GREETINGS from the Riviera di I.evante whence I am gazing out onto the Mediterranean from an enchanted spot just east of Genoa. This is one of the two rivieras making up Liguria, that jagged strip of coastline which twists its way for over 200 miles from the French border all the way to Tuscany.
Its seaside towns have been compared to a string of precious stones, the central pearl of which is Genoa itself. Hardly an exaggeration. I have explored the area sporadically in the past and have hazy but happy memories of medieval Genoa around the Piazza San Matte°.
The Piazza contains a group of ancient houses belonging to the Doria family and dating from the twelfth century. The late Prince Doria was an exceptionally charming Italian of the old school who might easily have been taken for an English rather than an Italian aristocrat.
So pro-British and antiFascist on a famous occasion that he refused to fly the Italian flag from the top of the fabulous Palazzo Doria where he lived in Rome. Considering that his nearest neighbour was Mussolini, living just across the road in the Palazzo Venezia, his gesture was unlikely to go unnoticed and unresented. But Mussolini was too shrewd to take any official action against a man of such prestige and popularity.
The Prince had been badly wounded in the first world war but this, at least, brought him an idyllic happy marriage to the charming and gallant Scotswoman who nursed him during his painful years of gradual and almost complete recovery.
But it often struck me that, as he rose stiffly from a chair to greet his guests, he was seldom if ever out of pain. But he too was very gallant, in every possible sense of the word.
Ring for service
THE OCCASION on which Prince Doria refused to fly the flag was during the Abyssinian war when Mussolini organised a "voluntary" collection of wedding rings to augment the country's gold reserve at a time when economic sanctions were beginning to bite.
Princess Doria, however, refused to give up her ring, and her husband refused to fly the flag on the palace in celebration of the collection. Despite lack of official reprisal by Mussolini himself, the Doria palace was broken into by demonstrating Fascists and the family name was removed from the adjoining street, formerly the Vicolo Doria.
It was renamed Vicolo della Fede, the word fede in Italian meaning both faith and wedding ring.
After the fall of Mussolini, however, the little street reverted quietly to its original name.
There is also a Palazzo Doria in Genoa which, along with such others as the Ducale, Reale and San Giorgio, still manage to evoke Genoa's mighty days of empire. And Genoa, of course, was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus whose house, I'm told can he visited, as can that of another of the city's famous native sons, Paganini.
I must try to make visits if I can drag myself away from the beach at Santa Margherita.
Beat the clock
NATURALLY I brought along some paperbacks, one of which, Dear Church, What's the Point? by Dom Raphael Appleby (published by Kevin Mayhew) is being avidly read by my daughter.
It is a book which deals brilliantly with so-called "young Catholic uncertainties," by a former headmaster of Downside to whom I took an instant liking when I first met him in his study there after he had confided in me the secret of why he always asked guests to sit in a certain chair.
"Behind your head," he explained, "there is a clock of which my visitors are not usually aware. I can tell the time without resorting to a give-away glance at my wristwatch and can usually manage to bring the meeting to a diplomatic close without seeming to be throwing my visitor out."
Dom Raphael is a gentle and wise man who now runs a small residential centre for young people, being also heavily involved, with great success, in retreat work with sixth formers and young adults.
He is also co-ordinator of chaplaincies in higher education, chaplain to the Catholic student council and diocesan youth chaplain. He must be even busier than in the hectic days when he had to keep a constant eye on the clock in the headmaster's study at Downside.
THE PAPERBACK I am currently reading myself is called Bunyan of Elstow (Hodder) being Judith Gunn's short but excellent life of John Bunyan.
It reminds the reader how much Bunyan had to suffer in order to establish in England the principle that a man has a right to speak and believe freely.
It is the story of a fierce inner
struggle and Bunyan's agonising conflict of theology as he strove to understand Christianity. Vividly described are the depression and terror he underwent in the years he spent in gaol.
It was during the fitful dreams while in prison that he began to "see" the characters who come to life in The Pilgrim's Progress. Thus did Bunyan's pilgrim face as much fear as he had faced himself. He ploughed the Slough of the Despond. He was captured and imprisoned by the Giant Despair. He walked through the valley of the Shadow of Death.
"The story," says Judith Gunn, "was full of heroic imagery . . It was an epic work
like Milton's Paradise Lost, but it was lighter than that, it had a more common appeal; it heralded the great tradition of English novel writing; it was certainly the forerunner of the fictional narrative method."
And, of course, it made famous for ever the phrase "Valiant for Truth."
The seeds of courage
WHO, TODAY, can be called "valiant of truth"? So important did the question seem to the Order of Christian Unity, that, eleven years ago, that Order instituted the annual Valiant for Truth media award.
Last year's winner was Caroline Moorhead "in recognition of her tenacity and courage to impartially expose unjust detention of prisoners under a variety of regimes and for her fearless investigation of kidnapping as a weapon of terror."
In explaining the award, for whom this year's winner has yet to be chosen from names now being submitted to the Order, the chairperson of the Advisory Council, Tony (Marchioness of) Lothian pays tribute to a former winner who died this year — Pat Seed. She received the award in 1980 "for shining like a lamp of courage for those who fear cancer."
In her last book, Another Day, Pat Seed had written "Many ask why the Award was founded by an interdenominational Association of Christmas and the answer is — as Bunyan usefully reminds us that courage and accuracy and not only essential human ethics, they are also essential Christians ethics."
The award to Caroline Moorhead was presented by Odette Samson, née Hallows, whose amazing story bacame a legend of inspiration. To Tony Lothian, in fact, the Odette Story "became our legend — the story of one woman's heart and mind which, within a weak body maintained the invincible resolve which Nazi cruelty could not destroy . . ."
Odettc, it may be remembered, won the George Cross for her fortitude as a figher in the Resistance against the Nazis, and in particular because "she was the only person who knew the whereabouts of British officers whose lives were of the greatest value to the Resistance Organisation. The Gestapo tortured her most brutally to try to make her give away this information. Mrs Samson however continually refused to speak and by her bravery and determination saved their lives." Those were the words of the official citation taken from the booklet which dropped on my desk just before I came, describing the last Valiant for Truth Award and inviting suggestions for the next presentation toward the end of this year.
But just at the moment it's too hot to think . .