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  • Writer's picturePangur's Teacup

Good Luck in Italy

I started Pangur’s Teacup just under a year ago with the goal of posting at least 10 separate blogs. Throughout the summer I was able to write one per week, but when Autumn arrived the pace of life picked up; Spring was even worse. Yet here I am at number 13, delighted and determined to continue writing about books and tea. The number 13 is a lucky number in my house. Only good things have happened to me on the 13th, like two of my favorite people’s birthdays. Surprisingly, 13 is a lucky number in Italy. It is either associated with football (soccer to Americans) and gambling or the ancient goddess of fertility and lunar cycles. And as luck would have it, I recently visited Italy, drank tea (and several cappuccinos), and read some books.

Nonfiction: Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel sat on my shelf for at least a year and a half before I took it with me to Florence. I am not sure why it took me so long to read it, as I had enjoyed Sobel’s book, Longitude, very much. However, the timing worked in my favor, because it was wonderful to connect what I was reading with the streets, buildings, and landscape that Galileo and his family had experienced 400 years before.

To be completely honest, Galileo’s Daughter is really a biography of Galileo Galilei himself, outlining his life from birth to death and spending a significant amount of time on the conflict he had with the Roman Catholic Church over his heliocentric views. However, it is a look at his life that features the perspective of his eldest daughter, Virginia, better known as Suor Maria Celeste. Entering the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri, a town just outside of Florence, at the age of 13, her letters to her father are the main source of information about her and her relationship with Galileo. Father and daughter had a close, loving relationship, full of respect and high regard. Suor Maria Celeste was highly intelligent and helped prepare some of Galileo’s scientific manuscripts for publication. She was cheerful and kind, despite living in abject poverty within the convent, often going hungry and needing to repeatedly ask her father for financial assistance. Throughout the reading of this book, I was amazed at both father and daughter’s devotion to each other, God and the Catholic Church despite their personal experiences with the Church’s corruption and abuse of power.

Church of San Croce Galileo's Tomb

Fiction: The first time I read The Miracles of Santo Fico by D. L. Smith was back in 2007 as my book club’s October selection. The trip to Italy inspired me to take it off the shelf for a reread. It is a sweet book, set in a small Tuscan town by the sea. Unfortunately for Santo Fico, despite its legendary connection to both Saint Francis of Assisi and Duke Cosimo de Medici, the world has passed it by. Anyone who arrived in Santo Fico was said to have gotten there only by mistake or by a miracle. While there is a full cast of characters, the main focus is on Leo Pizzola, who has returned home after several years, only to find himself persona non grata and his former friends in a crisis. My favorite character is the local priest, Father Elio. Over the 50 years he has been the spiritual leader of the town, he has watched the town and relationships continue to disintegrate. He blames himself and a secret sin for the state Santo Fico is in. With a sincerely empathetic view of the flaws and foibles of the characters, Smith questions what really constitutes a miracle, only to answer that it is “forgiveness and love . . . that these two things were always miracles.” (355)

Children’s Book: I adore Paul Gallico’s short stories. I included one in my Joyeux Noel blog at Christmas, and here is another, A Small Miracle, set in Assisi, Italy just after World War II. I have a small, beat-up copy of this little story with simple, line drawing illustrations. Until today, I never knew that A Small Miracle first appeared in the magazine, Good Housekeeping, a magazine my grandmother subscribed to for years. The story tells of a little orphan boy, Pepino, who supports himself with the help of his little donkey, Violetta. When Violetta gets sick, Pepino wants to take the donkey into the crypt of St. Francis in order to ask for her to be healed. When his request is denied by the church official, Pepino, who learned from an American soldier never to take no for an answer, travels to Rome to get permission from the pope himself. The result of Pepino’s determination and love for Violetta is a small miracle.

Tea: Let’s be honest, when thinking of the notable beverages of Italy, tea is not at the top of the list. That would be coffee and wine. As I already mentioned, I did drink a fair amount of coffee, including one very memorable dessert coffee served in a crystal goblet in Bologna. However, there is tea, very lovely tea in Italy. La Via del Te, with three locations in Florence, offers a wide selection of teas from around the world, including Italy itself. A plantation near Lake Maggiore is offering a green tea for sale for the very first time this June. Sadly, my visit was too early to try this tea out. I did try three of their six Florence-inspired blends: Santa Maria del Fiore, named after the main cathedral, which is a black tea mixed with a heavy blend of fruits including grapes; Il mistero della Venere, or the mysteries of Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, is also a black tea, more delicately mixed with almonds and figs; and Appuntamento sul Ponte Vecchio, a green tea mixed with strawberry, which is perfect for this time of year.

“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light. May good luck pursue you each morning and night.” - Anonymous


Artwork credited to Aurora Draws - contact for more details

All photographs by the author

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