Florence, Italy on our new Vespa. 1960
After a week or so in London, which I loved in spite of some very bad food, we took off for Paris where we met up with an old friend from the Village who was studying at the American Academy. With her help we got to see quite a lot of Paris. My high school French turned out to be woefully inadequate and I was seriously intimidated by the French attitude to those who spoke their language badly. After about another week or so of that I had had enough of being dismissed for my faulty French, so we once again got on a train and headed for Florence. Of course we knew no one and spoke only the Italian that B had learned in the Bronx and that was not fit for reasonable discourse. In spite of that we fell in love with Florence at first sight.
Suddenly, we were ensconced in a world of art and beauty, and in the midst of a landscape that explained much of what I loved about Renaissance painting. People were really friendly and seemed to enjoy the games of charades we often had to resort to in order to communicate. After the nastiness of Paris and the terrible English food, Florence with art on every corner, its warm people and marvelous food was heaven. On the spot we understood that we would want to be there for a while so spending some of our travelers checks, we bought a brand new silver Vespa GS motor scooter. Then we set about finding a room to let, much as we had in Mexico, and settled in for a month. During that time we practiced getting around on the scooter, dashed around Florence and environs and made plans for our next adventure. We ended up storing most of our gear at the railroad station with our most necessary stuff strapped to the back of the Vespa in a rucksack, and headed south. Unfortunately, this did not include the camera.
It was a great adventure and going by Vespa was not only fun but, cheap, making it possible to make many stops on the spur of the moment. For advice we once again turned to Arthur Frommer’s ” Europe on Five Dollars a Day” which was true to its title and incredibly useful.
We drove to Rome and Naples and down the beautiful Amalfi coast and eventually into Calabria and over the straits of Messina to Sicily. In Sicily we stayed in youth hostels that had been sponsored by the Italian government to attract tourists to the island. At our first stop in Sicily we were situated on the outskirts of Messina on a beautiful rocky coastal beach. It was there that we met up with an English student with whom we got totally sloshed on rose wine one hot afternoon. It was during a “sirocco”, the hot wind that blows over the area, much as our Santa Ana winds do here in California. We had never experienced such a sensation before and the three of us ended up in a stone wine cellar with a large carafe of some very nice wine. When we left the cool cellar and hit that hot wind, it was all we could do to get back to the hostel to sleep it off. We happily had a reunion many years later in London with our respective families and recalled that happy silly afternoon in the hot Sicilian sun. There were many young people there, mostly from Europe, and it was a strange sight to see bikini clad French girls on the beach in a place where all the local women were very modestly attired, many in head to toe black.
We would go to a local café in the evenings. From there we could see the lights on the water cast by the night fishermen at work. Sicily is very hot and for most of the residents night fishing when it was cool was the chief way of earning a living. During the daytime things were very quiet, especially in the afternoons when everything shut down for three or four hours until the worst of the day’s heat had dissipated. At the café we would be among the German students who drank warm beer at breakfast, chic young women from France, and kids from all over Europe as well as the black clad local population who came to drink coffee and watch the tourists dance to the music from the jukebox. I had to wonder what the young, closely chaperoned young women from town were thinking about all of this lifestyle so different from theirs.
It was from the café that we witnessed what we were told was a mourning procession. Evidently, there had been a recent murder up in the mountains as a result of a long-standing family vendetta. The body of a young man had just been discovered and was being escorted down the mountain by a cadre of black dressed, wailing women. It was a sight so surreal that it is etched in my mind forever. Apart from murder and vendettas, it was a party that never stopped and it was hard to leave.
Eventually we tore ourselves away to travel around the island with stops wherever we found things to look at which were frequent. After about a month of that, we decided to turn around and head back to Florence to gather our stuff and head north. This time, being a bit tired of Vespa traveling, we put the scooter on the train in Calabria and rode up to Naples by rail where we once again drove north. We spent another few weeks in our beloved Florence before collecting our gear and heading through the Alps toward Austria.
This what my foot looked like after the fall from the Vespa.
On the way through the Dolomite Mountains we had a bad fall from the Vespa as a bicyclist made a turn in front of us. As was usual in those days, we wore neither helmets nor boots, which made us pretty lucky, as it could easily have been much worse. When we fell, the cyclist was unhurt although her bike was totaled. B had some pretty badly cut up palms and I had a smashed right foot. As soon as it happened we were surrounded by townspeople who took us to a local doctor who advised us to go to the nearest hospital where they could do something about my foot. This happened to be in Cortina D’Ampezzo, the town in which the first Pink Panther movie was filmed. Being a well-known and elegant ski resort, it had a respected orthopedic hospital so it made sense to wend our way through the mountains to go there. My toes were pretty badly smashed and I had to stay in traction in the hospital with a leg cast up to the knee for over a week. Being Northern Italy with many German influences, the food was very good including one memorable dinner of steak with truffles. Kindly, they put us in a room for two so B could stay with me. While they couldn’t provide food for him officially, the nurses always managed to get some to him. My room even had a terrace with a view of those majestic Dolomite Mountains. While I was dismayed at the confinement, at least I was able to look at the magnificent view. While I was there, I sent B to town to buy some yarn and I knitted us scarves to wear when I got released and we resumed mountain travel on the scooter. It was getting colder in the Alps than we had anticipated.
In any case, summer was coming to an end as we headed north with plans to go to Germany until my cast could be removed and then on to the Netherlands. Money was getting a bit low and the accident had set us back some, although my in-laws sent a gift of a money order to help with some of the medical costs. Winter was coming and I was starting to feel a bit homesick. It was getting tedious to not be able to communicate well and I was missing my own people and country in a way I never understood I could feel until I had been away from America for a while.
This was a card from my mothers collection that had been sent to her as a little girl. circa 1915
Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring