The Genoa Economic and Financial Conference is underway.
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, 59, instigated this conference of delegates from selected European countries, to plan for the “reconstruction of economic Europe, devastated and broken into fragments by the desolating agency of war,” as he told the UK House of Commons. They gave him a rousing vote of confidence.
Rotogravure of the Palazzo San Giorgio
Over 700 journalists applied for the 200 ticketed slots to cover the four-week get together. Some of them have to sit on the floor.
The correspondent for the Toronto Star, American Ernest Hemingway, 22, arrived early in the month and began filing stories. His first description of the setting:
Genoa is crowded, a modern Babel with a corps of perspiring interpreters trying to bring the representatives of 40 [sic] different countries together. The narrow streets flow with crowds kept orderly by thousands of Italian troops.”
The troops in their black fezzes are visible to discourage violent outbreaks by Communists or anti-Communists in this city which is one-third “Red.” The best way to keep the peace seems to be closing the cafes, Hemingway observes.
The tension is exacerbated by Britain’s insistence, over France’s objection, that both Germany and Soviet Russia attend. France doesn’t want to invite their main debtor, the Weimar Republic, nor any representatives of the new Bolshevik government in Moscow.
America has declined to participate at all.
Living in Paris with his new wife since late last year, Ernie is happy to be covering his first major political event for the Star. He is getting used to filing his copy by cable, and a few of the more experienced journalists here have given him some tips. Muckraking investigative reporter Lincoln Steffens, just turned 56, showed him how to run words together—“aswellas”—to save money. Hemingway loves this.
It’s wonderful! It’s a new language. No fat, all bones and structure,”
he exclaims to his colleagues over chianti.
During the opening ceremony, the arrival of Lloyd George is met with a loud ovation. The other delegations enter, and, as Hemingway describes the scene:
When the hall is nearly full, the British delegation enters. They have come in motor cars through the troop-lined streets and enter with elan. They are the best dressed delegation…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…A mass of secretaries follow the Russian delegates, including two girls with fresh faces, hair bobbed in the fashion started by [American dancer] Irene Castle, and 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.”
Economist John Maynard Keynes, 38, is one of the many Brits attending. He represented his government in Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference three years ago—when Germany and Russia were definitely not invited. But now he is here as General Editor of a special 12-part series, “Reconstruction in Europe” by the Manchester Guardian Commercial. These supplements are being translated into five languages and include contributions from leading statesmen and businessmen, along with 13 pieces by Keynes.
First Manchester Guardian supplement
The Guardian approached Maynard last year to take on this role, and he agreed only when they assured him he would be able to closely supervise the writers who would be chosen. Keynes is using this medium to get across his opinions of the steps being taken to rebuild a Europe which has been so devastated by the Great War.
Throughout the conference, Keynes keeps up a steady correspondence with his friends back home. Particularly his most recent lover, Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, 30.
Back in Bloomsbury, Lydia is enjoying settling into her new home in 50 Gordon Square, where Maynard installed her before he left, surrounded by his artsy Bloomsbury friends and just a few doors away from his residence in number 46.
Lydia has left the Ballets Russes, where she was a principal dancer for many years, and is now dancing in Covent Garden with the company led by fellow Russian Leonid Massine, 25, former choreographer with the Ballets Russes.
Since Maynard left for Italy, Lydia has been writing to him almost every day about the details of her new London life; commenting on his articles in the Guardian—
Your expression in the end give me nice tremblings”—
and how much she misses him—
I place melodious strokes all over you. Maynard, you are very nice.”
Thanks to Dr. Marie Hooper for assistance in understanding European history.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
In June I will be talking about the Stein family salons in Paris before and after The Great War at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.