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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

An intoxicating day

Saturday, February 5th., Hotel Savoy, Cortina.

Il Principe Ereditario [of Italy] arrived here on Thursday. Band and popular applause. Plenty of people in the street. Peasant girls staring at the hotel long after the Prince had definitely disappeared within. Secretaries or underlings of some sort, from one to six of them, are continuously standing on the first floor landing in front of the Crown Prince's suite. You might almost think he was more important than Mussolini!

Umberto was the son of Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy, who became King in 1900 and abdicated in May 1946, in favor of HRH Crown Prince Umberto. It was, of course, during his long reign that Fascism manifested itself as Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, rose to political power. And it was Mussolini who led Italy into chimerical colonial adventures and into an ill-fated alliance with Nazi Germany. Prince Umberto was a dutiful son. In the Italian context, he was thought of as a liberal, and was no admirer of Mussolini. He and Princess Maria José, daughter of the universally admired World War I hero, King Albert I of Belgians and Queen Elisabeth, lived away from Rome in Naples, again to avoid appearances with Il Duce. They were a popular and attractive couple and did much to help the royal family’s public image by visiting hospitals and undertaking goodwill trips around the country and the world. Winston Churchill, who met Umberto, praised him as by far the most intelligent and competent political figure in Italy at the time.

Today, at last, we made our excursion up to Tre Croci. A magnificent day. We took a two-horse sleigh and the professor of ski-ing, and picked up the Huxleys at the Hotel Belleoni. Tre Croci is 600 metres higher than Cortina. As you rise the sky seems to get bluer and the air clearer, and the craggy reddish mountains more grand. The beauty of the severe landscapes, and the quality of the air were exhilarating to the point of intoxication sometimes.

All the way up - 8 kilometres - the road was patrolled by gendarmes at a distance of about 200 yards apart, because the Crown Prince was going up there to lunch. Strange, to think of all those gendarmes standing nearly all day in the cold (only a few of them had boards to stand on - and remember it was freezing hard), well-uniformed, barbered, cleaned, with wives and children probably - all so that the Crown Prince should see them as he drove up in his sleigh.

We took lunch with us - against my advice - and a good thing we did, for the big hotel at the top was all  sixes and sevens with excitement and preparations about and for the Prince. We had difficulty in getting cocktails. The Head Waiter was not polite. After the cocktails we took our food out into the open and ate in the sunshine. Rather messy and my hands were soon very cold; but we enjoyed it.

The ski-ers started, under guidance of the Professor, and I and Peter (Huxley's dog) kept near them in the sleigh. We met every now and then, and I saw several fine runs and several falls. Dorothy was doing very well. They were all enjoying themselves enormously. I got home first. Dorothy said it was the finest day she had ever had in all her life. Certainly a most marvellous day, even for me, with air, sunshine, superb landscapes, and a universal clarity.

A Spanish costume ball at night, but only two Spanish costumes and Dorothy's Spanish shawl.

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