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Peter Jurney, '62, MA '64 (Florence '60-'61)
I was one of a group of Stanford students who hung a “Beat Cal” banner from the Leaning Tower of Pisa on or about Oct. 28,1960. The banner, 80 feet long with bright red letters, was created by several women in the contingent, who sewed bed sheets together and painted at night in the hallway of their dorm to avoid detection.
I carried the banner up in my suitcase, telling the guards it was photographic equipment; two women climbed to the top of the Tower with the banner’s ropes wrapped around them, underneath their raincoats. We stationed people on each level of the tower to keep the banner straight.
When we let the ropes down, a guard walked over to ask what was going on. One of our guys said to him in Italian: “We’re measuring the Tower.” The guard said, “Carry on!” Since the Tower is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa, we had cleared our actions in advance with church authorities. They seemed mildly amused by the whole escapade.
Just as the banner was unfurled, a busload of tourists from California arrived and madly snapped pictures. Ken Veronda, ’62, took our official picture. It ran on the front page of the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
A Palo Alto Times editorial called for us to be dismissed from school, but a letter to the editor from Professor Crosten—who was present for the event, since he was leading us on the field trip to Pisa—supported our efforts, and the incident was closed. Thus a small group of students supported their team and achieved a fleeting moment of fame, more than 40 years ago.
Steve Bergren, '66 (Florence '64)
In the Spring of 1964 I was in Italy, attending Stanford’s overseas campus in Florence for six months. My roommate and I had given up hitchhiking as a reliable form of travel after our first two very frustrating weekends of hitchhiking to Rome and to Genoa. We took the very risky step of buying a used 125cc Lambretta motorscooter. Being caught owning or operating a two-wheeled motor vehicle would result in automatic termination of our Italy study program, and an immediate return to California. Neither my roommate nor myself had ever been on a motorized two-wheeler of any kind. We met the Lambretta's seller in a remote piazza, paid him $100 in cash, and had him show us the basics. We flipped a coin to decide who would start out. I won (?), and did a few shaky laps around the piazza. Then my roommate got on the back and I negotiated our way out of town, where we "learned" to ride a motorscooter in the Piazzale Michelangelo.
During the next five and a half months we developed reputations as champion hitchhikers, since we told our fellow students that we were still hitchhiking. We traveled almost 10,000 miles on that little Lambretta that we named José (the source of that name is lost in the mist of the past). Autostradas were just being built in Italy, and to make better time we took the autostrada when we could. In order to do that we had to chisel off the 125 insignia on the front and replace it with a 150 insignia, since 150cc was the minimum engine size allowed on the autostrada. Each week of our study program consisted of four days of classes and three day weekends, and with those long weekends (we would sometimes sneak out even earlier) we traveled all over Italy, took two trips to France, one to Austria, and one to Germany. Getting over the Alps was tough—in lots of places we were down to first gear, at which time whoever was on the back would jump off and run alongside. With the weight reduction José could usually get near the top of second gear, at which time the runner would jump on, gradually slowing us down again, and the process would repeat. Oh, to be young and strong again.
The most memorable trip was during quarter break, and went from Italy through southern France and Spain, then across northern Africa from Gibraltar to Tunis, and then by boat to Sicily. It was in June, 1964, during the Algerian Revolution. The map we had was lousy, and we took the wrong road almost immediately upon entering Algeria, crossing the country way inland rather than along the coast. We found out only on leaving Algeria that most of our trip was through rebel territory. Needless to say, our recalling the many "troop" convoys that we had encountered convinced us that ignorance is truly bliss. And that ammunition must have been in short supply for the rebels.
Two guys, a duffle bag, and two sleeping bags on a motorscooter was not the most comfortable way to travel, but it sure was an adventure. When I later thought about learning to ride on those roads on that top-heavy scooter with only the gyroscopic effect of those two tiny wheels to keep us up, I'm amazed we made it. I don't remember it seeming dangerous at the time, of course. My memories are of sailing around mountain roads and through old villages, of smelling rivers flowing and farms growing and bread baking and meals cooking. And loving it. We sold José outside the American Express in Paris two days before returning to California. For $50 a Swedish student got a sturdy 150cc (!) Lambretta with one very bald rear tire and about a dozen used and re-used spark plugs. I hope old José is still on the road and giving someone else some great memories.
About three weeks after Cynthia Clark and I learned we were the final two students to be upgraded from the alternate list, I enjoyed a steak and baked potato dinner with my mother and father at an airport hotel near SFO. The next day, Thursday, March 30, Group XIV (Gruppo Quattordici) flew across the country to New York.
I remember a long delay between flights, many of us strewn about on the chairs and the floor of the TWA terminal. Finally our plane took off, landing in Paris around dawn. After a short flight to Milan, we boarded our bus for Florence under a light snowfall. We were anxious to arrive at Villa San Paolo, and to see the city where we would be living for six months, but we first had to stop at a futuristic, worst-of-American style Autogrill, built on a bridge over the Autostrada. Cindy and I had been warned that, as the boys' alternate list had been depleted when we were chosen, we would be living on the boys' floor. Next door to us was Padre Rienzi, who managed the Villa, and whose bathroom we would be sharing (with luxurious bathtub). At around 8 p.m. every evening Padre Rienzi would close the heavy, green drapes between our room and the rest of the corridor, to protect us from our male neighbors. We used to hear him counting money at night, perhaps the profits from wine, milk, and other extras bought by the students at mealtime. A humorless man.
Our room had a view (far off) of the Duomo, and (closer in) of the other wing of the Villa. In fact, we had an excellent view of Gordy Nelson's room across the way. Very early on we became friends with our maids, Silvana and Corallina. They furnished us with the latest gossip about Padre Rienzi and other staff members, and also helped us a great deal with learning slang expressions in Italian. The room had very high ceilings, almost higher than its width or length, and the storage possibilities were quite limited. We each had a desk with one small drawer, and there was a wardrobe with one drawer each for our clothes. Cindy had brought a portable record player, quite astonishing! And I supplied water pistols, which came in handy when we had water strikes.
I went to Stanford in Italy in 1969 because I wanted to go to Russia. I wanted to go to Russia because I had taken Martin Miller's Super Civ (Russian History Through Novels) and Ed Nordby's 19th C. Russian Lit in Translation, and I was intoxicated—Pushkin! Lermontov! Turgenev! Tolstoy!
In those years, there was a between-quarter break trip to the USSR, jointly arranged somehow between Stanford in Vienna and Stanford in Italy. Vienna required three quarters of German, and Florence required only two of Italian—easy math, in 1969. Besides, Vladimir Nabokov (another intoxication of those years) had written that the only two languages which can be spoken with a broad smile are Russian and Italian.
Florence I recall as a haze of Tuscan heat and adolescent hormones and the particular lunacy—purple haze, perhaps—that had settled over the US, and the world, in those years. The trip to Russia, however, shines as luminescent in my memory as the pearly White Night skies over what then was still Leningrad. Russia in 1969 might well have been on another planet, and I reveled in it as I might, had I truly had the chance to travel to other solar systems.
The six months over, I returned to Stanford and flung myself into Russian—which also brought me early up against the future, in the form of computer-taught language, then being pioneered by Joe Van Campen. I cut virtually all ties to Italy, save one—a course in medieval Italian poetry taught by Professore Leone, which I took as a hedge against a possible application to graduate school in Comparative Literature, should I not be able to build up sufficient chops for an application for further training in Russian. I remember little from that course, in part because I took notes in Italian (the language in which il Professore taught), and by quarter's end my mastery had slipped so badly I could no longer understand my own notes. Still, to this day I recall the opening quatrain of Cecco Angiolieri's “ S'i' fosse fuoco arderei'l mondo”—“If I were fire, I would inflame the world”—good strong stuff for the 13th century, eh?
Time went on, all of it in Russian. Grad school, research in Moscow (dark, cold, and eminently mysterious in long-ago 1974-75), more trips with student groups, teaching, research, translations, articles, novels, marriage, children, glasnost, perestroika... ...
And then, in 1988, there came an odd, but marvelous coda to my long-ago vita Italiana. Perestroika had made it possible for my wife and me and three children (one of them but a few months old) to be invited to Moscow, she to teach about the “Soviet nationality problem,” and me to co-author the first ever “Soviet-American thriller.”
Possible to be invited...but not to receive visas. We had arranged leave from the university where we labored, and had rented our house to a group of students who had agreed to take care of our dog, and the students had even moved in . . . and still no visas. After a month of living nine in a house (plus dog), we realized something had to be done, and so we decided to take advantage of the offer, long ago and lightly given by a neighbor, to “visit my beach house in Sicily sometime.”
Thus it was that we came, the five of us, to spend three months in a fishing village about 60 kilometers west of Palermo, in a house about 60 yards from the Mediterranean. Our only expense was a rented car, in which we toured the entire island (passing up only the asphalt lake of Ragusa, for reasons I think not hard to understand), and food, for which we walked each day into the village, with our six-month old in a carrier on my back. It will be no surprise, I imagine, that taking a baby to Sicily proved to be the greatest gig discovered—just the act of buying bread required at least an hour, such a fuss did all the workers in each bakery make.
As if to prove that life has patterns that we can not perceive, the village was quite close to the resort of Citta del Mare, owned by the Italian Communist Party, where—it has been reported—a young Russian official named Mikhail Gorbachev happened to visit in the early 1980s, there to encounter the Italian Party head Achille Occhetto, who (it is said) convinced Gorbachev that communism had to change its ways. Remembering the glories of the sun setting over the littoral of San Vito lo Capo, which Citta del Mare would face, makes it easy for me to believe that Gorbachev could understand vividly that there was more to life than standing on Lenin's Tomb twice a year (sadly, when, in another twist of fate, my wife and I had the chance yet another decade further on to host Gorbachev at our university, I forgot to reminisce with him about the Golfo de Castellamare).
The real moment of glory, however, came one day as we were leaving Siracusa (visited because we had been living near its namesake, Syracuse NY, for several eons), and I had a head-on collision. Very Sicilian—both of us in the wrong, but I less so than the one who struck us, with much traipsing to a near-by bar to phone Italy's various police (none of whom had the slightest interest once it was established there were no dead), and the colorful addition of an uncle who appeared from nowhere, to insist that he was a lawyer and “ Signore ha tort.” Having spent a lot of time around the Stanford Law School, I was not going to let anyone pin the “tort” for this on me.
And so we argued, in grand operatic floridity . . . three hours under the Sicilian sun, with Mt Etna smoking indifferently in the background, my opponent looking more and more like John Travolta before he gained all that weight. In the end, I won. As evening purpled, my would-be tort-shake-down acquaintance finally stuck out his hand, apologized for having struck our car, and then ended with the words I never once heard in Florence.
“You speak Italian well, Signore....”
A compliment I would never have been paid, had I not wanted two decades earlier to go to Russia, and thus ended up in Stanford in Italy.
I was in Florence in spring and summer of 1974. Within a week of my arrival, I swallowed a bobby (hair) pin. Fortunately, it went down vertically or in some fashion to not cause any damage. However, Maria Grazia insisted that I be x-rayed at a Florentine hospital. She was all atwitter about my condition. I probably was, too. The doctors at the hospital were all very amused at what I had done, and they could see it somewhere in my system, via the x-ray. The solution to the problem seemed to be to feed me platefuls of mashed potatoes in addition to our regular meals. The guys in my group were envious that I was being fed well, since the portions at the villa were on the small side. I never told my mom about this incident until I came home in the summer of '74, because I know she would have worried or had me come home. I have no idea what happened to the bobby pin, but when I returned to my hometown in the summer and finally informed my mom of what had happened, she promptly took me to the local hospital for another x-ray. The bobby pin was no longer there.
I loved being overseas. I had tons of fun, made new friends, became somewhat fluent, saw much of Europe, was as adventurous as I would ever be, and gained much confidence.
My recent memory is the following. Our daughter is a junior at Stanford. When she decided to go to Stanford, we made her promise that she would spend some time at an overseas campus since she was going to college so close to home. She made good on her promise and just returned from spending fall term in Florence. My husband and I were in Florence in July without our daughter, and we checked out the Stanford campus since it was no longer at Villa Il Salviatino, where we had been. We were happily surprised to see Anna, who was in her first year of working at Stanford when I was there in '74 and is still working at the Florence campus. I went back again in late October to visit our daughter because she had a very long holiday weekend. We had a fabulous time eating well, walking all over Florence, and visiting Rome. It was very special to see her be a student in nearly the same circumstances I had experienced 33 years earlier.
Of the various pursuits I undertook while at Stanford, nothing had the effect on the rest of my life than did learning Italian and studying in Florence. My spring quarter was spent in the Villa Salviatino - a bit unreal experience of Renaissance beauty and luxury. Being a music major, my piano professor in Stanford-Palo Alto arranged for me to study with an Italian piano professor in Florence.
Maria Grazia arranged for a piano in the basement. I remember being serious in my study of the language and music. European music instructors were much more serious than I had been used to - and I remember when it came to grading - the head of the program had to explain the A/B/C system to the maestro - and he was not entirely convinced I was deserving of a higher grade! Later in life, I went on to pursue a career in business - but wound up returning to live and work in Italy for 5 years (in Tortona/Piedmont and Milano) - working for American companies as their overseas Controller. The Italian language for me - has turned out to be a very practical asset to have in terms of my career. However, my love of Italy is very deep. It is hard for people to understand when I explain that living and working there for over 5 years - I cannot remember a single day when anything "bad" ever happened. Something about the combination of wonderful food, charming people - art, history, the sun - I am not sure exactly - make Italy a very special place.
I was part of the Stanford in Florence program during the Spring of 1985. We all have several turning points in our lives, and living in Florence was surely one of mine. Throughout the information about the upcoming 50th reunion I noticed references to the film, A Room With A View that was shot in Florence during that perfect Spring. I was wondering if anyone knew that five of us, studying at Il Salviatino at the time, were extras in the film. We are on screen in several scenes in full Merchant-Ivory costumes. Although we missed some of Professor Todorov's art history classes for the shoot, she would have been proud to see us explaining the subjects of the Giotto frescoes to the director and actors before the cameras rolled. It was a great experience, complete with false mustaches!
Studying at the Villa in Florence started my lifelong love of all things Italian—the food, wine, people, language, art, clothes, cars, you name it. My verb conjugation and vocabulary may be a bit rusty but my passion for Italia only grows. I have been back to Italy many times and with each trip I discover something new.
I received a world-class education at Stanford, and I may have forgotten much of the calculus, physics, and economic theory, but I will never forget seeing the Duomo or David for the first time or how to enjoy a simple bowl of pasta and a delicious bottle of Chianti with friends, and lingering over biscotti, gelato and grappa. Those lessons will be repeated for the rest of my life, and I am better for it!
I had always been enamored of everything Italian and it was my dream to study in Florence, but I was also very practically oriented in college and I thought it would be a perhaps irresponsible indulgence to go.
I was on full scholarship at Stanford and working hard in the field of international development, with a larger dream of contributing to the fight against poverty. It made sense to learn French and Spanish, which were languages of many developing countries, but Italian? And to spend months studying art and architecture? As a guilty pleasure, I furtively learned Italian on the side to see if I might be able to go to Florence and, during one night of intense study, I called my mother (who is probably the most practically oriented person I know) and asked her if I was being irresponsible to the opportunities I had been given at Stanford. She said that learning Italian would open a window into another culture and way of seeing the world for me, a channel to a life filled with beauty, and what greater richness could there be? Buoyed by her words, I applied and went during the winter quarter of my senior year. In a wonderful trick of fortune, one of my thesis advisors was also on leave at the European University Institute in Fiesole that year and encouraged me to come work on my thesis there, so I even had a “practical” reason to go! The truth was, as soon as I landed in Florence my breath stopped from the disarming beauty of walking along the Arno, and I spent all my days enchanted by the art and architecture that surrounded me (dear professors of mine who might be reading this: I hope this does not shock you and you are still happy with my thesisJ). And the language- I lived with a wonderful nonno e nonna who did not speak English and I made many Italian friends so I spent all my time speaking this exquisite language which has, true to my mother’s words, opened entire channels of beauty in my life. Now, whenever I hear it, whenever I read it (even in a menu), I am transported back, and when I speak it I connect with a part of myself that I would never have discovered had I not come to our beloved Firenze campus. I ended up fulfilling my larger dream too- I completed my PhD in economics, focused on innovative approaches to fighting poverty, and am a faculty member at Harvard Business School where my joy is joining with my students to serve in global health and development…but all of this is within a context, within a character, that puts a premium on having beauty in one’s life, in all the forms that beauty comes in in an Italian life. The quality of my life, of my moment-to-moment experience in this world, is immeasurably greater because I was lucky enough to be part of Stanford in Florence.
While I didn't meet my future husband in Florence, we both studied there during our junior year. As a result, we both ended up in Casa Italiana for our senior year and immediately started dating. We were married at the end of May 2008.
Some of my favorite memories include:
- Freezing to death on our winter trip to Modena. Our lunch included strawberries and vanilla ice cream drizzled with 30-plus-year-old aged vinegar. Somehow that wasn't enough food for me... . The staff had to take me to a restaurant. They fed me the largest meal of my life!
- The Bella Ciao Girls: Adryon, Andrea, Margia and I formed a Bella Ciao group of travelers. We traveled every weekend to places like the Isola d'Elba and Puglia.
- Our Bing trip to Sicily in the spring—we started a new tradition for Stanford in Florence.
- Dying of heat in our summer apartment and trying to take a shower to cool off. It would take the water about 10 minutes to get cold because the pipes were exposed on the outside of the apartment so the water in them was practically boiling every day!
- Nights on the bridge supports drinking wine and chilling with our language partners.
- Accidentally stumbling on a pace (peace) march the day war was declared in Iraq in March 2003.