Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Room with a View

In 1901, the English novelist E. M. Forster and his mother stayed in the Pensione Simi on the right bank of the River Arno in Florence – a typical Florentine boarding house of the type frequented by Victorian tourists. “It had a cockney landlady”, said the snooty Forster, “who scatters Hs like morsels”. It gave him the idea for a novel, A Room with a View, published six years later.

In the opening scene of A Room with a View, a group of equally snooty mature English spinsters staying in the Pensione Bertolini are having a collective moan: one of them complaining loudly that she asked for a room with a view of the river, but did not get one. As she drones on, a male guest – not of their party – says that his room has a view, and that he would be glad to exchange rooms with her. The snobby complainer lowers her voice, content with something else to moan about: bad enough that, as the man’s accent and attire clearly reveal, he is from a social stratum lower than that of her or her friends, but he has addressed her without being spoken to.

There is still a riverside pensione at 2, Lungarno delle Grazie - not now called Pensione Simi - but we didn’t stay there: we rented an apartment nearby. It was in an ancient building - on the third floor - and the shutters were closed when we went in. We knew from the map that when we opened them we would not see the Arno. Instead, a bible-throw away, was this: Brunelleschi’s dome, waiting there since 1461. Who got the room with the view?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Space Invaders

A new record: the spam percentage of my incoming mail yesterday was 100% - up from 95%. Usual stuff – Viagra, aggrandizement of genitalia and such. (How did they know?) I now even get spam comments on the blog, but fortunately they only reach me as e-mails and don’t get onto the blog. You’d think the spam filter that can keep them out of the blog could suppress them – but that’s way too technical for me.

Cautionary tale: this week I got a mailed invoice from a catalogue sales company. I had not heard of the company and had not purchased a Blackberry - I wasn’t even in the country when I was supposed to have ordered it, so I ignored the invoice. My Beloved, not being equipped with an “Ignore” button, calls the company. They say, ah yes, we thought it was suspicious when they gave us a delivery address different from the billing address, so we didn’t supply it. Then why, you may ask, if they didn’t supply it, did they bill me? Only one answer comes to my suspicious mind: because it was worth a try.

I had to go to Arezzo: having visited the natal homes of Dante and Boccaccio, I had to see that of the last of Italy’s immortal literary trio, Francesco Petrarca, known in English as Petrarch.
In keeping with his lifestyle, this little dwelling in the Via dell’ Orto was the most humble of the three.
Arezzo is Tuscany’s Tuscany: it lies in the region’s south-eastern corner so is close to the heart of Italy. It ticks all the boxes, starting around four millennia BC: Etruscan heritage, Roman amphitheatre, medieval ramparts, Gothic churches and Renaissance palazzi. The Piazza Grande (below) looks like a confused film set - and has been, e.g. The English Patient.
Chaucer was a Petrarch groupie, and came to Florence in 1373 hoping to see him, but I must admit I always found him the most difficult and least joyful of the three: Dante is thought-provoking and Boccaccio funny, but Petrarch is doleful. He was born in Arezzo in 1304 and left with his parents at the age of nine to follow the Papacy to Avignon, as good Catholics did. He studied law in Montpellier and entered the church, but was more interested in writing. The family retired to Florence, but Petrarch returned to Avignon in 1326, and the following year, at the age of 23, fell in love on sight with the beautiful Laura as she left a church in Avignon. He gave up religion and wanted to marry her, but she refused him on the very reasonable grounds that she was already married. While most men have a Laura or two in their lives, then move on, she became Petrarch’s passion and inspiration and he made rejection his life’s work, immortalising her in well over 300 poems.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks

Just back from a windy whirl in Tuscany – not intentionally so, but we chose the wrong time of the year. Florence has almost exactly the same latitude as Nice, but that is where the similarity ends. Nice is sheltered from the northern wind by the Alpes Maritimes, while Florence nurtures it and even gives it a special term of affection, the tramontana (across the mountains). And it is cold: the Florentinos are dressed like Eskimos and we like Lear; every other shop is a gelateria – for which I swear they don’t need refrigeration.
On the plus side, the cities – Florence, Siena and Arezzo - are relatively crowd-free: the “tribe of wretches”, as Lord Byron called them, are a throng but not yet a multitude. But in the end, survival took priority over research, and that for southern Tuscany has been postponed until the temperature improves.