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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Life Stories

The Past
• Brian Appleton
My past is like an old friend whom I have had to abandon by circumstance and time and distance.


I grew up one hour from Florence and from Spring through Fall we would often spend Saturdays with an older retired couple, the Roberts. Tom was a retired chemist from Rhode Island. They owned a beautiful farm and Villa outside Florence in a town called Grassina which has a golf course there called Ugolino. We would often eat lunch at the Club House after my parents and Tom had played a round of golf or we would stay at the Villa and play Wist and eventually Bridge with his wife Mary while the men played golf.

Tirrenia I use to enjoy seeing the newborn calves in the barn in the spring. If they were from white oxen parents, they were born black and if they were from black parents they were born white and then gradually changed colors as they reached adulthood. There was a formal flower garden also by the Villa with patterns made of box hedge and I remember a trellis with wisteria and Mary had pots of large domestic poppies in many pastel colors.

One time when everyone else was playing golf, she took me to downtown Florence to see a documentary on the Pygmies of the Ituri forest in the Congo and I remember how they shingled the roofs of their huts with large overlapping leaves which they had taken their inspiration from the scales of the pangolin. I must have been six or seven years old. They sometimes would come and visit us in Tirrenia where we lived in Villa Pina and we would spend the day at the beach.

When Mary passed away, Tom gave the farm to Luigi the tenant farmer thinking it was a philanthropic thing to do but Luigi immediately divided it into lots and put up track houses and probably became very rich. I remember years later stopping to look at the place and the villa was gone but under the ivy on the stucco post of the gate I saw a faded grey plaque in which was etched Tom and Mary Roberts. It made me sad to think of all the good times I had had there and now God was the only witness.

Come to think of it Villa Pina exists no more either... same wall and gates and umbrella pines with ivy climbing up their trunks and Oleander hedges but now several modern town houses have been built where the Bauhaus style villa once stood and what was a fountain with a putti holding a dolphin in which I kept carp and blue gills is now only a planter with hydrangeas.

How odd the modern age in which electronics leaves a trail of crumbs. I was trying to see what Wi Fi spots were available and noticed all the Wi Fi connections I had made three years ago at each hotel I had stayed at on a trip to Italy including the Hotel Mediterraneo in Florence and Il Piccolo Castello in Montereggioni. One of my office mates who is a millennial and too intelligent for her 27 years on this planet when it comes to all things hi tech is going to Florence on a business trip to see the Targetti facility in Florence which is a lighting company as that is the industry we are in. I told her about a childhood friend in Florence who is a retired women’s fashion designer who lives in a penthouse on the sixth floor of a Renaissance era building a stone’s throw from Brunelleschi's dome.

And then all these memories started flooding back to me about spending Saturdays in Florence. I remember going to an art fair with my mother and buying a whole bunch of color prints of various breeds of dogs. I remember going to an antique store just at the entrance of the Ponte Vecchio with my mother to buy little blue porcelain horses that I had started to collect. I remember a blue diamond ring my father bought her on the Ponte Vecchio for one of their wedding anniversaries which somehow her little suitcase opened up and it fell down a storm sewer in the cobble stone street. She was mortified but perhaps it was symbolic of their marriage which at most times was like a pitched battle… it was only Italy that kept their marriage together for as soon as we returned after ten years in Italy to Washington DC they separated but after two years got back together out of convenience and fear of poverty.

So whenever I go to the Ponte Vecchio, I always pay my respects to the bust of Benvenuto Cellini there. I read his autobiography to my son. I was appalled on one visit to discover a McDonalds in a Rennaissance era building across from the train station. I wonder how much history in Florence is wasted on the tourists who line up like sheep to look at the backs of each other’s heads in the Uffizzi or Palazzo Pitti or the Academia delle Belle Arte and ask the guides what wood the frames of the paintings are made from.

I wonder how much this young rising star prodigy of our company, this millennial who can adapt in a heartbeat to any new phone App or computer program knows of the history of Florence, that Giotto was born in Vicchio Mugello as well as Cimabue, that Dante Alighieri’s house is there in Florence, and that he once compared the fortress of Monteriggioni with its towers to the mouth of hell with titans standing round in the Inferno.
Dante Alighieri

Ah but I have forgotten the motto painted on our office wall that says “don’t look back that is not the direction you are going in.” For me if you don't look back then you don't know where you are going... try driving without looking back in the rear view mirror or over your shoulder when changing lanes....

I don’t think Americans have any understanding or appreciation for the importance of history as they live only for the latest innovation and in 6 months things are obsolete. They look at history as quaint and then wonder why they are engaged in endless wars and why there are more people in therapy per capita than any other nation and more people in jail per capita than any other nation and more random acts of violence and homicide per capita and rape per capita than any other nation. We are like the 21st century mongols imposing our hi tech and consumerism upon the world. We see no value in history and can’t relate to other cultures and arrogantly see no need to. Yet without roots we are like the tumbleweeds that blow from place to place in the wind without ever making a connection and in so doing we make every place the same.

© Brian Appleton April 2020
iranianb at

Brian Appleton
A boyhood in Italy - There were three other Catholic priests who were important in my childhood ...

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