Thursday, June 26, 2014

Under a Tuscan Sun

I was twenty-nine years old when the Arno flooded its banks on Friday 4 November 1966. According to the Sunday New York Times the damage wasn't extensive, but by Monday it was clear that Florence was a disaster. Twenty feet of water in the cloisters of Santa Croce, the Cimabue crucifix ruined beyond hope of restoration, panels ripped from the Baptistry doors, the basement of the Biblioteca Nazionale completely underwater, hundreds of thousands of volumes waterlogged, the Archivio di Stato in total disarray. On Tuesday I decided to go to Italy, to offer my services as a humble book conservator, to help in any way I could, to save whatever could be saved, including myself.
  From The Sixteen Pleasures (1995) by Robert Hellenga

I do not remember whether I had read that opening paragraph of the Robert Hellenga novel by the time of my 1996 visit to Florence. I had certainly seen Merchant and Ivory's A Room with a View (1985) and recognized the church of Santa Croce from the film's scene of a deadly fracas during which Lucy Honeychurch falls fainting into the arms of George Emerson.

My niece and her husband and their two little boys are now in Florence, “ensconced” (their word) in an apartment less than a block from Santa Croce. Thanks to Google, I am allowed a glimpse of the front door that they use whenever they return from a family walk under the Tuscan sun.

Meanwhile I get to be of some help to them here under a New England sun. Armed with keys and alarm code, I entered their townhouse last Tuesday evening for the first of several visits. I watered the plants that they had told me would all be collected on the kitchen table. A last-minute email from Italy had included a further request to check the floor around the dehumidifier in the basement. When I left, I was able to reassure them that water was where it should be.

And I am where I should be. A welcome challenge each of the past three summers has been to get enough water into a hanging basket of flowers outside the porch door of my apartment. I have learned what a New England sun can do if I neglect the watering can even one day.

Settling into June evenings inside my apartment, I frequently use martini glasses purchased in Florence back in 1996 when I am ready to pour from the cocktail shaker. Sometimes I sit with a friend across from bookshelves where a book showing Fra Angelico frescoes from the cloister of San Marco stands. I fall asleep each night within sight of a majolica tile that came home with me from Italy.


1 comment:

Laurent said...

As we approach the holiday of Fer'Agosto, I love reading this story about Florence. Thank you for sharing.