Sunday, April 29, 2007


It was my seventieth birthday present to myself. Accepting the British Library's invitation to 'Sacred: Discover What We Share'. In 2001 we had organized an international conference in Florence on The City and the Book, centred on the alphabet and the Bible as the basis of our western culture, neither of them European in origin. Then we had submitted a proposal to the European Union for digitizing the great Bible manuscripts in the major European libraries. We were turned down. It was the year the EU was strongly anti-religion. That was how I first came to know Ilana Tahan of the British Library. It was she who invited me. For one of the earliest surviving Hebrew Bibles is owned by them and needing to be digitized.

The Exhibition is magnificent, Torahs, Gospels, Korans. Present at its opening were all the Peoples of the Book, Jews, Christians, Muslims. Admiring how much beauty there is in these books. And learning how much each owed the other. The Gospels in Arabic, like a Koran. A Hebrew manuscript, for celebrating the Passover within a family, illuminated like a Christian one. It is from Barcelona and Linda and Michael Falter who showed it to me, have created a facsimile edition of it.

The Exhibition presented how each carried out their liturgies, at birth, at marriage, at death. I could not resist telling of Karen Graffeo's marvellous chuppa that we created in Florence for a wedding in Florida, where I, a Christian hermit, pencilled the names of the Jewish ancestors on white silk, these being then embroidered by Muslim gypsies in gold thread, all the Peoples of the Book working together for the Jewish wedding. See

Saturday, April 07, 2007

we say in Italy.

Our Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence is filled with flowering bulbs, sweet-scented hyacinths, narcissi, daffodils, tulips, and wild strawberries and wild violets, on the tombs, while Petter's lilies are about to flower in their great pot. A New Zealander sending her aunt's ashes there wanted her also remembered here, so my Rom and I planted these bulbs in the Fall to find this 'Winter of Our Discontent, Made Glorious Spring', the Resurrection.

Just down the street, in a cell at San Marco, Fra Angelico painted Mary Magdalene reaching out to Christ as Gardener, and on the monks' dormitory's wall, the Angel and the Virgin, both scenes with spring flowers.

Tonight we shall go to Mass at the Santissima Annunziata, one square before the church and cloister of San Marco, on our bicycles.

In the nineteenth century John Roddam Spencer Stanhope's daughter Mary died, he sculpting her tomb with daffodils on its marble beside those by Lord Leighton for Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Holman Hunt's for his wife, which he shaped like a great ark floating on waves, a dove with olive branch in its beak.

We have planted a blue hyacinth by the tomb of Nadezda, who came at 14, a black slave from Nubia, baptised with the name meaning 'Hope' in a Russian Orthodox family, and who is buried here, her story told in Cyrillic on her tomb.

We plan next to plant a pomegranate by Lord Leighton's tomb for Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And speaking of pomegranates and Easter do read 'The Highland Shepherd'

We are preparing again to read Dante's Commedia in our library in a cemetery in Florence as we did several years ago, this time recording it. And with the honoraria from lectures given in America, especially those on our writers, sculptors and preachers against slavery, we shall be able to have the Marchese Torrigiani, from whose garden our now lost, chemically-killed, plants had originally come, replant them. We have forbidden the hired gardeners to use any more poison on the soil and are weeding the luscious stinging nettles ourselves, using rubber gloves, trowels and baskets. We would love to cook and eat them but dare not because of all the traffic fumes about us.

BUONA PASQUA, A BLESSED EASTER. And may we heal this earth of all our polluting that there may be life for all, food for all, flowers for all.

Julia and Assunta