On fire in Firenze

Country Life Every Week - - My Week - Jonathan Self

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

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