Within Tuscany: Reflections on a Time and Place
Unlike any other account of the region, Matthew Spender's Within Tuscany is a rich combination of personal observation and historical inquiry which will delight the discerning reader and traveler. Spender's meditations on his chosen homeland of twenty years are fired with intelligence, humor, and an overriding sense of the palpability of the past. He is captivated in turn by trace memories of the Etruscans subjected to Roman cultural genocide, by the obsessive diaries of Pontormo and the ancient practice of extracting oil from olives; by the burning of Savonarola and by the sound of bees mourning their lost queen. Together with family, or accompanied by the mischievous archaeologist Vittoria, he encounters the Magus of Montecapraia, filmmakers from Rome, a funeral party, the leader of the local band, and many craftsmen who still follow traditions that have endured for two millennia. Spender in extraordinary detail writes of the battle of Montaperti in 1260, when for the last time the Sienese defeated the Florentines, with the help of Florentine exiles. Dante describes the river Arbia on the boundary between the two contestants at Montaperti as "colored red with blood." The passions which this archaic rivalry evoke are still present in modern Tuscany. Matthew Spender's eloquent memoir explores the interfusion of violence and gentleness, turbulence and great civility, in an incomparably vivid portrait.