My skylight is leaking
I think it is leaking, at least. It is pouring here in Florence. Lightning, hail. I have no idea how to work the heat in my apartment so I am writing this in my long puffy black coat. This is exactly the weather and exactly the day that Shelley wandered along the Arno and then came home, drenched, to write straight out: “O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, / Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead/ Are driven, like ghosts . . .” That is all I remember. I have more of Keats by heart because for whatever reason Keats was my poet hero when I was twenty one and I copied “Ode to Autumn” onto lined paper and took it with me to Africa where I worked on memorizing it on the way up to Lake Turkana in a jeep.
Mary, meanwhile, is about to give birth to the only child she has who lives. She named him after her husband, Percy, and after the city where he was born: Percy Florence. When I give my talk at my conference on Friday, she will be giving birth or, I suppose I should say, the conference is on the day when she did give birth — a fact which interests me, absorbs me, actually — I keep thinking of it — but I suspect my audience will be less moved than I am so I am trying to keep this news to myself.
The last time I was in Florence I was twenty two, maybe twenty three. I had read Vasari and Dante, Petrarch and Bernard Berenson; I dutifully went and saw every Donatello and every Della Robbia, every chapel and every Fra Angelico that I could find. I tried to memorize the differences between Rafael and Botticelli. And I got lost every time I set foot outside. Unfortunately, it is happening again. I do not understand Florence. I never have. It makes me feel inadequate, not being able to navigate, so I felt a flush of triumph when I managed to walk home from dinner tonight without getting lost. My goal tomorrow is to master a few more streets, a few more campos. I would like to find time to write about Mary’s last trip here near the end of her life, when Percy Florence was out of school. She had invited along one of his friends and people spread evil rumors that she was having an affair with him (not her son, but his friend — I can’t remember his name). Well, maybe she was. Traveling is a lonely business and a liberating one. Besides, England must have felt far away.