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The Oxford Letter

By Christopher Janus

Let me write this as a brief introduction to several other letters I'd like to send you on Italy. This is not the gay enthusiastic Italy of fifteen years ago. The sights are still here: certainly there are but few more artistic and beautiful small cities in the world than Florence; and for sheer majesty and spaciousness Rome is in a class by itself; for Naples there is always the bay, Vesuvius and donkey carts; and for the most thrilling and picturesque drive in the world there's the Amalfi Drive. For more of antiquity there's Pompei; and for two of the most gracious of ancient temples certainly everybody goes to Paestum. And then there's Capri, where they don't know the "Isle of Capri"; and there's the Blue Grotto . . but who doesn't love Italy for the things to see and to let the imagination play over?

But Italy as a gay people is no more. Cafes close at ten . . . and when they do stay open later it's because of American trade . . . prices are going up and so are taxes, yet Mussolini wants more babies . . . Italy lost over 20,000 of her finest men at Abysinnia and fighting is still going on. Life is tense here: one gets the impression--especially when you talk with the young people--that this is just an anxious period of waiting before the great conflagration. And they are so stuffed with propaganda they think Italy will one day rule the world.

Anyway, it's happier to think of other things: Tonight I go to Sicily, I hear there's a small town on a mountain top where they still speak Greek and drink a kind of a liquor which originated in Homer's time and do Greek dances and take you in and give you their best bread if only you'll tell them a story of your own country and show them something new. I say, "So I've heard" it's like this. But by now I wager it's a town on a mountain top with an Otis escalator going up, a Grand Hotel on the highest peak, the American Express on Main Street and Haig and Haig on every other bill board. And you'll meet an Oxford student at every bar, a Harvard man in every cinema and an American no matter where you are. And sometimes you're awfully glad of it!

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