The most interesting person I have met here is Roberto, the architect,
my landlord and very erstwhile friend, meaning we donít have sex
but we might as well, it is that intense. Roberto is a short, powerful
man who played rugby at the University. "What university?" I asked. "The
University of Florence" was the answer in a tone that suggested I had asked
He has thick white hair and thick black eyebrows and green eyes and
he dresses like a fifties Yalie except for the little Continental touches
like handkerchiefs in breast pockets. His shoes have tassels. He is most
charming, very social, probably quite rich, from an old family. His father
died in the Second World War in prison apparently on the wrong side. His
motherís name was Lavinia. I live in her apartment.
The family was/are very Catholic in the ritualized, social way some
Wasps are Wasps, some Jews are Jews, although probably Lavinia was devout;
there are signs in the house that this was so: holy water fonts, Madonna
statuettes. I like their Catholicism and I cannot say why; so much of Catholicism
is ruinous. Religion hasnít much clout in Italy anymore, especially here
in the north, and especially with people under forty. There are talismans:
men and women wear medals and crosses under their clothes. Sometimes. Roberto
is hardly representative of either current or past religious behavior.
Roberto is difficult.
Here is an example: yesterday the floor man came to finish tiling the
kitchen floor where there had obviously been some disaster, a rent or burn.
He realized he didnít have enough tiles. On the telephone I told Roberto
the man was short three tiles. Roberto exploded. It was as if I had just
told him I burnt up half the apartment, free-basing. There was an accusation
in his voice: there were a hundred tiles, meaning, obviously, I
had sailed tiles out the kitchen window like frisbees. And screaming?
Today he will be accusing me of trading in slaves.
He has done hundreds of nice things for me.
This apartment is across from the Duomo, fifty yards. Itís huge, all
black and white marble floors. It has two terraces that view Florence and
the hills beyond. There are leaks. The kitchen is a disaster. Roberto has
me rent here so his brother-in-law canít sell the place.
Italy palls. Its politics are so wretched. Thereís a code of pragmatism
which stands in for moral thinking, ethical behavior.
I went to Bologna. I thought I hated Bologna. I kind of did; it is an
ugly city. I went to a museum entirely dedicated to the medieval that had
such a beautiful and unusual things in it, I thought I was in heaven. Some
of my favorite things: small, handbag-sized scrolls from China, from the
trade routes of Marco Polo, exquisitely painted and unlike anything from
Asia Iíve ever seen; a Roman column turned upside down so that the capital
was turned into the base---the top was then sculpted with a very early
Christian scene; a cape from twelfth century England, hand-embroidered
with scenes of the life of Christ, unbelievable work, in silk, stitched
by women. The Pope wore it once. It is perfectly preserved. My last
favorite thing was an iron and wood gilded statue of Boniface, another
Dante put Boniface in Hell.
Bologna is north of Florence, over some of the Apennines. The conquest
by the Lombards is very apparent in many of the treasures. There are columns
inscribed with the same kind of design as in The Book of Kells.
There are very early gold Celtic crosses. I really loved this museum. It
was like seeing a retrospective of one artist, but instead of one
artist, it was one time. It makes the Cloisters look sucky.
Anyway, one thing, America has dogs that are real dogs! That gambol
and romp and love their masters. Here there are rat dogs or horrible big,
sad mongrels. Europe gave up on animals, when? I never even got to see
the wild pigs that are supposed to be all over Tuscany. Gerry Sternís sweetheart
Paperback books sometimes cost up to thirty dollars, the ones in English.
Tomatoes are very cheap. Pears taste like heaven on earth; they drip; they
reek of pearness.
I had a lawyer, an intelligent man, a poor-boy-from-Naples made-good-in-Bologna,
sit across from me on the train returning from Milan and tell me that fantasy
and reality are the same thing. Men here really do half believe this.
A governing leaning, a strong pull to hierarchical rather than
parallel power, are two of the dominant chords in the Italian music that
is the street I walk on today and the café I enter and the cleaner
I go to and the taxi I ride in and the men. There is no movement that in
some way is not codified.
But this is Italy. This is grace and art and the artistic and golden
Renaissance foment. This is the large (though sly) gesture. This is an
emotive world. Sunny Italy.
I admire parts of the Catholic church. I admire the early medieval church
that gave so many seemingly peripheral people succor and place. I admire
St. Francis. I admire the fantastic art, the keeping alive of myth, even
the greed for souls. I admire the devotion and the lunacy.
I am salvaged by the art here. "Why did I pick Florence" people from
other cities ask me with consternation, Florence being a really difficult
place of the boring, snotty bourgeois. "For the art," I say. There is so
much here, so many absolute masterpieces, so many casual masterpieces .
. . .
I still want the goofy things, like heartbreak and ecstasy and the humility
The painter who paints Apollo in full frontal nudity with legs spread
apart and the very large, though not erect, penis, is Pontormo, who is
sixteenth century and the beginning of mannerism. It is a beautiful fresco.
Here is something: people believe in the evil eye! Malocchio.
They believe that clerics are the vectors of the evil eye. Just for fun
the other day I asked a scientist if he believed in malocchio; I thought
heíd laugh at me but, instead, he said "I donít like the sisters."
I am reading Goethe and starting to hate him. The Germans, they are
I miss movies, sit-coms, hysterical laughing, Chinese food, Asian food,
Mexican food, driving my car, my ex-dog, my friends, poetry readings, hysterical
laughter . . . .
I am very decorous here.
Then I found yet another way back to Strada-in-Chianti. I really donít
understand how the roads work but I understand that Florence is north from
Strada and Strada is south from Florence. I aim the car on this principle.
It is summer. A state of mind.
In Tuscany it is so hot, so hot. But a beautiful place, with views,
with trees, with shade, with flowers, with the immense blue swimming pool,
big black bees, and, in the distance, the sound of a tractor on a far hill
where they are making a new vineyard. The land rolls, is measured off,
rolls. At night, due north, you can see a few lights of Florence and beyond,
It is a combination of Vermont and Virginia although it is cultivated
in patchworks and not wooded like Vermont and the earth is grey, not red
like Virginia. The grey is volcanic earth. There are no white steeples;
there are castles with crenellations.
So I am to be the impetuous and you the grave, sitting at a long table
working on the great puzzle of the Chinese boxes?
When I had journeyed half of our lifeís way
I found I needed straight lines, A to B, in every part of my being where
I was prompted, or prompted myself, to act. The convoluted could only make
a stasis and a silence. Wanting to move and wanting to speak, I move from
A to B. I fear you fear this.
Before I leave for Boston, Massachusetts, I would like to employ you.
To pack my computer again?
See how little I ask of you?