Villa Il Palmerino
By Federica Parretti
Translated from the Italian by Elisa Bizzotto
The fascination overcoming the visitors was neither due to its grandeur – for it was just a modest country villa though set at the feet of Fiesole’s most blazoned hill – nor to its haughty garden, but rather to its secret, hidden spirit, the spirit of an ancient place that had witnessed many lives, as well as to its simplicity, in which nature and buildings imbricated quietly, almost in a murmur. I cannot say whether this aspect was influenced by the personalities of its inhabitants, always reluctant to appear to the view, or whether the inhabitants themselves were touched and magically affected by the place, thus becoming emanations of it.
I have always lived in this house, but often escaped from it, scared by the powerful force it exerted on its dwellers throughout the centuries. I saw my grandmother first and then my own mother share the same destiny as vestals of these large walls, with their hands and fingers digging the earth and trying to extirpate both the weeds along the little paths of the garden and their fears lest they were unable to keep the house vital and intact as it used to be during my childhood.
At tea time my grandmother would pour her reflections, always in a wondering and matter-of-fact tone, she would dispense them with her distinctive smiles – some more tea? Milk or lemon? She knew the answer, but she would repeat it, secretly hoping to receive another, hidden behind a glance or a trembling hand, which confirmed what she already knew. Among the tea drinkers she sometimes mentioned Vernon Lee in that mannered language of hers. But we children were either in the next-door room or playing hide and seek behind the box hedges, forgetful of the past and only eager for the present.
I knew that name for I had seen it engraved on the stone outside, above the piano room window. We used to read the inscription spelling out the English words, as if they were a refrain languidly accompanied by grandmother’s chords when she was reading Brahms. Yet we associated that name with unpleasant sensations due to the attention it aroused in adults to our detriment, but also for the prohibitions deriving from it and for the embarrassment we could perceive in the answers to our questions.
Others were the figures who made us proud of living there, such as our grandfather, a painter, towering over the bare rooms in his self-portraits, who had handed down the love for art to us all together with his pearls of wisdom. Then there were the improbable old legends of the secrets of the Della Robbias, as well as the Passatore’s rest under the big pine-tree and other stories, concealed under layers of plaster together with the fresco we had discovered.
Even in the years when I was far from home, I always knew that the journey had started here and that my return would have the flavour of those fresh summer nights, with wet-toed shoes and the shiny wood of the “Pompadour,” with its inebriating perfume under the indifferent glance of the robin.
I knew that I had to come to terms with this eternal recalling and that I was possibly buying time, suspending my life in many strange theatres, stretching my fibre in exasperating points and diagonals.
It was the house itself that allowed it all to me, but she would not be waiting for long.
Only now, after many years, when I close my eyes can I listen to the voices around me. The writings of she who knew everything have helped me understand the reason behind such an immense power. I am frightened by these presences, but also reassured by the traces I can find scattered everywhere: either in a crack in the wall, just where a rusty nail is fixed, or in a hollow on the floor where the step rises, or in the fragrance of the white rose blooming in May, or in the heavy creaking of the gate that echoes in the street.
I do feel that I must preserve these emotions, all these stories, for they will be able to answer many other questions, to clear up many other doubts, and they will either help to find forgotten paths or to meet other questions and throw them onwards, like dice.
Wishing to host and house such emotions we have created the Residenza, a cosy haven. For we know, maybe not without a little bit of presumptuousness, that those who come here following some traces are ready to be enraptured by the queries of this place.