Correspondence

An Episode in Chianti

Letter From Albion

Still sealed in the gray velvet envelope of night, early morning in the Florentine countryside offers the June insomniac stray, loud cars, merciless crickets, and doomsday frogs. These supplant the earlier nightingales, thrashing a capella, as if lured by the glowworms whose light illuminates an equally desperate vanity. By daybreak, a storm begins; not the atmospheric, temperamental, barrels-down-the-stairs kind one gets just about anywhere; but the circumspect, snobbish kind that rumbles interrogatively, putting to the cypress, it seems, Farinata's eternal question, Chi fuor li maggior tui?—Who were your ancestors? And the cypress, following the other Tuscan's example, conceals nothing and makes all matters plain.

The window from which I lean out overlooks the gnarled olive trees of L'Ulivello, the Strada in Chianti estate that once belonged to Guglielmo Ferrero, the great historian and political thinker best known for his five-volume account of the self-destruction of the Roman republic and the settlement of Augustus, The Greatness and Decline of Rome (1902-1906). His grandson, my host, belongs to the small and ever-diminishing minority of American academics who, in his own words, "moonlight as thinkers"; he had given me Ferrero's Ancient Rome and Modern America (1914) to read, and insomnia was the inevitable consequence.

Over breakfast, there is no...

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