Saturday, August 11, 2018

Breakfast Chat in Agriento on our way to Monte Cassino

Breakfast in Agriento on the way to Monte Cassino!
Last day in Agriento, memories of trip around the world breakfast on our way to Monte Cassino
Sitting by the pool on our last day in Agriento, Mom continued her story about the Trip around the world in 1961.  A highlight of the trip was her stop at the Oriental Hotel Bangkok.
Everyone travels their own way.  She told us about hers.
“The next stop after Thai Land, we went on to New Delhi,” she recalled.  “The International Conference of Churches meeting was there.  The hotel was full. And our travel agent was not in touch. So they found me a home to live in. And the people that I was staying with were not used to doing this.  I had a room to myself, with a mattress in it, with no separate shower.”  Mom was miserable, she explained.   “I was not comfortable being there.  After several days there, New Delhi to Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is. You have to see the Taj Mahal by the light.  And from there to Jypra.  They usually had a red ford.  And then I could move back into the hotel. It was a huge contrast.”
So where did you go on the trip around the world.
I started out with a lady who didn’t want to travel by herself and who knew mother’s cousin in Tokyo.  We flew first to San Francisco. And from San Francisco to Hawaii. And Hawaii to Tokyo for three weeks.  Mothers friend ran Coke Far East.  They decided I needed contact lenses. Hard not soft. I could not manage them.  I didn’t want to. They thought I should show myself off.  There I was this eligible young lady in glasses.
And a guy tried to make passes at me in the hotel in Delhi.
It was more than I was prepared for.  I was leaving the next day.
And he did send me a letter somewhere to meet up with me.
He wanted me to give him courage to get a divorce.
I’ve heard that one before.
For somebody from Columbia Georgia that was a little more than I was ready for.
After Tokyo where did you go?
We did a lot of sightseeing.
We went down to Kyoto where they had the most wonderful temples, the zen temple that was all pebbles.  But I could see the rhythm of the raking and the patterns.
Back to Tokyo to visit the big Shinto gates.
Talking for 15 minutes, plans for the day started.
Lets finish the trip later, Mom suggested. And we made plans for our day. We’d finish the conversations about the Trip around the World and the Ladies Trip to Europe 1957 later on.
For today, we had to get to Rome, with one stop in Monte Cassino, two hours north, 90 minutes south of Rome.
Atop a hill looking down, we drove up the abbey around curve after curve up the mountain.
When we finally made it, it felt like we were looking down at the world from.
The ageless Abbey at Monte Cassino has seen a lot since the 6th century, enduring invasions, earthquakes and wars.
Over the years, its faced its own challenges, destroyed by the Lombards in 577, sacked in 833, crumbling after an earthquake in 1349, and bombed by the allies on the 15th of April, 1944.
But essentially, the space was used as a sanctuary for immigrants and refugees from the war.
“Monte Cassino happened to be on the firing line between two armies: this place of prayer and study which had become in these exceptional circumstances a peaceful shelter for hundreds of defenseless civilians, in only three hours was reduced to a heap of debris under which many of the refugees met their death,” noted the pamphlet I bought at the abbey.
“The Germans were not even using the place,” I asked one of the men at the majestic old abbey on top of a mountain.
“No,” he shook his head.  “But that’s Guerra.”
People don’t resent the US for doing it, at least not publicly.
The celestial space feels like a monument to power.  In the museum shop they have a postcard of the last pope, the one who was a member of the Hitler Youth as a kid, who said the sex abuse victims were queer and had it coming, who used to summer here.
Between the inquisition and the child abuse scandal and the church’s opposition to family planning, its hard to feel that much sympathy for the old space or the church it represents.
Still, it felt odd, even melancholy being there, thinking about the past and the present.
The church felt ominous noted the teenager, who has rejected Christianity altogether.
Looking at what the church says to women and homosexuals, its not hard to see the bad.
Mom and I are more ambivalent.
I try to see the good and the bad, noted Mom.
I love the old Abbey.  But I’m weary of the Church’s misuse of power.


Cassino, Italy · February 15, 1944

On this date in 1944 Gen. Harold Alexander, commander-in-chief of all Allied forces in the Mediterranean The­ater, ordered the aerial bombing of the his­toric Benedictine abbey towering over the town of Cassino on the banks of the Rapido (Gari) River in Italy. Earlier in January British, American, and French troops had made a series of attacks on the main German defenses in mainland Italy, the Gustav Line—this around the town of Cassino (red line on map below). Sometimes called the First Battle of Cassino, these attacks produced only limited gains. The bombing of the iconic fortress-like abbey, which Alexander wrongly thought was being used by the Germans as an observation post, was part of a broader effort by soldiers from ten Allied nations and territories to break through the German lines and open one of only two roads con­necting south­ern Italy, in Allied hands, and German-held Rome. Monte Cassino’s destruction, Alexander admitted later, was “necessary more for the effect it would have on the morale of the attackers than for purely material reasons.” Surprisingly, a full day passed before the initial air strike by 229 heavy and medium bombers, dropping 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendi­ary bombs on the abbey, was followed up by attacks on the ground. By then the Germans had time to convert the ruins and the thick-walled foundations of the monastery into an impregnable strong­hold from which they could direct artillery fire against anyone sent against them. More air and ground assaults would take place before the Allies, after suffering approximately 55,000 casualties (the Ger­mans incurred at least 20,000 casualties), were able to raise their flag an improvised Polish regimental flag—over the rubble of the abbey on May 18, 1944, as well as over 30 wounded soldiers left by their com­rades as the Ger­mans abandoned the western half of the Gustav Line for new defensive positions along the Adolf Hitler Line (green line on map).

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