THE OXFORD LETTER
I traveled from Monte-Carlo to Genova with a carload of flower-girls and dancers from Budapest. They all were in their native costumes where at Cannes they took part in the annual flower festival. Now, full of song and pranks, they were going back to their romantic Budapest. At every station we stopped they'd ask the porter to pick a few flowers for them--then they'd tickle his ear, give him a kiss and a postcard to mail. And what did they do with the flowers? They were getting ready for a battle. It began just before we reached Genova. When I left it seemed as if the dancers--as against the flower girls--would win. For when their flower fodder gave out they took to throwing booklets and propaganda which, by the way, I found to be about Atlantic City, Yosemite Park and Coney Island! No doubt given to them by the good-hearted Rotarians and Elks who are holding a whoopee convention at Cannes. What would Europe do without the American dollar, jazz, movies and the Elks!
But to come to Genova. Genova is a city of some 650,00 inhabitants, one night club, a Lido with American shower baths, Paganini's violin, 666 places where Columbus slept, an impressive monument to Cristoforo Colombo and the one and only place where he was born. This latter is a small two story stone house with bars over the windows, a noble inscription saying whose house it was and in much bigger letters a warning saying that anyone posting bills here will be prosecuted.
The glory of Genova is in the past when with Venice she was the leading port and trading city. Now for the tourist she stands as a convenient breaking place in the journey to Florence and southern Italy. Yet is it not for the past that most of us come to Europe at all? The chief contemporary contribution which will interest the tourist a thousand years hence will be found principally in America.
Can't we imagine a guide saying: "And here is Boulder Dam--the engineering epitome of that age. And here is the Empire State: one Alfred Smith president. And for art, see here the Lincoln Memorial. A great age that was with unprecendented material progress, physical and medical research. But it got them: their material power gave them a confidence and a hollow sophistication which is always the death warrant of moral progress. It is the same old story: people thought they saw through everything and consequently saw nothing. But come, come, how many will take the ride to Mars?"