‘The garden of the Finzi-Continis’ was published by Einaudi in 1962. The story takes place between 1938 and 1941, safe from outside events. For many years I have wanted to write about the Finzi-Continis – about Micòl and Alberto, Professor Ermanno and Signora Olga – and about the many others who lived at, or like me frequented, the house in Corso Ercole I d’Este, Ferrara, just before the last war broke out. But the impulse, the prompt, really to do so only occurred for me a year ago, one April Sunday in 1957. I slept at Albergo Quattro Fontane on a lovely May evening. While writing, I realise that in Italian we do not use the word ‘albergo’ anymore, and banally say ‘hotel’ instead. Actually, I am always looking for an albergo, with its poetic meaning of habitual residence. A few more seconds, and I would have heard her voice greeting me. ‘Hello,’ said Micòl, standing on the threshold. ‘How good of you to come.’ I had anticipated everything with great accuracy – everything except the fact that I would kiss her.* The Signora is a Danish elderly woman with a degree in architecture and a family of artists – her sister is a painter – elegant by birth. She is winding a big pendulum-clock in the hotel at breakfast time. Steel trolleys in the large room, house waitresses wearing a severe black old-time sheath dress, cherry-pink and cyclamen-coloured tablecloths – two perfectly different shades of pink, inseparable here – and the dried plums and stick cinnamon covered with wine. It was ‘our’ vice, this: to go forwards with our heads forever turned back. A clay tennis court. The Signora will tell us that it is closed and she does not know if they will restore it before the summer, since nobody plays tennis anymore. This may be because we use hotels as places of transit and not as temporary abodes. Actually, in that plant-invaded, ruffled tennis field, in summer I could still sense young people wearing old-time white wool and cotton dresses and living eternal love stories. The truth is, by always collecting things, plants, anything, you end up wishing to collect people, too.* We grow fond of the Signora, of the capable manager, Massimo, and of this dreamy and not at all decadent albergo, which lies inside a garden in the Venice Lido, safe from outside events.
Words and pictures Meraviglia Paper.