The last instalment of 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 have posted this article in 3 parts, so be sure to start from the beginning!
THE TUSCAN LIFE By LORENZO CARCATERRA
(Part 3 ? the final instalment!)
The Tuscans are, in so many ways, like the cities they inhabit?from another time, characters etched in historical settings, of course with the occasional modern adjustment: In Florence, a woman sells jewelry in a store off the Ponte Vecchio, following in the seven-century tradition of the bridge’s jewelry merchants (In Renaissance days the Ponte Vecchio was a meat market, beef, lamb and pork sold from dawn to dusk, the leftover bones, skin and fat tossed into the dark waters of the Arno). Today, she stands out from the rest for the simple reason that she collects license plates from every state in America and even knows the mottos, from the Garden State to Live Free or Die. Then there’s the bartender in Lucca who spends his Sunday afternoons going to and from the small towns that make up Tuscany, determined to pray in every church and taste every wine in the region, a mission made more reasonable given that he is traveling by car and not horse. And finally, the staunchly traditional woman for whom modern Italy, much less Tuscany, simply does not exist. She is a lifelong resident of Siena, with its population of 50,000 divided into 17 sections?each area designated by a multi-colored medieval flag. “I worry my daughter will meet and fall in love with someone from another section of the city, someone whose flag would be different from our own,” she told me as we stood in the center of the square where the legendary Palio is staged. “My family and I would need to give that quite a bit of thought before we allowed such a marriage to go forward.”
There are worse things than to fall in love with someone from your own town,” I said, not sure if she was serious or jesting.
That’s true,” she said with a stern nod of her head. “He could be from Florence.”
Now I knew there was no humor in her concern: Florence and Siena have been bitter enemies ever since the first city defeated the second in battle. The fact that this occurred in 1500 does not lessen the rivalry. “I completely understand her thinking,” my cousin, Paolo Murino, told me. “Why should she forget? Because it happened long ago? What is ancient to an American is not to an Italian. America is still a young country. I have a friend there who told me he had bought an old house. It was built in 1880. To an Italian, that might as well be yesterday. My home was built in the 13th century and nothing in it has changed, except for wiring and plumbing.”
If the past lingers on, in the art of the towns and the minds of the people, there are occasions when it blends seamlessly with the modern world. I was in a wine shop in San Gimignano a few summers back, scanning the aisles, sipping from a glass of Brunello. The owner, elderly and, as are most of his Tuscan counterparts, smartly dressed, stood behind a thick wooden counter, watching as I savored the wine and eyed the different blends on sale at amazingly low prices. “Would you like to bring a few bottles back to America with you?” he asked.
E anche qualcosa per vostra moglie? Some olive oil and Balsamic vinegar as well?”
I would,” I said. “But it would just be such a hassle to pack. Plus I would worry that the bottles would break during the trip over.”
The old man shook his head and smiled and gestured for me to come closer. “It is true that San Gimignano is an ancient city and we keep it that way. It is how we preserve the past and earn our daily wage. But not everything in our town is from another century. I can send you your wine, oil and vinegar. As much of it as you like. And I promise you it will be waiting for you when you arrive home.”
How can you do that?”
Fed-Ex,” the old man said. “I will send it by Fed-Ex. I believe even Michelangelo would approve. Dante, on the other hand, would probably frown at the extravagance. But he was never an easy one to please.”