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Destination Napoli

7 Mar

The saying goes:

If you go to Naples for a day, you’ll hate it. If you go for a week, you’ll love it. And if you go for a year, you’ll never want to leave. 

This thought has rattled around in my brain for some time now. And since my maternal grandparents were born in this part of Italy, I really want to love it.

We’ve been to Napoli in the past, or perhaps more accurately, through Napoli, but never spending enough time to bond with this city. Here we are in 2007, enjoying the best pizza ever. In fact, it was this restaurant that inspired Len to begin his pizza making.

Pizza In Napoli, 2007 ©

Pizza In Napoli, 2007 ©

Today, as in the past, any number of trip review sites are filled with images and stories of the narrow streets, dirty alleys, and attempted purse snatchings. Our loving Tuscan friends caution us to stai attento!, be careful. But what makes me smile are the stories from travelers who stayed longer than one night and took the time to absorb the culture and befriend the people. They gush about their love of Napoli.

Two  years ago, when our daughter Benita visited Napoli as a student, she wrote:

Typically, when you tell someone you’re going to Naples, you either get a frightened look or a frank “be safe.” Usually, it’s both. I would soon learn that these people, many of whom have never even been to Naples, could not have been more misguided about this Italian city. (Rome is Always A Good Idea)

With great anticipation, we depart tomorrow. Stay tuned as our Italian adventure continues!


Through His Words: Day Thirty-One

13 Jun

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect


Grand Hotel Flora – Roma

Monday. August 15, 1938

“Eureka” !!

At last I received word from home and Maude dearest, was I ever so happy I felt like a child with the new toy. I got one from you, one from Billy, and one from Joe Montenegro, and it is just exactly one month since I left home.

You say you sent two letters to Naples. Well Naples is my last port of call and of course, I won’t get them until I get there Wednesday. I had hoped you sent some to Milan via American Express Company, which I should have received by now, however, I was so glad to hear from you, I will forgive you for any errors you may have made in connection with the mail.

Sometimes we just need to vent our frustrations!

I am glad to hear everyone home is in good health and Billy tells me he sees to it that you get out and enjoy yourself. Thank Billy for his letter, it was real cute. Also tell him I have taken a lot of pictures to show him when I get home. I am also very happy to know Monte is getting better. It certainly was a tragedy, and what a difference it would have made if he was in good condition and had made the trip with me.

I had expected to go to the American Express Company hoping to get mail, but this is a holiday over here. In fact, from Saturday to Tuesday, all shops are closed. The holiday is called Ferragosto and it is equal to our Labor Day.

Still celebrated today, Ferragosto is the August 15 holiday when Italians celebrate the harvest following a long period of agricultural labor.

Well, I took it rather easy yesterday, it being Sunday. I went to St. Peter’s to church,

St. Peter's at night -

St. Peter’s at night –

after which I walked around the Foro Romano (ruins) and the Coliseum.


Then I went to Fermes for dinner. They have been very nice to me and I wish you will drop them a line when I get home for the hospitality shown me. He has been with me every day since I got here, and I have met some very big shots here through him. By the way, his brother is a big mogul here but I am out of luck so far as meeting Prince Potenziani and others as they are all out of town in the country and naturally cannot be seen. However, I saw the Pope and I’m satisfied.

Alex was the first licensed Italian-American architect in the state of Illinois. In 1933, the Century of Progress Exhibition would open in Chicago. Prince Potenziani, the Royal Italian Commissioner to the Exposition, had chosen Alex to supervise the construction of the Italian Pavilion. The Prince was in Chicago for its opening, and bestowed a decoration on Alex for his work.

February 20, 1933 Ground Breaking for the Italian Pavilion. Prince Potenziani center

February 20, 1933 Ground Breaking for the Italian Pavilion. Prince Potenziani center. (Herald and Examiner Photo)

Italian Pavilion Alexander V Capraro  - Associate and Supervising Architect, Chicago

Italian Pavilion 1933,   M. Derenzi, A. Libera, A. Valente –  Architects Rome
Alexander V. Capraro – Associate and Supervising Architect, Chicago

Mr. and Mrs. Ferme and I went to the Camposanto of Rome early in the evening and it certainly was a sight to behold, altogether different from ours. Then we went to what is known as the “Baths of Caracalla” – an old ruin immense in size. They use it for open air grand opera. You should only have the chance to see it. It is a spectacle no other place in the world has. The opera was Aida. The stage, set between two huge pillars several thousand years old, 400 musicians in the orchestra, 1000 actors on the stage, the best opera stars, 20,000 people in the audience, and the seats filled only about one-third of the inside of the magnificent ruin.


Baths of Caracalla –

Still today during the summer, the Caracalla Baths turn into a platform for breathtaking Teatro dell Opera performances. I need to add this to our Bucket list!

 Powerful lights turn night into day. Finally the lights go out, the orchestra starts playing, and then absolute silence in the throng of 20,000 spectators, real music lovers, real critics of ability. And I was almost breathless in the enjoyment of such a marvelous spectacle, a performance which can be held only in Rome, the Eternal City. And what a wonderful city this is. Paris was great, Venice was unusual and wonderful, but Rome is ever interesting, ever bewitching, the city of antiquity and modernism all-in-one; the city of the Caesars of yesterday and of great men of today. Clean as a whistle, law and order 100%, and no end to art, sculpture, painting, music and culture.

1938 Roma postcard

1938 Roma postcard

The men and women both dress as good if not better than we do in the States and they parade on the streets in smart style and the height of fashion. The evenings are spent mostly at little tables on the sidewalks, eating gelati or caffe. Every street is almost the same as far is this feature is concerned and all of them are lighted better than Madison Street at Crawford Avenue. Well, I better stop raving because I could go on like this for hours about Rome.

Today I visited three of the most important churches next to St. Peter’s, besides some smaller ones, and best of all, I made the holy stairs of St. John the Lateran. This is the most sacred spot in Rome. As the enclosed card shows, there are 28 wooden steps leading to an altar of our crucified Lord.

St. John Lateran

St. John Lateran

In order to gain an indulgence, you must kneel on the first step and say certain prayers, or the rosary will do. You must continue this on each and every step without rising on your feet or without touching the step below with your feet – only your knees. In other words, you must drag yourself up to the top on your hands and knees, stopping at each step to say prayers. I did it today and believe me, I thought I would never get to the 28th step. My kneecaps felt as if they were torn to pieces by the time I finished, but I made it, and Maude, what a feeling of relief as well as gratitude towards our Lord you have when you get to the top. Well, I hope the good Lord will reward the effort in answer to the prayers I offered for you, et all.

The other churches follow in rank next to St. Peter’s are St. Paul, St. John Lateran, and Santa Maria Maggiore.

St. Paul

St. Paul

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore interior -

Santa Maria Maggiore interior –

They are so gorgeous it is difficult to describe the grandeur of these churches. All told, there are 400 churches, every one of them would make Resurrection looks sick. In the main churches I mentioned, you could actually put a half dozen churches like Resurrection and still have room for Santa Maria on Alexander Street.

Then I saw the Pantheon, a very old edifice where the bodies of King Victor Emmanuel II and others are buried.

Pantheon at night -

Pantheon at night –

Tomorrow I shall spend at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum, and National Museum, and then I think I shall have seen enough of Rome to remember it vividly.

Two of the most beautiful art treasures Alex would long remember are Michelangelo’s Pieta, (1498–1499)

and his Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508-1512).

You should have a month here alone to do a good job of it. It is 8 PM and I am waiting for Ferme to go out to dinner somewhere. 

P.S. Confidential
Ferme and I have seen certain officials here about the decoration for PA and it will come but not before April 21, 1939. There is an absolute law that cannot be broken by anyone that this particular class of decoration be given and presented on April 21 only, that being Natale di Roma and Festa di Lavoro. The decoration is called Stella Merita di Lavoro and is given an recognition for long and meritorious labor. Ferme has already written the council in Chicago about it.

Based on my research, this “medal of honor” dates back to a Royal Decree 1898 to recognize industrialists and their employees. In 1927,  it was extended to Italians living abroad who have given evidence of patriotism, honesty and hard work as an example to their countrymen. Alex was researching the viability of this honor for his father-in-law, Maude’s father.

In the meantime, good luck, and God bless you. Loads of love and my very best to all at home.

Finally Alex was content. He had heard from his family and knew all was well. He effortlessly penned an eight page letter to Maude, the love of his life, describing in detail the treasures of Rome he would never forget, and that she would only ever “see” through his eyes. Lucky for Maude, Alex’s eyes absorbed deep beyond the surface, as only an architect could.

As ever yours, AL 




Through His Words: Day Twenty-Nine

10 Jun

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect


Grand Hotel Flora – Roma

Sat. August 13, 1938

Hello Darling

Well dear, Ferme and I put in a full day today. I had to go to the Vatican to get a permit to visit the Pope. First I had to bring the letter of introduction from the Catholic bishop of Chicago to Msgr. Hildebrand, who in turn gave me a note to the Vatican where I got the permit. In the meantime, I had to get the rosaries and things I wanted blessed by the Pope and then was on the way to Castello Gondolfo. This ride is on the Via Appia Antica, the oldest road in the civilized world dating back 2000 years B.C. 

Appia Antica

Appia Antica  –

The ruins of the old walls and aqueducts could be seen all along the road, a distance of about 18 miles from Rome.

Appia Antica

Via Appia Antica –

We arrived there a little before noon and were ushered into the throne room. There were at least 250 to 300 people there. We had to wait until about 1 PM before his Holiness came. He was announced and was brought in on a rich chair born by four guards all in glittering uniforms. He spoke for about 10 minutes and the ceremony was over. The whole thing was very touching and thrilling. Here was a little old man, 82 years old, and showed signs of his long sickness.

Pope Pius XI reigned from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939. He was the first sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929. 

The Castello is a large palatial palace with an inner courtyard where the people who have appointments must wait until called.

Recently published archives indicate that Hitler expected to be received by the Pope at the Vatican during a May 1938 visit, but Pope Pius XI thwarted Hitler’s plan and took off for Castel Gandolfo, also shutting the Vatican Museum during his leave.

The Swiss Guards have colorful suits and other attendants have suits of red cardinal robes with silk knickers, etc. It was all most interesting.

 After we left, we lunched in a little place nearby overlooking a lake way below us, where you could see a half-dozen towns on the other side in the hills.

After coming back to Rome, we visited in order:  Castel St. Angelo, monument to Vittorio Emanuel II, the Coliseum, Roman Forum, and the Mussolini Forum. So you can see why I really am all in and ready to hit the hay.

Castel St. Angelo

Coliseum -

Coliseum –

Tomorrow I’m going to St. Peter’s for mass and at the same time visit it. Later to dinner with Ferme at their home. It has been hot here but not as bad as I expected. I can go along all day, but the old feet are the ones that tire first. However, a good bath at night fixes them up for the next morning.

Well, young lady, I am still in the dark as to how, when, why, all of you are at home because I have received nothing in the way of mail here. It looks as if I shall be home before I receive any word. I can take it, but it is a little bitter and certainly not pleasant.

Just a little more patience, Grandpa…Really!

Well, good night. Love to all, will write again tomorrow.

Yours, AL 




Through His Words: Day Twenty-Seven

7 Jun

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect


Grand Hotel Flora – Roma

August 11, 1938

Darling Modesta

At last I have arrived in the eternal city. I left Siena this morning bright and early, 7:03 AM, and got here this noon. It was awful hot coming down on the train and you could feel it getting hotter as we neared Rome. Siena is much cooler because it is up in the mountains, while Rome is closer to the sea and low.

I had a little lunch and at the same time started to map out what I was going to see. One of the interesting spots is near my hotel, so I walked over to it, the Villa Borghese and the gardens of the Borghese.

In January, I visited The Hotel Flora at the end of Via Veneto overlooking the Borghese gardens, had a wonderful tour, and tried to imagine Alex’s pure delight at seeing the treasures of the eternal city.

Villa Borghese is a large palace now used as an art gallery which contains originals of Michelangelo, Raffaelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Bernini, and other famous sculptors and painters. You know, it is almost fantastic to see the palaces the people in power of those days lived in. We have nothing like it anywhere in America.

Try to imagine a plot of land equal to Columbus Park, only more beautifully landscaped with formal gardens, big old trees, marble and bronze statuary, and wonderful fountains here and there, and the palace about the size of the Art Institute, and you have a pretty fair picture of this villa and gardens.

The Borghese Gardens

The Borghese Gardens

The Borghese family had two popes in it, and these were built when the church was the governing body of the state or country. From a hill nearby, I got a fair panorama of one side of Rome  and I gazed on St. Peter’s and numerous other church domes which could be seen at a distance.

Like Alex, I took several panorama photos of Rome, these from the Grand Hotel Flora’s incredible rooftop deck.

I called up the Fermes when I got back and had quite a long telephone conversation with Mrs. Ferme, because Ferme was out and would not be back until late. She was very glad to talk with someone from Chicago, and judging from her talk, she doesn’t like it here as well as Chicago, especially because her two big boys are back in America. She invited me over for dinner with them tomorrow night, and Ferme is coming over to see me in the morning to give me some information on how to see as much of Rome in five days as possible. She asked about you and sends her best regards.

Tonight after supper, I walked quite a bit and saw the Coliseum, The Forum, the ruins of this and that, and many structures dating back several centuries before Christ.

The impression is awe inspiring, the city is wonderfully clean, and the streets are lined with beautiful trees of tropical nature, palms, magnolias, etc. Tomorrow I shall start about visiting these places and probably make the Vatican in St. Peter’s first. It is going to take a lot of time here because there is so much to see. Will let you know more tomorrow night.

Greetings to the family and a big and tight embrace for you.” Wait until I get home!”

Yes, he wrote that!

Love, Al




Through His Words: Day Fourteen

11 Apr

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Fourteen
Hotel Regina, Paris

July 30th, 1938

Dear Toots,

Well, I made the grade today and dragged myself to Notre Dame Cathedral, situated on the banks of the Seine River, with a large front courtyard, and hundreds of old and imposing statues in stone on the entrance and the facade. (Christopher Kramer)

The exterior is immense, treasures of the church given it by and for the French kings and Napoleon Bonaparte.

One section is set-aside for the keeping of countless treasures in gold, precious gems, etc., which are encrusted on crowns, crucifixes, scepters, vestments, etc. There is one chalice about 2’6″ high, the sun bursts of which are entirely made up of diamonds, each bigger then Doc Vitullo’s pop bottle. On a wall in one of the rooms, there are figures of 228 past popes, each done in cameos with the exact likeness of their faces. These cameos are mounted on a gold frame and pinned on a black velvet background. So much for that. 

Next was the Louvre and Tuileries, immense buildings with beautiful formal gardens. The Louvre is about two blocks in width and about as long as Jackson to Washington Boulevard (just a little hut!)



Then on to the Place de Concorde, a large Piazza with beautiful fountains, marble and bronze statuary, and again formal gardens, and then to the Champs Elysees. This is the finest stretch of boulevard in the world, about 2 miles long, lined with double rows of great big old trees, great wide sidewalks, and the smartest shops, restaurants, and cafés on the first story of each building.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

 All of the buildings are six stories in height with balconies and mansard roofs, all stone. Nearly all the main buildings in Paris are about the same height, but naturally vary in design.

A picture I took from the Louvre of Paris shows the symmetrical heights in Paris.

A picture I took of Paris from inside the Louvre shows the symmetrical heights he described.

 All the streets are at an angle, the main ones coming to a point at the Arc de Triomphe. This is one place I can’t get to learn, even with the study of the map. Every few blocks there are circles like you saw in Washington, only larger and each one is properly landscaped with fountains and statues. There is no imitation about anything here as far as the buildings are concerned–marble, mahogany, walnut, bronze wrought iron fences and balconies, are all the real thing. The Arc de Triomphe, you may have seen in pictures, is on a high spot and from the top can be seen all of Paris on a bright sunny day. I hope my pictures come out so you can see, at least in pictures, what I am trying so inadequately to describe in words. 

Benjamin Stäudinger

Arc at Night: Benjamin Stäudinger

This is the real international city of the world. Peoples from every known country seem to be here. There is no particular class or racial distinction. It is not uncommon to see a Negro or Sengalese, as they call them here, walking the street with a white French wife and a couple of children. There is no ban against them in theaters, restaurants or cafés. 

I also went to the street market section today. It is clean and well kept and run by all native Frenchmen. Everything is shown outside on neat carts or bulkheads, but they all yell out their wares the same way. Even the butchers have their meat and chops and fish outside, sliced and ready to be sold. Horsemeat is a common thing here, and out of curiosity, I had a steak from the fillet of horse tonight for dinner. If I didn’t know it was horse me, I would never have known the difference. 

Well, tomorrow I shall make an inside tour of the Louvre and then pack up and get ready to go. Next stop is Interlaken and Lucerne, Switzerland, but I will never forget this city of cities. If for no other reason, it was worth making this trip just to see Paris. 

Here are two incredible pieces of art Alex would have seen at the Louvre (from our 2009 family trip to Paris).


Winged Victory (in entrance To Louvre)


Winged Victory (in entrance To Louvre)


da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

By the way, you ought to be getting my letters starting tomorrow or the next day and I soon hope to get yours. I was dreaming about you last night, and that helped keep me from getting too lonesome. Hope I’ll dream of you every night. Feeling okay, so don’t worry. 

Loads of love, Al

Such a romantic!




Through His Words: Day Thirteen

8 Apr

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Thirteen
Hotel Regina, Paris

July 28th, 1938

Mon Cherie,

Today was the day for my visit to Versailles, about 20 miles outside of Paris. “What a place!” Probably the most beautiful place and grounds in the world. Chock-full of history, arts, and treasures beyond description. Home of Louis XIV, XV, XVIII and last but not least, Napoleon and Marie Antoinette, Madam Pompadour, and others I can’t name just now.


The palace is a large separate building from the one Napoleon used, which is called the Trianon. Then there is the Petite Trianon for Marie Antoinette, and various buildings for stables and royal guests. There is the actual furniture, gold and marble tables, rare bronzes and porcelains, and the carriage that was used for Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor.

The gardens are too beautiful to describe in a letter. I went around with a horse and buggy and it took two hours to ride around the grounds.




There are countless rooms in the king’s palace, each richly furnished to a king’s taste. (Below photos courtesy of Benita.)

Royal Chamber:

The ceilings are all covered with paintings, most of which were done by the same artist who painted the pictures in the Vatican. You conclude the trip by feeling dizzy and tired, such splendor I have never seen before.

Hall of Mirrors:

On the return trip to Paris, we took a bus until we reached the Seine, (the river that runs through Paris), and then took a boat which plys the river to the city…a beautiful ride because it allows one to see the many fine buildings on each side, including the Eiffel Tower.

The Seine:

The Seine:


Eiffel Tower:

The day was clear and fair and enabled me to take some good pictures both at Versailles and along the river Seine. There are still many decorations that were put up for King George of England on his visit here and I shot a few views of them.

Just two weeks earlier, on July 14, King George VI of England and his wife Queen Elizabeth had made a royal visit to Paris. You may remember the story of his brother’s abdication in the movie, The King’s Speech.

The House of Windsor

The Royal Household © Copyright 2008/09

I had dinner tonight at an Italian restaurant in the Montmartre district and after dinner, spent the rest of the evening walking around this territory which is part of Paris where all the honkytonks, nightclubs and sidewalk cafés etc. are.

Montmartre, dominated by the Sacré-Cœur  (

Here is real Parisian atmosphere, notorious dives, apache dance cafés with names you read about or see in the movies. Every door is a café of some kind or another, all with little tables out in front filled with people, musicians playing, radios barking, girls singing and dancing, some with clothes on and others with not so much, barkers in front of every place inviting you and telling you their place is the best or worst, which ever you may be looking for. It is Paris, the only city in the world which has such a district where anything and everything goes and nobody cares or gives a damn. I’ll tell you more about it when I get home.

Théophile Steinlen's famous advertisement for the tour of Le Chat Noir cabaret

Théophile Steinlen’s famous advertisement for the tour of Le Chat Noir cabaret

Tomorrow my schedule calls for Notre Dame, the Louvre, Champs Elysees, Place de Concorde, the Opera, and Church of the Madeleine. If my feet hold out, I hope to cover them all.

I’ll say good night now dear until tomorrow.

With Love, AL 









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.



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.



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 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.


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