Another thing that suited me about Spain, strange as it may sound, were the privations of my life there. The fact that there wasn’t always heat when you needed it—the government decreed the day the heat should be turned on for the winter and the day it should be turned off—or enough hot water, that food was rationed at the residencia, and that it was so crowded there I never had any privacy. (When I needed a few moments to myself, I’d go and sit on the marble staircase between the fifth and sixth floors.) I discovered an ascetic within who LIKED the austerity of life in this relatively poor county. Like so many other times in my life, I didn’t know that something was bothering me until it stopped. In this case, I didn’t know that I felt an oppressive sense of guilt about the wastefulness of my lifestyle back home.
During Christmas vacation Ella and I traveled by train to Italy. We combined our clothes in a single suitcase, which was so heavy we had to grasp the handle together and walk in synch. “Left, right, left, right,” we’d start off. Our first night in Italy, we unwittingly stumbled into the red-light district of Genoa, where we had supper. On Christmas Day we sat on some steps in Florence eating apricots out of a can with our fingers because all the restaurants were closed. On New Year’s Day we watched the Pope parade by in St. Peter’s Basilica, while I was irreverently goosed by someone in the crowd. In Rome I was transported by Bernini’s sculptures of Daphne and Apollo and of The Rape of Persephone, staggered by the Sistine Chapel—I was so totally unprepared for the scale of Michelangelo’s figures—and moved to tears by the heartbreaking Pieta he did when he was only twenty-four. We went to the opera in Naples, where we got a box, then couldn’t see over the heads of the party in front of us, and took a side trip to visit the ruins of Pompeii. Throughout the trip we stayed in cheap pensiones without heat or hot water, so we went to bed with all our clothes on—coats, hats, and mittens. And since neither of us were masochistic enough to wash our hair in icy water, we used dry shampoo day after day, till we looked like we were wearing powdered wigs.