This cathedral is the most beautiful building I have seen. It is set in the small town of Chartres about 40 miles west of Paris. This church was built about 600 or 700 years ago.
I hope Trellie is getting big enough to go out for walks with you. There must be a lot of Lane Cove for you to show her. The more she knows the less likelihood there is of her getting lost. I hope you are looking after Dorothy all right too. How’s the bike going? I am looking forward to seeing you all soon.
Fri 26-Oct-56: Chicken. Walked around generally from [Maurice] Utrillo’s church [Notre-Dame de Clignancourt] all through city. Went back to city (?) later & bought a hot chicken for tea.
Sat 27-Oct-56: Roley worked at Daily Express office & I saw Musee d’Art Moderne. Went to Joan Harrison’s place for evening meal.
Sun 28-Oct-56: Walked around Isle near Notre Dame Chartres. Went for drive & dinner at Remy St Chevreuse & went on to see Chartres cathedral – Had dinner at a café in St Germain. Saw Picasso film.
Saturday night – 27th Oct
I wanted to write to you very much & thought that I was fixed for an evening in which to do it. Roley’s big day in an office is on Saturday and I did not expect to see him until later tonight. But he rang up & said that I was expected as an extra guest for a meal he was going to. We have not long returned and it is pretty late. In any case, there is so much to tell of Paris – that one hardly knows where to begin – even if one has the time. I have covered quite a lot of this city & there is still much more than I can contemplate coping with. It is huge. And with millions of people & cars running madly all over it like ants. The weather has been mostly dull, which I gather is commonplace enough – But the city looks like many pearls against a grey velvet background. A very beautiful place, which is everything that you could expect from it. The number of cars around is fabulous.
The price of culture is high here. On a visit to the Museum of Modern Art [Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris] – I saw a specially collected exhibition of Matisse. About half a dozen of the pictures were superb. The old gentleman seems lately to be doing nothing but cut out bits of coloured paper & stick them down. I cough out money for entrance of Galleries & fork up for expensive catalogues. 2 shows & their catalogues cost me 200 Franc each to enter (i.e. 5/.-) plus 350 francs each for the catalogue. The other exhibition was by a sculptress named Germaine Richier. Fantastic stuff. Some of it most impressive – lots of it screwy. I’ve been walking about 6 hours a day and get really too tired to do justice to my need for you. I got your letter dated 22nd today and was highly delighted to realise your desire for me is as great as is mine for you. I am looking forward to our reunion in the warmth. It is very cold over here at the moment, but I am keeping warm enough – I leave for London next Friday for about a week – and before I know what is what will be on the plane home to you and Graham. I have done my best to make the most out of this trip despite the fact that I am getting heartily tired of buildings & pictures. Roley aims to have a day out in the country tomorrow – which should be a welcome change. I am too sleepy to continue writing so will go to bed with your need alongside me. It is very helpful to be getting some letters from you so quickly. Nothing has turned up from Rumania yet. I guess it is a relief to know that I am out of the Red area. The insurrections in Hungary could have been very disturbing for you had you not known I was already beyond the Iron Curtain. I am closing this part of the draft with very much love. And I mean it my dearest Dorothy wife. Kisses for you & the junior Pidgeons. While Roley goes out to play the organ for the English Embassy service in the morning, I am going over to Notre Dame for a walk with his secretary – a nice Aussie girl [Margaret Murray].
Sunday [28 Oct 1956]. [One paragraph typed] Roley bought this machine in Italy for only 17£ St. Got some sort of journalistic rebate on it. A brand new Olivetti. Can’t quite get used to the feel of it myself as the keyboard seems a little jammed up to me. Still it’s a nice clean typeface. Very expensive in this city, so I shall hold my horses until I get to London, where I will see what is available, and what to get here on the last lap home. I’ll come back for a day or two before I take off for Zurich. Listen darling, you’d better send me again all your measurements in both inches and centimetres. Also glove sizes. Please do it immediately and post to me in London, Aust. Consolidated Press, 107 Fleet St, London EC4.
Darlingest Dorothy – my dear girl. I have had the most wonderful day. I was breathless about it an hour or so ago but have tired off – Nevertheless, I want you to know, & for me to remember, something of it. I hope to write myself into a regained enthusiasm as I go along. I had not long finished playing around with Roley’s typewriter when his secretary came & took me off for a walk to the little island behind the Notre Dame. It is called the Isle St Louis and we wandered through the pearly grey veil of atmosphere which seems to shroud Paris in an intangible net of beauty on the rising of the day. The Seine greyly yellow, sluggish through the black trunks of the trees by the river – the light tones of the retaining walls & the wonderful Japonise lines of the steps and ramps leading to the waters edge. Grey – not a black keyed up – but a viridian & crimson mixed hue of lustre off-white. Luminous – and not substantial. An image on a screen, without a seeming reality, except that one can see the movement of the lime green leaves as they fall before & behind where you stand. To put your hand out and hold one for a second in its suspended and inevitably beautiful pattern in the almost too inviolable harmony. The leaves just acid enough to save the whole from a cloying death. I think I can still see it – I know I will – so many things to remember – So many things remembered – Beautiful grey & lime. Fluid lovely lines of river, trees & bridges. Came back & went into Notre Dame, which was crowded because some special service. Impressive enough church, but somehow disappointed in it.
Met Roley at 12 after his church service playing & we three started off to the country to one of the best restaurants in the environs of Paris. I remember Roley writing a story about the Prince of Gourmets, a fellow, named Curnonsky, & eleven others, of which Roley was one, eating a whole pig at one meal. We had a magnificent omelette – a specialty called Omelette du Curé de Mennessiar. Made as far as we could find out – with a filling of cream & tuna & carp & herring sperm. I think with a little mornay sauce – sprinkled with chives & served in a long ramekin with melted butter & a little lemon juice – Boy! – I mean girlie! It was smooth. We made a mistake with the second dish – not that it was not good, but that it was not their extra hot specialty as we found out later. A fine white wine, although a little sweet for me – & tres bon claret. So many of their wines are good. Nevertheless you start paying for them. – A Beaujolais, which is apparently a reasonably good wine costs about 4/6. The vin ordinaire which one can get for 2/3 is quite good but no better than that Murrumbidgee Red we had. Of course you can get the vintage classes & pay what you like. We have not gone to the extent of having really expensive meals. Roley is a bloody goon, & won’t let me pay when we eat out – so sometimes I buy a chicken (cooked) & we heat it u & fix up in the flat. I help out a little by doing bits of plumbing – cleaning his sink out etc. & bits & pieces. He is helpless as a babe. God knows what all this living in Paris would cost. I know the lunch cost 4750 francs which is nearly a £5. Cheap hotel accommodation without meals is 1700 francs a night. £2 Australian. I’ll try & do a painting to send back to him. He insists that Jess & I gave him much hospitality in Australia. You’d like him very much.
Had a street photo taken near the Notre Dame & hope to get it soon. I love you. Xxx.
This little village St Remy les Chevreuse about 16 miles out of Paris, was very charming & very new to me – different, more intimate, than Paris – little angles on village lanes & doll like houses. Gay with the grape, Roley screams out (he always screams) we’ll take the bloody Boche (that’s me) to Chartres to see the cathedral. Bingo & with hurry to get there before the light is too full to come through the grand illuminated windows.
Lovely little town – medieval – everything in the book – All of us gay & enthusiastic – the beautiful cathedral, Roley reckoned the finest in France & I believe him. Knocks the Notre Dame Paris, into a cocked hat. Perfect Gothic stone figures guarding the entrance to the Lord. 700 years or more since the western soul soared through the immobile stone to seek a mystic union with the things that move us all. The front right & oldest tower embodying a simplicity & perfection of line, not to be recaptured in the rest of the building. – (These things took generations to complete). The setting light – the grey – It must be a French grey – perfectly holding the form without shadow. Inside, so dark, and the last light filtering through the coloured jewels in lead. Windows that shone like neons in a sea of midnight velvet. Behind us, out of the interior murk silhouetted figures & a mother with a pram silently as a photograph passing through the stations of the filtered light. On the right in equal & untouchable gloom – the epiphany of the lighted candles – and the bended devout. High up – high as the seeming sky – in the radiant windows. Jewels – seeable – memorable – and indescribable. All of which had a terrible effect on my high animal spirits. The flesh abased made you realise something – damn it all – It’s hard to describe without getting too precious on paper – I could tell you darling, when I have my head in your lap, and against your breast, and you ask me to ramble on, & you’ll understand, because you’ll feel my heart, and I’ll mean it, even if it is incoherent & sooky, to anyone else. But you, who love me, and know that I want to get it all out before it chokes me & I must get some of it to you tonight even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning. I want you to be me, & have it too. Right inside me – In my heart – I can put you there because, now I know you belong there, and that somehow, no row will ever be bitter again. Because I have learnt I need you. And love you. This has made me quite shaky. And I’m not even high. Chartres Cathedral de Notre Dame shook me. I was just in that uninhabited state to be perfectly timed for it. It’s about 45 miles from Paris, but before I go to London I am going to get the train up there to spend a day. I want you very much indeed.
We had a couple of beers before coming back but Chartres had fixed us. The party was over. After returning we picked up a woman journalist from the Daily Express & had a light meal & went to see a hour long movie [Le mystère Picasso] on Picasso & how he works. This show really did me to a turn. It was completely fascinating. With some new techniques (movie) it showed through the back of his (say canvas) the lines & colours as he put them down – Also later how he composed & decomposed a full time serious picture – Showed all his trials & errors & erasures & final destruction of a painting. It was the most illuminating piece of movie reporting it is possible to imagine. A bloody superb picture – am going to see that again too. Darling, I must finish & get to bed. Even Paris has not been able to support the showing of this picture on Picasso to the extent it deserves – so probably it will never get to Australia. It is highly esoteric & technical & marvellous. So you can see, all in all darling it has been the moistest day I have had since I left home – and it has left me very taut indeed. I am tired, but my mind is going madly like a cretin clock. Forgive me for writing this darling but it will help unwind me and I’d so much like to give you a fuck full with a great deal of love. From your Bill. XXXX
Please translate some of this for Graham. Tell him I know he will understand I can’t write separate letters, more love
This is the Eiffel Tower with the Seine River behind and in the background is part of the Paris city – an enormous place with over 3,000,000 people living in it. I have not been up the Eiffel Tower yet but hope to and from there see all of Paris. You read about it in Colliers Encyclopedia. As many hugs and kisses for you as there are people in Paris.
Wed 24-Oct-56: Wandered all round the shopping areas & saw Sacre-Coeur church in morning – went to Lido night club. Up very late.
Thu 25-Oct-56: Longchamp – went to Longchamp race course in afternoon & cooked Chinese grub in Roley’s flat in evening.
33 Rue St Augustin [33 Quai des Grands Augustins]
Wed or rather Thursday
The 25th Oct 1956
My very dear darling, I have made three attempts to write to you about the Tyrol which I think must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each time I get started some interruption occurs & the Tyrol is up the spout. I can’t force myself to write about it – I love it too much – I will tell you on the 28th of November when you are in my arms, and there is no tensions anywhere in the world, and for the little while we have some appreciative peace. I want to tell you so much about it. I cannot write much when I am staying with people. Please forgive the aimless scrawl – I have put the drop in the eyes & am not seeing very well. – Plus the feet too [?]. I have been to the Ritzy-est nightclub in Paris which means anywhere. The story is too long. I was where I was, with an English photographer from the Daily Express & it cost plenty just to sit at the bar counter & look over the shoulders of those who paid more than real money. I do not forget my darling girl. You are my wife and I your husband and its very silly, and it’s also very true and there is not much that can be done about it expect think of each other. From the Lido we went down to the Market’s area where we had a couple of beers. For 7 hours I have been pounding the foot path and now, really couldn’t care less about the sight & hide of the dopes who look after them.
At this point your poor dear erring, but loving husband, took the knock. He had a lot to tell you, but was breathless, and too slow on the draw. All I want is for Roley to get his washing away from hanging over the bath, so that I can get some of mine into the same position. Me – I’ve been washing too! I got very loving towards you (not that I am not always in that state when I’m 12,000 miles away) because you are the earth I put my anchor into and you take it & have not to leave it. I think you are quite the nicest girl – and also, the most forgiving little bugger – in the whole of the southern hemisphere – and the northern too, for that matter – And no amount of scolding, or disappointment in me will alter that sad fact. I love you. I wish you were here because I am now very cold & am shivering like a leaf (aspen). Part of this fatal affection for is maybe put down to the fact that I walked around for seven hours yesterday on only a bit of a bun and 1 ½ cups of coffee. You remember Georges Simenon, the Belgian author who wrote those short novels I sometimes got you to read. Novels about the gloomy French & their problems. He often talks about his lousy, unhappy heroes leaning against, or upon, a zinc lined bar, listening to the rain beating on the pavement outside whilst they drown their sorrows in a glass of Calvados. Well, I have never had a glass of Calvados, and didn’t know what the hell anyone could find to drown in it. So I ups and bought a flask of it for only 175 francs which is 4/3. There is still 2/1 worth left in the bottle and it is a very pleasant sort of fire water, made I am told, out of apple juice. Only goes to show, doesn’t it? Look, if you don’t forgive me, I won’t ever be the same. I’ll do a Blunden on you and regret it for ever afterwards [Wep’s friend, journalist Geoff Blunden deserted his wife Micky and married another woman]. I wouldn’t be writing to you if I didn’t think more of you than my actions indicate. Yah!
Yesterday afternoon, I was gloomily looking in a shop window on the Rue des Capucines, when a voice said “Do you think they are nylons or orlons?” I. quick as a flash, replied “I wouldn’t have a clue”. (Smart, eh?) Then he says – “I don’t think I come from too far away from you”. Me – “Could be, Lane Cove, Australia,” Him “Bondi, Sydney, what are you doing?” Me – “Contemplating a beer”. Him – “Oright, we can we go?” Us – “Let’s see”. And so, one of the world’s fleetingest friendships was formed between W. Edwin Pidgeon, late of Northwood, NSW and Ron Watson, not a Sergeant of Detectives, Bondi, NSW. He is over here on some business for Hoyts & has invited me to accompany him to a movie taking, involving the newest French glamour puss, next Monday. He says “come out with me & have a free lunch with the director”. So by the time you read this letter I shall have been irrevocably seduced by the vision splendid – I hope. In any case you are not too bad yourself – much slicker than most of the Frogs I have seen. At your age too, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Remember the nice happy beer we had together at Bulli – the day after we were married. I liked that. Still do. I spent all day looking at the shops which had nothing on Sydney’s. Funny thing is that the shop keepers move great quantities of their stock out on to the foot paths – and you see washing machine demonstrations – cooking exhibitions – bundles of clothing, meat, fish, & God knows what, all displayed halfway across the street. Enough to make the civic fathers of Sydney turn in their graves. I tell you, it’s crazy. Everybody tells me it is nutty to buy goods in Paris. And on looking at the prices I’m inclined to agree. They say wait till you get to London. There is nothing much in the stylish line around. Perhaps because winter is just around the corner. I still love you. I am one of most contented goons, you are ever likely to meet up with. I think you are a bit sappy too. Enough of this love talk. Roley is getting his secretary to take me to a big time fashion parade. I hope I can remember what to tell you – about the details & who’s there & what have you. This Paris is quite a [place – even if it is only the tourists who play. Roley says most of the Parisians have never seen the Folies Bergere [history of], and to prove his point, immediately asked his cleaning up woman (not a bad line of about 40) if she had ever seen the show – she had not.
I don’t need any money – I still have £210 left. I can’t see any point in spending it on shows & things. After all – they fundamentally the same in Sydney – if not as well done. I’m sick of gaping at notable buildings – I find the flavour of a town in its shops & its people. The way they go out – the way they work – The slums & the shops – the devil take the equestrian statues. Just now I wouldn’t mind being home or having you & Graham here with me. Yesterday morning I had a little pleasure in doing a note of the Pont St Michael [Pont Saint Michel], took a photo too, so may be able to get something out of it. The Pont Neuf is the next one up on the river & can be well seen from the windows of Roley’s flat. He & his secretary usually eat out but think it a good idea if I cook them a Chinese meal. I’d like to have a go, & see how the old form is. I still love you.
I have suddenly lost my punch – and find it hard to write any more. Although I am too lousy to let this letter go without filling up the back of this page. Looks as if I’ll finish off a bit half cooked. Which reminds me, that I bought some books by a yank named Henry Miller – strictly banned in England & USA – and no wonder too. King would know of him. I bought the extra books because from what I read in his, which I bought in Rome, “Tropic of Capricorn” he has approached a sort of Indian Tantric, (i.e. sexual union) form of mysticism. Half of this book is straight out surrealist writing – the other, & really vivid half is devoted to an extraordinarily detailed, and enthusiastic account of fucking. It will make your eyes pop out. I can’t quite work out just how much exhibitionism is involved, or whether it is a purposeful contrast between the flight from self & the submergence in self. Seems like a contest between the flesh & the spirit. Anyway – in whichever vein he writes, he is equally moving. Needless to say his books are on the banned list but it is possible that I can get them in. You know, by just walking through Customs with them in my hand – or pocket, etc. Funny thing – Every country I have been through, just accepts your word that you have nothing to declare. Not once has my pack been opened. The bag, incidentally is getting a bit of a bulge in it. Packed pretty solid. Have had the jumper on only 3 or 4 times. Extraordinarily warm over here. Dearest, dearest [little love heart illustration with arrow through it]
Even if it kills me I’ll finish this page. You would (please say yes) wouldn’t you, rather have a letter of nothing, than wait for some Baedeker description of Paris?
How is Graham? I hope I am more understanding when I get back. Something has been missing. Am finding it hard to know what to get him. The limitations of plane packing have to be considered. I’m glad to hear you are all well. I still haven’t got your measurements – but any letters from Bucarest haven’t been sent here yet. I am very glad you know that I am out of the satellite countries. I think it may have been somewhat worrying if you had thought I was still there whilst the big blue is going on between Poland & Hungary & Russia [Hungarian uprising and the Russian invasion].
Au revoir & auf wiedersehen to you, dear wife, and terribly earnest thoughts for Graham. Am looking forward to seeing Trellie – 2 months difference – I won’t know her, nor she me.
I cannot, without complete collapse of gentlemanly restraint, tell you all how much I miss you.
Am getting to the stage of looking forward to my return home. Not that I’ll be any better, once I settle down. But there it is – Many hugs, restrained & otherwise, ditto for these xxxxxxxxxx
X – this one for the female hound, Nortey Trellie.
If I had the space I’d bring her back a piece of French fence post to sniff at.
(P.S. Our entrance to the Lido cost us 25/- each for 1 Scotch. We sat at the bar & looked on. We only had the 1 Scotch.)
I can’t write this too well, the train is jiggling around quite a bit. At the moment we are traveling alongside a mountain stream, with great sharp rocky peaks on either side. There is no snow about but all the trees, save the pines, are in many shades from light yellow to red. Really – very colourful & dramatic. I am drinking a bottle of beer & have just finished two very indifferent frankfurts & a roll. Looks like my last food till I get to France. I shall spend my last money – 20 or so Austrian schillings – about 3/6 on beer – it will make me happier to be without food. I have French francs but can’t do much with them here. Just imagine – we have just passed below a castle perched high up on a great 200-300 ft high rock. How they get there – or built it I don’t know. It is quite warm and the sun is streaming in the carriage window. The beer is making me sleepy and I am missing the scenery. I think my darling, I had better continue this letter tonight when there is nothing to see. We still have 18 hours to go.
My Darling girl – We are just pulling into Basle (or Basel) on the northern corner of Switzerland – it is the border of France & Germany I think. It is midnight and I am missing you like mad. It seems like the near full moon which accompanies us has had many trips since I left Mascot. I do hope you are both alright. Am pretty tired now and would like to be actively in your arms. Then deep sleep – A great curse! I had this compartment to myself for ¼ hour. With doors open & heater off. Now in comes a bloody French couple with a child & shut the door. These flaming Europeans can’t stand a bit of air. Give you the hump – However, I’ll go to sleep and rise above the sordid problems. I’ll tell you about the trip when I get alone in my room. Incidentally, this express is driven by electric motor – from overhead wires – all the way from Vienna to Zurich. Just had my passport stamped by the French control officers. Child now blowing horrible raspberries – in French I presume. May as well give it away. Good night dearest. I know my intimate feelings will be too stale for immediate benefit for either of us, by the time you get this letter. But despair not – they, Phoenix-like, are being continually re-vitalized. I get very loving towards you both when I think of the letters I collected from the Hotel Austria. Selfishly, I loved them. Does the solitary soul good to feel that it is needed somewhere. You are my own dear people. I suppose this parting helps in some way, to make for closer union – for love and dependency from us all. At last we are off again. Paris! Have I come!
Tuesday [23 Oct 1956] 7.15am. We are only about ¾ hour outside of Paris and a heavy fog practically obscures any vision of the countryside. Had a pretty good night – the French couple must have got out shortly after we left Basle – I was alone from there on. I think I will stay in Paris till the 2nd of November then go on to London for a week & a couple of days. I’ll have to leave London by the 19th November to get to Zurich where I get my plane on the 21st. So any letters you may send after you get this should be sent to Clarrie McNulty, London – get address from Eleanore [Watson]. It is Consolidated Press something or other, Fleet St.
5pm. Am at last resting in Roley Pullen’s flat after a very trying morning. He received your letter in this morning’s mail. That’s very good going, my darling. I had no expectation that I would get a reply to my phone call only 5 days after I made it. Thanks a lot dearest. I arrived in Paris at 8.50am & no familiar faces to behold. I got a taxi to the address I had of Roley’s – No one had heard of him. More than a little dismayed I staggered with the weight of luggage into a nearby coffee shop where I had hopes of mapping out an attack on the city. Could find nothing in the phone book but an entry for Agence Francaise de Press. Hoping to find some clue from the address listed, I began a back breaking search for a bookshop where I could get a map of Paris. Miraculously, I noticed an Agence Francaise name over a doorway. It wasn’t the address but I asked & finally found an English speaking girl who gave me an address of Australian Associated Newspaper Service. I lugged the cases about a mile (with the aid of an uninformative map) till I came to the address. This was an hotel. I could have wept. Anyway, I went in & somehow or other whilst asking if they knew anything about any Press service in the vicinity a girl’s name who is the representative was mentioned & they said she lived there but was out & not back till 1 o’clock. I left a pitiful note & said I would return & would they mind if I left my big case there for the hour & half. Then wandered up the hill towards Montmartre. Came back – girl gone – but note with Roley’s address and Phone no. They told me where it was & how to get there by underground. I got the train (about 6 stations) & when I got out realised I didn’t have the number of the house. Couldn’t ring either. Got train back – retrieved note – and as it was nearly 2 o’clock asked hotel to ring for me. Luckily I got him & hence here I am – buggered but unbowed. He has a fine view of the Seine & Notre Dame. His rooms directly overlook the river. And just opposite is the Palais de Justice & behind it, the Louvre. He is being very kind to me – wouldn’t think of me going to a hotel. (Naturally with my wrong address – he didn’t get the telegram). But was not quite so surprised to hear me on the phone, as he had received your letter. He is working now – so I am writing this to keep out of his way. Paris seems to be a huge place, and very beautiful. I’ll get up early & start my dutiful tour then. Couldn’t dream of it now.
Lots of love darling – I hope Graham’s got some new pieces for me to hear. Ask Graham to give Trellie [Corgi dog] a man’s hug for me and for himself 2 heavy handshakes – bye – bye – Bill
It’s about 7.30am and is a bit on the cool side. I got out of bed ¾ hour ago as I found little comfort there. Now if I was out on the front verandah at 85 I reckon I could show you a thing or two. There’s nothing much to look at here. My old machinery is getting out of practice. But my thoughts are ardent – and, I hope acceptable. As all this doesn’t help one little bit. I suppose I had best carry on with the historical & geographical aspects of this one man caravanserie. But truly, I do miss you so very much. I’m getting a bit tired of gazing at churches, & public monuments, parks, rivers, street names, traffic policemen, food shops, dress shops, German phrase books, city maps, handfuls of all sorts of currency and foreign menus. I am not tired of looking at girls or book shops, although it is my much considered opinion that the latter are of much better quality. It seems surprising how few top line sorts one sees in Europe – so far. However, talking about that is preferable to writing. The book shops here are very good – really go in for art publications with German thoroughness, but I dare say that in Paris & London I shall find them as good – probably better. I have only just realised that my last letter to you was posted from Orasul Stalin in Rumania last Sunday. God, knows when you will receive it – possibly after this one. I have been a bit too busy travelling to give you much of myself. I did get a kick out of ringing you in Sydney and even if the connection was bad, we did manage to make some real contact. It was nice to hear you sweetie, although for the life of me, I can’t remember anything much about it except the important items of date of return – seeing the Edgleys – giving you the tip off to write c/o Roley Pullen, and hearing Graham too. I bet he gave the schoolboys & the neighbours an earbashing about a telephone call from Vienna. I hope you felt I was loving you very much. Because I was. I didn’t get the address of the street too well – so went to a travel agency & with their help found the Australian Commission’s premises. Edgley was away at Linz – and was due back at 6pm Friday. About 6.30 I rang his wife – she was delighted to hear a dirty old Australian accent & insisted I catch a cab straight out, which I did & while trying to find out, with my filthy German, which house they lived in – the doctor arrived home. Only to find his youngest child, a girl of 2 ½ down with pneumonia. Mrs E wanted to dine out, so papa stayed home to look after sick child. They have invited me to stay with them for the day or two before I leave for Paris. Quite a lively couple – she is 6 months gone again – making it her 3rd. They are getting pretty sick of the climate here – but have to stay on another 12 months or so.
This rushing around is tiring and confusing – for the life of me I can’t remember where I was up to in my travels. Did I tell you about a beautiful old church in Orasul Stalin. It was over 800 years old. The stone of its exterior quite fretted away like rocks by the sea, so dark grey as to have occasioned its name of Biserica Neagra which means Black Church. It was very big and the interior all around the bottom end where the altar was placed was painted white. The towering shafts of stone appeared to radiate a purity of light – the altar itself nicely proportioned & with just the right amount of gold. It gave me rare pleasure. That white – unbelievably effective. The churches in Vienna, are even blacker in surface appearance – and more huge. But inside is all the original grey aged stone – & the effort is gloomy. The old black church had spirit – plus buoyancy. The maniacal driver managed to bash a mud guard in & that held us up for ½ day at O. Stalin. On the Monday morning we took off for Cluj at 8am. Transylvania! A country in everyone’s imagination – full of werewolves, bats, vampires and horrifying mysteries. Ruritania – with princes on sombre missions. Pine trees – dark recesses of the mountains & snow. And the whole damn place looks more like Australia than anything I have seen since I left home. It is a twin to the Monaro district. Autumnal brown grass rolling slopes, very few trees, and the Alps in the distance. Tell Price Jones to tear the word Transylvania out of his accumulated imaginings. It just ‘aint so. I am afraid I disappointed Mrs Edgley, too, with my account of it. Visited a vineyard on the way up & had a couple of quick snorts. They seem to only make white wines up here & pretty sour Riesling at that. Crumby stuff – which everyone drinks with soda water. Breaks your flaming romantic heart. To save something from the wreck you can tell Bill that the peasants do wear white trousers & white aprons – with great shaggy sheep skins coats to cover. They do carry long sticks & lead the flocks to various pastures. The only thing that was un-Australian was the complete & utter lack of fences anywhere. The peasants all live in clustered houses in the villages & at early morning set out in their carts drawn by horses or oxen for their plot which may be anywhere between one village & the next. Apparently they know their own ground backward & there is no dispute as to where one man’s lot begins & ends. The peasants give their stock (sheep or cattle) to the shepherd & he takes them all out to grass.
Met some artists and sculptors in Cluj. They were being very well done by. Storybook studios & apparently adequate money. Also met a director of a folk lore museum who suggested we nick out & see some peasant potters. We did so – found out, was about 35 miles out. Practically on the Hungarian border – near a town named Oradea. Quite interesting. Next day returned to Bucharest – got in about 1.30am.
Had a meeting with the director of the Institute. All very amiable. Asked what I thought about Rumania, what I didn’t like, etc. Received a present of a little bit of folk art. An old Rumanian custom I gather. Was happy to be able to reciprocate with the books. When I got back to the pub – found that more books & records had arrived. Such was the enormous weight of books – the Institute are sending them out. I hope they all arrive safely. Was explained to me that the early departure was due to the fact that it was the only booking they could get me before the Olympics.
All very pleasant – a great pity the country is so poor. Also wrote a little piece about Australian art & did a short talk for the air, this they took on tape in the hotel room. Heard it played back.
Got to Vienna about 12 noon. Where I thought to let you know immediately. Got the bright idea of ringing – not much more than a cable. To confirm our talk – I catch a BOAC plane at Zurich on 21st Nov. at 10.30pm & should arrive in Sydney on Sunday 25 at 7.20am. You can insure me for the trip if you like. I was shocked to read in a German magazine – I stumbled through it in German – of the unfortunate crash of the Vulcan Bomber as it returned to London. It is now 9am. I better dress & have some rolls & coffee.
Sunday [21 Oct 1956]. 3pm. I am sitting in a lovely park out of Vienna. In the middle is the Franzensberg Castle built by Franz Joseph early last century. The castle is set in the middle of a fine artificial lake which has no water in it. The autumn trees are beautiful colours & in the distance a group of school girls are singing. The weather is most indulgent. A mild gentle setting sun. The Edgley girl made a magnificent recovery, playing like mad in the trees behind us. We had a picnic lunch.
Went to the Vienna gallery [Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts)] this morning & saw many fine paintings including Tintoretto’s Susanna & the Elders, Holbein’s Jane Eyre [Jane Seymour], Vermeer’s famous Painter & model. Wonderful Titians and 14 Brueghels. Pity I am leaving in the morning but I suppose I had better move on. Paris & London will take time. I telegrammed Roley Pullen to ask him to get me some cheap accommodation – I am going in the Arlberg Express from Vienna to Paris – via Zurich. Leaves at 9.10 in the morning & arrives Paris 8am the next day. Fare is about £7-10.0 against £17.10 by plane – also I will see up to the Alps in daylight. I stayed with the Edgleys last night & tonight – they seem to be a very happy coupe with two nice little girls. The Viennese are wandering up and down the lake – Yesterday, Rob took me for a drive through the Vienna Woods.
I shall have to finish now as we are about to return to Vienna, and I want to post this letter before I leave in the morning. Lots of love my darling. Give Graham my love & a pat for Trellie. Tell him I liked receiving his letters. I hope he gets all the different stamps that are coming over. A big thing for you. XXXXX for all. Your old loving roue [?]
[Apparently Wep’s visit to Romania was cut short as the people in the Institute wanted to get him out before trouble over flowed in Hungary. Five days after leaving Romania, widespread revolt erupted in Hungary against the Soviet backed government leading to its fall from power. On November 4, the Soviets invaded, crushing the revolt, and by November 10, all resistance had ceased.]
I stayed over night in the room marked with a cross. This is a big hotel in Orasul Stalin which means Town of Stalin. Yesterday we motored over the Carpathian mountains and there was a lot of snow on them, although it wasn’t very cold. I am going on to a town called CLUJ.
These towns are in a part of Rumania, a district named Transylvania. It is all very nice.
Fri 12-Oct-56: Sinaia 2:30pm through Ploesti & top of mountain
Sat 13-Oct-56: Orasul Stalin had picnic lunch just below snow line. Staying at Carpati Hotel [now the Aro Palace]. Cabaret night at hotel
Thurs, 10 Oct [11 Oct 1956]
Dorothy – I write it that way because I sometimes say it with affection. Tonight I don’t need and dear or darling, to go with it. I say it, the way, maybe seldom, it can be said over your shoulder when you least expect it. When for the simple reason that my barriers are down and I realise that you and Graham are all I have and you are smothered in zut. This corn makes me embarrassed, possibly sick. But there is nothing like a bit of corn at times for sentiment. False or true is for you to decide. I worry about Graham – Are you & he getting on smoothly? I hear roundaboutly that I leave on the 18 Oct. [Unrest was brewing in Hungary and they wanted to get Wep out before the Soviets swept in.] How & in what direction I don’t know but will advise you later. Tomorrow or Friday I am going to Siniai, & other odd centres finishing at Cluj. We are going in a car, which is a real luxury. My stomach has finally rebelled against the excessive quantities of food. I have got to the stage where I could scream for nothing but a plate of bacon & eggs for dinner. I have been treated like one of the ex Arch Dukes – nothing is too much for the Institute to arrange. Tonight I met about 6 – 8 newspaper cartoonists in their Artists Union Palace. All very trying at first, but finished up like newspaper men anywhere else in the world. They gave me, on behalf of the Union about 6 massive volumes on Rumanian Art. I shall have to trust to chance with the Rumanian post or charter another plane to bring them all home. Their ignorance of Australia is abysmal, as is ours of Rumania. Am dreading the plane trip back, but am looking forward to being home. How Beryl Whiteley, manages to stick all this time away, is beyond me. Just near the pub is the gallery [The National Museum of Art of Romania], where this afternoon, I found 3 Rembrandts, I was disappointed in, 2 Brueghels, so, so. But all in all there are so many artists who speak a message across the years. That is something of the sublimity of the human spirit. No one is alone if they can see & feel what other humans (with all the same problems) have managed to transmit through the ages, since they were conceived. It is a direct contact with any other, possibly, important being, but most of all, a human trying to communicate something of wonder, & mystery, of being. The newspaper artists have asked me to do a drawing for the paper. I shall oblige in the morning. I have met no artists (fine) of any sort. If I don’t report the good gen on Rumania it is not my fault. I have done my best to find out what Socialist Realism means to these people. I believe I have arrived at an approximation of the truth. Once again, spare the mother, and spoil the child. I’m 12,000 miles away, thinking of you, & your nicest points – of Graham, and his unknown problems, and of what Sydney is looking like. Goodnight my dear folk,
Sinaia 11pm [Fri 12 Oct 1956]. I am up in the hills where King Carol & such dynasty had one of their 142 castles. Socially, it would be like Moss Vale or Bowral. You know the palace & all the wealthy hangers-about. Many fine & expensive homes all in the most appalling taste – the palace [Castelul Peles (Peles Castle)] probably being the worst – a bastardised mixture of Tudor & Renaissance with many statues & stairways onto the lawns. All horribly expensive – and rather sad when you think of the draining out of the peasant lives that went to its building. I, perhaps thinks only that way because it was late in the afternoon, getting dark, & the forest surrounding, silent & sombre in its autumnal death. Just now a train whistle blew & its echos resounds in the valley – even the initial blast was nothing like ours – Quite different – like a high pitched squeal.
The driver took us further up the mountain this afternoon – and we visited an hotel [Cabana Cioplea near Predeal, now the Complex Verona Predeal Hotel] for the worker built at about 4,000 ft. Wonderful skiing country. Even this afternoon there was lots of snow around the building & on the road & pines leading to it. Higher, the mountains were completely covered – It was very beautiful – Sinaia, below in the valley, the fine crisp air & the trees all gold & red – with pines still holding snow.
The palace [Peles Castle] is now a museum.
This very big hotel [Hotel Palace Sinaia] is full of workers on a free holiday. The very fine casino [Casino Sinaia] across the park from my window – now a clubhouse for the proletariat. All rather funny & just somehow. The peoples who were pressed to build these really quite amazing flamboyancies are now roaming around all over them like flies. As yet, they don’t look like they belong. More piercing whistles from the trains – sound rolling down & around the mountains like wine on the palate. After dinner I sat and watched the crowd dancing on the marble floor to the accompaniment of a dreadful German dance band played back on tape recorded from a German broadcast. Later a Russian band music – which, anyway was better to dance to because of its less sentimental quality. During the re-playing a Russian (people mixer) dance called a Pearinita was played. Jolly to watch – somehow charming – they are all in a moving ring & one person in the centre has a handkerchief which he or she places before one in the ring. The one chosen drops out and both kneel with one knee on the handkerchief & kiss. The partner chosen then chooses someone else – and so on.
Was lovely to see & walk on the snow – These Carpathian Mountains are beautiful – Its all like a dream – but the flaming dysentery I have copped for the day spoilt it a bit. I miss you both very much – even the lovely cool (cold to some) weather, hardly makes up for it all. Tomorrow I hope to take some photographs of the village. The way up did not seem real – It is the first I have really seen of European dinkum country – All somehow most intangible – & strange – something for the memory to hold.
Saturday night – (Orasul Stalin) [13 Oct 1956]
Dear Girl. These cities look so nice by night – all the lovely silhouettes of the churches & ex municipal Halls have an unreality of sight. When you have a perfect half moon & 1,000 ft of mountain coming straight up your backyard things are not the same. I am in Orasul Stalin, nee Brashov and I don’t care for it. Most depressing. Not so much the town as the inhabitants. It’s a thing I can’t get accustomed to. During the day the inhabitants look like something out of the tip. In the evening they dress up & look & act normal enjoyable folk. I shall work it all out with your help. This place is only about 80 miles out of Bucharest yet the people are different in appearance & attitude. It’s like going from Sydney to Marulan and being in another country. Here, mostly Hungarian or German is spoken and the people have a different look. The hotel orchestra, for one thing, is sharper & keener & so is the service in the pub. I am on the eighth floor of this place & have a beautiful room with bath, etc. All these places seem to be mad with the horror of cold air. Despite the fact that winter temperatures get below 20°F zero they put on woollies. Sheepskin coats, overalls & eiderdowns when the temperatures are only 56° – 60°F cool (that is). Why do I try to keep on beefing out information about this trip. It is obvious to you I cannot cope with the multitudinous aspects. I will remember this night sitting in the best of rooms in the pub [Carpati Hotel] of Orasul Stalin (Brashov) mostly because it is cool & I can see the lights of the city and there are absolutely no motor headlights and I needed you here to keep remembrance with me. I fear that there may be some sourness between me & the driver & interpreter. I have been not arrogant. Manners may be mistaken. Wendy could be just the same. They are not old enough to realise the impoliteness of speaking their own tongue amongst their colleagues who can speak English too. That is when I can’t it simply at the moment!
I came over the Carpathians (Alps) today & struck quite a bit of snow. Took some pictures but doubt if they will be any good. I got a couple taken of me just to prove that I have been here.
You know, it’s very odd to think that I am sitting in the 8th floor of a hotel in Orasul Stalin (which no one in Australia has heard of) & the room is over steam-heated (I have all the windows open) and there is an occasional horn blowing & probably quite a few people walking around somewhere – and all this rather dreary & old world city is the centre of many lives & deaths & aspirations & frustrations that one has never heard of, and that in Djataka [Jakarta?] in Java, the same relationships between failure & success, (as in Singapore & Rome & Venice) are all going on – and what does one do about it? Or can, for that matter? Millions of them living, hoping, and failing and dying, – some of them blessed with one who abides, many of them so completely alone. It does matter. I am convinced that the problem of living is dreary, anywhere in the world. People are the important units. The landscape is adaptable & suits all types. God, so much of this country looks like Australia. But the mountains are covered in autumn trees, golden & yellow leaves everywhere & whole thing like a photograph of it. It is all so bloody park like – give me the bush with its hard & mystic quality. The more I see of this park land the more I would like to suddenly transport its natives to beat the impact of our aridity & subtlety of colour. Dear Girl, I don’t expect how, to get any letters from you. But I hope you are getting along happily with Graham. I don’t speak much of him, but he is constantly in my thoughts. I know you understand. I wish you were with me. It would be very gay and sympathique. Much love & absence make the heart grow fonder; to you and the squab.
Sun 7-Oct-56: Nothing much done. Somewhat seedy. Saw Rigoletto in evening.
Mon 8-Oct-56: Met Deac at Ministry of Culture – Acamadic library – Maxy artist. Much moi.
Tue 9-Oct-56: Palace by the lake. Decorative art show. Big walk about Bucharest. Got pushed. Followed my nose out. Missed my mummy
This endearing note was written on Saturday night 6 Oct.
Dorothy – It means you so close – then it goes away. A symbol of sound that is a life line to – oh go and pull your big head in! I can’t be bothered about a resume of what I see & do. What people do & think is more important than anything in the world. When I see a Englishman who has spent 4 years in Rumania learning art abasing himself before a girl – any girl – perhaps she was tired – she deserved to be escorting Chinese through Rumania. However this character loves this girl and it is very trying because she has had him. Personally I’d give them both away. Please do not be jealous of my Stephania – She is only 21 and always delighted to be away from me. My conversation is so gay. Yet she’s kind and the affection I need to project must go to her. You know what a girl of that age thinks of an ancient like me. I am not Freddy Thomas O’Dea the pincher.
I wish I was getting as hot (that means weather heat) in Northwood as I am here. I have just washed all my socks & thingamys. I am strictly informed that the femme de chamber will do all these unnecessary chores – Like Hell. Little Willie gives none a nylon garment. I have done them.
Sunday morning [7 Oct 1956], in the cold light of day. 8am. This overseas travelling can get very tiresome. I have got to the stage where, looking at buildings & scenery, becomes as interesting as a stranger’s photographs of his backyard & family. When all the impressions are simmered down, the things I shall remember most, will be the paintings I have seen. They give out to the heart directly – They alone have the commodity of spirit – the intimacy, one so urgently needs.
Yesterday – in a funny old cellar, I together with a practically deaf painter from Iceland, were shown quite a collection of French masters. Renoir, Utrillo, Dufy, Marquet, etc. They were all in this cellar because the house was being redecorated to exhibit them properly. They belonged to a wealthy man named Zambaccian, and have been given to the State. His son showed them to us – and when we had finished very generously gave us 2 volumes on the Rumanian masters Grigorescu & Petrascu, of whose works, we also saw many. Very good too. The Institute has given me 2 magnificent volumes too. Christ, my luggage is getting heavy. I love you. I love you. I love you. I was not as bad last night as the above script suggests. Must have been the reaction from all this English talk. I gave my little mother time off from midday Sat. till tonight at 7pm when we go to the opera again.
Sunday night. [7 Oct 1956] Saw Rigoletto & it was very good indeed. The costumes were beautifully worked – I suppose there are plenty of good needle workers in this part of the world. The Opera House itself is a lovely building & was put up in a very short time during 1953 – in order to have its opening night coinciding with the World Youth Festival held here that year. The opera house has fine spacious lounges & gracious stairways. Had dinner at 11 o’clock and am now about to wash a shirt & retire to the cot. Good night, sweetie.
Monday night. [8 Oct 1956] 9.30pm. Have had dinner – went in at 8pm when the dining room opened. Am very tired – probably bored – living the life of a sponge – sopping up this & that – and giving nothing out. Perhaps it is a reaction from a flat afternoon – most of the galleries & cultural centres are closed to allow staff the time off for weekend work. We just sort of mooned around. The lass doesn’t like leaving me alone because it’s her job to interpret. And consequently there is nothing much I can do about dicing her. I’d have felt better if I had gone for a couple of miles walk. I don’t like getting too far off the beaten track because of the complete lack of oral communication – and the absence of a map of the city. It really is a nicely laid out place. I can imagine that when the consumer goods are coming through & the general standard of living rises this Bucharest will be as beautiful as its layout & buildings deserve.
Saturday and Sunday the multitudes come out in the Sunday best & roam all over the city – greatly improving the tone of the joint. Am getting to the stage of an affection for it. The climate & colour of the buildings remind me of home. In a few days I shall be going up to Sinaia & Transylvania & will visit a city named Cluj. I was wrong about the letter cost, it is only 5/6. Showed Stephanie your photo & Graham’s and photos of the paintings – she seemed to like them – and said you were very nice (what else could she do? P.S. I know she meant it.). She introduced me to her boyfriend, a nice looking young German who has been living in Rumania quite a few years, and he is an announcer on the radio station – knows 5 languages. My girl when she is not shepherding the dumb oxes like me also works for radio, as a translator & reader in English. These people are very keen & avid for study. You really sense them building something. Sitwell’s photos of the Rumanian women may be authentic for the peasants, but in the city there is a minority of really good lookers. Not presented at their best, an absence of lipstick & smart clothes. Waiting for the letter from you and Graham which I know should turn up soon. One does get lonely even in the midst of plentitude. Bought Graham the treble only tunes of 225 Rumanian Folk Pieces – dance, etc. They were collected & collated by the Institute for Folklore, etc. Didn’t seem to be able to get any two hundred piano collections. Seeing that none of it is played on the piano in the native habitat – I don’t suppose it matters much. Some day he may be able to transpose the tunes with his own bass & elaboration. At least the genuine fiddle line is clear in selection. Too tired darling to continue. Keep on being fond of me & pray added strength to my failing bones.
Tuesday night. [9 Oct 1956] 12.30am. I have arranged to be left alone for a day – that is tomorrow. I awoke at 5am this morning – had some drops & tried to sleep – but at 6 o’clock decided to get up. At 7am. Went for a walk over Bucharest without a map (and a dull, promising rain, morning) – sufficient to say that I got bushed for about ¾ hour but by the cunning devices of following a trolley bus wires (in the right direction) I contacted civilization & managed to get back to the pub only ¼ hour late for my appointment to see things. For nearly 2 ½ hours I walked Bucharest, in all sorts of quarters. Poorish indifferent, grand & flamboyant. I think this place has got it! It has individuality – all the residences are different. I’ll do it again with a camera. The parks & boulevards are superb & very grubby. My mother and I run out of conversation fairly quickly because she is too young. I regard her as a favourite niece. I wish you were here- as much as I wish you were with me anywhere else I have been. The things I have seen that I can never talk to you about, or make you see them with my amazed eyes. Sometimes, please darling, let me get drunk and tell you how I have felt about these sights. I don’t want to talk to others – to you, I wish to give a picture, with you beside me – although I know it won’t work. Rome has already become a sort of dream one would think up from a postcard. St Mark’s Square in Venice is still pretty real. One of the sights of the world. The huge Irrawaddy River spilling all over the low lying land in the Calcutta Delta. I shall not forget. Or – for that matter any other God damned thing I saw. I’d like to be home now telling you with my head on your lap, and you going to sleep, before I had finished. Wished you could have been with me out at the Maraseojowc(?) Palace this morning – It was the residence of the last Prime Minister, King Michael had. Fan Fuming –tastic. Has been turned into a sculptural museum & part of a hotel for creative artists where they can rest their poor weary brains in a couple of months beatific contemplation. I’m sick of stuffing food down my gullet. I’m sick of eating at 12 o’clock in the night. (I’ve just heard a Jugo-Slav conductor presiding over the local Philharmonic) I’m not quite sure whether I was not happier alone. I’ve seen so many things I’m not at all certain if I shall ever get them in the right sequence. Apart from the fact of going there – and the must of seeing their galleries, I feel as if I couldn’t care less about Paris & London. It has been very hot but now is cold & wet. When you get this letter on a spring morning – think a message to me across this way. My love to you darling & Graham,
The pace is killing me. Yesterday I saw a Mr. Baranga, a director or something of the Institute & through the girl interpreter a program of activities was arranged in which my wishes were to be considered and about where we may get to in the country. What I want to see, etc. Naturally it is to do with the artistic culture – also asked me if I could give a lecture or write a paper, on Australian art. I said I could hardly lecture, but I would try and write something. It was all very cordial, and they expressed the desire for me to enjoy my visit here, and hoped the program was not too strenuous, & if I thought so, please to cut it down. I was to let my interpreter know whatever I wanted – Also they asked could I let them know within a few days when I wanted to return, as plane bookings were very heavy & they wanted to secure me my passage. Well, you couldn’t ask for better treatment could you.
Yesterday, all day, we had a car at our disposal & I was taken around to various galleries. Seems like my time of arrival was inauspicious, as two galleries were closed, being renovated – and the biggest gallery (the ex Royal Palace, which by the way is facing the same square as this hotel) all the best contemporary Rumanian paintings are absent in various European capitals. So we went to the Village Museum. A fine place, set in the big park by the edge of the lake. In this village 32 buildings each from a different area of Rumania (Transylvania, Moldavia, Banat, Cluj regions etc). They have taken down an actual dwelling from these parts & re-erected it in the park. The house, its granary outside & gates & fence – are placed amongst the trees here. The contents also have been brought & clothes, pottery, cooking implements are in place in the interiors. The embroidery, those peasants did was fantastically sumptuous and the pottery lovely in the sturdy peasant manner. It was in the afternoon, after lunch, we visited the Royal Gallery, where I saw the 19th Cent. Work, excepting that they did peasants, whereas we did settlers. That period in art seems quite international. The modern period seems (I mean world wide) to be getting pretty much the same international flavour – except in these red countries where the emphasis seems to be on heroic emergence of the worker – realistic presentation of stirring events, etc – all easily readable to the masses. A visual encouragement – so to speak. After the gallery, Stefania seemed to be flagged out, as the Rumanian custom is to knock off between 1 & 4 or 2 to 5 for a rest from the heat. Factory workers transport etc, caterers of course work through. So from 4 to 6, I trudged the town. Could be very very attractive – but is pretty crumby now. The people are poor, & while consumer goods, in very ordinary quality are there, don’t seem to be able to afford them. The main streets are kept very clean, others, any old how. At 5 the shops opened & I browsed through the books shops, which are very numerous. There is a obvious passion for learning. It is a bit hard to adjust oneself to the fact that these people are only just emerging from a period of great oppression & greater poverty – Only as late as 1907 the peasants revolted & were ruthlessly suppressed. Now they are organising the state alone & I guess it takes time.
At 6.30 p.m. I was whisked off in the car to the opera Aida. Held in a small but fine Opera house. Perfectly intimate like. Opera is on every night except in summer when it is too hot. I don’t care for most of the music in Aida, but this presentation was superb. The décor & settings were really magnificent – done by a Stalin prize winner, a Russian named Cemodurov. Nothing like it will ever be seen in Australia as these settings are not transported all over the country. They are stacked away behind the Opera house. Great statues of the Egyptian Gods. Huge gates with the figure on them in relief, not painted illusion. Different levels – enormous cast behind the principals, good wild ballet work in it – sumptuous costumes colour & lighting. Sweetie, it was quite a spectacle! You know, or have heard of how the Russians can conceive these things. Place packed – yelling Bravo! Bravo! It was sung in Rumanian which is closely allied to Italian.
Tonight, I am going to see a concert of Rumanian music & songs. After the opera, we returned to the hotel at 11.15 for dinner. Found it difficult to get a seat, the place was packed. It’s an old Rumanian custom. The orchestra was going full blast – the girl had had it & asked to be excused to go home for sleep – so I had Rump steak sauté Lyonnaise, & crème d’aubergines. The orchestra playing fast as hell Rumanian music got me in. While I was fumbling for a match – the drummer leaped down with a lighter. I must have been obviously interested because the pianist beamed at me. The violinist seems inexhaustible. When at last they finished I gave them the last but 2 of my long Chesterfield cigarettes – there was one each for the 7 of them. They liked that (because these European cigarettes are bloody awful.) The pianist came over & affably spoke to me in English & said they’d play anything I liked. English, American, German, Hungarian, Rumanian – so there! Also today I bought 4 gramophone records of Rumanian music. Farewell for the moment dearest girl.
Midnight – Everything is unreal or very common place. Even the most unexpected things are; when experienced, acceptable without surprise. I’ve just heard a Rumanian & Gypsy orchestra with 50 performers in the loveliest little concert hall [Romanian Athenaeum].
About as wide as the Town Hall but circular, & with the orchestra projecting. It has a dome roof & Parisian spiral marble staircases leading from below up to the seats & boxes, which are all on the same level as the stage. 2½ hours of Rumanian music played by the best in Rumania – Gypsy singers – violinists – pan pipers – cymbalos – all this activity. Without you, to remember it with me. At dinner with a couple of Englishmen (11.30pm) things liven up a bit. This character I met, apparently a supporter, spares no horses in what he charges the proletariat for dinner. The whole thing is like living in a foyer. However, within a few days I hope to make some contact, somewhere. The Rumanians are fundamentally very gracious – as I found out from a pidgin French German English conversation with the lift driver. I am quite happy and am seeing many things of interest. I guess I am missing the home-and-master touch. Your feet wouldn’t stand it anyway. I’m driving the Stefanie girl to the ground – God knows why – I’m doing only half or a quarter of the walking I have been doing over every day since I arrived at Rome. Stephanie is a nice little girl – can’t do enough for you in the way she thinks it should be done – you know, the mother type – reminds me of you – I don’t mind. But one needs a few hours off sometimes. – I met an Englishman tonight – an ex-union executive or something who is studying art in Rumania & living & working here on a sort of extended grant. All very earnest artist – I shall find out if any good.
Went to the Folk Art gallery today – Peasant work – found the Ikons & cake & butter mould carvings more interesting than the embroidery, which is over powering – The density of decoration on their costume stuff is stifling. Wonderful work – but unusable in the modern world.
I could not be looked after better _ I am very comfortable but I miss you – probably need your contact – but must say – so far am too tired even to get an early morning spring – no matter how urgent the call is. I want to talk to you – not listen – I want to see you do your hair over & over again. I want to smell that perfume as I lean over your neck. (Zut! Zut!) I want to see the flowers you have put in the hall – and I want to hear Graham practising in the same old uninspired way. Trellie on the lounge and you bellyaching to Graham in the morning – lay off him will you. What’s it like living without a big blow – top?
Don’t expect too many letters from me from now on – the rate of exchange is loaded against foreign currency. On my travellers cheques a letter airmail to you costs 24/-, so you can understand the graciousness of the Institute in giving me 550 Lei (their unit of currency) to use for pocket money. That cable, I must admit, by mistake, went at full rates – 95 Lei costing about £6. (£5 st = 82 Lei on the open market.)
Enough of problems – It’s only a fortnight since I was about to leave Australia. One is less isolated in the bush in Borneo or New Guinea. Soon I hope to meet some artists and perhaps find something in common.
Lots of love to Graham – I can’t write to him separately – & with my love,