Monday, August 13, 2007


On Sunday I was recording Carlo Poli's readings from Dante's Commedia. You can hear these readings at We were discussing the scenes in Dante where he seeks to embrace friends - who are now shades - and how his arms meet only themselves. I, for ever the teacher, mentioned that these scenes are borrowed from Virgil and from Homer, where heroes embrace dead fathers. With us were also three Rroma (gypsies), two sisters and a husband, listening to Dante in Italian, two being unable to read, but all three looking at Botticelli's drawings of the Commedia. In a library in Florence we were experiencing Dante, himself now only a shade, but who comes alive in pages of books, just as do our dead poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Walter Savage Landor, buried in this 'English' Cemetery, come alive again as we read and record their poetry (again, Elizabeth Barrett Browning creates her second heroine, Marian Erle, who mirrors herself with her spaniel hair, in Aurora Leigh, a self-taught gypsy.

Have been doing much thinking - and our library much collecting - on this theme of rejecting or of embracing the shadow. We avoid, hate and dread what we do not know. Particularly poverty. And that very behaviour creates ever more poverty, and then even genocide against it. It takes racist forms. It is behaviour that creates slavery. It is murderously unjust.

In recent days visitors to our library or books sent to it have also echoed this theme and its embracing of shadows to find them friends and almost fathers. I recorded a Brazilian Indian reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning's second Sonnet from the Portuguese. Then a Maori chief from New Zealand, blind and deaf, recorded his genealogy and recited a Maori poet on 'Rain', while the rain poured down on Florence. You can hear them on the Piazzale Donatello blog. Then an Australian sent a study on the discrimination against the Aborigine. And I remembered the book given me by Aborigine in Melbourne, where they had studied theology, including the Bible in its original languages, and decided that what was needed was the acknowledging of the act of Melchisadek, the indigenous priest king of an agricultural Palestinian people, giving bread and wine to the nomadic, cattle herding Abraham, come from Iraq to invade his land. Melchisadek embraced Abraham. Hebrew lay families embraced that ritual, the mother at the Sabbath blessing the candles, the father the bread and wine. Jesus adopted it for the Eucharist where all are One.

We are now writing a proposal to the European Union in this year, which is celebrating multiculturalism, where our cemetery and its library shape two simultaneous projects. The first where we reach out to the Italians in diaspora, in Australia, in Canada, in Argentina, in America, where they are forced into 'English Only', and also to others, to give them Dante. Whose name means gift. Observing that in America Jewish and Chinese immigrants study their own language and culture on weekends, attending American schools on weekdays, and thus have two languages and are consequently more intelligent, quickly rising into the professional classes as doctors, lawyers and university professors. While Italian and other Catholic immigrant groups, forbidden their own language, their own culture, largely remain as pizza cooks. If Dante could be shared on Saturdays and Sundays in churches in the Italian diaspora?

Our second project is with the Rroma (gypsies) from Romania, an apprenticeship where we teach the parents how to write their names so they can have their babies back from hospital, where they learn paper marbling, where they garden in the Cemetery and hopefully later help with the restoration of tombs, learning skills they can then use in Romania to support their families. Always we say it is important to have both cultures, to preserve their own with its strong families while entering into ours. The Rom are Europe's largest minority. Every day I listen to their language which I love. But when I began filling out the forms for the European Union proposal I was presented with a list of languages, world languages, and Rom, or Romany, was not included there. In Europe they, as immigrants, have not been allowed to work, only to beg, and in desperation they steal, not much, it's for survival, consequently they are hated murderously. The Romanian Rom in Florence live under plastic in fields at the ends of bus lines. How to break down this poverty-enforcing genocidal prejudice? We have been doing it with building gypsy cradles and with Karen Graffeo's splendid photographs. With friendship. With gifts of used clothing, food, work.

Karen is American, her own family having been share croppers in James Agee's Now Let us Praise Famous Men published during the Great Depression and its poverty. Karen has taken that understanding from America's poorest to Europe's poorest. At first she traditionally photographed in black and white. But the Rom said 'No'. The photographs should be in full colour. And now they are, showing their love of beauty. These hang now in our library, amidst Bibles and books in many languages, books about indigenous and nomadic peoples and the discrimination they face, in particular the Rom. It is here that our first Rom mother, Hedera, who cannot read, whose baby Leonardo I baptized, told us the Gospel: 'He was so poor he was born in a stable, not even a house, and he was kept warm by the animals there, the cows, the horses. They were so hungry that he gave them bread and fish and potatoes. And then the envious killed him'. Listen to her Alleluia she would sing to her new-born child.

A note on the flags. I had vowed to show no flags on my websites. Julien Benda in his Betrayal of the Intellectuals showed how nation states and their jingoistic flags and arms race industries caused wars. But Italy's flag is based on Beatrice's garb in Dante's Purgatorio of red, white and green. And the Rom flag is based on India's Wheel of Life. The Rom have no national boundaries, no army, their flag the green of the earth, the blue of the sky, the red wagon wheel.

A prayer that our proposal be accepted. That, instead of spurning shadows with annihilating dread, we come to embrace them with joy, finding in them ourselves, as Christ did with lepers, Samaritans, Syro-Phoenician women . . .

Bless you,


He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Edwin Markham

Julia Bolton Holloway, Hermit of the Holy Family
Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei, 'English Cemetery'
Piazzale Donatello, 38, 50132 FIRENZE, ITALY