On fire in Firenze
MAy you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain’ begins my favourite Irish blessing, possibly because we have neither walls for the wind nor a roof for the rain.
What remains of the house is, in fact, covered in scaffolding. Obviously, the sensible thing to do when builders are renovating your home is to relocate in the general neighbourhood and spend your days imitating the family ghost, viz, appearing unexpectedly, sighing and moaning. The rash thing to do is to rent a massive apartment you can ill afford in a former Medici palazzo in Florence for an entire month.
It's hot as hell, without the satisfaction of having done something wicked
This has been our last week of Renaissance living and it’s been as hot as hell, without the satisfaction of knowing that one has done something really wicked to deserve one’s fiery fate. The apartment’s main feature is a cavernous piano nobile with spindly, uncomfortable furniture, which the twins, who found an armoury of Nerf guns among our landlord’s possessions, have turned into a battleground. Naturally, this gets on our nerfs, but helps us feel we are getting some value from it.
There is one decent bedroom suite with a terrace, which Rose and I bagged. We’re paying, after all. The other bedrooms resemble the Black Hole of Calcutta—just without the light, breeze or space. There is, of course, air conditioning, but, cunningly, it’s an extra. Rose spends much of her time wandering from room to room turning it on. I walk behind her turning it off. She patiently goes around again turning it back on.
Next week, when we are in our new, rented home in West Cork, where August weather is inclined to the wintery, it occurs to me that we will probably be repeating the procedure, only with the heating.
Clearly, with the thermometer topping 100, the logical thing to do is visit a foundry. Not just any foundry, but the one that belongs to the Frilli Gallery, which, as I don’t need to tell you as you’re a well-educated Country Life reader, was started by the famous sculptor Antonio Frilli.
For longer than anyone can remember, the Frilli is where you go if you need two dozen, handcarved, 3ft-high marble urns for your terrace, a perfect bronze replica of the Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti for your baptistery (yes, the Duomo is a client) or perhaps a small, Classical statue (maybe a reproduction of a lesserknown work by Giambologna or Verrocchio) for your study desk.
For the past three generations, the Frilli has been run by our only close Florentine friends, the Marinellis. Tragically, Enrico, who was a gentleman in the true meaning of the word— considerate, generous, chivalrous and scholarly—passed away unex- pectedly in February. He had urged us many times to come to see the studio’s artisans at work, but we had put it off, believing there was no rush. We were delighted, therefore, when his daughter, Clara, made the same offer and, on Tuesday, she devoted the whole morning to showing us around.
The foundry is now located in a relatively new building with certain concessions to modernity (the furnace, for example, which is large enough to drive a car into, is gas-powered and the lighting is electric), but the 20 or so artists and craftsmen working there employ the methods of their 14th-century forebears.
There was a man, for example, adding detail to an inkstand after Cellini with the aid of an antique magnifying glass and a tiny chisel about the size of a needle. Another explained how he was preparing the moulds for a solid-gold sculpture (the gold itself being worth $4 million) destined for the Museum of Modern Art in New york.
‘They really pour themselves into it,’ said Oliver, who has adopted Jack’s punning habits, ‘and you’d really have to cast around for a more interesting way to spend a morning.’
Apparently, what the eyes can’t see the heart can’t grieve over, but where does that leave the stomach? Our selfimposed exile has meant I’ve completely missed my lateseason gooseberries.
There’s a Chekhov story called Gooseberries in which one of the characters says: ‘Country life has its advantages… you sit on the verandah drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and everything smells good… and there are gooseberries.’ Exactly. Nothing matches a fine dessert gooseberry—plump and juicy, with a sweet, subtle flavour. It’s maddening to think that it will be a year until I savour the taste again.
Much as I love Florence, my mind has been dwelling on the rest of that blessing: ‘Tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you and all your heart might desire.’ I’m looking forward to getting home. Jonathan Self is an author and raw dog-food maker (www. darlingsrealdogfood.com) who lives in Cork, Ireland
Next week: Horatio Clare