A Summer in Italy, 1929 (Part 2)

Primo Congresso Mondiale delle Biblioteche e di Bibliografia, 1929. Congress logo from L’Italia che Scrive 12:5 (May 1929) p.137.

This part will cover the Binkleys’ voyage across the Atlantic and through France and Italy to Rome, where the Bibliographic Congress opened in mid-June, and then follow Bob’s participation in the Congress during its sessions in Rome. Part three will complete the description of the Congress until it closed in Venice at the end of the month, and part four will pick up some threads in Bob and Frances’s personal lives and follow them through to their return to the US.

A major source for this posting is the conference proceedings: Il Ministero della Educazione Nazionale (Direzione Generale delle Accademie e Biblioteche), ed., Primo Congresso mondiale delle biblioteche e di bibliografia, Roma-Venezia 15-30 giugno MCMXXIX - a. VII: atti, 6 vols. (Roma: La Libreria dello Stato, 1931-33), cited as Proc. with volume and page number. Copies are rare; WorldCat knows of only one in a Canadian library. (I was lucky enough to find a set for sale at a decent price.) The other main sources, apart from Bob and Frances’s correspondence, are the jocular “Expedition Reports” they sent to friends and family in July, 1929. The first was Bob’s work and is cited as “Report”; the other two were written by Frances, who entitled them “Minority Reports” 1 and 2. Since these were written to amuse their friends and family, who had no professional interest in the Congress, they can’t necessarily be taken as a fair-minded description, but they do provide details not available elsewhere.

The Crossing and the Road to Rome

Bob’s two previous Atlantic crossings had both taken place in December (1917 and 1919), so this one was a good deal more pleasant. He wrote to Sidney Robertson:

The crossing has been so perfectly smooth that no single case of seasickness has been reported; in fact, the ship has not at any time been as unsteady as our apartment at 49 Morton St. was whenever the milk truck would go past in the street. 1

The S.S. Minnekahda was a tourist class ship (no first class), with 275 staterooms and a dining lounge seating 400. Bathrooms and showers were shared. She boasted a “famous jazz orchestra” and had a large dance floor. The Atlantic Transport Line promoted the Minnekahda as the “ship of distinction but ‘without distinctions’”.2

During the voyage Bob befriended a young French silk technician, and together they started a fad among the passengers: they bought dungarees and worked a shift stoking coal in the engine room. (It was probably just like this.) Frances reports that Bob found it “very interesting”. Others picked up the idea, and every day Bob and the Frenchmen had to lend out the dungarees to new stokers.3 Both Bob and Frances spent much of the voyage trying to work, Bob on his review for the Journal of Modern History and Frances on the index to What is Right with Marriage, and both corrected page proofs. They made a useful social contact: Henry Canby, the editor of the Saturday Review, who had long conversations with Bob (as well as bumming cigarettes off him).4


1 response to "A Summer in Italy, 1929 (Part 2)"

  • Jan Binkley wrote:

    If this sort of confusion happened at other congresses in Italy at the time, that's perhaps why the Italians used to have a reputation for being disorganized.