Friday, February 27, 2009

Letter 18: Pensione Pendini, Florence

[Letter 18]

Pensione Pendini
Florence, Italy

February 27, '33

Dear Folks,

Much has happened since I last wrote. This time I shall not give you a day by day account of our doings, but rather a general impression. For one thing, the family did not generally keep together in Florence. You see, Florence is the greatest centre for historic art in the world and I was interested in seeing as much of it as I could without undue exertion. Dora and Marcus saw plenty of it,, but they also went off shopping and exploring more than I did. Meanwhile I would be taking in some ancient palace or museum.

Here in Florence, Raphael, DaVinci and Michaelangelo met very frequently in the early part of the sixteenth century. Dozens of other great artists and poets flourished here under the rule of the Medicis who were great art patrons. The city is therefore a great treasure house of painting and sculpture. In addition to this attractive feature, it also has a peculiar charm of its own. Its lovely little shops display beautiful articles--silver, linen, pottery, leather, prints. The prices are much lower than Macy's. So you cannot blame us if, when wandering down to the American Express to get our mail, we dropped in at this little store or that to inquire about the wares on display.

We are very centrally located, right on the Via Strozzi, a block or so from the Strozzi palace and only three minutes from the world-famous Campanile (bell-tower) of Giotto. Our lounge overlooks the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a great open square with two traffic cops to shoo pedestrians off the auto area. Inasmuch as the American Express is also near we often dropped in twice in a day and then continued along the Arno River to the Ponte Vecchio. What a happy recollection is brought up by those words "Ponte Vecchio" to anyone who has ever been to Florence! "Ponte" means bridge. This bridge (one of six across the Arno) owes its charm to the fact that on both sides of it are little bits of jeweler's shops clinging to it like barnacles to a ship. One can see the jewelers working with their tiny tools, fashioning rings, pendants and frames for cameos. The river is only about a block and a half wide; yet on this bridge there are about fifty little shops. I wish it were spring and that I had two months in Florence instead of two weeks. Then I would surely do a water-color or oil of this bridge. Most of you received a postcard picture of it.

The three of us went to see the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Campanile. At the Baptistery are the famous bronze doors made by Ghiberti. He took 27 years. There they are, covered with dust and no one looking at them except foreign tourists. But they are remarkable; truly worthy to be called the gates of Paradise. Here surely, "a picture is worth ten thousand words." A morning was spent at the Pitti Palace going through their thousands of famous paintings and sculptures. Yes, it was a treat to see three or four Raphaels in a single room. Most of them I was familiar with through reproductions I had studied. It was like meeting old friends and finding them looking better than you thought they did. Another time, I went through with Professor Tealdo Tealdi [1] (a graduate of my college) who gave most excellent discussions about the best pictures.

I found Professor Tealdi so interesting that I am in his group every morning. I enjoy seeing the art treasures under the guidance of an expert who knows just where each thing is and what its merits are. He speaks in English, of course. As Mr Tealdi says, other cities have many art treasures -- chiefly made by natives of other cities, but Florence has art works made by men born in Florence, working in Florence, for the city of Florence.

Dora, Marcus and I went to the famous Uffizi (oo-fits-see) palace to see their collection of paintings and sculpture, some 4000 works. Marcus and I went a second time. Those portraits by Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, well one has to see them, or at least large and excellent color reproductions to get an idea of the genius of those men.

We took a trolley trip to Fiesole, a village on the outskirts of Florence. We enjoyed the views on the way up the hill. It showed us Florence spread out below us with its charming villas and hills beyond. We saw the ruins of the ancient Roman amphitheatre. Last Sunday afternoon we went to the Gardens of the Pitti Palace. The day was balmy enough for us to sit on the benches. We met the Ehrenfelds again and have been seeing them every day. Their interests are just like ours: yes, he also has a movie camera with him. Marcus loves to play with Robert and Alice. [2] The park is stately and magnificent. We stayed until closing time, four o'clock.

Our two rooms here are very sunny and comfortable. The proprietors do all they can to make us happy. Thus we have dinner at seven-thirty instead of eight, and I have soup or vegetable if I don't want to eat the spaghetti. The place is run by women. The front door is locked night and day. When you ring one of the maids comes out with an immense key and opens it for you.

Several days ago I typed page 3 of this letter which consists of remarks about French and Italian customs. "These statements are not guaranteed" -- they are merely my limited observations. Many more things could have been listed, such as the way our maid closed the outside shutters, locked the windows and then closed the inside solid wood shutters every morning -- until we stopped her. (No, we are not on the ground floor.) Or, the white smock that the French barber puts on you when you are sitting down for a hair-cut.

We have received some lovely letters. Some have written us nice letters to whom we had sent only a card or two. I think these people realize that in the States friends reach each other by 'phone, whereas we have had to write hundreds of cards and also some letters. Hence they write us, knowing that we have no other way of hearing from relatives and friends. We can still be reached at AMERICAN EXPRESS, ANTWERP, BELGIUM, or c/o "MINNEWASKA", Red Star Line, Antwerp up to Mar. 30th. So write,



[1] Professor Tealdo Tealdi was born in the U.S., his family having emigrated there from Florence, Italy; when he graduated from high school his parents gave him a gift vacation in Italy to meet his relatives, and he liked it so much that he never returned to the U.S. He became a polyglot and an expert in art history, and is known to have acted as a guide for important aristocratic visitors to Florence.
[2] Alice Ehrenfeld Weil (1925-1996), first American woman to hold the rank of Assistant Secretary General at the United Nations. Died aged 70 in New York.

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