mess cook (being carried down a ladder by a buddy) who had been on the tour. When he saw me he said "Oh, hi!" & then, very confidentially: "I saw Princess Margaret," & went on down the ladder.

The Riviera is all now that it wasn’t in November. People everywhere—many Americans—sidewalk cafes, small orchestras playing on the patios in front of the stately & dignified white Ruhl & Martinez Hotels—the beaches thick with the bright, mushroom-like beach umbrellas—the water dotted with little pontoon boats for two (the kind you paddle with your feet)—the light surf a brownish green from the swirling sand. All very picturesque. The water is wonderfully clear, its only bad feature being that it is salt.

I went over with Tom Dolan, a college graduate who plans to work in Istanbul when he gets out of the Navy. We rented bicycles, & peddled along the coast almost to Golf Juan—the next town to Cannes. When the road left the shore & crossed over to the inland side of the railroad tracks, we half rode, half walked up a mountain to find a French Chateau belonging to Louis XIII. We found it, halfway up the mountain. It must have had a beautiful view, though we could see nothing but the walls which lined the road on both sides, topped with shards of broken glass to keep unwanted guests away. Tom thought we should see if the chateau was open to visitors at any time, so we stopped by a wrought iron gate. Through it we could see the yellow-tan house with its wooden shutters & bits of the garden in front of & below the house—patches of bright pink flowers & green grass. To the right of the gate, & a part of the wall along the road, was evidently the caretakers’ or servants’ home. A small woman in a nondescript blue smock came out & to the gate. Tom spoke for us—was this the Chateau of Louis XIII? Yes, it was—did we wish to see the Prince?

Somewhat taken aback, Tom said "Yes." The Prince, it seemed, was away "in the South," & the Princess was upstairs, asleep. We thanked her for her trouble & rode off, completely mystified.

"I wonder," I said as we peddled away, "what would have happened if the Prince had been home?"

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