Journal Entries from Christine Lebline’s 1911 travels in northern Italy
In June of 1911, Christine Lebline, just 22 years old and one year removed from her student days at Indiana University, began the biggest adventure of her life to that point. She had just completed her first year of teaching German at the local high school during which time she made plans to travel to Europe that summer of 1911, the first in her family to do so since her ancestors had emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1800s. She began her experience by traveling to New York City from which she departed for Italy by steamship in late June. Her travels concluded in Scotland when she sailed back from Glasgow to Montreal in late August. She mostly traveled alone, although she made a number of friends along the way.
In 2005, a journal that Christine had written during her trip miraculously appeared. No one even knew before then that a journal existed. To commemorate the 100th year anniversary of her amazing adventures, I have chosen to publish selected excerpts of her journal during this centennial year (2011). I previously offered selections that give an account of her voyage across the Atlantic from New York to Gibraltar on her ship. In this piece, I quote from entries she wrote while traveling in northern Italy during that July.
I also have included in this piece some photographs that help illustrate her writings. Some are of postcards she acquired during her time in Italy and brought back with her. Others are photos that I took when my wife Mary Ann and I traveled to northern Italy in October 2011 to retrace Christine’s steps through Florence, Venice, Milan and Como.
Although she has been gone over forty years, I regard even now some of my writings to be a “joint venture” with my grandmother. This is an example of such a collaboration; it consists almost entirely of her words embellished with some of my pictures and a few reflections. Christine’s writings offer another perspective on this amazing woman during an especially formative time in her young life. I trust that her words, coupled with the pictures, give understanding and meaning to the impressions she gained through her adventures. As with my initial Reliving the Dream writing, I hope that you will be impressed, as I am, by her vitality and wondrous engagement with the places and people she encountered along her way. Once again, let’s relive the dream.
[Hospice] matron repeatedly saying the same thing, “that we should give Florence more time.” —Christine’s journal, 18 July 1911
In the morning [went] to Palazzo Vecchio, Duomo—beautiful windows, dark guilt, delicately adorned… —Christine’s journal
Over the Ponte Vecchio… —Christine’s journal
…to Pitti Palace [with its] many masterpieces. —Christine’s journal
Crossed [back over] the Ponte Vecchio, bought nothing. Home in a carriage… —Christine’s journal
Long dirty [train] ride—35 tunnels, smoke terrific, the rich African, the wily Turk, the ruse in the First Class compartment, the row in the corridor…but fun and experience. Reached lovely Venice late at night; went to Hotel in a gondola, beautiful lights on water, dreamland. –Christine’s journal, 20 July 1911
Gondola ride along Grand Canal past many old and picturesque palaces…fish and vegetable market… —Christine’s journal
Rialto Bridge—crowded with shops… Christine’s journal
Went to St. Mark’s Square… –Christine’s journal
…through the church… Christine’s journal
…fed pigeons, took pictures, shopped… –Christine’s journal
Ride on Lagoon–very beautiful… –Christine’s journal
I went to the Lido—cost 3 cts—met Tony and Joe. We all went swimming in the Adriatic; glorious, superb, got hair wet but it got dry soon. The boys were perfectly grand—just like two ideal brothers… –Christine’s journal
Tony took me to the Rialto bridge. Shopped on the way home. Another gondola ride after supper for one hour (10 cts); grand, beautiful Italian songs in lighted gondolas. Then Tony took me up on the square—a big concert with superb music, millions of happy Venetians dressed “fit to kill.” Gelate, then home at midnight. In love with Venice.—Christine’s journal
Hot, dirty, sleepy, monotonous [train] ride till 1 PM arrival in Milan. Had a good dinner in the most beautiful arcade in the world. Beautiful cathedral outside and in; third largest in the world. Rode in a rubber-tired carriage. Made 4 PM train to Como… —Christine’s journal
…arrived at Como at 5:00. Como is a lovely little town on edge of Lake Como, beautiful mountains all around—good water, beautiful lake and lights. The square viewed through the deep windows of my room is lovely. I’d like to stay here a month, get acquainted with the natives, and grow fat. –Christine’s journal, 23 July 1911
Saw the cathedral and had good supper—delightfully sleepy place this time of night (10:00 PM), which is a shame considering the loveliness of the night and surrounding beauty—but no John, no Tony, no anybody here. Leave at 9:55 AM on boat for Lugano.—Christine’s journal
Wonderful lights on lake and mountains tonight in the blue darkness; the outlines of mountains not seen nor buildings not there. Lights stand out like a constellation of stars in the sky. —Christine’s journal
…exceedingly restless if seemed after the accomplishment of the one thing I had dreamed of for so many years…Now at intervals I take spells of homesickness or something for those lands across the sea, those interesting, kind-hearted natives and happy experiences. —Christine’s journal, 30 September 1911
One month after returning from her European adventure, Christine penned a final journal entry as she reflected on the meaning of her experience. Her final word, “Finis,” translates “Finished” in French. Christine had lived her dream.
Epilogue For My Great-grandchild
A final stop during my time in Italy in October 2011 was a small, idyllic village named Varenna located on Lake Como. I don’t know whether my grandmother visited this town–there is no record of it in her journal–but it’s possible the boat she took up the lake on her way to Lugano from Como may have stopped there. One of the days I spent in Varenna was rainy, so I went to have some quiet time in a small church (San Giorgio), which was located on the village square near my hotel. During my time in that sacred space, an epilogue came to me. It is my final word as I reflect upon the meaning of this amazing experience of reliving Christine’s dream–and I also add an exultant “Finis”!
The feature in this church that is most meaningful for me is a fresco of a woman named Regina from 1553…That her image has been presiding over this space for more than 450 years is an amazing thought. How many people have sat in this same place through the centuries and regarded her faint smile and hand of blessing?…Of one thing I am sure; if my grandchild or great-grandchild should sometime choose to relive Christine’s (and now my) dream, Regina will likely still be here to greet her or him. After such a long time in one place, what’s another fifty or one hundred years? And she or he can also be assured that Christine and I will be with them too—and smiling all along the way. —journal entry, October 2011
This essay was written by Steve Robert Simmons in 2011. All rights reserved.