Mon 1-Oct-56: Taking off for Vienna 12:20. Arrived and rushed twice to Rumanian Consulate. Cashed £2
Tue 2-Oct-56: Great trouble making conversation at Consulate – no English spoken – got visa Hungarian & Hotel Stefanie – had to leave at 4 for Budapest – arrived about 7 Grand Hotel by the Danube over night. Cashed £10
It’s very late, something after twelve – but I’d like you to get a line from Hungary. See how dutifully I am supplying Graham with stamps from all ports of call. Costing me plenty. The letter from Munich was double weight & air mail postcard to Graham, and the same to Sharon [King Watson’s daughter], set me back about 8/-. Have had a heavy time of it in Vienna madly walking back and forth between the Hotel and two different legations. I had to get visas from both the Rumanian & Hungarian legations. The Rumanian Legation is a good two miles from the pub. On arrival at Vienna on Monday [1 Oct 1956] about 1 o’clock I struggled around the crowded streets with all my gear – weather hot too – looking for the travel agency to find me a room, which they did. More struggle till I got a bus they had suggested. Had a wash & like a fool left my heavy boots & hastened down to the Embassy – only realising when I had got there that my passport was at the hotel being entered up in the lodger’s book. (All European countries demand your visa when being booked in for accommodation.) Got there couldn’t find anyone to speak English – & with my pidgin German understood I was to bring it straight back. Which I did & left it on the hope that on the morrow they could dial up an English speaker. I was about zoosed the way back on the second trip & had a fairly early night. Went down early in the morning – got there & realised the time was only 8 instead of 9. Cooled my heels around the town for an hour & went back.
My God, what a conversation. My phrase book, which I can’t find anything useful in – my pidgin German – occasional words of English & French & we came to some sort of understanding. Went to Hungarian Embassy & did somewhat better with an English speaking girl. Left passport & had to return at 3 pm. Then went to the flight booking place & found I couldn’t alter the flight plan & so had to rush madly around, pack up & get passport & be ready to board a bus by 4 pm, which I did. Unfortunately left my grey pyjamas behind in Hotel – but will write them with this letter & ask them to hang on to them for my return. I hope they do. Budapest is only 1½ from Vienna & only two passengers on plane. Police boarded us soon as plane touched ground & looked at our passports. Anyway we cleared through without trouble & I am settled for the night in the above hotel. It is a very big place. Must have been pretty posh once. I’m tired – Goodnight darling.
We arrived in the dark & so didn’t see anything of B-Pest but electric lights. The hotel is a long way out but is beautifully situated in a park alongside the Danube, not that the Danube looks anything but industrial in this area. Big wide river though – splits in two just here & this place I’m on is an island in the middle [Margit or Margaret Island]. Odd collection of people here last night. Refined & unrefined – dancing to orchestra till after I went to bed. Magnificent big dining room – foyer, etc. – Also Chinese here & a great bunch of Indians in all sorts of dress. They were of both sexes.
Lots of love
I am apt to get panic stricken about getting these planes when so few understand English. I’m on edge now waiting for the hotel bill & for them to change some Austrian money into Hungarian – would have been a lot easier if my cheques had had been properly endorsed. If I get this plane, I’ll be able to relax for some time. I’m to meet Buican or someone at 2.30 pm today.
I wish I’d had you in Vienna. It is a lovely city. I shall you more of what little I saw later. Things would been a lot more pleasant if you were with me darling. You’d better take some more lottery tickets because if ever we were to make the trip we’d need plenty. As it is with credit restrictions I reckon two people wouldn’t last more than a month for £300, i.e. paying their own fares etc. Be nice snooping around with you – and returning to the hotel – yes?
Lots of love dear and tell Graham I don’t forget him – I hope he is happy – and how about Trelly?
I hope you didn’t send any letters to Vienna, because I was in a different hotel.
This is a photo of the little village I am staying at in Germany. It is about 6 miles out of Munich and it is very green and beautiful. I am staying in a guest house which can be seen in the photograph just where this circle points out (P.T.O.). I hope you and Trellie are very well and that you will soon be able to take her for a run with your bike. I am posting this card from Munich. I get on a plane for Vienna in 1 hours time.
Fri 28-Sep-56: Got lost all day but managed to see the Tintorettos at Scuola di S. Rocco. Cashed £5
Sat 29-Sep-56: Cashed £2 Left 10:30am for Münich. Had a wonderful flight over the Alps. No room. Am in guesthouse 13kms from München. Grünwald quite full. Cashed £5 in Marks.
Sun 30-Sep-56: Went by train to city. Saw Alte Pinakothek Old Masters – magnificent show. Many people at Grünwald – had dinner with Dittmar & family.
Hotel Regina, Venice
[28 Sep 1956]
8pm before dinner
I’m not very happy about bringing you back anything in the woolly line from Italy. It’s nothing but thick woolly cardigans because of the approaching winter I suppose and as far as shopping via window there is little to be seen. Really few of the attendants understand English & you can’t get anywhere much. Once or twice, I’ve managed to ask about a thingummy I liked but in a different colour. But as it happens they haven’t got it. Then again I didn’t want to go too high because 34” doesn’t mean much of a thing here. From what I can gather you are a 46 Italiano. That is at it may be. You’d better send me care of the Rumanian address your measurements in centimetres. That metal flexible ruler of mine is calibrated in centimetres under the ins. mark. Let me know other measurements. It’s sad, but it hasn’t been a lack of trying. I do hope to get you something nice somewhere. To tell the truth nothing I have seen has been a patch on that one of yours with the crossed over neck line. I miss you very much.
I managed to get someone’s cancellation flight to Munich & leave at 8.30-am in the morning. So that I am still keeping up to schedule. It doesn’t look like I can stay overnight in Budapest because I don’t think I can get any Hungarian currency. The dopey coots in Sydney endorsed the Travellers Cheques for Rumania only. This was purely an oversight because my passport OKs me for Hungary as well. So there, perhaps on the way back I may stay one day with Rumanian currency.
Anyway I’ve had the dutiful tramping around, being the best poor quarter finder in the world. I don’t know how it is but as soon as I start walking I finish up in the poorest area. How is this? I do know that I haven’t got a clue as to direction in the Northern hemisphere. Naturally down south you walk away from the sun to go south. Up here you have to face it. Plus the fact that there is a different velocity influence on the human balance. As in the South pole, people lost, always walk to the right & in the North pole area to the left (or vice versa, if I must be corrected). Christ I got soured this afternoon. Three times I finished up in the same end of the island, and it was not until I told myself my instinct for direction was arsy-boo that I got anywhere. I told myself (just like you would, in any emergency) to walk towards the sun. And do you know it worked! After one hour I was back to tors.
But thank God for big blessings. As I was lost in the morning I stumbled across the Scuola di S. Rocco (or something) [Scuola Grande di San Rocco], the church or palace in which are housed the finest Tintorettos paintings. They were on the heroic Italian scale – enormous & hard to see because of the light coming through the windows alongside them. Oh but what pictures. No reproduction could do justice to the wonderful subdued luminosity & grandiose virility of these really wonderful paintings. It is unbelievable that a human, one human could have conceived & carried through these huge and moving works. Everything was in them – humanity, wonderful abstraction. Lines of movement, colour & attitude, all the source from which El Greco got his thing. (By the way I saw two El Greks in Rome & Holbein & one Titian). I could if I was full, & alone, & without the TV, go on for hours about the Tintorettos. When I see that book of mine again together with the pamphlet I bought at the gallery (which cost me the same as my theoretical cheap lunch), I shall know what I know.
Enough for now. The last letter – must have been on awful heavy paper cost 4/9 to post, 480 lire to you. I shall see you (i.e. write to you), my dear, in Munich. I really missed you and needed you with me when I sat down in St Mark’s Square & had a beer. All Venice seemed to be walking around and the deepening blue of the night was showing up the red & white topped Campanile. Behind it a wedding cake joint of a church with gilt facings, pigeons flying around, lights under each of the hundreds of marble arches – people in chairs – people walking, & bowings & God knows what – with 3 different top class 5 pieces Restaurant orchestras playing to their clients in the open square. And the blue getting deeper and deeper as the white marble cake got greener & the great spire smouldered strong like a Fred. I can never tell you how I felt about it. Pictures won’t – what will. Perhaps one night with the help of a 25 lire postcard I may give you some idea. But then these vicarious jaunts can be boring.
I’m finished – for the second time I’m seeing everything. The first time in Italian – Charlie’s Aunt on television – I am looking at now – Goodnight darling.
8.30pm Saturday [29 Sep 1956]
I am in Munich or to be more truthful 13 kilometres out of it. There was no hotel booking & to cut a very hard luck story short, I am where I am.
Dearest darling don’t hammer me! For the first time in my life, I’m full in Germany. As you always say – things turn out for the best? When I arrived in Munich – München – I wandered up & down two blocks carrying all the garbage I possess, finally ran aground the C.I.T. agent. Of course he had never heard of me, & it was impossible (with a capital IMPOSSIBLE) to get accommodation in München. He had never heard of me or anything connected with Australia. However, he very kindly drove me (and his son) all the way out to a guesthouse – which is beautifully appointed & which I seem to have the bridal suite. Two nice loving single beds tight alongside each other with the sheets short sheeted on the sneaking-in side. Very nice, but I am 13,000 long miles off….
P.S. at this stage I went to sleep.
Don’t take too much notice of the preceding page. Anyway it gave me the best & longest sleep I’ve had since leaving Australia. It is Sunday evening at 6.30pm and I have spent 4 hours of my one day in Munich in the Haus der Kunst (or Art Gallery). Can you imagine seeing 30 odd Rubens in one blow, about 10 Rembrandts, some Tintoretto, Velasquez, Titian, Goya, Giotto, Van der Weyden – the works. Wore me out it did – no eats or beer all day. Travelled all across Munich in the trams & spoke German like you imagine I would – Anyway, I got there & back. 3 different trams each way. I’ll tell you later about the wonderful pictures. From Vienna I am sending by book post some odds & ends of travel folders & things plus the catalogue of this show. I don’t want to build up my weight on plane travelling. It is possible I will be home before them – It seems so long ago since I left that time is unaccountable.
I don’t care much for Munich. It gives me the feeling of a grey stone prison. Despite the fact you always say things turns out for the best – they have here. This morning at 6.30 I went for a walk around Grünwald where I am staying. It means ‘Green Forest’ and is very lovely spot with silver beeches, & pines & plane trees thick & tall around the river Isar. Green & fresh & lovely. With a castle – and church bells (It is Sunday) and beautifully quiet then – restful. When I came home (every room you have is that important) there were thousands of people in Grunewald. There are a lot of beer gardens around here and they were all full of people, well behaved and drinking enormous things of beer. Grunwald must be something like Manly, everyone comes out here for a day in the forest & a beer & a bite before getting back to the barrack like city. Really choice here. Don’t take any notice of any illiteracy or lack of polish in these letters. All I want to do is talk to you. Not going too well am I, after only a week? I guess it’s the complete absence of conversation, It should be a lesson to me.
I leave here in the morning and will be on the way to Vienna where I know I’ll have more bloody trouble! I’ll have to alter the flight plan, because of that currency bother. And I suppose there will be no accom. & mod cons. I don’t know whether I mentioned that this fortnight in Munich is the annual Sep-Oct Autumn Festival – a very big affair – because this is the best & most reliable weather op the year. There’s no accommodation available. Things are like Sydney at Show time except this is mostly culture. Ballet, opera, concerts, art, etc, etc. Sport too. Included in the pile of trash I am sending back is the Festival programme which I can interpret well enough. I love you. I am going out again to get myself a beer & a bite. This seven dwarfs like darling establishment serves no meals. Last night I had a schnitzel in batter & potato salad & about a schooner of superb beer for less than 10/-. This Sunday afternoon before I came up to the room I had a big beer. Must have been more than a bottle & half for 3/-. It was served in a glass about as tall as a bottle & half again as wide. Lovely. Cheers me up no end and what is more, makes me very fond of you, you old dragon.
It has got a bit cold and I have put your dear woolly jumper on.
I don’t know what to write to Graham – fob him off with the information in these letters please. I did want to buy him a funny postcard here but the shop is shut. Give him my love and keep me in mind yourself.
Lots of love from your Bill.
P.S. The CIT agent who drove me here turned up after I had finished this letter. He, and family, apparently live here. He asked me to be his guest at a Brau Haus or Wirt haus (means beer house – but they serve very good food & plenty of it.) So I accept. He and his family were very gracious. His son is learning English at school. They had just returned from a 400 mile trip to the Austrian Alps. When I asked him on Sat what the charge was likely to be he said about 20 marks which I thought was cheap. Now I find they want 40. That means I have to cash more Travellers Cheques. I would rather spend them on the way home – I don’t know what is ahead of me. If I have my fare back fixed up, I know where I am. I think I am being clipped. I tell you if I had a month in Europe nobody would do me more than the next. It is not that I don’t want to spend the damn money – I want to get you & Graham something for it! Oh, pull your big head in. This extra page is not for you – I’m just having a good honest to God whinge about anything that is around. And if you feel tough too, I will never sleep with you again.
How are you? How are your poor old limbs? Auf wiedersehen.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” as they say in the classics & fonder & fonder & fonder.
Happily my bag arrived intact & with a great steel band around it, to protect it from the thieving Pakistanis, and Italianos. It was cleared off only about an hour before the plane for Venice took off.
Had a good trip, less than two hours & landed on these little mounds of earth that just show above the sea level. The area looks very small from the air – what made it tick & why, I hope to find out. Nowadays it is quite obviously tourists. There are thousands of the beasts. Seems like a fair percentage of Americans as is fit, I suppose, because who else could stand this clip joint racket for long.
(If I sound a bit disjointed in parts – blame the screaming quiz show in Italiano which is disrupting the peace & quiet. The reproduction photographically is good – but the ensemble with talk is beyond me.)
The Orbit travel service has let me down badly in the matter of hotel bookings. In both Rome & here the bookings weren’t confirmed & in Venice there is no such hotel as they named. What with the millions of tourists here I had no option but to take the single room & bath C.I.T. the biggest Italian agency (to whom Orbit referred me) managed to get for my stopover. To make things easier I am not on the plane to Munich on the 29th. I have to ask again tomorrow to see if there has been any cancellations. How does one get out of here? Swim? I have a very fancy room in a second class hotel (for here) & a magnificent bathroom, complete with bidet (unused).
I had dinner seated on the edge of the canal, with gondolas parked alongside, and a fine view of the Santa Maria church just a hundred yards or so across the canal. All very dashing and fetching if you were here with me. Mostly, I’m sitting there chewing my nails & wondering how many 1000 lire a minute it is all ripping off the roll. I can’t get the hang of the way they bash your wallet in this country. They ask if you want full pension or half pension – which is about 1/6th cheaper. For half pension you have only two meals, breakfast & dinner or lunch. As you still have to pay separately for each of these meals, I don’t get it. The govt. taxes the bill total, which makes it extra – & having your meal brought to you apparently necessitates a service charge & so it goes on – HORRIFYING!
I can’t tell you much about Venice as by the time I had a shower & changed into fresh clothes it was too dark for me to begin an exploratory tour. I sort of tied a mental string around my waist & did a round of the block – or I mean where the block ought to be. St Mark’s Square, another example of Italian grandiosity – a massive open area with a very ancient church at its end & a huge campanile sort of thing alongside it. You may recollect hearing of the pigeons on the square. Just after dinner a combined drive of gondolas came past, accompanying a gaudily decorated barge with colored lights & professional serenaders singing into a flaming microphone full blast. How these Italians like noise. Gondola blokes yelling at each other like fish wives. It is still very beautiful despite the commercialisation. Delightful to have your meal in the open, pleasant lights, linen, good service – nice cool night – It could be done well in Sydney in some sheltered spot.
A funny thing just happened. After dutifully washing shirts & underwear & hanging same up on a cord which was attached to some thing over the bath, I was rudely awakened from my mediations on the can by a knocking on the door. On opening up – a chamber maid about 50 something agitatedly asked me some foreign questions & upon getting no reply came into the room & started mucking about with a switch beside the bedside light. All of the time nicking out of the front door to look at something. To no avail apparently. Back she nips into my odoriferous bathroom and a sigh of relief asks me to take the shirt off the cord over the bath. Seems like dear Willy hung his shirt on the cord you pull for help if you get stuck in the tub, etc. The ringing of bells ceased & the red light over my door miraculously went out on disengagement of the shirt. – What would they do without me?
6.45am Friday [28 Sep 1956]. A very nice bed to sleep on. In Italy the shops open at 8.30am and the millions pour out of the apartments, rooms, etc. the traffic starts and the noise begins. This goes on till 1pm when they all seem to go home again. The real peak hour rush starts again at 4pm when really everyone in Rome must go out on the streets. It’s deafening & you get jostled off the footpaths, if busy, cars and buses scrap your ass, and the cafes are setting up for the open air meal hour of 7 to 9.30. The uproar continues until 8pm. Then all is relatively quiet again. Not that the place dies, nothing like it – merely the commercial shipping is over for the day. Down near the pub I stayed at there is a park square slightly bigger than Wynyard which was always full of cats. Dozens & dozens of them. I couldn’t work it out until yesterday at noon when I was returning to book out. It seems that from about 10 till 12 the place is turned into a Paddy’s Markets. Double rows of stalls forming a corridor all round the park spring into life. They are brought in & set up and shelter beneath their own huge umbrellas or canvas awnings. Everything conceivable is sold. The real attraction being the food vendors, I imagine. You should see those cheeses & sausages, vegetables of every description, great yellow capsicums, long thin tomatoes, red and white speckled beans, eggplants, mushrooms, strings of garlic, all supported by a host of the commoner varieties. Many, many meat stalls displaying the frowsiest carcasses. Lambs, miserable skinny things only about a yard long. Yellow scrawny chickens, all peck and legs – tripes & bellies and kidneys & god knows what from beast & fowl all somewhat on the nose. Fish stalls stand opposite the meat. Squids, long fish, thick fish, herrings, sardines, mussels, pippies, lobsters, crabs, prawns, and any edible spawn of the sea. The buying & selling goes no for about an hour, when at 12 everything is carted away again, leaving behind a colossal litter. Hence the cats. I guess they feed on the offal from the meat & fish boys.
I shall now take me down to my collazione and find out where I can have a gander at the Tintorettos with a fist full of lire I suppose. A look at a couple of dozen pictures at the Rome Gallery cost me 3/6.
I am in anything but a state of Splendor! I’m done in, I’m finished, I’m in bed, and I miss you both very much. I’ve walked Rome down to its original foundations and have had no one to whom to speak of it. Haven’t spoken to an Englisher since I arrived on Tues morning at 10.30am with the exception of tonight at dinner when one of the passengers of the plane turned up at the Hotel.
Things have got off to a bad start for the fool Qantas crowd left my baggage behind at Karachi. I hope to get it off the first available plane, which arrives tomorrow morning at 9am or so. I had to change my booking for Venice as that plane leaves at 8.45am. However a plane leaves at 2.55pm and have booked that. God knows what I’ll do if the bloody bag doesn’t arrive, or is half missing. It has been awkward without the gear. I have to walk everywhere because I can’t understand the gabling lingo, am ignorant of the destinations of trams & buses and don’t trust myself on finding a way out of the predicament. I must have cyclometered 20 miles, & the old dogs are killing me.
Had a very smooth trip on the plane but saw little of the land before we got to Singapore, as we were flying at 16,500 ft (i.e. about 3 miles up). After Bangkok we flew over thick cloud all the way to Rome. Ian Hamilton met me at the airport and drove me to Raffles where I had a shower & we had a look at the city on Sunday afternoon. It is a fantastic place with myriads of people milling around like ants of all conceivable shape & color, and in all stages of dress & undress. I haven’t the energy to elaborate much on the curiosities of Singapore but must mention that Ian, his wife, two other wives (not his) and myself went to a fantastic joint called Happy World, which is a collection of everything like the side shows & display stalls of the RAS and then some. But, my dear, the people! Polygot!
We had a Chinese meal there sitting in the open amongst the passers by. The chop shop had all its uncooked wares on display & as we pointed out what we wanted they would chop it up & cook it. Very good & very light. How Bill P Jones’ eyes would have stuck out, etc, etc.
I’m half asleep writing this in bed.
I wouldn’t care much to lose myself in Singapore. Even for the wonderful chinese dolls.
You’d love Rome and I think I could now show you round a bit if you were with me. Sheer exhaustion is taking the edge off it for me. It is full of contrast & movement. Great slabs of it are like very much better done Kings X & Macleay St. Huge open places alternate with old past centuries dwellings flanking narrow streets. The city proper is built in the old area. Streets not much wider than Rowe St, down which busses, cars & motor scooters by the million whiz down with breakneck speed in a truly terrifying way. I really am frightened of the traffic here, it’s unbelievably fast & seemingly chaotic but strangely I haven’t seen an accident or a bent car. Every mobile thing is used, bicycles with box carriers in front, horse drawn phaetons, motor bike trucks, etc, all with practically open exhausts, and horns blowing & blasting ad nauseum. To make matters worse it runs in the opposite way to ours, which is what makes it dangerous for me because I am fixed on looking for oncoming cars where they aint. Only my increasing old womanishness has kept me in tack.
A few tired words couldn’t give you any idea of what the Vatican is like. Stupendous – and not in the Hollywood use of the term although most of the interior is Hollywood. In the conception & execution this general headquarters of the R.C.’s is gigantic.
Sorry I can’t write any more dear.
Ian Hamilton asked to be remembered.
Don’t be too misstressful with the young bloke. Tell him postcard sending will be in abeyance for a while as Airmail fee is pretty high. ¾ for one letter.
Lots & lots of love for you both.
Last page included an illustration “Me exercising in Roma”
Lots of love sweetie. Am feeling stronger. Have dashed this off before breakfast or colazione to you. The whole town reeks of Expresso coffee & no one seems to wear a hat – male or female.
Tell P Jones I’ve heard everything. Tell him to tell Bert Gardiner I came over from Singapore with a young Chinese student who attends the University of Belfast – and talks like Bert Gardiner.
P.S. Just got word to say my bag has turned up. Thank Heavens. I hope nothing is missing/it was not locked.
Sat 22-Sep-56: Left Sydney 10:30pm – slept most of the way to Darwin. Plane very empty.
Sun 23-Sep-56: Took off 8:05am. Arrived at Singapore 3:55pm. Saw Ian Hamilton and had fun at ‘Happy World’. Slept at Raffles Hotel. Cashed £5
[Berrimah, Northern Territory]
[23 September 1956]
Had a magnificently smooth trip up and landed about 5:30am in the blinking dark. They seem to have the clocks too fast up here because it was about 6:30am local time before we had the dawn. It is very hot and the birds make different noises outside in the scrub. They caw and gurgle, and the ensemble has a liquid, gurgling note. Not sharp & gay, as in the antiquary No. 85.
I’m dying for a long cold beer but suppose I’ll have to wait till I get back on the plane. We are at a dump in the never-never called Berrimah. Qantas have a comfortable sort of motel looking establishment here. Bedrooms sprawled in lines round a swimming pool, dining room, etc. Unfortunately we don’t go anywhere near Darwin town. I’d like to have seen it – It was Sep 1945 when I last came through.
In 1956, acclaimed Australian artist, William Edwin Pidgeon (WEP) was issued with a visa for travel behind the “Iron Curtain” to Romania as part of a cultural exchange program. This series of posts includes extracts from letters he sent back home to his wife, Dorothy and son, Graham, describing his adventures and depicting the places, people and life as he witnessed them. Included with posts will be some of the photos he took and art work inspired from his trip. Earlier that year Wep had been diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes, a secret closely guarded for years to come for the potential impact it could have upon his ability to obtain painting commissions. Within his Romanian papers is a handwritten note; “My eyes are troubling me very much.”
Wep’s travel arrangements came to the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) with a consequence that he was monitored by ASIO for the next three years. Two other Australians were also invited; actor, Peter O’Shaugnessey and author, Frank Hardy.
Wep left Sydney on September 22, 1956 with stopovers in Darwin, Singapore, Rome, Venice, Munich, and Vienna. He arrived in Budapest, Hungary on October 2nd, travelling to Bucharest in Romania the next day. He spent two weeks in Romania, returning to Vienna on October 18. Five days later a cloud fell over Hungary when widespread revolt erupted 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.
From Vienna, Wep traveled to Paris where he planned to stay with his old friend and journalist, Roley Pullen. It was here that he met Roley’s assistant, another fellow Australian, Margaret Murray, with whom he formed a lifetime friendship. He remained in Paris for for just over two weeks, then a similar amount of time in London, finally arriving back home in Sydney on December 2, 1956.