Friday, February 25, 2011



    was in the 15th Century Palazzzo Altoviti, built in 1426 (a lifetime before Columbus set sail going west to find India but found our ‘Indians’ instead)! Eighteen Borgo degli Albizi was not on a back street at all but on an extension of the Corso, the 1st Century B.C. road of Roman times when it was the main east/west axis of Florence. (Let’s call Florence, ‘Firenze’ (fir-ren-za) from now on. Why do we change the names of places when we say them in English?) The Borgo degli Albizi twists and turns, is paved with stone and is lined with extraordinary, old Tuscan buildings.  Palazzo Altoviti’s façade has sculpted faces of visages of celebrated Florentine citizens and is therefore alternately called the Palazzo dei Visacci. (I found this out in the "Blue Guide". How exciting that my new home was described in the famous English guidebook!)

You entered the palazzo through the 25 foot-high wood carriage doors, which were open during the day but locked after about 1 a.m. You also passed through huge, ornate iron gates that protected the back half of the ground floor or the piano terra.  (The ground floor of a palazzo housed horses, storage and the servants’ quarters. Living quarters for the nobility began on the next floor—piano nobile, our second floor—hence the convention of counting floors beginning with the first one above ground level, which became standard throughout Europe.) My apartment was up two grand flights of stairs. On the piano nobile, there was a pair of fifteen foot-high wood doors going into an apartment. Surrounding these doors was a phenomenal, carved sculpture of cupids and drapery, down to the floor!  

The third floor, their piano secondo, contained my apartment and five or six others.  There was a small elevator that had recently been installed by being sandwiched, somehow, among the inner structural supports of the ancient building. Albeit, it was only large enough for two people or a person with a single suitcase.

The apartment was stark and modern, yet ‘beachy’—in the sense of white walls, light-colored pine wood floors, sparsely furnished and with big shuttered windows.  The apartment was ‘L’-shaped with a fifteen foot-high ceiling and fitted with all the functions into a delightful package. Upon entering double doors from the foyer, you were in the main room. Directly ahead in the opposite wall was a large window that opened onto a busy courtyard—a microcosm of Italian life.(If you leaned out of that wonderful window, you could view part of Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome!) Toward the back of the main room on the left wall sat a white Formica and wood cabinet. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, but it turned out to be the sharpest ‘invention’—the entire cucina (kitchen). The kitchen-in-a-cabinet contained a small refrigerator, two gas burners, a mini-sink, and a shelf with a light and an exhaust fan underneath. A tiny trashcan fit neatly under the sink. Those Italians! What designers! I’ve never seen anything like that before or since. It became a favorite thing (used to fix strong espresso in the morning or to keep my finocchiona (spicy, fennel, summer sausage), fresh tomatoes and mozzarella).  

Turning right into the ‘L’ you came upon two levels: above was a study loft with an extra bed and below was the bathroom and a hallway leading to the bedroom which was, again, the full height. The high ceiling seemed to float above the entire apartment.  It was the original very dark, wood planking and somewhat carved beams—556 years old!  A perfect and very distinctive arrangement.
  ---A 20th Century space in a 15th Century building.

After sleeping on a bare mattress, I went shopping first thing the next morning.  Practically everything was required including sheets, towels and condiments.  There were, however, some dishes, a few pots and pans and, or course, that ubiquitous Italian kitchen device—the espresso maker. Much fun! –molto fun.  Next, I moved the furniture around. All of it was unimaginatively lining the walls.  There were three identical slip-covered chairs, a modern wood and plaid cloth two-seater, a small dining table with four of those very nicely designed Italian clear-plastic and chrome folding chairs, and an old bureau. I grouped the furniture in the middle of the room but banished the bureau to the bedroom closet. Molto bene! There were 18 funny old (not neat old) pictures hanging on the walls along with a couple of maps stapled onto the beautiful white walls. I removed them all except for a watercolor print of Montecatine Terme over the desk up in the study loft and vowed to keep fresh flowers in the large, pretty vase on the desk.

Then I took a long, luxurious bath in the wonderfully big, deep bathtub. That’s something we did not adopt in the New World, and I’ve often wondered why. I spent more time in a bathtub over there in four months that I had during my last sixteen years in Washington D.C. I wrote in my sketchy diary that I felt so great in that bath that I thought I should go to Firenze every year. Right! Uh huh. I had kept a small expense diary, but before long I found myself also jotting down my experiences in it, so I soon added a warning note to myself, not to write so much or I would run out of room!??! (Too bad it’s so sketchy. But it sure comes in handy for writing this.)

(Italian windows—but more on that later.)

Now, I thought, my apartment was complete except for a sorely needed plant.  I was visiting the beautiful Boboli Gardens which overlook Firenze. These gardens were installed by the Medici at their ‘country’ escape palazzo, the Pitti Palace, but which is now surrounded by the city. Across the road, I discovered a nursery that had indoor plants.  There it stood, a large, beautiful Kentia Palm—my favorite plant.  The next day a big workman appeared with it in his arms and lugged it up the stairs, for neither he nor the palm would fit in that elevator. Mio appartamento was now complete~!



Anonymous said...

What a beautiful apartment! I'm jealous!!!! You were VERY lucky. I've been to Florence and could NOT find a place. I had to stay in a hotel.

Don Voth said...

Yes, I WAS extremely lucky!