LONDON, Wednesday—I went to Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House, for a performance of "La Traviata." They have a very pleasant custom—the opera begins at 7 o'clock, and then the audience eats a buffet supper between the acts. Sir John and Lady Anderson, representing the Government, which now runs the opera, and Mr. Anthony Gishford, representing the opera company, were my hosts.
As we went in, the theater looked so fresh and newly decorated that knowing all the difficulties there are in obtaining materials, I was interested to be told that the material on the walls had been found put away, so that they had been able to keep the old Victorian atmosphere in redecorating the house.
However, the Government would allow them no coupons for material for shades to cover the innumerable electric lights. They were in despair, for unshaded lights would have spoiled the whole effect. The difficulty was solved by having every member of the staff and every worker give up one coupon of his own.
When you realize that no one has more than 48 coupons a year, you know that that one coupon was a precious gift. And it shows how hungry the British people are for beauty and gaiety, even when they can enjoy it for only a few short hours by attending a performance of opera.
The audience that evening was unusually enthusiastic and gave a real ovation to the singers. One feels here that the people have an extreme need for beauty and entertainment after the strain of the war, and that their spontaneous response to those who entertain and please them is the result of a real hunger for a return to prewar conditions. This hunger cannot be satisfied in the daily routine of their lives, and so there is heightened interest in the theater, the opera, the movies, museums of every kind, and points of historic interest throughout the country.
I stole an hour one afternoon to visit the famous Tate Gallery. The whole of its collection was stored in safe places during the war, so no paintings were damaged, but the Gallery itself was badly bombed and only little by little is it coming back to a semblance of its former self.
We saw a special memorial exhibition of paintings, water colors and drawings by Paul Nash. He had a way of using modern techniques which make them understandable to me. One picture, "A Winter Sea," is extremely beautiful.
I do not wonder that Her Majesty the Queen, who has lent the Gallery one of her Nash paintings, asked a little wistfully when it was going to be returned. She added that she had only rare opportunities to enjoy the canvases she had bought, because she was always lending them for exhibition purposes.
For a couple of hours the other day, I met with a group of American students, almost all of whom are over here under the educational benefits of the GI Bill of Rights. Some are studying at Oxford, Cambridge or the University of London, and some even in Wales and Scotland. Many of them are married. And I think they are getting as much as they possibly can out of this opportunity to study outside their own country.
They wanted a picture of the American political scene—and that is certainly a bit complicated to paint at the present time! There was quite a discussion, in which the Marshall Plan was brought up, and then I shook hands with as many of them as possible.
As they filed past, I found that they came from all over the United States. Most of them, of course, plan to go back home within the next year, and it will be interesting to see how much their experience over here changes the color of American thought as they filter back into their communities in different parts of the country.
I dined one evening with the members of the London branch of the Americans for Democratic Action. They associate quite closely with some of the members of the Labor Party and of the Fabian Society, which does much research for the Labor Party. We had considerable discussion, but the gathering broke up fairly early—which I find is the practice here because the buses on many lines cease running at 11 p.m. and you may find yourself having to take a rather lengthy walk home!