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Autumn in Florence, Part II

We are going to be running a series of excerpts from "Italian Hours" by Henry James. Below is the second installment.


There is something to be said moreover for your liking a city (once it's a question of your actively circulating) to pretend to comfort you more by its extent than by its limits; in addition to which Florence was anciently, was in her palmy days peculiarly, a daughter of change and movement and variety, of shifting moods, policies and régimes--just as the Florentine character, as we have it to-day, is a character that takes all things easily for having seen so many come and go. It saw the national capital, a few years since, arrive and sit down by the Arno, and took no further thought than sufficed for the day; then it saw, the odd visitor depart and whistled her cheerfully on her way to Rome. The new boulevards of the Sindaco Peruzzi come, it may be said, but they don't go; which, after all, it isn't from the æsthetic point of view strictly necessary they should. A part of the essential amiability of Florence, of her genius for making you take to your favour on easy terms everything that in any way belongs to her, is that she has already flung an element of her grace over all their undried mortar and plaster. Such modern arrangements as the Piazza d' Azeglio and the viale or Avenue of the Princess Margaret please not a little, I think--for what they are!--and do so even in a degree, by some fine local privilege just because they are Florentine. The afternoon lights rest on them as if to thank them for not being worse, and their vistas. are liberal where they look toward the hills. They carry you close to these admirable elevations, which hang over Florence on all sides, and if in the foreground your sense is a trifle perplexed by the white pavements dotted here and there with a policeman or a nursemaid, you have only to reach beyond and see Fiesole turn to violet, on its ample eminence, from the effect of the opposite sunset.

Continue reading Autumn in Florence, Part II.

Autumn in Florence, Part I

We are going to be running a series of excerpts from "Italian Hours" by Henry James. Below is the first installment.


Florence too has its "season," not less than Rome, and I have been rejoicing for the past six weeks in the fact that this comparatively crowded parenthesis hasn't yet been opened. Coming here in the first days of October I found the summer still in almost unmenaced possession, and ever since, till within a day or two, the weight of its hand has been sensible. Properly enough, as the city of flowers, Florence mingles the elements most artfully in the spring--during the divine crescendo of March and April, the weeks when six months of steady shiver have still not shaken New York and Boston free of the long Polar reach. But the very quality of the decline of the year as we at present here feel it suits peculiarly the mood in which an undiscourageable gatherer of the sense of things, or taster at least of "charm," moves through these many-memoried streets and galleries and churches. Old things, old places, old people, or at least old races, ever strike us as giving out their secrets most freely in such moist, grey, melancholy days as have formed the complexion of the past fortnight. With Christmas arrives the opera, the only opera worth speaking of--which indeed often means in Florence the only opera worth talking through; the gaiety, the gossip, the reminders in fine of the cosmopolite and watering-place character to which the city of the Medici long ago began to bend her antique temper. Meanwhile it is pleasant enough for the tasters of charm, as I say, and for the makers of invidious distinctions, that the Americans haven't all arrived, however many may be on their way, and that the weather has a monotonous overcast softness in which, apparently, aimless contemplation grows less and less ashamed. There is no crush along the Cascine, as on the sunny days of winter, and the Arno, wandering away toward the mountains in the haze, seems as shy of being looked at as a good picture in a bad light. No light, to my eyes, nevertheless, could be better than this, which reaches us, all strained and filtered and refined, exquisitely coloured and even a bit conspicuously sophisticated, through the heavy air of the past that hangs about the place for ever.


Continue reading Autumn in Florence, Part I.

"Dark Water" - fascinating new book chronicles the Florence flood of 1966

"Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces" has just been published by Random House Inc. We have read it and can heartily recommend it to anyone interested in knowing more about Florence, especially in the history of art in this city and the historic flood of 1966. The publisher has generously given us permission to reprint here a lengthy excerpt. I think the first sentence of the book "There is Florence and there is Firenze" is spot on and is the first of many rich observations the author makes throughout:


I grandi fiumi sono l'immagine del tempo,
Crudele e impersonale. Osservati da un ponte
Dichiarano la loro nullit inesorabile...
The great rivers are the image of time,
Cruel and impersonal. Observed from a bridge
They declare their implacable nullity...

Eugenio Montale, "L'Arno a Rovezzano"

There is Florence and there is Firenze. Firenze is the place where the citizens of the capital of Tuscany live and work. Florence is the place where the rest of us come to look. Firenze goes back around two thousand years to the Romans and, at least in legend, the Etruscans. But Florence was founded in perhaps the early 1800s when expatriate French, English, Germans, and not a few Americans settled here to meditate on art and the locale--the genius of the place--that produced it. Over the next two centuries a considerable part of the rest of the world followed them for shorter visits--"visit" being derived from the Latin vistare, "to go to see," and, further back, from videre, simply "to see"--in the form of what came to be called tourism. The Florentines are here, as they have always been, to live and work; to primp, boast, cajole, and make sardonic, acerbic asides; to count their money and hoard their real estate, the stuff--la roba--in their attics and cellars, and their secrets. We are here for the view.

Continue reading "Dark Water" - fascinating new book chronicles the Florence flood of 1966.

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