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"The pacing to and fro on polished floors Amid great chambers and long galleries, lined With famous portraits of our ancestors..." -- W.B.Yeats
The Historian"I trust my interests are profound," he says. "Professionally speaking, they are not wide, I know -- not wide, decidedly." He's very old, with freckled skin, dark eyes gone blue, red eye-rims, little hair, long nails and yellow teeth. He smells of cigarettes and age. His cluttered rooms are piled with books. The walls, unpainted for a century, are filled with sepia-colored photographs and cracked dark paintings hung askew. He had a wife-- so long ago no one remembers her. The old cat died, was not replaced. He knows, it seems, most languages, though in his mouth all sound Italianate. In his still-beautiful deep voice he says, "I am constantly being moved by the successes of imperfect love, the enduring fragility of its partial glories." His face is so attentive, kind, his courtesy so exquisite, so genuine, they disconcert. "Stavo bene; per star meglio, sto qui, '" he said the other day. "Is not that wonderfully plain -- and fine?" And added, "Boswell says that Dr. Johnson quoted that from Addison. Those eighteenth-century Englishmen knew their Italian! Where Addison had found it, no one knows."© Carl Selph, 1999The American ProfessorThe facade's in every history of architecture Important stylistically, transitional between early and later Renaissance. Note the ground floor: rusticated stone. First floor: stone more finely dressed, Ionic pilasters, more graceful window treatments. Second floor: smooth stone, Corinthian details. And then the cornice: really marvelous. Too bad it was never finished all the way around. The family that built it's lived here ever since. Some tourist rang the bell a while back-- thinking it was a public museum I guess-- and got the back of the hand from an ancient butler. The last of the direct line was killed a hell of a long time ago. The old Marchesa, so I hear, is still hanging on.© Carl Selph, 1993 (excerpted from "Una Nobildonna", published in its entirety in Bellowing Ark)
Il MaggiordomoGreat rooms with chestnut beams, carved pietra serena, Antique brocade and damask, faded, rubbed, Have been the stages for her rituals. At five the majordomo closes the shutters And lights the lamps; the curtains drawn, he stirs The embers in the polished grate to flame. A Kentish grandmother's wheeled altar bears The shining pot, the holy grails, the cake, The scones, the thin, thin tasteless sandwiches. Firelight suffuses the eggshell porcelain, Glows through her spotted, manicured old hand. * * * This is a well-run house, no matter the Marchesa is alone now sixty years. When she goes -- and I pray nightly she goes first -- then I'll go, too. But until then I polish silver, answer bells. The books, all bound in fine morocco with the family's crest in gold, are oiled once a year. It takes a week. With only four of us in service now I have unbent somewhat. I clean my lady's shoes. Luncheon is still five courses with two wines when we have guests. I wear white gloves. Pina puts on a lacy apron and gray silk and helps me in the dining room. We haven't any footmen nowadays. No one is invited here for dinner any more. The poor Marchesa comes down all alone in garnet velvet, wearing the diamonds, and sits at the head of that endless board, as if her friends were there, and eats her soup. She sits so straight! I stand just to her right. Sometimes she talks with me.© Carl Selph, 1993 (excerpted from "Una Nobildonna", published in its entirety in Bellowing Ark)
Entering the PalazzoA desiccated Tuscan nobleman his bald head splotched as tortoiseshell now totters in clutching the arm of his Marchesa, an American-- she silvery gray and brash and busty as a pigeon pecking corn from a plebeian tourist's hand before the Gates of Paradise.© Carl Selph, 1989 First published in the San Miguel WriterNobiltà ObbligaA great-many-ways-and-times-grandpa, of the Rinascimento a true sire, bought, rebuilt, and bequeathed the ancient pile. Old Nick lived just across the street. A house away, the Pitti were always good for a cup of florins, till the Medici moved in; even they, for the Vasari corridor in need of a sizeable swathe of the garden, paid for their right of very eminent domain with a nice gesture: water, free-flowing still from the Boboli right down the centuries. Remember Andy Gump? The present heir gets by on name and rents, the big Chianti farm, the pleasure Contract-playing countesses find in his company.... Young men he plies with tea and English biscuits, and some few with brief but pleasant trips to Amsterdam, and offers dips in a mossy pool designed for photo-ops. The bright, memorial snaps, neatly entombed in mausoleum ranks of albums, now and then are visited by the photographer and fellow-feeling friends. When young the Count took up for a while a farm boy from the family lands. Depending now from the arm of that boy's son, he finds the past, if nudged, can live again.© Carl Selph, 1999
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