Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Roman Holiday

In 1921, Alice and John Henry Livingston decided their two daughters needed a cultural education--"Culture with a big 'C,' we called it," said Honoria of the trip. The family packed up and moved to Italy.

For six years, they lived in Florence, renting villas and traveling around Europe to see the sites (Seen at right, Villa Camerata was one of their homes. This villa still exists as a youth hostel, and there are lots of pictures of its historic rooms and veranda). "It was wonderful because we'd get in the car and drive," said Honoria much later, recalling road trips to famous Roman ruins, exotic landscapes, and historic and cultural sites. They even traveled to England to visit John Henry's oldest daughter, Katherine (you can see them at left in Stratford-on-Avon, long known as the home of Shakespeare).




The Livingstons did not completely abandon their beloved Clermont during this time. John Henry was overseeing major changes at a distance: the installation of electricity, the removal of the large Victorian veranda to make the house look more "Colonial." They made a few trips back to America, including one in 1923 aboard the Mauretania, a luxurious sister ship to the Lusitania. After two decades of use (including a stint as a troopship during WWI), the boat was an aging memory of a glamorous Edwardian age (the photo at left shows the Veranda Court, the cafe where guests could enjoy the sun, while being protected from the weather). At right, the girls can be see wrapped up against the chilly ocean breeze on their one-week trip across the Atlantic Ocean back to Euorpe.






I love looking at the photos of their trips--seeing familiar locations that I've seen a hundred other times in photographs, but this time seeing it through their eyes. For Honoria and Janet, who were still children this was a whole new continent previously seen only in books, a place to explore and learn.





But the girls' interests were not always just in the historic gravity of a famous European hotspot. Janet was perhaps not as enthusiastic as her sister. Honoria said of their trips, "I don't think Janet cared so much for it, but I loved it." In some ways, it reminds me of my trips to Civil War battlefields when I was young--more monuments and plaques than I cared to read. It would not be until years later that I grasped the importance of the places I had visited.





For Alice and John Henry, the experience would have been much different. Both of them had been to Europe on their 1906 honeymoon (and John Henry on several ocassions before that), but that was before World War I. Many things had changed, buildings damaged and destroyed, country borders entirely moved.





The Livingstons' years in Europe would prove to be the source of many important memories and the last they were to have with John Henry. It was within a few weeks of their final return to America that John Henry passed away at the age of 79. Italy continued to have an influence on Alice in particular for years to come, visible in the prominent display of her favorite souvenirs and the Italian look she incorporated into her large gardens at Clermont, especially the Walled Garden. What effect it had on Honoria and Janet is not so visible, but I can only imagine that the memories they carried of the trip were as important to them as to their mother.





Years later, Honoria would return to Europe, though to though this time to Ireland, not Italy. In 1931 she married Reginald (Rex) McVitty, and went with him to see meet his family there. Another week on an ocean liner, this time as a newlywed, is captured in this photograph of the couple playing foosball.

4 comments:

  1. Reginald McVitty was my mother's first cousin - their fathers were brothers.
    I am interested to know if Rex and Honoria had any children?
    I discovered their existence yesterday (19 August 2012), and have not yet found any further information.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Patsy,

      How neat to find this connection! Rex and Honoria married in 1931 (you can see a photo in the entry "Weddings at Clermont") but had no children. They divided their time between Sarasota, Florida and Sylvan Cottage here at Clermont. He was known around here as being jovial and always ready with a good (if sometimes embellished) story.

      Delete
  2. In the photo of Janet and Honoria on the ocean liner, is that Honoria on the left?

    ReplyDelete