The latest musings from Lorenzo Carcaterra to be published, his latest book ‘Midnight Angels’ is out, and is set in Florence.
Lorenzo Carcaterra is the famed author of titles Sleepers (1995), Apaches (1997), Shadows (1999), Gangster (2001), Street Boys (2002), Paradise City (2004) and Chasers (2007). Sleepers was made into the fantastic film of the same name starring Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Brad Renfro and Minnie Driver.
We’ll be posting this article in 3 parts, so be sure to check back with us shortly for the next instalment!
THE TUSCAN LIFE By LORENZO CARCATERRA
THE FARMACEUTICA DI Santa Maria Novella, in the center of historic Florence, is the oldest herbalist pharmacy of its kind in the world. It is where Michelangelo, Dante, Da Vinci and Galileo and other giants of the Renaissance came in search of cures for their various ailments. It had once been a monastery, home to Dominican monks who worked the herbal gardens in search of medicinal remedies. The modern world is left outside once you pass through the thick, ornate wooden doors. I have shopped there many times over the years, but had never been allowed access to the basement, the large cold room, thick potted herbal plants lining the walls, where the monks had first plied their magic. Graziella, a dark-haired young woman, smartly dressed in stylish jacket and slacks, dark hair teasing the collar, is the general manager of the pharmacy and proud to share its history. I was there to pick up details for a novel I had just started to write. “Midnight Angels” would be set in Florence and deal with the discovery of a lost Michelangelo and I needed to know as much about the man as I did about his work, including his herbal habits. I brought along my then-12-year-old cousin Stefano and my wife, Susan, to help fill in any gaps I might overlook. We were half-way through our tour, Graziella pointing out various spots of interest, walking casually alongside Stefano. She would smile each time the boy asked a question, his Italian pitch-perfect. She stopped, nodded her approval when Stefano asked if he could check out the drawings hanging in a corner and watched as he ventured off. “Complementi,” she said to me and Susan. “You have done a remarkable job. I have never heard an American boy speak such perfect Italian. It is truly amazing.” My wife and I exchanged a glance and Stefano turned from the painting he was gazing at, walked up next to her and smiled. “I am not from America,” he said to her in English. “I am from Florence. I am just like you.”
The men and women of Tuscany live as if they were fast frozen in the middle of a Renaissance painting. It is a serene place of beauty locked in a timeless frame; it allows its residents to pursue their modern-world activities while enveloped in a setting established centuries before they were born.
The Renaissance has never left Tuscany. It can be found on any street corner, inside any church, down the halls of many an ancient but preserved palazzo. That exciting and creative period defines the Italians who fill its hills, fuels their characters, gives them strength and is the source of great pride. The Renaissance nurtures their identity. It is as much a part of their daily life as a morning espresso, an early evening passeggiata, e quello primo amore that can never be forgotten.
I have lived and worked in Tuscany during many periods of my life, spending months in the company of friends and relatives fortunate enough to call the region their home. They intermingle quite comfortably with the giants of the past, honored to keep Michelangelo, Dante, Da Vinci, Galileo and Machiavelli as alive and relevant today as they were on those days and nights when they walked the region’s city streets, ready to bring chisel to marble, quill to parchment, paint to canvas, creating works that will outlive us all.
It is impossible not to be aware of the Renaissance in Tuscany. You can see it in Florence, when you turn down Via Girolami for the first time, enter Piazza di Santa Croce and then step into the church that is lined with the tombs of the Renaissance greats, from Michelangelo to Rossini. Or head down Via Ghibellina and find the wooden doors with the number 70 chiseled into the stone side and step into Casa Michelangelo for the first time, the interior kept as it was for The Divine One. Or when you venture across Piazza Ottaviani, directed there by the smiling face of an elderly man in jacket and tie, and see the small two-story home where Dante agonized over the pages of his “Inferno.” It is there on every street in San Gimignano, the small medieval city seemingly untouched by the years. They live as if time-warped in the 13th century, proudly showing the tourists who flock to the hamlet each day a sample of Renaissance life. The restaurants serve cuisine from another era, pasta with wild boar a specialty; the small streets are lined with family-owned shops selling everything from pottery to lamps, all hand-made with the skills passed down through the centuries. In a local butcher, I once made the mistake of ordering prosciutto, thinking the counterman would slice off a kilo or two. Instead, he unhooked a 40-pound slab from above his head and asked, “Tutto aposto, cosi?” I smiled and told him it seemed like more than even I could eat. He shrugged and said, “It will last you the winter.”
TO BE CONTINUED….