Monday, 3 September 2012

Finding the Garden 3

 From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
So we missed the chance of becoming landed proprietors.  It was one of the very few places I have ever seen that I wished to possess, but it was in a singularly lonely and unprotected situation, and some years later, when socialistic troubles and disturbances were more pronounced in that district than in any other part of Italy, I felt that it was perhaps fortunate that we were not in such an isolated position, and in a neighbourhood so renowned for the lawless violence of its inhabitants.  All our friends had remonstrated at the idea of this retreat from British civilization; and everyone begged us to look about in Tuscany, in the neighbourhood of Florence, before coming to a decision.  We settled ourselves for the summer in the ground floor of a wonderful old villa, near Michael Angelo’s Fortezza, dating back to the days of the Republic, belonging to a Romagnuolo, a brother-in-law of Aurelio Saffi.
An extraordinarily mixed group of people tenanted this house, which had various outlets, and while one door opened on a steep Costa, another, far above it, led into a charming garden from which our apartment was entered.  In one corner a widow with a family of daughters had a quartiere.  The girls were umbrella-makers by trade, and formed a picturesque group at work in their small courtyard.  A post-office clerk had a bedroom in another part of the house, a lucky thing for us, as he used to bring up our letters and papers late at night, when he returned from his bureau.  This worthy made a futile attempt as a watery grave, owing to some unsuccessful love-affair, but the only results were a good ducking, and our landlord getting into a rage at his folly and turning him out.  On the floor above us lived an Italian officer with his wife and child, and in an old tower on the top of all dwelt the padrone di casa and his foster brother, who attended to all his wants.  The old gentleman dressed himself every day at five o’clock, and departed to his café, where he invariably spent his evenings.
A goat roamed about the garden, and lovely white pigeons used to fly in and out of the big vaulted  chamber which was our drawing room. I took this quartiere for the summer months, just to have some kind of pied-à-terre.  My companion was going over to England, and I felt that if I was bound to be dull, it was better to be so within reach of books and one or two old friends, than alone in a  mountain retreat.
Delightful as this place was as  a summer abode, we felt it to be hopelessly unsuitable for a permanent residence for Inglesi like ourselves, requiring warmth and comfort indoors, for we well knew how piercingly cold the Tuscan winters could be.  So we began to hunt about in the hot June days, resisting all the offers of our old padrone di casa : - he would give up his own sunny rooms in the tower, - and build an inner staircase to them from our apartment, anything, in short, in the brick and mortar line, if we would only remain.  No Italian landlord can bear to see so desirable a possession as an English tenant leave his house without making an effort for retain him or her as the case may be.

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