A room, but which view?

June 18, 2014


View from Piazzale Michelangelo

“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence…to fling wide the windows, pinching fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into the sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”

In the 1985 and 2007 film versions based on E.M. Forster’s lovely novel ‘A room with a view’ the titular view is from the Oltrarno side of the river. The first paragraph of the novel, however, states that Lucy Honeychurch (what a name!) and her cousin Miss Bartlett were promised ‘south rooms with a view’. Might Forster have been invoking a view closer to this?



Forster modeled the Pensione Bertolini on the Pensione Simi at 2 Lungarno delle Grazie*, which is indeed on the north side of the Arno, and just around the corner from Santa Croce, Lucy’s first stop in Florence. The photo below, taken from Ponte alle Grazie, offers a view from nearby to where the Pensione Simi once stood.

flo 3

The last time I was in Florence my view was what Miss Lavish might call that of “the true Italy”, or what Miss Bartlett might call”a failure”. But in Florence, pretty much any view will do for me.

flo 5

A view of “the true Italy”

*According to ‘Florence and Tuscany: a literary guide for travellers’ by Ted Jones.

This site is a great resource on the film locations for Merchant Ivory’s ‘A room with a view’ adaptation.

While the views aren’t spectacular, I’d recommend Home in Florence, a B&B, to anyone going to Florence. It’s in the Oltrarno area, just a few steps from the Boboli and lots of great restaurants. The proprietors were always helpful, our room was spacious, and the breakfast room was open all day, so you could always pop in for a snack or espresso.


all good things

Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull’s ‘All good things: from Paris to Tahiti, life and longing‘ chronicles her journey from the City of Light to an island synonymous with paradise. The move is the result of a job transfer, but was eagerly embraced following a period of creative and professional stagnancy.

Perhaps because of her relatability, Sarah Turnbull’s previous memoir ‘Almost French‘ stood out from other “Anglophone moves to Paris and discovers great food, bewildering cultural differences, inner joie de vivre, and the secret of French style” tomes that were pretty popular a few years back. But ‘All good things’ is a different sort of book than ‘Almost French’. While it explores cultural differences from an astute and honest perspective, there’s less lightness and humor and, perhaps, deeper reflection. I admit that the sections detailing scuba diving and the natural wonders of the island had my eyes glazing over bit, but I was wholly captivated by the sections that dealt with longing: for inspiration, understanding, and new life.

I was moved by Sarah’s descriptions of the complexity of feelings that arise when facing what seem to be (and sometimes are) insurmountable barriers between herself and motherhood. She is also adept at capturing the isolation and claustrophobia that can be just as potent to life on an island as the dreamy sunsets and glorious flora. The Polynesians Sarah befriends are also vividly rendered; kind, generous, and open, they represent the beauty of Tahiti as much as warm breezes off a glimmering, turquoise sea.

How to be Audrey

March 10, 2013

Audrey Hepburn, an elegant spirit

I grew up thinking of Audrey Hepburn as the UNICEF lady: a serenely beautiful, soft and well-spoken advocate for starving children. It wasn’t until sometime in high school that I watched ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and realized that she’d first been a movie star whose grace and impeccable fashion sense aren’t likely to be duplicated. Not in today’s world.

While I don’t think we should ever mimic another person or attempt to follow directly in their footsteps, we can observe and admire the way they respond to various challenges or successes that come their way. Which is why I appreciated Melissa Hellstern’s How to be lovely: the Audrey Hepburn way of life: it isn’t  a step-by-step manual for emulating Audrey or a pictorial of her style, but rather a collection of simple and profound observations from Audrey Hepburn’s imperfect yet exemplary life. So, a few lessons gleaned… Read the rest of this entry »


I was a sophomore in college when I read Night, Eli Weisel’s searing account of Auschwitz. I finished the slim paperback in one sitting, promptly threw it across my dorm room in disgust, and began to weep angrily. I had learned about the Holocaust in high school history class, had seen the images of skeletal men with shaved heads and Nazi’s goosestepping and Hitler waving his fist and spitting out incomprehensible words, but I had never understood the deliberate, systematic nature of the persecution and murder of so many millions of people.

My earlier understanding of World War II was as an inevitability, like a tornado or earthquake, a thing that can’t be prevented and can’t be stopped–one can only lament over the destruction it leaves behind. The reality of World War II was that it had taken the participation and compliance of many people, each choosing, sometimes on a daily basis, to do terrible and destructive things.

When I finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind the beautiful forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, a very different, modern human tragedy, I wept as well, but it was less out of anger than sadness. I didn’t know who or what to be angry at, exactly. Read the rest of this entry »

fabrique en chine

January 3, 2013

When I was in high school and college I scoured my local thrift stores for fantastic vintage finds, picking up knee length wool skirts, tailored wool blazers and sweaters, pin-striped trousers and wide-legged, polyester pants that mimicked the rebellious androgyny of the 1930’s. I once scored a beat-up, rust-colored leather jacket for $5. Judging by the style, it was likely made in the 1970’s or early 1980’s and except for a (recently) broken zipper, is still holding strong.

When we were first married, I took my husband to my favorite thrift store, the one from which I’d hauled treasure troves of clothes stuffed into plastic bags, their modest, stapled-on price tags demanding $1.00, $3.00, maybe even $5.00.

I was in for a surprise. Read the rest of this entry »