Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Room With A View

Look at this:

Sunshine outside my window!! It wasn't taken today - I took the photo last Sunday thinking I'd get a chance to write, but the marathon of extra freelance assignments precluded that. There have been brief moments of the yard outside looking bright and sunny today, but the weather gremlins are conspiring to keep Sydney's summer wet and grey, so it has become somewhat rare to look outside and see that lovely dappled sunshine filtering through the trees.

However, it did, inevitably, send my thoughts to windows with views, and associated books, so I started reading E.M. Forster's A Room with a View again. I have four books on the go now... I'm still reading A Room of One's Own. I started re-reading (a second reading only, this is one of my newer books) The Postmistress by Sarah Blake - a WWII novel set simultaneously in London during the Blitz and Cape Cod in the USA. It's one of those lovely gentle pieces of writing that focus on the dynamics between people and the events that can grow out of random meetings. It reminded me a little of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - not the story itself, but the feel of the text. And then, a colleague offered me Bryce Courtenay's Matthew Flinders' Cat yesterday, rather than lugging it home after having had it returned from its previous borrower!

I started reading the Courtenay last night in self-defence when the television choice (dictated by the hand that was surgically attached to the remote) was not to be borne... I didn't get very far with it, although I might end up reading it, if only because it's the only book currently in the house that I've never read before. However, I get impatient with Courtenay's work. Don't get me wrong, I am enormously impressed with what he has achieved. His books have all made best seller lists, and he's no doubt drawing a very solid income from their sales. I'm sounding horribly arrogant and condescending here and I don't mean to - I AM impressed with what he's done, and I am deeply envious of someone who is earning what he's probably earning via his writing...  I read The Power of One, along with everyone else, when it came out. I read the sequel, and began to feel a little less excited. Then I read April Fool's Day - which I own and re-read - his story about his middle son Damon, who died of AIDS after receiving contaminated blood when being treated for haemophilia as a child. I read Tandia, which had its moments but not enough of them, and then I gave up. Courtenay is a very successful writer who has identified a style of story telling that sells extremely well. But, I don't like them. In April Fool's Day, there is something very different happening - because that book is Damon's story, not something made for the market. There is poignancy and honesty, and I love it.

So this morning, I was back with The Postmistress. It's making me crave Marge Piercey's Gone for Soldiers - which I gave to a friend of mine. Of all the genre of WWII fiction, it is, in my opinion, the most amazingly broad, sweeping telling of multiple stories but, for all that, it has an intimacy within each person's tale that goes straight to the heart so that the characters stay with me for a long time after reading. My friend was studying WWII history, so I gave it to her to read while she was travelling. I'm not sorry I did, and she really enjoyed it, but I do want to read it again so I will definitely have to track down a new copy.

A Room With A View, on the other hand, has me craving Florence. I spent four weeks in Florence in July 2005. The apartment in the medieval building where I was staying didn't have a view per se, as it was tucked away on a side street just off the Via dei Calzaioli facing the hotel opposite. The pensione in Forster's book is right on the Arno, with a view up to San Miniato and the hills above the city. However, the apartment was right in the middle of the old city, our alarm clock was Giotto's bell tower and the superb Mercarto Centrale was only a few blocks away so I could shop like any Florentine housewife on a daily basis for perishables, and walk my goodies home with ease. There was a marvelous tiny enoteca around the corner where I became a regular. I had classes on Renaissance art history in the afternoons, so I was free in the mornings to wander wherever I wanted. I'm a terrible tourist. I don't tend to head for the blockbuster sights of a place first up, and I didn't in Florence either. It's fortunate that Florence is such an inherently Renaissance city and my course took me into many of the major museums and galleries, or I may not have actually seen them. I found myself, instead, prowling tiny back streets away from the tourist trails, meeting local people, and drinking coffee standing up in tiny hole in the wall cafes.

My Florence is a city where I could return and feel at home. It's not a place I breezed through in five minutes, cramming the important galleries and one or two overpriced restaurants. I know where to buy milk and toilet paper. I can go and ask at the bakers for enough bread for the day to be sliced off a huge loaf of chewy unsalted Tuscan bread that will be hard and stale the next day because it isn't full of horrible chemicals to keep it soft and moist for the next two weeks. I even know which wine shops to hit on if I crave a big solid Australian red instead of the lighter more astringent Italian table wines. As Lucy traverses the streets of Florence on her discoveries of the city's treasures, I recognise the street names, I can see the corners she is turning, and I want to go back...

On my one day in Rome, I did throw coins into the Fontanta di if the legend is right, I will return one day.

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