Thursday, 16th September, 1965
11.09.1965 - 16.09.1965
I am writing this as we travel on the Autostrada from Rome towards Venice, so I will probably post it there. Sorry that the letter is so long in coming but we really are moving all of the time and with half the driving up to me it is very difficult to do much else. We are cramming too much in, I think, and not spending enough time where I really would like to; only two full days in Rome. But Fouad and Marroff are on a time limit, and Ade and I cannot afford to keep the van going by ourselves. It drinks too much oil for one thing, and that’s expensive. We will probably be back in London in a fortnight, making five weeks on the Continent. We have decided not to go on through Yugoslavia to Greece, and from Venice will be heading back towards London, via Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Belgium.
From Granada, where I posted the last letter, we drove down to the Mediterranean Coast at Alicante, and then kept to the coast all the way to Italy, along the Costa Brava in Spain, through the French Riviera, Monaco and to the Italian Border. We then drove on to Pisa, where we parked for the night near its famous leaning tower. We had some real Italian pizza for dinner in Pisa and then, while playing cards in the van before turning in, the four of us had this almighty row – over nothing really, but I had to stomp off for a while to cool down. Next day to Florence, which is a fabulous city, full of the most beautiful art treasures - it is only the flocks of tourists which take away from it. Wandering with Ade through the narrow streets in Florence, I ran into a friend from Sydney University, Germaine Greer, the girl who played ‘Mother Courage’ in that production of the Brecht play in which I played ‘the Chaplain’. It was an amazing coincidence. I just happened to look to the left into a deli we were passing and there she was, spooning down a carton of flavoured yoghurt. We recognized each other instantly and the three of us spent the next hour together at the piazza in front of the Duomo. Germaine is taking her PhD at Cambridge, and is spending her summer vacation in Italy.
From Florence we drove on to Rome, the Eternal City. Absolutely tremendous! The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Victor Emmanuel Memorial, its churches and its piazzas, its people and its confusion, and of course the Vatican. Our first day in Rome was the 14th, the day the Ecumenical Council reopened. We got to St. Peter’s Square just as the opening Mass of the Council had finished and the thousands of bishops were emanating from the basilica. You never saw such a scene; car after car, bus after bus, all packed with bishops of every race and nation. Hundreds of them just wandering about looking for taxis, as if they were no more important than the next chap, and of course they weren’t, as the next chap was probably a bishop too. That afternoon, for the success of the Council, there was a solemn ceremony and penitential procession of the bishops at St. John Lateran, led by the Pope walking under a canopy carrying a monstrance. The Pope then said Benediction at the altar set up on the steps of the church, before blessing the crowd and then going into the basilica with his cardinals. We had an excellent view of the proceedings, as we managed to park the van in a good spot early, before the crowd was too great, and watched it all standing on the roof. We were extremely fortunate to be present at such an occasion.
The inside of St. Peters is an unbelievable sight. You walk in the main door, and you stand absolutely stunned by its magnificence. The nave was all set up for the Council. We visited the Treasury, saw St. Pius X body in its glass coffin, and Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Cistine Chapel was closed unfortunately, because of the Council, and we were a little disappointed at not being able to see that.
Driving around Rome is like driving in a continual Luna Park dodgem - confusion is the order of the day - the traffic cops haven’t got a hope. Still, we did alright and came out unscathed, but I don’t know how many dozens of times we drove round and round the Coliseum - we always seemed to end up there. It is a toss-up which I like better, Rome or Paris, but I think Rome has a slight edge. I am looking forward to Venice now - we should be there late today or tomorrow morning. The old red rattler is still pulling its weight, though it shows gradual signs of weakening. After we had the universal joint problem fixed in Granada we had a puncture in the south of France. It seems to have a hiccup every thousand miles or so, but other than that and the fact that it drinks oil like petrol and occasionally boils, it is not going too badly for a £10 van. We have clocked up some 3500 miles now over some pretty rough and mountainous roads, and we still have a way to go yet.
* * * * *