Sunday, 7 October 2012

Finding the Garden 6

 From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
On our second visit the old servant explained to us much that had puzzled us in our first hurried survey: the large villa was an old Medicean structure, and over a side door was an inscription showing that it had originally belonged to some scion of the papal Medici.  In more modern times it had been the country residence of the English minister then at the Court of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. During his occupation the English arms had been placed over the main entrance, and the avenue we had so much admired had been the high road, thus affording the inmates the joy, so dear to Italians, of seeing all that goes on in the world from their windows.  The English owner, being of a different way of thinking, persuaded the Commune – for a consideration - to carry the road around, thereby cutting into the adjoining podere, and in this way the small villino on the left had been incorporated with the property, with which it originally had no connection.  Some twenty-five or thirty years before the time of which I am writing, the English ambassador of former years, having given up all hope of ever returning to the place, sold it to the present owner, a wealthy Austrian banker, who occupied it during the winter and spring months, but spent the summer at another property in Northern Europe, when the small villino was often let to a temporary tenant.  We were shown over the house, which was of the most solid construction, and much larger than it looked, or indeed than we required. Among the dilapidated furniture it contained  were bits, here and there, that looked strangely homelike, and we found afterwards that, on one occasion, when extensive alterations were being made in the large house, its owners had themselves lived in the smaller one for more than a year, and no doubt furniture had been brought down there at that time, and had been allowed to remain.
I can always tell at a glance whether a house is adaptable or not, and I saw that this one had possibilities.  There were some lemon-plants in the court-yard, beyond which stretched what could only be termed a piece of waste ground.  I demurred at the size of the house, and the old servant obligingly offered to take us through the grounds to look at another villa just outside his master’s property, which was then vacant.
This place did not appeal to us at all, as it looked out on the highroad, on a number of small, poor houses. On the way back, old Giuseppe suddenly turned up the small flight of steps on which my companion had sat down when she lifted up her voice in protest against my intrusive ways: we followed him, and, pushing through the shrubs by a narrow path, we suddenly found ourselves standing in a large park bordered by beautiful old ilexes and fir-trees, with splendid conifers, tulip-trees and catalpas planted here and there.

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