Two Russian Girls the Best Looking at Genoa Parley

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Daily Star/April 24, 1922

Genoa, Italy—The great hall of the Palazzo San Giorgio, where the sessions of the Genoa conference are held, is about half the size of Massey Hal and is overlooked by a marble statue of Columbus sitting on a pale marble throne sunk deep into the wall.

Columbus and the press gallery at the other end of the hall, look down on a rectangle of green-covered tables arranged in the familiar shape of tables at banquets, lodges, Y.M.C.A. dinners and college reunions. There is a white pad of paper at each table that, from the press gallery, looks like a tablecloth, and for two hours before the conference opened a woman in a salmon-covered hat arranged and rearranged the inkwells at the long rectangle of tables.

At the left of the statue of Columbus, a marble plaque twelve feet high is set into the wall bearing a quotation from Machiavelli’s history, telling of the founding of the Banco San Giorgio, site of the present palace, the oldest bank in the world. Machiavelli, in his day, wrote a book that could be used as a textbook by all conferences, and from all results, is diligently studied.

To the left of the rather pompous marble Columbus is another plaque similar in size to the quotation from Machiavelli on which is carved two letters from Columbus to the Queen of Spain and the Commune of Genoa. Both letters are highly optimistic in tone.

Delegates began to come into the hall in groups. They cannot find their place at the table, and stand talking. The rows of camp chairs that are to hold the invited guests begin to be filled with the top-hatted, white-mustached senators and women in Paris hats and wonderful wealth-reeking fur coats. The fur coats are the most beautiful things in the hall.

There is an enormous chandelier, with globes as big as association footballs, hanging above the tables. It is made up of a tangled mass of griffons and unidentified beasts and when it switches on everyone in the press gallery is temporarily blinded. All around the wall of the hall are the pale marble effigies of the fine, swashbuckling pirates and traders that made Genoa a power in the old days when all the cities of Italy were at one another’s throats.

The press gallery fills up and the British and American correspondents light cigarettes and identify for one another the various bowing delegates as they enter the hall at the far end. The Poles and Serbs are the first in; then they come in crowds carrying their eight-quart silk hats. Marcel Cachin, editor of Humanite, circulation 250,000, and leader of the French Communist party, comes in and sits behind me. He has a drooping face, frayed red mustache and his black tortoise-shell spectacles are constantly on the point of sliding off the tip of his nose. He has a very rich wife and can afford to be a Communist.

Next to him sits Max Eastman, editor of The Masses, who is doing a series of special articles for a New York paper and who looks like a big, jolly, middle-western college professor. He and Cachin converse with difficulty.

Movie men set up a camera under the nose of the niched-in Genoese heroes who look down at it with a frozen marble expression of disapproval. The Archbishop of Genoa in wine-colored robes and a red skullcap stands talking with an old Italian general with a withered apple of a face and five wound stripes. The old general is General Gonzaga, commander of the cavalry corps; he looks a sunken-faced, kind-eyed Attila with his sweeps of mustaches.

The hall is as noisy as a tea party. Journalists have filled the gallery, there is only room for 200 and there are 750 applicants and many late­comers sit on the floor.

When the hall is nearly full, the British delegation enters. They have come in motorcars through the troop-lined streets and enter with elan. They are the best-dressed delegation. Sir Charles Blair Gordon, head of the Canadian delegation, is blond, ruddy-faced and a little ill at ease. He is seated fourth from Lloyd George’s left at the long table.

Walter Rathenau, with the baldest bald head at the conference and a scientist’s face, comes in accompanied by Dr. Wirth, German chancellor, who looks like a tuba player in a German band. They are halfway down one of the long tables. Rathenau is another wealthy Socialist and considered the ablest man in Germany.

Prime Minister Facta of Italy takes the chair. So obscure has been his political career, until he came into light as a compromise premier when it looked as though Italy would be unable to form a cabinet, that biographies of him were issued to all the newspapermen by the Italian government.

Everyone is in the room but the Russians. The hall is crowded and sweltering and the four empty chairs of the Soviet delegation are the four emptiest-looking chairs I have ever seen. Everyone is wondering whether they will not appear. Finally they come through the door and start making their way through the crowd. Lloyd George looks at them intently, fingering his glasses.

Litvinoff with a big ham-like face is in the lead. He is wearing the rectangular red insignia. After him comes Tchitcherin with his indeter­minate face, his indefinite beard and his nervous hands. They blink at the light from the chandelier. Krassin is next. He has a mean face and a carefully tailored Van Dyke beard and looks like a prosperous dentist. Joffe is last. He has a long, narrow, spade beard, and wears gold-rimmed glasses.

A mass of secretaries follow the Russian delegates, including two girls with fresh faces, hair bobbed in the fashion started by Irene Castle, and with modish tailored suits. They are far and away the best-looking girls in the conference hall.

The Russians are seated. Someone hisses for silence, and Signor Facta starts the dreary round of speeches that sends the conference under way.

(Source: William White, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Dateline: Toronto.Simon and Schuster, 2002.)

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