In August 1947, Diana Athill travelled to Florence by the Golden Arrow train for a two-week holiday with her cousin Pen. In A Florence Diary, a playful diary of that trip, delightfully illustrated with photographs of the period, Athill recorded her observations and adventures — the following is an excerpt from A Florence Diary, forthcoming from House of Anansi from November 5, 2016.
Monday, 1 September 1947 and Tuesday, 2 September 1947
Both mornings we spent in the Museo di San Marco, which is the monastery in which Fra Angelico lived and worked. The downstairs rooms are full of his paintings and those of his school, and the cells upstairs have each a fresco, some of them by him. The longer you look at the paintings the more heavenly they become. They have a sort of early May morning freshness about them and the people all seem as though, if you watch them a moment more, they will complete the gestures they are making, and you can tell by their faces what they are thinking, particularly in the big deposition from the Cross. We have felt about so many things ‘It would have been worth coming to Florence just to see that’ – but of the Fra Angelico it is superlatively and utterly true.
We also discovered the peaches during the last two days. For some reason we had only bought figs and grapes before, and the pensione peaches are only middling. But yesterday we bought a couple of the monsters that cover the stalls – each weighing about half a pound, and golden coloured – not believing for a moment that they could be as luscious as they looked – and oh bliss! Oh rapture! Oh poop poop! They are peaches grown in a Fra Angelico Paradise. We ate them in the lovely cloisters, pouring juice in a very vulgar way all over everything.
We had a great bustle this afternoon buying tickets for Siena tomorrow. The bus leaves at six thirty, so we are breakfasting at five thirty, so I’m cutting this short in order to go to bed early.
Oh yes, we went to the cinema last night with our Italian girl. A very old, bad, American film, with the people’s mouths all talking American, but Italian coming out. We hoped it would be good for our Italian, but really one does have to have some Italian before one can improve it. The only words I understood throughout were ‘due milioni di dollari’, but the story was easy enough to follow without words.
In August 1947, Diana Athill travelled to Florence by the Golden Arrow train for a two-week holiday with her cousin Pen. In this playful diary of that trip, delightfully illustrated with photographs of the period, Athill recorded her observations and adventures — eating with (and paid for by) the hopeful men they meet on their travels, admiring architectural sights, sampling delicious pastries, eking out their budget, and getting into scrapes.
Written with an arresting immediacy and infused with an exhilarating joie de vivre, A Florence Diary is a bright, colourful evocation of a time long lost and a vibrant portrait of a city that will be deliciously familiar to any contemporary traveller.