Franco Dellepiane - "It Was an Unforgettable Experience - Not Only Academically but Also on a Human Level"




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Jul 19, 2017
by Franco Dellepiane
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Franco Dellepiane - "It Was an Unforgettable Experience - Not Only Academically but Also on a Human Level"

Salzburg Global Fellow dedicates second chapter of autobiography to Seminar experience Franco Dellepiane's memoir, "Una vita avventurosa - Diario di 90 anni"

Ahead of Salzburg Global Day, Fellows were asked to get in touch and share their memories of their time at Schloss Leopoldskron. Franco Dellepiane attended Session 37 - Intellectual and Social Background of American Politics - in 1955. For his 90th birthday, he published the story of his life and shared it with Salzburg Global. Below is a translated extract from his book dedicated to his time at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. 

The Discovery of America - The Salzburg Seminar in American Studies

Then occurred the unexpected event that completely and positively changed how I was seen by my superiors and led me to consider new ways to advance my career. It was in 1954; I was spending most of my time on my political career. Through it I met Russell Harris, the person in charge of the cultural programs at the American Consulate. He was a bit older than me and he was following closely the activity of the democratic parties, in particular the activities of the younger members. I believe that this was part of his job, but he did it unobtrusively. One day he said to me: “Robert Mead, the Assistant Dean of American Studies of the Salzburg Seminar is coming to Genoa. I will introduce you to him.” I didn’t know what the Salzburg Seminar was, but I said I didn’t see any problem with meeting Mr. Mead. 

Here’s what I learned. In 1947, Harvard and other American universities realized that the conflict, and before then the existence of two European dictatorships, had created a cultural gap between the two continents. They decided to create an institution that would create courses for students coming from all parts of Europe (on both sides of the Iron Curtain)—not with the goal of spreading the principles of American institutions but to create an opportunity for cultural exchange between American scholars and young Europeans. I suppose that there must have been governmental participation by about 20 American universities. Harvard, Yale, Colby College and Stanford were among those to get together to found the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. Austria was under Allied occupation and divided into four areas. Salzburg was in the American part. Schloss Leopoldskron, which had belonged to the Archbishop-Prince of Salzburg, became the headquarters of the Seminar and remains so to this day. 

Mr. Mead and another vice-chancellor traveled around Europe to select candidates for the courses, of which there was a great variety. There were courses in economics, law, literature, urban planning, science, teaching, etc. and each generally lasted six or eight weeks. Four professors of one of the universities, taking turns, would take “sabbatical leave” and come to Salzburg to teach the courses. 

Mead interviewed me and thought that I was a good candidate. I mentioned that I had work commitments that could prevent my attendance but Russell Harris (the person in charge of the cultural programs) told me not to worry, and he would think about how to make it work. Mead gave me a book in English about the Kibbutz movement in Israel and he asked me to write a paper on that and send it to him. I was able to do that and after a few weeks I received a letter informing me that I had been admitted to the Salzburg session on the Intellectual and Social Background of American Politics to take place the following year, in February 1955. One of the subjects of the session was the solution found to the 1929 market crash; I never thought that after 60 years it would still be so relevant! 

I was very interested but I couldn’t leave my job for two months and it was not feasible to resign and look for another job. The '50s were still hard years in Italy and I had to support my mother who couldn’t work anymore. My sister had found a job as a saleswoman in a shop but she couldn’t support the family. Russell Harris sent a letter to my executive director explaining what the Seminar was and then he said something along the lines of, “Your employee has been selected to take part in one of the Seminars; we recruit the cream of the crop from all of Europe and I beg you to do anything possible to give him the time necessary to participate." 

Such a letter from a diplomatic representative of the Unites States could not be ignored. I didn’t even know my executive director, but he called me and though he was a bit annoyed by this foreign intervention. He asked me to take all my holidays at once and he allowed me to take some extra time, too. This was not the only support from the American in charge of cultural programs; he also arranged for me to get Fulbright funds to pay my tuition fee. So in the spring of the year 1955, I found myself in an experience that changed my life. 


I arrived in Salzburg from Genoa traveling by train in third class. It was a long and uncomfortable trip but I was so excited at the idea of what was waiting for me. The Schloss was impressive - it was the residence of the Archbishop Price of Salzburg - but it had not been completely restored. The war had ended recently and it was evident that just getting the school to function properly was a challenge. We were a group of 54 “students” from fourteen different countries. We were hosted in dormitories with seven beds in each room/space and the beds were former military cots. There were seven Italians but the school made sure that in every room there were participants from different nationalities. I found myself with Scandinavians, a Dutchman and with a Belgian with whom I made great friends. 

We were then shown the program for the seminar, and as I said, there were four professors on sabbatical leading the program. Each took one of the topics and took turns teaching in the morning.

We had to choose one of the areas of study and we had to write a paper on that subject. The relevant professor would then have spent the afternoon with the group of students working on that subject. 

The evening was free time and we would end up in a “stube”, a picturesque beer pub that was completely decorated with wood, still with the professors. Schloss Leopoldskron is located a bit outside of the city so we would usually find a close by “stube” where we would either keep conversing about the subjects discussed during the morning or we would try to engage on the hard issues with the professors. Flashing forward to 2009 and its aftermath, one professor specialized in the Roosevelt era and spoke about the recovery of the United States from the 1929 crash. Equally relevant to today! I remember his saying the most important innovation was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which represented the first intervention of a federal entity on a vast territory that belonged to several states.

It was an unforgettable experience - not only academically but also on a human level. The fact that I could exchange opinions with other young people from across Europe and so soon after the war, which of course had interrupted regular international relationships, contributed to me being more informed and more open minded. I had an especially close relationship with two other young men, a Belgian and a Dutchman, Jean Paul Van Bellinghen and Frank Boreel. Both had graduated in law and were at the beginning of their diplomatic careers. The latter had come with his car, a Fiat ‘500 “Topolino”. I had brought with me a pair of skis and boots which was all the sports equipment that I owned. Three of us (taking turns in the Fiat’s little back seat) would go skiing during the weekend. Weekends were free time since this was an American university. Saalbach, Kitzbuehel, Berchtesgaden (Hitler’s mountain retreat) were our destinations. Austria and Germany after the war were very cheap. For 1000 lira you could stay at a hotel for one night!

It was a wonderful period also because of the discoveries that I made almost daily. I remember one day I saw Frank holding a book with the title, “University of Utrecht – Principles of Economics” and I was amazed by the fact that the Dutch university would print books in English (in 1955). Frank, in a very calm way, replied by saying: “Of course, they would have very few readers if the book had been written in Dutch!” A sign that in the Netherlands all the students were familiar with the English language. It was very normal for him but not for an Italian.  

I had casually mentioned that the following day, the 2nd of April, was my name-day. That evening at the end of the dinner, in the huge hall, with frescos covering the ceiling, where we would usually have our meals at different tables, I saw everybody getting up and starting to sing: “Because he is a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us.” One of them put in my hand a souvenir book of Salzburg with the signatures of all the participants. I was the jolly good fellow! With tears in my eyes I said a few words to thank everybody. I couldn’t do any more than that!

One day we opened the windows of the room and looked out on the lake, where usually we saw people on sleds and dogs running, and saw that the ice had thawed. The course was nearing an end, unfortunately!

I wrote my dissertation on the economic-political system of the United States, which was received with approval by my professor. I remember being very impressed by my discovery of “lobbying” (I was so naïve…) and the fact that the head of the president’s election campaign (if successful) would become the head of the Post Office where he could reward the party workers—the so-called “spoils system”. 

I have not seen many of my fellow students in later years. Frank and Jean were assigned to diplomatic offices in countries far away. I met a Norwegian guy when I started travelling for work. He had become the head of a labor union in Oslo. He invited me to dinner and went by taxi. He explained to me that he could not drive after drinking. At that time, we did not think about such things!

I had later contacts with two Italians: Giovanni de Luca, a Neapolitan and Demetrio Volcic who worked at Radio Trieste and who later became an anchorman on TV. As time passed, I lost touch with all of them but I was left with a great memory of that period and of what it represented for me.