One summer vacation, while I studied at The Ruskin, I took a trip to Florence, Italy, with a young student named John Stevens. While on the train from the Port to Paris to change trains, we met an Italian girl named Emma Bionde. She was in tears, her mascara running down her face and her clothes rumpled from coming all the way from Scotland, where she had been studying nursing. She was an emotional and physical mess.
Her story was that she had been told to leave her luggage in an area for luggage on the platform just inside the door to the passenger compartments. However, that luggage had been removed from the train when we made a stop at Milan.
When we arrived at Milan, John and I listened to Emma’s story and John said he knew an American who represented Exxon Oil and who lived in a villa outside of Paris. He called Mr. Holden who told us to visit with him while he used his many years in France to help us to get Emma’s luggage back. So, off we went to his magnificent villa where his wife prepared Yorkshire pudding, roast beef and mash for us.
We sent Emma off to Lucca, Italy, where her family lived, assuring her we would bring her luggage to her. When she arrived home her parents were furious. She had a complete set of royal Dalton china in her luggage and gifts for many members of her family. Her parents told her she would never see her luggage again. Poor Emma.
We spent a wonderful time at the Holden Villa. Mr. Holden had no difficulty arranging things and we got the luggage when we arrived at Lucca and took a horse drawn cab to Emma’s house.
Emerging from the shadow of her parents’ scorn, Emma was absolutely delighted when she saw us at the bottom of the stairs with her luggage. When we entered her family’s apartment, the aroma of fine cooking was mouthwateringly tempting. After two years in Scotland, Emma thought she knew better than her parents what to serve us as thanks for saving her luggage and her life.
Fried eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, fried tomato – all of which was swimming in more bacon grease than I had ever seen served in the worst greasy spoon in Oxford. We had to eat it, smile and express our gratitude. Emma was so grateful to us for saving her cloths and gifts that she found us an inexpensive place to stay for the summer and talked the price way down in the best of Italian bartering. She even arranged to rent bikes for us and negotiate the price of a sharkskin suit I had made, and which I never wore.
John and I went to the local quarry to draw and paint until the day he told me he was about to run out of money, and then I was on my own. Emma and her family went to the mountains to avoid the heat. Nonetheless, I had a grand experience in Italy. A year later I spent a month in Rome visiting my childhood friend Steve Halpert and his new wife.
Lucca is an ancient city behind massive defensive walls, surrounded by a mote and drawbridges at each gate. It had a canal system and palaces, smart shops and the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Emma’s family took us to open air nightclubs and made certain we never paid full price for anything.