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Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, February 15, 1933 [1]

Finanz Ministerium
February 15th 1933Wednesday.

Dearest Mildred,

Royall talks of going over to the States in May if you and Robert are to be in Washington. This has suddenly conjured up before my eyes the vivid image of you, and I feel that nothing will satisfy me save taking up my pen to write to you.

Thank you most lovingly for your Xmas wishes. I hope ours reached you. They were only a reflection of the thoughts that glowed in our hearts.

Your Bourguignon and I spent Xmas at Fiesole, where we could feel tolerably sure of having some sunshine. Since his pleurisy, we have tried to give him air and sunshine between his Oxford Forms. The climate there is terrible, at this season especially. He understood all that was said at the end of his fortnight, and had he stayed another three or four weeks he would have been able to talk. Latin, French and Spanish have taken him three quarters of the way. We saw Mrs. B. B.,Mary Berenson, the wife of Bernard Berenson. the LubbocksPercy Lubbock (1879–1965), an English essayist, critic, and biographer, and a friend of Henry James and Edith Wharton. His wife was Sybil Scott (née Lady Sybil Marjorie Cuffe, 1879–1943). at Villa Medici, De Filippi,Possibly Filippo De Filippi (1869–1938), an Italian physician. and the Ugo Ojetti,Ugo Ojetti (1871–1946), an Italian writer, art critic, and journalist. besides relatives. William enjoyed it very much, and so did I, as you can well imagine. Afterwards he went back to England where he got a week’s hunting with the Wingfield Digbys at Sherborne.The family of Simon Wingfield Digby (1910–1998) and George Frederick Wingfield Digby (1911–1989), who were classmates of William Royall Tyler at Harrow. Simon Wingfield Digby later became a British Conservative politician. George Wingfield Digby was later keeper of the department of textiles at the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1947 and 1972. The Wingfield Digbys lived at Sherborne Castle, a sixteenth-century Tudor mansion southeast of Sherborne in Dorset, England. Freddy W. D. is the M.F.H.“Master of Foxhounds.” I went on to Rome, and enjoyed a delicious fortnight there with the Salvago Raggi.Giuseppe Salvago Raggi (1866–1946), an Italian diplomat. He had been Italian ambassador in Paris in 1916–1917. My cousin’s husband is now the equivalent of Foreign Minister, (Capo di Gabinetto per gli Esteri). It is a new departure having an Ambassador in that capacity, but it seems the Duce was so much impressed by his handling of the Turkish Ministers when they went to Rome last year, that he summoned him to Rome from his post at Constantinople. This is Baron Aloisi.Pompeo Aloisi (1875–1949), an Italian diplomat and spy. In 1932, he became Benito Mussolini’s chief of staff when the latter assumed the role of foreign minister. He represented Italy on the Council of the League of Nations (1932–1937) and took part in the League’s Disarmament Conference in Geneva (1932–1933).

I also saw Aldrovandi,Luigi Aldrovandi Marescotti, Count of Viano (1876–1945), an Italian diplomat and ambassador to Germany between 1926 and 1929. retour de Chine—et Japon.“Returning from China and Japan.” He was Italian Member of the Lytton Commission.In December 1931, the League of Nations attempted to determine the causes which led to Japan’s seizure of Manchuria. A commission headed by V. A. G. R. Bulwer-Lytton (Great Britain) and with Frank Ross McCoy (United States), Heinrich Schnee (Germany), Luigi Aldrovandi-Marescotti (Italy), and Henri Claudel (France) spent six weeks in Manchuria in the spring of 1932. It has done him a great deal of good to have some useful work to do and I think he has forgotten the blow that was dealt him when he was put on the retired list at the age of 55 last year. He has brought back many fine and interesting objects from the far East.

I saw Alice and John GarrettJohn W. Garrett (1872–1942), an American diplomat and the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela (1911), Argentina (1912–1913), and Italy (1929–1933). His wife was Alice Warder Garrett (1877–1952). in Rome. I also had the great pleasure of seeing BeveridgeBeveridge Webster (1908–1999), an American pianist and educator. triumph there. He played magnificently at the Embassy, at the Marchesa Cavalletti’s,Marchesa Giulia Maria Alverà Cavalletti, who had a palazzo in Rome near the Piazza Navona. at Prince Christopher of Greece’sPrince Christopher of Greece and Denmark (1888–1940), a member of the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg royal house. house and at his own concert, Sala Sgambati.In 1915, the Accademia Filarmonica of Rome acquired the Sala Sgambati in the Via di Ripetta as the main location for its concerts and to host recitals of soloists and ensembles. The Filarmonica lost this location in 1936 when the fascist regime demolished the Sala Sgambati and the auditorium of Augustus, which hosted the concerts of the Accademia di S. Cecilia, to make way for what is now Piazza Augusto Imperatore. The only critic was San Martino,Count Enrico di San Martino e Valperga (1863–1947), an Italian impresario and politician, was president of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome between 1895 and 1947. San Martino is credited with introducing in Rome some of the greatest composers and performers of the early twentieth century. unhappily, who is very jealous, it seems, of anyone who does not go to him first of all for an introduction to the musical world in Rome. Beveridge also triumphed in Florence. Alice was very enthusiastic and supported him with fervour.

Rome is a changed city. All the classical buildings now stand clear of mediaeval houses and churches, the Colosseum is quite near to Trajan’s Forum, the Theatre of Marcellus stands revealed, and in the big Forum they are working on the Curea Julia or Senate of Rome, buried in the foundations of a 17th century church.When Rome became the capital of modern kingdom of Italy in 1870, the government began a series of excavations and restorations of ancient Roman monuments with the objective of protecting the architectural and environmental heritage of the city as it existed in 1870 and to also restructure the city to accommodate new uses and the increased traffic volumes that would be generated by new uses. See F. Costa, “Urban Planning in Rome from 1870 to the First World War,” GeoJournal 24, no. 3 (1991): 269–276. These initiatives were renewed between the wars, in the 1920s and 1930s, by Benito Mussolini, who undertook expanded urban planning, including the restoration of ancient Roman monuments. His endeavors were chronicled enthusiastically by the National Geographic Magazine: Gelasio Caetani, “By Draining the Malarial Wastes Around Rome, Italy Has Created a Promised Land,” National Geographic Magazine 66, no. 2 (August 1934): 200–17; and John Patric, “Imperial Rome Reborn,” National Geographic Magazine 71, no. 3 (March 1937): 269–325, a fifty-seven page account of the changes accomplished by the Mussolini regime. It noted the successful program of freeing ancient monuments through demolition of surrounding post-Roman buildings and slums. See also Borden W. Painter, Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). I saw the new Vatican Museums.Much of Vatican City was transformed between 1926 and 1932 by the engineer and architect Giuseppe Momo (1875–1940), including a new entrance to the museums on the viale Vaticano and a monumental double-helix staircase, inaugurated on December 7, 1932, and opened to the public on January 2, 1933. The plan is good, and the objects are well shown. But the outside of the buildings is shabby, in brick, with inset bands of polychrome faience, painfully reminiscent of the côte d’azur.

Throughout Italy, the Signori, who have landed estates, feel the burden of excessive taxation,The wealthy initially benefited from Mussolini’s tax policies, and in the 1920s their taxes were reduced while the majority of the population had their taxes raised. But as the state increasingly intervened in the Italian economy as a result of the Great Depression and as it attempted to build up its war machine, taxation became increasingly heavier and more widespread, and in the 1930s the wealthy as well as the general population had their taxes raised. and the loss to them which the general stagnation of trade entails, both on foreign and home consumption.

A relative of mine told me he had 700 hectolitres (= 7000 litres) of last year’s wine lying idle in his cellars, and as much of the year before.

The peasants complain, because their share on the “métayage”“Feudal.” system leaves them as profit, besides their keep, wages amounting to 2 lire per head per day. My cousin says his taxes amount to 70% of the yield of his estate and as the produce is not sold, he and all his kind are eating up their liquid reserves, and expect if this goes on, to leave their children penniless. All this taxation is being spent in the country: reclaiming marshlands, on public utilities in the smaller towns, and also in afforestation. Meantime a serious work of social disaggregation is going on, and no one can foretell if the finances of the country can hold out long enough to see the programme through.

In Florence, on my way back, I saw Placci,Carlo Placci (1861–1941), a connoisseur, musician, and journalist born in London of an Italian father and a Mexican mother. He was a friend of the Blisses and of Bernard Berenson. See Bernard Berenson, “Carlo Placci,” in Echi e riflessioni (Diario 1941–1944) (Milan: A. Mondadori, 1950), 24–43. who is as well as ever, and my relatives, Ginori Conti,Piero Ginori Conti, Prince of Trevignano (1865–1939), an Italian businessman and politician. Gondi,Possibly Guido Gondi (1871– 1953) or his son Amerigo Gondi (born in Florence in 1909). Viviani,Possibly Alberto Viviani (1894–1970), an Italian writer, or Giuseppe Viviani (1898–1965), an Italian painter and engraver. Visconti,Visconti has not been identified. Baese,Possibly Giulio, Pablo, or Carlo Baese (died 1943). Their father, Guillaume Baese, married Louise de Castelvecchio, a relative of Elisina Tyler, in 1872. etc. It was cold in Florence but sunny. I stayed at Ancona on the way to Venice, where Royall and I met, after his trip to Geneva, Paris and London. It was quite heavenly to have 48 hours in Venice, before plunging again into the Pannonian winter. There were no foreigners at all in Venice. There was a pearly mist over the lagoon, and St. Mark’s was more glorious than ever.

In Italy too l’Art Byzantin is welcomed with loud acclamation. Everyone qualified to judge says and writes that the work is and will remain for a hundred years the great classic work on Byzantine Art. This is very gratifying, and a great satisfaction, I hope, to all those who have done a share in bringing the work into existence. I hope dearest Mildred you feel satisfied too with it, as your help was of the very greatest use, enabling all the most valuable photographs to be taken. The second volume is in the press. Royall saw and passed about 150 out of a total of 216 plates, when he was lately in Paris. I think the second volume finer than the first in every respect, and more interesting because the material treated is more linked together, and consecutive in its development.

If all goes well by this time next year the third volume will be in the stocks, and half the work done. When I look at that dear head and think of the wonders that have come from it, I marvel that such things can be.

Last summer we spent peaceably at Antigny. The library has grown in years, the garden has remained prosaically productive, but charmingly welcoming, I think. The fruit-trees yield well everywhere, and last year, the mirabelliers were so prolific that we distilled 41 litres of eau de vie de mirabelles, 12 of eau de vie de reines-claude, and twelve of prunes variées, namely 63 litres in all. We are independent for our farm produce, and we have fish in our pond, and honey from our bees, besides our chickens, ducks, and rabbits which the servants eat with incredible relish. We have also a special and very good breed of pigeons, and of course all our vegetables and most of our fruit, jams, etc. Do you remember the sad little wilderness we went to see in the autumn of 1916, bless you?See letter of October 22, 1916.

You heard of my journey to Greece last year.See letter of June 3, 1932. It was one of the greatest things it shall ever be granted to me to enjoy.

Athens is wonderfully glorious still, the acropolis draws one to it like a magnet, and the feeling that the great places one has heard of are really there for one to walk upon, that here Saint Paul addressed the Athenians, that here stood the Areopagus, that Socrates taught here, truly, makes one’s head swim. It is all so delicately small, and yet so infinitely grand. The mutilated Parthenon is marvellously beautiful, for its grand harmonies, and also for the beauty of its colour. The acropolis by moonlight is just a foretaste of another world, every aspiration of the soul made visible.

Daphni,Daphni, a monastery northwest of Athens. Its church (katholikon) has mosaics from the early Comnenian period (ca. 1100). quite near Athens is perfect in every way. The mosaics are perfect, the church itself is a perfect building. It stands in gracious seclusion, not far from the road to Eleusis, against a grove of pines, clinging visibly and strongly to a lovely red sandy soil, spreading their kind proud heads in the sunlit air. A few cypresses guard the place, a ruddy wall, and when I saw it, the circling of swallows over its venerable roofs and cupolas.

Eleusis is very grand and awesome. The hall of the Mysteries has deep steps carved in the natural rock. With a little patience one can easily trace the earlier buildings, and the later, Roman additions and defacements.

I took a car and went from Athens to the Peloponnesus, by Corinth, Nemea, Mycaenae, Tyrinth, Argos, Nauplia. From Nauplia to Epidaurus, Asinae, and to Tripolitza. From Tripolitza to Sparta, and Mistra.

Mycaenae is perhaps the one place of all that shakes one’s soul most deeply. The Megaron of Agamemnon is still easily traceable. Here was the meeting of the Kings, here is the mountain against which Agamemnon shot his arrow, saying, when he struck the spark on a stone: “With that spark I shall burn Troy.” The lion gate by which you enter the citadel of Mycaenae, is a supremely moving and beautiful thing. The enclosed space within which SchliemannHeinrich Schliemann (1822–1890), a German businessman and archaeologist who excavated Troy and the Mycenaean sites of Mycenae and Tiryns. found the Tombs of the Kings of an earlier race, and all their wonderful treasures, of gold, are just within the gate. The so-called “Tombs of the Atrides”—which were probably Treasure-houses, are wonderful buildings with bee-hive vaults of a great height, built into the flanks of a hill.

Nothing spoils one’s enjoyment. There are no tawdry buildings, just the silence of mountain and plain. In the distance are Argos, and Tyrinth. Tyrinth is a citadel, ruined but unspoilt, rather terrifying, with cyclop-ean walls, and galleries vaulted in great arching stones. It was a strong place for defence, and is a shining example of the everlasting principles of warfare in all ages.

The plain of Argos has four tiny churches, built, very early, on the pediments of small temples and mostly with the old materials. The place where the fountain of Hera flowed, is now a small nunnery, with the same fountain still flowing.

Nauplia lies in the sheltered hollow of a bay, the sea lapping the shore, and a Venetian fort, small and smiling on an island in the middle of the blue water.

Epidaurus is the most completely preserved Greek Theatre, and very beautiful. Here, too is a fine Museum, and important remains of vast buildings, besides the theatre.

The drive from Nauplia to Sparta goes over wonderful country, indeed through Arcadia. The ranges of mountains are splendid, and the corniche road winds perilously. But as valley after valley unwinds itself several hundred feet below the road, you get a growing sense of exhilaration that conquers mere apprehension, though both seem justified at times, owing to the state of the embankment that supports the road, at certain parts.

You know that the excavations at Asinae are being done by the Crown Prince of Sweden.Crown Prince Oscar Fredrik Wilhelm Olaf Gustaf Adolf (1882–1973) later reigned as Gustaf VI Adolf, king of Sweden, from 1950 until his death. He was a devoted archaeologist and participated in archaeological expeditions in China, Greece, and Italy, and founded the Swedish Institute in Rome. The acropolis of Asine was first archaeologically investigated by a Swedish team headed by Axel W. Persson (1922–1930). The crown prince himself participated in the work. They have found many very fine objects, of very great antiquity,—pre-Mycenaean. A good many things are now in the Museum at Nauplia. There are, among other things found in the tombs at Asinae, two large fragments of Egyptian pre-dynastic stone vessels, of black Diorite with large white “floats” and also a unique fragment, of a tall-shaped vase in green serpentine, with parallel vertical cannelures. Through the kindness of the lady-Director of the Nauplia Museum, I had this particular fragment photographed.

At Sparta there is an interesting Museum, and two 4–5th century (A.D.) pavements in mosaic, one of Orpheus, the other of “Europa”, recently discovered, both of them, and in fine repair.

The great experience was Mistra,Mystras, a fortified town in Morea on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea. a ruined town, where all the walls are standing, and all the inner partitions gone, and the roofs gone also. Here is a fine palace of the Paleologi, of noble dimensions. There are 6 or 7 churches and a monastery, all in use, and all built with fine classical columns, and other classical remains, which must have been stripped from the temples in Sparta, as none remain there. Mistra is crowned by a great castle built by the Villehardouins, lords of Morea, after the taking of Constantinople in 1204.In 1249, Mystras became the seat of the Latin Principality of Achaea, established in 1205 after the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, and Prince William II Villehardouin built a palace there.

After seeing Corinth on the way back, and resting in Athens for another week, I started off for Delphi and St. Luke in Phocis.

The road to Delphi passes through Thebes, Livadia, where I saw the twin springs of Lethe and Mnemosyne gush from the rock; via Cheronea, the site of Alexander the Great’s first battle, through the Sacred Wood of Olives, to the grandest place you can imagine,—Delphi. All the plan of the Sacred buildings is laid bare, the theatre, the stadium, are all excavated, you can see the Sybil’s seat, and the place where the pythoness gave the oracle’s judgment. The Castalian spring runs out from the red rock of the mountains. There is a sacred horror that haunts the place still.

As we drove from Delphi towards the village 4 hours away in a motor, where one hires mules to ride up to St. Luke,Hosios Loukas, a walled monastery in Boeotia, Greece. Its eleventh-century katholikon has an extensive mosaic program. skirting 3 sides of Mount Parnassus, my fellow-traveller, a Greek lady, said to me suddenly, pointing down towards a place where three rough roads intersected, just at the foot of a low mound: “Voyez, chère amie, sous ce tertre rocheux—c’est là qu’Oedipe a tué son père.”“Look, dear friend, in this rocky mound—that's where Oedipus killed his father.”

We took our mules at a village whose name escapes me, and rode an hour over scrub, and on very narrow paths skirting a deep precipice, to St. Luke. It is a miracle, the rich marble revetement darkened by time and grime, but still glowing somb’ly. The mosaics, of perfect beauty, lighting up the walls and the domes with magnificent personages in sumptuous garments and noble attitudes. These mosaics, entirely untouched, have a lively quality which restorations, if they affect the surface, always destroy.

On our way thither we saw a peasant, high-shouldered and slim of waist, his head held high, his eyes almond-shaped, a small pointed beard on his chin, walking along with majesty. The perfect archaic man—like a Zeus or an Apollo of the early Vlth century B.C.

I also saw Orchemenos,Orchomenos, a municipality and archaeological site in Boeotia. In 1880–1886, Heinrich Schliemann excavated a Mycenaean tholos tomb that he called the "Tomb of Minyas.” on my way back to catch the train for Saloniki at Livadia. There is a 9th century byzantine churchChurch of the Dormition of the Virgin. on the site of a very great and very ancient temple, and near by a Treasure house or “tomb” of the pre-Mycenaean period, like those at Mycenae. From Lavadia I travelled to Saloniki. The five churches left there are marvels, adorned with splendid mosaics. From Saloniki I took a boat for Constantinople.

My cousinsMaria Federiga and Pompeo Aloisi. Aloisi was the Italian ambassador to Turkey. were away, so I had the Embassy motor, the Embassy dragoman, and one of the Embassy staff who knows Constantinople very well to help me see all I could see in ten days. The SherrillsSarah Fulton and Charles Hitchcock Sherrill (1867–1939). Sherrill was United States ambassador to Turkey in 1932–1933. were very kind to me too. I met Whittemore, and he too took great pains to show me out of the way things. I hope he won’t dream of quarrelling with MarangoniLuigi Marangoni (1872–1950), an Italian architect and the proto or custodian of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. See Otto Demus, The Church of San Marco in Venice: History, Architecture, Sculpture (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1960), 198. See also letter of January 29, 1932. of St. Mark’s and compelling Marangoni to withdraw the workmen he has lent Whittemore, because Marangoni and his men are the only ones now in Christendom who know how to repair and restore mosaics without altering, or indeed touching the surface.

Constantinople is one of the greatest things on earth and still, St. Sophia is perhaps the greatest.

From Constantinople I went to Sofia, and thence, by boat, from Polanka back to Budapest. I telephoned to Royall from Sofia suggesting that I should take a train back, but he was adamant. I was very grateful to him afterwards, because the journey on the Danube sets the seal to the impressions of that unforgettable journey. Nothing else could speak as clearly of the centuries of struggle, victory and defeat, of the Eastern Empire. You feel the greedy uncertain hordes wandering on the flat banks, the natural barriers that hold them at bay, their sudden irruptions into the valleys, the death struggle at the passes, and finally, all resistance broken, their awe-struck pause before the Golden Gate, that still locked safely upon all the treasures of the Eastern world.

The museum at SofiaNational Archaeological Museum, Sofia. is very interesting, and very well kept. They have a set of golden vessels,Probably the Valchitran Treasure that was discovered in 1924. a recent find, unlike anything else we know. I had a delightful time in Sofia. Our Mr. ShoemakerHenry Wharton Shoemaker (1882–1958), an American banker, newspaper publisher, and diplomat to Lisbon (1904), Berlin (1904–1905), and Sofia, Bulgaria (1930). happened to be going to Varna the day after I arrived, but the Waterlows,Katina Paxinou (1900–1973) and Sydney Philip Perigal Waterlow (1878–1944). He was a British diplomat and British minister in Athens until 1939. M. Cambon,Jules-Martin Cambon (1845–1935), a French diplomat. and the CorasGiuliano Cora, an Italian diplomat. were all very kind hospitable and welcoming.

I returned to Budapest for a few days, and then went off again to Paris, for Antigny.

These are my travels, dearest Mildred, and dearest Robert. Now please reward me by telling me that your travels are near, eastward bound. We do so long to see you, all three of usI

These days here we have had the funeral ceremonies for Count Albert Apponyi.Count Albert Apponyi de Nagyappony (1846–1933), a Hungarian politician. Yesterday in the Parliament Hall, then at the Coronation Church, where his body is laid to rest in the vault under the east end. No other private gentleman of Hungary has ever had this honour done to him. But he was a very special and very fine patriot. This morning there was a Requiem Mass. The Archdukes were there, the Archduchess Auguste and Archduchess MaddalenaPrincess Auguste Maria Luise of Bavaria (1875–1964), a member of the Bavarian Royal House of Wittelsbach and the wife of Archduke Joseph August of Austria. One of her daughters was Archduchess Magdalena Maria Raineria (1909–2000). in the royal box. The old Archduke Frederick,Friedrich Maria Albrecht Wilhelm Karl, Archduke and Prince Imperial of Austria, Prince Royal of Hunagry and Bohemia, Duke of Teschen (1856–1936), a member of the House of Habsburg and the Supreme Commander of the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. former Commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian Army, sat in the body of the church, so as not to risk a meeting with his son the Archduke Albrecht,Albrecht Franz Josef Karl Friedrich Georg Hubert Maria, Archduke and Prince Imperial of Austria (1897–1955). who has taken to a wayward life.On August 16, 1930, Albrecht Franz had married morganatically Irene Dora Lelbach (1897–1985) in Brighton, England. They divorced in 1937.

The Archduke JosephArchduke Joseph August Viktor Klemens Maria of Austria, Prince of Hungary and Bohemia (1872–1962). carried his Marshal’s bâton. I think it is the first time I have seen one in use—their use being for show. The Cardinal Prince Primate of HungaryJusztinián György Serédi (1884–1945), a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, archbishop of Esztergom, and primate of Hungary. celebrated the Mass. The music was excellently executed, and the whole ceremony very fine.

Goodbye dear Mildred—my very best love to you both—I am writing to Robert too on the matter of his seal, and because I can’t bear to leave him out. But this is of course for you both!

Royall is very busy with both his worlds, this and the other. We are very comfortably installed here at the Legation, and Nicholas RooseveltNicholas Roosevelt (1893–1982), an American diplomat, journalist, and friend of the Blisses. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Affairs, a writer for its journal Foreign Affairs, and a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune between 1921 and 1946. is so kind and so tactful as a host, and most resourceful as a purveyor of varied and interesting reading.

I have just finished the Life of Archie CoolidgeHarold Jefferson Coolidge and Robert Howard Lord, Archibald Cary Coolidge: Life and Letters (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932). and found it so interesting, and such a fine record of a fine character.

I also think that General Tasker Bliss’s letterTasker Howard Bliss (1853–1930), an American soldier, scholar, and diplomat. It is not known to which letter Elisina Tyler refers. is a memorable document in every way.

Goodbye again dearest Mildred. My very best love to you, and a big hug.

Yours ever,

Associated Things: L'art byzantin