A Tuscan tale by Simon Law:
There were not many, but if there could be a group, from the small Tuscan Mountain village of Santa Giuditta that might be described as the ‘great and good’ it was those who gathered at the manse, early one spring evening, at the invitation of the priest. Significantly, perhaps, there were no youngsters, nor anyone from the Pro Loco or the Social Club. It was a select gathering.
Enrico, the man who would be mayor – if the office had not been erased, and his wife, Eleanor, Stefano, the manager of the local foundry, Matilde, a stalwart of the church, Samuela, the widow of a rose grower and a retired couple, recently returned from living in Genoa, gathered in the dark, cold, neglected, former priest’s house.
The priest, who was now lodged in the local town, presided over a sparse buffet, before, as if a magician lifting the cloth covering from the article central to this gathering.
It was a book, covered in a stained kidskin binding, it was old: created in 1671, they were told. The priest proudly explained it had been recently discovered in the diocesan library.
***Simon Law’s new book: Beyond the Margins***
The priest opened the book to a page marked with a florescent post-it-note and offered it to Enrico – who reached out to take the book – the priest retracted. It was for viewing only. Eleanor moved closer to see. The exposed leaf was an elaborately illuminated family tree: Fasi, the family name, was finely illustrated on the trunk of the chestnut. The genesis of the lineage described on the branches and fruits. It was as beautiful as it was informative.
Enrico decided to get his camera. The priest intervened: flash photography might damage the valuable book. Perhaps, if permission were granted from the diocese, copies might be made – at some later date.
The priest licked his finger and thumb and turned the pages to the next day-glow post-it-note. Stefano was offered the book, opened to his family page.
Stefano’s eyes scanned the leaf quickly gathering as much information as possible; he knew the time he would be permitted to understand this piece of his family history would be limited.
The priest withdrew the book, licked his finger and thumb and turned the pages to the next day-glow post-it-note and offered the manuscript to Matilde, the stalwart of the church.
Stefano mumbled his thanks to the appointed spiritual advisor of San Giuditta as he pulled on his coat and, barely noticed by the others, took his leave.
There was a light drizzle falling as Stefano climbed the narrow street from church to main piazza. He was furious: centuries of conflict between the City States of Lucca and Florence, on the borders of which Santa Guiditta stood, and the catastrophic bombing that had destroyed the village’s municipal building during the last war, had, it had been believed, destroyed all paper records.
The book that he, and just a few others, had been permitted to see might have been found by the church but did not belong to it – but to the people of the village to which, it had just been proved, Stefano and his family had resided in – for more than 400 years.
Stefano also knew there would be other villagers even less pleased than he with the news he was about to share with them.
A new Tuscan tale will appear on Italy Chronicles next week.
What are these Tuscan Tales all about? Find out here: About Tuscan Tales
After Chelsea School of Art, Portsmouth Polytechnic and Ruskin College, Simon began work in the film and television industry in 1979 (United Motion Pictures, Southern Television, TVS, LWT, Thames Television, BBC, C4, British Screen, Skreba Productions …) as an assistant film editor, later as an editor – occasionally a director and producer.
Simon splits time between London and a small village in North Tuscany. Between buying a house, beginning to do it up and the arrival of #1 son, he worked on: “The Last Syllable”, a connected series of short stories; a novel, “Come Again” and a series of short stories about the village, “Santa Giuditta”.
Simon can be found on Twitter as @SanQuirico
Photo credit: François Malan