Notes on a Recent Trip on the Italian Line 
To Europe and to South America

By Albert Weisbord
(From the magazine "La Parola del Popolo" October/November 1962)

RECENTLY, accompanied by my wife, I completed a circular tour on the Italian Line, Tourist Class, sailing from New York on the "Cristoforo Colombo" on March 7th and from Genoa on the "Augustus" June 22nd for Buenos Aires. One of my objectives was to see how the Italian migrants going home to Italy or going to South America from Italy were treated by the great Italian Line which has been advertising in the La Parola del Popolo. I also wished to find out how Italy was developing under the Common Market and whether so many people had to migrate from Italy as before. Finally, I wanted to determine how the Italians living in South America had advanced and prospered.

Our trips on the "Cristoforo Colombo" and on the "Augustus" were on the whole enjoyable. The ships are good ships, the cabins on tourist class compare favorably with those of other lines. The well known seamanship of the Italians and the seaworthiness of the "Cristoforo Colombo" were tested on the New York-Gibraltar run by a very severe storm producing waves forty to fifty feet high in a gale of 80 miles an hour. Although it is true we were 16 hours late, thanks to the storm, we did reach Gibraltar more than a full day ahead of the "Independence" of the American Export Line that left New York the same time.

It must be admitted, however, that the Italian Line is dragging its feet in some respects. For one thing the character of the passenger list has changed somewhat since the old days. The Tourist Class on the "Cristoforo Colombo," for example, while it had many passengers of Italian extraction did have also a good number of travelers having other national backgrounds. Furthermore, the Italians were not of the old illiterate peasant stock that used to make the trip in the past. Many were tourists going to see Italy, the country of their parents or visiting their old folks for a short time. Others were small business people having various affairs in Italy and in Europe. A significant portion were over 65 years of age going back to Italy to spend their social security money and to stay there if they liked it. Practically all of them had been indelibly stamped by the American way of life and were far more American in truth than they were Italians of the kind that left Italy before World War I. In the case of the "Augustus" many Tourist Class passengers were persons who would have traveled Cabin or First Class had it not been for the terrible loss in Argentine and Brazilian exchange rates.

The Italian Line, however, has not sufficiently reacted to the new situation created by the fact that its tourist passengers had changed their habits, attitudes, and interests. They treated the passengers too much as though they were illiterate Italians not entitled to too much.

First, consider the food. On both the "Cristoforo Colombo" and on the "Augustus" it was practically entirely Italian, just as though there were no others on board and just as though the Italians who had been in America, some for fifty years or more, had not somewhat changed their tastes. After seven days to Europe and, later, after sixteen days to South America this sort of monotonous menu became absolutely boring to all those in Tourist Class, the Italians included.

The breakfast served on the "Augustus" was the usual "continental" breakfast: coffee, chocolate, tea, or milk; bread, butter, and marmalade. The ship also added "uova o piatto freddo" (note the "o"), the uova being the hardboiled kind kept in a dish on the sideboard. I had to make a big fight to get ham and eggs and told the head steward that I wanted some variety in my food. Fruit juices, cereals, pancakes, bacon, ham, and sausages were conspicuous by their absence. How can the Italian Line gain and keep customers on this basis when it has to compete with such lines as the Cunard, for example?

Here is a typical sample breakfast, Tourist Class, on the Cunard Liner "Sylvania" for comparison: prune juice, apple juice, apples, split oranges, compote of prunes, compote of figs, rolled oats, oatmeal porridge, corn flakes, grape nuts, bran flakes, filet of whitefish, finnan haddock, tried, turned, boiled, and shirred eggs, broiled Canadian and Wiltshire bacon, minced collops on toast, cold roast veal, head cheese, radishes, mustard and cress, griddle and buckwheat cakes, maple and golden syrup, white and wholemeal rolls, hovis bread, brown bread, toast, cream scones, preserves, marmalade, ovaltine, Horlicks malted milk as well as coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, and fresh milk. Note that there is no "or" on the menu, you can have the whole list and repeat any dish if you want to. Yet the price to Europe is the same on all the lines for the same Tourist Class. On the U. S. lines breakfast steak and lamb chops can also be had. I am speaking of breakfast the menu Tourist Class of the "Cristoforo Colombo" going to Europe, March 1962 and of the "Augustus" going to Argentina June 1962. Maybe there is a different menu going the other way, or at other times, or on different runs, who knows.

Nor could the luncheon or dinner served in the Tourist Class really compare with what I have often enjoyed both on the Cunard and on the French lines. For one thing, on these other lines there was a greater choice, the menu was more international, there were always both fish and meat served and not one or the other. Finally, on the French Line especially, the food was prepared with more finesse.

Do not misunderstand me. The food on the Italian Line ships was good in the sense of being substantial and plentiful but fit more for the hard working crew than for tourists out to enjoy the reputedly excellent Italian cuisine. What I am saying is that the Italian migration to Europe and to South America is no longer the old kind but is made up of sophisticated people who know something of the world and who do not have to put up with the old style "take it or leave it" attitude that used to be displayed in "steerage."

This "take it or leave it" policy became irritating at times, especially on the trip to Buenos Aires from Genoa. Here, on the "Augustus," we noted to our amazement that permanent emigration from Italy to Argentina and to Brazil had practically stopped. This was due a.) to the improvement in economic conditions in Italy, b.) to the effect of the Common Market on Italian emigration, c.) to the bad economic situations in Argentina and in Brazil. In short, only a very few old style Italian emigrants were on board. There were other Italians --- young, of the second generation, going back home to Buenos Aires or to Sao Paulo and to Rio after a trip to Italy ---but in the main the passenger lists had many diverse nationalities: Lebanese and Arabs, Portuguese and Brazilians, Spanish and Argentinians, Jews and Israelis, and others. The food, however, was even more completely "Italian" than on the "Cristoforo Colombo."

The "condescension" policy showing a lack of consideration for the Tourist passenger could be seen in many "little" things. Take, for example, the deck chairs. Sitting on deck is one of the great comforts on board a ship. All the ships I have traveled on have had but one kind of deck chair: a reclining chair with an extension on which to place one's feet and rest comfortably. But on the "Augustus" there had to be two kinds of deck chairs, one for Tourist Class, without the foot extension that is torture to sit on for a person with a weak back. The one with the foot extension was "reserved" for the passengers on the Cabin and First Classes. Although there were many such chairs available, I had to make a real fight before I could get the "exception" made for me to have a regular deck chair and to get a pad to get with it even though I was ready to pay the same price as the passengers of the Cabin Class. What sort of nonsense is this? It is to show the Italian Tourist Class passenger that he is fit only for "steerage" treatment?

None of the ships that I had been on previously (and I had crossed the Atlantic ten times), had the Tourist passengers ever been forced to get to their staterooms or to the dining rooms and other places of general interest through the work aisles and decks of the crew. Yet this was the case on the "Augustus" to the considerable discomfort of the passengers who occupied certain cabins on the ship and to the annoyance of the crew whose work was constantly being interrupted. Furthermore, it is not good to smell certain cooking odors, especially if the sea is a little rough, and more than one passenger complained of nausea because of the necessity of going through the crew's work space.

More space could also have been provided in the Tourist Class dining room. Instead of having two shifts, as in the Cabin Class, the "Augustus" insisted on cramming 800 persons in the room in one shift so that there was little comfort in eating and the din was such as to make intelligent conversation very difficult. Underestimation of Tourist Class intellectual recreation was also seen in the policy of the Line to have but one chess set for 800 people and to allow that set to be seized by little children who soon scattered the pieces all over the ship so that no one could play chess.

Another irritating "condescension" was the way in which the excursions ashore were arranged. The "Augustus" stopped at Rio de Janeiro, Santos, and Montevideo before finally arriving at Buenos Aires. In each of these places the passengers were asked to take an excursion through the city. One would think that since the ship was Italian, coming under the laws of Italy, that one could pay for these excursions in lire, the official currency of Italy. But no, you had to pay in dollars only or, in Rio, in dollars or in cruzeiros at a very unfavorable rate even in comparison to the free market rate printed on the ship's schedule of exchange. The result was you paid from 50% to 100% more than you should have --- if you were an Italian. Furthermore, all this was done in such a way that the tourist did not know how he was being bilked and no record was kept for the Company itself to keep a proper accounting.

ON SOME ships there is a special attendant and room to take care of the children during a long trip with a regular program provided for them. This was not the case on the Italian Line ships, although the need for this was very clear and the expense would not be great. After all, the Italian seaman is the lowest paid of all the seamen in the Common Market. His average wage runs about $100 to $115 a month. He can work only 14 months and then must be laid off in order to all the unemployed to work and when unemployed he gets only 100 lire a day (15 cents).

Such "savings" can have dangerous effects, as in the case of the radio room men. The "Cristoforo Colombo" could have easily doubled the number of men in the radio room who were working very long hours on very important work without being relieved as they should have been.

The Italian Line actually has missed a good policy by not having a special program on North Atlantic run for the elderly Italians over 65 years of age who were going back to spend their social security money. To induce more such persons to come back to Italy should be one of the most important facets of propaganda attempted both by the Italian Government and by the Italian Line. A little bit of explanation will make clear this new opportunity for Italy and the Company to get wealthier.

Under the Social Security Law payments may be made to citizens and non-citizens meeting certain conditions even if they live and stay abroad. In 1960 the latest figures compiled by the Social Security Bulletin Annual Statistical Supplement show that 100,805 individuals living abroad received benefits under the Act totaling about $6.4 million per month, or about $77 million a year. Of this total 68% of the individual beneficiaries and 71% of the money pertained to Europe of which the largest single amount belonged to Italy. Of all this U.S. money spent abroad Italy with 25% of the total number of individual beneficiaries received 26% of the total money thus paid. In other words, in 1960 25,373 Italian beneficiaries received $1,621,152 a month. These figures are of 1960 --- how rapidly they are climbing can be seen from the fact that in the short space of 6 years, from 1955 to 1960 inclusive, they just about doubled.

The average U. S. beneficiary of old age pensions in Italy received from the U. S. government about $79 a month, while the average individual payment made to each beneficiary under the Old Age Security Insurance (which includes also the dependent wife, child, parent, mother, etc.) amounted to almost $63 a month. Thus a man and his wife generally would receive about $126 a month. Together with his other savings, a pensioner might have on the average about $150 a month to spend, a very goodly sum measured by Italian standards.

From the purser on the "Cristoforo Colombo" I get the data that of the 331 tourist passengers landing in Italy there were 51 Italian and American citizens over 65 years of age, or about 15% of the total. Not all, of course, were receiving social security and going back to Italy to stay, but a good proportion of them were. They were sitting around all day long in the lounges with nothing to do since there was no special program for them to enjoy.

What the Italian Line should realize is that all such Italians going home would take the Italian Line, that it ought to make the voyage of the pensioners and their stay in Italy so enjoyable that they would tell all their friends to come back to Italy. If we multiply our trip by all the other trips made by this Line to Italy one can appreciate the contribution by the U. S. social security payments to the welfare of the Company. Thus, too, Italy might get an annual income not of $25 million but conceivably of $250 million --- a truly enormous sum, more important than the money ordinarily made by tourism because it would be non-fluctuating income without much expense.

That there are some people now alert to the situation can be seen from the following item that appeared in the "Augustus" Corriere del Mare. I quote: "Il Sindaco di Palermo, dott. Salvo Lima, ha costituito un Comitato che si propone lo scopo di favorire le visite in Sicilia dei siciliani e figli di siciliani residenti nel Nord America ... il giornalista Antonio Lezza . . . ha compiuto un viaggio negli Stati Uniti dove ha svolto intensa opera di propaganda . . . per l'organizzazione del 'Ritorno in Sicilia','" Translated freely this says: "The Mayor of Palermo, Dr. Lima, has formed a committee that has the aim of promoting visits to Sicily by Sicilians and sons of Sicilians residing in North America. The journalist Antonio Lezza has completed a trip to the U.S. where he has developed a concentrated propaganda for the organization of 'Return to Sicily' groups."

The article continued by reporting that Dr. Lima made a heartfelt appeal to the Sicilians in the U.S. stating that while many changes for the better have now taken place in Sicily, one thing was remained unaltered through the years, namely the affection and love that Sicily keeps in her heart for the Sicilians abroad.

The Italian Line, were it alert, and the Italian Government also, could try to stimulate this emigration of the social security recipient back to Italy. They could even build reasonably priced hostels and resorts for these aged and their families. A real campaign could be started to make them feel they were really welcome back home.

But if the Italian Line and the Italian Government are not alert to this manna from heaven in the form of security checks paid by the U. S. Government to people spending their checks in Italy, perhaps the Labor Unions in the U. S. which have large number of Italian members and in conjunction with the unions in Italy could build hostels and homes where such aged could return home and live comfortably for the rest of their lives.

And if someone should object to this drain of American dollars abroad, the answer could be made that it is only fair, after Italy had spent so much previously on the care of children and on the family only to find them migrate to the United States which received the benefit of their labor but never had the expense of their education and upkeep in the early formative years of their youth, that now Italy should receive the benefits of these older Italians who care to return home.

IN SPITE of the criticism I have made, all in a spirit of constructive helpfulness, the circular journey made from New York to Europe and from Genoa to Argentina was one other tourists should make. The Italian Line should encourage such trips more than it now does. The fact is that, except for a woman and child traveling First Class, my wife and I were the only Americans on board the big ship "Augustus" going from Genoa to Buenos Aires.

This fact, indeed, brought out clearly the innate amiability and kindness of the Italian crew and graciousness of the chief officers. The Commanders of both ships were kind enough to invite us to have cocktails and when the Fourth of July arrived while we were en route to Brazil, Captain Cacacce, of the Purser's Department, was thoughtful enough to make us a special cake and have the band come to our table to salute the birth of the U.S. The only hitch occurred when the band, not knowing the Star Spangled Banner played instead Happy Birthday to You and the other cheering passengers thought the cake was for one of us rather than for the U. S. This did not spoil the spirit of the occasion, however, but brought out all the more clearly the tact and hospitality of the chief officers.

I am glad to say that in our own small way we have helped make the trip more easily accomplished by other Americans in the future. The story is as follows: In Chicago I was told by the Italian Line, by the Pan American Airline Company, and by the Argentine Consul that no visa was necessary for an American going as a tourist to Argentina. Indeed, the Argentine Consul's office would not grant me a visa since it was unnecessary. In Genoa, however, when I came to get our ticket to Argentina --- the Italian Line would not deliver this ticket to us in Chicago --- I was told that we did need a visa. But as the day was a holiday I could not get the visa in Genoa before the boat was to leave. I then told the Company to give me the ticket to Montevideo, Uruguay, and to telegraph the Argentine Ambassador in Rome to confirm my statement that no visa was necessary in our case. On the first day out of Genoa the ship received a wireless message to the effect that the Argentine Ambassador had declared we must have a visa. The ship's officers at once arranged that when the ship docked at Barcelona, Spain, that we could go ashore in the morning to get the visa. But as the day the ship stopped in Barcelona was a Saturday the Argentine Consul had to open up his office for us specially with the expense paid by us. Thanks to the efficient help of the ship's top officers we finally received the visa and our tickets were changed to Buenos Aires.

In Buenos Aires I contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs to straighten out the matter. I found that in accordance with the treaty between the U.S. and Argentina, visas were necessary for tourists for both countries but that unilaterally, by Decree No. 21451 of October 10, 1950, Argentina had declared that tourists, native or naturalized from American countries coming from the same with proper passports did not need visas. Thus the U. S. still insisted on visas but not Argentina. Furthermore, it was decided that I did not need any visa, although coming from Europe, since I was not a resident of Europe but had only stopped there on my way to Argentina, so to speak. Thanks to my case special instruction were sent out to all consuls, Argentine and others, to shiplines and to airlines, etc., to the effect: a) Consuls must grant visas to American tourists if they are requested to do so, in line with the Treaty, even though not actually necessary because of the unilateral action taken by Argentina; b) American tourists do not need visas even though not coming directly from America provided they were not residents elsewhere but were visiting the world as part of their tourism originating in America. Thus from now on Americans will be free from the inconveniences we were plagued with on this trip and will be able easily to make the circular trip I have recommended.

HOW ARE THE Italians faring under the regime of the Common Market? Well, the first thing to understand about the Common Market is that it is a device to create a large united European market in which there would be free competition among the members so that the most efficient enterprises and industries would win out. Naturally, this means that so far as heavy industry and machinery are concerned Germany would occupy the central role permeating all the other countries with its branches and to a considerable extent dominating and controlling the economic destiny of the others. Thus, from Germany's standpoint, it is a device that may accomplish Hitler's aims for a coordinated and controlled Europe headed by Germany, but without recourse to war. But from the Italian angle it appears to mean that up to a certain point Italy is to assume the subdivision of labor of becoming the vacation ground for the others.

We visited San Remo and Alassio on the Ligurian Coast, Rapallo, south of Genoa, Como in Lombardy and other tourist resorts. To our surprise we found that 50% to 60% of the tourists were German, about 20-30% were from Scandinavia and Holland, about 6% from France and only a small fraction from the U. S. The principal language spoken after Italian was German, with signs and newspapers everywhere and literally hundreds of thousands of employees on railways, airlines, transportation offices, tourist agencies, hotels, resorts, and shops of every kind speaking German.

On the Italian Riviera, for example, there were tens of thousands of Germans swarming in the Italian resorts. They did not bother to learn the language. Indeed, they had little or no contact with the ordinary Italian. They ate the cheap food, drank the low priced beer and wine and tipped the cheap Italian porter, waiter, and servants, all the while having a grand time for far less cost than they would in Germany and enjoying the wonderful sea and sun. The Italians, on the other hand, had to learn German and acted, as in the days of Hitler, as the handmaidens of the Germans. So far as the Italians are concerned it is clear as day who won the war.

This role that the subdivision of labor within the Common Market has foisted upon Italy is not a very good one, nor especially solid. At best the vacation period is of short duration, some three-four months of the year. Tourism is indeed a very lucrative industry and the Italians are also able to sell mountains of consumers goods in the form of textiles, wines and liquors, shoes, custom jewelry, toys and knicknacks, etc., but it is a role that is absolutely dependent upon the Germans who can always call the tune for the piper to play. Furthermore, catering to tourists drains fair too much energy, talent, and capital of the Italians, so as to leave so much less for solid efforts in more important fields which in turn are left for their competitors to exploit.

If Italians really want to engage in constructive endeavor and earn more pay, they have to go to other countries to work. Thus there has been a huge Italian emigration to Germany, France, Belgium and elsewhere where the Italians do the lowest form of labor and yet receive higher income than they would get at home. They sign out under contract for a season, for a year, or even two. They are kept often in segregated barracks, so as not to contaminate the workers of the other countries where they are working. Naturally, the younger Italian workers are going to date German women and have affairs with them, especially since there are about six million more women in Germany than men. This calls for sarcastic comment in the German magazines as to whether it is really worth while to have these Italian workmen and then it must be carefully explained once more that without them Germany would never have been able to realize its "economic miracle" of leading the countries of the West. So the Germans and the others put up with it --- for the time being.

The extensive emigration of Italians to the other countries of the Common Market has also meant that there is now more opportunity for the workers and employees who remain in Italy to advance without leaving their country. This has led to an improvement in the standards of living among the Italians themselves and to a modernization throughout the country. Unemployment and surplus population on the countryside, while not entirely removed, have diminished. Nevertheless it is still true that the wages paid industrial workers in Italy and their standards of living are the lowest of all those in the Common Market and lower than all those in the Western European Bloc except for Portugal, Spain, and Greece.

Recently the statistical office of the Community of the Common Market conducted a study on the costs of the industrial laborer in the member countries. The general level of the Italian laborer was about 15%-25% lower and in some industrial sectors, such as synthetic fibers and cement, 30%-35% lower. The hourly rates of pay including social security benefits were given in lire as follows: Germany 502, France 496, Belgium 492, Netherland 429, Italy 403. Keep in mind that the industrial laborer, as defined in the study is but a minor part of the Italian working and toiling classes, far less than in the other countries studied, with the other workers in Italy getting much less than the study showed.

On the other hand, the same statistical office gave the monthly average salaries of the industrial white collar employees and found that Italy had the highest level of all. This sounds astounding, especially when it was shown that the very industries, such as synthetic fibers and cement, where the workers were receiving the lowest average rate the "employees" were getting the very highest. The figures giving "average" monthly pay in lire were as follows: Italy 184,525, Belgium 178,612, France 171,172, Germany 158,914, and Netherland 138,272.

How this astounding result for Italy could be reached is very simple. In the Italian figures are included the pay given corporation directors and even stockholders who prefer to have their income in the form of salaries rather than dividends. So great are the profits and the income of this relatively small group that the entire average is heavily weighted upward accordingly with the striking results already noted. The fact is that the ordinary Italian employee is as relatively low paid as the workman.

The top position the Germans have now reached in Europe permit them to resume their old arrogant "Herrenfolk" role in many ways one of which is illustrated in the strained relations to be found in the Alto Adige region in Italy, that part of the former Austrian South Tyrol province with Bolzano (Bolsen) as its central seat, which was made part of Italy after World War I.

It is now more than 45 years since this former Austrian territory was ceded to Italy. During the days of Hitler and Mussolini nothing was done to restore this land to Austria although most of the inhabitants are of Austrian extraction. Hitler offered those in the region who wanted to remain German the opportunity to move over to Innsbruch Austria, where modern housing and special privileges were offered them. This many of the Nazi minded residents of the Bolzano region did. But when Germany lost the war they suddenly felt that Italy offered better living conditions and they returned to their old haunts.

Now that Germany has risen again some of these former Nazi patriots have raised the issue of the return of this region to Austria and have bombed installations and buildings both in the Alto Adige and in Austria. The natives of Bolzano carry on a passive protest movement. In the schools both German and Italian are taught and everywhere the signs are in both languages.The hotels and the principal private enterprises, however, are in German hands. These people, many of the second and even third generation since the region became part of Italy, insist on speaking German even if you speak Italian. An Italian would find himself very out of place in the good hotels in the Alpine regions above the city.

If you ask for the reasons for this passive resistance to acting like good Italian citizens, the local people will reply that the Italian Government discriminates against them on State jobs and that many Italians are sent in to the district to repopulate the district with Italians and thus to outnumber the Austrians. This would not be so bad, they say, but that the Italians sent in are not from the "north" of Italy, but are cheap, dirty, illiterate southern Italians from Napoli and Sicilia. This is what they cannot stand! Here, again, we see the good old "Herrenfolk" racism come to the fore. Now that the Germans are again on top, the issue will not be dropped but will be exacerbated as soon as Germany can become militarily strong again.

The Italian Government has answered by paying close attention to seeing that the German speaking group is given the same rights as others. Given the bombings, Italy cannot allow anti-Italian Germans to have State jobs where they can penetrate the heavy fortifications and guards placed in depth to protect the great electric and other installations that mark the area. Thus the matter will come before the United Nations with no solution until Germany becomes a great military power again.

IF THE ITALIANS are looked down upon by the germanic groups in Europe they are not looked down upon in Argentina and in Brazil where they mark the greatest single immigrant force in those countries. In Buenos Aires which, with its environs, has a total of about six million persons, the Italians are about half the entire population. A similar situation exists in Sao Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, each of which cities numbers about four million inhabitants.

Everywhere in South America generally, and in these two countries especially, the tremendous progressive work of the Italians is recognized, respected, and highly esteemed. The second generation of Italians, born in these South American countries and taking a most active part in their social, political, and economic life, has attained noteworthy levels of leadership. They form a large part of the entrepreneurs, the artists and professional men, the artisans, the employee and skilled workers. Italian restaurants, Italian hotels and resorts are everywhere. Italians play a most active role in State administration. They have helped to make smooth with their amiability the generally ferocious aspect of the Spanish tradition.

It was the tremendous wave of Italian emigration that forced these South American countries into a radical constitutionalism as well as into adoption of free universal election laws. It was this same immigration that built strong militant trade unions and carried out revolutionary working class demonstrations. It is the children of the Italian immigrants who are now in leading positions in many of the basic important unions in the country. And as these countries move into revolutionary situations, it is the Italian element, especially in Argentina, that will have decisive responsibility in advancing the cause of the working class.

This places a special duty on the Italian section of the working class of the U.S. to maintain close contacts with its counterpart in South America generally and in Argentina and in Brazil in particular. There should be far stronger ties between both groups with each other (and with the workers in Italy) than there are now. Many an Italian family has branches both in Argentina and in the United States. This triangular arrangement should be cemented on the broadest possible working class basis. La Parola del Popolo can have an important function in this respect.

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