Saturday, April 7, 2018

Machiavelli's Oak


A frustrating yet fruitful exile

Florence seen from just outside the village of Sant'Andrea in Percussina where the Machiavelli family had their estate.
In 1513, when the historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, author and playwright Niccolo' Machiavelli (1469-1527) was banished from Florence to his family estate by the reinstated Medici, it must have been poignant, if not painful, to see the towers and cupolas of his native city, so near and yet so far.

The Machiavelli seat, essentially a grand farmhouse, on the road winding between Florence and San Casciano: on the opposite side of the road stands the Albergaccio inn which Machiavelli frequented. Note the height and security of the lowest windows: the road would have been a busy and at times dangerous thoroughfare.


the entrance to L'Albergaccio
In his famous letter to his friend Vettori, Machiavelli describes a typical day: 

I shall tell you about my life. I get up in the morning with the sun and go into one of my woods that I am having cut down; there I spend a couple of hours inspecting the work of the previous day and kill some time with the woodsmen who always have some dispute on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbors. I could tell you a thousand good stories about these woods and my experiences with them, and about Frosino da Panzano and other men who wanted some of this firewood.
Upon leaving the woods, I go to a spring; from there, to one of the places where I hang my birdnets. I have a book under my arm: Dante, Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, Ovid, or some such. I read about their amorous passions and their loves, remember my own, and these reflections make me happy for a while. Then I make my way along the road toward the inn, I chat with passersby, I ask news of their regions, I learn about various matters, I observe mankind: the variety of its tastes, the diversity of its fancies. 

Io mi lievo la mattina con el sole, e vòmmene in un mio bosco che io fo tagliare, dove sto dua ore a rivedere l'opere del giorno passato, e a passar tempo con quegli tagliatori, che hanno sempre qualche sciagura alle mani o fra loro o co' vicini. E circa questo bosco io vi harei a dire mille belle cose che mi sono intervenute, e con Frosino da Panzano e con altri che voleano di queste legne. Partitomi del bosco, io me ne vo ad una fonte, e di quivi in un mio uccellare. Ho un libro sotto, o Dante o Petrarca, o uno di questi poeti minori, come Tibullo, Ovidio e simili: leggo quelle loro amorose passioni, e quelli loro amori ricordomi de' mia: gòdomi un pezzo in questo pensiero. Transferiscomi poi in sulla strada, nell'hosteria; parlo con quelli che passono, dimando delle nuove de' paesi loro; intendo varie cose, e noto varii gusti e diverse fantasie d'huomini.

fireplace of the Albergaccio which warmed the cardplayers
By then it is time to eat; with my household I eat what food this poor farm and my minuscule patrimony yield. When I have finished eating, I return to the inn, where there usually are the innkeeper, a butcher, a miller, and a couple of kilnworkers. I slum around with them for the rest of the day playing cricca and backgammon: these games lead to thousands of squabbles and endless abuses and vituperations. More often than not we are wrangling over a penny; be that as it may, people can hear us yelling even in San Casciano. Thus, having been cooped up among these lice, I get the mould out of my brain and let out the malice of my fate, content to be ridden over roughshod in this fashion if only to discover whether or not my fate is ashamed of treating me so.

Viene in questo mentre l'hora del desinare, dove con la mia brigata mi mangio di quelli cibi che questa povera villa e paululo patrimonio comporta. Mangiato che ho, ritorno nell'hosteria: quivi è l'hoste, per l'ordinario, un beccaio, un mugnaio, dua fornaciai. Con questi io m'ingaglioffo per tutto dí giuocando a cricca, a trich-trach, e poi dove nascono mille contese e infiniti dispetti di parole iniuriose; e il più delle volte si combatte un quattrino, e siamo sentiti non di manco gridare da San Casciano. Cosí, rinvolto in tra questi pidocchi, traggo el cervello di muffa, e sfogo questa malignità di questa mia sorta, sendo contento mi calpesti per questa via, per vedere se la se ne vergognassi.

Letter to Francesco Vettori, December 10 1513, translation by J.B Atkinson and David Sices in Machiavelli and his friends: Their Personal Correspondence, Northern Illinois UP, 1996.


The buildings of Sant'Andrea in Percussina, in the Comune of San Casciano Val di Pesa, have changed little over the centuries. And behind the Albergaccio, the inn where Machiavelli famously played cards with the locals, grows a magnificent oak which may, with a little bit of imagination, have been sprouting when Machiavelli dedicated his evenings to writing Il Principe.

the entrance to villa, farmyard and threshing floor


Today the farmhouse-villa is a museum which centres on Machiavelli's two-year exile. Some furnishings are said to hail from his era, some are still older.

house of the fattore or farm manager on the left; farmhouse on the right: Machiavelli's study window is the second on the right
entrance hall to the farmhouse: the living quarters lead off to right and left but the righthand side was dedicated to the writer's study and library. Double wooden doors sheltered him from the demands of farm business and family. Married in 1501, Machiavelli had six children.

door panels
Machiavelli family nuptial or dowry chest dating to the 14th century



simple but beautiful coffered ceiling in the master's rooms
The kitchen bespeaks an economy of design and functionality which ought to be the envy of contemporary designers.
The kitchens of ancient homes are often the most authentic part, unchanged for centuries. This particular kitchen boasts several 'hobs' with individual fire-niches (two visible here on the right, more below)

the original in-wall kitchen cupboards
bread oven with leavening closet below
a corner of the house, almost a shrine to the thinker
At the back the farmhouse looks more like a villa and opens onto a formal garden, a more recent (possibly 17th century) addition. The huge cistern was used to catch rainwater.

the small formal 'green' garden, facing south
Beneath the house, road and inn lie extensive cellars, largely unused today because modern wine vats are made of steel, not wood or cement.


In addition to the cellars, a tunnel runs under the road between the Machiavelli property and the inn. It provided a safe route for our exile's nightly movements to and from the inn when, the day's farmwork and business done, and his cardplay and conviviality at an end, Machiavelli changed his clothes and sat at his desk to commune with the ancients.

the tunnel is beautifully restored but all the materials including the cobbles are original
When evening comes, I return home, and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the garments of court and palace. Appropriately dressed, I enter the ancient courts of the ancients where, lovingly received by them, I nourish myself on that food which is mine alone and for which I was born; where I am unashamed to speak with them and ask them about the reasons for their actions; and they, out of their humanity, answer me; and for four hours I feel no boredom; I forget my troubles; I do not fear poverty nor does death frighten me; I live entirely through them. And because Dante says that no one understands anything unless he retains what he has understood, I have jotted down what I have profited from in their conversation and composed a short study, De principatibus, in which I delve as deeply as I can into the ideas concerning this topic, discussing the definition of a princedom, the categories of princedoms, how they are acquired, how they are retained, and why they are lost.

Letter to Francesco Vettori, December 10 1513, liberally adapted from translation by J.B Atkinson and David Sices in Machiavelli and his friends: Their Personal Correspondence, Northern Illinois UP, 1996.

Venuta la sera, mi ritorno in casa ed entro nel mio scrittoio; e in su l'uscio mi spoglio quella veste cotidiana, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni reali e curiali; e rivestito condecentemente, entro nelle antique corti delli antiqui uomini, dove, da loro ricevuto amorevolmente, mi pasco di quel cibo che solum è mio e che io nacqui per lui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro e domandargli della ragione delle loro azioni; e quelli per loro umanità mi rispondono; e non sento per quattro ore di tempo alcuna noia; sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte; tutto mi trasferisco in loro. E perché Dante dice che non fa scienza sanza lo ritenere lo havere inteso - io ho notato quello di che per la loro conversazione ho fatto capitale, e composto uno opuscolo De principatibus; dove io mi profondo quanto io posso nelle cogitazioni di questo subietto, disputando che cosa è principato, di quale spezie sono, come e' si acquistono, come e' si mantengono, perché e' si perdono.


possibly the desk at which Il Principe was written; the chair is a 'Savonarola' dating back to the late 15th century
the shadow of Machiavelli's oak on the Albergaccio
Analogies might be drawn between our conjectured acorn, grown into the magnificent oak presiding to this day over the Albergaccio, and the manuscript entitled De Principatibus which the impoverished, exiled Florentine composed in the hopes of ingratiating himself with the Medici family but which was eventually (it was only published posthumously in 1532) to become the celebrated, first text of modern political science.


The property was held for centuries by the Serristori family, Machiavelli's descendants, and was only recently acquired by Gruppo Italiano Vino which restored the villa-farmhouse, cultivates the vineyards and runs the restaurant.
Today the museum is open to anyone who dines at the restaurant, which we can recommend for genuine, tasty Tuscan fare with a difference. Reservations are required and after lunch a guide will take you through the museum, in English or Italian.

Via Scopeti, 64,
Sant'Andrea in Percussina,
San Casciano Val di Pesa
Tel. +39 055828471
email info@villamachiavelli.it
www.villamachiavelli.it






Sunday, March 4, 2018

When a tree is cut down

Stumps


A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
 
Hermann Hesse, from Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte, collected by Volker Michels, 1984 



The two executioners stalk along over the knolls,
Bearing two axes with heavy heads shining and wide,
And a long limp two-handled saw toothed for cutting great boles,
And so they approach the proud tree that bears the death-mark on its side.

Jackets doffed they swing axes and chop away just above ground,
And the chips fly about and lie white on the moss and fallen leaves;
Till a broad deep gash in the bark is hewn all the way round,
And one of them tries to hook upward a rope, which at last he achieves.

The saw then begins, till the top of the tall giant shivers:
The shivers are seen to grow greater with each cut than before:
They edge out the saw, tug the rope; but the tree only quivers,
And kneeling and sawing again, they step back to try pulling once more.

Then, lastly, the living mast sways, further sways: with a shout
Job and Ike rush aside. Readied the end of its long staying powers
The tree crashes downward: it shakes all its neighbours throughout,
And two hundred years' steady growth has been ended in less than two hours.
 

Thomas Hardy, Throwing a Tree, New Forest
 

Monday, February 5, 2018

A New Friend at Le Ripe

Argo the Pup

Argo on arrival, looking, listening and smelling
Ten days ago Le Ripe joyfully welcomed a new resident. His name is Argo (after the dog which faithfully waited for Ulysses to return from Troy and his Odyssey). 

displaying his sniffer-hound genes






Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Wood in Winter

A wood which has become the extension 
of a 
Chianti garden

Once the woods around here were cultivated for their various uses: brush for fires and ovens, wood for fuel, tools and farmwork and to make charcoal.


 Friends of ours near Panzano in Chianti have spent endless hours clearing the brush, brambles, stunted trees and bushes from the wood above their house.


Monday, January 15, 2018

A 19th century vision of 15th century Florence

George Eliot and the Passage of Time in Florence



"...a world-famous city, which has hardly changed its outline since the days of Columbus, ...seeming to stand as an almost unviolated symbol...to remind us that we still resemble the men of the past more than we differ from them..."

Florence in 1490: bird's eye view from the west
In her novel Romola (1862-63) George Eliot (or Mary Anne Evans) offers a vision of Florence which, besides displaying her deep grasp of the history, language and culture of the city during the Renaissance, regales the modern reader with a vivid portrait of the town at the height of its glory.
 
1914 edition of Romola
But it is her Proem which interests me here. Eliot begins her preamble to Romola by underlining how little many world-famous cities have changed over the centuries, at least at their historical hearts. Her assertion held truer in the 19th century than it does in the 21st, but in the case of historical Florence, it is arguably still - miraculously - the case.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Fallen Cypress

Resuscitating a Tree


The day the builders came and, manoeuvring their digger in a tight space, crashed into one of three cypresses we planted over ten years ago, setting the tree at a 45 degree angle, we were not sure whether it could be salvaged.
After we watered it thoroughly, presumably to ease its shock (it happened at the height of a very hot summer), the cypress rapidly sank to the ground, where it lay for over two months.
The experts told us it was better to wait for cooler weather but when they came to visit the patient they were concerned that many roots had been broken in the fall; perhaps the tree was compromised. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Build a Farmhouse: an 18th Century Architectural Treatise

Delle Case de' Contadini
Ferdinando Morozzi
1770



...farmhouses can be improved, not for the sake of it, but in order to remove many fatal mistakes, as much for the Farmers' lives as for the damage incurred for the owner who cannot derive profit from his Possessions...therefore I will try to discuss this, setting out rules for building anew, modifying and enlarging pre-existing homes based on experience, and the Authorities of the most serious Writers...

...non poco si possono migliorare di piu' le Case de' Contadini, non per il lusso...ma affine di togliere ...tanti errori..funesti...alla vita de' medesimi Contadini, quanto ancora di pregiudizio notabile all'interesse di chi possiede, che non ricava dalle Possessioni quel frutto compensativo...percio'...io procurero' di discorrere sopra le medesime...esponendo le regole per...edificare di nuovo, e correggere, ed aumentare le gia' fatte le quali cose tutte saranno appoggiate all'esperienza e corredate colle Autorita' de' piu' gravi Scrittori... 
 
Delle case dei contadini, link to book


On Peasants' Houses is the title of this slim volume published in late 18th century Florence by one Ferdinando Morozzi (mentioned in the post on Le Ripe History). The Tuscan case coloniche or farmhouses inhabited by  sharecroppers, but not owned by them, (see the post on Sharecropping in Tuscany) are the typical clusters of rural buildings for which this part of the world is famous. They are often misnamed villas, but villas were the homes of the gentry and nobility, are grander and often surrounded by formal gardens. 
 
restored casa colonica not dissimilar to the one in Morozzi's drawing below: some might erroneously call it a villa but it is really just a wonderful old farmhouse beautified

Case coloniche are the solid, square stone structures where the farmers, the 'peasants' of the past, lived and worked. Arches, dovecotes, external staircases, towers, terracotta grills on the barns for aeration, are regular features; locations vary but tend to be central to the farmland and on an elevation, if available.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hilltop View from Le Ripe

We lost some forest but we gained a view
looking almost due east
When we first walked proudly over our property - the sensation of owning land, as opposed to a house, is strangely exciting - we convinced ourselves that our scanty maps showed it extending to the top of the hill. Our imaginations expanded it a little further.
looking north towards Panzano in Chianti


We would climb the hill and confidently point out the (imagined) boundaries to visitors. It was nice owning a hilltop, even if there was no view up there from spring to autumn, because of the forest of leafy oak and ash. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Long Dry Summer of 2017.2

...and the rains came


 ...finally, almost 60 millimetres

I only wish I could have captured the sound and fury of it all, the thunderbolts and lightning flashes. 
Thor and Zeus really let us have it, at last.

looking south towards Radda (invisible)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Day the Drone flew over Le Ripe

The upside of new technology: aerial photographs


  
A friendly, invited drone buzzed over Le Ripe this morning like an outsize mosquito and obligingly took some photographs.


Maybe next time it will deliver pizza.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Long Dry Summer of 2017.1


Waiting for the rain

these are early morning shots, before the heat sets in

As we walk crunching on the lawns - what say I? - former lawns and meadows, at Le Ripe, I reflect that the place is looking more and more like Australia. The hills have turned prematurely brown, the earth is parched, some bushes and trees, or at least their foliage, have died.
most hills are browner than this, it is quite marked

The drought has been with us since spring. There have been two mediocre rainfalls in the past 4 months or so, totalling about 30ml. It was almost the same last year but at least then we had enjoyed spring rains.
some plants have fallen by the wayside