Monday, August 23, 2010

Exploring Arezzo in writing

I have a real bad habit of consulting guidebooks after I have visited a place – a negligence leading to great regrets over opportunities lost, photos not taken and sights not seen.

Like Henry James, I spent my day at Arezzo in an “uninvestigating fashion …. systematically leaving the dust of the ages unfingered on the stored records”. I did see Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle on “The legend of the True Cross” and glimpse Santa Maria della Pieve from a distance, while haunting the fashionable shopping district, but I seemed to miss the poetry of the place.

Fortunately, James kept a record of his Arezzo stay in 1873, and it is a great pleasure to explore the city through his writing:

“Adorable Italy in which, for the constant renewal of interest, of attention, of affection, these refinements of variety, these so harmoniously-grouped and individually-seasoned fruits of the great garden of history, keep presenting themselves! It seemed to fall in with the cheerful Tuscan mildness for instance – sticking as I do to that ineffectual expression of the Tuscan charm, of the yellow-brown Tuscan dignity at large – that the ruined castle on the hill (with which agreeable feature Arezzo is no less furnished than Assisi and Cortona) had been converted into a great blooming, and I hope all profitable, podere or market-garden. I lounged away the half-hours there under a spell as potent as the “wildest” forecast of propriety – propriety to all the particular conditions – could have figured it. I had seen Santa Maria della Pieve and its campanile of quaint colonnades, the stately, dusky cathedral – grass-plotted and residence about almost after the fashion of an English “close” – and John of Pisa’s elaborate marble shrine; I had seen the museum and its Etruscan vases and majolica platters. These were very well, but the old pacified citadel somehow, through a day of soft saturation, placed me most in relation. Beautiful hills surrounded it, cypresses cast straight shadows at its corners, while in the middle grew a wondrous Italian tangle of wheat and corn, vines and figs, peaches and cabbages, memories and images, anything and everything.” (From Italian Hours)

I really must go back sometime soon to look for those memories and images.

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