Archive | February, 2014

Through His Words: Day Eleven

26 Feb

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Eleven (no letters written days 9-10)
Hotel Regina


Paris, France
July 26, 1938


Landed in Paris late last night from Cannes, about a 15 hour ride as Cannes is on the French Riviera while Paris is some 600 miles north. I did not write from Cannes and I was so tired after visiting Monte Carlo, Nice and the Riviera. I left for Paris at 8:35 AM and thought I’d write on the train, but the vibration was so great I could not write at all.

Alex was staying at the Hotel Regina in Paris, which opened in 1900. It sits across the street from the Louvre and is still considered one of the beautiful hotels in Paris. From its website: “Created by art lovers and patrons, the Regina opened in time for the 1900 Universal Exhibition and is still managed by the Bavarez family, which founded it.”

Well  here goes a little description of this country –  The French Riviera, which includes the coast on the Mediterranean, is simply gorgeous – fine villas amid palm tress, roses, and other flowers along the road, buildings set up on mountain sides, cliffs, and seashore, mostly white and pastel shades of pink, green and blue – all have gabled tile roofs. Hotels of the most pretentious types. Mackinaw Island Grand Hotel is a piker compared to some of them.
I went to church Sunday in Cannes at Notre Dame de Bon Voyage. I realized I was really in the old world, so different were even the services.
After Napoleon escaped from Elba, he is said to have spent the night in Notre-Dame de Bon Voyage.

In Monte Carlo, I went into the world-famous Casino and saw every room in the place with different gambling devices. 

I played 20 frames (about 60c our money) and got a 5 franc chip to take home as a souvenir. I could not take a picture inside as they take the cameras away from one before he is allowed inside. The place is everything it was cracked up to be, beautiful. 

Interestingly enough, 33 years later, I walked in Alex’s steps not knowing he had visited the French Riviera. And, like Alex, I was equally taken by the magnificent sights, albeit as a student who was definitely not staying at Hotel Regina. What I do recall, however, is that my Rome roommate Jan and I went to Monte Carlo and Monaco for a weekend. At the casino, we dropped a few coins in the slot machines in the foyer, as you had to be 21 to actually gamble inside (not that either of us knew how anyway!) Our highlight was a tour of the casino by two handsome security guards we must have flirted with. Besides the ornate gambling rooms, we actually saw the ballrooms where Princess Grace (Kelly) and Prince Rainier entertained and danced.

The one thing that is so fascinating is the contour of the land and the abundance of flowers of every description, and great palm trees, as well as other trees not seen it home. 

DSWorld© 2014 Created with the assistance of Roman Pashkeev.

DSWorld’s Lands © 2014 Created with the assistance of Roman Pashkeev.

Remember the winding drive in the mountains just before we got into New York along the Hudson river? Well, picture that, and add the flowers, palm trees, etc., and the colorful villas along the slopes, with the blue Mediterranean instead of the Hudson, and you have a good picture.

© 2014 Created with the assistance of Roman Pashkeev.

DS World’s Land © 2014 Created with the assistance of Roman Pashkeev

Reflecting on Alex’s trip made me head to storage and pull out the 40+ year-old boxes that contain the slides of my year in Rome, a true journey back in time. Alex mentioned that he had also gone to Monaco, and these are photos of a few of my slides from the Monaco Palace…




as well as a photo I took of the vista Alex describes.


I just got up and haven’t had a chance to see anything in Paris as of yet. I intend to call up this man Azzaroni in a little while and hope I find him because it is a hell of a handicap not knowing the language and trying to make yourself understood.

It is raining out, the first rain since I left home, and it looks dreary but I hope it won’t last long so that I can start out on my sightseeing. Remember, I am expecting to hear from you soon and don’t wait too long after your first letter to write another!

Lovingly as ever,

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x to you and my children



More Rome

18 Feb

My last two days in Rome brought some incredible experiences. I spent Tuesday with Roman locals, the parents of a friend from Austin. Giovanna picked me up Tuesday morning and we did a whirlwind tour around Rome. We began the day at The Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome, the oldest surviving Roman basilica.



It is famous for its cypress doors, which may date to the early 5th century when the church was built, and are said to contain the first depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus.


From there we drove to the Villa del Priorato di Malta, home to the Grand Priory in Rome of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which remains a sovereign entity. IMG_1528

The Villa may be best known for a keyhole in the door


through which you can clearly see Saint Peter’s Basilica, far across the city. The first photo is from my phone; the second shows exactly what you see through the keyhole.



wiki photo

From there, we saw part of the original Roman Wall called the Servian Wall, sections of which are still visible in various locations around Rome. The Servian Wall was a defensive barrier constructed around the city of Rome  in the early 4th century BC.


Next on to lunch at my “guide’s” home. What a thrill it is for me to be invited into the home of local Romans and share in their passion for all things Italian. I was introduced to Giovanna’s husband and together we shared wonderful conversation and the most delicious lunch, beginning with Champaign in the drawing-room.


From there, we moved to the dining room and were treated to Spaghetti con vongole



Sicilian artichokes and a rolled meat and cheese dish (sorry I don’t know the name!)


IMG_1542A beautiful vegetable terrine


Fennel saladIMG_1544

and homemade apple torta!



We conversed easily in both Italian and English and spent a great deal of time talking about places and treasures to visit in Italy.

After lunch, more of my tour. First up was a ride along Appia Antica, or as you may know it, the Appian Way. IMG_1550


From there we drove to the Pyramid of Cestius, built around 18BC-12BC as a tomb for magistrate Gaius Cestius. At the time it was built, it lay in the open countryside as tombs were not permitted within the city walls.

IMG_1557The pyramid was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls, close to Porta San Paolo.


Up next, La Bocca della Verità, aka The Mouth of Truth. This ancient Roman marble disc displays a carving of a man-like face and is thought to have been part of a first century fountain or even a manhole cover. Legend has it that if you tell a lie, and put your hand in the mouth, it will be bitten off. So be warned! During the 17th century, it was placed in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the church which is home to relics of St. Valentine.


And finally, on to ancient temples before heading home.IMG_1563


What an amazing day I had, with my ever hospitable and knowledgeable private tour guide and now new friend.

And to think we did all that in this:


Giovanna, grazie per una giornata meravigliosa e una ricorderò sempre!

That was Tuesday, and I still had one day left in Rome. What better thing to do than attend a Papal audience.  So that I did, Wednesday morning, along with about 12,000 others, but who’s counting!





Arrivederci Roma once again. You never fail to amaze. Till next time.



Happy Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

Or as they commemorate in Italy, happy

Feast of Love!

dedicated to the memory of St. Valentino


Always a  good reason to give a hug

and share some dolci!


desserts from Tuscher Cafe



Arrivederci Rome

13 Feb

As I left for Fiumicino airport this morning, I tried to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of Italy. The word fortunate kept coming to mind, in particular, how fortunate I am for so many things:

Fortunate that I:

  • can so easily visit the land of my ancestors and experience firsthand some of their traditions
  • had an “audience” with Papa Francesco (along with about 15,000 others) in the sun!



  • was able to spend quality time with local friends in Cortona in the winter
  • developed new and interesting friendships in Roma
  • was able to walk many miles in sunshine seeing incredible antiquities


  • was inside mostly when it rained (not raining here but you can see how high the Tiber is)


  • can share my journey with fellow Rome Campers and others who follow or that I’ve met through my blog
  • am returning to America where my ancestors chose to live their lives

And finally, that Len didn’t mind toooo much staying at home to work while I played!

I have more photos and stories to tell of this trip, so stay tuned.

For now, arrivederci Roma, till next we meet.



Cortona in Winter

12 Feb

I always wondered what Cortona would be like in winter, and now I know. The same wonderful people, the same beautiful town, albeit a little quieter, and the same feeling like I’m home…ok, also colder and sometimes rainy, but certainly warm compared to Chicago.

Benita and I took the train from Roma last Saturday and spent two wonderful days and nights in Cortona. It’s an incredible feeling to walk through the market or down a street and recognize so many faces. We shopped, walked, ate, drank, talked and laughed with our wonderful Cortonese friends.

I think the pictures and smiles tell the story!











Grazie ai nostri amici per un tempo meraviglioso!

And Len, this one is for you…un baccino from Daniela!


Can’t wait to return this summer!



Rome in Winter

10 Feb

Even if it happened every day, I hope I would still experience the same thrill that accompanies turning a corner and seeing Rome’s Coliseum.  An antiquity of enormous proportion and history, it rests comfortably within Rome’s modern world.


as does its neighbor, the Roman Forum.



Amidst the much-needed restoration, and the winter tourists, and after taking the requisite photos, I took time to sit on a wall and ponder just how these were built and what life was like so long ago. True marvels.

And then there are the churches of Rome. Each one is a museum, housing more art than many towns and cities around the world. One among many is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.




I came to Rome to visit Benita. What a perfect excuse to visit Italy for a week. While she was in class, my first day was filled with monuments, piazzas, and yes, walking in my grandfather’s footsteps. At the very end of Via Veneto, across from Harry’s Bar, is the Grande Hotel Flora, where he stayed for five nights in August of 1938. (More on his time there when I get to those letters.)  It is now owned by Marriott, and fortunately, they have been very attentive to the history and original detail of the hotel.


I met Baiba, the Sales Manager, and she willingly showed me around the hotel as she listened to the story of Alex’s journey. She showed me some rooms and we wondered which he might have stayed in.


One of the hotel’s best features is the rooftop lounge which provides a 360 panorama of Rome. Whether overlooking Borghese Gardens or steeples around Rome, the view is breathtaking. I promised Baiba that Len and I would come for a sunset drink next time in Rome.



Other notables along my walk included Piazza di Spagna, where the fountain at the base of the steps is under major reconstruction.


Nonetheless, the Spanish Steps are always one of my favorites and the place where fellow students and I met Dustin Hoffman many years ago. Really.


Len, this is for you… The Ferrari Shop.


Early evening, I waited at Piazza Cavour to meet Benita. What an amazing sunset, and so happy to be off my feet.


We decided to start with apertivi, an Italian tradition.IMG_1456

And then took an evening stroll to the Vatican




Castel Sant’ Angelo


The PantheonIMG_1470


And finally, an archeological dig.


We walked to a favorite restaurant for dinner only to find it closed for remodeling, so we found another filled with locals. We ended the evening with gelato. Certo!


The next day, Friday, while Benita was in class, I walked around Monte Mario, the town I had lived in as a student so long ago. Memories. Later at the hotel, I met the most amazing couple, Italian born and living in Basel, he a geneticist/researcher, both with incredible stories to tell.


We literally spoke for hours, mostly in Italian, exchanged contact information, and might possibly meet in Cortona or Basel sometime. Giovanna, you would have been proud. I can’t tell you how helpful my Italian classes have been; and how very rewarding for me to be able to speak to people I might otherwise never have met.

That night, I took Benita and several of her friends to Navona Notte for dinner…a most enjoyable evening and very reminiscent of my time as a student in Rome.

photo - Version 2

After dinner, we parted company with the girls as Benita and I were staying in town that night. We wandered over to Piazza Navona and headed to a place near and dear to me, Tre Scalini, where my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. Fortunately, they had brought their children/spouses along to join in the celebration. In honor of them, and my sibs, we ordered il tartufo! Just think chocolate…lots of it!




Finally, we made our way to the Trevi, never to be overlooked if one wants to return to Rome.IMG_1489

With Benita’s long arms, we managed a selfie and I tossed a coin in the fountain. Benita had already tossed hers three weeks ago.


Exhausted, in a very good way, we headed to our hotel near Termini, as we would leave for Cortona via train early the next morning. As we neared our hotel, Rome was nearly asleep.


An incredible day!



Through His Words: Day Seven

4 Feb

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Seven:

Friday, July 22, 1938  
On board ship        
Chapter 7

Today has been a little lazy, took a shower, getting warmer as we follow the coast of Africa. We will soon pass the coast of the southern tip of the Island of Sardinia and then tomorrow the paradise of Joe Montenegro, Napoli.

Joe Montenegro, as you might remember, was Alex’s dear friend who was to have been with him on this trip, but Joe became ill and was unable to travel. The Montenegro family still had a home in Naples.

I am going to his [Joe’s family’s] apartment in Naples and will leave one of my bags there which I will pick up later.

At the age of 43, Alex was about to step foot in the country where he was born and for the first time since his parents took him to America when he was just five years old.

Have done pretty well with my laundry, soiled only 3 shirts, a few handkerchiefs, and a couple of sox. Will leave them in Naples to have them cleaned. We stop at Naples for about 5 hours and then proceed to Cannes, France, where I get off. Will stay at Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo for 1.5 days, then go to Marseilles and Paris.

De Rosa has helped me with my itinerary and I am going to follow it as close as I can. 


Alex’s itinerary, July 24-August 23, 1938

Alex then gives Maude directions to write him via the American Express Co. at Venice, and lets her know he will inquire for mail at each office along the way. He realizes, however, that her letters may not catch up to him until he reaches Firenze. He is so anxious for word from her about the family.

After that, you can address me at the Flora Hotel in Roma where I expect to stay according to the itinerary. After you receive this, please write often as I want to hear all about you, the three rascals, Ruth and Pa, and any scandal back home.

Hotel Flora peaked my interest. Is it still there? Can I go visit it?


Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora
Via Vittorio Veneto 191

The answer is YES! Coincidently, as Alex reaches Italy tomorrow, so too will I, (God willing, as Nana would say), as I am going to visit Benita in Rome. (Just keeping up the family tradition as my parents visited me when I studied in Rome. Unfortunately, Len can’t join us.) Alex’s trip took seven days at sea. 75 years later, mine will be an overnight flight.

According to its website, here’s some history about the Grand Hotel Flora:

While conserving the atmosphere of the Belle Epoque, the hotel today is a top-class structure with services on a par with international luxury hotels. Construction started on the Flora Hotel in 1905 and its harmonious Art Nouveau style was the work of the architect Andrea Busiri Vici…

Work on the hotel was completed in 1907 and it quickly became a refined residence which attracted an international clientele. In 1930, Paul Valery, in a letter to a friend written from the Flora Hotel said, “it has a special atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else,” and Ada Negri writing to the Countess Anna Maria di Broglio described the hotel as her “Roman home”.

In more recent times, but still the last century, the Grand Hotel Flora became a home away from home for celebrities in the Sixties, the years of Rome’s “Dolce Vita.” It was here, in the Villa Borghese, in the Casina Valadier and in Rome’s famous cafes that the rich and famous met. In the concierge’s guest book you can see the names of Prince Maximilian of Bavaria, Richard Nixon, Paul Getty, Christian Barnard, Joan Crawford, Cassius Clay and Federico Fellini.

I wonder if the guest book goes all the way back to 1938? I’ll have to check it out!

PS. Have just landed and went to Joe Montenegro apt.  Ferme met me and we are having lunch together at the Vesuvio Hotel.

You guessed it, another beauty, this one overlooking the sea.

Might this have been their view at lunch?

It’s hard to imagine just how excited Alex was as he stepped off the ship. Wow.

Regards, Al

To be continued.


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