Archive | January, 2014

Through His Words: Day Six

28 Jan

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Six:

Thursday, July 21, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 6

Hello Darling,

This was a very busy day. Got up at 5:00 a.m. to see the sunrise. What a beautiful sight to behold, a great big ball of fire suddenly coming up out of nowhere with its rays reflected in the shimmering silver on the ocean. There is something fascinating about the ocean, what it is I do not know, but it brings a feeling of regret that soon we will be on land while at the same time wishing to get away from it (the ocean). 

I met Fr. Peoria on deck and we took a real workout together walking about two miles, then turned in, took a shower, and had breakfast later. Soon we were to see what is known as St. Vincent’s Light, a light house on the south tip of Portugal…

The 79 foot lighthouse was built in 1846 over the ruins of a 16th-century Franciscan convent. It is one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe overlooking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Its lamps can be seen up to 37 miles away.


Photo: Wiki commons

then see the south coast of Portugal and Spain and the north coast of Africa.


The town of Tangier could be seen on the tip of Africa, then follows the African coast and by 9:00 p.m., looms the Rock of Gibraltar.  It is dark now and millions of lights from the city play on the water off the Straights of Gibraltar.

If you study the map, you can follow the ship’s course, heading east past Tangier (Tanger) through the Straights of Gibraltar en route to Naples; and if you close your eyes, you can just imagine the spectacle of lights dancing on the water that dark and beautiful night.

Powerful searchlights guide us to our location where we anchor and then a tender, another boat much smaller, comes up to ours to take off passengers getting off at Gibraltar. Battleships and submarines all around us – English, French, Italian and American. 

His last line, so calm, is amazing when you think of what was happening in the world in 1938. Tension between Germany and Czechoslovakia was growing; hostilities between China and Japan were raging; Hitler had sent his armed forces into Austria; and Italy, under Mussolini, had joined Germany and Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Small boats come up to our boat selling all kinds of junk to the passengers. These vendors throw up to our deck a rope with a basket tied to the end. This basket contains the articles they are selling. You ask, “How much?” They say, “$2.00.” You offer .50c and you settle for a dollar or less.

Soon the ship is ready to move. The small boats row away and we continue on between the coasts of Spain and Africa, a beautiful sight. We go on following the African coast, avoiding the Spanish coast.

When I first saw my grandfather’s passport, one page was puzzling to me. On page 5, Limitations, the following was stamped in red:

This passport is not valid for travel in Spain.

photoWith a little research,  I learned that Americans were not permitted in Spain in 1936 as it was consumed by  war, The Spanish Civil War, which would end in 1939 with General Franco prevailing. Franco would go on to rule Spain for 36 years until his death in 1975.

It is starting to get warmer as we are going farther south. We now start to see other ships for the first time since we left NY; every type of boat. We are in the Mediterranean, blue waters, large fish in schools jumping out of the water. For the first time, I actually saw “flying fish” – they fly about 10-20 ft out of the water and keep on until their “wings” dry out and they fall in the water again.


According to the BBC – 2014, “Flying fish actually glide rather than truly fly. They launch themselves into the air by beating the tail very fast and spreading their pectoral fins to use as wings. There are 52 different species of flying fish which are found in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”

We are now on our way to Naples, 1000 miles away, and will arrive about 1:30 p.m. Maude, I just can’t believe all this is an actuality; the whole thing seems like a dream. Last thing on the ship activities was in the swimming pool. They called it “A Night at the Lido.” Everybody came dressed in bathing suits or pajamas. There was dancing, races, and water sports with prizes for the winners. There was also a delicious buffet lunch, with wines and Champaign served, all for free.

The letters were dear to Maude. She missed her Al, but was happy for him. And as for the final onboard ship activity, A Night at the Lido, while Maude would have never attended in a bathing suit, or even pajamas, she would have never left the dance floor until the music stopped. Oh how she loved to dance!


At our wedding in 1987, Len, Maude, me, my Mom and Dad (Alex and Maude’s son) 
Maude, at 92, still loved to dance!

2:00 A.M. to bed.

 Always Al

To be continued.


Rome: More Then and Now

23 Jan

9° in Chicago – today’s high. Why not head to Rome where the temperature today reached a balmy 53° ? And to say nothing of seeing the eternal city with few crowds!

This picture is of me (left side), perhaps in January of 1972, in front of the Vatican. Sun shining, few people, and no snow! Pope Paul VI was in residence.

Judy at the Vatican, 71-72

Judy at the Vatican, 1972

This picture is of Benita, same study abroad program, some 40 years later! A clear evening, few people, and no snow! And of course, Pope Francis is in residence, though not the traditional one of his predecessors.

Although I took hundreds of slides while studying abroad, they are sitting in storage with few words or descriptions to jog my memory. Benita, on the other hand, has the opportunity to create a dynamic journal of her study abroad experience, both in words and pictures, and share it in real-time.  Just incredible!

To see some amazing photos of Rome at night in winter, like the one below,

or wherever her journey takes her, click .

I agree, Benita, Rome is always a good idea!

What better excuse to travel…see you there soon!


Judy (Mom)

Study Abroad Rome: Then and Now

14 Jan

Fortunately, history does repeat itself, albeit with some changes.


Later today, our daughter Benita will depart for a semester at Loyola’s Rome Center. Her bags are almost packed, carefully staying under the 50 pound weight limit to avoid a ridiculous $150 fee for a few ounces over. Her backpack is filled with all the technology used today to communicate and record life’s events…computer, tablet, smartphone, digital camera, etc. And she has already set up a blog, Romeisalwaysagoodthing to document her experience. While I don’t have the exact numbers, I think about 200 students from about a dozen universities will make up the group. She’s not going over with any of her good friends but is sure to return with many.

Later today, we will hug goodbye (and yes, I’ll cry) at the Lufthansa counter hours before her actual departure, then I’ll check flight tracker when I awake tomorrow. During her time in Rome, or wherever she travels, we can communicate for free using various downloadable applications. While her study abroad adventure is yet to be written, it is sure to be incredible as she visits new cities and countries with her new friends.

In 1970, I left for a similar adventure. If my memory serves me correctly, we numbered over 200 students from about 90 schools across the country. Most of us left in August and returned the following May – one entire academic year! Back then, Loyola offered one of the few study abroad programs, unlike today where nearly every college and university has an affiliation. 

While I can’t remember, I imagine I brought two suitcases with no regard to weight limits. What I do remember is that all the parents waived goodbye to us from the window at the gate as we pulled away. Although there were tensions and targets in the world, US airports were not among them…no security, no TSA.

I always loved photography and wanted to document my adventure, so I purchased a Minolta SRT101 while in Rome (which Benita still uses for B/W photography). The only live communication most students had with their families came through very short and expensive collect calls we made home from the hall pay phone. We actually wrote and received  letters and even received care packages filled with homemade goodies.

Mostly college juniors, we left the US with a few suitcases and returned one year later with lifelong memories and lifelong friends. A salute to my fellow campers!

While some 40 years separate Benita’s adventure and mine, some constants remain. There is nothing quite like having the opportunity to experience living like a local in a foreign country. Absorbing the culture, speaking a different language, learning and practicing new traditions, experiencing new tastes and smells, seeing sites thousands of years old, learning about history and life by living it, and creating lasting memories and friendships are just some of the amazing opportunities afforded to study abroad students – then and still now.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

To Benita and all those on this adventure, Buon Voyage!



Through His Words: Day Five

8 Jan

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Five:

Wednesday, July 20, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 5

Darling Toots,

There is certainly a lot of water between us now. It seems there is no end to this ocean – water, water, sky and ocean.

Just how much water in distance? Approximately 7094 kilometers or 4408 miles or 3831 nautical miles.

Had breakfast and lunch today, and if I don’t gain weight on this trip, it won’t be the ship’s fault. I am being careful but the ocean air makes you eat almost anything and everything and especially tonight because they had a “Gala” night – the big night on the boat. Champaign was served and everyone had on their best clothes, paper hats, horns, and all kinds of favors. 


Gala Night, Conte di Savoia; Alex 2nd from right

Interestingly, I had found this picture in my grandfather’s papers and wondered why he and three other grown men chose to wear hats with flowers at what appeared to be a semi-formal event. Fortunately, Alex took the time to write on the back of the photo:


Thanks, Grandpa, for another piece of the puzzle. Love those white shoes!

The Gala night is put on by the Captain because tomorrow we will reach Gibraltar and a few of the passengers are getting off there, which makes it the last night for them on board ship.

The Rock of Gibraltar. Of course, doesn’t everyone stop there on their way to Italy?

From its website:

In the ancient times, right through the age of empires and in the global conflicts of our own century, Gibraltar has stood guard over the western Mediterranean, its unique position making it the focus of a continuous struggle for power. This spectacular rock monolith, covering a land area of about six square kilometres, is situated at the southern tip of Spain overlooking the strait to Africa. It is known as the Meeting Place of Continents.


“Gibraltar – Roch From Spanish Shores”

In March, 1937, a year before Alex’s trip, Maude received this postcard from their dear friends who had visited Gibraltar on their way to Naples, just like some passengers traveling with Alex would do the next day. 

“Most beautiful place. We went to the top of the mountain and came down in a basket sled. Lots of fun. Flowers grow everywhere here. Lovely calla lilies.” (From back of postcard)

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave Britain sovereignty over the island. Today, while there are only about 30,000 inhabitants, Gibraltar is visited by over 10 million tourists per year.


I spent most of the afternoon in the engine room and a well spent afternoon it was. You can’t imagine the immensity of the engines, motors, turbines etc. that are necessary to operate this oil burning ship.

The engineering side of Alex was curious. Unlike most who were more than content to admire the ship’s external beauty, Alex was equally interested in what made the ship run. How many others would be so pleased to spend most of an afternoon in the engine room? (Well, besides my husband…)

For Alex, being on Conte di Savoia was a dream come true. Its magnificent design details appealed to his architectural creativity while the ship’s inner workings coaxed his inquisitive thinking. But no wonder. Alex had been in the profession for 20 years and had built a solid reputation. 20 years earlier, after WWI, he was engaged by the Illinois Central Railroad as Chief of the Real Estate Division.



A few years later, in 1921, Alex entered into active practice of his profession. Then in 1926, he formed a partnership with Morris Komar, another noted architect, and founded Capraro & Komar, Architects, with offices on Washington Street in Chicago.

Well, honey, tomorrow I expect to see land again, Gibraltar, and believe me, it will be a pleasure to see what terra firma looks like after 5 days of nothing but water. I am going to walk around the deck now for a while and will write again to tell you all about Gibraltar tomorrow.

Again love and kisses to my gang.

 Always Al

To be continued.


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