I discovered a kindred spirit today. I found her in a small crimson-colored book that I had picked up long ago in an antiques market because I liked the title and the imprint of cypresses on the cover. I placed it on a shelf and I don’t believe I ever opened it up.
Until today. “So, You’re Going to Italy,” by Clara E. Laughlin, published in London, 1929. As is sometimes my habit, I opened the book to a random page. Clara and I became instant friends. She wrote:
“Rome is for the intellect. Venice for the senses. But Florence is for the spirit – for that part of us which isn’t just mentality, nor just delight in beauty, but which is the eternal striving in us, reaching up through all the bewilderment of life to find a meaning for it all and to satisfy ourselves that in the large plan, the long view, life is right.
Florence is intensely feminine. But not a soft languorous femininity. She knows how to make herself beloved and how to make her lovers see life with vision, to make them undertake great things and carry forward with courage.
There is nothing of the courtesan about her. She flaunts her loveliness for no one. If you want to feel her ineffable charm, you must know her well, woo her in the right spirit. This takes time.”
Clara says she writes for the traveler, not the sojourner (the daytripper). So do I, Clara. So do I.
As I followed Clara through the pages of her book, as she took me on a stroll through Florence, I found myself saying over and over, “Yes, it still feels like that.” In the Palazzo Vecchio, in Santa Croce, in front of the David, in the Loggia in the Piazza della Signoria. Standing in the Piazzale overlooking Florence at sunset. She describes it thus:
“Standing above Florence, as any day of her history passes into eternity, one thinks first of all of how many memorials to their undying love of her, her citizens and her guests have been privileged to leave in that fair city after their spirits took flight. Every bit of love her beauty has inspired is enshrined there still. The Arno, on her way to Pisa and the sea, becomes a street of pure gold. Next, Arno is a blood red, remindful of the path to the heart’s desire. The stillness grows the more profound. Red fades to rose, then pearly pink. Then in a sky colored like the lining of the deep sea’s loveliest shell, a pin prick of starlight shines through. When I come down from a sunset hour on that Piazzale, it is as I have been on a mount of vision, lifted above this world’s pettiness and strife.”
Yes. To one degree or another, this is everyone’s experience. One spot on this earth where anyone who has ever stood there at sunset– Michelangelo, Leonardo, Gallileo, Cosimo de Medici, Savonarola, Brunelleschi to John Singer Sargent, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mark Twain to me, in this moment in my mind as I recall it vividly – feels lifted up.
There is an unchangeableness to Florence that I find not just captivating, but reassuring. To know that if Leonardo strolled the Piazza della Signoria today, it would pretty much look like it did 500 years ago.
How many cities on earth can claim that?
I tell people I return to Florence for the beauty and I do. But I also return because, like Clara says, it helps me “see life with vision, undertake great things and carry forward with courage.”
Clara: “Florence lies there for our stream of life to flow through and take therefrom that which shall make our far fields verdant. It is this forward look, in confidence, that Florence gives as no other city does.”
Florence makes my far fields verdant. As I sit here writing this, thousands of miles away from her, I feel her warmth, her strength, her hand on my shoulder.
This October, I will be taking another small group of travelers to Florence. Some of them have been with me before. Some of them will see it for the first time. The ones who have been before will be there again to woo her, because they know there is oh so much more to discover – this feminine city that only reveals herself to the ones who take the time.
I have a very special trip planned in October. It is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death. We will visit places he lived and worked in. We also have a special invitation to visit a silk manufacturing house that uses looms Leonardo designed. Every day, a work of art.
October 19-26. All inclusive, except airfare. Luxury Villa, luxury transportation, chef cooked meals, private visits to “off limits to tourists” places, fabulous Tuscan wines, and perhaps the best part: the warmth and hospitality of my friends in Italy.
A significant portion of your cost will be donated to the organizations that maintain the priceless culture of Tuscany: The Puccini Foundation, The Casa Buonarotti (Michelangelo’s Archives), among others. $8,900 per person. To reserve your spot, limited to ten persons, contact Carol at [email protected].