DECEMBER 1903 – ROME

DECEMBER 1903 – ROME

When Marjorie and Miss Helen arrived back in Rome from Naples, the cool wet weather changed suddenly and they were pleased to see the sun:

“You can imagine how welcome it was! And it was delightfully warm too, almost like spring. It is such a lovely city in the warm sunshine,” wrote Marjorie to her mother. They took the opportunity to drive out into the country, and up into the hills surrounding Rome. But the good weather did not last, and Marjorie commented that Rome can be dreary on a rainy day, “…only there are so many beautiful things in it, and every bit is interesting. There are great sunny piazzas, and scattered all over the city are hundreds of fountains – big and little, adorned with beautiful statues or just tumbling out of a stone barrel. There are bits of old Rome everywhere you look.”

They returned to the Vatican and St. Paul’s again and again. Marjorie particularly loved the Sculpture Gallery where they saw “the wonderful statues of the Emperors, the beautiful Apollo Belvedere, the Loacoon, and the glorious Sleeping Ariadne … and lots of lovely things.”

With Christmas fast approaching, Marjorie and Miss Helen went shopping for Christmas cards to send to people at home, and last-minute gifts for the family. Marjorie had been collecting gifts to send home from her favorite places. There was lace from Jesurum’s in Venice for Bessie, and a calendar from Florence; tortoiseshell brushes from Naples and Venetian cufflinks for Will; and a collection of toys for Augustine – a photograph frame from Venice, vases from Florence, castanettes from Pompeii, a fan and a mandolin from Naples, and a papal guard doll from Rome. She added a small Italian flag to stick out of the top of Augustine’s Christmas stocking, and “…in the afternoon I wrapped up and tied up packages and sent them all off to America.”

Once the weather improved again, they enjoyed taking rides in the Borghese grounds – very close to their hotel:

“Oh they are lovely!! Great avenues of ilex trees, moss grown fountains, rolling lawns and linden trees throwing their long shadows on the grass.” They went up on the Pincian Hill – a fashionable park of Rome – where they loved to spend the afternoon driving around, listening to the bands, and watching the people. Marjorie wrote, “What I liked best were the children, there are thousands of them walking and driving, attended by nurses in pink or blue with such beautiful coral necklaces and long streamers of gay ribbon down their backs.” They took tea every day at Aragno’s on the Corso where Marjorie observed people from many different countries and loved the atmosphere, even though it was “smoky.” In 1893, Baedeker’s travel guide described Aragno’s as “the finest café in Italy.”

By December 13, the streets were full of fascinating “Presepios,” or crèches: “… a little moss-covered grotto with the manger, the ox and the ass and St. Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and Wisemen all arranged in a group.” They went to the Vatican Etruscan Museum to see the cinerary urns and the lovely vases, and to the Vatican Library to see the precious illustrated manuscripts – among them, curiously, Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn. They took drives into the country where Marjorie admired the cypresses and umbrella pines. They walked down to the Piazza di Spagna and bought pansies on the great Spanish Steps. At the Borghese Villa Gallery Marjorie noted her favorite paintings, Correggio’s “Danae,” Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love” and his “Three Graces,” and Botticelli’s “Madonna and Angels.”

Marjorie's photo of Spanish Steps

On the morning of the 24th, Marjorie and Miss Helen went to the Spanish Steps again and bought a big branch of holly and other greens with huge red berries, and a beautiful bunch of pansies. “From that time on Christmas really began.” In the evening they were invited to a grand concert and ‘arbre de noel’ festival at the hotel. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes. “The tree was a beauty!” wrote Marjorie. “With lights of the national red white and green, and all shining with pretty things – but oh how homesick it did make me, for Katrina’s trees are always nicest of all.” (Katrina was Bessie’s maid who stayed with the family for almost 50 years.) “After we had got settled down, from behind a thin screen decorated to form a church window, the music began. There were a choir of boys from one of the Roman Churches, and also a quartet of soloists … Later in the evening we had refreshments of every description and then were presented each with a gift “from the tree”. Mine was a very pretty leather card case. We had a beautiful time.”

The next morning Marjorie found a table filled with gifts and letters from home. After opening them, they went to St. Peter’s for the “Gloria in Excelsis”. They had lunch at the hotel (with mincepies) and then set out for the Christmas service at Santa Maria Maggiore where the whole church was lit with candles. From there they went again to Aragno’s, “How gay it was on Christmas night – all Rome seemed to be there.” That evening there was another concert in the Hotel, and when it was all over Marjorie “…wished pretty hard for a good-night kiss from you, Mother dearest.” She ended her last letter of the year, “Well, Mother dear I must close now, with just lots and lots of love and Happy New Year wishes from your little daughter, Marjorie.”

Marjorie had much to look forward to in January. She and Miss Helen had train tickets to Brindisi where they would take a boat to Egypt and spend two months exploring Cairo and sailing down the Nile in the Rameses II Steamer. Notes from the Archives in January will cover their exotic and exciting adventures.

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