Forty years ago, I was concluding my first trip to Italy. A month long family trip. My wife, 3 daughters, 1 son and my parents.
I had rented a villa 45 miles south of Rome in a town called Livonia. The villa was on the Mediterranean. Livonia near Anzio where the Allied troops landed during World War II.
Rented 2 cars also. Utilizing the cars and trains, we traveled Italy.
The last full day of our trip found us in Rome. My group a bit smaller. My son and parents had left a week earlier. My son to begin studying for the bar exam, my parents to attend another grandchild’s event.
Left my wife, 3 daughter and me in Rome for three days.
Italy was undergoing terrible inflation at the time. One American dollar was the equivalent of 2,100 lire. A fortune! The American dollar could buy everything dirt cheap.
My wife made a proposal. She said give me $3,000 American money exchanged for lire. I want to buy clothes for the girls and me. Clothes, pocketbooks, shoes, etc. The works. I will not bother you for any money for one year for clothes for us, if you agree.
Took us all to the American Express office. Plopped $3,000 in Travelers Checks down. The man in the cage gave me lire in return. I do not recall the exact amount. I do recall it took 2 large brown paper bags to carry the money out. Remember, $1 was worth 2,100 lire.
I sat on the steps to the American Express office, organized the money and gave it to my wife. There was so much, she and the girls each had to carry a share.
Off they went. I was alone for a whole day. Not certain what to do, I walked around. Rome obviously an interesting place.
I tired and had sat on the Spanish Steps a while. Then up and began walking again.
Immediately next to the Spanish Steps on one side was a 3 story building. A small villa type structure. The bronze plaque next to the front door had emblazoned thereon John Keats Museum.
I had studied Keats in college. An English poet. Wrote romantic sonnets. The line that came to mind was “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
Keats died prematurely at age 25 in Rome.
Turned out the building I was standing in front was the place where he had died. In his rooms on the third floor.
I went up to the third floor. Viewed the tiny room and bed in which he died. Reminded me of the room across from the Ford Theater where Abraham Lincoln died after being shot.
Keats’ writings were all over the place. Covered in glass. I walked around studying many closely. I came upon a a piece of paper that obviously had at one time been crumbled by someone. Written thereon were the words: A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
An emotional moment. The words and how composed.
Again Lincoln came to mind again. He had written the Gettysburg Address on a ripped off portion of a paper bag.
When I hooked up with my wife and daughters later in the day, I became extremely upset. The overabundance of lire had purchased an overabundance of goods. My ladies would dress themselves a lifetime on them!
What actually bothered me was there were so many boxes and packages. My immediate thought was it will take forever to get through customs.
Purchasing was not done. Bought several large suitcases. In the end, the number of suitcases and boxes going through customs with us would total 19.
Being anal, I took all the receipts, placed them in order, outlined them on a piece of paper.
There was an additional problem.
The three nights we spent in Rome were at a pension. Run my an American order of nuns, commonly known as Black Franciscans. Their attire was black.
My cousin Rose who I wrote about several years ago when she died had been a Black Franciscan. So too was Sister Rose Vincent. Sister Rose (a different Rose from my cousin) was the administrator of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica. A big shot in the Black Franciscan order. She had become a family friend over the years.
Black Franciscan nuns actually worked/operated the pension. Since we were friends with Cousin Rose and Sister Rose, we were treated like royalty.
Due to the lire situation, I spent much less than I had anticipated during our month long stay in Italy. A donation was in order. I gave the nun who was in charge of the pension $1,000. She refused to take it. Said she could not. We talked. She finally agreed to take the $1,000 if I agreed to let her use it to buy a new Blessed Mother. Their chapel needed one. So I helped in acquiring the new Blessed Mother.
A side story for a moment. A year later, a Utica friend and doctor’s wife visited Rome and stayed at the pension. She was shown the Blessed Mother. She told me that at the foot of the statue were the words: By the grace of God and Louis Petrone.
Maybe the statue will be my ticket to getting into Heaven.
The tale not yet finished.
During the $1,000 conversation with the head nun another issue arose. The pension had a solid gold cross which belonged to the mother house in the U.S. The mother house was located in Syracuse. The cross was heavy. About a foot tall and 6 inches wide. She wanted me to take it to Sister Rose who would see it got to the mother house.
The good nun wrapped the cross in a box in front of me. I became curious and nervous. How was I going to get the cross through customs? She said no problem. She wrote on the box the same words that ended up at the feet of the Blessed Virgin: By the grace of God and Louis Petrone.
I said no way! She said don’t worry. Customs will not be a problem.
Who was I to argue with an emissary of God.
Our 19 suitcases and boxes now became 20.
We were standing in line in New York waiting to go through customs. The woman in front of us had just been taken away. She had an expensive watch in the lining of her fur coat.
I would be joining her soon with the gold cross.
The customs man looked at us and our 20 items. Our eyes met. I smiled and held up the list of receipts. He looked at me expressionless a few seconds and then put the x’s on our bags and boxes and waved us through.
The good nun at the pension had been correct!
You may wonder why I write about Keats, our Rome experiences, etc. today.
I had several other items assembled to write about when I came upon a small article indicating that on this date in 1820, John Keats had his first bout of lung hemorrhaging which subsequently led to his death several months later. It bought to mind “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Today’s blog the result.
Enjoy your day!