jump to navigation

Beans and the Befana 08/12/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

As we have seen, it has been the Florentine habit to prepare for the moment of danger by a special diet. A full meal is eaten, and children especially are encouraged to partake plentifully of beans against the coming of the Befana. This food, as is well known, has certain physical consequences, and the verse the full-fed children sing shows that these are counted on for the success of the matter in hand. Only the children whose bodies are ‘like drums’ are those who may hope to escape.

Advertisements

A Leisured Life 17/09/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

c. 1910 recalling the 1860s

Thanks to the Maquays, with whom I ‘banked’, in my small way, I was at once cheaply provided with a couple of rooms, at number 14 Lung’ Arno Accaiuoli, on the right bank of the river, well in view of the picturesque Ponte Vecchio, and whence I could also look up at San Miniato and Michelangelo’s Bella Villanella. Breakfasting in my little sitting-room, facing the morning sun, I lunched anywhere or nowhere, and dined at the Casino (or Club) dei Nobili in the Via Tornabuoni, to which I was admitted as a member. Some twelve or fourteen of us used to dine there every day, at a table d’hôte provided at five lire a head. One of the fourteen was Mr. Henry Labouchere, who, with myself, was the only other Englishman. The regular diners were Florentines. I soon discovered there was a good deal of gambling in the club; but in this I never shared, my taste for card-playing being slight, and my dislike of playing for money insurmountable.

To the professed idler – perhaps the French word flaneur is more expressive of the thing, since commoner inFrance than it was among Englishmen, in those days at least – such conditions as I have here described were singularly favourable. But life has always seemed to me far too serious for mere pleasurable diversion. For balls I cared but little, andFlorence was a very dancing place. But I went to a certain number of these entertainments, mainly because of those I met there, and whose youth and comeliness always delight the eye and feed the imagination.

I hired a riding-horse, but gave it up at the end of a month, finding the Cascine monotonous, and the suburbs ofFlorencesingularly unfavourable to horse exercise. The galleries and churches of the Fair City are in winter chilly and damp; but youth is heedless of discomfort it scarcely feels, and I spent much time within them.Vieusseux’s Library had, and still has, a European reputation, and in it I found an ample supply of books and English papers.

A Visit to Three Monasteries 07/09/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed
 

c. 1910 recalling the 1860s

It was when the magical change from Winter to Spring had stolen over Tuscany that I paid my first visit, with two companions, to Vallombrosa, Camaldoli, and La Vernia, then all of them convents or, as we say, monasteries. Trollope was too busy completing his History of the Commonwealth of Florence to be of the party; nor was it till two years later that I repeated the visit, with him for guide. But he already knew every inch of the journey, and put us in the way of making it with convenience and pleasure. The railway took us but a very short distance out of Florence. Then our road lay through Compiobbi and Pelago, driving in a country fagherino from the first to the second, and entrusting ourselves to Antonio, popularly surnamed ‘da Pelago’, who had been apprised by Trollope of the intended arrival of his friends. Punctually awaiting us was the said Antonio, with likely-looking mules, bridled and saddled for the excursion.

The road to Vallombrosa, even then, though stony and devious, was fairly good according to Italian standards; and when, about Ave Maria, we approached the Convent, the Prior and his monastic companions standing in the gateway gave the impression of refined monastic life. The hospitable tones in which we were welcomed, our plain but carefully served supper, and our sleep suggesting beds in clean simple cells, confirmed that first impression.

Nothing on the following morning disturbed or modified it; and the climate, when we were taken to see some of the timber of biggest girth in the surrounding woods, felt little less genial than we had left inFlorence. The thoughts and feelings I then experienced made me for a while a silent companion, after we had bidden our kindly monastic hosts farewell, and prayed them to accept a slight return for their gentle hospitality.

Our progress to the Convent of Camaldoli throughout the afternoon and early evening was of a rougher and wilder sort. Road, in the ordinary signification of the word, there was none. But Antonio knew every turn and winding of the way, walking by or behind us, quite unwearied, but sometimes, where the path was steepest and stoniest, availing himself of a grasp of the tail of one or other of the mules. Camaldoli lay secluded amid wilder and more picturesque surroundings than Vallombrosa, the white garb of its serious occupants lending it, however, a refined aspect. But we could see that there was still a covering of snow at no great elevation above it; and the air had in it what Shakespeare calls an eager and a nipping feeling.

Surmising in us more Capuan sensitiveness than they themselves suffered from, or at least were allowed to humour, our hosts at once made a goodly fire in the guests’ room of huge well-dried boughs, four or five feet in length, that served for a sort of fender-hassock, and which we pushed in from where they converged on the hearth. by which in a short time we were thoroughly well roasted. Small mountain river trout, faggioli, or beans, and a dish of admirably cooked macheroni composed a really luxurious supper.

The Prior, who sat by us while we thus regaled ourselves, plied us with questions about the world without, and was most anxious to know how fared their good friend, Trollope. We were equally curious about Camaldolese life, and listened with especial interest to his description of the Sacro Eremo, higher still and deeper in the forest than the Convent itself, and whither periodically a certain number of monks in rotation betook themselves for a more penitential period. There the snow lies thick most of the year; and they had to sweep a path for themselves in the middle of the night in order to reach the chapel firom their cells. Hearing of these nocturnal austerities, we were not wishful to partake of them at the Sacro Eremo, but in the Convent Church at three in the morning, at which hour, we were assured, Matins were recited. The Prior urged that it would break in rudely on our slumbers. But we were importunate, and a promise was given that we should be roused at the hour named. Awaking the next morning at about seven, we were disappointed at not having been disturbed, but the Prior said he had taken compassion on our lay and mundane habits. Inwardly we suspected that this fatherly compassion had been extended to the whole community.

After an ample supply of black coffee and black bread, we mounted our mules to ascend to the Sacro Eremo. Deeper and deeper got the snow, but, despite the admonishing voice of Antonio, we pushed on, and suddenly found our mules imbedded to the saddle girths. Then, for the first time, Antonio lost his head, betaking himself to those semi-blasphemous invocations to all the saints and devils that come so promptly to Italian lips in moments of exasperation. At last, as though nothing else was of any avail, he bent down, struck the snow with the back of his hand, exclaiming, ‘Corpo di Giuda!’ (‘Body of Judas’).

Watching the characteristic performance from the safe and comfortable elevation of my saddle, I meditated on the persistency of Pagan tradition in Italy, and bethought me of the line in Virgil: Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo. (‘Since Heaven will not listen to my prayers, I will appeal to nether Hell’). I need scarcely say that, encouraged by words and copious offers of assistance, Antonio succeeded in wheeling the mules round, and setting their noses downhill, advance to the Eremo being perforce abandoned. For a time he remained absolutely silent as we descended to the Convent. But at last he heaved a deep sigh, and exclaimed, ‘Ahime! Ho perduto tutta la mia devozione’. My companions wondered what he meant. My Roman Catholic training came to their assistance, and I explained to them that probably he had comped at Easter with the obligation of getting ‘absolved’ from his sins at that period, and had been in a satisfactory spiritual state ever since, but that, having now indulged in such shocking language, he had ‘perduto tutta la sua devozione’; in other words, had now forfeited the state of grace he was in, and would have to try to get it back all over again.

Noonsaw us on our way to La Vernia, the famous Franciscan Convent, familiar to the readers of Dante’s Divina Commedia. Our progress was up a gradual pathless ascent; but I believe Antonio could have traversed it in the dark without missing his way. After several hours of delightful zigzagging at a foot’s pace, we at length came in sight of the Monastery, impressed on the eye for life for any who has so approached it. Even Franciscan Convents vary in uncomeliness, those in the valley succumbing to civilizing influences more than those on the heights. La Vernia was in the latter category; and the severest laws of the saintly preacher of poverty were, we soon perceived, in full operation. That was just what we wanted. The only approach to comfort was the cordiality of the reception we met with; but in one’s young days what is material comfort in comparison with new and striking experiences?

Pious ignorance, and what some people would call gross superstition, were the dominant notes in the conversation of these brown-frocked, bare-footed Frati. They allowed that they often in severe Winter weather were hard pressed for food, but they had never experienced what once befell some of their predecessors, tanti anni fa, ever so many years ago, when the Brothers were menaced with absolute extinction by famine. Dragging themselves and each other into the chapel of the Convent, they prayed that Heaven might take compassion on them. Suddenly they heard the great bell at the gateway ring, and thither the least weak of the community tottered. All around, the snow lay thick as ever; but lo! at the gate was a huge basket of bread and food of other kinds. Need I add that the traditional tale ended with the statement, evidently made in perfect good faith, that the Madonna had interceded for them, and Gesu Chisto had sent this relief.

‘Now,’ I said to my companions, ‘is our chance of hearing Matins at three in the morning.’ The request that we might be roused at that hour was accepted as the most natural thing in the world; and, sure enough, when I was lapped deep in slumber on the hardest of beds, I felt a cold hand on my shoulder, shuffled on my clothes, and was shown, by the light of a dim hand-lamp of the old Etruscan pattern, into the long corridor. I found my travelling companions coming halfawake out of their cells, and the Franciscan monks and lay-brothers moving slowly, two by two, and chanting or droning a psalm, towards the underground chapel of which they had told me. Only one large tall candle lighted the way, but I could both see and feel that we were descending. Passing into the chapel having all the dimensions of a church, the Brothers prostrated themselves for a time before the high altar, in silence; then rising, and forming themselves again into processional order, they moved towards the closed doors at the other end facing the sanctuary. Then came the sound of the opening and pushing back of heavy doors on stiff hinges, and we were in the full moonlight, with the undulating line of theApennines clear in the distance.

Turning sharply to the right, we were again under cover till we reached the real underground chapel. I thought I could see a large Luca della Robbia over the Altar, which was verified by the next day’s daylight, as the finest one in the world, an almost life-size representation of the Crucifixion. After the intoning of the Miserere, the monks formed afresh, and led the way back to the corridor, where each of them silently entered his own cell. We did the same, enchanted, in the literal sense of the word, by what we had seen and heard, but soon plunged again into the refreshing slumbers of youth.

Ascencion Day and the Grilli 25/08/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

c. 1910

Ascencion Day is observed at Florence in a way to make it one of the most characteristic feasts in tlie Calendar of the city. At dawn, the people stream out in thousands to the Cascine, spending the day till noon in the open grass-spaces, and under the trees, of that public park. While this place was still the dairy farm of the Grand Dukes, custom prescribed that the day should begin with a drink of warm milk taken at the farm. The people then passed on, as they still do, to a rendezvous at the ancient oak-tree of the adjoining park, whence they scattered again in groups to catch the grilli, the black field-crickets, that form, even to-day, the chief object of this outing. Their prey caught and caged, the people dine; some eating on the grass the provisions they have brought; others seeking the rustic restaurants set out beneath the trees. At midday the park is empty again; the people have gone home with their grilli – caught or bought – in the little cages of buckwheat stem that serve to contain them. The cages are hung in the houses, for the Florentines think the cricket’s song brings luck to the home; especially if the grilli can be kept alive and vocal till the day of Corpus Christi. It is to be feared that few survive as long! Just this survival, however, must be insisted on; for it shows clearly what Florence has in mind when the grilli are caught. When Easter falls late – towards the 25th of April – Corpus Domini as Italy calls the further feast, tends to coincide with the summer solstice. Now the song of the field-cricket, opening feebly about the beginning of May, reaches its height only at midsummer, to die away about the 15th of July. Thus, when Ascension-day falls on April 30th there are no singing-crickets; and evidently the solstice is the date at which any observance connected with this insect should properly fall. With this reference to the solstice ancient authority fully agrees. Pliny, who mentions how the giylliis was caught in his time with a hair holding an ant as bait, quotes Nigidius for the great importance attached to the field-cricket in the doctrine of the Magi. It burrows in the earth, he says, walks backwards, and sings by night; such are the reasons he offers for the attention it attracted. Now the same backward movement was noticed in the scarabaus of the Nile and in the crab. Egypt made the scarabaus a symbol of the sun, and the world saw the crab in that sign of the Zodiac which the sun entered at midsummer. In Cancer, the sun began his annual retreat; hence a perceived relation between this solstice and all backward-moving animals. Among such then the grillo held a place of honour, and belonged, like them, to the same great moment in the year; gathering all the fancies with which the solstice was associated.

Day of the Dead at San Miniato 14/07/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

c. 1890

Nov 2 From five o’clock in the morning the bells of the many churches of Florence have been ringing, as numberless masses for the dead are said to-day, it being the Festa di Tutti Morti. The religious duties within the city being performed, the city turns out en masse, to make its yearly pilgrimage to the cemetery at San Miniato. Struck with the peculiarly jovial aspect of the crowd, and the contrast of their festal dresses to the melancholy errand on which they were supposed to be bent tomourn and pray over the tombs of departed relatives we too prepare to do as Florence does, and start forthwith to see how the dead are remembered by the living, in the ‘city of flowers’.

The bridges over the Arnoare crowded by a continuous stream of people all turned towards the cypress-crowned hill on the Oltr’Arno side, where the grand old basilica of San Miniato rises white and majestic on the summit. A motley crowd streams over the bridges and through the quaint streets. There are dark-faced Italian employes, evidently enjoying an unwonted holiday; groups of brighteyed Florentine maidens, in ultra-fashionable dress, and the inevitable duenna behind them; little knots of black-robed priests with shovel hats, who walk with folded hands and severe eyes; blue-coated soldiers, or bersaglieri, with flying cocks’ feathers. Then comes a family party from the country, a brownfaced peasant with his little boy on his shoulder, and wife at his side, gay in red or yellow kerchief, and carrying in her arms a stiff little bundle, the moving head and arms of which, protruding from the top, proclaim it a baby. Behind them a cluster of contadini girls in the brightest of dresses, and with all their festal jewellery displayed some wearing seven or eight rows of pearls round their necks, and earrings of enormous size. These jewels form their dote or marriage portion, and descend from mother to daughter through many generations. Mingling with this motley company are a few black figures, widows and mothers of the dead, carrying wreaths or crosses of immortelles, or long candles to burn on their tombs.

These few dark spots on the mass of motion and colour give the key-note to the day. To them the day of the dead is a sacred feast, hallowed by love and grief, a day passed in memories of the happy time when those whom they go to mourn were walking in life and health by their side. But we cannot grieve for ever, and the new mourners are but few among the many on this bright November day. Some children are dancing merrily along with rings of everlastings in their hands inscribed ‘To my Brother’, or ‘Sister mine’, and they evidently think themselves favoured beyond their little friends who have no wreaths. One child just in front of us says to another, ‘Who is your garland for’. ‘For my aunt’. ‘Ah!’ replies the first, ‘mine is more than that, it is for my own mamma’. And she displays in evident pride a hard yellow garland, with ‘Madre mia’ written on it in black immortelles.

Here and there rolls by the carriage of a Contessa or Marchesa carrying her to the Requiem Mass; and walking slowly are some bare-footed Franciscan friars, and one or two members of different sisterhoods in white wimples, with rosaries in their clasped hands.

On winds the gathering stream through the narrow streets, out under the dark arches of the Porta San Miniato and up the steep hill, called the Via Crucis, which leads to the great cemetery. It is bordered at intervals with shrines of the seven stations, at each of which devout Catholics say a prayer. This morning every shrine is crowded by beggars, who collect from all parts for this day. There are blind beggars, lame, dumb, deaf, and dwarf beggars; beggars without legs who have a peculiarly swift and original mode of locomotion; beggars begging for themselves, and some begging for other beggars.

On the summit of the Via Crucis are two churches. The smaller, the church of the Franciscan Friars, with their convent adjoining, on whose door-step may generally be seen a group of poor people bringing their empty platters to get them filled for a meal by the monks. Higher up stands the great basilica of San Miniato, with its inlaid marble front and glittering mosaic with gold ground, which is improved from an ancient Lombard building erected by the Emperor Henry II. and his wife, Cunegonda, in 1013. To reach this we enter a dark gateway, roofed over and adorned with several large iron extinguishers. This is the ancient lych-gate where the bearers rested the bier and the extinguishers were, and are even now, used to put out the torches of the funeral processions. We pass out into the precincts of the cemetery and enter the great church by the Porta Santa, so called because the body of the martyr S. Miniato was discovered herein, and the dedication of Cunegonda’s church was changed and took his name instead of St. Peter’s.

One’s first impression was of a surging crowd swaying about in dangerous proximity to lighted candles, for the floor is strewn with tombstones, and on all these are wreaths and burning tapers. The crowd takes care of itself, and as nobody dreams of pushing, one’s fears of conflagration wear off in time and we dare to cast our eyes around. The church is magnificent in form and design. Two rows of marble columnssupport the nave and aisles; at the east end two flights of marble steps lead to the upper tribune, and a wide stairway descends to the crypt beneath, which has remains of the ancientLombardarchitecture. On the tribune is a wonderful ‘ambone’ in carved marble, with the exquisite colours of ‘purple antique’, the most rare of ancient marbles. The dome of the tribune is covered with a fine gold-grounded mosaic of Christ with St. John, St. Matthew, and San Miniato, dating from the eleventh century; and beneath this five windows of thin slabs of Oriental alabaster, through which the light of the morning sun passes with a soft opaque radiance.

The choir in the tribune is filled with priests and choristers in their carved oak stalls, and they respond in deep harmonies to the priests in gorgeous robes performing the mass for the dead at the high altar. There is a very busy little acolyte who seems to think himself, the chief performer, and on the step of the very altar kneels a poor woman, who continually crosses herself, and when the priest moves near her she takes the hem of his garment and softly kisses it. We are touched at the sight with the memory of another woman in the days when Christ was on the earth, and wonder has this poor creature come here for healing by faith too.

In the crypt or under church are many relics; the tombs of S. Miniato and other martyrs are there, and a niche in the wall contains the blood of some martyrs. In the left aisle there is a certain chapel which contains a changing crowd the whole day. Here is the tomb of Cardinal Jacopo di Portugallo, and his episcopal chair. The tomb is the work of Rossellino, and very exquisite sculpture it is; the chapel is decorated with lovely blue and white medallions by Luca della Robbia. But the general crowd does not give its attention to these masterpieces it is entirely directed to the chair of inlaid marble, which every one who comes in kneels and kisses; some seat themselves solemnly in it for a moment, with hands in the attitude of prayer. We ask a man why this should be. He rubbed his head and shrugged his shoulders, but did not exactly know, only ‘twas a holy relic. A woman was better informed, and she told us that a prayer or a kiss offered there gave the penitent so many days’ indulgence, i.e., so many days off the time allotted to purgatory after death.

The mass is over, the organ has ceased rolling its waves of sound through the arches, the crowd in the nave gently parts asunder, and the whole mass of priests, acolytes, choristers, &c., bearing lighted candles, passes in procession down the steps, through the nave, and out at the Porta Santa to walk through the cemetery. Their chanting voices ring out on the clear air from the cypress-crowned hill, and mingle with the worldly sounds and the tolling of bells which come up from the city, whose towers and domes are gleaming down below across the glittering Arno.

It is so old-world and artistic, that one might make a poem of it were it not so marred by the littleness of humanity mingling with all. The bare-headed priests chant and pray for peace to the souls of the dead, who lie so silent beneath the sod on all sides of them; and the atoms of living humanity called boys go side by side with the solemn procession, fighting each other over the wax which drops from the candles as they pass by.

One little bully frightens away a girl whose hand is held beneath a guttering taper, and then takes the very piece of falling wax for himself. Chief amongst them is the energetic little acolyte, who with a solemn face possesses himself of wax right and left, hides it all in the breast of his full white ephod, and folds his hands devoutly over. The whole wide cemetery is full of people. On the inscribed slabs which form a pavement on each side of the path are mourners kneeling and praying amid the lighted candles flickering in the wind, and the efforts to keep these alight, alternate spasmodically with the fervency of their prayers. Every grave is decorated according to the taste of the mourners, some with real flowers, exquisite but fleeting; the greater number choose a more lasting, if inartistic, form of expression, and hang up frightful bead frames or hard rings of yellow and black everlastings; some put a ghastly framed photograph; and a favourite adornment is a iron imitation flower, painted, in an iron pot. Tinted wreaths of flowers in tin are also frequent. Great variety exists also in the monuments, among which there is a good deal of sculptural art.

There is a terrace raised up over the colombaria, or graves in wall cells, and from here a marvellous view of the whole cemetery, with its surging crowd of priests and processions; vendors of cakes, sweets, and cigars; girls with mass books and rosaries in one hand, fruit in the other; weeping mourners, and jesting young men; bereaved mothers and wives bewailing for those who are hidden from them by the cruel marble slab; and light-hearted girls with all their thoughts warm for the hopes of the future love. Life and death, and death and life, contrasted side by side in a hundred different guises. And down below the hill of the dead, beautiful Florence, with the bridge-spanned Arno flowing amidst its towers and palaces. And that, too, speaks of death and life a nation has died, and a new nation is growing to strength and power. And farther off are the mountains, veiled in golden mist, which seem to speak of the everlasting.

Florence’s Frugality 26/05/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

c. 1910

Now, in a hundred signs, this temperance in food and drink may be seen to-day at Florence. The market and its habits surprise the stranger, and if he analyse the matter he will find that a wise and convenient economy is the principle that accounts for what he wonders at. One example of this, trivial though it be, may suffice to prove the case. The Florentine chicken, having regard to its size, is now probably no cheaper than such a fowl would be anywhere else. But small as it is, the bird is dealt with as if it were a sheep: cut up, joint by joint; decomposed into the elements of wings and legs and breast and body, which are each sold separately. Even the combs of the cocks are clipped off, and the gizzards and livers laid apart; with the result that the buyer can consult his taste, and compose dishes that, if not substantial, are at least dainty in their nice economy.

So far is the matter pushed, that I have heard of a stranger to Tuscan ways whose ignorance of market usage led to his disappointment at dinner-time. He had told his servant to buy and prepare him a dish of fowls’ legs, and found, when it came to table, that these ‘legs’ were only drumsticks. On complaint, he was told the mistake had been his own, as, if he wished the thighs as well, he should have said so! To such lengths does the Florentine still go in the careful economy of the table. It might be thought, indeed, that these habits were comparatively modern, and rather the result of decaying trade here than survivals from any more remote past. But that this is not so appears from the fact that even in her greatest days, when Florence sat queen and wanted for nothing, she followed the same rule of self-restraint and wise parsimony.

A Bull of Eugenius IV (1431-39) speaks of the ‘frugalitas Florentina’, which indeed was and is proverbial: ‘Il Fiorentino mangia si poco, e si pulito, Che sempre si conserva l’appetito’. Doni, who lived and wrote a century later, tells the same story. In his Zucca (Ramo, ch. v.) he describes a banquet given at Venice by a rich Lombard: how the talk at table fell on Florence, and how the company, full-fed, mocked at the ‘onciate di carne che gl’usano di comprare (cosa favolosa da plebei a dirla) per il viver della famiglia di casa.’

He was himself present, and, being a Florentine, found the situation awkward. If the charge had been false, be sure he would have said so, yet, when he spoke, it was but to declare with national pride: ‘I Fiorentini insegnano la temperanza nel vivere’. Florence, too, could feast, as she still does on occasion, but her rule has always been that of temperance; born, we may be sure, in the earliest days of all, when the long hunter’s fast divided his brief and occasional days of plenty, and formed a lasting habit of self-restraint that persists even under the changed conditions of later and modern life.

Tolerating Florence c. 1830 09/04/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A letter written from the Hotel des Quatre Nations c. 1830

Neither of us are in love with Italy, and therefore I devoutly hope that we may be back in dear England by the end of December. The travelling here may be divided into three classes plague, pestilence and famine. Plague the mosquitoes. Pestilence the smells, and Famine the dinners. Nevertheless Pups, who is never satisfied with anything at home, seems to thrive upon the abominations here, as he grows quite fat, or as Byrne says: ‘Mr. Bulwer out of contradiction seems to enjoy the bad beds and bad dinners,’ while I am getting quite thin upon lemonade and lamentations. Poets ought to be strangled for all the lies they have told of this country. ‘Mother of Paintings and Sweet Sounds’ it certainly is, but not sweet smells… The entrance into Florence is certainly beautiful, being completely crowned with vineyards, plantations of silver olives and orange, lemon and pomegranate trees; and with the Grand Duke’s Gallery, no one can be disappointed; but excepting these, Cheltenham or any other little watering place in England is twenty times a prettier town. Oh, and the flowers I forgot those. They are splendid. How I wish I could send you some of the beautiful violets, myrtle, carnations and magnolias that are now before me. Our windows look upon the Arno. How fine that sounds, and yet it is a dirty little, narrow, ugly, muddy river, covered with little ugly Feluccas in which are coarse, ugly men in more than a state of deminudity, shovelling up the mud all day long. In short, even the Westminster Bridge part of the Thames is a hundred times handsomer.

First Home in Florence 23/01/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

c. 1910

We made our first home in Florence with our good friend Signora V. and her daughter. Our rooms were on the second piano, which meant three flights of uncompromising stone stairs, but once at the top our windows overlooked the piazza on one side, a pretty garden on the other, and gave us plenty of sunshine; moreover, we had a loggia, a very different matter from a balcony or gallery both in name and character, and from which we got charming views of the distant hills. Within was every creature comfort – not luxury, perhaps, but cleanliness, order, refinement, and an excellent table with two servants, merry-faced Dina and kindly Annunziatina, to serve and pet us, to identify our wants and interests as their most pleasurable duty, and teach us to say that Tuscan cookery and Tuscan servants, at their best, cannot be equaled the world over. The relation between the Italian family and servants is in many cases almost ideal: there is complete understanding and freedom of speech; the mistress talks and consults with the maid, and she, in turn, depends on her mistress as on a mother, and yet neither forgets her place or dignity.

As for food, where will one find such sweet, tender vegetables, such crisp salads, and macaroni served in a dozen different ways, each better than the other? For the first month every dish brought to the table was a mystery and delightful surprise. How could one have lived half a century and never known fritto misto, or the changes that may be rung on rice or corn meal? What a far different object the pomidoro is in Tuscany from the tomato of commerce in Boston! Then, who ever can measure the capacities of chestnuts? As for meats, if variety is limited, certainly the methods of cooking are legion, and one never seems cloyed with the Tuscan chicken; oil and cheese are delicious. For tea Italians care nothing, and their coffee leaves much to be desired; but who would drink either, or even the questionable water of Val d’Arno, when pure wine may be had for the asking? Tuscan wine certainly ‘needs no bush’, but there are so many degrees, even of the boasted Chianti, that only the wise may be sure of the best. At our signora’s we had the most delicious wine, both white and red, and, mark you, without extra charge. ‘