Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reading. Forster.


I have probably mentioned a few (hundred) times already that A Room With a View is one of my favorite books, that Italy is one of my favorite places, and that Florence is one of my favorite cities. I have been there twice, and each time have left wanting more; I have read Forster's words so many times that they are inextricably intertwined with my own memories, which is the way literature works. Twice now I have stood before the church of Santa Croce and thought of Lucy and Miss Lavish making their way through the streets of Florence - without a Baedeker, because he "does but touch the surface of things," and Miss Lavish has taken it away - until they reach the large piazza, "on the farther side of which rose a black-and-white façade of unsurpassing ugliness."

The description gives pause until you remember that the façade of Sante Croce was not finished until the mid-nineteenth century; in Forster's time it would have been relatively new, whereas nearly a century later the ravages of time and the elements have softened the black-and-white stone. Inside, it is somewhat like a barn, as Lucy thinks to herself, and rather cold (which is a relief in the summer). Even now knots of tourists are guided from chapel to chapel, stopping at the more famous tombs that line the walls, only they are not led by stern English clergymen, and I am not moved by the frescoes because I feel I ought to, but because they are extraordinary.

What I remember most - and perhaps I have mentioned this once or twice or a dozen times already - is the scene where Lucy witnesses a murder in the Piazza Signoria. The Piazza Signoria is abutted on one side by the Palazzo Vecchio, with the fountain of Neptune splashing away to the left. To the right you can see the Galleria degli Uffizi stretching away from the square towards the Arno; perpendicular to the Palazzo Vecchio is the Loggia dei Lanzi, filled with statues and tourists eating gelato. (Perhaps tourists are not allowed inside the loggia, but I can't remember). Now when I stand next to the fountain of Neptune and looked up at the palace tower, and then over to the Loggia, I imagine Lucy fainting in George's arms, even though it is bright daylight, instead of twilight, and the square is filled with tourists in their sensible shorts and sneakers and baseball caps in all colors, fancy cameras slung about their neck, gabbling away in a dozen languages. I look towards the Uffizi Arcade, where Lucy finds herself upon recovering from her swoon (it is not far, but still it must be quite a haul with an unconscious woman in your arms). On those same steps we will wait in line to enter the museum.

Remember the mountains over Florence and the view, says Mr. Emerson to Lucy. She does. And so do I.

Forster. E. M. A Room With a View. Vintage International, 1989. pp 20-21, 230.

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