IT is curious that one's keenest A memories of a trip abroad are usually of the unexpected. Having to spend some lime in Assisi and further south in la ieti. which is surrounded by spots hallowed by the memory DI St. Francis, I would describe as most striking the mountain of La Verna and the Celle of Cortona passed on the way. Both of these seem very far from man and the civilisations he has built. Consequently, their wild mountainous beauty seemed to transcend the seven centuries as though the saint who made them famous might be walking behind on his calloused bare feet. In spring, too, they were at their best, the vivid greens and greys and browns of the trees and rocks set against the background of the soft pinkish and russet mountains with snow still lying about here and there. La Verna is, of course. a place apart both because of the stigmata and because of the extraordinary rocky chasms, made, according to a tradition. at the time of the Crucifixion. But the Celle of Cortona with the stream rushing down through wild woodland by the cells or caves where the early friars loved to dwell make one understand why even Brother Elias of Cortona felt at home and near to God with Francis.
'Good Morning, Good People!'
THE Celle take a bit of getting to in a large car, not only because of the narrow. dangerous and muddy road. but because it was market-day in Cortona. Its twisting narrow streets were as crowded as the outside of Twickenham before the University match, and not a soul seemed willing to move as we tried to cross the town. Yet in some miraculous way one does manage to filter through the good-natured, smiling crowd. But if one tries in some other town, say Lucca, to play the same game of not getting out of the way of an Italian car, one barely escapes with one's life. Of the smaller Franciscan sanctuaries. I strongly recommend the overlooked Pow° Hustone, a heaped-up mass of light brown houses half-way ols a bare and bleak mountain and under the snows of Monte Terminillo. Nothing could he further from the world about which Francis had such grave doubts. Besides his greeting to the people, " Buon giorno, buona gente!" is there recorded in stone.
Land of St. Francis
Explosions at Grinds"
AT Greccio, where St. Francis made his Christmas crib, we nearly came finally to grief in true Italian fashion. Leaving the car under the friary so cleverly, but not very beautifully, built into the mountain side, we were warned by a workman that mines %'ere being exploded to prepare a site for a new church. The smiling, happy Italian said he would take us himself to a safe place, even though all these precautions were a hit of an exaggeration, as nothing would come near us. We drove down some hundred yards or so and got out of the car to see the fun, while our friend volubly explained what was happening. First one explosion and rocks and stones hurtled into the air endangering, one thought, the friary, but not us. Then came a second a little stronger. And then a doubly powerful third in which everything seemed to go up miles into the air. We watched with awe until we realised that what goes up so high falls a long way out. Rushing for cover behind the car. large stones came hurtling down all round us, one of them landing bang on top of the car and making a huge dent. Another yard or two and there would have been no Jotter left. Our friend was most apologetic and left us Just as cheerful and carefree as when he had greeted us. My companion took the view that the saint was rather angry with us. but i preferred to believe that, knowing his countrymen, „he took special measures to protect us.
Cocteau and Matisse
BUT, allowing for these and many
other wonderful memories, to some of which I may return, I have to confess that nothing impressed me more on my trip than the sailor's chapel of Si. Peter, in Villefranche, where we stayed on our way home. Readers will recall the pictures we published of the Cocteau paintings. but the reality infinitely surpasses the photographs. To begin with the little chapel, for many years used as a fishermen's storehouse and given up most reluctantly. is a little Romanesque gem, the rounded curves of which present a stiff problem of perspective to the painter. As you enter it seems almost like a cool aquarium with the soft tints of blue-green, yellow. and pale rose. Then you wonder how this man who has only lately taken to painting could possibly have succeeded at the first attempt to learn the supreme lesson of painting, simplification and knowing what to leave out. The majestic figure of Our Lord is beautifully rendered with only a dozen or so of strong. sweeping lines. The immnse complexity of scenes like the escape of St. Peter from gaol or the soldiers mocking him after his denial are rendered with seemingly equal facility. This is something absolutely not to be missed. and to my taste far more moving than Matisse's famous chapel at Vence. This is a beautifully designed chapel almost shining with the light that penetrates through the yellow and blue windows; but, as for the Stations of the Cross, I can only say that they seemed to me like halfmeaningless scrawls. One had to linger in the corridor where Matisse's sketches were shown to realise again what a great artist he was.