The Achievement Of Mussolini
By PATRICK LAUDERDALE. This is the first article in which I, as a London daily newspaper journalist, have had the chance to say just what I think. The freedom to give my own ideas, however worthless they are in themselves, is a first rate tribute to the paper in which they appear.
My impressions of Rome are now, in fact, more than a month old. For since leaving that city I have visited a number of other countries whose atmosphere has naturally served to compromise and blurr my earlier vivid impressions. It also means, as I have been in England ten days, that I cannot help contrasting Rome with London.
As I am not a Catholic, my impressions of ROme may seem a little odd to readers of this paper. As I am a journalist, used to plunging about in strange lands hunting news, my reactions will probably seem crude and impertinent as well.
The Vatican's Three Faces For me the Vatican has three faces. I think of a glorious April afternoon, the fountains outside St. Peter's wafting cool sweetness across the wide piazzas as I tramp over the cobbles gazing up at the
façade. Carcozza drivers are lounging about on the North side. On the South taxis are baking in the sun and I cannot help pitying a score of nuns as they wade across in front of me, surely roasted in their thick bunchy habits. I have been thirsty all day, praying for cool. If I cannot stand even an April afternoon in Rome, what about those sisters who come from North Germany, so I learn, spending the whole summer here? It takes heroism to do a job like that.
Five minutes later, I'm within. So this is really St. Peter's home of Western Christianity, author of Western culture. Space, proportion, cool, devout men and women coming in for Vespers. There go the choir.
I move up, past the High Altar. My Scottish, puritan ancestry revolts at their
casual lolling about. And the singing is miserable.
Some weeks later, at eight o'clock in the morning, I am plodding over that square again. It is raining in torrents and thousands wait with umbrellas to gain admission. Garabinieri beat them back. My press ticket lets me in. There is a shocking (to the puritan) scramble for places on hard comfortless benches. It is Whitsunday. The Pope is to preside at High Mass.
The Pope Enters St. Peter's
Halberds click, arms are presented, silver trumpets sound the sweetest note I have ever heard. Clapping, gay, cheery, yelling break out. A student by me yells, " Viva il Papa," as if he were on the towpath at Oxford backing his college eight. I crane my neck and see a long way off the most majestic sight. Carried aloft on his sedia gestatoria, the Pope enters St. Peter's wearing the triple crown. Never have I seen soldiers look more soldierly and honourable, save perhaps at the changing of the guard in London. And never, never have I heard so natural, devoted, spontaneous and friendly a cheer as that which brought a slow smile to the lips of the Pope on Whitsun morning.
The procession is gone all too fast; I wanted to feast my eyes on the colour, on the order, on the crowd, and on the faces of that march. Cardinal Pacelli, his determined chin, his fine nose, strong mouth and young looking eyes sweeps just close to me. A Franciscan cardinal, doubled up with age, hobbles past—a quaint contrast in his white silk to the scarlet about him.
There was a crowd of nearly fifty thousand. Never was one so still as at the consecration.
The Press Bureau The Vatican's second face. I need some information about the visit of a delegation of Arabs. They want an audience with the Pope. The whole thing is an important matter of state. I have to " get the story." The Vatican Press Bureau denies any knowledge of the matter. I repair to a middle aged, rather exhausted looking official. He does not like his work and appears simply to enjoy the prestige and comfort which his work brings him. We begin to talk. He knows nothing. Our voices lower. He still knows nothing, at least very very little, nothing publishable. I pull out my handkerchief and let a fifty lire note fall on the floor. I take care not to pick it up. He tells me the whole story. Bribery? No. The usual way to talk to an Italian. For services rendered you have to pay.
The Vatican's third face. I am in serious difficulties on a purely private matter. I need sane and moral advice. Frankly I need an outsiders comments, and the comments of a wise outsider. I call on a Canon of St. Peter's and have tea with him. His face has the glow of one who gazes day and night at the Eternal and Infinite. He definitely does not belong to this world. He is too good, too holy. But not too lofty to understand the trouble. He listens patiently and humbly to the dreary recital of a matter which doesn't concern him in the least. He gives up a great deal of his time and gives me the soundest, wisest advice I could wish for. He is sympathetic and my own trouble seems to become his also. He asks me to say a prayer for him.
The Vatican's third face is her real one.
Although I have said the Vatican has three faces I cannot leave my impressions hanging like that in mid-air.
The Pope and the Journalists
The Foreign press is received in audience by the Holy Father. We go to congratulate him on his seventy-ninth birthday. Strict orders are given for our dress, as is appropriate to so august an occasion. Tails with a black waistcoat and white tie. At twelve we meet by the Bronze Doors. Swiss guardsmen in their glorious orange and blue Michael Angelo uniforms pace to and fro. The waiting seems endless but at last we are ushered up long flights of marble stairs, through a magnificent hall where brilliant, crimson-clad footmen relieve us of our coats, past a small sacristy into the Consistory Hall. More waiting, it must have been at least an hour. A click of heels and a Papal Chamberlain announces, " The Holy Father." Those who have seen him lately sigh at the signs of age upon his face. Yet he walks firmly, deliberately past us as we kiss his hand.
The Pope's age has certainly not impaired his thought. A fifteen minute address on the responsibility of the press flows as without effort with a wealth of pleasing allegory. He rises to give us his blessing.
When you pass from the Vatican City State into Italy no passports are needed.
There are no frontier guards. Nobody seems to care whether you are entering or leaving Italy. But in a couple of minutes one thing is obvious. Motor horns are forbidden in Rome. In the Vatican City they are not. My taxi man has a grand time driving round St. Peter's Square hooting to his heart's content.
In Rome discipline prevails. You must be careful which side of the street you walk on, who you talk to, where you talk and what you say. Never say a word on the telephone about any private matter.
Fascist Rome Watches H you want to talk over matters of importance in real privacy, you may invite your friend into the house; but do it at night when the hail porter cannot see his face clearly enough to recognise it.
We all knew the Italian secret service
tap our telephones, and hitch on a dictaphone very often to record what we are Saying. This time they can only haVe done that and given out_ to the Messagero a translation of the message.
That is one side of Fascist Rome. Here is another. The Duce ploughs the first furrow, Romulus-like, for a new town to be built at Aprilia, in the re-claimed Pontine Marshes. Crowds of hysterical Fascists shriek and yell with a kind of devil ish fervour. It is not spontaneous in the sense in which they cheer the Pope in S.
Peter's. That was good fun, as crowds welcome the man they look on as their Father.
Now we are face to face with the Duce, the leader, the maker of the new Italy with all her arms and blustering. It is feverish shrieking.
He appears. Women throw flowers, men surge round. Fascist officials bask in the reflected glory of being in his entourage. He mounts the tribune to speak. His presence sends an electric thrill through everybody about him. Some say his speech is to be politically important like that at Pontinia when, shaking with rage, he threw aside the Hoare-Laval proposals on hearing that British opinion rejected them.
" Keep your hats on, gentlemen, for fear of the sun," comes as an anticlimax unless you've heard the Duce before. If you have, you know it is part of his technique to play up to an audience like that. Then follows the speeech.
Mussolini in Good Humour Mussolini lunches the foreign press. He feels hungry himself, remarks that those poor fish who have to follow him round must be tired and hungry too, so orders ark improvised lunch for the whole lot of us. He himself eats as fast as any man I ever seen, laughs heartily, displays a delightful and charming sense of humour, is cordial to a degree.
A fortnight later, Mussolini gives away prizes to peasants whose families can prove more than a 100 years continuous settlement on the land. Some of the peasants, unruffled, calm, present petitions, or complaints. Every single one is gone into, and the complaint, if justified, dealt with. Every person in the land, with a real grievance, has access to his Duce. The Duce's enthusiasm for detail never flags.
This is an utterly inadequate picture of Fascist Rome. It is really Fascist Rome as it aggravates a Scot and a puritan jealous of his own liberty and hating Latin swagger. I have seen much to admire in Fascist Rome, the care for the workers, the physical training which at least makes men of lads who'd otherwise be idling their time at street corners and in bars or wine (Continued from preceding column) shops; the children's holiday camps run by the Fascist party; the popular trains which enable poor people to travel all over Italy and forget that they belong to this province or that, but are Italians; the order and discipline which has replaced chaos; the steady battle against graft and corruption, all these I admire so much that I am speechless.
But if I were given the choice of living in Rome or the Vatican City, I'd prefer the freedom of the Shadow of St. Peter's to the order beneath the Quirinal's walls.