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A Wayward Journey of Love and Dreams

France and Italy in the 1950s

Joe Di Bona

 

 

 

 

ISBN 978-1-934936-08-5

 

7 by 10 Paperback-Color-160 pages

$31.95

 

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Preface

 

These notes and pictures were put down long ago and I never expected to see them in book form.  But, after a while, I was encouraged to do something with them and the result is what you see before you.  I have not tried to alter them significantly, or to correct the spelling or names of places and things.  I was never good at French or Italian and often wrote whatever I thought okay at the time.  Since I never expected to show them to anyone, it hardly mattered.

There are some additional reasons for presenting my personal ideas, hopes and dreams to a larger audience.  Vanity, of course, is present and should not be dismissed, but more important are the changes that have gripped society in the past half century and how clearly some of my observations contrast with the present.  Most of the people I meet today are concerned with their careers, jobs, health, retirement, and so forth.  Why did such things not appear in my journals?  It was simply a different world.  Of course we experience loneliness, worry about love and friends and relatives, but it still seems different then than now.  I personally feel it is sad to see the changes that have taken place.  Many are practical and relate to government or accepted normal social conditions, but few young people today are ready to go away and be on their own.  There is more fear and hesitation today than I see in these writings.

      If it existed in the 1950’s, I am speaking of the freedom, the adventure, and the optimism, the love and dreams of youth.  Are they lost forever?  I think not.  As I read and think about these travels, I ask myself, “Why not do it again, Di Bona?”  I know today I am eighty years of age, am somewhat infirm and worry about things that the AARP mentions weekly in their publications.  But we do not have to succumb to what society imposes on us.  We can be free at any age.  I write not only for myself, but for any age that seeks to recover the spirit of adventure.  Follow your dreams, do not be afraid to love and hope and dream.

The world remains full of wonder and new things to discover, like strangers who come into our lives out of nowhere, art, sunsets and the petals of flowers swaying in the sunshine on a lovely spring day.  So let us see how the new possibilities that exist can help us grab the day and strive anew for a better world and a better self.  Needless to say, I needed a lot of help to bring these failing, tattered journals to the form at hand.  Though there were many who sustained me so long ago, today I express my appreciation and thanks to Eleanor Harrington-Austin, to Pam Prall, to Rina Hutchinson and to Nancy Watkins. 

 

Thank you all.

    Timberlake, May 2008


Chapter One

Good Bye New York, Hello Paris

 

Circa 8/14/53

 

 

Crossing the Atlantic in a home-line ship is a little like old home week--except it is old country week.  Half the passengers haven’t seen the homeland for twenty-five years and can’t mention the little town’s name without tears in their eyes.  A kind of rivalry springs up whenever a few duffers congregate and compare the length of time since they were last home.  Home is a good word because it is where they have not been for these many years.  Now, finally having retired from a life time of struggle and saving, they awake to find their children grown and no longer in need of them, their needs largely fulfilled, at least as far as the struggle is over, and very little satisfaction left from the multitude of gadgets thirty-five years in the U.S. can bring.  What is there left to do?  Hopefully, they write a seriously inquiring letter to Europe. For years the folks have been politely replying to such innuendoes by exuberant encouragement, now long immune to the expected excuses.  But lo, this time they are coming. To see us?  Can it be?  Oh how nice; I always knew Jan would come back.

They are convinced that the incentive to come is on their side, and cannot in a million years be caused by a rejection of America.  How could it be, since their relatives have consistently bludgeoned them with praise for the newfound land?  Anxious to be certain, they are never pitied by the simple and retiring relatives.

So now, with a plethora of dollars, and prepared to make each seem larger than ever by specializing on only luxury purchases, they embark on the home-line ship for Europe,

But during summer, on any ship, there is the Americanus Tourist.  He is a peculiar species of sightseer, who has an inordinate desire to poke his head into every hole, pleasant or not on earth, while at the same time, he cannot leave his own living and carries it with him everywhere so that he will never feel alone.  His loneliness creeps up to him whenever he is without those constant reminders of home: the English language, U.S. dollars, and food.  This last is restricted to just a few important staples such as ham & eggs, coffee, cake, corn and steak.

You find them on board, reading guidebooks for information, usually on a country having no relation to them, but certain there must be.  Being a constant observer without discrimination, he is prepared to adapt the attitudes toward a county in toto—Yugoslavia: don’t go there if you’re driving; England: go there for Shakespeare.  He looks up from his book to answer an inquiry about it.  “It tells you pretty much what you want to see over there.”  And pursues his conversation: “Here’s something, (producing a paper indicating membership in some honorable fraternity) seventeen years.  It helps to carry something like that so people know who you are.  You know, when you go so far away they might need something so they’re sure about you.”

And stranger still is to hear the whining nasal tones of Ohio, enunciating humorously the few French phrases they know: “C’est la guerre.  Je suis enchanté,” etc. These are the girls on the “Tour”: France, England, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy.  They are secure in the knowledge that the charts and timetables provided by the “Tour” are more than worth it in terms of increased enjoyment, and you do have half your time free.  They are eager to start their adventure early and smile wantonly at the handsome young men on board.  After all, if you are past thirty and teaching, really, you may never marry.  Why save all that money for a dowry when you can enjoy yourself now instead?  A trip to Europe is something you’ll remember all your life.

Then there are the wives going to join their husbands in the American army.  A little uncertain about the future, but sure it will be wonderful for a while and, well, then we can worry.

Then there are the students, young and eager, coming home or going to Europe, studying everything under the sun; the businessmen on an eight-day boat for a rest; engineers standardizing production methods between two plants abroad, manufacturing electric motors.  There is an architect returning from an MSA exchange mission, a doctor studying multiple sclerosis abroad and Betty back from a visit to America.  For two years she had T. B. meningitis, but is now all right and eager to enter therapy work.

And I, I don’t know where I am going.  I am going to study Chinese in Paris. Ridiculous.  I might as well learn to knit in Tangiers.  In fact, that’s even more exotic.  Here I am, really with little relation to America and less to Europe, floating somewhere in between, not knowing exactly where.  My friends, relatives, work, and studies are all neatly tied inside the half dozen suitcases I own.  With these I am free, frighteningly free.  So free that I’m in a space beyond the track or path of human emotion, so detached I am afraid—afraid, perhaps, I cannot be reached by love.

 

9/14/53

Hotel Guénégaud      

33 Rue Guénégaud

Paris 6e (the Luxembourg arrondissement)

I have been in Paris three weeks, two perhaps, in this hotel, getting unwound from the American years.  The hotel is owned by Tan, a Vietnam journalist forced out of Indo-China for too liberal ideas.  He has a nice, quite watchful, intelligent look, very aware.  I am uncertain about the room: 13,500 - au mois, un peu trop cher if my money is to last till I die, which may not be too long if Lea carries out her threat.  A woman…oh but that’s for later, now the room.  What occupies my mind now are trivialities, changing it, getting a stove, some shelves, using the fireplace, etc.  Perhaps I shall speak to Tan. 

I have met my neighbor, Réné Mayi, from the Cameroons.  He is studying journalism.  His father was a French soldier and his mother a native noire, as they say here.  Also, cigars are expensive but brandy is cheap.  Perhaps I shall buy some Calvadie like in The Last Time I Saw... the city of the same name.

Ce soir j’ai ecriré deux poems: “Louvre” et “2 Passage de Danzig,” a beautiful studio, with leaves at the window, but first Louvre--

Louvre

Louvre, you are something

Spread out like a Victorian bosom

Garnished and extended in righteous pulchritude

And displaying oh with what infinite conceit

Those tattered flecks of bygone color

And captured sunshine.

Strung, hung up more like criminals

Than love, and breath, and blood and life

To cast a candle’s light on visitors after catacombs

Who in those vast halls became distraught

And might otherwise lose, their way.

 

et maintenant:  #2 Passage De Dantzig

          Night and the wine and those delicate flavored animals from the sea

And the lapin and more wine followed by music and the stars

And love and the sea and music and the night

And more love and more music and sleep.

Sweetest sleep to wake with those beautiful eyes.

 

That is enough on my two impressions of Paris.  What am I doing writing poetry?  I like it, I think it’s good.  But I think there are too many others more versed in the historical direction of the medium and more adept at its manipulation, to leave room for an amateur like myself.  It is essentially what I am, unless I choose to work at it all the time, and here in Paris that is what I am not supposed to do. 

Let me see now.  Oh, yes, my reasons for being here, at least when I left the States, were (1) to learn French and (2) to learn Chinese with a view to an academic career.  Secretly it was to travel through Russia, China, India, and Tibet, and then to settle in California. 

I remember for an instant on the boat thinking of remaining in the U.S., a great fear of leaving so completely gripped me.  But now it is all right.  I feel more at home each day, although I am still very self-conscious.  This is part of the unwinding that is necessary, and I hope will be completed soon.  Lea Nikal has helped because I like her painting.  They are soft lyrical expressions, in delicate colors, full of careful nuances designed at creating freedom, which they do.  You feel freer for looking at them, and I admire and like her for that.